Toronto's the first team we've done that's really eliciting positive reactions from the media... so let's dive right in, as they say.
Roy Halladay - The best pitcher in the division, and it's not even a little bit close, at this point. Halladay was a runaway Cy Young candidate before he got hurt in mid-July. Last year, he posted a 2.41 ERA in a deadly hitting division in 19 starts. He's an extreme groundball picther and also manages to strike a good number of batters out. Most importantly, he doesn't walk anyone. He walked merely 18 batters in 142.7 innings last year.
Of course, it's not all fun and games with Roy Halladay. He's averaged just 20 starts over his last two seasons, this after logging a sizable 515+ innings in 2002 and 2003, but reports are that he doesn't record high pitch counts, normally. In either case, back-to-back injury-plagued seasons is bad news for one of the game's elite pitchers.
When healthy, Halladay is in the Top-5 in his league. When not?
If Halladay doesn't start 30+ games this year, Toronto doesn't make the playoffs, unless...
- ... A.J. Burnett decides to defy park effects and bring an elite game to Toronto. On the surface, it's difficult NOT to be impressed with Burnett, but a lot of that is due to his home park. Burnett struck out dramatically more batters at home than on the road; his K/9 at home was 10.4, and his K/9 on the road was a mere 7.2 (which isn't bad, but it's not the mark of a great power pitcher). Anywhere he pitches, though, he keeps the ball in the park, and he keeps men off base. Burnett's a good pitcher, though. It's my opinion that Burnett is on the cusp of being a top-flight starter but that he just doesn't quite have the ability. He's a damn good #2, though, if Halladay stays healthy. I expect an ERA around 3.50. Now, is there a better 1/2 punch in the AL? Maybe in Oakland. Maybe in Chicago. Possibly in Minnesota. But elsewhere?
- Ted Lilly - Mars ain't the kind of place to raise your kids. And yes, Ted Lilly was a Rocket Man last year. There's no other way to describe it. Lilly's 21.9% LD% (courtesy of the Hardball Times) would have ranked him 5th, and he also gave up a million homers. (He gave up a lot of "rockets." You may chuckle if you'd like, but not for too long.) That said, his HR/F was at .15, and that's higher than the league average, so you can expect a bit of regression on that front, I'd venture to guess. His HR allowed was way out of line with career norms, and his strikeouts were down last year. Lilly's closer to his 2004 season than his 2005 season, I'd say. PECOTA pegs him at a 5.00 ERA, Expect him to be a bit better than that.
- In a normal season, Gustavo Chacin would have been a legitimate ROY candidate, as he posted a 3.72 ERA and won 13 games. Of course, there were a bunch of other worthy candidates, most notably the closer in Oakland whose ERA was a full 2 and a half runs less than Chacin's solid 3.72. Chacin's a nice pitcher but isn't anything to write home about. His xERA (which is a little component-ERA that I made last year and incorporates a Total Average based formula) was about half a run higher than his actual ERA, meaning that he did slightly better in clutch situations than he should have. His scouting report on ESPN literally has each of his five pitches as "average," and I don't see anything in his minor league track record to signify a blossoming star here. Guys like Chacin are needed pieces, though; they fill out the back of the rotation for a low price and can do good work for you. I think of Glendon Rusch from his Met days as an example of this type of pitcher... Chacin has a similar value.
- Josh Towers - It's very difficult for a pitcher who gives up more home runs than walks to be a dominant pitcher in the bigs, and Towers has done this over the course of his career. These type of guys can survive, though, by virtue of their stellar control (usually). Towers will not surpass the level of a 5th starter, from what I see; he gave up a handful of unearned runs that diminsh his value a substantial amount (this on a good defensive team, no?) I'm very, very surprised by the optimism of his PECOTA; he has a 30% star/superstar percentage on the Stars & Scrubs Chart. Towers throws a bunch of different pitches, but none exceptionally well.
What about the bullpen?
Perhaps the most controversial acquisition for the Blue Jays this offseason was B.J. Ryan. People who know about mechanics say that his are pretty screwed up, so I'll take their word for it. The general problem is that he's an injury risk, this way. Statistically, he's a dynamite closer, one of those that you don't see very often. Lefties have hit .157/.238/.230 off of him in the last three seasons, but he was actually statistically better against righties last year. If Ryan's healthy, he's a massive upgrade at closer... Jason Frasor has been an above average middle reliever for the Jays over the last two years. His strikeout rates are OK and his control was OK last year. He's become a serviceable major league reliever, just as his 2003 minor league profile would have predicted (I stole that from a previous article that I wrote, but it's still applicable)... Vinnie Chulk is a major platoon split guy. Lefties hit him pretty hard, to the tune of a .283/.358/.475 line, while righties struggled with a .231/.286/.313 line. Lefties don't torch him enough to make him a full-time ROOGY, but if the Jays are facing the Red Sox, you want to keep Chulk away from David Ortiz... I didn't realize that Justin Speier had such a solid season last year, but 10 homers in 66 innings shouldn't lead to a 2.56 ERA from a moderate strikeout pitcher. Further examination shows a .216 BABIP. That's not sustainable, but he's not a bad middle reliever, though... I like Scott Schoeneweis, but only because he's from Long Branch, NJ. Schoeneweis was better than his norm last year, but he's almost always been good at keeping the longball in the yard. He's another acceptable reliever... Pete Walker's a mop-up man but an acceptable spot starter, too... Scott Downs as the last man out of the pen? This is certainly an above average group.
The Blue Jays have an above average staff. There are no obvious holes here, and they do have the weapons at the top. If Halladay and Ryan stay healthy, this is a darn good pitching staff. This team's not a fluke; they really can compete for a playoff spot this year. That run differential from last year could certainly get better. This could be the first year in a while where the AL East was genuinely a three-team race through August. Here's hoping for a good one.