Addressing the Blue Jays’ Struggles: Righting the Ship


We’ve reached the 20 game mark and its been a turbulent and frustratingly inconsistent start. It seems that on any giving night, the starters, the offence and the bullpen don’t all show up to play. On one night its the offence carrying the team but one or both of the ‘pen and starter threaten to undermine that production. On the next night, the starter puts together a strong outing but either the offence whimpers or the bullpen chokes. There have been 2, maybe 3 consistent games from all facets of the team all season so far—the best example being the very first game.

The lack of a quality concerted effort hasn’t just been seen in the losses, it’s been hidden under the surface in the wins as well: When the Blue Jays have won games this season, they’ve needed an average of 8.44 runs/game to do it. Essentially, the pitching staff has been almost totally unable to secure wins with normal or below average run production by the offence. The pitchers are not just failing to steal wins every now and then, they’re persistently failing to defend reasonable leads.

The lack of consistency is much more problematic with the pitching than with the offence. The offence leads the league in runs scored with 105. The pitching is 4th worst with 102 runs allowed. The pitchers can’t even really blame their struggles on the defence. It’s been pretty solid. Now I do believe there’s been an element of bad luck and perhaps a staff-wide slump that may be ameliorated somewhat as the season progresses but I do not see any signs that the positive regression will be very pronounced. In short, I’m not calling the season, giving up on this team or anything silly and rash like that, I am however maintaining a reasonable doubt that the status quo is going to magically start clicking. Changes, to some degree, need to be in the offing.

The questions are then, what are the areas of need and which is the most imperative? What is the appropriate course(s) of action?

The offence, while having feast or famine tendencies at times, is not an area of need. They’ve provided more than enough runs in enough games for a reasonably competent pitching staff to handle. The offence should become even more consistent reprieved from the pressure of having to slug out wins day in and day out. The offence being able to trust their pitchers should go a long way. (As aside, the Blue Jays’ offence has a lower than I expected wRC+ of 106 which is buoyed by an excellent baserunning value mark of 4.4 BsR)

Defence, again, not an area of need. See Kevin Pillar, Josh Donaldson, Russell Martin, Devon Travis, Dalton Pompey. Defensively, the Blue Jays have put up a 1.1 dWAR.

The pitching staff ranks dead last in MLB with a WAR of -0.2. The starters are last in the league with a -0.2 WAR and the relievers 24th with 0 WAR. In terms of FIP- (FIP adjusted for park factors. 100 being average), the bullpen has a 101 and the starters a 135. By FIP-, the starters have been quite a bit worse than the relievers. This is why I’m calling the starters the biggest area of need.

The problem is, how do you address it? Good luck trying to trade for a better starter at this point unless you’re willing to part with a significant asset. What else can you really do other than hope for the best or try other unproven rookies in the rotation? At least with the bullpen there are options. Since the biggest area of need cannot readily be improved (without a very bold move), it stands to reason that we make the second biggest area of need the focus of changes.

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The simple and most effective, but unlikely solution, is that Blue Jays’ management/ownership finally makes good on its offseason promises and ponies up some cash. That means Rafael Soriano or eating a good chunk of Jonathan Papelbon. More realistically, the possibilities are putting Aaron Sanchez back in the ‘pen, demoting one or both of Jeff Francis/Liam Hendriks and calling up one or two of Steve Delabar, Chad Jenkins, Rob Rasmussen, Bo Schultz, Bobby Korecky, Preston Guilmet, Greg Infante or Ryan Tepera. They’ve all been doing pretty well in AAA. In fact, the whole AAA pitching staff has been pretty successful in the early going.

Here’s what I’d do, ignoring the parameters AA is likely working with (my pie in the sky scenario): Trade for Papelbon, tinker with the rest of the pen (similar to below) and trade EE to an offensively starved team, such the Nationals, Reds, or Pirates, for a starter. Easy-peasy (not really I know). Vastly improved club. Unfortunately, that’s not how things are going to go down. Here’s a more plausible list of things I’d do to right the ship if I was in charge (which I’m very glad I’m not):

1. Sanchez to pen (perhaps one more start)

2. Scott Copeland to rotation

3. Start stretching out Roberto Osuna in case the Copeland experiment goes awry

4. Miguel Castro to a lower leverage role. Brett Cecil/Aaron Sanchez to “close.”

5. Jeff Francis down, Steve Delabar up.

6. Give Liam Hendriks another chance and call up Chad Jenkins in his place if Hendriks fails

7. In the case of Osuna to rotation, bring up Preston Guilmet

8. Trainers given authority over whether a guy plays with an injury. If they believe Jose Bautista and Jose Reyes should sit, they sit or go to DL. We need healthy productive bodies. We need stars getting better and not risking further injury—which is the opposite of what happened with the Reyes debacle. Add to that we lost Steve Tolleson for no good reason.

9. Munenori Kawasaki (this was written just before the Reyes/Diaz news came out) up for remainder of Reyes’ DL stint. (Diaz hits .537 OPS and Kawasaki hits .835 OPS in Buffalo. They go with Diaz? Diaz and Goins both on the roster is totally redundant)

10. Prayer, penance and burnt sacrifices

It’s early, but there are some deeply unsettling trends with this team that will likely linger even when the luck and slumps begin to turn. If contending is the aim, continuing with the alchemy approach is not going to hack it. Management needs to be proactive now in attempting to reverse these trends.

Agree? Partially agree? Disagree? You’re a mad man? Let’s hear what you have to say (except maybe a nicer version of the latter).

Next: Blue Jays lose Jose Reyes to DL