I Can Fix This

The recipe for success is pretty easy to see…but can they DO it in time?

Blue Jays 3, Brewers 4

It’s official: the Blue Jays are terrible.

They (more than likely) won’t be terrible for very much longer, at least not this terrible. They will (more than likely) at some point this season be very good. The only real question now is: will they get good enough, soon enough to overcome their poor horrific start? It’s more than doable. This is not even close to the end. It’s not even the beginning of the end and it’s not even (if I may be allowed to channel my inner Churchill for a moment) the end of the beginning.

But to get good there are some things that are going to need to happen.

The pitching needs to be just a little bit better

Happ was OK last night, managing eight strike outs but giving up two more home runs in less than five innings. The pitching (which was supposed to be the real strength of this club) has so far been a bit, well, meh. They are middle of the pack in the American League in giving up home runs (seven) and runs allowed (twenty-eight), just slightly above average in hits allowed (fifty-two) and just slightly below average in strike-outs (also fifty-two).

The story of this year’s pitching is, for me, summed up best by the following comparison: just three other teams have allowed more walks than the Blue Jays (twenty-six), but only four teams have been able to strand more baserunners (fifty-one). This means, of course, that the Jays’ pitchers have been letting too many men on base but then managing in most cases to wriggle out of it, but this has got to change because a trend like this can’t go on forever.

Like I said, the pitching was supposed to be this team’s strength, and so far it’s been pretty solid, but not quite solid enough. They’re going to have to be better than just average if they’re going to carry this team.

Everyone needs to start hitting

In particular they need to start hitting with runners in scoring position: Matt Graves over on Jaysjournal.com has a nice piece on this that goes pretty deep into the numbers; but what it boils down to is this—the Blue Jays are the worst team in the American League when it comes to getting base runners around to score, managing to plate just 5% of them so far this season. (Compare that to the league leading Angels at 17%, quickly followed by numbers two and three on the list: the Red Sox, 15%, and the Orioles, 14%).

They’re also not hitting for a lot of power. As Jonah Keri was quick to point out during the pregame show last night, the Blue Jays are last in the league in ISO (or, isolated power) which is just slugging percentage minus batting average. The Jays sit at a worse than pathetic .096 (compared to the league leading Rangers at .221).

So: they’re not getting a lot of hits to begin with, they’re getting almost no hits when men are on base, and they’re not hitting for power. All of this has to change before they can begin to turn things around.

José Bautista really needs to start hitting…

Let’s just get the numbers out of the way, because—in all honesty—they’re too ugly to spend too much time contemplating… Joey Bats is slashing .136/.286/.182

Dig just a bit deeper and it doesn’t get any better: just 5% of the base runners Bautista’s had on when he was at the plate have come round to score. That’s less than Smoak (11%) and less than Carrera (10%), and truly pathetic compared to the team leaders Tulo and Morales at 33% each. (Worryingly, Donaldson’s sitting at 7%.)

That is really, really not good, particularly if the Jays are hoping to be even a bit relevant in the American League East this season. I’ve already pointed out (along with half of Christendom) that the Jays as a team are hitting poorly and that this will need to change, but there’s a special urgency for Bautista to find his groove. He’s the key to the Jays’ offense: Donaldson is going to do what he does and drive in runs and get on base; Tulo is going to go up and down all year and turn in respectable numbers; Morales is going to be a reliable power hitter and slug a few around…but Bautista has to…has to…be a reliable RBI man if for no other reason than at the moment he’s an almost automatic out in the three spot, meaning by the time Morales and Tulo even get to the plate there’s already two out, or nobody on for them to drive in.

If Bautista can’t recover his form relatively quickly, then the only other option is to move him down in the order (which will probably never happen, but I’m hoping that’s because he will start to hit) but that’s just the same disaster in a different guise. If the Jays don’t have the Real Joey Bats batting third this season, then they can kiss this season good-bye.

…and so does Devon Travis

Again, the numbers speak for themselves: .111/.172/.111 is not sustainable for your leadoff hitter. The great danger here isn’t just that he isn’t hitting but that if he continues not to hit, Travis will find himself moved down in the order and then….what? Who the heck takes his place? That’s a question that the Blue Jays and Gibby do not want to have to answer, because no matter what you do it will domino into other problems: putting Travis at the bottom and moving everyone else up one space is just rearranging the deck chairs; Pillar as leadoff? OK, might work, but he’s doing well where he is and do you want to mess with that? Tulo? Ditto.

This is why, as with Bautista, I make a special case for Travis: everyone needs to start hitting the ball more often, and with more power. But if the number one and number three spots in the lineup don’t improve a lot, then it is going to be a long, long…long season…

Martin needs to stop striking out

.000/.250/.000

I’m just going to leave those there.

Martin has seven strike outs in eighteen at bats so far. On the one hand, I get it, these numbers highlight just how early things are and how ridiculous it is to make any kind of prediction or conclusion based on them. Russell Martin is not (can not!) continue to strike out 39% of the time. But that’s the point: this has got to change or the team is in some really big trouble. Giving significant numbers of at-bats to hitters like Smoak, Carrera, Goins and Barwin Darney isn’t really a problem so long as you can platoon them and if you can hide them amongst a crowd of more reliable hitters. But having Martin in there as a virtual guaranteed unproductive plate appearance just before members of that gang come up to take their hacks makes the bottom of the order an easy one-two-three inning for any pitcher.

Oh, which is the other thing about Martin right now: I love Gibby, I really do, but by what logic is he still hitting Martin fifth or even sixth? Unlike Bautista or Travis, you can easily drop Martin to seventh or eighth until he starts to figure things out.

Which he will. I’m sure of it. Just like the rest of the team.

They’ll figure it out.

Soon.

Or at least, soon enough.

Right?

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