Blue Jays continuing to grow off-field departments


The Toronto Blue Jays have continued to develop their supporting analytics and player performance departments in search of any available competitive edge

For a moment, let’s forget about the on-field product of the Toronto Blue Jays. Forget about the bullpen worries, thinned farm system or expiring contracts of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion.

Instead, it’s long overdue that we look at the work Mark Shapiro, Tony LaCava and Ross Atkins have been doing to build the Blue Jays’ off-field resources with everything from baseball analytics to enhanced mental and medical support. This has been a big talking point for Shapiro since taking office, and we’ll continue to see action on this road as Toronto looks to either upgrade or move their Spring Training facilities.

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Joe Sheehan’s promotion to director of analytics represented the beginning of a change in that department earlier this offseason, and judging by comments from all three front office leaders over the past two months, they’d prefer to grow that area further. Sheehan has a refreshing stance on analytics, too, a field that often draws too hard a line with people.

“We will never dehumanize a decision,” he told The Star’s Brendan Kennedy in December. “Analytics lead us to make better decisions — they objectively challenge a gut that can you lead to an emotional or momentum-based decision — and they contribute to really good decisions. But analytics don’t produce decisions; they contribute to good decisions.”

One of the more interesting additions to Toronto’s off-field support system, however, has been Angus Mugford. The Brit, who has spent his past 12 years at IMG Academy, was recently hired as Toronto’s director of high performance. Essentially, Mugford is in place to oversee the mental and physical challenges facing the Blue Jays on and off the baseball field, and he will work to maximize any potential competitive edge they may have in these areas

“This is not just the mental side of things,” Shapiro told the Globe’s Robert MacLeod. “This is ‘How do we help guys stay on the field? How do we help them perform at their peak through the ups and downs of the season, help them understand recovery and maximize recovery, and help us keep the right players in the field at the right time? How do we help them deal with distraction?’ It’s just taking a really holistic, integrated approach to helping a player be as good as he possibly can.”

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To many fans, this is white noise. If it’s not an impact free agent signing, don’t bother me. But given the razor-thin margin that decides baseball games, and the fractions of inches that tilt games on a pitch-to-pitch basis, Toronto could be on to something here. The difficult part will be that we can never measure it. Angus Mugford’s impact cannot be broken down with a .291 batting average or 1.9 WAR.

Regardless, these are not moves being made “instead of” on-field moves. Perhaps it’s best to treat these off-field improvements like minor league signings: If they work, fantastic. If not, little has been lost.

Avoiding freak injuries like those to Marcus Stroman and Michael Saunders may never be avoided, but as the Jays have shown over the past two seasons, an overarching pro-active approach of caution mixed with honesty (especially in pitchers) can lead to a healthier roster. Given Toronto’s depth concerns, an injury avoided could have the same impact as a player added.