Mission ’13: After a slow start, is it time to panic?

The Jays are 20 games into a season filled with promise, but they’re 8-12. Perhaps you, like me, need a little perspective about the Jays’ slow start to the season. This isn’t a new topic here on AL Eastbound, as the Jays have played poorly enough for long enough for us to write about their predicament previously. On the other hand, perhaps you don’t. You’re content to believe that they’ll come around eventually. If this describes you, then you can continue to read at your leisure or navigate to another page on AL Eastbound for some other scintillating topic of discussion. Otherwise I’d like to share something I discovered.

I don’t get a lot of time to do extra writing—the Recaps pretty much tax me—but I thought I’d nose around in some recent MLB playoff history. The ever-expanding playoff format can make it tough to keep track of who made the playoffs year-to-year unless you have THAT kind of memory. Anyways, I was interested in how well or poorly recent World Series champs did through the regular season. Keeping track of the WS champs isn’t that tough. As I perused the pages of MLB history, I was surprised to discover what I did.

Not only have some recent champs struggled through the season, it’s almost axiomatic that a World Series champ struggled through the regular season. Oftentimes, they struggled through lengthy portions of the regular season.

I only went back to 2008, but I began with 2009 because the New York Yankees won it all and they had a great regular season record. I then expanded the scope to include 2008 and 2010-2012. Here are some very brief glimpses in table form from the past five seasons.

Champ-to-be Date Result Opponent Record The rest of the way… Final Record
Phillies May 19 L, 4-0 WAS 24-22 68-48 (.586) 92-70
Yankees May 12 L, 5-1 TOR 15-17 88-42 (.677) 103-59
Giants May 26 L, 7-3 WAS 23-22 69-48 (.590) 92-70
Cardinals August 24 L, 9-4 LAD 67-63 23-9 (.719) 90-72
Giants May 16 L, 4-1 STL 18-19 76-49 (.608) 94-68

This table was adapted from information gleaned at www.baseball-reference.com

Look at the dates, then look at the team record on that date. The obvious exception is the St. Louis Cardinals who scuffled along until the third week of August before they got hot and snuck into the playoffs when Atlanta collapsed. Even before August 24, the Cards were unimpressive: they were 41-38 on June 26 and were one game over the break-even point from June 26-August 24. After that they were hot as you-know-where, and we’re not talking about Mexico or New Mexico, either.

The point of all this is obviously the ‘Date’ column. The records before and after provide an answer to the question “is it too early to panic?”. Yes. Yes it is. Each eventual champ over the last five seasons has been right around the .500 mark as late as the end of June (STL). Dare I say it? It’s almost “normal” for the eventual champ to be around .500 in mid-May. Maybe one day I’ll expand this table farther into the past but I’m guessing that the 1984 Detroit Tigers are the exception, not the rule: they were 35-5 after 40 games and led the entire way.

What conclusions can we draw from this? Honestly, not much meaningful except to say ‘Hey, relax. It’s still early’ when somebody blows a gasket about the (low) quality of the Blue Jays’ play and their poor record to this point. Go ahead and share this stuff with them. You can even add a team like the 2012 Oakland A’s. They weren’t WS champs but fit this model very, very well. I’ve already done the leg-work: you’ll have to check it out for yourself.

Wes Kepstro


8 Responses to “Mission ’13: After a slow start, is it time to panic?”

  1. 1 Idiot Fan April 23, 2013 at 8:43 am

    I would have felt a lot better if Mune Kawasaki didn’t completely butcher that ninth inning, THROW TO SECOND???!!

  2. 2 Pat Free April 23, 2013 at 7:33 am

    Am I the only one who takes chemistry into consideration?
    I know basketball and baseball are two totally different games but remember the 2010-11 Miami Heat? Lebron James and Chris Bosh come to a totally revamped Miami Heat roster and struggled out the gate, underwhelming lofty expectations. They righted the ship and made it to the finals but lost in 6 games to the Mavs. The next season they come back and win it all and look in good shape to win it again this year.
    As much as baseball might seem like an individualistic sport, lots of teamwork is involved; turning double plays, calling for fly balls, hit and runs and last but not least, pitcher-catcher chemistry. Toronto has the talent, they just need time and patience to bring it together, it’ll come.

    • 3 Idiot Fan April 23, 2013 at 8:44 am

      I hear you but I also feel chemistry in baseball is overrated. It is a very singular sport, even perhaps on defense. Each man needs to make there own play.

      I dunno. Play better already.

    • 4 Wes Kepstro April 23, 2013 at 9:16 am

      @Pat Free and @Idiot Fan: Pitcher-catcher chemistry is important. Buehrle spoke the other day about he and JPA ‘getting to know one another’. I think the Jays have used 4 3B, 3 SS, 3 2B, and 3 1B already. Kawasaki had his worst game as a Blue Jay lat night, and it cost them the game. Infield chemistry is important. I also think that Gibby needs some more time to get to know his team. I believe the most important aspect of ‘chemistry’ is communication, but there’s also continuity (constant change or turnover is a chemistry killer) and confidence in each other.

      On the one hand, this is one of the reasons that I’ve mentioned the ‘clowning around’ and ‘looser attitude’. I’m reasonably confident they’ll pull it together, and it won’t be very long until they do. Then I’m confident this ‘finding new ways to lose’ thing will dissipate.

      On the other hand, I also think it’d be pretty difficult to find a dyed-in-the-wool Jays fan who isn’t pretty frustrated right now. After 20 games, they’re 8-12? Seriously?

      @Pat Free: I appreciate the lateral comparison to the Heat. I wonder, however, how many Jays’ fans would be happy to hear that this team might pull it all together next year? We’ve been hearing the ‘we’ll be better next year’ line for a while now… 😉

      @Idiot Fan: Yup. Let’s jump start the process by doing the fundamentals well. If we lose then, no problem. It’s losing when you’re not doing the fundamentals well that’s so frustrating. The team has upgraded almost across the board, and they can’t play fundamental baseball? It’s frustrating.

  3. 7 @ALEastbound April 22, 2013 at 10:56 pm

    Injuries, awful starting pitching (getting better at least), a taxed bullpen early on and a hack-tastic approach at the plate has me definitely concerned. Very concerned. We look awful.

    • 8 Wes Kepstro April 22, 2013 at 11:15 pm

      The more I look into it, the less concerned I am. The pitching is improving, perhaps leading to a ‘break’ for the ‘pen. Plate discipline is also improving, which has all sorts of ramifications. Defense is improved. The injuries are always a concern, but there’s little that can be done to prevent them.

      Ken Fidlin made the same sort of comment I made: the win against the Yankees had a very different feel about it. I referred to the series as ‘transitional’ for exactly that reason. I/we could be wrong, of course.

      That said, they’ve looked bad-very bad more often than not but with each turn through the rotation, they’ve looked better.

      If they can keep loose and stay within striking range of .500, the return of Jose Reyes could have them poised to take off.

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