Sunday, September 29, 2013

At Least There Were Butts in Seats...

After a 7-6 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, the Toronto Blue Jays' disappointing 2013 season has wrapped up, with 74 wins - one win better than 2012, and, believe it or not, actually closer to a playoff spot than last year. However, after an off-season that saw them turn the team on its head - utilizing their organizational depth and the free agent market to add RA Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera, among others - there were very few that expected them to lose that many games, let alone have that be their final win total.

Before we get to the meat and potatoes of the argument here - that this doesn't need to be blown up, that Alex Anthopoulous isn't the worst GM in baseball, and that the Jays wouldn't have been better off standing pat - may I just say that it was nice to see attendance actually jump around 18 per cent from last year. That's the highest year-over-year improvement in MLB. At least the fans kept coming out, even if they were calling Mike Wilner immediately after the show to opine about whom they felt deserved the first pink slips.

Now, let's look at just how bad the Jays off-season acquisitions were:

First off, RA Dickey and Mark Buehrle did not start well.

 Dickey's April and May look like this: 4-7, 5.18 ERA, 59 K/32 BB.  The rest of the year - and this includes a 1-3 July - he seemed to figure it out: 10-6, 3.72, 118 K/39 BB.  He pitched 224.2 innings pitched, and had the second most wins of his career.

Buehrle's April and May: 2-3, 5.51 ERA, 46 K/20 BB.  He too figured it out - with a bad September - 10-7, 3.49, 83 K/31 BB. He, too, pitched over 200 innings, finishing 12-10 - his career averages are 13-10, 3.84, 119 K/47 BB, pitching, primarily, in a more pitcher-friendly ballpark than Rogers Centre.

The last time the Jays had two pitchers eat up 200 innings was in 2008, when Roy Halladay and AJ Burnett turned the trick.

Now, that being said, those two weren't supposed to be the sole focus of the rotation - Brandon Morrow and Josh Johnson both disappointed greatly, underperforming before injuries sidelined them.  Johnson's 2-8 record, frankly, was better than it could have been - his six no-decisions don't highlight that the Jays ultimately lost 12 of his 16 starts.

Morrow pitched just 54.1 innings, and his attempt to extend his outings by pitching to contact did as well as hoped.  He struck out a career-low 6.96 batters per nine innings, and threw fewer pitches per plate appearance, but opposing batters hit him to the tune of .286/.339/.541.

Still though, the talent that those two possess makes you wonder what they can really do with a fully healthy season.  Hopefully the Jays will find out next year.

Now, there's Melky Cabrera.  What kind of Melky were the Jays going to get?  His biggest black mark was, of course, his PED suspension last season, while with the Giants.  But, really, Melky is a career .284 hitter, had over 200 hits and scored over 100 runs in 2011, has driven in 60 or more runs four times, and can even leg out the odd triple.  He's never been a great fielder, but this is the AL - home of the DH.

Unfortunately, Cabrera developed a benign tumour on his spine, didn't tell anyone about it, spent the season doing his best John Olerud impression on the basepaths, and looking badly inept in the outfield.  He missed a large chunk of July and August, before finally being shut down in September.  Surgery went well, and he's expected to make a full recovery.

Emilio Bonifacio and Maicer Izturis were both supposed to compete for and shore up a bit of a gaping hole at second base, but it didn't exactly work out like that.  They hit .218/.258/.321 and .236/.288/.310, respectively, without much power or speed, and pretty much washed each other out at second.  Izturis ultimately went down to injury, and Bonifacio was dealt to Kansas City - where he actually played way more as advertised (.285/.352/.348, 16 steals, 21 runs in 42 games).

But then...aaaaah...there was Jose Reyes.  Wouldn't it be so nice to have a regular shortstop?  A high-performing shortstop?  Reyes filled that role admirably: after 10 games, Reyes was slashing .395/.465/.526, with five steals, a homer, five RBI, and five runs scored.  And then...

Son...of...a...bitch.  Reyes didn't return until June 26, and while that resulted in Blue Jays fans getting to know Muninori Kawasaki, it was not, at all, what should have happened.  Reyes finished with a .294/.350/.426 slash line, scored 57 runs, collected 20 doubles, 10 homeruns, and drove in 36.  Sigh...what could have been.

Now, what did the Jays give up?  Well, of course, if you haven't yet heard, former Jay Henderson Alvarez finished off his 2013 campaign by no-hitting the Tigers in a 1-0 win.  Overall, though, he only started 17 games, finishing 4-6, but with a pretty nifty 3.83 ERA.

As for what else the Marlins got, let's address Yunel Escobar right away.  They dealt him shortly after to the Rays, where he pretty much had the same season he did in 2012 with the Jays, but he did bang out two of his nine homers against Toronto.

Jake Marisnick was the only Marlin addition to make his Major League debut - Anthony DeSclafani spent the year at AA, going 5-4 and 3.36 with 7.4 K/9 in the Southern League, while Justin Nicolino went from advanced A to AA, compiling an 8-4 record and 3.11 ERA in 142 innings pitched - appearing in 40 games, and hitting .183/.231/.248 with two doubles, a triple, a homerun and six runs scored.  He was pretty solid patrolling centre field, though.

As for the Mets, super prospect Travis d'Arnaud was a key to the Dickey trade, and actually saw some time in the majors, hitting .202/.286/.263 in 31 games.  What might be concerning to the Mets was that d'Arnaud actually outperformed himself last year in the minors, although he did improve his on-base percentage.

The other part of the Dickey Deal was 20-year-old Noah Syndergaard, who had himself a decent season, moving from advanced-A to AA, going 9-4 with a 3.06 ERA, and 133 strikeouts in 117.2 innings.  The Mets may have something there, but he's still a little way out of the majors.

All this is to say that I'm not sure there's reason to jump off a bridge.  No, the Jays did not perform nearly up to snuff, and spent a lot of money to earn only one additional win1. But they also suffered from starting pitching that did not perform nearly as well as it was indicated it should have, had a left fielder that "played through the pain" and contributed a -0.1 WAR to the team, had a gaping hole at second filled by two players that seriously underperformed, lost 70 games of the best shortstop they've had in years, and let's not even start talking about JP Arencibia.

There is work to be done in the offseason, but get a life, Jays fans, no one could have predicted all the failures that caused this train to go off the cliff.  With any luck, this time next year, this post will be about Toronto's first postseason berth since winning their second World Series.

Go Jays Go.

1 - What do you care if the Jays spent $120 million? It's not your money

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