Projecting the Pitchers

Gibbons2016_01It’s finally here! The first official day of Spring Training, as pitchers and catchers for the DEFENDING AL EAST CHAMPION Toronto Blue Jays report for their first official workout Monday. Of course, many of the teams hurlers and receivers have been in Dunedin, FL for weeks already.

Last night, Mike Wilner posted his projected Opening Day roster (well, sort of. Didn’t actually commit to a final 25, just listed most of the guys who are in the running.) And today is the day when everybody else is posting their projections, so I figured why not me too.

I’m going to try and update this weekly throughout the spring, maybe every Monday? We’ll see. And with position players reporting later in the week, I’ll post projections for them too, but there’s not as much intrigue in that area of the roster.

I’m going to assume a 12-man staff, with five starters and seven relievers. Wilner hinted at the possibility of the dreaded eight-man pen, which Ross Atkins, Mark Shapiro & Co allegedly favour. And let’s be honest, Gibby seems to have grown fond of it to open the season the last couple of years as well. However, I am ever the optimist, and will hope reason rules the day and the Jays use a seven man bullpen. With that assumption, I’m breaking the pitching hopefuls down into three categories: the locks, the bubble boys, and the long shots. I’ll attach my Opening Day roster projection for each pitcher, and sum it up with a nice list at the end.

Rotation – The Locks

#6 – Marcus Stroman, RHP

We all know the story. After tearing his knee up in Spring Training a year ago, he made just seven starts including playoffs, and even that was nothing short of a miracle. Barring injury setback, he will start #OD16 on April 3 in Tampa Bay. He is the new (default?) ace of the team, and has been champing at the bit to prove himself over a full season. Projection: Ace

#25 – Marco Estrade, RHP

Signed to a 2-year deal shortly before hitting the free agent market, the surprise of the 2015 staff is back for more. He was, by some measures, a top-5 pitcher in the American League last season. Is it fair to expect a repeat in 2016? Probably not. But I think we can expect decent enough numbers to give his team, especially one with this offence, a good chance to win most nights he’s on the mound. The biggest question facing him will be replicating success without having personal catcher Dioner Navarro this year. Projection: #2 starter

#43 – R.A. Dickey, RHP

The only dependable, 200-inning vet this rotation has, Dickey will resume that role in 2016, although with considerably less pressure and expectation than in his first three seasons in Toronto. It was revealed yesterday he underwent knee surgery during the off-season, but is expected to be full-go to start workouts this week. His biggest hurdle will be surviving April, where he’s had an ERA close to 5.00 (or above) in all three seasons with the Jays. With better run support than last year, he should be a solid middle-of-the-rotation guy. Projection: #3 starter

#33 – J.A. Happ, LHP

The Blue Jays are gambling that he figured himself out in Pittsburgh after a late-season trade. His splits before and after the trade were quite significant, and now he’ll have to bring that back north of the border with him. Hopefully he can sneak it through customs. He’s never been an innings-eater, but if he can carry a lead into the 6th, his bullpen should be able to take it from there on most nights. But there will definitely be starts where he labours through the first three innings and struggles to make it into the fifth. As a vet with a three-year contract, he’s got his spot sewn up. Projection: #4 starter

Rotation – The Bubble Boys

#41 – Aaron Sanchez, RHP

For the second year in a row, the young righty will have all eyes on him to determine where he slots into on this staff. Last season, he was ticketed for late-inning work, but was needed in the rotation when Stroman was lost to injury. He struggled early, then found his form, then got hurt. When he returned, it was to a bullpen that badly needed him, and he excelled in shutdown relief for the second year in a row. If he out-pitches his competitors, it’s hard to fathom he won’t be the fifth starter (which coincides with the Home Opener against Boston this year, by the way). Starting in Buffalo is an option, of course, but not one that makes sense through these eyes. If brass don’t believe he’ll have what it takes to dominate as a starter this season, he’ll end up back in the bullpen to form a four-headed monster with Drew Storen, Roberto Osuna and Brett Cecil. Projection: #5 starter

#36 – Drew Hutchison, RHP

With an option still remaining on his contract, it seems likely that unless he dazzles in spring, Hutch will be sent to Buffalo to continue honing his craft. His 13-win season must feel like a distant memory, even to him, as many of those wins were brought to you by the letter O and the colour blue. I know I’ve mentioned run support as reasons why Estrada, Dickey, and Happ should be okay in this rotation, and that might work for Hutchison, too. But those three are out of options, and the organization might still have hope Hutch can rebound and become a reliable starter in future seasons. For now, it would benefit all parties for him to excel in Triple-A, acting as injury insurance. Projection: Buffalo starter

#30 – Jesse Chavez, RHP

Will he spend all season being referred to as “that guy we gave up Liam Hendricks for”? Hopefully not. Casual, pre-deadline fans might remember him from his nine appearances (two starts) with the Jays in 2012 with an 8.44 ERA. Well, he’s not that guy anymore. His biggest knock over the last couple of season with Oakland was durability (the biggest question around Sanchez as well, to be fair). He’s been known to have strong starts, and fade off as the season progresses. Perhaps it would be better to spread out those quality innings over the course of the entire year, as a long-relief, mop-up, emergency starter. Essentially, exactly what Hendricks was last season, but with an ability to start. Projection: Bullpen – long-relief

Rotation – The Long Shots

#?? – Gavin Floyd, RHP

Made seven relief appearances for Cleveland last season, after battling elbow injuries for much of 2013 & ’14. Pitched to a 2.70 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP, which are pretty decent numbers if you can sustain them over a full season. Will limiting him to reliever’s innings lessen the strain on his arm? Can he be this year’s Joe Blanton, a guy who was an incredibly mediocre starter, and found himself in the bullpen? Can he replace what Mark Lowe gave the Jays over the final two months? I think he can. Projection: Bullpen – middle-relief

#31 – Brad Penny, RHP

Apparently he pitched 26 innings for the Marlins last season. I wasn’t aware of any of them. Probably because of his 6.58 ERA. Not holding my breath for anything significant here. Projection: Buffalo starter

Bullpen- The Locks

#45 – Drew Storen, RHP

I wrote about him when he came over from Washington, but he projects best as the closer, because of his inability to be effective in stints lasting more than one inning. He has 95 career saves, and while Osuna was magnificent last year, I see no reason not to give the job to the veteran approaching free agency. Projection: Closer

#54 – Roberto Osuna, RHP

We all acknowledge what the 21-year old Mexican did last year was sensational. As with all young pitchers, it’s important to exercise caution entering a second season, now that the league has had a full year to look at him and study him. If there is any possibility of a sophomore slump, do you want that happening in the ninth inning? I know having hiccups APPROACHING the ninth inning isn’t great either (and was the Blue Jays’ biggest problem in May last year), but I’d much rather take my chances on him blowing a game in the 7th or 8th inning. Plus, not locking him into the closer’s role opens him up to be a multi-inning reliever to build up a significant number of innings that will still allow him to possibly be a starter next season. The comparisons to Yankees super reliever Dellin Betances have already begun. Projection: 7th/8th inning set-up man

#27 – Brett Cecil, LHP

There’s a school of thought which states losing Brett Cecil in the ALDS last year ultimately cost them a trip to the World Series. And hey, it might be accurate. That just underscores how important Cecil was to this team from July onward, where he didn’t allow an earned run over his final 37 appearances. If the Blue Jays get that version of Cecil back, the bullpen will be in great shape. Projection: 7th/8th inning set-up man

Bullpen – The Bubble Boys

#50 – Steve Delabar, RHP

He’s out of options, and it’s put-up or shut up time for the former All-Star. He appeared in 24 games for Buffalo last season to a 1.42 ERA, holding opponents to a .140 average. He’ll need to translate that type of success into big league camp this spring, after being a relatively early cut last year. Projection: Mid-relief

#44 – Pat Venditte, SHP

SHP, you ask? SWITCH-PITCHER. Honestly, I don’t care about stats, or anything, I just wanna see this guy on the team. Okay fine, we’ll look at some stats:
Against left-handed hitters: .116 average
Against right-handed hitters (as a right-handed pitcher): .250 average.
Against right-handed hitters (as a left-handed pitcher): .400 average. So let’s avoid that.

Venditte2016_01Listen, if we give bench position players an edge for being versatile for things like switch-hitting, or playing multiple positions, it’s hard not to use that logic in this guy’s favour. With a decent spring, I put him on the team. This could be the type of guy to benefit from an early-season eight-man bullpen, not wanting to try and put him through waivers before other team’s rosters are finalized.He also inspired one of my favourite mistake headlines of all time. An amphibious pitcher?! Just imagine it! Projection: Mid-relief

#62 – Aaron Loup, LHP

An ugly middle of the season for him, but there were some signs pointing in the right direction later in the year, including his demotion to Buffalo. His walk and home-run rates spiked, but more importantly, he lost the trust of manager John Gibbons. He’ll have to win back that trust during the spring, but we know he’s capable of being very effective against lefties. If the brass want three lefties in the pen, he seems to be a lock. To my knowledge, he also has an option year remaining.

Bullpen – The Long Shots

#47 – Bo Schultz, RHP

#52 – Ryan Tepera, RHP

#68 – Arnold Leon, RHP

Let’s be honest. These guys all have pros and cons about them. All righties, they’re relatively interchangeable, and will probably all be used at one point or another this season. The likelihood of them breaking camp with the big club will ultimately depend on injuries in front of them. No team escapes spring training without even one or two minor arm ailments, so these guys could be pressed into action whether we like it or not.

Final Staff

Rotation – Stroman, Estrada, Dickey, Happ, Sanchez

Bullpen – (RH) Storen, Osuna, Delabar, Floyd, Chavez; (LH) Cecil; (SH) Venditte

(Aaron Loup gets the call if they go with an 8-man pen.)

Last week, Asher posted a link to his roster prediction (from the original Jays Balk!) ahead of the 2010 season, and some of them are hilariously bad, when given the benefit of hindsight. This team is projected to be much better than that one, so looking back might not make us look so stupid. Let’s hope not anyway.

This shapes up to be a good team! Let’s have fun with this, post any changes you might make to the staff in the comments below.

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