Toronto Blue Jays April Surprises

 

Jays From the Couch brings you a collection of surprises from the first month of the Toronto Blue Jays’ 2018 season

 

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The Toronto Blue Jays are about to complete the first month of the 2018 season and they are in better shape than even some of the most ardent followers of the club thought they might be. At the time of writing, they are about to play the final game of an important series against the Boston Red Sox, who they trail in the AL East standings. While some might say that it is way too early in the season to call games meaningful, given the seemingly positive gains this club has made, it certainly appears that divisional battles mean more these days.

 

The positive gains have been made through what appear to be shrewd moves designed at raising the talent floor of Canada’s favourite team. That said, the winter felt like fans and pundits alike weren’t ready to buy in to how good this team could be. April has changed that…mostly. Obviously, there will always be those who choose to ignore actual facts and cling desperately to their doom and gloom. Those people would be ignoring the reality of the Blue Jays’ situation. Sure, there are things that haven’t gone too well, but overall, there are some pleasant surprises to explore this season.

 

Winning!

Not to beat a dead horse, but much was made this offseason of the Blue Jays being an aging roster with dwindling talent and questionable health. Not enough was made about the excellent moves made, of course. On paper, everyone had Toronto lucky to make a Wild Card spot. But, applying logic would paint a different picture. The talent on this team very well could produce much more than expected.

 

To start the 2018, they have. At the time of writing, their 14-9 record would put them directly in a Wild Card spot. That said, they haven’t really gone on a winning streak to get where they are. The division leading Red Sox have enjoyed streaks of 9 games and 8 games to put them in first place. They can’t keep that kind of pace up. Toronto hasn’t won more than 3 in a row. No, the Blue Jays have been more steady than streaky and their hanging in thing already, which is a much different tune than 2017. A real hot stretch could impact the standings greatly.

 

Perhaps a sub-surprise, here is that Toronto is doing this all without Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki.

 

Solarte & Diaz

Acquiring the pair of Yangervis Solarte and Aledmys Diaz have been a rather smart bit of business, at least early on. They’ve provided much need versatility and coverage for injuries to Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki. Solarte’s K% is identical to his BB%, he has 6 HR, which is a third of his 2017 total – it’s been a month – he’s put up 133 wRC+ all while playing second, short and third. Some might be surprised by this, but in the Jays From the Couch Guide to the 2018 Toronto Blue Jays, Mark Shapiro said that Solarte would be the one who impresses the most this year.

 

As for Diaz, he came to the team with some questions about his physical conditioning, as well as whether he would be more like his rookie season, or like the guy who was sent to AAA because he was struggling. He has been a pleasant surprise for Toronto. He hasn’t chipped in with a high batting average, but he has delivered some home runs (4), showing off some power potential, making him a nice replacement for Tulo.

 

This duo is certainly an improvement over Ryan Goins and Darwin Barney.

 

Backup, now!

Luke Maile has not exactly completely transformed himself into an offensive threat, but his desire to contribute more is paying off early on. According to Baseball Reference, Maile is 4th on the team with a 0.6 bWAR. He’s hitting .414 and has a walk off hit to his credit already. He’s striking out less than last and walking more. In all of 2017, he had 19 hits. He already has 12 this year. Sure, it’s only 8 games for him, but it has been a much appreciated 8 games. He hasn’t hit a home run yet (at the time of writing), but he has 4 doubles, which is one off his 2017 total. And, he’s already outpaced his RBI mark with 9.

 

What the Grichuk?!

Not all surprises are good. Randal Grichuk certainly fits this statement. When the trade went down to bring Grichuk to Toronto, the thought was that he would provide an adequate replacement for the 2017 version of Jose Bautista. His power potential would look nice in the AL East, as would his defensive prowess. Here we are at the end of April actually wishing for something closer to what Bautista put forth last season. Grichuk has struggled mightily. It’s no secret, but it is a surprise. Imagine how good this offense could be with him firing on all cylinders. As pointed out in the link provided, signs point to his struggles not lasting, but the question of when they end remains.

 

Is Travis Really Back?

It appears that Devon Travis is back to full health. Well, his offensive production wouldn’t suggest it, but he is not on the DL, so we assume he is at full health. His return was supposed to mark the Blue Jays finally having a sparkplug at the top of their order. He has been anything but. To start 2018, Travis is slashing .130/.203/.352. He is striking out at a rate of 28.8%, which is WAY above his norm. He has just 7 hits all season and only one of those is for extra bases ( a double). He has contributed 1 wRC+. Just. One. Just about everything he hits is at medium, or soft, contact and is on the ground. According to Baseball Savant, he ranks 304th in baseball with 0.0 Brls/PA.

 

He has had an awful April, but the good news is that he heats up as the weather does. He has a career average of .288 in May, .298 in June and .324 in July. While there hasn’t been much in his approach, etc to point to better times ahead, his career numbers give us reason for hope…sort of.

 

Pitching

Through 25 games, the Blue Jays bullpen has been rather good. The front office took a different approach this offseason, opting to take chances on arms with upside, but ones that came with question marks – minor league deals, etc. It has provided early value as the group has been performing well above their salaries. The relief corps has been asked to chip in 74 innings of the team’s total 204. That’s over 36% of the workload. Collectively, they’ve pitched to a 2.43 ERA, despite such a heavy workload.

 

On the flip side, the rotation, expected to be this team’s strong point has been rather lack-luster. They’ve collected 130 IP, which works out to about 26 innings per starter. Considering about 5 starts per starter and we get an average of just over 5 innings per start. They’ve managed a total ERA of 4.92. This is hardly the level of performance we all expected from the starting five.

 

In fact, the expectations and realities seem to have been reversed for these two groups of pitchers. And, that needs to change. It likely will. It is unreasonable to think the Blue Jays’ rotation will be this pedestrian, which is good because it is also unreasonable to think the bullpen can continue their success with such a massive workload.

 

Some More Numbers

Our resident Stathead, Jeff Quattrociocchi has a few numbers for you to consider when you think about how good the start to this season has been:

“Key issues are gone. 18th in BsR is fine given the power. 7th in DRS is great, even if UZR disagrees. 15th in wRC+, but 3rd in batting xwOBA. SP are underperforming (21st in ERA and xwOBA), but I’d bet that they’re at least a top-half unit by season’s end. RP have been good (2nd best ERA) but lucky (19th best xwOBA).”

 

Your Turn!

What has surprised you the most in the first month of the season? Is it the team speed? They’ve been working the hit and run like we’ve not seen in a while. Is it something already mentioned? Or, is it something completely different? Feel free to weigh in below!

 

 

 

 

*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.

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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.