Over/Under: Previewing the Blue Jays Starting Pitchers using ZiPS projections

Photo credit:Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports
Paul Berthelot
2 years ago
Part three of this season preview will look at starting pitching. The rotation for the Blue Jays has plenty of question marks after Hyun-Jin Ryu, so let’s get into the ZiPS projections and see how this rotation shakes out.
Since we are dealing with pitchers, the under means I expect them to do better than the projections. 

Hyun Jin Ryu

Ryu is the Blue Jays ace, and as long as he is healthy he will deal. Health has been an issue for Ryu in the past but he has been healthy the past two seasons and hopefully, that continues into this season. Health is the only reason he won’t hit these projections. Ryu has only had an era higher than these projections once in his career, so I’ll take the under on his ERA. His velocity was down at the start of spring but he ramped up pitching simulated games, and in his last start his fastball was hitting 90-91. Even if his velocity does decline he still keeps hitters off balance with his array of off-speed pitches. His change-up was sharp this spring, and was responsible for six of his 11 strikeouts. That pitch will once again be his go to for strikeouts and I expect him to beat his strikeout projection.    

Robbie Ray

I am excited to see what Robbie Ray can do this season. I think working with Pete Walker got his mechanics sorted out. His fastball velocity is up significantly this Spring to 95.9 mph, per Baseball Savant. He’s never had a season with an average fastball velocity that high. He averaged over 94 mph from 2015-2017, which conveniently enough were his three best seasons. The velocity is nice, but what has been most impressive about Ray’s Spring has been his control. He’s walked just five batters in 13.2 innings. Keeping the walks in check is important, that will keep his pitch count down, limit the damage of a home run and keep him in the game longer. I’ll take the under on his projections.  

Tanner Roark

Roark had a bad season last year, but he isn’t as bad as he showed last season. He never seemed to get going in the shortened season and I am not willing to write him off just yet. His velocity on all his pitches was down last season close to two miles per hour, and while it’s rebounded some here in Spring Training it’s still down from where it was in 2019. If his velocity doesn’t come back he could struggle to reach these projections. I think Roark can be a serviceable fifth starter who can eat innings, but until that velocity is back I am going to have to pick the over on these projections.  

Steven Matz

When the Blue Jays acquired Matz, I thought he was headed for the bullpen. He had struggled as a starter and pitching out of the pen he saw a big velocity spike. However, with the injuries to the rotation, Matz is going to start the season as the number two starter. The Blue Jays acquired Matz on the cheap with the hope that they could fix him and get him back on track. Looking at his Spring stats nothing appears to have changed with his arsenal or pitch mix. His sinker velocity is right in line with where it was last season, though his slider and curveball are each roughly a mile per hour slower with less spin. He may have altered these pitches slightly but we will need to wait for the regular season to confirm that. He still throws his sinker a ton and until he shows he can locate that pitch better I am going to take the over on his projections. 

Ross Stripling

Stripling like Matz was an arm I think many had projected to the bullpen until injuries forced him into the rotation. Stripling had a lot going on last season from a failed trade to the Angles to the pandemic to being actually traded to the Blue Jays. And a lot went wrong for him, his release point was off, his slider was different, he couldn’t locate his fastball. In Spring Training he looks to have corrected his release point, it’s much tighter in Spring than it was in 2020. He looks to be back throwing his old slider. The spin rate on his slider is down 200 rpm from where it was last season per Baseball Savant, which puts it more in-line with 2019. He’s been throwing all his pitches for strikes. He got at least two strikeouts on all four of his pitches. With a full proper off-season and without the headaches of last season, I think Stripling will rebound and beat his projections.  

T.J. Zeuch

It was announced Monday that Zeuch will break camp with the team. And while his role is yet to be determined I figured I would include him with the starters, as I expect he will start some games this season even if just spot starts. One of the Spring Training stats I was watching was Zeuch’s velocity. In that post, I noted how his sinker was down 1.7mph and how that was a cause for concern. Zeuch has put that concern to rest. Zeuch has only hit 94 with his sinker twice in his MLB career. In his three most recent Spring starts he has hit 94 mph 12 times. This hasn’t yet led to more strikeouts for Zeuch but it is a big step in the right direction. I’ll take the over on Zeuch for now until he starts getting swings and misses on that sinker. 

Nate Pearson

Pearson is so tough to project. All the talent in the world but he hasn’t been able to stay healthy. He’s hardly pitched this Spring as he deals with a groin injury. He may end up spending some time in the bullpen as he tries to build his innings up. I think when he pitches, whether that is as a starter or a reliever he will pitch well, so I will take the under on his ERA and FIP projections. But we can’t count on him to pitch that often so I will take the under on his WAR projection.

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