Ferguson: Blue Jays in dire need of healthy pitching

Scott Ferguson
1/3/2014 11:27:00 AM
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If there is anything worrisome about the Blue Jays off-season, it's the face they've really done nothing to upgrade their starting pitching. Grant you, there is still time and the logjam is sure to break once some team signs Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka.

Just consider though, what's happened to the Blue Jays pitching staff over the past two seasons, partly through injuries and mainly through underachieving. In 2012, the Jays used 34 pitchers, (33 if you don't count catcher Jeff Mathis, who mopped up in two blowout games), which was a club record for pitchers used in a season. They lost Brandon Morrow, Drew Hutchison and Kyle Drabek to long-term injuries in the month of June alone in a span of just a few days. By the end of the season, they had only two pitchers with over 30 starts in Henderson Alvarez and Ricky Romero, who were also the only two to crack 180 innings on the mound.
Last season wasn't much better. John Gibbons utilized 31 pitchers and for the bulk of the season, didn't use one starter in his rotation who had been part of John Farrell's crew the year before. Injuries struck again with Morrow, Josh Johnson and J.A. Happ all missing significant time with injuries. Luckily, R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle found their "sea legs" in late May and early June and paced the staff the rest of the way.
Dickey finished with a staff-leading 34 starts and 224.2 innings pitched with Buehrle right behind with 33 starts and 203.2 innings. Still, neither of these vets is getting any younger. Dickey turned 39 in October and Buehrle will be 35 in March. No other starter on the Jays staff cracked 140 innings. Esmil Rogers, who was in and out of the rotation, had 20 starts and pitched 137.2 innings.
All you have to do is look at the last five World Series winners to see the value of a healthy and durable staff, not to mention one peppered with star power.
The 2009 Yankees used 24 pitchers over the course of the season, but their staff was led by three horses in lefties C.C Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and former Blue Jays righty A.J. Burnett. Sabathia and Burnett each broke 200 innings and Pettitte pitched 194.2. And, of course, having Mariano Rivera in the pen didn't hurt either.
The 2010 Giants' top four starters, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito and Jonathon Sanchez each made 33 starts and pitched at least 193.1 innings with Cain and Lincecum breaking 200.
The 2011 St. Louis Cardinals pretty much used just six starters all season. Edwin Jackson was acquired late in the season in the same three-way deal that brought Colby Rasmus to the Blue Jays. He supplanted Kyle McLellan in the rotation, but the ttwo combined for 29 starts and nearly 220 innings. Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook all had over 30 starts and Carpenter peaked out with 237.1 innings.

Of the last five World Series champions, the 2012 Giants had the most healthy and durable group. Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong, Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito all had at least 31 starts with Cain and Bumgarner throwing over 200 innings. The other three had between 180-190 innings. In fact, the Giants only had two other starts that season that had to be filled by other pitchers.

Last year's champions, the Boston Red Sox had to go through a little bit more adversity. They used 26 pitchers over the course of the season, including 11 starters, but they still had four starters, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Ryan Dempster and Felix Doubront, who were able to go to the mound 27 times. If Clay Buchholz, who made 16 starts, hadn't been injured, he may have challenged for the Cy Young Award.
The bottom line to all of this is, the Blue Jays staff as stands is nowhere near good enough to contend. The Jays need two proven effective starters between now and the start of spring training. However, I'm afraid with the heavy competition for the few quality pitchers available, GM Alex Anthopoulos will be fortunate to get one.
How far this may have set the Jays back is hard to say, but in the last five June drafts, the Jays have failed to sign three of their top pitching selections.
Lefty James Paxton, a Canadian no less, refused to sign with them after being chosen #37 overall in 2009. In 2011, Tyler Beede who went 21st overall to the Jays, chose the college route rather than signing with the Jays, while last June, the Jays backed off on signing Phil Bickford, whom they had taken 10th overall.

The Jays have some significant pitching prospects in Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman and Sean Nolin, but none who figure to be ready for breakout seasons in the Majors just yet.

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