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In Canada Downs is Actually Up

If you do not know about Scott Downs quite yet then I do have to question the placement of the rock that your head has been under all season. Downs is the best reliever on the Toronto Blue Jays, a southpaw, the 32 year old has success against lefties and righties alike and has topped his relief season innings high while causing some to wonder why B.J. Ryan was paid so much money anyways.




Drafted by the Chicago Cubs in 1997 Downs was traded a year later to the Minnesota Twins in a deal that sent Mike Morgan to the Cubbies. In May 1999 the Cubs would re-acquire Downs and Rick Aguilera for Kyle Lohse and Jason Ryan. Yet another year passed and Downs was traded to the Montreal Expos for Rondell White. After finally settling into an organization Downs would pitch one full season at the major league level for the (then) Expos before being released during the off-season of 2004.

J.P. Ricciardi and company signed Downs and in 2005 he would start 13 games (appeared in 26) with 94 innings and a 4.33 FIP. Downs would continue making spot starts in 2006 putting in 77 innings of work and replicating his FIP from 2006. Almost always a groundball pitcher Downs began getting more than 55% groundballs in 2006 and last season nearly broke the 60% plateau. This year Downs is at 66.7% with a career low 11.5% line drives allowed.

Relievers and line drive rates do not correlate too well year from year, so it is possible that this is an anomaly. Downs however is still good even if he is more of a 3.24 FIP guy than a 3.13 FIP guy. Downs keeps his pitches, especially his curveball, down and has allowed about a homerun every 35 innings this year. Putting this season into perspective Down's tRA is 2.48, Jonathan Papelbon's is 2.37.

As good as Downs is in relief there have been murmurs about moving him back to the rotation as a cheap in-house replacement. The first question the Jays have to answer is whether Downs has the stuff to be a starter. Right now he is primarily a two-pitch pitcher; upper-80's fastball and dangerous curve. He occasionally throws a slider, but realistically Down throws two pitches and throws them well. Part B of that question is does he have the durability to start again. I took his longest appearance this season and plugged the velocities into chart form for easy reference.


As you can see, he really does not have middle ground in his velocities however using his low 80's slider would help that. The next question is whether he is more valuable as a starter than as a reliever, which is a bit tougher to answer. In his starter role Downs produced a 4.3 FIP, exactly a run higher than his relief 3.3 FIP, Burnett's is 3.56. Assuming Downs has grown as a pitcher since his last time through the rotation he could probably be closer to 4 than 4.3, but even then the Jays are potentially still losing about a half run.

I'm really mixed on whether Downs should be moved or not, but something about only having two pitches makes me think he should stay in the pen, even if the Jays have plenty of potential replacements. Frankly I'm not so sure the Jays shouldn't take some of the leftover Burnett money and make a run at Derek Lowe or Andy Pettitte, both of whom would benefit from the defense and would likely be better.