Like in years past, the Buffalo Bisons had a rotating door of starters coming through, hoping for a(nother) shot at the big leagues.
28-year-old lefty T.J. House was the leader on the Bisons in starts and innings pitched with 24 and 133 1/3, respectively. House recovered from a scary moment in spring training when he took a line drive off his head to post solid numbers for Buffalo and he got into two games for the Blue Jays. House had a 4.32 ERA and 1.59 WHIP with the Bisons, striking out 17.9% and walking 10.0% and generating a 49.3% ground ball rate. House doesn’t throw hard, averaging 88.5 mph on his fastball when he was with Toronto but he gets some nice sinking movement to it. Despite being a lefty, House only had marginally better stats against lefthanded hitters than righties, with a .711 OPS against against lefties and an .817 OPS against versus righties. House was at his best in April, making four starts and posting a 1.64 ERA and 1.27 WHIP over 22 innings, striking out 28 batters but May brought massive regression and he didn’t have an ERA under 4.78 for any month until August when he had a 3.38 ERA and 1.45 WHIP. House was sent to Buffalo outright and is not on the 40-man roster meaning that he can elect free agency at the end of the World Series.
Veteran lefty Brett Oberholtzer, 28, gave House a run for his money in the games started and innings pitched categories with 24 starts and 131 innings. With a 4.12 ERA and 1.53 WHIP, Oberholtzer was a solid starter who gave the Bisons innings this year. He had a solid walk rate of 7.7% but only struck out 14.1% of batters while posting a 45.4% ground ball rate. Oberholtzer, who touched 90 mph on a good day, also didn’t have much of a difference between his splits against lefties and righties, with a .725 OPS against with lefties and a .799 OPS against with righties. With the exception of a horrible June (in which he had a 7.52 ERA and 2.13 WHIP in six starts), Oberholtzer was pretty consistent throughout the whole season. Oberholtzer is also likely to elect free agency at the end of the World Series as he looks for a chance to get back to the bigs.
Making 21 starts with the Bisons was 26-year-old righty Luis Santos. Since signing with the Blue Jays at the beginning of the 2015 season, Santos has mostly toiled in Dunedin and New Hampshire but got the chance to really show what he can after an early promotion to Buffalo. Installed in the Bisons’ rotation, Santos put up some solid numbers with a 4.07 ERA and 1.25 ERA, with a 21.7% strikeout rate and 9.8% walk rate over 108 1/3 innings. Called up to Toronto in September, Santos made 10 big league appearances, throwing 16 2/3 innings with an excellent 2.70 ERA and 1.14 WHIP, walking just 5.9% of batters and striking out 23.5%. Santos is not a ground ball pitcher and did give up more home runs per fly ball in the majors than at any other level. I think Santos is going to be a nice depth arm for the Blue Jays in 2018, starting in Buffalo (where could either start or relieve) but could be on the cusp of a call up at any point in the season.
35-year-old righty Jarrett Grube is the definition of a journeyman whose journey to try to get back to the major leagues, where he has just 2/3 of an inning under his belt, continues. He made 11 starts for the Blue Jays, posting a 6.14 ERA and 1.51 WHIP over 55 2/3 innings, striking out 19.2% of batters and walking 8.6%. Grube was traded to Cleveland in June and he put up some better numbers for the Columbus Clippers with a 3.56 ERA and 1.29 WHIP over 78 1/3 innings.
Righty Cesar Valdez, 32, was another Buffalo starter who got a couple of cracks at the big leagues over the course of the season. After Valdez pitched in both Triple-A (with some great success in 10 innings) and in the majors for Oakland (without any success at all), he was designated for assignment by the A’s and the Blue Jays claimed him off waivers, sending him to Buffalo. Valdez was up and down with the Jays, posting a 3.23 ERA and 1.11 WHIP over 61 1/3 innings with Buffalo, striking out 17.6% and walking just 4.8%. With the Blue Jays, he struck out 16.7% and walked 7.3%, with an ERA of 6.75 and WHIP of 1.59 over 21 1/3 innings. Valdez went on the DL with right shoulder impingement in early August and was transferred to the 60-day DL in September. With the number of players for whom the Blue Jays might need to clear room on the 40-man roster this offseason, I sort of expect Valdez to be a casualty of the roster shuffle.
Chris Rowley was dominant in New Hampshire but really made his case for his big league call up while he was in Buffalo, baffling Triple-A hitters as a starter. In NH, Rowley made 17 appearances but only started five games. In 52 innings, he had a 1.73 ERA and 0.81 WHIP, striking out 24.8% of batters and walking only 4.6%. Called up to Buffalo, he made 12 appearances, starting eight games and had a 2.66 ERA and 1.20 WHIP over 64 1/3 innings, seeing his strikeout rate drop to 17.1% and walking 6.3%. Called up to the big leagues, Rowley had a memorable debut, earning a win in 5 1/3 innings and allowing a run on five hits and a walk with three strikeouts against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He walked five against the Tampa Bay Rays, giving up two runs in five innings in his next start and allowed four runs against the same Rays in 3 1/3 innings, giving up two home runs in his third start. He was sent back to Buffalo for another two games before being recalled for September where he worked three times, including taking the loss, pitching the 16th through 19th innings against the Red Sox on September 5 and allowing six runs against the Twins in one inning on the 17th. Overall, Rowley’s big league line is not particularly impressive with a 6.75 ERA and 1.82 WHIP, striking out 12.4% and walking 11.2% in 18 2/3 innings. Rowley’s best-case is to be more fine with his pitches, letting the movement take the ball out of the middle of the plate. He still needs to find a way to strike out more batters but if he finds a true out pitch, he could be effective as a starter. I think Rowley works as a swing man in Buffalo in 2018 to start.
Lucas Harrell, 32, joined the Blue Jays in the offseason but started the year on the DL. He worked his way back, getting a couple of appearances in Dunedin (allowing two runs over 6 1/3 innings) before joining the Buffalo Bisons where he made six starts (and seven appearances) with a 2.08 ERA and 1.32 WHIP over 30 1/3 innings. Harrell joined the Blue Jays in July, making four big league appearances, allowing five runs on 10 hits and four walks in 6 1/3 innings with six strikeouts before he was designated for assignment and sent to Buffalo outright. Harrell made three more appearances before going on the DL in early August for the rest of the season. Harrell elected free agency in early October.
Signed on a minor league contract with a couple of opt outs, veteran righty Mat Latos got a shot to pitch in spring training with the Blue Jays, posting a 6.75 ERA and 1.43 WHIP in 14 2/3 innings. Latos reported to Buffalo and pitched two games before he was recalled by the Blue Jays, making three starts including six shutout innings against the Cardinals in his second start. His next start, however, was at Yankee Stadium and he allowed seven runs on 10 hits including four home runs in just four innings and he was sent back to the minors outright. After four more outings with Buffalo, he was granted his release (likely due to the opt out in his contract), finishing his time in the organization with a 3.81 ERA and 1.54 WHIP with Buffalo and a 6.60 ERA and 1.80 WHIP with Toronto.
Joe Biagini made four starts in the minors as he was stretched out to be a member of the Jays’ rotation. In those four starts, he had a 3.12 ERA and 1.10 WHIP, striking out 20.6% and walking 8.8% in 17 1/3 innings. With the Blue Jays, Biagini had a tendency towards inconsistency as a starter as could be seen as he wound the season down, allowing five runs in 3 2/3 innings on August 27 but no runs with 10 strikeouts in seven innings on September 1 and five runs in 3 1/3 innings on September 6 and just two runs in eight innings on September 12. He only lasted 1 1/3 innings against the Twins on September 17 and closed the season with two starts allowing three runs in five innings, both against the Yankees. Biagini isn’t likely to spend too much time in the minors in 2018 but his ultimate role, whether it’s as a starter or a reliever, is currently undecided.
Casey Lawrence was signed by the Blue Jays as a minor league free agent and acquitted himself well in spring training, tossing 16 1/3 innings with a 3.86 ERA and 1.41 WHIP. Lawrence was slated to be the Opening Day starter for the Buffalo Bisons but he was recalled by the Blue Jays and pitched against the Tampa Bay Rays on April 8 and then again on April 9. He was sent back to Buffalo for two outings and returned to Toronto for another two, making two starts and giving up five runs and six runs against the Angels and Cardinals respectively. Lawrence was designated for assignment in May and selected by the Mariners where he split his time between the Mariners and the Triple-A Tacoma Rainiers. He had a 4.08 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in Tacoma and a 5.57 ERA and 1.67 WHIP over 42 innings with Seattle.
Nick Tepesch started the season with the Minnesota Twins’ organization, working as a starter for three games with Triple-A Rochester before getting a chance to start in the majors, getting through 1 2/3 innings and giving up seven runs (just one earned) in 1 2/3 innings. He made three more appearances in Rochester before getting hurt and starting a rehab outing in the GCL in late June. The Blue Jays traded for Tepesch, sending cash to the Twins and he made three outings with Buffalo before coming up to the major leagues for three starts before one more outing in Buffalo before the end of the year. In Buffalo, Tepesch had a 2.00 ERA in 18 innings with just one walk and 14 strikeouts but with Toronto, he had a 5.14 ERA and 1.71 WHIP in 14 innings. Tepesch has declared free agency.
Signed by the Blue Jays late in the season after he was released by the Cubs, Brett Anderson made two starts in Buffalo, allowing one run in 9 2/3 innings before he was recalled by the Blue Jays, finishing the season with a 5.13 ERA and 1.44 WHIP over 33 1/3 innings, striking out 22 and walking nine. He’ll be a free agent following the season.
Francisco Liriano, traded to the Houston Astros at the trade deadline, made one start with Buffalo, giving up three runs (two earned) in 4 1/3 innings with seven strikeouts and two walks.
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