Devastating. Crushing. Season altering.
Any of those could have described what happened last week to the Blue Jays. In the space of five days, the Jays lost three starting pitchers to injury and were swept ;by the upstart Washington Nationals. They dropped below the .500 mark for the first time in 2012, and fell into a tie for last place with the Red Sox. The hitters suddenly weren’t hitting, and the bullpen was being used very heavily.
If the wheels were going to fall off, this was the week it would happen. Instead, somehow, Toronto showed great resiliency, rebounded, and swept the Philadelphia Phillies, moving back over the right side of .500, and once again leaving last place in the rearview mirror. To still be within striking distance of the second Wild Card after all that is more than just a good week.
It’s a downright miracle.
Here are three things from week 11:
Week 11: June 11 – June 17
Record: 3 – 3
1. Pitching Staff Lows
Brandon Morrow threw nine pitches on Monday night then left with a strained oblique muscle. At the time he was probably one of the top 10 pitchers in the American League.
Kyle Drabek lasted into the fifth inning on Wednesday, before leaving with an elbow injury. It is suspected that a second Tommy John surgery is needed, likely sidelining him until September 2013. Drabek had definitely been struggling over his past few starts, but losing him still hurts.
Drew Hutchison was possibly the hottest Jays starter in recent days, going 2-1 with a 2.66 ERA in his past three starts heading into Friday night. Then, after nine pitches, he left the game with an elbow injury. The severity of his injury is not yet known, but the words “pitcher”, “elbow”, and “hurt” are never a good combination.
To make matters worse, despite leading the league in winning percentage with a 7-1 record (yay for the wins stat!!!) Ricky Romero continues to struggle. In his past four starts he has a 5.48 ERA and has allowed 5 HR. If there is a good sign, it’s this: in that time frame he has only walked five batters. Despite that low number, Romero still ranks 4th in the AL in walks.
So what happens now? The Jays must replace three starters and don’t have the organizational depth to effectively do so. Brett Cecil came back yesterday and pitched very well, but that still leaves two openings. Guys like Robert Coello, Jesse Chavez, and Aaron Laffey have been floated, along with some external options like Jeremy Guthrie. While I don’t get excited about an ex-Oriole joining the staff, bringing somebody in as a stopgap makes more sense than pushing the prospects in the minors.
Whatever happens, Alex Anthopoulos has his work cut out for him.
2. Pitching Staff Highs
While it certainly wasn’t a banner week for the starting rotation, it was for the bullpen. They have been criticized, maligned, and hated, but you have to tip your hat to the collection of arms in the ‘pen for their efforts last week.
With their ranks swollen to 10 men due to the injuries to starters, Toronto’s relief corps were called upon to pitch 32 innings in only six games, a number far above the usual workload. Luis Perez, Carlos Villanueva, and Aaron Laffey bore much of the burden, but Chad Beck, Jason Frasor, and Casey Janssen also pitched three or more innings.
When all was said and done, they put forth a monumental performance: 32 IP, 1.97 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and a 7.59 K/9 ratio. The effort on Friday night was particularly impressive, with Laffey, Villanueva, Frasor, Oliver, and Janssen combining to toss 8.1 scoreless innings in a 3-0 shutout win.
Obviously the extra strain on the bullpen is a not a good thing, especially considering that Toronto’s ‘pen ranks 12th in the AL in ERA, 2nd in most walks allowed, and dead last in WHIP.
But for one week, they were spectacular.
3. WAR Machines
Wins Above Replacement. It is a very complex stat meant to measure how many wins a player is worth to his team over a replacement player, somebody of AAA quality. The stat attempts to combine a player’s value both offensively and defensively, quantifying his overall impact in one single number. Many people take it as gospel, whereas many debate it endlessly, thinking it is worthless and overrated.
Personally, I take it with a grain of salt. It is a good indicator of player performance, but not an exact, end-all measure.
Because if it was, Toronto would be unstoppable. According to the way Baseball Reference measures the stat, the Toronto Blue Jays lead the AL with a 12.6 WAR (not including pitchers – that is an entirely different story). In fact, the Blue Jays have six players in the top-30, including Brett Lawrie who – believe it or not – leads the league:
1. Brett Lawrie, 3.6 WAR
13. Yunel Escobar, 2.2 WAR
18. Kelly Johnson, 2.1 WAR
24. Edwin Encarnacion, 1.8 WAR
24. Colby Rasmus, 1.8 WAR
29. Jose Bautista, 1.6 WAR
The biggest contributor to the stats for the Jays comes from the defensive end – by far. Toronto’s dWAR (or defense only WAR) is 5.5, well ahead of second place Boston (3.0) and miles ahead of the Tigers (last place at -3.9). Four Jays are ranked in the top-12 in the AL in dWAR: Lawrie (1st), Escobar (T3rd), Johnson (8th), and Rasmus (T12th).
Again, since advanced defensive metrics are often very subjective, it’s important to take them with a grain of salt. But still – it’s always nice to see some outstanding individual seasons being put together by the boys.