Home run happy Jays need more balanced approach going forward
BY DECLAN SCHROEDER
There’s a Jamaican saying which worked its way into wider public consciousness after Eric Clapton sang it in his smash-hit cover of “I Shot the Sherriff,” originally written by Bob Marley. It goes “every day the bucket goes to the well, but one day the bottom will drop out.”
In essence, it means that depending on the same thing day after day, without any contingency or plan B, will eventually result in disaster.
This adage is playing out in The Big Smoke this year with the Toronto Blue Jays. They keep going to the well in hopes of pulling out home runs. The well isn’t completely dry, but it’s not producing enough to irrigate a playoff berth.
Over the past handful of seasons, “Canada’s team” has lived and died by the long ball. This year, they’ve died by it.
The home run is not, and will never be, a sustainable form of offense. The Blue Jays’ one-trick approach is the reason they’re looking up at the rest of the American League East like a toddler at a top-shelf cookie jar.
Sure, home runs are exciting. They get butts into seats, especially those of casual fans who come to imbibe beer and see “Joey Bats” swing out of his shoes. Case in point – the Blue Jays have averaged over 40,000 fans per game in 2017. Home runs turn the styles but they don’t produce wins, at least not for the 2017 Jays squad.
But why not? How can big-bopping team be out of the race by September? Like an internet miner, I panned through over 130 box scores, searching for the statistical nugget that would explain.
When fans’ eyes are transfixed on the bleachers, it all seems well and good in the 6ix. However, when the ball stays in the yard, the myriad of problems with the Jays glimmer through.
The gold I’ve found gleams the truth: when the Blue Jays don’t hit home runs, they don’t win. In games where they’ve gone deep, the Jays are 54-42. In games they haven’t, they’re 8-29.
The home run is meant to be a supplement to a balanced offence, not a replacement for one. They’ve eschewed the fundamentals – like bunting, creative base running, and situational hitting when runners are on – that makes upper echelon teams successful. Up to September 1, through 134 games, the Jays have hit a paltry .222 with runners in scoring position (meaning with a runner on second or third) – dead last in the MLB. Contrast that with the AL East leading Boston Red Sox, who have hit .275 with RISP. The Jays’ over-dependence on the home run is illustrated in that they’ve played 27 games – over 20 per cent – where their only runs came via the homer.
The lack of situational hitting is exacerbated by a below average pitching staff. Their team earned run average of 4.57 sits them tenth in the American League. It’s been transient, too – they’ve used a whopping 14 starting pitchers, who have had wildly varying degrees of success.
The Jays need to stop relying on a single well, but it won’t be easy to dig more. They have to wash away their corporate culture to get back to the type of play that makes teams successful. They need their stars, like Jose Bautista and Justin Smoak, to make adjustments at the plate and stop constantly looking for a ball to mash 400 feet when a base hit would do just as well.
The Jays are satisfying their fans with one well right now, but eventually, those fans be parched. Only playoffs will sate them.