Even with the addition of a second wild-card team next season, the Jays still have a long way to go before they're playing meaningful games in October. There is just so little margin for error in the American League East.
There are many reasons why the Blue Jays are not making the playoffs in 2011. Individually, none of them are solely responsible for another missed postseason, but collectively, they paint a very clear picture of Toronto's struggles.
While he may no longer be on the team, Jo-Jo Reyes didn't bring much to the table in Toronto. In fact, he took a lot off.
Reyes was a throw-in in the Yunel Escobar-Alex Gonzalez trade with the Atlanta Braves last season. He was handed the fourth spot in the rotation out of training camp and went on to tie the record for most consecutive starts without recording a win.
Reyes made 20 starts for the Blue Jays this season—only six of which were of the quality variety. That's the worst quality start percentage of any pitcher in the American League with 100-plus innings. His fastball is one of the worst pitches in all of baseball, yet he throws it about 72 percent of the time—he just doesn't have anything else.
There aren't any pitchers in baseball like Reyes who rely so heavily on a pitch which has proven to be so ineffective.
During spring training, Kyle Drabek was fighting with Jo-Jo Reyes and Jesse Litsch for the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation. An injury to Brandon Morrow and lefty-righty juggling by new manager John Farrell forced Drabek into the role of No. 2 starter.
Drabek started the season exceptionally well, going 1-0 with a 1.93 ERA in his first three starts. When Morrow returned on April 23, the Blue Jays were 4-0 in Drabek starts. He had given up more than two runs only once, but the walk totals were high at four per game. Over his next 10 starts his luck ran out. He went 3-5, while compiling a 7.03 ERA. Batters hit .307 against him with a whopping .902 OPS.
Overall, he made 14 starts, accumulating the highest WHIP of any pitcher with 60-plus innings of work. His 10 wild pitches are still tied for fourth among all AL pitchers even though he was sent to AAA over two months ago. He also has the highest walks per nine innings rate of any major league pitcher with more than two starts. Needless to say, his control just wasn't there.
Aaron Hill is the worst second baseman in the American League. He's among the worst hitters in all of baseball. Since his All-Star season in 2009, his numbers have declined rapidly. He's now a below-average player in almost every facet of the game.
Through August 16, he ranks last among AL two-baggers in average, runs, hits and OPS. At least last season, when he was hitting this poorly, he still managed 26 home runs. This year, he has six home runs in 412 plate appearances. He's even gotten worse as the season's gone on; his batting average has dropped every month since hitting .242 in April and May.
Hill says all the right things and is a great clubhouse guy so he'll probably stick around, but he's better off as a bench player. If Toronto has any intention of competing for a pennant next season, they'll need a new starting second baseman.
The Toronto Blue Jays are 18-22 in one-run games. That record could be very different if they learned to do the small things—things like working counts and moving runners over.
Toronto is last in the American League in batting average with a runner on third and fewer than two outs. As of August 16, the Yankees have over 50 more RBI, nine more home runs and 47 more runs scored than the Jays in those situations. The Jays are also near the bottom of the league in sacrifice hits and pinch hits. You're not going to win many games if you can't move runners over and get the easy runs.
It's also imperative that you stay patient even when behind in the count. The Blue Jays, however, are lost after falling behind. They're last in the majors in batting average and OBP when the pitcher is ahead. In contrast, the Jays are among the league leaders in every offensive category when ahead or the count is even.
With 20 blown saves, Blue Jays relievers have the worst conversion rate in the AL. The Detroit Tigers are successful on 26 percent more of their save opportunities. It's been a team effort though; eight Blue Jays pitchers have blown a save this season.
John Rauch and Frank Francisco have split the ninth-inning duties and have been equally ineffective. Through August 16, opponents are hitting .297 in the ninth versus Rauch and Francisco. They have five and four blown saves respectively. They are two of only three pitchers in the majors with a five-plus ERA in ninth-inning appearances.
In baseball, it's widely known that every year, each team will win 50 games, lose 50 games, but it's the other 62 that make the difference. For the Blue Jays, it's actually the 54 games per year against the Rays, Yankees and Red Sox that make the difference.
Toronto has a 21-26 record against the American League East in 2011. Take away their 8-4 record against the Baltimore Orioles and they're nine games under .500 within their own division. Pitchers are largely responsible for the poor record against the beasts from the East.
Against the New York Yankees, and other than Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow, Toronto starters have a 8.32 ERA in eight starts. In 12 games against the Red Sox, all starters have combined for an 8.27 ERA. In four games versus the Rays, Jays de facto closer John Rauch has a 13.50 ERA with a 2.10 WHIP in 3.1 innings.
Next to the Seattle Mariners, the Blue Jays have the lowest batting average of any AL team in day games. There's a 41-point difference in their day/night splits. While the Rangers Josh Hamilton blames his poor day game performance on his light-colored eyes, Blue Jays batters can't use the same excuse. The worst offenders are Yunel Escobar, Edwin Encarnacion and Rajai Davis—three dark-eyed players. Collectively, their batting average drops 77 points during the day.
On the mound, the discrepancy is just as bad and it's the Jays' most important pitchers who fare the worst. Under the lights, Ricky Romero's ERA drops from 3.50 to 2.29. For Brandon Morrow, it's even greater—from 6.28 to 3.78. And even though only one of John Rauch's blown saves have come during the day, his ERA spikes over 3.5 runs when the sun is out.
If the Blue Jays want to start thinking postseason, they have to perform no matter who they're playing and no matter what time of day it is. Playoff teams find a way to win.