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Blue Jays Rotation: New Stat Doesn’t Favor This Group

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According to one new stat, the Blue Jays starting rotation may not be as reliable as they need to be if the club is going to defend AL East title.

Barring some unforeseen fit of the unexpected, the Toronto Blue Jays will ride into 2016 with a rotation that is decidedly average. It appears that the club plans on using their other worldly offense and steady defense to carry the club. The rotation does not need to be the best in the game. They just need to be good enough.

Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto Blue Jays /

Toronto Blue Jays

We have already heard that the club feels comfortable going with this group of pitchers to defend their AL East title, so much so that they’ll shift their focus on obtaining pitching depth at the AAA level. This is definitely a gamble, though. But, as our Jim Scott already suggested, it may not be as risky as we think. The crux of Jim’s argument is that the current Blue Jays rotation is set to provide above average up sides.

That is a very valid argument if you are looking for some sort of positives. The fact that the projected xFIP, SIERRA, etc don’t exactly point to scary numbers is a relief. It may even be encouraging. But, I stumbled across an interesting new stat that paints a different picture for the Blue Jays.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must start with the admission that baseball statistics is a pool in which I stay in the shallow end. In fact, Math in general is not my friend. That is not to say that I do not understand the stats used to evaluate baseball players, I just avoid falling down the rabbit hole. Part of that is because I am always looking for one specific stat to be the gold standard by which we evaluate pitchers. There are so many different stats to use that could reveal different results, depending on what is trying to be said.

Jeff Zimmerman of HardBallTimes.com seems to have come up with one that makes sense as a basis for evaluating pitchers. He’s come up with kwERA (strikeouts walks ERA), which measures a pitcher’s talent level based on what is at the core of what a pitcher can control, while other stats (like SIERRA) look at strikes and walks, but add batted ball factors. Zimmerman’s idea focuses on what is at the base of all of that. kwERA looks at what has been done already, rather than predicts what could happen later.

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Zimmerman does an exceptional job of explaining his stat and why the others have limitations, so if you are so inclined, I highly recommend you check out his explanation as I am not doing it justice here. But, his reaction to the new stat sums it up nicely: “I am elated to have kwERA finally available at FanGraphs, as it gives a nice baseline for a pitcher’s talent level. With kwERA known, the effect of walks and strikeouts on a pitcher’s ERA is known…”

I am using the basic definition of kwERA and looking at a chart created by Fangraphs.com that lists the top 78 starters in MLB according to this new stat. The resulting examination of this list leaves the Blue Jays rotation looking a bit more questionable. When you consider a stat that relies on a pitcher’s basic talent and ability to throw strike outs and walks, it may cause discomfort. I mean, if the stat measures a pitcher’s basic abilities, we’d feel a lot more comfortable if the Blue Jays sat near the top of that list.

Unfortunately, of starters who threw a full season (30 starts), the Blue Jays rank poorly. The highest ranking starter is J.A. Happ. He sits in 33rd spot with a kwERA of 3.72, which is better than Sonny Gray (3.90) or Jeff Samardzija (3.99). The next highest ranked Blue Jay is Marco Estrada at 4.23, good for 60th. R.A. Dickey is 74th at 4.61, which is just better than Mark Buehrle‘s mark of 4.65. David Price put up a kwERA of 3.08, which is good for 10th overall. For reference, Clayton Kershaw‘s mark of 2.00 is the best in MLB. Chris Sale is 2nd at 2.23 while Max Scherzer‘s 2.26 is 3rd.

The Blue Jays are running with a rotation what has 3 guys who have rather large kwERA numbers. In isolation, this doesn’t bode well. It should be noted that Marcus Stroman is not listed due to his not starting a full season. Jesse Chavez and Drew Hutchison also did not qualify.

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Now, we know that there are many more ways to look at a picther’s ability and to predict their success. kwERA is interesting because it looks at talent level without the limitations of FIP, xFIP or SIERRA (which, again, are better explained by Zimmerman). In examining the list of 2015 kwERA rankings, it would appear that the Blue Jays lack that strike out/walk ability. The club is planning on running with a rotation that, according to many stats, is average. The Royals went with the same plan in 2015 and now appear to have started something; something the Blue Jays hope will work for them. It’s worth noting that the Royals starters didn’t fare too well on this list either.

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