Can the Rangers, Blue Jays, and Indians Recover From Crippling Starting Pitcher Injuries?
For three teams, the 2015 season just got a little bit harder before it even began.
The Texas Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays, and Cleveland Indians all lost important pieces of their rotations for 2015, with Yu Darvish, Marcus Stroman, and Gavin Floyd all going down with injuries. For the Rangers and Blue Jays, they each lost their ace, and both losses are devastating. Cleveland lost its number four starter, which is less crucial, but still a problem.
So, what are each of these playoff hopefuls facing now that these important arms are going to miss a significant amount of time this season, if not all of it?
Darvish has been one of the best starters in the American League since coming over from Japan in 2012. He's been an All-Star in each of his three seasons, led the league in strikeouts in 2013 (277 in 209.2 innings), and finished second in the Cy Young voting that year. He was having another terrific year last season, with a 3.06 ERA in 22 starts for Texas before elbow problems knocked him out of action in August.
Still, an MRI in November showed no problems. He passed all his physicals in the spring and appeared ready to go. However, after injuring his elbow this spring, Darvish is expected to have Tommy John surgery which would put him out of action until the middle of 2016.
It is a brutal blow for a team that already lost shortstop Jurickson Profar to an injury for the season as well. Without Darvish, here is what their rotation looks like, according to our projections, with the exception of Nick Tepesch, for whom we used last year's stats.
|Nick Tepesch (2014)||4.36||1.37||10.4||8.2|
We had projected Darvish to put up a 3.44 ERA with 198 strikeouts in 193 innings with a WHIP of 1.19 this season. Numbers that will sorely be missed from a rotation that lacks the horses needed to keep up in the ultra competitive American League West.
Holland is the likeliest candidate to step into the role as the lead dog, with newly-acquired Yovani Gallardo ready to help as well. But the back end of that rotation could result in some high scoring games there in Texas this season.
Stroman doesn't get a lot of attention because he plays north of the border, but the 23-year-old was sensational in his rookie season last year, with a 3.65 ERA and 111 strikeouts in 130.2 innings. He's now lost for the season, but the good news is that he didn't hurt his electric arm. Instead, he tore his left ACL during a fielding play.
Toronto has aspirations of competing in a wide open American League East this year after they traded for Josh Donaldson and signed Russell Martin. But those chances took a big hit with Stroman's injury. Here's how the rest of the rotation shapes up without him (again using numberFire's projected stats for 2015).
Dickey and Buehrle are both past the point at which they could be considered "aces" of a staff, and Toronto was banking on Stroman to take over that role. Reports are that the Blue Jays are going to try to fill the vacancy left by Stroman from within, with Estrada, Sanchez, and Norris battling for the final two spots in that rotation.
Jays aren't just gonna run out and sign or trade for guys. That costs $$. Estrada/Norris in play for rotation; Cecil will close if healthy.— Paul Sporer (@sporer) March 10, 2015
That being said, if the Blue Jays truly want to break their 21-year run of October-less baseball (their last appearance in the postseason ended with Joe Carter's walk-off home run against the Philadelphia Phillies in 1993), then they should probably look to an often-talked about Phillie to help them get back.
The Phillies are dangling Cole Hamels for a nice set of prospects. They've tried to send him to Boston but to no avail. The Yankees have apparently made the best package of prospects for Hamels but not good enough for the Phils to bite. Could Toronto ignore the monetary cost of Hamels and, in an effort to beat their two division rivals to the punch, go out and get him?
It's unclear if the Blue Jays have the position prospects the Phils would want in a Hamels return anyway, but the Jays should at least be seriously pursuing him to make up for the loss of Stroman.
The loss of Floyd is not as devastating for the Indians, but it is a loss nonetheless. Floyd came to Cleveland as a known injury risk, having made just 14 combined starts in 2013 and 2014 after suffering a stress fracture in his pitching elbow. Last year, in just nine starts for the Braves, he posted a 2.65 ERA and a Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) of 3.79 in 54.1 innings but re-injured that elbow again earlier this week.
The Indians took a flier on him, hoping to slide him into the back of their rotation. But not anymore. Here's how things stack up now, per our projections.
|T.J. House (2014)||3.35||1.32||18.7||5.1|
You can probably guess that our projections are a bit more conservative, with Kluber's projected ERA of 3.34 much higher than the 2.44 and FIP of 2.35 he put up last year. Still, he is the defending Cy Young Award winner and one of the best young arms in the game. Carrasco came out of nowhere last year to post a 2.55 ERA and 2.44 FIP in 134 innings for the Indians, and if Bauer can ever learn to harness his amazing stuff, he's going to be a stud.
This is not a team that necessarily needs a Cole Hamels to replace Floyd, although adding as stud like Cole to pair with Kluber would certainly be a game-changer for the AL Central. But that isn't realistic. Plus, unlike Stroman or Darvish, there is a chance Floyd could be back this year, although the Indians would be wise not to bank on that.
One player not mentioned yet is Philadephia's Cliff Lee, who missed much of 2014 with an elbow problem that knocked him out of action twice. He came into the spring feeling good, but after pitching just two innings of a spring training game last week, the pain returned.
Lee is going to try and pitch through the discomfort, but all sides realize surgery, or retirement, may be a forgone conclusion.
Look, injuries are a part of sports, especially for pitchers. Last year we were deprived of Matt Harvey, Jose Fernandez, Masahiro Tanaka, Lee, and others for major portions of the season. It's why depth is so important for a Major League rotation.
There are pieces in place for these teams to try to make up for the loss of three important pitchers, but all we can do is wait and see how it all pans out.