A Closer Look At Blue Jays Free Agent Pitching Targets


Aug 19, 2013; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Bronson Arroyo (61) pitches during the third inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

The end of November is nearly upon us and we are looking at roughly two weeks before the start of baseball’s Winter Meetings. Yet, as we sit here, anxiously waiting, the Toronto Blue Jays yet to make a substantial move this offseason. In fact, the only move the team has made was signing of first baseman, and all-around swell guy, Dan Johnson.

Sure, we’ve heard names like Jeff Samardzija tossed around in trade talks and Alex Anthopoulos has said he has coals in the fire for other trade possibilities, but there has been nary a word mentioned in relation to free agent starting pitchers.

Maybe that is because Anthopoulos is trying to feel out the market, one way or the other, to figure out which would be more cost effective, pursuing the team’s pitching needs through trade or committing money from a tight budget. Given the exploits of last winter, neither is an optimal approach, as the team took on massive amounts of payroll last winter while also giving up significant prospects in trades.

But for the sake of argument, let’s take a look at the available free agent starting pitchers and try to figure out which ones would be the most useful to the Toronto Blue Jays. We’ll even ignore, for the time being, what the cost of said pitchers may be.

With that in mind, I’ve assembled the following list of available starters, both high and mid-level guys, that may appeal to the Blue Jays during their hunt for help.

*All stats courtesy of FanGraphs.

As we’ve mentioned in the past, the Blue Jays were victimized last season by the home run ball, placing behind only the Baltimore Orioles in terms of longballs allowed in 2013. As such, the team should be shying away from pitchers with heavy fly ball tendencies and focusing on guys that will give them a better chance of keeping the ball in the yard. That’s part of the purpose of this exercise.

With that said, of the pitchers above, the four players with highest fly ball tendencies are Matt Garza (38.2%), Bartolo Colon (37.9%), Jason Hammel (37.9%), Ubaldo Jimenez (36.3%), and Scott Kazmir (36.0%). Now in fairness, none of those numbers are outlandish by any stretch of the imagination. It’s all about damage control. For instance, Garza’s fly ball tendencies didn’t hurt him as much in the National League, but after moving to Texas , his ability to keep the ball in the yard failed him and he surrendered 12 home runs in 84.1 innings pitched for the Rangers compared to 8 in 71 innings for the Cubs.  Of these five pitchers, Jimenez (0.8) and Colon (0.7) did a decent job of mitigating their fly balls by limiting solid contact.

On the other side of things, we have those that did a better job of inducing ground balls. Of course, the best way to keep the ball in the yard is to keep it on the ground, and with an improved infield defense, that should suit the Blue Jays very well in 2014. Of the pitchers listed above, former Blue Jay A.J. Burnett did the best job of inducing ground balls, getting batters to keep it on the ground in 56.5% of at-bats. That parlayed into a career-best ERA and a solid 3.10 SIERA in 2013. Of course, Burnett is leaning toward retirement though, so a return engagement with the Blue Jays doesn’t appear to be in the cards. Outside of A.J., Scott Feldman (49.6%), Edinson Volquez (47.6%), Chris Capuano (46.4%), and Ervin Santana (46.2%) all did a good job of keeping the ball on the ground.

But what pitchers did a good job of ultimately limiting fly balls, inducing groundballs, and hey, let’s also weight in there limiting walks and line drives for giggles sake. Combine that into a weighted score, where the lowest number shows the best possible addition, and what do we get?

I think the results will shock you a bit.

That’s right folks, the best viable candidate to fill the needs for a ground ball pitcher that limits walks, fly balls, and line drives (based on 2013 numbers) is former Blue Jay A.J. Burnett. However, as we said, Burnett is either retiring this winter or working out a deal to return to Pittsburgh. That makes our winner former Oriole Scott Feldman, with former Red Bronson Arroyo coming in second, Chris Capuano third, and Ervin Santana fourth.

That all said, the top three candidates are no one’s idea of a solid rotational add-on, but all three would be feasibly priced and don’t come with the stigma of a qualifying offer attached. Of the three, Feldman is the better candidate, not only because of score, but also due to age and having relative success in the American League East.

Interestingly enough, one of the more regarded pitchers in this year’s class, Matt Garza, sits at the bottom of this list. With having the lowest ground ball rate and the highest fly ball rate, along with a falling strike-out rate, Garza profiles as a pitcher that should have experienced a much different outcome last winter. That could explain his struggles in Texas in the second half, and certainly characterizes him as a player the Blue Jays should steer away from this winter.

So what do you think Blue Jays fans, does Scott Feldman get the job done for you? Would you settle for Bronson Arroyo on a two-year deal? Do the big ticket pitchers look as attractive as they once did?