The Blue Jays’ 2011 Rotation

Four years ago, the Blue Jays rotation was a recognizable bunch. Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett and Ted Lilly headlined a talented, established group of starters. Now, the talent is there, but the pitchers are less experienced. And Shaun Marcum, who made his first big league start on that 2006 team, likes that he and his 2010 rotation-mates are surprising some people around the league.

“It’s good, because I’ve always been underrated,” Marcum told MLBTR. “So it’s something I’ve dealt with my whole life. I’ve been undersized; I haven’t been strong; everybody’s had something to knock on me, so to be underrated means to fly under the radar and sneak up on people.”

That's just what the Blue Jays are doing, but Marcum knows he, Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow and Brett Cecil are not exactly a secret.

“I think people kind of know who we are right now,” Marcum said. “People give us credit [and acknowledge] Brandon, Brett and Ricky, so the names are out there."

The numbers are there, too. Marcum returned from Tommy John surgery to post a 3.61 ERA this season and toss a one-hitter, thanks to one of the league's best change-ups. Morrow, who tossed a one-hitter of his own, leads the American League with 10.9 K/9, more than any qualified starter since 2007 (Erik Bedard). Meanwhile, Romero (3.54 ERA, 7.7 K/9, 3.3 BB/9) and Cecil (3.80 ERA, 6.4 K/9, 2.8 BB/9) have impressed in their sophomore seasons. The group has improved this year and Marcum says we can expect similar adjustments from the rotation in 2011.

“It’s young, gaining more experience each and every time out, getting better each and every time out,” Marcum said. “Especially Brandon, Brett and Ricky, they’ve developed into three great pitchers and they’re going to be main guys in this rotation for years to come.”

Marcum, Romero, Cecil and Morrow are under team control through 2012 or longer, but they won’t be enough. GM Alex Anthopoulos will need to round out his rotation with at least one starter next year and potentially more (he can't count on the same remarkable health Blue Jays starters have shown in 2010).

Top prospect Zach Stewart has showed promise in the minor leagues, and so has Brad Mills. Stewart, who is starting again, posted a 3.71 ERA with 7.7 K/9 in AA. Mills, 25, has struggled in the majors, but has posted solid numbers at Triple A Las Vegas, a hitter-friendly environment. Plus, Marc Rzepczynski, Jesse Litsch, Scott Richmond and Shawn Hill all have big league experience as starters. On the depth chart right beside them is Kyle Drabek, the 2010 Eastern League pitcher of the year. That distinction, which came after a season in which Drabek posted a 2.89 ERA and threw a no-hitter, caught Marcum’s attention.

“And he’s not the only one," Marcum said. "There’s other pitchers down [in the minor leagues], too. For him to go out and have the year that he had is good for him and good for this organization and hopefully we can get him up here soon to help out.”

Drabek is one of many internal options the Blue Jays have, so it would be a surprise to see the team pursue free agent starters this winter. The organization has the depth to fill its rotation from within and Blue Jays starters have the ability to establish themselves as one of the tougher groups in the league.