Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Rotation Leading the Surprising Jays

A quick look at the current Jays batting order reveals how heavily this team relies on two things: home runs and cheeseburgers. Whoops, I meant home runs and starting pitching.

With zero everyday players batting .300 (Vernon Wells is leading at .286) and the home run totals predictably slowing from their ridiculous pace, Toronto owes their surprising record mostly to a quartet of starters who have done considerably more than just ease the loss of Roy Halladay. They've somehow managed to turn the loss of the best pitcher in baseball into a more complete unit.

When Doc was sent to Philadelphia in the offseason it was supposed to mark the beginning of the end for the Blue Jay rotation. Gone was the man who bordered on invincibility every fifth day, the guy who could handle Boston or New York and anyone else, they guy who was destined to throw a perfect game, and in his place were two inexperienced prospects, a reclamation project, and a player who hadn't thrown a big league pitch since the summer of 2008. Needless to say, expectations were not high for this group.

But nearly halfway through the season three of those question marks have performed solidly and the reclamation project is showing promising signs. Collectively the group has been churning out quality starts (6IP+ and 3 earned runs or less) which has allowed Toronto to capitalize on their home run binge and win games.

Sean Marcum, who had Tommy John surgery in 2008 and missed the entire 2009 season, has more than bounced back. In 14 starts this year Marcum has 10 quality and is second in the AL in innings pitched (92.1) and 5th in WHIP (1.10). Every time he gets the ball he seems to take a shutout into the 6th inning, and right now he's the odds on leader to replace Halladay as my favourite Jay. (I came close to awarding the official title to Aaron Hill after 'the trade' but ultimately decided to wait, so it's currently vacant. Glad we cleared that up.)

It wasn't long ago that many of us pointed to J.P. Riccardi passing on Troy Tulowitzki in the 2006 draft and instead selecting Ricky Romero as ample proof that Riccardi was not fit to be a MLB GM. While Tulowitzki would certainly look good (okay very good) filling the black hole that has been the Blue Jays shortstop position, Romero has quietly developed into one of the best young starters in baseball. He has made 13 starts including nine quality, is 2nd in the AL in strikeouts (91), fourth in innings pitched (90.1), and has two complete games to go with a 1.22 WHIP and 3.29 ERA. On top of those sterling numbers, the kid has some serious moxie and if he was anywhere but where he is, where the spotlight is hogged by two star-studded rotations and another that is all #1 picks, Romero would be much more heralded.

After making 17 starts last year, the soon-to-be 24 year-old Brett Cecil has made 10 starts this year (prior to last night) and has seven wins, seven quality starts, a 0.99 WHIP and a 3.22 ERA to show for it. Cecil, who was drafted 38th overall in 2007, has quickly blossomed at the Major League level.

When Toronto acquired Brendan Morrow from Seattle for Brandon League over the winter, it was seen as little more than two teams exchanging prospects that both had grown tired of. While League has been his usual Jekyll and Hyde self for the Mariners, Morrow, who many Blue Jay insiders claim to have the best 'stuff' of any Toronto pitcher, has put a slow April and May behind him to rack up three straight quality starts. While he continues to fight control issues (his 38 BB's are second in the AL), Morrow happens to be about $600,000 cheaper this year than League and at only 25 years-old, still has plenty of upside.

The combined 2010 salary commitment for those four Blue Jay starting pitchers is just over $2 million, or roughly the same as what the Yankees pay their bat boy. While none of them are anywhere close to replacing Halladay on an individual basis, together they're giving Jays fans reason to believe that this young and talented rotation could be the bridge to October baseball.

Or at the very least meaningful baseball in September.

1 comment:

  1. Pretty easy to beat pre-season expectations, but pretty good so far. Question is, how many games back will they ultimately finish?