Jays From the Couch explores the best option to fill the Toronto Blue Jays 5th starter job in 2016.
There are merely days remaining in Spring Training; days before the Blue Jays open the regular season in Tampa Bay. A few days after that, they will head home and open the doors to Rogers Centre to play baseball for the first time since the magical playoff run that has left us wanting more.
The club will welcome the Boston Red Sox for the first series of the season played in Toronto. The opening contest will likely feature the 5th starter in the rotation. As of right now, who that is is up in the air. Many people have gone back and forth over who it should be. Initially, we kind of assumed that Aaron Sanchez, with his extra bulk and determination, would seize the job and every other name would simply be pitching depth, whether for the rotation or the bullpen.
That list of names includes one Gavin Floyd, of the fairly significant elbow injuries and just 92 innings at the big league level from the start of 2013 to the present. We scratched our heads when we heard he was given a guranteed ML deal for $1M. It wasn’t the money we were puzzled by, but the guaranteed roster spot. Now we may be a tad confused once again. We are hearing that Floyd just might be considered for the 5th spot and Sanchez could be relegated to the bullpen.
There are plenty of arguments for and against each of these two, but let’s, for a second, take this competition on its face. We’ll remove (for a moment) the names and their subsequent issues and just compare what they bring to the table. Then, we’ll add the pesky details back to round out the discussion.
Owner of a successful 5 year stretch at the major league level, a 17 game winner in 2008, 4 win player twice (another 3 win season after those). Has thrown nearly 200 major league innings several times.
According to Fangraphs.com, Pitcher A features a fastball (that sits just under 92 mph), cutter, curveball and a change. He stopped throwing the slider in 2011. If you look at the separation between his fastball and change, there is about a 5.5 mph difference, which may not seem that exciting. But, if you look at the 2015 value of his pitches, it is less worrisome: (runs above average per 100 pitches) wFB/C: 1.38, wCT/C: 0.33, wCB/C: 2.65, wCH/C: 1.69. Obviously, this needs to be considered with the “small sample size” caveat. But, we’ll return to address this in a bit.
Pitcher A offers a repertoire that certainly seems like a great fit for a 5th starter. He appears to have 4 decent offerings and has the major league experience on his side.
Owner of a grand total of 125.1 innings at the big league level. He’s coming off a career high of 92.1 innings last season where he was an effective bullpen weapon for the second half of the year. He has a GB% of over 60%, but has trouble limiting the walks.
Pitcher B features a devastating fastball that sits in the mid 90s, but can touch 97/98 mph. He attempts to compliment that with a slider, curveball and change. There is decent enough separation between his fastball and change. The values of his pitches are skewed, though. His fastball is indeed devastating when it is moving; it’s downright sexy. But consistency is key. A lack in consistency results in a wFB/C value of 0.88. His other pitches are valued like so: wSL/C: -0.65, wCB/C: -0.23, wCH/C: -3.31
Pitcher B appears as a perfect bullpen option given that he has a very effective fastball and somewhat questionable secondary stuff. He is young and has electricity on his side, but doesn’t have the command or repertoire you want to see from a starter, even if it is 5th in line.
Obviously, Pitcher A is Floyd and we’re looking at numbers that we really can’t sell out to. His 2015 was all of 13 innings long. Injury recovery was the name of the game for him last year. But, he showed that he was healthy enough to gamble on. And, this spring, he is showing a bit more than that. Considering how effective his whole repertoire could be, he just might be ready to claim a spot in the rotation. And yet, Chad Young at Fangraphs profiles him thusly: “The problem is there is no reason to think Floyd can still pitch in the majors. A handful of relief appearances, maybe a start or two, could be on the docket, but you won’t get much more, and that is not worth rostering.” Now, the “rostering” he’s talking about is on fantasy teams, but the harsh outlook for Floyd stands. At least it did before we got to see him work this spring.
Sanchez (Pitcher B) is an interesting case given that we haven’t really seen evidence of him being an effective starter for a full season. He showed us that he could handle at least a 5th starter job at the beginning of last season, but after an injury, the club didn’t seem to want to test him there again. The Blue Jays seem to be very nervous to go all in on Sanchez as a starter. Perhaps it is the secondary stuff, the command, the stamina, or a combination thereof. He has shown a desire to prove himself worthy by bulking up and tossing very well this spring.
And, therein lies the problem: both of these guys appear to be showing themselves worthy this spring. Despite that, club president, Mark Shapiro does not really seem to be sold on Sanchez in the rotation, citing his lack of 130 inning experience, the counter to which would be that Floyd hasn’t shown that in years. August Fagerstrom of Fangraphs states his stance on Sanchez: “Sanchez flunked his audition as a starter, perhaps reaffirming the notion of many that his future was in a bullpen.” “Flunked” seems to be a tad harsh, but he certainly didn’t convince the organization that he is 100% a starter.
And, essentially, that is what it looks like it is going to come down to. Both of these guys have something to prove to win the 5th starter job. Floyd will have to prove he is healthy; that his elbow is not going to explode. That could prove to be easy, or difficult, but is really beyond his control. It is something that will just be, or not. Sanchez may have a more difficult task. He will not have to prove he is a starter so much as having to prove he is not a bullpen weapon. That involves changing the perception of him.
While it is easy to say that Spring Training doesn’t mean a whole lot, the Blue Jays search for a 5th starter proves that is not always true. For Aaron Sanchez and Gavin Floyd, pre-season performance will go a long way to dictating their in-season fate. For the Toronto Blue Jays, it is a time to weigh options. It is a good problem to have, but the clock is ticking. That 5th spot in the rotation is coming up.
Also from JFtC: Are Blue Jays Sluggers Worth $200M?
*Featured Image Credit: Arturo Pardavila III UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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