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We've been having a lot of discussions about 2012 and the starting rotation seems to be the biggest question (with honourable mention to LF and 1B). How bad was 2011's rotation and what would it take to improve it?

In 2011 we saw 12 different guys start at least one game. For comparison there were 11 in 2010, 12 in 2009, 8 in 2008, and 11 in 2007. 1998 was the high water mark for wins since the World Series winning years and it had 9 starting pitchers. 1993 had 8 while 1985 (the first division winner and still #1 in team ERA and team wins) had 10 starters.

So 12 is high but not crazy high. 4 of the past 5 years have been at 11 or 12.

Lets check how the rotations (theoretical) #1/2/3/4/5 starters did. For this exercise I split it into groups based on ERA/ERA+ and starts. I am using stats just as a starter for each guy so we can have a more accurate look at how starters did rather than biasing it with relief ERA. 33 starts for the lowest ERA's (thus 32 Ricky Romero starts plus 1 Alvarez start), 33 for the next lowest (9 Alvarez, 13 Villanueva, 8 Litsch, 3 Morrow), 32 for each of the 3/4/5 slots to equal 162. Not perfect, but a good way to see just how bad it got by the end and how good it was at the start. I'm also going to compare the past 5 years (2007 through 2011) and 1998 and 1993 so we have a historical comparison. Safe bet those earlier years will have a better ace (Halladay, Clemens,'ll see how bad 1993 was in the ace department).
Of note: yes, I know that Morrow was the '#2' this year and that if we added an ace we'd still see some starts going to our worst starters due to luck of the draw (you can plan to use your best, but sometimes your best isn't).

Note: The Jays have had the #1 team ERA 4 times in their history - 1985 was the best at 3.31 followed by 2008 at 3.77. The other years were 1987 and 1991. Just once were they dead last - 1979 14th out of 14 but in 2000 they had the worst team ERA ever at 5.60

Data Tables


Innings Pitched

Legend: bold indicates leader for that rotation slot in that category. Red italics indicates the worst in that category (among the years I picked). Red indicates a year I picked for pure awfulness.

These are interesting numbers to dig though. Remember, I fixed the starts per slot so, for example, all aces had 33 starts vs the 36 that happened a few times (in those cases 3 starts moved to the #2 slot). This shows that the IP per start really hasn't changed as much as we might think when it comes to aces. 2011's 231 IP matches up nicely with virtually any era. The killer last year was the #2/4/5 all being within eyeshot of the worst in this selection of years for innings pitched thus putting a big strain on the pen. Not to mention the nightmare of only the ace being above league average in ERA. Even in the year the Jays were worst for ERA in the league and the year the team had its worst ERA ever the #2 pitcher was comfortably above league average. #3 was in eyeshot of the horrid 1979 staff. No question, adding a solid #2 to the 2011 rotation would've helped a LOT.

What is also interesting to notice is just how amazing that 1985 rotation was. All but the #5 slot had ERA+'s of 119 or better. Wow. The 5th slot didn't pitch many innings (sub 5 IP per start) but the other 4 more than made up for it. Also note how 1998 saw all 5 slots with 190+ IP (5th slot is listed as Pat Hentgen, Erik Hansen, Dave Stieb) - that pen was allowed to relax any day of the week.

Bottom line for 2011 was the complete lack of a decent 64 starts after Romero's 32. Jo Jo Reyes had most of his starts counted in the #4 slot, not the #5. That should tell you all you need to know about last years rotation. Ugh. 12 starts by guys with 6+ ERA's, 47 more from guys with 5+ ERA's. Of course, that is better than 2009 having 3 full rotation slots of 5+ ERA's. It will take very, very little for this years rotation to be back to a more normal level (110 ERA+ out of #2 slot, 100 for #3, 90's for #4, 70/80's for #5) and that would be a major improvement.
How bad was 2011's rotation? | 19 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
gnor - Saturday, February 04 2012 @ 07:35 AM EST (#251579) #
Good post John
I was just looking at your figures in terms of runs allowed, compared to innings pitched by the rotation:

2011:  964 IP,    761 Runs
2010:  958 IP,    728 Runs
2009:  965 IP,    771 Runs
2008:  1022 IP,  610 Runs (86 wins)
1985:  1015 IP,  532 Runs (99 wins, lost ALCS)

Kind of makes sense doesn't it? Of course, not all runs are scored against the rotation, but the inability to pitch deep into games puts a lot of pressure on the bullpen. The 25 blown saves last year can't all be put at the feet of the pen.
How close is this? Well, if the 2011 rotation wanted to pitch a total of 1022 innings, it would mean an extra 11.2 innings per slot. Over say, 30 starts per slot, that works out to a bit over 1/3 of an inning each per game. Of course it is going to help if the starting staff has a sub 4.0 ERA, but if they can stay in the ballgame longer, that will come down on it's own.

Flex - Saturday, February 04 2012 @ 10:10 AM EST (#251580) #
Rather interesting that the #2 who pitched to a couple of those lousy Red numbers just got himself a long-term contract.
Denoit - Saturday, February 04 2012 @ 12:21 PM EST (#251584) #
It's not really that interesting. They are paying for future preformance. It's taking a page out of the Rays book. The Rays had a long term deal in princple for Evan Longoria before he even played a game in the Majors. Thats a huge risk considering the amount of prospects that don't turn out to be as good as their supposed to. But they believed in the player and they were right. Now this a little different, but if the Jays truly beleive he is going to be a good pitcher this is going to be a great deal. You look at some contracts even OK pitchers get on the free agent market (Edwin Jackson) then you will see 6M/year is a pretty low amount. Even if Morrow only turns out to be a #4 guy in this rotation, or has to revert back to be a late innings releiver there is still some value there. On the other hand if he fills his potential and becomes that #2 or even #1b in the rotation it's a steal. So yes there is some risk but that comes with every pitcher. I think the upside far outweighs the risk for this guy. It's very calculated..
Anders - Saturday, February 04 2012 @ 01:56 PM EST (#251585) #
Rather interesting that the #2 who pitched to a couple of those lousy Red numbers just got himself a long-term contract.

That isn't actually Brandon Morrow, because these aren't any one guy, John is combining roster spots. Morrow's ERA is actually worse than that though, though his secondary numbers and "stuff" are better.

Thomas - Saturday, February 04 2012 @ 02:36 PM EST (#251589) #
Alongside improvement in the middle spots of the rotation, getting the pitching staff back "to a more normal level" would also include a reasonable amount of regression on the part of Romero/the first spot on the staff.
gnor - Saturday, February 04 2012 @ 05:13 PM EST (#251591) #
2011 opening day rotation: Ricky Romero, Kyle Drabek, Brett Cecil, Jesse Litsch, JoJo Reyes
2012 opening day rotation: Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil, Henderson Alvarez, Dustin McGowan
'Nuff said.

John Northey - Saturday, February 04 2012 @ 08:42 PM EST (#251594) #
I think the biggest element will be backups to the initial starters as, shown above, you always get 3-7 other guys starting games and sometimes a LOT of games.

For fun I thought I'd check ZIPS pre-season projections but the 2011 and earlier ones have vanished off BBTF and I cannot find them anywhere now (grrr). 2012's are online though...
Romero: 3.72 ERA 210.3 IP 31 starts
Morrow: 4.12 ERA 166 IP 29 starts 3 relief
Alvarez: 4.65 ERA 155 IP 25 starts 2 relief
Cecil: 5.00 ERA 174.7 IP 29 starts
McGowan: 5.00 ERA 72 IP 17 starts 1 relief
Litsch: 5.18 ERA 80 IP 13 starts 9 relief
ERA's over 5.50: Carreno, Collazo, Perez, Drabek
ERA's over 6.00: LaMura, MacDonald, Richmond, Pino, Beck

Romero & Morrow over 100 for ERA+, Alvarez just below. The ERA's would be better outside of the ace role which might work out better if I had any strong faith in these projections but I don't really. They are interesting, but pitchers are extremely hard to predict outside of general ranges. Still, even this poor projection isn't as bad as last years - weird eh?
Richard S.S. - Sunday, February 05 2012 @ 01:15 PM EST (#251599) #

If A.A.'s "upgrade" in Bullpen pitching is everything it's supposed to be, and fewer inherited runners score, fewer saves are blown, this could be a good year for Toronto.

Ricky Romero of 2012 will be Ricky Romero of 2011, with a better year.

If the Brandon Morrow of the last 3 Starts of 2011 is the Brandon Morrow we get in 2012, he's a favorite to win 20 games.

Brett Cecil is supposed to be better this year, big weight loss, re-motivated, determined.   If 2010 was Brett Cecil's breakout year and not his career year, we could be very surprised.

If Henderson Alvarez is Starting because he's good enough to do so, and not just the best of what's left, will he be good enough to stay?

Dustin McGowan will Start, if he can, making it to possibly early June before a decision gets made.   Anything less is too small a sample to judge fairly.   His possible replacement(s) could be the difference.   Will anyone in AAA be ready (Drabek) or will a reach to AA be made (pushing Drabek to the back of the pack)?

You can't make the Postseason in April and May, but you can lose the playoff run in those months.   Just look at the April Schedule (16 games verses teams you should beat and only 7 verses tougher competition), a good chances for a 15-8 win month.

Lylemcr - Monday, February 06 2012 @ 12:24 PM EST (#251605) #

Romero - Just seems to get better and better each year.

Morrow- Is he the 2010 or 2011 edition?  I will presume he is somewhere in between.

Cecil - Low ceiling, but has got to be better than last year.

Alvarez - He has GOT to be better than Jo Jo Reyes.

McGowan - This is the one I am nervous about, but excited about too.  He has got to be very hungry.  If he comes back healthy and back in form, he could easily jump to the #2 starter.  Or he could be released....  Wide range of possibility for this guy. 

The good news is that we have a couple good options in the pen and a couple good options in the minors (to be called up or used for trade bait). 

THe Bottom line....It can't get any worse for starting than last year. 

Mike Green - Monday, February 06 2012 @ 12:31 PM EST (#251606) #
THe Bottom line....It can't get any worse for starting than last year.

Youneverknow.  Every day, pitching coaches say a prayer, light a candle, give money to the poor- all in the hope that their charges are healthy. 
92-93 - Monday, February 06 2012 @ 01:03 PM EST (#251607) #
For real. I'm not even sure what gnor's point was. I would take the 2011 rotation with their expectations over this one. Cecil was much better than this offseason's version, Drabek was a higher ranked prospect than Alvarez, and Litsch was more reliable than McGowan. Rzepczynski and Stewart were excellent depth options, and the front office was touting Stewart much like they are touting Hutchison these days.
greenfrog - Monday, February 06 2012 @ 02:09 PM EST (#251608) #
I wouldn't go that far. Romero has now become an elite (if not quite elite ace) starter. I think Morrow will be better now that he's had another year of experience. Alvarez looked like the real deal in 2011 (better than Drabek did in his callup in September 2010), showing good stuff, control/command, poise and consistency, although he probably needs some more refinement (especially re a third pitch). McGowan is an exciting (if risky) #5 option. I agree about Cecil, who is sort of meh, but I think he deserves a look for one more year.

Besides, Litsch is still around if anyone really wants to go there. Hutchison is a more exciting prospect than Stewart (much better minor-league stats, and at a younger age). Jenkins might be a better comp, and he's probably better than Stewart too. And McGuire is now in the picture for a callup at some point.

I know opinion was divided on Rzep. I was in the camp that liked him better as a reliever (I never thought his slingy delivery and repertoire would play all that well over 180+ innings in the AL East).

I don't think the Jays' rotation compares to, say, that of the NYY or Rays, and I would have loved to see a #2 added from outside the organization, but it's shaping up better this year than last.
greenfrog - Monday, February 06 2012 @ 02:12 PM EST (#251609) #
Sorry, that should read McGuire (not Jenkins) is probably a better prospect than Stewart was (although I suppose it's easy to say that in hindsight).
92-93 - Monday, February 06 2012 @ 02:34 PM EST (#251610) #
It may very well end up better than last year's, but I don't think it's fair to say the outlook is that much better.

Romero didn't do a whole lot different in 2011 than 2010, he just got a whole lot luckier.

Morrow's outlook hasn't changed. We were just as excited about him last year.

There's no question Cecil's outlook has declined.

Hutchison may be the more exciting prospect but Stewart was way more MLB-ready, and we're discussing the rotation's outlook from the offseason.

I think we're collectively gleaning way too much from 10 Alvarez starts and getting caught up in McGowan's stuff if they are being penciled in as better options than Drabek/Litsch were prior to 2011. It's easy to forget just how excited people were about Drabek. Alvarez's fastball has ridiculous sink but it's going to be hard to excel in the bigs as a starter without a breaking ball now that teams have had all winter to dissect his video.
greenfrog - Monday, February 06 2012 @ 02:45 PM EST (#251611) #
Certainly it's hard to predict much from such a small sample size, but (on a purely subjective basis) Alvarez just looks a lot better than Drabek did at this time last year. Drabek Jr. showed electric stuff in 2010, but he could not throw his curve for strikes and he was always walking the knife-edge of disaster. Alvarez seems to have a much cooler temperament and much better control/command of two plus pitches (running/sinking FB and change), locating them efficiently and consistently down in the zone and in and out.
greenfrog - Monday, February 06 2012 @ 02:49 PM EST (#251612) #
Oh, and Alvarez in the minors (career): 1.7 BB/9 IP, 6.5 K/9 IP (3.77 K/BB), 0.5 HR/9 IP
Drabek in the minors (career): 3.7 BB/9 IP, 7.2 K/9 IP (1.97 K/BB), 0.8 HR/9 IP
Anders - Monday, February 06 2012 @ 03:08 PM EST (#251614) #
I don't want to keep beating this drum, because drums become real annoying after a while, but at this point the Jays probably have one of the worst rotations in baseball, and I don't see how it's at all clear that they've improved over 2011.

Just because you put guys out there doesn't mean they magically improve. ZiPS isn't perfect but it gives a reasonable, unbiased look at the rotation. The Blue Jays forecast has one guy with an ERA under 4 and two more with ERAs under 5. The projections have Romero-Morrow-Cecil-Alvarez-McGowan throwing 778 innings of 4.40 ERA ball, which only would have been 7th worst and not 5th worst in the AL last year, and that's without counting the 200 or so other starters innings that would likely be filled by pitchers worse than the aforementioned five. Optimism is always enjoyable, and if I had to guess I think Morrow and Alvarez both outperform their ZiPS, but still the fact of the matter is this clearly the 4th best rotation in the division, and worse than the Tigers, Rangers, Angels and probably the Clevelands and the A's for that matter.
Matthew E - Monday, February 06 2012 @ 03:10 PM EST (#251616) #

THe Bottom line....It can't get any worse for starting than last year. 

Oh yes it can. OHHHHHH yes it can.

I mean, I have a hunch that the starters will do pretty well this year and I don't see it as an area where the Jays have to make big changes. But still. Never challenge Worse.

John Northey - Monday, February 06 2012 @ 03:55 PM EST (#251621) #
If we get 60 starts from guys with 100+ ERA+'s (which ZIPs forecasts pretty much - Morrow & Romero both above average) then that is an improvement. Last year only 3 starters had ERA+'s over 100 - Romero, Alvarez, and Villanueva. Vill was well below 100 if you filter to just starts leaving Alvarez and Romero covering 42 starts with a nice ERA+ over 130 combined but just 42 starts. Alvarez is projected by ZIPs to be close to 100 and given only 8 starts past the big 2 were by guys over 90 (Litsch in the low 90's as a starter) that suggests we could easily have up to 90 starts from guys with ERA+'s of 95+ which would be a MAJOR improvement even if there is a drop in the 42 premium starts of last year.
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