Toronto Blue Jays: The Starting Rotation Competition

David Corcoran
TORONTO, ONTARIO - JULY 7: Trent Thornton #57 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches to the Baltimore Orioles in the first inning during their MLB game at the Rogers Centre on July 7, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ONTARIO - JULY 7: Trent Thornton #57 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches to the Baltimore Orioles in the first inning during their MLB game at the Rogers Centre on July 7, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images) /
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Christmas has now come and gone and we are days away from the new year, which means we are creeping even closer to Spring Training.  After the recent signing of Hyun-Jin Ryu the Blue Jays starting rotation rounds out a little bit more.  However, not everything in their rotation is set in stone and there will be some competition in camp.  Let us have a look at what the rotation looks like and who is still battling for spots on the team as starters.

As long as Hyun-Jin Ryu doesn’t sustain an injury, which he is prone to do, he will be starting the Blue Jays Home and Season Opener on March 26th against the Boston Red Sox. The signing was officially announced earlier today for the new ace of the club.

It is well documented that Ryu has suffered injuries over his career, as he has started more than 24 games just twice over the last five seasons.  However, despite injuries he has had three consecutive seasons of pitching well. In 2019, Ryu finished second in NL Cy Young voting posting a 14-5 record with a league best 2.32 ERA.

The Blue Jays inked Tanner Roark to a two year deal worth 12 million per season, which is a pretty low risk signing for the club.  Unlike Ryu, Roark has avoided injuries over his career as he has pitched in at least 30 games in every season since becoming a full time major leaguer in 2014.  He is just three seasons removed from a 16-10, 2.83 ERA season in 2016.  Roark will likely start as the #2 guy and be pushed by a top prospect by June.

In early November the Jays acquired 32-year old Chase Anderson from the Milwaukee Brewers for 24-year old pitching prospect Chad Spanberger (acquired in 2018 Seunghwan Oh trade).  Anderson is signed to at 8.5 million for 2020 and a team option for 9 million in 2021.  Anderson is better suited as a back of the rotation arm as he has basically averaged an ERA over 4.00 over his career.  He has averaged around 145 innings pitched over the last five seasons and avoids injury as has started at least 25 games every year.  Anderson is just two seasons removed from his career best 12-4 season with a 2.74 ERA.

As for the locked positions in the starting rotation, Anderson, Roark and Ryu are likely set in stone barring an injury.  However, if the Blue Jays are contenders each of those pitchers are all better suited to drop a spot or two in the rotation.  Now we get into some competition in camp.

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After years of mediocrity in Los Angeles, Matt Shoemaker came out firing in 2019 with the Blue Jays.  Over five starts, Shoemaker started 3-0 with a 1.57 ERA with a nearly 3:1 strikeout to walk ratio; but in late April, Shoemaker tore his ACL in his left knee and missed the remainder of the season.  The fourth spot hasn’t been completely handed to Shoemaker, but it will be his spot to lose.  The now 33-year old is going into a make or break season for him and with free agency a year away, will be really looking to impress.

The last spot in the rotation is the one that will see a lot of competition, but the inside track goes to Trent Thornton.  Another quiet, but solid pick-up by Ross Atkins was the Thornton for Aledmys Diaz trade last off-season.  Thornton started 29 games, while Diaz played in just 69 games.  As a rookie, Thornton posted a 6-9 record with a 4.84 ERA and had a 1.41 WHIP, which could use a lot of improvement.  However, if you look at the fact Thornton was a rookie pitcher on a rebuilding team you have to be impressed with how often he pitched and battled.

The competition for the final spots in the rotation will be fierce with some pitchers going to the bullpen and some going down to Buffalo.  The names in competition will be:

Shun Yamaguchi was a quiet Japanese signing the Blue Jays made that had an outstanding season in 2019 in Japan, posting a 16-4 record with a 2.78 ERA over 181 innings pitched.  Yamaguchi was a relief pitcher in his early days as a professional, and has only started 20 games three times over his career which started in 2006.  It is hard to know what the plan right now is in Yamaguchi, the Blue Jays could give him the early spot over Thornton.

Thomas Pannone will get a small look in the rotation in spring training, but it is most likely he will be a left handed option out of the bullpen.  As a starter, Pannone had an 11.31 ERA and 1.70 WHIP over 25 innings, while as a reliever, he had a 3.54 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP over 48 innings.

Another solid trade by Atkins was acquiring Jacob Waguespack for Aaron Loup in 2018.  Waguespack could crack the 25 man roster, but if he does, it will likely be in the long relief position out of the bullpen waiting for a chance in the rotation. In that type of role, Waguespack could be the first option for a starter spot if the team sees an injury early in the season.  Waguespack picked up a 5-5 win with a respectful 4.38 ERA in his rookie season last year.  Three times last season Waguespack pitched at least six innings and allowing no runs.

Ryan Borucki was coming off a very good rookie performance in 2018 posting a 4-6 record with a 3.87 ERA, however, injuries in 2019 derailed his season to the point he pitched just seven innings.  Without pitching in 2019 it will be hard to see him take on any of the rotation spots.

Is the Blue Jays rotation set?. dark. Next

You will have to wait for Nate Pearson as he will likely get the same treatment as Vladimir Guerrero Jr, as we won’t see him until May.  Other pitchers you likely won’t see until mid-season are Sean Reid-Foley, Anthony Kay, Thomas Hatch, T.J. Zeuch.

What does your starting rotation look like?

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