The Great Big 2012 Blue Jays Forecast Series: A Review On Starting Pitching

By Thom Tsang

The Toronto Blue Jays Grapefruit season rolled on with their first loss yesterday afternoon against Justin Verlander and the Detoit Tigers, with Henderson Alvarez getting in his first bit of practice work against major leaguers this spring. The game was mostly uneventful, but we did get the bit of news that Alvarez’s spot on the Blue Jays rotation is secure. If it was truly ever in doubt, it was probably because the young righty still had minor league options and Dustin McGowan doesn’t.

It’s also a good segway to revisit the last few parts of the forecast series I did on the team this year, with the projected rotation as follows:

Part 11: Henderson Alvarez – 150 IP, 4.25 ERA / 1.28 WHIP, 5.7 K/9, 1.85 BB/9
Part 12: Brett Cecil – 180 IP, 4.40 ERA / 1.35 WHIP, 6.1 K/9, 2.95 BB/9
Part 13: Kyle Drabek – 160 IP, 4.65 ERA / 1.45 WHIP, 6.8 K/9, 4.3 BB/9
Part 14: Brandon Morrow – 200 IP, 3.50 ERA / 1.22 WHIP, 10.5 K/9, 3.2 BB/9
Part 15: Ricky Romero – 220 IP, 3.35 ERA / 1.18 WHIP, 7.3 K/9, 3.00 BB/9

To be fair, Kyle Drabek ‘s job in the rotation is far from secure, being that the team appears very against give up McGowan for nothing. That being said, it has the chance to get pretty ugly either way. I know it’s not very optimistic of me, but while I’m high on the Blue Jays offense this year, I’m not nearly as sold on the starting pitching. The team’s starter combined for an unsightly 4.55/1.36 split in ’11, well below average in the league, and did little to address the issue in the off-season. In an ideal-world scenario, this could be a very good rotation if Alvarez and Drabek both become productive, sure; but as I think I’ve tried to indicate in my forecasts, it’s a bit of a minefield out there after Romero and Morrow.

Again, it’s not to say that the 3-5 starters can’t be solid, but it’s more than they haven’t shown enough to warrant that kind of consideration. The numbers are probably more representative of a floor rather than a ceiling (which I think Romero hit last season). When put together, the Blue Jays starters have a projected line of something like:

4.03 ERA / 1.29 WHIP, 2.38 K/BB

It’s an improvement over 2011, for sure, but where John Farrell has said that he thinks that Brett Cecil is the key to the team’s success in pitching, I can’t say I agree. The guy, as it has been the last couple of years, is Brandon Morrow, he of the FIP-ERA discrepancies, and the guy I think many of us have been waiting on to put up a dominant season that finally lines him up among the best in the league. We’ve asked “could this be the year?” just about every year he’s been a Blue Jay, and he’s only improved his perhiperals every season, so I think it’s probably reasonable to ask that again in 2012.

If I had to pick a breakout candidate next, it’d probably be Henderson Alvarez, given the advanced control of the strike zone that he’s shown. Still, when you’re relying on some ideal-world scenarios for the starting pitching to make a big step forward, I think it’s reflective on how much depth the team has there (compared to the offense). Will the improved bats be able to alleviate the rocky road the rotation potentially faces this season? The bullpen will probably have a fair bit to say about that too. Luckily, the Blue Jays are quite adept in that area…but, more on that at a later time.

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