The Toronto Blue Jays have a problem; they aren’t getting enough innings out of their starting pitchers. The lack of innings from the rotation is putting more pressure on the Blue Jays’ bullpen and it’s having an adverse effect on their relievers.
This is the lede from the article I initially sat down to write. And it was completely wrong. The Blue Jays are in fact, getting enough innings from their starting rotation. It isn’t taxing the bullpen and it isn’t hurting their relievers. At least, it isn’t yet.
Huh? Yes, I realize it makes no sense, but follow me down the rabbit hole.
The Blue Jays’ starters aren’t going deep enough into games. This should come as no shock because no team’s starters are going deep enough into games. Starters are throwing fewer innings than ever before and the workload for relievers is higher than it’s ever been.
Ask all 30 MLB managers if they think they’re getting enough innings out of their starters and they’ll probably shake their heads in dismay. Then they’ll question how you got into the clubhouse and call for security. You had an opportunity to ask one question and that’s the one you went with?
Back to reality here, run up and down the Blue Jays’ starters and they’re throwing about as many innings as one would expect. Aaron Sanchez averages the most innings per start (6.3), which Marcus Stroman is throwing the fewest (5).
Blue Jays Starting Rotation (2018)
The combined average of all five starters is 5.6 innings per start, which sounds low. It turns out that’s about middle-of-the-pack, the 10th most in baseball. The Indians are the highest at 6.55 innings per start, while the Mariners are the lowest at 5.16 innings.
It isn’t a problem that’s unique to the Blue Jays. This is an issue facing 28 of the 30 teams in baseball through the first month of the season. Only the Indians’ and Astros’ starting pitchers are going six innings on a regular basis.
And if the starters aren’t going deep into games, that means the bullpen has to pick up those extra outs. Again, it seems like the Blue Jays’ bullpen has racked up a lot of innings as of late, but they’ve collectively thrown the sixth fewest innings in MLB.
Entering Saturday’s game, Blue Jays relievers combined to throw 81.2 innings, compared to the Los Angeles Angels’ relievers who have mopped up 113 innings already. Despite their supposed heavy workload, the Blue Jays’ bullpen still owns the second-best ERA in baseball at 2.31.
Everything that I initially set out to write runs counter to what actually is happening with the Blue Jays starting rotation. They aren’t pitching incredibly deep into ballgames – neither is anybody else.
The Blue Jays’ relievers are the unsung heroes of the team right now. I thought they were heavily taxed and are bound to break. That may still be true, but if anything, John Gibbons has a clearer picture of which relievers to go to.
For the most part, it’s Roberto Osuna, Ryan Tepera and Danny Barnes when the Blue Jays are trying to hold a lead. Seung-hwan Oh is kind of in the dog house right now and is back into low leverage situations, as is Tyler Clippard and John Axford. Aaron Loup is the situational lefty, so he’s on the fence.
This is basically a bullpen that runs itself and on paper, they’ve excelled through the first month of the season. It won’t take much to skyrocket the Blue Jays’ bullpen ERA up a few runs, but the seven-man relief corps has been a pleasant surprise thus far.
If anything, it’s the starting rotation which has been a disappointment through the first four weeks of the 2018 season. Up until now, all five guys have been healthy
I’ll maintain this theory, though – if the Blue Jays are going to have any chance of sniffing a playoff spot, it’s going to be on the back of their starting rotation. Don’t expect the bullpen to baffle hitters like this for the rest of the season. Blue Jays relievers currently own a 90.7% strand rate. Impressive, but in no way sustainable over a full season.
There’s no question that the Blue Jays need more innings out of their starting pitchers. But up until this point, every single starter has gone at least 4.2 innings in each outing this year.
Is that simply a case of lowered expectations for this starting five? Maybe. But getting 16 outs from the bullpen is much more manageable than a starter getting chased in the second or third inning and asking the relievers to pick up 20 or more outs.
The Blue Jays’ starting rotation situation isn’t quite as dire as it’s made out to be.