Blue Jays Defense Could Dictate Next Pitching Move


The Toronto Blue Jays have a much improved defensive squad. They could use that in the search for their next starting pitching target.

Even after bringing Marco Estrada back and trading Liam Hendriks for Jesse Chavez, the Toronto Blue Jays are not done addressing their pitching needs. Whether they are aiming to build a deep pool of “B level” talent or making a run at a major ace, we know they are still looking to add.

Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto Blue Jays /

Toronto Blue Jays

In looking at what Jesse Chavez brings to the table, we might be able to gain some insight into what kind of target the club will see as they move through the winter.

According to, Chavez is a 80.1% contact pitcher. When he’s in the zone, that number climbs to 85.1%. That contact resulted in more groundballs than he’s induced in his entire career at 207. He’s also thrown more innings (157) than ever, as well. A more accurate way to look at it is a GB rate of 43.1%.  If we were to look at where that ranked in 2015, we might be surprised. Using, Chavez would slide in to 61st overall between J.A. Happ and Wei-Yin Chen.

Bringing in a starter who can throw groundballs would benefit the Blue Jays in a couple ways. Firstly, it would help them avoid the long ball at Rogers Centre. Obviously, it would be a good thing if your team is the only one dropping bombs. Secondly, though, a groundball pitcher allows them to use their vastly improved defense to hold teams in check.

The defense the Blue Jays ran out in 2015 looks to be in tact for 2016, so chances are, we’re going to see a rather tight infield. Josh Donaldson brings a value of 11 DRS and UZR/150 of 9.8 from 2015. Troy Tulowitzki brings 5 DRS and a 4.9 UZR/150. And, he’ll be playing short stop, regardless of the silly notion of moving him to 1B. Ryan Goins put up a 2015 of 4 DRS and a UZR/150 of 3 in his time at 2B. The Blue Jays look to be starting the year with him there. Devon Travis was also worth 1 DRS and a UZR/150 of 7.1 in his limited time at 2B. Over at first, Chris Colabello put up a -5 DRS and a UZR/150 of -5.6. Despite these numbers, one gets the sense that he played better than that. But, his platoon mate, Justin Smoak, brings a positive value to the position with 4 DRS and a UZR/150 of 4.6.

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Using this defense to their advantage could mean bringing in someone who pitches to contact. One of the best at it in 2015 just won a Cy Young Award. Dallas Keuchel had the 2nd highest GB rate in MLB at 63.62%. It can be huge element to success. In looking at that list from Sporting Charts and crossing it with the list of free agents, we might be able to find a match for the Blue Jays. Obviously, the player will also have to match up with the club’s wallet, whatever that looks like.

David Price actually ranked lower than Chavez with a 42.23% GB rate. Zack Geinke ranked 36th. Jordan Zimmerman ranks 53rd at 44.73%. These guys are at the top of the potential earnings list and might be out of the budget for the Blue Jays. Some guys who might be within the club’s means include:

  • Mike Leake: MLBTR predicts he’ll see a 5yr/$80M deal. His 53.71% GB rate ranked him 16th in MLB.
  • Mike Pelfrey: He’s expected to get a 2yr/$15M deal. His 52.24% GB rate ranked him 21st in MLB.
  • Yovani Gallardo: Expected deal- 4yr/$52M. His 51.62% GB rate was good for 23rd in MLB.
  • John Lackey: Expected deal- 3yr/$50M. His 47.94% GB rate ranked him 42nd in MLB.
  • Scott Kazmir: Expected deal- 4yr/$52M. His 44.27% GB rate ranked him 57th in MLB.
  • Chen: Expected deal- 5yr/$80M. His 42.50% ranked him 62nd in MLB.

Obviously, a lot will go into the decision making process when the Blue Jays figure out who it is they’ll bring into the fold. One aspect they need to consider is how to use their top of the line defense to their advantage. Obviously, groundballs are just one facet of a pitcher’s effectiveness. It should not be the only consideration for pitchers. But, maybe they don’t need to spend obscene amounts of cash on a fireballer who will strike out everyone they face. Maybe they can use their money smarter than that.

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If the Blue Jays want to set their spending target lower, they may be able to find a deal that works for them. And, with free agency, that might be the key. You don’t necessarily have to get the best guy out there. Every deal is more likely based on who is the best fit for the club. And, the best fit for this club just might be a guy who relies on the groundball.