It’s been rough going early on in the season. After 15 games, the Blue Jays’ record is at 6-9 and are 4.5 games back of the 10-4 Boston Red Sox. Of course there is still way, way, WAY plenty more time to catch up, especially for a team that couldn’t hold a 9.5 game lead with only a month of games left to play. But with all of the off-season acquisitions the team has made, the expectations are that much higher.
Take the starters, for example. Through their first two starts, the Blue Jays rotation has been sloppy at best. R.A. Dickey couldn’t quite make the knuckleball knuckle, giving up 12 runs. Brandon Morrow, while pretty good in his first start, got blown out in his second, giving up 9 hits and 5 runs in fewer than 4 innings. Mark Buehrle did his best Buehrle impression by giving up many hits and few walks, but differing from the usual by not making it deep into either game. Josh Johnson got smacked around as well, including a .700 BABIP in his second start. J.A. Happ was the only one who looked good in both his starts, getting the win each time and had a sub-3.50 ERA total.
The Blue Jays had entered bizarro land. Up was down, hot was cold. A guy with a Cy Young, another with strong considerations at one point for a Cy Young, an up-and-coming elite pitcher and another with 2 no-hitters (including a perfect game) were getting obliterated, while a #4 starter for the freaking Houston Astros made us say “Ricky Romero? More like RomerWHO?”.
It was only after the third start through the rotation that things began to make sense again in Blue Jays land.
Blue Jays Rotation: Third Start
|Blue Jays Starter||IP||H||R||ER||BB||K||HR|
As you can see, the #1-4 guys in the rotation gave up 2 or fewer runs through at least 6 innings, while Happ gave up 5 runs; everything as expected. Now that we’re (hopefully) out of the “miserable start” woods, what are the possible reasons for such a slow start? Let’s look at them in terms of estimated probability.
Lack Of Familiarity Between Starters And J.P. Arencibia
When I first heard that J.P. was leaving the Blue Jays early in Spring Training to catch R.A. Dickey in the WBC, I was furious. While it would allow JPA opportunities to learn to catch the knuckleball, the fear (for me at least) was that Arencibia would not get as many opportunities in March to learn the strengths and weaknesses of the other new Blue Jays starters. It’s very possible that, after working with Pete Walker after each of the first two games, JP has finally achieved a proper game plan after knowing what he’s working with. Estimated probability: 40-50%
Inclement Weather Responsible For Morrow and Johnson’s Bad 2nd Start
Brandon Morrow’s start in Detroit had a temperature of 48 (9 Celsius) and gave up 2 home runs out of 9 hits. Josh Johnson’s start was at a rainy 35 (2 Celsius) and just couldn’t get many out, giving up 7 hits and 2 walks over 1.1 innings. While it is true that the temperature did have an effect on Johnson’s pitch speed (went from 93 average down to 90) and Morrow’s slider wasn’t as effective, the Blue Jays batters didn’t buy them any favors. Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister both pitched gems opposite Morrow and Johnson, and when they were under the same weather circumstances the Blue Jays starters faced. Estimated probability: 20-25%
It’s Early: Every Pitcher Has Bad Starts And It’s Just Happened To Occur To Most Blue Jays Starters At The Same Time
If you look at the April 2012 game logs for each of the 4 Blue Jays starters who struggled through their first 2 starts, you’ll notice a trend among all of them. In each of their worst starts in that month they had at least a 7.20 ERA (going as high as 16.62 for Dickey) and their second worst start they had at least a 4.25 ERA (with the highest being Johnson’s 8.44). Despite their terrible starts in April they had fairly excellent pitching performances throughout the rest of the season, to the tune of a combined 3.32 ERA last season. It may be hard to watch the Blue Jays get beat up repeatedly, and it sure as hell sucks that Jose Reyes will be out for at least 8 weeks due to injury, but I’m sure it’ll get much better with time. Brett Lawrie‘s hitting the ball hard and already making tough plays at the hot corner, Edwin Encarnacion‘s batted balls are starting to fall for hits and Munenori Kawasaki has already become a fan favorite with his excessive bowing and flashing the “Lo Viste” sign (Gifs courtesy of Matt Gwin of House of the Bluebird). Good things come to those who wait. Estimated probability: 100%