Fun With Early Season WAR

It’s hard to believe, but the 2018 regular season is close to 30% complete.  That means it’s time for an annual post here on 500 Level Fan where we take a few minutes to have fun with early season stats.

We are approaching June and the standings are starting to become established.  While things look as expected in some divisions – the Yankees, Red Sox, and Astros are sailing right along – things look awry in others.  Cleveland, Minnesota, and the Dodgers are under .500, the Braves and Phillies are pacing the NL East, and the Pirates are near the top of the NL Central.

But the one thing we keep hearing, the one universal caution about assessing performance at this time of year is this: it’s still relatively early.

But it’s never too early to have some fun with stats. Let’s take a look at some early season WAR stats and assess which players may have staying power (both good and bad).

Player WAR

The above tables show the best players in baseball in terms of WAR, and for what seems like first time in the history of this column, there aren’t really any surprises.  Names like Trout, Betts, Ramirez, Lindor, Freeman, Martinez, and Machado are all established stars.  Simmons was great last year and Cain, Herrera, and Belt have always had expectations.  The biggest surprises for me are seeing Jed Lowrie and Ozzie Albies listed in the top-10 in oWAR, meaning they have been some of the best hitters thus far.  In addition, Kevin Pillar’s name pops out once for where it is and once for where it isn’t.  To see him leading the Jays in WAR is a surprise, but to see him not leading the Jays in dWAR is an even bigger one.  In fact, to date Pillar’s dWAR is a rather pedestrian 0.1.  It’s his bat that’s carrying him in 2018.

Most Likely to Stick in Top-10: Virtually everybody

Most Likely to Drop Out: Belt

Here’s where we see some jaw dropping names.  Dexter Fowler and Ian Desmond were signed to big contracts not long ago, Jason Kipnis is a former All-Star and Chris Davis is a former HR King.  Over on the dWAR side, while Bryce Harper has never been considered a savant with the glove, to see him listed as one of baseball’s 10 worst is stunning.  And then there is poor Kole Calhoun.  Us Jays fans have had to suffer through the offensive woes of Martin, Travis, Grichuk, and Morales, but to see Calhoun listed – no, buried – that far below is nuts.  So what does a -1.5 oWAR mean in contemporary stats?  How about a .160 average, .399 OPS, 1 HR, and 40 strikeouts to only 7 walks?  Yikes.

Most Likely to Stick in Bottom-10: Davis

Most Likely to Climb Out: Kipnis

Pitcher WAR

I honestly can’t point out any surprises in the top-10.  Sale, Verlander, Scherzer, Severino, Kluber, and deGrom are studs.  Nola, Cole, and Bauer have long been considered breakout candidates and Porcello and Cueto have past success.  Similarly there are few surprises on the worst list.  For fun, let’s add some context to just how bad Grimm has been in KC.  In terms of contemporary stats, a -1.6 WAR translates to: 0-2, 21.86 ERA, 3.00 WHIP, 9 walks and 6 strikeouts in only 7 innings.  And we thought Stroman was off to a bad start…..

Most Likely to Stick in Top-10 / Bottom-10: All in the top-10

Most Likely to Drop Out / Climb Out: None

As always, we’ll check back on these lists later in the season to see if things become “more normal”.

Week 8 In Review: Wheels Are Coming Off

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Every Monday during the 2018 season, 500 Level Fan will take a look back at the week that was, giving readers a snapshot of all things Blue Jays, including three top stories and the Blue Jay player of the week.

This is what happened in week 8.

  1. Wheels Are Coming Off

That was ugly.  After such a promising start to the season, the Jays have fallen on hard times recently, culminating in an ugly, depressing, and terrible week.  Toronto went 1-5 last week, dipping below the .500 mark and throwing away any good faith and hope that had accumulated in the season’s first month-and-a-half.  It wasn’t the fact that the Jays lost five-of-six that made the week so bad; it was how they lost.  They were obliterated by the Mets once and the A’s twice.  They were completely shut down by a cast of five Oakland relievers on Friday.  And they blew a 4-0 lead in the 8th inning on Saturday in one of the most demoralizing losses of the year to date.  It was awfully tough to find anything that went well.  The starting pitching was bad, the bullpen was terrible, and the offense (aside from one game in New York) was non-existent.  In one week the Jays went from playoff hopefuls to a team whose season appears to be slipping away.

  1. Have a Day J.A.!

If there was one silver lining to last week’s disaster it’s that J.A. Happ continues to shine.  The lefty was responsible for Toronto’s lone win last week, pitching a gem against the Mets in New York.  Happ went 7 innings, allowed only two hits, didn’t walk a batter and struck out 10.  He also went 2-for-3 at the plate and drew a walk, giving him an outrageous 1.417 OPS!  By Game Score, it was Happ’s best performance of the season, and was especially good to see after he was roughed up in his previous start.  His ERA now sits at 4.15 and he is (sadly) the lone Jays starter that is currently inspiring any confidence.

  1. 0.00 ERA

He’s hitting .163 with a .527 OPS and a -0.8 WAR.  But no matter what ends up happening to Kendrys Morales, nobody can ever take away his 0.00 ERA.

Player of the Week

J.A. Happ, SP

1 Start, 1-0, 7.0 IP, 0 ER, 2 H, 0 BB, 10 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.29 WHIP

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

Reminder: Better Days Are Ahead

Your weekly reminder that both Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette are Jays

Stats as at May 20 (AA New Hampshire Fisher Cats)

The Look Ahead

May 22 – 24 vs. Los Angeles Angels

May 25 – 27 at Philadelphia Phillies

Week 7 In Review: Maile the Magnificent

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Every Monday during the 2018 season, 500 Level Fan will take a look back at the week that was, giving readers a snapshot of all things Blue Jays, including three top stories and the Blue Jay player of the week.

This is what happened in week 7.

  1. Maile the Magnificent

19 hits.  2 home runs.  7 RBI.  .407 OPS.  130 at bats.  Those were the numbers posted by Luke Maile in 2017, stats that made Maile the American League’s worst hitter by a fairly significant margin.  But what a difference a winter makes.  Maile has turned into a hitting machine this season, making the most of the opportunities he’s been given.  He continued his hot start with a monster game last week against Chris Sale and the Red Sox, going 3-for-4 with a game-tying HR in the 7th followed by a walk-off 2-run bomb in the 12th.  He has now appeared in 18 games and has already smashed his 2017 totals with 2 HR, 14 RBI, 20 hits, and a .902 OPS.  That OPS ranks as the 19th best in the entire American League for players with at least 50 plate appearances.  Now if only he can pass on his hitting magic to one of Toronto’s many slumping hitters….

  1. How Low Can We Go?

It has been repeated constantly, but let’s say it again: starting pitching was supposed to be the strength of this team.  Unless a market correction is coming soon, the next question to ask is how bad can the rotation possibly get?  Hopefully not much lower than last week.  In the six games against Seattle and Boston, Jays starters were pitiful.  They combined for an ERA of 7.14, a WHIP of 1.86, walked 16 batters, surrendered 6 HR, and lasted less than 5 innings per start on average.  Worse is that the rotation allowed runs in the first inning of four of the six games (a total of 8 runs), meaning the offense was behind before even coming to the plate.  Now with Marcus Stroman on the DL it means the return of Joe Biagini as starter, a role that in which he has struggled immensely.  The saving grace has been the performance of the bullpen, but with Roberto Osuna gone indefinitely (possibly forever), it’s only a matter of time until that is stretched thin.  Things are……not good.

  1. Is Kendrys Cooked?

Kendrys Morales never stood a chance in Toronto.  Fans viewed him as the front office’s cheap replacement for Edwin Encarnacion, a person he never could have hoped to replace.  Even if he clubbed 40 HR each year of his contract, it still wouldn’t be enough.  Now that he is performing like one of the worst hitters in all of baseball?  Oh boy.  Morales seems to be stuck in a funk that he can’t get out of, seemingly looking worse with each passing at-bat.  He snapped a dreadful 0-for-28 slump last week but still finished the week going 2-for-12 with a huge rally crushing GIDP on Sunday.  For the season Morales is batting .154 with a .525 OPS – not at all the types of numbers any team wants to see from its DH.  It might only be a matter of time until Kendrys is handed his walking papers.

Player of the Week

Luke Maile, C

5-for-12, 1 BB. 1 3B. 2 HR, 2 R. 5 RBI, .417 / .462 / 1.083 / 1.545

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

Reminder: Better Days Are Ahead

Your weekly reminder that both Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette are Jays

Stats as at May 13 (AA New Hampshire Fisher Cats)

The Look Ahead

May 15 – 16 at New York Mets

May 17 – 20 vs.Oakland Athletics

Week 6 In Review: House of Horrors

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Every Monday during the 2018 season, 500 Level Fan will take a look back at the week that was, giving readers a snapshot of all things Blue Jays, including three top stories and the Blue Jay player of the week.

This is what happened in week 6.

  1. House of Horrors

When John Gibbons called Tampa’s Tropicana Field Toronto’s personal “house of horrors” last week, he wasn’t issuing a ground breaking statement.  In fact, he was simply confirming what Jays fans have long known: playing in Tampa Bay is terrible.  Toronto dropped 2-of-3 in Tampa over the weekend, dropping their franchise record to 73-106.  That .408 winning percentage is Toronto’s worst road mark against any team in the AL.  That’s right: even considering the 10-15 year stretch of dominant Yankee and Red Sox teams, and a decade of abject futility by the Rays, the Jays have still fared better in Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park than the Trop.  In fact, Toronto has only posted a winning record in Tampa Bay four times in 20 seasons, and are now off to a 1-2 start in 2018.  The next stop in Tampa is June 11th – prepare for more nightmares.

  1. Donaldson Returns

Josh Donaldson made his welcome, if somewhat surprising, return to the lineup last week, just in time for Thursday’s doubleheader in Cleveland.  It was expected that Donaldson might spend 7-10 days on a rehab assignment but he returned after only a few games and it didn’t take him long to contribute.  Josh went 4-for-11 with two doubles, two home runs, and three RBI against the Indians, helping the Jays to a win the matinee game.  The trip to Tampa Bay didn’t go as smoothly (which is no surprise – see above), but having the perennial MVP-candidate back in the middle of the lineup is a huge boost to Toronto’s playoff chances.

  1. Roster Madness

Thanks to some terrible weather that pummeled much of the US and Canada in mid-April, the Blue Jays were forced to play 21 games in the past 20 days, a stretch that included two doubleheaders and just a single off day.  Add to that injuries suffered by Randal Grichuk and Steve Pearce, and you have a staggering number of roster moves made by Ross Atkins.  The Jays GM made 24 (!) moves last week alone, making full use of the disabled list (for Pearce and Grichuk), the paternity list (Justin Smoak), the doubleheader 26th man rule (Josh Donaldson), and Buffalo (Anthony Alford, Dalton Pompey, Dwight Smith Jr., Luis Santos, Tim Mayza, Joe Biagini, Carlos Ramirez, Jake Petricka, Gift Ngoepe, and Richard Urena).  The turnover was so constant that moves were sometimes made within games.  Forget about trying to figure out who’s in the starting lineup; fans now get to guess who’s even on the big league club!  With all makeup games out of the way, hopefully things settle back down to a normal pace.  Then again, with Diaz injuring his ankle yesterday, perhaps more moves are on the way….

Player of the Week

Yangervis Solarte, 3B

13-for-35, 2 BB. 3 2B. 2 HR, 5 R. 8 RBI, .371 / .405 / .629 / 1.034

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

Reminder: Better Days Are Ahead

Your weekly reminder that both Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette are Jays

Stats as at May 6 (AA New Hampshire Fisher Cats)

The Look Ahead

May 8 – 10 vs. Seattle Mariners

May 11 – 13 vs. Boston Red Sox

Week 5 In Review: Ace Happ

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Every Monday during the 2018 season, 500 Level Fan will take a look back at the week that was, giving readers a snapshot of all things Blue Jays, including three top stories and the Blue Jay player of the week.

This is what happened in week 5.

  1. Ace Happ

Entering the 2018 season the Blue Jays strength was supposed to be their rotation, primarily  for the potential of having two aces: Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez.  But through the first month of the season, J.A. Happ has stolen the “ace” label and might not give it back.  He was sensational in two starts last week, first dominating the Red Sox and then snapping Toronto’s four-game losing streak by completely overwhelming Texas.  Happ pitched seven innings in each start, allowed only three earned runs, and struck out a whopping 19 batters.  Perhaps most impressive is that he didn’t walk a single hitter.  He is currently tied for 1st in the AL with 4 wins, 3rd with a 12.5 K/9 ratio, 2nd with 50 strikeouts, and 3rd with a 7.14 K/BB rate.  In short, he has been awesome and has transitioned into the ace the Jays didn’t know they needed.

  1. Travis to the Minors

Devon Travis began the season as the Jays leadoff hitter, and while there were question marks surrounding him, they focused more on his inability to stay healthy, not his inability to produce.  But Travis has endured a nightmare start to the season, with his disappointing performance culminating with a demotion to the minor leagues on the weekend.  Through 18 games, Travis is hitting just .148, has only three extra base hits, and his OPS is a minuscule .458.  He is also ranked 261st out of 265 AL players with a -0.7 WAR.  Despite his struggles, Toronto still has high hopes for Travis, and his demotion was mainly due to the fact that he has options remaining and not as a punishment.  After all, this is a guy who hit .130 last April and rebounded with a .364 May.  Hopefully he can iron out his swing in Buffalo and return to the big league club with a vengeance.

  1. Trouble With Contenders

The general rule of thumb for contending teams in any sport is to beat the teams you’re supposed to beat and hold your own against the best.  For the Blue Jays, this means beating up on weak teams like Baltimore, Tampa Bay, Chicago, Kansas City, and others, and playing .500 baseball against true contenders like Boston, New York, Cleveland, and the like.  Despite a minor slip-up against the Rangers this past weekend, the Jays were doing exactly what they needed to against the weak teams, going 10-5 and winning four-of-five series.  The concern lies in their play against the top teams.  The Jays lost two-of-three at home to the Red Sox last week, on the heels of dropping three-of-four in Yankee Stadium.  Including their win in Cleveland the Jays are currently 5-7 against winning teams, a .416 winning percentage that won’t be good enough moving forward.  With 49 games remaining against Boston, New York, Washington, Houston, Anaheim, and Cleveland, that percentage needs to climb closer to .500 for the Jays to truly have a chance at October.

Player of the Week

J.A. Happ, SP

2 starts, 1 – 0, 14 IP, 3 ER, 19 K, 0 BB, 1.93 ERA, 0.64 WHIP, 12.2 K/9

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

Reminder: Better Days Are Ahead

Your weekly reminder that both Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette are Jays

Stats as at April 29 (AA New Hampshire Fisher Cats)

The Look Ahead

April 30 – May 2 at Minnesota Twins

May 3 – doubleheader at Cleveland Indians (makeup games)

May 4 – 6 at Tampa Bay Rays

What Is Wrong With Marco Estrada?

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The Marco Estrada saga is one of a number of great Blue Jay success stories.

Over the years we’ve seen players like Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Justin Smoak struggle in other organizations only to finally fulfill their potential in Toronto.  Estrada pitched decently well, though a bit inconsistent and erratic during his years in Washington and Milwaukee, but found his form after being acquired in advance of the 2015 season for Shaun Marcum.  He was one of the key players that helped end Toronto’s playoff drought, and was incredible in the playoffs in elimination games against Texas and Kansas City.

Sadly, something is happening to Estrada, a performance decline that threatens to derail both his and the Blue Jays’ season.  After seeing his numbers dip last season, Estrada has seemingly fallen off a cliff through five starts this year.  After another rough outing last night against Boston, Estrada’s numbers, both on an absolute and relative basis, are terrible.  There are 46 qualified pitchers in the American League thus far – here is where Estrada ranks in a number of key categories:

Those are not pretty.

So what happened?  Is this simply an early season slump, a rough patch that will end after a few adjustments?  Or is this the continuation of a career decline?

I took a look at several other numbers to see if anything jumps out in his early season performance.  Is he suddenly walking more batters?  Has his velocity significantly declined?  Is he surrendering a ton of hard contact?

The good news for Blue Jays fans is that the answers to the above questions appear to be “no”.

Through five starts Estrada’s strikeout rate is 7.67 K/9, down a touch from 2016 and 2017 but up from a 6.51 rate in 2015.  His walk rate is actually down thus far, sitting at 3.0 BB/9, down from 3.44 last season.  His fastball velocity sits at 89.4, down a touch from last season’s 90.1 but in-line with the previous two years.  And in terms of hard contact, his hard-hit rate is 30.6% vs. 28.6% over the past three years.

So with those numbers fairly consistent, what has changed?

First of all, his pitch selection is much different.  Estrada’s fastball usage has increased to 58% up almost 5% from last year.  He is throwing it at the expense of his cutter (down from 6.7% to 5.3%) and his curveball (down from 7.7% to 5.3%).  In years past Estrada was excellent at mixing his cutter and curveball in and around his killer changeup to keep hitters off-balance.  With those pitches fewer and far between, hitters might be sitting on his below-average velocity fastball and teeing off.

Which brings us to dingers.  Estrada has always been a fly ball pitcher, but so far this season he has taken that to an extreme.

His ground ball % has dropped to 28.2% and his fly ball % has risen to a new high of 55.3%.  The result is a significant drop in his GB/FB rate from a high of 0.69 in 2016 to 0.51 thus far in 2018.

The obvious consequence of that is that more fly balls brings the potential for more home runs:

That is a steep incline.  Estrada has already allowed 7 HR in only 27 IP, and more often than not they have been the type of game-changing, soul-crushing bombs that can really hurt a team.  To wit:

  • March 31 vs. New York: Allowed two HR to Tyler Austin, both times wiping out Toronto leads
  • April 20 vs. New York: HR by Austin gave NY a 2-0 lead; HR by Stanton gave NY a 4-2 lead; solo HR by Andujar erased a 5-4 Toronto lead
  • April 26 vs. Boston: HR by J.D. Martinez turned a 3-2 lead into a 5-3 deficit

With players all over baseball trying to increase launch angles thanks to advanced analytics, Estrada will need to make some adjustments or else things might get worse.  Whether that is reducing his reliance on the fastball and throwing his curve more often remains to be seen.

But through five starts it’s obvious that Estrada is broken.  It’s up to him to fix things or else the postseason hopes of the Jays could be in jeopardy.

Week 4 In Review: King Teoscar

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Every Monday during the 2018 season, 500 Level Fan will take a look back at the week that was, giving readers a snapshot of all things Blue Jays, including three top stories and the Blue Jay player of the week.

This is what happened in week 4.

  1. King Teoscar

Talk about forcing Toronto’s hand!  Teoscar Hernandez was awesome in the spring but due to a glut of outfielders and because he still had options remaining, he was forced to start the year in Buffalo.  But early injury problems and the terrible play of Grichuk provided an opening, and Teoscar hasn’t merely walked through the open door – he’s destroyed the door entirely.  In eight games Hernandez has blasted 3 HR, driven in 10, recorded 7 extra base hits, and is currently sporting a 1.138 OPS.  Sure plate discipline remains a bit of a problem as he’s struck out 9 times, but his power and solid contact rate leave him assured of a roster spot for now.  The Jays will have a real roster crunch and some tough decisions to make when Josh Donaldson returns from the DL, but for now it’s all Teoscar all the time.

  1. Incredible Barnes

With the Jays off to a nice start, the team has been garnering more attention than many expected.  Young call-ups like Teoscar Hernandez and Lourdes Gurriel Jr., bigger names like Donaldson, Sanchez, Stroman, and Osuna, and offseason acquisitions off to nice starts like Solarte, Diaz, and Garcia have found themselves in the media quite often.   But there is one player who is having a dynamite start and seems to have fallen under the radar: Danny Barnes.  After a very effective 2017, Barnes had relatively high expectations and entered 2018 as a key piece of the bullpen.  Through 21 games he has blown those expectations out of the water.  In 11.2 innings, Barnes has allowed only one earned run and one walk, while striking out 14.  His 4.1 scoreless innings last week lowered his season ERA to 0.77 and his season WHIP to 1.03.  He has been the rock of a very effective Blue Jays ‘pen.

  1. Rotation Woes

On paper, the Blue Jays entered 2018 with one of the AL’s best starting rotations.  With a fully healthy Sanchez, a solid #5 man in Jaime Garcia, the always effective Happ and Estrada, and Cy Young contender Marcus Stroman, Toronto was expected to contend largely on the arms of their starters.  As we approach the end of the season’s first month, that has definitely not been the case.  Blue Jay starters currently hold a combined ERA of 5.23, the 4th worst mark in the American League.   Only Sanchez has an ERA under 4.50 and Happ leads the rotation with a not-too-great 1.27 WHIP.  Control has been the key issue.  Blue Jay starters have allowed 53 walks, hit 10 batters, and surrendered 20 HR – second most in the AL in each category.  Marcus Stroman has been by the far the most concerning.  Perhaps his spring shoulder issue is to blame, but whatever the case his early returns have been poor.  He was roughed up by the Yankees on Saturday (6 ER and 4 BB in 5.1 IP), increasing his season ERA to a woeful 8.55 – the third worst mark among SP with 20 IP.  The offense and bullpen have been surprisingly great, but the Jays need the rotation to pick up if they are to remain in the hunt in the AL East.

Player of the Week

Teoscar Hernandez, OF

10-for-30, 3 HR, 7 R, 8 RBI, 3 BB, .333 / .394 / .733 / 1.127

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

Reminder: Better Days Are Ahead

Your weekly reminder that both Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette are Jays

Stats as at April 15 (AA New Hampshire Fisher Cats)

The Look Ahead

April 24 – 26 vs. Boston Red Sox

April 27 – 29 vs. Texas Rangers

Week 3 In Review: Late Inning Kings

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Every Monday during the 2018 season, 500 Level Fan will take a look back at the week that was, giving readers a snapshot of all things Blue Jays, including three top stories and the Blue Jay player of the week.

This is what happened in week 3.

  1. Late Inning Kings

Imagine if Rob Manfred went crazy last offseason in his eternal quest to solve baseball’s pace of play issues, and decided to shorten major league games to seven innings?  Games certainly would be shorter thus far in 2018, but the Blue Jays would likely be the worst team in the league.  Through 14 games it is quite obvious that something magical comes over this team once the game hits the 8th inning.  Last Monday Toronto scored five runs in the 9th to turn a 2-1 nailbiter into a 7-1 blowout.  On Tuesday they scored single runs in the 8th and 9th to edge the O’s 2-1.  Then on Friday they scored three times in the top of the 9th to finish off Cleveland.  For the season Toronto has now scored 26 runs in the final two frames, or 36% of their total.  With that kind of late game offense, the Jays are truly never out of any games.  Watch to the end.

  1. Dominating Sanchez

Aaron Sanchez would probably be the first to tell you that he didn’t pitch one of his best games last Tuesday in Baltimore.  He issued five walks, only struck out four batters, and only generated 10 swings and misses.  But he did manage to keep Oriole hitters off balance, induce weak contact, and came within six outs of doing something that has only been done once in Blue Jay history – throw a no-hitter.  He ultimately fell short due to a few Oriole hits in the bottom of the 8th, but the effort was very encouraging.  Through each of his three starts his innings pitched total has increased and his earned runs allowed have decreased, a perfect combination.  Jays fans everywhere would gladly accept a failed no-hit bid if it meant eight quality innings, each and every time.

  1. Down Goes Donaldson

Just as he was starting to heat up a bit, the Jays were forced to place Josh Donaldson on the 10-day DL last Wednesday with right shoulder inflammation.  It was the same issue that plagued him on Opening Day, forcing him to spend a few days as DH.  While it’s never great to lose your MVP and perennial All-Star, the timing of Donaldson’s loss couldn’t be worse.  The Jays are already missing Troy Tulowitzki, and with Devon Travis struggling mightily (.079 average, .252 OPS) they now have no choice but to use their infield depth of Diaz and Solarte as injury replacements, rather than to give Travis a break to get himself sorted out.  There’s no telling how long Josh will be out, but each day he misses puts more pressure on Travis.

Player of the Week

Aledmys Diaz, IF

4-for-15, 2 HR, 3 R, 4 RBI, 1 SB, .267 / .313 / .667 / .979

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

Reminder: Better Days Are Ahead

Your weekly reminder that both Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette are Jays

Stats as at April 15 (AA New Hampshire Fisher Cats)

The Look Ahead

April 16 – 18 vs. Kansas City Royals

April 19 – 22 at New York Yankees

The Early Outfield Returns Are Good

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There’s an old saying in baseball that the games in April count just as much as those in September.  Another adage states that a team can’t win their division in April, but they can certainly lose it.

While the magnitude of a game in the final few weeks of the season with pennant race implications may be amplified, team’s must also show up ready to play in the first few weeks.  So although the Blue Jays still have 149 games left to play let’s not simply gloss over the the start with an “it’s early” shrug of the shoulders.  Last April the Jays essentially played themselves out of playoff contention with a 6-17 start they never recovered from.  Let’s give these guys a bit of credit.

Off to a quick 8-5 start, the Blue Jays look like decent value in the 2018 World Series futures, currently sitting at 30/1.  While 13 games is a small sample size, we’ve seen some important traits: Justin Smoak is showing that 2017 was not an anomaly; Aaron Sanchez is blister-free and throwing great’ Jaime Garcia is proving to be a solid back-of-the-rotation option; and the outfield defense is much improved with Curtis Granderson and Randal Grichuk.  It wouldn’t be a surprise to see their odds get shorter – maybe in the 25/1 or 20/1 range via MyTopSportsbooks – in the coming days.

Of those key traits, the one that isn’t always reflected on the scoreboards or the boxscores is outfield defense.  Last season, with mainly Ezequiel Carrera and Jose Bautista flanking Kevin Pillar, the Jays were not good defensively.  According to Baseball Reference’s Total Zone Fielding Runs Above Average, Toronto had the 5th worst OF in the American League at -9.  BIS Defensive Runs Saved had the Jays even lower at -14, the 4th worst group in the AL.

So how much have Granderson and Grichuk helped?  The answer is obvious:

Total Zone Fielding Runs Above Average: +4   4th in the AL

BIS Defensive Runs Saved: +1   3rd in the AL

Yes it’s still early.  Yes Grichuk is going to have to hit higher than .077 with a .319 OPS.  And yes, health is going to continue to be the key for the Jays chances.

But let’s take a moment to at least be happy with the way things have started.

Week 2 In Review: Keep Calm

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Every Monday during the 2018 season, 500 Level Fan will take a look back at the week that was, giving readers a snapshot of all things Blue Jays, including three top stories and the Blue Jay player of the week.

This is what happened in week 2.

  1. Keep Calm

Over the past three seasons, games involving the Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays were anything but calm.  From the bat flip to the brawl to the playoff walkoff, these two clubs have evolved into bitter rivals.  Well, maybe it’s the fact that Bautista is gone, or that the weather was cold, or that it’s simply too early in the season, but this weekend’s three game set in Texas had none of the fireworks of previous seasons.  Both teams were calm, cool, and collected as the Jays took two of three to move into second in the AL East.  But perhaps the calmest person in either dugout was manager John Gibbons who watched Friday and again Sunday as his bullpen nearly blew big leads.  On Friday, staked to an 8-0 lead through six innings, Aaron Loup and Seung-hwan Oh allowed four runs in a single inning, forcing Osuna into the game.  Then on Sunday, Loup and Oh again had a rough day, allowing four hits and an inherited runner to score in only 0.2 IP.  Credit Gibbons for guiding the team to both wins, but perhaps it’s time to question whether the Jays could use a different lefty in the ‘pen.

  1. Two Sides of the Newcomers Coin

Through 10 games of the season, the Blue Jays have to be incredibly pleased with the performances of three of their key offseason acquisitions.  Aledmys Diaz has two home runs, a .783 OPS, and has played solid defense in place of the injured Tulo.  Yangervis Solarte has posted a massive 1.086 OPS, had several key hits, and is making a name for himself as the best dancer in the game.  Fifth starter Jaime Garcia is 1-0 with a 3.18 ERA in his two starts, and has struck out 12 batters against only 4 walks.  Unfortunately the same can’t be said for Randal Grichuk, who is off to a miserable start to his Toronto tenure.  The RF is batting only .059 with a homer and a single in 34 at-bats, and he has struck out a team leading 13 times.  While the Jays managed to plate 37 runs in 6 games last week, Grichuk went 0-for-20 with 8 K’s.  It’s still very early, but Toronto was obviously hoping for a bigger return from Randal.

  1. Pleasant Backup Surprise

2017 was a nightmare year for Toronto’s backup catchers.  But instead of trying to fortify the position over the winter, the front office elected to stick with Luke Maile in the role in hopes that he is able to contribute at least a bit with the bat when called upon.  Well, so far so good.  Maile has made three starts thus far and has looked pretty good, going 4-for-12 with 4 RBI and a .968 OPS.  For context, Luke only had 19 hits in 130 AB all of last season.  Obviously it’s a small sample size, but you can’t help but be pleasantly surprised so far.

Player of the Week

Roberto Osuna, RP

3.1 IP, 3 Saves, 0 ER, 2 H, 2 K, 0 BB, 0.00 ERA, .182 BAA, 0.60 WHIP

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

Reminder: Better Days Are Ahead

Your weekly reminder that both Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette are Jays

Stats as at April 8 (AA New Hampshire Fisher Cats)

The Look Ahead

April 9 – 11 at Baltimore Orioles

April 13 – 15 at Cleveland Indians

A View From the Cheap Seats