Francisco Liriano/R.A. Dickey and Yusei Kikuchi
In most cases, it’s not a given that a number five starter in a MLB rotation is an established, big league guy. The Toronto Blue Jays, in both 2016 and now, had the luxury of an established fifth starter. Back in 2016, R.A. Dickey began the year as that guy, with Liriano coming mid-way through the season in a trade from Pittsburgh. Nowadays, newly signed free agent, Yusei Kikuchi, has that honour.
The fifth spot in a rotation is typically a “take what you can get” situation. You don’t expect a win or deep start every time out like an ace, and you don’t expect the consistency of a mid-rotation arm. The fifth start is capable of surprising, and that’s what happened in 2016, and that’s what I anticipate for 2022.
R.A. Dickey was the definition of this in 2016. In the second last season of his MLB career, he had an up and down season. He fell short of 200 innings for the first time in his career since 2011, and his FIP was inflated at a mark of 5.03. In typical knuckleball fashion however, he had stretches of dominance. After going into May with an ERA north of 6, he went on a run in May, with his ERA from May 2nd to June 3rd being 2.74. Unfortunately, inconsistency crept it’s way back in. By mid July his ERA was in the mid fours, and it was clear help was needed.
Liriano was brought in and provided some swing and miss, which was something this rotation didn’t have a lot of. Through 10 appearances as a Jay in 2016, 8 of them starts he had a 2.92 ERA and a K/9 of 9.5. With this variability listed, now we examine Kikuchi.
Kikuchi is a conundrum to analyze, but it’s obvious he has the potential to be a front-line guy. Despite being an All-Star last year, he had an ERA of 4.41 in 2021. Since arriving in North America from Japan, he’s increased his average fastball velocity from 91 to 95 miles per hour. In addition to his fastball, he uses his cutter with regularity, which might be his best pitch. It possesses a -4 run value, opposed to his fast ball with a flat zero.
The new Blue Jays inconsistencies are made evident by his pitching log from last season. After a dominant start in Buffalo on Canada Day against our Jays, his ERA sat at 3.18. Since that day, the gradual increase in that number began. It inflated more than a point during the second half. The Blue Jays have faith they can find that guy who pitched in the first half, and having him as the fifth start would no doubt be a steal.
Fifth starters typically offer variability, and a stellar outing from time to time. The pitchers from 2016 and 2022 definitely fit this bill.