Jays Rotation Grading At The Break

With the Lineup 1st half examined and expectations set for the second half, we set our eyes on the rotation next. While some performances have exceeded expectations, or at least met them, others have had a much harder time. As in 2010, it seems that the Jays are 1 or 2 starters away from making a real run at the wild card, as a minimum. It makes you wonder what Roy Halladay and Shaun Marcum would mean to this team as a whole….

Moving on…

Here is what we could call the “top 5″ at the break and their performances from the 1st half, along with some of the “Next in Line” guys who could come into play in the second half:

Ricky Romero – Unquestioned “Ace” of the Staff

  • 122.1 IP, 106 hits, 3.09 ERA, 45 BB, 101 Ks, .234 AVG, 1.23 Whip
  • Ricky is really coming into his own and has provided the Jays with the go-to pitcher in the rotation that they so desperately needed. The fact that his record sits at 7-8 despite such great looking stats tells you a lot about what wins really mean about a pitcher’s performance – absolutely nothing. He may be better suited for the #2 role once others reach their potential (such as Brandon Morrow, Kyle Drabek, and/or Henderson Alvarez), but for now, he is the unquestioned ace of the rotation. His leadership has shown among the starters as well, as he helps keep them close knit and loose. The only faults I can find to his first half are his walk totals and the fact that he didn’t retaliate when Jays hitters were getting plunked left-right-and center. Aside from that, he has achieved career highs in all areas of his game and continues to progress towards being one of the elite pitchers in the AL, thus his addition into the All-Star game as a substitute.
  • Grade: A

Brandon Morrow: Ace Potential

  • 88 IP, 78 hits, 4.60 ERA, 35 BB, 104 Ks, .237 AVG, 1.28 Whip
  • The Jays really missed Brandon for the first part of the season and needed his dominance and different look on the mound. His absence did allow them to sort some things out in terms of Jesse Litsch, Kyle Drabek, and Jo-Jo Reyes all getting shots at the rotation, but in reality, it hurt the Jays a lot. In fact, I think we can easily say that his absence cost the Jays at least 3-4 wins in the first half. He is still looking to find his comfort zone, but has shown glimpses of his dominance when he locates his pitches well enough. As you can see from the stats above, he is just as hard to hit as Ricky Romero but is walking too many batters for his number of IP. That’s the only real issue with Brandon at this point. If he can cut the walks down, throw strikes and trust his stuff, he will dominate and go very deep into games. I expect big things from him in the second half and really hope it’s a healthy time for him as well. We still expected more from him in the first half than he gave us, so the grade reflects that despite his potential being so great.
  • Grade: B

Carlos Villanueva – Surprise #3

  • 78.1 IP, 62 hits, 2.99 ERA, 23 BB, 54 Ks, .218 AVg, 1.09 Whip
  • It’s easy to argue that the stats Villanueva has put up are skewed due to his time in the pen, so let me add this: he has only allowed more than 3 ER in a start twice over his last 10 GP (4 once, 5 once), has thrown at least 6 innings in all of his last 6 starts, and he had his best start of all his last time out, pitching a 6 inning shutout with 2 walks and 7 strike outs against the Indians. That the Jays were able to land such a gem for absolutely nothing from the Brewers speaks volumes about Alex Anthopoulos and his team’s ability to observe talent, recognize it, and acquire it. With Villanueva in the pen, would the Brewers have had to trade for KRod? I doubt it, and having to do so pretty much guarantees Prince Fielderwill not be with them in 2012 due to his $17.5 million option vesting at that time. That’s a very costly move for the Brewers which goes fairly unnoticed, and one that the Jays are reaping the benefits from. The problem? He only threw 67 innings in 2010, so he has already surpassed that total this season with 78.1 innings under his belt. What does that tell us? He will likely return to the pen as soon as one of Jesse Litsch or Kyle Drabek is ready to make the move into it. Not doing so would jeopordize his future. That’s pretty frustrating when you can clearly see that he has put things together this season. It could also indicate that the Jays could move him to another team that is looking for pen help. He’s under control through 2012 (his 3rd and last arbitration year) and only makes $1.415 million this season, so he’s very affordable. His trade value may never be higher, so his inning totals coupled with that may be burning a hole in AA’s pocket. In any case, his .218 average against and 1.09 whip are simply outstanding and give hope for another potent arm to do some damage in 2012 at a minimum.
  • Grade: A

Brett Cecil – Under Construction

  • 41.1 IP, 46 hits, 5.66 ERA, 19 BB, 33 BB, .288 AVG, 1.573 Whip
  • When you consider that Brett was able to earn himself 15 wins in 2010 in only his second year in the majors, you see the value in keeping him around and working through his issues. The truth of it all is that this year, he has gotten hit too much and has walked too many, not a good combination for any pitcher. The good news? He is still missing enough bats to let us know that he can still keep hitters off balance, and he is still going fairly deep into games (6 or more innings 4 of his 7 outings, 5 IP the other 3 outings). That’s encouraging because it doesn’t tax the pen and points to his competitiveness on nights when his stuff just isn’t working right. Brett was sent to AAA in order to get his confidence and stuff working right, and he was knocked around his first start back as he gave up 6 ER. However, the following 2 starts were the best of his season, as he lasted 8 strong his second game back against a potent Red Sox lineup, allowing only 3 ER and striking out 6 in that one, and followed it up with another quality start against the Indians, giving up only 1 ER in 6 IP, also striking out 6 in this one. The re-construction done on his confidence and stuff done in AAA seems to have worked, and if so, it bodes well for the chances that the Jays will have a much improved rotation in the second half. As a lefty with a big booming curve who gives the Jays a nice “different” look in the rotation, Brett is an important piece of the staff and could become one of the best 4-5 pitchers in the AL if he pitches like we know he can. His progression upon returning earns him a higher grade than his stats would indicate.
  • Grade: B-

Jo-Jo Reyes – He’s Still in the Rotation?

  • 100.1 IP, 122 hits, 4.57 ERA, 33 BB, 59 Ks, .298 AVG, 1.54 Whip
  • I still don’t get it. If Reyes was a RHP, he would have been let go by the Jays a long time ago. He’s too hittable, he’s too inconsistent, and he may be much better off going into the pen and providing a team with a great situational lefty option. Over his last 10 starts, he has given up more hits than IP half of the time, he has given up 4 ER or more half of the time, and he has walked 21 batters while striking out only 29 and gave up 67 hits in 58 IP. He has a season average against of .298, an ugly whip of 1.54, and he just isn’t allowing the Jays as much of a chance to win on most nights as other options could provide. My thoughts on Reyes are these: as soon as the Jays open up a spot in the pen and want to call on Kyle Drabek, Zach Stewart, Brad Mills, or Joel Carreno, he will be done in the rotation. As much as I love the dedication it takes to stick it out with a pitcher like Reyes, sometimes you have to call a spade a spade. He is too inconsistent to belong in the rotation. Either change his role or cut him loose. Just because he has progressed some and has been a bad luck loser on some nights, I’ve been lenient on his grade.
  • Grade: C-

With the 5 starters listed above in mind, I give the first half of the season grade for the rotation a solid B. There were some surprises, and some “I told you so” items, but overall the rotation gave the Jays a chance to win on the majority of nights. If the AAA staff can harness Kyle Drabek’s energy and get him turned around in the same way that they got Brett Cecil working right, the second half could improve tremendously for the rotation.

The “Next in Line” guys:

Kyle Drabek - Mr.Temper

  • MLB Stats: 72.2 IP, 78 hits, 5.70 ERA, 52 BB, 48 Ks, .283 AVG, 1.79 Whip
  • As a pitcher, you have to throw strikes. That’s a well known fact that even the most non-baseball fan knows very well. Drabek just couldn’t do that this season. It seems to be a “between the ears” problem, and it’s definitely something that got under his skin more and more as he continued to walk hitters to a whopping total of 52 BB in only 72.2 IP. He hasn’t done very well since getting to AAA (7.02 ERA), but has finally begun to show some improvements of late (1 ER in 6 IP, and 3 ER in 6 IP his last 2 times out).  Most importantly, he has only walked 1 batter over his last 12 IP. Having said that, what happens if he takes to the mound again in MLB and walks the first batter he faces? Harnessing his temper will be the key to his progression, because if he doesn’t, each time he walks a guy, allows a hit, or at worse allows a HR, he will beat himself up and will fall apart in the process. Truthfully, as much as I don’t like having Reyes as the #5 guy in the rotation, I don’t want to see Kyle back in Toronto until August at the earliest, just so that he can work on accepting the fact that he will walk batters, he will get hit, and he will get hit hard on some occasions. He definitely still has ace stuff to work with, he just needs to do a whole lot of growing up and has to learn to focus before he takes the mound, while he’s on the mound, and after he gets off the mound. His tantrums were childish and immature, and because of that and his overall performance, he gets the worse grade of any Blue Jays player in the 1st half of the season.
  • Grade: F

Jesse Litsch - Red Beard Fizzles

  • 41.1 IP, 46 hits, 4.66 ERA, 18 BB, 36 Ks, .268 AVG, 1.42 Whip
  • Litsch is one of those guys who could have givent the Jays a much stronger and much more consistent #5 starter than Reyes in the first half. However, injuries and some rocky starts ensured that any production from him was going to be short lived. What’s worse is that his last 2 starts in his rehab in AAA have been horrific to say the least. He has allowed 16 ER in 7.2 IP over his last 2 starts and isn’t anywhere close to returning to the rotation as a result. Something more serious than we know about may be going on here, as an injury seems to be the most likely culprit of such bad performances. Usually a lot more steady as it goes on the mound, Litsch isn’t the type to get lit up that badly unless an injury is present. Because of this, I wouldn’t expect him to make much of an impact in the second half of the season, as he seems to be dealing with significant issues this season. While he was with the Jays, he did manage to keep his AVG against down and had a tolerable ERA, and most importantly he did win half of his starts, so his grade reflects this mediocrity in the first half.
  • Grade: C

Zach Stewart – The Future Closer or The Future #3?

  • 16.2 IP, 26 hits, 4.86 ERA, 5 BB, 10 Ks, .382 AVG, 1.860 Whip
  • In my mind, Stewart belongs in the pen. As a late innings reliever, Stewart could add 2-4 MPH on his stuff, making it so dominant that it would provide the Jays with a closing candidate for 2012 and beyond. His 2011 MLB performance only reinforces this train of thought, as he proved to be very hittable. Think that’s just an anomaly of so few starts in the majors? Think again, as he also has a .296 average against in AA this season. I’m not exactly sure how that and a 4.52 ERA in AA got him the starting role in the Eastern League all-star game, but that’s what happened. I won’t be examining the possibility of his returning to the Jays rotation simply because I hope it doesn’t happen. The more the Jays throw him to the wolves, the more they’ll knock his confidence down. I firmly believe that he will flourish in the pen very much in the same way that Marc Rzepczynskihas flourished in 2011. Add in the potential to have Villanueva rejoin the pen at some point and it would provide the Jays with 3 extremely strong options in the pen going into 2012. As for a grade, it’s based on very few starts.
  • Grade: D

As I stated above, the Jays also have the possibility of using minor league pitchers such as Brad Mills and Joel Carreno in the second half of the season. Both are on the 40-man roster, and both made their respective all-star games in the minors. There’s also a slight chance that Henderson Alvarez could get a look in September, but I doubt that would happen before both Mills and Carreno got looks in the majors. The only other pitcher who seems to be in contention for some rotation time in the second half of this season is Scott Richmond, but his 6.65 ERA and 110 hits allowed in 89.1 IP this season in AAA don’t exactly scream “take me next!!!”. Sure, some have wet dreams about getting Dustin McGowan back into the rotation, but I’m not going to jump on that bandwagon until he can pitch 6 innings consistently in the minors.

That’s my take on the rotation over the 1st half of the season. It’s B Grade is slightly below the Lineup grade of B+, so you can tell where I believe the biggest issues lie since the pen is the last remaining grade to be handed out. That should be out sometime soon.

- MG

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

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