Credit: Freaktography- flickr- Creative Commons

Blue Jays Will Need to Reverse 2015 Late Inning Fortunes

If the Toronto Blue Jays are going to improve in 2016, they should look to turn around their late inning performances as a starting point.

 

The Toronto Blue Jays finished the 2015 season with a 93-69 record to win the American League East. They have an amazing August and September run to thank for their first division title in 22 years. Before the trade deadline, they sat around .500 and trailed the New York Yankees by a seemingly insurmountable number of games. They should have been much more competitive in the first half of the season.

The story line was that they were not living up to their Pythagorean record, which by the end of the season was an amazing 102-60. So, what happened? One explanation rests with their late inning showings. They were not very good.

In one run games, the club’s 2015 record was 15-28. Some would suggest that this was a factor in the club not doing better (as if being AL East Champs is not enough…World Series, or bust!). If a team is going to be consistently successful, they’ll need to be dependable in close games, in crunch time. It is because of this that one run games don’t necessarily tell the whole story. What might is looking at the entirety of when games are most likely to be close: late in the game. The ability to win late very well could push this team even further next season.

Baseball Reference has a neat little breakdown of how the club performed in the clutch innings. For the sake of argument, we’ll use the 7th, 8th, 9th innings. They also played 14 games in the 10th inning and beyond (6 of which went into the 11th and 1 went into the 12th). They went 8-6 in extra innings and walked off 7 times. They were also walked off 7 times. But, again, we’ll stick to the regularly scheduled innings, which shows the bulk of the “crunch time” innings.

Here is some information that will help us out: In 2015, the Blue Jays scored 49 times in the 7th inning for a total of 99 runs, 42 times in the 8th for 79 runs and 37 times in the 9th for 60 runs. By comparison, their best inning in 2015 was the 4th inning where they scored 62 times for 123 runs. Perhaps what will help put this into context is to look at how many runs they gave up.

In the 7th inning, they allowed runs to score 43 times for 66 runs. In the 8th inning, runs scored 45 times for 77 runs and in the 9th, runs scored 22 times for 43 runs. By my calculations, that means they are +33 runs in the 7th inning, +2 in the 8th and +17 in the 9th. So, that would indicate that they were just fine. If you score more than your opponents, you tend to win and there are no issues.

So, let’s go deeper. Here’s a look at their record according to when they have a lead, are tied or are trailing:

Ahead Tied Behind
Inning W L % W L % W L %
1 0 0 93 69 0.574 0 0
2 33 11 0.750 42 34 0.553 18 24 0.429
3 47 14 0.770 29 23 0.558 17 32 0.347
4 58 17 0.773 19 13 0.594 16 39 0.291
5 66 16 0.805 15 13 0.536 12 40 0.231
6 72 15 0.828 11 14 0.440 10 40 0.200
7 76 14 0.844 10 11 0.476 7 44 0.137
8 78 7 0.918 7 12 0.368 8 50 0.138
9 79 2 0.975 10 6 0.625 4 61 0.062
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/26/2016.

Generally speaking, the earlier they jump out ahead, the better their chances of winning were. That totally fits with the ‘score early and often’ approach that has become ingrained in sports. The later things go, the harder it is to come from behind.

Now here’s a look at when they lost their leads:

Ahead Tied Behind
Inning W L % W L % W L %
1 0 0 93 69 0.574 0 0
2 33 11 0.750 42 34 0.553 18 24 0.429
3 47 14 0.770 29 23 0.558 17 32 0.347
4 58 17 0.773 19 13 0.594 16 39 0.291
5 66 16 0.805 15 13 0.536 12 40 0.231
6 72 15 0.828 11 14 0.440 10 40 0.200
7 76 14 0.844 10 11 0.476 7 44 0.137
8 78 7 0.918 7 12 0.368 8 50 0.138
9 79 2 0.975 10 6 0.625 4 61 0.062
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/26/2016.

Again, when they played with a lead, things worked out well for them. But, when games were close (tied), things tended to fall apart after the 6th inning. Their 9th inning W/L record was likely helped out by those walk offs.

So, what does this all mean. For me, I’m looking at the number of runs scored and allowed late in the game. I’m looking at how important it is to not have to come from behind late and I’m looking at playing when the game could go either way.

That means that the offense must be prepared to go to work and strike at any minute. That shouldn’t be a problem. After all, this is the offense that led MLB in run scored last season. It will see a full season from Troy Tulowitzki. Devon Travis will also look to come back and repeat his early success from last season. Kevin Pillar surprised in 2015 and will be asked to maintain. He doesn’t need to surpass last year’s showing to help this club. And, we haven’t even talked about Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista or Edwin Encarnacion. Yeah, this offense will be just fine. Though, if we’re being picky, the reliance on the home run can get you into trouble, where run manufacturing can help more, especially late.

What this really points to for me, is the importance of the bullpen. The Blue Jays cannot afford any late inning question marks. That is why a back end of Brett Cecil, Roberto Osuna and Drew Storen looks so appealing. Their average FIP of 2.71 is encouraging. And, this will be the setup right from Opening Day. There won’t be any guess work or trial and error in 2016. This is, of course, assuming Aaron Sanchez has been removed from the bullpen equation.

Toronto does not appear to have quite the same fearsome options that the Yankees or Red Sox have accumulated. But, they don’t need to. If they can rely on their own three to be effective, it doesn’t matter what other clubs do. The cliche that gets thrown around sports is to ‘take care of your own business and things will work out’. Heading into 2016, the Blue Jays’ business should include focusing on the late innings. The combination of an All World offense and an effective bullpen will go a long way to taking care of this business.

If you’re visiting from MLBTR, check out what you missed over the past week at Jays From the Couch. Episode 57 of the Jays Nest Podcast was a good one. We also looked at Toronto Blue Jays organizational depth, Tulo rumors and our 2016 Top Prospects List!

 

*Featured Image Credit: Freaktography UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0

 

THANK YOU FOR VISITING JAYS FROM THE COUCH! CHECK US OUT ON TWITTER@JAYSFROMCOUCH, Like us on Facebook AND BE SURE TO CATCH THE JAYS NEST PODCAST!

Shaun Doyle is a long time Blue Jays fan and writer! He decided to put those things together and create Jays From the Couch. Shaun is the host of Jays From the Couch Radio, which is highly ranked in iTunes, and he has appeared on TV and radio spots.

Shaun Doyle

Shaun Doyle is a long time Blue Jays fan and writer! He decided to put those things together and create Jays From the Couch. Shaun is the host of Jays From the Couch Radio, which is highly ranked in iTunes, and he has appeared on TV and radio spots.

  • japester

    My only concern about the pen is the role of Biagini. He appears to be the unproven/weak spot in an otherwise good pen. I’m not sure on how the FO values him. If he is a keeper, wouldn’t it be wiser to arrange a trade then send him to the minors or just offer him back to the Giants and sign a more proven BP guy (say Badenhop) instead of him occupying a spot on the 25 man? I was thinking Derrick Chung as a trade candidate but I couldn’t find him on the 40 man or the Bison’s roster. Something I missed?

    • shaun doyle

      For me, Biagini could be a good pick up, but I’m not expecting much. If he contributes, great. If not. Meh. I don’t really have anything to back that feeling up. I guess it’s ore about the way the ‘pen look now.

      Right now, Chung is listed on the Fisher Cats roster

      • japester

        Thanks for the catch on Chung. I could have sworn I saw him on the Jays 40 man recently.

  • I wonder if we were to split these numbers into the first half of the season vs. the second half of the season how the numbers would compare. It seems that once Sanchez came back from injury and was inserted into the bullpen stability helped to improve the team. At that point they had Osuna in the closer role, with Sanchez and Cecil in set up roles and Loup as the LOOGY. Prior to that it was a revolving door of relievers with a few exceptions (Osuna and Cecil). This year I imagine there will be defined roles throughout the whole season, which should help. Even if Sanchez makes the rotation (which I think should happen) and we do not sign another reliever then I think the bullpen will be so much better than last year!!

    • shaun doyle

      Agreed. Even though they are saying that there aren’t any defined roles (at this time) I think they need them.

      • It would be silly to say at this point that Storen will be closer over Osuna as it would not add anything. However, once ST starts I fully expect that Storen will have that role. They put performance bonuses in his contract for games finished. Why do this if they do not intend to have him close. Also, the best thing for Osuna at this point is to increase the innings. If Sanchez excels in a starter’s role (which I think he will) and Osuna is stretched out to say 100-110 inings this year in a Betances type reliver role, then we could see Osuna take Dickey’s spot in 2017 and give us a rotation of Stroman, Sanchez, Estrada, Osuna, and Happ. We will have to fill out the bullpen, but that is easier to do then filling out the rotation.

        • shaun doyle

          You’re right. It doesn’t make sense to make a decision in January

  • Pingback: Baseball Blogs Weigh In: Pirates, Forst, Red Sox - MLB Trade Rumors()