The Jays Need Better 4-5 Starters For a 2011 Run

The Jays rotation has been a mixed bag of tricks of late, topped off by the latest gem thrown by Brandon Morrow who has finally found his groove with another win yesterday. His velocity was great, his command was right on, and he had excellent movement when needed. He joins both Ricky Romero and Carlos Villanueva as a trio of Jays pitchers who have really become of the core of the starting group in 2011. It’s most evident when we display the results from last two times through the rotation for each starter as follows:

RHP Brandon Morrow:

  • 7 IP / 4 Hits / 1 ER / 3 BB / 10 Ks
  • 7 IP / 5 Hits / 3 ER / 1 BB / 9 Ks

LHP Jo-Jo Reyes:

  • 3.2 IP / 9 Hits / 6 ER / 1 BB / 5 Ks
  • 5.1 IP / 5 hits / 4 ER / 2 BB / 2 Ks

RHP Zach Stewart:

  • 6 IP / 9 Hits / 2 ER / 1 BB / 4 Ks
  • 3.2 IP / 10 Hits / 5 ER / 3 BB / 2 Ks

RHP Carlos Villanueva:

  • 6 IP / 5 Hits / 2 ER / 1 BB / 3 Ks
  • 7 IP / 7 Hits / 2 ER / 0 BB / 3 Ks

LHP Ricky Romero:

  • 9 IP / 4 Hits / 0 ER / 2 BB / 5 Ks
  • 7 IP / 6 Hits / 2 ER / 2 BB / 4 Ks

It’s pretty clear that two of these things are not like the others! First of all, Romero belongs in the All-Star game, there;s no doubt in my mind. Second, the Jays have benefited from great outings 3 games in-a-row each time the rotation heads to Villanueva, Romero, and Morrow, but has really had to work the pen when Reyes or Stewart were on the mound. Although the lack of run production remains one of the biggest issues plaguing the Jays of late, it’s clear that changes needed to be made to the rotation as well.

Brett Cecil is already on the way to start in place of Stewart, so we’ll have to wait and see how he fares upon his return. He should be more than fired up and ready to prove himself once and for all, so I’m really hoping that he makes good on his talents and sticks in the rotation. If he can allow 3 runs or less while going 6 strong most nights, he will be a better asset to the Jays than either Stewart or Reyes would be in the rotation.  One interesting note with the addition of Cecil is that he brings the Jays to having 3 LHPs in the rotation. With the pending probable addition of RHP Jesse Litsch in the near future, Jo-Jo Reyes may very well be the next to go from the rotation (thank goodness). He could take a spot in the pen, likely that of Luis Perez, who still has options remaining and can return to Las Vegas.

That being said, Reyes could also be moved or released. I doubt he would bring much return at this point, after 2 horrible starts, but he has improved a great deal from the beginning of 2011, so a team that needs a long-relief LHP could be interested. With the struggles of ex-Jays reliever Brian Tallet in St-Louis, they come to mind as a possible landing spot for him.

Other Possible Additions to the Rotation

Jesse Litsch

If we consider the rotation as consisting of Romero, Morrow, Villanueva, Cecil, and Litsch, it stands to reason that the Jays should have a great shot at winning games on any given night. The pen should not be as taxed on the nights that Cecil and Litsch throw in comparison to nights when Stewart and Reyes threw (of late). So far in AA, Litsch has only allowed 6 hits and 1 ER in 8.2 innings of work while walking none and accumulating 9 Ks. The Jays are pretty well guaranteed to get 5 innings or more from Litsch every night, and now that he’s healthy again he could become a big piece of a winning run for the Jays as their #4 or 5 starter.

Joel Carreno vs. Henderson Alvarez

Since we can pretty well forget about seeing Kyle Drabek until August at a minimum, we have to begin to consider the possibility of the Jays promoting either Carreno or Alavarez at some point in 2011. Would it be rushed? Sure, but you can bet that each of them would love to get a taste of what it’s like to pitch in The Show after representing the East in the Eastern League All-Star Game. Since Carreno is already on the 40-man roster, I expect he will get the first look and at 24 years old, he should be more than mature enough to handle the pressure.

It also doesn’t hurt that over his last 10 games in AA, Carreno is 6-2 with a 2.09 ERA, only allowed 29 hits in 60.1 IP, did walk 35 however, and has accumulated 82 Ks! Double-A hitters have a lowly .142 average against him over that span and 8 of his last 10 games were Quality Starts.

Therefore, if Litsch does get the call to replace Reyes in the rotation and falters or re-injures himself, I fully expect Carreno – or AAA’s Brad Mills – to get the next shot at the rotation. With his swing and miss stuff, he definitely is an intriguing prospect. If he does well and is eventually joined by Henderson Alvarez, it makes you question whether or not Drabek will get another shot at all in 2011. He may if he turns things around drastically, but at this point, I’m not expecting to see him in Toronto for a long time.

Dustin McGowan

I want someone out there, anyone, to point out to me one pitcher who has gone through the intensive and extremely invasive surgeries that McGowan has and has returned as a successful starter. If you do, I will give you full props for it, because I can’t think of one. Yet, the Jays find it the wisest decision to attempt to have McGowan return as a starter, something that I believe ensures that we will NEVER see McGowan pitch in Toronto again.

Just take a look at the difference between Mark Prior and Kerry Wood. One accepted his fate, went on to become a reliever, and resurrected his career as a result. The other didn’t, stubbornly tried to come back as a starter over-and-over again, and he is still injured as he finally saw the light and decided to head to the pen. He has had some forearm issues while trying to return, and my “non-expert” mind tells me that it may be due to his mind telling him to take it easy on the shoulder, taxing his forearm and elbow as a result. He’s still hitting the 94-96 MPH marks, so he has all of the Jays officials in a huff and a puff about making him a starter….

My message to Dustin and the Jays: I don’t care if Dustin can hit 105 MPH on the radar gun, put him in the pen and have him return to Toronto healthy!!! If you don’t, I don’t expect to see him in Toronto at all. And if he does make it by some miraculous twist of fate, then I would predict that it won’t be for long at all.

I’m a huge Dustin McGowan fan, so I don’t say this easily, but it’s what makes the most sense on both sides. The odds of his returning as a viable starter are just too lop-sided to make it a worthwhile risk.

Final Take

If the Jays can get their #4 and 5 starters sorted out and to a higher quality than what they’ve had for the majority of 2011, they could make a run in the second half of the season. I seriously doubt that this would mean a wild card spot or division title for the Jays, but it would set the tone for 2012 and would ensure that winning is already bred into and expected in the clubhouse. At this point, it seems like the Jays don’t really know if they’re anything better than a .500 club. I say that if they make the appropriate changes to the rotation, there’s no reason that they can’t end up well over .500 and with a better record than they had in 2010.

The Jays need 2 more starters to make a run in 2011. Whether or not that resolved with Cecil, Litsch, Mills, or Carreno, I truly hope that they make the changes when necessary and demand more from their #4 and #5 starters than they have demanded – or expected – thus far in 2011. They have the depth pieces to make such demands, so why not use them and push them to exceed their own expectations as a result?

- MG

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Tags: Brad Mills Brandon Morrow Carlos Villanueva Henderson Alvarez Jo Jo Reyes Joel Carreno Kyle Drabek Ricky Romero Zach Stewart

  • mike in boston

    nice analysis.

    i think it’s too early to criticize the team for their handling of McGowan. If he can make it to August without any major issues then he can always be slotted in the pen at that time, or left in the Vegas rotation. It’s easier to convert him to a reliever than the other way around. In any case, where he pitches this year is not nearly as important as whether he is fully healthy, and so can be in the mix for 2012.

    • Mat Germain

      Thanks for the comment Mike,

      I think that having a set program and expecting him to be able to start every 5th game are two different things. If he can pull it off, on the advice of Dr.Andrews…great! I’ll be the very first one to clap like a mad man. But, judging from the dozens of other pitchers that have had 2 shoulder surgeries and tried to return as starters, I can honestly say that I don’t expect him to return at all, and if he does, he won’t be half as effective as he would have been as a reliever.

      But hey, that’s just me!

  • jerkstore

    I am pretty sure i read it was on the advice of james andrews that they kept him in a starting role.

    “The Blue Jays have since consulted with their team doctors and renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews about what the next phase of McGowan’s recovery should be. The general consensus appears to be that a set pitching schedule would be beneficial for McGowan’s overall health.

    • siggian

      I’m thinking Dustin’s diabetes played a role in this decision too. Perhaps they decided it’s easier to maintain his blood sugar as a starter than as a reliever.

  • Steve

    Great analysis. I think you’re bang on with Reyes, although I think he has done a better job than what his last 2 starts would indicate. On the year, he has failed to last 5 innings on 5 occassions, however 3 of those were in April and even including his last 2 starts, he is averaging right around 6 innings per start over May and June, which is what you want from a # 5. Litsch, on the other hand, lasted at least 5 innings in every single start before he got injured. That makes Litsch the better option. I agree that Reyes trade value would still be quite low and he might be more valuable to the Jays as a lefty in the pen than any return we could get from him. As for Cecil, he was very good for the Jays last year and should improve as he is still in the develoing stage. By all accounts his velocity is back up at least closer to where it was last year and so I think he will help stabilize the rotation. What I don’t agree with you on is seeing Carreno or Alvarez this year. Anthopolous has been doing a great job of building up organizational depth so that he doesn’t have to rush up his prospects. I’m even wondering if Carreno might be a candidate for the closer job 3 or 4 years down the road. If there are injuries to the top 5, there are plenty of other candidates and I also fully expect to see Drabek back before the end of the year.

    • Mat Germain

      I agree with you Steve, the Jays shouldn’t rush anyone, but at 24 years old and with a decent amount of AA dominance under his belt, Carreno is the most likely to do well if called on. He’s on the 40-man roster, and if the Jays do think that he may wind up in the pen sooner or later, better to see how he does as a starter first. Let Farrell and the guys see what he’s got first hand, and then they can decide how they want to handle him.

      As for the closer, that never a predictable bit. What I can tell you is that Zach Stewart has 2 plus pitches and nothing else. From what I saw through his starts, if he added 2-3 MPH on both of his plus pitches, he would be absolutely lights out in the pen, Neftali Feliz style.

      Once all of the vets are gone (most likely after this season), I could see a pen that includes Stewart, Marc Rzepczynski, Luis Perez, Danny Farquhar, and Casey Janssen. If Dustin McGowan winds up in the pen as I predict he will, he could join them as well. From that list above, any of Rzep, Stewart, McGowan, and Farquhar could pull ahead and take the closing role. There’s also a chance the Jays will pick up another reliever, such as Heath Bell or Jonathan Papelbon. I do think that Jays management will want at least 1 or 2 vets in the pen that can shut the door, so they’ll either keep Rauch, Camp, and/or Frasor, and move on with the remainder. If they don’t sign a new closer, the vets kept in 2012 will get first dibs while those previously listed seem to be the likeliest to get shots at closing thereafter.

      Whether or not Carreno winds up in the pen, I think that when you compare his AA stats to those of Drabek and Stewart, you see a guy who should have a much easier time in The Show when he gets his shot. I could be wrong, but I believe we’ll see him in 2011. Even if it is as late as in September.

  • NoScoutHere

    Matt i like reading your blog because you like to post different topics of interest.

    The bluejays already knew beginning of the season that this season was a lost cause. The fact that Nix is still on the team is all you need to know.

    I have shut down for the season and now will wait for next spring training to get excited about the jays again.

    Too Bad !

  • George

    Why are we talking about Dustin McGowan returning as a starter? The Jays made it perfectly clear as far back as April 13 that he was headed for the bullpen. Read it here:
    I just don’t know why everybody is down on Jose Reyes. Here’s a power lefty that throws in the mid-90s, with good breaking stuff, that’s finally starting to figure things out. He’s won 3 of his last 6 outings, and aside from his last forgettable start, he’s managed to go out there and keep his team in the game most times.
    It’s also ludicrous to be talking about a playoff run this year. It’s quite obvious that the entire rotation is young and inconsistent, and aside from Joey Bats and Lind, the hitting is not nearly good enough to play against good pitching. If by some miracle the 5 teams ahead of Toronto in the Wild Card Race fell on their collective faces and collapsed, it is highly unlikely that Toronto would see game 4 of the playoffs.
    In order to make a playoff run and succeed in the palyoffs, they need a pitching staff with enough experience under their belt to be consistent and good; they need good defense (which they have); and they need a lineup that can manufacture runs against good pitching. The Jays have 1 out of 3, and it will be a few years before the other things come to fruition.

  • blueboo

    The blue Jays aren’t going to make run in second half. The Blue Jays are going to begin to sort out their future this year. It will be trial and error. Guys like Villy and Reyes will figure into trading fodder. Stick with the plan!

  • rickstar

    Uh, they need more than that, they better than the likes of bats like jason nix, rajai davis, aaron hill, arencebia, and juan rivera, too.