Posts tagged Dustin McGowan

Projecting Performance: Starting Rotation

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Projecting Performance will be a series outlining each position of the Blue Jays roster with my thoughts on who should play the position and how well I expect them to perform for the 2012 season. Up first is the Starting Rotation, with the Infield and Outfield coming in subsequent weeks.

In 2011 the Blue Jays starting rotation definitely wasn’t a strong point. It saw twelve different pitchers start a game and 20 starts given to Jo-Jo Reyes (Yes, that Jo-Jo Reyes). Those 20 starts ranking third most among Blue Jays pitchers (Ugh). Going forward things look much brighter. As it looks to be shaping up so far, rather than having innings whisked away by giving starts to Brad Mills and Luis Perez, the Jays look to be transferring those starts to higher upside arms in Dustin McGowan and Henderson Alvarez. Beyond that the Jays have quite a few players in the minors that could be pushing for starts in 2012 including Drew Hutchison, Deck McGuire, and maybe even Chad Jenkins. Without further ado the player breakdowns.

Ricky Romero
Between 2009 and 2011 each year the Jays had a new Opening Day starter. In 2009 it was Roy Halladay, in 2010 it was Shaun Marcum and in 2011 it was undoubtedly Ricky Romero. With that said it looks like for the first time in three years there will be a similar face starting come Opening Day and that would be Ricky Romero.

Each of the last three years Romero has been consistently improving, culminating in a 2011 season that saw him pitch to 2.92 ERA, but only a 2.9 fWAR. Though it was encouraging that Romero pitched deeper in to games and ultimately got to 225 IP, there was a couple other factors that diminished his perceived performance.

For starters it is true, Romero did have a 2.92 ERA in 2011, but numbers like his 4.20 FIP or 3.80 xFIP or 3.78 SIERA suggest that things may be different in 2012. The likely reasoning behind this being that for one Romero’s home run rate jumped back up to a 1.04 HR/9, which is significantly higher than the 0.64 number that he posted in 2010. As well, though Romero’s .242 BABIP may suggest otherwise, Romero actually seemed lucky in 2011. The reason being that in 2011 Romero’s LOB% was much higher than his career average at 79.2% and his LD% was much lower at 14.2%.

The Verdict:
Ricky Romero did have a fantastic year in 2011 in terms of ERA, but not so fine in terms of his peripheral stats. Despite the possibly luck driven 2011 I actually expect Ricky’s peripherals to be better in 2012, but it looks like the ERA will come back down to earth.

WAR Prediction: 3.0

Brandon Morrow
In 2011 Brandon Morrow was Brandon Morrow. He struck out a ton of batters, he walked a ton of batters, and he produced a xFIP and SIERA that was much lower than his ERA. Numbers like his 3.53 xFIP suggest his ERA should be much lower, but he has yet to have produced to that level. It isn’t a question of the stuff either, Brandon Morrow has some of the better stuff in the league, it just hasn’t translated to enough big league production.

Steve Slowinski of FanGraphs suggested that Morrow may need to add another pitch to become more effective. Could that pitch be the cutter that Morrow added late last season? Its quite possibly could, because the cutter is known as a ground ball inducing pitch, which in the past has been precisely Morrow’s problem.

After he added it late last season, the first couple of games whilst using it didn’t turn out so well, but in the last three Morrow finished strong. Not that this means too much because it is far too small a sample to really make anything of it. With that said it will surely be interesting to see how Morrow does with a developing cutter in 2012.

The Verdict:
Morrow is always cited as a breakout candidate and this may finally be his year. He is developing that third pitch and he’s going in to his third full year as a starter. His peripheral stats don’t look to get too much better in 2012, but it seems like this is the year his ERA may actualize.

WAR Prediction: 3.5

Brett Cecil
Cecil seems to me to be one of the most peculiar players at this year’s Spring Training. At the start of Spring Training, most people (including myself) seemed to think that Brett Cecil had the No. 3 starter spot locked down. Now upon further investigation I’m having second thoughts.

Yes, Brett Cecil did have a 2.6 fWAR season in 2010, but since then he has been lack luster to say the least. He dropped 1 MPH off his fastball last year, and in his first Spring Training start he was reported to have topped out at 88 MPH and averaging around 87 MPH.

For most guys losing that much in velocity is detrimental and to a guy like Cecil is could be career ending, that is assuming its permanent, which it’s likely not. Nonetheless the drop in fastball velocity is discouraging for both us fans and maybe even for Farrell too as Stoeten inferences at Drunk Jays Fans.

What’s most discouraging about Cecil is the fact that there was nothing really in 2011 that makes me think he should improve in 2012. Rather than returning to 2010 form, in 2011 Cecil seemed to regress back to his 2009 season, which as short as that 2009 season was it was not very good.

The Verdict:
Unless Brett Cecil gains back some fastball velocity, improves on his offspeed pitches, or becomes Bruce Chen 2.0, it seems doubtful that he’ll get back to a level where he could be a No. 3 starter. Initially I and what seems like many others thought Cecil would simply return with some new found form after the whole weight loss story, but after some number crunching it showed that supposedly Cecil was pretty lucky in 2011 and still wasn’t very good. That is never a good combination.

WAR Prediction: 0.5

Henderson Alvarez
There’s not too much to say about Henderson Alvarez from a statistical standpoint. He started 2011 in HiA Dunedin and astonishingly climbed all the way to the big leagues before the September roster expansion. Once in the big leagues he seemed to perform much better than anyone had expected, but one does have to be aware of the relatively small sample size.

Going forward it is likely that Alvarez’s insane 5.00 K/BB ratio comes back down to earth because he doesn’t strike out enough guys for that to be sustainable. However it doesn’t mean that he won’t be able to perform. In fact Kevin Goldstein said that, “Henderson Alvarez’s ceiling is close to what Ricky Romero is today.”

This is obviously quite encouraging for Alvarez’s case because after a pretty terrible 2010 season Alvarez was forced to repeat HiA Dunedin and his prospect status seemed to have been permanently tarnished.

The Verdict:
There isn’t nearly enough statistical evidence on Henderson Alvarez to do any real analysis. With that said considering what Kevin Goldstein said to be true, it isn’t unreasonable to expect  at least No. 4 starter like production with the potential for much more, not only in 2012, but beyond.

WAR Prediction: 2.1

Dustin McGowan
Dustin is the miracle pitcher, the man who no one thought would ever return. All the odds were against him, but he battled through it and started his first MLB game in 3 years on September 6th. The narrative is with him, but now McGowan will once again have to face adversity. This adversity being the question of whether he’ll actually be able to pitch. He didn’t do to well in terms of stats at the end of 2011, but then again it was less than 25 innings.

The reports out of spring seem strong so far. After McGowan’s first start today. Gregor Chisholm reported that he reached 96 MPH and was averaging around 93, which would be about where he was velocity wise, back in 2008. Mike Wilner also pointed out that, “[McGowan's] fastball had good life and the slider had great bite.”

All of this is great in theory, but McGowan still has yet to consistently produce at the major league level since coming back from injury. He seems to have the same stuff, and on the FAN 590′s JaysTalk Wilner noted that he felt “just like the other pitchers” in the sense that he wasn’t be held back at all. As well he’ll surely be given plenty of chances as he is essentially the Jo-Jo Reyes of 2012 being a starting pitcher who is out of options, which almost makes him a shoe in for a rotation spot. Just hopefully he doesn’t take on Reyes’ performance level as well.

The Verdict:
I’m not really sure what to expect out of Dustin McGowan in 2012. He seems to be relatively similar in terms of stuff as he was in 2008. The only problem is he has yet to show that he can sustain that stuff over the course of a full game or over the course of the season. That right there could really be his Kryptonite this season, but it could also not matter at all. The only way to see what McGowan truly is will be innings and time and that won’t come until the regular season.

WAR Prediction: 1.5 (Only because of a possible innings limit)

Kyle Drabek
Last, but certainly not least is the former top prospect Kyle Drabek. In a lot of ways Drabek is like Henderson Alvarez, but also different at the same time. They are similar in the fact that both have under 90 innings of MLB pitching experience and both have a possible No. 2 starter ceiling, but are polar opposites in terms of their production in their first taste of the big leagues. As stated before Alvarez was fantastic last year and well Drabek kind of wasn’t.

However both have the same relative pitching ceiling, which why I thought both should have a chance to prove themselves in 2012. Obviously Alvarez has the edge having performed well in his big league time, but Drabek hasn’t been terrible in Spring Training either and at this point I’d rather see him in the rotation that Cecil.

The reason being that at this point Cecil’s ceiling appears to be a No. 3 starter at best and at this point he may not even reach it. Where as this year Drabek could be a serviceable No. 5 with upside for so much more.

The Verdict:
Unfortunately like Alvarez, with Drabek there isn’t enough statistical evidence to do any real analysis. Instead we have to turn to the scouting reports, which are unsurprising high on Kyle Drabek. He still has the talent, he still has the stuff, he just needs the command, which I don’t expect to come this year. Though with some repetition and major league innings it could very well be Drabek’s year come 2013. In my opinion he just needs to be given a chance.

WAR Prediction: 0.8 (Only because I don’t think he will get the chance)

Look for Part 2 of Projecting Performance, which will be on the Blue Jays Outfield, the post will likely come out sometime later this week. 

My Plea for Kyle Drabek

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Photo by sillygwailo licensed under Creative Commons

It has come to my attention through the poll on this site and what seems to be the general opinion of Jays fans that of the four troubling players listed Drabek is the least likely to have a comeback season and I ask why? It may seems so long ago, but it has only been one year since Kyle Drabek was the top prospect in the Blue Jays farm system and a shining star in the Blue Jays future plans. At that time Drabek ranked anywhere from No. 13 by Keith Law to No. 29 by Baseball America on their respective top prospect lists.

Heading in to Spring Training in 2011, Drabek was the next big thing, the possible first fruition of the trade that sent former Blue Jays Ace Roy Halladay to the Phillies, and the first tangible major league talent from Alex Anthopoulos’ regime as general manager. He was all but handed a rotation spot after the Jays traded Shaun Marcum to the Brewers and he seemed to be ready to take it.

Obviously we would later learn that Drabek would not turn in the best of seasons in 2011 and I don’t think I need to paint the entire picture of just how bad Drabek really was. All I have to say is that in almost a consensus opinion the simple stats, advanced stats, and Pitch F/X information all agree on one thing, Kyle Drabek sucked.

At this point in the blog post I usually point out what Drabek did wrong and how he can improve and all that, but in this case Drabek’s problem is pretty simple and the fact is that he just couldn’t throw strikes. Drabek was putting pitches galore outside the zone and in fact at the time of his demotion in June Drabek had walked more batters than he had struck out and was the not so proud owner of the league’s worst strikeout to walk ratio.

Proceeding his demotion to AAA Las Vegas in June things just got worse. Being sent to the band box that is Cashman Field and the very definition of a hitter’s league in the PCL obviously didn’t help, but even against a much worse level of competition Drabek did not perform as he was expected to. Because of a lack of AAA Pitch F/X data no one (unless they saw him) can really discern specifically whether he wasn’t throwing strikes there either, but what one does know is that in AAA he held a relatively similar strikeout to walk ratio and that is in no way a good thing.

In spite of all that has happened, Drabek’s failure in the majors and minors is not completely indicative of what he could do in 2012. In general it is true that numbers and statistics from previous years can be used as a predictor for future performance. The difference with Drabek is for one what he has done thus far is a smallish sample size and there is not enough previous data to rely on, for another as is often cited with another Blue Jay, Travis Snider, Drabek is only 23 and going in to his sophomore season in the MLB.

Courtesy of Shi Davidi on Twitter

Yes he may have strugggled in 2011 and yes that is not a good thing to see out of a rookie, but a quick read of Shi Davidi’s story on Drabek at Sportsnet.ca seems to suggest to us that it may have been partially a mechanical issue with Drabek in 2011 and oddly enough I find it plausible to believe.

I may just be drinking the Spring Training story Kool-Aid in which every player is in the best shape of their lives, but looking at some 2011 footage of Drabek he seemed to me to be a little inconsistent in his mechanics and this article seemingly confirms that thought. In no way am I claiming to be a scout here, but if what Shi Davidi tells us is true then it could have been a big reason as to why Drabek looked like Tim Tebow on the mound.

Now with the Jays coaching staff addressing the issue, call me crazy, but maybe instead of being pushed into irrelevance, could Drabek surprise this year? He still seems to have the stuff that in 2010 Keith Law said could make Drabek “a No. 2 or 3 starter”, but is lacking the command and third pitch that Law said he needed to improve on in 2011. The good thing is command can be taught and can be learned and it looks like it may come with further instruction, tweaking in pitch mechanics, and just more major league innings. The bad thing is it may not come this season.

With that said I’m not completely sure why I think Drabek will do well, but I do. He may no longer be the flavour of the month as that position seems to have been overtaken by Henderson Alvarez and Dustin McGowan, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be able to perform.  As well as I’m sure you already know because its been said 1000 times, but the pitcher that got the Blue Jays Kyle Drabek in the first place, Roy Halladay, similarly had command problems early in his career and look what he became. Not to say that Drabek will become Halladay though, because that simply doesn’t seem feasible, but don’t give up on Drabek just yet.

I know that usually the arguments on this blog are fairly statistically based, but for whatever reason with Drabek I feel different. I feel like he has the potential to be what the scouting reports say rather than the major league statistics, I feel like he can overcome the two pitchers ahead of him on the depth chart. Nonetheless if you don’t have the same feelings as I towards the great Drabek, then at least realize that Drabek has barely pitched for a season and we’ve already lost confidence in him? It isn’t like he got significantly injured or lost a lot of fastball velocity, the stuff seems to be there he just needs to harness it.

In the end there isn’t nearly enough statistical evidence to back up any opinion suggesting that Drabek’s potential is completely gone, so why not wait and see. To my dismay it seems like Drabek won’t get the call come Opening Day, but as happens with pitchers they get injured or pitch poorly and Drabek looks like he could be first on the list to replace, in other words the pitching version of Mike McCoy (Hopefully Drabek doesn’t acquire quite as many Air Miles). Finally if you refuse to believe in anything I’ve said at least remember this, last season you didn’t see any major prospect sites suggesting Drabek was a worse prospect than current Blue Jays Canadian phenom Brett Lawrie, just saying.

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