Building The Perfect Blue Jays Pitcher

Blue Jays perfect pitcher? Brett Cecil will be involved. - Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

What if the Blue Jays could build a pitcher from scratch borrowing all the best pitches this staff had to offer?

No matter how you slice it the Blue Jays have pitched pretty poorly in 2013. It doesn't matter whether you favor ERA or FIP or whether you are concerned with "stuff" rather than numbers, there has been nothing impressive about this pitching staff. Many articles on the topic of the Blue Jays pitching issues can be found all over the internet and in the newspapers. However, in times like these, honest and straight forward coverage can be both repetitive and depressing. It's not fun to read and I can assure you it's not fun to write. I thought that I would avoid the saddening task of examining Blue Jays pitchers and instead dive into a little PitchFx and look at some of the remarkable pitches that the Jays pitchers throw.

Even in a season where we haven't seen many great pitching performances there have been some Blue Jays pitchers who have featured some fairly spectacular pitches in their arsenals. To demonstrate this I thought I would create a fictional aggregated pitcher with the best of each of the standard four pitch mix (fastball, changeup, slider, curveball) that this Jays staff has at their disposal. I will give this fictional pitcher one additional bonus pitch outside the mix, and of course an absurd name, in this case "Ace Aceman". Mr. Aceman's repertoire will consist of pitches used by any member of the Jays staff at least 80 times (I found this was approximately the number of times most relievers had used their off-speed pitches and I didn't want to exclude them) that result in the lowest wRC+ against. I understand that pitches don't exist in vacuum and that many of the pitches here are only so devastatingly effective because of their relation to other pitches a pitcher throws, but this exercise is for fun so maybe we can forget all that for a moment and enjoy our hypothetical dominant stud Ace Aceman.

The Repertoire of Ace Aceman

Fastball

Source: Brett Cecil

Average Velocity: 90.8 mph

wRC+ against: 63

With very few exceptions a pitcher needs a decent fastball to be effective. Cecil doesn't blow people away but his conversion to the bullpen and participation in Steve Delabar's famous weighted ball program has definitely returned some juice his heater. PitchFx actually has Cecil throwing a fastball and a sinker with the sinker being faster but less effective. That seems peculiar so there might be a little confusion with classification there. Either way fastballs are what hitters tend to hit best and strike out on least so it is impressive to see Cecil keeping hitters to such measly numbers with his. Below is a chart showing how opponents have fared against this fastball.

BB%

K%

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

10.4%

25%

.186

.271

.279

0

Now that we've armed Aceman with a tough fastball, albeit not one with big time velocity, it's time to pair that with a changeup. If you can guess the source of said changeup you are a wiser man than I was yesterday when I was looking this stuff up.

Changeup

Source: J.A. Happ

Average Velocity: 82.8 mph

wRC+ against: -1

I knew that a lot of Happ's success came from his changeup but I didn't realize how dominant it had been this year. The results speak for themselves, though given the low K rate they are aided by a low BABIP:

BB%

K%

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

4.0%

12.0%

.125

.160

.167

0

With the changeup in hand it's time for the breaking stuff. Aceman's curveball comes from a source I found very surprising.

Curveball

Source: Brad Lincoln

Average Velocity: 82.8 mph

wRC+ against: -15

Brad Lincoln has largely made his living on the strength of his curveball but I had assumed that all of his pitches were ineffective this year given the astounding lack of success he's had in 2013. As it turns out, it's pretty much exclusively his fastball that has been the problem. His results with his curveball look like this:

BB%

K%

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

0%

44.4%

.114

.139

.143

0

The final component of the classic four pitch mix that any good fictional aggregated pitcher needs is the slider.

Slider

Source: Juan Perez

Velocity: 82.2 mph

wRC+ against: -23

Despite proving himself mortal and finally giving up some runs, violent chucker of balls Juan Perez has demonstrated a pretty unbelievable slider, a pitch he throws over 40% of the time (no injury red flags there...). Juan may be mortal but his slider is not:

BB%

K%

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

2.3%

41.9%

.071

.093

.167

1

Aceman's final pitch will is definitely one we don't see enough of these days...

Eepheus Pitch

Source: R.A. Dickey

Velocity: 66 mph

wRC+ against:-24

As I'm sure you are aware, R.A. Dickey doesn't actually throw an eephus pitch. What he has thrown a little bit this year is a slow knuckler that's more reminiscent of a Tim Wakefield ball than the "angry knuckler" that made Dickey a star. Watching the games this pitch always made me nervous because I had assumed Dickey's velocity was a key to his success. However, it turns out he has been very good with the slow knuckleball:

BB%

K%

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

4.0%

16%

.087

.125

.130

0

Now that's we've armed Aceman with an elite repertoire let's take a look at what the aggregated guy can do:

BB%

K%

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

4.5%

29.9%

.120

.158

.186

1

It's fair to say that's some pretty good stuff. One would imagine a guy who can bring low 90's heat and a tricky slow knuckler would be pretty tough to hit, especially if he was throwing the nastiest stuff a whole pitching staff had to offer. The Ace Aceman experiment got me thinking about the opposite. What about a pitcher with a repertoire composed exclusively of the type of pitches thrown by Blue Jays pitchers that have been hit the hardest? As far as I'm concerned that's equally interesting, if not quite so upbeat. That being said, this thought experiment is so far from reality it is hard to take it seriously enough to be depressed by it. So, without further ado I present to you the repertoire of Ace Aceman's polar opposite, a pitcher who I have completely randomly have dubbed "Tosh Jowers".

The Repertoire of Tosh Jowers

Fastball

Source: Brad Lincoln

Velocity: 93.4 mph

wRC+ against: 222

As mentioned earlier Brad Lincoln's fastball is not very good. It is good at being fast but it is not good at being difficult to hit. A "power arm" is no guarantee of success and when it comes to success Brad Lincoln has had very little of it with his fastball. The 222 wRC+ should be enough of a clue as to how bad it's been but the other stuff is pretty damning as well:

BB%

K%

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

22%

3.4%

.349

.517

.651

3

Miguel Cabrera would absolutely love to be the kind of hitter Brad Lincoln's fastball turns everyone into. That OBP is particularly astounding. Once you have an awful fastball you are going to need an ineffective change up to pair it with. Luckily the goods in this case are delivered by one of the most maligned players on this team.

Changeup

Source: Josh Johnson

Velocity: 88.5 mph

wRC+ against: 301

A 301 wRC+ is an otherworldly number, coming from the following line:

BB%

K%

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

4.8%

13.3%

.474

.500

1.000

2

Even on his worst pitch Johnson managed to strike out guys and not walk any. Baffling. Now we move on to the breaking balls. First up is the curveball.

Curveball

Source: Esmil Rogers

Velocity: 81 mph

wRC+ against: 170

Rogers as a reliever can rely on his fastball and slider but as a starter he has to mix pitches a little bit more. Unfortunately some of the pitches he mixes in aren't so effective. The curveball is a good example.

BB%

K%

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

0%

20%

.400

.400

.533

0

In all honesty that's probably just a BABIP thing, but still the results are Tosh Jowers worthy. The last component of the traditional four pitch mix is definitely an awful pitch for which BABIP demons cannot be blamed, and it comes to us from an old friend.

Slider

Source: Ramon Ortiz

Velocity: 80.9

wRC+ against: 161

In most cases the slider is the most effective pitch in baseball. This is not one of those cases. Pitchers' sliders often result in excellent numbers due to the fact they are pretty much only thrown to player against which the pitcher has the platoon advantage and oftentimes in counts where said hitter is vulnerable. Ramon Ortiz did not follow this blue print and his slider was the pitch he threw the most and a pitch that he relied on in all situations. These are the results of that tactic (and, you know, being old and bad):

BB%

K%

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

4.1%

12.2%

.283

.306

.630

4

I hate to pick on old Ramon but for the fifth bonus pitch I have to go back to the well for the pitch Ortiz threw the second most in his time with the Jays...

Two-Seam Fastball

Source: Ramon Ortiz

Velocity: 88.9

wRC+ against: 295

I think everyone realized while Ortiz was around that he was done. He put up a couple of surprisingly effective outings but in the end it all came crashing down. Hitters absolutely pummeled his fastball to the tune of this line:

BB%

K%

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

0%

4.2%

.478

.478

.957

3

With the entire repertoire in hand we can now take a look at the malfunctioning cyborg monstrosity that is "Tosh Jowers":

BB%

K%

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

8.9%

8.9%

.372

.423

.731

12

It would be a stretch to say that this exercise has a profound purpose in terms of baseball analysis, but it does contain some interesting slivers of information. Those slivers are tiny, hastily stuck together with superglue, mashed into a gumbo and then hidden behind absurd fake names, but they are present nonetheless. I think one of things that is fascinating about baseball is how a guy like Brad Lincoln can have both the best curveball and worst fastball on a staff or how Brett Cecil can have a dominant fastball in the low 90's while Josh Johnson's 93 mph offerings get crushed over the wall all the time. Sometimes things make sense, like Ramon Ortiz being awful, and sometimes they don't, like anything to do with Juan Perez, but that's all part of the magic. While no one will know the joy of seeing Ace Aceman pitch or the dread of watching Tosh Jowers take the mound every fifth day one can enjoy observing their individual components because the little things in baseball are often what make it so interesting. When your veins are bulging out of your head during the next 8-3 Blue Jays loss against an AL East opponent, take a second to observe and appreciate a Juan Perez slider. It's a pretty cool thing. Maybe it will make you feel better. If that's not your cup of tea there is always praying for trade deadline salvation. I think that's going to be pretty popular today.

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