Blue Jays Have 99 Problems, But a Start Ain’t One

Jays From the Couch looks at the many problems that have plagued the Toronto Blue Jays thus far in 2016. Starting pitching is not one of them.

 

 

 

Stepping off the stage having just nailed Young MC’s “Bust a Move” at karaoke night, I was on my way back to my seat with my ‘liquid courage’ to a series of high fives. When I arrived, I was greeted by a guy who congratulated me on a song he wasn’t old enough to really remember. He asked me: “Dude, what is up with your Blue Jays?” My response came in my usual ‘liquid courage’ induced belief that I am pretty funny. “My Blue Jays?!” I said. “If they were my Blue Jays, Jose Bautista would be on the Level of Excellence!” I chuckled. There was silence.

 

He finally replied, “No seriously, man. What the Hell is up with them? They’re not winning!” Perhaps, the amount of ‘liquid courage’ that this individual had enjoyed limited his ability to formulate a logical argument to justify his worry over the team he fell in love with less than a year ago. While all I wanted to do was build up enough courage to take on “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and, eventually, Katy Perry’s “Firework”, his question stuck with me. What exactly is wrong with the Toronto Blue Jays?

 

Hitting

So, last year, the club’s claim to the postseason came on the strength of its bats. Even before the July Trade Deadline, they were scoring runs better than anyone. The frustration came because their run total yielded a Pythagorean record well above where they actually stood in the standings. With an offense that good, they should have been leading the division.

 

Heading into this season, we expected that the bats would continue to roll. We may not have thought they’d be as successful as my attempt at ‘busting a move’, but we knew they’d come close. Like me trying to enjoy my evening with this Debbie Downer, we knew the Blue Jays wouldn’t keep up; wouldn’t match run for run. Right now, though, we have seen the offense scuffle at times, struggling to just maintain consistency, never mind last season’s pace.

 

As of Sunday, the Blue Jays rank 6th in the AL with 384 runs. That is not a 2015 pace. They are 10th in the AL with 684 hits and 13th in average at .245. Perhaps their saving grace is that they can work walks with the best of them. They’re 2nd in the AL in that category with 309. That said, they are also striking out a lot. They’re whiffing more than my ‘friend’ was on his words. They sit in 12th spot with 682. If you want to look at what is wrong with the Blue Jays, this would be a good place to start. When they win, they hit .286. When they lose, they hit .198. As the bats go, so does the record.

 

Tight Games

This category could be called just about anything, really, but there are some not so encouraging tidbits awaiting you. Perhaps you should fill your glass before reading.

 

In games where their opponents have scored  4 or more runs, the Blue Jays have an 8-32 record. When their opponent scores 6 or more, they have won just 5 and lost 18. Scoring runs is a problem that bleeds into their ability to keep up with opponents who don’t have that problem. Now, when the Blue Jays score 5 or more times, they are 29-8. The problem is that they’ve only scored 5 or more runs 37 times, which is not like the 2015 version of this team.

 

From the 7th inning on, the Blue Jays have scored 110 of their runs, that’s almost 29% of their total. But, in extra innings, they’ve scored a whopping 4 runs. That’s it. For comparison, they’ve allowed 135 runs in the 7th inning or later. In extras, they’ve given up 7. Their record in the 7th inning or later is 19-36. In exrta innings, they are 3-6. Out of 23 extended games, they’ve only won 4 of them!

 

Take a look at how they’ve performed in close games:

Split G R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG TB GDP
Late & Close 50 48 105 24 1 11 43 53 116 .236 .326 .369 164 12
Tie Game 77 92 181 37 4 28 88 107 179 .247 .347 .423 310 17
Within 1 R 81 198 367 70 8 56 190 176 343 .251 .337 .425 621 32
Within 2 R 82 263 483 99 9 78 252 232 494 .243 .328 .420 834 51
Within 3 R 82 318 563 116 11 94 303 267 570 .246 .331 .429 983 62
Within 4 R 82 348 617 128 12 104 332 283 615 .247 .330 .433 1081 65
Margin> 4 R 29 36 67 14 1 13 35 26 67 .226 .288 .411 122 13
Ahead 61 193 302 67 7 56 184 120 299 .246 .320 .448 551 30
Behind 54 99 201 38 2 33 95 82 204 .241 .315 .410 342 31
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/2/2016.

 

One of the more frustrating numbers is the GDP when down by 3 and 4 runs. Nothing kills a rally like a double play, despite the drunken belief that homeruns kill rallys. You can also point to another 51 twin killings, if you consider when they are within 2 runs. Oh, and with 2 outs and runners in scoring position, the club is hitting just .237 with 90 strike outs. That comes in a 300 at bat sample.

 

They have 4 walk off wins to 5 losses. They’ve also had 20 leads blown, the largest of which was 5 runs.

 

Bullpen

A lot of the issues this team has faced have to do with the bullpen. Consider the number just mentioned. 20 leads blown. If the bullpen could have held those leads, perhaps the overall record of 43-39 could be skewed in a much more positive direction. So stating that ‘a pitch’ is not really an issue for the Blue Jays is a bit of a fallacy. We have heard all season how the bullpen has been a massive disappointment.

 

The bullpen can be blamed for almost all of the above ‘tight game’ numbers. If this crop of relievers had performed to their abilities, we wouldn’t be having this conversation and I could have gone on to sway my hips and belt out those high, screechy notes of Guns n’ Roses. That said, injuries have played a larger part in this bullpen’s success than the club would have liked. However, chalking it up to injuries does not exactly paint an accurate picture. With the likes of Drew Storen vastly under-performing, it is hard to simply brush it off and blame the injury bug.

 

On the season, the Blue Jays bullpen has an ERA of 4.18 and a WHIP of 1.333. Opponents are hitting .263 against them. According to ESPN.com, the ‘pen ERA puts them in 11th in the AL. Their BAA is also good (?) for 11th. They’ve given up the 7th most runs in the AL, just for good measure. Wanna know the real kicker, here? Toronto’s group of relievers has done all of this in the fewest amount of innings (222) of any AL club. All of their numbers are worse than the league average. Perhaps, we can rest easy with the idea that they’ve had a rough start and can only get better. The law of averages and whatnot have to apply here, right? Right?

 

Starters

Arguably, the only bright spot for Canada’s only team has been the starting rotation. We’ve watched J.A. Happ continue his late 2015 success, which is a vast difference from his previous tour of duty with the Blue Jays. We’ve watched Aaron Sanchez dominate outing after outing on his way to making us question whether his innings limit really should be applied. We’ve watched Marco Estrada step up and become the ace of this staff like a boss. R.A. Dickey and Marcus Stroman have had their respective bumps in the road, but have performed well overall.

 

The rotation has a collective ERA of 3.79, which is good for 3rd in the AL. Their opponents batting average of .239 is 2nd best. Despite not having a single complete game from anyone, they still sit in top spot (520.2 IP) in the AL as the only team whose rotation has over 500 innings pitched. That works out to an average of over 6 innings per start.

 

To add to the impressive resume of the rotation: they have allowed the 4th fewest runs (219), have the second most wins (35), the second lowest OBP (.303), 6th fewest HR (65)- despite playing so many games in the AL East already this season and the second lowest WHIP (1.24).  Can we say that the rotation has been really good? Some will point to the recent struggles of Stroman and the early ugliness of Dickey’s starts to say that this rotation is not very good. It may be true that there have been some not so bright moments, but overall, this rotation is among the best in the American League. If only the other aspects of the team could keep up.

 

Of course, none of this is what my friend was looking for. He was in no condition to handle this kind of discussion. Instead, I just murmured “Yeah, it’s pretty terrible right now” and continued looking through the book for my next big number. The reality is, it has been a very frustrating season thus far for the Toronto Blue Jays; the kind of season that has you trying to drown your sorrows. We can only look back on it and understand how it has happened. We can’t predict how it will go. We just don’t know. What we do know is that we’ll always have Young MC to get us through.

 

 

 

*Featured Image Credit: C Stem- JFtC

 

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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.