While the Toronto Blue Jays are currently in second place in the American League East with a 10-9 record, a glaring weakness in the team’s starting rotation might lead to a sudden reversal of fortunes if it goes unchecked.
No doubt, some people will be surprised to read that last sentence. From an outside perspective, things seem fine for Toronto’s rotation.
The Blue Jays rank sixth in the AL with a 3.82 starter ERA. They also rank sixth in strikeouts and are fifth in total earned runs. Heck, they’re even ranked second in fewest home runs allowed.
There’s no doubt that these are terrific numbers and are a huge step up from last season.
But when it comes to pitching deep into games and facing an opponent’s lineup multiple times, that’s where the team’s starting pitchers are lagging behind.
In 19 starts, the rotation ranks 10th in the AL with just 103.2 innings pitched.
Outside of Mark Buehrle, who has averaged seven innings pitched per start, the rest of Toronto’s starters have struggled to pitch past the fifth inning.
R.A. Dickey has averaged just 5.2 innings pitched per start. Drew Hutchison has only averaged five innings of work in his first four outings.
Brandon Morrow and Dustin McGowan haven’t even averaged five innings, as they’re both roughly at 4.2 innings pitched per start.
Starting pitchers are usually removed early from games if they’re struggling and giving up a lot of runs. But this hasn’t been the case here.
Inefficiency has been the biggest issue for Toronto’s staff, and a high pitch count has been the main reason why they’ve had their outings cut short.
There’s an easy explanation for why the Blue Jays’ rotation has been hitting high pitch counts early on in the game.
Toronto’s starters are third in the AL in walks allowed with 42. Combine that with the 103 hits they’ve given up in 103.2 innings of work and you get a WHIP of 1.40.
This means that they’re putting runners on base every inning. While the staff ERA suggests that they’re working out of trouble and not allowing most of their runners to score, this still explains the high pitch counts and the early departures from games.
There’s no doubt that this is a serious problem that will eventually come back to hurt the team.
Having a starting rotation that can’t even average at least six innings per start puts a lot of pressure on the team’s bullpen.
This is already evident with Toronto’s bullpen having pitched the second-highest number of innings in the AL.
It’s been proved time and again that an overworked bullpen loses its effectiveness and is more likely to struggle. Relievers that pitch past a certain quota also risk injuries.
The Blue Jays have already had a few games this season where the bullpen—considered to be one of the team’s major strengths heading into the season—has lost late-game leads and normally reliable relievers have been wild.
As long as the bullpen keeps getting called in to pitch from the fifth inning onward, these implosions will only increase.
Toronto’s starting pitchers need to cut down on the walks and keep their pitch counts low in order to go deeper into games.
Otherwise, the team could quickly find itself in a slide once the bullpen is overworked.
All stats are from MLB.com