Have the Tampa Bay Rays passed the Toronto Blue Jays for good?
While their runs scored and allowed are almost identical, the strength of the teams that the Rays and Jays have played thus far is not. Baseball Prospectus adjusts for strength of schedule and luck by calculating AEQR and AEQRA – Adjusted Equivalent Runs and Adjusted Equivalent Runs Allowed. When this adjustment is made, both teams’ offenses remain the same: each team has an AEQR of 97 runs. However, when the adjustment is made to each team’s pitching staff, the Rays look far better than the Jays:
But it doesn’t stop there. While AJ Burnett is unlikely to maintain a 6.85 ERA all season long, so too is Shawn Marcum unlikely to maintain his 3.42 ERA. While Dustin McGowan has a tremendous amount of upside, he is also unlikely to maintain his current 3.38 ERA. Furthermore, the Jays’s questionable decision to release Frank Thomas won’t help an offense already struggling to score runs.
Meanwhile, the Rays have compiled their current record while playing at less than full strength. Their ace – and arguably one of the best pitchers in baseball – Scott Kazmir has yet to throw one pitch. While his health is certainly a question mark going forward, Kazmir has been surprisingly durable during his time in the majors. Additionally, Kazmir looks like he’s poised for a huge breakout season this year. After posting a 4.41 ERA through the all-star break last season (along with a 115/58 K/BB ratio and 12 homers allowed in 112 innings), Kazmir exploded after the all-star break, posting a 2.39 ERA, 124/31 ratio, and allowing 6 homers in 94 innings. After the all-star break, he gave up fewer homers, struck out more (11.87 batters per nine!) and walked far less hitters. Even more impressively, 54 of Kazmir’s 94 post-break innings came against the Red Sox, Yankees, Angels, and Tigers.
Furthermore, Matt Garza – he of the 3.69 ERA and 67 strikeouts in 83 innings last year – has made only two starts, and was not 100% healthy for either. Both Garza and Kazmir are expected back within the next two weeks. While they are not locks to remain healthy, they are also not enormous injury risks either, and both should help the team tremendously.
Additionally, Andy Sonnanstine should improve upon his 5.55 ERA. The bullpen is the real deal, and the organization has tremendous pitching depth ready to step in should any of the current pitchers falter. Evan Longoria was recently added to the major league team and should be a full-time player from here on out, and recently-acquired Gabe Gross is an underrated complementary player in the outfield.
The Jays are not a bad team and should not have a bad year. However, it may be a long time before they are in front of the formerly desolate, formerly devil, Rays.