Pop Quiz. No cheating.
1. Who leads the Blue Jays in batting average?
2. Who leads the Blue Jays in OBP?
3. Who leads the Blue Jays in OPS?
4. In the past 28 days, who has the best ERA on the team with at least 10 IP?
5. Who leads the team in IP by a right-handed reliever?
The answer to all five questions is the same: Carlos Villanueva.
Yes, I used some trickery. But you can look it up: Carlos is 1 for 2 this year, and leads the team with a .500 AVG, .500 OBP, and 1.000 OPS. Over the past 28 days his ERA is 0.79 in 11.1 IP. And he has thrown 33.1 IP on the season, the most by any Jays reliever except for Luis Perez.
Where am I going with this, you might ask, other than to confuse a bunch of readers by rigging a bunch of random and useless statistics?
The answer is this:
In the coming weeks, in my opinion Carlos Villanueva is the most important man on the Toronto Blue Jays.
Not Ricky Romero. Not Jose Bautista. Not Edwin Encarnacion. Not Colby Rasmus.
As we all know, Toronto’s pitching staff is in shambles. Drabek, Morrow, and Hutchison are all gone for the foreseeable future. Alvarez is scheduled to start Saturday, but who knows how healthy he is after leaving his last outing.
That means the rotation now consists of a struggling Ricky Romero, an “is-he-healthy-or-not” Alvarez, and a choose your own adventure of the following: soft tossing Brett Cecil, out-of-the-majors since ’09 Scott Richmond, 49-year old Jamie Moyer, clearly-not-ready-for-primetime Jesse Chavez and Joel Carreno, or lefty Aaron Laffey. Laffey and Cecil have both been surprisingly efffective so far, but I don’t think we can expect that to last forever.
Aside from a trade (which might happen), or calling up one of the blue chip prospects (which the Jays clearly don’t want to do), the only other option available to try and get some kind of mileage out of the rotation is to bump Carlos V from the ‘pen to the rotation.
And that is exactly what has happened.
By moving V to the rotation, it means the lesser arms can stay in the bullpen. It means that the starting rotation might be able to generate at least a little bit more consistency. It means that the prospects can stay in the minors for now. And hopefully it means less wear and tear on the ‘pen.
Villanueva has pitched very well this season for the Jays. He currently boasts a 3.24 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, and a 9.7 K/9. However, this doesn’t exactly show how well he’s pitched. His numbers are vastly inflated by one horrific appearance in April against Tampa Bay. Take out that one inning, five run performance, and his ERA drops to 1.95 and his WHIP to a more respectable 1.33.
He has been even better recently. In his last 11 appearances he has tossed 19.1 innings, and only allowed 3 ER. His ERA in that stretch is 1.40, to go with a 10.24 K/9 ratio. In June has taken it up yet another notch: 0.79 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 12 strikeouts in 11.1 IP.
The biggest argument against moving V to the rotation was that he does such a fantastic job in long relief, and losing that will hurt the team. I don’t disagree, but guys like Aaron Laffey can fill in just as well. I would rather see a proven major league starter filling in the gaps right now than a guy like Deck McGuire or Chad Jenkins, guys who have no experience and would be rushed to the majors. Don’t forget that Villanueva has done this before: he has 40 career starts, including 13 for Toronto last season.
Like I said, reinforcements might be on the way soon via trade. If Villanueva can bridge the gap between now and then with a handful of quality starts, it will be an enormous blessing.
That, to me, makes him the most important man on the team.
And hey – if it doesn’t work, he can always pinch hit…