Blue Jays: Step one of the rebuild? Improve the awful defence
It’s been easy to spot the offensive and pitching struggles the Blue Jays have faced this year, but their defence has been arguably their weakest link.
Going into the 2018 season I believed the Blue Jays would have an improved defensive team. They upgraded in right field from Jose Bautista to Randal Grichuk, brought in Curtis Granderson to platoon in left (which was an upgrade over Steve Pearce playing full-time), and shored up the middle infield with Yangervis Solarte and Aledmys Diaz.
The latter two names weren’t an improvement on defence, but the hope was that their upgraded offensive contributions would make up for whatever Ryan Goins and Darwin Barney brought to the table last year with their gloves. By no means am I blaming Diaz and Solarte for the way the team defence has performed this year, but it looks there wasn’t much room to sacrifice skills in the field.
According to a tweet yesterday from Baseball Reference, the Blue Jays rank as the second last team in all of baseball in team defence. The only ones below them are the Chicago White Sox, with the Orioles, Phillies, and Mets rounding out the bottom five.
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I realize there have been some pretty ugly moments this year, but it’s hard to believe a team that employs solid glovemen like Kevin Pillar, Russell Martin, and even Grichuk would finish so low. That said, there have been some pretty awful individual performances that have dragged down the average, and team performance.
Over at baseballreference.com, we get a better idea of which players have had solid seasons on the defensive side of the stat sheet. Nor surprisingly, the list is headed by Russell Martin, who has earned 1.0 dWAR thus far. After that it drops down to 0.2 which belongs to Luke Maile, and then a three-way tie at 0.1 with Pillar, Danny Jansen, and Brandon Drury. That’s the list of players in the positive, which explains a lot.
Also not surprisingly, the list concludes with Teoscar Hernandez, whose defensive struggles this season have been well documented. He had earned an ugly -1.7 dWAR rating through 99 games entering Thursday night’s series finale with the Royals, and that might be a generous mark based on the eye test. After him comes Curtis Granderson, who has been surprisingly bad at -0.8, and then the currently-injured Solarte at -0.7.
The negative defensive WAR ratings don’t stop there either, as the vast majority of the regulars have a below-average score.
- -0.6 (Pearce, Kendrys Morales)
- -0.4 (Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Justin Smoak)
- -0.3 (Dwight Smith Jr.
- -0.2 (Devon Travis, Diaz, Grichuk, Gio Urshela)
- -0.1 (Josh Donaldson, Gift Ngoepe)
I truly believe that Gurriel Jr, Grichuk, and Smoak are better than the numbers show, and a healthy Josh Donaldson is usually an asset at third base. However, when you put together the pieces of the puzzle from the names above, it starts to make sense that the Blue Jays rate so poorly on defence. I mean, three out of the five players who had a positive rating were catchers, and one of them had only made two starts.
It’s an issue that the front office is going to have to address at some point whether they like it or not, and there’s a good chance that through the promotions they make from their minor league system that we’ll see some natural improvements. Martin hasn’t been the problem on defence this year at all, but if the catcher of the next generation is going to be Danny Jansen, the Blue Jays will be just fine in that department. However, it also explains why the Blue Jays want Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to focus on his defence before his inevitable promotion, whether people buy that excuse or not.
The game has evolved a lot, and with the overuse of shifts and more analytics being used than ever, defensive numbers are more important than they’ve maybe ever been. Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins aren’t stupid, and they know the Blue Jays need to improve in this area in order to get back in contention. The trickle down effect will include improved numbers from their pitching staff as well, something that will become more important as they develop young arms into big league pitchers.
So while the Blue Jays have needs on offence and on their pitching staff, a solid argument could be made for putting team defence at the top of the priority list. For a team that knew defence was a bit of an issue last season and even tried to address it a bit this past winter, it’s disappointing to see where the numbers currently sit. However, the winds of change are blowing in Toronto, and regardless of who fills out the lineup card next season, I don’t think we’ll see a repeat at the bottom of the league. Here’s hoping not at least.