Player Profiles 2020: Toronto Blue Jays Starting Pitchers

Nick Pollack analyzes the Toronto Blue Jays rotation for 2020 with in-depth player profiles.

Throughout the winter months of the offseason, the Pitcher List staff will be creating profiles for every fantasy-relevant player for 2020. Players will be broken up by team and role through starting pitchers, bullpen, lineup, and prospects. You can access every article as it comes out in our Player Profiles 2020 hub here.

 

Blue Jays At A Glance

There was little to embrace watching the Jays’ staff perform in 2019. From young arms doing their best to eat innings to veterans failing to effectively stay on the mound and the departure of two longtime favorites in Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez, Toronto struggled heavily with their rotation.

Two moves have already made 2020 come with a touch of shine, adding Chase Anderson via trade and signing both Tanner Roark and Hyu-Jin Ryu this winter. It’s possible the Jays add more to their rotation, while they have a few intriguing arms in the waiting that could make impacts as soon as this summer.

In the meantime, expect a carousel of mediocre arms at the back end, an array of arms who could get a larger spotlight than ideal as injuries may pile up quickly. The best case for the Jays is incredibly serviceable, the worst case is more of the same shrug of 2019.

 

 

Hyun-Jin RyuLocked Starter

Nickname: Better Than Ken

 

2019 In Review

What a season it was for Ryu. A 2.32 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, and 180+ innings for the first time since 2013 were a trifecta of best-case scenarios for the southpaw, earning the love of fantasy owners everyone as he came at a dramatically discounted rate in drafts. How he avoided the IL while holding an 82%+ LOB rate and beating his SIERA by more than 1.50 points is still a bit of an enigma, but his ability to induce chases off the plate and utilize his excellent infield defense as much as possible should not be overlooked.

A shift to Toronto is going to be a major change, however, and those hoping to strike gold for another year with Ryu should take caution.

 

Fastball (41% usage)

When you’re fastball isn’t all that fast, it’s often wise to pull back on its usage and let your secondary stuff shine. Ryu has done just that over his last three seasons, pulling its usage well below the 50% mark. It’s a mix of four-seamers and sinkers, with the former attacking batters more often and with good enough results – a .223 BAA and just five longballs on 713 straight heaters went a long way to emphasize the strength of his arsenal’s weapons.

And despite his sinker allowing a .333 BAA last season, the pitch returned what he wanted – a 65% groundball rate and plenty of swings outside the zone. Ryu doesn’t command his fastballs at the level of other crafty veterans, but certainly past the threshold needed to set up his changeup and cutter effectively.

 

Changeup (28% usage)

This pitch is everything. Ryu’s changeup is among the elites in the game for inducing chases outside the zone, returning an alarming 57% O-Swing in 2019. Absolutely ridiculous. It wasn’t used so much as a strikeout pitch, but rather to feed off its .222 BABIP and the aforementioned excellent Dodgers defense to scoop quick outs constantly.

And it’s a slight cause for concern. Ryu’s relatively low strikeout rate (22%) is a product of these early count outs, and I don’t see this approach shifting in Toronto. It may not be as effective, however, as the turf does groundballs few favors, and the Blue Jay’s infield defense is far inferior to the stacked crew behind Ryu in Los Angeles.

In other words, Ryu had the best-case scenario for his approach in 2019. Now it may be the worst case, and this changeup will likely be the same with vastly harsher results.

 

Cutter (19% usage)

When needing a strike, Ryu often favored this cutter as it found the zone at a 48% rate with a decent 11% SwStr clip. It didn’t fair too well when in play, though, returning a .359 BABIP and .281 BAA as it was simply an average strike-earning offering. Nothing too special and just another pitch to set up his elite changeup.

 

Curveball (12% usage)

Ryu’s hook acted as a surprise pitch, freezing batters for just a 30% Swing rate despite finding the zone over 45% of the time. It helped turn legs into jelly for a strikeout at a whopping 49% rate, though outside of surprise called strikes, the pitch wasn’t largely effective. Its 25% O-Swing left plenty to be desired and a .333 BABIP was as expected given its low 11.5% SwStr rate. When batters were ready for it, they weren’t all too fooled.

 

2020 Outlook

Ryu’s massive success in 2019 relied on three key aspects: health, his changeup’s chase rate, and a wonderful infield defense behind him. While his changeup should still be intact, his historical inability to stay on the field will likely take a chunk out of his 2020 innings, while the infield in Toronto will be detrimental to his success.

It’s possible he shifts his changeup into a late-count pitch instead of an early one to take advantage of its near 20% SwStr rate and rely on strikeouts over grounders, but even then, struggles would come getting to two strikes in the first place. 2019 was wonderful as we stood on the peak, we should now prepare for the descent.

 

Realistic worst-case projection: 4.20 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 20% K rate in 80 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 3.20 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 23% K rate in 180 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Hyun-Jin Ryu 2020 projection:

3.90 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 21% K rate in 140 IP

 

Chase AndersonLocked Starter

Nickname: The Thrill

 

2019 In Review

After an exciting 2017 season with the Brewers, Anderson has seen his performance degrade each season, resulting in a 4.21 ERA and 1.27 WHIP across 139 frames in 2019. Surprisingly, his boosted 2017 velocity returned last season, with a career-high 93.4 mph heater. However, its command and a massive step back with his curveball brought plenty of struggles.

A shift to Toronto gives Anderson a new chance to stick in a rotation and an opportunity to get his groove back.

 

Fastball (51% usage)

Despite having a poor season with his heater, its fastball velocity – the impetus for his 2017 season – was the highest its ever been, though it came with a drop in performance and command. A .311 BABIP and .261 BAA are digestible, but 12 longballs and a .845 OPS is not.

That said, if Anderson improves his curveball and maintains the performance of his curveball and cutter, there is a chance for his fastball to be good enough to get by, even excel if batters are kept honest. After all, it held an impressive 11.5% SwStr through the season.

 

Changeup (25% usage)

Anderson’s changeup has been a steady producer, allowing Anderson to use it early in the zone and steal some whiffs late. A .188 BAA and .631 ISO tells you everything about its performance and it’s what keeps Anderson in the bigs.

There could be room for a slight increase in usage to keep batters off his fastball, though a steady 25% usage should be enough as long as his other two secondary pitches perform up to snuff.

 

Cutter (15% usage)

Anderson’s cutter performed exactly as it should last year, hugging the edges of the zone as it induced a 31% O-Swing and 44% Zone rate. With a fastball that found too much wood last season, having this cutter to get strikes while holding batters to a .187 BAA was the relief handy weapon Anderson needed.

Expect closer to a 20% mark next season if his fastball command doesn’t return.

 

Curveball (10% usage)

And here’s the bad news. Anderson lost his curveball since the glory days, recording just a quarter of the strikeouts it returned in 2017. Batters chased it last season at a horrid 19% rate, and a 4.2% SwStr clip is as low as you’ll find on a deuce.

Something needs to change – either axing this curveball entirely and going three pitches only, possibly an introduction to a slider or tinkering with grips and release points to get the pitch to at least average levels.

 

2020 Outlook

With Anderson’s resurgence of velocity and two strong secondary offerings, there is still hope that he can produce in Toronto. Even his poor 2019 season still carried a sub 1.30 WHIP with a 21% strikeout rate However, his current trend suggests to turn away at the start of the year for greener pastures. Just don’t ignore a hot start out of the gate if it comes with the right fixes.

 

Realistic worst case projection: 4.70 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 20% K rate in 140 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 3.70 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 22% K rate in 190 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Chase Anderson 2020 projection:

4.20 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 21% K rate in 170 IP

 

Tanner RoarkLocked Starter

Nickname: The Sunbed

 

2019 In Review

Roark is now on his fourth team in three years after dancing between the Reds and Athletics last season…and putting up close to the same mediocre numbers. His 4.35 ERA is the standard mediocrity we’ve previous two seasons, his 5.31 IPS was the lowest we’ve seen, while his 1.40 WHIP was a career-high. Not great, Bob.

His slider was the saving grace of previous seasons, yet it returned a negative pVal for the first time since 2015…in fact all of Roark’s pitches returned negative marks. Maybe as an innings eater for a depleted Jays rotation, Roark can make the right adjustments and get into a productive rhythm.

 

Fastball (55% usage)

Roark features a near-even balance of sinkers and four-seamers, focusing more on the former and having surprising success. The sinker fails to hold an impressive O-Swing rate (just 23%!) and fails to eclipse the 40% groundball mark, yet it returned a 7.1 pVal as it was thrown nearly 900 times and did a decent job at limiting extra-base hits.

His four-seamer, however, struggled. It failed to earn strikes by missing the zone more than half the time and rarely getting chases, and the heater was smoked off the bat for longballs ten times in just over 700 thrown.

A new season in Toronto may not affect him as others with his generally low groundball approach, though these fastballs are as average as you’ll find. He’ll need help with his secondary pitches to survive in the rotation.

 

Slider (23% usage)

And this slider is the pitch most likely to do so. Hopefully. The sweeper had a strong 2018 season returning a 15.5% SwStr rate, though it took a nosedive in 2019, dropping nearly six full points to sub 10% levels. Its BABIP soared 200 points, resulting in a .330 BAA, and Roark failed to punch out batters with the pitch. It just wasn’t the same slider of old.

Without this weapon, it’ll be tough for Roark to withstand the expected regressed from his sinker next season. Keep an eye out for it early and if it’s not missing bats, there’s not a whole lot of hope.

 

Curveball (13% usage)

With his slider taking a step back, Roark turned to this curveball to pitch backward and get strikes. It performed decently well, to the tune of a .241 BAA and a solid 35% strikeout rate, but there were plenty of wasted pitches along the way and saw a dramatic tumble in O-Swing from a strong 41% clip in 2018 to just 26% last season. Here’s to hoping this hook gets its feel back.

 

Changeup (10% usage)

You’re looking at a pedestrian changeup. The same-old, same-old of slowballs, the shrug of a pitch that is just there for the free food. Roarks’ changeup was featured mostly against lefties and returned an acceptable .265 BAA, though it failed to find the zone over 30% of the time and didn’t induce enough chases to encourage increased usage.

Yes, Roark needs his slider back instead of this changeup.

 

2020 Outlook

With his secondary stuff trending in the wrong direction, it’s hard to imagine a major resurgence for Roark in 2020. His sinker overperformed a bit last season to stave of a harsh descent to irrelevancy, though without a slider or curveball that can be consistently effective, Roark will find life plenty harder north of the border. The best hope is an occasional streamer, but it’s likely we’ll never see Roark on our rosters.

 

Realistic worst-case projection: 5.00+ ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 17% K rate in 80 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 4.30 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 22% K rate in 180 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Tanner Roark 2020 projection:

4.75 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 20% K rate in 160 IP

 

Matt ShoemakerLocked Starter

Nickname: The Cobbler

 

2019 In Review

The years haven’t been friendly to Shoemaker, from a line drive forcing brain surgery, to a forearm strain and last year’s torn ACL. The result is just twelve starts in two seasons and he’s ready to show up healthy in spring training for a strong effort in Toronto. Here’s to hoping 2020 isn’t another lost season.

 

Fastball (47% usage)

Shoemaker has mostly been a sinker focused arm and the pitch…isn’t very good. A career .307 BAA and sub 25% O-Swing is all you really need to know about the pitch, as it’s sole purpose is to not get hit as Shoemaker sets up his splitter.

If things are going poorly for his splitter, this fastball isn’t enough to allow Shoemaker to escape starts unscathed.

 

Splitter (33% usage)

When you’re feeling good about Shoemaker, it’s because this splitter is cooking. Its career 21% SwStr rate and 50% O-Swing tell a tale of a fantastic offering that keeps batters off-balance constantly.

However, with most splitters, Shoemaker goes through periods where he loses the feel for the pitch. The result is too much of a fastball/slider approach that simply doesn’t work, and a quick drop from your fantasy lineup.

If the splitter is there, Shoemaker will turn into a considerable streaming option, possibly for a few weeks at a time.

 

Slider (18% usage)

It’s all about the splitter with Shoemaker and this slider helps him get strikes without using a fastball he truly doesn’t want to throw. It can be an effective pitch inside the zone (career 47% zone rate!), but only when used sparingly – paired with just his heater, this pitch gets laced. It’s a good option as a mix-up pitch, but far from the strong third option that pitchers can turn to when their favorite secondary offering fails them.

 

Curveball (2% usage)

Speaking of sparingly, this curveball shows itself every so often as a rare surprise pitch early in counts. It’s okay, I guess. Not really. Let’s move on.

 

2020 Outlook

Shoemaker has a lot going against him – a poor injury history, a questionable defense behind him, and situated in an offensive heavy AL East division – though it would be unwise to overlook his potential. If his splitter is on while scheduled against average to poor offenses, there’s likely value to be had scattered across his 2020 season. Just don’t invest in it early.

 

Realistic worst-case projection: 4.75 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 20% K rate in 50 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 4.10 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 23% K rate in 160 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Matt Shoemaker 2020 projection:

4.50 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 22% K rate in 140 IP

 

Ryan BoruckiFringe

Nickname: Soon-to-be-BoVeteran

 

2020 Outlook

The Jays have four starters with a whole lot of options for that fifth spot. Borucki is currently the best guess to grab it, though, as you can see, there are plenty of arms to choose from among the Jays major and minor league squads.

If Borucki gets the job, there isn’t a whole lot to rejoice. His ceiling is the 2018 season that returned a Toby-esque, 3.87 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, and 16% strikeout, and when you remember I called that his ceiling then you’ll understand this tone of negativity.

Maybe his changeup takes a step forward, utilizing its 17% SwStr rate to earn closer to a 20% strikeout clip, maybe he turns into a command freak with his heater. Even if he took those leaps, you’re looking at a streamer at best. This isn’t worth your time.

 

Trent ThorntonFringe

Nickname: Discount Hotel

 

2020 Outlook

Oh Discount Hotel. There is some promise in that arm of yours, but it’s just too raw. His fastball can be great at times, while his slider and curveball each could miss bats, and hey! There’s a decent cutter in there too, which can be a strike-getter, but it’s all too volatile to trust.

Maybe he gets the time to develop and refine his ability, squeezing out the most in his secondary stuff and not getting beat on his cutter or fastball. In all likelihood, we’ll be waiting far too long to get there.

 

Shun Yamaguchi – Fringe

Nickname: The Handbag

 

2020 Outlook

Acquired from Japan this off-season, we don’t know a whole lot about Yamaguchi. 32-years-old on a $6 Million, two-year deal, he held a 2.78 ERA with 194 strikeouts in 181 innings and could slot in as the Jays’ fifth starter…or find himself in the pen.

I’m looking forward to seeing him in the spring as he’s known to feature a solid fastball with a splitter and slider. He could turn into a Toby or slide into the pen and quickly forgotten about.

 

Thomas PannoneFringe

Nickname: Highlander

 

2020 Outlook

Despite having some brief moments of bliss in 2019 including a nine strikeout game, there’s little to suggest that Pannone can turn into anything that suggests your focus. He features a sub 90 mph fastball supported by a decent changeup and hook, and if you fell asleep reading that, I don’t blame you. Save for the toughest of situations, I wouldn’t elect Pannone even as a streamer this season, save for a truly impressive display of command.

 

Nate Pearson – Fringe

Nickname: The Prof

 

2020 Outlook

Tim Jackson went over Pearson in his Top 50 Blue Jays Prospects, ranking him as their #1 prospect in the organization. It’s an electric heater that touches 100 with a power slider and strong curveball as well, and the moment he gets the call, he deserves your attention.

Until then, sit on your hands and wait. There’s no reason for the Blue Jays to rush him to the bigs with so many fringe arms available to survive until the Super Two has clearly passed by.

 

Jacob WaguespackFringe

Nickname: Jay-Dubs

 

2020 Outlook

We saw Waguespack for 13 starts last year and he found the time to make us wonder about his ability during a surge in August – amplified by seven shutout frames against the Dodgers. He’s a two-pitch arm favoring a good cutter with his mix of heaters, but there isn’t much more than that. He has the upside to get quick outs with his sharp cutter surprising batters, but there isn’t a third option to truly put them away and suggest longevity for your fantasy teams.

Consider him as a streamer at best. Don’t get hooked unless his curveball, slider, or changeup takes a new form to miss bats constantly.

 

Sean Reid-FoleyFringe

Nickname: Serif

 

2020 Outlook

I will not forget the upside Reid-Foley showcased in his brief stint in 2018, which included a pair of 10 strikeout games across just seven starts. However, his velocity dropped a full tick during his brief time in 2019, while dropping from a 12%+ SwStr to sub 10% levels as his once money pitch slider wasn’t nearly the same.

There could still be something in there for Reid-Foley and considering the likely vinyl of a Blue Jays rotation that will spin around until sweet music plays, he should get another few chances to impress.

 

Nickname explanations:

Hyun-Jin RyuBetter Than Ken. Ken and Ryu are Street Fighter characters.

Chase AndersonThe Thrill. Because it’s the thrill of the chase.

Tanner RoarkThe Sunbed. He goes to sunbeds because he is a Tanner.

Matt Shoemaker: The Cobbler. A cobbler is one who makes shoes.

Ryan Borucki: Soon-to-be-BoVeteran. Bo”rucki” sounds like “rookie”.

Shun Yamaguchi: The Handbag. Guchi = Gucci.

Trent ThorntonDiscount Hotel. “DoubleTree” is a hotel chain, and TT = double tees.

Thomas PannoneHighlander. There can only be pannONE.

Nate Pearson: The Prof. Pearson school of learning.

Jacob Waguespack: Jay-Dubs. For J.W.

Sean Reid-Foley: Serif. His initials – SRF – is just missing the vowels.

 

 

Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

Nick Pollack

Founder of Pitcher List. Worked with MSG, Rotographs, CBS Sports, and Washington Post. Former pitching coach and Brandeis alum. Wants every pitcher to be dope.

  • Avatar TB says:

    Hey Nick,
    Really enjoyed hearing you on the recent fantasy pros podcast. Keep up the great work.

    Quick question:
    I’m in a pretty competitive keeper league and need advice. Would you trade away Frankie Lindor for Aaron Judge and a first round draft pick? There’s 16 owners and we keep 6-8 players so the first rounder would roughly equal a player in the 100-110 ADP range. It’s a 9×9 CATS h2h league, favoring power hitters for sure. I’m leaning towards accepting but it’s hard to let go of a player you’ve had for 3 years.

    Thanks!
    TB from Kansas City

    • Nick Pollack Nick Pollack says:

      Thanks a lot TB! I just caught this comment now.

      I’d favor the Judge side there as Lindor’s value is rooted in SBs, which gets diminished in 9×9 leagues.

  • Avatar Jim says:

    Better than Ken. I love it.

    Top notch. For anyone that needed an explanation of that nickname, please stop reading this website and go play Street Fighter.

  • Avatar Jim says:

    But come back after you’re done playing and read more, because the Pitcher List is awesome.

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