As the calendar flips to September, the Blue Jays and their fans have accepted that there will be no pennant race at the Rogers Centre this season. While the team headed into 2017 with an eye on a third straight playoff appearance, injuries and subpar performance made this season a rather underwhelming one on the field.
But just because the season was a frustrating one doesn’t mean nothing interesting happened. To almost everyone’s surprise, Justin Smoak broke out, turning himself into an elite hitter in the middle of the Blue Jays’ lineup; Josh Donaldson played shortstop; and Aaron Sanchez, like many of his peers, couldn’t quite grip the new baseball without tearing open his fingers in the process.
Those were some of the biggest stories of 2017, but they weren’t the only ones. Here are some of the most surprising stats – some of them good, and some of them bad, from a Blue Jays season that got away.
Team Strikeouts Are Way Down And So is Their Run Scoring
In a year when strikeouts are more prominent than ever, the Blue Jays have managed to cut down on their strikeouts from a season ago. The Jays rank in the bottom third of the major leagues in strikeout rate, posting a team strikeout percentage of 20.9% – a surprise for a team that struck out so frequently in 2016.
When a team struggles to score runs, strikeouts are often said to be the root of the problem. Many were quick to suggest that the Blue Jays, who went into an offensive funk in September of last season, were striking out far too often to be a good offense. But preventing strikeouts is not always the way to increase a team’s offensive output and the 2017 Blue Jays are demonstrating why:
|Year||K%||League Avg||Rank||Runs Scored||Rank|
In 2016, only 7 MLB teams struck out more than the Blue Jays but the team managed to score the 9th most runs in baseball. This season, the Jays have significantly cut their strikeout rate, yet their offensive production has cratered as well.
Strikeouts don’t matter. Even if they feel like they do.
Michael Saunders is a Speed Demon
…relative to the rest of his teammates. We all knew the 2017 Blue Jays were going to be slow, but this is still surprising. More surprising than Saunders, who signed with the Phillies last offseason being back with Toronto this September? Still, yes.
Saunders, who was once a stolen base threat, tore his meniscus in 2015 and hasn’t possessed the same foot speed since. But despite Saunders’ surgically repaired left knee, he is actually STILL one of the fastest members of the 2017 Blue Jays.
According to Statcast, with a sprint speed per second of 27.4 feet, only Kevin Pillar and Ezequiel Carrera are faster. Saunders’ sprint speed of 27.3 feet/second in 2016 suggests that his 2017 number isn’t an aberration, either. This quirky stat could change if Anthony Alford, Dwight Smith Jr. or Teoscar Hernandez see any significant time with the team in September.
|Player||Sprint Speed (ft./second)|
Kendrys Morales: Not Very Valuable, Despite the Offence
As of September 5th, Kendrys Morales was sitting on a line of .247/.303/.456 with 26 home runs; an offensive performance fairly similar to his 2016 output (.263/.327/.468, 30 HR) with the Royals. But as we continue to see home runs being hit at record paces, a pure slugger’s contributions become less helpful than they once were.
Wins Above Replacement Player – the stat that measures a position player’s overall contribution to the team on defense, offense and the base paths, has not been kind to Morales this season. Even if you don’t believe in advanced stats, it’s pretty easy to make the case that Morales hasn’t been too valuable on the bases or in the field. Of the 43 players in the major leagues with at least 25 home runs this season, only one has been less valuable (per WARP) than Kendrys Morales: Texas’ Mike Napoli. Morales didn’t change, but its starting to look like the game has.
Gibby: Not Getting Ejected at his Usual Pace
In September of 2016, while the Blue Jays were embattled in a fight for the American League wild card spots, John Gibbons was chasing history. The Blue Jays manager, who had been kicked out of seven games at this time last year, was in line to possibly break the Blue Jays’ all-time record for managerial ejections (8) set by Bobby Cox.
But like a fine wine (or a team with little to play for and hence, to scream about), John Gibbons has mellowed with age; having only been thrown out of five games so far in 2017. The Blue Jays manager will need to belligerently ratchet up the kicking and screaming this September if he has any intention of breaking the franchise ejection record he came oh-so-close to last season.
The 2017 Team Might Not Really Be Unlucky
2017 has brought with it some frustrating losses. These hair-pullers, the ones where the team can’t hold a late lead or isn’t able to push that one extra run across the plate cause some to dream on what could have been. If the team was just a little bit luckier; if Roberto Osuna would have been able to save just a couple more games, or if Josh Donaldson could have hit just a couple more home runs, those blown saves and one run losses could have turned into wins and the season would look a lot different.
But the Jays, who currently sit at 64-74, might have been lucky to get to 64 wins according to several stats that attempt to remove luck and random distribution of run scoring. While the Jays have posted an ugly 5-12 record in extra inning play, the team is 21-21 in one-run games, suggesting that they haven’t been that unlucky (or lucky) in close games at all.
Based on the teams -90 run differential (they’ve allowed 90 runs more than they have scored), Baseball Prospectus’ expected winning percentage for the team sits at .428, or 59-78. Similarly, Baseball Reference has the Blue Jays’ Pythagorean win-loss record sitting at 59-78 as well.
Stats like expected winning percentage and Pythagorean win-loss are far from perfect, and they don’t account for the role that bullpens play in close games, but combined with the Jays’ poor run differential and .500 record in one-run games, the team might not be as unlucky as we’d hoped they were.
Here’s to an interesting end to the 2017 season (how great would a 5 stolen base month from Kendrys Morales be?) and a better 2018.
Lead Photo: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports