Blue Jays’ Slow Start Time to Shake Things Up?

With the Toronto Blue Jays off to a slow start in 2016, perhaps it is time for the club to look to make some tough decisions and shake things up.

 

Heading into action on Sunday, the Toronto Blue Jays sit at 5-7 and are 3.5 games back in the AL East. Initially, the logical response to this would be that it is April 17. The club has only played 7% of their games. That means that there is 93% of a season still remaining. There is lots of time remaining to right the ship, as they say.

Former Blue Jays manager, John Farrell used to say that it would take 40-50 games before a team really knows what they have. This kind of relaxed approach certainly saves folks from panicking early in the season the way many are right now about the Blue Jays. It doesn’t make much sense to run around like Chicken Little bemoaning the force of gravity exerted on the sky. It is not falling yet.

However, what is happening right now with this ball club very well could point to the need to shake some things up. Any losing streak (or period of tire spinning), regardless of when it appears on the calendar needs to be dealt with. It has to end. The issue lies in just how a club chooses to end it. Do you sit back and wait for things to come around; keep putting in your work and wait for the results to come? That certainly seems like an April way to go. Or, do you attempt to end a down period by shaking things up?

The Toronto Blue Jays are led by a manager in John Gibbons who seems to prefer the former; he will give his players the opportunity to turn things around. But, there are a couple of areas that he may need to be a little more proactive.

Leadoff

Kevin Pillar was inserted as the club’s leadoff batter and many questioned the move. Others felt that he was one of the only options available and therefor made sense. Others still felt like it didn’t really matter who led off in this lineup because the offense is so good. Well, here we are 12 games in and Pillar as the first bat in the order is still a question mark.

In 52 plate appearances, he is hitting .188 with an OBP of .235. He has ZERO walks. Not. One. Currently, he sits in 49th spot on the American League list of pitches seen per plate appearance with 3.96. Now, one can get on board with his statements about not going up there to walk and using his spot to hit himself aboard. Walks are not everything. But, in the leadoff spot, seeing pitches and getting on base are. He’s doing those things at a much lower clip than is necessary. The argument can also be made that hitting leadoff only happens once per game and therefor doesn’t mean as much as we make it out to be, which is true. The more important aspect of that spot in the lineup is that it is right before the big bats of Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Troy Tulowitzki. Being on base in front of them, regardless of when in the game, is important.

With his struggles, Pillar may not be the right guy for the job right now. If some shaking up is in order, the question becomes “Who do you put in that spot”? That’s not as easy to answer. Right now, the ideal guy would be Bautista, who is sitting in 2nd spot in the AL with 4.88 pitches per PA seen. And, right now his OBP is .480. Even though he’s not blasting the ball over the fence every time, his approach at the plate would make him ideal. But, moving him up in the lineup would be ludicrous. Another guy whose name was tossed around was Russell Martin, who has a nice career OBP mark of .350. But, he’s struggling at the moment. Michael Saunders is off to a good start this year (.281/.343/.500). Maybe he’s the guy. Of course, he comes with the belief that he needs to sit against lefty pitching (like he did against David Price). But, maybe the current 12 game stretch tells us that something needs to be done; perhaps something out of the box.

Firstbase

The duo of Chris Colabello and Justin Smoak has been pretty disappointing thus far. In 23 plate appearances, Colabello is hitting .045/.087/.045. And his favorite stat: BABIP? It’s plummeted to .067 this season. He is striking out at a 30.4% clip. He has one hit in 2016. One. His platoon partner, Smoak, is not having much more success. In 16 plate appearances, Smoak is hitting .083 with just one hit and a whopping 68.8% strikeout rate! He has 11 Ks in 16 PA.

It is easy to see why the Blue Jays would want to shake things up. The problem is that the club can’t really take both of them out of the lineup for an extended period of time. Encarnacion certainly can move to first base, but then the DH spot is open. May 9 is the first time they’ll play without the DH. So, there’s a long period yet to go with this problem. Letting one of these guys work through struggles is sustainable, but attempting to deal with both floundering at the same time presents a concern.

Gibby is likely to not panic and try little things to get these guys going. Perhaps, a day off is in order. Perhaps, extra batting practices. Perhaps, hot yoga and an Enya CD. But, how long will he be comfortable waiting for things to click?

Seeing the club do something major might be unlikely. But, if their patience is wearing thin like a lot of fans (again, not likely) perhaps there are other options available. If they wanted to do something really out of right left field (and crazy), they could look to move Bautista to first base, option Colabello to AAA and bring up Dalton Pompey to man RF. That opens up a whole can of worms that puts the idea into the realm of fantasy. The logistics and subsequent issues with such a move make it one not worth exploring too deeply. But, the fact that we’re even talking about this kind of situation (while not specifically this one), highlights the need for some kind of shake up.

Just how badly things need to be shaken up is always a matter of perspective. If you’re a frustrated fan of the Blue Jays, you’re likely to call for the most drastic of moves in an attempt to get in the win column. If you’re more level headed, you still see the need for something to be done in order to spark a winning streak. If you’re running the Blue Jays, what you think matters more. How much are you going to tweak things to get the most out of the pieces you have?

 

It is early in the season. There is still 93% to go. There is no need to panic. That also implies there is no need for something drastic. The question is: how long do the Blue Jays wait?

 

 

 

 

*Featured Image Credit: WEBN-TV UNDER  CC BY-SA 2.0

 

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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.