Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me and third, fourth and fifth time …
— John Lott (@LottOnBaseball) September 5, 2013
Sorry, Dustin McGowan, but the answer should be an unequivocal no from the Toronto Blue Jays.
The right-hander’s struggles with health is a broken record at this point, and while that eventually culminated into one of the most heartwarming stories in recent team history as he made it all the way back to become an improbable starter in the bigs, it’s not a narrative that has replay power. In fact, you’d have to imagine that a rerun would yield a very different reaction from the Toronto fan base.
That’s not a knock on McGowan’s stuff, of course — just his ability to stay healthy enough to pitch.
Forget for a moment that he simply doesn’t have the control necessary to succeed as a starter at this point in his career (5.06 BB/9 in 2013), at 21.1 innings in over 21 relief outings, he’s already thrown more MLB innings than he has in his last four years. Yes, he does still have some stuff in his arms (8.86 K/9, 11.4 percent swinging strike rate), but that’s exactly why the team should keep him where he is.
Would he give the Blue Jays more value if he can be a decent starter? Sure. But at this point, the team’s approach to McGowan — after signing him to an unnecessary “good guy” extension through 2014 — should be about getting more value out of him than a feel-good story. That means he’s got to pitch on the mound, and given his 31 years of age and his history, the bullpen is the best place for it.
In fact, with a 2.53 ERA and .202 BAA even with a blown hold on Friday (two runs, two hits, two walks over 0.1 IP), the Blue Jays might even have a key bullpen contributor here.
Not only has throwing in relief allowed him to go all out in every outing and amp up his fastball to a 94.6 mph average, the short outings will maximize his strikeout ability while hopefully minimizing his penchant for dishing out free passes.
If the team allows him to start, they’d be risking yet another injury/setback an a deja vu that would be hard to swallow from both a financial sense (even at $1.5 million, they’re paying him too much) and morale-wise; after all, with all of the injuries that the team has had in the pitching department over the last couple of years, is another one something they need in 2014?
So, regardless of what happens in 2014, for the good of the team and the fan base, McGowan should be put into a situation where he’s most likely to succeed — and that’s pitching no more than one inning at a time.
The Blue Jays already have a number of starters vying for a spot in the back-end of the rotation, and even if injuries hit on such a catastrophic scale that the only pitcher left to join the rotation is Ricky Romero … it would still not be in the team’s best interest to start McGowan.
After all, he can only contribute to the team if he can pitch, and to send him on a likely path to another injury — even if it’s to patch another injury — would only be a case of two wrongs not making a right.