Post Season Pitching


I read quite a bit about the Blue Jays.  And with the season now over, most of the attention has started to drift towards what needs to be done to make the Jays better for next year.  Unsurprisingly, after the injury marred 2012 season, pitching, specifically starting pitching, has dominated much of the conversation.  Depending who you read, in order to contend in 2013, Toronto needs to go out and get anywhere from two to four front line starters this off-season.

I wouldn’t put myself in the doom and gloom camp.  There is depth on the fringes of the major league club.  I am assuming

September 23, 2012; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Chad Jenkins (64) throws a pitch in the first inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Joel Carreno, Chad Jenkins, and Deck McGuire make up three fifths of Buffalo’s opening day rotation.  All three are there for a reason, but if the issues they are asked to work on are resolved then any one of three could see themselves called up to the big club.  I’d like to say Henderson Alvarez starts the year in Triple-A, but I just can’t see it happening.  Let’s look at it this way, if the rotation is at a point come spring training, that the Jays have the luxury of sending Alvarez to the minors to work on his slider, that can only considered a good thing.

With Kyle Drabek expected to return next summer and Drew Hutchison a possibility, there is depth.  Maybe not front line talent depth, but enough young starters where if the Jays only manage to get one new arm this off-season it won’t be the end of the world.

However, despite my optimism, I also don’t kid myself.  The Jays do need need to acquire at least one arm this winter, maybe even two.  And those arms need to be top of the rotation quality if the Jays have any hope of moving forward.

There are three methods of obtaining the needed starter.  Of those three, I’m going to eliminate an unexpected promotion from within (ala Drew Hutchison).  Most of the Jays high end pitching talent is in A ball or lower.  The mid level arms in double A will now spend time in Buffalo rather than making the jump straight to the bigs.  So, really, it’s 2014 before we start seeing the fruits of AA’s farm labours.

The other two possible routes are free agency and trades.  Both contain their attendant risks.  I’m not going to sit here and try and predict which player the Jays could or should go after.  I do believe they need a guy who can step in as a one or two starter though (a three at worst, which probably costs as much as one would think a one or two should), and the cost for this is going to be steep.  The question I have is, should the Jays take into account post-season experience and results when making this all important decision?

Now, I may be asking this after being unduly influenced by the numerous playoff games I’ve watched over the last seven days which limits the sample size grossly, but there is a definite trend emerging.  Teams are successful when their starters pitch deep in a game.  Really a captain obvious sort of statement.  So why wouldn’t you take into account what a player has done with whatever playoff experience he may have had?

Regular season success is fantastic and all, but just getting to the playoffs only benefits the team as far as generating a few extra dollars of revenue.  A world series ring is the only goal.  Sure, the players do seem to enjoy soaking their clubhouse in champagne after winning the wild card, wild card play-in game, division series, etc etc but my theory is they like free drinks as much as anyone.

One example where post season failures should have deterred potential suitors is C.J. Wilson.  In nine post-season starts, Wilson only managed to last fifty-one innings for an average of five and two thirds per.  Consistently asking your bullpen to get ten outs a game isn’t a recipe for success.  C.J.  made two starts in last year’s World Series, going eleven innings, giving up eight hits and walking eleven for a 1.73 WHIP.  He only managed seven strike outs, for a K to BB ratio under one.  Amazingly, he managed to get a win in one of the starts, which only shows how useless win/loss records are when measuring a pitcher’s worth.

Wilson’s two straight regular seasons with a WAR over 4 (according to Baseball-Reference) must have looked very good to all those looking to get him signed.  But if the Angels make the playoffs in the next four seasons (and with their spending power, it isn’t hard to see that) I’ll be very curious to see how Wilson fairs.  A contract which averages over fifteen million bucks a season is a lot of dough for someone who struggles to get you seven innings come playoff time.

Now, that was a roundabout way of saying, should the Jays take into account past playoff performances when looking at adding a top arm via free agency.  Difficult.  And probably situational.  The consensus top arm on the free agent market is Zach Greinke.  Greinke has made three post-season starts and the numbers aren’t great.  Only sixteen and two thirds innings, which again, is asking a lot of your ‘pen.  And a WHIP of 1.62 which is asking a lot of your defense.

Now, three starts is a very small sample size, and even one of the dominant starters of 2012, Justin Verlander struggled early in his playoff career, averaging just over five innings in his first eight starts.  If he was up for free agency after 2011, I’m pretty sure he would have gotten paid, poor post-season record or not.

But, if you’re in on a more than one pitcher, and a decision needs to be made, why not add playoff stats in as a variable?  Hiroki Kuroda has a pretty impressive post-season resume whereas Jake Peavy and Ryan Dempster don’t.

Trades are more difficult to quantify as the market most likely will be for someone a bit younger and controllable.  Although, that may be more attractive than signing someone older and possibly on the downside of their career, it also means you may not have any playoff sample size.  And trading for someone young and controllable is expensive, as per the market that was set last year.  I was blown away reading Shi Davidi’s piece on what the cost to the Jays may have been for Gio Gonzales.  Three major leaguers (although Drew Hutchison wasn’t there yet) and young ones at that, plus two of your premier prospects??!  Wow.

Gonzales put together a 4.5 WAR year for the Nationals this season but wouldn’t you expect a combination of five players that was the price for him to put up that and more at some stage down the line?  And Gio’s value this year was during the regular season.  Again, it was a small sample size, but when his team needed him come playoff time, he disappeared.  Two starts, only ten innings pitched, eleven walks (!!), and a WHIP of 1.7.  His K/BB ratio went from a 2.72 regular season to 0.91.

It was actually Gio’s struggles and, to a lesser extent, Mat Latos‘, that started me on this rant.  For those that want to see Anthopolous mine the capital he has accumulated in the lower levels and pull the trigger on a blockbuster trade for a front-line starter, remember what happened this season.  Ask Nationals and Reds fans if trips to the Division Series were worth the price.

I hate to sound like a broken record, but the Jays have too many holes in their current roster to seriously think giving up four/five prospects for one starter is going to push them over the hump.  Money doesn’t contain potential, although you could argue it may be better of spent somewhere else.  Sign someone who can help now, overpay if you have to.  Take into account their playoff pedigree.

When those prospects down in the lower levels start to mature, whomever you get this off-season can slide down the depth chart.  Now you have a starting five with enough ability to get you through the necessary series, and on to the big dance.

Which is what any team’s end game needs to be.