Home Runs May Come To Haunt Blue Jays Rotation

Tom Szczerbowski

The Blue Jays rotation has been far better in 2014 than 2013, but so far it has mainly come down to keeping the ball in the park.

To say that the pitching the Jays have received from their starters so far has been a pleasant surprise would be an understatement.

Going into this season It was clear that when healthy this team could hit, and the bullpen looked strong (though it hasn't been). As a result the biggest question marks lay with the rotation. Buehrle and Dickey were a year older, Hutchison and Morrow were very difficult to project and J.A. Happ was unfortunately J.A. Happ. For that reason Toronto went after Ervin Santana, although he ultimately landed with the Braves.

The 2014 rotation that looked downright sketchy at the beginning of the year has actually given the Jays some good innings and kept them in games all year long. That's far more than can be said about the group in 2013. However, when comparing the numbers it appears that the improvement may not be as profound as it appears.

Year

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

BABIP

Ground Ball %

HR/FB

ERA

FIP

xFIP

2013

6.99

3.02

1.36

.302

42.6 %

12.9 %

4.81

4.59

4.23

2014

6.82

3.25

0.93

.294

41.8 %

8.7 %

3.68

4.11

4.32

This rotation is striking out fewer batters than last year, walking more, and getting fewer ground balls, yet the results have improved. The reason for that is that they are suppressing home runs far better. This has led to a difference of more than a run in ERA, even though their xFIP is actually worse.

Now, xFIP has its detractors because it doesn't treat keeping balls in the park as a skill, but HR/FB tends to fluctuate a lot and it would appear as if the Jays are getting some luck in that department. The following chart shows the Jays current rotation's 2014 HR/FB compared to previous years.

R.A. Dickey

Mark Buehrle

J.A. Happ

Drew Hutchison

Marcus Stroman

Career HR/FB

11.3%

9.7%

10.0%

11.4%

8.7%

2013 HR/FB

12.7%

10.6%

7.7%

N/A

N/A

2014 HR/FB

10.6%

4.0%

12.7%

9.5%

8.7%

We don't know enough about Hutchison and Stroman to know where their norms sit, but Mark Buehrle seems likely to give up far more home runs down the stretch. R.A. Dickey may concede a few more and J.A. Happ seems like the only one who has perhaps been unlucky when it comes to giving up jacks.

Overall these numbers result in a rotation that is giving up a HR/FB rate of 8.7% against a league average of 10.5% for starting pitchers. That might not seem like a huge difference, but over the course of more than half a season it certainly can be.

Beyond that, the Jays play half of their games at the homer-happy Rogers Centre, and a fair amount more in small parks around the A.L. East. Given that information I would expect the Jays rotation to not come back to the MLB HR/FB average, but possibly exceed it. Fly balls tend to leave the parks this team plays in at a high rate and there probably isn't a reason why the Jays pitching staff would be immune to those park effects.

The way the Blue Jays rotation has been preventing runs from scoring has been one of the most important keys to the team's success. However, that run prevention is built on a shaky foundation of keeping balls in the yard that is unlikely to be sustainable.

This 2014 Jays squad has put itself in an excellent position to make the playoffs for the first time in over 20 years with an elite offense and solid pitching. That being said, the pitching may not as solid as it appears to be. Toronto would be wise to add another pitcher in order to maintain their lead on the putrid AL East.

Jeff Samardzija would be good Or Jason Hammel. Or Jake Arrieta maybe. You know, anyone on the Cubs.

Pick up the phone AA, this ride isn't going to last forever.

Note 1: Marcus Stroman's stats are his stats as starter


Note 2: Stats exclude last night's game

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