Defense - Overall
The Jays continue to have the best defense in the AL, having the highest Defensive Efficiency at 0.7276 (up slightly from 0.719 after 20 games), slightly ahead of Texas at 0.7255, with quite a drop to third (Detroit) and fourth (Seattle), both under 0.71. The league average is 0.701. This means that if there were no strikeouts and only balls in play, the league average requires 38.5 plate appearances to get through a game compared to the Jays 37.1 plate appearances. In effect, the combination of the Jays’ propensity to induce ground balls, combined with their strong defense, saves them nearly 1.5 opposition plate appearances per game, compared to the league average.
Defense - Fielding
The Jays are at or near the top in almost every fielding category. They are second (after Minnesota at 0.991) in fielding percentage at 0.987 and second to Oakland in chances per game. They have slipped to fourth in DPs. Also, they are slightly above the league average in caught stealing having caught about 26% of those attempting to steal.
Defense - Pitching
In the past 20 games, the Jays have remained about constant at 4.30 runs per game while all the other leaders have fallen back. Only KC remains ahead of the Jays at 4.08 overall, but have allowed an average of 4.55 over the past 20 games. The league average has lowered a bit over the Jays’ past 20 games from 5.10 to 5.01, which is still up about 1/3 of a run per game from last year's 4.68. The only teams with ERAs below 4.00 are KC (3.59) and the Jays at 3.90, with the league average of 4.67. The Jays have climbed to first in WHIP at 1.25, ahead of KC at 1.32.
In the second 20 games, the Jays have had 12 quality starts, bringing their total to 21 for the season. The bullpen has been effective 15 of the 18 times they have been called upon, with effective meaning they've only allowed half an earned run per inning pitched.
On my preferred metric of pitching effectiveness, batters faced per out (BF/O), Roy Halladay had one weak start, when he gave up 4 runs to Baltimore, but is effective 90% of the time this season. Richmond had his two blow-ups, but in the first, he settled down and was effective overall by the time he completed the game. However, given his last two starts and the abundance of good, healthy arms waiting to get back to the Jays’ rotation, he is probably on a very short leash. Since coming up, Robert Ray and Brett Cecil have very good identical WHIPs of 1.10 and BF/O of 1.33.
I’ve started to track Bill James’ Game Score (GSc) statistic for starters. Over 50 is a quality start and over 70 is a great start. In the past 12 days, we’ve witnessed the best five performances by Jays’ starters this year: Halladay’s starts against the Angels (GSc=70) and the Yankees (78), Tallet’s and Cecil’s starts in Oakland (both Game Scores of 74) and Ray’s start yesterday against the White Sox (GSc=76). Among active starters, Halliday leads with an average GSc of 63.6, followed by Cecil and Ray with 61 and 59 respectively. Without his one blow-up, Tallet would be averaging 60.6, with these five starts all being quality starts on the GSc metric. As I posted on Mike Wilner’s blog, I’d rather have a guy that gives quality starts 4 out of five times and blows up once than a guy that has the same average performance consistently.
On the Runs Created per plate appearance (RC/pa) metric, the Jays continue to do very well, but there has been some regression towards the mean. The team leader is still Aaron Hill at 0.209 (down from 0.225 after 20 games), followed by Lind at 0.201 (up from 0.191). Rolen has climbed to 0.165 from 0.154, while Scutaro has slipped very slightly to 0.153 from 0.157. Rios has climbed to 0.123 from 0.101, and his improvement has been quite steady in the past 20 games. Snider has gone into a serious offensive tailspin, falling to 0.105 from 0.182, and one wonders how long Cito and JP will continue to send him out. In 8 of the 14 games in which he played in the past 20, he’s contributed nothing offensively in 8 of those games. However, he has produced some highlight-reel defensive plays.
Except for Barajas, who has increased his RC/pa slightly to 0.148, the others have fallen off: Bautista to 0.140 from 0.177; Overbay to 0.147 from 0.166; Wells to 0.124 from 0.146; and Millar to 0.124 from 0.191. The team is averaging 0.148 with only Snider below the threshold of 0.120.
I now have data on pitches faced by each batter. What prompted me to get this data was the plate discipline shown by Adam Lind. It seemed to me that he had quite a number of high pitch-count at bats. (In fact, Lind has three at 10 or more.) Batting order positions 5 through 7 are tough on opposing pitchers, with Lind, Rolen and Overbay, averaging 4.44, 3.92 and 3.90 pitches per at bat, respectively. The platoon partners of Bautista and Millar also work the counts well at 4.09 and 3.76. Scutaro, at lead off and leading the majors in walks, also sees a lot of pitches and 3.84/pa. At the other extreme is Vernon Wells with only 3.24 pitches per at bat, which could be expected given that he has a reputation for swinging on the first pitch.
After 20 games, I wrote, “After a 14-6 start, the Jays have the best record in the AL. They have been hobbled at pitching, and the next 20-30 games could be quite a test.” Well, they’ve gone 12-8 in that stretch with pitching help that not anticipated. Purcey and Burres were sent down to Vegas and Burres is no longer on the 40 man roster, while Brett Cecil and Robert Ray have come up and pitched superbly. Tallet has pitched effectively as a starter in 5 of 6 starts. Richmond’s was Rookie of the Month for April, but that seems to have cursed him somewhat in his past two starts. With Janssen healthy and ready to be called up, Richmond should be on the bubble. I liked what I saw in his starts, except the last, but one must consider that he faced a Yankee lineup full of lefties, which have always hit well off him. Hopefully, he bounces back.
This brings me to a somewhat radical suggestion I made on Mike Wilner’s blog: keeping 6 starters with one LHP and one RHP swinging between the rotation and long relief, depending on the team their facing. For example, against the Yankees, I would want to start all lefties – possibly with the exception of Halladay – particularly with the wind-tunnel to right at the New Yankee Stadium. One drawback is that this might not be the wisest thing to do with young arms.
The bullpen has continued to perform very well with an ERA of 3.54 in the past 20 games and 3.49 overall. Ryan is back from the DL and pitched well in one, non-pressure situation. Scott Downs is the closer for now, something Ryan has publicly said he accepts. Of the remaining starters, only Camp and League have ERAs over 4.00, but neither is over 4.50.
After 20 games I said that I didn’t expect the offense “…to continue to average over 6 runs per game, although I think this squad will average over 5.5.” In the past 20, they have produced and average of 5.35, a bit below where I anticipated they would be. More concerning is that in 7 of those games, they produced 3 runs or less, accounting for 6 of their 8 losses.
After 20 games I posted, “Over the next 21 … I realistically see them going 13-8 or 12-9…” and they have gone 12-8, so they will be either 13-8 or 12-9 for that stretch after the White Sox leave town. It was great to see them return from a short West Coast swing with a winning (3-2) record, something that has been rare in the past few seasons.
The next 19 games include the last game against the White Sox and then a nine game road trip through Boston, Atlanta and Baltimore, followed by nine home games against Boston, the Angels and the Royals. Game 60 is scheduled to be the first of a road series in Texas. I see the Jays continuing to play 0.600 ball over this stretch winning 7 of their 10 home games and splitting on the road.
This team has been remarkably consistent. There has not been any 10 game stretch where they have played below 0.500 or above 0.700.
Now that the Jays are 26-14, a 0.580 pace – their record last season under Cito – the rest of the way projects to a 97-65 record. Even if they slip back to 0.560 the rest of the way, they’ll finish with a 0.580 (94-68) overall.
Boston has slipped to 3 games behind, but I do see them staying with the Jays all season. The Yankees have started to pick up the pace lately, but neither the Yankees nor the Rays have picked up ground on the Jays since April 26, the date of game 20 for the Jays.