Predicting Anthony Kay’s role for the Blue Jays in 2022

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - JULY 07: Anthony Kay #47 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on July 07, 2021 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - JULY 07: Anthony Kay #47 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on July 07, 2021 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images) /

Last season, Blue Jays pitcher Anthony Kay had a rough campaign, riding the options bus multiple times throughout the year while also finding himself on the injured list on two separate occasions.

The southpaw appeared in 11 games for the Blue Jays in 2021, five of which were starts, and would finish with a 5.61 ERA through 33.2 innings pitched. He posted a 10.4 K/9 with 39 strikeouts but also struggled with his command to the tune of a 4.8 BB/9 (18 total) in both a starting and relief role. Through eight starts in AAA with the Bisons, Kay was used only as a starter and amassed an 8.89 ERA through eight starts, allowing 26 earned runs through 26.1 innings of work with 29 strikeouts.

Acquired from the New York Mets as part of the Marcus Stroman package back in 2019, it is safe to say 2021 was not the best season for Kay. While his stats are not jumping off the page, there are a few different factors that may have contributed to his play on the field.

The injuries most likely took their toll and one has to wonder what he was trying to play through, as his first injury stint was due to a blister issue, which Blue Jays fans are all too accustomed to with former pitcher Aaron Sanchez. Kay was starting to find a rhythm at the MLB level before the blister injury, starting two games and going eight combined innings with only two earned runs allowed and 10 strikeouts after getting shellacked in his two previous outings earlier that month.

After a rough 2021 campaign, Blue Jays pitcher Anthony Kay is in some tough competition if he is competing for a spot in the rotation this year.

Another factor that I think impacted his season was that he really didn’t have a set/dedicated role when he was with the Blue Jays. For example, in the month of June (he was optioned early in the month and recalled June 18th), he made two relief appearances and one start and then spent the rest of the year in a relief role when he was in the big leagues.

While some may argue that as a professional pitcher he should be able to handle both roles, I would imagine having to flip flop between both areas would take a toll on how he prepares and the mindset going into a game day in and day out. Starters generally have a routine and rhythm to their madness and to get tossed around between the rotation and the bullpen then back to starting in AAA surely has to have some sort of impact on that preparation.

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So what does that mean for Kay in 2022?

Looking at the current starting rotation, unless a veteran starter is brought in before Opening Day, there is currently one spot open in the starting five. He will have some tough competition from internal candidates Ross Stripling, Nate Pearson, and Thomas Hatch but there is a spot for the taking. If the club decides that the bullpen is the best route for Kay, the Jays most likely start the season with eight relievers, so there looks to be potentially two open spots if no more veteran arms are added into the equation.

Depth wise, it wouldn’t hurt to have Kay continue starting in AAA if he doesn’t crack the Major League roster this year, especially since injuries can happen at any time and it’s better to have pitchers at the ready than to have to scramble and find a solution via the waiver wire or a bullpen game.

However, with a majority of the rotation set for the next few years with the Gausman signing, Berrios extension, and Manoah emergence, it may make more sense to have Kay transition to the bullpen in more of a long-man/middle relief role, especially since his K/9 stats have always been strong.

He would have to reel in the walks, as his 4.8 BB/9 last year and his 6.0 BB/9 in 2020 are not going to cut it at the MLB level but he has two minor league options at his disposal and could be used to fill in all year kind of like how Tim Mayza had to grind his way to a full-time spot on the Blue Jays roster, but this would only work if Kay is strictly used as a reliever.

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Overall, I think the most important aspect is to find a dedicated role for Anthony Kay in 2022. I would have him either commit to being a full-time starter or move him to the bullpen and stop having him start in AAA. At almost 27 years old, I would think his window of opportunity is still open for the time being (especially since he has options), it just depends where the club sees him long term.