West Coast Road-Trip: Blue Jays hitting and (especially) pitching were fantastic

 

Jays From the Couch looks at the numbers and shows the Toronto Blue Jays recent road trip was better than the 3-3 record

 

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Blue Jays fans can be content with the team any time they return home from a west coast swing with a .500 record. In this case, we can be extra content (or frustrated, if you’re a glass half-full kind of person). Jays hitters generated a great deal of high-quality contact this week, while Jays pitchers did a great job of preventing their opponents from doing the same.

 

 

In each of the six games, the Blue Jays out xwOBA’d their opponents. Overall, Jays hitters produced a .325 xwOBA, the 6th highest mark in the majors this week and on par with their strong hitting performances this season (9th best in majors, though many teams are bunched between 4th and 10th). Jays hitters surpassed the league average (.315) in all but the last game. They probably deserve a free pass there, as they were able to generate a .355 xwOBA in four innings vs. James Paxton, who entered the game with the lowest xwOBA surrendered by any starting pitcher in the majors this year. As has been the case, their wOBA has lagged a bit, indicating a combination of bad luck and relatively slow, highly-shifted batters. They out-barreled, out-contacted and out-walked their opponents, overall and in a majority of games.

 

The pitching was even better, producing an xwOBA 33 points below the group’s (already impressive) season average. It was the 3rd lowest mark in the majors over the last seven days. The pitchers prevented Seattle and Oakland from meeting their season averages (.319 and .329, respectively) in any game. Only once did either of them crack the MLB-average (.315 xwOBA) and only barely (Oakland produced a .316 xwOBA on Monday). Walk-wise, the pitchers were even more successful than the hitters—their 5.3% walk rate was 2nd lowest in the majors this past week.

 

As has been the case all season, the Jays’ defence and baserunning (to a lesser extent) probably held the team back. The only defensive statistic that Fangraphs allows users to split is Defensive runs above average (Def) which combines a team’s Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) and a positional adjustment. Over the last week, the team had the 14th highest Def (-1.5) in the AL, as they have over the 2017 season (-15.1). [I focused only on AL teams as the positional adjustment, which penalizes DHs very heavily, puts NL teams way ahead of AL teams.] The team’s baserunning was below-average over the last week (-0.6 BsR, 9th in AL), as it has been all season (-5.4 BsR, 10th in AL). [Again, NL teams dominate AL teams at BsR, probably due to the more “small ball” approach in the NL.]

 

Ultimately, the team lost three games during the road-trip, in spite of solid underlying numbers (no excuses, that’s baseball). On Monday, the Ryon Healy Show won the game for the Athletics. On Tuesday, Jays hitters were stymied by bad batted ball luck. Kevin Pillar led off the game with a line-drive out (73% hit probability) and was followed by singles from Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista (no runs scored in the first). In the third, with Ryan Goins on second, Pillar hit into another line-drive out (82% hit probability). Goins was eventually called out at the plate, trying to score on a Donaldson single. Finally, in the eighth, with Donaldson at first, Bautista hit into his own line-drive out (73% hit probability).

 

On Friday night, Seattle’s decent performance was put over the top by good fortune and Jays mistakes. Jarrod Dyson scored the first run after hitting a single, stealing second, advancing to third on a wild pitch and scoring on a Kyle Seager single. In the seventh, down 2-1, the Mariners took advantage of Joe Biagini‘s high pitch count. Robinson Cano led off with a double and Seager walked, before Danny Valencia singled Cano home. A walk to Mike Zunino was followed by a Dyson single that scored Seager. Seattle’s insurance run was very fortunate. Ben Gamel led off with a solid double, but was out at third after Guillermo Heredia‘s failed sacrifice bunt. Heredia got to second on Cano’s ground out and scored on Seager’s single to left.

 

Again, no excuses for the losses. With the Jays 2-11 start, collecting wins are very important. But with 99 games left in the season (61%), quality performances are still worth celebrating. And there has been no shortage of those over the last 52 (post 2-11) games. Among all MLB teams since April 19th, Blue Jays hitters have the 5th highest xwOBA (.329), while the pitchers have the 5th lowest xwOBA (.298).

 

In terms of results, Blue Jays hitters have the 17th highest wOBA (.326), while the pitchers have the 8th lowest wOBA (.314). On the hitting side, the Jays are only middle of the pack on the wOBA list, in spite of producing similar performances and results (.003 xwOBA – wOBA, 4th highest), mainly because a number of poor-performing teams are generating very strong results (including the Rockies, Brewers and Diamondbacks, to name a few).

 

Ultimately, another month and a half of Top 5 hitting and pitching should keep the team in serious contention for a playoff spot. At that point, the team’s burgeoning farm system could help them acquire a key piece or two to help with their playoff push. As it stands, they’re only 1.5 GB of the second wild-card spot and have the fifth-highest odds of making the AL playoffs (30.9%, according to Fangraphs). Underlying stats suggest that the team might be even better than fifth in the AL, even accounting for their bad start.

 

While the Astros and Yankees are running the AL right now, the Blue Jays have a better hitting and pitching xwOBA than the Red Sox, Orioles, Rays, Rangers, Mariners and Angels (over the entire 2017 season). Only the Clevelanders can give them a close run right now for third, with the Clevelanders having the edge in hitting (.331 xwOBA vs. .325) and the Jays having the edge in pitching (.303 xwOBA vs. .311).

 

 

 

 

*Featured Image Credit: Keith Allison UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0

 

 

 

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I’m an economics professor in the GTA whose lifelong love for the Jays was reignited by that magical August of 2015 and the amazing moments since.

Jeff Quattrociocchi

I'm an economics professor in the GTA whose lifelong love for the Jays was reignited by that magical August of 2015 and the amazing moments since.