Spray Hitter – Toronto Blue Jays Analytical Notes


Jays From the Couch presents observational notes on the Toronto Blue Jays, including Kevin Pillar, Devon Travis and Joe Biagini


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Rather than attempt to force a few ideas into long winded, lengthy posts of their own, Jays From the Couch presents a collection of observations on recent events and situations involving the Toronto Blue Jays.


Note 1


On June 30th last season, I wrote an opus to Kevin Pillar, in which I chronicled my belief that Pillar was at that time a league average batter, and possibly on his way to something better. I walked that back some in my year-end accountability column, as I continue to have concern that Pillar may have difficulty staying healthy due to his all-out defensive style. As an update to that June 30, 2016 column, as of the conclusion of yesterday’s loss to the Braves, Pillar reached a wRC+ of 100 over 1188 plate appearances.


His altered and more disciplined plate approach has been well covered and analyzed by many, but the net result has been production which is roughly in line with his college and minor league production. So far in the 2017 season, Pillar’s wRC+ has been 138 over 179 plate appearances, with a notable spike in SLG to .509 and an OPS of .874. His BABIP has increased to .336, which is more in line with how he performed while excelling through various minor league levels. The increased power has been accompanied by Pillar increasing his Hard Contact rate to 33.3% and been pulling the ball more, which fits with his improved command of the strike zone.


I think it is reasonable to be skeptical that his power will sustain at recent levels and he certainly may still be vulnerable to injury on any given day, but so far in 2017, Pillar is performing like the 6+ WAR player I thought was there to be developed.


Note 2


As fun as the past couple of weeks have been, with the Jays climbing their way back to some semblance of relevance, I believe near term caution is warranted. After burying the Jays with commentary and columns about being a seller at the trade deadline, after one short week, many skeptics walked back their previous certainty at the sustained demise of the Jays. I had been hoping the Jays could play around .500 baseball while they waited for the army of DL’ed players and roughly half of their payroll returned from injury, and the roster of AAAA players has exceeded that level in wonderful fashion.


However, I think it wise to remember that the bottom half of the Jays lineup looks like a train wreck on most days. Darwin Barney and Ezequiel Carrera have begun to mean revert, and Ryan Goins may not be as lucky/clutch with the timing of his rare hits. Despite two really bad days by the pitching staff against the Braves, it appears as if the pitching staff will be at least OK, even with two starters on the DL.


With Troy Tulowitzki and Josh Donaldson seemingly due to return over the next week+, the cavalry couldn’t be arriving at a more badly needed time. I believe Jays fans should be absolutely thrilled that the recent run has occurred with the roster in its recent composition, but there will be further ebbing and flowing through the remainder of the schedule.


Note 3


Joe Biagini has been a revelation since joining the Blue Jays at the beginning of the 2016 season, and his recent transition to the starting rotation has been a continuation of his successful track record at the MLB level. With him having not surrendered an earned run over his first 9 innings as a starter, maintaining realistic expectations is important.


However, as the old saying goes, he doesn’t need to be faster than the bear – only faster than the other person running from the bear. I think a great outcome for the Blue Jays would be Biagini sticking in the rotation and supplanting Francisco Liriano, who I believe could fill a badly needed role for the Jays in the bullpen. They Jays are badly in need of a dominant LHP in the bullpen, and Liriano’s stuff and dominance of LHB makes him a good candidate to be moved into an Andrew Miller type of bullpen role. This would, in theory, balance the short term needs of the team with the long term development of Biagini, who would clearly be a valuable asset if able to start moving forward.


Note 4


Much of the Jays Twitterverse was up in arms during and after Tuesday’s game against Atlanta, as John Gibbons inexplicably had Devon Travis attempt to bunt with runners on first and second with nobody out in the eight inning. That was such a horrible decision in retrospect, but I also believe it was indefensible at the time prior to the outcome being known. Obviously, Travis has been one of the Jays hottest batters as he has gone on a doubles orgy in May.


However, it also looks pretty clear that Travis isn’t very good at bunting, so throw that aspect into the mix. Finally, why was he bunting with the previously mentioned bottom of the Jays lineup due up following even a successful sacrifice? Bunting to setup Barney, Carrera and Goins? As much as I am disappointed in the decision, I am equally as disappointed in the performance of the beat writers following the game, as only one token question about the decision was asked of Gibbons with no challenge or follow up.





*Featured Image Credit: C Stem- JFtC