If Dustin McGowan Can Start, Why Can’t John Stilson?


Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Last week Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star wrote a nice piece about Dustin McGowan. I don’t have any issues with management trying to get as much value out of McGowan as they can. After all, the Blue Jays have been paying his rehab for what feels like the better part of a decade. I actually find myself optimistic that he will start again this season. I am not sure what the results will be, nor am I sure how many he will make, but what I am sure of is that whatever the result, it will end up making quite the story.

Some fans feel that his propensity for getting injured should cause management to forgo this dream of starting Dustin McGowan. But here we stand, it is spring training and we have been hearing rumblings about McGowan being stretched out for a couple weeks now, even though we know the consequences may result in another injury.

So if McGowan can be stretched out as a potential starter, why can’t John Stilson?

Stilson, 23, has been impressive this spring and was equally impressive throughout 2013. He was originally drafted as a starter, albeit an injured starter out of Texas Tech. Stilson tore his labrum in 2011, the same year he was drafted. Stilson would have been a 1st round pick if he was healthy. He wasn’t and the Jays drafted him in the third round…blah blah blah. You want more on John Stilson read a piece masterfully written by Michael Wray, profiling Stilson as Toronto’s 18th best prospect in 2014.  There are or were concerns about the violent nature of Stilson’s delivery, as Wray pointed out. These concerns ultimately lead to Stilson pitching exclusively in a relief role in 2013.

There is no denying his numbers as a reliever are impressive, but his skill set makes me ask, “Why not make him a starter again?” You can make the argument, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” But I like to argue or at the very least converse about possible destinations for highly talented arms such as McGowan and Stilson. So let us converse.

Are the concerns over potential arm injury and the fatigue experienced in 2012 directly related or mutually exclusive? Could the apparent arm fatigue be caused by taking time off to allow it to heal (he did not have surgery to repair the tear)? Maybe Stilson does not possess an arm suited for a starting role? Could it be that this young man simply struggled with the mechanical adjustments to his delivery, coupled with adjusting to the higher level of competition? So many question with so many options.

The way I see it, if management is going to allow McGowan yet another chance at becoming an impact starter, why not allow Stilson another shot. What would be the harm of having Stilson make a return to the starting rotation? With the state of the Blue Jays starting rotation and conversely the fantastic state of the bullpen, it’s not as though we’re in desperate need of bullpen help.

Sure the apparent risk of injury is present, but was finding top of the rotation talent not the goal of this off-season? Is John Stilson not capable of fulfilling that criteria? Stilson’s 2012 number as a starter were not earth shattering, but not many 22 year old first year starters with a recently torn labrum hit the ground running. Stilson was still able to put up nearly 8 K/9 almost exclusively as a starter and in 2014 he improved in all statistical categories and stayed healthy. Stilson was able to increase his K/9 and decrease his WHIP, BB/9, and BABIP. These improvements may be related to his new role as a starter or they could be attributed to a healthy shoulder, being comfortable with a repeatable delivery, and maturing as a pitcher.

We can’t go converting every starting pitcher that gets injuried to a reliever. If we did Brandon Morrow, Drew Hutchison, and for sure Kyle Drabek (that guy has had two Tommy John surgeries) would find themselves in the bullpen long-time ago. Unless management plan is to groom John Stilson to be our future closer, I say let his start 2014 in New Hampshire as starter and see what happens.