Now that we’ve gone through some of the Jays’ starters that were memorable for their dominance, we’ll take a look through the Jays’ pitchers that maybe were still dominant, but always seemed to be playing with a clipped wing and never soared to the heights that everyone had dreamed on.
Al Leiter (1989-1995)
The Blue Jays traded Jesse Barfield for Al Leiter on April 30, 1989, and through the first few seasons of his time with the Blue Jays, it appeared the Jays’ traded for damaged goods. Leiter struggled to make it to the mound, throwing a total of 15.2 innings over those 4 years, thanks to a pair of arthroscopic surgerys, a pinched nerve in his elbow, and tendinitis.
He started 32 games and relieved another 22 in 1993-1994, pitching to a 15-13 record with a 4.61 ERA over 216.1 innings. He pitched a bit out of the bullpen in the playoffs too, but to poor results as well.
He finally broke out in 1995 after the strike was over, starting 28 games and going 11-11 with 3.64 ERA over 183 innings. After the season was over, the Jays let him walk, and he signed on with the Marlins, where he would pick up his second World Series ring in 1997, and then on to the Mets, where he put up 28 WAR over 7 seasons. His numbers for those 9 seasons came out to 122-88 with a 3.44 ERA over an average of 192 innings per year.
Robert Person (1997-1999)
The Jays traded highly valuable first baseman John Olerud to the Mets on December 20, 1996 in a one for one trade for Robert Person. There are many reasons this trade was bad, but we’ll just focus more on Person here than the trade itself. He wasn’t a coveted prospect, but since he was the only piece coming back for Olerud, there were still expectations (shades of Julian Merryweather).
Person made 22 starts and 39 relief appearances for the Jays while he was in Toronto, going 8-13 with a 6.18 ERA over 177.2 innings. He struggled mightily keeping runners off the bases, and also struggled keeping the ball in the yard, two pretty key factors to pitching well.
The Jays traded Person to the Phillies on May 5, 1999 for Paul Spoljaric, salvaging some value for their efforts. Person broke out once he got to Philadelphia, pitching to a 4.27 ERA the rest of the way in ‘99, then in 2000-2001 holding his spot in the rotation with a 24-14 record and a 3.94 ERA over 61 starts.
Chris Carpenter (1997-2002)
Carpenter was the Jays’ first round pick in 1993, and he made his Major League debut a couple weeks after his 22nd birthday in 1997. He pitched alright in his time with the Jays, albeit frequently interrupted with injuries. In his 6 years in Toronto, he compiled a 49-50 record and a 4.83 ERA in the heart of the steroid era, which placed it marginally above league average.
After a final injury in 2002 ended his season and required major surgery to repair his torn labrum, the Blue Jays set him free. He was damaged, and the Jays weren’t willing to guarantee him a Major League spot to continue his rehabilitation.
That’s when he signed with the Cardinals, and the rest is history. He returned from surgery, won the 2005 NL Cy Young award, came in 3rd in 2006 and won a World Series, was runner up to the Cy Young award in 2009, and won another World Series in 2011. He went 10-4 with a 3.00 ERA in 18 starts in the playoffs for the Cardinals, on top of the 95-44 record with a 3.07 ERA in the regular season.
Dustin McGowan (2005-2014)
The Jays took McGowan in the first round of the 2000 draft, a supplemental pick for the loss of Graeme Lloyd out of High School. He rose through the Minors fairly quickly, putting up a stellar season in 2003 split between High-A and AA. He went 12-6 with a 3.01 ERA over 152.1 innings, and was starting to look like a legitimate prospect, peaking at no. 24 on MLB.com’s top prospect list.
He went for Tommy John surgery in May of 2004, but came back for the 2005 season and made his Major League debut on July 30, pitching 5 innings of 2 hit ball against the Rangers. He bounced around between the DL, AAA, the bullpen and rotation through April of 2007, following which he replaced an injured Gustavo Chacin in the rotation. From there, he took advantage of his opportunity, and pitched to a 12-10 record and a 4.08 ERA, striking out 144 batters over 169.2 innings. His best start came on June 24 of that season, when he carried a no-hitter into the 9th inning, only to lose it on a single to the leadoff hitter, but managed to hold on to the shutout, the only one of his career.
The injuries really started piling up for McGowan after that, as a shoulder injury and surgery cut short his 2008 season and removed him from the 2009 season as well. Then injuries to his knee and his oblique, on top of being a Type 1 Diabetic which made his recoveries even harder, limited McGowan to just 21 big league innings between when he went down in 2008 and when he made a nice comeback to the bullpen in 2013. He made the rotation out of spring training in 2014, and ended up picking up his first win in nearly 6 years that April. He was moved to the bullpen in mid-May to manage his workload, and pitched his last game for the Jays on September 25 of that season.
Brandon Morrow (2010-2014)
The Blue Jays brought the power arm of Morrow over from the Mariners, with the plan of riding him 100% in the rotation after watching him struggle going back and forth between the bullpen and rotation. It seemed to work, at least by the underlying numbers, for the first couple seasons and 56 starts. While his ERA was high (4.62 over 325.2 innings), he was striking out batters to the tune of 10.5 per 9 innings while walking about league average keeping the ball in the park.
The best start of his career came on August 8, 2010, and showed glimpses of the amazing potential that Morrow had. He carried a no-hitter into the 9th inning in Tampa Bay, walking 2 and striking out 17 batters. He lost the no-hitter with 2 outs on an Evan Longoria single that Aaron Hill probably should have gotten to, but he still held on for the shutout.
Everything came together for Morrow in 2012, as on June 6 he threw his 3rd complete game shutout of the season, and was sitting at a 7-3 record and a 2.90 ERA. However, his next start lasted just 1 batter, and he was removed with an oblique strain, which ended up costing him over 2 months.
Like McGowan, Morrow was a Type 1 Diabetic who also struggled with other injuries. After coming back from the oblique injury, Morrow’s 2013 and 2014 seasons involved him missing time with an entrapped radial nerve in his forearm, a torn tendon sheath in his hand, as well as complications from previous injuries to his oblique and biceps.
Morrow moved on from the Jays after the 2014 season, and continued to struggle staying on the field with the Padres. In 2017, the Dodgers gave him a shot, and he ended up being a huge boost for them out of the bullpen, doing well and helping them through the NLDS and NLCS. In the World Series, he pitched in every game against the cheating Astros, and while he was knocked around quite a bit in that series, he was still viewed as a vital piece to the Dodgers. The Cubs signed him to a big contract that winter, and while he has been great while on the mound, he has only pitched 30.2 inning since the start of the 2018 season.
Aaron Sanchez (2014-2019)
The Jays drafted Sanchez in the first round of the 2010 draft, a compensation pick for the departure of Marco Scutaro. By 2012, Sanchez was part of the “Lansing 3”, a trio of Minor League pitchers who were poised to do big things for the Jays’ rotation in future, a group consisting of Sanchez, Noah Syndergaard and Justin Nicolino. Nicolino and Syndergaard were traded that winter, leaving Sanchez as the coveted prospect, topping out at no. 24 on MLB.com’s list prior to the 2014 season.
Sanchez made his debut a few weeks after his 22nd birthday in 2014, pitching out of the bullpen the rest of the way. The walk problem that he had through the Minors disappeared, and he posted a 1.09 ERA and 2.80 FIP over 33 innings.
His 2015 season saw him earn a spot in the rotation after Marcus Stroman went down with a torn ACL. He pitched well through June 5, as he was 5-4 with a 3.55 ERA. However, he went down with “upper body soreness” that sent him to the DL until the end of July. By that time, the Jays were in the hunt for a big starting pitcher (eventually getting David Price) and to ease the stress on Sanchez, he settled into the setup role out of the bullpen. Sanchez pitched great out of the bullpen in the playoffs in 2015, allowing just an unearned run in 7.1 innings, including pitching in all 5 games against the Rangers.
With the goal of making the rotation for 2016, Sanchez bulked up in the offseason and did earn his way back to the rotation. Despite constant discussion of an innings limit, Sanchez pitched the whole season in the rotation, with a few longer breaks worked in. He ended up going 15-2 with a league leading 3.00 ERA over 192 innings. He struggled in his first playoff start against the Rangers, but turned it around in the ALCS against Cleveland.
By the time 2017 rolled around, expectations were high for the reigning ERA king. However, blister problems which started the previous September would destroy his season, spending the season coming back from and then going right back to the injured list with fingernail or blister problems. He ended up making just 8 starts all season, going 1-3 with a 4.25 ERA.
Sanchez struggled out of the gate in 2018, sitting at a 3-5 record and a 4.53 ERA, before an altercation with a piece of luggage resulted in a finger contusion that caused him to miss 2 months from the middle of June through August. He struggled more upon his return, and finished the season with a 4-6 record and a 4.89 ERA.
Hopes were high for Sanchez coming into 2019, as he was healthy and ready to go. However, a 2 mph dip in his fastball, continued issues with his command, and a propensity to allow the new juiced ball to fly over the fence resulted in his worst season. Before he was traded to Houston, Sanchez was 3-14 with a 6.07 ERA over 112.2 innings. To make matters worse for Jays’ fans, once he arrived in Houston, he threw the first 6 innings of a combined no-hitter.
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