Do Blue Jays Starting Pitchers Match Defense?

Jays From the Couch looks at how the Blue Jays 2016 starting pitching staff matches up with the defense that will play behind them.

Much has been written about the underwhelming moves on the part of the Blue Jays to bolster their starting rotation for their AL East title defense. With bringing back R.A. Dickey and Marco Estrada and signing old friend, J.A. Happ, the club left a number of high priced options on the shelves. With what we know about new president, Mark Shapiro and his approach to running a team, there has to be a line of thinking that makes their offseason moves make sense.

Perhaps, the belief in a new phrase: “Hitting and defense win championships” will be their philosophy heading into 2016. Of the 3 aspects of the game, it is these two areas that the Blue Jays excel at rather than pitching. I wanted to find out if the defense and pitching match up in a way that makes the offseason make a bit more sense. Does the defense provide enough comfort that the club could seek a certain type of pitcher. Perhaps, the pitching could be better than we think based on this.

To do this, we have to assume what the starting defensive lineup will look like, which should not be that much of a challenge. Then, we have to look at their defensive output. For this, two stats help paint the picture: DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) and UZR/150 (Ultimate Zone Rating runs above average per 150 Defensive Games). There are a number of statistics that go into measuring a fielder’s capabilities, but these two serve as a general idea. Using the 2015 values, here is what we find:

LF, Dalton Pompey (as an OF: DRS: 6, UZR/150: -0.5, but 29.7 in CF) Michael Saunders (2014 as an OF: DRS: 5, UZR/150: 8.9)
CF, Kevin Pillar (DRS: 14, UZR/150: 16)
RF, Jose Bautista (DRS: -3, UZR/150: -12.5)
3B, Josh Donaldson (DRS: 11, UZR/150: 9.8)
SS, Troy Tulowitzki (DRS: 5, UZR/150: 4.9)
2B, Ryan Goins (DRS: 4, UZR.150: 3) Devon Travis (DRS: 1, UZR/150: 7.1)
1B, Chris Colabello (DRS: -5, UZR/150: -5.6) Justin Smoak (DRS: 4, UZR/150: 4.6)
C, Russell Martin (DRS: -2)

Save for a couple instances, the Blue Jays defense looks to be just as we expected: solid. If you add up the total Defesnive Runs Saved, which, admittedly, is not exactly the best way to look at a team’s defense, we’re looking at 40! That is 40 runs saved. Trading Revere actually improved the outfield defense. Now, the question is whether the starting pitchers will benefit from this.

If we look at the starters ability to use the defense, then contact, groundball and flyball rates surely come into play.

Marcus Stroman: 83.8% contact, 64.1% GB, 17.9% FB (14.3% HR/FB)
R.A. Dickey: 81.6% contact, 41.9% GB, 37.2% FB (9.8% HR/FB)
Marco Estrada: 80% contact, 32.2% GB, 52.3% FB (8.7% HR/FB)
J.A. Happ: 81.9% contact, 41.6% GB, 34.1% FB (9.2% HR/FB)
Drew Hutchison: 87.5% contact, 39.6% GB, 36.4% FB (12.7% HR/FB)
Jesse Chavez: 80.1% contact, 43.1% GB, 34% FB (11% HR/FB)

There is not a single pitcher that gives up less than 80% contact, which is just above league average. However, only Stroman has an above average (45.3%) GB rate. Actually, he’s the only one with a FB rate that is below the league average (33.8%) at nearly half. Though all of this only compares the Blue Jays starters with the league average for 2015.

Instead, the purpose was to see if pairing them with the current defense can provide some sort of hope for the 2016 season. Indeed, Stroman certainly makes you feel OK about his ability to use his defense to his advantage. The fly ball rates of Dickey and Estrada make you look toward the outfield defense. The negative values for Bautista may cause some concern, where Pillar makes you feel pretty good about balls hit out there. As for the infield, the staff may want to consider an attempt at increasing the amount of groundballs. That might prove to be difficult for a guy like Estrada who flirts with the upper half of the zone so much.

In reality, the Blue Jays current pitching staff does not bring overwhelming rates that would take advantage of the defense that is behind them. The defense would certainly help them, but likely not more than it would for the average pitcher in MLB. From this, we might think about the theory of matching pitching to defense as unclear. There is not evidence here that this was the clear reasoning behind constructing the current rotation.


* Featured Image Credit: Keith Allison-flickr-CreativeCommons

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Shaun Doyle

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.