The Week That Was: Week 10

Every Monday during the 2017 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 10.

Week 10: June 5 – June 11

Record: 3 – 3

Season-to-date: 31 – 32

AL East: 5th,  7.5 games behind New York

Wild Card: 1.5 games behind Cleveland/Tampa Bay

  1. Surviving Out West

Last week brought with it a six game road trip to Oakland and Seattle.  Despite the A’s generally underachieving in recent years and games in Seattle resembling home games due to the tens of thousands of Canadians that flock there, trips to these stadiums typically bring bad news to the Jays.  Since 2010 Toronto’s record in Oakland is a dismal 11-15 and in Seattle a worse 9-14.  So expectations were muted.  But a 3-3 week has to be considered a win, more-so when you factor in the lacklustre first two games against Oakland.  Outstanding pitching by Happ, Stroman, Smith, and Osuna combined with some clutch hitting by Donaldson and Smoak enabled the club to take 2 of 3 vs. Seattle, a venue in which they had dropped 5 of 6.  Also, this happened, one of the best things I have seen in years:

  1. Smoak is Firing

What else can we say about Justin Smoak?  The much maligned 1B was left for dead by fans in the offseason, with many begging and pleading with Ross Atkins to simply release him before Opening Day.  (Yes, including me).  But he has done nothing but rake all season long.  He kept his hot streak going last week with another huge week, hitting 4 more HR and posting an OPS of 1.353.  Smoak is now in the top-10 in the American League in Slugging (.599), OPS (.956), Total Bases (124), HR (18), and RBI (43).  He is one of the main reasons why the Jays are within a game of the .500 mark.

  1. Osuna Matata

If Smoak is red hot, Osuna should be classified as scalding.  He has now registered a save in 11 consecutive appearances, including 3 last week alone.  In those 3 saves, Osuna struck out 4 and needed only 27 pitches to record 7 outs.  Of all AL relievers with at least 20 IP, Osuna ranks T-4th with 16 saves, 6th with a 0.84 WHIP, and 13th with 11.88 K/9.  And all this from a guy who blew 3 of his first 4 save opportunities and had an ERA of 7.50 in late April.  His turnaround, coinciding with the emergence of Joe Smith, Ryan Tepera, and Danny Barnes, gives Toronto one of the AL’s better bullpens.

Player of the Week

Justin Smoak, 1B

His incredible run just keeps going:  9 for 23,  2 BB, 4 R, 4 HR, 4 RBI, .391 / .440 / .913 / 1.353

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 32 – 29, 3rd place, 9 GB

AA – New Hampshire: 24 – 37, 6th place, 16 GB

A+ – Dunedin: First Half: 30 – 32, 4th place, 3.5 GB

A – Lansing: First Half: 34 -26, 4th place, 6 GB

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: season not started

The Look Ahead

The team returns to Toronto for a short 5-game homestand.

June 13 – 14 vs. Tampa Bay

June 16 – 18 vs. Chicago White Sox

Hindsight: Looking Back at Past MLB Drafts

The 2017 MLB draft is less than two weeks away.  The Blue Jays hold the 22nd overall pick as well as the 28th overall pick as compensation for the loss of Edwin Encarnacion to Cleveland.  Toronto’s recent first round performance has been hit and miss.  In the past six drafts (2011 to 2016) the club has made 15 first round selections including all compensatory picks.  Other than Dwight Smith’s cup of coffee this year, only Marcus Stroman has reached the big leagues as a Blue Jay.  (Though to be fair, Joe Musgrove and Jeff Hoffman were used to acquire J.A. Happ and Troy Tulowitzki).

As we all know by now the MLB draft is the ultimate crapshoot with so many early round picks flaming out and many late round picks turning into bargains.  The real verdict on many of Toronto’s recent picks (T.J. Zeuch, Jon Harris, Max Pentecost, etc.) won’t be in for several years.  But with the benefit of hindsight we can easily go back and re-grade past drafts.  So to continue a 500 Level Fan tradition, let’s do just that.  To keep it simple I am using Baseball Reference’s WAR stat to rank all players.  It’s not perfect but it’s a nice, convenient stat.  So let’s take a look back at the 2012, 2007, and 2002 MLB drafts (5, 10, and 15 years ago). Armed with hindsight, which is always 20/20, we can see how the draft order might have changed knowing how careers played out.

Note – My re-ranked top-10 list doesn’t take into account things like signability issues, team needs, or draft strategy (i.e. high school vs. college). I simply re-ranked the drafted players based on career WAR (Note: Career WAR totals are as of May 31.

2012 Draft

It often takes several years for drafted players to reach the major leagues. Five years have passed since the ’12 draft, and while many of the drafted players are still young, one would expect the top talents to have found their way to the big leagues by now.

Here are the top-10 picks of the 2012 draft:

Carlos Correa and Byron Buxton were each thought to be sure-fire studs, but to date only one has panned out.  Correa won the Rooke of the Year award in 2015 and is raking again this year for the first place Astros.  Buxton, like the rest of the first round selections, has had a slow start to his career.  Kevin Gausman has showed flashes for the Orioles, but the jury is still out on the rest of the top-10.   Zunino, and Almora have each had a bit of major league success, and both Heaney, and Dahl are currently injured.  Kyle Zimmer is currently toiling in AA and Max Fried has yet to step out of AA.  Mark Appel refused to sign with PIttsburgh, went back in the draft and was chosen #1 overall in 2013 by Houston and has since been traded to the Phillies. They are getting perilously close to being considered busts.

This is what the the top-10 looks like with the magic of hindsight, based on career WAR:

What really stands out about that chart is how solid the first round was outside of the top-10.  Seager, Russell, Stroman, McCullers, and Wacha, have all had great starts to their big league careers, including post season appearances and World Series titles.  Of note, Graveman was drafted 1097th by the Marlins but didn’t sign and was picked up the following year by the Jays, who then packaged him for Josh Donaldson.  Although he is currently the 10th best player out of that draft I think Jays fans everywhere would make that trade again.  And again.

Blue Jay Focus

The 2012 draft was Toronto’s third under Alex Anthopoulos, and has the potential to be outstanding.  Although top pick D.J. Davis (17th overall) looks bad (in his 6th year Davis is still in high A ball in Dunedin), AA used a compensatory pick for failing to sign Tyler Beede in 2011 to draft Marcus Stroman who is a mainstay in the rotation.  Then with pick 112 he gambled on a two sport athlete out of Mississippi who was said to be leanings towards football.  Instead, Anthony Alford stuck with baseball, put up an .867 OPS in New Hampshire this year before being called up to the bigs a few weeks ago.

First Round Picks: D.J. Davis (17th overall), Marcus Stroman (22nd overall)

Total Number of Picks: 44

Number of Players to Reach the Majors: 3

– Marcus Stroman (22nd overall), WAR of 6.9

– Chase De Jong – traded to LA Dodgers for international bonus slots in 2015, then to Seattle in 2017 (81st), WAR of -0.7

– Anthony Alford (112th) – WAR of 0.0

Total WAR = 6.2

2007 Draft

The 2007 draft turned out to be a real mixed bag.  The top-10 produced All Stars, World Series Champions, and several unquestionable busts.

Here are the top-10 picks of the 2007 draft:
Just like in 2012, this was a rare draft where the first overall pick really panned out.  Price was phenomenal in Tampa Bay, Detroit, and Toronto, and is currently a big ticket item for the Red Sox.  Likewise, Madison Bumgarner has been a dominant force in San Francisco, helping the Giants to three World Series titles, including almost single-handedly winning the ’14 edition.   Both Moustakas and Wieters have appeared in the postseason and an All Star game, lending credibility to their selections.  The rest of the top-10 was a bust however.  Josh Vitters hit .121 in 36 games with the 2012 Cubs and is now out of baseball.  Mat LaPorta was a key piece in a CC Sabathia trade, but hasn’t played a big league game since 2012.  That’s more than can be said for Casey Weathers, who never made it above AA.

With the magic of hindsight, here is a re-ranked version of the 2007 draft, based on career WAR:
Chris Sale ranks as the second best player in the draft, but he did not sign with the Rockies and was re-drafted in the first round in 2010.  There were a lot of sluggers selected, including Heyward, Stanton, Freeman, Rizzo, and Lucroy.  And then there was the Bringer of Rain Josh Donaldson drafted with a compensatory pick by the Cubs as a catcher.   He never quite panned out in Chicago, but has done pretty well elsewhere.

Blue Jay Focus

The 2007 draft was completed under the guidance of J.P. Ricciardi, and looks pretty bad in hindsight.  When your top pick doesn’t make the big leagues, you get a big red X.

First Round Picks: Kevin Ahrens (16th overall as compensation for the loss of Frank Catalanotto), J.P. Arencibia (21st overall), Brett Cecil (38th overall, supplemental pick for the loss of Justin Speier), Justin Jackson (45th overall, supplemental pick for the loss of Frank Catalanotto), Trystan Magnuson (56th overall, supplemental pick for the loss of Ted Lilly)

Total Number of Picks: 35

Number of Players to Reach the Majors: 7

– J.P. Arencibia – now retired, (21st), WAR of 2.7

– Brett Cecil – now with St. Louis (38th), WAR of 6.5

– Trystan Magnuson – out of baseball, (56th) WAR of -0.2

– Brad Mills – out of baseball (145th), WAR of -1.5

– Marc Rzepczynski – now with Seattle (175th), WAR of 3.7

– Brad Emaus – out of baseball (355th), WAR of -0.7

– Darin Mastroianni  (505th), WAR of -0.5

Total WAR = 10.0

2002 Draft

To those who say that drafting players should be easy, may I present the 2002 top-10.  Yikes.

Where do we even begin?  Greinke was obviously a great selection by KC, even if he didn’t really come into his own until after he left the Royals.  There are a few classic cases of what could have been with Upton, Francis, and Fielder each seeing their promising careers derailed by injury and/or inconsistency.  But the rest of the lot?  Let’s take a closer look:

Bullington pitched a total of 18.1 innings for the Pirates before bouncing around to a few other clubs including a 6-inning, 6-walk stint for Toronto in 2009.  Beginning in 2011 he spent five relatively successful years in Japan.

Neither Gruler nor Everts ever reached the majors.  Loewen had a few solid months as a pitcher for the Orioles before reinventing himself as an outfielder.  He appeared in 14 games for the Jays in 2011.  Finally, Moore and Meyer made short stops in the major leagues and did nothing that would confuse them for a top-10 pick.

Here is a re-ranked version of the 2002 draft, based on career WAR:

A pretty solid list of players.  The real standout has to be Martin, drafted 511th overall by the Dodgers, and still enjoying a productive career in Toronto.

Blue Jay Focus

2002 was the first draft of the  Ricciardi era and to say it wasn’t great would be an understatement.  The Jays drafted yet another shortstop of the future in the first round, picking Russ Adams with the 14th pick.  Adams went off the board ahead of Nick Swisher, Cole Hamels, and Matt Cain in the first round.  He actually enjoyed a fairly productive 2005 season (63 RBI, 11 SB, .707 OPS), but quickly fizzled and did not appear in the majors after 2009.

First Round Pick: Russ Adams (14th overall) – Career WAR: 0.0

Total Number of Picks: 50

Number of Players to Reach the Majors: 8

– Russ Adams (14th), WAR of 0.0

– Dave Bush (55th), WAR of 3.5

– Adam Peterson (116th), WAR of -0.2

– Jason Perry (176th), WAR of -0.5

– Jordan De Jong (536th), WAR of -0.2

– Dewon Day (776th) – WAR of -0.5

– Erik Kratz (866th) – WAR of 0.1

– Drew Butera (1419th) – WAR of -1.3

Total WAR = 0.9

Nearly There…..

What.  A.  Turnaround.

The crazy 2017 season continued its crazy ways this afternoon as the Jays, featuring Chris Coghlan, Ryan Goins, and Luke Maile at the bottom of the lineup and Mike Bolsinger on the mound, completed a three game sweep of the Reds to creep to within a single game of .500.

That’s right.  This team that started 1-9 overall, 2-8 at home, and at one point was 6-17 – good for dead last in baseball – is now 26-27.  This team that at one stretch was missing Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, Russell Martin, Kendrys Morales (for a few games), J.A. Happ, Aaron Sanchez, and Francisco Liriano, is now only 6 games behind the Yankees for top spot in the AL East.  This team that on top of all the injuries saw Devon Travis and Jose Bautista batting under .150, Roberto Osuna blowing every save chance he could find, and Grilli / Howell / Leone and co. giving away runs like candy on Halloween is now suddenly only 2.5 games back of a Wild Card slot.

It’s crazy.

On the morning of April 27th, with the Jays sitting with a record of 6-14 and looking rather hopeless, I wrote that it was important for the team to reach the .500 mark by game 62.  That would leave them with a nice round 100 games remaining to make their move towards October.  At the time of that post, Toronto needed to go 25-17 in the next 42 games to reach the .500 mark.  Did I really believe they could do it?  I’d like to say yes.  But let’s be honest.  They still had to go to New York to face the red hot Yankees.  There was still a home and home series with Tampa, a visit to Baltimore, and series against two 2016 playoff teams in Cleveland and Texas.  Then, immediately after writing that article Toronto lost three straight games (including an embarrassing doubleheader sweep in St. Louis) to fall to 6-17.

The season was horrid.  And getting worse.

But what has transpired since then has been simply magical.  Bautista and Travis have started hitting.  Players have started returning to health.  Stroman turned into a slugger and an ace.  Estrada is suddenly a strikeout artist.  Osuna regained his 2015/16 form.  And the most unlikely players have taken turns as hero’s.  Goins, Carrera, and Barney of all people took turns carrying the offense.  Joe Biagini of all people stabilized the rotation.  Joe Smith, Ryan Tepera, and Danny Barnes of all people suddenly morphed into Andrew Miller and Cody Allen, transforming Toronto’s ‘pen into a fortress.

Even better, during Toronto’s 18-10 month of May, the rest of the AL East has stayed stagnant.  Tampa, New York, and Boston are each 3 games over .500, and Baltimore has lost significant ground at 11-16.  The division is essentially up for grabs.

The Jays have now collected 20 of the 25 wins required to reach .500 by game 62.  A 5-4 record in the next 9 games is all it will take.  With a four game set at home with the Yankees, and then a west coast trip to Oakland and Seattle upcoming, it definitely won’t be easy.

But I like our chances.

The Week That Was: Week 8

Every Monday during the 2017 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.

Week 8: May 22- May 28

Record: 4 – 1

Season-to-date: 23 – 27

AL East: 5th,  7.5 games behind New York

Wild Card: 3 games behind Cleveland/Baltimore

  1. They’re Back!

Friday night brought with it a most welcome sight for Blue Jays fans.  No, I’m not talking about Rougned Odor and the Texas Rangers coming to town for their annual spanking.  I’m talking about the return of Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki to the Jays lineup.  After missing over four weeks of action, the pair returned Friday and immediately transformed Toronto’s lineup from pedestrian to terrifying.  It didn’t take long for both to announce their presence either, with Donaldson ripping a double in his first at bat and Tulo reaching base three times.  With news that Francisco Liriano and possibly J.A. Happ might both return this week, the Jays are coming agonizingly close to being able to field their full team for the first time in 2017.

  1. Stay Hot Devon

April was a miserable month for the entire Blue Jays roster, but it was downright awful for Devon Travis.  The second baseman hit .130 and posted a .388 OPS in 83 April plate appearances putting him among the worst hitters in all of baseball.  But then the calendar switched to May and something clicked.  Travis has been tearing the cover off the ball, putting up video game numbers.  He is hitting .360 with a 1.010 OPS, and has set a Blue Jay record with 15 doubles in the month.  He is now tied for the major league lead with 17 doubles.  He also hit safely in all five games last week, extending his hitting streak to 12.  With Tulo and Donaldson back, Bautista and Morales heating up, and Smoak and Pillar still hitting well, Travis gives the Blue Jays an incredibly long and deep batting order, one that should have the rest of AL shaking.

  1. Barnes to Tepera to Osuna?

Nearly every good bullpen has a hierarchy cemented by a dominant back-end.  In 2015, the Jays ‘pen featured Cecil to Sanchez to Osuna to finish off games.  Last season saw Biagini to Grilli to Osuna, and that same combo was expected to close things out this year.  But Biagini has moved to the rotation, and Grilli got off to a terible start, forcing the Jays to improvise.  And suddenly it seems like they might be onto a new combo.  With apologies to Joe Smith, the Danny Barnes – Ryan Tepera – Roberto Osuna trio has been lights out recently.  Barnes has a 2.33 ERA with 21 strikeouts and has allowed earned runs in only 3 of his 15 appearances.  Tepera hasn’t been scored on since April 27, and has a 0.00 ERA, .102 BAA, and a 0.64 WHIP in May.  And Osuna, after a rough start, is back to his old self, posting 3 saves in 3 scoreless appearances last week.  The development of this newest lockdown trio has been a huge key in Toronto’s 2017 turnaround.

Player of the Week

Jose Bautista, RF

His 3-run HR off Yu Darvish was just another one of his huge hits recently:  6 for 17,  2 BB, 4 R, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 1 SB, .353 / .400 / .706 / 1.106

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 26 – 21, 3rd place, 7 GB

AA – New Hampshire: 19 – 29, 6th place, 13 GB

A+ – Dunedin: First Half: 29 – 22, 1st place

A – Lansing: First Half: 27 -20, 4th place, 6 GB

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: season not started

The Look Ahead

The 10-game homestand continues with a visit by the Yankees and Toronto’s own Joey Votto.

May 29 – 31 vs. Cincinnati

June 1 – 4 vs. New York Yankees

Fun With Early WAR

It’s hard to believe, but the 2017 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 for some teams (Astros and Nationals are good, Padres and Phillies are not), the league is still full of surprises.  The Yankees, Twins, and Brewers at the top?  The Rockies dominating?  The Jays, Royals, Mariners, and Pirates in last?  Fans everywhere are scratching their heads, wondering if down is up or if up is down.

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 the leaderboard is a healthy mix of guys you would expect to see there and guys you wouldn’t.  To the surprise of nobody, Mike Trout is once again dominating the league, and guys such as Goldschmidt, Freeman, Harper, and Arenado are mainstays.  Judge, Cozart, and Conforto have been talked about as having the talent so their names aren’t overly shocking.  But what about Corey Dickerson and Eugenio Suarez?  Crazy.  In terms of defensive WAR, the usual suspects are all there, so no real surprises.  For Jays fans, the shock has to be Kevin Pillar.  To see him leading the team in dWAR is no surprise, but in total WAR?  It speaks to how great he has been, but also to how disappointing the rest of the team has been.

Most Likely to Stick in Top-10: Trout, Goldschmidt, Harper, Arenado

Most Likely to Drop Out: Suarez, Cozart

Two names jump off the list of worst players in terms of WAR: McCutchen and Ichiro.  It wasn’t long ago that both were perennial MVP candidates, but now they both seem like shadows of their former selves.  The biggest shock on the list has to be Kyle Schwarber of the Cubs.  Many were expecting a huge year from him, and I think he still ends up producing.  Maikel Franco is also off to a horrendous start in Philly.  To the surprise of absolutely nobody who watches the Blue Jays, Ezequiel Carrera is ranked as the second worst fielder in all of baseball.  He has a knack for turning every fly ball into an adventure.

Most Likely to Stick in Bottom-10: Hernandez, Revere, Asche

Most Likely to Climb Out: Schwarber, Franco

Pitcher WAR

For the most part, the list of top WARs is a who’s-who of stud pitchers.  Chris Sale, Clayton Kershaw, Dallas Keuchel, Zack Greinke, and Yu Darvish were all expected to do well, and all have met expectations.  But then there is the rest of the list and….wow.  Mike Leake is baseball’s top pitcher?  Ervin Santana dominating?  Dylan Bundy and Ivan Nova?  It will be interesting to see if these guys are legit.  Over on the other side, Sam Dyson sucks.  But sadly, so does Jason Grilli.

Most Likely to Stick in Top-10 / Bottom-10: Sale, Kershaw, Keuchel, Greinke, Carraso, Dyson, Weaver

Most Likely to Drop Out / Climb Out: Bundy, Glasnow

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

The Week That Was: Week 6

Every Monday during the 2017 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.

Week 6: May 8 – May 14

Record: 6 – 1

Season-to-date: 17 – 21

AL East: 5th,  6.5 games behind New York

Wild Card: 3 games behind Cleveland

  1. We’re Alive!

That is more like it!  After five purely awful weeks, the Toronto Blue Jays finally showed up for the 2017 season, stringing together five straight wins to finish off a 6-1 week.  The Jays began the week by taking two of three from the Indians before sweeping the Mariners.  The week had a little bit of everything.  There was offense, with the team scoring 7 runs or more three times.  There was pitching, with the Jays surrendering 2 runs or less four times.  There were blowouts, with three games decided by four or more runs.  And there was plenty of drama.  Ryan Goins played the hero on Wednesday, providing the finishing touches on a comeback win:

And Kevin Pillar played walkoff hero yesterday:

  1. Welcome Back Edwin

Monday saw the return of former Blue Jay hero Edwin Encarnacion to Toronto.  Though some (including Edwin himself) were worried about how he would be greeted by fans after what happened in the offseason, Toronto fans quickly showed that concerns weren’t warranted.  Edwin was greeted with several long and loud ovations, and appeared to be genuinely moved by the reception.  And though he is not performing to his normal level of dominance, he showed Jays fans that he still has life left by going 3 for 9 with 4 walks against Toronto pitching.  But the Jays got the last laugh, taking two of three and gaining ground on the Indians.  Regardless, it was great to see Edwin back.  A spot on the Level of Excellence should be his in the not-too-distant future.

  1. Welcome Back Jose!

After welcoming Encarnacion on Monday night, Blue Jays fans also welcomed back iconic slugger Jose Bautista this past week.  While it’s true that Jose has been playing with the Jays the entire 2017 season, he has been such a shell of his former self that he might as well have not been here at all.  After an 0-for-3 on Monday vs. Cleveland, Bautista was hitting a woeful .169 with a .550 OPS, one of the worst hitters in the American League.  But all of a sudden….boom.  The prodigal son returns.  Jose went deep in the first inning on Wednesday to give the Jays a 3-2 lead.  He went deep on Friday to extend a 1-run lead to 3-runs.  And he went deep again on Saturday, breaking a 2-2 tie in the 7th inning.  In six days he raised his average 13 points to .182 and his OPS 92 points to .642.  Dare we say…..he’s back?

Player of the Week

Kevin Pillar, CF

Several outstanding catches to go with his walkoff bomb, Pillar has been unreal in 2017:  8 for 25, 5 BB, 1 2B, 8 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 2 SB, .320 / .419 / .480 / .899

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 18 – 16, T-3rd place, 4 GB

AA – New Hampshire: 12 – 24, 6th place, 9.5 GB

A+ – Dunedin: First Half: 20 – 17, T-2nd place, 2 GB

A – Lansing: First Half: 19 -14, 4th place, 4.5 GB

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: season not started

The Look Ahead

A home-and-home interleague set before another series against Blanche and the Orioles

May 15 – 16 vs. Atlanta

May 17 – 18 at Atlanta

May 19 – 21 at Baltimore

Strength of Schedules: Where We Stand

Last season, while watching the Jays try to chase down the Orioles in the middle of the season, something struck me as rotten: the timing of the schedule couldn’t be more different.  While Toronto was constantly facing teams that were red-hot, the Orioles had the benefit of facing teams and players in deep slumps.

For the most part, teams in the same division play very similar schedules.  They all play each other 19 times, and play equal amounts of games against teams in other divisions.  What is vastly different, however, is when they play those teams.  For example, a matchup last season against the Yankees in the early part of the season was a much different task than playing a New York team that went on an absolute tear in August.

To try and quantify those differences I created a very simple, rudimentary formula, applied it to each team in the AL East, and sized up which team had an easier run.  This year, I thought I’d expand that thinking to the entire American League, with a goal of publishing a summary each month.

The formula for Strength of Schedule is easy:

Season Wins – Season Losses + Wins in Last 5 – Losses in Last 5 + Wins in Last 10 – Losses in Last 10 + Current Streak

The calculation is as at the opening game of each series.  So with Cleveland in town for a three game set this week, their score would be calculated as of Monday May 8 as follows:

Cleveland

Season: 17-13    L10: 6-4    L5: 3-2    Streak: W2

Total Points = 9    (17-13+6-4+3-2+2)

By no means is the formula complex or exhaustive.  It doesn’t include individual player projections, park adjusted stats, weather effects, or injuries.  But it is fairly effective at rewarding teams that are hot, and giving a fairly true picture of the impact of playing a team at the wrong time.

So how does the AL look as of Monday May 8?  Let’s take a look at four different charts: Strength of Schedule, Opponents W-L Record, Series vs. 1st Place Teams, and Series vs. Last Place Teams:

Strength of Schedule (SOS)

Opponent W-L Record

Series vs. First Place Teams

Series vs. Last Place Teams

Observations

  • Man, the AL East is tough.  In terms of SOS and Opponent’s W% the four hardest schedules have been played by AL East teams…..
  • ….except for Tampa Bay.  While the rest of the East has been bashing each other, Tampa has played our woeful Jays three times, the last place Royals, an under .500 Marlins team, and got the benefit of playing the Yankees back in early  April when they were struggling.
  • Speaking of the Yankees, they have the best record in baseball and have piled up the wins against quality teams, with +48 SOS, the toughest by far.  They have also played five series against first place teams, including this week against the surprise Reds.  They also had the misfortune of playing the Rays back when they were 3 games over .500, and the Jays when Toronto was red hot (2 straight wins).
  • The Astros are running away with the AL West, having played the league’s easiest schedule by a significant margin.  Their -61 SOS includes five series in which their opponent entered on a losing streak of three or more games, including this week vs. Atlanta (11-18, L4).
  • To date, the most difficult series in terms of SOS was a +20 when the White Sox played a red hot Yankees team beginning April 17.  The Yanks were 8-4 and riding a 7 game win streak.
  • To date, the least difficult series in terms of SOS was a -31, also by the White Sox when they played the Royals beginning May 1.  KC was 7-16, losers of 9 straight entering that series.

Blue Jay Summary

The Jays have played a tough schedule to be sure, with three series against first place teams (April 13 v Baltimore, May 1 v New York, May 9 v Cleveland), and just one against a last place team (April 11 v Milwaukee).  But let’s be honest – the team is in shambles and have been playing poorly regardless of the opposition.  Hopefully a turnaround is forthcoming and some more meaningful analysis will be necessary.

Check back in a month or two for another installment.

The Week That Was: Week 5

Every Monday during the 2017 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.

Week 5: May 1 – May 7

Record: 3 – 3

Season-to-date: 11 – 20

AL East: 5th,  10 games behind New York

Wild Card: 6 games behind Boston

  1. Signs of Life

It has been a miserable start to the season for the Blue Jays.  The team sits in dead last in the AL East, already a whopping 10 games back of New York.  But for the first time this year the club showed some signs of life last week, with the offense finally deciding to show up.  Entering the week, Toronto was averaging 3.56 runs per game through the first 25 games of the year, a far cry from the lofty heights set in 2015.  But in six games last week they scored 29 runs, an average of 4.83 per game.  What was more promising was who was doing the damage.  Steve Pearce and Kendrys Morales, the two key offseason signings, combined for 5 HR, 11 RBI, and a .342 average, and Kevin Pillar continues to torch the baseball.  With Donaldson and Tulo due back soon, the Jays lineup might once again look a little imposing for opposing pitchers.  Now, about Bautista…..

  1. Rotation In Flux

This was not supposed to happen.  Toronto’s starting rotation was expected to be the main strength of this team, but instead it has become a daily adventure.  Happ and Sanchez are on the DL.  Stroman left his start on Wednesday with tightness in his throwing arm.  Liriano is about as erratic as they come, dominating at times (30 Ks) but also struggling mightily (just over 4 IP per start, and 20 walks).  With the injuries the Jays were forced to ride three starts from Mat Latos, who looked serviceable in his first two before getting lit up by the Yankees on Tuesday.  He was released afterwards with Mike Bolsinger taking his place.  Joe Biagini looked great in a shortened spot start yesterday, but his appearance in the rotation taxes an already overworked bullpen (2nd most innings in the AL).  It remains to be seen how long Happ and Sanchez will be out, but the Jays need them healthy and back ASAP.  There’s no telling how much longer this patchwork rotation can last.

  1. Osuna Matata

After a disastrous start to the season, it appears that all is (thankfully) well with Roberto Osuna.  He put up dominant numbers in 2015 and 2016, but was knocked around in his first several appearances this year, uncharacteristically blowing saves.  But he looked like his normal self this past week.  In three appearances, he pitched three innings, allowing only one hit and one walk while striking out six, notching his fourth save in the process.  With so much uncertainty in the lineup and in the rotation, it helps a ton to have Osuna back in his rock solid form.

Player of the Week

Kendrys Morales, DH

Finding his footing after a slow start: 8 for 25, 2 2B, 3 R, 2 HR, 6 RBI,  .320 / .320 / .640 / .960

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 16 – 11, 1st place

AA – New Hampshire: 10 – 19, 6th place, 8.5 GB

A+ – Dunedin: First Half: 17 – 14, 3rd place, 3 GB

A – Lansing: First Half: 16 -12, 4th place, 3 GB

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: season not started

The Look Ahead

The return of Edwin Encarnacion highlights the start of a 9-game homestand.  Time to start winning some games.

May 8 – 10 vs. Cleveland

May 11 – 14 vs. Seattle

The Week That Was: Week 4

Every Monday during the 2017 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.

Week 4: April 24 – April 30

Record: 3 – 4

Season-to-date: 8 – 17

AL East: 5th,  8 games behind Baltimore/New York

Wild Card: 6 games behind Chicago

  1. Streaking!

For the first time in 2017 the Blue Jays are on a winning streak!  After coming back in the 8th inning yesterday to defeat the Rays 3-1, Toronto has now won consecutive games for the first time since the 2016 ALDS against Texas.  Yes, the overall numbers still look ugly, but as somebody said on Twitter yesterday, you can’t win 10 straight without winning the first two.  Also along those lines, while it certainly is discouraging to see the Jays with a .320 winning percentage, you can’t reach the .500 mark without first reaching .350, .400. and .450.  In keeping with the baby steps theme I wrote about last week, the Jays are slowly turning things around.  With yesterday’s win they moved ahead of Kansas City and out of dead last in the AL, and also clawed to within 3.5 of the Rays for 4th in the East.  Hey – it’s better than nothing.

  1. Feast or Famine in Relief

If you like rollercoasters, and up-and-down thrill rides, then the Blue Jays bullpen is the thing for you!  Seriously, what a week!   On Monday, three relievers combined to pitch 2.2 perfect innings in a 2-1 loss.  That was followed up by a pathetic performance on Tuesday and Thursday’s first doubleheader game, with Toronto RP combining for 11 earned runs, 17 hits, 3 walks, and 3 blown saves.  After a decent performance in the back-end of the doubleheader, Grilli and Leone allowed 5 runs on 3 HR to blow another game on Friday.  Then from seemingly out of nowhere the relief corps turned in a lights out weekend, allowing only 1 run in 12 innings of work, highlighted by a dominant performance by Tepera after Aaron Sanchez was forced to leave after a single inning.  Will the hearts of Jays fans be able to take this for another 137 games?

  1. Superman

Even if the Jays lose every game the rest of the way, we will always have this:

Player of the Week

Russell Martin, C

Turning his season around in a big way: 7 for 17, 3 BB. 1 2B, 3 R, 2 HR, 4 RBI,  .412 / .524 / .824 / 1.347

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 14 – 8, 1st place

AA – New Hampshire: 8 – 14, 6th place, 6 GB

A+ – Dunedin: First Half: 13 – 11, T-3rd place, 3 GB

A – Lansing: First Half: 13 -10, 4th place, 1.5 GB

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: season not started

The Look Ahead

Another tough AL East slate.

May 1 – 3 at New York

May 5 – 7 at Tampa Bay

Baby Steps

Finally.

For the first time in 2017 people are talking about the Jays in a good way.

All it took was Chris Coghlan to channel his inner Willie Mays Hayes, Marcus Stroman to come off the bench as a pinch hitter, and Ryan Tepera to actually hold on to a lead for Toronto’s bullpen.  Yes, Tuesday night’s game against the Cardinals seemingly had it all, and most important of all it ended with a Blue Jays win.

Through 20 games, the Jays sit dead last in the AL East with a record of 6-14, matching the worst 20-game start in franchise history originally set in 1979.  None of the numbers look good.  The club has a team OPS of .639, second worst in the AL.  They are scoring 3.50 runs per game, second worst in the AL.  They are hitting .181 with runners in scoring position, second worst in the AL.  They are hitting .172 with a runner on third and less than 2 out, worst in the AL.

It goes on and on, but that is not what this post is about.  The Jays are off to a bad start – we all know that.  But that doesn’t matter anymore.  What matters is what they do from this point on.

Open your eyes wide enough and it’s easy to see that things are slowly starting to turn around.  In the past week things are actually looking up.  Toronto has put together a 4-3 record, and some of their hitters are slowly but surely coming to life.  Russell Martin is hitting .438 with 2 HR.  Jose Bautista finally went deep, as did Devon Travis.  Justin Smoak is actually looking like a serviceable big leaguer.  On the mound, Marcus Stroman continues to impress, and it seems as if Liriano has shaken off his awful start.

What is important for fans to realize, and what is sometimes difficult to accept, is that a turnaround takes time.  The Jays aren’t going to win 10 games in one night, and aren’t going to win the next 10 games in a row.  If they are going to turn it around, it is going to be a slow and steady crawl back to respectability.  The first goal on that trek back up is the .500 mark.

Baseball is a game of seemingly arbitrary endpoints, so let’s make one up here: game 62.  That is when Toronto realistically needs reach .500.  If they can get to 31-31, that leaves 100 games left – a nice round number – to do some damage.

To see why that milestone is important, I took a look at every single playoff team in the wild card era, which began in 2012 – a total of 50 different instances.  Through 62 games, the average record of the 50 playoff teams was 35-27, with 88% being .500 or better.  That means only 6 times in the wild card era has a team with a losing record at the 62 game mark rebounded to make the playoffs.  The worst teams in that stretch?  The 2013 LA Dodgers and the 2012 Oakland A’s, both of which were 27-35.

Does that mean reaching .500 guarantees a playoff spot?  Not even close.  But what it does mean is that failing to reach .500 will make it very difficult to qualify for the postseason, especially in a division as tough as the AL East.

For the Jays to reach that magical mark, they will have to go 25-17 in the next 42 games, just under .600 baseball.  For context, the 2016 Jays went 25-17 or better in 58 different 42-game stretches.  The 2015 Jays did so 51 times.

Including today’s doubleheader in St. Louis, Toronto plays 20 of those 42 games on the road, and only 15 are against teams that are above .500 as of right now.  The team will conceivably be getting Aaron Sanchez, J.A. Happ, Josh Donaldson, and maybe Troy Tulowitzki back.  All good news.

There is still a long way to go, but there is hope it can be done.

The baby steps have started.  The just need to keep on coming.

A View From the Cheap Seats