108: No definitive answer to the 2017 “Blue Jays Blame Game”

With a .242 average heading into Friday, Troy Tulowitzki would have to be on the Blue Jays Blame Game ballot. (Photo: Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

With a .242 average heading into Friday, Troy Tulowitzki would have to be on the Blue Jays Blame Game ballot. (Photo: Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

By Tyler King

Canadian Baseball Network

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Well let’s just start with the obvious:

At 40-45 heading into Friday, and tied for last place in the American League East, the Toronto Blue Jays haven’t had the first half everyone envisioned. 

Even with their current three-game win-streak, they still sit 8 1/2 games back of the division leading Boston Red Sox and five games back of the Wild Card.

So if you’re a millennial like myself, your instinctive, irrational reaction to this dubious start has probably been to seek out someone (anyone!) or something (anything!) to blame. 

Like everything else that troubles the members of Generation Y, the older and more far removed from us the better when it comes to this blame game, hence why manager John Gibbons and team president Mark Shapiro tend to be the easiest and most common targets when things don’t go the Jays’ way.

However, it seems this season there are no shortage of big names - you know, ones that actually play the game - that fans would love to shake the proverbial fist at.

The Jays “Big Five” - Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson, Russell Martin, Kendrys Morales, and Troy Tulowitzki - are all having down years. And with the exception of the first-time All-Star Justin Smoak, no offensive player can be said to have performed above their projected means thus far in 2017.

But hey, there are angry fans in Blue Jays Land and they need their scapegoat, that special someone they can cast all their frustrations on while screaming “It’s all your fault!”

The problem is, at least as far as the offence is concerned, that just doesn’t seem possible right now ...

For the struggles this season have truly been a team effort. 

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As bad as those “Big Five” blameworthy candidates have been, they have only been bad in relation to their own personal career statistics. And by that I mean if you were to look at some of their numbers without any context of past performance, it’s possible you might even be a little impressed.

Yes, their batting averages were all down heading into the series opener against the Houston Astros, in many cases significantly. Donaldson (.238), Martin (.217), and Tulowitzki (.242) are all hitting more than 30 points lower than their career averages (in Tulo’s case it is 47 points lower).

Only two Blue Jays regulars - Ezequiel Carrera (.285) and Smoak (.300) - are hitting above their career batting averages.

As a team, the Jays have the 12th worst average in the American League, at .244. That average is a full 12 points off the league average and 43 points behind the league-leading Houston Astros. 

However, the power numbers of the Jays big bats are still nothing to scoff at, and that power has historically been the first and most important thing that comes to mind whenever you get to pondering the Blue Jays' offence. 

In fact, Martin and Morales are even on pace to surpass their career 162 game home run averages this season.

Over his career, Martin has averaged 19 home runs per 162 games. His current 2017 home run projection when averaged over 162 games is 24 - not at all bad for a catcher (he’s also on pace to set a career-high in walks). 

By the same metrics, Morales has averaged 26 home runs for his career, but is currently on pace for 33 - no doubt a welcome by-product of switching from the capacious Kauffman Stadium to the band-box that is the Rogers Centre.

Donaldson is, somewhat surprisingly, hovering right around his career pace of 32 home runs per 162 games, and, despite a significant dip in power, Bautista is still on pace to reach a respectable 27 homers.

(Think about it: 27 homers only looks bad when you expect - and get paid -  to hit 40.) 

Tulowitzki, however, remains the exception here. He is on pace to hit just 16 home runs in 2017 when averaged over 162 games, which would be 12 off his career average of 28.

It may therefore feel reasonable if fans focused their vilification towards Tulo, considering how bad his numbers have been. However, whether it’s a bias towards all of Tulo’s unmet promise (and everything else he brings to the team on defence), or the fact that he’s only played in 51 games this season - it’s clear he’s far from being public enemy number one.

Indeed he remains a fan favourite.

But, as stated, someone or something has to take the fall if this season keeps going sideways. And although there has been a clear dip in offensive production from the Jays big bats, it doesn’t seem bad enough to warrant just how far they’ve plummeted.

The Jays have scored a mere 349 runs through their first 84 games, the fewest in the American League (and fourth fewest in the entire MLB). They scored 447 runs in 91 games prior to the All Star break last season, which was the second-most runs scored behind the Boston Red Sox.

For added context, the Jays would have had to score 14 runs in each of their next seven games to match last year’s run total over the same span.

And unfortunately you can’t cop out and blame a modest dip in home runs either (the Jays had hit 111 prior to Thursday, the seventh most in the AL, and are on pace to once again hit over 200 this season). The Red Sox have hit the fewest home runs by far in the AL yet they are fourth in runs scored.

But if you can’t (necessarily) blame the Big Five and you can’t (necessarily) blame a lack of power, where can you dispense all that pent up anger?

Perhaps - and indeed you would be justified in doing so - you can curse the Jays for their complete and utter impotence when hitting with runners in scoring position.

Their .220 average with runners in scoring position is the lowest in the entire MLB (and anytime you’re worse than the San Diego Padres in anything you know you’re in big trouble).

That .220 average is 39 points lower behind the MLB average of .259 with runners in scoring position. Smoak, Donaldson, and Goins are the only Jays hitting above .250 in scoring situations (which means eight Blue Jays regulars are hitting .250 or lower).

To make matters worse, the Jays have a tough time just getting men to second or third base, as they have have third fewest at-bats with runners in scoring position (their low team batting average definitely comes in to play here). 

And in case you still weren’t sold that power isn’t all it’s cut out to be, the Jays have the third fewest runs in scoring situations, yet they have the third most home runs with runners in scoring position.

So to sum up, as far as the offence is concerned this season has been one giant head-scratch. And as a result there is no clear frontrunner for this edition of the Blue Jays Blame Game ...

Which I guess means you can just go ahead and blame everyone if they don’t turn it around.

Because at this point that’s the only thing that really makes sense.

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Follow Tyler and #Section108 on Twitter: @TylerJoseph108