Pitchers and catchers have reported to Dunedin, Florida and the position players will be joining them shortly, so this week feels like the right time to take an in-depth look at the Toronto Blue Jays as the 2015 Major League Baseball season draws closer.
All this week, we’ll break down different segments of the roster, moving from the bump to the field, breaking down the starting rotation today and the bullpen tomorrow before moving to the infield on Thursday and finishing in the outfield on Friday.
While previous seasons brought more Spring Training hype, the pressure on the Jays might be even greater this season as they’ve made a couple more key moves and the window of opportunity to make the playoffs is closing.
A lot of the success this team is going to have this season will hinge on what they get from the starting rotation, so that feels like the right place to start.
Toronto fans that expected Dickey to carry over his success from the National League into the American League East have likely been disappointed over the last two seasons as the former Cy Young Award winner has failed to replicate the numbers he had with the New York Mets, but it hasn’t been all bad.
The knuckleballer has posted 14 wins in each of first two seasons on the bump for the Blue Jays, turning 200+ innings both years with an ERA just a shade under 4.00 over that stretch. He’s dealt with some injuries and inconsistency, but he’s a veteran presence at the top of the rotation and in the clubhouse. If he can convert a couple more starts into wins this season, Dickey can set the tone for the entire rotation.
Overall, Stroman’s first full season in the big leagues was a success as the 2012 first-round pick posted an 11-6 record with a 3.65 ERA. After starting in the bullpen, Stroman moved to the rotation at the end of May and was outstanding in June and July before struggling in August and finishing strong in September.
Despite some ups and downs, there was plenty to like about the 23-year-old’s rookie year. He gave up fewer hits than innings pitched and had an impressive 111:28 strikeout-to-walk ratio. With a year under his belt, Stroman has the potential to experience a bump in production in his sophomore season.
Buehrle is a lot like Dickey in that he hasn’t been a dominant force since arriving in Toronto (not that he’s ever really been a dominant force), but he’s ultra-consistent, turning in 200+ innings, a dozen wins and an ERA under 4.00 over the course of his first two seasons in “The Big Smoke.”
Having the lefty in the middle of the rotation breaks things up a little and gives Toronto a veteran presence between its two potential young standouts. One area of concern with Buerhle, however, is that he’ll be 36 by the time the season starts and has a history of fading after getting out of the gate hot, starting 9-1 before going 4-9 over the final four months of the season. His ERA was solid in two of those four months (June and September), but there are some red flags with the veteran southpaw.
Looking at the raw numbers, last season doesn’t look like it was all that great for Drew Hutchison, but there are positives to take away from his first full big league season. The 25-year-old struck out 41 batters in 27.2 September innings and finished the year with 184 punch-outs in 184.2 innings.
For a guy that didn’t throw a single big-league inning in 2013, turning in an 11-14 record with a 4.448 ERA isn’t all that bad. Like Stroman, you can see room for Hutchison to show improvement in 2015, but he needs to limit his walks and continue to show the ability to put guys away that he did in September in order to reach his potential.
Penciled in for the final spot in the rotation is Estrada, acquired from Milwaukee in a trade for Adam Lind. He’s been hyped as a potential sleeper in each of the last two season due to his ability to pile up strikeouts (508 in 541 innings), but he’s yet to live up to those expectations.
He was bumped from the rotation in Milwaukee last season and has never made more than 23 starts in a year, so there is reason to be concerned. That being said, the 31-year-old could be solid back-end-of-the-rotation guy if healthy – someone that eats up innings, keeps games close and can move up in the order if needed.
Or he could get hurt and need to be replaced.
There isn’t a ton of depth to the rotation heading into camp – Daniel Norris will be the first to get the call if one of these five struggle and youngster Aaron Sanchez could follow Stroman’s path from the ‘pen to the rotation in his first full year with the big club as well.
As with any team, the Jays are going to need their starters to stay healthy if they want to have any real success this season. That being said, one thing that tends to work in this club’s favour is that with a loaded lineup, the starters don’t have to sweat giving up a couple runs like you see with some other clubs.
Tune in tomorrow for a look at how the bullpen stacks up heading into the 2015 season.