Blue Jays: Ryan Borucki could be the key to an improved rotation

After an impressive rookie season, Ryan Borucki missed almost all of the 2019 campaign. His health and performance could be a big key for growth for the Blue Jays in 2020.

Before the 2019 season got underway, I wrote an article about how I believed that the 2019 team could outperform the 2018 team. Most of my argument was based around what I believed would be an improved starting rotation that featured Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Ryan Borucki, Matt Shoemaker, Clay Buchholz, and Clayton Richard.

We all know how that worked out, and how very wrong I was.

As a recap, Shoemaker was impressive in his first few starts and then was lost to a freak, season-ending knee injury. Buchholz and Richard spent most of the year on the IL. Stroman was solid and Sanchez was a disaster before they were both dealt in July. And then there was the lost year for Ryan Borucki.

I had high hopes for the 25-year-old, especially after an impressive rookie campaign that saw him post a 3.87 ERA and a 1.321 WHIP in 17 starts and 97.2 innings in 2018. He was going to have to battle the veterans to win a starting job out of camp, but he was going to get an opportunity at one point or another. However, an elbow injury during spring training stopped him from breaking camp with the Blue Jays, and he took a lot longer to return than anyone expected.

He eventually made his way back to the mound for just two July starts, throwing 4.2 innings in his first outing, and just two frames in the second before he was shut down with some discomfort. After a run of tests it was determined that he needed a minor surgery to clean up a bone spur that was causing some problems. Thankfully the issue wasn’t a major one, and he should be ready to go by the time spring training rolls around.

The good news for Borucki is that even with a mostly-lost season, he hasn’t lost his place in line on the starting pitcher’s depth chart. Assuming he’s healthy by the time March rolls around, I would almost consider him a lock to make the team for Opening Day, depending on how the front office supplements the rotation over the winter. As things stand I would assume he would be a strong contender along with Trent Thornton, Jacob Waguespack, Anthony Kay, and hopefully Matt Shoemaker, should he be brought back as well.

My assumption is that the Blue Jays will add at least one more veteran starter to the group in addition to Shoemaker (who I assume they’ll re-sign), but I don’t think they’ll add so deep that Borucki will be forced out that way. I don’t mean to suggest that he’s going to be handed a job either, but the Blue Jays showed a serious lack of MLB-ready starting depth in 2019, which is why we saw so much use of “openers” and “bulk guys”. They need Borucki to help them get through next season, and if he can reach his potential, that could help this team take the next step toward contender status.

According to Fangraphs, their ZIPS projection system has Borucki slated for a record of 9-10 in 27 starts next season, posting a 4.77 ERA and a 1.42 WHIP over 145.1 innings pitched, good for 1.1 fWAR. That production would have made him arguably the Blue Jays’ most valuable starter in 2019, and I think it’s a conservative estimate on what he’s capable of if he’s healthy. He earned 1.7 fWAR in 2018 in just 17 starts, and while that’s a high benchmark to reach for at this stage of his career, I don’t think it’s unrealistic.

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After watching his impressive debut in 2018, I’m convinced that the Illinois native will be a big part of the Blue Jays’ rotation of the future, just as long as he can stay healthy. That’s the the key for the young southpaw, and he might be the biggest key to an improved Blue Jays’ rotation in 2020.

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