JAYS FROM THE COUCH EXAMINES THE INJURY STRUGGLES THE TORONTO BLUE JAYS ARE HAVING THIS YEAR, AND THE IMPACT IT MIGHT BE HAVING ON THE TEAM.
The 2017 Toronto Blue Jays season can be summed up by one word: inconsistent. April was easily the worst start to the season imaginable, but the Blue Jays bounced back in May, as aspirations for a playoff spot seemed possible. That feeling didn’t last long, and a terrible stretch for most of June/early July has the Blue Jays looking like sellers coming up to the trade deadline. It’s a long 161 game schedule, but the peaks and valleys players have seen from month to month have been more drastic than the usual hot and cold streaks. After a rough June, the Blue Jays don’t have much time to make up the deficit in the standings.
The only thing consistent about this Blue Jays season has been the constant stream of players hitting the disabled list. Injuries are an unfortunate part of the game, and a teams depth will be tested when their everyday players go down. There’s just a certain point when a team doesn’t even look remotely close to it’s opening day roster, and resembles a roster that would be used in a split squad Spring Training game.
The stat that has circled around the internet, “The Blue Jays have X amount of dollar on the disabled list.” The number at the time was upwards of 50 million, which is really eye popping when you read it, but isn’t a great representation of how injured a team is. Considering teams get more production out of team control and arbitration players, for example, Aaron Sanchez who’s only made five starts thus far makes $500k as a team control player, but produces a much higher WAR than Francisco Liriano who makes $13.666 million this year.
This year has seen it’s fair share of bad injury luck, with a total of 20 players (including minor league) hitting the disabled list. This is very different from the past two seasons. In 2015, the Blue Jays ranked 20th in MLB in total games lost, last year they ranked 29th with only 448 games missed due to injury. There’s no doubt the Blue Jays taking advantage of a healthy roster the past few seasons was a big reason why they were able to play deep into October.
So how injured have the Blue Jays really been this season? The graph below, courtesy of Man Games Lost, shows how many games each team in MLB has lost due to injury or suspension up to this point in the season. Here the Y axis is the teams’ W/L record, and the X axis being the amount of games lost. The Blue Jays are lumped in with the group on the bottom right corner, the very injured/losing teams.
So far the Blue Jays have lost the 8th most games this year at 658, already blowing their 448 mark of last year out of the water. Even more significant is Toronto ranked second in MLB behind the New York Mets in lost Wins Above Replacement, at 5.45 WAR. This is the number that should be eye opening. If you look at the teams lumped around the Blue Jays some of them are in contention for a playoff spot, but the Blue Jays have unfortunately lost their high impact players for long stretches of the season. The loss of Sanchez for a majority of the season, and Josh Donaldson for a large part of the beginning season are huge losses, and depth pieces just can’t replace this caliber of player.
As I mentioned before, having this many players hit the DL at this rate isn’t a common theme for the Blue Jays, but losing significant players has been. Between 2010-2016, the Blue Jays ranked 13th in total games lost, which isn’t great, but it’s average. This unfortunate trend of the Blue Jays losing their most productive players has been consistent through the years, the Blue Jays rank third in MLB in WAR lost due to injuries at 39.03 slightly below the New York Mets, and around 11 WAR below the Texas Rangers.
You could chalk this up to a lot of things. The average age of the Blue Jays this year is 29.7 years old, tied with the LA Angels for the oldest team in MLB. While the Blue Jays have seen there fair share of injuries to players in their 30’s like Troy Tulowitzki, Russell Martin, and J.A. Happ, it hasn’t been exclusively to the older players. Devon Travis has gone down with a major injury again, Sanchez one of the teams biggest loses just turned 25.
While the age may not be helping, it’s not the only reason to why the Blue Jays have been injury prone this season. Without math or logic to back this up it may suck to say, but it could just be terrible luck. Injuries are impossible to predict, and they can happen anytime during a game, the Chicago Cubs third basemen Kris Bryant rolled his ankle on third base catching a popup the other day. This kind of luck just sucks.
The 2017 Blue Jays roster was slightly flawed, but the pieces they had in place looked like a 90+ win team that could easily make the playoffs. Those pieces just aren’t performing, and I can’t help but think the injuries have become the main reason this team isn’t seeing their full potential. It’s hard to say that it’s been the sole reason that this team sits eight games below .500 but there is no doubt that its had repercussions.
When an impactful player like Sanchez misses so much time, it forces the team to make moves that can shake up a roster in big ways. Joe Biagini, (one of their best relievers) has been shifted into a starters role for a large chunk of the season. Biagini has seen his ups and downs as a starter, but he is better served as a high leverage reliever, and it forces a different player out of his role to take over for Biagini’s absences in the bullpen. The Blue Jays entered the season with weak pitching depth past their five man rotation, and the team has had three of those starters hit the disabled list at some point in the season. This is a team that last year used their starting rotation better than anyone in the league, as the Blue Jays starting rotation pitched the most innings out of any team in the majors, and posted the 5th highest WAR.
Teams operate well when everyone on the team understand’s what kind of role they play on the team. When a players role either 1) drastically changes for a long period of time, 2) keeps changing, and 3) is forced outside their comfort zone, your’e more often than not going to get some iffy results. The revolving door of players hitting the DL this season has been unfortunate, but hopefully a healthy second half can save this season from being a complete disaster.
*FEATURED IMAGE CREDIT: Arturo Pardavila III-flickr-CreativeCommons