Toronto Blue Jays: Who is the Ace?
Good Ol’ Mr Dependable?
When we look for an ace, we look to see if the pitcher can wow us with all of the above, but on a consistent basis. One benchmark is the 200 inning plateau. That tells us that they take the ball every 5th day, which is incredibly valuable. It is something the Blue Jays hold in very high regard.
As well, we can look at their average Game Score (GmScA). For those of us who are unfamiliar, GameScore is described by BaseballReference.com as follows: “This is a value created by Bill James that evaluates how good a pitcher’s start was. You start with 50 points. Add 1 point for each out recorded, (or 3 points per inning). Add 2 points for each inning completed after the 4th. Add 1 point for each strikeout. Subtract 2 points for each hit allowed. Subtract 4 points for each earned run allowed. Subtract 2 points for each unearned run allowed. Subtract 1 point for each walk.” The GameScore of a true ace would be over 60. Though, as Rymer points out, those who’ve reached that level are very few in number.
To further our examination, we’ll also look at Win Probability Added (WPA) and the actual things in a game the pitcher has direct control over- Ks, BB, HR, etc, in their Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) as indicators of consistent domination. A great ace will have a FIP as low as possible, obviously, but 3 is a realistic goal. Anything under is gravy. Kershaw put up 2.63 last season. So, here we go.
Dickey has reached that elusive 200 innings pitched in each of the last 4 seasons. Since his comeback as a knuckleballer, he has been very dependable. There is far less stress on the arm from a knuckleball, which means fewer injuries (at least to the throwing arm). His durability is most of the reason many believe he is well worth the $12M he’ll make in 2015. He also averaged 6 1/3 innings per start last season. While good, an ace’s should be higher.
Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Last season, Dickey’s GameScore was 53.9. For comparison, in his Cy Young year (2012), he put up a value of 62.1. Comparing the two seasons, we can get a sense of the difference between ace-like performance and…not.
Let’s look at his Win Probability Added. An ace should also ADD Wins to his team. There has to be a heavy impact by having this guy taking the mound every 5th day. For Dickey, that impact is not so good. Last season, he put up -1.29 WPA. Granted, it is better than 2013 where he scored -1.56. Again, for comparison, his 2012 value was 2.18. For further comparison, Kershaw put up a value of 5.47 last season. But, needless to say, a negative number here is not ace material. It means taking wins away.
If we look at the things Dickey CAN control (FIP), he looks less like an ace than I had originally thought. His 2014 FIP sits at 4.32 (for the record it is projected to go up to 4.50 next season). This is likely due to his WHIP of 1.23, which included 26(!) HR. This is definitely NOT ace material.
Do we even need to talk about Buehrle and his ability to consistently put up 200 innings? Well, OK. He’s done it 14 seasons in a row. While that is impressive, there is some cause for concern. He came down to the wire to finish with 202 innings last season. His 6 1/3 innings per start are not great either. So, like Dickey, he makes the number of starts of an ace, hits the number of innings of an ace, but does not go deep into games like an ace.
As for his GameScore…yeah, it has never been 60 or better. His highest score was 56.2, but that was in 2001. Last season, it was 51.4, which is right near his career average (51). Obviously, this is not the score of an ace.
Last season, Mark Buehrle put up a WPA of 1.36. That is not Kershaw territory, but it is a positive number to start with. The Blue Jays were positively impacted by him being their starter. This number is not the highest of his career (he had 7 seasons better, in fact), but it is better than his career average of 1.26. Still, it is not the value of an ace.
As far as his FIP goes, Buehrle had his most successful season in years last season. His 3.66 mark was the best since 2005! But, before we go getting too excited, he is projected to reach 4.48. An ace does a better job with the things he is directly responsible for. If you’ve been paying attention, you know that Buehrle gives up his share of hits and it shows in a WHIP of 1.36 last season. We already discussed his command, so the hits are what hurt him.
It is a bit unfair to judge Hutchison on innings pitched. 2014 was meant to see if he can get through an entire season. And, he did. He made 32 starts for 184.2 innings. That’s good for him, yes. But, it is not ace material. He has to get through a full season, but the inning totals need to be higher. He averaged under 6 innings per start last season. He’s got to last longer than that.
His GameScore sat at 52.3 last season. He’s having an OK impact on the game, but is nowhere near dominating them. We know how good he CAN BE, but he has not lived up to that consistently. He is not an ace. He may be one day, but not today.
Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports
The average view of his impact on the games he starts in is furthered by his WPA. By having him take the mound, the Blue Jays benefit from-0.19 wins. He adds a negative win probability. It is not a huge negative value, but it is there. Even if we accept that it is close to zero, we’re still saying that he adds the likelihood of ZERO wins.
This all may be due to the 3.85 FIP. A value of nearly 4 is not ace-like. It is not terrible, mind you, but it shows that he needs to do a better job of the things he can control. HIs WHIP was 1.26 last season which included 23 HR allowed.
None of this points to the dependability of an ace.
Stroman probably cannot be judged by last year’s innings totals either. He reached 130.2 in 20 starts and 26 games. But, it is not difficult to imagine him making a full season of starts. Whether it was out of the bullpen or starting, Stroman took the ball every time he was called upon. If we were to project his innings over a full season, we’d end up at or near the 200 mark.
Stroman scores the highest of any Blue Jays starter with a value of 56.1. It is creeping close to that magical (if not nearly impossible) number of 60. This tells us that of all the starters, Stroman has the highest impact on his games.
WPA-He added a win probability of 1.10 last season. Now, it is a far cry from Kershaw’s 5.47, but let’s be honest, there aren’t many who will come close to that. Given that he was a rookie last year, it is not unreasonable to expect Stroman to continue to grow and his WPA to increase.
Stroman’s FIP was 2.84 showing us that he did a great job of controlling things. But, this alone doesn’t quite tell the story. Michael Wray pointed this out to me: Stroman was nearly elite last year FIP- (FIP adjusted for ballparks) of 70 (that’s 30% better than league average) and he was 12th best in baseball (min 130 IP) ahead of Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, David Price, Stephen Strasburg. Hello! He was helped out by a 1.17 WHIP and the fact that he only gave up 7 HR. Those numbers may not hold true over a full season of starting, though.
When it comes down to dependability and impact, Stroman appears to be the most ace-like starter the Blue Jays have. And, he’s just 23. All of this and his ‘bulldog’ approach and swagger make him a good bet for future success. Too bad we can’t quantify ‘bulldog’ and swagger. I think he’d be a lock for ace then.
If we are going to call into question the innings issue with Stroman, we can’t even look at it when it comes to Aaron Sanchez. Given that he came out of the bullpen in his first year of major league service for the Blue Jays last year, we can’t get an accurate picture of his innings contributed. As well, his minor league career did not yield more than 90 innings in a season. It is questionable as to whether he has a full 200 inning season in him. Moreover, the Blue Jays should not expect him to.
Given that he only came out of the bullpen and GameScore is calculated based on starting, Sanchez does not have a GameScore to which we can refer. So, we’ll have to make do with his other numbers. Despite his limited role, Sanchez still had a WPA of 0.96.That means he added nearly a win. This impact probably has a lot to do with the filthy stuff we already discussed. And, like Stroman, his FIP is pretty sick. His 2014 FIP sits at 2.80 with a FIP- value of 72, which is 28% better than the average. These numbers are encouraging heading into a season that has high expectations for Sanchez. Can his nasty stuff carry him to the ace label?
Based on the above, it would appear that Marcus Stroman has the dependability and impact of an ace. That should come with the note that Stroman may not be in the upper echelon of aces, but he certainly stands out as having the durability and impact needed to be the ace of this Blue Jays staff. Buehrle and Dickey certainly have the innings totals, but they lack in impact and value that Stroman provides.