DINGERS FROM THE 6IX
As the long offseason drags into February, subsequently resulting in a decline in the complexity and frequency of offseason rumours into the start of spring training, it’s now time to start thinking about how the big league roster is going to be constructed for opening day. Among the Toronto Blue Jays biggest strengths is their starting rotation, where they are considered to be one of the MLB’s elite. With several strong arms, how the Blue Jays order the starting rotation will be among the teams most interesting questions in spring training. Because of this, I decided to try and determine what the strongest and most efficient starting rotation order for the Blue Jays in 2017.
Unless a spring training injury occurs, the Blue Jays rotation will consist of Marco Estrada, J.A. Happ, Francisco Liriano, Aaron Sanchez, and Marcus Stroman. Although there are sometimes exceptions, the general rule is to find the pitchers with drastic differences in pitch selection, pitch velocity, batted ball types, handedness, etc. close to each other in the rotation and therefore forcing the opposition to make more dramatic adjustments between games in a series. We’ve seen manager John Gibbons employ this strategy before, particularly in 2012, when his rotation consisted of R.A. Dickey, Brandon Morrow, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, and J.A. Happ respectively. Day to day, those starters had several differences between each other whether the velocity adjustments, or handedness, or pitch selection. Knowing this, I expect the Blue Jays to do something similar in 2017.
Traditionally, a clubs most dominant pitcher, the “ace” of the staff usually leads the starting rotation. Considering the performance of the clubs five pitchers last season, Aaron Sanchez appears to be the most ace-like on the roster. With a dominant sinker that averages almost 95 and an American League leading 3.00 ERA to back it up, Sanchez is clearly a deserving for the clubs opening day starter, especially considering his simply filthy stuff. Because of this, I have Sanchez leading the rotation into the 2017 season.
Considering Sanchez is an extreme ground ball pitcher, a hard thrower, and a righty the ideal candidate would be the a starter with an opposite skill set. Because of his, more or less equal ground ball and fly ball rates, the second slowest fastball velocity on the staff, and his left handed arm, J.A. Happ would be an ideal compliment behind Sanchez.. This spot is also fitting because for most of last season, Happ was the Blue Jays second best starter. As such, I have decided to place him second in the rotation.
Happ could logically by followed by either Marcus Stroman of Marco Estrada, given their differences from Happ. Because Happ is a happy medium between the fly ball heavy Estrada, and the ground ball heavy Stroman, it would make sense to go with either Estrada or Stroman. Despite Estrada’s strong case, I believe that Stroman is a better fit mostly because his style is more suited between Happ and Liriano than between Liriano and Sanchez. From a batted ball and pitch selection standpoint, Stroman and Sanchez simply have too much in common to place next to each other in the rotation, thus I have picked Stroman to go third. His extreme ground ball rates and opposite handedness will be a welcome difference from Happ before him, which is why I placed him here.
Following Stroman should be Francisco Liriano, who managed to perform well after a mid-season trade to the Blue Jays last season. Since Liriano is both left-handed, and a far less extreme ground ball pitcher than Stroman, the fit is decent. Although the fit isn’t perfect, due to Stroman and Liriano's similar pitch selections and velocities and the fact that Liriano is also a ground ball pitcher, the handedness and reasonable difference in ground ball rates should be enough for this pair to balance each other out fairly well.
This leaves Liriano to be followed by Marco Estrada and the fit is quite good. There are massive differences in velocity, pitch selection, handedness, and batted ball types between Liriano. In addition to this, Estrada followed by Sanchez is represtents the biggest difference in raw stuff is the most different between any two other starters on the roster. In fact, Estrada followed by Sanchez works so well that I almost placed Estrada second in the rotation; however he compliments Sanchez just as well in the fifth spot and the rest of the rotation worked better as it is. The only similarity between Sanchez and Estrada is that they are both right-handed, however there was always going to be one spot where this is a problem as a result of an unequal balance, so I decided that the other differences make this the best placer to take the bullet.
In short, a combination of pitch velocity, pitch selection, batted ball data, and pitch handedness lead me to believe the best order for the Blue Jays rotation next season should be Aaron Sanchez, J.A. Happ, Marcus Stroman, Francisco Liriano, and Marco Estrada respectively. Despite this, it is quite possible that there are several reasons for the Jays to consider other rotations, not to mention injuries, which could just throw the whole plan in a loop. Regardless, I believe that this rotation will deliver the team with their most impressive results if everything goes as planned.