It’s no longer “early”, and it’s time to start asking if the Blue Jays are for real. After sweeping the Tigers today, they’ve now won 14 of their last 16 and done so in impressive fashion:
That’s not the mark of a pretender. Sure, there are lots of valid questions about the legitimacy of this team, mostly around the starting rotation. But there are also a lot of ways this team could be better, too.
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s start with today. The Blue Jays won the way they’ve won all year. With the long ball, and with an unexpectedly good pitching performance (or two). Brett Lawrie and Juan Francisco went back to back in the top of the 6th and Melky Cabrera went deep in the 9th, providing the bulk of the offense. The home runs gave Lawrie, Francisco and Cabrera all exactly 10 long balls on the season. The Jays now have 5 hitters with 10 jacks, and DL’ed Colby Rasmus has 9. That means they have 6 hitters who are on pace to hit 25+ home runs. That is absolutely bananas and to no surprise they lead the majors in homers by a decent margin. It’s winning them ball games, plus, chicks dig the long ball. Lawrie even pimped his homer out, and may have thrown a mini Edwing out for his fallen homie? I’ll let you be the judge. (For some reason WordPress won’t let me embed the GIF, so just click on that link).
Speaking of Edwing, apparently we shouldn’t be concerned about his absence from the lineup.
Good, because the Jays will need all the bats they can get this weekend against St. Louis, who have arguably the best staff in the MLB.
The 5th starter on the Jays staff continued to impress today, throwing a quality 6.1 innings giving up 3 earned. J.A. Happ wanted a spot in the rotation, and when he got it he delivered. The quesion is, how much longer will it last? More on that in a minute.
As for Happ’s counterpart today Justin Verlander, he didn’t have his best stuff and really hasn’t all year. Gregg Zaun made that point pre-game, and used that as the reason why Verlander’s BABIP is up at .312. Well, that could be true. Verlander’s average heater velocity is down to 93.1 from 94.0 last year. Nothing too too significant, especially considering we’re just entering the warm months of the season, and considering he was still up at 95 and 96 in the 6th inning today. But batters, including the Jays today, haven’t been fooled by it whatsoever, making better contact and striking out a lot less on Verlander’s hard stuff. In the graph on the left, you can see over the last 3 years how significantly Verlander’s strikeout numbers have dropped with the fastball. That puts the exclamation point on some concerning strikeout numbers overall for Verlander this year. Between 2009-2013, Verlander’s K% fluctuated between 23-27%. This year, it’s down 16.5%. Still early, yes, but could be a bad symptom.
Even though Verlander appears to not have his best stuff – and therefore isn’t striking out as many people – his .312 BABIP could be as much the result of bad luck and poor fielders behind him as his stuff. Detroit’s defense ranks 23rd in Baseball Prospectus’ Defensive Efficiency Rating and Verlander’s allowing a much lower percentage of hard hit balls than last year (line drive % down to 16.3 from 22.7 last year). So while he may not have his best stuff, he also isn’t getting much help at all from his defense.
As for Jays staff, for the most part they seem to have their best stuff and are benefitting from some good luck. Either way, it’s time to ask, can this last? Happ made another solid start today and sports a pretty decent 4.12 ERA on the season. Mark Buerhle has been one of the top pitchers in the MLB. After coming off Tommy John surgery, and in his first full season in the big leagues, Drew Hutchison has a 3.50 ERA.
Well, there’s decent reason to believe that Buehrle and Happ aren’t for real considering they’re both outperforming their FIP by about a full run each. Hutchison’s FIP is only marginally higher than his ERA, but the problem with him – and Stroman, if he continues to make starts like Saturday vs. the Royals and stays in the rotation – is just how many innings can we expect from them? Surely, they’re going to be shut down early. What if the Jays are in the playoff hunt in September and are forced to shut down 2/5ths of their rotation, at the same time that Happ and Buehrle are regressing to the mean? Everything is fine and dandy now, but those two factors combined mean the Jays have to make some significant additions to their rotation at the deadline if they want to go for it, which doesn’t seem all that likely.
One area of the team where we can expect some regression in the opposite direction is the bullpen. Before the Tigers bullpen blew up (again) last night, the Blue Jays relievers were ranked dead last in the MLB in ERA. It is now Detroit 30th, Toronto 29th. This comes a season after the Jays bullpen ranked 3rd in the AL and was one of the only bright spots for the team in 2013. Things have been better since Casey Janssen has been back, and should also improve now that McGowan’s in the ‘pen, coupeld with the eventual return of Sergio Santos.
Speaking of improved bullpen, Chad Jenkins had a wonderful couple of games for the Jays this series. Over the last 2 games, he pitched 3.1 innings, allowing 2 hits and 0 runs, inducing 7 ground balls. Jenkins did pretty much all of Janssen’s dirty work today, before Janssen came in to record the 1 pitch save, meaning he got 2 saves in the series on just 4 pitches. Part of the reason why saves are a really overrated stat. Jenkins could provide a real boost to the bullpen while Steve Delabar figures his shit out.
So here we are. Another sweep of another great team to put the Jays 13 games over .500 on June 5th with a pretty comfortable lead in the AL East. In a million years I didn’t think I would write that sentence this season, even though I tossed a little money on the Jays at 25/1 to win it all before the season. In reality, pretty much every “what if” has gone in Toronto’s favour. They’ve been great, they’ve been lucky, they’ve gotten some help. But really, can’t you say that about every team that wins it all?
As always, your reward for making it to the end of the post. A new, high profile Jays fan!
Well then, go Kings!
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