Toronto Blue Jays: An updated look at the starting rotation
By Ben Steiner
The Toronto Blue Jays have had a solid contribution from their rotation so far. How do things look now that we’re a little more than 10% of the way through the season?
The Blue Jays have had a dismal beginning to the 2019 season. They were not expected to do well, and so far this season those low expectations have been met. Their mission this year was to integrate young players into their lineup and have a brand new rookie manager acclimatize to major league life.
While most of the team that brought success a few years ago is gone, two core pitchers remain and make the starting rotation the only true major league part of the team. Take away the pitchers, and the 2019 Blue Jays could probably be mistaken for a good Triple-A team.
Looking at the rotation, it is certainly an area of strength, and today I will take have an overview of each of the arms in the rotation as of April 17th. While these are the hurlers I will be focusing on, any of them could be traded or sent down any day as the Jays continue their drastic rebuild.
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The rotation is quite talented and they started the season going nearly three whole games without allowing a run. Since that run of shutout innings, they have slowed down a little. However, the Jays starters continue to pitch at a very high level.
Stroman has been a constant hand in the Blue Jays rotation for a number of years now and has ingrained himself in the hearts of fans throughout his time at the Rogers Centre. He is one of the last remaining members from the team’s winning days, and he continues to pitch at an exceptional level. So far in 2019 he has started four games and has an ERA of less than two. The last time he finished a season with an ERA below two was in 2015, the year Toronto made the ALCS.
He is the most intriguing pitcher and maybe even player on the current Jays roster. He is probably the Blue Jays most valuable trade piece, however, letting him go may not be the right decision. Stroman knows the culture around the team and is a good mentor towards the younger players, especially with more set to be called up this year.
There were rumours of interest from other teams in Stroman, especially that he could be on the move to San Diego, however, this proved to be nothing more than a rumour.
It would make some sense. The San Diego Padres have gone all in this season, rolling out the red carpet for marquee free agent Manny Machado in the offseason. They are clearly in “win now” mode, and adding Stroman to their rotation would be a boon for the near contending club. Also adding to the fire is the fact that Stroman is one of the few American league pitchers who could potentially contribute with the bat. While he has not batted much, it is something he is capable of doing. The Padres rumour is just the newest for the veteran pitcher who has been rumoured to be on the move for a while now. However, it seems as though the Jays will keep him around; in an effort to stay reasonably competitive when he’s on the mound.
Aaron Sanchez is much in the same boat as Stroman. He is the other remaining piece of the successful years and is also considered to be one of their biggest trade pieces this season. Unfortunately, his last few years have been decimated by injury. 2016 saw the California native pitch a career-high 30 games, but since that year he has only started 28 games in the major leagues. His history with injury and blisters have hindered his once highly touted potential. When he is healthy and able to go through the rotation, he is one of the American League’s best pitchers, and he proved this in 2016 with an all-star selection.
He is one of the most animated pitchers as well. Known for his shouting and fist bumping after successful outings; those celebrations came quite often early in his career, and so far in 2019 they look to be returning. One change he has made this season is the transition to pitching the ball rather than throwing. His pitch velocity average has slowed down nearly 5MPH. while heavy pitching has been his forte, and hopefully the transition to a more placement style approach will allow him to stay away from the dreaded blisters that have limited his past couple of seasons.
Since he has been injured so much, his trade value is certainly tarnished. This does not mean he’s untradable, but dealing him now would certainly not give the return the Blue Jays would be asking or hoping for.
The shiny new addition of Matt Shoemaker to the pitching staff was a weird move by the Blue Jays this offseason. He had spent his whole career in Los Angeles and was another starter who has had his career hindered by injuries. In 2018, Shoemaker went 2-2 and posted a 4.94 ERA through seven appearances. In both 2017 and 2018, he was limited by a right forearm injury, although when he has played; his performance has been consistently positive.
The reason why it was a weird move was that he is an aging pitcher. At 32 this year, he’s clearly not among the “solution” players who will be around when the team is successful again. There’s no argument to be had there, as the front office only signed him to a one-year 3.5 million dollar contract. While he may not be part of the future, his presence helps in the now.
Whatever the case is, he’s in a Blue Jays ball cap and has given the Canadian club some very good pitching so far this year. His WAR of 1 means he’s a true major leaguer, and he has already posted three wins in his four games started.
Will he be re-signed? Probably not, but for now he will continue to add quality to the Blue Jays starting rotation.
Another unexpected acquisition was the signing of Clay Buchholz. Much like Shoemaker, he was signed to help out this year and likely only this year. He’s also on a one-year deal, only at three million.
At 34, he has been in the game for a while and has an older style of pitching. He made his MLB debut for the Boston Red Sox in 2007, at a time when pitching was more of an art form rather than the earth-shattering fastballs of today. He has maintained this style as the game has changed around him, and in the face of change, he has remained a quality pitcher. He joined the Jays rotation much later than the rest, but in his first start, he surprised many with the control he still possesses.
The Red Sox legend held the heavy-hitting Tampa Bay Rays to one run through six innings of work in a 3-1 loss for Toronto. Jays fans and management should be happy with the debut, especially considering the team and circumstances it came under. While his start was promising, there were a few things to worry about. Nine of the balls off the bat were exploding off the barrel at over 100MPH. That was really the only concern for Bucholz in his debut.
The additions of both Bucholz and Shoemaker make the Blue Jays pitching substantially better, and give both aging pitchers a place to revitalize their careers.
Well, he certainly bucks the trend.
Trent Thornton is in his rookie season this year, and through his first few games, he has been very good. He has started three games so far and has shown exceptional control at the plate. In his childhood he idolized the late Blue Jays pitcher Roy Halladay, so he knows the culture around the team well, and tries to emulate parts of Halladay’s game in his own.
Thornton’s pitch velocity hovers around mid-90s MPH and is still rising, even steadily from spring training to now. His four-seam fastball has been a solid offering and also in his arsenal are sliders and changeups, however, most of his strikeouts have come using the fastball.
He has a very bright future ahead of him, especially after collecting eight strikeouts in his debut. The 23-year-old bucks the trend of aging pitchers for the Blue Jays, and highlights a group of talented, young, up and coming pitchers.
Sean Reid-Foley is a burgeoning star as well on the mound, and becoming a major league regular is not far off for him. A little farther down the road is heavy thrower Nate Pearson, who’s fastball is already topping 100 MPH in Double-A.
As for the other Blue Jays starting pitchers, two of them are on the injured list. On April 16th Ryan Borucki was placed on the 60 day IL, which is a big hit for the young lefty who was set for a successful sophomore season. On the other end of his career but also finding himself on the injured list is Clayton Richard, who is expected to return within 10 days.
Overall the Blue Jays have a slew of good pitchers on their big league roster, while some of the players down on the farm are also looking promising. Toronto is definitely set for now when it comes to pitchers, and every day it seems that they are inching closer to being set for the future.