Blue Jays well positioned for potential pitch clock

As Barry Davis reports, there's still many questions to be answered with the Blue Jays bullpen heading into Spring Training, and right at the forefront is who will be the closer?

Here’s some hope springing eternal as Toronto Blue Jays pitchers and catchers begin their first full day of workouts on Monday: these guys work fast. And while the pace of game rules being implemented in the major leagues this season will focus on batters, a 20-second clock will be implemented between pitches in double-A and triple-A. Next season … draw your own conclusions.

Since Mark Buehrle is by some length the fastest worker in the game (Fangraphs has him averaging 17.3 seconds between pitches last season; the next closest starter was teammate R.A. Dickey at 18.3 while the St. Louis Cardinals’ Seth Manness is the fastest-working reliever at 18.9 seconds) it makes sense that as a team the Blue Jays would be the fastest workers in the game, using an average of 21.1 seconds between pitches last season, almost two full seconds off the major league average of 23.

Jays starters are the quickest, averaging 20.2 seconds between pitches — the MLB average is 22.3 — while the relievers were fourth-fastest at 22.8, compared to the MLB average of 24.3 seconds.

What augurs well for the future is the pace at which the rest of the staff has worked. Brett Cecil is the slowest of the holdovers (24.4 seconds) but 193 pitchers needed more time between pitches last seasons. Aaron Loup’s time between pitches averaged 22.7 seconds; Todd Redmond’s was 21.3 seconds while newcomer Marco Estrada took 20.7 seconds between pitches as a starter with the Milwaukee Brewers and 21.4 seconds between pitches as a reliever.

Which brings us to the kids, and one word: wow. Aaron Sanchez took just 21.7 seconds between pitches, while Marcus Stroman took 20.3 seconds both as a starter and a reliever and Drew Hutchison used 21.8 seconds between pitches, making him the slowest starter among returning Jays pitchers and 32nd among all 87 qualified major league starters (minimum 162.1 innings pitched.) Daniel Norris was a quick worker, too, in limited exposure (20.9 seconds as a reliever and 19 seconds in 3.1 innings as a starter) while another reliever who could figure this season, Chad Jenkins, clocked in at 20.3 seconds. All of them, in other words, well under the major league average.

That doesn’t necessarily translate into success, of course, and since the pitch clock will ultimately need to be negotiated with the MLB Players’ Association there’s no guarantee it will be instituted, let alone what will be the acceptable time between pitches. But it suggests that as an organization, this is one area in which the Blue Jays are ahead of the curve.

RAPPED UP IN A BOW

Toronto Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri said in an interview on my show after the NBA trade deadline that he and his peers were out of necessity operating with one eye on what could be a bumper free-agent class after the 2015-2016 season, not to mention a seismic labour showdown the next year when NBA players can opt out of the current collective bargaining agreement, the year after a nine-year, $24-billion television deal kicks in.

But Ujiri has another reason to focus on the short-term future, too, and that explains why he wisely kept his powder dry in the middle of an unprecedented movement of players: he has $23 million in expiring contracts coming off the books after this season and that flexibility puts a premium on the type of planning that can only be properly done in the summer. As rewarding as this season has been for Raptors fans, you wonder about next year: cap flexibility plus the presence of the all-star game at the Air Canada Centre. It’s known that NBA players like to party in Toronto, but this would be a good time for Drake and the team’s fans to put on a hell of a show – a sales pitch for Toronto as an NBA city and the Raptors as a team ahead of a potentially market-shattering free agent class in the summer of 2016 that could include the likes of Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Chris Paul, Mike Conley and DeMar DeRozan, among others.

WHAT I LEARNED

The things you learn in a week hosting a sports call-in show

“I believe that going into spring training you have to have that closer role defined. That was my preference when I played; I liked to know my role. I think Aaron Sanchez would be a guy you could put down there for one year and say “solidify us for one year” in a closer role … Brett Cecil would be OK. (But) I don’t think he’s closer quality. I think Aaron Sanchez could do it better because he has electrifying stuff and he doesn’t need four pitches to close.”

  • Former Blue Jays closer Duane Ward believes Aaron Sanchez should be declared the team’s closer early in spring training.
  • Listen Now: Duane Ward on The Jeff Blair Show

    “We were thinking about this last September. It sounds like we’ve got this guard here — like some armoured guard, like we want it to be like third world country … (but) we kind of want to take the decision away from him after awhile. We just made some decisions that we wanted a couple of people around to say ‘No, no, no. You can be mad at our people.”

  • Erie Otters general manager Sherry Bassin discusses the hiring of a former Erie police officer to act as a de facto security guard for junior star Connor McDavid and also control the growing crowds of autograph-seekers and well-wishers following the team.
  • Listen Now: Sherry Bassin on The Jeff Blair Show

    “Right from training camp the thing that really impressed me was on the defensive end … his defence is what has really impressed me. One, he can play it, which is good. And, two, he likes to play it … that’s the biggest thing he’s impressed me with, that I really wasn’t expecting as much of.

  • Minnesota Timberwolves assistant general manager Rob Babcock discusses Toronto native Andrew Wiggins, who was named MVP of the Rising Stars Game at NBA all-star weekend.
  • Listen Now: Rob Babcock on The Jeff Blair Show

    QUIBBLES AND BITS
  • Bet this brings a smile to the face of head coach Dwane Casey: the Raptors go into Monday night’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans holding opponents to under 100 points for a season-high four consecutive games, during which the Raptors rank first in opponents field goal percentage (.383) and second in points allowed (88.3.) The Raptors are 21-4 when holding opponents below 100 points, and Casey has spent most of the season trying to re-discover the defensive edge that he believes is very much a part of its DNA.
  • Whatever the sport, no group has avoided due blame for steroid or PED use the way player agents have avoided it. In fact, it would beggar belief to not assume some agents have acted as abettors. That’s why it was interesting to see baseball commissioner Rod Manfred tell Bill Madden of the New York Daily News that it was possible the issue of investigation and de-certification of agents – a role filled by the MLB Players’ Association – might be a matter that needs reviewing in the next round of collective bargaining. Players, coaches, managers, reporters broadcasters … all have been accused of complicity. These guys have skated by long enough – and not just in baseball
  • The Anaheim Ducks know how to win the close ones: going into Monday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings, the Ducks had an NHL-leading 25 one-goal wins and hadn’t lost a one-goal game in regulation, going 25-0-7. Their sweep of the Alberta teams in consecutive regulation wins this week was only the second time in club history they’ve managed the feat – the first was in 1993, the franchise’s debut season. The Ducks will be busy at the deadline: they could use a defenceman and left winger.
  • THE END GAME

    There are people in our business who aren’t comfortable with the concept of Derek Jeter’s Players Tribune, because if the idea takes off sports journalists will look more and more like middle men. That’s only true if you believe what you’re getting on Jeter’s site is honest appraisal and work – or, at least, that all the stuff is actually written by the players themselves. Anyhow, Patrick Patterson of the Raptors penned a piece recently on what it’s like to be traded that I thought was kind of cool. Hope you feel the same way. Yeah … we’re pretty much big fans of P. Pat in these parts.

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