The Blue Jays were the favorite pick to win the American League East by a majority of baseball experts after the year that they had in 2015. And don’t get me wrong — they still could. But what made the Blue Jays so great in 2015 has not been happening thus far in 2016. I had a statistics class in college, and I used that as an excuse to reach out to a bunch of baseball executives, figuring they’d be more inclined to help out a college kid rather than a baseball blogger on some obscure baseball site. It worked. I asked a bunch of GMs and people within baseball ops what the statistic that greatest determines a team’s overall success was. The most popular answer? Run differential.
Last year, the Blue Jays’ run differential was +221. For comparison’s sake, the next best team in the American League was the Houston Astros, who had a +111 run differential. After that? The Royals were at +83, and then the rest of the league couldn’t even compare. Simply put, the Blue Jays were substantially better than any other team in the American League last year. Like, it wasn’t even close.
They were that good for a few reasons. First and foremost, they scored a shit ton of runs. They led the majors by scoring 891 runs, while the Yankees were the runner-up, and still scored 127 fewer runs than Toronto. 127 runs would’ve been 22% of what the Atlanta Braves scored in the entire 2015 season. The Blue Jays’ pitching outside of David Price wasn’t amazing or anything, especially with Marcus Stroman missing the first five months of the season. But to their credit, the staff pooled together a 3.80 ERA collectively, and when you’re averaging 5.5 runs per game over 162 games, you can see why the run differential was so ridiculous.
This year, though, the Blue Jays have a run differential of +4 through their first 29 games, which has equated to a 14-15 start to the season. The loss of Price has yet to become detrimental to the pitching staff, as they’ve got the sixth best ERA in the majors (3.58). It’s the offense. The Blue Jays went from a run-scoring machine to the 27th best hitting team in the majors out of 30 teams. To this point, the Blue Jays have hit .230 with a .706 OPS as a team.
It’s no fault of last year’s American League MVP, Josh Donaldson, who already has nine homers and is hitting .282 with a 1.001 OPS. The problem is they’ve yet to get the other guys going, like Troy Tulowitzki (.160 BA, .587 OPS), Edwin Encarnacion (.245 BA, .706 OPS), and even Jose Bautista to an extent (.222 BA, .828 OPS). But here’s the thing — those guys aren’t going to stay dormant for very long. If the Blue Jays continue to get the pitching performances they’ve been getting, this offense is going to find its stride, and they’ll likely become the steamroller they were last summer. Although it’s been tough to watch this Blue Jays lineup collectively underperform after what we saw last year, it’s little things like back-to-back nights with walk-off hits that could spark the rest of the offense.