It’s not easy to watch the Toronto Blue Jays these days. This is a team that’s coming off two back-to-back ALCS losses, a team that was — and probably still is — expected to be a contender for at least a Wild Card spot this season. However, they have started their campaign with a franchise-worst 1-8 record. They have scored a league-worst 23 runs during these 10 games and have hit to the tune of .191/.273/.277.
This doesn’t look like a team that was built around offense and was hoping to slug its way to wins. In the last two years, the Blue Jays have ranked 1st and 9th in runs scored, respectively, while hammering 453 home runs over that period. The core of the 2017 lineup remains the same, with the exception of Kendrys Morales — himself a power hitter — added to replace Edwin Encarnacion. So, besides natural regression due to the effects of aging, there was no reason to think this offense would struggle the way it is right now.
From a fan’s point of view, it is extremely hard to maintain perspective during stretches such as these. When things go wrong, there is a tendency to imagine a situation as bleaker than it actually is. There is no denying that the Blue Jays have played poor baseball — hence the 1 and 8 record — but it is also worth keeping in mind that over 162 games, even the best teams can lose up to 70-75 games. When in the season they lose these games does not matter at all; April losses are just as impactful as June losses and September losses.
The takeaway is that, even though it came at the start of the season, this 1-8 stretch is no worse than any other 1-8 stretch. And almost every team goes through this sort of stretch at some point in the season. Wins and losses don’t move together in a linear trajectory, where a team wins a few and loses a few and keeps up with the balancing act all the way through to September. What fans can hope is that the rough stretches are not long enough that even a good team can’t overcome them. And while 1-8 is bad, it’s certainly surmountable; last year’s Cubs, for example, went 5-15 over one stretch, before finishing the season 103-58 and winning the World Series.
And there’s no reason to think the Blue Jays are actually this bad. Sequencing of hits matters a lot, and a couple of lucky hits at the right time — you are allowed to call them clutch hits — could have easily meant that Toronto would have been 3-6 or 4-5, even with the same poor offensive showing. In fact, the Kansas City Royals are hitting .199/.261/.350 with 24 runs — almost as bad as the Blue Jays — have a 3-6 record. Last year’s ALCS champion Cleveland Indians are a respectable 4-5 with 31 runs while hitting a paltry .206/.293/.340.
None of this is to suggest that Blue Jays are merely unlucky. They haven't batted well enough, and haven't gotten on base often enough to give themselves opportunities to be lucky. The lack of power is also quite alarming. So far they’re on pace for 72 home runs this year — less than Josh Donaldson’s combined home runs from the last two seasons.
However, there are reasons to be hopeful. Even though most of their big bats are in their early- to late-thirties, the aging curve for hitters is steadier than for pitchers. Therefore, while it’s reasonable to expect some regression from Bautista, Tulo, Morales and Donaldson, it is quite unreasonable to expect that these players would turn into pumpkins overnight. Their track record, along with the park they play in, should still make them one of the most potent line ups in the American League.
So what’s the silver lining here? Although its quite dangerous to make sense of data from merely 10 games —whether they support or refute an argument — there is enough randomness in such a small sample size to allow for extreme results in either direction. The old cliche, “you’re never as good or bad as your record suggests” holds true here.
So, back to the silver lining. Making sense of what the Blue Jays have (or have not done) this year yields some reasons for optimism. They’re 11th in the league in walk percentage, 10th in fly ball percentage, 14th in percentage of hard hit balls, and 5th-lowest in swings outside the strike zone. It shows that, for the most part, the team has not chased pitches outside the zone, continues to take walks, has made average contact and has hit the ball hard. It might also be an indicator of a timing issue, the kind of thing that lots of power hitters have to deal with in the early going.
I admit, I’m grasping at straws a bit, but the point is to show that the Jays are not a terrible offense. They’re bound to rebound, probably sooner rather than later, even though they might not be as good as they were last year. They are still a very good team in a rut, even if that rut is coming at the very start of the season. For the sake of the sanity of the team and their fans, here’s hoping they get out of it sooner rather than later.