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Blue Jays: What Role is Tanner Roark Best Suited For?

BUFFALO, NY - SEPTEMBER 27: Danny Jansen #9 of the Toronto Blue Jays makes a visit to the mound to discuss strategy with Bo Bichette #11, Cavan Biggio #8 and Tanner Roark #14 during the fourth inning at Sahlen Field on September 27, 2020 in Buffalo, New York. The Toronto Blue Jays were playing the Baltimore Orioles on the final day of the 2020 regular season. (Photo by Nicholas T. LoVerde/Getty Images)
BUFFALO, NY - SEPTEMBER 27: Danny Jansen #9 of the Toronto Blue Jays makes a visit to the mound to discuss strategy with Bo Bichette #11, Cavan Biggio #8 and Tanner Roark #14 during the fourth inning at Sahlen Field on September 27, 2020 in Buffalo, New York. The Toronto Blue Jays were playing the Baltimore Orioles on the final day of the 2020 regular season. (Photo by Nicholas T. LoVerde/Getty Images) /
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Is Tanner Roark more suited to be an opener or long reliever than a starting pitcher?  With his $12 million price tag you know he will be given every opportunity to fail in the starting rotation, but is there a trend showing that his performance falls off much quicker once he pitches into the fourth and fifth innings?

Going into Roark’s most recent start he’d previously had two very strong outings in which he threw five innings, allowing just two base runners while not allowing a hit.  On Tuesday Roark looked just as good, as he started the game with three shutout innings and was spotted a 6-0 lead to start his fourth inning.  Unfortunately for Roark, he had a similar experience to what happened in 2020, that he would get hit around in the fourth inning.  He would be unable to finish the frame as he surrendered three earned runs while registering just one out.

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When looking at his numbers from 2020 he had a similar trend once he hit the fourth inning.  Over 11 starts, Roark posted a 5.45 ERA through the first three innings which were bad on their own, however it got even worse once he pitched into the fourth and fifth innings.  In 10 performances in the fourth inning last year, Roark posted an ERA of 7.20 and the games he did get to the fifth inning it got even worse.  He pitched six times into fifth inning and his ERA ballooned to 9.64 while opponents posted an on-base percentage of .462.

I looked a little deeper into his previous numbers which showed from 2017-2019, Roark’s performance dropped off drastically in a similar fashion, the only difference was he was able to get through the fourth inning and it was the fifth inning when things got worse.  In 2019, Roark would post an ERA of 3.76 through the first four innings, however in fifth inning it would jump to 6.08.  2018, Roark had an ERA of 4.16 through the first four innings and then 6.58 in the fifth inning.  Lastly, in 2017, he put up a 4.67 on the year from 2.83 in 2016, and his 5.56 by the sixth inning was a big reason why.

Roark is showing as each year goes by you can knock one more inning off the expectation of how deep he can go into a game.  Had this article been written after the third inning today it would likely be speaking about how he is showing signs of bouncing back, so take the numbers with a grain of salt as he did start with eight consecutive shutout innings.  Roark will be given every chance to succeed in 2021, but history is history and management needs to be watching closely.  Roark can still be an effective pitcher for the Blue Jays in 2021, but in my opinion it is as either an Opener or a middle reliever.

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What do you think is the best spot for Roark on the Active Roster?

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