The Blue Jays have addressed their starting rotation concerns this offseason. Is it likely to mean a different role for Trent Thornton
The Toronto Blue Jays needed to address their starting rotation if they had any chance of even coming close to their promise of having a better season in 2020. And, so far, they’ve been successful in their endeavor. This offseason has seen them trade for Chase Anderson, sign Tanner Roark and then land a big fish in Hyun-Jin Ryu. These additions push last year’s starters down the depth charts and could even more Trent Thornton to the bullpen.
If you had the stomach to watch every game in 2019, you would have seen your share of terrible starts. You also would have seen some very good ones. And, that is the synopsis of Thornton’s year. He was up and down, showing signs of effectiveness mixed with the opposite of that. If there were no moves made this winter, he would be all but a lock for a rotation spot. But, with options available, there could be a case for moving Thornton to the bullpen.
Overall, Thornton’s 2019 resulted in 1.9 fWAR, in 154 innings. It sounds like he should be an odds on favourite for a starting job in 2020. But, let’s dig a little deeper, shall we? He appeared in 32 games, 29 of which were starts. Even basic math tells you that he had trouble going deep into games.
In fact, if you break down his starts, you see a very ugly trend. 2019 yielded an ERA of 3.73 on Thornton’s first time through an order. The 2nd time saw his ERA jump to 5.40 and the 3rd time saw it reach 7.13. Of course, because of the lack of effectiveness as games wear on, the sample of innings from which we have to work shrinks. This supports the idea of limiting how many times he sees a lineup.
Looking at a much smaller sample size, as a reliever, Thornton’s ERA looks like this: 1st time through an order: 2.35, 2nd time: 4.26. As a reliever, his ERA sits at 3.00 as opposed to 5.04 as a starter. Of course, we’re talking about 15 relief innings. But, would it make sense to consider this new role that might allow him to air out his fastball a bit more? His 93.2 mph average might see an uptick with fewer innings of work. We’ve heard the argument made for others.
Looking back at Thornton’s splits, specifically his performance in different leverage situations, we see something interesting. It would appear that with increased leverage, batters did more damage against him: low: .239, medium: .272, high: .293. This would go along with the theory that the longer a game goes, the less effective he is since leverage tends to increase with the innings…assuming no blow out is happening.
Another interesting tidbit is that when Thornton faces batters with runners in scoring position, he holds them to .215 average, which might support a move to a relief role. However, that logic takes a hit when you consider that he has an average against of .281 with men on base. So, the bullpen situations are mixed. For what it’s worth, when the bases are empty, batters hit .243, so if he’s to come out of the ‘pen it would have to be to start a new inning and maybe face the order once at most, which would give him about 3 innings, assuming he’s effective.
All of this is based on the idea that the Blue Jays have created pitching depth that they didn’t have last year. It is also based on the belief that that depth is enough, which we know is rarely the case. We’re also assuming that Ryan Borucki returns to the Blue Jays rotation in full health. If Borucki’s healthy, one has to think he has an edge for the final rotation spot. So, then it comes down to whether the Blue Jays feel they can get more value from Thornton in a relief role, or in the Buffalo Bisons’ rotation.
If we know anything, it is that injuries happen. So, it may not be that much of a stretch to think that Trent Thornton could be next in line to start games, which could happen in Spring Training, at the beginning of the season, or mid season. If that is the case, and he is as high up on the depth charts as we think, then perhaps, moving him to the bullpen is premature. He would need to be stretched out before starting games, which is less than ideal. But, if he’s in Buffalo, he doesn’t need that and can be called up right away.
This post is also assuming that the Blue Jays feel confident in knowing what they have in Trent Thornton and that they do not want to spend 2020 ‘seeing what they have’ in certain players. If that is the case, a move to the bullpen may be in order. But, in all likelihood, if this is to be considered, the Blue Jays will have given him several more opportunities to start. Whether that all comes in 2020 remains to be seen. A move to the bullpen may happen for Thornton, but it is not likely to be right away.
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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.