“Start” to take notice of the Rotation

The one thing that has already played out according to plan in baseball this year is how unpredictable things have been. White Sox ruling the world, the old Yankees losing the fountain of youth they seemed to have dipped into last season, the 80 game suspension of the reigning NL batting champ– who saw those things coming? Closer to home here, Toronto’s start has been under-whelming. More surprising, it’s the bats to blame.

Before the season began the common refrain from pundits (including myself) far and wide was that the Jays would hit up a storm again this year but might kick themselves for not retaining David Price and significantly upgrading the starting rote. Many experts thought they’d need to match last years 891 runs and then some to compete given the state of the starting pitching (and they were divided on whether or not they just might do that with Donaldson feeling more at home and a full season of Tulowitzki to look forward to.) USA Today was rather typical of many spring training previews, stating the Blue Jays “have a huge hole in their rotation”, casting doubts on whether Marcus Stroman was ready to take the front-of-rotation and knocking Marco Estrada who “doesn’t elicit fear in opposition batters.”

Well, one-fifth of the way through the schedule, Toronto sits at a run of the mill 16-17. Not out of contention by any stretch of the imagination but disappointing to fans and players alike. The surprise though, is how good the starting rotation has been. In fact, it is the strength that has kept Toronto out of the basement and in the thick of things so far. A starter these days gets 32 or 33 starts a season if healthy. The Jays have played 33 and in those 33 starts, the starters have combined for 211 1/3 innings, allowing just 184 hits, 78 earned runs, walking 67 while whiffing 154. Their collective ERA is 3.32, with a 13-7 won-lost record. JA Happ and Marcus Stroman (plus Drew Hutchison in his one game) have yet to lose and all in all, the starters have pitched well enough to have easily won 23 or 24 of the 33 given a reliable bullpen and average hitting. All of Happ’s starts have been “Quality” and 24 of the 33 games in total have fit that description; 22 of their games have featured fewer hits allowed than innings pitched and only twice have they walked more than they struck out. All things considered, any team would be pretty happy to have a starter have a 13-7, 211 inning, 3.32 ERA year. Not too shabby for a rotation that was supposed to have a huge hole in it. Meanwhile, David Price is off to a remarkably poor start with Boston, giving New Englanders 217 million reason to curse in their chowdah.

Of course, the team hasn’t won 24 or so games yet because (despite a good sophomore effort from Robert Osuna as closer) the bullpen has been iffy and most of all, the fabled bats have been rather noodly. The team’s .234 average is only 12th best in the league (although notably, two of the three teams they are ahead of are division rivals – NY and Tampa) and their slugging percentage is only 9th best. Their 37 homers isn’t terrible and is fourth best in the AL and surprisingly their 134 runs is in the top 5. But at 4.1 runs per game, they’re scoring a run and a half less than last year and there’s no way to avoid that effecting the bottom line.

What’s in store for the remaining 4/5 of the season? Who’s to say. There’s no way Russell Martin will keep hitting .171 and not knock a few dingers; Ryan Goins might keep striking out a quarter of all times to the plate and hitting below .150 but won’t stay in the lineup much longer if so (with Darwin Barney swinging a good bat and Devon Travis potentially only a couple of weeks away from returning). Kevin Pillar has gone 14 for 34 with 7 RBI in his past 9 games and Edwin Encarnacion seemed to find his sweet spot against Texas. Runs will come with greater ease in coming weeks. On the other hand, JA Happ and Marcus Stroman aren’t likely to hit October undefeated and I can’t see the organization, with its concerns about young arms, allow Aaron Sanchez to hit 190 innings he’s on pace for so far.

Then again, if everything went like we expected, there’d be no reason to play 162. Maybe Russell Martin will hit .171 over 125 games and JA Happ will finish at 28-0!

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