The Big Bat Debate: Time for change to Blue Jays lineup?


Why do the Blue Jays stick with a broken lineup when the pieces for success are there; they just aren’t in the right places?

John Gibbons is concerned with the way the line-up is performing but insists the one thing he can’t do is start switching players around, because that would make people think that he’s panicking.  A competent General must go into battle showing no signs of fear.  His troops must have the utmost confidence in his decisions, putting their faith in the fact that he knows exactly what moves to make to get them a victory over the other side.  If Gibbons were to start moving players around willy-nilly, this could be seen as a sign of panic by some.  However, when the tide of battle is turning and you stubbornly hold your ground refusing to alter your battle plan and send in the reserve troops, is this not a move that will inspire less confidence and decrease your chances of a win instead of pulling out the wounded troops and sending in the reserves?

Baseball is a job, no matter the pay.                                                

Okay, abandoning the battle metaphor and switching back to baseball.  The entire lineup has the potential to be deadly when they’re hitting; however, the entire lineup isn’t hitting and the players that are hitting are sitting on the bench.

Ezequiel Carrera has the highest average on the team (.344) and has only gotten into 12 of a possible 25 games.  Darwin Barney is swinging the bat as well (.286) and has gotten in even fewer games than Carrera, only appearing in 10 of a possible 25.  Now, Carrera has some competition for his position in the outfield because Michael Saunders just happens to be swinging a hot bat with the second-highest average on the team (next to Carrera) with a .311 average.  This explains why it’s so difficult to get him into games.  However, what’s the excuse for not getting Barney into more games?  When you compare his numbers to Troy Tulowitzki’s it appears to be a no-brainer.  Tulowitzki has hit a paltry .169 in his 23 games this season.  Although Tulowitzki is an impressive force at shortstop, Darwin Barney is a former gold glover and no defensive slouch himself. The same could apply to second base in a more full-time role, with Ryan Goins and his .173 average to open the year.

Oct 4, 2015; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Darwin Barney (18) hits a 2-run home run during the ninth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Tampa Bay Rays defeated the Toronto Blue Jays 12-3. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Where do pride, ego and the “big names” end and the numbers begin?  When do the Jays stop favouring their big names that aren’t hitting and replace them with guys that are proving themselves on the field?  It isn’t about “panicking”, it’s about looking at the numbers objectively, removing the name, the expectations, and ego that come along with it and playing the players that will get the team the win.  If Darwin Barney is playing better than Troy Tulowitzki or Ryan Goins, then Darwin Barney deserves some starts.  If the Blue Jays are in need of offensive numbers, then play the players that are producing hits.  It doesn’t matter that Tulowitzki is getting paid more than Barney or that Goins has the track record in Toronto; they’re both working the same job, and in any workplace you advance the person that is going to advance your company.  In the Blue Jay’s case, that means getting wins.

Big Bats, Little Bats, Just Right Bats

The Blue Jay’s announcers are constantly mentioning a term that irks some fans.  This term is, “the big bats”.  Why the annoyance?  The term, “the big bats” implies by direct comparison, that there are, “little bats” in the Blue Jay’s lineup.  Is this the case?  Are the Blue Jays honestly segregated into a team of half home run producing power hitters and half bunt-aboard, base stealing little bats?  When you look at the way the lineup is set up it would appear that John Gibbons feels this way about the team.

The lineup is set up with Toronto’s “big bats” hitting first.  These are the guys that announcers Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler constantly refer to as the guys that will produce home runs and drive in base runners. But often, the base runners the big bats are supposed to drive in are slotted in the lineup after them.

These base runners get on base, and then the Jays get to the bottom of the lineup, and the base runners are left stranded.  This makes little sense.

Sep 1, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays pinch runner Dalton Pompey (45) is greeted by second baseman Ryan Goins (17) after scoring against Cleveland Indians in the seventh inning at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Toronto Blue Jays pinch runner Dalton Pompey (45) is greeted by second baseman Ryan Goins (17) Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports /

Why don’t the Blue Jays mix things up a little? It’s been a month; it’s not a sign of panic; it’s a sign that there’s an intelligent manager heading his team.  Instead of building a lineup that resembles those body builders at the gym that only work out the upper half of their body and ignore their legs, why don’t the Jays stagger their home run hitters with their on base guys to create a more balanced lineup?

The way opposing pitchers currently view the lineup, there is a tough upper half to get through, and it’s smooth sailing from there.  Especially with Russell Martin missing some starts recently. The Jays’ numbers don’t support that theory the way they’ve been swinging the bats; however, that’s how pitchers see the lineup.  They have Saunders, Donaldson, Bautista, Encarnation, Tulowitzki, and then it changes depending on the night.  It also gets a heck of a lot easier in the pitcher’s mind.

Imagine a more balanced Lineup

What if the lineup were more evenly staggered so the pressure never ended for the opposing pitcher?  What if the Jays led off with Carrera (.344) who is more likely to get on base than homer, then they threw in a guy like Saunders (.324) who could homer or get on base.  If he were to get on base and  Donaldson came up with two on base(.298) he’d have the opportunity to get a home run and drive in three, or produce offence with an extra-base hit.  That would clear the bases for another lead-off type hitter who could get on base with Bautista following.  Bautista has been walking a lot (.250) so in this theoretical model, he does.  Pillar comes up next and bunts, or flies out, or finds any number of ways to advance the runners.  There are two runners on, and they’re been advanced to second and third, and now the Jays bring up another “big bat” in Edwin Encarnation.  If he does what Bautista says the “big bats” are supposed to do, and homers, or even doubles, which he’s been doing an awful lot of this year, there are another two runs (or three if he homers), and you’re up five or six runs in the first inning with one out and more of the lineup to come.

May 3, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Toronto Blue Jays second baseman Devon Travis (29) celebrates with second baseman Ryan Goins (17), right fielder Ezequiel Carrera (3), and right fielder Michael Saunders (21) after hitting a grand slam during the fourth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Toronto Blue Jays celebrate after hitting a grand slam at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /

Of course, this is entirely theoretical and proposes the best case scenario (minus Pillar who just hit .444 on the last homestead and could definitely do better than bunting or flying out-sorry Kevin!) in each case without players striking, flying or grounding out.  However, it’s a demonstration on how staggering the lineup could help the Jays. If the pressure is never removed from the opposing pitcher and there is no “easy ” part of the lineup because the “big bats” are spaced out throughout the pitcher has to worry about facing them all game long.  There are no “easy innings”.  In addition, the Jays are giving the “big bats” a chance to drive in more than solo home runs because in between them are guys that can get on base.

Equality among the players

This un-segregates the team removing the “big bats” and “little bats” distinctions and turns the team into a unified production line of runs.  The “big bats” wouldn’t feel the pressure to produce big hits and the implied “little bats” wouldn’t feel like they’re subpar.  On a team of equals, everyone would work together to produce the runs needed to see the team win.  The focus would shift away from appeasing individuals and would move towards group success.  The Jays have the chemistry; but, would it work outside of this theoretical model?  The only way to tell is to put it into action.