“Pitching is the art of instilling fear.” – Sandy Koufax
Koufax was a true master on the ol’ dirt hill and said many indelible things about his craft. In another one of his famous quotes, he said that he became a good pitcher when he had stopped trying to make hitters miss the ball and started trying to make them hit it. Neither of these above quotes is in any way a reflection of the 2017 Blue Jays’ starting pitching woes.
A bulk of the pitchers who took the ball for ol’ Gibbers last season most definitely didn’t install any sort of fear in the big bats in the American League, who stepped up to the plate against a number of different faces that tried to help out the oft-injured rotation that had so much potential *if healthy*, but sadly - as we all know - was unable to realize it.
Andrew Stoeten wrote a great ‘Shapiro Speaks’ piece on his Saturday afternoon and pulled out some of the juicy bits from a Q & A session that followed after Shapiro spoke to a collection of youth baseball coaches last weekend at the Dome.
Shapiro touched on many interesting things that Stoeten shared, but one thing that really stood out to me was what he had to say about the upcoming season:
But you look at the success we had in ’16, getting to the ALCS, and it was largely driven by our pitching staff, not by our hitters. I know we kind of are known as an offensive team, but we haven’t been that offensive team since the second half of 2015. That’s the last time we were a dominant offence. So I would say our success this year is largely predicated on our rotation being as good as it can be — which puts a lot of pressure on Aaron Sanchez coming back. If that happens I think we’ve got a chance to be a contending team.
And, yeah, sure there are a lot of other factors that ultimately will lead - or not lead to a successful 2018 campaign, but it sure does seem that a lot of the Blue Jays’ success hinges on the arm of Aaron Sanchez.
Last season, Sanchez battled all the blisters in the goddamn sun, spent most of the season on the DL, and only mustered up a 1- 3 record with a 4.25 ERA and 1.722 WHIP – and with the lack of pitching depth that the organization had, the fillers just weren’t good enough. They were mostly a bag of potatoes, which included one too many meatballs.
And holy-hell did Pete Walker’s nightmare come true, as the 2017 rotation just didn’t stay healthy and all that could go wrong - just bat-flippin’ did. The beautiful wave the good Birds of Summer’s starting pitchers rode in 2016 crashed hard in all of our faces.
I’d bet the ranch on the fact that John Gibbons and Pete Walker slept well that 2016 season, as the team cruised through the entire campaign using only Happ, Sanchez, Dickey, Estrada, Stroman, Liriano, and Hutchinson – unheard of, and, of course, not the damn 2017 case.
In 2017, the team had to bob for pitching apples, blindfolded, it seemed at times with the question of who the hell should get the ball, what with Sanchez on the DL pretty much all season and, of course, Liriano, on his way to Houston.
Joe Biagini underwhelmed in the pen and as a starting pitcher going 3 – 13 with a 5.34 ERA and 1.396 WHIP and many other arms added to the bad filler on Pete Walker’s plate: Bolsinger, Anderson, Valdez, Rowley, Koehler, Latos, Tepesch, and Lawrence all offered some kind of something to the microwaved mess being served.
And, sure, not all of these pitchers are that bad, and, really, what can a team expect from the backend of the rotation anyway, amirite? But that being said, collectively this group of 8 hurlers went 5 – 15 with a 6.01 ERA – not very good at all.
Actually, really bad. Ugh. It’s almost as bad as Hayden Christensen playing Darth Vader in Star Wars: Episode III. Yeah, it was that bad – just sayin’. It’s kind of hard to believe that the team actually finished 14th in the league with a collective 4.42 ERA considering the circumstances.
And if you add into the equation that the Blue Jays were 26th in the MLB in Runs last season with a mere 693 cleats touching home plate and 29th for team batting average, posting a collective millennial meh of .240 – it’s kind of a surprise that the Blue Jays even finished ahead of the Trash Birds of Baltimore, but they are the Trash Birds and they are really shitty, so there’s that, but still.
So Shapiro is absolutely right that it does seem that a whole lot of the success of the 2018 season is going to depend on if the 2016 Aaron Sanchez can come back this year with his 15 – 2 record, 3.00 ERA, and 1.167 WHIP.
If this young star can pitch a healthy campaign and put up the numbers we all expect, the team could very well turn this ol’ Gibbers ship around, but if he doesn’t – it could be Revenge of the Sith again. And that’s something none of us want to watch for a second time.
The Blue Jays definitely have better options in Buffalo this time around if a worst-case Ontario kind of situation presents itself, but let’s just hope that the Blue Jays empire strikes back - the best Star Wars movie of all time, by the way – and Stroman, Sanchez, Happ, and Estrada can all remain healthy and instill some goddamn fear into the big bad AL East and the newly-improved New York Yankees batting lineup of imperial dumb doom.
Now, the front-office might be comfortable with rolling out Biagini as the fifth man, as Ross Atkins mentioned to me that he thinks that there are some signs that suggest he could be their 5th starter, but Shapiro and Atkins have repeatedly said that they are still looking to add some more pitching depth – or maybe an actual arm to the starting rotation, so it will be interesting to see what’s next – that’s for sure.
But currently they do have Ryan Borucki, Thomas Pannone, Chris Rowley, Taylor Guerreri, and Luis Santos in Buffalo and that is promising and something that Blue Jays fans should feel good about for next season.
But one thing that is certain with the offseason moves that the organization has made so far is that they are absolutely preparing for the worst goddamn possible scenarios, so that they don’t have to roll out Ryan Goins or Darwin Barney every damn day. And so that they don’t have to hand the ball over to Mat Latos or Casey Lawrence or Mike Bolsinger or Cesar Valdez or Nuke fucking LaLoosh.
I digress. But if the team were to start the season with Biagini as the 5th man and he struggles like he did last year and if Sanchez’s please-good-baseball-Lord-in-the-sky-don’t-let-this-happen blister problems come back this year, Shapiro and Atkins will have a solid back up plan in place, I think, that will be much better than the nickel steak served up by some of the underwhelming arms who put on Blue Jays uniforms last season.
Last Sunday, I typed up a what-the-hell-was-I-thinking piece (no, really) exploring what kind of crazy move Atkins might have up his sleeve to acquire a starting pitcher, and I still wonder what kind of trade talks he could be currently having with other GMs.
Personally, I’d love to see them put together a Pillar-plus-some-prospects kind of package for a decent starting pitcher with the recent acquisition of Grichuck, and with Anthony Alford that much closer to being the future center fielder for the team. Big dreams keep on dreaming into the pipe that leads to nowhere land, but it’s still fun to dream.
Whatever the front-office does do, if Stroman, Sanchez, Happ, and Estrada can all remain relatively healthy and pitch to their potential, the team might have one of the best rotations in the American League. And if that is the case, an average arm as your fifth man – is all you can ask for from the last man in the rotation.
Clearly, I don’t have a crystal ball to look into the future – even though I do have one that was given to me by my great aunt, who got it from Rance Mulliniks’ old Slovenian barber in Leaside – but even with that, I still don’t have a goddamn clue what’s next. However, I know that they are not finished yet and the offseason goes well into spring training, so plenty of time, yeah? I think so.
But one thing that Rance Mullinik’s old Slovenian barber’s crystal ball did tell me is a whole heck of a goddamn lot of the 2018 season hinges on the success of Aaron Sanchez – that’s for sure. Okay, maybe a crystal ball didn’t tell me that, but Mark Shapiro certainly told us all.