Slow Start? What Slow Start?

Through 12 games of the 2012 MLB season, the Toronto Blue Jays are 6-6. They are in fourth place in the AL East, 1.5 games back of first place Baltimore (that’s not a typo – the Orioles are in first early on).

Maybe it’s the fact that the Jays dropped two straight blowouts to the Rays to end the first homestand. Maybe it’s because they lost two of three to the Orioles. Maybe it’s because Toronto is now under .500 at home. I don’t know. What I do know is that I am hearing a lot of talk in a lot of places that the Jays are up for another stinker of a season – because 12 games (which, by the way, equals 7.4% of the 2012 schedule) can foreshadow an entire season.

One thing all of those people have in common, is a two word phrase that they continuously say: slow start. As in, the Jays are off to a slow start, or the slow start could ruin the season.

To all you panickers out there, I’m hear to talk you off the ledge.

Here are five reasons why the Toronto Blue Jays as a team, contrary to what you think, are NOT off to a slow start:

1. On the surface, it appears that the pitching staff as a whole is struggling. Aside from a good opening weekend in Cleveland, Jays pitchers not named Romero and Drabek haven’t been firing on all cylinders. The entire staff has allowed 50 walks, second most in the American League. They have also allowed 20 HR, tied for most in the AL. The bullpen specifically – yes, the remade, new and improved bullpen – is having a tough time. A 4.76 ERA is 10th in the AL, 23 walks are the most in the AL, a K/BB ratio of 1.74 ranks third last, and 4 blown saves are a league worst.

But that doesn’t tell the whole story. The staff has only allowed 92 hits, tied with the Chicago for the fewest hits allowed, but the H/9 ratio is better due to all the extra inning games they’ve played. They are also better than league average in WHIP, and ERA+. One rocky start for Morrow and Alvarez, and a few bad 9th innings (two of which happened when the game was pretty much out of reach anyways) have negatively skewed the stats.

2. Toronto’s offense appears to be struggling too. Bautista only has 2 HR. Arencibia only raised his average above .100 yesterday, and Rasmus only recently raised his average above .200. Kelly Johnson is tied for 9th in the AL in strikeouts.

But here’s what you might not know. Bautista is tied for the AL lead with 11 walks, showing that he hasn’t lost his eye at the plate and that he’s still getting on base (he’s actually 22nd in the AL in OBP, ahead of Miguel Cabrera and Adrian Gonzalez). Encarnacion is in the top-20 in OPS. As a team they are better than league average in HR, runs per game, and walks. For all the grief that everybody gives Adam Lind, Toronto’s first basemen have combined for a .864 OPS, good for 5th in the AL – and that is mostly Lind.

3. Advanced fielding metrics are hard to trust, but for what it’s worth, baseball reference has the Jays as the best defensive team in the AL – by a mile. Toronto’s defensive efficiency is .761, 1st in the league and way ahead of 2nd place Oakland. More telling is the Total Fielding Runs Above Average stat, which shows the Jays at +22. Second place is Oakland at +11. The league average is +2. (For reference purposes, the Yankees are dead last at -12).

4. If you would have told me before the season started that through 12 games Bautista would have 2 HR and would be hitting in the low .200’s, that Arencibia, Rasmus, and Thames would be having a tough time, that the bullpen would implode a few times, and that Morrow would be off to a rough season through 3 starts, yet we’d still be .500 I would have taken it in a heartbeat. Especially considering the schedule. Cleveland, Tampa, and Boston combined to finish 36 games over .500 last year, and the Orioles were off to a great start (first place tie!) when the Jays played them. Looking at that, I’m surprised we aren’t 4-8 or 3-9.

5. If, after all this, you still think the Jays are off to a slow start, I ask you to look around baseball.

The Angels, the team that made the biggest splash in free agency, signing Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, are 4-9 – dead last in the AL West.

Boston, the powerful, fully loaded Red Sox, is decimated by injuries and sit 4-8 – dead last in the AL East.

The Phillies, lead by the best

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top-3 starting pitcher combo in the game, are 6-7 – dead last in the NL East.

The Cincinnati Reds, the pick of many pundits to win the NL Central, are 5-8 and below the Pirates in the standings. The defending Central champion Brewers are also under .500.

San Francisco, lead by Tim Lincecum’s 10.54 ERA, are also at 6-6 and already 3.5 GB of the Dodgers.

So relax fans. Things aren’t as bad as they seem. All things considered, I’m glad Toronto is .500.

Stay tuned – this team is getting set to explode.

One thought on “Slow Start? What Slow Start?”

  1. Great one. Good to see those fielding stats.
    I was thinking that Toronto looks amazing defensively.
    Nice to have an obscure stat to back it up!

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