Toronto Blue Jays: How Playing the AL East Yankees & Red Sox Affects Their Team
The Toronto Blue Jays play in the toughest division in all of pro sports. There is no other division that houses two of the top five teams every year. Moreover, in baseball—versus basketball or hockey—only the division champion makes the postseason, with one spot awarded to the wild-card winner.
As to be expected with two of the top teams in the league, the AL East has housed the wild card winner every year since 2003 (save the 2006 season).
Since the emergence of the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008, the AL East is now home to three top AL teams. In many of these seasons, the AL East actually has the top three AL teams. In order for the top three teams to come out of the AL East, that means that one or two teams are getting beat up in the division to allow for such strong records.
Enter the Toronto Blue Jays.
Not only does playing in the AL East affect their record and lack of playoff berths, but it does much more than that. This piece will analyze the effects of playing in the toughest division in pro sports.
Playing the Top 3 in the Division Hurts
The Toronto Blue Jays have hovered around the .500 mark for the past five years (Total Record since 2006: 482 – 458). In this division—especially with the emergence of the Rays—that is a record to be proud of.
This season the Jays are 13-22 versus the three AL East juggernauts. Take those stats away from this season and the Jays are 53-42 against the rest of the league. If you change those 35 games to reflect a .500 ballclub the Jays would be 70-59, tied for 1st in the AL Central and a meagre 2 games back in the AL and NL West.
Wins Do Not Reflect the Calibre of the Team
If you see the Blue Jays this year and someone says, “85 Wins, they are pretty good, just not as good as the 88 game winning Diamondbacks,” I would say that wins do not reflect the calibre of the squad. The Diamondbacks get to play their division numerous times. That division has a collective winning percentage of .483m versus the .542 (.589 without the hapless Orioles) of the AL East.
The Blue Jays are a much more talented bunch than an 85 Win team. It just cannot be showcased when playing the cream of the crop and the winner of nearly half (7/15) of the past 15 World Series. Only four of the past 15 years was a team from the AL East not in the World Series.
Even though the Diamondbacks will probably finish with more wins, it does not reflect their talent as a team.
I am certain the two guys in this photo would be the first to tell you.
The AL East Severely Hampers the Progression of Pitching Prospects
So you are 23 years old and you get called up to start in the bigs. Exciting! Then you realize it is in Yankee Stadium (by the way, the Yankees just set a major league record last night with THREE Grand Slams in the same game).
Good luck kid!
Your confidence will be rattled and you are facing one, if not the toughest lineup in the game. This season the Yankees and Red Sox currently sit #1 and #2 in HRs and #2 and #1 in .AVG and #1 and #2 in runs scored respectively. Pitching in those hitter-friendly parks really does not help either.
Let us look at how highly touted prospect Kyle Drabek has fared against the Top 3 teams in the AL East. Here is the average of Drabek’s five starts against the Sox, Rays and Yanks:
4.5 IP 6.8 H 8.36 ERA 1.2 HR 3.8 BB
Think how different his career would be to date if he was still pitching for the Phillies and was pitching against the 7th, 21st, 24th, and 26th ranked offences (in .avg) in his division.
Welcome to the show kid.
Tough on the Fans
The Blue Jay fanbase is always very upbeat, positive and have a great love for their team. Yet most Toronto fans come to terms with the fact that the playoffs are out of reach almost every year. This is taxing on a fan, knowing that his team has very little chance of making it to the playoffs. In many cities this would lead to a decrease in ticket, merchandise sales and overall major revenue.
If there were any other teams that were in the AL East (Baltimore has always had a strong following), attendance would drop and interest in the team would dwindle.
Blue Jay fans are some of the best in the league and boy do we hang on to those two World Series wins.
Marketing and Game Attendance
Although most fans would hate to see their team lose every season, there is a benefit from being in the AL East. The Blue Jays get to play two of the most popular teams in the league over 35 times per season—leading to great revenue for those 18 home games (give or take).
So many fans come to the ballpark to see the Yankees and Red Sox. This is good for the Blue Jays organization, yet not that great for the fans, since the Blue Jays are more often than not coming out on the losing end of those games.
For the pseudo-fan, it is exciting to see Derek Jeter, the only player in the MLB that they know.
Major League Baseball has toyed with the idea of realigning the divisions or even discarding them together and following more of a basketball and hockey type of system.
While I personally love the divisional battles, I think the Blue Jays would have a much better chance of reaching the playoffs if they were no longer a member of the AL East.
Cross your fingers!