The unofficial second half of the season got underway this past week with the Toronto Blue Jays sitting six games under .500, 8.5 games behind the Boston Red Sox for first in the AL East and 5.0 games back of the second wild card spot. To say that this season has been a disappointment would be an understatement. Despite an aging roster (they are the oldest team in baseball with an average age of 30.4 years), this team was expected to compete for a playoff spot again this season. Instead, they have not once reached the .500 mark and are closer in the standings to being at the bottom of the American League than they are to being in a wild card position.
On paper, this team should be better than it has been thus far. What has transpired on the field however, save for a good month of May, has been fraught with frustration. Plagued by injury, a stunning lack of offense (they rank 26th in the league with 366 runs scored and have the second lowest batting average with runners in scoring position at .224), and poor defense (a team DE of .694, which is sixth worst in the majors), and this team’s performance has people talking about rebuilds.
That isn’t to say that no one is performing well this season – I wrote about my top three player performances of the first half two days ago. But no team that was expected to be in contention considers a mid-season retool without some major letdowns. Here are my three most disappointing player performances from the first half of the season.
Marco Estrada – C-
At this time last season, Marco Estrada was basking in the glow of his first All-Star appearance. His performance in 2016 earned him the role of this year’s Opening Day starter. It was expected that the change-up artist, who had seemingly figured things outs since being traded to Toronto by the Milwaukee Brewers, would continue to shine. What has since transpired has been a mystery.
After a decent start to the season, June and July have been absolutely disastrous for Estrada. In seven starts during that time frame, Estrada has pitched five or more innings just twice, having surrendered 34 runs over 31.1 innings pitched for an ERA of 9.46. Opponents are slashing .343/.429/.620 with an OPS of 1.049 against him in those two months.
Over the course of 101.0 innings over 18 games for the season, Estrada has a 5.17 ERA and 4.54 xFIP with a 1.44 WHIP. Although his 9.80 K/9 rate is the best it’s been since 2010, he is also walking more batters (3.48 BB/9) and giving up more home runs (1.51 HR/9) than he has in recent years.
What is most troublesome is Estrada’s elevated .325 BABIP – the highest in his major league career and well above his career average of .263. Estrada has always been able to defy the BABIP odds, and at one point last season was poised to post the lowest BABIP of the modern era. While some regression is to be expected, it’s nearly 100 points higher than last season.
Dylan Svoboda of BP Toronto has already taken a deep dive into what might be wrong with Estrada and found that his money pitch – namely, his phenomenal changeup – is not only being hit by batters more than before, but is being hit hard. This is particularly problematic given that Estrada is relying on his changeup more than ever before.
When Estrada first ran into trouble this season, many speculated that he was experiencing back pain again, a problem that has plagued him for the last two seasons. Estrada insists there is nothing physically wrong with him, however, which leaves two possible causes: either Estrada has developed a mental block with regards to throwing his off-speed stuff, or the league has adjusted to him. Regardless of the problem, Estrada must find a way to adjust back in order to salvage what remains of his season – and to help the Jays salvage what’s left of theirs.
Troy Tulowitzki – C
When Troy Tulowitzki was traded from the Colorado Rockies to the Toronto Blue Jays in July of 2015, fans expected much from the superstar shortstop. Perhaps expectations were set too high. Tulowitzki had oft been injured throughout his career, but his career offensive numbers and reputation for stellar defense had fans salivating at what that would translate into within the confines of the hitter-friendly Dome.
We have yet to witness the prowess at the plate that Tulowitzki had been known for and, quite frankly, it appears as though those days are gone.
Disappointment struck early this season when Tulowitzki injured his hamstring and was placed on the 10-day disabled list near the end of April. That 10-day stint turned into 35 days, surpassing the 21 days that Tulo missed due to injury all of last season.
In the 54 games he has played, Tulowitzki is batting .250/.302/.398 and .242 TAv with just seven home runs. Oddly, Tulowitzki is striking out at a rate of just 13.2%, one of the lowest K% of his career. However, his walk rate of 6.6% is also much lower than his career norm.
If we take a closer look at things, we find that Tulowitzki is making less hard contact and more soft contact than ever before, hitting into fewer line drives (14.8%) and more ground balls (50.3%) than at any other season in his major league career.
Defensively, Tulowitzki hasn’t quite performed as expected, either. He’s committed seven errors already this season, after having just nine all of last year. Perhaps this is to be expected as well. The thirty-two year old has suffered leg injuries the past two seasons and likely is not one hundred percent healthy.
The upside to all of this is that Tulowitzki has shown signs of life at the plate the past fifteen games, during which he batting .291/.328/.564 with an OPS of .891. Five of his seven home runs have come in that time frame. And, there’s no denying the leadership that Tulowitzki provides both on and off the field. However, the money that he is owed through to the end of the 2021 season is egregious given the diminishing offensive and defensive value, leaving many asking whether or not the Jays could find a way to move him at the trade deadline.
Josh Donaldson – B-
It may seem odd that I’ve included Josh Donaldson in my top three disappointing player performances for the first half of the season, and certainly a grade of B- is not particularly poor. It’s just that so much more is expected of Donaldson that any drop-off in productivity is seen as a disappointment.
Donaldson absolutely raked in the nine games he played in April, when he hit .310/.429/.586 with an OPS of 1.015. Having made his way back from a calf injury suffered during spring training, he ultimately landed on the ten-day disabled list in mid-April, where he stayed for 43 days. It the first time in his career that he had been placed on the DL.
Since his return to the lineup, Donaldson is slashing .250/.373/.462 with an OPS of .836. These numbers are certainly not bad, but they are not good by Donaldson’s standards.
In eight games between June 27th and July 4th, Donaldson had just one hit and ten strike outs in 32 at bats. His struggles at the plate have likely stemmed from his struggle to regain strength in his legs. Though his walk rate is up slightly, he is also striking out (23.3%) at his highest rate since 2010. One wonders how differently the Blue Jays’ first half might have gone had Donaldson been healthy and productive.
On the bright side, Donaldson appeared to find his swing in the series against Houston. He had six hits and six walks in sixteen at-bats. He also made several sensational plays at third base, suggesting that his legs are once again working for him. It would not make sense for the Jays to pull the plug completely on the 2017 season by trading Donaldson; but if they are to have any shot at salvaging the season, it is absolutely critical for Donaldson to return to form during the second half of the season.
Lead Photo: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports