Why the Toronto Blue Jays Should Be Trading for a Starter
Quick, without looking at your Googlemachine, try and guess who has the best run differential in the American League.
If you're peaking at the standings right now, I'm going to be very disappointed in you.
Of course, based on the title of this piece, it probably wouldn't surprise you to learn that it's the Toronto Blue Jays, who have scored 53 more runs than their opponents following Monday night's 11-3 win over the Miami Marlins. Run differential is usually a very valuable tool to measure a team's success, and in this case, their record doesn't necessarily reflect their differential.
Toronto is 29-30, four games behind the Yankees in the American League East. However, their Pythagorean Win-Loss record, which is based on their run differential, is 34-25. They have underperformed their run differential by five games, an unusually high number. Which is why, even though they are four games out, they could be the favorites to win a mediocre East.
Offensively, the Blue Jays can wail. They've scored an AL-best 314 runs so far this year, while the Yankees are second with 265. Their 69 home runs coming into Monday ranked third in the AL, behind the Astros (78) and Yankees (74). Their .266 team batting average was third, their .332 on-base percentage (OBP) was second, and their .441 slugging percentage (SLG), weighted on-base percentage (wOBA) of .337, and weighted runs created (wRC+) 115 were all first.
They are getting an MVP-type season from Josh Donaldson (.401 wOBA, 159 wRC+), while Russell Martin (.363 wOBA, 133 wRC+) and Jose Bautista (.400 wOBA, 159 wRC+) are having All-Star seasons, and Edwin Encarnacion, Devon Travis and Chris Colabello are all providing a lot of offensive punch as well.
No, offense ain't the problem. The problem is with the arms.
When Marcus Stroman went down with a torn ACL during a bunting drill, the weakest part of the team got even weaker. Coming into Monday night, the Jays were 14th out of 15 AL teams in ERA (4.30), last in Fielding Independent Pitching, or FIP (4.38), worst in home runs per nine innings (1.14), 12th in strikeout percentage (18.3%), 13th in strikeouts-per-walks (2.26), and allowed the third-highest "hard-hit" percentage in the AL, with 29.8% of all batted balls hit off Toronto starters considered "hard hit" by FanGraphs.
Drew Hutchison has been the ace of the staff, going 5-1 with a 4.91 ERA but a healthier 3.63 FIP and a staff-leading 1.2 fWAR. Mark Buehrle was terrific in his last outing, providing hope he might be turning this around. He is 7-4 with a 4.35 ERA and a 0.5 fWAR. Aaron Sanchez' numbers are a bit weird; he's 5-4 with a good ERA of 3.55, but a horrible FIP of 5.19 and a -0.1 fWAR, mainly because he's walking a little more than five batters per nine innings. And R.A. Dickey has just been flat-out bad, with an ERA of 5.35, a FIP of 5.40 and an fWAR of -0.2.
And while the bullpen has their share of the blame (their 3.71 ERA is tied for 11th in the AL), the Blue Jays should be laser focused on landing a top starting pitcher. They reportedly made inquiries to the Phillies about Cole Hamels recently, but Hamels apparently told Phils management that he would not accept a trade to Toronto.
Inside Baseball: jays sticking w/ gibbons for now, they tried for hamels; plus info from around MLB. http://t.co/RwLfX0NeMY— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) May 22, 2015
But the Jays are not out of options. There are other potential trade chips they could pursue.
Cincinnati's Johnny Cueto is the only other true staff ace that is presumably available. So far this year, he is 4-4 with a 2.64 ERA and he went 20-9 last year with a 2.25 ERA in a staggering 243 2/3 innings pitched. He would be a rental, on the last year of his deal. Philadelphia's Aaron Harang would be a cheaper option, in terms of both money and prospects. He's pitched extremely well so far this year, with a 2.45 ERA and a 3.24 FIP. And there is Oakland's Scott Kazmir, who has a 3.14 ERA in 11 starts this year, striking out nearly a batter per nine innings.
Those are the top three non-Hamels starters on the market that could slide in as a number-one or two starter. If Toronto is looking for depth, they could pursue two Brewers starters, Matt Garza and Kyle Lohse, or Cincinnati starter Mike Leake, although none of those guys are likely to put much of a scare into the rest of their AL East opponents.
The Blue Jays have a dominant offense, but their starting pitching is killing them. They need another top flight arm if they want to make a real run at a wide open division.
If they can secure one, they could become the front runners to win the American League East crown.