As the game of baseball evolves, the Blue Jays focus should be on the bullpen as opposed to starters
The Toronto Blue Jays are at a bit of a cross roads heading into this offseason. They have the opportunity to start from scratch, sort of. They can approach this offseason with an overall plan for how they want their team to look, an identity, as opposed to simply adding pieces. Some would call this rebuilding, which I won’t really argue with. The point is, GM, Ross Atkins, can use this winter to allow his team to evolve.
All over MLB, teams are evolving. In particular, the use of starting pitching is changing right before our eyes. Jeff Sullivan describes this evolution over at Fangraphs. He uses the Milwaukee Brewers as the perfect example of a team who has relied heavily on this new approach to starting pitching. Tampa Bay has also embraced the new way of thinking. Essentially, starters are only starters because they are the first pitcher to take the mound for their team that day. In essence, they really are what Sullivan calls “openers”. Someone has to start the game, but the rest is way different.
Teams are now pulling their “starters” earlier and earlier. No hitter? Too bad, you’re getting pulled. $20M a year? Too bad, it’s bullpen time. Heck, teams are using more and more “bullpen days” because it gives them the best chance to win.
So, where does this leave the Toronto Blue Jays? While teams that are considered automatic postseason contenders in 2019 will likely spend more to bulk up their teams, the Blue Jays can go about being smarter. Rather than spending big bucks on top of the line starters, etc, Toronto can use this new approach to augment their roster.
Marcus Stroman is a good example of the kind of starter they need. Over the last three seasons, he has averaged right around 6 innings pitched per start. If we look at this past season, his average is 5 IP/S. That would suit this new philosophy just fine. 5 innings allows Stroman to go out and ‘air it out’. We have seen him start to show signs of fatigue in outings that last longer than this. If the Blue Jays focus on their bullpen, this would be just fine for Stroman. You could say the same for Aaron Sanchez.
With the rest of Toronto’s rotation currently figuring to house guys with little major league experience, perhaps now is the time to go all in on the bullpen. Ryan Borucki, Sean Reid-Foley and Thomas Pannone all figure to be in the mix to start next season, admittedly with varying degrees of likelihood. But, if Toronto wants to lean on its young guns, focusing on a strong bullpen very well could help the kids as they can go out, give everything they have for one or two times through the order and come out knowing the bullpen can take it from there.
The Blue Jays bullpen will likely feature Ken Giles, a rather nice fastball/slider closer. Tim Mayza could see more time in 2019 with his FB/SL combo from the left side. David Paulino could get consideration. Keep your eye on 25 year old Jose Fernandez. How about Justin Shafer and his fastball/slider combo for a guy that could be considered for an increased role next season? These are the type of guys who could be relied on more and more and are already on the team’s roster. These are the kind of arms that most people haven’t heard of, the kind of players Sullivan refers to.
Of course, the offseason hasn’t even started yet, so anything could happen to adjust the pool from which the club draws. Perhaps some trades are in order. Perhaps moving some guys (who are on the bubble of the 40 man roster a la Dalton Pompey) to bring in bullpen help is in order. The club very well could use several position players to bring in one of these bullpen arms to provide relief for the “openers”.
None of this is to say that Toronto is content with the “starters” they have. You can never have enough pitching. But, the type of pitching they go after could look different this winter. If they feel they need to add a starter, perhaps, they’re looking for one of those arms that can eat a few innings. Maybe the ‘long man’ type of guy is on their radar? Remember Carlos Villanueva? He was pitched in Toronto in 2011 and 2012 and filled this role nicely. He was essentially a guy who could give 4 or 5 innings.
With these type of guys and a strong bullpen, the Blue Jays could surprise a lot of people. They seem to have quality “starters”, but none of them can go a full game. In the new era of baseball, they don’t have to. The Blue Jays could win some games by focusing their attention on powerful arms out of the bullpen to come into games earlier.
So, this offseason should see the Toronto Blue Jays focus on building a tough bullpen. They have the arms in place to be good “openers”. Now, they need to build a collection of ‘no names’ to lighten the load. It’s the evolution of pitching and the Blue Jays have a chance to follow suit.
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Shaun Doyle is a long time Blue Jays fan and writer! He decided to put those things together and create Jays From the Couch. Shaun is the host of Jays From the Couch Radio, which is highly ranked in iTunes, and he has appeared on TV and radio spots.