Is there hope for the Blue Jays?
It remains to be seen whether the Blue Jays have reached their low point in 2013. But is there hope for the team that's been one of this season's biggest flops?
Suffice it to say, the Blue Jays' 2013 season, so freighted with expectations, is not going swimmingly. At this writing, only the punchline Astros and Marlins have worse records than the Jays' 10-21 mark. In a related matter, CoolStandings.com gives the Jays a 1.4-percent chance of making the postseason. Part of that, of course, is the strength of the AL East, but a larger part of that is that Toronto has been roundly lousy this season. The question, then, is this: Will that round lousiness continue?
First, know that the Jays haven't done anything particularly well. They rank 14th in the AL in runs scored and OBP and 13th in SLG despite playing in a home park that aids the offense. The Jays also check in at 14th among AL teams in rotation ERA. The bullpen ranks a respectable sixth in ERA, but the underlying components are significantly worse (and thus portend decline). As well, only the Houston bullpen has been worked harder in the early going. On the fielding front, things aren't as unpleasant, as the Jays place sixth in defensive efficiency (the percentage of balls in play that a defense converts into outs).
Still, in the most important aspects of the game -- scoring runs and starting pitching -- the Jays are among the very worst in baseball.
In terms of offense, the Jays' batted-ball profile doesn't provide a great deal of hope. The team BABIP figures to improve given a larger sample of games, but a larger problem is they're hitting too many balls on the ground. At this writing, the Toronto offense has the fourth-highest ground-ball percentage in the AL and the sixth-highest GB/fly-ball ratio. Their home run/fly-ball rate isn't out of whack, so there's not really hope for improvement there.
What the Jays needs to do -- particularly as a lineup with a lot of OBP-challenged hitters in it -- is to start hitting more balls in the air. That's important not only for purposes of hitting for power, but also for purposes of not hitting into double plays, a habit that tracks closely to ground-ball rates. Can they improve in this regard? This kind of thing tends to be more of an "embedded" tendency than, say, BABIP or HR/FB, which is not good news for the Jays.
As far as the rotation goes, the BABIP isn't out of line, and the HR/FB rate is only modestly so. One possible "point of light" is that Toronto starters have been a bit unfortunate in terms of stranding base-runners. A team's strand rate, given a large enough sample, tends to settle into the 72-percent vicinity, but the Toronto rotation checks in with a figure of 68.3 percent -- or third-lowest in the AL. That figures to improve.
More to the point, though, the Jays' rotation doesn't miss bats (they've struck out just 17 percent of opposing hitters -- good for 11th in the AL), and they're the AL's worst in terms of keeping the ball on the ground. These aren't problems that just go away as the season deepens. And, as noted above, the longer this rotation struggles, the harder the bullpen gets worked.
On a broader level, the Jays' run differential of -55 suggests that have precisely the record they deserve. As well, the schedule -- one of baseball's toughest to date -- isn't going to get substantively easier. The Jays' average opponents' winning percentage so far in 2013 is .536. Going forward, that figure will improve just a bit to .527, but over the remainder of the season they'll play 63 home games versus 68 road games. For a team that finds itself 8 1/2 games out of playoff position and behind nine teams for the final AL berth, that's grim news on an already sky-scraping pile of grim news.
In the final analysis, this isn't an unlucky team with a tough road ahead. This is a bad team with a tough road ahead.
(Wink of CBS eye: FanGraphs, for much of the data used above)
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