Baseball’s Most Overrated Team is North of the Border

imageWinning the battles in November, December, and January brings no guarantee that the real battles will be won on the field and the Toronto Blue Jays are about to find that out the hard way. The consensus champions of the offseason brought a whole host of new players north of the border in their quest to return to the postseason for the first time in nearly 20 years, but that doesn’t guarantee results. R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson and others will have to prove that they mesh as well on the field as everybody seems to think they do on paper. Here are just a few of the reasons I think the Blue Jays will be watching October baseball instead of playing it:

1.  R.A. Dickey won’t repeat his 2012 performance

A year ago R.A. Dickey was one of the best pitchers in the National League, that much cannot be denied. He led the NL in innings pitched, strikeouts, complete games, and shutouts thanks to  his devious knuckleball, which baffled batters all year long. But when you actually look at who he pitched against, his numbers quickly fall apart. Dickey made 35 starts a year ago and a mere 11 of those outings came against offenses that ranked in the top half of baseball and to make matters worse, 8 of his starts came against offenses that ranked in the bottom 5 in the league. Dickey won’t get to face that kind of cupcake schedule in 2013 which will lead to a fair amount of regression in his numbers and performance.

It’s also worth asking if Dickey is a one-year wonder. He’d never been anything close to a dominant strikeout pitcher in his career until a season ago when his strikeout rate was nearly double his career average. He’s going to be 38 this season so another big strikeouts per inning season just isn’t in the cards. Dickey should still be a solid starter, which is something the Jays had too few of last year, but another Cy Young season is out of the question and I’ll bet he struggles to perform at even an All-Star level.

2.  A change in management will hurt the defense

A season ago the Blue Jays were under the management of John Farrell, who is one of the most aggressive defensive managers in baseball. If their was a hitter at the plate who was pull-heavy they Jays were going to shift and shift they did. Toronto was only ranked behind the Rays and their mad scientist Joe Maddon in terms of number of defensive shifts used and those shifts worked more often than not. Toronto ranked among the most effective teams in baseball in terms of defensive runs saved despite having a lousy pitching staff which is directly a result of Farrell’s shifting.

In his three years in Toronto, the Blue Jays annually had one of the lowest opponent’s batting averages on ground balls hit in play.

YEAR AL BABIP BLUE JAYS’ BABIP
2012 .238 .211
2011 .238 .213
2010 .231 .212

That’s 40 or 50 hits a year that Farrell was saving the Toronto pitching staff and yet even with all that success, new manager John Gibbons is unlikely to shift as often. New Toronto 3rd base coach Luis Rivera, who will be coordinating the defense, has already said as much:

“I don’t think I’m going to be that aggressive as we were,” said Rivera. “It all depends on who is hitting. If I do that to David Ortiz and he wants to bunt to third, it’s late in the game and they’re down by two runs, I’m probably going to take that [bunt] away — because if he gets on base, it’ll be the tying run [at the plate].”

There’s also the issue of swapping out Yunel Escobar, a brilliant defender, for Jose Reyes, a mediocre one, at shortstop. Reyes, for all his offensive brilliance, has never been anyone’s idea of a good defender. He’s sloppy with his throws and his range is sub par for someone with his speed and quickness. Don’t believe me? Well, check the numbers. A year ago Yunel Escobar played 160 fewer innings at shortstop than Reyes did, yet he was still able to make nearly 30 more plays in the field. Reyes also made 6 more errors and he annually ranks among the league leaders in mistakes at his position.

3.  The bullpen may be the worst in baseball

Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos is generally considered to be one of the better general managers in baseball. If you can swap Vernon Wells for Mike Napoli without having to lose, you’re going to look brilliant. But the one thing he’s never quite gotten the hang of is building a quality bullpen. The Blue Jays haven’t ranked better than 19th in baseball in bullpen ERA under Anthopoulos and this year’s edition probably won’t end that streak.

Casey Janssen is the best arm in the Toronto bullpen and he’s going to start the season as a closer. Darren Oliver is back at age 42 as the team’s nominal lefty out of the pen and that’s about it. Sergio Santos throws real hard but he struggles to find the plate most of the time he’s on the mound and he’s trying to return from shoulder surgery. Toronto’s going to be counting on these guys and a few others to throw somewhere around 500-600 innings next season, a dangerous prospect for a team with playoff aspirations.

4.  The AL East is a meat-grinder

There is only one division in baseball where all five teams legitimately have a aspirations of making the playoffs in 2013: the AL East. Tampa Bay has more quality pitching than any other team on the planet, Boston reloaded, Baltimore is improving, and once the Yankees are healthy they should start to resemble the team that led the American League in wins a year ago. Toronto was 22 games off the pace a year ago and to be honest, there is just too many good teams in this division for the Jays to pick up that many wins.

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Make no mistake, I think the Blue Jays will be a much improved team after last season’s disappointing 73 win campaign but they have far too many flaws and far too many question marks to take the division. Is Jose Bautista going to bounce back from his wrist injury? Was Edwin Encarnacion’s big 2012 season a fluke? Will Brett Lawrie be able to stay on the field? How will the former Marlins pitchers fair outside of the biggest ballpark in baseball? Is Mark Buerhle’s terrible spring a sign of things to come? And the most important one: can you mesh together the pieces of three terrible ballclubs in order to build one good one? Color me a skeptic, but I don’t think you can.

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11 comments

  1. gsuwolfman13

    It will be interesting to see if it comes together for them. I still have them winning the division because they just have too much talent to deny them that spot right now, but at the same time I could see them being fairly mediocre. It just depends on how they start to play as a team.

    • David Hruska

      I like Tampa to take the division solely because of their outstanding pitching staff. Tampa is also going to be phenomenal on defense. I’m guessing they allow the fewest runs in baseball.

      • gsuwolfman13

        Very good point, Tampa could be a team that really sneaks up on teams. I still have the Yankees getting into the postseason, over Tampa and others. I see the Yankees keeping the ship afloat at the beginning of the season and when their injured players get back, I see them taking off and slipping in at the wildcard.

      • David Hruska

        I agree completely on the Yankees. I think their starting staff keeps them afloat and I can’t shake the feeling that Youkilis has a big vintage season

      • gsuwolfman13

        Yeah and to me in the end they are the Yankees, and I just can’t remember a season where they just played bad baseball all year long and missed the playoffs. They are one of those teams that always win consistently because they play good ball all year long, and not just because they have the highest payroll.

  2. baseballtrashtalkin

    We think Toronto is looking much like the ’11 Red Sox who were predicted to win what…128 games that season? Agree with gsuwolfman that Tampa is looking very fine with a nice stable of starters. Front end of the Sox rotation (Lester and Buchholz) have looked spry but Lackey, Doubront, and Dempster left some room for doubt in the spring. Never-ever count out Girardi’s ability to cobble together wins regardless of what his DL look like. The other sleeper in this division is Baltimore who played like a well-oiled machine in the Grapefruit League. Showalter and his youngsters are certainly dangerous in close ballgames. It’s going to come down to fundamentals and solid team play. Whatever the outcome, its going to be fun to watch!

    • gsuwolfman13

      It certainly will be fun to watch as it will probably come down to the last week of the season, atleast that is what I hope. Yeah Baltimore could be a sleeper but they are going to have to show me more than just one season of what they did last season. They do have the returning same cast of guys to do it though.

  3. baseballtrashtalkin

    If it comes down to the last week of the season, I can’t imagine anyone who follows this division would be disappointed! Folks around here still talk about the last night of the 2011 season – Baltimore spoiling the Red Sox – and – The Rays beating the Yankee’s on Longoria’s long-ball. What a night. Think we burned at three remotes switching games back and forth! LOL.

  4. Pingback: Predictions for the 2013 Season « TheCutoffMan
  5. Baji Kimran

    You made one mistake in your article. Farrell only managed the Blue Jays for two seasons. 2010 the club was managed by Cito Gaston. The aggressive management you speak of had nothing to do with John Farrell. The “aggressor” in this situation (read all 3 years) was third base coach Brian Butterfield, who did go with Farrell to Boston.

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