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Say What Jays Talk

The Good, the Bad, the Ugly from Blue Jays Nation. Follow us on twitter! @saywhatjaystalk

Tricky Dickey: Could Jays retool RA and his magical knuckler into a bullpen weapon?

***this article was written before Dickey's Monday start and before the announcement that Liriano would be moved to the pen

With over eager Jays fans already planning Toronto’s playoff roster, the only idea that seems unanimous is that Dickey will be watching from the bench this post-season. With the release of Dickey’s personal catcher, Josh Thole, last week, the future of the 41-year old knuckleballer has been further put into question. Although management has reiterated that the six-man rotation is still the plan for now, we all know how quickly Shapiro and company can change a set plan (remember the Sanchez to the pen debacle?).

My dad and I were watching a Dickey start back in April and RA was having another typical awful first month (1-3, 6.45 ERA). Fed up with yet another slow start from the Jays and from Dickey, my dad declared “why don’t they send him to the minors?” My initial reaction was because there’s no one to replace him. With an already questionable rotation Dickey’s ability to eat 200-innings was arguably more important than his win-loss record. When my father persisted suggesting Toronto’s highest paid starter move to the bullpen, I dismissed the notion as ludicrous. A knuckleballer as a relief pitcher - unheard of!

Many are suggesting that RA Dickey should not be on Toronto's playoff roster. But could he be retooled as a relief pitcher?

But now with Dickey looking a long shot to make the October roster, could he be retooled as a long-relief type? The thinking goes you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but as first-round draft pick who redefined his career at age 31 and didn’t have his best season till 37, Dickey is anything but your typical old dog. So let’s take a look at a few of the question marks surrounding a Dickey to the pen move.

1.With the unpredictability of the pitch can a knuckleballer really be a reliever?

One of the main concerns about a knuckler in relief is what happens if he comes in with runners on? Dickey could be a passed ball or two away from blowing a lead. Well, here are two good examples of knuckleballers who succeeded in the pen.

Phil Niekro, the God Father of the knuckler, came up as a relief pitcher with the Milwaukee Braves. Niekro would go on to have a 24-year, Hall of Fame career in which he was often swapped between the rotation and the pen. In his first three seasons he pitched 79 games for the Braves and only started one of these games. In his first full season in 1967 Niekro started 20 games while relieving 26 games and recording nine saves. In total he had 148 career relief appearances and recorded 29 saves. But admittedly Niekro played in a different era of baseball, where roles were not as strictly defined and things like innings and pitch limits, were not enforced. So let’s look at some recent history.

Tim Wakefield was not yo-yoed as much as Niekro between being a starter and a reliever. Of his 627 career games only 164 were from the pen. But in 1999 when Red Sox closer Tom Gordon was injured, they decided to experiment with their knuckler to close in the ninth. From 1999-2002 he pitched 32, 34, 28 and 30 games in relief, moving back and forth from the rotation to the pen as needed. But the example from Wakefield’s career that may be the most relevant is his performance as a relief pitcher in the post-season.

In Boston’s run to the 2004 World Series, Wakefield was the unsung hero in a come-from-behind ALCS against the Yankees. He came in and ate up 3.1 innings in a Game 3 laugher in which New York won 19-8. Although Wakefield himself was roughed up, giving up 5 earned runs, he did keep Boston’s bullpen refreshed for game four. In game five Wakefield was again called in to relief, this time going three scoreless innings in a wild 14-inning affair that Boston would eventually win and the knuckler would be the victorious pitcher.

Wakefield played an instrumental part of the Red Sox 2004 World Series win, with key performances in game 3 and 5 of the ALCS.

This doesn’t prove that RA could hack it as a relief option but it does show there is a precedent. There is also something to the theory that bringing a knuckler in after a power pitcher could disorient an opponent’s offense. In 2015 there was a lively debate in BJ Nation over whether Dickey should pitch game two of the ALDS. The logic being that after facing a power pitcher like David Price in game one, Dickey’s slow knuckler would completely mess up the Rangers grove. Ultimately Toronto decided to use Marcus Stroman in game two but imagine if Toronto could use this switcheroo technique mid-game. If you’ve been facing the heat of Aaron Sanchez all night, imagine coming to the plate in the late innings and have to adapt to the madness of the knuckleball.

2. Who would catch Dickey if he came in as a relief pitcher?

During Dickey’s four year Blue Jays career, he has pitched the vast majority of his games to his “personal catcher” Josh Thole. When RA first came over, the Jays then starting catcher JP Arencibia said he would try and catch Dickey – this quickly came to an end. Thole and Dickey were reunited. And so the narrative of Dickey and Thole being an inseparable duo began. But JP has left the building and the Jays now have one of the best defensive catchers in the game.

Martin (arguably the best defensive catcher in the MLB) is more than capable of catching Dickey.

Admittedly catching the knuckleball can be a traumatic experience and Martin explained some of his struggles to Jeff Blair in 2015. Martin said,

“The other balls, I’m able to catch in the glove. The knuckleball, I never catch it in the sweet spot…With that one, it’s rattling around in my glove, so every once in a while it will catch me on the inside part of the thumb and it jams it a little bit. It’s not broken. Just bangs it a little bit.”

The fear became that, although Martin could catch Dickey, forcing him to catch the knuckler for the duration of the season could lead to injuries, fatigue and even offensive regression. Kyle Matte of Capital Jays compiled some offensive stats from Martin’s 2015 campaign. On days where Martin caught Dickey he hit a Thole-esque .171 BA, .224 OBP, .333 SLG compared to a respectable .241/.339/.444 when not catching the knuckleball. So the thought from management was that if he’s going to hit like Thole, why not just let Thole do it and save Martin the hassle. But if Dickey was coming out of the pen, Martin would surely manage better than having to catch a whole game.

Although it is no secret that Dickey cherishes his working relationship with Josh Thole, this idea that he needs the light-hitting catcher to function is highly exaggerated. When commenting on the release of Thole, Dickey said, “My hope is that he’ll come back and it’s my expectation that he will but you never know.” He is prepared for life if Thole decides to sign somewhere else and even highlighted that Martin “has done a phenomenal job when he’s been up catching me.” So in a relief situation, there would be no need to switch your catchers mid-game as Russ would do just fine catching Dickey for a few innings, without the offensive side effects from catching him for a full game.

Now Red Sox fans may remember the near disaster in 2004 that was caused by Terry Francona allowing Jason Varitek to stay in the game to catch Wakefield. In the 13th inning of a tie ballgame, Wakefield struck out the leadoff hitting but the batter reached on a pass ball. Two more quick outs before Varitek let another pass ball pass by, runner to second. Eventually they decide to intentionally walk the batter. So first and second, two outs and wouldn’t you know it another passed ball, the runners both move in to scoring position, second and third. Perhaps a cautionary tale, but again Martin is quite adaptable and Dickey himself admits he’s been “phenomenal.” In 21 starts in 2015 where Martin caught RA he allowed 19 passed balls. Although this fails in comparison to Thole’s 16 in 47 games this season, the chances of Martin allowing three passed balls in an inning seems unlikely.

Although Boston's number one catcher Jason Varitek didn't catch most of Wakefield's start, he was capable of catching him in relief.

3. How would Dickey do in relief?

The stats would suggest that Dickey might not be a great relief pitcher, in the traditional sense. When we look at his career numbers in high leverage situations he has an abysmal 13.43 ERA (34.62 in 2016) and with runners in scoring position has a career 11.92 ERA (12.74 ERA in 2016). So bringing in Dickey in a no-outs, bases loaded scenario would probably not be the best idea but as an inning-eater, long relief type, could he be valuable to a playoff club? Like Wakefield did in that 2004 championship run by the Red Sox?

If you look at his career stats as a relief pitcher, isolating the pre-2006 stats (before he became a knuckler) he has a 3.65 ERA in 98.2 innings. Another stat that could be used to gage whether Dickey would be a worthy relief pitcher is the times through the order penalty (TTOP). The theory behind this stat is that each time a batter faces a starter he becomes more effective. The first time through is advantage pitcher, second time neutral, and third time advantage hitter, fourth time BIG advantage hitter. Essentially the pitcher has the element of surprise, initially but as the ABs go by the bats start catching up to the pitch. This element of surprise could be even more drastic for a knuckleballer, because there are so few practicing ones it really takes a batter time to acclimatize. If we look at Dickey’s 2016 TTOP we notice an alarming trend – third time through the order and he’s done.

Dickey has somewhat redefined the pattern as he tends to struggle in his first round, (3.98 ERA, .302 BA) improve his second (3.84, .205 BA) and get blown out in his third (5.93, .247 BA). But even so, if you shave off the 44 IP he’s had gone third time through the order he would have dropped his total ERA by about half a point from 4.43 to 3.90 (which is comparable to Scott Feldman’s 3.65 ERA so far this season). Also, none of these stats factor in the immeasurable numbers like how a batter would adapt to a knuckleballer midgame. Knowing you are going to face Dickey as a starter you can go and watch as many tapes as you need to prepare yourself but if he’s just a weapon out of the pen, the element of surprise will surely be all his.

The other day I heard an interview on Baseball Central with CBS writer Jonah Keri. He was selling the idea of starter Francisco Liriano moving to the bullpen for the stretch run and playoffs. Seems like a very worthwhile gamble. Keri’s argument was that the Jays need an effective lefty in their pen if they’re to go far in the playoffs. With their two current options, Brett Cecil and Aaron Loup, sporting a 4.82 and 7.45 ERA respectfully Jays fans have little faith in their lefty options (although Gibby continues to go back to the Cecil pond). With his strikeout-an-inning stuff and his power Liriano would seemingly be a great fit in the pen. His 2016 TTOP goes 2.56, 5.19 and 9.38 suggesting a a move to the pen may be beneficial.

But this got me thinking, who then would be the odd man out of the remaining starters? Estrada, Happ and Sanchez would be locks, and if Liriano was moved to the pen to become the lefty specialist, leaving Stroman and Dickey to duke it out. The decision last year was easy - Hutchison had been clearly the worst starter and Mark Buehrle appeared to be out of gas. But this season, banishing Stro or Dickey from the playoff roster seems questionable. With the shakeup of the rotation, Gibby may have already tipped his hand about who will be the fourth starter in October. The last three games went Estrada, Happ, Sanchez and Stroman pitched Friday. Although Dickey has been extremely frustrating at times in 2016 he does bring a unique set of skills to the table. Having bullpen depth in the post-season can go a long way. But if the Jays were to have both Dickey and Liriano in their arsenal for late innings, this could help them avoid some of the bullpen disasters that occurred in 2015.   

Dickey could offer Gibby a secret weapon in October from the pen. But would it be worth the gamble?

Altering History: how politics can shape international sport

I was watching some men’s Olympic basketball the other night and saw a rousing match between Serbia and Croatia. The two bitter foes duked it out, in a back and forth affair. The game saw #6 ranked Serbia narrowly defeat #12 Croatia 86-83. Many of the players had been alive for the fracture of the former Yugoslavia and lived though the chaos of the early nineties - some were not. Some of these players, now on opposing teams, spent large parts of their lives as countrymen. This made me wonder, what if politics hadn’t got in the way?

So here is a list of a three parallel universe, “what if?” sports rosters.

1. What if the Yugoslavians had been able to settle their differences and remained a united country? What would their international basketball team look like?

From 1991-2001 the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia had a drawn out civil war that involved widespread ethnic cleansing and ultimately led to the country splintering into seven independent states. These new countries range in size from less than a million to 7 million people. But if they stayed united they’d be a nation of roughly 22 million people. The seven united countries would currently have 15 NBA players, surpassing Canada’s 12, for the most international players in 2015-16.

Croatia has four NBA players; Serbia, Montenegro and Slovenia each have three; while Bosnia and Herzegovina has two.

Yugoslavia’s roster could look something like this:

C- Nikola Vucevic (ORL) MONTENEGRO -18.2 PPG
PF - Mirza Teletovic (MIL) BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA – 12.2 PPG
PF- Nikola Mirotec (CHI) MONTENEGRO – 11.8 PPG
SG/SF - Bojan Bogdanovic (BRK) CROATIA – 11.2 PPG
PG/SG - Goran Dragic MIA SLOVENIA – 14.1 PPG

Obviously they would have to work out their small forward and/or shooting guard situation but these are their top five scorers last season. This may not seem all that flashy but when compared with the World’s #2, Spain’s top five:

C- Marc Gasol (MEM) -16.6 PPG
PF- Pau Gasol (SAS) - 16.5 PPG
PF Nikola Mirotec (CHI) – 11.8 PPG *
PG- Ricky Rubio (MIN) - 10.1 PPG
SG-Jose Calderon (LAL) - 7.6 PPG

*Mirotec was born in and spent his childhood in Montenegro but has Spanish citizenship. He recently represented Spain in Rio. But in this parallel universe we’ll assume that Mirotec would not turn down the chance to play for the powerhouse Yugoslavs.

If Mirotec decided to play for Yugoslavia, they would probably fly past Spain on the international ranking. When you consider that there were only 100 international players in the NBA in 2015-16, Yugoslavia’s 15 would be quite impressive.

So would Yugoslavia staying together have improved their international basketball team? Absolutely! International basketball always seems to be about which club has the best chance to upset the American Dream Team. On paper the US should never lose on the world stage, but lesser teams from time to time shock the Yanks. The Yugoslavs would be a team that America, and the world, would always have to take seriously.

Serbia took home the silver medal in Rio, despite only having 1 NBA player. Yugoslavia would have 15.

2. What if the US Civil War had been won by the South?: A look at a divided house and its affect on USA baseball.

Well we could do this with any sport but since we just looked at basketball and because football is not really an international sport, baseball might be the most interesting. First, I will be basing this on the premise that the Confederacy would have remained the 11 states that seceded during the Civil War, the United States will get the rest. Also, I will assume 151 years later that the Confederacy would have abolished slavery, thus making African-American athletes eligible for the team.

What would professional sport look like if the Confederate states had separated from the USA?

UNION (USA)                                                                     CONFEDERACY

C- Kyle Schwarber OH                                                    C- Buster Posey GA
1B- Paul Goldschmidt DE                                              1B- Anthony Rizzo FL
2B- Ian Kinsler AZ                                                            2B- Daniel Murphy FL
SS- Brandon Crawford CA                                             SS- Ian Desmond FL
3B- Nolan Arenando CA                                                3B- Josh Donaldson FL
OF- Kris Bryant NV                                                         OF- Mookie Betts TN
OF- Mike Trout NJ                                                          OF- Lorenzo Cain GA
OF- Ryan Braun CA                                                        OF- Andrew McCutchen FL
DH- Giancarlo Stanton CA                                           DH- Manny Machado FL 

SP- Max Scherzer MO                                                   SP- Clayton Kershaw TX
SP- Jake Arrieta MO                                                      SP- Chris Sale FL
SP- Mike Fulmer OK                                                      SP- Madison Bumgarner NC

RP- Zach Britton CA                                                      RP- Andre Miller FL
RP- Dellin Betances NY                                                RP- Wade Davis FL
RP- Mark Melacon CO                                                  RP- Craig Kimbrel AL

Even with team USA split down the Mason-Dixon line, these would still be the best two clubs on the international stage. But what’s interesting is that the Confederacy may be able to sport an even better team, with their 11 states, than the US, with their 39 states. With Florida and Texas being such hot spots for baseball, the South would have more than enough depth to compete with the World’s best, including the North.

Surely the universe in which the South won the war, not all things would be the same. Would the MLB exist? If so, would it have US and Confederate teams? How would the South have evolved on its own? But this is supposed to be a light, fun piece, so we won’t go there.

But could you imagine that World Baseball Classic matchup? It would get FIESTY! Imagine the United States versus the Confederate States for gold, in the 2020 Summer Games.

So would this breakup negatively impact Team US? Yes. But only in the sense that the Confederate States would give them a competitor that on paper could challenge them for #1.

Giancarlo Stanton would be one of the stars for Team USA, but the likes of Anthony Rizzo, Manny Machado and Mookie Betts would've all been born in the Confederate States.

3. What if Quebec had successfully won the 1995 Sovereignty Referendum and separated from Canada? How would Canada’s men’s Olympic hockey team look?

Canada in hockey is much like the United States in baseball. They are both powerhouses that produce the majority of big league talent in their respective sports. But what would happen if Canada had lost its second most populous province, a province that accounts for nearly a quarter of the country’s population?

Although the separatist movement has cooled since ’95 there still remains a strong secessionist voice, represented by the Parti Quebecois, provincially, and the Bloc Quebecois, federally. In 2006, Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe proposed that Quebec have its own Olympic team (much like England, Wales, North Ireland and Scotland do in soccer). The idea was quickly shot down but it made us all wonder, would Team Canada be crippled by the departure of our francophone brethren?

Modern hockey was born in Quebec, as the first indoor game was played in Montreal in 1885; It is the province that has the most decorated and victorious hockey club in NHL history (the Montreal Canadians) and has churned out elite players such as Maurice “Rocket” Richard, Mario Lemieux, Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur and Ray Bourque. So one would assume that removing Quebec from the Canadian equation would be a mighty blow to Canada’s international standing.

Well let’s look at the last three Olympic Canadian Men’s teams and the Quebecois representative.

2006: G-Martin Brodeur
           G- Roberto Luongo
           F- Simon Gagné
           F- Vincent Lecavalier
           F-Martin St Louis

Canada’s two best goalie options and alternate captain Simon Gagne, alongside top-tier forwards made up a solid Quebec representation. But alas, this was not a proud moment for Canadian hockey as this club finished an unimaginable seventh in the Turin Olympics.

2010: G-Martin Brodeur
           G- Roberto Luongo
           G-Marc-Andre Fleury
           F-Patrice Bergeron

Roberto Luongo (Montreal) took the reigns for Team Canada in 2010 in Vancouver. Quebec has historically produced GREAT goaltenders for Team Canada..

Canada won gold on home ice, in Vancouver, thanks to the phenomenal play of Montreal’s Roberto Luongo. All three goaltenders were Quebecois but the roster would not have been drastically altered.

2014: G- Roberto Luongo
           D-Marc-Edouard Vlasic
           F- Patrice Bergeron
           F- Martin St. Louis

Canada defended their Gold title beating Sweden in the finals. But Quebec played little part, as Corey Price took over between the pipes.

Canada defended its Olympic gold in 2014, but this time BC's Carey Price stole the show in between the pipes.

The roster that Canada has put out for the 2016 World Cup has only four Quebecois players, goalie Corey Crawford, Vlasic, Bergeron and Claude Giroux. Bergeron was seventh in points by a Canadian in 2015-16, while Giroux was right behind him in eighth. Also worth noting that Canada’s highest scoring defenseman Kris Letang is from Quebec but was off the World Cup roster for some reason.

TEAM CANADA                                                TEAM QUEBEC

G- Braden Holtby WSH                                  G- Corey Crawford CHI
G- Carey Price MTL                                         G- Roberto Luongo FLA
G- Brian Elliot STL *                                        G-Marc-Andre Fleury PIT 

D- Brett Burns SJS                                           D- Kris Letang PIT
D- Drew Doughty LAK                                    D- Marc-Edouard Vlasic SJS
D- Duncan Keith CHI                                      D- Francois Beauchemin COL
D- Jake Muzzin LAK                                        D- David Savard CBJ
D- Alex Pietrangelo STL                                D- Marco Scandella MIN
D- Shea Weber MTL                                       D- Alex Biega VAN
D- PK Subban NSH *                                      D- Jason Demers FLA

F- Jamie Benn DAL                                         F- Patrice Bergeron BOS
F- Jeff Carter LAK                                           F- Claude Giroux PHI
F- Sidney Crosby PIT                                     F- Paul Stastny COL
F- Matt Duchene COL                                   F- Derick Brassard OTT
F- Ryan Getzlaf ANA                                     F- Jonathan Huberdeau FLA
F- Brad Marchand BOS                                F- Anthony Duclair ARZ
F- Tyler Seguin DAL                                      F- Mike Ribeiro NSH
F- Steven Stamkos TBL                               F- PA Parenteau NYI
F- John Tavares NYI                                     F- Alex Tanguay ARZ
F-Joe Thorton SJS                                          F- Jason Pominville MIN
F- Jonathan Toews CHI                                F- Mathieu Perrault SJS
F- Taylor Hall NJD *                                      F- Antoine Vermette ARZ
F- Corey Perry ANA *                                   F- Vincent Lecavalier Retired

In May, Sportsnet published an article on the 14 Biggest Snubs from the World Cup rosters. Taylor Hall, Corey Perry and PK Subban were all on it and could reasonable replace Bergeron, Giroux and Vlasic on the roster. Brian Elliot could step in as the team’s third-stringer. Elliot had the best Goals Against Average and Save Percentage among any Canadian in 2015-16 and would serve well as a backup option.

Quebec would also be able to sport a respectful team with a roster full of NHL talent, but this team would probably be more of a middle-of-the-pack. Team Quebec would lack the depth of teams such as Canada, USA, Russia and Sweden, but would matchup nicely with middle-tier clubs like the Czech Republic, Finland and Slovakia.

So how would a successful referendum in 1995 have affected Canada’s international hockey ranking?

It would appear as if Canada would win the breakup (at least in hockey terms). The remaining nine provinces could still manage, on paper, to make up the best team in the world whereas Quebec would see a mighty drop off in its international standing.

Quebec was extremely divided about separation, but narrowly chose to stay in Canada in 1995 Referendum.

During the Olympic games we see great national unity all in the name of sport. Countries compete on the international stage with grace and respect, in a way that we could only dream of in the real life. During the games we don’t focus on our differences. A medalist is not a Quebecker or Ontarian, not an Anglophone or a francophone but a Canadian. A medalist may be a proud Southerner but when they win, they win it for the red, white and blue of America, not for the Confederacy.

Unfortunately, the Olympics are only two-weeks every two years. But imagine if your country had its medal count split in two (or seven)? The former Yugoslavia would have 23 medals from the Rio Games (which would be ninth highest in the world) but now Croatia has the highest single amount with only ten. In these three cases we saw history unfold in three drastically different ways. In the Yugoslavian states we saw a complex and bloody civil war that saw tremendous bloodshed in the name of ethnic nationalism, leading ultimately to the implosion of the state. In America we saw countrymen turn their backs on one another, as thousands died in a war centred on human rights and the freedom of men. But ultimately they remained unified. In Canada, we saw a bitter historical ethnic tension boil to the top and although the referendum was conducted with no bloodshed, Canada was half-a-percentage point away from being permanently splintered along ethnic lines.

As a Canadian I understand the sibling rivalry that exists in a multi-ethnic state and admittedly sometimes get lost in comparing our differences. But sport can be a great unifier, as we all put down our individual identities to play for a nation. Too bad the Olympic spirit doesn’t last.    

Team Canada as a united nation at the Rio Games. "United we stand, divided we fall."


Toronto's Terrific Trio Destined for October Glory?

So, if the playoff started today, the Blue Jays would have the best rotation in the AL. If you had to go back and reread that sentence, I don’t think you’re alone.

Now I realize this may be getting ahead of ourselves, with over 40 games left and the Jays in a tight pennant race, looking forward to October may be jumping the gun a bit. Also assuming that this rotation will stay healthy and effective, is a tad naïve. But with that said, the Jays look primed for a stellar playoff run in 2016 (assuming they can make it). They look ready for arguably a better shot than the 2015 club, thanks to their rotation.

Toronto's Marco Estrada and Aaron Sanchez were both picked as All Stars in 2016 and JA Happ certainly should of been right there with them.

Toronto roared on to the scene in 2015, with a .690 winning percentage (post trade-deadline). The Jays quickly became the League’s darling and unanimous favourites to win the World Series. With an elite offense and a rented ace in David Price, the sky looked the limits - but the holes were there. As the playoffs began the lack of rotation depth became apparent, and that team that appeared unbeatable for the last two months of the season finally faltered.

The Jays relied HEAVILY on David Price in 2015 playoffs, and when he faltered the team did too

Many of us learned last season, that playoff teams really only need three or four starters in October. As we saw with the NL Champion, New York Mets, having a handful of elite starters can go a long way. With travel days and breaks between series, the fourth starter is only used when necessary and the fifth man is irrelevant. In 2015 the Jays sported an intriguing trio in David Price, Marcus Stroman and Marco Estrada, with special guest appearances by RA Dickey. But this year, Toronto will have an ace caliber starter pitching in nearly every single playoff game.

So let’s first compare the 2015 Jays’ rotation to this years’. To demonstrate how impressive the rotation has been.


David Price - 220.1 IP, 18-5, 2.45 ERA, 271 K
Marcus Stroman – 27 IP, 4-0, 1.67 ERA, 18 K
Marco Estrada – 181 IP, 13-8, 3.13 ERA, 131 K
RA Dickey 214.1 IP, 11-11, 3.91 ERA, 126 K

The 2015 rotation looked solid, but Price had his playoff demons (6.17 ERA in 4 games) and Stroman had only a month of work prior to October (4.19 ERA in 3 starts).

2016 so far:

Aaron Sanchez 152.1 IP, 12-2, 2.84 ERA, 127 K

Marco Estrada 132.1 IP, 7-5, 3.20 ERA 121 K
JA Happ 150.1 IP, 17-3, 3.05 ERA, 133 K
Marcus Stroman – 153.2 IP, 9-5, 4.63 ERA, 126 K

The 2016 rotation features two All-Stars and JA Happ (who certainly looks like one). The fourth spot would be a clear downgrade, as Dickey, Stroman and Liriano have all had poor showings in 2016. But I’d pick Stroman just because he has had flashes of brilliance and has a far greater upside than the other two. Even with the weak fourth spot the Jays rotation looks destined for playoff greatness.

Making a combined $21.5 million this dynamic trio has Jays fan forgetting about their $30 million ex, David Price

But when compared with other AL clubs, you can really start to appreciate how elite Toronto’s rotation truly is. Last years’ team was all about the offense, and if the bats were in a slump so was the team. But this season the starters have taken control.

If the playoffs were to start today the Jays would have the best rotation ERA of any AL club. With only the Cleveland Indians being close among current playoff teams.

Toronto Blue Jays - 3.67
Cleveland Indians - 3.93
Boston Red Sox – 4.39
Baltimore Orioles – 4.82
Texas Rangers – 4.15 

The difference in rotation ERA is highlighted even more when you segregate the Earned Runs Average of the teams’ top-3 starters.

(Aaron Sanchez, Marco Estrada, JA Happ) – 3.02 ERA
(Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar) -3.23 ERA
(Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish, Martin Perez) – 3.37 ERA
(Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy) - 3.55 ERA
(David Price, Steve Wright, Rick Porcello) - 3.56 ERA

The Jays find themselves well ahead of the AL pack. The other four teams are separated by only 0.23 ERA, while the Jays are 0.21 ahead of the second rank Indians.

Some may say it’s too early to talk playoffs but FanGraphs has Toronto’s playoff odds at 89.5%, with a 42.4% chance of winning the division, so maybe thinking about October isn’t all that absurd. The greatness of Toronto’s big-3 starters has been noted but I’m not sure if this fan base appreciates how special they really are. Sanchez, Estrada and Happ may not be as flashy as some fearsome trios from the past (theyre certainly not Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz, or Lee-Halladay-Hamels) but it is getting to a point in the season where we must recognize that this more than just a flash in the pan, or a lucky streak.

John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux were together in Atlanta from 1993-99. During this time the Braves won the World Series once, made it to the finals two other times, and made it to the Championship Series the other 3 years. Happ, Estrada and Sanchez are not QUITE this dominant but good pitching goes a long way in October.

Shapiro and Co. have diversified the make up of this team and the results are clear. Toronto currently has the best ERA, 3rd in runs and 2nd in home runs in the AL. So let's focus on taking the East, keeping this team healthy, and let the count down to October begin!