Blue Jays at the All-Star Break

Superlatives

MVP: Josh Donaldson

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No surprise here. Donaldson has been the team’s MVP since he first stepped on the Rogers Center’s tire-rubber turf at the beginning of last season. He was the American League MVP in 2015 and has not missed a single beat this season. Josh has been the second-most valuable batter in the MLB based on Fangraphs’ Wins Above Replacement with 5.4 (Mike Trout is first with 5.5). Coming off of a career high with 41 home runs last season, Donaldson is doing his best to prove that the power surge was no fluke. Right now he is tied for fourth in the MLB with 23 home runs entering the break. Josh isn’t starting in this year’s All Star Game, because as awesome as he has been so far, Manny Machado has been just as spectacular. Just like what Machado is to the Orioles, the Toronto Blue Jays would not be in a playoff spot going into the All Star break without Donaldson’s otherworldly contributions.

Runner-Up: Michael Saunders

Best Pitcher: Aaron Sanchez

Reliever or starter? Questions of Sanchez’s narrow pitch selection, durability and ability to get lefties out, left many to believe that his future was in the bullpen. Well, after 118.1 innings over 18 games started so far this season, he has certainly shut the critics up. A dramatic increase in strikeout rate (7.83 K/9 in 2016 compared to 5.93 in 2015) while cutting down his walks (2.81 BB/9 in 2016 compared to 4.29 BB/9 in 2015) has been the driving force behind his stellar 2016 season. An ERA of 2.97 while playing 2.5 Wins Above Replacement made Sanchez the top candidate to substitute for the injured Craig Kimbrel in this season’s All Star Game.

I’ve become a huge believer in his fastball since I’ve seen what he can do with it this year. He can throw it anywhere between 90 and 99 MPH. Sometimes it sinks, cuts, two seams or rises. With improved command, Sanchez’s tremendous fastball seemingly overcomes his small pitch selections.

Runner-up: Marco Estrada

Most Pleasant Surprise: J.A. Happ

For a pitcher with a 3.3 WAR last season who is making $36 mil from 2016-18, expectations should have been much higher for Happ than they were. While I wasn’t one of the people ready to burn Atkins and Shapiro at the stake when Happ’s signing was announced, I was still skeptical. After he was traded to Pittsburgh at the end of last season, he was actually one of the best pitchers in the league over his last 11 games started. By no means did I think he’d be bad this year, but I was expecting some regression to the underwhelming form he displayed in his first stint in Toronto. Happ has thrown up an ERA of 3.36 while pitching 1.9 Wins Above Replacement going into the All Star Break. Consider myself a believer in the lumbering lefty. While I was tempted to say that Michael Saunders was the “Most Pleasant Surprise” of the first half of the season, I found that the whole Jays rotation to be unexpectedly good with Happ as the most surprising.

Runner-up: Michael Saunders

Most Disappointing: Marcus Stroman

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“Most Disappointing” is such a subjective label. While it’s tempting to slap Drew Storen with the tag because he’s been the worst player on the roster, my expectations for Stroman were so much higher. If you had told me before the season started, that the Jays were entering the 2016 All Star Break with the 5th best ERA, it would have been a foregone conclusion that Stroman was the driving force behind it. In reality, Stroman actually has the worst ERA (4.89) among the Jays’ regular 5 starting pitchers. Before throwing two straight quality starts against the Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals leading up to the All Star break, Stroman’s ERA was above 5 and their was serious talk of sending him down to the minors to find himself. Stroman’s WAR of 1.8 and FIP of 3.91 point to the fact the he has actually pitched much better than the results have shown. At age 25 there is still plenty of time to turn things around. I have just found him to be the most “disappointing” due to the lofty (and arguably unreasonable) expectations that he would grab the baton from David Price as the Jays’ ace of the future.

Runner-up(s): Storen, Martin, Colabello, Tulo (to a lesser extent)

Team Leaders

Batting Average (Min 150 PA)

1. Donaldson .304
2. Saunders .298
3. Barney .296
4. Carrera .281
5. Pillar .268

On-Base Percentage (Min 150 PA)

1. Donaldson .418
2. Saunders .372
3. Carrera .370
4. Bautista .360
5. Encarnacion .358

Slugging Percentage (Min 150 PA)

1. Donaldson .598
2. Saunders .551
3. Encarnacion .541
4. Bautista .455
5. Tulowitzki .453

Earned Run Average (Min 30 IP)

1. Osuna* 2.27
2. Biagini* 2.91
3. Estrada 2.93
4. Sanchez 2.97
5. Happ 3.36
*Relief Pitcher

Strikeouts

1. Sanchez 103
2. Estrada 99
3. Happ 98
4. Dickey 83
5. Stroman 83

Innings Pitched

1. Sanchez 118.1
2. Dickey 116.2
3. Stroman 116.0
4. Happ 112.1
5. Estrada 104.1

Plot lines to watch for the rest of the season

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Sanchez’ Innings Limit

I keep flip-flopping on this subject. Part of me wants the Jays to just go for it and let their best starting pitcher take the hill every fifth day. But then I think about the fact that Sanchez (to my knowledge) has never had Tommy John surgery before, is throwing incredibly hard and is on pace to almost double his career high for innings pitched in a season. While I know that not all flamethrowers have arm problems, there’s just this underlying ticking-time bomb vibe I get from Sanchez’s arm. At the end of the day I don’t think this decision is as grave as the media hypes it up to be. In a bullpen role, Sanchez will still be incredibly valuable. Also Hutchinson has been lights out in Triple A Buffalo this season.

Trade Deadline

After last season’s deadline bonanza, I keep trying to remind myself that trade deadlines aren’t always so tantalizing. Buffalo and New Hampshire are both relatively bare of advanced pitching prospects, which is generally the going currency for teams looking to buy at the deadline. Even if they weren’t, the Cleveland duo running the front office seem to less likely to shell organizational depth for a quick fix. That isn’t a criticism so much as it just a conclusion drawn from listening to their interviews. I could see them making some Grilli-esque deals for minor improvements to fill some holes (bullpen), but that’s about it. I feel like these Blue Jays are good enough to contend for the World Series as constructed.

Jose Bautista

“His return from the DL will be the best move we make at the deadline.” This cliche is dumb and tired and… probably true. As awesome as Carrera has been in their absence, he is due to regress at any point now. He is playing way above his head. Any time you can get an elite bat back into the lineup it is obviously a plus. While some people look at Jose’s underwhelming, injury-riddled first half (pfft only .815 OPS), sample-size and history would say that he is due to unleash an unholy flurry of long line drives. Get the bomb shelters ready for his return.

Standings

Right now the Jays are is third in the race for the AL East pennant, tied with Boston (except Boston’s win-percentage is 0.003 better at the moment), and 2 games back of Baltimore. To be frank, the Jays are a much better team than the Sox or Orioles and it’s kind of annoying that they’re even behind them.

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While the Red Sox and Orioles are both run-scoring juggernauts… in case anybody has forgotten, so are the Jays. What makes the Jays so much better than either team is their pitching. While the Jays are 7th in the MLB in team ERA, Boston and Baltimore rank 16th and 18th (which is mostly buoyed by their strong bullpens). Boston is 19th in starter ERA and Baltimore 28th. Hopefully the Jays quit fooling around (I am actually quite happy with their first half) and kick their teeth in. Go Jays go.

 

 

 

 

 

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