Apr 18, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Sergio Santos (21) talks with catcher Dioner Navarro (30) during the ninth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. The Blue Jays won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Entering play on Tuesday night, the Toronto Blue Jays sit in the middle of the pack with a 3.85 team ERA, which has actually been a pleasant surprise. In fact, the team has already gotten some solid pitching performances from most of their starters. However, there has been one thing that has consistently held back the pitching staff in these early stages.
Blue Jays pitchers are simply issuing too many walks.
With 81 free passes issued to opposing batters, the Blue Jays sit tied for third (Los Angeles Angels) for most walks issued, with only the Chicago White Sox (95) and Arizona Diamondbacks (83) having issued more. The Blue Jays may have the better record of those four squads, but it hasn’t been a formula that the team would like to maintain. It has lead to some issues for the team, namely the fact that the starting staff has thrown the fourth fewest innings of any staff in baseball.
Walks are one thing though, and considering they play in a division that is notorious for working pitch counts and drawing walks, someone is going to pay that cost. However, the key is trying to mitigate the damage of putting a man on for free. That hasn’t been a strong point either for the Blue Jays thus far in 2014, which leads us to this discussion.
As you can see by the chart below, the Blue Jays have struggled immensely when putting men on base via the walk. In fact, 25% of runners that are issued a free pass have come around to score against Toronto pitchers.
Now, Sergio Santos and Aaron Loup have been victimized lately by rough outings where they have seemingly walked the house and every one of them came around to haunt them, particularly in last week’s losses to Minnesota and Cleveland. And in looking over the chart, it appears to be the bullpen struggling with it most, if you look at strictly the percentages. However, that goes back to sample size, and if we dig deeper, the problems are nearly identical when comparing the the bullpen to the starting staff.
Of course, the starting rotation has its own issues, as is evident by the fact that they’ve lasted on average just 5.43 innings per starts. Now, Mark Buehrle’s stellar start has helped to gloss some of those struggles over as well. Take away his starts and the rotation is averaging just 5.04 innings per start. Additionally, since Buehrle hasn’t allowed a single walked batter to score this season, if you take him away from the equation, Jays starters are allowing 31% of batters issued free passes to come around to score.
The final piece of the puzzle is what this does to the team’s chances of winning. The Blue Jays have floated near or above .500 thus far in 2014, but is could have been better, as evidenced by the two bullpen meltdowns we previously discussed. But the problem extends further. If you look at the way the Blue Jays have mitigated walks from scoring when breaking it down by wins and losses, and you see a pretty apparent trend.
In games won by the Blue Jays, Toronto has given up just 15 runs which is good enough for the 3rd best mark in baseball. However, if you extend that to games lost, that mark rises to 59 runs allowed (13th). Considering 22 of those runs are coming around to score because of batters placed on base via the walk, well you have to wonder what could have been.
The point of this discussion could be pointless, but the walk is helping to lead to the inconsistencies that the Blue Jays have experienced thus far. The fact that they are are above .500 has been a pleasant surprise, especially once you look at this short study. However, whether or not the Jays’ win total is over-reaching or whether this team has room to grow, well you can take whatever you want away from this in that regard.
Still, teams don’t win when giving too many free chances to their opponents, and if the Blue Jays want to keep winning, they’ll need to find a way to improve in that department quickly.