One Third of the Way Done

Tuesday, May 31 2011 @ 10:59 AM EDT

Contributed by: Anders

After 54 games, 1/3 of the season, the Jays sit at 28-26. They've won four in a row, their second longest streak of the season (they also swept a 2-gamer with Boston, had Bautista unleash his 5 HR weekend against the Twins and took the first from Detroit.) After the next two with Cleveland (Mitch Talbot, 3.77 FIP, Josh Tomlin, 4.42 FIP) they travel to Baltimore and Kansas City for 3 game sets before a difficult stretch to reach the All-Star Break - 3 each against Baltimore and Boston, before a 10 game road trip in the NL, where they get one of if not the most difficult schedule - Cincinnati, St. Louis, Atlanta (plus a rain out against Detroit). They then get six at home against Pittsburgh and Philly, before closing out the first half with 3 at Boston and 4 at Cleveland. So, if you're scoring at home, after this upcoming road trip they play 6 games in 5 weeks agaisnt sub-500 teams, and those teams are a combined 8 games under. Suffice it to say, this is a make or break point in the season.

So, how's the team doing at the third mark then?

Well, not bad. They are 2 behind both Boston and New York for the Wild Card/Division, with Tampa a half game ahead of them. They've outscored opponents by 30 runs so far, the 7th best run differential in the majors, and are 5th in Baseball Prospectus' 3rd Order Standings.

Offense: The Jays have the 4th best wOBA in the American League so far, though Jose Bautista is responsible for a lot of that. That happens when you're having one of the best offensive seasons of all time. Adam Lind (expected back as early as this weekend, though that is tentative), Yunel Escobar, Corey Patterson and the catchers are having impressive years, all in different ways. We'll ignore Bautisa's Bautistianess and take a look at the other guys.

Yunel Escobar has been the player we all hoped we could be when he was acquired. Subjectively, he is a fine defense shortstop (UZR doesn't see it that way so far), and objectively, he is showing more plate discipline and better plate coverage than he has at any point in the majors. He is swinging at by far fewer pitches than he has in any other year (41.5% v. 45% career), and making contact more (87.2% v. 85.7%). He's swung at missed at just over 5% of the pitches he's seen, which is also a career low (and pretty low in general). As a result, he's posting the best walk rate of his career (just under 11%), hitting for average, and displaying the same kind of pop he had for three years with Atlanta before 2010. By WAR he's been the Jays second most valuable position player (and this is with a -UZR; he's been in the black the four years prior). In his last 21 games (99 PA) he is hitting .363/.448/.550. That'll play (and go #arbitraryendpoints)

Corey Patterson is the man Yunel's tied with for second on the team in WAR, and he's having his best season in 8 years, hitting .294/.325/.467 at this juncture. While Yunel's batting line seems somewhat in keeping with his previous performance, Patterson's looks a little less sustainable. For one thing, he doesn't walk - 4.7% of the time, which is just a smidge above his career rate. His average on balls in play is also high, at .343 (.300 career), and he is hitting for more power than he has in 7 years, though being a Jay can do that for you. Still, a return to form - he hit .269/.315/.406 last year for Baltimore - coupled with adequate defense and fewer baserunning errors (it seems there have been fewer in the last couple of weeks, anyway) and that's still an okay player, and his numbers have improved over the course of the season. Plus, what do I know.

JP Arencibia has been one of my favourite Jays so far this year. He's 10th amongst catchers with 100 PA in wOBA, and T-3 in home runs. More impressive, at least to me, is that he's gotten his walk rate up, to 8.6%, which mirrors what he did last year in AAA (his best year, by far). He still strikes out a fair amount (about a quarter of the time), but if he can draw a few walks and display his prodigious power, he'll be an asset. Throw in what looks like at least adequate defense, and perhaps we've been thinking too much about the Jay's awesome catching prospects (though that hardly seems possible).

While these three guys have been good (and Lind, but he hasn't played for 3 weeks), the rest of the team has been middling to poor. Juan Rivera has moved up from the later to the former with a recent hot streak, and the sooner he doesn't play every day the better. If he DH'd 1 time a week and played first twice and perhaps pinch hit, that would be alright with me. That's because he's actually been one of the best of the Jays unimpressive 3B/1B (non-Lind)/DH gang. Edwin Encarnacion basically can't be put on the field at this point and has an OPS in the low .600s. Jayson Nix has done a fair bit better than that, and John McDonald a fair bit worse. David Cooper showed nothing whatsoever in his brief trial, and Eric Thames looks like he might be a player, but doesn't appear entirely ready to face big league pitching (he's walking plenty, but essentially no one can strike out ~35% of the time, unless they hit a lot of dingers). Rajai Davis hasn't lit the world on fire, but has hit adequately for a CF, where man can he fly. About the only difference between this year and previous ones has been fewer walks, otherwise, this is pretty much who he is. Which brings us to Aaron Hill. I have no $*@(ing clue what Thrillho's deal is. He's never walked much, but he's walking even less now. He's never struck out much, and that's pretty much the same. He's hitting more line drives, but popping out a ton. I really don't know how to make head's or tails of it.

The pitching has been more of the average variety so far this year, falling around the middle of the pack in the AL depending on how one measures. Of the starters, Bradon Morrow's been phenomenal (as long as you aren't measuring by ERA), while Ricky Romero has "only" been really good. Kyle Drabek is scuffling, I don't think there are any two ways about it. He's walked and struck out the same number of guys, which isn't going to get him anywhere. To his credit, he's battled, and maybe the team just has to take it's lumps with him, but right now he's mostly potential and not so much finished product. Meanwhile, Jo-Jo Reyes has moved up from bad to passable, a category in which Jesse Litsch also resides. Speaking of Jesse, he is out indefinitely with shoulder pain, which doesn't sound very good. Not to be harsh, but if one looks at the silver lining, the club knows what is has with Litsch more or less at this point, and his injury (along with Brett Cecil's minor league work) allows them to give other pitchers a shot. I'm not sure that Villanueva is  the guy that should be getting it, but there are worse options. I would go with Zep, or possibly Brad Mills at this point. I think that the team is reluctant to move Scrabble out of the pen given how good he's been, and with the only other lefty option is Luis Perez. I suppose it's a bit hypocritical to demand that the team bring up Lawrie right away, development be damned, but then want them to give an extended try to Zep to see if he can do it in the rotation, when Villanueva might be the guy that gives them the best shot to win. Now, I happen to think that Zep would make a fair to good starter, so... I also thought the team should trade Reyes for a bag of balls, but he is showing enough that I am willing to admit I am wrong, for the 19234924 time.

The bullpen has statistically been strong, 2nd in the AL in ERA and xFIP (but much lower in FIP. Go Fipgure.) As Alex pointed out recently, they are also second in WPA. Still, it's hard not to feel a little disenchanted at this point. The pen blew the first game in the White Sox series, imploded 2 games before that in allowing the Yankees to come back from a 4-1 deficit, blew a game badly against Houston, etc. Scrabble was a victim in their a couple of times, but has probably been the team's first or second best reliever. I didn't appreciate this either, but Casey Janssen has been gangbusters as well. Shawn Camp and Frasor have been good, and Villanueva has done about as well as you could ask for in a long man role. Which leaves the three big offseason acquisitions, Jon Rauch, Octavio Dotel and Frank Francisco. Despite a couple of well documented meltdowns, I am not that worried about F-squared. He is getting fewer swinging strikes than in the past, but is throwing just as hard. He's just had some control problems, and has been very home run unlucky - 4 of his 15 fly balls have gone over. I think it may take some time, but I don't see why he couldn't match his perfomance over the last 3 years, which has been semi-dominant. Rauch, on the other hand, has been pretty mediocre. For one, he was never actually that good to begin with - certainly not as good as Francisco. He's lost almost 2 MPH on his fastball, and isn't striking out a ton of guys. Still, his numbers trend more towards mediocre than bad. Octavio Dotel on the third hand, has been outright bad. He's always struck out and walked a ton of guys, and this year is doing a lot of both, whiffing 12 batters/9 innings. It's easy to do that when you are facing six batters an inning though. Dotel is walking almost 7.5/9, which is fine if you let guys hit .100 off you. Dotel's actually not too far off from that - .226 - but the cumulative effect, 23 baserunners in 13.1 innings. Overall, it's a pretty good pen, and Farrell's done a pretty good job of getting his best guys in the highest leverage situations.

Overall, this is a pretty decent team, albeit with clear room for improvement. They are getting terrible production out of 3B and 2B, and have two above average major league starters. At least one of these holes is fixable (Free Brett Lawrie!), but it seems unlikely that they will get another second baseman or deal for a pitcher. They need someone else on the staff to step up. Getting Adam Lind back will help things all around, as he is both a lefty and the team's second best hitter. The next six weeks are going to be tough, and to make the playoffs the Jays will have to win 6 of every 10 games or better from here on out. I don't think the task is impossible, but at some point they are just going to have to start beating up on people. The past four days have been a good start.