The Toronto Blue Jays are easily the hottest team in baseball right now. With a 9-6 win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday, Toronto (31-22) has now extended its winning streak to eight games and is leading the American League East by three games.
While the pitching has been decent, it’s been the offense that has carried the team through this stretch. The Blue Jays are leading the AL in runs scored, home runs and OPS.
No doubt the team’s stars such as Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Melky Cabrera deserve a lot of praise for their performance. But, at the same time, some credit for the offense’s success should also be given to the platoon system that the club has used this season.
Unlike most teams, Toronto doesn’t carry a conventional bench filled with utility players who are only used sparingly to make spot starts. Rather, the Blue Jays have used their bench to create the aforementioned platoon system, adjusting their starting lineup nightly depending on the opposing starter.
Against a left-handed pitcher, the team will usually start Steve Tolleson at second base, Kevin Pillar in the outfield and Erik Kratz at DH. All of these players bat right-handed. With the rest of the starting lineup consisting of switch-hitters and other right-handed batters, not a single player hits from the left side.
It gets even more interesting when the team faces a right-handed starting pitcher. Brett Lawrie shifts to second base and Juan Francisco starts at third base. Adam Lind gets DH duties and Anthony Gose starts in the outfield. Aside from Lawrie, the rest of these players all bat left-handed.
Using platoons has allowed the Blue Jays to stack their lineup based on matchups. To say that it has been successful would be a massive understatement.
Pillar is hitting .333/.333/.444 with five runs scored in 12 games. The speedy Gose has hit .265/.405/.353 in 15 games. Kratz has three home runs and seven RBI in just 45 at-bats.
The platoon players who start against right-handers have been even more effective. Lind is hitting .341/.419/.573 in 27 games. Francisco has nine home runs and 20 RBI in 98 at-bats. Tolleson has hit .311/.392/.622 in 20 games.
This system also gives Blue Jays manager John Gibbons flexibility to make late-game changes in order to keep playing the matchups.
Let’s say that a left-handed pitcher started the game for the opposing team and got replaced by a right-hander during the later innings. Gibbons now has the ability to go to his bench and bring in the left-handed hitters who didn’t start the game to face the righty.
There are several other benefits to using platoons. It gives multiple players on the team regular playing time and allows them to stay fresh. Most importantly, it lengthens the lineup and gives the opposing pitcher fewer easy outs.
As a team, Toronto is tied second in the AL in runs scored against right-handed pitchers and fourth in runs scored against southpaws.
Now that’s a balanced offense.
*All stats are from MLB.com