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:
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:
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