At the beginning of the season, I was relatively optimistic about the Blue Jays’ pitching staff. I didn’t think they’d be fantastic but I didn’t think the reality would be as dire as most of the prognisticators said.
I’m not going to say I was wrong because the calendar hasn’t even turned to May just yet but . . . wow. The recent implosion of just about every pitcher on the Blue Jays’ staff (with the exception of Drew Hutchison) has been pretty spectacular. The nature of this particular failure of the Blue Jays’ pitchers is unique in that it has affected almost everyone, even formerly reliable arms.
Let’s go back to April 17. I know, the date lives in infamy as the “eight walk in one inning” fiasco in the second half of a double-header in Minnesota. In that game, Steve Delabar walked two, followed by Sergio Santos and J.A. Happ walking three batters each, all in the eighth inning to turn a 5-3 lead into 9-5 loss.
Game one of that double header doesn’t exactly inspire confidence either as R.A. Dickey went only 4 1/3 innings, allowing five runs on seven hits and another five walks. Todd Redmond wasn’t bad in relief, picking up the slack, going 3 2/3, giving up two unearned runs on three hits and no walks. Let’s stick a pin in that solid outing by Redmond, shall we?
April 18th featured a strong outing from Drew Hutchison but there were signs of trouble as Sergio Santos walked another two batters, despite earning a save. Two days later, on the 20th, Brandon Morrow had a solid start but WalkZilla got to Aaron Loup and he walked three batters. R.A. Dickey’s next start, on April 22, featured “only” three walks in six innings but both Brett Cecil and Steve Delabar walked a batter. April 23 wasn’t horrible with Dustin McGowan only walking one in four innings but J.A. Happ walked a pair and Aaron Loup walked another batter in just 2/3 innings. April 24 was another strong Hutchison start but Brett Cecil walked a pair and was charged with four runs without getting a runner out and on Friday night, Mark Buehrle melted down. He only walked three but he was getting shellacked on just about everything he threw near the plate. Neil Wagner walked two in 1 1/3 innings of relief as well. Finally, yesterday’s piece de resistance, Brandon Morrow’s eight-walk performance against the Red Sox in just 2 2/3 innings. Fortunately there was only one walk the rest of the way but it was definitely ugly.
What is going on here? The Blue Jays (with a couple of notable exceptions like Drew Hutchison) are infected with a horrible disease that causes them to avoid the strike zone. The Blue Jays are now second in the American League in walks with 108, 10 behind league “leader” Chicago. The White Sox’ pitching staff has 118 walks in about 11 more innings than the Blue Jays’ staff so it actually works out to the Chi Sox having a 0.1 BB/9 “lead” on the Blue Jays.
The worst part of this disgusting April has been that pitchers are walking far more batters than their career averages would indicate. R.A. Dickey’s average from 2010 to 2013 (his years as a “mature” knuckleballer) is 2.4 BB/9. So far in 2014, he’s walked 5.6 batters for every nine innings he pitches. Brandon Morrow’s career average coming into this year was 4.1 BB/9. Morrow in 2014: 6.4. Dustin McGowan is walking “only” 3.7 batters per nine this year which is actually right at his career average. Buehrle and Hutchison have been very good and have very acceptable walk rates this season (2.2 BB/9 and 3.1 BB/9 respectively).
It’s in the bullpen that things get really wacky. Aaron Loup’s walk per nine innings rate in 2012 and 2013 combined was 1.4, an outstanding number, having walked just 15 batters over 100 innings. In 2014, he’s got eight walks in 11 innings for a 6.5 BB/9 rate. Brett Cecil’s walk rate: 7.4 BB/9 (pre-2014 career, 3.2). Sergio Santos: 8.6 (pre-2014 career: 3.9). Steve Delabar: 6.5 (pre-2014 career: 4.0). These four pitchers are considered the “go-to” guys in the bullpen that John Gibbons can count on with the game on the line. All four are walking more than one batter every other inning which, for a reliever who is expected to succeed in high-leverage situations, is far too many.
It’s funny that Esmil Rogers and Todd Redmond have the lowest walk rates in the bullpen (Rogers’s is 2.8, Redmond’s is 2.6). Rogers has been getting destroyed, allowing 12.5 his per nine innings (that’s a LOT) and 2.8 home runs per nine innings (also a LOT). Redmond has been actually very good, no matter how much we want to nitpick about how bad he is after he goes through a lineup once. He’s got only five walks and 15 strikeouts in 17 innings. Neil Wagner also hasn’t been bad and I won’t even discuss J.A. Happ’s putrescence this season.
Clearly it’s not just a localized phenomenon. Six of the Blue Jays’ 13 pitchers have walk rates that are significantly above their career averages. I’m no mathematician but that’s almost half. The pitching coach is the same as last year (although Bob Stanley is the new bullpen coach). Is this just a result of some funny small sample size numbers and a general funk in the pitching staff or is this indicative of a systemic problem?
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