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Starting Pitching Woes

The Blue Jays entered the season as a team that was widely expected to rely heavily on its pitching. In fact, it wasn't considered unreasonable to suggest that they had the best staff in the American League East at the time. Through the first month of the season, however, it's evident that the team's offence has kept it afloat, because its pitching has been relatively anemic.

The Blue Jays' starting rotation currently ranks 25th in the majors in ERA and 27th in ERC, which rates pitcher's ERA based on hits and walks allowed rather than actual runs.

Consider the top 5 and the bottom 5 in starters' ERC:

Top 5:

Team      ERC    ERA
Tigers    2.71   3.19
White Sox 3.09   3.83
Brewers   3.38   3.91
Astros    3.64   3.21
Mets      3.65   3.66

It's no surprise the White Sox's, Astros', and Mets' starters are performing well. In particular, Jose Contreras has helped carry the White Sox's rotation by posting a 1.45 ERA and WHIP of 0.86 in 37.1 IP. Since last August, he's been perhaps the best pitcher in all of baseball.

Since August:

ERA     WHIP     W     L     GS     IP     K/BB
1.84    1.00    13     1     16     117.1  79/27

That doesn't even take into account his exceptional performance in the playoffs last season. The man simply seems possessed, and this level of performance has lasted long enough that it may be a harbinger rather than an aberration. He's always had the talent to be a top-tier pitcher, so it's not completely unexpected. If he maintains this level of production through the all-star break, Contreras will receive an incredible amount of publicity. That's how exceptionally well he's pitched.

The Tigers and Brewers projected to have decent rotations this season, but never at this level. The Brewers' top two starters entering the season, Ben Sheets and Doug Davis, are not the main causal factors, either. Much to my surprise (and probably to others') Chris Capuano's production has improved a great deal since last season. Despite his solid strikeout total, I had concerns about his walk rate (3.74/9IP) and his high home run total (31). He was very fortunate to win 18 games, especially considering his teammate Doug Davis only won 11 despite producing much better peripherals. With that said, it seems as though Capuano has taken that proverbial leap and has established a new level of production. Granted, it's only been one month, but none of his statistics point to a regression. He's striking out almost a pitcher per inning (8.57 K/9) and he's giving up less than one walk for every four strikeouts (4.44 K/BB). Even his home run rate has decreased substantially. I wish I picked him in more of my fantasy leagues because he's quickly become one of my favourite pitchers, and I think his run of success will continue (not necessarily at this high level, though).

Bottom 5:

Team      ERC    ERA
Royals    5.63   6.00
Blue Jays 6.04   5.41
Phillies  6.05   5.74
Pirates   6.50   5.72
Twins     6.71   7.25

Much like the top 5, some of these teams were expected to appear on this list. Kansas City is simply an awful team. Pittsburgh is a fledgling franchise that is relying on its young pitching. Although they may improve in the future, they're not producing at the moment.

Philadelphia plays half its games in a hitters' paradise, but their starting pitchers are capable of much more. I was a big Ryan Madson proponent at the outset of the season. I felt his talent was going to waste in the bullpen, but he's been awful this season. He's posted an ERA of 8.14 and WHIP of 2.18 thus far. The rotation certainly boasts a great deal of talent. Jon Lieber and Corey Lidle have posted a combined K/BB ratio of 53/6, while Brett Myers has the ability to be a rotational anchor.

The two large surprises, of course, are the Blue Jays and the Twins. Prior to the season, many intelligent people argued (with good reason, in my opinion) that the Twins had the majors' best rotation. Johan Santana, Brad Radke, and Carlos Silva seemed like a formidable trio, to be sure. Here's what they've done thus far:

Player     ERA     WHIP     W     L     GS     IP     K/BB
Santana     4.45   1.36     1     3     5      32.1   28/10
Radke       8.89   1.78     2     3     5      26.1   13/4
Silva      10.31   1.69     1     4     5      29.2    9/3

Now, they certainly won't continue to pitch at this putrid level for much longer; they're simply too talented.

In the Blue Jays' case, their struggles are partly due to injuries. The team's top two starters, Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett, have missed games due to injury. Meanwhile, Gustavo Chacin, Josh Towers, and Scott Downs, who surprised many last season, have regressed an awful lot. Towers in particular has fallen apart. To be fair, it's only been one month, but his production has been so poor that it warrants at least some panic. Last season, his ERA was about half a run lower than it should have been, considering his peripherals. However, it's not as if he has an ERA of 4.50; his current ERA is 10.45. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure what the main cause of his problem is. His control has decreased noticeably, for one. At this rate, he's on pace to allow more than two times as many walks as he did last season, but in about 70 less innings. If he's secretly nursing an injury, it would help explain his decreased performance somewhat. In the end, if he continues to pitch like this in the upcoming weeks, he should be replaced in the rotation. Since he's under contract for two years and his trade value is incredibly low, perhaps a stint in long relief would be the best course of action.