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Stray Thoughts... - Getting blanked
On offensive output, slumping infielders, deck-chair rearrangement, William Carlos Williams, playoff scenarios, radio news, facing elite pitching, pre-game reads, quiet crowds, Jay Jackson, and more!
“Baseball happens” seems to happen a lot to this Blue Jays team. Without the context of this whole weird season, one could look at back-to-back shutouts against Michael King and Gerrit Cole and not find anything especially alarming.
Cole has been the best pitcher in the American League this season, logging 209 innings over 33 starts with a 2.63 ERA that's going to propel him to his first Cy Young award after previously registering five top-five finishes. King has been a revelation for the Yankees since stepping into the rotation eight starts ago, pitching to a 1.49 ERA with 50 strikeouts in 36 1/3 innings. And while those numbers look better thanks to the success he's had in his two recent starts against the Jays, take those away and he's still got a 1.93 ERA over six starts with 32 strikeouts in 23 1/3 innings.
These are extremely good—or, in one case, at least extremely hot—pitchers who could and routinely do stymie the best lineups. Baseball happens. Especially against those kinds of opponents.
Unfortunately, it's virtually impossible for anyone who has followed this team all season to view these two games in a vacuum. But should it be?
I mean, that's probably not the right question to ask after two performances like that, or the right group of people to be asking questions of. Fans can react however they please and can certainly not be criticized for having noticed the exhausting number of innings they've spent this year waiting for offence and holding their collective breath every time a Jays pitcher enters his windup.
No deficit is too small to seem insurmountable for this team some nights. And now that the situational hitting/RISP weirdness has regressed to the mean—the team's 102 wRC+ with RISP has closed a gap with their overall mark (106) that on August 1st was 20 points wide—the issue here, glaring all along as it was, has come into even sharper focus.
It's the home runs. Or, I should say, the lack of home runs.
If you can believe it, this year's edition of the Jays haven't really had an unusual number of brutal offensive nights, depending on how you define it. If you take it as their number of games scoring one run or fewer, as I did when I tweeted about it here on Thursday afternoon, the results are actually quite shocking.
What has actually characterized these Jays is their inability to go deep. In 2021 they hit an MLB-best 262 home runs. Last year that number dipped to 200. This year so far they’re down to 180. And those raw numbers don’t even tell the whole story.
For one thing, their number of home runs while playing at home has dipped dramatically, from 135 in 2021, to 102, to just 77. Expressed another way, 52% of their homers came at the Rogers Centre in 2021, 51% in 2022, but that number is just 43% this season.
For another thing, MLB's overall run environment has had some pretty big swings over these three years—as I wrote a little bit about in Tuesday’s Stray Thoughts, due to changes to Rob Manfred's balls and the fact that he now stores them in a humidor. The average number of team home runs in 2021 was 198. In 2022 dipped to 174. And this year it's bounced back to 192.
Compared to the league average the Jays have gone from +64 to +26 to -12. And though they obviously knew they were going to lose some power this year when they dealt away Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Teoscar Hernández, that’s a serious dip.
Some of it the result of the guys they did bring in not hitting as many as expected—a healthy Brandon Belt (16) hit 29 in 2021 and the new outfield dimensions should have played to his strengths better than they have, and Daulton Varsho (18) is well down from last year’s 27—but plenty of holdovers have disappointed in this way as well. Matt Chapman going from 27 to 15, and Alejandro Kirk from 14 to 7 stand out. But even smaller dips from Vlad (-6), Bo (-4), and Springer (-4) are noticeable, especially because of how much easier it’s been to hit home runs league-wide this season.
However it has happened, the Jays are going to need to address this in the upcoming offseason. And if they keep getting reminded in the next few days of how game-changing the long ball can be—as they were in the worst possible way on Wednesday night—that offseason is going to turn into an awfully long and cold one in a hurry. Ugh.
Here are today’s stray thoughts…
I’ll be honest here, friends. This site keeps the lights on for me, but it isn’t a cash cow. And I could live a lot more comfortably than I do right now if I was willing to put some of my work behind a paywall and push a bunch readers who are on the fence into becoming paid subscribers. But, the thing is, I know that times are tough for a lot of people and I really don’t want to become inaccessible to anyone. So, if you can afford it, and you value what I do and aren’t already a paid subscriber, I’d ask that you consider upgrading your free membership to a paid one. Thanks. — Stoeten
Speaking of offensive dips…
Just about two weeks ago, when Matt Chapman was about to come off the injured list—very obviously prematurely—I wrote about how the Jays would probably be better served by letting him take his time. “Chapman has an 85 wRC+ since May 1st, had a 70 wRC+ in August prior to his finger injury, and an 18 wRC+ while trying to play through it,” I noted at the time, as I called for the Cavan Biggio experiment at third base to continue.
I also wrote that “it would be a pretty awful look to get to the end, just miss the playoffs, and realize the Jays went through bunch of games where Biggio played ahead of a genuine All-Star who showed in April how he can carry a team when things are going right.”
Well, the counterpoint to that is that it would also be an awful look to get to the end, just miss the playoffs, and realize that part of the problem was being overly loyal to a player in a five-month-long slump who isn't even playing at 100%.
I can't remember if it was Tuesday or Wednesday night, but during the TV broadcast of at least one of those games, Dan and Buck commented on Chapman pulling at his injured middle finger, clearly feeling some discomfort in the batter's box, and the camera clearly showed later on that he had it in some kind of a splint.
Unsurprisingly, based on both the injury and his season since May, Chapman is 6-for-42 since his return from the IL, slashing .143/.250/.262 (46 wRC+). His wRC+ since May 1st is now down to 82.
Thing is, Biggio hasn't been much better since Chapman's return. Davis Schneider is in an even worse slump. And Whit Merrifield has been the second worst qualified hitter in baseball over the last two months.
Meanwhile, Santiago Espinal has only started twice since Chapman returned despite slashing .361/.395/.500 in 38 September plate appearances.
We're kind of beyond the point of experimenting, I suppose. But we're also beyond the point of writing off tiny sample sizes as meaningless just because they don't tell us much about the long-term. We're ought to be beyond the point of caring about anyone's feelings too.
There's literally one 2B/3B option who hasn't been dogshit at the plate lately, and… well… I’m not saying, I’m just saying.
Instead we’re going to try rearranging the deck chairs I see.
The math for the Jays to clinch a playoff spot maybe didn’t get much better on Wednesday night, but it did get a bit simpler. We’re Rangers fans now, as the probabilities from Jays Twitter legend @james_in_to make clear.
I don’t know about you, but I can cheer for a team owned by José Bautista.
• The 89-69 Rangers are two games up on the 87-71 Blue Jays and visit Seattle for four games starting here on Thursday. They currently hold the AL West lead but could still slip back into the wild card conversation. However, it would be much better for us if they simply beat the Mariners, who at 85-73 are two games back of the Jays. A Mariners loss and a Jays win here on Thursday would take the Jays' magic number with Seattle down to one.
• The Astros are idle tonight, and sit a half game behind the Jays. They go to Arizona to finish their season, where the Diamondbacks will be fighting to maintain the second NL Wild Card spot with the Cubs and Marlins nipping at their heels. Since the Jays hold the tiebreaker with Houston, and would be a full game up on them with a win tonight, we're also Diamondbacks fans this weekend.
• A Jays win tonight over Luke Weaver (6.47 ERA) and the Yankees would mean that they could get in by winning just one of three against Tampa as long the Astros don’t sweep.
I don’t think we need to contemplate scenarios in which the Jays lose tonight, right?
so much depends
a dead red Weaver
glazed with fail
beside the pinstriped
The Toronto Sun’s Rob Longley reports that Sportsnet has actually made the decision to send a real, live radio crew on the road to cover Blue Jays playoff games starting next week, should the club actually make it to the dance.
Ben Wagner and Chris Leroux will be on the air and in person if the Jays are playing when the wild card round begins on Tuesday. And despite sarcastic quips from the usual online nitwits…
…this is obviously a welcome decision.
It’s also a decision that makes it crystal clear that the cheap clowns who’ve been keeping the radio crew off the road in the first place know full well that, no matter how great Ben’s work calling games off of a TV set is, the product suffers when the broadcasters aren’t there in person. Ridiculous.
Sorry, but I guess sometimes I have trouble more than others dealing with my radio production being affected by somebody else's mediocrity.
• Interesting contrast between the latest from Shi Davidi for Sportsnet and Nick Ashbourne for Yahoo. Shi looks at how Gerrit Cole’s great outing could be a preview of the kind of lethal pitching a less-than-inspiring Jays offence can expect to see should they make the playoffs. Nick, on the other hand, considers the fears about the Jays having to face top pitching overblown, comparing their numbers against top starters and relievers to everybody else’s and finding little difference. “If the Blue Jays make the playoffs, they may encounter some struggles against the pitching they'll see there,” he writes in his conclusion. “That's a fair expectation based on the quality of arms that come out in the postseason, not some fatal flaw of this team.”
• Elsewhere at Yahoo, Ethan Diamandas looks at Cavan Biggio as the Jays' potential secret weapon in the playoffs. Other good pre-game reads include: The Sun's Rob Longley on John Schneider's insistence that the Jays won't hesitate to keep turning to Jordan Romano to close out games, MLB.com's Michael Clair with a great feature on painter Andy Brown, Great Britain Baseball's official national team artist, and another great one from Brandon Wile of theScore on Bryce Harper and the one thing he's yet to accomplish in baseball.
• Anyone fancy a game of 3D chess?
• I wrote about the kind of stuff in the tweet below, and a whole bunch else, in yesterday’s stray thoughts, in case you missed it.
• Great news, via Hazel Mae, on reliever Jay Jackson's son JR. Hazel tells us JR “is doing great in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. I'm pleased to report, little JR has gained 3 lbs, and is now at 5 lbs. If he keeps it up, I'm told JR could be out of the NICU by the end of October.”
• More great news for Jackson, in an obviously different and far less important way, is the fact that—thanks to language in his contract that wasn’t necessarily known earlier—he’ll be a free agent at the end of this season. MLB Trade Rumors picked up on that here on Thursday afternoon, though they’re citing a report from earlier in the month by Jays Journal’s Eric Treuden. Blue Jays fans might be surprised, given that Jackson is a long way from reaching six years of MLB service, which is the normal point at which a player hits free agency. Fans may also not like hearing this news, because Jackson has pitched so well all year. But he’s done enough, after a journeyman’s career, to have finally earned a shot at a full big league free agent contract—and to have a say in where he plays, given his family situation. Love to see it.
• Lastly, I’ve said this a couple times recently, but for anyone who missed it: It seems like everyone’s moving over to Bluesky this week, so this feels like a good time to mention once again that I’m over there as well. I’m not saying a ton just yet, but always posting links when anything goes up on the site.
Follow me: stoeten.bsky.social
• LUKE WEAVER, MAN. COME ON. DO THIS. DO YOURSELVES THIS FAVOUR. BLAST HIM INTO OUTER SPACE. LET’S GOOOOOOO
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