2014 Toronto Blue Jays

Who else will give stability in the rotation other than RA Dickey and Mark Buehrle?
The Blue Jays had a lot of issues last year — many of them stemming from the lack of consistent pitching. The aforementioned Dickey and Buerhle were supposed to be joined in the rotation by Josh Johnson and Brandon Morrow to make a very formidable quartet; unfortunately this was not the case, as Johnson and Morrow combined to make 26 unsuccessful starts for the 2012 Jays. This is probably where one could start when trying to see why the Jays only won 74 games. Even though Dickey and Buehrle were both reliable options for the Jays in 2013, they were not the picture of consistency and were not the true aces that would be needed to get through the logjam that is the AL East.

With Johnson now gone for San Diego, the Jays have to figure out who is going to hold the middle of the rotation. Brandon Morrow is a very talented pitcher, but health and inconsistency have hurt his assent to being a good pitcher. A former top 5 pick out of Cal by the Mariners, Morrow has seen his K rate diminish from almost 11 to 7 per 9 innings in his 4 years with the Jays. During the 2012 wherein Morrow had a sub-3 ERA, his K rate was a bit under 8, but he also focused heavily on his ground ball rate and, quite frankly, was a bit more lucky with his BABIP. 2013 was a lost season for Morrow in many ways and for the Jays to be competitive at all during the 2014 season, Morrow needs to give the Jays more stability for the team to be successful.

In fact, considering that Buehrle is more of a work horse than a staff ace and that Dickey is both getting older and loses a bit from his knuckle ball when he is inside of a dome, Morrow may need to be relied upon to be the top pitcher for a winning Jays team. Considering that during his 4 years in Toronto Morrow has only averaged 19 games started, this is would be seen as a reach for even the most optimistic Jays fan.

As for the back end of the rotation, both JA Happ and Kyle Drabek, the projected 4 and 5 starters, have shown spurts of success in the big leagues, but neither are the answer for the Jays. Happ would fit very well in a rotation with pitchers that have pedigree and not in one where he is relied upon heavily, although some in depth analysis of Happ shows promise. He strikes out enough of hitters and is able to pitch himself out of bad situations. On the other hand, Kyle Drabek has been a huge disappointment for the Jays since they received him in the Roy Halladay trade from the Phillies. Drabek has regressed since being called up to the majors in 2010 and has seen drastic issues with his control leading to frequent demotions. A positive experience in the minors in 2013, and a severe cut in walk rate while in the minors, has given Drabek another chance in the big leagues, but patience may be wearing thin in Toronto for the 26 year old.

When will Aaron Sanchez or Marcus Stroman be in Toronto to help the team?
The minor league system for the Blue Jays is not very deep, but there are silver linings in that both Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman are top 100 prospects in baseball and might both be able to help in Toronto this season. Marcus Stroman was taken with the 22nd pick of the 2012 Draft out of Duke and the Jays did not know if he would start or prepare to be the closer of the future for the Jays when the team drafted him and he started his minor league career as a reliever. After a PED suspension, Stroman moved up to AA and moved into the starting role and became a much better pitcher in every statistic.

While with New Hampshire, Stroman solidified himself as a power pitcher with very good control and considering that Stroman was a college pitcher, he is probably not very far from the big leagues. His height at 5’9 may be an issue but with a fastball, cutter/slider, curveball, changeup mix and velocity in the mid-90s, Stroman should not have a problem in the big leagues. If he does not have an issues in AAA, Stroman may even make a very early debut in the majors. There is still a chance that Stroman may break camp on the Jays roster, but that might not be the best of decisions. It is not that his talent should be questioned, in fact he may be a top rookie of the year candidate if he is in the starting five, but the Jays need to see what they have with the pitchers that are already in the projected rotation before they move onto Stroman. If Kyle Drabek is not doing too well or if there is an injury in the rotation or bullpen, the versitility of Stroman would be a huge boost to the team.

In the case of Aaron Sanchez, the 21 year old may need a bit more polish but his upside is much higher than any player in the Jays organization. As with most younger players, Sanchez has had his issues with control, but in his season at High-A Dunedin, he cut his walk rate by one per 9, exhibiting that he has put in the effort to work on his control issues. The Jays would look to get his walk rate into the mid-2s before they see him in the big leagues and he does need to build a bit more command of his pitches, but it would not be farfetched to see Sanchez in the big leagues during the 2015 season. Sean Nolin may also be able to help the Jays from the minors this year as well, but fans of the Jays should look to see both the promising Stroman and Sanchez in the big leagues by 2015.

How can the Blue Jays get the most out of Jose Bautista?
The Blue Jays have two truly elite players on there team, one of which is pretty much a certainty in position in the order and role on the team and the other with the opportunity for versatility that could lead to the team becoming better. Edwin Encarnacion is going to be right in the middle of the lineup and that is a good spot for a player that has developed into a very patient hitter, but, even with the improved approach, he still does not work the count as much. Conversely, Jose Bautista works the count very well and in the five years that he has been with the Jays he has exhibited a proficiency in getting the count in his favor and making the pitchers work. For a team that was middle of the road in on base percentage in 2013, it would be great for the Blue Jays to have a hitter like Bautista to not only work the count but to get on base via walks.

What would be the downside for the Jays is if Bautista loses some of the elite power exhibited throughout his time in Toronto. If Baustista’s focus moves from power statistics to getting on base, this may be a counter-intuitive venture for the team. Although the logic for the Jays to move Bautista to the second spot in the lineup is a sound one, the drop in power may be an issue. When looking at his numbers, there is also a negative trend on his plate discipline and even though this was over a shorter amount of time in the past two seasons because of injury, Bautista might be press a bit too much in the second spot of the lineup and sap the power that he utilized so well.

Essentially this comes down to what the Jays have other than Bautista in the lineup and answering the question of if it better for the team to employ Bautista to drive in runs or for the team to be able to get him on base, and in tandem get the pitchers to have to throw more pitches, and then have enough talent to produce runs from players other than Bautista. This is why guys like Colby Rasmus and Adam Lind need to continue to progress so that the team can thrive. Putting Melky Cabrera or Brett Lawrie ahead of Bautista and Encarnacion in the lineup is not a great idea either, as both hitters are extremely impatient and will not get ahead of the count.

Bautista should be the second hitter in the Jays lineup and be able to maintain his power numbers from the past and the rest of the team should be able to take advantage of the opportunities created by the change in the lineup. Both Bautista and Encarnacion may be able to knock runs in, but it was shown last year that there were not enough opportunities created in front of them to create the big innings that Toronto was looking to capitalize on. With Bautista near the top of the lineup, and with the continued production of Rasmus and Lind, the Jays lineup may be considerably more potent this season.

What will the Blue Jays do about the bullpen?
This may be an odd question considering that the Jays actually had a good bullpen for extended periods of last year. Steve Delabar was an All-Star, Casey Janssen had an ERA in the 2.50s, Brett Cecil was very solid, and Sergio Santos even came off of the DL to look very impressive. So why is there a question about the Jays bullpen?

The issue begins with the fact that the elite relievers in April, May, and June became duds for the remainder of the season. All-Star Delabar and the elite lefty Cecil had ERAs in the 1.50 up until July and, respectively, had a 6.41 and a 5.49 ERA from the month of July on, so the elite relievers from the beginning of the season were not there as the season ended. Even the steady Janssen saw his ERA rise as the season grew longer. Fortunately for the Jays, Sergio Santos was getting healthy at this time and pitching at an elite level so that mitigated some of the issues that the other pitchers were having. Even in the case of Santos, though, there is a long injury history that must be observed before the Jays can rely on him to be a consistent option out of the bullpen.

This question should not only be looked at in a negative light, though. The beginning of this answer should be examined further; the Jays did have a very good bullpen for long stretches throughout the season. The Jays could have a very deep bullpen and they have a huge luxury in their bullpen as well — two left-handed pitchers that they can trust, as Aaron Loup has also been a huge contributor to the Jays cause in the bullpen. Where the Jays’ depth in the bullpen could be useful is if Brett Cecil needs to move back into the rotation for any reason or if any of the younger pitchers discussed earlier would be a part of the bullpen. The Jays have a lot of opportunity to have a truly elite bullpen but they need to make it through an entire season and not tire during the stretch run.

Why are the Blue Jays going to win 81 games?
The Blue Jays will be able to hit the ball and that will make them a tough team to play. There is no way to work around it: any lineup with two hitters that have hit more than 40 home runs in a season, a former batting and steals champion, and a mix of players throughout the lineup that are poised to break out will score a lot of runs. The change in the lineup will also help; with Jose Bautista on base more often and working the pitch totals moreso at the beginning of the lineup, the remainder of the lineup will have greater opportunity to thrive.

The issue is the pitching. The starting pitching is in a rough place right now and, judging by the second half of last season, the bullpen may not be as solid as it looked early in 2013. The 81 wins for the Blue Jays may be very gracious by the end of the season, but there are opportunities that the Jays need to take advantage of. There is the chance that Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman may be all that they are advertised as and they might be able to help the big league team this year. Brandon Morrow’s health is always a question, but if he stays healthy, he will be a great addition to the team. There is no way to say that the team will be 7 wins better than last year, but the injuries did mount up last year and, if the team stays healthy, this year’s team should have a much better outcome.

5 You Know:
1. RA Dickey
2. Jose Bautista
3. Edwin Encarnacion
4. Mark Buehrle
5. Jose Reyes

5 You Will Know:
1. Marcus Stroman
2. Aaron Sanchez
3. Sean Nolin
4. Anthony Gose
5. AJ Jimenez

5 You Should Remember:
1. DJ Davis
2. Daniel Norris
3. Alberto Tirado
4. Roberto Osuna
5. Franklin Barreto

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