Blue Jays Morning Brew: Pitching, Defense and Culture


Boston Red Sox left fielder Jonny Gomes (5) bats during the seventh inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park. Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

It’s back to reality after the long weekend. We only have one story for you this morning, I considered others but this one really turns my crank. writes that the Blue Jays have a long way to go if they want to start contending in the American League. Yes I agree that you need pitching and defense to win. But culture? I’m not so sure. Maybe it’s because I consider myself a member of the “statistics-obsessed culture places zero value on cohesion, preferring to individualize each player and position as if he and it work mutually exclusive to all else.” Jonny Gomes who is currently playing in the ALCS with the Boston Red Sox says this about is experience playing on winning clubs:

"“This is my fourth division title and my fourth team. They’re all very similar. We pitch. We play defence. We play together. We situational hit. We create an identity and win and lose with that identity.”"

Gomes batted .182/.282/.383 and had a -1.0 rWAR during the regular season for the Rays in their run to the World Series in 2008. He didn’t even make their playoff roster, which apparently makes him an expert on winning because the Rays actually found a way to win all of those game despite having him as a black hole in their lineup.

I do agree that pitching, defense and situational hitting are all big factors when it comes to winning. But is culture the cause? Or are they merely correlated factors? There’s a big difference between causation and correlation, one that statistics attempts to address.

Was a lack of accountability or sacrifice the root of the problems for the Blue Jays this year? Not in my opinion. The Blue Jays simply weren’t good enough and didn’t have the starting pitching required to be successful. A locker room full of the best leaders in baseball wouldn’t make the playoffs if their rotation pitched to a 4.81 ERA.

Take for example the aforementioned Red Sox. For the most part they are still the same core that finished the 2012 season last place in the American League East. They had the fourth worst starter ERA that year at 5.19. This year they’ve turned it around to a very respectable 3.84. Resurrections by Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester and John Lackey led to the way and the back-end of Felix Doubront and Ryan Dempster were good enough that the trade deadline acquistion of Jake Peavy probably wasn’t even necessary.

This as a Blue Jays fan gives me hope. The Red Sox are in the ALCS with much the same team that finished last place in 2012. But they pitched better and therefore won more games. If the Blue Jays can do the same they will win more games in 2014 and with a lineup that still gives opposing pitchers nightmares they maybe aren’t as far away from competing as it would appear looking at record alone.

This isn’t saying that the Blue Jays don’t have serious question marks going into 2014. Lester and Buchholz are both extremely talented young pitchers and the Jays might be asking a lot if they expect the same from their current rotation. But maybe if everything goes right it’s plausible? Brandon Morrow would need a comeback campaign for the ages and R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle would both need to be just as good if not better. That would leave J.A. Happ, Todd Redmond, Esmil Rogers, Marcus Stroman, Sean Nolin, Kyle Drabek, Drew Hutchison or who knows maybe even Josh Johnson fighting for the remaining two spots. That’s still probably not ideal and I would still like to see the Blue Jays go after at least another starter this offseason but like I said if everything goes right it could work.

Or it could not. We’ll have to wait and see. But my point is that it’s easy to blame things like culture and teamwork but in reality we’ll never really know how much they really matter. I’ll take a starting rotation that pitches to a sub-four ERA over a solid clubhouse any day of the week. It’s funny though how one thing tends to lead to another.