Blue Jays deep staff allow creativity ahead of playoffs


In 2018, as he regularly took turns playing in the Milwaukee Brewers rotation, Chase Anderson allowed a .758 OPS his first time with an order, a .639 OPS in his second and a .894 OPS in his third. The previous season – easily Anderson’s best as a major leaguer – the gap wasn’t that big, but the trend was the same. The hitters went from .216 at bat on his first trip and from .195 his second to .264 his third.

During the 2019 season, Milwaukee went to great lengths to prevent him from seeing a formation for a third time. In nearly half of his 32 starts, he came out after facing 18 batters or less. In 11 of his outings he was able to pass between one and four batters on his third trip – in the last six he was able to pass between five and seven. He completed six innings on only three occasions and passed 100 pitches a one time.

So it shouldn’t have been a surprise to see Anderson lifted on Monday after five innings, having completed his second trip in the Baltimore Orioles on 84 shots. Never mind that Anderson was absolutely cruising, allowing only one run on three hits while taking out eight. Nor that he has withdrawn the last 12 hitters he faced. Toronto Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo was just playing the percentages.

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Monday’s result was unfavorable as Wilmer Font came in for Anderson and quickly spat out a tie race as the Blue Jays lost 4-3, does not confirm the process was flawed. You can certainly quibble with the use of Font, which has allowed a ton of hard contact this season, especially with Thomas Hatch rested and available. It’s even fair to wonder if AJ Cole would have made more sense, assuming Montoyo was saving Rafael Dolis for a leverage spot later in the game.

But Anderson was always going to be lifted. This is what analytically minded organizations do. Like the Brewers, who have made the playoffs for the past two years and set the standard for finding new ways to maximize pitching staff in October. And like the Blue Jays, who are heading into the playoffs right now and will likely try to emulate that same display of creative pitch once they get there.

In October, it’s baseball winning or coming home. You take the guesswork out of individual workloads and let pitchers gain confidence from ride to ride. You are thinking of getting 27 outs with any pitcher combination that makes the most tactical sense.

And this bizarre season, with its short schedule and expanded rosters, should offer even more opportunities for new approaches. We’ve seen the Blue Jays do it before. The tendency is to lament the lack of length Toronto got from their starting pitch and suggest the club should go deeper into pitchers in games. But it may not be a fault. Maybe that’s a feature.

No one is winning an SABR award by suggesting that starting pitchers tend to be hit harder their third time in sequence. But that trend has been even more pronounced this season. Going into Monday’s games, the MLB rookies had a collective ERA of 6.34 on their third trip this year, up from 5.79 last season and 5.50 in 2018.

And the Blue Jays starters have done their part to help with that increase, throwing a 9.19 ERA when facing an opposing formation a third time. Sunday’s game was a prime example, as Tanner Roark returned for the sixth inning after rolling five and quickly allowing a double, a single and a homer on his third trip to the Baltimore roster, spitting out a lead. in the process.

With 11 pitchers in the Toronto relievers’ box – many of whom converted starters – that doesn’t need to happen. It’s always a tough conversation for a manager when he lifts a veteran hobbyhorse like Roark who had thrown just 81 shots in his five innings. But you don’t play to protect egos, you play to win games – this season more than ever.

“We want to give our team the best chance of winning,” said Blue Jays pitching coach Pete Walker. “So when you have arms that are ready and capable in the pen, it’s hard not to go over to these guys. Especially when you see the story of the third time through the order of some launchers.

Why, when you have 2019 starters such as Hatch, Anthony Kay, Ryan Borucki, Julian Merryweather, Shun Yamaguchi, Jacob Waguespack and Sean Reid-Foley all in your pen and able to pitch multiple innings, would you push a pitcher any longer? leaving? as needed? It’s one thing with a Cy Young contestant like Hyun Jin Ryu, who earned his rope. It’s another with sleeve eaters like Roark and Anderson.

“It changes things. It changes the way you look at a ball game, ”Walker said. “Hitters have a hard time with the different looks that come out of the box. This makes it difficult for them to make changes throughout the game. They don’t know who is going to come in, who they are going to face at the end of the game.

The Blue Jays must of course be careful not to stretch their enclosure too thin. But as they plan to add Nate Pearson and Matt Shoemaker to their loose pitching mix in the coming weeks, and Ken Giles at the back of the bullpen maybe as early as this weekend, this concern subsides.

You can now add Robbie Ray and Ross Stripling, each acquired before Monday’s trade deadline. And Jordan Romano, who is expected to return by the end of the season. Patrick Murphy stands in Rochester if the club wants to add another tough arm into the mix. Sam Gaviglio and TJ Zeuch are also there, if the low-leverage sleeves need to eat. There are plenty of options.

So if anything, we’ll likely see the Blue Jays get more and more creative with their pitch rollout heading into the playoffs. And they could just become full brewers when we hit October. The club will surely do their best to field Ryu and Taijuan Walker for their first two playoff games. But beyond that pair, things could get interesting very quickly.

Think Ray for three innings, followed by Pearson for two and Stripling for two, with short stints the rest of the time based on clashes. Or let’s say Anderson gives you four innings, then Merryweather and Kay combine for three, before the back of the reliever box closes things up. Or maybe Merryweather opens for one or two innings, giving way to a mass exit from Shoemaker or Hatch, before Borucki comes along to chew a few innings mid to late and bring you to the eighth.

Everything is on the table as the Blue Jays have built a deep and versatile pitching staff that can be deployed in a number of ways. Each team would love a rotation of five thoroughbred men capable of making seven each time. But no team has that. In today’s MLB, creativity is key. And the Blue Jays, we’re about to see some more.

“We don’t necessarily have to force the starter to go through the lineup the third time,” Walker said. “We’re going to do our best not to force a starting pitcher into a situation that isn’t ideal. I still love the history of baseball and the nine innings starters. But it’s just different these days.


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