A Historical Starting Five?

ra dickey

Yesterday afternoon, R.A. Dickey was officially introduced to Toronto in a press conference.  Aside from making everybody happy and excited, the sight of him actually in a Blue Jays jersey did one thing:

It made everything feel real.

You can forgive Jays fans for living in a fantasy, fairy tale, dream-like state this offseason.  The transformation of the roster from also-ran to contender still feels like a dream.  But seeing Dickey with the uniform on really drove everything home.  This is really happening!

Dickey, of course, will become the ace of the Toronto rotation, a rotation that – on paper at least – appears to be one of the strongest in the American League.  Pitching, especially starting pitching, has long been the Achilles heel in Toronto, one of the key reasons why the Jays have not been to the playoffs since 1993.  There have been times when they have had a legitimate ace (Clemens, Halladay, David Wells) but lacked depth, and there have been times when they have had decent depth but lacked that true number one guy.  Now they appear to have both.

But just how good is this rotation and will it lead Toronto back to the playoffs?  I thought it would be interesting to compare the 2013 starters to the rotation of each the best five teams in Toronto’s franchise history, to see how they match up.

In terms of wins, the best five teams in Blue Jays history were the 1985, 1992, 1987, 1993, and 1991 squads (note that the 1987 team that finished second and missed the playoffs was better than the AL East winning 1989 team).  In looking at the rotations from those teams I made a few assumptions:

1. In terms of this study, the rotation for each year consists of the top five pitchers in terms of starts.  For instance, in 1985, ten different pitchers started a game, but only the top five are counted.  It also means that David Cone is not included in the 1992 team as he only pitched for two months.

2.  Only starting numbers were used.  In 1991 David Wells appeared in 40 games, but made only 28 starts.  Only the numbers he compiled in those 28 starts were used.

Here are the rotations from those seasons:

top 5 rotations

 

Something to note: in each example but 1991 there is a dud pitcher in the rotations, from Jack Morris’ 7-12, 6.19 ERA 1993 season, to Luis Leal’s 3-6, 5.75 ERA 1985 season.  The fact that each of those teams still won over 90 games has to be encouraging to those fans skeptical of Ricky Romero.

On a compiled basis, take a look at how the rotations compare to each other:

Rotation by year

One thing immediately jumps out after looking at that chart – the 1993 rotation wasn’t all that great.  Despite having Dave Stewart. Guzman, Hentgen, Morris, and Stottlemyre, they put up a 4.56 ERA, a 1.46 WHIP, and a pretty poor 6.3 WAR.  In fact, Toronto’s starting pitchers in 1993 – as a whole and not just the top five – put up an ERA of 4.63, tied for 9th in the 14 team AL.  They were also 11th in WHIP, and 12th (or 3rd worst) in K/BB.  Put into context, last year’s starters for the Jays had an ERA of 4.82, good enough for 10th, with a WHIP that ranked 11th and a K/BB that was dead last. 

So how does the 2013 rotation compare?  Obviously they haven’t thrown a single inning yet, so anything I might say is simply projection.  But projections can give us a meaningful proxy, provided they are created with caution.  In order to use that caution, I projected three different scenarios for our starting five next year:

1. Using the best season from each pitcher

2. Using the average season from each pitcher

3. Using last year as a proxy for each pitcher

A few things to keep in mind : 1) Brandon Morrow’s stats are from his time in Toronto only, when he became a full-time starter, and 2) R.A. Dickey’s stats are only during his knuckleball years which began in 2008.

Here is what Toronto’s staff could look like in 2013:

Potential Jays rotation

So what does this mean?  Well, in a nutshell it means that the Toronto Blue Jays should have an excellent starting staff in 2013.  If each of the five starters are able to replicate their very best season, it should result in a combined WAR of around 27.  Even performing at their career average level will equate to a WAR of approximately 14, which is basically on par with that of the 1987 starters.  Hell, even duplicating last years numbers means a WAR of 13.4.  Sure, asking R.A. Dickey to match last year is a bit much, but Josh Johnson had a down year, Brandon Morrow was injured for a few months, and there’s no way Romero can be that bad again.  Can he?

To put those WAR figures into context, last season the Blue Jays had eight pitchers make at least nine starts: Henderson Alvarez, Romero, Morrow, Aaron Laffey, Kyle Drabek, Drew Hutchison, Carlos Villanueva, and Brett Cecil.  Their combined WAR?  2.8.  In rough terms, that means if the Jays had their 2013 staff in place for 2012, they would have been almost five times better.  Let me repeat that: FIVE TIMES BETTER!

Of course there are a number of factors that might get in the way of these projections.  How will Dickey, Johnson, and Buehrle fare in transitioning to the AL East?  Will Johnson and Morrow stay healthy?  Will Romero be impacted by dropping from a #1 to a #5 guy?

But one thing is certain.  The 2013 rotation, on paper at least, looks set to rival the rotations of the best Jays teams in franchise history.  With an offense featuring a fully healthy Bautista, Brett Lawrie, Edwin Encarnacion, and newcomers Emilio Bonifacio, Maicer Izturis, Jose Reyes, and Melky Cabrera, to go with a solid bullpen highlighted by the return of Sergio Santos, the rest of the American League should be worried.

And the fans of the Toronto Blue Jays should be excited.

Very, very excited.

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