Losing the Arms Race


It’s no secret that pitching is the key to victory in the game of baseball. While teams can dream of inking big name free agent pitchers to their club to front their rotations this is in no way a cost effective means of building a solid staff.  Even without the financial restrictions that go along with signing big name pitchers it’s becoming harder to land these top of the rotation arms as pitchers like Justin Verlander, Cole Hamels, and Felix Hernandez are inking long term deals before they hit the open market. So obviously this leaves drafting and developing quality pitching as teams like Tampa Bay And San Francisco have done.

With the recent debuts of top Orioles Hurler Kevin Gausman and the much heralded Sean Nolin for the Jays it seems fitting to look at the Jays recent history with young arms.

Over the last several years injuries and/or ineffectiveness have plagued the Jays up and coming arms. Of the many pitchers to make their way through the Jayss ystem in the past few years Shaun Marcum is the only one currently seeing time in a big league rotation. Both Brett Cecil and Casey Janssen once showed great promise as starting pitchers, with the former posting a 15 win season in 2010, and while neither of these pitchers lived up to their promise as starters they have turned into valuable pieces of the club in the current role, so they can be counted among the teams successes. However  it seems the buck stops there when it comes to pitchers the Jays have developed.

May 3, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays manager

John Gibbons

and home plate umpire Jim Joyce (66) check on starting pitcher

Ricky Romero

(24) after being hit with a batted ball at the Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Ricky Romero is the one pitcher whose merits can still be debated, Romero put together a solid 2011 campaign logging 225 inning and posting a 2.92 ERA. However a closer look at his numbers such as a .242 BABIP  and a 79% strand rate suggested he may have been in line to come back down to earth. Then in 2012 he did just that and then continued to plummet to the point where he is now toiling away in the minors trying to find the ability to throw strikes. Romero is not at the point where is he beyond hope, although his 8 runs in two thirds of an inning in Buffalo yesterday are not a good sign, and if he is able to find his game once again it would be a huge success for the Jays pitching development.

Asides from the pitchers mentioned above the only thing the Jay’s have developed in recent years is a lengthy client list for Dr. James Andrews. 2012 alone saw Kyle Drabek, Drew Hutchison, and Luis Perez all go for Tommy John surgery. There were other Jays pitchers injured as well but not one that were being developed by the team.

Several years of poor developmental practice could have been attributed to the teams Triple-A affiliate being located in the pitchers graveyard that is Las Vegas. In an attempt to shield there young arms from this environment many pitchers were jumping straight from Double-A right to the big league club. The lack of proper seasoning is most evident in the since traded Henderson Alvarez.

Alvarez had a sinker that he threw at a 92-95 MPH as well as a fastball that got up to 96 MPH. His sinker had a ground ball/fly ball ratio of 4:1, the problem for Alvarez though was the lack of a strikeout pitch.

The Jay’s however instead of letting the only 21 year old Alvarez develop that pitch in the minors called him up to the big leagues with only 88 innings above High-A to pitch in what was a write off of a season. Alvarez could’ve developed into a legitimate weapon but was forced into service too soon, luckily he fared better than Drew Hutchison and made it through 2012 uninjured.

First round picks that didn’t develop into anything such as David Purcey, Zach Jackson, and Deck McGuire are becoming the norm for the the Jays.

Jesse Litsch and Dustin McGowan were two other promising prospects who were all sizzle and no steak.  While most of their letdown was due to injury and not poor performance you can say it’s not entirely the clubs fault, but as Jeff Passan pointed out over at Yahoo Sports, some teams keep their players healthy better than others, and with the string of surgeries the Jays have had the may need to reexamine things.

With the ugly results when it comes to developing pitchers, and the current prospect porn attitude that is permeating the game, the Jays use of pitching prospects in big time trades may end up being the best use of their assets. Dealing heralded young arms before the Jays player development or injury takes the shine off of them. This may be the best way for them to capitalize on their valuable young arms to keep up with both the home grown up and coming rotations of Tampa Baltimore and Boston, as well as the Yankees “Weekend at Bernies*” magic where they somehow reanimate a corpse of a former useful pitcher (or player)and make him effective for a season.

*See Bartolo Colon 2011, Vernon Wells 2013