Can the Blue Jays get away with only using eight starters again in 2024?

The MLB average in 2023 was 13 starters, including openers.

MLB: Spring Training - Philadelphia Phillies at Toronto Blue Jays
MLB: Spring Training - Philadelphia Phillies at Toronto Blue Jays / VIEW press/GettyImages

Here’s an interesting factoid: based on the 383 pitchers who started a game in Major League Baseball in 2023, the average team used 13 starters last year. From the 35 starts made by Miles Mikolas of the Cardinals, down to the one start made by Wes Parsons of the Blue Jays on the final day of the regular season, the average team required lots of starting pitching depth through the 162-game schedule.

Which makes it all the more impressive that the Blue Jays used only 8 starters last year, with four of them making 30+ starts, led by Chris Bassitt’s 33, and José Berríos’ and Yusei Kikuchi’s 32 each. However, that total includes Trevor Richards, who got 3 opener nods after Alek Manoah was sent down, plus Parsons, who got the garbage start in game 162, when their 6th playoff seeding was already decided.

Obviously the average number league-wide is inflated by the use of openers. But remember that the Blue Jays’ lucky 7, plus Parsons, also included 11 starts down the stretch from Hyun Jin Ryu, who is back pitching in Korea this year.

Having only four starters make 79% (128) of the team’s starts, and only six starters make 97.5% (158) of their starts is not likely repeatable again in 2024. It’s an extreme outlier in a league that has moved away from workhorse starters.

In fact, only 43 starters pitched as many innings as games played by their teams in the 2023 regular season to become qualified starters, for an average of 1.43 qualified starters per team. The Blue Jays had four qualified starters in Kevin Gausman, Bassitt, Berríos and Kikuchi.

No other team had more than three, with Seattle, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Baltimore all at three, and Houston finishing with three after re-acquiring Justin Verlander. Ten years ago, there were 79 qualified starters in MLB; twenty years ago, that number was 90.

Which means the Blue Jays’ current starting pitcher depth plan for 2024 — which includes Bowden Francis, Mitch White, Parsons and top prospect Ricky Tiedemann — will surely be tested. As we’ve already seen with Gausman, Tiedemann and Manoah all slow to ramp up this spring, will those depth options be enough to get them to the postseason again?

It also means that Toronto’s bullpen might have to work more innings this year, risking overuse. Blue Jays relievers only threw 557 innings in the 2023 regular season, the 5th lowest number in the league. The bullpen depth could also take a hit with closer , only eight days from Opening Day.

Romano has right elbow inflammation, while Swanson has experienced some right forearm tightness. MRIs didn’t show any structural concerns, but as MLB Jays’ beat writer Keegan Matheson notes, “this close to the start of the season, even missing a few days can be troubling.”

So what happens if they need more starts from an opener like Richards, Francis and White, and then need to fill more innings from bulk relievers?

Which is to also say that it remains unclear whether they have the starting pitching depth they’ll likely need in 2024 assuming a reversion to career norms from the rotation. That likely means they’ll need a breakout from one of the above mentioned depth arms or a rookie on the 40-man roster like Adam Macko, or will have to look to add a pitcher at the trade deadline when potential short-term rentals — depending on playoff races — could include starters like Shane Bieber, Kyle Hendricks, Jack Flaherty, Patrick Corbin and Max Scherzer.