MLB Standings: How do the Blue Jays fare when re-ordering standings by FIP?

If the MLB standings were re-ordered by pitching FIP, where would the Blue Jays rank?
Toronto Blue Jays v Texas Rangers
Toronto Blue Jays v Texas Rangers / Sam Hodde/GettyImages
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With Trent Thornton and Ernie Clement’s relief appearances in Monday night’s blowout loss to Miami, the Blue Jays have now used only 20 different pitchers so far in 2023. That’s tied with Baltimore for the second least number of pitchers to make an MLB appearance in the American League, only more than Houston’s 17, and trailing Tampa Bay’s AL leading 32.

Three takeaways are possible from that metric: the Blue Jays have been blessed with good health this season; they are limited in the depth options of MLB-ready pitching they have to call up from a weak farm system; and/or, they’ve received extraordinarily good pitching season-to-date.

So let’s reorder the standings based on pitching staff earned run average (ERA) and fielding independent pitching (FIP) to see if the Blue Jays have received exceptional pitching this year.

The Blue Jays pitching staff currently ranks 12th in MLB and eighth in the American League with a 4.09 staff ERA. However, that ranking falls to 22nd overall and only 12th in the AL based on a FIP of 4.43. The only AL teams with a worse FIP are bottom dwellers Kansas City, Chicago and Oakland. The teams that lead the AL on FIP are Seattle, Minnesota, Houston, Tampa Bay, Texas and Baltimore. Five of the top eight teams in the AL ranked by FIP either lead their division or are in a wild card slot, and Houston is 0.5 games back of a wild card.

The difference there is explained by outstanding team defense, with the Blue Jays leading the league with a defensive runs saved (DRS) of 40, a number which attempts to measure how many runs a defender saved by taking in to account errors, range, outfield arm and double-play ability. Kevin Kiermaier has a DRS of +11, Matt Chapman is at +7 and Daulton Varsho is also +7.

In other words, the pitching actually hasn’t been very good absent the excellent team defense behind them. Some of that can be explained by the dismal start by Alek Manoah, with a 6.52 FIP over 58.0 innings. Of course, the Blue Jays also have three pitchers with a FIP under 3.00, including Tim Mayza at 1.96, closer Jordan Romano at 2.56 and starter Kevin Gausman at 2.74. But five pitchers are over 4.00: Yimi García (4.00), Nate Pearson (4.20), Trevor Richards (4.49), Chris Bassitt (4.99) and Yusei Kikuchi (5.77).

By removing the results on balls hit into the field of play, FIP gives us a measure of events a pitcher has the most control over - strikeouts, unintentional walks, hit-by-pitches and home runs. It can also be an indicator of future expected performance if the team defense doesn’t continue to impress as much on balls hit into play; injuries to any of Kiermaier, Chapman or Varsho could expose that.

Unfortunately, the 103 home runs given up by Blue Jays pitchers ranks them 28th overall in MLB; 234 walks ranks 15th; and, while the 691 strikeouts by the staff rank second overall, with Kevin Gausman’s 121 Ks second overall to only Spencer Strider’s 127, that doesn’t compensate enough to drive a better FIP number.

With only four more starts, Gausman will jump to 2nd overall amongst Blue Jays all-time FIP leaders with a minimum of 50 starts. His FIP stands at 2.50 over 46 starts so far for Toronto. Marcus Stroman will drop to 4th at 3.60.

But the overall pitching has not been very good absent some excellent fielding behind them. Clearly this is an area where the Blue Jays will need to improve dramatically to improve their postseason chances. Can they add better pitching by the trade deadline?