Sports

Blue Jays Mailbag: Pillar Leading Off, Biagini's Role, and 6-Man Rotations

Andrew Stoeten says Toronto should have no issues sending Joe Biagini back to the bullpen once Aaron Sanchez returns, and looks at possible leadoff replacements for the struggling Kevin Pillar.
June 19, 2017, 10:19pm
Photo by Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Andrew Stoeten answers your questions in our Blue Jays Mailbag, which runs weekly at VICE Sports. You can send him questions at stoeten@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter.

The Blue Jays salvaged one of three against the White Sox over the weekend, but spent a good 90 percent of the series looking mostly awful. Does this mean it's time to panic? To crack each other's heads open and feast on the goo inside?

Advertisement

In a word: yes. In five more words: if you're a garbage clown.

Ahhh, we have fun, don't we? But seriously, the Jays are spinning their wheels, fans are starting to get restless, and this is the backdrop for… well… for at least a couple questions in this week's Blue Jays mailbag. So let's do it to it!

If you have a Blue Jays question you'd like me to tackle for next week, be sure to send it to stoeten@gmail.com. As always, I have not read any of Griff's answers.

Hey Stoeten,
Do you think the Jays will consider using a 6-man rotation again when Sanchez returns, perhaps skipping the odd Biagini start to keep him fresh?
Matt

I absolutely don't!

I know that the team went to six starters last year, but those were pretty severe circumstances. Aaron Sanchez needed his innings rolled back, the Jays needed to see what they had in Francisco Liriano, and Marco Estrada's back was giving him problems and it seemed he could use the extra rest. Because of that, and because there was no obvious odd man out, the Jays went with it, but Marco Estrada seemed to be particularly out of sync in shifting to five days of rest between starts, instead of the usual four, and the experiment as a whole was hardly a shining example of why teams need to go to a six-man rotation more regularly.

Not only are pitchers thrown off by the disruption to their routine, but there are obvious structural problems with the whole concept. Roster numbers are finite, so to go to a six-man rotation means a club needs to take either an arm out of its bullpen or a bat off its bench. There is also the simple math of it, with respect to the number of starts that go to each pitcher: 162 games divided by five starters is 32.4 starts each, and divided between six is 27 starts each. Do you really want to take away five or six starts each from your top two starters just so you can have a sixth in the rotation? With all the other problems that come with the idea? (Hint: you don't!)

Advertisement

Of course, you're not talking about the Jays doing this for a full season, and their rotation's strength is that there really isn't one guy who stands out ahead of the others, so I suppose it could make more sense for them than most, but then the big question becomes, why???

What is the point of keeping Joe Biagini in the rotation once everybody else is healthy?

Biagini has shown that he's a viable rotation option for this club—despite his most recent start, which was awful—and that's great for them going forward. But, for me, if he's the sixth guy he's the sixth guy, and he goes straight back to the bullpen once Aaron Sanchez is ready. He still has a lot of value there, and while I've encountered the odd six-man-rotation stan who pretends it would somehow be reckless or impossible to have to ramp Biagini's innings back up a second time this season, were they to shift him back to the bullpen now and then need him in the rotation later, uh… no.

Photo by Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Biagini worked as a starter all spring, then went to the bullpen, then easily made the transition back into the rotation. I don't think it's ideal to keep doing this to a guy, but not because of any worries about arm health. It's just probably not putting him in the best position to succeed.

But Biagini's here for the long haul. He's due to hit arbitration for the first time after next season, and the Jays will hold his rights for three more years after that. And, by the looks of it, next year he'll likely be a full-fledged member of the rotation—a cheap and halfway decent replacement for the losses of Marco Estrada and Francisco Liriano to free agency (though we all hope they re-sign Estrada, I'm sure, even though he's been awful lately, too). He'll be fine. He will, in fact, probably be even better in the bullpen, where he was unexpectedly a weapon for the club last year, and continued to thrive through the start of this season.

Advertisement

Why are we aiming to take starts away from better starters, and to remove a reliever or a bench bat from the roster, just to keep him starting games, exactly? It doesn't make a lot of sense. And the thing about six-man rotation schemes, which come up literally every single season, they almost never make sense.

---

Hey Stoeten Loving the new mailbag, although I do miss the contrast between your answers and Griffins.

My question today is why does the MLB draft suck so hard. War times notwithstanding the MLB draft is the suckiest draft that ever did suck. I can recite 7 of the top 10 projected picks for the upcoming NBA draft from memory, I've already read 3 NFL mock drafts and yet I can't remember who the Twins took with the first overall pick on Monday and I'm way more into baseball than those other two sports. Why doesn't MLB have the draft in November and allow teams to trade picks and market this thing like the other major sports.

Cheers
Chris Mc

I'm all for making drastic changes to the draft—abolishing it would be a good start!—but… uh… I don't really see how holding it after the season or allowing teams to trade picks (which is definitely a major change I'd be on board for) is going to change the fact that nobody knows who the fuck these guys getting picked are.

It's easy to say this here in Canada, but NCAA baseball is pretty faceless, and niche enough in its own right, and yet the top three picks in this year's MLB draft were from high school—not a whole lot of exposure there, unless you're someone like a Bryce Harper. Add to the exposure problem the fact that baseball greatness takes time to reveal itself—there is no equivalent of a McDonald's All-American Game or a World Junior Hockey Championships (though a mini tournament of California, versus Texas, versus Florida, versus everybody else might be interesting!), where the best of the best can impress upon the world just how much physically better they are than their peers.


And not only is the problem that draftees are unknown now, it's that they're going to remain unknown for years. Four of the top six players taken in the 2016 NHL draft were regulars for their teams as rookies. The number in the NBA is even higher than that (only four first rounders didn't suit up in the NBA—three of whom stayed in Europe, the other being injured top pick Ben Simmons). None of MLB's 2016 first-round picks reached the big leagues in their draft year, only five of the players picked in the first round of 2015 draft have made it to the majors (Swanson, Bregman, Benintendi, Fulmer, and Happ), and only 13 of the first 41 picks from 2014 have done so. Even fewer have established themselves as regulars.

Many won't ever establish themselves as regulars, and that's a problem, too. At least in terms of making the draft exciting. I mean, the Blue Jays are hardly atypical, and yet look at the wasteland that makes up most of their first round (and supplemental round) picks since 2010: T.J. Zeuch, Jon Harris, Jeff Hoffman, Max Pentecost, Phil Bickford, D.J. Davis, Marcus Stroman, Matt Smoral, Mitch Nay, Tyler Gonzales, Tyler Beede, Jacob Anderson, Joe Musgrove, Dwight Smith, Kevin Comer. Obviously in the supplemental round of 2010 they did extremely well (Sanchez, Syndergaard, and to a much, much lesser extent, Wojciechowski), but before that they took Deck McGuire! Take out the big three from that draft, as well as Marcus Stroman, and you get a total of 44 games of big league experience from the rest of that list!

Advertisement

Makes for some real scintillating stuff on draft night, eh?

So, I guess what I would say is that the draft is what it is. The league does a pretty good job of trying to make it as much of an event as it can be, and the rest of the world does the sensible thing and collectively shrugs its shoulders. It's just different, is all.

---

How long do you run Kevin Pillar in the leadoff spot? Is there a better option? Numbers since May 1st are not good.
BaseballBats

is there anyone else who could conceivably leadoff ahead of pillar?
Steve

Why does Bats still bat third for the Jays??
Blake

I don't know that Kevin Pillar would have ever been my leadoff hitter, to be honest. I think it's best not to get too hung up on the silly traditional ideas of what a leadoff guy is supposed to be (or, honestly, to worry about lineup order much, if at all), so I'm entirely fine with having someone like Jose Bautista at the top of the Jays' lineup right now. Or, at least, I would be if his numbers weren't in the shitter at the moment, too.

Photo by John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

But the thing about Bautista—good lord, never "Bats"—is that at least he still takes walks. The ZiPS projection system has Pillar with a .307 OBP for the rest of the season, because despite the encouraging signs we saw at the start of the season, it's most likely that's who Pillar is. Bautista, despite being at just .337 now—a number powered by the terrific May that is bookended by miserable months in April and June (so far)—is projected for .360 the rest of the way. Projections aren't everything, but I still think Bautista gives the Jays their best chance to have someone on base for Josh Donaldson, which is obviously the position that they want to be in.

I don't particularly like the idea of a home run hitter (which Bautista still sort of is) being guaranteed one plate appearance per game with nobody on ahead of him, not to mention hitting behind the dregs of the lineup, but without Devon Travis and Ezequiel Carrera, there really isn't anybody who looks a whole lot better there. And I think it's fair to be thinking about moving him out of the third spot in the order, even though it's a bit of an eye-roll-worthy reaction to the team scuffling a bit lately. (There are good hitters here, it's OK to relax a bit).

Advertisement

But another dimension of me not really caring too much about this stuff is that I'd totally be fine if they rode the hot hands of Dwight Smith and Steve Pearce, and had Smith leadoff against right-handers and Pearce against lefties. WHY NOT?

The other thing is that we shouldn't be too careless about where we mark the beginning of Pillar's decline. For me, he was entirely fine through the start of May, and it was really the 0-for-4 in Atlanta, and the accompanying suspension for using a homophobic slur, that seems to be the point where things went south for him. Since "that game" he's slashed a pitiful .168/.226/.271 (29 wRC+), but that was only just May 17.



Asking a hitter "what have you done for me lately?" is almost always a mistake, in my view, because no hitter is his last 10 or 20 or 30 or even 60 games. That's not to excuse guys for being shitty, it's to say that just because a guy has been shitty for a while doesn't mean that he is shitty.

It hasn't been a great couple of weeks, and that's especially frustrating because the Blue Jays' opponents seemed ripe for the picking, but it's funny how quickly Blue Jays fans, even after watching two straight ALCS seasons, are ready to throw up their hands and declare the team awful sometimes. Speaking of…

---

Do the Jays have an overabundance of dumb Twitter fans? Or are they just what I am exposed to, sure seems like a lot of pissbabies online
Dave

Advertisement

Did this team change it's goal from making the playoffs to causing fans to vomit uncontrollably?
TJ

Morales and a prospect for Eddie E. It makes precious little sense but fuck it I'm mad online
DMChristop

I included that last one because I just… I don't even know where to begin with a thing like that. What I do know is that, no, the Jays don't have an overabundance of dumb Twitter fans. Quite the opposite, I find—or, at least, I've found after several years of muting and blocking the truly ridiculous ones. Like… go look at how other fan bases interact online, or just people in general. We're living in the age of trash, my man. And Twitter has replaced comments sections as the place where self-awareness and humility are put on hold so people can just vent whatever dumb, negative garbage comes into their heads and try to pass it off as wit. (Not that I'd know anything about all that *COUGH*).

This isn't to slag TJ or DMChristop, who obviously had their tongues firmly in cheek when they sent these questions this way, it's more to say: yes, Twitter is exasperating, and no, it's not just your experience with it, it's everybody's.

Here's another thing I know, though: a team that loses 45 percent of its games wins 89 of 162 and makes the playoffs. We all can relax a little with the "they've been bad for two weeks so they're bad!" or "this guy's been bad for a month so he's bad!" stuff. Twitter is great for amplifying people who see things that are bad and can identify them as bad and think that doing so is providing some kind of a service. "Gotta hit the cut-off man there!" "Shouldn't have sent that runner home!" "He's gotta make that catch!" "This lineup isn't hitting!" Yeah, thanks Connie fucking Mack.

Sometimes it's best to just put the phone down and walk away and try to enjoy the game for itself. At least 45 percent of the time, by my reckoning.