2012 Blue Jays Preview: Pitching and Defense

Tuesday, April 03 2012 @ 02:15 PM EDT

Contributed by: Anders

Yesterday we looked at the offense. Today we look at pitching and defense. Feel free to chime in in the comments.

(Note: these comments were mostly made in advance of today's Cecil-related news.)

We asked this last year, but weíll ask it again - is this the year Brandon Morrow finally puts it together, at least in the ERA column?

John Northey: Iíll keep saying yes until he does it.  3.50 ERA.

Matthew E: Iím going to say yes not because I have any idea but because thatís what I want to have happen.

Obal: Yes. I am such a sucker.

Gerry: Define put it together?  The talk this spring has been about Morrow becoming more efficient and using his off-speed pitches more.  But his major problem has been pitching out of the stretch.  I think he will get better but not Cy Young better.

Thomas: I used to drink Ricky Nolasco kool-aid. Now itís Brandon Morrow flavoured. So, yes.

Anders: Morrow really just needs to learn to pitch out of the stretch, which is not something Iím sure you learn at this point. If he can continue to lower his walk rate it may not matter. Iíll say a 3.80 ERA and 10 Kís and 3 BB per 9 IP.

How much do you love Henderson Alvarez? A) A lot. B) Like, really a lot. C) He is the greatest thing since sliced Wieters. D) Marry me Henderson. E) Other.

Gerry: A.  Strikeout pitchers are generally more successful in the majors and Alvarez needs his third pitch to get them.  We havenít seen his new and improved slider yet this season so the jury is still out.  Without the strikeout pitch Alvarez will have some days where the ball goes straight to the fielders and some where they find the holes.

Anders: All of the above, except for E. Seriously though, If all goes well he pitches 175 innings, with a 120/35 K/BB and gives up 12 home runs. I hope.

Obal: He really is a distinctive player. I keep trying to think of someone who succeeds like Alvarez did last year, as a sinker/changeup high GB low BB guy, and the only name that comes to mind is Brandon League. If he finds a slider, heís Tim Hudson. If his fastball command deserts him, look out below. Hard not to be optimistic for his future.

John Northey: B) Like, really a lot - expect him to be a solid #3 and some years will be the Jays ace (ERA wise).

Matthew E: E) Other. I hope he does well but I want to see him start striking out more guys.

Speaking of how great is, does anyone pull a Henderson this year? Who is your favourite candidate ( Deck McGuire, Drew Hutchison, Kyle Drabek, other, etc.).

Thomas: McGuire. His impact wonít be as strong as Hendersonís was, but give him 10 starts and thereíll be the signs of a guy who could be a very reasonable #4 starter in the AL East, although I also view him as one of the prospects most likely to be moved if the team deals minor leaguers for an MLB player.

Matthew E: Drabekís as good a guess as any. We may see McGuire and Hutchison but who knows what weíll get from them. Iím not a huge believer in McGuire anyway.

Anders: I would have said Drew Hutchison, but given that reports on Drabek in Spring Training are good, and that there is an obvious reason for this (that the team made a mechanical change (making him focus on landing correctly in his delivery), I am optimistic and will choose him.

Gerry: Henderson moved from AA to the majors (technically he moved from Dunedin to the majors but he only started in Dunedin because he had an injury at the start of the season).  Hutchison is the obvious guy to replicate Alvarez.  But one of McGuire or Jenkins is likely to step up too.

John Northey: Iíd bet on Hutchison as the spring reports have all been great.  Drabek pitching early in the season almost disqualifies him as Henderson came up mid-season.

In 2011 the Jays graded out as slightly below average in Ultimate Zone Rating and slightly above average in Defensive Runs Saved. How will the teamís defense perform in 2012?

John Northey: Better defense, as no EE or Bautista at 3B, but not drastically so.

Matthew E: Same story; different year.

Gerry: Slightly better, Rasmus is better than Patterson, Lawrie is better than EE/Nix.  But the improvement wonít be material.

Anders: I agree with Gerry - there will be some improvement but not enough to matter. Yunel and Rasmus and Lawrie are the only guys I think are probably good defenders, and the metrics havenít always been kind to the first two. And Jose Bautista actually graded out really well at third in his brief stint, for what it's worth.

Thomas: Thanks, Gerry. Iíd temporarily rid myself of any memories of Patterson.

Sergio Santos Saves (SSS) over/under: 34.5

Gerry: I will go with the over, 38.

John Northey: Iíll go with over - 40

Matthew E: Neither. He will save exactly 34.5 games.

Anders: I think the Jays will win enough games to get him over - maybe 38 (I am just copying Gerry for the most part).

Thomas: Over. 41. Nervous 9ths no more.

The Blue Jays allowed 761 runs in 2011, 6th worst in baseball (4th worst in the AL). How does this number change? (Either total runs or relative to league).

Thomas: Iíve repeatedly said the Jays could be asking for trouble with the back-end of their rotation and Iím not going to back down from it now. Assuming they have a timetable in mind for the minor league pitchers (or are at least waiting on McGuire, Hutchison and Jenkins to prove they are ready) and everything theyíve done this offseason suggests the priority is 2013 and beyond, fans may have to endure a couple of ugly months from Drabek and, particularly, Cecil. In the worst possible scenario, Romero puts up numbers more in line with his peripherals, Morrowís incurable problem of pitching with runners on continues and Alvarez has a sophomore slump. It wonít all happen. Most of it probably wonít. But, the downside is real. Then again, thereís no Jo-Jo. 752 with the bullpen improving and the starting pitching regressing.

John Northey: Iím betting on getting down to 700.  Yeah, yeah, too optimistic I know.

Matthew E: Theyíll improve relative to league but give up about the same number of runs in total.

Gerry: Among the question marks this season are Brett Cecil and Kyle Drabek.  The bullpen should be better.  The rotation could still be an adventure and the sixth starter, or seventh, could be a challenge in the first half of the season.  Injuries in the rotation could really hurt the Jays before McGowan is better and before one of the AA starters is ready.  I think the Jays record will be better so the defense needs to be better, say 737 runs allowed.

Anders: That 2011 mark is actually pretty abysmal, so I think the Jays have to improve given that I think the bullpen is better. Iím not really sold on the rotation - I have confidence in Romero, Morrow and Alvarez, but Romero was pretty lucky last year and Alvarez has less than 70 major league innings under his belt. I thought/think Cecil was/is going to be a trainwreck, and I like Carreno a bit better but I'm not sure he grades out well over his first full season; the team already appears to be counting on Kyle Drabek as their fifth starter... oy. Still Drabek seems to have made some mechanical adjustments in his landings, so that inspires some hope, well, at least more than "best shape of his life," and he canít be as bad as the 2011 version, but thatís a pretty small fig leaf... Offense goes up, the Jays allow 740 and improve to slightly below middle of the pack.