How Much is the Toronto Blue Jays’ Defense Helping it’s Pitching?




Over the past few seasons, the Blue Jays have had one of the most potent offenses in the MLB. With home run hitters slotted throughout the lineup, the Blue Jays offense gives many opposing pitchers headaches. It was a breathe of fresh air this year, when the Blue Jays also had a deadly starting rotation taking the mound every game. With Aaron Sanchez and J.A. Happ inserted into the lineup, and a full year of Marcus Stroman and Marco Estrada, the Blue Jays new look starting rotation is paying major dividends this year.


In 2015, the Blue Jays ranked 12th in the MLB in ERA at 3.81, while they ranked 17th in the MLB in FIP at 4.09. This season, the Jays have enjoyed a 3.84 ERA, which ranks them 7th in the MLB, and a 4.05 FIP, which ranks them 10th in the MLB. Although the Blue Jays ERA is up slightly this year, they rank better in the MLB overall, as the entire leagues’ ERA is up 0.25 this year. This is mostly like the case due to the increase in home runs this year, which I wrote about HERE.


Another strength to the Blue Jays roster this season is their defense. With players like Troy Tulowitzki, Kevin Pillar, and even Josh Donaldson playing in the field, there’s no doubt that the Jays starting pitchers get a lot more easy outs than other pitchers around the league. Which makes you wonder, just how much is this great defense playing into affect of the starting pitching?


FIP or Fielding Independent Pitching, isolates the performance of the pitcher by looking at their performance solely based on outcomes they can control. The defense playing behind them, their strikeouts/walks, how many batters they hit, and their home runs allowed aren’t calculated into a pitcher FIP number. It is a calculation into the average outcome of balls put in play.


Below is a graph showing the variance of ERA and FIP between the Blue Jays starters this year. The difference between the two numbers, help explain the some of the variables going into the pitchers season overall. For example, if Pitcher X has an ERA of 3.00, and an FIP of 4.00, that means the defense is contributing in saving that pitcher an average of 1 run per game, which is huge!


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The graph/chart above, shows us a lot about which pitchers are helped the most by the great Blue Jays defenders. As you can see, R.A Dickey has the smallest differential from his ERA and FIP number. This means that Dickey’s ERA is a pretty close representation of his actual performance this year. Dickey, Estrada, and Happ, and Sanchez are all being helped by more than half a run a game, which is a nice boost to their numbers, and the close variance between the three show that the defense is offering similar production to the rotation without much of the “luck” factor in FIP affecting their numbers.


The one outlier in all of this is Marcus Stroman, who’s FIP number is much lower than his ERA. This could mean either the defense, or just plain luck is giving Stroman worse results than his performance actually appears. This number could be explained through a lot of factors in Stroman’s game. First his .313 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls Put in Play) ranks him the 13th worst in the MLB of pitchers. A crazy amount of those balls falling for hits are Med/Hard hits on the ground, where he leads the MLB in ground ball percentage at 61.1%. Look below at the two zone charts, the one on the left shows the exit velocities in each zone from Stroman, and on the right is Happ’s batted ball velocity.


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Happ has lower velocity in almost every zone within the strike zone, which is surprising because Stroman throws a lot of off speed pitches which wouldn’t correlate with hitting the ball harder for batters. Happ uses mainly a fourseam fastball for more than 70% of his pitches. Both pitchers throw their fastballs around 92MPH, the difference is Happ has 0.36 less balls in play falling for hits than Stroman. Typically fly ball pitchers have a lot lower BABIP than ground ball pitchers, because fly balls are much easier outs. While .300 is league average in BABIP, Stroman’s .313 is not only showing that all those ground balls he enduces might be effecting his performance, but it’s also way higher than his previous two seasons. From 2014-2015, Stroman pitched ~15 less innings compared to this year but to an average of .272 BABIP, much lower than league average.


The good news is, Stroman’s high BABIP numbers, mixed in with his low FIP number, make him the perfect candidate to bounce back and potentially go on a hot streak. One number that indicates this, is his low strand rate. While league average is 74% on LOB% (Left of Base Percentage), all Blue Jays pitchers are in this league average range, with J.A. Happ leaving 80% of batters on base which ranks him 10th in the MLB. Stroman LOB% is 66.9%, which ranks him 8th worst in the MLB, potentially explaining his high ERA.


A hard hit grounder making it through the defense, is most likely coming at the worst time possible for Stroman. His ability to potentially bounce back could rely on his ability to strike batters out more in the right times, as his strikeout rate of 7.44K/9 is slightly above league average for starters this season, and is good enough to bring his strand rate back up to league average, and reducing his ERA number back down to his FIP standard.


As you can see for the rest the pitchers on the team, the Blue Jays improvements on defense this season is certainly helping their numbers.



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Spencer Redmond

Spencer Redmond is a Graduate of the University of Wisconsin. His loves in life are the NBA, MLB, Stats, and his dog Parker.