108: How serious are the Jays' pitching woes?



June 25, 2015

By Tyler King

It’s hard to criticize Blue Jays pitching the day after Marco Estrada’s second no-hit bid in a row - a game in which even the bullpen managed to put up some zeros before Chris Colabello launched a game winning home run in the 12th inning.

In both of Estrada’s starts it was a cheap eighth-inning single that ended his chance at history and the fans’ chance at having their biggest Jays related celebration since 1993.

But despite this positive blip on what has mostly been an awful season for Toronto pitchers, the Jays’ arms continue to be blamed as the main reason for the team’s mediocre record.

The Jays are, somewhat miraculously, four games over .500 and only two games back of the division despite possessing the fifth worst ERA (4.24) and allowing the fifth most runs against (306).

All season long Blue Jays fans have been crying - read: DEMANDING - that management add another arm or two if we are to actually take this team seriously. (A reliever would be nice, so would a starter... or, dare I say it, both).

You can’t slug your way to first place by scoring 10 runs a night - or at least that’s what all the “experts” (and rational fans) are saying.

However, there are a few people that tend to respond to that argument with a “why not?” This team is doing exactly what it was built to do: score runs. 

Heading into their weekend series against the Texas Rangers, the Toronto Blue Jays’ 405 runs are more than any other major league team (55 more than the next best New York Yankees). 

I’m fairly certain a 10-9 win is worth the same in the standings as 2-1 win, so why do fans care so much?

Is the panic over the Jays pitching staff warranted? After-all, there have been times (a la the recent 11 game win-streak) when the rotation and bullpen seemed more than capable. 

It’s possible that this concern may be a tad bit overblown, as one recent fan on twitter likened the Jays bullpen to “one gigantic tire fire.” A bit extreme, no?

But after watching Tampa Bay Rays starter Chris Archer breeze his way through the Jays powerful lineup on Tuesday, it’s hard not to be reminded of that old baseball adage:

“Good pitching will always shut down good hitting.”  

(Note: this seems to be doubly true during the playoffs).

The Rays are atop the American League East despite having a rather impotent lineup, at least when compared to the rest of the division.

Yet the Rays are in first and the Jays are not.

Tampa Bay is eight games above .500, but 25th in runs scored. Yes, twenty-fifth... How many runs have the Jays scored again? It hardly seems fair.

Blue Jays play-by-play man Buck Martinez summed up the Rays’ success simply during Wednesday’s afternoon game:

“You can see why Tampa Bay is at the top of the division: they pitch well.”

That they do. They are third in ERA (3.28) even with a heap of injuries to key starters. That’s a scary thought... they’re only going to be better once they’re healthy.

The Jays, as stated, have not pitched well.  But all fans should care about is whether or not they can win enough games in spite of this.

(The answer: maybe... but probably not).

Baseball clichés be damned, but it turns out there is strong evidence that good pitching IS more important than good hitting.

So far this season the teams that have pitched well are generally better off than the teams that have hit and scored.

Prior to Wednesday’s games, the 10 teams with the highest runs scored totals have a combined record of 364 wins and 349 losses - a win-loss differential of +15 and a winning percentage of 51.1%.

Compare those numbers with the 10 teams with the lowest ERA. These teams have a combined record of 393 wins and 319 losses - a much better differential of +74 and a significantly higher winning percentage of 55.2%.

Only one team in the top 10 in ERA (the Oakland Athletics) is below .500. But three teams in the top 10 in runs have a sub-.500 record... (Oakland also happens to be one of those teams).

Imagine that. Oakland is sixth in ERA (3.51) and fourth in runs (327) yet their record is a brutal 32-41. Let this be a reminder for all you disgruntled Jays fans... things could always be worse!

Of course, baseball isn’t an exact science and there are exceptions to the “pitching over hitting” argument. 

Case in point - the Boston Red Sox won the World Series in 2013 when they were first in runs but 14th in ERA.

However, over the long haul pitching tends to be the easier and more sustainable path to success.

Look no further than the San Francisco Giants, arguably the league’s best team in recent years.

The Giants have won three World Series championships in the past five seasons (pretty unbelievable when you think about it).

And how did they become such a dynasty?

In those three World Series winning seasons they never finished outside of the top 10 in ERA (first, seventh, 10th).... 

But they were never even near the top in runs scored (17th, 12th, 13th).

So here’s hoping that the Jays can add an arm or two before it’s too late. Or else defy the odds and keep bludgeoning their way to the top.

If they make the post-season it won’t really matter how they got there.


Follow Tyler and #section108 on twitter: @tylerjoseph108