Thursday, May 31, 2012

Is Pitching Really the Problem?

Like many of you, after watching the performance of 3 of our starting pitchers this weekend against what I consider the most complete lineup in all of baseball, I am very disappointed with the results turned in by our starting rotation.  Morrow gives up 6 runs and doesn’t make it out of the first inning, Alvarez gives up back-to-back-to-back homeruns and Drabek allows 9 runs on 8 hits over three innings… it stings a little bit right now to just think about the games this weekend. 

However, after taking some time to digest everything, I’m feeling more optimistic about things than I did this afternoon.  In reviewing the first 45 games of this season, I have to say that the Blue Jays have played a lot of very entertaining baseball.  As frustrating as they’ve been at times, I have been impressed with the Blue Jays starting rotation so far this season.  With so many young arms in the rotation, some experts and Blue Jays fans were very nervous about the likely success of this year’s staff.  But, they are putting up numbers that should leave many of us feeling very excited about what this group of pitchers is capable of.  Let’s take a look at their statistics as of May 27th 

Ricky Romero         5-1, 3.86ERA, 1.30WHIP, 65.1 INN, 48H, 28ER, 6HR, 37BB, 49K, .208avg against
Brandon Morrow     5-2, 2.63ERA, 0.96WHIP, 61.2 INN, 42H, 18ER, 7HR, 17BB, 54K, .192avg against

Henderson Alvarez  3-4, 3.30ERA, 1.23WHIP, 60.0 INN, 59H, 22ER, 8HR, 15BB, 18K, .258avg against

Kyle Drabek           4-4, 3.27ERA, 1.43WHIP, 52.1 INN, 41H, 19ER, 7HR, 34BB, 41K, .217avg against

Drew Hutchison      3-2, 5.73ERA, 1.54WHIP, 37.2INN, 44H, 24ER, 5HR, 14BB, 27K, .286avg against

How can you not be excited about those numbers?  Remember, Romero and Morrow, the veterans of this staff, are just 27, Drabek is 24, Alvarez is 22 and Hutchison is only 21.  When you take that into consideration and see that the Jays are 4th in the AL East and only 5 games behind Baltimore and Tampa Bay, you have to give them some credit.  At the start of the year, Brett Cecil and Dustin McGowan were supposed to be in the rotation; instead we have Kyle and Drew pitching in their place, both of whom have little Major League experience and are pitching in Toronto sooner than they should be.

When you view the staff as a whole, there is no question that the number of walks and home runs allowed is ridiculously high… their command has been downright awful at times.  But when I look at the ERA, WHIP and batting average against categories, I love what I’m seeing.  Romero hasn’t had a “complete” game all season where all of his pitches are working at the same time, and in his last couple of starts his command has all but disappeared.  However, with all of that, his numbers are still good.  Morrow has been close to lights out in his last five of his last 6 starts, having decreased his walk rate and throwing two complete game shutouts.  I hope that this is the pitcher we get to more consistently for the rest of this season.  (Forgetting of course his last appearance in Texas)  Alvarez is also pitching very well and I love the fact that he doesn’t show much emotion whether he is ahead or behind on the scoreboard.  His strikeout rate has decreased from last year, but the focus of the coaching staff this year has been to pitch to contact, so this decrease is to be somewhat expected.  Drabek’s numbers are encouraging, although he still hasn’t figured out how to find the strike zone consistently.  The walk really has been his Achilles heel in his major league career so far, but I see a pitcher who is more willing to listen to those around him and who is developing a fighting nature rather than thinking he can just overpower hitters to get them out.  There’s no question that Drew's got some work to do, but only 37 innings into his big league career, I'm not terribly upset about his numbers.  There’s still a lot of time for him to improve on his craft. 

Now… just to give everyone some food for thought, I’ve decided to take a look at the other starting rotations in the AL East and compare them to the Jays.   (all stats as of May 27th , 2012)

New York Yankees

C.C Sabathia   5-2, 3.78ERA, 1.21WHIP, 64.1 INN, 59H, 27ER, 8HR, 19BB, 65K, .239avg against
Ivan Nova       4-2, 5.69ERA, 1.65WHIP, 49.0 INN, 65H, 31ER, 10HR, 16BB, 52K, .322avg against
Hiroki Kuroda  3-6, 4.56ERA, 1.48WHIP, 53.1 INN, 59H, 27ER, 10HR, 20BB, 34K, .281avg against
Phillip Hughes  4-5, 4.94ERA, 1.37WHIP, 47.1 INN, 52H, 26ER, 11HR, 13BB, 46K, .267avg against
Andy Pettitte   1-1, 2.51ERA, 1.05WHIP, 14.1 INN, 11H, 4ER, 2HR, 4BB, 11K, .220avg against

Boston Red Sox
Jon Lester       3-3, 3.95ERA, 1.30WHIP, 57.0 INN, 55H, 25ER, 4HR, 19BB, 37K, .256avg against
Josh Beckett    4-4, 4.38ERA, 1.28WHIP, 49.1 INN, 48H, 24ER, 9HR, 15BB, 40K, .251avg against
Clay Buchholz  4-2, 7.84ERA, 1.91WHIP, 49.1 INN, 67H, 43ER, 11HR, 27BB, 27K, .330avg against
Felix Doubront  4-2, 3.96ERA, 1.42WHIP, 50.0 INN, 48H, 22ER, 4HR, 23BB, 53K, .247avg against
Daniel Bard      4-5, 4.69ERA, 1.56WHIP, 48.0 INN, 46H, 25ER, 3HR, 29BB, 28K, .261avg against

Tampa Bay Rays

David Price          6-3, 2.88ERA, 1.21WHIP, 59.1 INN, 54H, 19ER, 5HR, 18BB, 52K, .242avg against
James Shields      6-2, 3.63ERA, 1.27WHIP, 67.0 INN, 64H, 27ER, 9HR, 21BB, 66K, .249avg against
Jeremy Hellickson 4-1, 2.73ERA, 1.23WHIP, 56.0 INN, 50H, 17ER, 9HR, 19BB, 38K, .236avg against
Matt Moore          1-4, 5.07ERA, 1.57WHIP, 49.2 INN, 51H, 28ER, 8HR, 27BB, 48K, .264avg against
Jeff Niemann       2-3, 3.38ERA, 1.18WHIP, 34.2 INN, 29H, 13ER, 2HR, 12BB, 30K, .221avg against

Baltimore Orioles

Jason Hammel     5-1, 3.12ERA, 1.14WHIP, 49.0 INN, 40H, 17ER, 3HR, 16BB, 46K, .222avg against
Jake Arrieta         2-5, 4.87ERA, 1.28WHIP, 61.0 INN, 62H, 33ER, 9HR, 16BB, 53K, .264avg against
Tommy Hunter    2-2, 5.07ERA, 1.35WHIP, 55.0 INN, 60H, 31ER, 11HR, 14BB, 31K, .284avg against 
Wei-Yin Chen      4-1, 3.35ERA, 1.32WHIP, 48.1 INN, 47H, 18ER, 5HR, 17BB, 37K, .249avg against
Brian Matusz       4-4, 4.86ERA, 1.54WHIP, 50.0 INN, 58H, 27ER, 6HR, 19BB, 38K, .287avg against

I would say they have easily performed better than both the Yankee and Red Sox rotations to this point.  The top 4 Blue Jays starters have lower ERAs than all but two of the Yankee or Red Sox starters and the top 4 have lower WHIPs than all but 4 of those starters.  (I’m not including Pettitte in that last statement as he has only had 3 starts to this point).

When it comes to the Rays and Orioles starters, the statistics are closer.  The Rays’ staff has been more consistent top to bottom than the Jays staff.  That said, the Jays are allowing less hits than the Rays staff (248 to 234) and as a result have a lower batting average against.  On the flip side, the Jays starters have allowed more walks than the Rays (117 to 97).  If the Jays’ starters could find the strike zone more consistently, the discrepancy in walks would decrease.
 The Orioles staff is led by Hammel who, with a new found sinker, is off to a great start.  Only he and Chen have better numbers than any of the top 4 Jays pitchers. 

At this point in the season, I would give the edge to the Rays’ rotation based on their consistency from 1 through 5, followed (in order) by the Jays and Orioles, Yankees and Red Sox.  Any way you try to break down these numbers, I can’t agree with anyone’s opinion that puts the Jays’ starters worse than 2nd in the division.

After looking at these numbers, there is no way I can be disappointed with the rotation.  If anything, I would say that they have been leading the way for the Blue Jays so far this season.  They had a bad weekend.  What pitching staff doesn’t?

New Contributor to North Side!

In an effort to broaden our horizon a little, and hopefully to help me keep this blog up to date on a more regular basis as well, we are happy to introduce a new contributor to the North Side.  Andrew has joined us and hopefully will bring another perspective to our readers.  Andrew is a huge baseball fan and Blue Jays supporter.

Hope you enjoy what he has to say!