Thursday, May 2, 2013

This Start is Unsustainable...Which is a Good Thing

The Jays come into today with 10 wins, and 18 losses, putting them last in the AL East, and one of the worst teams in baseball to date.  After Alex Anthopoulos made some major moves in the offseason,  everyone, including myself,  expected much, much better.

Many people seem to view what I am about to explain as "sugar coating," or making it seem a lot better than it is.  I am not doing this. I see what everyone else is seeing.  As a matter of fact,  there's a chance I have seen more.  This is because when the Jays are losing, many of the "fans" turn the game off because they "can't watch this anymore." I, for one, haven't done this.  And from what I've seen, it has been an utter disaster.  What I am here to do is uncover the reasons for this disastrous start.

As you've probably predicted, this starts with BABIP(Batting Average on Balls In Play.) The Blue Jays are last in baseball, posting a .263 BABIP.  This, especially with a team this talented, is unsustainable.  Balls will start to drop in, it's only a matter of time.  Going further,  it isn't just the roster fillers who are contributing to the BABIP number. Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion are posting BABIPs of .167 and .195 respectively. It hurts more when your impact players are struggling in the BABIP department, rather than Mark DeRosa (.160 BABIP), or Maicer Izturis (.195 BABIP), although Izturis is playing everyday, so his hurts a lot.  It is bound to improve.
As you can see, many of the Jays key players, such as Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and others, all have BABIP way below the league average. This means things can only get better offensively for the Jays.

In addition to this, people with very good track records simply aren't performing.  More specifically,  pitchers Mark Buehrle,  Josh Johnson (now hurt),  and to a lesser extent R.A. Dickey and Brandon Morrow.  Out of this entire group,  the only one who I could see sustaining the struggles is Mark Buehrle.  Not because he's old,  not because of the AL East,  but because of how awful he has been.  Luckily, (well, possibly unluckily) Ricky Romero has been called up to replace Johnson in his absence.  Romero has recreated himself, mechanics wise.  In his one rehab start, he threw 80 pitches over 7 innings, with 0 walks (!!!). Hopefully he can repeat this performance tomorrow night, when he faces Felix Hernandez.  I am going to say there is absolutely no chance (as long as health is fine) that the Jays pitchers continue on this pace. All logic would go completely out the window.

For the hitting, it isn't just BABIP that is causing struggles.  Jose Bautista has shown patience at the plate these last 2 games, but other than that, he hasn't looked all that comfortable at all this season. Like last season, Bautista will come around and become dangerous once again.  Melky Cabrera has shown flashes of brilliance, but hasn't been able to put it all together consistently just yet. Colby Rasmus is being Colby Rasmus again, and striking out a ton,  along with J.P. Arencibia.  I'd say the only real bright spot so far has been Adam Lind, who is leading the team in OBP.  Lind is hitting 2nd tonight and should continue to be in that spot vs righties. When Adam Lind is the only hitter who has consistently been doing well, you know it can't go on for much longer, and it won't(not to take anything away from Lind, who has a whole new approach at the plate, and is a pleasure to watch again).

The last issue is the defence. This is an issue that won't be fixed given the current roster. This defence is bad. Gideon was absolutely correct back in December when he predicted it would be this bad. The only plus defender on the field is Brett Lawrie.  This said, Lawrie should be considered plus-plus, as he is just incredible at the hot corner.  Aside from that, the outfield isn't great at all.  We now know that Melky Cabrera is extremely slow,Jose Bautista lacks range and takes horrible routes, and the same can be said for Colby Rasmus.  As for the middle infield, it has been a mess, but I believe this to be somewhat of a coincidence. Kawasaki is a solid defender, and is Izturis isn't a total mess, so that shouldn't continue to be as awful as it has been.

There are plenty of articles out there giving examples of teams that have come back from horrid starts. I am not here to do this. I understand that at this point, there is reason for legitimate concern.  Chances of making the playoffs certainly aren't great.  What I have to remind you is that some great baseball is going to be played over the next few months. So let's enjoy it.  Hopefully, that leads to some meaningful games in September.  If not, Alex Anthopoulos didn't build this team to contend for 1 year. The only impactful player whose contract expires at the end of this year is Josh Johnson, who can easily be replaced by Drew Hutchison or Kyle Drabek.  There is a 4 year window to win, and hopefully more than that.  This means at least 4 years of Jose Reyes, R.A. Dickey, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Lawrie, and the list goes on. Umm yeah, we're gonna have fun and win some ball games.

Just be patient Toronto. You might have a heart attack or two(or seven) along the way, but this team is built to contend, and if this bad start ruined the chances this year, it sure as hell didn't for the coming years.


  1. Sure this start is unsustainable, because some things will pick up (BIAP is a pretty good example of why the offence should be better). The Jays won't go 58-104, but there is no indication that this team is "built to contend". Lets face it, AA went all in. He took big risks (JJ's health, Buerhle's ability to return effectively to the AL, Melky off roids, ect...). Sometimes big risks pay off. And sometimes they blow up in your face.

    This team is effectively done for the year. They will have to post a winning percentage of .600 the rest of the way to effectively contend, difficult with a fully healthy, performing team, impossible with an injured slumping one.

    Next year, the Jays will be without JJ, and won't have the money to replace him while paying Buehrle 18 million per season. But the worst part of the Buerhle contract will be the fact that the Jays will trot him out every 5th day, thanks to his gargantuan contract (Is it just me, or the Marlins kind of Vernon Wells us with Buehrle?).

    As you said, the defense sucks, and range doesn't improve with age (although Rasmus isn't as bad as you make him.

    The farm system has talent, but all of it is at least two years away. Please, please don't bring up Drabek. Ever. His control issues were going prevent him from ever being truly effective in the majors, and that was before Tommy John #2. Hutch may come back as good as before (emphasis on the may), but his performance is unlikely to match that of what we thought Johnson could do.

    This team has a good core of Reyes, Bautista, Encarnacion, and Dickey (and Lawrie, but until he starts hitting, I'm not sure that he's a true core player), but all of these guys are on the wrong side of 30. In an optimal situation, you're core should be about 24-28 years old. The fact that our core is under contract for the next 4 years minimum could be just as bad as it could be good.

    Payroll won't increase any higher, because as Beaston has stressed, payroll is contingent upon fans coming out. Fans don't come to see a sub .500 team, at least not at the rate that will sustain a top ten payroll. With many backloaded contracts , and arbitration set to raises the salaries of the younger players, don't be surprised if this team is forced to pull a Marlins-like fire sale in the near future.

    1. I appreciate your comment, Gideon tells me you are a former writer here.

      You bring up good points here.

      I agree that this season is getting awfully tough to come back from.

      I just don't think we'll see another firesale. Sure, if we're out of it later on getting rid of Buehrle's contract would probably be benificial, but his track record really does suggest that he will improve.

      I also agree that we will never see Drabek as a starter, but as a reliever, I can see him being effective, if he can harness is control.

      Another thing I am not on the same page as you on is Brett Lawrie not being a core player. That guy, even if his hitting is just serviceable, which it shouldn't be, will always be a core piece because of his brilliant play at 3rd. It really is a treat to see him play over there, and he'll be a "core piece" for a while.

      There really is no right or wrong, when it comes to whether this team can contend. We will just have to wait and see, I suppose.

    2. Fair enough. I just don`t see a lot of positives right now. By the way, about Lawrie, you need to hit to be a core player. He is brilliant at the hot corner but defense isn`t enough to call a guy a core piece. Two examples a Jays fan can relate to: Jose Molina and Jonny Mac. Molina has been said to win games with his pitch framing alone. Jonny Mac led all shortstops defensively by many metrics in his defensive prime. Yet without the hit tool, they weren`t even regulars. Granted, Lawrie is a better hitter (enough to be an above average regular), but he hasn`t yet proven himself as a hitter. Keep in mind that he isn't a power hitter. Until he finds a way to get on base constantly, I'll view him as a good player, not a core piece. Its hard not to get caught up in Lawrie mania, what with all of his flash, energy, defensive talent, and Canadianism. But don't get carried away. Last year, Pedro freaking Alvarez posted the same 2.9 war (as per fangraphs), as did Lawrie. I think Lawrie can trend upward, but only time will tell.