Friday, April 22, 2011

You need to Walk before you can Run

It's amazing how well this cliche seems to describe the 2011 Blue Jays:

The pitching staff has combined to allow 83 walks (only 4 intentional) and are currently leading the league in BB/9 innings. This is really the central problem in both the bullpen and starting rotation. Either the pitchers are trying to be too fine, getting squeezed, or have some serious mechanical issues.

In reality, the likely case is that it is a combination of all three, and each game seems to be a different story.

The other half of the cliche applies to the other category that the Jays are leading the league in: Running. Who would have guessed that the Blue Jays would lead the league in stolen bases, and attempts three weeks into the season? Aaron Hill has already matched his career high in steals, and Travis Snider needs only one more to match his career best.

There is a lot of statistical arguments that dictate that the risk of stealing a base is not worth the reward, unless a player is over 80%. (See the comments section of my previous post for a full breakdown) but I would be willing to defend another position: Putting pressure on a pitcher loosens their focus, and can actually lead to better pitches for the hitter, or more walks/balks. Either way, there are more benefits to the running game than simply moving the runner into scoring position. If anyone can let me know where I can find pitch data, and pitcher reactions to certain situations, please let me know. It might take a while, but my hypothesis is that there would be more statistical merit to stealing bases than simple run expectancy.

So what's the net-net? The team is currently 2 games under .500, and has lost 40% of its opening day rotation. They've also lost 3 regular positional players (Escobar, Hill and Davis) so there is certainly an argument that injuries have led to some of these losses. Bautista has proven that he's for real, and Lind has re-emerged to offer him some protection. Encarnacion is taking well to the DH spot. Snider, so far has shown himself to be a slow starter, so I'll hold off any pronouncements about him until the end of May.

If the pitchers can start throwing strikes, and the hitters can get healthy, I still think this can, and will be a great team. Let's all remember that last year at this time, Brian Tallet was the #2 starter, and Brandon Morrow's ERA was over 7, so there is still a good chance that this team can improve.

I expect Cecil back in just over 2 weeks (Probably 3-4 starts) and I'm excited to see what Brad Mills and Brandon Morrow can do. I'm also looking forward to mid-late May, when Brett Lawrie comes to Toronto to get some coaching from Brian Butterfield.

Let's spread the message: Now is not the time to panic. Even if it was, you wouldn't catch me doing it.

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