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Where Will the Blue Jays Reap Value?

Similar to 2011 when a certain hockey goalie on the West Coast ‘pumped the tires’ of one that played on the Eastern side of this great continent, I’m going to spend a good chunk of this piece extolling the virtues of a blogger that resides three time zones away.

Ex-colleague Kyle (Matte) has, like me, left the Blue Jays blog we contributed at, to focus on our own sites.  Kyle’s venture is quite new so I’ll excuse a lack of discovery but just this once.  It should be checked out.  His latest piece builds on another great read by Jeff Sullivan of fangraphs.  It takes a look at how future Jays legend Marcus Stroman discovered a sinker grip while lying on the couch and then started it throwing it.  A LOT.

As Sullivan writes:

In the game against the Rangers, where Stroman debuted his new two-seamer, he threw it six times. In his next outing, he threw it 18 times. The outing after that, 31 times. He topped out at 46. It’s evident that Stroman fell in love with his sinker almost immediately

That game against the Rangers was on the 19th of July so let’s see if we can do some sort of stats analysis before and after that start.

Marcus Stroman IP HR ER HBP BB SO GB% FIP K/9 K:BB
Pre-Rangers 53.33 5 24 2 13 47 48.8% 3.43 7.93 3.62
SinkerTime 77.33 2 29 1 15 64 57.5% 2.43 7.45 4.27
Totals 130.66 7 53 3 28 111 53.8% 2.84 7.65 3.96

Kyle used the ‘Roy Halladay‘ filter to make the point that Stroman’s season put him in some pretty elite company, being one of only 29 instances that a hurler had a K/9 rate equal to or above 7, a walk rate equal to or below 2.5/9 and a ground ball % above 50.

While Kyle noted that the K rate seemed low given the huge numbers Stroman put up in the minor leagues, Marcus himself said that was actually one of the benefits of the sinker when I interviewed him for the podcast.  High strike out totals meant high pitch counts resulting in shorter outings.

What surprised me about the breakdown above is how little the K/9 total did drop.  I expected more than half a batter per 9.  With the walk rate going from 2.19 to 1.75 it made for higher K:BB ratio despite his ground ball rate going up by almost 10 points.  Either way you slice it it was a pretty historic discovery that Marcus made.

I was hoping to do a WAR breakdown between the different components of Stroman’s season but there’s far too many moving parts to the pitcher WAR calculation for a pleb like myself.  What I can say is that two of the biggest variables that do go into the WAR calculation is FIP and innings pitched.

Steamer currently projects a 2015 WAR of 3.3 for Marcus, which, as Kyle points out, seems conservative (the highest number Steamer projects is Clayton Kershaw at 4.8 WAR, which is absurdly low).  If Stroman builds on last season’s sinker success and FIP’s under 3 over 200 innings pitched then you’re probably looking at a 4.5 to 5 WAR season.

Something that would be very valuable to the Jays indeed.  But before we get to that, let’s look at Stroman’s buddy Aaron Sanchez‘.

Firstly, for those that are pushing for a bullpen role for Sanchez, I grudgingly admit he could be a valuable contributor in that gig.  Working in high leverage spots last season he put up 0.6 of a win over his 33 innings of work.  For perspective, Wade Davis led that category over the second half  chalking up a win and a half over 32 and a third innings pitched.

Over the entire season, Davis lost out on the reliever WAR title to Dellin Betances by 0.1 of a win (3.2 to 3.1) with 72 and 90 innings thrown respectively.

Both those guys were fabulous with Betances FIP’ing 1.64 and Davis 1.19.  Even if Sanchez had thrown 80 odd innings his 2.80 FIP would have left him well short in the WAR race.

So, if Sanchez were to throw as well as he did last year over say 70 to 90 innings we’re looking at about 2.3 to 2.5 wins.  Valuable? Yes.  Maximizing his potential value?  Absolutely not.

Unlike many of the relievers on the list, Sanchez is not a failed starter.  He’s a 22 year old kid who has started throughout his minor league career.  But here’s the rub, he has a career minor league 4.8 BB/9 which has people furiously wringing their hands.

As Alex Anthopoulos mentioned on the Fan590 the other night when discussing Aaron’s final hand-full of appearances in Buffalo:

But having seen the changes, and the adjustment, and seeing how much his strike percentage improved, getting back to that downhill plane and getting on top of the ball, it really unlocked a lot of things for him.”

For argument’s sake I looked at his last five outings in Buffalo.  He walked 5 for a 2.14 BB/9.  Not far off his 2.45 major league mark really.  I understand the sample size is far smaller than his historical data but whatever happened to the ‘what have you done for me lately’ mantra?

In fact, looking at the numbers below, you may say the best is yet to come:

2-Seam Usage GB% K/9
Sept 87.12% 66.7 5.56
Aug 66.22% 65.7 9.98
Jul 40.54% 64.7 4.26

Remember, both Sanchez and Stroman are going to be throwing to one of the best pitch framers in the business this season (not to piss on Navarro, but he was one of the worst) especially on strikes lower in the zone.

Anthopolous has stated many times this off-season that Sanchez will be stretched out as starter come spring.  He’s also mentioned Aaron and bullpen in the same sentence many times as well.  It’s confusing.  It should be pretty clear though, that if the Jays want to maximize the added value they have in Sanchez he should start.

Steamer predicts a hybrid role for Aaron in 2015 with 150 innings pitched over 55 appearances, 20 of which are starts.  They have Sanchez reverting to his older, wilder ways, walking 4.84 per 9, resulting in a FIP of 4.60 and subsequently a below replacement level -0.3 WAR.

That’s bollocks.  All the indicators I point out above (as well as AA’s comments) suggest Sanchez has made some needed mechanical tweaks and could/should FIP in the region of 3.10 to 3.20 over, say, 180 innings which will produce a WAR of 3.5 to 4.

Back to the added value then.  Both Sanchez and Stroman (and for that matter Drew Hutchison) will make the league minimum of $507,500 next year.  If you value a win at $6 million (because that’s what JJ would do) then my prediction of between 8 and 9 wins for a Sanchez/Stroman combination is worth between 48 and 54 million bucks. Quite a bit more than the million and change the Jays will actually pay the dynamic duo.

Throw in Hutchison (who Steamer, again, conservatively predicts 1.9 wins for) who may have had an epiphany himself over the second half of 2014 and it’s easy to see where Toronto will extract value.  In the ‘back’ half of their rotation.

Invariably some will argue that the above is the delusional ramblings of an over-optimist but I think the three starters discussed all showed enough over the back half of 2014 to erase (mostly) any historical concerns we may have had.

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