Sunday, January 15, 2012

Instant Upgrades

There’s a very specific feeling I get whenever the Red Sox or the Yankees make major player acquisitions to improve their respective teams. It’s something close to pure viciousness in its ugliest form. I have friends who are Red Sox and/or Yankee fans, and in these instances my feelings toward them move beyond mere annoyance, into the realm of wanting to swing heavy blunt objects into the hoods of their cars.

Eventually I calm down, of course. Even though I’ve learned that life is one crushing defeat after another until you just wish Flanders was dead, it’s hardly worth losing sleep over something as inconsequential as baseball.

I was at a function on Friday night (ed: Oh, la-dee-da, a “function”? Hope you didn’t spill any wine spritzer on your good Metallica t-shirt), so my Twitter obsession had to take a back seat to making small talk and eating while standing for a couple hours. When I got a chance to catch up, that old familiar feeling was there waiting for me. The New York Yankees had acquired potential perennial star pitcher Michael Pineda from the Seattle Mariners, and then they went out and signed another more than serviceable arm in free agent starter Hiroki Kuroda.

Instantly, the already-toughest team in the AL East got even tougher, going from a rotation that was going to consist of CC Sabathia and no small amount of hope to one that is likely to make life pretty difficult for opponents at least 80% of the time.

Once I worked through my usual stages of rage, frustration, and resignation, I got to thinking less about how brutal it might be in 2012 for the Blue Jays to face the Yankees, and more about how the Blue Jays themselves could make a similar instant upgrade to the rotation.

If we’re to believe the scuttlebutt, Alex Anthopoulos has been burning up the phone lines in search of another reliable starting pitcher to slot in among Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow for 2012, and perhaps beyond. And we all know what 2011’s rotation looked like apart from those two. Yes, we saw the emergence of a potential contributor in Henderson Alvarez and the feel-good story of Dustin McGowan’s return near the end of the year, but we also saw backward steps from Brett Cecil and Kyle Drabek; 110 forgettable, negative WAR innings from Jo Jo Reyes; and a selection of bullpen fill-ins and minor league call-ups rounding things out.

One can easily understand AA’s apparent eagerness to acquire an arm with more staying power, like a Mat Latos or Matt Garza. I have a certain amount of support for the idea myself, but I don’t think it will be catastrophic if it doesn’t happen before the start of the season – precisely because those remaining in-house options represent a certain amount of opportunity.

I’m not betting on all of Brett Cecil, Kyle Drabek and Dustin McGowan to step into 2012 and make big impacts. But a really oversimplified (and probably incorrect) way of looking at it is that there’s a 33.3333% chance that one of them will. A resurgent McGowan/Drabek/Cecil would mean a great deal to this team. If one out of the three were to somehow become a consistent, 2-3 WAR pitcher in 2012 (coupled with a decent full season from Alvarez and no unpleasant surprises from Romero and Morrow), the team would suddenly have four pretty nice options out of five in the rotation.

It might sound like a stretch, but Cecil put up 2.6 fWAR in 172.2 innings in 2010 before last year’s regression. McGowan, in his last mostly-healthy season in 2007, put up 3.9 fWAR in 169.2 innings, which was right there with Felix Hernandez (4.1 fWAR in 2007), Justin Verlander (also 4.1), and Cole Hamels (3.8) – all of whom pitched more innings than him. Even in 2008, he put up 2.3 fWAR in 111.1 innings. And that’s not to discount Drabek, who was one of baseball’s most highly regarded prospects for a very good reason.

If two of them were to ascend (or re-ascend) to such levels, well, in the words of the immortal Carl Weathers, baby, you got a stew goin’.
It would create the type of major-league rotation depth that most teams simply don’t have, and if they do, it’s not matched by the kind of pitching prospect depth that the Jays have also built – the kind that AA has been hesitant to part with in rumoured trades this offseason.

With this in mind, missing out on the acquisition of a starter in the off-season begins to concern me less, because it’s become apparent that AA sees mid-season and specifically the trade deadline as the time when the true impact deals can be made in his situation. He’s consistently thrown aside the notion that only “contenders” can improve when the market heats up mid-summer.

With hoarded pitching depth from which to deal at the deadline, AA’s hand would be even stronger, his flexibility and leverage greater, and the available arms to acquire possibly even more plentiful.


Anonymous said...

I'd still really like Roy Oswalt on a oner. Call me crazy but A rotation of Romero, Morrow, Alvarez, Oswalt looks like a solid top 4 to me with the three question marks (Cecil, Drabek, McGowen) competing for the last spot (and the losers fighting to regain it either from the Pen or Vegas).

I mean if the Yankee's can get Kuroda at 1 for 10 I can't see why the Jays couldn't get Oswalt for a similar amount/term. Of course that assumes he's open to doing it but I'd like to think he would be.

tincanman2010 said...

I have a good feeling about Cecil. Not 100% sure why, I just like what I see.

Ty said...

Oswalt would be a nice pickup but at 1 year/$10 million or less, you have to believe that pretty much every team in baseball would be in on him, and given free choice of which team he wants to pitch for, I can't imagine he'd choose the fringe contender who plays in a division with the best offensive teams in baseball, in a hitter-friendly park, in Canada. Of course, if he was up for it, I'd love to have him.

Andrew said...

Admittedly, I'm not all that well educated on the advance pitching metrics (FIP, xFIP, SIERA, etc.), so maybe I'm way off here, but I have a hard time separating Morrow from that group of question marks. I know the advanced numbers love him, but in two years that has translated to a 4.62 ERA (which, to me, still seems like a more objective result) in 56 starts.

That said, I do believe he could break out and be a capable front-line starter in 2012. I just think it's a stretch to talk about him like he already has.

WellWornCap said...

My first reaction (likes Tao's) was anger, frustration and then resignation. Then I righted myself and went to Baseball Reference. Other then ERA, which doesn't tell us a whole lot let's be honest, Pineda's numbers are pretty close to the much maligned Brendan Morrow. Morrow does better on SO/9 while Pindea is a little less on the HR/9... which considering Safeco's pitcher-friendly nature, we could call a wash maybe. There's not close to being the same, but Kuroda's numbers are similar to Cecil in 2010.

To me, I'm ok with these two trying to figure things out. And if they don't, I'm ok we've got lot's of depth in the minors. If I was AA, I'd be looking at what to do if Snider/Thames don't work out, and what to do at 1B for depth behind Lind. David Cooper is all we have at that spot right now that I know of.

Anonymous said...

The Pineda deal shouldn't change anyone's mind about the Blue Jays this year at all. IF there is a 2nd WC, we will still need to win 90+ games and it was always likely to be with the Yankees as Division winner or WC1. Further, it's unlikely Pineda will add significantly more wins than Montero would have, assuming he would have taken C/DH AB's from Martin and Swisher.

As for the Hometown Heroes, I'm ok with seeing what Mcgowan does in Spring Training and into the early season before panicking about the rotation. Most analysis of our rotation is focused on the past and not on the talent. Every one of these guys has the potential to dominate and if 2 or 3 of Morrow, Alvarez, Cecil and McGowan figure out how to consistently harness their talent, watch out. I still see a lot of 2008 Rays in the 2012 Blue Jays. The talent is there at every position.

Anonymous said...

WAR probably isn't the greatest stat to measure pitchers by, mostly because it's so FIP influenced and if WAR is to be a reflection of a pitcher's value that year it should ignore FIP because FIP says nothing of how the pitcher actually performed, it only speaks to what his true talent level might be. That being said while our rotation is definitely decent, I'm really lamenting the fact the Jays missed out on Latos, not too often ace calibre pitchers with 4 years of control go on the market.

Anonymous said...

I'd sign Oswalt as #3 & go with Cecil #4, McGowan as #5 ... start Drabek, Alvarez & Carreno in AAA and have them work on their problems irregardless of LV hitting invirons ... then look to move any of the six depending on the best return in June/July

Mylegacy said...

I believe that Romero and Morrow will form a formidable 1 -2.

Alvarez is a SOLID number 3 starter on most ANY team.

McGowan - I just have to leave in the number 5 spot to see what he can do. Any move that didn't give him that opportunity - or that saw him shipped off (he's out of options) would be a crime.

That leaves Cecil - whom I and (BA for instance) feel would be better in the pen. I desperately want one of (in the order I think they are most likely to surpass Cecil this spring: McGuire, Hutchison or Jenkins. If that happens I'll be content to ride that group till the trading deadline when AA can go do that voodoo that he does so well.