Jays From the Couch compares the 2015 & 2016 seasons for the Toronto Blue Jays in the hopes of squashing fears surrounding contention
People love their sports teams. When they win, we feel good; we backed the right horse. And, when they celebrate, we celebrate. It is as though we win. But, not everything in sports is winning. In baseball, no team goes 162-0 during a season. Losing happens. The more philosophical among us will say that it is through failure that we learn and grow. Others of us take a loss as a sign of the apocalypse. When our team loses, we freak out, we assume the sky is falling. We take it personally. How dare our team let us down? When we get hurt, sometimes we say things we don’t mean in an effort to shed ourselves of the emotion.
For the Toronto Blue Jays, it means that radio call in shows are inundated with calls about the season being over (in May) and people scream all over social media that this team can not win. I get it. It is frustrating to watch a team lose the way they did in Tampa Bay on Friday night, to the lowly Rays, no less. It sucks. Unlike some folks, I don’t judge people for their frustration. Get caught up in your team all you like. It is understandable. When they lose, it is understandable that people may respond like this:
Frustration aside, I wanted to see if the 2016 version is better or worse than the team that won the AL East in 2015 and made it to Game 6 of the ALCS. Basically, I went in search of whether it is delusional to think the 2016 Blue Jays can win like they did last season.
Here is a quick graphic that summarizes the findings:
In looking at the more basic performances of the two seasons, there are a lot of similarities. By the end of the season (all 2016 stats are subject to change with a month to go in the seaosn), several of the above categories will yield results that will show the seasons to be fairly close to one another. For example, the HR total of 2015 was 232. It is not a strecth to think that, with 28 games remaining, the Blue Jays can hit another 30 bombs to equal, or pass last season’s total.
We know that the bats have not been performing like they did last year, though. Look at the difference in slash lines. The 2016 line is down, for sure, but is it down as much as we thought it was? How else do you explain the drop in runs per game? Yes, the boys are still scoring almost 5 per game, but they are scoring .6 per game fewer this season. If you multiply that .6 runs per game by 162 games per season, you get a total of 97 runs on the year. That is a dramatic difference. So, it makes sense why the belief is out there that the team is scoring fewer runs. That belief is probably fueled by the memories of all the strike outs this year. Currently, the two totals are close, but 28 games is a lot of time for this year’s team to bypass the 1151 from 2015.
Despite the offense not being up to last year’s pace, which would be pretty unsustainable from year to year, we are witnessing a better pitching staff, aren’t we? We have 2 starters who are sniffing around the Cy Young conversation in J.A. Happ and Aaron Sanchez. Neither will likely end up winning, but they represent a staff that is a far cry form the one that ran Felix Doubront out there. The rotation’s ERA is down from last year, even if the win-loss record is not as sexy. Remember, last season the starters benefited from starts where the bats scored them a ton of runs, which would inflate the win total.
Some will point to the early struggles of the bullpen as a reason why the Blue Jays are sitting on 76 wins. It could easily be more, if the relievers had done their jobs in April and May. And, they aren’t wrong. But, if you look at the group on the whole, they aren’t doing that poorly compared to last season. They have been credited with more losses, sure. But an ERA increase to 4 is not as terrible as some would make it sound. Yes, it is worse than last year, but when you consider the performance of Brett Cecil, alone, you see the reasoning. There are different faces in the bullpen now, which has led to things calming down dramatically. Yes, late losses will still happen, but this is a far cry from early 2016.
Generally speaking, this 2016 team is not worse than last year’s. They could not be expected to put up offensive numbers like they did last year. That would be silly. And, yet, Josh Donaldson and Edwin Encarnacion are putting up MVP type seasons. Troy Tulowitzki has been healthy, Russell Martin has come on strong lately and Devon Travis has been healthy. This is a very good team.
So, why the frustration? Well, if you look at the standings, the Blue Jays sit just one game up on the Boston Red Sox at the time of writing. Quite frankly, the competition in the division in 2016 is better than last year. At this time last year, the Red Sox were 11 games under .500 and 15.5 games back of the Blue Jays (remember, the Blue Jays have almost an identical record). The Rays and the Orioles were also 10 games back. The Yankees were just 1.5 games, but were heading in the wrong direction, just like the 2016 Orioles. That said, this year’s competition is stiffer. Only the Rays are under .500. The Yankees, who are in 4th place are just 3.5 games out of a Wild Card spot. To put it simply, the AL East resembles a dog fight this year, when last year it did not.
This year’s Toronto Blue Jays team is not worse. They are not better, but they are certainly not a team to write off. What you’re experiencing right now is actual meaningful baseball in September, which is what we’ve been asking for for over 20 years. While last year’s run was exciting because we got to watch our perennial tire spinning team run roughshod through the division. In August and September, they were dominant. This year, it is a different story. As good as this team is, they won’t have the same fortune in this division. We get to enjoy a completely different type of September. This year, we will get a true sense of what a divisional battle looks like. This will be entertaining for a different reason. This year, we will be on the edge of our seats, with emotions hanging in the balance.
If you are a person who gets caught up in your sports team and your emotional well-being is linked to what happens on the field, you’d better get ready. You are about to experience an emotional roller coaster. You’re about to experience the Toronto Blue Jays fight for a division title.
*Featured Image Credit: C Stem- JFtC
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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.