Admittedly, talk about a team’s coaching staff and how it’s impacted the roster’s on-field performance is largely based on weak conjecture.
However, if there is anything remotely tangible for Toronto Blue Jays fans to go on, then the team’s recent coaching shuffle is notable not only for the firing of hitting coach Chad Mottola after just one season, but the fact that pitching coach Pete Walker was retained.
Now, it’s not exactly the most productive thing to tie a pitching staff’s performance directly to the coach simply because Walker isn’t the one throwing the pitches … but the Blue Jays’ pitchers aren’t just any group.
If you’ve already stuck with this bit of conjecture this far, please consider it just a point of curiosity and play along. Fans in Toronto have already known this the last couple of seasons, but even in a league where injuries are not exactly uncommon occurrences, the Blue Jays’ pitching corps have been — to put it nicely — a broken mess.
This was the case even before Walker was the team’s pitching coach, really. He was the bullpen coach in last year’s injury-riddled mess of a team, and if we were to take the questionable route and pin all of the pitcher injuries that happened under Walker’s watch, it would make for quite the MLB hit list.
In 2012, there was Sergio Santos, who ended up needing season-ending shoulder injury, while lefty Luis Perez needed Tommy John surgery to call it a year. Even the normally durable Jason Frasor, who’d never been on the DL to that point of his big league career, took a 15-day stint thanks to tightness in his forearm.
Okay, so let’s say those were just unfortunate coincidences and give the coaching staff the benefit of the doubt. That would be easier to do, of course, if it weren’t for 2013, when Walker took over the pitching staff for good.
Darren Oliver gave the team a minor scare with a day-to-day sore arm at the beginning of the season before eventually landing on the 15-day DL with a shoulder strain, while Sergio Santos experienced more setbacks to that would not allow him to return until the final months of the season. Meanwhile, Josh Johnson went on the DL twice in a disastrous contract season.
Ditto Brandon Morrow, who missed games with back spasms prior to having his season cut short in June with a right forearm strain. Feel-good story Ramon Ortiz definitely didn’t feel so good after a right-elbow strain that looked like a career-ending tear, while Juan Perez wasn’t so lucky with a torn UCL.
Not to be outdone, Dustin McGowan was his own broken self, missing most of the season with a shoulder injury and tacking on a 15-day DL stint thanks to a sore oblique.
Then, of course, there’s the matter of the team’s All-Star duo in Brett Cecil and Steve Delabar, who both handed on the DL with elbow and shoulder issues respectively. Oh, and this isn’t even to mention that R.A. Dickey was nothing like his Cy Young-winning self in the first half (though he does credit Walker for his turnaround), and the fact that Ricky Romero is irrevocably stuck at rock bottom (at least with the Blue Jays).
Still think it’s a coincidence?
Maybe so. It’s quite possible that all of this was due to uncontrollable and unforeseen circumstances. That said, the Blue Jays’ pitching staff has now experienced multiple seasons of falling apart at the seams, with injuries resulting from use (as opposed to say, a comebacker with eyes) becoming common occurrences rather than notable ones.
At the end of the day, if the team’s arms are breaking with regularity, someone in charge should answer to it, yes?
And if Mottola was fired with seemingly only vague reasons, doesn’t Walker coming back to the team’ graveyard of broken pitchers seem at least … you know, a little odd?