One of the questions I asked in the piece I wrote about peds in MLB was ‘how did it get this far?’ One could ask the exact same question about the Jays’ season. They’ve lost their first 3 games to Los Angeles and, not surprisingly, they’ve looked terrible. Their starters have pitched a grand total of 11 innings in the first 3 games. It’d be okay—this kind of stuff happens to everybody at some point in the season—if it was an aberration. The problem with the Jays is that poor play is the norm this season rather than a bump on the road.
The loss dropped the Jays to 22-32 on the road and 12-24 since their 11-game win streak. This squad is more like the ’02 Tampa Bay Devil Rays than the ’04 Oakland A’s, both of whom had prolonged win streaks but headed in different directions when those win streaks ended.
The pre-season hype is long gone, and I suspect that most of the intensity of our collective frustration is gone too. In my case, it’s been replaced by a fatalism that is foreign to my personality. When is the last time that a Blue Jays’ team was this poor? Perhaps 1994-95 but, in context, the 2013 Jays are easily the worst team of the last 20 years in my opinion.
Let’s get down to business, though. Brad Lincoln is the proximal reason for this piece because he symbolizes this season very well for me: so much promise, so little delivery. Acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates for Travis Snider in a swap of under-performing first-rounders with tremendous potential, Lincoln has been an average middle reliever (in all fairness, neither team has benefited much from the trade).
Lincoln was re-called from AAA Buffalo the other day as the Jays needed fresh arms in the ‘pen. Lincoln’s re-call gave the Jays nine pitchers in the ‘pen. Nine bullpen arms? Even writing it gives me an ominous sense of dread.
Lincoln entered last night’s game after 5 mostly-forgettable innings by starter Esmil Rogers, and mopped up with 3 IP of long relief. Lincoln acquitted himself well, pitching 3 innings of hitless, shutout ball, striking out a pair and walking one. But there’s the rub: he walked one. He’s now pitched 24.2 innings in 14 MLB games and has walked 14 batters, giving him an ugly 5.11 BB/9 in 2013. He’s only made 2 appearances when he hasn’t walked a batter. Since he was acquired, Lincoln has walked 24 batters in 53.1 IP (4.05 BB/9). It’s not pretty.
This is the same Brad Lincoln who, when interviewed about his demotion in early June, said he didn’t know what he had to do to stick with the big club. Granted, 3 of his last 7 appearances before being sent to BUF were good (7 IP, 2 H, 3 BB, 4 SO, 0 R) but the other 4 weren’t (6.2 IP, 11 H, 3 HR, 4 BB, 7 SO, 10 R, 7 ER). These are hardly the types of numbers that ‘earn’ a player the right to stay with the big club. The Jays as a whole are in the same boat as Lincoln: under-performing, but would be upset if the Jays did something drastic.
No one could have predicted that so many pitchers would perform so poorly, but the pitching staff is a train wreck. Their 4.38 ERA as a staff is 2nd worst in the AL, ahead of only the Houston Astros. Their 1.23 HR/9 and 4.39 FIP/4.12 xFIP tell a sordid tale as well. Mark Buehrle has pitched very well of late, but what more can be said of RA Dickey and Josh Johnson? Josh Johnson is this years Ricky Romero: he ranks #128 of the 141 pitchers in all MLB who have pitched at least 70 innings. It is a serious blessing that he was injured for so long early in the season. Overall, the pitching staff is worth about 7 WAR after 110 games.
The defense is very much like the 1930 Phillies. Even when they’re not making actual errors, they’re missing balls, not making plays they should, and just plain looking inept in the field. Have you ever seen a team make such consistently-poor throws from the outfield? Their throws either miss the cut-off man or are so far off line as to be harmful, allowing base runners to advance with ease. There are a couple of exceptions—notably Colby Rasmus and, until recently, Jose Bautista—but generally the Jays have played very poorly in the field. Their team RngR is 23rd in MLB, while their ErrR and UZR rank 25th in MLB. These are the metrics of a low-quality baseball team.
The offense, while powerful, is neither efficient nor dependable. However, it’s the least of the Jays’ problems. As a matter of fact, when combined with the bullpen, it’s the area of greatest strength. Colby Rasmus may be reaching his potential and Edwin Encarnacion is following his breakout season with another one like it, but there’s not much else positive to say about the offense. Jose Reyes has been good when healthy, but he’s missed a lot of time. Adam Lind is Adam Lind. His back problems will prevent him from being an impact player for more than a few weeks at a time. Jose Bautista has slipped dramatically and JP Arencibia is one-dimensional. Melky Cabrera has been disappointing and was placed on revocable waivers recently. The rest are utility players. They have performed at utility player levels, but have played full time.
Last year when the Jays had a couple of young starters in the rotation and their closer went down with an injury, they scrapped and fought until injuries decimated organizational depth. They were 3 games over .500, but finished with a 73-89 record. The 2013 Jays were pre-season favourites to go deep into the playoffs and perhaps challenge for a World Series title. Not only is that a distant memory, but this team may not even match the 73 wins achieved by last years squad. Just to reach their 2012 win total, the Jays need to go 23-29 (.442) the rest of the way, but they’ve played .333 ball in the 36 games since the 11-game win streak.
I’m a Jays’ fan and have followed them for a long, long time but this team is tough to watch. The 1994-95 teams were loaded with talent, but suffered the dip in performance that is common to many post-title teams. The Jays have declined every year since Alex Anthopolous took the helm as GM. Player turnover has been frequent, the farm has been built up and dismantled in short order, and the results on the field have been poor. They play poorly at home and even more poorly on the road. This is a bad team, and the prospect of improvement seems dim.
Perhaps the most distressing thought is that they will play well down the stretch, resurrecting the shallow, baseless hope that’s plagued this franchise for too many years now. My hope is that I’m wrong. I hope that RA Dickey, Josh Thole, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Emilio Bonifacio, Melky Cabrera and Maicer Izturis are all better than they’ve shown this year.