Let's Start It Up

On occasion I enjoy firing out a late night gem on the Twitter feed right before I fall asleep. Normally these are well thought out snippets regarding your Toronto Blue Jays. The reason for this is the enjoyment I get waking up and seeing the responses, if there happen to be any. A few nights ago I came up with this:

I am not against acquiring another SP but I wonder if we really need one. Ricky, Morrow, Cecil, Alvarez, McGowan looks fine. Drabek 1st up.

Now that right there friends is a statement. I had been thinking along those lines all day and I did my best to jam it into the 140 character maximum. Let’s see what my people had to say about it. 

@Tammy_Beth that's been my thought all along - but i am a sucker for the Yu idea (with Cecil to the pen) 
@twit_terrific Didn't we all think exact same thing last offseason?? Assumed RR,BM,BC would take next step & BM+BC did opp. DM unsure, HA who knows.. 
@daveellis66 agreed. Most excited for Alvarez in the whole bunch. 
@Raiderfan_NOC I wouldn't trust dustin 
@HouseOfTheBB I think the issue isn't that the Jays don't have enough pitchers its that they don't have enough high end pitchers

All fantastic points and some interesting variances in opinion. I very much wanted to address them all individually but the space limitations were prohibitive. Here are my thoughts on the matter, the long version…..

6'0 215lbs

Entering 2011, Ricky Romero had not yet earned the ace title. On the other hand he was our best pitcher, so he got the ball for opening day. He made all his starts and threw another pain free 200 plus innings mostly matching up against the best our opponents had to offer. That's no easy feat. He was an All Star, albeit a last minute addition after a bunch of wimps back out.

Let’s take a look at a few of his key stats as well as his AL rank. 

The Good
6th in ERA with a sexy 2.92
8th in IP with 225
4th in CG with 4
12th in K with 178
10th in WHIP at 1.14 

The Bad 
4th in HR allowed with 26
4th in BB with 80
3rd in Hit Batters with 14

If you said he had some control issues then I would be forced to somewhat agree with you. He misses a lot of bats AND gloves. Falling behind in the count to big league hitters tends to lead a walk or a hard hit ball. Ricky is finding this out the hard way. His reliance on the above average change up could help explain all the long balls. 

All that being said, I think you could slap a semi legit ace label on him now. Could we use an upgrade here? Sure, of course we could. But so could about 25 other teams in baseball. On the bright side, our top guy is going to cost (a put your ski mask on kind of cheap) 5 million dollars in 2012. More importantly he grew into the leader of the staff and was the guy everyone looked to give the bullpen the night off.

6'3 195lbs 

Entering 2011, Brandon Morrow was expected to have a break out season. Spoiler alert: it didn’t really happen. He has the gift of being able to throw absolutely effortless gas but was handcuffed with an innings cap and missed a few games early in the year after being shutdown in spring training. He did end up making thirty sometimes frustrating starts and set a career high for innings pitched.

Here's some of his highlights as well as his AL rank. 

The Good 
7th in K with 203
1st in Strikeouts per 9 innings with a rocking 10.188 

The Bad 
4th in Wild Pitches with 12
5th in Hit Batters with 12

I for one am not quite ready to call his 2011 season a disappointment just yet. Only one guy in all of baseball had a higher strikeout rate than him. He’s your classic power pitcher and they always have bouts of wildness. Brandon is no different. In the second half of the year I did see a guy who seemed at least interested in trying to figure out this whole pitching as opposed to throwing thing. Word on the street was Papi got him to trust in the cutter sometime after the All Star break and he toyed around with it for his last 5 or so starts. Before that he had basically become a two pitch pitcher. Check out the repertoire below. For comparison purposes I’ll include his 2010 percentages.

2011 61.8%
2010 58.4%

2011 26.4%
2010 15.3%

Change Up:
2011 6.4%
2010 14.1%

2011 5.4%
2010 12.2%

To sum up, one pitch out of ten was not a fastball or slider. He has got to mix in some muffins more often. That needs to be and will be addressed. Realistically he only needs one of the two offspeed pitches to be working on any given night to be successful. Another thing I've noticed is when he pitches out of the stretch he tends to get hit more. I'm sure this is true to a degree with most guys but with him it's rather dramatic. If he can find a way to stay in the full windup just a little bit more each time out it could pay off for him as the season goes on. Hopefully he can avoid those high stress innings that have become all too common. Look for him to have the innings cap shackles removed for the first time in his career next year.

6'1 235lbs

Entering 2011, Brett Cecil was coming off a very successful campaign, the first full one of his career. I think people were expecting him to pick up right where he left off and that certainly did not happen. After just 4 starts he was optioned out to Vegas. A dip in velocity was observed by all and whispers of a possible injury began making the rounds. Statistically speaking, he lost about two full MPH off his fastball. Many felt this caused him to reach back which in turn altered his mechanics. Basically he was lost on the mound. The hope was he would find it in the Minors and that didn’t really happen either.

Let’s take a look at some of his MLB numbers from 2010 and compare them to 2011.

Walk rate:
2010 2.81
2011 3.06

Strikeout rate:
2010 6.10
2011 6.33

Groundball rate:
2010 44.2
2011 38.2

Flyball rate:
2010 38.2
2011 43.5

Homeruns per 9 innings:
2010 0.94
2011 1.60

The one that really jumps out at you is the gopher balls. Like Ricky, he relies heavily (22.6%) on his change up. And like Ricky, when hitters sit off speed and get off speed it tends to go into the seats. I’m no pitching coach but I think it’s fair to say he may have lost some confidence in his fastball this season. And I think that’s probably the easiest pitch to regain your confidence in. He needs to throw it more not less, especially early in the count and then work off it as the game goes on. Perhaps his well documented lack of fitness played a role in his tough year. On the positive side of the ledger, he’s under team control until 2016 and threw over 200 innings in 2011 between his time in AAA and the show.

6'1 195lbs

Entering 2011, Henderson Alvarez had never pitched above High A ball. He was a good prospect but nobody really expected much from him yet and rightfully so. Not known as a strikeout guy despite his above average fastball, he skipped right over AAA a la Kyle Drabek and established himself as a viable starting option in the big leagues. Still only 21 years old he doesn’t have much of a breaking ball to speak of just yet. What he does have is a turbo sinker, a swing and miss changeup and a huge set of balls. This kid is not afraid to challenge hitters early on in the count which often leads to some very quick innings. That approach works more often than not if you have the movement on your stuff to pull it off. Simply put, watching him pitch is a refreshing change from the other starters in the rotation. His biggest asset is his near pinpoint control and he has shown that he can pitch to both sides of the plate. If only he could develop a pitch that goes right to left, even just the show me type. Another thing I’ve observed is what I like to call the Jesse Litsch conundrum. He can’t throw the ball straight and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Occasionally mixing in a hard four seem fastball in the top of the zone won't allow hitters to sit on his off speed stuff so much.
6'3 235lbs

Entering 2011, Dustin McGowan hadn’t thrown a pitch in a professional game since 2008. He wasn’t on the radar at all. Everyone was cheering for him to get healthy and monitored his now legendary rehab quite closely. Realistically though, none of us could expect much in the way of contributions. We all had been down that road too many times riding shotgun with Dusty and I fully understand the apprehension in trusting him with innings. Well wouldn't you know it, he did come back and pitch again. The results in this specific case don't really matter that much. Everyone who watched him pitch will say the same thing, that being he looked pretty darn good. He featured the classic four pitches. His fastball came in around 93MPH pretty consistently and when he reached back for more it was there. I saw him throw a few sliders that were almost that hard. The changeup looked respectable and the curve had some good finish. His delivery was smooth, effortless and repeatable. It's hard not to dream about what a near full season of him in the fifth starter role would look like. He's the perfect guy to skip in the rotation on off days. I literally pray every night that he has a great off season and reports to camp feeling strong and loose.

6'1 220lbs

Entering 2011, Kyle Drabek was the new guy. He had made 3 starts at the end of the 2010 season and things looked promising. He was given a legit shot at making the club right out of spring training and took full advantage. Featuring a solid four pitch mix, he was looked upon to stabilize the back end of the rotation. We had all heard the concerns with his “make up” when the deal for Doc was done. Truthfully, I didn’t really know what that means. After watching him for a few months I think I’ve got a better handle on what people were talking about. Kyle is a hothead on the mound. He loses his mind whenever any little thing doesn’t go his way. I once saw him take a swipe at the dirt on the mound after a ball squeaked through the infield for a hit WITH HIS PITCHING HAND. I guess it’s better to start off too pumped up and have to be reined in a little then the opposite but man, it was embarrassing at times to see him act out on the hill. Let’s be honest, white guys aren’t supposed to turn that red in the face unless Halle Berry is present.

If you guessed that reference was only an excuse to put up a Halle Berry pic then you would be 100% correct.

No but in all seriousness, if you have given up on him being a big part of the team moving forward then please click the little box with the X in it located at the top right hand corner of this web page. Cut the guy some slack. In fact you should cut the guy a lot of slack. He’s been an absolute beast of a pitcher at every level of baseball he’s ever played at. Failure is not an easy thing to accept for people used to being so successful at their craft. The kid still has mid 90’s heat, a cutter that moves about six inches and a stupidly filthy hook. Once he learns to trust his stuff in the strikezone watch the fuck out.


My initial statement stands. With respect to an upgrade, he would have to be a top end guy and let's be clear: I’m not against this. Nobody should really be against this. However, unproven Japanese pitchers with big price tags are not exactly what I had in mind. I sincerely doubt Yu Darvish steps right into this rotation behind Ricky.

If it ends up we can't find another starter this winter, I’d be completely comfortable rolling the dice with these six players going into next year. Is it good enough to take home the big prize? Probably not.

If I may put a positive spin on things for just a moment it's really quite this simple:
  • Leave Ricky alone
  • Get Brandon to throw more benders
  • Send a personal trainer over to Brett's house
  • Show Henderson how to throw a slider/cutter/curveball
  • Treat Dustin like found money
  • Give Kyle some more time
 All photos courtesy of daylife


  1. The real story of the starting pitching in 2012 was started by AA when he said (and I paraphrase) "I expect all four of those guys in AA to challenge for a position in the show in 2012."

    Two of those guys are breathtaking young phenoms (Hutchison and the otherworldly Molina) and two of them are college trained horses (Jenkins and the "If he was in any other team's minor league system they'd be really excited" McGuire.

    I seriously EXPECT at least one of Hutchison or Molina to FORCE their way into the rotation by the All-Star break AND I wouldn't be surprised if Molina (he'll be 23 next year) was the first of the Fab Two to force that move...possibly even out of spring training.

  2. I like your post. Leave the pitching to work itself out. Find a closer that can redeem 25 blown saves. Find a long term solution at second base.
    Your rotation looks great, except I would have Villanueva start and Cecil and Drabek in the pen. He ran out of gas last year, but for most of the year, he was our best pitcher.
    Drabek can't learn anything else in AAA, so he may as well play with the big boys. The Jays have has some pretty good starters begin their career in the pen. David Wells, Pat Hentgen, McGowan, Marcum, to name a few.