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Blue Jays Starting Rotation Shaping Up Fine

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When the word broke last night that J.A. Happ was coming back to the Blue Jays, the Toronto fan base went into a frenzy on social media. While early critics have seen this trade as a death knell for the 2016 season, is it?

By all indication the Blue Jays are not done shopping. That said the price on Happ was steeper than most predicted (including myself). That said, the addition of Happ does give the Blue Jays a solid #5 starter, with the high upside of contributing on a greater level. While it’s hard to tell what type of Happ we’ll get, if the Blue Jays acquired no additional pitching in the off season our rotation would look like this: Stroman, Estrada, Dickey, Happ, and Hutchison/Chavez. Again, this is assuming the Blue Jays do nothing else to alter the pitching situation between now and starting day. Is this rotation really that bad? Sure it doesn’t have a big name like Price or Cueto, but it is solid with a lot of depth. Let’s compare this to the opening day rotations of the last two seasons.

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In 2104 the Blue Jays opening day rotation consisted of Dickey, Buehrle, Hutchison, Dustin McGowan, and Brandon Morrow. The latter two were later replaced by Happ, Stroman, Liam Hendricks, and Daniel Norris. That combination of starters was good for 63 wins and 57 losses. Along the way the team starters combined had an ERA of 3.96 and a WHIP of 1.29.

In 2015 the starting day rotation was Dickey, Buehrle, Hutchison, Sanchez, and Norris. This proved to be far less stable of a rotation. While the Jays used 9 starters throughout the 2014 season, the they needed to use 11 before acquiring David Price and forming a solid rotation in late July. While buoyed by the second half of the season, in 2015 Blue Jays Starters combined for a healthier 72 wins and 42 losses, the team ERA of 3.96 is the exact same as the year before. The WHIP of 1.25 is only slightly improved. So even given the dominance that Dickey, Estrada, Stroman, and Price showed off down the stretch, the overall numbers are only marginally different.

So while Jays fans are quick to point out the disadvantages of the Happ deal, they are failing to point out that in the last three years the Blue Jays have started play with no clear ace pitcher. That during the course of the season players emerged as front end contributors (Stroman in 2014 and Estrada 2015) and the veteran presence (Dickey and Buehrle).  Add to this the mediocre bullpen the Jays house during 2014 and most of 2015, the Blue Jays continued effectiveness as a pitching staff is a bit of an anomaly.

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Fangraphs’ STEAMER predicts that the six possible starters the Blue Jays have now will go for a combined 52 wins, 48 losses with an ERA of 3.99 and a WHIP of 1.30. These stats are only marginally worse than the 2014 and ’15 season. While this only estimates an average performance, it doesn’t count for above average performances. Much like Estrada delivered for the club down the stretch. So while the Happ signing might not be the one fans wanted, it hasn’t doomed the Blue Jays for 2016. In fact, it could end up helping it.

I have already proposed that the six starters listed are the six that compete and win out in Spring Training. This means that Sanchez and Osuna both can begin the year in the Blue Jays bullpen. This means that the Blue Jays start the season with Osuna, Sanchez, the loser of Hutchison vs Chavez, and Loup. The Blue Jays should consider this a vast improvement from the preceding two seasons opening day bullpen.

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While all of this is hypothetical, it should give Blue Jays fans a sigh of relief. With a long winter still ahead of us, the projected stats of the starting pitchers in place already almost matches up with the season totals for the last two years. So while Happ isn’t the lefty that Jays fans wanted, he gives great depth to a rotation that almost undoubtedly isn’t complete, and shores up the bullpen in a way the Jays haven’t seen in years. Jays fans should stop seeing this as a disaster and start seeing this as a win-win.

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