Starting Pitchers: From Weakness to Strength

Marcum has been lights out all year (from daylife.com)

This afternoon I was killing some time over at ESPN’s Fantasy Baseball section, reading the weekly column by AJ Mass about starting pitchers.  Each week he ranks the top 100 starting pitchers in fantasy, based primarily on expected performance from this point forward.  Glancing at the list I was both pleased and surprised to find four members of the Toronto Blue Jays starting rotation in the rankings:

51. Brandon Morrow

58. Ricky Romero

59. Shaun Marcum

91. Brett Cecil

There are eight teams who have more starters ranked than Toronto, including the Reds with six (Cueto, Arroyo, Volquez, Wood, Leake, Harang), so this is not to suggest that Toronto has the top rotation in the bigs.  But with 30 teams in the league, mathematically the top 100 should average to just over three starters per team, suggesting right away that the Jays have an above average rotation.

Now – close your eyes and pretend it is the end of March.  Can you possibly imagine anybody – analyst or fan – suggesting that the Toronto Blue Jays would have an above average starting rotation?  Many pre-season scouting reports picked Toronto to come in dead last, primarily pointing to their lack of pitching depth.  Lead by Hill and Lind they would surely score runs (ha!), but without the veteran presence of Roy Halladay, the younger pitchers would face tough growing pains in the AL East.

Think about it: going into Spring Training Toronto really only had two starting rotation spots accounted for.  The first was to Shaun Marcum, a man who missed the entire 2009 season due to injury.  The second was to Ricky Romero, a second year starter who faded badly in the second half of his rookie season.  The final three rotation spots would eventually be claimed by a long reliever / spot starter (Brian “Billy Talent” Tallet), a journeyman pitcher who had played for three teams in five years with a 5.54 career ERA and was a late addition to spring training (Dana Eveland), and a hard throwing, wildly inconsistent pitcher acquired for Brandon League in an off-season trade with Seattle (Brandon Morrow).  Sure the Jays had a nice collection of young arms in the minors (Cecil, Rzepczynski, Mills, Purcey) and a former rotation mainstay returning soon from injury (Litsch), but that was more for next year.  This year was going to be a disaster.

But after Eveland flamed out and Tallet was injured, it was if something calming came over the team.  Cecil arrived, Litsch returned, Romero and Marcum stayed true to form, and Morrow found consistency.  Suddenly the starters have become a strength to the Jays – not the weakness that was predicted heavily by virtually everybody in March and April.

For proof other than the top 100 by AJ Mass, let’s look at the stats and rank Toronto’s starting rotation amongst all the rotations in the AL this season:

Wins: 41 – 7th

ERA: 4.23 – 8th

K/9: 7.30 – 1st

WHIP: 1.33 – T7th

Opponents Average: .256 – 6th

But, and this is a big BUT, don’t forget that those numbers are for Toronto’s starting rotation for the entire year – which includes Tallet, Eveland, and spot starts from Rzep and Mills.  Utilizing the numbers from only the current five (Marcum, Romero, Morrow, Cecil, Litsch) look what happens:

Wins: 36

ERA: 3.97

K/9: 7.60

WHIP: 1.28

Opponents Average: .245

Every single number (except wins obviously) gets better.  And every number looks pretty damn good.

To think that I would be writing a column about how good Toronto’s starting rotation is this season is both unexpected and amazing.

And to think that the oldest member of that rotation (Marcum) is only 28, there is a great chance that I could be writing more of these columns in the future.

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