With the All Star break only a week off, the Jays have already passed the halfway mark of the 2019 campaign. And while the bats have finally gotten reasonably hot with the weather of late, the pitching is still a sporting disaster by and large meaning Toronto would have to win 49 of 77 remaining games to merely finish at .500. So we’ll not spend too much time ruing over that this week, other than to point out my pick for the Blue Jays player of the month in June was Lourdes Gurriel. A short demotion to the minors seems to have done wonders for the kid brother of Houston’s first baseman Yuli. Gurriel has been shifted into the outfield and looks more at home than he did in the middle-infield and was leading the offensive charge for the team, hitting .340 with 10 home runs and a .700 slugging percentage over the month.
Now, back to our ongoing look at the best Blue Jays ever. Today, the pitchers.
Gotta admit, in my mind I remember Duane Ward to be the optimal of the hundreds who’ve come and gone through the Jays’ bullpen gates over the years. And at his best, he might have been… but that best was fairly brief. And while the small middle-reliever, Jason Frasor (who leads the team with the most pitching appearances on the career, 505) deserves notice as well, the huge, 6’5” Midwesterner has to get the nod.
Henke bookended his career with stints in Texas, but rose to stardom and put in the bulk of his pitching years in Toronto blue. He was a Blue Jay from 1985 through 1992, which you’ll note also corresponds to the team’s rise to prominence. It began with their first playoff season and ended with their first World Series. While he never quite matched Oakland’s Dennis Eckersley, Henke was the “closer” for the Jays just as that role was really coming into its own and appearing to be a necessity for a team that wanted to contend. He ended up pitching in 446 games here, primarily at the end of the contest, going 29-29 (not that the won-loss record is that meaningful with late inning relievers anyway) but nabbing a club record 217 saves and striking out 644 through 563 innings. (The savvy observer will notice that that averages out to close to 1 1/3 innings per outing; it was before the age when one inning was considered the outer limits of an arm from the ‘pen). He walked just 166, giving him the best ratio of K:BB in club annals, as was his stellar 2.48 ERA – tops among pitchers with 500+ innings for the team (take that Roger Clemens! Rocket’s ERA was 2.33 in his two years here but came in four outs short of 500 innings!).
Henke was an All Star in ’87, when he pitched 72 games and led the league with 34 saves. From 1986-90 inclusively and again in 1992, he logged 50+ appearances and he had four 30 save seasons. In the post season, he held his own as well. In a total of 15 appearances, he was 2-0 with 5 saves and kept opponents to a 1.83 ERA. Notable there was that he was credited with the only two post season wins against KC in 1985! Henke’s WAR was put at 16.8 over his Toronto years, twice being over 3 in a season, which certainly adds some bona fides to his credentials.
Ward, for the record, was acquired from Atlanta mid-season 1986, and initially was the setup man for Henke. He pitched almost his whole career in Toronto, effectively having it cut short by injuries after the ’93 World Series championship. Ward came back to pitch only 4 innings after that. but when he was hot, boy was he hot! In 1993, an All Star year, he took over the closer spot and led the league with 45 saves. From 1988-93 he put in 60+ games a season and he had five 100 inning campaigns, a number that nowadays seems unfathomable. His career WAR was 10.5, with it about 3 each in ’92 and ’93.
Next time, we look to the guys ahead of Henke, Ward, Giles & Co. – the starters.