Wilner on Blue Jays: No rotation is perfect

Ricky Romero was battling J.A. Happ to be named the fifth starter in the Blue Jays' rotation.

DUNEDIN, Fla. — Brandon Morrow threw 4.2 very strong innings in the Toronto Blue Jays’ loss to a split-squad of Atlanta Braves Saturday afternoon, but with two out and nobody on in the fifth allowed six straight Atlanta hitters to reach — on five singles and a walk — and a 4-1 Blue Jays’ lead turned into a 5-4 deficit.

Still, it was a good outing for Morrow in that he got his pitch count up into the high 80s and took the game into the sixth inning, and apart from that fifth-inning blip, pitched very well.

J.P. Arencibia went 3-for-3 with a homer and a walk, continuing to crush the ball since returning from his trip to the World Baseball Classic with Team U.S.A. Since he’s been back, Arencibia is 7-for-13 with a couple of doubles to go with that homer.

It was an Edward Salcedo homer in the eighth off Esmil Rogers that broke the tie, and then the Braves put the game out of reach against minor-league call-up Clint Everts in the ninth.

On The BlueJaysTalk, there was much discussion about Ricky Romero’s struggles and J.A. Happ’s successful spring, and I wanted to take the fifth starter discussion beyond the phone-ins and beyond the 140-character world of Twitter in order to delve into it a little deeper.

Here’s the thing about starting rotations: Almost none of them contain five very good starters. Like, ever. In fact, it’s a serious luxury to even have four above-average starters in a major-league rotation.

That’s not to say that mediocrity should be accepted, nor is it to say that the Blue Jays shouldn’t be looking for the best possible options to take north with them and keep trying to improve any weak spots over the course of the season. It’s to say that even championship teams have some serious holes.

Think back to the Blue Jays’ World Series-winning seasons.

The 1992 team had four everyday players with an OPS under .700, and three with an OBP below .305. If batting average is your thing, five regulars hit under .265.

As far as the pitching went, Dave Stieb and David Wells combined to make 28 starts, so it could be said that they shared the fifth spot in the rotation. Over those 28 starts, Stieb and Wells together posted an earned-run average of 6.04 and a 1.503 WHIP. That’s the fifth starter on a World Series champion.

The 1993 Blue Jays were much better known for their offence, but still had three everyday players with an OPS below .700 and four who hit under .255.

That team gave 27 starts to our current broadcast partner Jack Morris, who pitched his guts out through an injury that resulted in him being sidelined late in the season. Jack posted a 6.19 ERA and 1.664 WHIP, and they still won the World Series.

More recent examples? The 2012 San Francisco Giants ran Tim Lincecum and his 5.18 ERA and 1.468 WHIP out there 33 times. The 2011 St. Louis Cardinals gave Jake Westbrook 33 starts and he stunk to the tune of a 4.66 ERA and 1.533 WHIP.

Can’t do that in the AL East, you say? The 2009 Yankees gave Joba Chamberlain 31 starts; he posted a 4.75 ERA and a WHIP of 1.544. They won the World Series.

The 2008 Phillies had the awflitude of Kyle Kendrick and Adam Eaton for 43 starts, the 2007 Red Sox had Julian Tavarez and the 2006 Cardinals had FOUR starters with ERAs over 5.00 combine to make 84 starts. That’s more than half their games! They won the World Series.

Again, I’m not saying that teams with a shaky fifth starter should take a laissez faire attitude and not improve the position (and that’s fifth in performance, not in order of the rotation). What I’m saying is that not improving the position — whether Romero or Happ winds up with the start on April 6 — is far, far, far from a death sentence for any pennant hopes for the coming season.

Everyone really needs to take a deep breath.


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