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Blue Jays: Does the starting rotation order matter?

Oct 19, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Marco Estrada (25) pitches during the second inning against the Cleveland Indians in game five of the 2016 ALCS playoff baseball series at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 19, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Marco Estrada (25) pitches during the second inning against the Cleveland Indians in game five of the 2016 ALCS playoff baseball series at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports /
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With the Blue Jays announcing how they’ll roll out their rotation to begin the regular season, we can stop asking how the starters will stack up. Now all we’re really left to ask is, does it matter?

The Blue Jays made the rotation order official, announcing how John Gibbons’ starters will be used to open the season. Marco Estrada gets the ball on Opening Day, followed by J.A. Happ and Marcus Stroman in the first series. Francisco Liriano will pitch the 4th game and last year’s AL ERA leader, Aaron Sanchez, will bring up the rear.

It’s an awfully good problem to have for Gibbons and the Jays, having a talented, deep, and versatile rotation, expected to be among the best in all of baseball. Last year they lead the AL in starter’s ERA, and experienced exceptional health from the above group, and the departed R.A. Dickey.

There really was no bad way to line up the starters, and this configuration makes as much sense as anything else Gibby could have drawn up. It’s a good use of rotating right-handers and left-handers, a nice reward for Estrada, who has transformed himself from the long-man in the bullpen a few year’s ago, to a All-Star starting pitcher.

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There will be some debate on social media whether the Blue Jays should have given the honour to Aaron Sanchez, who lead the American League in ERA and was arguably the top starter on the club last year. There’s an argument for J.A. Happ as well, as his 20 wins last year were nothing to sneeze at. Hell, Marcus Stroman just got the nod for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic final and had a no-hitter going into the 7th, so he’d probably handle the honour just fine (it would be his  second time as well).

All of these arguments are valid, and there’s no doubt we’ll hear them come up over the following days. As I said above, there was no bad way to line up the starters, but there was also no way to do it and please every Blue Jays fan weighing in on the topic. That’s what happens when you have 4 or 5 starters who could arguably pitch as a #1 or #2 guy.

And for that reason, that’s why I would argue it simply shouldn’t matter how the starters are used, at least in the regular season. Over the course of 162 games, there’s no doubt things will get shuffled and this is likely just the first configuration we’ll see. Hopefully the Blue Jays will be fortunate enough to avoid injuries in their rotation again, but it’s doubtful they’ll have the type of iron-clad luck they had last year, and at some point someone will need a day off.

While the Blue Jays have stated that the reigns will be pulled from Sanchez this year, his starting in the 5th spot in the rotation is a creative way to ease him into the new designation. Everyone involved wants to see him healthy and thriving, and he put a lot of mileage of his young arm last year, so there’s no faulting the Jays for being creative. This way they could skip him for a start or two if they felt the need and it wouldn’t disrupt things as much. He’ll also pitch against much easier counterparts, leaving Estrada to face off against the rival aces around the American League.

The decision also rewards Estrada for his excellent work, which is a good thing for the Blue Jays to consider on a few levels. First, most of us are well aware that he’ll be a free agent at the conclusion of this season, and he’s been a valuable member of the team. Showing him this “tip of the cap” can’t hurt his feelings, even if it’s not a major consideration when it comes to contract decisions. Secondly, he’s just flat out earned the honour, deserving it as much as anyone on the staff.

Next: Blue Jays should sign Jon Niese for the bullpen

At the end of the day, it shouldn’t matter who pitches when in the regular season, at least beyond the honour of getting the Opening Day call. That’s all it really is anyway, an honour, one that Marco Estrada likely never expected to get, and one that he absolutely deserves.

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