Is this the worst Toronto Blue Jays pitching staff ever?


An interesting question came up on the most recent Jays Nest Podcast as a reader/listener wanted to know if the 2015 edition is the worst Toronto Blue Jays pitching staff ever.

Shaun gave a good answer – that’s probably not something you can evaluate until the end of the season. I agree as a six-week sample isn’t nearly enough time to draw any logical conclusions about a team’s true talent level. However I couldn’t help but wonder how this year’s version of Blue Jays pitching compared historically to past teams.
It’s always tricky to compare different eras as the run-scoring environment has fluctuated quite a bit over the years but thankfully we have the tools to do so.

Instead of using ERA, which isn’t adjusted for context, I decided to use ERA- as the measure of choice. ERA- adjusts for league and park factors, which makes it useful to compare time periods. An average ERA is 100 and lower is better (like actual ERA). The results are compared to average so a 90 ERA- is 10% better than league average and a 110 ERA- is 10% worse than league average.

Initiated readers may quibble with this and prefer I use FIP- or a different type of earned run estimator but for most full seasons they correlate quite closely.

So now for the results. Has this been the worst Toronto Blue Jays pitching staff ever?

In a word, almost. Their 116 ERA- is tied for the worst mark in franchise history, deadlocked with the 1978 Blue Jays when the team was in their second year of existence. However the ’78 team was actually worse over the first month of the season (124 ERA- vs. 116 ERA-).

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As a matter of fact, the Jays’ rotation was also worse over the first month of last season (118 ERA-) than this year. They started 2012 great (90 ERA-) but due to Ricky Romero’s implosion, a rash of injuries and regression to their FIP- (123) that team finished the season with an awful 110 ERA-. And in 2006, the pitching staff started slowly with a 114 ERA- the first month and that team won 87 games.

So although at first glance it appears the 2015 Blue Jays pitchers have a chance be historically bad, things often improve. How a team starts isn’t necessarily an indication of how they’ll finish. At the same time, I think it’s fair to question just how good this current stable of arms can be, at least for the rest of 2015.

Can this staff, a mishmash of very young and very old pitchers (sprinkled in with a few journeyman relievers), be better than what they’ve shown thus far this season? The laws of regression are likely on their side – it will be tough for them to continue to be is bad. However will it be enough to take down their other equally tattered AL East opponents? Only time will tell.

Stats via FanGraphs

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