Bats on Bats: The Toronto Blue Jays recipe for success

Andy Livingston

Josh Donaldson

The biggest surprise of this season in Major League Baseball was the crazy heights to which the Toronto Blue Jays have soared. It’s not even that the Jays are surpassing small expectations from the season, but the stretch they’ve pulled off with about a month left have them frontrunners for the American League crown.

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Sure, they piled on some key trade deadline acquisitions like David Price and Troy Tulowitzki to supplement Edwin Encarnacion and Joey Bautista in the lineup, but the team was cruising before hitting the fifth gear at the deadline. And how are they doing it? With hitting that is reminiscent of the ’90s. No one is insinuating that the Jays are juicing—the ’90s marked the last time the franchise were in the playoffs—winning back-to-back World Series titles in 1992 and ’93—and it’s remarkable the power the entire team is achieving.

As of today (Monday, August 31), the Blue Jays have a 1.5 game lead in the AL East with a run differential of +193. The only other team with a run differential over +100 is the St. Louis Cardinals at +137. Their closest competition in the AL is those upstart Houston Astros, who sit at a paltry +96.

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The Blue Jays pitchers are by no means slouches, but given the team’s hitting production, the one thing the guys on the mound don’t have to worry about is run support. Just how good is the run support? This graph from Sporting Charts shows the echelon of upper that Toronto’s pitching is getting.

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Drew Hutchison and Mark Buehrle get the top two spots to themselves with Hutchison receiving almost eight runs per game in his support, while the rest of the rotation falls into respectable if not great spots on that list. David Price’s position is a little lower on account of the lack of run support he got while in Detroit, but you still wouldn’t send him packing with his 2.42 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 13-4 record.

Within the list of the top 15 pitchers with the best run support, Toronto has three total, while no other team has more than one pitcher, except for the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Rubby De La Rosa and Jeremy Hellickson who are seven and eight respectively. Those runs allow the pitching staff so much breathing room that they’re allowed to be mediocre.

The Blue Jays team ERA is 3.80, good enough for 12th in baseball, they’ve had 63 quality starts with a Batting Average Against of .250. Outside of WHIP, none of the major four pitching stats put them in the top ten of the league, which is why the GM has hedged their bets and doubled-down on hitting. RA Dickey and his mercurial knuckleball have a 8-10 record (the only losing record of the starting rotation) with a 4.26 ERA, while Hutchison, he of the eight runs of support a game, is able to coast to a 12-2 record on a 5.06 ERA.

There is no indication that the hitting will stop for Toronto, even if the day-to-day slog of baseball catches up with them. If they hit a snag and the pitching slows down a little, the chance of both of those happening at the same time are kind of otherworldly really, and you can take those lumps as you get them. But of the top five teams in ERA in the league, only one of them is in the American League: those pesky Astros. It wouldn’t be too difficult to envision the Jays getting through the entirety of the AL postseason unscathed. As we all know the post season is an unpredictable beast ruled by nth degree Warlocks and rally caps, but the legend of Joe Carter is starting to rear its head.

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