Quick disclaimer. I know that while writing this, it makes me a bit late to the ball. I have, however, been very vocal about it out on Twitter, as well as even against our own Jays Journal writers. Before this current Toronto Blue Jays slump occurred, there were ominous warning signs.
A lot of what is in this article is going to pretty much validate what theScore’s Drew Fairservice wrote from yesterday morning only with some numbers. During this brilliant stretch of a 20 win May, it masked some problems the Blue Jays may see come playoff time, assuming they will get to postseason promise land. As Josh Menezes mentioned in his article in the previous paragraph, even if the Blue Jays play .500 ball for the rest of the year, it would get the team to 87 wins and most likely secure a playoff spot. Now, if only baseball actually worked that way.
You and I and every Blue Jays fan knows that this team was built to win now. It’s been discussed relentlessly. The holes on this team have also been discussed at great length (2B, SP, C in case any of you forgot in this giddiness of winning). In Fairservice’s article, he states exactly what I’ve been saying. Fellow Jays writers from Bluebird Banter like Nicholas Garcia and Every 5th Day’s Wade Black have echoed similar sentiments. Blue Jays fans, this is not negativity spewing from our mouths. This is legitimate, justifiable concern.
Let’s start with our May hero, Edwin Encarnacion at the current start of our slump date, June 7th. .091/.167/.227 are the splits. It’s almost unfair to gripe, because he has been so good for so long. Have a look at his swing rate for May, compliments of BrooksBaseball.net:
In this swing rate chart, you can see that Encarnacion is swinging at pitches mostly within the strike zone. In this next chart during the current “slump,” Encarnacion looks to be trying to pull the ball more, usually a sign of trying too hard to hit a home run:
Now I know that it may seem like this is far fetched based off of a simple swing chart alone, so let me include Edwin’s ISO Chart from last month showing where he had the most success when it came to his power numbers, and where hits are going during this slump:
All signs point to trying to hit a HR. All but 1 of Encarnacion’s HRs in May landed over left-leftcenter field. Most of his success came from pitches on the inner half. Now he’s swinging outside of the strike zone, trying to kill the ball. Hence, the slump.
He’s not the only person to struggle during this stretch, as Jose Bautista‘s splits are .227/.292/.364. Juan Francisco has been dreadful since the latter part of May, but during the Jays’ slump, he’s an anemic .077/.077/.154 with 6 Ks in 13 ABs. Brett Lawrie is .190/.261/.190. Now sure, the Blue Jays ran into the St.Louis Cardinals’ pitching staff during that stretch, which is arguably the best in baseball, but got shutout by Jamie Garcia, who’s been on the DL for about a season’s worth of games over the last 2 years, and Shelby Miller, their young and talented-but-struggling pitcher. After that came the Minnesota Twins’ Ricky Nolasco (the lone win over this losing stretch), Phil Hughes, and Kevin Correia. Last night was Baltimore Orioles’ promising young arm, Kevin Gausmann, who had also been struggling up until his last 2 starts. As you can see here, the pitchers haven’t exactly been ace after ace.
Now, it’s not time to panic, but it is time to be more realistic. While the Blue Jays offense put up runs through various means thoughout May, one would be thinking highly illogically if one were to think this would continue throughout an entire season. “You should enjoy the winning.” I do. I’m not being a pessimist. I’m being realistic.
Menezes article pointed out that the Blue Jays had 4th best SP ERA (3.79) in the AL, it’s extremely misleading. FanGraphs points out that the Jays SP FIP and xFIP sit at 4.13 and 4.32 respectively. That is good for 9th out of 15 and 14th out of 15, and it’s really NOT good. Also, if Quality Starts matter to you, like it does me, the Blue Jays sit at 50%, which is slightly above the league average of 49%, with only Mark Buehrle having a QS% greater than 60% (min. 7 starts).
Speaking of Buehrle, how long does one think his pitching will last? He’s been impressive with his performances, but according to FanGraphs statistics, his BB% (6.7%) is up from his career norm of 5.5% and his K% (14.2%) is above his career norm, but the lowest it has been in 3 years. The glaring stat is his HR/FB%. For his career, he’s at 9.7%. The last 2 years, that number has been closer to 11%. This year it is a mindbogglingly low 4%. This is the lowest of his career and the odds are, that number will correct itself and get more in line with his previous career low of 6%. His LOB% is also 81%, which is fantastic, but his H/9 is 8.55 and combine that with his higher than usual walk rate, Buehrle is putting baserunners on, just as his WHIP suggests (1.23).
Outside of Buehrle, the Blue Jays SPs have been below average to mediocre at best and that’s been hidden by the offense providing more than enough runs. This past week has been the best example of what happens when the Jays do not score: a 1-5 stretch that leaves fans wondering what happened to all the offense. Because contrary to Menezes’ play .500 concept with things staying the same, in no sport does anything ever stay the same and it’s all about adjustments. As you see by Encarnacion’s charts above, Jays’ Hitting Coach Kevin Seitzer has got some work to do to not just reign in Encarnacion but also get Francisco from swinging at pitches out of the zone. Cure those woes and the offense should come back. The pitching however… that’s anybody’s guess. As said for most of last season and going into this season, it needs to be upgraded and better. Ask fans of the mid-90s Colorado Rockies what it was like watching their team play until the playoffs started. That’s the kind of scenario Blue Jay fans are looking at. Not everything is roses as the May record or Menezes indicated.