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Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The Rotation Review, Vol. 3: Joe Biagini makes his debut

You can’t stop the Actually Good Toronto Blue Jays, you can only hope to contain them. The Jays went a tidy 3-2 through each of the first two trips through the rotation, however they are not messing around anymore and went 5-1 on their third trip, which even included a spot start from Joe Biagini due to one two three postponements.

JA Happ

6.0 IP, 5H, 1ER, 1HR, 3BB, 9K

Last week I wrote about how Happ had been using his sinker more often over his four-seam fastball, however he reversed course and threw a steady diet of four-seamers to the Orioles hitters, throwing the pitch 61 times (he only threw it 60 times in his first two starts). It was his go-to with two strikes, accounting for 20 of his 31 two-strike pitches, five of which were strikeouts. Fastballs accounted for 78.9% of his pitches, his highest usage of the 4SFB/sinker combo this year.

Happ was able to pitch out of a couple early jams. In the first two innings, he ended up with first and second and no outs, before striking out the side each time. A home run to Manny Machado in the third inning accounted to the only run he allowed. Per FanGraphs, he had a Game Score of 58, his first above average start of the season (FanGraphs sets the league average game score to 50).

Although home runs have been a bit of a problem, he hasn’t had a major issue with walking guys, and is striking out players at an insane rate, sitting third in the AL in K/9 as of writing this. Happ has been getting better with each start, and the fact he’s been able to use his fastball as a weapon is encouraging as he continues to settle into the 2018 season.

Aaron Sanchez

8.0 IP, 5H, 1ER, 1HR, 5BB, 4K

In what was his best start of the campaign, Aaron Sanchez took a no-hitter into the 8th. The Jays finally supplied him some offence in the top-half of the inning, thanks to some little-league quality defense from the Orioles. However, the no-no was busted on a double, and then after a single and a double, the game was tied with two-men in scoring position and no outs. With a run expectancy of 2.03 (in addition to the run already scored) and Baltimore having an 85.5% win probability, at this point many of us on Twitter were begging for Sanchez to get the hook. John Gibbons, however, gives no shits about us, leaving Sanchy in. He induced a weak fly ball from Trey Mancini, put Machado on for free, and got Schoop to ground into a double play to end the frame. A Curtis Granderson dinger in the top half of the inning secured the game, and a well-deserved #pitcherwin for Sanchez.

Despite having a no-hitter into the eighth, Sanchez still had some command issues, walking four and hitting a batter in his first seven innings. He only struck out four, but was able to use his changeup to generate weak contact. The critical Schoop double play came on a two-seamer up in the zone that tailed away from the right handed batter.

Marco Estrada

5.0 IP, 6H, 4ER, 0HR, 3BB, 5K

In a game that saw the lineup without Russ Martin, Devon Travis (both on scheduled off days), and Josh Donaldson, the Blue Jays needed Estrada to be strong in order to have a chance to win. After three hitless innings in which he struck out four, Marco began to run into trouble in the fourth, allowing three runs, and faced four batters in the fifth, who all reached, before getting the hook in favour of Danny Barnes. He basically lost all his command and left lots of pitches over the plate and, despite the Orioles generally being trash, guys like Machado, Davis and Schoop will generally make you pay for bad pitches.

Good Marco (Innings 1-3)
Bad Marco (Innings 4-5)

Marco said after the game his back began spasming on him again during the start, so it’s very possible his poor performance can be chalked up to that. On the other hand, if this becomes a recurring issue again, an unhealthy Estrada is quite the detriment to this team. All the rainouts are coming at a good time, as he’ll have two bonus days off before his next start.

Marcus Stroman

5.0 IP, 9H, 4ER, 0HR, 2BB, 5K

This was Stroman’s second bad start in a row, putting up another pitching line which was not pretty. After a rough first two innings yielding four runs, he settled down and was able to get through the fifth without any further damage. Hopefully those last few innings are a sign of better things to come, because they need him to be better. He did a couple unlucky breaks with balls finding holes, but he gave up his fair share of solid contact, with 62.3% of batted balls being classified as hard contact by FanGraphs. While he still was able to get a few strikeouts, when the ball was in the zone, he wasn’t missing bats, as Cleveland connected on 95.2% of pitches they swung at in the zone.

That’s pretty much what you’d expect. The better your command is, the more likely you’re painting the edges making it harder to hit. Otherwise, you’re gonna leave balls over the middle when you do find the zone, and it turn they will get hit hard, leading to more runs.

Jaime Garcia

5.0 IP, 8H, 3ER, 2HR, 1BB, 5K

Jaime took the mound on Saturday Sunday Monday Tuesday, and once again, he had a good start. There’s pretty good reason to believe he might regress a little bit, as home runs continue to be an issue, allowing another two on Tuesday. He’s also striking out batters at slightly higher rate than usual for him, and sits atop the MLB in Hard% among qualified pitchers, and has the seventh worst average exit velocity among pitchers who have thrown at least 250 pitches.

Even if he regresses, he’s still an adequate fifth starter, and doesn’t need to be anything more if the top-four guys pitch to their potential.

Joe Biagini

5.2 IP, 6H, 3ER, 1HR, 3BB, 4K

Joe was called up as the 26th man for the night cap, and made his MLB appearance of the year. It was a solid spot start indeed, especially considering he found out he’d be pitching about 24 hours before getting the ball. I would have taken him out after the fifth, however Gibby left him in, and he gave up a bomb to Abraham Almonte. Still, three runs in five and two-thirds was a tidy start, and the offense eventually came to life later in the game.

This is especially impressive when you consider how the first inning went. The Royals loaded the bases on two singles and a walk, then he hit Duda to force a run in. The Royals then hit into two force outs at home (thanks Ryan Goins), and Almonte had a loud fly out, limiting the damage to an impressive one run.

He featured primarily the same repertoire and pitch usage as last year, however, BrooksBaseball classified many of his fastballs as sinkers (they had never done that prior to this season). Baseball Savant classified them as four-seamers, so this likely means he’s added a bit more sink to his fastball. He did yield a slightly higher groundball rate than normal.

The Biagini start was a good move by the front office, for a number of reasons. Due to the doubleheader, they’d need an extra starter on Saturday in New York, unless someone was gonna go on short rest. This way, Biagini faces an inferior opponent, the 26th man allows you to not have to send anyone down, and it pushes Aaron Sanchez to start against the Yankees. I’d imagine this will happen again when the Jays have a twin bill against the Indians on May 3rd. In the meantime, the Jays will go for the sweep against the Royals, and then play four in the Bronx, assuming the weather cooperates. It really is nice to the see the Jays get out to a good start. Given the quality of teams they’ve been facing, this is exactly what you’d expect out of a team that has playoff hopes.