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I haven't been following the team as closely as usual. Anything interesting happen?

I kid. This 2017 season has been a real doozy, with reasons for pessimism and optimism locked in a battle royale atop a tightrope. Which will prove victorious? Don't ask me, I forgot my crystal ball at home. Instead lets look at what has happened so far and the wackiness that has ensued.

The 2-11 Start

There's really no ignoring it. You win two of your first thirteen games, you're gonna be climbing out of that hole for a while and the team still is at the moment. Most teams will go through tough stretches like this at some point, it's a long season after all, but it's a bit easier to hide when you have the cover of a few months of play. When you have a 2-11 run, and those are the only games you've played so far, people are gonna freak out. Folks were talking about what we could get in a potential Donaldson trade in mid-April fer cryin' out loud.

I did get the sense of panic though. The team looked bad. The offense was getting neutralized by scrubs the Phillies didn't want, they couldn't come up with anything even when they got any runners on base, and even when they did manage to scrap together a morsel of a lead there would be the inevitable bullpen implosion. Even after the 2-11 disaster opening they only won four of their next ten, and on April 28th were 6-17 after a loss to Tampa Bay. They've gone 25-15 since, an impressive feat considering...

Is There A Doctor In The House? Oh Wait, He's Injured Too

Every team has to deal with injuries to important players at some point. It's part of any sport, really, at any level. Certain teams sometimes more than others, either because they employ older players, they have a spell of situational bad luck, or in this case: because there's a meteoroid obstructing the gravitational pull of the Earth in one specific spot.

The Blue Jays enjoyed fairly nice luck in 2016. Sure, there was the predictable Tulowitzki injury and one for Devon Travis (which is becoming a sad annual tradition it seems), and Bautista wasn't entirely healthy all year either. But the starting rotation only used seven different pitchers, which is incredible. This season though? Well, when you lose key parts like Donaldson, Martin, Sanchez (twice), Liriano, Tulowitzki, Pearce, Happ and now Travis for lengthy amounts of time, that's extremely bad injury fortune. But then when you also lose their replacements to injury, like Darrell Ceciliani or Anthony Alford, well now you've stepped into an entirely absurd universe where anything can and will hurt you. Ceciliani hurt his shoulder and would up on the DL by hitting a home run. You can't make this stuff up at this point.

Considering the lousy start and all the injuries (they've missed their best player for about two thirds of their games) it's really rather impressive they are where they are right now. A large chunk of that is thanks to...

Smoaking Gun

Yep. This is truly is a strange and confusing universe my friends, and this only proves it. On one end, the Blue Jays have a pretty interesting recent history of 30 year olds with considerable power suddenly putting it all together. On the other end, remember Juan Francisco and his hot couple months? Yet on the other other end, Francisco struck out way more than even the old version of Smoak did. Yet on the other, other other end, a lot of Smoak's impressive numbers are ballooned by a crazy .383 batting average and 1.104 OPS against left-handed pitchers in 54 plate appearances. Yet, on the other other, other other end, Smoak has dramatically decreased his strikeouts in 2017. Like, miraculously so. As a big leaguer, his strikeout rate has steadily been over 20 percent, his lowest mark as a full time player coming in 2012 at 20.7 with the Mariners (he slashed .217/.290/.367, so it wasn't much of a victory). In his previous two years with the Bluebirds, Smoak struck out 26.2 and 32.8(!) percent of the time. In 2017? It's down to 17.4 percent thus far, so what has changed?

To my eye at least, a big change has been that ability to lay off the low breaking ball out of the zone, at least as a lefty batter (as a righty, your crazy guess is as good as my crazy guess). We all remember the Smoak of the past two years, where on two strikes we knew it was over: here comes that ball in the dirt and he's gonna miss it by three feet. He's been able thus far to curb that aggressive tendency to chase on two strikes, while meanwhile avoiding such an unfavourable count by murdering pitches early in at-bats (11-23 on first pitches with 4 dingers). Lots of guys have a hot couple months (thus my Juan Francisco reference) so only time will tell if this is even somewhat for real. It's been fun saying he "Smoaked that one outta here" though. Lets keep doing that. 

Joe The Lion

There was a great debate in spring training about what Joe Biagini's best role would be on this team: ace late inning reliever or crucial sixth starter depth in Buffalo. Much of this debate was instigated by the team stretching out Biagini for multiple innings during the spring, even allowing him to start a few March contests. Well, they didn't send him to Buffalo, which in retrospect looks like a real smart move. Then when injuries to the starting rotation happened, Biagini's transition into a starting pitcher was certainly easier thanks to those longer spring outings, which in retrospect looks like an even better real smart move.

The starting staff looks to be getting healthy again though, and once Aaron Sanchez returns from The Blister That Wouldn't Die the Blue Jays have a good problem on their hands. You know, the kind of problem where you're choosing between a deep dish or a thin crust pizza for dinner. The choices are 1: keep Biagini in the rotation (he's certainly pitched well enough to stay) and kick Liriano to the bullpen. 2: put Biagini back in the bullpen, or 3: the return of the six man rotation.

Well 1, as enticing as it would be to have a lefty with Liriano's stuff in the bullpen, you have to remember that he's a pending free agent looking for maybe one last big contract, and being a 7th inning reliever on a potential bubble playoff team isn't going to help that cause. The politics of it don't look good. Also he does have a tendency to walk the whole stadium, which unless you're striking out half the guys you face is more problematic for a tight spot reliever than a starter. 2: the most likely outcome, keeping Joe in that 1-2 inning role he's accustomed to in the 6th or 7th, plus you get to keep Danny Barnes' and Ryan Tepera's shoulders from falling off, hopefully. Option 3, it only makes sense when you're trying to keep the innings down for your other starting pitchers and thus keep them potentially healthier for the future (an idea which may be dubious anyway, considering the Mets tried this a couple seasons ago and look at how healthy their young starting pitchers are). Going with a six man run of Estrada, Stroman, Happ, Sanchez, Liriano and Biagini looks good on paper, but doing so robs your really good starters of valuable innings. Sure, Estrada does seem to be the type who could use a breather once and again, but in that scenario you can just spot start a Biagini in his place instead of cramming everybody in there. But anyway it's a pretty good problem to have, and usually a problem bad teams don't have, for whatever that's worth.

Overall, I'd lean more towards the optimism side with this bunch. The pitching still looks good (I didn't even get into how the bullpen has sorted itself out, thanks to Barnes/Tepera emerging as viable choices and Joe Smith chugging down strikeouts) and give me a good pitching staff over a juggernaut offense any day. That being said, the bats are a concern. They're mostly old and slow, their one great young hitter (Travis) can't stop hurting himself, and they don't really have a natural leadoff hitter (April Pillar is looking more and more like a mirage). If they're still in it come July, I bet we see a modest trade bringing a left-fielder or second baseman, since Steve Pearce is not the full time solution at either of those places.

Also, Chris Coghlan is kinda bad. Kinda really bad. At least we got that that flip over Molina out of him. 

That is all. Lets get a bucket of 'W's now and really enjoy the summer.

The Season Thus Far | 12 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Mike Green - Tuesday, June 13 2017 @ 10:13 AM EDT (#343413) #
Nice summary, eephus. 

My two cents on the (somewhat pleasant) pitching dilemma.  Biagini is a much better pitcher than Liriano. The real question to my mind is "who can stay healthy?".  I am not confident that Sanchez will be reliably able to pitch in the rotation in 2017.  What I would do is start him in the pen when he returns.  If he throws an inning with no blister problem, then send him out a second time for an inning, and if he passes that test, then two innings the following outing.  If you can get him to 3 innings with no problem, than try him in the rotation.  That would be after the All-Star break, and who knows what the situation will be then. 

bpoz - Tuesday, June 13 2017 @ 10:23 AM EDT (#343415) #
Great summary Eephus. Excellent creative thinking Mike G.
BlueJayWay - Tuesday, June 13 2017 @ 10:41 AM EDT (#343417) #
If Sanchez comes back healthy I think they'll put Biagini back in the pen. He'll be a full time starter next year, though.

I think if they stay around where they are now (longshot for the division, but in the wild card race), they'll make a modest trade or two. They certainly won't trade any real prospect to 'go for it' this year, and shouldn't. They'll make a small deal or two and if they slip into the playoffs, fine.

If they really get back in the division race, though, that could change.

eudaimon - Tuesday, June 13 2017 @ 10:48 AM EDT (#343418) #
Biagini has impressed as a starter but I think he might be more valuable out of the pen this year. He's close to being a "shut down" guy, and if the 2016 playoffs are any indication you need a couple of those guys to win. We don't really have any Andrew Millers, but a bullpen with Biagini, Smith, and Osuna should fair pretty well.

Besides, I think Liriano could find his stride yet, and there's no certainty that he'd make a good reliever.
bpoz - Tuesday, June 13 2017 @ 10:54 AM EDT (#343420) #
They could also trade for the future. Liriano was such a trade. I don't include the 2 prospects in my "for the future" point, even though both prospects could become ML players.

The price was right for Liriano. He helped last year and is eating some innings this year. He does seem to get better results with Martin.

Chad Pinder from Oakland would be good. But can he play 2B, SS and 3B?
John Northey - Tuesday, June 13 2017 @ 11:29 AM EDT (#343425) #
Yeah, I'm thinking the Sanchez option - remember a few years ago the Jays had Sanchez starting then hit the full rotation situation and put him back in the pen even though he looked to be doing well. He was lights out in the pen the rest of the way and a solid #1 when healthy as a starter since. Nothing wrong with doing the same with Biagini. The pen then will be much deeper with Osuna-Smith-Biagini-Barnes-Loup-Tepera-whoever (Grilli might be gone, Leone kept for now with him and Beliveau riding the Buffalo shuttle until September depending on who is best for a series).

Things are looking up for the Jays despite missing Sanchez for 8 starts so far and Happ missing 7 starts. Liriano missing 4 was a blessing in disguise given his issues so far (75 ERA+) but 10 IP and a 4.50 ERA since coming back with 3 BB vs 10 SO.

Now if Travis could just stay healthy and someone, anyone, could take over LF who can hit. Also hadn't noticed that Barney's hitting stats have now fallen behind Goins. 42 OPS+ vs a 60. Ick. Is it time to close our eyes and hope Steve Pearce can play 2B when he gets back. Maybe giving Leblebijian a shot is needed as others have made the case for although I suspect he won't be any better.
SK in NJ - Tuesday, June 13 2017 @ 12:13 PM EDT (#343431) #
April has probably put the Jays in a "Wild Card or bust" scenario for 2017. Fangraphs projected standings currently have the Yankees and Red Sox both with over 90 wins, and the Jays with 86 wins and the 2nd WC (and even that would be an accomplishment given the 6-17 start). They will have to stay reasonably healthy the rest of the way, and make some incremental improvements at the trade deadline to patch up some weaknesses. Obviously if they fall out of it from now until July, then they'll have to think about retooling at the deadline, but for now I think holding on to prospects while making some small improvements in areas of need (2B if Travis is out long-term, LF, etc), would put the team in a pretty decent spot all things considered.

It's a shame that April was so awful.
Gerry - Tuesday, June 13 2017 @ 12:20 PM EDT (#343432) #
There was a mention on TV last week that Ryan Tepera wants to start next year. I don't know what the club thinks of that.
John Northey - Tuesday, June 13 2017 @ 12:33 PM EDT (#343433) #
Well, we lose Estrada and Liriano most likely for 2018 so Biagini has one slot might as well stretch out Tepera in spring for the 2nd or 6th starter slot ala Biagini this past spring. It will be interesting to see what happens this winter with Bautista on an option, Estrada/Lirano both free agents, Donaldson & Happ on their last year pre-FA, also Barney and Grilli are free agents for what that is worth.
jerjapan - Tuesday, June 13 2017 @ 04:58 PM EDT (#343464) #
Not sure why so many people are assuming we lose both Estrada and Liriano?  We could easily resign one or both, or another starter.  Plenty of options to replace Barney and the reliever FAs ... 2018 is going to be the tougher offseason for sure. 
hypobole - Tuesday, June 13 2017 @ 05:25 PM EDT (#343467) #
From Wilner tweet:

"Gibby: Travis had a procedure on his knee today or yesterday. Cleaned up cartilage, nothing unexpected. It'll be a while. "
uglyone - Tuesday, June 13 2017 @ 07:28 PM EDT (#343481) #
I've always thought biagini was needed more on the pen, but he's been so good starting and his replacements have been so good in the pen that i'm not sure anymore.

2016-17 as RP

Osuna 99.0ip, 64era-, 66fip-, 77xfip-, 2.0war/65ip
Biagini 86.1ip, 73era-, 67fip-, 84xfip-,1.2war/65ip
Tepera 53.1ip, 67era-, 74fip-, 100xfip-, 1.2war/65ip
Barnes 41.1ip, 71era-, 71fip-, 94xfip-, 1.2war/65ip
Smith 82.2ip, 76era-, 91fip-, 81xfip-, 0.9war/65ip

we have a number of arms now doing what biagini was doing for us out of the pen.
The Season Thus Far | 12 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.