Manager John Gibbons makes another trip to the mound and a Blue Jays starter makes another exit. Photo: Frank Gunn/CP.
By: Tyler King
Canadian Baseball Network
Have you recently found yourself scrolling through the Blue Jays lineup card on gameday and wondering - sometimes on multiple occasions - “Who the hell is that?”
Well you shouldn’t feel bad if you didn’t know who “Casey Lawrence” or “Mat Latos” were; I can assure you, you were not alone.
The entire Jays roster has been a revolving door all season, with substitute players having to fill the void left by injuries at just about every position. But nowhere has the impact of that been felt more grievously than in the starting rotation, with injuries to three of the team’s five every-day starters: Aaron Sanchez, JA Happ and, most recently, Francisco Liriano.
Unlike the now-classic football movie “The Replacements” - starring a young Keanu Reeves who plays a stand-in quarterback after the team from Washington sees its regular players go on strike - the Blue Jays real-life version of the film, at least as far as the rotation is concerned, has lacked any semblance of happy endings or moral victories.
In fact, the players the Jays have been forced to use to fill their starting pitching gaps have thrown the ball about as good as you’d expect anywhere outside of Hollywood ... meaning they’ve thrown the ball terribly.
After all there’s a reason why cuts are made at spring training. It happens to be the same reason why I wept when Sanchez aggravated the blister on his finger and Happ strained his elbow ...
Those guys are irreplaceable.
(Minimal tears were shed over Liriano’s shoulder.)
With all the injuries to the rotation, the Jays have had to shift or call up four different pitchers to starting roles: Mat Latos, Casey Lawrence (who now pitches in the Seattle Mariners system after being placed on waivers by the Jays), Mike Bolsinger, and former reliable late-inning reliever Joe Biagini.
Although nobody would be delusional enough to expect that group to come in and replace Happ’s .833 win-percentage from a season ago, or Sanchez’s American League leading 2.95 ERA, you shouldn’t be faulted for hoping that they’d be perform a bit (a lot) better than they have.
I know, I know - the Jays record even with a healthy rotation is still bad. But if you break down the numbers you can’t really fault the regular starters for that (offence I’m looking at you).
The opening day rotation of Sanchez, Happ, Liriano, Marco Estrada and Marcus Stroman have a very respectable combined ERA of 3.99, which would be the ninth best rotation ERA in baseball (fifth in the AL).
They also have a combined record of 7-10 in games where they’ve registered a decision. That may not seem like anything to brag about, but their .412 win-percentage looks a whole lot better when you consider how bad their replacements have been.
Here’s a quick look at how those fill-in starters have faired in 2017 (all numbers as of the start of play on May 18):
Matt Latos: three starts - 15.1 innings - 11 Earned Runs - 6.60 ERA- 0-1 Record
Casey Lawrence: two starts - 11.1 innings - 10 Earned Runs - 7.94 ERA - 0-2 Record
Joe Biagini: three starts - 13.0 innings - 5 Earned Runs - 3.46 ERA - 1-1 Record
Mike Bolsinger: two starts - 10.1 innings - 7 Earned Runs - 6.10 ERA - 0-2 Record
Latos, Lawrence, Bolsinger and Biagini have combined to make 10 starts for the Jays. In games where they’ve registered a decision, they have a combined record of 1-6 (.143 win-percentage). They also have a combined ERA of 5.98, which is nearly two runs worse than the opening day starters.
As a team, the Blue Jays have gone 3-7 (.300 win-percentage) in games where those guys have started, compared to 14-17 (.452 win-percentage) when any of their regulars throw the first pitch.
If the Jays had a .452 win percentage for the entire year they’d be 19-22 (as opposed to 17-24)
To make matters worse, the replacements have also had the corollary effect of taxing the bullpen, as they’ve averaged less than five-innings per start (although to be fair that number is skewed due to Biagini being on a pitch count).
Whether you do the math or simply watch the games with your own eyeballs, it’s clear that the makeshift rotation has been a damper on the Jays early season success (or lack thereof).
One only wonders how much longer they can tread water ...
Or if it even matters anymore.