By: Nick Ashbourne
Canadian Baseball Network
As the Toronto Blue Jays have been tearing through their opponents in recent weeks like a hot knife through butter it has caused many to stop and ponder just how good this squad is.
More specifically the spotlight has shone on this team's offence, especially in the wake of historic drubbing they laid on the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim over the weekend. With a series of additions around the trade deadline to bolster the team's pitching and defence, ironically Alex Anthopoulos has given the Blue Jays lineup the recognition it has deserved all year.
Unfortunately, for this team's remarkable assortment of hitters, it takes a winning record to get the wider baseball world's attention. Before they got the support they needed to be a consistent team they were doomed to toil in relative obscurity.
Now that the Blue Jays have opened some eyes, the question of just how good this offence is remains. It seems like a very simple question, but the answer is surprisingly complex.
If we limit our scope to the 2015 season it's not very difficult to figure out where this team ranks. The Blue Jays are by far and away the best offence in baseball this season. They rank first in runs, On-Base Percentage, Slugging Percentage, OPS, and perhaps the single most reliable offensive statistic: Weighted Runs Created Plus.
All of that is readily apparent. Where things get more complicated is when we decide to go back in history a bit. The way the Blue Jays have been hitting recently has continually drawn comparisons to the WAMCO lineup of 1993 and the explosive Carlos Delgado-led team of 2003. The most basic way to try and see where these teams line up is by looking at who scored more runs per game. Every lineup's goal is to score as many runs as possible so it's a natural place to start. The top five Blue Jays teams by runs per game are as follows:
In theory that should end the debate, this offence scores fewer runs that the 2003 team and is therefore worse. The problem with that argument is that it doesn't take league-wide context into account. Runs were a lot easier to come by in the late 90's early 2000's than they are now.
The 2003 Blue Jays actually ranked third in the league in runs scored behind the Boston Red Sox and the Atlanta Braves. The 1999 team ranked seventh in the majors with 883 runs scored in a year where the Cleveland Indians scored over 1,000 runs. Those lineups did not dominate relative to their opponents the way the 2015 Blue Jays have.
A number of factors, perhaps the most important being the rising tide of strikeouts have made hitting a baseball a more difficult job than it used to be. That's the biggest reason this team is worthy of the praise it's getting. It's also the reason why the comparison to the 1993 team is the most apt. The run-scoring climate at that time is much more similar to now and that team was more special relative to its peers. However, even looking at those two it's clear the 2015 squad is slightly better.
|Year||BA||MLB Rank||OBP||MLB Rank||SLG||MLB Rank||wRC+||MLB Rank|
The wRC+ shows how close these teams are. It suggests the current Blue Jays are 13% better than league-average offensively (adjusting for home park) while the 1993 team was nine percent better.
What gives this team a big edge is not only their raw offensive production, but the timeliness of their hitting. So far with runners in scoring position they've hit .293/.360/.480 for a 127 wRC+. To put that in context, the 1927 New York Yankees posted a team wRC+ of 126. So when runners get into scoring position the Blue Jays have morphed into Murderer's Row. This has been instrumental in the team scoring 86 more runs than anyone else in baseball.
It may be luck more than anything else and it may not be sustainable, but you have to be good to be lucky and this lineup has undoubtedly been both. There is plenty more season to be played, but for now it's hard not to rank the current Blue Jays lineup as the best this city has ever seen.
For some final judgment of this group will hinge on what they do down the stretch and potentially in the playoffs, and that's an entirely fair point of view. But regardless of what happens to the 2015 Blue Jays this is a lineup to remember.