Toronto Blue Jays Pitching Development: The Definition of Insanity

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Toronto Blue Jays Pitching Development: The Definition of Insanity
(Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Let's start with a spot I am very comfortable with: The Toronto Blue Jays are terrible at developing young pitchers.

 

While they continue to send arms to the hospital, can I suggest that they schedule J.P. Ricciardi and pitching coach Brad Arnsberg for a mental exam?

 

I am not saying they can’t spot talent. That would be an out-and-out lie, with the likes of Marcum, McGowan, Litsh, and Romero. And then there is their newest find, the young Polish left-hander, Marc Rzepczynski. The Jays clearly know what blue-chip talent looks like, even early in its development.

 

So why is it that it seems like every time you turn around, one of these youngsters is making a trip to the disabled list?

 

I could rant and rave about the Blue Jays and the irresponsible nature of their preparation, but that’s been done, quite honestly, by better writers than myself. What I’d like to do is establish who in fact is most responsible for this disaster.

 

The only guy that J.P. really gets a pass on is A.J. Burnett, as he wasn’t the only guy that wanted the big right-hander and he was a walking Band-Aid before he appeared on the scene in Toronto.

 

But here we are at the All-Star break, and although not remarkable in his inconsistency, Allan James has been surprisingly healthy, don’t you think? He's made 17 starts through the All-star break. To put that in perspective, his teammate CC Sabathia has made 19 and leads the major leagues.

 

So clearly worshiping at “The Altar of Roy Halladay” worked…right?

 

Not so fast, my friend.

 

After a couple of adult beverages the other night, myself, along with a couple of other baseball fans talked our way into a solution that may surprise you. There is no doubt that A.J. Burnett is talented, and even looks to have learned a thing or two from All-Star starting pitcher Roy Halladay, but I am not so sure there isn’t a huge factor that has been overlooked.

 

If I were looking for the fastest way to clean up this problem with the Jays, I would be saying goodbye to Brad Arnsberg.

 

Why? Arnsberg is a solid and well-respected pitching coach, you say.

 

He may be technically sound, but he has also been the head pitching instructor for the Toronto Blue Jays since 2004. Since October 2004, there has not been a single man more responsible for the Blue Jays pitching success.

 

In 2005 it was a fairly quiet year, except for a freak line drive that broke Roy Halladay’s leg before the All-Star break. Other than that, there were a couple of trips to the 15-Day DL that limited Ted Lilly to 25 starts that year.

 

Lilly went on to be remarkably healthy as a Blue Jay and then Cub, after that averaging a little less than 33 starts over the next three complete seasons.

 

On April 16, 2006 the Jays took A.J. Burnett off the 15-day DL. Seven days later, Burnett was back on the DL again, ciring a sore right elbow.

 

On June 11 of that year, left-hander Gustavo Chacin was headed to the 1- day DL with a strained left elbow. The same day the Jays, activated Chacin, they placed Pete Walker on the DL with a shoulder injury. Walker came off the DL on June 28, and was back on it by July 8 with a right shoulder strain.

 

On August 9, Justin Spiers went to the DL with tightness in his right forearm.

 

In April 2007, pitchers that went to the DL with arm injuries included Brandon League, B.J. Ryan, and Gustavo Chacin. In June, AJ Burnett took his usual position on the DL. On August the 13, Brandon League again hit the DL in time for Burnett to return. Reliever Casey Janssen also suffered an injury that wouldn’t see him return until early 2009.

 

In 2008, trips to the DL with arm related issues included Brian Wolfe, Shawn Marcum (2), Dustin McGowan (2), and Brian Tallet. With the Jays playing better baseball the management team offered two-year contracts to the entire coaching staff under Cito Gaston, including hold over Brad Arnsberg.

 

In 2009, the wheels have completely come off the Blue Jays pitching staff, including McGowan projected to miss the entire season, and Marcum and Litsch undergoing Tommy Johns surgery in late 2008 and early 2009 respectively.

 

Others that have made a stop on the DL this year include Ryan, Ricky Romero, Bobby Ray, Casey Janssen, Scott Downs, Scott Richmond, and Roy Halladay.

 

I constantly hear about how the Blue Jays have hit a run of bad luck in trying to develop these pitchers. This includes J.P. Ricciardi in a recent article in the National Post defending his pitching coach.

 

“They’re not indicative of our trainers, our strength guys, our pitching guys at all, they just happen,” said Ricciardi. “Actually in Richmond’s case we’re being proactive instead of reactive. We’re going to say ‘Okay, let’s shut him down and this should give him about three weeks off so he should be okay.’ ”

 

If that is the case, why does it seem like this epidemic started in Florida upon his arrival in the majors?

That year alone saw Josh Beckett make multiple trips to the DL, as well as infirmary stops for A.J. Burnett, Brad Penny, Julian Tavarez, and Oswaldo Mairena.

 

Again in 2003 we saw AJ Burnett heading off the roster and onto the DL multiple times with elbow problems. He was joined as varying times by Toby Borland, Mark Redman, Tim Spooneyberger, Kevin Olsen, Josh Beckett, Tommy Phelps, and Armondo Almanza throughout the season.

 

In 2005, 10 different Marlins pitchers made trips to the DL, including Burnett and Beckett on multiple occasions.

 

Beckett left after 2005 at which point he had never started 30 games in a season. In three full seasons with the Red Sox, he has averaged 30 starts per season and has put in 18 starts at the All-Star break in 2009.

 

I’ve often heard the phrase, "Once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, three is a trend." If that’s true, what do you call a guy that has been producing consistent results for eight straight years, even if those are consistently undesirable results?

 

For some reason, J.P. has once again ignored the signs in an attempt to defend the indefensible.

 

They say that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. I think it’s about time to call for the guys in the white jackets to have a talk with J.P. Ricciardi and Brad Arnsberg.

 

 

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