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Blue Jays: The curious case of Sam Gaviglio and his role in 2019

ST PETERSBURG, FL - SEPTEMBER 30: Sam Gaviglio #43 of the Toronto Blue Jays throws a pitch in the third inning against the Tampa Bay Rays on September 30, 2018 at Tropicana Field in St Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
ST PETERSBURG, FL - SEPTEMBER 30: Sam Gaviglio #43 of the Toronto Blue Jays throws a pitch in the third inning against the Tampa Bay Rays on September 30, 2018 at Tropicana Field in St Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images) /
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With opening day under a week away, injury concerns have started to create question marks on who will be in the starting lineup when the Blue Jays take the field this Thursday. Where does Sam Gaviglio fit in the equation and where will he play this upcoming season?

If I was to ask, “Who do you think was in the top percentile of innings pitched for the Toronto Blue Jays last season?”, a majority of Blue Jays fans would probably not answer correctly. They would also probably be stunned to hear that Sam Gaviglio only trailed Marco Estrada when it came to innings pitched and games started last year.

Selected in the 5th round of the 2011 amateur draft by the St. Louis Cardinals, the Oregon State product never made a start for the team as he was traded to the Seattle Mariners for Ty Kelly in 2014.

Gaviglio would spend a few more years in the minors before making his MLB debut in 2017, ironically against the Toronto Blue Jays. After a brief layover with the Kansas City Royals, the Blue Jays acquired Gaviglio just prior to the start of the 2018 season, and he would make his debut with the team in mid-May that year, where he would stay all season.

The 2018 Season

As I stated earlier, Gaviglio trailed only Marco Estrada in terms of games started and innings pitched in 2018, and he didn’t even show up in the major leagues until May. This can be attributed to a few different reasons:

  1. Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman battled injuries all season and they were only able to start 20 and 19 games respectively (still a good number, but a healthy season could see both throw around 28-32 games)
  2. J.A. Happ and Jaime Garcia were both sent packing in late July (Happ traded, Garcia DFA’d), as well as Garcia transitioning to the bullpen midway through the season (as well as a DL stint in June)
  3. A revolving door of spot starts from pitchers like Joe Biagini, Thomas Pannone, and a slew of other relievers before Sean Reid-Foley ended the year in the rotation (Ryan Borucki was already a rotation fixture before Reid-Foley arrived)

Even though Sam Gaviglio logged quite a few innings, he unfortunately did not have a strong 2018 season. He pitched to a 3-10 record with a 5.31 ERA, while surrendering 21 home runs and striking out 105 and allowing 38 walks. He only pitched 6+ innings in six games (out of 24) and went through all of June and July without winning a single game. One factor for this winless stretch was that Gaviglio could never throw deep enough into games, pitching 5+ innings four times throughout the two months.

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One thing I will give Gaviglio credit for was that he pitched against some tough teams throughout the season, and sometimes on multiple occasions. He would pitch against the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees multiple times, while also starting against playoff bound teams like the Cleveland Indians and the Atlanta Braves. Truth be told, Gaviglio’s kryptonite was the Tampa Bay Rays, where he started against them on four occasions and lost three of them. That is not good news considering we will be seeing the Rays quite a bit throughout the season.

The 2019 Season

Now the big question remains on where Sam Gaviglio will end up this upcoming season. He has been used as a starter for most of his entire professional career. Coming into spring training this season, he was fighting for the 5th spot in the rotation with the first four spots already claimed by Stroman, Sanchez, Matt Shoemaker, and Clayton Richard (all signs were pointing to Shoemaker being in the rotation, and Richard being in the rotation or bullpen).

The competition would not be easy, as he was fighting fan favourite Ryan Borucki, Trent Thornton, Thomas Pannone and late addition Clay Buchholz for the last spot.

As the spring wore on, it was more and more likely that we were going to see Gaviglio spend his time in either the bullpen or in AAA. The last rotation spot was most likely going to be won by either Borucki, Richard or Buchholz, and there was even talks of Richard becoming the long man in the bullpen to keep the other two in the rotation.

And then the injuries happened. And they kept coming and just won’t stop.

Many of the key pieces of the bullpen are now on the injured list to begin the season, and even Ryan Borucki will start the season on the IL.

If the Blue Jays choose to, they could move Gaviglio to the bullpen to fill a void caused by injury. If this were to happen, he would most likely be used as the long reliever/spot starter due to his stamina and to being predominantly used as a starter his entire career. He would be required to carve up innings from pitchers forced out early, essentially the closest spot in the bullpen to being a starting pitcher.

While this may happen, I personally believe this would be a mistake. I don’t believe that we need Gaviglio to transition into the bullpen because he would be the starting pitching depth needed in the organization. Considering that he has been a starting pitcher his entire career, I would rather see Gaviglio continue to start games in Buffalo rather than transition into the bullpen.

The reasoning behind this is because if you start to move him around from starter to the bullpen and then potentially back to starter, this could have negative consequences on his development. I would hate to see another scenario like Joe Biagini, where he was stretched out to be a starter and then kept being flip/flopped between the two different roles and now struggles to contribute in the bullpen (he limped into the end of the 2018 season with a 6.00 ERA).

To have this happen to Gaviglio as well, I feel like would be wasted depth within the organization. You can obviously argue that the Blue Jays have enough depth in the organization like Reid-Foley, Pannone, etc. but I would rather have more starting pitching depth than necessary if injuries north of the border arise.

In the end, the Jays could always transform Gaviglio into a relief pitcher, but if this does occur I hope they keep him as a reliever for his career. Work him into a dedicated role like a set-up man or the long relief pitcher, but avoid the flipping from starter/reliever.

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The Final Verdict

Even with all the injuries occurring during spring training, I still see Sam Gaviglio making the trip to Buffalo when the season begins. I believe the Blue Jays will keep him as a depth option for the starting pitcher role with the possibility of making an appearance in September, or sometime in the season for a spot start or an injury replacement. Given that the Blue Jays also have Trent Thornton, Sean Reid-Foley, and Thomas Pannone, Gaviglio may even have competition to be brought back to the Jays in an emergency situation.

Only time will tell if we see Sam Gaviglio don the Toronto Blue Jays jersey again this season, and what role he will have if he does arrive back in Toronto.

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