The other day I noticed a pretty damn remarkable thing while combing through the Standings On Any Date feature at Baseball Reference.
If you’ve never used it, the page allows you to select any date in any season since 1901, and shows you both the standings on that date, as well as how teams played from that date forward.
It must have been about three days ago when I hit on May 10th as the date of the real Jays turnaround in 2013– at least, so far. Before the big win streak began, most chatter had pegged the May 4th R.A. Dickey shellacking against the Mariners as the last day of the truly awful start to the season, but I’d noticed that the club went 3-3 in the six games that followed, and that arbitrary end-pointing those six games out of the sample would give an even rosier look of how things have gone of late.
What I didn’t realize, however, is the truly odd mirror images that would appear when I looked at the standings on that date– the day they reached .500– and since. The latter data has changed now, as you can see on Baseball-Reference.com, because they’ve played three more games, but back on Saturday morning, with the team finally back to .500, what I saw was what you see in the graphic at the top of this post:
From Opening Day until May 10th, the Jays won 13 games and lost 24, over which they scored 139 runs and allowed 195.
From May 11th until June 21st, the Jays won 23 games and lost 12, over which they scored 193 runs and allowed 141.
And just what the hell has happened to cause such a stark turnaround? Pitching, you’d think. And we can see it if we look at how the club has pitched since I asked the rhetorical question back on June 5th, Just How Awful Have Jays Starters Been?
Here’s a sample of the dreadful numbers we were staring at back then, even as the Jays were in the early midst of their big turnaround.
- Heading into last night’s contest, as a group, Jays starters were 25th in terms of K/9 (27th by percentage), they had issued the second-most walks per nine innings (fourth-most by percentage), and the third most home runs per nine.
- As a group they sported the second-worst ERA in the Majors, and were dead last in terms of FIP and xFIP.
- They were third-worst in both tERA and SIERA.
- They sat second last in terms of win probability added.
- They were dead last in first pitch strike percentage, second last in percentage of pitches in the zone, and 24th of 30 in their percentage of swinging strikes generated.
- In terms of fWAR provided, only the Twins’, Astros’, Brewers’ and Padres’ staffs ranked worse– and the Jays’ group flips spots with Minnesota, dropping to fourth-worst in baseball, if you go by RA9-wins.
Things look a little better for the club’s starting staff if we take a look at those same metrics for just the month of June (which, it should probably be noted, contains a three game overlap).
- By K/9 Jays starters in June are actually worse, ranking 27th in the Majors as a staff (28th by percentage), which is probably largely due to the absence of their second and third best strikeout pitchers (by percentage in 2013), Brandon Morrow and J.A. Happ.
- As a group, in June they rank 22nd by ERA, 25th by FIP, and way up in 12th by xFIP.
- This month they’ve been 24th by tERA and 20th by SIERA.
- In Win Probability Added, they’re way up in 10th.
- However, they were still just 24th in terms of fWAR.
- But 8th best in baseball by RA9.
- In terms of first-pitch strike percentage, in June they’ve been the 14th-best staff. They’ve been 24th in terms of the percent of pitches thrown in the zone, and a bit down, at 26th in the Majors in terms of the percentage of swinging strikes generated.
So… uh… better– better results, certainly– but still not exactly great, eh?
What gives, then? How about this: Jays relievers in June have pitched to a 0.81 ERA– the next closest bullpen is the Nationals’, who are way up at 2.33. Yet, by FIP and xFIP the bullpen in June has ranked just eighth and sixth, respectively, in the Majors.
Not exactly spirit-lifting stuff, huh? The Jays are 15-5 in June, and have allowed just 60 runs to cross the plate– which is the lowest number in the Majors, and except for the Royals (62), is ten runs lower than the next-lowest number in baseball, and in that span among their AL East rivals, the next closest is the Yankees’ 90!– but they haven’t even pitched all that well, compared to the rest of the league. Especially if you go by the fielding-independent metrics.
So… dare we look at the BABIP? I guess we have to, and… yeah…
For Jays starters in June, their batting average on balls in play allowed has been .273, or the third-lowest mark among all the starting staffs in baseball. (League average for starters this year has been .293, and in June it’s been a touch down, at .291).
And the bullpen? They’ve destroyed the league’s other bullpens with a .189 BABIP. The next lowest is the Diamondbacks at .230, and league average, this month, for relievers has been at .298.
As a team, then, that’s a .248 BABIP for the month, as opposed to the league average of .293.
This isn’t exactly a shocking statement given that we’re looking at a sample that includes an eleven game winning streak, but it sure looks as if the Jays have been getting a healthy share of luck. And defence, I suppose. Their defending certainly has seemed better of late, but… yeah… a lot of balls finding gloves. For whatever reason.
There are caveats here, it should be noted. The guys who have logged the most innings for the Jays have fairly consistently produced BABIPs below the league average. Mark Buehrle has posted a BABIP above .300 just three times since entering the White Sox starting rotation in 2001, while R.A. Dickey has been in the .275 range in each year since coming into his own as a knuckleballer when he joined the Mets in 2010.
The Jays also have been using power sinker guys like Esmil Rogers and Chien-Ming Wang, which has led to their having the second highest ground ball rate in the month of June, and one of the lowest line drive rates.
Buuuuuuut, as a club they’ve also had the league’s best strand rate over the month– 83%– which, obviously, is going to happen when you’ve got a bullpen going so well, but still, I think makes it safe to say there have definitely been some luck dragons kept at bay over the course of the turnaround.
As I say, that’s obvious when we’re looking at a sample that includes such a ridiculous winning streak, but crucially, it hardly suggests that the Jays are now “fixed.”
The mirror image we saw in their record, their run scoring, and their run prevention, back on Friday night, after they had reached .500, probably suggests, a lot more than we’d like, that the reality of this club is damn close to the middle– and that ain’t great.
Yes, they’ve gained a lot of much-needed ground, and they’ve balanced out some of their awful performance from the start of the season, but regression is a-coming– looking at you Rogers (.237 BABIP, 86.6 LOB%), and Wang (.292 and 86.2%), not to mentioned you, Mr. Lind– and they need Brandon Morrow and Brett Lawrie joining Jose Reyes in returning to health and hopefully finding something close to their peak performance levels if they’re going to keep themselves in a race, and not just tread water here.
Dickey managing to stop sucking shit would certainly help, too.
It could happen, certainly, and maybe nobody is trying to claim that they are, but they’re not out of the woods just yet. Not by a long shot.