The Toronto Blue Jays started the 2017 season following back-to-back trips to the American League Championship Series. The roster was relatively the same, besides the painful departures of Edwin Encarnacion and Michael Saunders. Their starting rotation was all back, aiming to exceed their league-leading numbers from a year ago. The prospect of a full season of Francisco Liriano created excitement and intrigue based on how he ended the season a year ago. Toronto’s roster is weaker than the 2016 Wild Card winning team, but they were still poised to contend and make the postseason for a third year in a row.
The potent offense and strong pitching staff that led them to the ALCS in 2017 was supposed to be as strong and powerful, but the offense has yet to show up this season. Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Bautista, Kendrys Morales, Russell Martin, and Josh Donaldson have combined to hit for a slash of .220/.322/.487 with only eight home runs and only 32 runs scored over their first 17 games, resulting in a 3.11 runs-per-game showing. These numbers are shocking for a team built on so many All-Stars as well as an MVP, and their 4-13 start is strongly correlated to the lack of offense. While their offense has been nonexistent, their starting pitching staff has continued to excel in 2017 and has kept them in games throughout the early part of the season. In their 13 losses on the year, 10 of them have been by two runs or less and they have also been walked-off on twice. Aside from a terrible Liriano start where he only got one out, the pitching staff has been extraordinary and reached expectations. Their starters have all gone deep into games, and with any type of offense, their collective 1-8 record could have easily been reversed.
The Jays reached rock-bottom in their 11-4 loss to Baltimore on April 16, when they lost the game and lost J.A. Happ and Aaron Sanchez to injury, but their offense looks to be slowly reaching its career norms. In the nine games at Rogers Centre this season, Tulowitzki has hit to a slash of .367/.375/.467, going 12-for-32 with three doubles, a home run, and four RBIs. Morales has has a .771 OPS with two home runs and two doubles. Kevin Pillar is the hottest hitter on the Blue Jays right now and is hitting .389/.405/.611 with an OPS of 1.017 in his last eight games, with five doubles and two home runs. He also has an 11-game hitting streak. Although the sample size is small, you can see a slight uptick in offense by looking at these numbers. Bautista is finally hitting the ball hard after an 0-for-20 streak, and he hit his first home run of the season Friday night. Martin is slowly, but surely, starting to feel more comfortable at the plate and has hit .313 in his last seven games. Although this is a small sample size, there is improvement, and luck has a lot to do with the lack of production offensively. Martin’s batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is .231, dramatically lower than the .300 league-wide average, which confirms his misfortune to start the season.
Still, their numbers are staggering and almost dumbfounding. There needs to be some sort of turnaround for this team that is performing way under their capabilities. A positive sign that Toronto can look at is that their BABIP as a team was .272, significantly lower than the .300 league-wide mark. This shows how unlucky they have been on balls in play, and with the law of averages, this is unlikely to continue. With these numbers balancing out, the Blue Jays offensive numbers will improve significantly. Over the last seven games, their BABIP has slowly increased closer to the league average sitting at .294 and that can be seen through their numbers of hits over the first 12 games.
As this graph shows, the Blue Jays’ BABIP is significantly lower than the league average this season, but there is a slow increase upwards. The only times it has risen above league average, the Blue Jays have strung together more than 10 hits and scored more runs.
A big problem for the Blue Jays is that they are striking out way too much and not walking enough. On average, they strike out 23.72 percent of the time and only walk 7.8 percent of the time. They are not getting runners on base as often as they need to be, and when they do get runners on, they are only hitting .235 while grounding into 14 double plays. When it comes to runners in scoring position, they are hitting .177/.267/.283 with an OPS of .550 and have grounded into 15 double plays.
These numbers are extremely unlike the 2016 Blue Jays that hit a slash of .249/.342/.428 with an OPS of .770 and a BABIP of .285. On the other hand, the current 2017 Blue Jays are battling through bad luck and have a BABIP of .225 with runners in scoring position. This is almost 75 points lower than the league average and really shows how unlucky Toronto has been.
To add onto the bad luck the Blue Jays offense has faced, Morales has flied out to the warning track on more than four occasions, as well as getting out on a fly ball hit 389 feet, and there have been many 100-mph line drives that should have been hits but are caught and turned into double plays. The balls just have not been finding holes for this Toronto lineup. Luck will change; bloopers, errors, and squibbers are going to start happening for the Blue Jays, and with the strength of their pitching staff (assuming Happ and Sanchez are back relatively soon) there is no doubt that with even the slightest increase in offense, Toronto can make up the ground they have lost in the first three weeks of the 2017 season. Toronto’s pitching staff is one of the league’s best and has kept the Blue Jays in every game. Imagine if the Jays had any sort of offense — all their close losses could have been wins due to their strong pitching staff.
There is no doubt, the Blue Jays have been terrible at the plate. Their approach, timing, lack of patience, and lack of aggressiveness have all played their part in the 4-13 record. Some players are in the worst ruts of their careers. Devon Travis was 0-for-29 before getting a single to end the drought, Martin was 0-for-20 before breaking out of it with a double, Steve Pearce was 0-for-17, and Bautista did not hit his first home run until Friday night. However, even with all these terrible starts to the season, Toronto is still a very veteran team. Bautista, Donaldson, Tulowitzki, Martin, Morales, and Pearce are proven veterans with strong track records. They know what it takes to get out of the hole they are in. Their bad luck is slowly turning and they have been playing a lot better recently, even though they have lost Tulowitzki and Donaldson to the disabled list, along with starters Sanchez and Happ.
Blue Jays management is aware that this team has All-Stars, Silver Sluggers, MVP winners, Gold Glove winners, and the best pitching staff in baseball over the last calendar year. They are more than capable of going on a winning streak, and once luck sides with the Blue Jays, all bets are off. However, with a 4-13 start, time is of the essence for them to turn this year around. There is still time to turn it around, but there is a very small margin for error and they need to right the ship now, before it’s too late.
(All data has been retrieved from Fangraphs.com.)