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It has been a great regular season.  To be able to ask the question, "was this the best Blue Jay regular season in team history?", without gales of laughter ensuing is a rare treat. So, let's do it.  With some statistics and some flights of fancy.

We have to first define our terms.  What do we mean by "best regular season"?  Teams go through arcs over a regular season, and the 2015 Blue Jay season was a pretty extreme example of that.  If we are trying to measure the best Blue Jay club at a point in time, this one is (to my mind) pretty clearly the best.  With Price and Stroman in the rotation, Tulowitzki at shortstop, Revere in left-field and Lowe and Hawkins bolstering the bullpen,  this club was, I am sure, better than any Blue Jay club at a particular point in time.  I'll leave that for someone else to work on.  I am more interested in the season as a whole.  It also might be obvious that a "team" is more than the sum of the players, but I should say it anyways.  Managerial preferences (and of course, luck- more on that later) do lead to more or fewer losses than the individual player performance would lead one to anticipate. So, you have to take that into account.

With the definitions out of the way, let's move on to the contenders.  The leading Blue Jay clubs with win totals in parentheses are 1985 (99), 1992 (96), 1987 (96), 1993 (95), 2015 (93) and 1991(91).    Off the top, you would think that it was unlikely that the 2015 club was better than the 1985 club because of the six extra wins and we may come back to that conclusion.  We'll hold that thought.  With that in mind, I realized the question that I wanted to answer.  If those six clubs were in a division and played 162 games (33 against two of the other clubs and 33 against the others randomly assigned), and they played 1000 of these seasons, who would likely win the most times?  With the same managers as the actual club, the same injuries that the actual club sustained and the same acquisitions at the same times as the actual club made.  Perhaps an example will help.  The 1987 Blue Jays probably had more talent over the course of the season than any of the clubs.  With Jimy Williams at the helm, they managed to give Rance Mulliniks, Cecil Fielder and Nelson Liriano 745 PAs total while allowing Garth Iorg, Willie Upshaw and Kelly Gruber 1287.  We will not pretend here that the 1987 Blue Jays had a better manager who would have given an obviously ready Fielder (and Fred McGriff) more of an opportunity than a fading Upshaw and who would have recognized that Mulliniks was a perfectly capable everyday third baseman and that Garth Iorg was not deserving of more than 100 PAs at the most. 

To begin, with a honking big chart to summarize the overall performance of the six clubs (all figures courtesy of Baseball Reference):

Year RS/G Lg RS/G Norm RS/G RA/G Lg RA/G Norm RA/G W Pyth W
2015  5.59  4.39  1.27  4.14  4.29  .96  93  102
 5.23  4.71  1.01  4.58  4.71  .88  95  91
1992  4.81  4.32  1.06  4.21  4.32  .92  96  91
 4.22  4.49  .81  3.84  4.49  .74  91  88
 5.22  4.90  1.01  4.09  4.90  .79  96  100
 4.71  4.56  .97  3.56  4.56  .73  99  99

In the chart, the normalized figures are normalized to the Rogers Centre in 2015.  The park played as a significant pitcher's park in 2015, and as a neutral park or hitter's park in prior years. I did not fully appreciate that the club's strength in the previous great clubs was almost uniformly on the run prevention side.  This year's club has by far the best offence in the history of the club.  But you knew that already.

Let's move on to the tougher parts of the analysis, strength of schedule and luck/inefficiency.


The Blue Jays of 2015 dealt with a different schedule arrangement than the other five clubs.  The schedule for the first five clubs was the same: 13 games per team against divisional opponents, 12 per team against non-divisional opponents in the AL and no interleague play.  The current arrangement is very different, 19 games per team against divisional opponents, 6 or 7 games against non-divisional opponents in AL and 20 interleague games.  This year, the AL East was arguably the strongest division in the major leagues, and their inter-league counterparts this year (the NL East) was the weakest.  I don't know that the increased number of inter-divisional games against tough opponents exactly offsets the games against the NL East, but it seems to me that it would be an essentially neutral factor when comparin the 2015 Blue Jays with their predecessors.


There are a couple of different types of luck/efficiency:

1.  turning the components of runs scored and allowed- singles, doubles, triples, home runs, walks, strikeouts, GIDP, SB, CS and so on- into runs scored and allowed; teams can be lucky/efficient or otherwise in both the run-scoring and run-prevention sides.
2.  turning runs scored and allowed into wins and losses.

The 2015 Blue Jays were efficient/lucky at turning the elements of runs scored into runs scored, neutral with respect to runs allowed, and very inefficient/unlucky (of course) in turning runs scored and allowed into wins.  What does this mean for the simulation?

Can we agree that luck and inefficiency both play a role?  That's my position and I am sticking to it, and perhaps you'll agree. If that is the case Pythagorean record matters, but is not determinative.  Here is why it matters.  The 2015 Blue Jays won 93 games against weaker competition than they would face among their great predecessors.  They would be expected to win fewer than 93 games. However, how many fewer games depends in part on their margins of victory.  The Blue Jays of 2015 went 15-28 in one run games and 37-12 in games decided by 5 runs or more.   It is clear to me that luck plays a much larger role in the first sub-set of games than the second and over 1000 seasons, the luck element would be minimized. 


By necessity, this exercise requires some flights of the imagination.  So, what does the mean season look like from the perspective of the 2015 Blue Jays?  Through July 31, the 1985 and 1987 clubs have much better records and somewhat better runs scored and allowed figures, the 1992 and 1993 clubs have significantly better records and worse run performance, and the 1991 club has a better record and much worse run performance.  Let's use the 100 game marker.  The 2015 Blue Jays were 50-50.  I'm going to make them 47-53 against this tougher competition and 7 games back of the 1985 club.  The standings:

1985- 54-46
1987- 53-47
1992- 51-49
1993- 50-50
2015- 47-53
1991- 46-54

And now, the 1992 club adds David Cone.  The 1993 club adds Rickey Henderson.  The 2015 Blue Jays make the changes that you are well aware of, but their predecessors are a lot tougher competition than the 2015 Yankees. We come to the last week of the season, and here are the standings with 7 games to go:

1987- 80-75
1985- 80-75
2015- 79-76
1992- 78-77
1993- 78-77
1991- immaterial

And what do we know of the ending?  Pure guesswork. The 1985 club was pushed to the end by the hard-charging Yankees.  The 2015 club was not.  In most of the seasons with this competition, everyone but the 1991 club would be playing all out to the end. 

My guess is that the 1985 Blue Jays win 30% of the time, the 2015 Blue Jays 25% of the time, and the 87, 92 and 93 clubs split the remainder with the 87 club getting more of them.  Feel free to disagree.  I am pretty sure that David Price wouldn't be skipping a start in most of the seasons...

Where do the 2015 Toronto Blue Jays stand in team history? | 21 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Richard S.S. - Monday, October 05 2015 @ 06:43 PM EDT (#312550) #
This year's Team is very close, but not the best. Bullpen's not good enough.
Magpie - Monday, October 05 2015 @ 08:46 PM EDT (#312556) #
Just for the hell of it, I thought I'd examine what previous Toronto teams did when they had first place sewn up and a few games left on the schedule. In case you're curious!

There are really only two teams to consider: 1991 and 1993. The others didn't have the luxury. The 1985 and 1989 teams both clinched by defeating their challenger (Yankees in 1985, Orioles in 1989) on the final Saturday afternoon, with just one more game to play. The 1992 squad also clinched on the final Saturday, when they beat Detroit while Milwaukee was losing to Oakland.

The 1991 team clinched on a Wednesday night. They had Thursday off, and finished with three weekend games in Minnesota. Stottlemyre and Guzman (both part of the post-season rotation) started in regular rotation in the Friday-Saturday games. Stottlemyre pitched into the 6th inning, and Guzman went just 3 in what was explicitly described at the time as a post-season tuneup. The regulars were generally in the lineup (White and Alomar didn't start the Thursday game), but they generally came out of the game about halfway through. Pat Hentgen made his first major league start in the season finale. Eddie Zosky, Cory Snyder, Turner Ward, Derek Bell, and Rene Gonzales got into all three games.

The 1993 team clinched on a Monday night, with a whole week remaining. Gaston cycled through his five starters in sequence - Stewart-Guzman-Leiter-Stottlemyre-Hentgen before summoning Scott Brow for the season finale. The B team played against the Brewers on Tuesday, as the regulars nursed their headaches. Molitor and Olerud came back on Wednesday; White, Alomar, Carter and Fernandez came back on Thursday; Henderson was back in the lineup on Friday. Hentgen was going for his 20th win on Saturday, and all the regulars but White and Fernandez were in the lineup. In the season finale, all the regulars started, and all but Borders were pulled from the game by the sixth inning. (That was the game when Joe Carter hit two home runs in the second inning.)

It was obviously much easier for Gaston on these occasions than it was for Gibbons this year. Gaston didn't have to bother with playing the second game of a double-header later that day, followed by an afternoon game some twelve hours later (which would be played on a wet field with a hurricane a'coming.) Gaston didn't have to fret about home field, or which opponent he'd end up playing. Gibbons chose not to fret about these things, and rightly in my view. Every post-season opponent should be regarded as dangerous, and in my experience angling to play one team rather than another has a way of coming back to bite you in the nether parts. And sending a bunch of hungover regulars out to play on that wet Baltimore field on Thursday afternoon... that really would have been grounds for dismissal.
uglyone - Monday, October 05 2015 @ 09:47 PM EDT (#312558) #
great stuff mike.

i still lean towards this year's squad mainly because of injuries and because of a bias towards defining "best team" as best roster of players.

but i wouldn't mind taking a closer look at the quality of competition analysis - my childhood memories tell me the 80s al east was pretty bad.
uglyone - Monday, October 05 2015 @ 10:08 PM EDT (#312559) #
and not to deviate from the thread topic but hopefully to add to it, we should note how historically elite this offense was this year.

according to fangraphs, the jays' 117wrc+ this year is the 24th best mark in mlb history.

but of course many of the teams ahead of them were from the 1800s which are an impossible comparison for all sorts of reasons.

if we cutoff at the year 1900, then the 2015 jays rank 16th all time. but the game was still very different back then.

if we cut off from 1947, Jackie's first year, the jays rank 9th.

if we cut off from 1961, when expansion started and they started the 162gm season.....well we stay at 9th. if we cut off from 1969, when the mound was lowered and divisions created....again, we're 9th. if we cut off in 1973 when the DH was created....yep, still 9th.

So i guess what i'm saying is that this team is likely a top 10 offense of all time.

1. 76 Reds 120
2. 82 Brewers 120
3. 03 Red Sox 120
4. 07 Yankees 119
5. 94 Yankees 118
6. 78 Brewers 117
7. 09 Yankees 117
8. 11 Red Sox 117
9. 15 Blue Jays 117
10. 77 Yankees 117

the next best Jays team was the 93 squad at 109, and the 88 squad also hit 109. but neither of those crack the top 100 post war.

the even better news is that the jays managed this despite having more than their share of injuries, without any babip luck...and everyone is back next year.
Jonny German - Tuesday, October 06 2015 @ 08:17 AM EDT (#312560) #
the jays managed this despite having more than their share of injuries

You think? I don't see it. I think a big part of why this team was so good is that it had good luck in the health department, and some good replacements stepped up.

1. Saunders - whole season
2. Stroman - 5 months
3. Travis - half season
4. Sanchez - 2 months
5. Tulowitzki - half a month
6. Bautista - limited to DH for a month

Am I missing anything that mattered?
hypobole - Tuesday, October 06 2015 @ 08:53 AM EDT (#312563) #
"Am I missing anything that mattered?"

Mattered little if at all, but Maicer Izturis, whose name I can't recall seeing mentioned for months, missed the entire season.

Ends his 3 yr Jays career with 437 PA's and -2.0 fWAR
Mike Green - Tuesday, October 06 2015 @ 09:16 AM EDT (#312564) #
Uglyone, thanks for the compliment.  The mid-80s AL East was about as strong as the 2015 AL East.  The Jays, Tigers, Red Sox and Yankees were good clubs most of these years, with the Jays the best of the bunch. 

As for injuries, I'd put the Jays in the middle of the pack.  The health of the arms suggests that the club may have been doing something better than did a few years ago.  It's not all luck.

Gerry - Tuesday, October 06 2015 @ 09:55 AM EDT (#312566) #
I think we can get blinded by the recency effect. The 2015 Jays had the best record since the 100 game mark and that team would probably beat the others. But the first half team wasn't as dominant and that team would have a tougher fight.

Interesting article Mike.
Mike Green - Tuesday, October 06 2015 @ 11:13 AM EDT (#312567) #
Here's another way of looking at the 2015 Blue Jays vs. the 1985-1987 Blue Jays.  How about comparing the 2015 Blue Jays with the competitors of the time- the 1985 Yankees and the 1987 Tigers?  The Yankees of 1985 won 97 games, led the league in scoring with 5.21 runs/game vs. league average of 4.56, and allowed 4.1 runs/game vs. league average of 4.56.  They were, to my mind, a fairly comparable team to the 2015 Blue Jays with somewhat lesser offence and somewhat better run prevention.  Prime Rickey Henderson and Don Mattingly anchored the offence, and it was a damn good one.  They had Ron Guidry all year and Dave Righetti as their ace throwing 107 innings.  The Tigers of 1987 also led the league in scoring with 5.53 runs/game vs. league average of 4.90 and allowed 4.54 runs/game.  They won 98 games with a Pythagorean win total of 96.  I make them close to, but slightly behind the 2015 Blue Jays. 
uglyone - Tuesday, October 06 2015 @ 11:33 AM EDT (#312569) #
thanks mike - i guess with the current sox/yanks being more like the boggs/mattingly versions rather than the turn of the millenium versions that makes sense. though didn't we have some doormat teams most of those years that we don't realky have now?
uglyone - Tuesday, October 06 2015 @ 11:50 AM EDT (#312570) #
Johnny German.....well, that list looks pretty severe off the bat when looking at the roles or those players...but....

1. overall i think we were middle of the pack with injuries
2. here i was talking only about the offensive side.
3. it is funny that the healthy side of the roster - the pitching - was still missing it's best piece (by a good martin) for the whole season.

But to clarify the offensive side injuries:

CF none
RF starter was forced off the position for approx 25% of games
LF starter was injured for 95+% of games
3B none
SS starters were injured for approx 33% of games
2B starter was injured for approx 67% of games
1B none
C starter was forced into a limited role for a few weeks
DH starter was forced into a limited role for a few weeks

Bench UT none
Bench OF none
Bench IF one option was injured all season
Bench C was injured for approx 20% of games

IMO that's an above-average slate of injuries, making the 117wrc+ all the more impressive. In other words, imo, this wasn't a season where all the hitters had magical hot and healthy years.

Now the pitching side was definitely healthier than average overall, with the big caveat that health removed their best pitcher from the roster for 90% of the season.
Mike Green - Tuesday, October 06 2015 @ 12:02 PM EDT (#312572) #
It is impossible to look back on the 1987 season with anything but regret.  Just a few things done differently would have made a difference.  Of course, Jimy Williams could have managed better, but Pat Gillick's decision at the deadline to "Stand Pat" probably contributed.  Even some depth acquisitions would likely have mattered, as it turned out.
Magpie - Tuesday, October 06 2015 @ 02:56 PM EDT (#312591) #
Pat Gillick's decision at the deadline to "Stand Pat" probably contributed.

In fairness to Gillick, he did trade a young Jose Mesa for Mike Flanagan and the old Oriole was just great for the Jays in September 1987.
Mike Green - Tuesday, October 06 2015 @ 03:06 PM EDT (#312594) #
He did make that trade at the end of August, Magpie.  A position player or two of (let's say) Ben Revere's quality at the deadline might have sealed the deal.  Anyways, Gillick's reluctance to make a move paled in importance as compared with Williams' active malfeasance. 
John Northey - Tuesday, October 06 2015 @ 03:48 PM EDT (#312599) #
1987 will always be a 'what if' season. On July 31st they were 2 1/2 back. Teams that were out of it by then checking for 2B (where the Jays were abysmal) Atlanta had Glenn Hubbard then 29 years old, having 99 OPS+ season making just over 1/2 a mil which based on inflation only would be $1.1 mil today. The Dodgers had Steve Sax who had only 1 more year on his contract. A very solid 2B at the time he'd have been perfect. Sigh.
Magpie - Wednesday, October 07 2015 @ 02:58 AM EDT (#312652) #
They could have just stuck with Mike Sharperson, who was most definitely a quality major leaguer (he would prove it for the Dodgers, although that trade did fetch the Jays a pitcher by the name of Juan Guzman.). Instead the team panicked and pulled the plug on Sharperson one month into the season. Which led to the frightful spectacle of Garth Iorg, Every Day Second Baseman. Yuck. That was terrible, and Jimy kept trying Manny (he was still Manny back then) Lee to see if he could do better. He couldn't. Williams would go on to spend all of 1988 changing his second baseman every three weeks. Go figure.

Nelson Liriano would provide a better solution in late 1987, but that was also handled in a strange fashion. Liriano came up in the last week of August after hitting .250/.307/.380 in AAA. Granted, Syracuse was very much a pitcher's park back then, but what Liriano had done was not even close to what Sharperson had done in either of his two years in Syracuse. But Liriano immediately took over as the Blue Jays' leadoff hitter. He wasn't bad (a 2-24 in the final week, when everyone else on the team stopped hitting as well, ruined his numbers.) But still... just weird. Jimy, Jimy, Jimy....
Dave Till - Wednesday, October 07 2015 @ 07:59 AM EDT (#312655) #
I looked up Liriano in Baseball Reference, and was surprised to discover how fast he was when he was young. He wasn't much of a base stealer for most of his career, but he stole 36 bases for Syracuse the year he was called up, and went 13-for-15 as a base stealer in Toronto that season.

It might not have been the best decision, but I can see why Jimy did it - make the fast guy the leadoff man.

As for where the 2015 Jays fit into history: the problem is that the Jays were really two teams. And it's hard to determine how much the second-half Jays were good and how much they were merely streaking. All I can say for sure is that I've never seen a period of short-term dominance greater than what the Jays were doing this August.
Dave Till - Wednesday, October 07 2015 @ 09:27 AM EDT (#312662) #
And what I remember about Sharperson was that he was pressing, and that it affected his game (much like what happened to Dalton Pompey this year). The Jays probably would have given him another chance in 1988 if they hadn't already traded him for Juan Guzman.

Mind you, this was Jimy Williams, who didn't always make rational choices.
uglyone - Wednesday, October 07 2015 @ 01:03 PM EDT (#312686) #
for the record, Jimy is much loathed in Boston as well.
John Northey - Wednesday, October 07 2015 @ 01:17 PM EDT (#312687) #
Jimy Williams the only manager insane enough to put Cecil Fielder into a game at 2B...twice. Plus 7 games at 3B. All so he could keep Willie Upshaw at 1B when he had clearly lost it. Weird guy that Jimy.
Magpie - Wednesday, October 07 2015 @ 02:03 PM EDT (#312689) #
And what I remember about Sharperson was that he was pressing

Probably. I think the team also decided that they didn't like his defense at 2B. Sharperson went back to Syracuse, and spent most of the year there (he was traded in September), but he was moved to 3B. Liriano stayed at 2B in Syracuse until he went up to Toronto.
Where do the 2015 Toronto Blue Jays stand in team history? | 21 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.