For the Blue Jays to Reach the Postseason, Is It as Simple as “Better Luck”?

SEATTLE, WA - JULY 26:  Starting pitcher Mark Buehrle #56 of the Toronto Blue Jays is removed from the game by manager John Gibbons #5 in the sixth inning against the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field on July 26, 2015 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

By Mike McCollum

Blue Jays fans don’t need me to tell them it’s been a while since they’ve made the playoffs. Toronto has been one of the popular picks these past few years to break through and make a run but it has yet to happen.

After 100 games in 2015 they’re an even 50-50 but the Blue Jays are anything but average. They are second in the majors in run differential at +95. Second. In all of the majors. According to the Pythagorean Theorem of Baseball they should be approximately 60-40 instead of hanging around .500.  So why are they not winning at the rate the numbers say they should? 

The starting pitching has been bad, ranking 27th in all of baseball with a FIP of 4.36. The offense has been fantastic, leading the majors in runs scored by a wide margin (528 with the next closest team 78 runs behind them).

Their 10-21 record in one-run games isn’t surprising when you consider how far below they’re performing their expected win-total, but it is when you factor in their league-average bullpen, ranking 14th in the MLB with a 3.49 FIP. The bullpen is the fastest way for a bad team to look good and a good team to look bad, so it’s the first place I look for an explanation when a team is underperforming their win-expectancy.  

When looking at their offense you almost feel guilty trying to find fault. As stated earlier they lead the majors in runs scored by quite a bit with a big reason being their 130 home runs, which is good for second in the majors. Looking deeper at the offense is when things get “confusing”.

In the 50 games the Blue Jays have won they’ve averaged 7.5 runs/game, compared to 3.1/game in their losses. In the wins they’ve slashed .305/.373/.533 with a .906 OPS, while slashing .217/.284/344 with a .629 OPS in their losses. 88 of their home runs have come in their wins versus 42 in the losses. And finally, they’ve stolen 42 bases on 51 attempts in the wins while going just 14/23 in the losses. Two identical sample sizes and two completely different teams.

Ok, so the team hits better in their wins than they do in their losses. No surprise there. That profiles them as an all-or-nothing, streaky team. High homeruns goes hand-in-hand with high strikeouts therefore making an offense inconsistent. Not so fast with that theory though, because their 18.6% strikeout rate is tied for 6th best in the majors.

My next line of thinking is maybe they do a poor job of executing the little things, such as advancing a runner even when making an out. The best term to use is “situational hitting”. Those are habits that help to play your offense up, and teams who do that well usually have success in tight games.

I’m wrong again. Baseball-Reference tracks a productive out rate for each team and defines it as: successful sac for a pitcher with one out, advancing a runner with none out, and driving in a baserunner with the 2nd out of an inning. Playing in the AL the pitcher sac-bunt obviously doesn’t apply to them, but the next two do. Toronto is tied for 2nd in all of baseball with a 35% success rate for productive outs.

So they hit home runs, put the ball in play, and use their outs well by advancing runners to the next base. Doing all of that, what are the odds a team can be so good in half of their games and so bad in the other half? You’d think a league-best offense would smooth out over the course of the season instead of being so drastic from one night to the next, especially when they’re good at the things that make a team consistent.

So while it feels like a cop-out, the best way to classify this Toronto Blue Jays team is unlucky.

Yes, their starting pitching has been bad so a trade-deadline improvement there would help.  Beefing up their so-so bullpen should also serve to help them in one-run games.  However, when you’re outscoring your opponents by so much you’d think not many improvements would be needed to reach the playoffs.

Fortunately, they’re only six-and-a-half games behind the Yankees in the AL East and three games behind Minnesota for the second wild card spot, so they’re not out of the race by any means. There is still time for their luck to straighten out and end the Canadian playoff drought.

Mike McCollum is a Featured Writer for Call to the Bullpen. You can find him on Twitter @mikeyballTX, or join in the conversation @CTBPod, in the comment section below or on our Facebook Page.

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