12 Changes the Toronto Blue Jays Need to Make to Escape the Basement in 2013
The Toronto Blue Jays have been under a lot of scrutiny this season for under-performing beyond repairable measure. With 39 games left, Toronto is all but out of playoff contention. Instead, they've reverted back to the all-too-familiar role of "spoiler".
Granted, it's been a rough season for the Blue Jays, facing adversity no one could have predicted.
Toronto has lost 14 players to the disabled list, not to mention the injury bug filtering down the system, affecting catching prospect Travis d'Arnaud.
In Toronto, it's gotten to the point where fans, players and management alike are hoping to get through a game without losing yet another player.
But alas, there's no point dwelling on it, and looking forward the Bluebirds have a bright future ahead of them (pardon me for sounding redundant).
For Toronto, the future is in 2013, and this is a list of things the Blue Jays need to do to escape the basement next season, and make their strongest push for the playoffs since 1993.
Great teams, teams that are able to not only make it to the postseason, but make it to the World Series, have the ability to maintain consistency.
Toronto has been consistent this season, but in all the wrong ways. So far, it would seem as though they've been a win three, lose four-type team, backed up by their 56-65 record. In order to make a run at the playoffs, this is unacceptable.
The Jays need to put together a string of victories that propels them through the rankings, and given they play in the American League East, a few winning streaks is a must.
To put it in perspective, the Washington Nationals have had four-game winning streaks at least seven times this season, with their longest being eight consecutive.
Toronto has had three similar win streaks of at least four, but their longest also happens to be four.
This one is difficult to adjust, mainly because it involves a lot of luck.
No matter who's on your team, staying healthy is important in a long and grueling season. At the start of 2012, there were high hopes for a Toronto team that seemed to have finally kicked the curb of missing the playoffs year after year.
The position guys didn't fair too well either this season, losing MLB's back-to-back home run leader, Jose Bautista, third baseman Brett Lawrie, catcher J.P. Arencibia and first baseman/designated hitter Adam Lind. Toronto also lost its top minor leaguer, Travis d'Arnaud, a few weeks ago, and although he might be back this season, he won't be back in time to crack the big club.
Granted these guys might be back this season, with the exception of Arencibia, they've missed enough time (at the same time) to hinder their ball club's chance of winning.
In 2013, Toronto needs to stay healthy in order to make a playoff run. Because even without their top bats in the order, the Jays are still second in the majors with 161 home runs and fourth in stolen bases with 102.
Convert on Scoring Opportunities
There have been countless times this season when Toronto has had runners in scoring position, and have failed to cash in.
In 2013, the Blue Jays need to do a better job of converting on their scoring opportunities, because it causes a ripple effect on the rest of the game.
With a bigger lead, your staff can pitch more comfortably. When you're the visiting team, going into the bottom of the ninth gets a lot less stressful when you have more than a one-run lead.
Thus far in 2012, Toronto is batting .203 with runners on second and third, good for 26th in the majors. That being said, they're also batting an astonishing .345 with the bases loaded.
The dilemma? Toronto is converting more-so when they don't need to, depicted by their team batting average of .249 when playing from behind.
Next season, Toronto is going to have to score early and often and do so in the clutch if they want to make it out of the AL East.
Have a Starting Five Made of Five People
The starting rotation has had its opportunities to perform this season, and just hasn't.
Unfortunately for Toronto, Romero is having his worst season ever, going 8-11 and pitching himself to an abysmal (I don't even think that describes it) 5.63 ERA and 1.56 WHIP. For a guy who's supposed to be your best pitcher, that's borderline embarrassing.
But, let's refrain from using Romero as the scapegoat. The starting staff as a whole has pitched itself to a 4.84 ERA, good for 26th in the league. They have also given up 379 earned runs and and 102 home runs, ranking them fifth in both categories.
Beyond all the splits, the most disturbing statistic of all is the fact that Toronto's starting pitchers have given up 282 walks, most of any team in 2012. In 2011, the Jays walked 357 batters (good for fourth) and in 2010 they walked 345 (12th).
With numbers like that, you can't win games, let alone a division. In 2013, Toronto will have to keep the ball down in the zone, limit the walks and throw more strikes if they want to contend.
Play More Small Ball
Although Toronto is very high up in the home run category, the team isn't designed for that.
The Blue Jays currently sit 28th in the bigs in sacrifices with 23 and 20th in walks with 361. This may not seem very significant in terms of getting out of the basement for 2013, but I can assure you it is definitely a tipping point.
It's no secret that Toronto is fast. With a combined 235 stolen bases in the past two seasons, the goal should be to get runners on base and move them up.
Toronto's game is one that revolves around speed.
Unfortunately, a team OBP of .311 in 2012 (23rd in MLB) won't help in that strategy. So in 2013, Toronto needs to learn to put the ball down more often, move guys over and stick to the basics of the game they should know how to play better than most anyone else.
Make Less Defensive Errors
There's a saying in baseball that goes something like this: "If you're not going to bring your bat to the park, make sure to always bring your glove."
For the Toronto Blue Jays, this should be a fairly easy fix in 2013. With 84 team errors on the season, good for seventh-most in MLB, the Birds need to play a cleaner game.
In order to minimize the number of runs you give up, it's essential to take the outs other teams give you. There have been countless times this season where Toronto has had four- or five-out innings, resulting in the home run that breaks the game wide open.
In 2013, Toronto needs to make the routine plays. Errors are going to happen, but it's definitely the simplest aspect of a game to fix.
Hit More Bats, Not Players
Another fairly simple task for the pitching staff: try to avoid the number of hit batsmen in a season.
Sitting in sixth place with 44 hit batters in 2012, and second in the majors last season with 77, the pitching staff needs to keep the ball in the zone a little better.
This split is only a fraction of the mistakes Toronto is making on the bump this season, among other things, and in order for them to make any type of run for the playoffs, they're going to have to do a better job of hitting their target, unless of course it was meant to be the batter.
In 2013, Toronto needs to tinker with a few little things that lead to big results, ultimately helping them achieve a long-term goal.
Make a Big Offseason Acquisition
At the past couple of trade deadlines, Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos has been under a lot of heat over whether or not he should make a blockbuster trade.
To start the season, Toronto fans were under the impression that they may see the likes of Yu Darvish or Prince Fielder in a Jays uniform. And at the trade deadline, it was reported that the Jays were in on nearly every major player from shortstop Jose Reyes to right-hander Josh Johnson.
But alas, Toronto walked away from the deadline fairly quiet, making a 10-player deal with the Houston Astros that wasn't extremely significant, and swapping outfielders Travis Snider and Eric Thames for pitchers Brad Lincoln and Steve Delabar.
Although there is a lot to look forward to in the Jays' minor league system (and trust me there is), Anthopoulos needs to break his code of not signing big-time players to big-time contracts.
Looking back on it, signing Prince Fielder to six-plus years would have been pricey, but you know what you're going to get. In the offseason, the Jays will have to open their checkbooks, and finally pull the trigger on a player who will impact the team in a big way, right away.
Give Up Less Home Runs
One of the biggest issues with the Blue Jays' pitching staff this season is the fact that they've given up way too many home runs.
Although it was mentioned earlier that Toronto is, in fact, a power-hitting threat, other teams also know that their pitchers are going to keep the ball up in the zone.
The Jays have given up 155 home runs in 2012 after allowing 179 in 2011. In order to escape the basement, Jays' pitchers will need to find a way to, again I don't mean to be redundant, keep the ball low and hit their spots.
Thus far, Toronto isn't missing many bats, striking out only 865 batters, good for fifth-worst in the bigs. If they want to get out of the AL East in 2013, the Jays are going to have to be more selective on what they throw and who they throw it to. No, they aren't a strikeout team, but it doesn't mean the ball must leave the yard so much, either.
Figure out Left Field
Left field has been a position Toronto has struggled to fill as of late.
Although Rajai Davis has been tremendous out there for the Jays, he doesn't hit well enough to be an everyday outfielder.
In 2012, Blue Jays' left fielders have only hit eight home runs, driven in 46 runs and gotten 115 hits. All of those are among the league's worst, and that is simply unacceptable.
Essentially, the one advantage Toronto has in Davis is his ability to steal bases and cover a lot of ground in left, but beyond that there isn't much else.
Whether Toronto makes a big trade, or waits for young superstars Moises Sierra and Anthony Gose to develop, among others, the Jays need to find an everyday left fielder who will give them a better chance to win games.
Don't Be a Middle-of-the-Pack Team
If you were to take a look at most every team statistic in 2012, and in recent years, you'll notice something very similar about Toronto: They're always a middle-of-the-pack team.
Halfway teams seldom make much of an impact on their league, let alone their division. Toronto needs to find a way to distinguish itself from the rest of the pack, propelling its way up the rankings in more than just the home run totals.
Playing good all-around baseball is the key to success, and it's the only way the Jays will manage to escape the basement from a division that is hardly a walk in the park.
Not only does the AL East have constant playoff contenders, they have World Series contenders, and it's about time Toronto began playing like one too.
Play Better in Late/Close Games
Probably one of the most important aspects of winning ball games is the ability to play under pressure.
In late/close games this season, Toronto has struggled to hit the ball, batting .217/.297/.373.
The pitchers haven't fared too well either, hurling themselves to a dismal 4.28 ERA to go along with 21 home runs, a .240 average and only 113 strikeouts in these situations.
With a healthy staff, Toronto might have a shot at lowering those numbers, but it doesn't mean that there's no hope in the case of an injury.
In 2013, the Jays need to focus a little better late in ball games. That in itself will help the team win a lot more games, simply because they'll be able to hold or extend a lead, instead of thrusting themselves into nail-biting scenario's night after night.