Coming into the 2022 season, the Toronto Blue Jays had one of the more established rotations in all of Major League Baseball. One that was so well-rounded, it looked like if Nate Pearson was healthy, he would start the year in AAA because there was no spot for him in the rotation (if the Jays were going to use him there instead of the bullpen).
While Robbie Ray and Steven Matz left the squad via free agency, the front office was able to replace both arms with free agent signings of their own, inking Kevin Gausman to a long-term contract while also bringing in 2021 All-Star Yusei Kikuchi on a three-year deal.
Looking at the rotation picture, the Jays had a good mix of veterans and young talent, as well as boasting pitchers who could throw from both sides of the mound:
Gausman and Manoah have been fantastic this season, with both pitchers flirting with the Cy Young conversation for a good chunk of the campaign. Manoah currently boasts a 2.48 ERA while Gausman leads all pitchers this season in fWAR at 5.3. Every time Ryu went on the IL, Ross Stripling stepped into the role and has also been dominant this year, posting a 2.91 ERA as a starter with a 7.8 K/9, holding opponents to a .227 batting average through 19 starts.
Rounding out the top four is Jose Berrios, the former Minnesota Twins pitcher the Jays acquired at the 2021 trade deadline. The right-hander has been very inconsistent this season but has shown flashes of brilliance this year, unfortunately also taking his lumps along the way. Berrios currently owns a 5.23 ERA through 27 starts this season.
The Blue Jays have experienced problems all year with their fifth starting, struggling to win games when Ryu, White, and Kikuchi have started games.
If you watched the Jays game last night against Baltimore, you probably saw the same statistic as me that inspired this article: the Blue Jays’ fifth starters are just not cutting it this season.
Blue Jays: Top four vs. the Fifth Starter
Heading into last night’s game, the top four starters (Berrios, Stripling, Gausman, and Manoah) have pitched to a combined 3.45 ERA, with the Jays posting a 61-37 record in the process when one of those four starts on the mound. The fifth starter, consisting of seven different pitchers, has posted a combined 6.07 ERA (a number that will go up after White’s rough outing last night) while earning a 14-22 record.
Mind you, the Jays have used a couple of openers or spot starters in Trevor Richards, Anthony Banda, Max Castillo, and Thomas Hatch, so it’s not so much their burden to bear in this stat. The blame falls more on Ryu and Kikuchi, with both pitchers struggling this season and putting the Jays in some tough spots, with Mitch White also starting to enter the conversation.
Ryu battled injuries for pretty much the first two to three months of the year and after six starts and 17 earned runs through 27.0 innings, he went to the IL and underwent Tommy John surgery, likely sidelining him for most of next year as well.
Behind him in the rotation was Kikuchi, who has struggled with his command all season long and just gets absolutely barrelled, with opponents owning an average exit velocity of 91.7 MPH (1st percentile) and the southpaw sitting in the first percentile in hard-hitting % and barrel %. Not the stats you want to see from a starter, which is why John Schneider moved him to the bullpen back in mid-August.
Now enter White, the “Ross Stripling 2.0” the Jays acquired at the deadline, who took Kikuchi’s spot in the rotation. After last night’s outing against Baltimore, the right-hander owns an 8.17 ERA through six starts and 25.1 innings of work, with opponents amassing a .315 batting average against the California product. After last night, it will be tough for the Jays to give him another start in the rotation, but the bigger question remains: if not him, then who?
Where do we go from here?
Honestly, I don’t have a good answer for you, as the Jays do have an off-day they could use to their advantage after today’s game but have to contend with a doubleheader early next week against the Tampa Bay Rays, which could throw a wrinkle into those plans.
Casey Lawerence and Thomas Hatch are two options the Jays could turn to but neither pitcher has done well at the MLB level this year. Anthony Kay and Nate Pearson are both currently rehabbing in the Minor Leagues and are pitching in relief rather than the rotation and the remaining starting options in AAA are not dependable either (nor are any on the 40-man roster). The benefit of the doubleheader will be the addition of another player, likely to be a pitcher who can give the Jays some needed innings either in the bullpen (think Trent Thornton or Zach Pop) or potentially as a starter (Lawerence or Hatch). That is unless the Jays move pieces around to save some top pitchers for the Rays and use a callup or a bullpen day one day against the Texas Rangers this upcoming weekend, similar to what the Blue Jays did this past weekend with the Pirates and Orioles.
It will be interesting to see what the Blue Jays will do once White’s spot in the rotation comes around again. Do the Jays turn back to Kikuchi after having him in the bullpen? Do they move some pieces around and try and avoid a fifth starter? Potentially throw a hail mary and hope someone from the Buffalo Bisons can figure it out in September?
We shall wait and see.