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Before last night's game I asked a few people around the press box the following question: "If you had known that Josh Towers would lead this rotation in wins, innings, quality starts, and ERA, what do you think Toronto's Won-Loss Record would be?" As I recollect, I don't think anyone anticipated even 70 wins...

Hey, who knew?

Josh Towers is heading into the 2006 season as Toronto's number two starter, and this is something he has achieved not by default, but on merit. The only thing that could change this is if the Blue Jays actually trade for a pitcher who is clearly better. Is there a free agent pitcher out there who was better than Towers in 2005? I can't think of one. What, you're thinking A.J. Burnett? I don't think so - I don't think 12-12 with a 3.44 ERA in a pitcher's park in the National League matches up to 13-12, 3.71 in a hitter's park in the DH League. Towers, by the way, is actually younger than Burnett as well, albeit by just 54 days.

That W-L record could easily be a little better. The Blue Jays bullpen has blown 20 save opportunities this season, in 19 different games. (No doubt we all remember that nightmare at Yankee Stadium in late August - the Felix Escalona Game - when the bullpen coughed up two different leads, resulting in two Blown Saves in one game.) The 20 Blown Saves is not really that bad a figure; it's not really as awful as would be suggested by the visceral and instant response each and every one of these missed opportunities inevitably provokes. It's not as many Blown Saves, for example, as have been posted by the peerless Mariano Rivera and his comrades in the mighty Yankees bullpen. (Rivera himself, needless to say, had very little to do with this!) But the Jays figure also represents fewer Blown Saves than were recorded by Atlanta's bullpen, and Philadelphia's.

The team with the fewest blown saves is Pittsburgh, because... well, they don't have all that many leads to protect; the teams that have seen their bullpens reject the most leads handed to them are San Francisco (27), Colorado (26), and Tampa Bay (26).

How often has each Toronto starter been betrayed by the relief corps behind him?

First of all, it's not always the starter. The pen has Blown Saves four times when a reliever was in line for a victory: twice the failure came in non-support of Pete Walker, and twice when Justin Speier was all set to collect a win (although on one of those occasions - yes, the Felix Escalona Game - Speier himself had already surrendered the lead entrusted to him by the starter.)

The pen has actually blown three games when Pete Walker was the pitcher of record, but Walker had come out of the pen on just two of those occasions. One of them, of course, was Roy Halladay's last (sob, sob) start of 2005. Doc left that game with a lead, but had not pitched the requisite five innings. The next man in, Jason Frasor, gave up a couple of runs to allow Texas to close to within a run. Walker then came in to work a couple of scoreless innings. If the Jays had held on, the official scorer's judgement would most likely have awarded Walker the victory. But I digress....

As for the starters: the bullpen was unable to preserve a potential win one time apiece for each of the following starters: Roy Halladay, Dave Bush, Ted Lilly, Pete Walker, and Dustin McGowan. They've blown the lead twice when Scott Downs was the starter, four times when Gustavo Chacin was the pitcher of record, and five times on behalf of Josh Towers.

Not that you can expect to hear Towers bitching about it. After the Felix Escalona Game, Towers tried to hog the blame for that debacle himself, claiming that he'd blown two leads. Hey, why not. He did give up a run to make a 2-0 game a 2-1 game. He regarded that as blowing the 2-0 lead. Nice try, Josh. We're still blaming that one on Miguel.

No bullpen holds onto every lead, but with a slightly better roll of the dice, Towers could quite easily have ended up with 16 wins this season.

Towers, as you may recall, got off to a very fine start this season. Justin Speier blew a save against Tampa in Towers' very first outing, but he won five of his next seven starts, and by mid-May was 5-1, 3.17. This seemed too good to be true, and perhaps it was. Towers struggled from that point on until right after the All-Star Break. He lost six of his seven starts before he won again. He went into the mid-season break with a 6-7, 4.51 log that seemed very much in line with his career numbers, and then got hammered in his first start after the break. His record at this point was now 6-8, 4.85, and surely none of us expected what was coming.

Over his final 14 starts, Towers went 7-4, 2.42. He pitched 104 innings, and allowed 101 hits, just 10 homers, 10 walks, and 28 earned runs. He reeled off an amazing 12 Quality Starts in a row, and 13 of 14 overall. Roy Halladay himself has never done that. Halladay has never even come close, not even in his Cy Young season. Doc ran off seven Quality Starts in a row earlier this year, and he also ran off seven straight back in 2002.

Even the one time Towers missed the Quality Start, which was just last Sunday against the Yankees, was actually a QS through the first six innings - he gave it up in the seventh, when Robinson Cano hit a two-run homer to put him behind 4-3.

Now there's no way Towers is really as good as he's been in the second half - it is my grim duty to point out that he struck out only 46 hitters in those 104 innings. That's just 4.0 Ks per 9 innings. He was clearly getting a lot of breaks on balls in play. Furthermore, he actually allowed 38 runs in those 14 starts - a whopping 10 of those runs were unearned, and if they'd all been earned, he would have had just 10 Quality Starts in the second half, and never more than three in a row. More balls in play are going to lead to more errors as well.

But Towers doesn't really need to be that good - no one really expects him to continue posting a Halladay-esque ERA. (Although I'm sure no one would object.) Furthermore, I do not think what Towers did in the second half was all luck. Not by a long shot.

Towers arrived in the major leagues with two things going for him, and not a whole lot else: 1) he could throw strikes at will, a skill surprisingly rare amongst young pitchers; 2) he was willing to throw strikes, and willing to challenge anyone. Anyone at all.

That's an old-fashioned style of pitching: this is how Catfish Hunter and Ferguson Jenkins pitched, it's how Robin Roberts pitched before them. It used to work very well - these types of pitchers give up lots of home runs, but they're always working ahead of the hitters, they get lots of first pitch outs, and because they don't give away free passes, they can get by allowing lots of home runs.

These guys - Hunter, Jenkins, Roberts - were also all very much flyball pitchers. I am still not sure if this style of pitching can actually work in the post 1994 era, with the smaller ball parks, and the bigger hitters, and everybody holding the bat down at the end and trying to hit home runs.

But Towers himself seems to have made a couple of adjustments. He was very much a flyball pitcher when he arrived in the majors, and all too often those flyballs flew right out of the park. He has gradually changed that part of his game over the years. Over his first 18 starts this season, Towers was getting more groundballs than flyballs - his GB/FB ratio was 52/48. But over the second half, he increased that ratio significantly - in his last 14 starts, his GB/FB ratio was 57/43. This is very important for a pitcher like Towers, who lets the other team put the ball in play. You don't hit home runs off groundballs, unless it's Carl Crawford swinging the bat.

I think Towers has also learned that discretion really can be the better part of valour, that he doesn't have to challenge everyone, that he doesn't have to just go "here it is, hit it if you can" every time he gets into a fix. I think this took him a bit of time because it involved an modification of his whole philosophy of pitching, and it also conflicts with his own extremely competitive temperament.

Towers can't always resist the competitive temptation, the temptation to go toe-to-toe with someone like David Ortiz when the game on the line. That's a situation when discretion is not merely the better part of valour, but also a consummation devoutly to be wished. But I think he's taken a real step forward. He's learned that there's actually a time and a place to nibble - and Towers is one of the very few pitchers in whom this tendency can actually be encouraged, precisely because he can throw strikes pretty much at will.

So let me close my last Game Report of 2005 by saying "Congratulations, Josh Towers."

You are about to become a millionaire.

Jays 10, Royals 1: Lucky Number Seven | 10 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Andrew K - Saturday, October 01 2005 @ 09:03 AM EDT (#129365) #
Good for Josh, he deserves every penny. Great attitude, great competitor.

On some days he's going to pitch badly, but these days seem to get rarer and rarer, and overall the quality is high. Not a star, but a vital cog in a contending rotation. I do hope we keep him for a while.
SK in NJ - Saturday, October 01 2005 @ 09:44 AM EDT (#129367) #
Josh Towers over three years with the Jays:

30-22, 4.26 ERA, 389.1 IP, 452 H, 62 BB, 205 K

I personally think Josh will hit back to earth next year, but he's been a wonderful addition to this team. He is what he is and has won with what brought him. The big issue now is, with Halladay, Lilly, Chacin, and Bush; and the Jays looking to add a Washburn or Burnett type (McGowan is also on the way), what happens to Towers in the off-season? A rotation lock or sell high?

Very interesting off-season to come.
Jordan - Saturday, October 01 2005 @ 11:17 AM EDT (#129372) #
Josh Towers started 35 games this year.

Allowing 0, 1 or 2 earned runs: 15 starts
Allowing 3 or 4 earned runs: 11 starts
Allowing 5 or more earned runs: 9 starts

Gustavo Chacin has started 33 games so far this year.

Allowing 0, 1 or 2 earned runs: 16 starts
Allowing 3 or 4 earned runs: 10 starts
Allowing 5 or more earned runs: 7 starts

That's 31 starts from these two guys that all but the most anemic offence can win. For a combined $700,000 this year, that's pretty freakin' good.

Wannae see what an ace looks like? Roy Halladay started 19 games this year.

Allowing 0, 1 or 2 earned runs: 14 starts
Allowing 3 or 4 earned runs: 2 starts
Allowing 5 or more earned runs: 3 starts

Braby21 - Saturday, October 01 2005 @ 11:31 AM EDT (#129375) #
I personally think Josh will hit back to earth next year, but he's been a wonderful addition to this team. He is what he is and has won with what brought him. The big issue now is, with Halladay, Lilly, Chacin, and Bush; and the Jays looking to add a Washburn or Burnett type (McGowan is also on the way), what happens to Towers in the off-season? A rotation lock or sell high?

What I would like to see is...Doc healthy and back to the #1, a free agent number two...Washburn please. Then I want one of Lilly, Chacin, and Bush traded, with the two remaining and Towers rounding out the starting rotation. Scott Downs will be the long man, and spot starter for when the first pitcher suffers an injury. Then when Mr. McGowan comes up from AAA after overpowering hitter's there, that is when the 2nd of Lilly, Chacin and/or Bush gets traded. Leaving Doc, Washburn, Towers, one of Lilly, Chacin and Bush, and McGowan. That's what I can hope for...also add one or two bats by trading one of Hudson, Hill, or Adam's along w/ one or two of those above tradeable pitchers. PLEASE JP, MAKE IT HAPPEN. By the way...I would welcome Manny with open arms to Toronto. Fans LOVE him, he'll put more ppl in the seats, not to mention he's a complete stud and would give the Jays that clean up hitter that they need allowing Koskie and Hillenbrand to move down in the lineup.

Oh, how fun it is to dream....$80 million reasons to want the off season to start NOW...
PeterG - Saturday, October 01 2005 @ 11:37 AM EDT (#129378) #
Towers appears to be for real. I have more doubts about Chacin and Bush. I would make one of them available in trade along with one of Rios/Gross and one of Hudson/Hill/Adams to bring in some power bats. If free agents pitcher or pitchers are signed, I think it is more likely a pitcher from the big league roster will go rather than a high level prospect. Hence, Bush or Chacin. I think some border line pitching prospects such as Rosario and Ramirez will be available. And yes, I would move Lilly if he has any trade value.
VBF - Saturday, October 01 2005 @ 11:56 AM EDT (#129381) #
Jays to play Carlos in reunion.

See June 16. I smell a Cheer Club roadtrip.
Rob - Saturday, October 01 2005 @ 12:01 PM EDT (#129382) #
I don't know if I can add anything to Magpie's piece, but I shall try...with Game Scores! (What else?) Towers cut back on his bad starts this year in favour of more starts in the 50-60 range:
	2004	2005	change
10s	14%	6%	 -8%
20s	19%	9%	-10%
30s	10%	12%	  3%
40s	10%	15%	  6%
50s	19%	30%	 11%
60s	24%	15%	 -9%
70s	5%	12%	  7%

Note the reduction in the starts below a 30 Game Score, and the increase in the 50s. He appears, for all intents and purposes, to be roughly better with his over-50 starts -- takes away from the 60s, adds 70s -- and it's quite clear that he's a better pitcher this year.

Also, the standard deviation in his Game Scores this year* is down from 2004. It's 16.1, not 18.7 as it was in the Season From Hell. He hasn't peaked any higher this year (77 vs 76) but his average is significantly better, at 50.3 as opposed to 43.8.

That AGS of 50.3 is 25th best in the American League, one spot ahead of Matt Clement, three ahead of Mike Mussina, and just for fun, 17 spots ahead of Zack Greinke.

In other words, man wearing 7 throw ball good.

* Counting just the 33 starts ESPN has data for; I think someone said he's made 35 this year. This shouldn't change the numbers significantly.

Mylegacy - Saturday, October 01 2005 @ 12:33 PM EDT (#129388) #
Earlier this year I turned to She That Must Be Obeyed and said, "STMBO, my little sweetie pie, Josh is actually hitting over 90." It was true.

Don't watch the results of Josh's pitching WATCH each pitch. Everything dips and dives, nothing is ever far from the catchers glove. I LOVE watching him and DREAD watching him because when he is off he is slaughtered.

In late 06 when Towers will be our HONEST third or fourth starter, (Halladay, Burnett, Chacin, Towers, McGowan) we will have the best pitching staff in the AL.

Lets face it, he Towers over every other pitcher on the staff. Josh, congrats on a lovely year.
Ron - Saturday, October 01 2005 @ 03:06 PM EDT (#129400) #
The Jays tentative schedule has been released

The Jays first opponent are the the Twins (which I believe will be at home).

I want to see Chacin shopped around this off-season as a part of a a package to bring in a power bat. I'm not sure how much better he can pitch. I think it's time to sell high on Chacin. I'm not impressed while looking at his numbers. Granted he does buckle down when he lets runners on base.

It would be foolish to waste money on Lilly. At his age the Jays know what they have in him. They're better off using his salary towards a number 2 pitcher.

If I was in charge of the Jays, the only 2 locked in rotation spots are Doc and Towers. I would go out and try to sign 2 starting pitchers and have the 5th spot up for grabs in ST. If McGowan steps up at AAA then he can be called up mid-season. But there's no chance in hell I would hand him a spot in ST. He's clearly not ready for the bigs at this point, as his ERA will back this up.

I would like to see AJ in a Jays uni, but that blow up is a red flag. Their are certain issues that should be kept in the clubhouse. He also pitched poorly down the stretch. While he's a strike-out pitcher, he still walks way too many guys. Walks are a killer especially in the AL East.
VBF - Saturday, October 01 2005 @ 08:54 PM EDT (#129413) #
Their are certain issues that should be kept in the clubhouse.

It was kept in the clubhouse. It's not like he was bitchin to the media. Other people in the clubhouse saw what happened and reported it, but it's not like he was ranting and raving on radio and in newspapers.

Jays 10, Royals 1: Lucky Number Seven | 10 comments | Create New Account
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