Toronto Blue Jays Are Valuable Lesson of How Not to Create a World Series Team
As the Toronto Blue Jays departed New York on Sunday afternoon, losers of four straight to the Yankees, a quick look at the AL East standings revealed a harsh reality: Through roughly 16 percent of the 2013 schedule, 9.5 games separate the Blue Jays from first place.
After losing eight out of 10, Toronto is officially in trouble.
Heading into play Monday, only the Houston Astros boasted a worse record in the American League. Ironically, in the aftermath of the blockbuster offseason trade that was supposed to tip the AL East scales towards Toronto, the Marlins are the only team as far back in any division as Toronto.
Despite the failures of other recent hot stove league champions, the Blue Jays came into the season with very high expectations.
With mounting evidence against their success, we can look back at why their moves probably won't yield a World Series contender and how the acquisitions are reminiscent of the failures in Miami, Los Angeles and Boston in recent years, but the reason for failure this time is unique.
Bad news for 9-17 Blue Jays: In Wild Card era, only 6 teams have started 11-15 or worse & made playoffs bit.ly/11QSRCE— Jay Jaffe (@jay_jaffe) April 29, 2013
Coming off an 89-loss campaign in 2012, Toronto chose to believe it was a good team rattled with injuries rather than a franchise not ready to compete. While just comparing the 2013 Jays to the 2012 Marlins can be a lazy, repetitive narrative, it's worth noting that Miami chose to import big-ticket outside help on the heels of a 90-loss season.
Miami's record through 26 games was actually three games better than where Toronto is right now.
Similarly, the 2012 Los Angeles Angels added major pieces via free agency, expecting solid performances from 2011 to carry over and add to the new depth in 2012. While their idea wasn't wrong—the team did improve from 2011 to 2012 in both actual and expected W-L record—a poor start (8-15) doomed what was a very good finish (81-58).
Of all the comparisons, the 2011 Red Sox may be the most unfair to this current Blue Jay mess.
Adding Carl Crawford, John Lackey and Adrian Gonzalez didn't work out in the long term for the Red Sox, but heading into September of 2011, no team in baseball had a better record. For the most part, the plan was sound. A rash of pitching injuries, horrendous performance in September and eroding clubhouse culture set the stage for disappointment and a lost season in 2012.
All those teams tried to expedite the win curve but failed in spectacular fashion. We can compare the Blue Jays to each of them in a different prism, but the biggest problem in Toronto may not have been centered in the pursuit of talent, but rather the acquisition of the wrong pieces.
Here's a fair and legitimate list of concerns for each of the acquisitions made by Toronto this past winter:
While a sore neck and back couldn't have been predicted, decline after a career year wasn't out of the realm of possibility. Since reinventing himself as a knuckleballer, Dickey had never stuck out more than 5.8 batters per nine innings. Last season, at the age of 37, he stuck out 8.9. In other words, he whiffed batters at a higher rate than Cliff Lee, David Price and Felix Hernandez.
Calling him a one-year wonder was probably unfair, but questioning if his K-rate would regress wasn't.
Another rough one for R.A. Dickey in Toronto. He allows 8 runs (7 earned) on 10 hits over 4 2/3 vs @redsox.— MLB (@MLB) April 7, 2013
Health aside, Reyes was probably the surest bet for success among all the moves Toronto made this winter. Simply put, despite playing in 100-200 games fewer than Derek Jeter and Jimmy Rollins, Reyes is right there with them atop the WAR leaders for shortstops since his first full season in 2005.
Of course, there are those missed games. The injury to Reyes in Kansas City was fluky and unfortunate. His track record is full of games missed, though. If durability is a tool, it's the only one Reyes lacks on a baseball field.
Over the first 2,638 plate appearances in Melky's major league career, he posted a .709 OPS. During those five years in New York and Atlanta, the switch-hitting outfielder was roughly as productive as the immortal Stan Javier or Pedro Feliz.
Then, seemingly in the blink of an eye, he turned into the .849 OPS monster of 2011 and half of 2012 in Kansas and San Francisco, respectively. Overnight, his performance went from Javier to Shawn Green or Carlos Beltran.
How is drug-free Melky Cabrera doing this year?— Dave Lozo (@DaveLozo) April 26, 2013
Suspension aside, it was impossible to know which Melky was headed to Toronto on a club-friendly deal. Thus far, a .599 OPS points to the former.
Outside of Dickey, no arm had the potential to change the Blue Jays' porous rotation like Johnson. His career 8.2 K/9 and 2.68 K/BB ratio was set to be an instant upgrade on the mound every fifth day.
What was ignored in the conversation about his career: Since 2005, Josh Johnson has pitched 200-plus innings in a season just once. Furthermore, if you believe in quality over quantity, his K/9 rate had dipped in three consecutive seasons (9.1, 8.4, 7.8). Coincidentally, the slide in his ability to miss bats started the year after his 200-inning campaign.
What the soft-tossing lefty always lacked in velocity was made up for in sterling durability. Yet, despite xFIP and FIP consistently over 4.00, he got away without missing bats and posted sub-four earned run averages in nine out of 11 seasons entering 2013.
At the age of 34, with his average fastball velocity dipping below 85 MPH for the first time, the discrepancy between expected results and actual results seems to be finally catching up to the southpaw.
Through 28 innings this season, Buehrle has a 6.35 ERA and is watching over 16 percent of fly balls leave the park on him.
Fans can speak about correlations between Toronto and past big spenders. Columnists can rightly wonder if there's something more to winning, not quite chemistry, but a culture in the clubhouse. Parameters can be set to achieve the success predicted for them. Meetings can be held to shake up the status quo.
Yet none of it matters if the reinforcements weren't the players they were advertised to be. In Dickey-Reyes-Johnson-Buehrle-Cabrera, Toronto, using their average combined Wins Above Replacement seasons, could have been expecting to add around 22 wins from last season.
Don't blame Toronto for its method to add wins. Pursuing talent was the right course of action for a team on the brink and overflowing with talent in the minor league system.
Due to a combination of bad luck, regression and a lack of foresight, the Blue Jays may have just acquired the wrong pieces at the wrong time.
Can the Blue Jays recover to make a push for the postseason?
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