We had posts on this site in May, June, and August, that referred to something Nick Cafardo had written about as “insanity.” If you wanted to surmise that I’m somewhat suspicious of his attempts to throw a bunch of shit at the wall and see what sticks (note: most likely shit), that should tell you everything you need to know. But in his latest piece for the Boston Globe, which comes my way via the indispensable MLB Trade Rumors, he links the Jays– in terms of fit, at least– with free agent right-hander Bronson Arroyo, who apparently won’t be back with Cincinnati Reds.
Arroyo, 36, said he wants a three-year deal and feels his career in Cincinnati is likely over. “I have no preference on where I want to pitch but I’ll certainly consider the team, their chances of winning, and all of that,” he said. “I feel I can pitch effectively at 37, 38, and 39 years old. I’ve never missed a start. Never been injured. I’m not a max-effort guy out there, so there’s no big-time wear and tear on me. I loved Cincinnati but I don’t think they’re in position to give me what I want.” Among the teams that could be bidding are the Blue Jays, Orioles, Brewers, Cubs, Giants, Pirates, Cardinals, and Dodgers.
I’ll pause while you finish up rolling your eyes.
A three-year deal to a Bronson Arroyo who’ll be 37 by the time the season begins seems pretty staggeringly unin-fucking-spiring as your big, splashy off-season move. It would sure bend the minds of the rubes convinced that bringing a “National League pitcher” to the AL– even one who had two of his best seasons pitching half the time in Fenway Park– is doomed to fail because of that alone, without even looking at who he is. But actually…
Arroyo really does actually make sense in some pretty compelling ways.
Believe me, I hate saying it. The only foul ball I’ve ever caught in my life came off the bat of Alex Rios during Arroyo’s absolute shitcanning at Rogers Centre in 2008– a game where he got just three outs, giving up ten earned runs on eleven hits, a walk, and three home runs– and since then I’ve sort of irrationally figured he sucked a whole lot more than he actually does. He certainly hasn’t left a good impression in this town– his career ERA at Rogers Centre is 6.75 over six starts– but if you take out that one inning, the ballpark hasn’t been as bad for him, in just a 29.2 inning sample, as you might think. Adjusted, his ERA drops to 3.94, which is better than the 4.19 mark he’s posted for his career.
Also better than his career 4.19 ERA? His ERA in four of the last five seasons, which, in order, have gone: 3.84, 3.88, 5.07, 3.74, 3.79.
Yes, he posted those numbers while pitching in the NL Central, facing lineups with pitchers in them, but still, not bad for a soft-tossing right-hander who has lost a couple miles per hour since he last successfully navigated the AL East waters.
Arroyo’s not just that, though. He’s durable as hell.
His first full season in the Majors was 2004, which he began as the fifth starter on a Red Sox team that would go on to win the World Series. In mid-April, an off-day and two rain outs gave the club an unwanted three-day break, and sent Arroyo briefly to the bullpen, which meant that he would make just 29 starts, despite appearing in 32 games in total. It was the last time he would make fewer than 32 starts in a season, and along with his 199-inning 2011, the only time in his career as a starter that he failed to reach the 200 inning plateau.
There are certainly parallels with the Jays’ best pitcher in 2013, Mark Buehrle, from obvious ones about durability right down to the various rates. For example, he walks slightly fewer batters than Buehrle, and in recent years has struck them out at about exactly the same rate. This year Buehrle’s LD/GB/FB percentages were 20.6%/45.3%/34.1%, while Arroyo’s were 20.3%/44.4%/35.3%. In 2013 Arroyo was a little more home run prone, with a 14.0% HR/FB rate (the second worst of his career), but that isn’t maybe quite as big a potential issue as it may seem: StatCorner’s three-year rolling data suggests that the Great American Ballpark was actually quite a bit more home-run-friendly than the Rogers Centre when it comes to both left- and right-handed hitters, and the data at FanGraphs (which doesn’t yet include 2013, or handedness) says the same– though not by quite as much– while at ESPN.com and Baseball-Reference, Cincinnati just edges Toronto in terms of home-run-friendliness.*
Still, homers will be an issue. And with Dickey and Buehrle here already, should they choose to bring in Arroyo, things could get very busy for the fans sitting behind the bullpens. But Alex Anthopoulos has acknowledged that he needs to manage risk a little better, and rolling with three pitchers who are as close to sure things as you get to put in six innings every time they’re given the ball certainly would help to that end. Of course, they’re not necessarily going to be the best innings, but every inning they throw is one that the likes of Sean Nolin, Aaron Laffey, Ricky Romero, Chad Jenkins, Ramon Ortiz, Chien-Ming Wang, Esmil Rogers, Todd Redmond, or whoever is going to be 2014′s version of those guys, doesn’t have to.
Thing is, just because a guy has dependably logged innings the way he has for so long doesn’t mean that he’s going to in perpetuity. MLBTR profiled Arroyo’s case as a free agent, astutely noting that “it’s always scary to give decent money to a guy with an 87 mile per hour fastball, with the concern that he’ll lose another tick of velocity and start throwing batting practice.” They go on to explain that “Arroyo is a low-strikeout, pitch-to-contact hurler, and he’s had multiple years where he’s allowed around ten hits per nine innings.”
It’s a scary thought– one that maybe makes one want to reconsider the value of Ryan Goins, and make damn sure that the club can bring in a catcher who’ll be able to expertly control the running game, if this is a path they’d really consider going down. Or, y’know, maybe it just makes one reconsider the idea of Arroyo himself. But, I can’t lie, something intrigues me here, even if it’s probably just an over-correction in the direction of what Boston did this season by bringing in Ryan Dempster.
It doesn’t hurt, either, that Arroyo’s timeline corresponds nicely to fit the payroll flexibility the Jays are hoping to preserve for 2016 and beyond. Another point in the Jays’ favour is that he’s not necessarily going to be looking for a bridge deal in a spacious NL park in order to inflate the market for his next deal– if he can get the three years that he wants, there’s not much reason to be looking beyond this next contract.
Still… we’re talking about Bronson Arroyo. Ugh.
* Note: the original version of this paragraph had mixed up the data from Stat Corner.