Toronto Blue Jays: Debating the decision to start Shoemaker in Game One

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - AUGUST 09: Starting pitcher Matt Shoemaker #34 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches in the bottom of the second inning of the game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on August 09, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - AUGUST 09: Starting pitcher Matt Shoemaker #34 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches in the bottom of the second inning of the game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on August 09, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Blue Jays will send right-hander Matt Shoemaker to the bump for the first game of the 2020 playoffs. Although he will be the starter, manager Charlie Montoyo should have him on a very short leash if things start to go awry.

The 2020 season has been a bit of a roller coaster for Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Matt Shoemaker.

Last season saw the Michigan native have a great start to the year, going 3-0 in five games with a stellar 1.57 ERA and 24 strikeouts. Shoemaker was one of the best starting pitchers on the Toronto Blue Jays, that is until he tore his ACL covering first base, ending one of his best statistical seasons to date. Injuries have unfortunately plagued him his entire career, and 2019 was no different.

Fast forward to 2020, and Shoemaker finds himself as one of the veteran arms on a young Blue Jays roster. Securing a rotation spot out of summer camp, Shoemaker would make five starts before going on the injured list again, this time due to a right lat strain. This season has been a bit more of a struggle for the righty, throwing to a 4.71 ERA in just 28.2 innings, giving up eight home runs while striking out 26.

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Nevertheless, Shoemaker would take about a month to recover and would pitch just once more before the postseason, going three innings against the New York Yankees, giving up one earned run while surrendering two walks and striking out one. He was supposed to start in Baltimore last Saturday, but instead threw a side session, a tactic to keep him fresh for the postseason baseball.

I’m not gonna lie, I was not expecting to see Shoemaker taking the ball for game one.

Not because of his numbers this season, but more because he just came back from injury and he really hasn’t thrown a ton of innings this year. Don’t get me wrong, the numbers are down when compared to last year, but as one of the more veteran arms in the rotation, as well as his numbers against left-handed hitters (important for later), I can see why Charlie Montoyo would give the ball to Shoemaker for this crucial game

Shoemaker does have limited postseason experience, pitching in one game back in 2014, something the Blue Jays roster does lack with a younger squad (mind you, it was only one game). I can also see a scenario where Shoemaker will pitch 3-4 innings and the bullpen will be tasked with finishing the game, given that the Blue Jays do possess some ‘starter turned reliever’ type arms in the bullpen like Robbie Ray and Ross Stripling (among many others).

On the other hand, one could find a few arguments against Montoyo and his decision to go with Shoemaker in Game 1.

Many speculated Game 2 to be Hyun-Jin Ryu‘s, which would allow the southpaw to get an extra day of rest, as well as throwing during what could be a “season on the line” contest if the Blue Jays lose Game 1 or clinch the series if they go up 1-0. The best pitcher on the team pitching in the bigger of the two games in my opinion, which I am fully on board for.

What will most likely be used as the comparison for the argument will be whether the Blue Jays should have used Taijuan Walker in Game 1 instead of Shoemaker.

Walker has been on an absolute tear since joining the Blue Jays (1.37 ERA in six starts) and has really only had the one rough outing since being acquired from the Seattle Mariners. One caveat to having Walker start Game 1 is that he would be pitching on three days rest (he pitched last Friday), which may have been a factor in swaying Montoyo to have Shoemaker take the ball. Similar to Shoemaker, Walker has pitched in one postseason game for his career, a very rough outing against the Dodgers back in 2017 while as a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Comparison wise, Walker has higher numbers against left-handed batters this season, which the Tampa Bay Rays are chock-full of, but does have the betters numbers overall over the course of the year. Shoemaker has the better stats against left-handed batters in 2020, but is coming back from a month-long injury, as well as higher numbers overall compared to Walker on the season in a shorter time frame (because of the injury).

Shoemaker and Walker have very similar stats when comparing opponent batting average (.221 vs. .214) and on-base percentage (.268 vs .267) at Tropicana Field, but Shoemaker does have four more starts than Walker in Tampa Bay and a significantly lower slugging average (.356 vs .786) and OPS (.624 vs 1.052) than him as well. The sample size is an obvious factor for both comparisons, but it is hard to ignore that Shoemaker has been impressive when pitching in Tropicana Field.

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This one will probably be debated by fans alike for a long time, especially if the Blue Jays lose both games and Walker is left on the bench barring a relief appearance. Whether you agree with Montoyo’s decision to start him in Game 1, all eyes will be on Matt Shoemaker in Tropicana Field this Tuesday, and Blue Jays fans will be rooting for a strong performance to help secure a much-needed victory.