Blue Jays’ rotation is underestimated by projections

TORONTO, CANADA - JUNE 5: Aaron Sanchez
TORONTO, CANADA - JUNE 5: Aaron Sanchez /

After adding Jaime Garcia to a solid foursome already in place, the Blue Jays have a rock solid rotation. So why are the projections so down on them?

If you step back and look at the strengths of the Blue Jays’ roster going into the 2018 season, the rotation appears to be at the top of the list. Despite last season’s struggles, there’s a lot of reason to like a group that includes Marcus Stroman, J.A. Happ, Marco Estrada, Aaron Sanchez, and the newly acquired Jaime Garcia. There’s a great deal of experience, recent success, and reason to believe there’s improvement yet to come, especially from the younger Stroman and Sanchez.

In fact, Mike Wilner of Sportsnet even went as far as to say that the Blue Jays have the best rotation in the AL East with Garcia’s signing. That may have been a bit of a reactionary comment from a guy who is as much a fan of the team as any of us, but it didn’t seem to be that out of line with reality.

However, when you look at a few of the notable projection metrics, there’s a different reality according to the numbers. In fact, it’s a lot different than I would have expected, and I can’t help but wonder if I’m being too positive, or if this is a case driven by something else. Garcia isn’t an ace added to the stable by any means, but he’s a solid major leaguer who just had to round out an already strong group, which he does nicely.

In fact, former writer and notable Twitter personality, Gideon Turk, was kind enough to put the whole thing into a graph, and a chart for everyone. The numbers and images represent the ZiPS, STEAMER, and PETCOTA projections for the Blue Jays’ veteran five, as well as the projected rotations for the Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles, and Rays. Have a look below:

If you’re a glass half empty type when it comes to the Blue Jays, there are plenty of negatives to focus on. Obviously there are major concerns around Aaron Sanchez’s blister issues, and whether or not he can stay on the field. His numbers in these graphs stand out as arguably low, but it’s also understandable to hold back on expectations for the 2016 American League ERA leader. How many starts and innings he’s able to provide may be the biggest key to the entire season in Toronto.

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As for Marco Estrada, he’s had a history of back problems throughout his career, and he also struggled for two or more months in 2017. I’m sure the majority of us remember it well, as his ERA hovered between 9-10 during the summer months and he looked all but finished. Fortunately he got things back on track, which he attributes to getting proper rest at a time when he was having difficulty sleeping. If he’s change-up artist that we’ve watched for the majority of the last three years, he’s a solid #3 type, and could exceed the projected expectations.

J.A. Happ has been quietly excellent since returning to the Blue Jays for the second time, and was only slowed by time spent on the DL with elbow issues. He was able to return to perform as he typically does, and should provide a strong #2-3 type as well if all goes well. He won 20 games and posted a 3.18 ERA over 195 innings in 2016, and was still good for a 3.53 ERA last year in 25 starts around time spent on the DL.

When it comes to Marcus Stroman, there’s plenty of reason to believe he’ll continue his ascension toward ace territory, if he isn’t already there. He was fourth in the AL in ERA last season with a 3.09 mark, and provided over 200 innings for the 2nd straight year, something that couldn’t have been more valuable last year as his rotation mates struggled to stay healthy. He’s a notable gym rat and appears to be as driven as anyone in the game, so don’t be surprised if he takes another step forward in 2018.

Lastly Garcia adds a great deal of value as the fifth starter in the rotation, and gives the Blue Jays’ the depth they needed last year in case someone needs a stint on the DL. Adding one more veteran allows the Jays to either move Joe Biagini to the bullpen where he could be used as a valuable weapon, or stash him in Triple A as insurance for the rotation, giving him further time to develop his craft as a starter. That alone could prove to make a tremendous impact, as Biagini was slotted to be in the Opening Day rotation before Thursday’s signing.

I would argue that the projections on Steamer, ZiPS, and Petcota are awfully kind to the Yankees, who feel like they have as many or more question marks than the Blue Jays to me. The Red Sox also have some arguably favourable numbers for the likes of Rick Porcello, David Price, and maybe even Chris Sale, although they also take into account the history of each player as well. Sale is one of the best in the game when he’s on, but something didn’t seem right down the stretch last year. Porcello is a tale of two pitchers most of the time, and David Price’s injuries and clubhouse issues were well documented last year. There’s a lot to like in Boston too, I’m not completely ridiculous, but things could blow up there too is all I’m saying.

I’ll readily admit that I’m a bit bias when it comes to looking at the Blue Jays’ rotation, but I like their upside a lot more than the projections do. I may stop just short of saying they’re the best in the AL East as Wilner did, but I can see the potential for how that could happen and I don’t think it’s that far-fetched of a thought.

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In fact, if everything goes right for the Blue Jays’ rotation in 2018 (so, basically the opposite of last year), I fully expect them to be the strongest part of the team, and likely the top group in the division.