One of the biggest early-season talking points around baseball so far has been the shockingly poor start of the Toronto Blue Jays. Even with a victory last night over the Red Sox, they still sit at just 3-11 through 14 games, which is safely the worst record in baseball.
It’s certainly not hard to see why the Jays have had their struggles; it’s pretty much been Murphy’s Law in Toronto so far. Josh Donaldson, J.A. Happ, and Aaron Sanchez are all on the 10-day DL already. Of the six players on their team with the most plate appearances so far—Jose Bautista, Kendrys Morales, Kevin Pillar, Troy Tulowitzki, Devon Travis, and Russell Martin— only Pillar has a wRC+ over the league-average of 100.
And so, because it is April, the Jays have gotten quite a bit of attention for their horrendous start. People are talking about how bad the Blue Jays have been because it’s all we know about the 2017 Blue Jays so far. Many have looked into their start trying to find answers, saving graces, or even more causes for concern. Research has shown that history is not on their side with teams that have gotten off to starts this bad before. Their postseason odds have already gone down. Pedro Martinez thinks the Jays should panic.
Yes, things are not looking up in Toronto. And if the Jays want to contend this year, they need to dig themselves out of a hole, no question. But perhaps there is some room for optimism as well.
A Sliver of Optimism
The only reason everyone is panicking about the Blue Jays’ poor start is because this is the only information we have so far on the 2017 Blue Jays. We’ve only seen them be terrible. But looking at the context of the Jays’ start to the season in comparison to only how other teams start the season is so fickle, because April baseball is weird. It’s not always telling of the team’s skill over the rest of the season. So let’s pretend that this isn’t the beginning of the season. Pretend that we have several months worth of Blue Jays games that more accurately reflect the good team we once thought of them as.
So let’s imagine we’re in any other part of the season. Forget how common playoff teams start 3-11. All 162 games count the same, so how common these awful two-week stretches for recent playoff teams at any point of the season? Let’s take a look. I’ve limited the search down to the 20 teams to reach the playoffs the last two years. The Jays have played 14 games in 2017 so far, and have won only three of them, but there are actually a surprising amount of teams who made the playoffs in the last two years having gone through similar 14-game stretches a some point in their seasons:
|Year||Team||Worst 14-game record||Dates|
|2016||Texas Rangers||3-11||July 1-19|
|2016||Mets||4-10||July 27-August 11|
|2016||Cubs||4-10||June 26-July 10|
|2015||Blue Jays||4-10||May 9-23|
Through just the last two years, four teams have gone through 3-11 stretches and made the postseason. But we didn’t label them as “doomed” or panicked about how they were playing, because it wasn’t the beginning of the season when they went through their slumps. Five other teams have gone through 4-10 stretches, which are only a one-game difference.
Don’t Count Out Those Blue Jays
So nine of the past 20 postseason teams have gone through stretches comparable to the one the Blue Jays are in right now; that is nearly half of the postseason teams since 2015. It’s a small sample size, but it’s fairly telling. Turns out the Blue Jays are really not in unprecedented territory, not by a long shot. Sure, it would take a herculean effort to do it—and some of these teams needed basically as much to make it to October baseball themselves— but the Jays have do have the skill necessary to qualify for the postseason.
And most of the other 11 teams had at least one 14-game stretch—if not multiple ones—where they went 5-9. Now, 5-9 is better than 3-11, but those two games can be easily made up over the other 162 games. So the Jays aren’t really too far behind the rest of the pack, they just had their bad 14-game stretch earlier than everyone else.
And fortunately for them, the injuries to Sanchez, Donaldson, and Happ do not seem like major issues, and they should be back to full strength soon. While they are still missing the bat of Edwin Encarnacion in their lineup, the Jays are far from being out of a creek they can’t swim out of. If this was July, most of us wouldn’t even be batting an eye to what they’re doing. So don’t be surprised if the Blue Jays get healthy and become the team we thought they would be and they still could be. 14 games is far too soon to panic.