The Addition of Veteran Starters Changes the Feel of the Blue Jays Rotation

Fun Alternative Title: “Welcome in, Clayton Richard and Matt Shoemaker – This Changes Things”

It’s funny how the vibe of a pitching rotation can be completely altered by changing two names. Not only that, it can be changed entirely by two transactions, that, in most aspects, aren’t designed to make big headlines.

Over the last two weeks, the Toronto Blue Jays did that. By replacing Sean Reid-Foley and Sam Gaviglio in the fourth and fifth spots with Matt Shoemaker and Clayton Richard, the team changed the perception of the starting staff.

If you look at the following names, what do you see?

  • Aaron Sanchez (Age 26, Service Time 4.069)
  • Marcus Stroman (Age 27, Service Time 4.148)
  • Ryan Borucki (Age 24, Service Time 0.088)
  • Sean Reid-Foley (Age 23, Service Time 0.049)
  • Sam Gaviglio (Age 28, Service Time 1.067)
  • Thomas Pannone (Age 24, Service Time 0.049)

Chances are, “inexperience” is the word that comes to mind. Excluding Sanchez and Stroman, nobody there had a full season of MLB experience before last season, and only Gaviglio does right now. Sure, this “first impressions” test is slightly biased due to the inclusion of Pannone (started in six of his 12 MLB appearances in 2018), but there’s no guarantee Gaviglio would have secured the fifth rotation spot anyway.

Now that the Jays have made a couple of changes to their starting five, it now projects to look like this:

  • Aaron Sanchez (Age 26, Service Time 4.069)
  • Marcus Stroman (Age 27, Service Time 4.148)
  • Ryan Borucki (Age 24, Service Time 0.088)
  • Matt Shoemaker (Age 32, Service Time 4.166)
  • Clayton Richard (Age 35, Service Time 8.163)

It looks a lot different – and, obviously speaking, there’s more experience here. We’re down to one pitcher with fewer than a year’s worth of experience, and that pitcher (Borucki) was Toronto’s strongest by bWAR last season.

So, Clayton Richard and Matt Shoemaker. What are the Blue Jays getting?

Well, Richard is a potential low-risk, high-reward option for Toronto. He’s pitched in the senior circuit since 2009. In 2016, he joined the Padres rotation after a late-season signing and pitched well, with a 2.52 ERA in eleven appearances (nine starts). With those eleven outings, he generated the highest bWAR of his career (1.1). It was a remarkable change, as earlier in the season he was released by the Cubs after a largely mediocre 25 games as a situational left-hander.

For two years in a row, Matt Shoemaker has dealt with injuries shortening his season. That said, the 6’2 right-hander has a lot of upside. Excluding his curveball, a pitch he throws very rarely, he has five pitches in his repertoire. In 2014, he went 16-4 with a 3.04 ERA, 124 strikeouts, 24 walks, and a bWAR of 2.4. His K/BB ratio was very strong in 2015 (116/35) and 2016 (143/30) as well. That said, it did fall off in 2017 (69/28) and 2018 (33/10). It hasn’t been trending in the right direction, but Shoemaker was dealing with a forearm injury in both of the most recent seasons, so if he’s healthy, the Jays could see a number closer to 2015 or 2016.

At least, that’s what the team is hoping.

Actually, in realistic terms, the Blue Jays are simply hoping that both pitchers are competent turns in the rotation while Reid-Foley, Pannone, and Nate Pearson are learning in the farm system. This would also allow Gaviglio and Joe Biagini to become long-relievers and give the Blue Jays some bullpen depth.

Well, that could happen.

Either that or the Blue Jays have simply added depth for an upcoming Marcus Stroman trade. Only the team knows for sure.

A Couple of Notes

  • In the Clayton Richard deal, the Blue Jays gave up 25-year old Canadian outfielder Connor Panas. Panas will join the excellently-named AAA El Paso Chihuahuas.
  • According to the Associated Press, the Padres will cover half of the $3 million contract in 2019.
  • If Gaviglio goes to the bullpen, he joins a rather thin depth chart. Only Ken Giles, Ryan Tepera, Biagini, Danny Barnes, and Elvis Luciano* appear to be locks for roles to start off 2019. *Assuming Luciano stays with the team, which appears to be the plan.
  • Here’s footage from one of Matt Shoemaker’s strongest outings – he appears (appeared? This was 2016) to rely a lot on fastballs below the zone to get batters to chase for the strikeout.

Cover Photo: (Gregory Bull / AP)

Editor-in-Chief, 641.

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