This morning I read a tweet written by @james_in_to. It said this:
“Since ’52, the longest stretch of games for a position not to get a hit was 7, NYM SS in ’77 & the BOS C in ’95. Jays 3B now up to 10”
Terrible. Just terrible. Men playing third base for the Blue Jays have gone ten games without a hit. Is this really happening? Is third base (at least in 2011) becoming a sinkhole for Toronto?
The answer, in short, is yes.
Coming into 2011, third base was going to be the most powerful offensive position for the club, with Jose Bautista set to take the reins. But when he was moved to RF at the end of spring training, third base died.
To this point in the season, five different players have covered the hot corner: Edwin Encarnacion, John McDonald, Jayson Nix, Mike McCoy, and Chris Woodward. To say their offensive production has been below average would be kind. Take a look at the below table:
I love Johnny Mac, but when he is your RBI producer, you have a problem. Encarnacion has been terrible, as everybody knows, and Nix had a good start but has fallen off a cliff. McCoy doesn’t really count because he’s almost had as many plane trips between Toronto and Vegas as he’s had hits this year. Woodward has only played once.
Toronto third baseman are producing a .496 OPS, and have combined for a -1.0 WAR. And it’s not like the defensive aspect of the game is making up for the offensive woes either. The combined zone rating of -2 indicates that the Jays 3B have cost the team two runs this year (though it should be noted that EE is responsible for virtually all of that).
For comparison purposes, here are some players that are producing in the neighbourhood of a .496 OPS: Kelly Shoppach, Jeff Mathis, and Josh Wilson. Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels has an OPS of .583.
It wasn’t always this way in Toronto. According to Baseball Reference, the Blue Jays have had 12 different starting third baseman in franchise history. Five of those players have kept the starting job for three consecutive seasons: Roy Howell (1977 – 1980), Rance Mulliniks (1982 – 1986), Kelly Gruber (1987 – 1992), Ed Sprague (1993 – 1998), and Eric Hinske (2002 – 2004). Other than Danny Ainge (1981) and Corey Koskie (2005), those who didn’t last long as the starter still put up good or great numbers, including Tony Fernandez (1999), Tony Batista (2000 – 2001), Troy Glaus (2006 – 2007), and Scott Rolen (2008 – 2009).
One look each man’s average WAR during his time at third is enough to make a Jays fan long for the past:
A reminder that this year Toronto’s 3B have combined for a -1.0 WAR. The best season (in terms of WAR) in Blue Jays history by a third baseman? That would be Mr. Gruber in 1988 with a .278 AVG, .766 OPS, 16 HR, 23 SB, +14 zone rating, and 4.8 WAR. I don’t think we’ll see that this year.
Of course this is all just a moot point. The Blue Jays weren’t expected to contend this year, and the bodies playing third are just there to keep the position warm for 2012 when uber prospect Brett Lawrie makes his appearance.
But still, with the Jays suffering through so much early on, and still hanging around the .500 mark, imagine what could happen with even a little bit of help from the hot corner.