The Toronto Blue Jays 2017 season has people scrambling to assign blame, but just who is responsible for this mess?
The Toronto Blue Jays have not been very good this year. While some would put that statement in more colorful language, there really isn’t any way to change the truth behind it. From injuries to poor performances, and everything in between, it’s been one disappointment after another for a team that has made it to the ALCS two years in a row.
Recently, former Sportsnet employee, Barry Davis, had an interesting thread going in his Twitter feed. Essentially, the conversation surrounded who is at fault for the way this season has gone. And, if one wanted to take on this task, there are many ways it could go (even though those participating in the thread didn’t really), which we’ll explore here. But, before we do, we should acknowledge that assigning blame is rather pointless. As you’ll see, for each target of blame, there are easy counter arguments. In fact, the real blame is easy to assign, but very difficult to deal with.
John Gibbons is an easy target for blame. He fills out the lineup card and brings in pinch hitters and runners at odd times. Take the decision to put Ezequiel Carrera in to run for Justin Smoak on third base. One could understand if it were on first or second, but third? One supposes that the thinking was that Fenway has a small outfield and it isn’t a sure thing that Smoak could score on a sac fly. So, maybe Gibbers gets a pass on that.
What is probably more frustrating is when the manager leaves his pitcher in for too long. After social media is blowing up with calls to take the starter out, it seems that we watch him face another few batters, often a few batters too many. Gibby shows faith and trust in his players, but it often seems to cost his team. But, let’s be real. Look at the roster he has to work with. The Blue Jays bullpen is collecting innings at an alarming rate. Sticking with a starter is sometimes more about trying to save the bullpen than trusting his guy. Though, willing a starter to get outs is not exactly a scientific approach to managing.
Can we talk about the hitting? From not being able to bring runners in when in scoring position, to a seeming inability to manufacture runs to selling out to the home run, this team has problems at the plate. It seems like they are taking all the good pitches and swinging at the others.
The pitches Pillar swing at vs the pitches he doesn't pic.twitter.com/nMNJQWMVvJ
— Jays From the Couch (@JaysFromCouch) July 19, 2017
This tweet was about Kevin Pillar, but to be fair to the player, he’s kind of always been like that. However, it could be applied to several other Blue Jay hitters. It is baffling to see guys like Jose Bautista seem to be confused at the dish so often. The initial reaction to this is to point to hitting coach, Brook Jacoby. He seems to have a lot of work to do to fix these issues. But, we have to remember that this is a team full of veterans who should be able to repeat the consistency they’ve shown in the past. Perhaps, there has been too much trust placed on this group and the coaching staff needs to step up and show them some video.
After Alex Anthopoulos went for broke and traded away a million pieces from the farm system, this team went on to make two straight appearances in the ALCS. However, he also left very little depth for future years. Pushing all his chips in left this team committed to those older players with little youth left to fill in the occasional holes. There is very little flexibility at this point due to lingering contracts and minor league talent being further away. In short, he’s left the current regime in a bit of a pickle. But, the easy response to that is the post season glory of the last two years. Looking around at the pieces that were moved, there are very few that we miss when we hold that up against the memories of playoff baseball in Toronto.
The current regime inherited a playoff team. It’s that simple. And, what have they done with it? Well, right now, it looks like they have failed to continue that success. They failed to bring in pieces that would have filled in absences of Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki. They failed to add quality pieces that would serve as starting options when our starters went down. Heck, they couldn’t even give the Buffalo Bisons a roster with which they could be remotely competitive. And, more importantly (to some) is that they failed to bring Edwin Encarnacion back. Instead, they tried to sell us on Steve Pearce and Kendrys Morales.
We might need to give the front office a pass on the depth issue since AA left very little internal depth. Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro cannot pull minor league depth out of the air. They’ve done very well in their first drafts in Toronto, so they’re trying. And, in the next couple weeks, they may be able to pick up a bit more depth. As for the major league pieces, all any team can do is make educated decisions and hope they pan out. Sometimes they do. Other times….
The fact is that injuries have done a number on this team from the beginning of the season. Donaldson, Tulo, Aaron Sanchez, J.A. Happ, Pearce, Joe Smith, J.P. Howell have all spent time on the DL and were all expected to be major contributors this season. That really isn’t anyone’s fault. Perhaps, the High Performance department can be held to account for not preventing the many injuries this team has seen. But, we’ve heard many times that players are singing the praises of this branch, headed by Angus Mugford. Now, we never know how many of the players are fully committed to the workouts, etc (or to what degree). Maybe the same issue of veterans doing their own thing, as with hitting, is showing itself here. But, we have no evidence of that, other than injuries, which happen regardless of training.
At the end of the day, the Toronto Blue Jays are a team full of players who are not performing. While Justin Smoak is playing well above what anyone ever thought he would, he’s surrounded by guys who are quite the opposite. The players are the ones who are flailing in the batter’s box and on the field – the defense has been the worst we’ve seen in a very long time. The coaching staff cannot go out there and hit for Bautista, who has seen his contact rate on pitches in the zone drop to a career low mark, while his SwStr% has hit 10%, it’s highest since 2006. If a guy can’t find the strike zone, Pete Walker can’t go out there and throw for him. Fixing these problems is not an easy task.
At the end of the day, there really is no easy target to which we can assign blame; it’s a mixed bag of everything. This season has been deeply frustrating for a good number of people, including everyone mentioned above. The season is not over, but in the minds of many, it might as well be. That has caused a lot of anger and frustration. The natural end point of such is to point a finger and call for someone’s head. For the 2017 Blue Jays, that is not an easy task.
Nor is it a worthy one. What remains of this season will test those who are fans of the team. Do you follow along and see how an organization goes about getting a head start on preparing for a run in 2018? Do you follow along simply out of love for your team? Do you follow along in the hopes that this team can pull off a miracle? Or, do you turn your back and find something else on the TV?
Baseball is what it is. There is no way to predict it with 100% accuracy. There is no way to account for chance. As such, there is no place to assign blame. Besides, if you enjoy baseball and the Blue Jays, there is no point in doing so.
*Featured Image Credit: C Stem- JFtC
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