Blue Jays Second Half: Jays to Improve, Regress

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Jul 3, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons (5) takes the ball to relieve starting pitcher Drew Hutchison (36) in the fifth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

With the All-Star break over and the second half of the MLB Season about to get underway, we took a look at which Jays players are primed for breakout performances over the next few months along along with a few players who are set for regression in the latter half of the year.

Set to improve:

Drew Hutchison: The curious case of “Hutch” was extremely frustrating for Jays fans throughout the first half of the year. While Hutchison dazzled at home (2.12 ERA, 2.39 FIP and nearly 9 K’s/9 innings), he has been absolutely awful away from the friendly confines of the Rogers Centre.

Pitching on the road, Hutchison owns an atrocious 8.81 ERA, giving up 8 home runs and walked 19 in 47 innings pitched with an 5.01 FIP. Having such radically opposite results on the mound has been difficult to watch, as Hutchison has shown on occasion the ability to be a top-of-the-rotation starter in the big leagues. There’s reason to believe that he will improve away from the Rogers Centre as the second half begins – in 2014 he pitched 44 more innings on the road vs. at home and actually pitched better away, owning a very respectable 3.72 FIP vs. 4.06 at home.

The hope is that John Gibbons does not need to juggle the rotation in order to give Hutchison more starts at home, and that he can begin to find some balance between his dominance at home and his woes on the road. It’s difficult to believe that it could get any worse on the road for Hutchison, so expect better things from the young right hander in the second half. He certainly got off on the right foot Friday, pitching 6.0 innings strong and allowing just two runs.

Edwin Encarnacion: Despite having the best offence in the MLB, the Jays have done so without one of their top offensive contributors finding his groove at the plate. Although EE has hit 18 home runs and driven in 54 RBI’s, he’s only posted a .231 batting average and hasn’t gone on of his patented week-long tears that fans have become accustomed to.

There are a few metrics that suggest that Encarnacion may be primed for more hits in the second half. A .231 BABIP suggests that’s he’s been the victim of some bad luck and his 18 home runs demonstrates that he’s not suffering from a sudden power outage. However, his 18.0% strikeout ratio is higher than his usual 14-15% range and it does indicate that he could show more discipline at the plate. If Encarnacion begins to rack up some more hits, the Jays’ already explosive offence could be even more dangerous in the second half.

Aaron Loup: After 3 consecutive years of keeping his ERA under 3.15 (pitching nearly 70 innings in 2013 and 2014), Loup struggled through the first half of the season. In 33.1 innings, he gave up 34 hits and posted a 4.86 ERA. However, there’s reason to believe that Loup’s performance is nowhere near as poor as it appears and that he’s set for a big second half.

Despite that ERA hovering near 5.00, Loup’s FIP sits an impressive 3.23. He’s still striking a lot of hitters out (9.99 K’S/9 innings) and has only walked 5 hitters in 33.1 innings (compared to 30 last year in 68.2 innings pitched). Loup has also been victim to a .330 BABIP and he’s given up 4 home runs (compared to 4 for all of last year). It appears that Loup will eventually benefit from some better luck, and if he can prevent the home run, then his numbers should begin to creep down to end up closer to his impressive record over the last two years.

Reasons for Regression:

Chris Colabello: As pointed out at Beyond the Boxscore, the Jays “have gotten more than they could have expected from Chris Colabello offensively so far this year” and “it might be time to find a replacement to avoid his impending regression and help the team’s defense”. Colabello has performed far above his projected production, with a .321/.371/.500 slash line (vs his .246/.305./.413 Steamer projection) and has benefited from great luck – Colabello owns the highest BABIP mark in the MLB.

Despite his success at the plate (10.1 offensive WAR), Colabello has been almost equally as bad defensively (-18.1 defesive WAR). Now, Colabello is a first baseman by trade and the criticism of his poor fielding in left field has been borderline unfair. But, if he’s costing the Jays more runs that he’s creating, the question becomes whether his time in the field and subsequent at bats should be limited. Going forward, it seems as though the best idea would be for Jays to find at bats for Colabello, but only when playing first base.

With Dalton Pompey’s resurgence in the minor leagues and his eventual return to the Jays’ outfield on the cards, we could see Colabello’s plate appearances plunge in the second half. Colabello could still be a very valuable asset of the bench as a pinch hitter late in games, as he’s performed admirably in high and medium leverage situations. Then again, his .545 BABIP in high leverage situations is certainly unsustainable, so perhaps Colabello’s run of success in 2015 may be slowly coming to an end.

Mark Buehrle: As the 2015 season has moved forward, Buehrle has gradually improved his performance each month and then dominated hitters (with his fastball touching 87) in June and July. While April and May were slightly below average/pedestrian months for the south paw (4.94 and 4.99 ERA with 5.06 and 4.46 FIP), Buehrle was much better in June and has continued his run of success into July (1.75 and 1.23 ERA with 3.55 and 2.21 FIP). Looking back at 2014, Buehrle’s season went as follows month by month:

  • April-June ERA: 2.16 (3.28 FIP), 2.48 (3.08 FIP), 2.79 (4.63 FIP)
  • July-August ERA: 5.74 (4.26 FIP), 5.76 (3.49 FIP)
  • September ERA: 2.83 (3.19 FIP)

Now, while his FIP did not fluctuate nearly as much as his ERA, it was evident that Buehrle could be very good for stretches of the year while struggling through other months. Looking at his first half, the veteran had a couple of pedestrian months to start the year but has since pitched a very high level. It’s reasonable to predict that his run of success may end sooner than later and he could be in for tougher months in August/September. The hope is that the Jays are still in the playoff hunt come late September and that Buehrle can repeat his 2.83 ERA and 3.19 FIP from September 2014.

Next: Blue Jays Open Second Half Against Rays

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