May. 10, 2016
Canadian Baseball Network
I won’t lie, it was pretty disheartening watching Troy Tulowitzki take the first three pitches he saw in Monday’s opener against the San Francisco Giants. Not only were they three called strikes, but they were also three absolute MEATBALLS served up by Giants starter Jake Peavy.
Did I mention it was the first inning, the bases were loaded, and there was only one out?
You could probably forgive me for muttering, “Good god no. Not again.”
For a split-second I thought about turning the TV off and going straight to bed. Not only was the west coast start-time cutting into my beauty sleep, but I also figured I knew exactly what was going to happen.
The Jays would leave a zillion men on-base, and then lose the ballgame 2-1.
Forgive me for my lack of faith, but it’s been a trying month. And, you have to admit, I was almost right.
Even though the Jays came away with a much needed win, bringing their record to 17-17, it’s hard to say that it felt remotely close to satisfying. If you look at the game more closely, it almost serves as the perfect microcosm for the entire season to date:
The offence was bad. They managed three runs on seven hits and stranded a truly mind-boggling 17 base runners.
The starting pitching was good. Very good. Aaron Sanchez went seven innings allowing just three hits and one earned run.
The late innings were terrifying. But this time the team survived a nervous ninth after Brandon Crawford led off the inning with a double.
Come on. If that isn’t the Jays season in a nutshell then Troy Tulowitzki isn’t batting .165 ...
It’s hard to say what’s been more surprising thus far - the Jays’ mediocre offence or their absolutely stellar starting rotation (for the sake of argument, I’ll leave the mysterious struggles of Drew Storen and Brett Cecil out of this).
Every fan knows the Blue Jays’ hitters were on top of the baseball universe last season, scoring 891 runs in the regular season. To give that number some perspective, the four other AL playoff teams averaged just 742.
The Jays managed to score 5.50 runs per game in 2015, en route to their first playoff birth since ’93. They scored 122 runs in the month April alone.
After 34 games in 2016, the Jays are currently averaging just 4.03 runs per game. They scored 22 fewer runs this April while playing two more games than the previous year.
But as I’m sure you’ve heard from every other fan, reporter, player, and coach:
“It’s early ... Things will get better .... Statistically, they have to!”
Yes, but with each game played the sample size gets a little more reliable. And, at least so far, a little more scary.
Just consider the case of Tulowitzki, who has gone 19-for-115 at the plate to start his year. Even if he goes 4-4 in his next game, his average will only jump to .193.
Tulo’s career average before the season was .297. I almost feel bad telling you what he’d have to do to reach that mark now.
(If you’re squeamish, please skip the next paragraph.)
Tulowitzki would have to hit safely in his next 22 consecutive at-bats in order to reach his career average. Now just imagine what it’s going to take to boost the .233 team average that the Jays collectively hold - which, by the way, is the second-worst average in the AL.
What’s that old adage? “Give me 50 games and I’ll show you what team I have”? If that’s true, the Jays’ bats better start doing some serious damage in the next 16 games.
And if they don’t? Well they’d better hope their starting pitching keeps up this insane pace they’ve set early-on.
The Jays’ rotation has a combined ERA of 3.26. In the AL, only the Chicago White Sox starters have been better (combined 3.17 ERA). And I hate to do this poor old Dickey (I was taught to never kick a man when he’s down) but if you took his starts out of the equation the rotation ERA would be 2.77.
That’s almost Chicago Cubs good.
(I’m starting to think Jake Arrieta is one of those Men in Black aliens trying to blend in on earth - the numbers he’s putting up are not human.)
The Jays currently have three starters with ERAs under 3.00 - J.A. Happ, Marco Estrada, and Sanchez. If it weren’t for a few situations where the bullpen gave up a boatload of inherited runners, Marcus Stroman would be there too.
The Jays’ rotation currently sits first in the AL in opponents batting average (.230), second in home runs allowed with 21 (even though they’ve played more games than everybody else), and third in WHIP (1.19).
But despite those impressive numbers, perhaps the best feature of the starting rotation - and the one that has gotten the least attention - has been their efficiency.
Blue Jays starters have thrown just 3.72 pitches per plate appearance, second in all of baseball behind the St. Louis Cardinals. They also lead the AL in quality starts, with 24.
I’d love to tell you why they’ve been so good, but I’m no Pete Walker. I will tell you, however, that the starters have been less reliant on the strikeout so far in 2016.
Their 6.97 strikeouts per nine innings is 27th in the league. Instead, the starters have elected to allow the ball to be put in play, letting the Jays’ defence - undoubtedly one of the team’s strengths - go to work. This, in turn, has helped to push the starters into the late-innings.
Through the first 34 games the starters have already logged a combined 218.1 innings. Their average start lasts 6.4 innings, tops in the AL.
Now I know these stats should be encouraging, and that “good pitching always shuts down good hitting” or whatever ... But then can someone tell me why the hell the Jays are only .500?
And why all five AL playoff teams were in the top six in runs scored last season? And why were only three of them in the top six in ERA?
For the sake of the season, fans can only hope this is not a ‘one or the other’ type deal. No matter how good the starting pitching is, the team desperately needs their offensive dominance back ...
TULO going 22-for-22 would be a good place to start.