Jun 11, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Marcus Stroman waits on the mound as Minnesota Twins left fielder Josh Willingham rounds the bases after hitting a two-run home run in the first inning at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Negativity or Realism: Toronto Blue Jays in a Funk

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:

Swing Rate 5-1 to 5-31

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:

Swing Rate 6-7 to 6-13

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:

ISO Chart 5-1 to 5-31
Spray Chart 6-7 to 6-13

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.

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Tags: Edwin Encarnacion Toronto Blue Jays

  • http://jaysjournal.com/ Michael Wray

    Dream crusher

  • Hussein Mire

    JJ slumps happen man! The Blue Jays offense was too hot earlier now it’s just cooling down a little bit. Even though our jays managed to get only four hits tonight, they still got six walks. Add to that just three strike outs and trust me the hits/ homers/ and RBI’s will come.

  • Wayne Cooper

    Pretty sure most of that article was a stab at me, for defending Menezez article about no Jays playing below their career norms. And that’s ok. I respect everyone’s opinion, I just prefer to be an optimist, I’m also optimistic that they Jays will add a pitcher, and I know this team is capable of Tanking, i also know it’s capable of winning 6, 9, and 11 games in a row. All my point is, is that if this team is going to come ‘back to earth’ I’m going to wait till it happens before I complain about it. The 2011 St. Louis Cardinals had a few lengthy losing streaks. That’s the great thing about baseball, usually the team that wins it all isn’t the best on paper, have all-stars everywhere, or have 5 (or even 3 pitchers) in the leagues top 25. It’s the team that defies the odds all year, and right now the Jays are. You are right about every single stat you put in your article, but I feel like even if they win it all, the first article in November will be “were the Jays good, or just lucky? They will need to make moves to repeat” the pitching has been bad, but it has been better than last year. But think, Jimenez and Santana, who were the two BIG targets have pitched worse than Hutchison and Happ. So i say let’s ride it out and hope that AA can aquire Gallardo and Weeks from Milwaukee, sometime before the end of July. Then Again qmaybe send Stroman back down for more seasoning. But with a guy like Gallardo added I would feel really good about our rotation.

  • Wayne Cooper

    And it’s ok to admit that the reason you were behind the ball on writing about the warning signs is cause you were excited to look up and see the Jays 5.5 games up on 2nd……come on….you know it’s true Justin.

  • JaysHopeful

    ****Apologies for the length of this RANT****

    The shortcomings this Jays team had at the beginning of the year continue to persist, despite being at the top of the AL East, as Justin Jay has rightly pointed out. The Jays still lack a No. 1 starter and a 2B, and continue to live or die by their offense (or really the homerun). That is not to say that the team is bad or doomed, but really to point out the realities of these continued shortcomings.

    Playing Brett Lawrie at 2B has been successful, but is like having a Thoroughbred pull a cart: sure he can do it, but why would you want him to? There are concerns about Reyes’ range which are addressed when Lawrie can range to his left at 3B, and beyond that his defense at 3B is stellar. Also his ~ .230 average and subpar OBP are concerns, despite his ability to accumulate RBIs. Maybe defensive consistency, where he is comfortable, can allow him to focus on his bat.

    Francisco is very similar to Colby Rasmus but without the speed or defense. He strikes out too much, but when he gets a hold of one it goes for extra bases. His defense is bad at 3B, almost a borderline liability, but they have gotten the most out of him by platooning him and taking him out late in games. However, Francisco is not a solution at 3B and with Rasmus’ return there is a question of how many high-strikeout lefty-lumberjacks they can maintain in the lineup, and Rasmus has better speed and defense.

    Stroman and Hutchinson have been good but inconsistent and unproven, which is fine because they are young, but when trying to get to the post-season makes them a bit of a gamble. Buerhle has been phenomenal but he is not a No. 1 starter, though he is an absolutely great No. 2. Dickey, despite the CY Young in 2012, is still a knuckleballer, which means we have a No. 3 inning-eater who can be around another 6 years but given high-stakes games (i.e. playoffs) we really only have Buerhle we can trust and even then… So there is a need for at least a No. 1 starter.

    Our only real trade chip is Lind, who has inflated numbers from being protected by platooning and batting in front of Edwin, who (with a slumping Francisco and Lawrie) currently has minimal support behind him in the lineup. Navarro has also shown what he is: a backup veteran, who calls a good game and can DH some. However this seems to require the carrying of 3 catchers which means that the bench is limited to 3 other position players, which is fine as long as everyone stays healthy.

    So, there is the need for a consistent hitter to support Edwin in the lineup as well as a 2B and No. 1 starter. We could look to Milwaukee (as has been discussed previously) but they are also in a post-season run, and Weeks remains a defensive liability at 2B, and the concept of getting a No. 1 starter from the Brewers seems limited. Also, what would you trade besides Lind?

    Perhaps the Mets pose a better trade partner (as they are crashing and burning). There is the possibility of packaging Lind and Navarro for one of their several young and talented arms and (and this is a BIG “and”) MAYBE Daniel Murphy – who is still defensively poor but a hell of a bat. Mets are trying to get prospect Wilmer Flores more at-bats, which might make them open to trading Murphy and they need a solid 1B (no offense to Duda) and a veteran catcher – with the implosion of d’Arnaud. However this means that the Jays will depend on a Kratz/Thole platoon throughout the rest of the year, unless Jimenez is deemed ready for The Show. Again, probably Jeff Samardzija is the best starter option and then looking somewhere else for a 2B (maybe Arizona?), but it will probably mean sacrificing prospects.

    There are holes in what remains a great team, but like a pin-hole leak the water keeps coming in and you have to keep bailing. These issues are nothing new; they have just been covered up by the effective use of platooning and the ability for some of the Jays lineup to remain hot at different points. The Jays have been riding what’s been working hoping that it won’t buck, but now that there has been a hiccup the old issues are raising their heads again. I know I have not provided any stat support in this rant, but I have gone through Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference and assure this is not solely anecdotal.