The Toronto Blue Jays improved their starting rotation this winter, but if they’re going to compete, they’ll need to do more
The Toronto Blue Jays made their starting rotation a priority this winter, which is good because it was downright bad in 2019. Sure, part of it was hurt as well, but no matter how you look at it, they needed some help…badly. They’ve made some improvements, overhauling the starting five, which makes 2020 a much more palatable season, but it is not a rotation built to compete.
The trade that brought Chase Anderson to Toronto was an interesting one in that it showed fans a club that was willing to use money to fix a problem. No, Anderson wasn’t a big free agent, but he was set to make more money than the Brewers were comfortable with and Toronto have such a need that they can stomach the $8.5M he’s owed this coming season as well as his potential 2021 salary should they choose to pick up the option.
Deciding to tender Matt Shoemaker a contract might have been a tough decision for some clubs, but the Blue Jays’ desperate need for pitching, and the success he showed them to start 2019 made it as close to a no-brainer as you can get. Other teams might have looked at him missing 5 months and his history of injuries and decided the risk wasn’t worth it. And, at $4.2M (to avoid arbitration), it is a gamble worth taking for Toronto.
The signing of Tanner Roark was met with relative luke-warm-ness. The Blue Jays needed a pitcher and he is one. At 2 yrs/$24M, they may have overpaid a bit, but when you have such a need and the money, you kind of have to just swallow the cost. That is not to say that $12M AAV is unreasonable since Roark brings a track record of eating a lot of innings, which is something that the Blue Jays may have paid even more for considering their experience in 2019.
Of course, the highlight of the offseason (thus far?) was the signing of a legitimate top(ish) tier starter in Hyun-Jin Ryu. Soon to be 33, the Korean hurler is coming off a season where he was finally healthy and showed what he is capable of over a full season. His 2.32 ERA made him a rather desirable target. This signing was a tad surprising in that, while we’d heard Toronto linked to him, not many people actually expected them to land a guy that is worth $20M a year. Heck, not many of us even thought they’d seriously attempt to sign one of those guys.
But, they did and now the starting rotation has 4 clear starters with one spot open for a competition between the returning Ryan Borucki and the likes of Trent Thornton, Jacob Waguespack, Anthony Kay, newly acquired Shun Yamaguchi and T.J. Zeuch. Not only does Toronto have 4 legit major league starters, but they have depth from which they can draw. It’s an odd time in Blue Jays Land. I’m genuinely looking forward to watching games. I mean, almost anything is an improvement over Edwin Jackson-like starts, but, overall, this group looks much better than what we witnessed in 2019.
This is probably a good time to mention that the point of this whole discussion is not to be contrarian or argumentative about the improvements made and the excitement that has followed just to garner clicks. Instead, it is to point out something that struck me while perusing Fangraphs’ projections. Yesterday, I wrote how the Blue Jays’ catching tandem is set to be among the league’s best, so I wanted to check other positions. Save yourself some time, Toronto does not stack up well.
For example, the starting rotation is projected to put up 8.3 fWAR, which is 4th from the bottom. This much improved rotation is projected to be better than only Kansas City, Seattle and Baltimore. Yikes. In comparison, the Yankees’ rotation is at the top of the list with a projected 19.2 fWAR. Even the Red Sox have a starting 5 set to put up 14.9 fWAR and they’re running out an aging David Price and whatever Chris Sale will be.
To break it down, here is what each starter is projected (according to Fangraphs) to be worth in 2020: Ryu: 2.9 fWAR/ Roark: 1.4 fWAR/ Shoemaker: 1.3 fWAR/ Anderson: 0.8 fWAR/ Borucki: 0.6 fWAR/ Thornton: 1.0 fWAR
Obviously, a lot can happen to impact the total value in 2020. For example, do we really think, if healthy, Borucki will put up less than a win? Seems unlikely. We also have to remember that Nate Pearson is likely to make an appearance at some point, which will have an impact on the overall value. So, we have to remember that projections, while a lot of intelligence go into them, are just educated guesses. Players blow past them all the time…of course, they also fall short.
This is all kind of interesting if you stop and think about it. There is legitimate excitement over the Blue Jays that comes from making offseason improvements. And the excitement is warranted. This rotation looks like it will be better than it was a year ago. Yet, as exciting as it is, we are reminded that it is far from a playoff group. There is a lot of room for even more improvement. And, that’s OK.
In the context of the 2020 season, the Toronto Blue Jays do not need to run out 5 All Stars to start their games. They don’t need to build a rotation that projects to see 20 fWAR. 2020 is about making a small step forward for the team as a whole. But, what this year’s rotation highlights is just how much of a step forward is needed before Toronto will compete again. The Blue Jays will be better in 2020, they’re just not there yet, which is just fine.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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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.