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What Can We Read Into the Blue Jays April?

I’m tired.  Nine days into an intensive firefighting course in the Texas heat and I feel like Chael Sonnen after Jon Jones was through with me.  I’m not trying to whine, just provide some context to why I feel quite negative about the Toronto Blue Jays at the moment.  Maybe it’s the fatigue.  The fact I haven’t had a beer in nine days hasn’t helped much either.  Whatever the reason, I am not confident in the Jays ability to rebound and fulfill the expectations that the media, fans, and myself had created for this team.

Social media is fun.  It allows for opinions to be vented instantaneously.  Sometimes this goes bad, as people tweet before thinking.  There are two prevailing opinions regarding the Jays on Twitter right now.  One has the season as finished, blow up the team, start fresh.  The other is preaching patience, the season is young, let’s see where we are at the end of May.  Below is a tweet from one of the patient ones:

From 2003-2011 19 teams would have made the playoffs (or played a tiebreaker) under the new format. THIRTEEN were at or below .500 in April.

— Andrew Stoeten (@AndrewStoeten) April 28, 2013

Andrew Stoeten is the editor of a site I visit often, drunkjaysfans.com. His opinions are generally thought provoking and his writing can be both fantastic and acerbic. Get on the wrong side of him, and things can get quite ugly.  Troll is a term he throws out quite liberally, and he gets a ton of commenters on his site, so is an expert in the field of spotting them.  Are the folks that are jumping off the bandwagon trolls though?  I’m sure there are a few of them out there, messing with those Jays fans whose expectations, post off-season trades, had gone through the roofs.  Others, though, are simply disappointed with Toronto’s start and are voicing their displeasure online.  Something Stoeten has an answer for:

It’s true. But not the ones into week 3 of panicky idiocy. RT @ryan_courcelle: @andrewstoeten @humandchuck Some people are just realistic.

— Andrew Stoeten (@AndrewStoeten) April 28, 2013

So, back to the original question, if it is too early to panic (which I believe is correct) what, if anything, can we infer from the poor start?

Last year it always seemed like the team was one element short most nights.  If the pitching was on, the hitting was off, if the hitting was working, the defense would let them down.  Please bear in mind, that observation is based on the 140 odd games I watched, not any sort of statistical analysis.  For this year, let’s take a look at a few stats.  I’d like to use some of the more advanced statistical tools, but I don’t think the sample size is large enough for those metrics.  Which begs the question, why am I looking at any stats at all?  For fun.

Offensively, the Jays aren’t really doing anything of note.  They are in the bottom four in average and on-base percentage.  In BB/K ratio they sit 24th while OPS has them at 21st.  Considering the giddiness I had over this lineup back in January, things have not clicked.  The only player that got off to a hot start, Jose Reyes, is down for three months with a bad ankle.  Of the regulars, only four are getting on base at better than three times in ten, and one of those is Munenori Kawasaki, Reyes’ replacement at shortstop.  The new faces, not named Reyes, are struggling.  As are the veterans Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion.  The guys you hoped may have good season, but secretly were worried about?  They’ve been ok.  Take away Colby Rasmus‘ and J.P. Arencibia‘s inflated slugging percentages though, and you have some pretty average numbers.

The pitchers aren’t faring much better, sitting near the bottom of the league in both FIP and xFIP.  Individually, again, aside from decent starts (relatively) from both J.A. Happ and R.A. Dickey, things have not gone well.  The biggest disappointment thus far has been Brandon Morrow.  I really expected him to build on the last two years.  So far he really hasn’t.  For a power pitcher his 2.11 K/BB ratio is low, while his 1.54 WHIP is too high.

On the fielding side of the equation, I have said before and will say it again, I have not read up enough on advanced defensive metrics to confidently write about them.  From what I can gather, UZR par is 0.  Anything under and you are below average. Funnily enough, the Jays are below average.  That can only improve though, as the main culprits are Mark DeRosa at third and Emilio Bonifacio at second.  Both are positions those two won’t be playing much of anymore.  Unfortunately, Boni’s replacement at second, Maicer Izturis, has been even worse, bringing up the rear with a -2.7 UZR.

So, what did that exercise in negativity accomplish?  The Jays current record sits at 9 and 17.  Last year’s two wild card teams won 93 ball games.  Small sample size I know, but 2012 was the first year with the two wild card system.  With the top teams in the American League West getting stronger, while also getting the opportunity to beat up on Houston all season, you would expect that number to stay consistent.  But for arguments sake, let’s say 90 wins gets you a wild card.  That leaves the Jays having to win 81 of 136 games, or having to maintain a .600 clip.

The way they are playing now, that won’t happen.  I have no doubt they will improve, especially offensively, as guys like Jose Bautista and Brett Lawrie find their groove.  Lawrie’s return will have a positive impact on the defensive side of the equation as well.  He can’t pitch though.

Obviously, if Toronto has any chance of winning 81 more games, all three facets of their game will need to improve markedly.  Mix in a bit of luck, health, and other intangibles and they could very well be in the wild card hunt come September.  It will be a tough ask though.  This isn’t a veteran team used to winning.  You could count on one hand the world series rings in the group.  I guess, deep down, I’ve given up a bit myself.  I really hope this team can get things turned around.  I have a lot more games to watch this season.

(this piece originally appeared at http://blogs.vancouversun.com/2013/04/30/what-can-we-read-into-april/ on the 30th of April.  As per the first paragraph, had a lot of things on my mind whilst writing it, so slipped my mind to publish here as well.  Better late than never.)

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