Since they say starting pitching wins championships, each time through the rotation we’re going to break down each individual start to see what the pitchers did well and what they didn’t, with an attempt to go a little bit deeper than just the box score. You can read all past Rotation Reviews here.
The Blue Jays starting rotation was coming off by far its best week to date, posting a 1.47 ERA over 36.2 innings. It was their second straight turn with an ERA under 2.00, and had people dreaming of the type of rotation that could carry this team through their current offensive woes. Let’s see how they did this week.
Line: 6.0 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 0 HBP, 0 HR, 66 strikes, 37 balls
Pitch mix: 2 Fourseam Fastballs, 50 Sinkers, 9 Changeups, 11 Sliders, 13 Curveballs, 18 Cutters
Coming off a very solid performance against the Dodgers, Stroman faced another decent offense from the NL West and the results were again very good. Despite allowing four runs in his start, only two were earned and he generated mass amounts of groundballs. 21 of the 27 batters either put the ball on the ground or struck out, but some poor fielding performance up the middle definitely played into his numerically average start. In the second inning Stroman allowed a lead-off single to Brandon Crawford, which was promptly followed by an error by Troy Tulowitzki which allowed Crawford to score when Gregor Blanco doubled as the next batter up. A Denard Span groundout scored Conor Gillespie (who had reached on the error) before the threat was ended. The fifth inning was quite different though, as Stroman loaded the bases with two hits and a walk before getting Buster Posey to ground into a double play. A run scored on the double play and Hunter Pence followed with a double that was almost caught by the insane Kevin Pillar (as we learned from Sunday’s scrum, not just as a fielder).
Despite giving up eight hits, Stroman actually allowed the lowest percentage of hard hit balls of the season. Stroman pounded the lower half of the strike zone with only seven of his 70 fastball type pitches (cutter, sinker and fastballs) coming in the upper part of the zone (see below), and five of those were outside of the strike zone. The only real mark against Stroman in this start was his inefficiency as he needed 103 pitches to get through six innings despite throwing first pitch strikes to two-thirds of the batters he faced. Coming into this game, Stroman IP total ranked second in baseball; he was only behind Clayton Kershaw. I think we can allow him a six inning outing.
What’s notable is that once again, Stroman leaned heavily on his cutter. It’s a pitch that we have suggested in this space as being valuable to him, so it’s nice to see him using it often.
Line: 8.0 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 0 HBP, 0 HR, 74 Strikes, 37 Balls
Pitch Mix: 102 Knuckleballs, 9 Twoseam Fastballs
This was easily Dickey’s best start of the season to date, as not only did he not allow a run, but he pitched eight complete innings. Dickey’s overall value comes from his ability to eat innings, and he seems to finally be starting to do that. He was facing a reasonably tough Rangers offense, and just completely shut them down, allowing only four baserunners the entire night. The strikeouts were also nice to see, as they show just how badly the Texas hitters were struggling to pick up the knuckleball.
Dickey did a great job getting ahead of hitters in this outing, throwing first pitch strikes to 19 of the 27 batters he faced. That allowed him room to move around the strike zone and get chases. Of course, we often talk about how important command is for Dickey, and this start was no exception, but the thing that made him different from all other knuckleballers (except perhaps for the most recent addition, Steven Wright in Boston), wasn’t his command of the pitch; it was how hard he throws it. Well this start saw Dickey post his hardest knuckleball of the season, continuing a trend that has been building for him of late. He averaged 77.2 mph on the knuckler and threw a few of them over 80 mph, topping at 82. When a ball is moving at that speed and you don’t know where it’s going, it’s pretty tough to hit. Dickey typically starts to throw the knuckleball harder as the weather starts to warm up, so there’s a good chance the hot Texas air helped him out a bit here. Hopefully we see more of it once summer finally hits in Toronto.
As with Happ last week, sometimes you just need to see it for yourself. So here you go:
Line: 6.0 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 4 BB, 5 K, 0 HBP, 1 HR, 64 strikes, 35 balls
Pitch Mix: 39 Fourseam Fastballs, 32 Changeups, 15 Curveballs, 13 Cutters
Coming off two straight excellent starts, hopes were high for Estrada to follow up on Dickey’s outing and start a mini winning streak. Instead, the command issues he has been facing this season finally came back to haunt him. Marco Estrada will always give up home runs. Even in his magical 2015, he still gave up the long ball at an above average rate. He’s a flyball pitcher, and sometimes they just leave the yard. What has made him effective was the ability to limit the overall baserunners to turn those homers into solo shots, as he had done in his previous two outings. This time Estrada walked two hitters (and gave up a single to a third one) to load the bases for Bobby Wilson, and Wilson made him pay with a grand slam home run.
Estrada settled down after that, allowing just a single unearned run (a flyball fell between a confused Ezequiel Carrera and Michael Saunders for a triple, then the runner scored on a passed ball by Russell Martin), but the damage was done. The Jays actually managed to tie the game with back-to-back ninth inning homers, but ended up falling in extra innings.
As you may have noticed looking above, Estrada threw almost as many changeups as fastballs in this outing. There were two reasons for that. The first is that Estrada’s changeup is just that good, and the Rangers couldn’t touch it (10 misses on 20 swings). But more importantly, Estrada was having all kinds of trouble locating his fastball
This is interesting, because it had a big impact on those first four runs he allowed. In the aforementioned Wilson, Estrada jumped ahead 1-2 with both strikes coming on on fastballs. After just missing with a changeup for ball two, Martin called for fastballs (or cutters) on five of the next six pitches, finally going deep on a cutter. Estrada had already shown he couldn’t command the pitch (three walks) and Wilson looked absolutely hopeless on the offspeed stuff. Even with the bases loaded, it was a bizarre choice, and it ended up hurting.
Line: 6.2 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 4 BB, 6 K, 0 HBP, 1 HR, 63 strikes, 34 balls
Pitch Mix: 12 Fourseam Fastballs, 53 Twoseam Fastballs, 15 Changeups, 17 Curveballs
If you just look at the stat line for this game, you’re going to come away with a skewed impression of Sanchez’ performance in this start. When he left the game in the seventh, there were runners on first and second, with two outs. For most teams, that’s reasonably safe…but not for this Jays bullpen! Jesse Chavez proceeded to clear the bases in a hurry, allowing a home run to the first hitter he faced (he previously did this to Marcus Stroman against Boston). That’s not to say that Sanchez was absolved of all blame in this game. Three of the six runs he allowed originally got on base via the walk, and he walked another leadoff hitter who he was able to strand. He also gave up a home run to a right-handed hitter for the first time in his big league career when Adrian Beltre took him deep in the sixth. Of course, that kind of stat is impressive, not a problem. Sanchez has faced 346 right-handed hitters and given up just one home run, and it was to a future Hall of Famer. Incredible.
There were still plenty of good things to take away from this Sanchez start. Despite the four walks, Sanchez was very economical; he faced five batters in the 7th, but only threw 97 pitches. That’s the type of thing people didn’t expect to see from the young hurler, but that he has been delivering consistently since his first outing back in April. The reason he was able to keep the count is that, with a couple of exceptions, he was very much around the plate the entire game (see below). When he got to two strikes he would go to that power curveball to get punchouts, but he was getting a lot of quick ground balls.
Obviously what happened after Sanchez left is going to be the dominant story from this game, but that shouldn’t take away from some encouraging signs. If he can keep getting quick outs, he is going to be very fun to watch this year.
Line: 2.0 IP, 7 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 0 HBP, 2 HR, 30 strikes, 21 balls.
Pitch Mix: 14 fourseam fastballs, 19 sinkers, 6 changups, 4 curveballs, 8 cutters .
From one of the best starts the Blue Jays have seen in years to one of the worst (interestingly, the front runner for both good and bad starts is Brandon Morrow), Happ really struggled against the Rays. He got hit all around the park, and just never got a chance to get settled and find his groove. The big struggle for the tall lefty in this game was his fastball command as he was consistently missing down and in to right handed hitters or leaving pitches belt high and out over the plate. Pitches were crushed all game against Happ as none of the 10 balls in play were deemed softly hit. He didn’t struggle with velocity or movement on the day, it was just location. He threw only 35% of his pitches in the strike zone, and when you get behind in the count, this is what happened. As was mentioned last week, Happ has been continually changing his pitch mix from game to game, this week it was the cutter that saw a spike in usage…but he threw all eight for balls. In particular the sinker really let him down as he gave up two homers and six of the seven hits he allowed on the pitch.
Overall though, there just isn’t much analysis for a game like this. Happ was awful and lasted two innings. We just have to forget it and move on.
Rotation Stats for the Week
28.2 IP, 30 H, 23 R, 20 ER, 12 BB, 24 K, 0 HBP, 4 HR. 1-2, 6.28 ERA
255.2 IP, 223 H, 108 R, 99 ER, 87 BB, 198 K, 5 HBP, 25 HR. 11-6, 3.49 ERA
With a 6.28 ERA, the Blue Jays starting staff went from their very best turn to their absolute worst. Some of that is skewed, however, as Happ’s blow up and the inept bullpen have raised the numbers. Dickey, Stroman, and Sanchez all threw reasonably well (excellent for Dickey), so they really just need to turn the page. After all the early season dominance, the Baseball Gods clearly just wanted them to suffer a little.
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