As kids world-wide start to think of putting pen to paper to beg from that man up North Pole way, so too do Blue Jays fans start dreaming of wish lists so they can be happy as wide-eyed children around a tree come Christmas. Or at least spring training.
After a disappointing season to say the least, there are no shortage of ideas for how to fancy up the 2018 roster and make it look more competitive. To his credit, so far Ross Atkins has sounded reasonable at least, suggesting that the Jays need to add depth in mid-infield positions (given the obvious health issues of Troy Tulowitzki and Devon Travis) and need to get a bit quicker and more athletic all around. Fair enough, but that’s only a start. Toronto last season was quite frankly, burdened by a old-age home’s worth of injuries, completely lacklustre hitting and an unstable starting rotation which featured far too many arms. A goal in 2018 must be to find ways to reduce the injury list and find better subs,which could mean a turnover in trainers and scouts (rather than front office people, like April Whitzman who’ve already been let go from media jobs they were handling quite nicely.)
Although public perception seemed to be that the pitching threw the team’s chances out, the reality is that the offence was the worst culprit. A team which only 2 years earlier led the world in bat power had sunk to last in the AL in batting average, and where it counts, runs scored. Being the only team in the majors to fail to reach double digits in triples and topping only the slow-winged Orioles in stolen bases was symbolic of the trouble and more evidence of the Atkins theory of the need for speed. The ’17 Jays could hit homers alright – 222was mid-pack 7th best in the league- but if the ball didn’t sail out of the park, they were essentially screwed. Their cumulative 1098 non-home run hits outpaced only the patsy-Padres in all of baseball. Granted the 542 walks wasn’t bad, but still the result was only a .312 on base, tied for 12th in the AL. And when that is added to tortoise-like stealth on the bases, there’s no good way to think the team will win routinely. For all the names and big salaries, E. Carrera led the staff regulars with a .282 average – and that’s if you consider 287 at bats enough to make him a regular ! So, Job 1 has to be improving the offense.
Unfortunately though, that by itself won’t be enough assuming we don’t pull in the likes of Jose Altuve, Aaron Judge, Manny Machado and Joey Votto between now and April (yeah, we won’t.) We need to stabilize and improve the pitching as well, particularly the starting rote. The ‘pen wasn’t horrible and besides, I’m always of the belief that a good starting rotation makes a good bullpen. Starters that can pitch into the 7th or 8th regularly lead to a well-rested bullpen which can be utilized strategically by a smart manager- which John Gibbons is. Starters that get blown out routinely by the 4th lead to fatigued arms, specialty lefties going 3 innings in relief and so on. The Jays pitching numbers easily outdid their batting ones, but still weren’t pretty. Their 4.42 ERA was actually 7th best in the AL. the bad part though is that it was more than a run behind Cleveland and 3 of the 6 teams with better numbers were divisional rivals. Of concern was the 549 walks allowed, more than the offense took and 12th best in the league. Clearly, the team needs more reliability in the staff than they had last year.
Personally, I think a new hitting coach couldn’t hurt. Nothing personal about Brook Jacoby, but no matter what he’s teaching the men, they’re swinging for the fences on every pitch and failing to be aggressive on the basepaths. A new voice could perhaps persuade them to play more “small ball”, put the ball in play, try for the extra base and all those other passe things which lead to runs. I have no problem with pitching coach Pete Walker though, I don’t know how anyone would do better with a rotating door that put over 30 faces on the mound in the year. We saw improvement in some young arms, and veterans holding their own which is about all you can hope for. Walker merits a continuation as does manager Gibbons.
So how do we wish for these changes to take place? We’ll examine that later this week!