The Toronto Blue Jays hold the distinction of having the longest active playoff drought amongst all professional sports teams in the four major North American sports (MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL). They have not made the playoffs since winning 95 games, and their second straight World Series, in 1993. Since then, they have never won more than 88 games, have never won the division, and have only twice finished better than 10 games back of first by the end of season. This season, Toronto has the highest scoring offense in all of baseball, yet is unlikely to make the playoffs once again. According to Fangraphs’ projected standings, the Blue Jays should expect to win 79 games and finish last in the division. Though the Jays are thriving at the plate, they serve as a perfect example of why pitching reigns supreme in baseball.
Since Alex Anthopoulos become the general manager of the team in 2009, the Blue Jays have never finished below 13th in the majors in runs scored, and have finished in the top 10 in four out of five completed seasons. Meanwhile, their team ERA has been in the bottom 10 in each season since Anthopoulos took over. Coincidentally, that was the same year they traded franchise great, and possible future Hall-of-Famer, Roy Hallday to Philadelphia. Pitching has not always been an issue for the Blue Jays. Just two years before Anthopoulos arrived, Toronto had the best ERA in all of baseball. While the pitching has been consistently poor since 2010, it has reached new levels of ineptitude and rivals the Colorado Rockies for the title of worst pitching staff in baseball. When considering the Rockies play half their games in Coors Field, the most hitter friendly park in the majors, its fair to suggest the Jays’ staff may be worse and is the reason that the team appears destined for its 22nd straight season without a playoff appearance.
In fact, when looking at FIP (fielding independent pitching), the Blue Jays clearly have the worst pitching staff in the league. The Blue Jays’ FIP currently sits at 4.81, a staggering 0.40 runs worse than the next team, the San Diego Padres. In fact, the gap between the Blue Jays and Padres FIP is so large it is almost exactly the same as the gap between the Padres and the Los Angeles Angels, who sit at 13th on the list. The Blue Jays are ranked in the bottom 10 in nearly every pitching category. They are not striking anyone out and are the 9th worst in baseball in K/9, with a 7.04 ratio. They are walking far too many batters and have the second worst BB/9 at 3.58. They have even given up the second most HR/9 (1.32).
As bad as the pitching has been as a whole, the starters shoulder most of the blame. The Blue Jays’ starting pitching this year has been worth 0.2fwar cumulatively, more than four times fewer than the Rockies starting pitchers, who have been worth 0.9fwar. Furthermore, their starters have posted the worst K/9, BB/9 and HR/9 of any Jays’ team since Anthopoulos became the GM. The most worrisome thing is that there do not seem to be any signs of improvement on the horizon. Two indicators people generally look at when determining if a pitcher’s struggles are a result of luck are BABIP (Batting Average On Balls In Play) and LoB% (Left on Base percentage). Toronto’s staff has a BABIP of .282, the 9th lowest in baseball and better than any Jays’ rotation has put up in a full season since 2010. This would seem to indicate, if anything, that the Blue Jays are likely to allow hits on balls in play at a greater rate from this point forward than they have been so far. And their LoB% is right in line with what it has been historically since 2010 and is only slightly worse than league average. The rotation is just bad and luck is not to blame.
At a time when teams throughout baseball are deploying harder-throwing pitchers and generating more strikeouts than ever before, it is easy to see where the Blue Jays have gone wrong in developing their starting pitching. R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle, two of the Jays’ most dependable starters, currently rank one and two, respectively, among all starting pitchers in baseball in terms of slowest average fastball velocity. While neither is primarily a fastball pitcher, it is still interesting that the Blue Jays currently possess the two slowest starting pitchers in all of baseball. Coincidentally, the starting pitcher with the highest average fastball velocity is Noah Syndergaard, one of the prized prospects the Blue Jays dealt to the Mets to acquire Dickey. The Blue Jays’ starters collectively rank 29th in average fastball velocity, nearly two mph below the major league average for starters; it is no surprise, then, that they rank third-lowest in K/9 and are having trouble preventing runs.
While Anthopoulos should absolutely be credited with helping make the Blue Jays offense the strongest in baseball, it is hard to understand why he has not been improving the starting pitching at all. The moves made this past offseason to acquire Devon Travis and Josh Donaldson have had a huge impact, but it has not been enough to overcome the pitching deficiencies. It would be easy put the blame on the injury to rising star Marcus Stroman, but, as revealed earlier, the problems run deeper than just one guy. The Blue Jays chose to sign Russell Martin this offseason rather than allocate more resources toward improving their pitching staff, despite already having a quality catcher in Dioner Navarro coming off a career year. Maybe the Blue Jays will make a blockbuster deal to acquire Cole Hamels or another available ace. Maybe R.A Dickey and Mark Buehrle will turn their seasons around. Maybe Aaron Sanchez will blossom into a star, as many believe he will, and improve in the coming months. Maybe the Blue Jays will call up Daniel Norris and he will become the ace many analysts believe he could be. It is possible that things could turn around this season for the staff and that the Jays will end their playoff drought. Unfortunately, that does not seem likely at this point.
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