Blue Jays and the IP Non-Crisis


Even with the existing rotation, the Blue Jays should have no problem with insufficient starter innings.

Some writers have expressed concern that the Blue Jays’ current starting rotation will be unable to pitch enough innings. This will, they claim, place an excessive burden on the bullpen, and prove a real impediment to the Jays’ success in 2016.

Is this a valid concern?

To find out, I began by examining the innings pitched by the starting rotations for all 30 teams in 2015. I then calculated how many innings were pitched by the “top 5” starters – that is, the 5 starters with the most innings – and the total number of pitchers who started at least one game for each team. Finally, I calculated the percentage of the total starter innings pitched by the Big 5.

Some (possibly?) interesting observations from this chart:

  1. The average MLB team received 940 innings from its starters.  Of these, 755 were from their top 5 (i.e. the 5 pitchers with the most innings pitched), representing 80% of the total.  The average team had 11 different pitchers start a game in 2015.
  2. The averages for the 10 teams who made the playoffs in 2015 were not that different: a total of 960 IP, of which 83% were from the top 5, and the same 11 starters in total.

This brings us to the 2016 Jays.  Based on the Steamer projections, the current rotation of Marcus StromanMarco EstradaR.A. DickeyJ.A. HappJesse Chavez is expected to pitch 864 innings, and Drew Hutchison is expected to pitch an additional 81.  The 864 would, if the Jays had done it in 2015, have been the 4th highest in baseball.

Of course, there is always injury and under-performance.  But at a projected 864 innings, the Jays could afford to lose over 100 innings and still be higher than the 755 inning average from 2015.

This might seem counter-intuitive.  After all, pitchers like Happ and Chavez and expected to only pitch ~150 innings each, and Estrada is not expected to reach 180.  But a 150-inning starter is rarer than most people think: in 2015, only 87 pitchers reached this level. So for a team to have 5 pitchers at or near this level is rare – and highly valuable.

The Jays are also fortunate to have Drew Hutchison as their 6th starter.  Hutch had a crazy 2015, but even so his career SIERA is 3.86 and Steamer projects him for a 4.11 ERA in 2016.  And Drew pitched 150 innings in 2015 and 184 in 2014.  Few teams in baseball have the luxury of a #6 with #3-level projections.

Next: Blue Jays Offseason Now Just About Depth?

The bottom line?  Depth is good.  There is a lot of truth in the old adage that “you can never have too much pitching” and the Jays should absolutely continue to look for additional starting (and relieving) options.  But they should do so knowing that they are starting from a position of relative strength, so there is little need to overreact (or overpay!)