Mission ’13: Assessing the Jays at (well, just before) the All Star Break

Hey everybody. While it’s good to be back, it’s not good to see how the Jays are performing. I’m going to take a look back at what has been, then follow up with a look at what might be. One thing is for sure: we’re changing our tag. “Mission ’13” was derived from a David Bowie tune from a million or so years ago (“Space Oddity”), but that mission didn’t turn out very well for Major Tom. I don’t think there’s any causal relationship between our tag and the Jays’ season, but I’m not going to get blamed for the bad mojo. This is our last piece with THAT tag. Jeez, as if their season hasn’t been tough enough already.

As we approach the season’s unofficial midpoint, the Jays are leaking again. The 11-game win streak has been swallowed up by a 6-11 record since then. But the teams they’ve played have something to do with their predicament, don’t they? Sure they do. No one, and I mean no one, plays an honest game looking to lose. That goes for the Jays as well: they’ve lost more than they’ve won but, as far as we know, they didn’t do it on purpose.

So, why are we seeing what we’re seeing? Why are the Jays, after numerous changes, still a second division team? I suppose the real answer is hidden from our view, but there are some obvious factors contributing to their mediocrity.

One thing we can say definitively is that it’s not John Farrell’s fault. Mr. Farrell is doing quite well in Boston, thank you very much. The Red Sox, surprisingly, are the best team in the AL East. John Farrell became somewhat of a lightning rod for criticism during his tenure which, in itself, was surprising. Most people I’ve come across don’t believe the manager plays much of a role on a pro team. Except, of course, when a team is losing. Then he plays a substantial role, ostensibly because someone needs to take the blame. Rightly or wrongly, it’s the manager who often gets blamed.

Is it John Gibbons’ fault, then? After all he was a .500 manager with the Jays in his first go-round and then no one hired him. This team has struggled since game 1 (a loss) in Mission ’13, so maybe it’s a managerial issue. Gibby’s made some questionable decisions, but overall I’ve been suitably impressed. He’s an excellent bullpen manager and he has some good horses in the stable. Other than that, though, things have gone poorly for Gibby and the Jays. Is he at fault, or are there some other, more realistic, causes?

Tough Schedule

Including their loss to the Indians today, the Jays played 66 of their 91 games against teams above .500. The Rays have played 55 G against high-quality opponents, and they’ve played well (.618). BAL and NYY have played 52 games against teams over .500. Division leader BOS has only played 45 G but, like the Rays, they’ve played well against them (.578).

The flip side of this coin is that TOR has only played 25 games against lower-quality opponents. They’ve done well, playing .600 ball, but the real difference between TOR and the rest of the AL East is how far TOR lags behind in the number of games versus sub-par competition. Their 25 G are well behind the 37, 39, 40, and 48 games the rest of the division has played against steerage class teams.

Dream along with me for a moment. If we balance the schedule by shifting 12 games (to boost their total to 37 G) from the +.500 teams to the -.500 teams and maintaining the Jays’ winning percentages, they might be 46-45 instead of 44-47. If they’d played 48 G vs. sub-.500 teams, like BOS, their record might be 48-43. Should we split the difference and think of them as a 47-44 team, because their schedule’s been tough? Maybe it’d help me sleep at night if they were 3 G better, but still in 5th place, 2 GB the NYY…

AL East

Overall Record

Percentage

vs. teams under .500

Percentage

vs. teams over .500

Percentage

BOS

56-37

.602

30-18

.625

26-19

.578

TBR

52-40

.565

18-19

.486

34-21

.618

BAL

50-42

.543

26-14

.650

24-28

.462

NYY

49-42

.538

25-14

.641

24-28

.462

TOR

44-47

.484

15-10

.600

29-37

.439

Bad Defense

Their defense in the first half has been surprisingly bad. I can’t remember seeing a team—the Jays or any other team I follow—give away so many runs because of bad defense. How many games has their defense cost them? I don’t know, but consider today’s series-losing loss against the Indians. The Jays tied the score at one, but RA Dickey got into trouble in the bottom of the same inning. A bloop single with one out and the bases loaded dropped between Jose Reyes and Rajai Davis. It plated one run, but Rajai scooped the ball and inexplicably fired it home. He airmailed Josh Thole, RA Dickey, and the resulting carom off the wall bounced OVER RA’s head allowing an extra run to score. Then with a runner on first and no one out in the 8th inning a low-trajectory, sinking line drive was playable but Jose Bautista fell and the ball skipped past him for a triple and the 4th run. The Jays scored one in the top of the 9th, but they fell 2 runs short. Bad defense cost them 2 runs.

This has been typical of the first half of the season. Munenori Kawasaki almost cost them their only win in the series by throwing away a non-routine ground ball off the bat of Nick Swisher. Their 42 unearned runs allowed are second in th AL only to the Houston Astros, who’ve allowed 46 unearned runs. Houston has won 32 games so far this season.

Two areas of particular weakness have been 2B and C, manned predominantly by Emilio Bonifacio and JP Arencibia, respectively. As a team, however, their -5.7 UZR is middle-of-the-pack, lagging—tellingly—behind the Detroit Tigers. Two major differences between the Jays and the Tigers are offense and pitching. The Tigers’ offense centers around the best hitter in the game, Miguel Cabrera. Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder will help their team endure slightly-below-average defense (much of which is because of them). Toronto’s defense is worse, and their star offensive players—Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion—are at least a tick below The Prince and Miggy Show. Then we could contrast the Jays’ pitching staff with the Tigers’ pitching staff but we won’t…

Bad Pitching

Perhaps that sub-title is too general: the bullpen has scuffled a little lately, but they’ve been terrific all season long. It’s the starters that have let the team down. The rotation of RA Dickey, Brandon Morrow, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, and JA Happ has been two things all season: underwhelming and/or injured. The staff as a whole has a 4.36 FIP and has contributed 6.7 WAR, with a significant portion of those numbers coming from replacement players.

Some of the responsibility for the rotation’s poor performance falls squarely on the shoulders of #1 catcher JP Arencibia. Arencibia’s a lousy defender and he’s not much of a game-caller or tactician. (Perhaps I should soften this so I’m not the target of a twitter rant…waitaminit, I’m not that important. Never mind.) Not many catchers are, but he’s giving away games and undermining the rotation’s effectiveness. Realistically, though, the staff is still the staff and they need to live up to the expectations of career norms.

There are several problems with that mindset, though. First, two starters are 34+ (Dickey; Buehrle) How much should e realistically expect from pitchers in decline, even if one is a knuckler? Second, Morrow and Johnson have a well-documented history of injury problems. They’ve both missed considerable time. Third, JA Happ’s situation was entirely unpredictable. Esmil Rogers’ effectiveness was also unpredictable (and welcome), but the rest of the staff is either absent due to injury or have underperformed. Finally, Dickey, Buehrle, and Johnson have experienced limited success in their first AL East campaign.

What to do, what to do, what to do…?

The Jays are a slightly-below-average team playing slightly-below average baseball. I don’t know what they can do to improve without blowing it up (that’s part of the reason I write rather than GM, which isn’t a verb, but you get it…). Are Dickey, Johnson, Buehrle, Morrow, and Happ/Rogers capable of more in the second half? Perhaps. Are they capable of more in the AL East? Perhaps not. But that’s part of the point. TOR plays 23 games against teams that are presently under .500 (HOU, SEA, KC, MIN, LAA). And we all know how hot the Angels have been lately. They also play 29 G against teams that are presently in first or second place in their respective divisions (OAK, BOS, TB, ARZ, LAD); the other 19 G are against teams that are above .500 (NYY, BAL). Important note: If the teams that are presently under .500 and the teams presently over .500 remain that way when TOR plays them, then the Jays’ total number of games against teams under .500 will be 48. I’m not a betting man but if I was, I’d be willing to bet that BOS will play at least one game in the second half against a team that is under .500. “48” is, of course, the number of times that BOS has played sub-,500 teams already.

If the Jays want to do anything this season, then they’re going to have to beat the cream of the crop, and a few patsies. At their present rates of ‘success’, they can expect a record of 35-36. Was a 79-83 record what they expected when they made all the moves and spent $X million extra? Paul Beeston’s recent comments aside, I doubt it. I doubt it very much.

Oh, the Possibilities…

I don’t want to start any rumours (actually I do), but if the Jays are buyers at the non-waiver deadline wouldn’t it be nice to see James Shields or Joe Mauer in Blue Jay blue? One could solidify the rotation. The other could give them a strong left-handed bat and is a good catcher who can lead the pitching staff.

Recent trades have been costly: do the Jays have any valuable pieces left?

  • It isn’t likely that Kevin Pillar’s value will ever be higher than it is right now;

  • The same could be said about Adam Lind;

  • It could also be said about Casey Janssen, who is a very good closer (but is replaceable: see Cecil, Brett and Delabar, Steve);

  • Darren Oliver is a good lefty with playoff experience;

  • Neal Wagner would appeal to team needing a 97 mph heater and good control;

  • Josh Johnson’s contract expires in about 3 months.

Who blinks first, the Jays or the Royals? Will Minny part with Mauer? How would a middle infield of Chase Utley and Jose Reyes look? Michael Young, anyone? Or should the Jays blow it up?

Much can happen in 71 games. We’ve seen BOS and ATL collapse in half that number of games. OAK entrenched themselves in last place in about the same number of games. STL stole a division, then won a WS in about half that number of games. But we haven’t seen the Jays live up to their potential for some time now. Will they do it in the second half?

Wes Kepstro

PS: Wes’s return will be brief. He doesn’t think that he got this vacation thing quite right. He needs to try it again.

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27 Responses to “Mission ’13: Assessing the Jays at (well, just before) the All Star Break”


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  8. 8 Philip Stoddart July 12, 2013 at 5:36 pm

    Keep Alex Anthopolous in the fold. Up until this year, both he and the previous GM, had to be bargain hunters. This is his 1st try with a higher budget…..remember last winter when we were all so gung-ho?
    Go for 2014 now. Trade anybody you want.
    Let AA have another go, older and wiser now.

    • 9 @ALEastbound July 12, 2013 at 7:16 pm

      Yeah I don’t see any reason to think AA isn’t the man for the job. He should’ve perhaps been a bit more aggressive with free agency as opposed to trading away the system but he likely didn’t know we had the extra money until it was handed to him.

    • 10 Wes Kepstro July 12, 2013 at 11:17 pm

      Agreed. I’m not part of the ‘dump AA’ crowd. Bargain hunting is the way most teams need to be; TOR is no different. Sometimes it works out, but sometimes it doesn’t.

  9. 11 Tim A July 12, 2013 at 5:01 pm

    The logic behind the argument regarding records is inherently flawed, The Jays themselves are responsible for a large portion of the skew present between them, and the other ALE clubs. all those clubs have seen significant games against the Jays. Because they close the gap in those terms considerably if they are removed from the equation, one can only conclude, this is a decent team that is underperforming, in a tough devision where success is difficult to attain. My suggestion for the team would be to look too add a player who fills a hole, and is controllable beyond this year, or trade players that won’t be around next year if the gap widen’s by the 31st. I think the team should look at why it has been having so little success recently at developing, and maintaining high level pitching internally.

    • 12 Wes Kepstro July 12, 2013 at 11:36 pm

      Is it really that flawed? Maybe, while TOR is 1-8 vs. the Yankees, which skews their record vs the AL East, they’re still only 16-18 vs. the rest of the division after tonight’s loss. Their .600 winning pct vs. sub-.500 teams, while obviously coming against other divisions, is the lowest of any club in the ALE. They are exactly where they should be in the division, given their performance. It’s not a strong argument, but it’s only meant to be indicative of their play.

      Is this a decent team that is underperforming? If they’re only decent, how far below expectations are they? I was excited prior to the season, but the excitement had a poor foundation. No one knew how well the new guys would play in the AL, how well Gibby would perform, etc., least of all me. Can we expect improvement? I’m not sure what the basis for that improvement would be. Prior performance against non-ALE competition? A long healthy stretch? A collapse by 2 or 3 other teams?

      The starting rotation has now given up 74 HR in 92 games, and they’re one of the bottom 3 rotations in the league (MIN, HOU). Their defense is awful, partly because they play utility players as starters and partly because their catcher isn’t good.

    • 13 Wes Kepstro July 13, 2013 at 12:15 am

      My mistake: their .600 winning pct against sub-.500 teams is the second worst in the division. Inexplicably, the Rays lose more than they win against poor teams. I expect that to change in the 2nd half.

      I also agree wholeheartedly that the ALE is a tough place to get wins. The problem is that everyone is doing it, oftentimes at the Jays’ expense. I’d like to say that TB is likely to cool off but with Price back, healthy, and effective, they’re formidable again. They may reel in the BoSox, while it appears as if TOR and NY will fight for 4th place.

  10. 14 T.M. sheridan July 12, 2013 at 4:58 pm

    I agree. ?time for trades and
    First on the block would be Bautista. I think he’s past superstar status and would net a great return. The timing of a Bautista trade now is the sort of deal that made Montreal’s Sam Pollack one of the greatest G.M.’s in professional sport. Also agree about exploiting the deep bullpen as trade bait. And please do get rid of Arencibia.

    But I think this team needs off the field changes because of some really bad management decisions:
    1. A very lax spring training. Gibby and AA have to take responsibility here. It shows in the utter lack of ability to execute fundamentals as well as the poor defence. Even experienced players need Spring Training. The Jays looked really ragged during the Spring compared to teams like Tampa and Baltimore.

    2. The stupid decision to allow so many players to participate in the World Baseball classic. Even veterans need to become familiar with each other. So many new players on the team and the unit doesn’t play together as a team until the last two games!!!? Having Blue Jays saying now the team is becoming comfortable with each other is an obscene embarrassment . What else is SPring training for if not to become familiar with each other and this was a good long ST. Again Gibby and AA must take responsibility. Oh yes, an added bonus was the injury to the starting third basement.

    3. Injuries. The past three years has seen too many injuries. Not just major injuries but lots of the nagging type. Too many too blame to bad luck and certainly not old age as the Yankees can do. It,s time to seriously consider revamping the training and medical staff.

    4. Pitcher injuries and poor preparation. I think our young pitching talent. Is as good as any team,s but I am tired of seeing teams like Cleveland, Baltimore, and Tampa constantly bring up young players who look polished and close to ready while ours come up and look like disorganized, clueless, lost causes. Also all the minor league pitching injuries betray problems with coaching and training. Get rid of e minor league pitching coaches and trainers.

    5. Some must take the fall for the performance of this team and that means the manager. I don’t think he is terrible but he certainly can’t be called dynamic. at best a placeholder and this team needs someone who can mould a team and not let players play to their potential which has been Gibby’s stated mindset.

    6. And now for the big one. time to replace AA. He has demonstrated that like any GM he is capable of good and bad decisions and I’m not going to knock him for the bad. But the skills that get you to a certain place are not necessarily the skills that take you over the top. AA has demonstrated he is a great bargain hunter in his drafts and dealings.. But bargain hunting is not where the Jays are now. By losing two out of three first round picks in the last three years AA has demonstrated he is still trying to get relative bargains rather than taking good solid players who were easily singable. This will have a negative impact on the farm system and the future of the Jays.

    • 15 T.M. sheridan July 12, 2013 at 5:33 pm

      Sorry for the many seeming bad spelling errors, etc. in my e-mail but just bought a new apple iPad and still getting accustomed to the terrible built in keyboard.

      T.m.

    • 16 Wes Kepstro July 12, 2013 at 11:45 pm

      Your frustration level sounds just about right. While I don’t agree with everything you said, you’ve covered the bases pretty well. It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one who’s frustrated with them.

      I think the team playing to their potential would answer a lot of questions. How will that happen? I have no idea.

  11. 17 Ian Carriere July 12, 2013 at 4:44 pm

    I agree with mostly everything you wrote, except the tough schedule piece.

    It’s impossible to have a 100% equal schedule, especially with interleague play. AL teams don’t play every NL team, so AL teams that draw games vs the Cardinals are going to have a tougher go than AL teams who draw the Marlins. Similarly, some teams (like the Jays) have ended up playing better AL comptetion outside of their division than Boston for example. However, this is something outside of the Jays control, and shouldn’t even be considered.

    There’s way too many things that have gone wrong that are within control of players, coaches, etc, many of which you mentioned (sloppy defence, terrible SP, etc). If starting pitching, and hitters like Lawrie, Bono, Arencebia were having career average seasons (or god forbid an above average season), this team would be in much better shape. Instead you have Dickey, JJ, Buehrle, all playing below average career numbers, and a whole slew of positional players as well. With so many guys underperforming, it’s not shocking that this team is struggling.

    • 18 Ian Carriere July 12, 2013 at 4:59 pm

      To add to my point, they are 8 games below .500 vs. AL East opponents (17-25). This stat is far more detrimental than having a tougher schedule compared to other AL East teams when it comes to games outside divisonal play.

      Divisional play is where you can quickly make up ground with a few sweeps, and the Jays have played poorly vs the Sox, Yankees and Rays. Following the 11 game win streak, they were 3-8 vs the Sox, Rays and Tigers. They’ve played decently outside their division where it’s tougher to make up ground, but in situations where they essentially need to win a series against Tampa & Boston (after 11 game win streak), they lose both series’, going 2-5. That 2-5 stretch against divisional rivals after the 11 game win streak nearly erased the ground gained over the 11 game win streak. Divisional games are so much more important that games outside your division, and they Jays aren’t great against teams in their division.

      The other thing the Jays have blown are 1-run games. They are 10-16 in them. Another stat that paints a pretty good picture of the Jays season. Good teams will find ways to come out ontop of 1-run games.

    • 19 Wes Kepstro July 12, 2013 at 11:53 pm

      The flaw with the tough schedule argument, of course, is how could the schedule makers have known how good or bad any of their opponents would be before the season began? as I mentioned to another poster above, it’s not meant to be a strong argument, so much as it’s meant to be explanatory. They still have to play the games and win the games. And, as you say, good teams win close games more often than not.

      It’d be nice to see several of the underperformers raise their level of play in the second half. It’s difficult to overcome a tough schedule AND so many poor performances.

  12. 20 Idiot Fan July 12, 2013 at 11:12 am

    Great piece Wes. Glad to have you back, even if only temporary!

    I am of the opinion the Jays should be completely 2014 (and beyond) focused. I’d move almost anyone within reason. Should be interesting. I don’t think we have the pieces to get a Mauer, Garza or Shields. We blew our wad on Dickey. ;)

    • 21 Wes Kepstro July 12, 2013 at 2:20 pm

      Thanks, IF.

      I agree with you and the boss that anyone’s movable: Wayne Gretzky to the LA Kings taught me that, and it was a hard, hard lesson. However I’m not sure that they don’t have the pieces to make a deal for Mauer, Garza or Shields.

      Can’t teams can trade their int’l free agent money now? That would appeal to smaller budget teams. Anyways, my question is, “Should they pay the price those guys will command?” We think their farm is depleted now…

      • 22 Idiot Fan July 12, 2013 at 4:09 pm

        Tough call. Should they just say screw it and continue the quest for 2013 (unlikely) and 2014 (barring another ridiculous start should be a playoff team)?

        I say go for it. If that means dumping intl’ money and Aaron Sanchez, so be it. This team is supposed to be built to win now.

      • 23 Wes Kepstro July 12, 2013 at 11:58 pm

        I’m with you. They have most of this team around for a couple more years anyways, so why not try and make another move? If they could nab a good 2B (Utley?) or a good C (Mauer), it might make a world of difference. I’d prefer to see them go for a good C, myself. :)

  13. 24 @ALEastbound July 11, 2013 at 10:32 pm

    Definitely has to go to an NL team. The Giants have been known to make rash moves (for Beltran recently) and I am guessing he gets dealt at the deadline barring a huge run for the Jays.

    The return won’t be huge though, let’s be honest.

  14. 25 @ALEastbound July 11, 2013 at 8:58 pm

    I have to agree on almost all of the trade front ideas. Pillar is playing above his head and could be a good trade chip. If Detroit wants to offer Castellanos (pipe dream?) for Oliver + Janssen I would be ALL over that.

    Josh Johnson has been much better than his ERA/WHIP as his peripherals are decent but I don’t think he would command much on the trade market, but I could be wrong.

    Really are there any untouchables?

    Great piece by the way. Enjoy that vacation properly bro!!

    • 26 Wes Kepstro July 11, 2013 at 9:23 pm

      I wouldn’t give you a plug nickel for Johnson but, as you mention, there are his peripherals. He’s not as bad as he seems.

      Then there’s his performance against NL teams (this year and previously). Does Cincy match up well with the Jays as a trade partner? How ’bout the Dodgers or the Giants? The surging Angels?


  1. 1 Inside the Batters Box › Baseball Blogs Weigh In: A’s, Angels, Blue Jays Trackback on July 12, 2013 at 8:38 pm

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AL Eastbound On Twitter!

  • Baseball needs to focus on shortening games. You should be allowed three total dugout "leaves" to visit mound, challenge etc. That's it. 2 days ago
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