Jumping back in where we left off last season it’s time to look at the best starting pitchers in Blue Jays history.
The Jays have boasted some pretty amazing arms during their short history. If you had to fill out a five-man rotation from Blue Jays past and present I think the first three would be pretty easy, but the next two would be much harder to nail down. Putting the Top 10 in order for this list was much harder. Much, much harder.
One of the toughest decisions was regarding sample size. If a pitcher was only in Toronto for a couple years compared to someone who was in T.O. for a decade how does one compare them fairly? I think I came up with an answer for that, at least one I am OK with and if you want me to go into that let me know and I’ll go into it in the comments section. If this list causes the debate I’m expecting that may be necessary to explain my reasoning.
One thing I will say it to me wins does not rate as high to me as other statistical categories. That’s why you won’t find Jack Morris on this list. Sure, Morris became the first Blue Jay in franchise history to win 20 games in 1992 but there’s no way he would have done it without one of the best hitting lineups in baseball backing him up. Check out the rest of Morris’ stats and his game logs from ’92 if you don’t believe me.
I think I’ve rambled on enough so let’s get to the list already so you can all yell at me. A quick reminder of how this works. Only seasons in a Blue Jays uniform count, so Morris’ years in Detroit and Minnesota and Chris Carpenter’s dominating time in St. Louis doesn’t matter. Ready? Here we go…
10. David Cone – 1992, 1995
David Cone made two stops in Toronto. Both were very short stops however. Cone first arrived in Toronto in 1992 when Pat Gillick made a late-season trade with the New York Mets. Gillick wanted to upgrade the Jays rotation for the postseason and nabbed Cone in exchange for Jeff Kent and Ryan Thompson. Cone only appeared in eight regular season games for the Jays in ’92, posting a 4-3 record with a 2.55 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP. Despite the Jays’ stout lineup Cone could have posted a better record with a little more run support. In one loss Cone allowed two runs on five hits over eight strong inning as Toronto lost 2-1. In another loss Cone surrendered only one run over eight innings, but Toronto was blanked by the Red Sox 1-0. In that short stint with Toronto Cone’s WAR was 1.7.
In the postseason Cone started a pair of games in both the ALCS and the World Series. In the ALCS Cone recorded the win in Game 2 after holding the powerhouse Oakland A’s to one run on five hits with six strikeouts over eight innings. He wasn’t as good in Game 5, taking the loss after giving up six runs (three were earned) in four innings.
In the World Series Cone faced the Braves in Game 2 and was chased after 4 1-3 innings after allowing four runs (three earned) one five hits. He also walked five batters. Despite the lackluster numbers on the mound Cone made a difference at the plate in the game with two hits and an RBI. Cone also started Game 6 and kept the Jays in it with a strong six innings, allowing one run on four hits.
After the 1992 season Cone spent two seasons with the Royals, winning the Cy Young in 1994 before returning to Toronto via trade in 1995 for David Sinnes, Tony Medrano and Chris Stynes. Cone’s second stay in Toronto wasn’t much longer than his first.
Before hitting the trade market again Cone made 17 starts for the Jays in ’95. He posted a 9-6 record with a 3.38 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP. Cone went the distance five times, including a pair of shutouts. Despite only making 17 starts with the Jays Cone’s WAR with the Jays was a solid 4.4.
Cone’s overall stat line during his short time in Toronto included 13-9 record, a 3.14 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and a 6.0 WAR.
David Wells was drafted by the Blue Jays in the second round of the 1982 draft and made two different stops in Toronto during a career that spanned two decades.
Wells made his Toronto debut in 1987, pitching mostly out of the bullpen. Throughout his first stint in Toronto, which lasted six seasons, Wells bounced around from the ‘pen to the rotation repeatedly. In those six seasons he made 237 appearances on the mound, 64 of them as the starter.
His best seasons during his early years in Toronto came in 1990 and 1991. In ’90 he made 43 appearances which included 25 starts. He posted an 11-6 record with a tidy 3.14 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP. He also posted a 4.3 WAR that season,
In ’91 Wells got into 40 games and 28 of them were as a starter. He actually tied for second in the team in wins with 15 while posting a 3.72 ERA and a 1.195 WHIP. His WAR that season was 3.1.
Wells spent time in the ‘pen and the rotation again in ’92 and also made a few relief appearances during the Jays first World Series run. Known more for his attitude than his pitching prowess that reputation finally caught up with Wells in 1993. At the end of spring training Wells was released and signed with Detroit not long after.
He found his way back to Toronto five years later in a trade that sent Roger Clemens to the Bronx. In his first year back with the Jays in 1999 Wells pitched solely as a starter. He made 34 starts that season and went 17-10 with a 4.82 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP. His WAR was only 3.0.
He performed better the following season when he was an All-Star and received Cy Young consideration after a 20-8 season with a 4.11 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP. He also pitched nine complete games with one shutout and posted a 4.8 WAR.
It was no secret the Wells didn’t want to be in Toronto and his wish was granted after the ’00 season. He was traded to the White Sox in the infamous Mike Sirotka trade (see my blog on the Blue Jays worst trades to see how that turned out).
Wells’ overall number during his two stops in Toronto included an 84-55 record, a 4.06 ERA and a 1.275 WHIP in eight seasons. He pitched 18 complete games with two shutouts and even collected 13 saves along the way. His combined WAR with the club was 15.0.
8. Jim Clancy – 1977-1988
Jim Clancy was an original Blue Jay, drafted in the 1976 expansion draft from the Texas Rangers with the sixth pick. In the Jays inaugural season Clancy made 13 starts, posting a 4-9 record with a 5.05 ERA and a messy 1.66 WHIP. He also pitched four complete game with one shutout.
Clancy’s best seasons with the Jays were in 1980 and 1982. In ’80 Clancy’s record of 13-16 was not representative of how well he pitched. His 3.30 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 15 complete games and two shutouts told a different story. Clancy also posted a 5.5 WAR, the best of his career. In six games that season Clancy was charged with the loss despite allowing two or fewer earned runs. That was the life for a starting pitcher on the early, and pretty awful Blue Jays teams.
In 1982 Clancy made his lone All-Star game appearance. Clancy made an astounding 40 starts that season, posting a 16-14 record with a 3.71 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP. He also pitched 11 complete games with three shutouts. His WAR that season was 5.0.
Clancy had another strong season in 1983, winning 15 games while posting a 3.91 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP. Injuries caught up with Clancy in 1985 as he was limited to 23 starts, but somehow Toronto got by without him to win their first division title.
Clancy had a bounce back season in 1987 with a 15-11 record, 3.54 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP. He also bumped his WAR up to 5.0 once again. Clancy’s last season with the Jays was in 1988. He posted an 11-13 record with a 4.49 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP before departing as a free agent to sign with the Houston Astros.
In 12 seasons with Toronto Clancy was 128-140 with a 4.10 ERA, 1.36 WHIP. His WAR in those 12 seasons was 25.3. He was a workhorse, pitching 73 complete games with 11 shutouts. In 1982 alone Clancy pitched 266 2-3 innings. By comparison Justin Verlander led all pitchers in inning pitched last season with only 238 1-3 innings. Really shows you the difference between the different eras.
The Blue Jays stole Juan Guzman from the Los Angeles Dodgers in a trade in 1987. Heading to Los Angeles in the deal was outfielder Mike Sharperson. After a few years in the minors Guzman got the call from the big club in 1991 and made sure he never went back to AAA.
In 1991 Guzman finished second in Rookie of the Year voting after putting up some pretty dominating numbers. In 23 starts Guzman was 10-3 with a 2.99 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP. His WAR that season was a solid 3.2. In the postseason Guzman started Game 2 of the ALCS against the Minnesota Twins. He silenced the Twins’ bats, allowing only two runs on four hits over 5 2-3 inning to pick up the victory in a 5-2 win. That would be the only game Toronto would win in the series.
In 1992 Guzman was an All-Star and went 16-5 with a miniscule 2.64 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP. His WAR that season was 5.5. At the break he was 11-2 with a 2.11 ERA after allowing only 30 earned runs in 127 2-3 innings with 122 strikeouts. Guzman tired in the second half and was unable to sustain those first half numbers, but he was ready for the postseason.
In the ALCS against Oakland Guzman picked up the win in Games 3 and 6. In Game 3 he went six innings and limited the A’s to two runs on seven hits. In the series clincher Guzman dominated Oakland, allowing one run on five hits with eight strikeouts in seven innings. In the World Series Guzman made only one start in Game 3 and came away with a no-decision despite pitching well enough to deserve the win. Guzman went eight innings, giving up only two runs (one earned) on eight hits with seven strikeouts.
In 1993 Guzman’s numbers regressed slightly. He still posted a 14-3 record but his ERA jumped to 3.99 and his WHIP increased to 1.45. His nasty slider also led to 26 wild pitches. His WAR also took a dip, falling to 3.4.
In the ALCS he took it to the next level against the Chicago White Sox with a 2-0 record, 2.08 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP. In the World Series he made two starts and posted a 0-1 record with a 3.75 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP.
In 1994 and 1995 Guzman stumbled and his numbers tanked. In ’94 before the player’s strike wiped out the season Guzman was 12-11, but his ERA was a ghastly 5.68 and his WHIP an unsightly 1.64. His struggles continued in 1995 as Guzman was routinely beat up on while posting a 4-14 record with a 6.32 ERA and a 1.66 WHIP.
The real Guzman finally returned in 1996, as he posted arguably the best season of his career. His record was still only 11-8, but his peripherals were much better. His ERA was an AL-best 2.93 and his WHIP at 1.13 was the best of his career. His WAR was also a career-best at 6.8.
Unfortunately, the success Guzman found in ’96 didn’t last. In 1997 he was limited to 13 starts due to injury and when he did start he posted a 3-6 record with a 4.95 ERA. In 1998, his final season in Toronto, Guzman was carrying a 10-16 record with a 4.35 ERA and a 1.38 WHIP when he was traded to Baltimore on July 31 for Shannon Carter and Nerio Rodriguez.
In eight seasons in Toronto Guzman posted a 76-62 record with a 4.07 ERA, 1.35 WHIP and a 21.1 WAR. He also ranks as one of my favorite Blue Jays pitchers of all time.
Doyle Alexander was a veteran with more than a decade in the Majors when he arrived in Toronto in 1983 after being released by the Yankees. Upon arriving in Toronto near mid-season Alexander appeared in 17 games for the Jays and posted a 7-6 record, 3.93 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP.
The following year in his first full season in Toronto Alexander led the staff with 17 wins. He received a few MVP votes after posting a 3.13 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP. Alexander also pitched 11 complete games with a pair of shutouts. He also posted the best WAR of his career at 6.1.
Alexander’s success continued in 1985 as he won 17 games again while posting a 3.45 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP. His WAR that season was 4.9. He began to decline the following season as his win total dipped to 11 and his ERA grew to 4.14. His WAR also saw a drop-off, falling to 1.4.
The 1986 season was Alexander’s last in Toronto. After 17 starts with a 5-4 record, 4.46 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP Alexander was traded to Atlanta for Duane Ward. Not a bad haul, but nothing like the Braves got when they later flipped him to Detroit for John Smoltz.
In four seasons with the Blue Jays Alexander posted a healthy 46-26 record with a 3.56 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP. He pitched 25 complete games with three shutouts and had a solid overall WAR at 13.6.
Pat Hentgen was drafted by the Blue Jays in the fifth round in 1986. He made his Toronto debut in 1991 as a late-season call-up, appearing in three games. Hentgen spent some time with the Jays in 1992 before finally sticking for good in 1993.
In ’93 Hentgen was an All-Star and helped lead the Jays to a second World Series title with a 19-9 record, 3.87 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP. His WAR that season was 3.4 and he finished fifth in Cy Young voting. In his first postseason start in the ALCS against the White Sox Hentgen was roughed up for Chicago, allowing six runs on nine hits in only three innings. He made up for in the World Series with a strong performance against the Phillies in Game 3. Hentgen picked up the win after holding the Phillies to one run on five hits with six strikeouts over six innings.
After his breakout in ’93 Hentgen had another strong season in 1994. Hentgen was an All-Star again and was 13-8 with a 3.40 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP when the season was stopped by the strike. He also pitched six complete games and posted a WAR of 5.3.
Hentgen hit the wall in 1995 as his numbers imploded. He posted a 10-14 record as his ERA rose to 5.11 and his WHIP ballooned to 1.63. That down season proved to be just a bump in the road though as Hentgen rose to new heights in 1996. In what proved to be the best season of his career Hentgen posted a 20-10 record with a 3.22 ER, 1.25 WHIP and an 8.5 WAR. He also struck out a career-high 177 batters, pitched 10 complete games and three shutouts. Hentgen also became the first Blue Jays to win the Cy Young Award which he locked up with a strong finish to the season. In his final three starts Hentgen was 3-0 with a 1.14 ERA after allowing three runs in 23 2-3 innings with 19 strikeouts.
As the reigning Cy Young winner Hentgen had a lot to live up to in 1997. He took a backseat to new Blue Jay Roger Clemens, but still put together a solid season with a 15-10 record, 3.68 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP. He pitched nine complete games with three shutouts and a 3.3 WAR.
Hentgen’s next two seasons were average as he went 12-11 with a 5.17 ERA in 1998 and 11-12 with a 4.79 ERA in 1999. His combined WAR in those two season was 3.1. Following the ’99 season Hentgen, along with Paul Spoljaric was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for Alberto Castillo, Matt DeWitt and Lance Painter.
Hentgen made a brief return to the Toronto rotation at the end of his career, signing with the Jays as a free agent in 2003. That return was short-lived though, and after only 18 games with a 2-9 record and 6.95 ERA Hentgen retired.
In 10 seasons with the Blue Jays Hentgen posted a 107-85 record, a 4.28 ERA and a 1.39 WHIP. He pitched 3 complete games with nine shutouts and a 26.7 WAR.
Southpaw Jimmy Key was drafted by Toronto in the third round of the 1982 draft. After a steady rise through the minor leagues Key made his Major League debut in 1984 out of the bullpen.
Key entered the Jays rotation in 1985 and found immediate success with a 14-6 record, 3.00 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP. He threw three complete games with a 5.1 WAR and also made his first All-Star game.
Key made a pair of starts for Toronto in the 1985 ALCS, but failed to transfer his regular season success to the postseason. In Game 2 of the series Key lasted only 3 1-3 innings after allowing three runs on seven hits. He also started Game 5 and gave up two runs on eight hits in 5 1-3 innings.
In ’86 Key had a good season for a Blue Jays squad that would ultimately disappoint. Key had a record of 14-11 with a 3.57 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP. He went the distance in four games with a pair of shutouts and a 4.9 WAR.
The 1987 season was undoubtedly Key’s best as a Blue Jay. He finished second in Cy Young voting after posting a 17-8 record with a 2.76 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP. Key could have easily won 20 games with a little more luck. In eight starts Key allowed two earned runs or less but came away with a no decision or a loss each time. Key delivered a career-high eight complete games that season and also posted a career-best 7.4 WAR.
Key would never match the amazing numbers he posted in 1987, but he was still one of the top starters in Toronto’s rotation during the rest of his time in Toronto.
The 1991 season was especially strong for Key despite his mediocre 16-12 record. His ERA that season was 3.05, while he also posted a 1.20 WHIP and a 4.3 WAR. The Blue Jays were shutout in five of Key’s losses that season and scored two runs or less in three other losses. In the ALCS that season against the Minnesota Twins Key started Game 3 which Toronto lost 3-2 in extra innings. Key gave the Jays a good chance to win after allowing only two runs in six innings.
In 1992, Key’s final season in Toronto he struggled at times, posting a 13-13 record with a 3.53 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP. He did finish the season off on a high note, with a 5-0 record and a 1.96 ERA in his final six starts. He carried that momentum into the postseason. Key did not make a start against Oakland in the ALCS, but he did deliver three shutout innings out of the bullpen.
In the World Series against the Atlanta Braves Key started Game 3 with Toronto holding a 2-1 series lead. He won a pitcher’s duel with Tom Glavine to secure a 2-1 Toronto victory. Key allowed only one run on five hits over 7 2-3 innings while striking out six. He left the game to a standing ovation in what would be his final game in a Blue Jays uniform in front of the home crowd. Key would make one more appearance out of the bullpen in Game 6. Key went 1 1-3 innings, allowing one unearned run to pick up the win in the deciding game of the series.
Following the season Key signed on with the Yankees as a free agent ending his nine years in Toronto. In those nine seasons Key compiled a 116-81 record with a 3.42 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP. His WAR over that time was 30.0.
Appropriately nicknamed Doc, Roy Halladay was drafted by the Blue Jays with the 17th pick in the 1995 draft. He made his debut in 1998 as a late-season call-up. He flashed his future promise right away in his second start after just missing a no-hitter against the Tigers. With two outs in the ninth inning Bobby Higginson deposited a solo home run into the Toronto bullpen to break up the no-no.
Halladay’s first full season in the Majors, in 1999, was split between the rotation and the bullpen. In 36 appearances, 18 as a starter, Halladay posted an 8-7 record with a 3.92 ERA and a 1.57 WHIP. Halladay’s took a detour following that season after a total meltdown that saw him post a 10.64 ERA in 19 games during the 2000 season.
Doc began the 2001 season at A ball to retune his delivery from the ground up. He made his way back through the minors and returned to Toronto for good near the middle of the ’01 season. The rest of the way in 17 games Halladay posted a 5-3 record with a 3.16 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP.
Halladay really broke out during the 2002 season. He was named an All-Star for the first time and went 19-7 with a 2.93 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP. He also posted a very impressive WAR of 7.4.
In 2003 Halladay made another trip to the All-Star game and won his first Cy Young Award after posting a 22-7 record with a 3.25 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP. He also tossed nine complete games with two shutouts and an 8.1 WAR.
Injuries got in the way in the Halladay’s next two seasons. In 2004 he was limited to 21 starts due to ongoing shoulder problems. In 2005 Halladay was dominating with a 12-4 record and a 2.41 ERA through 19 starts when he took a line drive off his right leg that resulted in a broken leg that ended his season. In his 19 starts that season Halladay had already posted a 5.5 WAR.
Finally healthy for an entire season again in 2006 Halladay returned to form with a 16-5 record, a 3.19 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP. He was an All-Star again, finished third in Cy Young voting and posted a 5.2 WAR.
Halladay was consistently among the best starting pitchers in the game for the next three seasons, winning 16 games in 2007, 20 in 2008 and 17 in 2009. In ’09, his final season in Toronto he also posted a 2.79 ERA with a 1.13 WHIP. He also struck out 208 batters, the most he had in a Toronto uniform and posted a 6.9 WAR.
Following the 2009 season the Jays traded Halladay to the Phillies for Travis d’Arnaud, Kyle Drabek and Michael Taylor. In 12 seasons with the Blue Jays Halladay was 148-76 with a 3.43 ERA and a 1.198 WHIP. He pitched 49 complete games with 15 shutouts and a 48.5 WAR.
The first true ace of the Blue Jays, Dave Stieb was drafted by Toronto in the fifth round of the 1978 draft. It didn’t take Stieb long to get to the big leagues as he made his Toronto debut in 1979 making 18 starts and posting an 8-8 record with a 4.31 ERA.
Pitching in front of some awful Jays teams in the early days Stieb’s records didn’t match his prowess on the mound. In 1980 Stieb was 12-15, but owned a solid 3.71 ERA, 1.298 WHIP and a 4.9 WAR. In 1981 Stieb went 11-10 despite lowering his ERA to 3.19 and his WHIP to 1.14, while posting a 4.5 WAR in seven fewer starts.
Stieb was a workhorse throughout his career and it really showed in 1982 as he led an improving Jays squad with a 17-14 record which included 19 complete games and five shutouts. Yes, complete games in one season. The 2012 Blue Jays starting rotation have pitched only 49 complete games combined in their careers and 28 of them below to Mark Buerhle. In ’82 Stieb also had a 3.25 ERA with a 1.20 WHIP and a 7.7 WAR.
Those stats improved the following season as Stieb won 17 games again while lowering his ERA to 3.04 and his WHIP to 1.14. His strikeout totals also took a nice jump up to 187 from 141 the season before. Stieb was also an All-Star for the third time and posted a 7.0 WAR.
Stieb and his biting slider continued to mow through the rest of the American League in the coming years. In 1984 Stieb was 16-8 with a 2.83 ERA and a 1.135 WHIP. His WAR that season was a stout 7.9. In 1985 he was unlucky on a number of occasions with a 14-13 record despite a career-low 2.48 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP. That season Stieb received a no decision or took the loss in 13 games in which he allowed two earned runs or less.
Following the 1985 season Stieb’s number took a dramatic downturn. In 1986 Stieb was a disappointing 7-12 thanks to some more bad luck and a 4.74 ERA and a 1.59 WHIP. His record rebounded to 13-8 in 1987, but his ERA was still high at 4.09 and his WAR was only 2.2.
Stieb started to rebound in 1988 and peaked again in 1990 with a career-high 18 wins to go along with a 2.93 ERA and a 1.165 WHIP. Stieb also finally got the monkey off his back by recording a long-awaited no hitter, the first and still only one in franchise history.
After a superb season in 1990 Stieb was struck down by injuries in 1991. He only started nine games that season due to a string of injuries most notably a back injury. In 1992 Stieb was plagued by injuries again and made only 14 starts. He also missed out on the Blue Jays trip to the World Series, forced to watch from the dugout.
After the ’92 season Stieb left via free agency and retired less than a year later. That retirement wasn’t permanent though. In 1998 at the age of 41 Stieb made a surprise return to the Jays. Pitching mostly out of the bullpen, but also making three starts. Stieb posted a 1-2 record with a 4.83 ERA and a 1.49 WHIP in 19 appearances.
In 15 years with the ball club Stieb set a number of club records. These include wins, strikeouts, ERA, innings pitched, complete games, shutouts and games started. Stiebs impressive career numbers as a Blue Jays include a 175-134 record, 3.42 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 1208 strikeouts, 103 complete games, 30 shutouts and 57.4 WAR.
1. Roger Clemens – 1997-1998
The Blue Jays shocked the baseball world on December 13, 1996 when they signed Roger Clemens. After a few mediocre seasons in Boston some people were calling the Rocket washed up. He proved them wrong in Toronto.
In his first year with the Blue Jays Clemens put up some of the best numbers of his career. He posted a 21-7 record with a 2.05 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP. He also set a new career-high for strikeouts with 292 and led the AL in wins, ERA and strikeouts to easily win the Cy Young. Clemens also pitched nine complete games, had three shutouts and had an 11.9 WAR!
In his second year in Toronto it looked like the luster was slowly wearing off. Before the All-Star break Clemens looked mortal with a 9-6 record, 3.55 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP. After the All-Star break he was unbeatable, literally. In 15 starts after the break Clemens was a perfect 11-0 with a 1.71 ERA and a 0.91 WHIP. He also struck out 11.7 batters per nine innings.
Clemens finished the ’98 season with a 20-6 record, a 2.65 ERA and a 1.095 WHIP to claim consecutive Cy Young Awards. He struck out 271 batters, but since he pitched 30 fewer inning his K/9 rate was actually better in ’98 at 10.4 compare to 10.0 in ’97. Clemens’ WAR that season was 8.1.
Despite Clemens’ monster seasons the Jays finished last in ’97 and third in ’98, so following the ’98 season Clemens wanted out. He was traded to the Yankees for David Wells, Graeme Lloyd and Homer Bush.
The two year totals for Clemens in Toronto included a 41-13 record, a 2.33 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP. He struck out 563 batters in 498 2-3 innings and had an overall WAR of 20.1.
You may not like him, but looking at the stats it’s hard to argue that Clemens wasn’t the best starting pitcher ever to wear a Blue Jays uniform.