The Blue Jays offense was simply unable to generate any short of threat against Jose Quintana of the White Sox last night. Temporary Jose Reyes replacement Munenori Kawasaki, Edwin Encarnacion and Rajai Davis (including a double for the Blue Jays only extra-base hit) each had two hits on the night (although one of Encarnacion’s singles came off reliever Jesse Crain). Encarnacion and Kawasaki drew bases on balls from Quintana. Six hits, two walks, no runs – that was the sum total of the Blue Jays offense last night. Obviously they lost the game, by a score of 7-0 as J.A. Happ turned in what will likely be one of several clunkers from the fifth starter spot on the season.
However, this is not about Happ. It is about the offense – this woeful, anaemic, sputtering offense. The seemingly vaunted Blue Jays offense has averaged merely 3.6 runs per game (24th in MLB). There have been some big games in there, too – a 10-run game and two 8-run games. The Blue Jays have scored 54 runs, 26 of them (48.1%) have come in three games; in the other games, the Jays are averaging 2.3 runs per game. That is a mark that would put them 29th in MLB ahead of only the pitiful Miami Marlins, who are essentially a glorified Triple-A team at this point. Since Jose Reyes went down in a heap at second base last Friday night, the Jays have scored a mere 12 runs in five games, including the shutout last night (2.4 runs per game). All the blame for the struggles cannot be placed on the absence of Jose Reyes, although he was clearly the Blue Jays’ best offensive player in the early going. Jose Bautista has also been out of the lineup, since Monday, with back spasms and an ear infection. In the three games he has missed so far, The Blue Jays have scored eight runs (2.7 runs per game). Awful.
What offense has occurred is primarily being carried by two men – J.P. Arencibia and Colby Rasmus. Arencibia is off to a roaring start this season with a .361 wOBA in 57 plate appearances. Unfortunately, this is primarily driven by the five home runs he has hit (.339 ISO). Sporting a putrid trio of a 263 OBP, 1.8 BB% and a 35.1 K%, his success simply cannot be expected to continue. Rasmus has been another all-or-nothing hitter for the Blue Jays this year with four home runs of his own, (.375 wOBA, .326 ISO). These numbers are further driven up by a .368 BABIP, unsustainable for someone with his speed level (.268 career). He has mustered a more respectable .314 OBP; however strikeouts have been a major problem for him as well. Rasmus is walking 9.8% of the time, above his career rate, but this is coupled with an absurd 45.1 K%. Obviously a small sample is being analyzed here (51 PA) and regression towards his career value will occur, but what Rasmus is showing is still a cause for concern. It is enough of a concern to shield him from left-handed pitchers – meaning his powerful bat was not in the lineup tonight against Quintana and he was pinch-hit for by Rajai Davis in the seventh inning the night prior.
Unfortunately, Adam Lind suffers from even worse split issues (the worst hitter by far against southpaws since 2010), and many situations are arising where these players need to be pinch-hit for. This is where Bautista’s presence on the roster is causing a problem. The Blue Jays currently have the standard roster setup of 12 pitchers and four bench players. One of the players is backup catcher Henry Blanco, who must remain available to replace Arencibia and who wields a bat for little more than effect (career 65 wRC+). This leaves three men on the bench who are available to pinch-hit. However, despite repeated clams of Bautista returning to the lineup the following day, he has been unable to do so. This leaves two men on the bench. One must be kept behind in case of injuries, so the Blue Jays have extremely limited options. Casper Wells, an intriguing lefty-masher claimed off waivers from Seattle, was designated for assignment in order to place Ramon Ortiz (who moped up nicely giving 3.1 IP behind Happ last night) on the 40-man roster.
This is making it painfully apparent that something needs to happen with Bautista. He either needs to return to the lineup, or be placed on the disabled list. Since he last appeared in Sunday’s game, his DL stint can be back-dated to Monday, meaning that three of the required 15 days have already elapsed. Since Gibbons has been “unsure” about Bautista’s ability to pinch-hit, I am wondering if the ability to back-date a potential DL stint has been part of the reason. Using Bautista as a pinch-hitter would require him to miss three more days than he already has. The Blue Jays are seeing Andy Pettitte in the first game of the weekend Yankee series and the Yankees carry Boone Logan, a southpaw who absolutely wipes out left-handed hitters (.309 wOBA against) in their bullpen.
Without depth on the bench, the Blue Jays run the high risk of being exposed late and losing one of the few bright spots in their depleted lineup when a lefty starts. The Jays have to make a decision on Bautista tonight. Hopefully he is in the lineup and this rant is largely rendered moot, but if not, I expect a DL stint, because the Blue Jays can no longer afford to wait.
Welp. This post became largely moot in hurry. Good news (I hope).
When the 2012 season opened for the Blue Jays in Dunedin, Florida; the only true “position battle” was for left field – waged between high-ceiling prospect Travis Snider and the incumbent Eric Thames. Thames was favoured in the role because he had played ~50 games there to end the season and been serviceable offensively, while showing poor defensive skills. As a result, it was made known that Travis Snider would have to essentially blow Thames out of the water to win the job. In the end, they had similar decent springs (spring stats are meaningless for a number of reasons, the investigation of which is worthy of a post in and of itself) and as a result, Thames won the job while Snider was shipped out to AAA Las Vegas.
In the month of April, Thames hit a strong .308/.361/.446 with a .345 wOBA and 118 wRC+, he had a passable 16.1 K% although his defense left much to be desired. Meanwhile, Snider hit .400/.477/.693 in 19 April games with essentially no home/road split. Unfortunately, Snider injured his wrist on April 26, ending his month.
This could not have come at a worse time for the Blue Jays as Eric Thames began to struggle in May. Badly. In May, Thames hit .193/.227/.301, with a .231 wOBA and 39 wRC+. Thames suffered a 73-point BABIP regression, but the major cause of Thames downfall was a sharp increase in strikeouts. In the month of May, Thames struck out in 31.6% of his plate appearances, the fourth-most in baseball for a qualified hitter over that span. As the month progressed, it became increasingly clear that Thames was simply over-matched in the Major Leagues. However, there was an apparent problem – Snider played seven games in the middle of May, looked awful (.095/.192/.286) then was shut down again with more wrist trouble on May 17, yet to play as of this writing.
After losing 14-3 to the Texas Rangers on Friday May 25 in a game where Brandon Morrow pitched merely two-thirds of an inning and losing 8-7 to Texas in 13 innings the following day, the bullpen was extremely taxed and roster moves were made, as detailed in prior posts, to construct an eight-man bullpen. Further complications arose when Kelly Johnson and Yunel Escobar suffered hamstring and groin injuries, respectively, in the Texas series that necessitated the recall of an extra infielder. At this point, the Blue Jays made an odd response to their situation – Thames was demoted to AAA and utility player Mike McCoy was recalled.
The oddity of the response stems from the upcoming schedule. The Blue Jays have today off after completing a three-game home sweep against Baltimore, play the Red Sox over the weekend and have Monday off before travelling to Chicago. Despite the lull in the schedule, manager John Farrell has indicated that the rotation will continue on full turns. This means that Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow will make their next starts on six days rest, while the back of the rotation will make each of their next two starts on five days rest. This is hardly a situation that necessitates carrying an eight-man bullpen and a three-man bench of a catcher, an infielder and an infielder who is hurting. There is no outfield help on the bench at this point and McCoy is the only true viable option, period. The other downside to the current roster is that the team’s best pinch-runner (who doesn’t hit RHP very well at 78 wRC+ career), Rajai Davis, is now in the everyday lineup with Snider hurt. It would have made much more sense to demote one of Jesse Chavez or Aaron Laffey, neither of whom are likely to pitch; and either stick with Thames until Snider is ready or bench him in favour of Davis, leaving a left-handed bat and OF available.
Recalling an infielder was a necessity but the manner in which it was done, not only seems illogical, but hurts the team in its’ current state.
UPDATE: Aaron Laffey was sent back to Las Vegas after tonight’s game. Prior to Friday’s game the Blue Jays will make a corresponding roster move, they announced. Adam Lind, who has hit .343/.442/.657/.467/183 in 43 plate appearances in Triple-A is a possible recall candidate, as is Vladimir Guerrero; although Alex Anthopoulos indicated he would see time in both AA and AAA to adjust to velocity and off-speed pitches, respectively.
UPDATE: A third candidate for recall is SS Adeiny Hechavarria. It has been thought that he is not ready offensively (.316/.358/.458/.367/118, but inflated by the league and park) and that he would not be brought up only on a long-term basis. However recent comments by Alex Anthopoulos that a visa issue had been resolved, thereby allowing Hechavarria to travel to Canada, coupled with the fact that he did not play tonight for Las Vegas are potential indicators that it could indeed by Hechavarria on his way to Toronto.