The Blue Jays achievements through 2015 have brought us to man unfamiliar conversations. Ones surrounding success, quality depth and playoff projections. As the Blue Jays now begin their march towards October baseball, much has been made about the playoff experience that has been added to this roster.
Mark Buehrle has a World Series ring, while Russell Martin and the left side of Toronto’s infield boast a combined 270 plate appearances in the postseason. Experience remains the primary argument for Buehrle’s inclusion in the playoff rotation, but at which point to we value a player’s potential postseason performance over their experience?
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In Buehrle’s case, his October resume has been represented as something stronger than it may actually be. With a 4.11 career ERA in the playoffs, Buehrle has only appeared in one playoff game since his 2005 championship run. In the one game since, a start in 2008, Buehrle allowed five runs on ten hits in 7.0 innings pitched. The lefty’s veteran leadership and experience is crucial, yes, but the numbers need to support that.
Martin has not fared well in playoff ball himself, despite his 161 plate appearances leading the pack in Toronto. He owns a career slash line of .213 / .323 / .346, but has chipped in four home runs and 16 RBI. Especially when his recent struggles are considered, touting Martin as a playoff performer based on experience alone may not have a strong case. This is by no means a knock on Martin, but just a reality check on how we view and value these veteran players in October.
Josh Donaldson owns a career playoff line of .233 / .283 / .256 without a single home run or RBI, while Troy Tulowitzki has managed a line of .211 / .270 / .351 in 63 plate appearances. His last playoff at-bat, however, came in 2009 as a 24-year old.
Believe it or not, Dioner Navarro may have the mose impressive triple-slash at .290 / .343 / .355 across 67 plate appearances. Looking to the bullpen, LaTroy Hawkins brings the Blue Jays 19 games of playoff experience with a 3.45 ERA, and there won’t be a situation that he isn’t comfortable in.
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So what do these numbers tell us? That the Blue Jays are doomed to put their hope into underachieving playoff veterans? No. One hundred times over, I say no. It shows us that experience cannot be used as a standalone talking point when discussing the names that should be on or off the Blue Jays playoff roster, or which order the core players will bat in come October.
At one point in their career, every baseball player to don a Major League jersey possessed zero games of playoff experience. Zilch. Nada. If the Blue Jays truly feel that Marcus Stroman would allow less runs than Mark Buehrle in a playoff game, then that’s as far as the conversation needs to go. If the organization believes Buehrle is the greater option, or even that he’ll perform better because of his familiarity with the postseason, that’s equally fine. The decision, though, however it is reached, must come down to performance as the end game.
This is what makes these unfamiliar times so difficult, and why such great debate has been inspired over the past week. The regular season spans half a calendar year, leaving generous stretches of time to adjust, regress and tinker. As October nears, though, the Blue Jays will be forced to make heartless decisions. Ones that will produce the most high-potential run differential in baseball games. Experience will be a factor in these discussions, but it’s not a trump card.