Post-Halladay Jays Still Pitching-Rich

This past December, the Toronto Blue Jays ended a 15-year relationship with Roy Halladay by shipping him to the Phillies for a bounty of young talent including RHP Kyle Drabek, C Travis d’Arnaud and OF Michael Taylor (who was then swapped to Oakland for 1B Brett Wallace). Predictably, Doc is dominating in the Senior Circuit — in addition to tossing a perfect game against Florida on May 29th, Halladay leads the universe in starting pitcher WAR (3.2) and xFIP (2.93).

But you may be surprised to find that without Halladay, the Jays still boast one of the best starting rotations in the game. Collectively, Toronto’s starters have a 4.06 xFIP. Among AL clubs, that trails only the Twins (4.04) and their Jedi-like ability to avoid ball four.

Once a lukewarm prospect seemingly destined to be known as “not Troy Tulowitzki,” Ricky Romero is pitching like one of the better starters in the bigs. The 25-year-old lefty, taken with the 6th overall pick in the 2005 draft, owns a 3.14 xFIP on the season. Only Doc has a better mark among qualified big league starters. He’s punching out over a batter per inning (9.19 K/9), displaying decent control (3.38 BB/9) and burning worms (56.9 GB%). In 255.1 career innings, Romero has a 3.81 xFIP. It remains to be seen whether he can continue to pitch at an elite level, but at worst the Cal State Fullerton product looks like a comfortably above-average starter.

Shaun Marcum, returning from Tommy John surgery, has a 3.77 xFIP. The 28-year-old righty has whiffed 7.4 batters per nine frames, with 2.1 BB/9. A supplemental first-rounder in the 2007 draft, Brett Cecil is showing promise as well. Cecil was a strong ground ball pitcher in the minors (59.7 GB%, according to Minor League Splits). While that hasn’t carried over to the majors yet (42 GB%), the 23-year-old has a 4.02 xFIP in 2010, with 7.25 K/9 and 2.17 BB/9.

Romero, Marcum and Cecil have a few things in common. They rely heavily upon their secondary stuff, put fewer pitches in the strike zone than the big league average and garner plenty of swings on pitches thrown off the plate:

Romero supplements his 90-91 MPH fastball with a high-80’s cutter, a low-80’s slider, a low 70’s curve and a devastating mid-80’s changeup. Marcum’s 86-87 MPH “heat” is backed up by a mid-80’s cutter, a low-70’s curve and a low-80’s change. Cecil’s 89-90 MPH fastball is enhanced by a mid-80’s slider, a mid-70’s curve and a low-80’s change. On a per-pitch basis, this trio’s breaking and off-speed stuff has been stellar:

The changeup is a big pitch for all three — Romero (26.4 percent), Marcum (22.4 percent) and Cecil (24.6 percent) pull the string often.

Brandon Morrow shares the above trio’s tendency to put fewer pitches in the zone (45.2 percent) and induce lots of outside swings (31.3 percent), but he has gone to his 93-94 MPH fastball about 64 percent of the time. The former Cal star, who went back and forth between roles (starter? reliever?) with the M’s enough to make Hamlet groan, is now firmly a starter. The 25-year-old’s ERA (6.00) looks ghastly, but his xFIP (4.12) is much more palatable. Morrow’s control remains maddening (5.37 BB/9). However, he does have 10.42 K/9 and an 11.5 percent swinging strike rate (8-8.5 percent MLB average). It’s pretty hard to notice the positives when 35 percent of balls put in play are falling for hits, though.

ZiPS projects that the Jays’ top four starters will regress somewhat but continue to perform well for the rest of 2010 — a 4.23 FIP for Romero, 4.01 for Marcum, 4.38 for Cecil and 4.26 for Morrow (though that projection has him splitting time between the rotation and the ‘pen).

Marc Rzepczynski (4.29 preseason ZiPS) could contribute at some point after missing time with a broken finger. Jesse Litsch, another Tommy John survivor, is nearing a return. Dustin McGowan‘s shoulder woes have derailed his career, though he’s still trying to work his way back. Halladay trade piece Drabek is performing well at Double-A. Zach Stewart (picked up in last year’s Scott Rolen deal) is scuffling at the same level, but he’s well-regarded, too. Luis Perez is a smallish lefty who gets plenty of grounders. Chad Jenkins and Henderson Alvarez show promise a little further down the minor league ladder.

It will be years before the Halladay deal can be fully evaluated. But happily, the Blue Jays have no shortage of promising young pitching talent within the organization.




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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.


16 Responses to “Post-Halladay Jays Still Pitching-Rich”

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  1. sinasdf says:

    This rotation has been a pleasure to watch. Marcum is doing his best to become comeback player of the year, and Romero is showing up the doubters that had him pegged to have a horrible sophomore year. Cecil has been solid.

    Only Romero, however, has the ability to have extended innings this season (he had +185 last year). So the Jays will most likely have to shut down or control the innings of Marcum and Cecil, as well as Morrow. The Jays have Litsch to reclaim the 5th spot and should be good for the rest of the season. Scrabble (Rzep) is doing pretty bad in the minors but you would expect he would take one of the 3 rotation spots. I’m not sure if they will rush Drabek up late into the season.

    The Jays rotation certainly looks good heading to the future, but this season is an innings-builder for them.

    BTW, Marcum is 29, not 25. He is, however, the veteran and ‘ace’ of the staff.

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  2. Brendan says:

    Marcum has no inning limit. He’s a year and a half removed from surgery, he could have pitched last september if required.

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    • sinasdf says:

      What do you mean he has no inning limit? Just cause you didn’t pitch for more than a year doens’t mean you can suddenly go out there and pitch 230 innings.

      AA even said in an interview on the fan that he has concerns about Marcum, Cecil and Morrow on how long they can last in the season. He said they would be trying as much as possible to take advantage of off days and limiting pitch counts to prolong their season.

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  3. Impossibles says:

    Cecil is interesting in that his average fastball is 89-90, but he can dial it up to 96 at times. I don’t recall any other pitcher who can throw that hard but doesn’t most of the time. I think the Jays have him hold back a bit for more movement/control on the fastball.

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  4. Alan Marshall says:

    Interesting comment on Cecil’s FB. Last night, Morrow threw his FB a couple of mph slower and cut down his walks significantly and pitched to the minimum through 6. Maybe his slower, but more accurate, FB is a better pitch, but it would be nice if Morrow could control the big heater.

    I have no worries about the Jays starting pitching. I think it is an embarrassment of riches.

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    • opisgod says:

      Morrow was throwing strikes, but all right down the middle against the Rays, it’s a miracle they didn’t pound his low 90’s meatballs. He did the exact same thing to the Diamondbacks with his full velocity, 6 runs in 4 innings despite just one walk.

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  5. kris says:

    Movement on the fastballs has been key for the Jays, it seems. If you can’t cut and sink it, they don’t want you. Throw in a change-up and a gravy pitch, and you’ve got yourself a staff. I believe the pfx showed Morrow beginning to eff with his fastball more often as well.

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    • Impossibles says:

      I wonder if the Jays going to the change so much is just a philosophy or it was statistically derived, or if its more just that’s what the pitchers they have throw best.

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  6. exxrox says:

    Both of the changeup and the cut fastball seem to be part of the coaching philosophy in the organization. We all knew that the rotation had high upside and depth coming into the season, but to see it pan out like this is a very pleasant surprise. The Jays could theoretically have 2 full rotations worth of arms in the near future, when healthy:

    (in no particular order)

    Marcum/Romero/Morrow/Cecil/Litsch

    Rzepcynski/Drabek/Mills/Stewart/Tallet

    Also notice the heavy, heavy concentration of lefties in the system with 6 of those 10 arms listed being lefties. That’s not to say that all of those potential rotation members are ideal or will pan out (Mills was drawing comparisons to one Jimmy Key before ’09, Stewart may be a reliever, Tallet is not exactly great) but it is a nice pool of talent to draw from, especially when attempting to divvy up innings to protect the younger arms as stated above.

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  7. ryan says:

    out of the rotation only morrow was considered a good prospect, the rest came up underrated, and morrow came up in seattle organization, is this to do with the jays farm developing pitchers or people overlooking the canadian team, adam lind and aaron hill also werent considered high end prospects and panned out greatly aswell, if this trend continues the jays probably have even more talent then we think on top of all these starters.

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  8. ryan says:

    hill was, cecil topped out at 72 on baseball americas prospect list, and I cannot seem to find lind on a prospect top 100 list…

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  9. fanofdefenseagain says:

    It really shouldn’t be too tough to standardize pitchers across leagues. This would be SUCH A DAMN USEFUL STAT and I’m surprised that fangraphs doesn’t offer.

    Yes, we know that a standard starter’s xFIP will be higher in the AL East than the NL West. But the impact here seems larger than most people acknowledge.

    Rickey Romero could be the best pitcher in the Big Leagues right now! Maybe Greinke is better than Lincecum.

    In my mind, the tone of this article was off. Sure, low 4s xFIPs seem very solid if unspectacular, on the surface. But within the context of their opponents, it seems AWESOME (in a limited sample size)

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  10. exxrox says:

    In response to Ryan, both Jenkins and Alvarez are too far away IMO, I’m referring to NOW or near future (2011) for these arms. McGowan’s hope is very dim, and I think he’s best suited for the bullpen to try to revive his career. He’s not being counted on for anything.

    Hill and Romero were first rounders, and Cecil was something like 57th overall (though was a closer).

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