(Sorry to Harry Shearer for stealing his joke, although I don't believe that "The Year in Rebuke" is a copyrighted segment of the broadcast. Yet.)
There are few things that we enjoy more than getting together over the board table, pulling out the flip charts and going through a SWOT Analysis. (So long as there are crullers!)
For those of you not familiar, SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats, and it is the sort of tool pulled out by unimaginative management types to simply and easily compartmentalize all of the shit that is dragging their organizations into the crap heap. It also allows them to scrape some of the dung off of a situation, and spray it down with the perfume of optimism, and make it sound as if all is going to be just fine, and that they are the victims of circumstances beyond their control. Mostly, it's a tool for people to stop any sort of change or progress from making its way into an organization...but never mind all that. It's Monday, and you are all probably bummed out enough already by being at work.
So please join us as we critically examine the first half of 2010 for the Toronto Blue Jays, with a view towards constructive analysis, building towards a specific, defined and measurable outcome on a going forward basis.
No one in baseball has clouted more homers than the Jays, who have 136 for the season thus far. Eight Jays have ten or more homers, and Travis Snider has six through just 33 games. José Bautista leads the collective circuits with 24 homers, while Vernon Wells leads centerfielders and Alex "Defensive Specialist" Gonzalez leads all shortstops in round-trippers (19 and 17 respectively.)
They are also second in the Majors in doubles, so the overarching takeaway here is that these guys hit the ball hard.
In terms of pitching, the Jays sit sixth amongst the 30 teams in strikeouts, and are just above league average in WHIP and Ks/BB.
Defensively, the Jays sit tenth in defensive runs saved above average, which sounds okay to us.
The team is getting a good performance from Wells, their most costly asset, which only enhances the opportunities to possibly move the back end of that deal in the next two years.
Finally, they've gone into the international free agent with the gusto that they promised before the season, helping to perhaps level the playing field with their AL East rivals.
There must be a lot of solo homers this season, because the Jays' .306 OBP is third worst in MLB. They've also knocked out the fourth-fewest hits in baseball, and if you care about such things, their batting average is also fourth worst.
And if you're going to say that batting average doesn't matter (as we are always tempted to), then you should know that there is not much solace from the base-on-balls category, as the Jays rank in the bottom third (21st) in terms of drawing walks.
Perhaps most worrisome, they have two Silver Slugger winners who OPSing 40 or more points lower than Johnny Mac.
The Jays are consistently strong but rarely overwhelming at any spot in the lineup. JoBau and Vernon and Gonzalez and Buck have all had great seasons, but this team and those players make a lot of outs. The Jays have struck out the sixth-most in the Majors, and in close games, this team is too easy to shut down if your pitchers can get off-speed pitches over for strikes.
For all of the talk before the season about "100 loss seasons" (and you know who you are), the Jays have hung tough and actually have a chance to play games with small shreds of meaning through the second half.
We note this because of what we perceive to being a detrimental effect of playing out the string. If Alex Anthopoulos decides to empty the cupboard before the trade deadline, then so be it. But having a team play ball above the .500 level and attempting to compete is going to help in the development of a winning atmosphere in the clubhouse. Intangibles!!!1
Moreover, the reemergence of J.P. Arencibia and the strong performance of Kyle Drabek provides hope that he and a few other prospects (Brett Wallace?) should be able to step into the lineup in a meaningful way within the next 12 months.
Also, strong performances from potential free agents could mean the Jays will be dealing with possible Type A free agents, who will provide more value in trades or will return draft picks should they choose to go elsewhere in the next couple of year.
The starting staff is young, under control, cheap and shows signs that they can be effective one through five in the next few years. Ricky Romero, Shaun Marcum, Brett Cecil and Brandon Morrow all look like they could be strong number two starters in the coming two years, and a staff with that many top-of-rotation options could carry the team over the hump, or could be raided to solve other problems.
Much as we wanted to see their perfomance last year as the tip of the iceberg, the steep declines by both Adam Lind and Aaron Hill portend something much more concerning: That they've already had their career years, and that anything from this point on will pale in comparison.
We've watched Hill with some concern lately as the ball seems not to be coming off his bat with nearly the same velocity this year. (We're trying to track down He's seeing far fewer fastballs, and his swing looks longer and more convoluted than ever. It could be that he's still hurting from his early season boo-boos, but there's plenty wrong with the way he looks, and the results certainly aren't lying.
Brian Tallet. That is all.
The pitching staff is young, and so there are always injury concerns. Shaun Marcum already heading back to the DL once, and we worry almost daily about Ricky Romero, who has yet to have any significant arm trouble. The AAA and AA arms have also been a bit of a mess of injuries this season, detracting from the team's rotational depth.
Speaking of the minors, running the top level arms out to the mound in the arid, altitudinous Pacific Coast League has proved to be problematic over the past two seasons. Watching prospective pitchers' ERAs skyrocket makes us worry about their psyche, and whether if a team can really chance having youngsters make adjustments to pitch in those conditions. Trying to pitch around players and setting aside breaking pitches that don't break could mess up a really vital pitching prospect. Here's hoping there's a spot in the International League next year.
Finally, the on-field leadership of the team going for is in question for the players, the members of that staff and the fans alike. The ridiculous decision to maintain The Manager for one final victory lap this year means that players who are emerging now through the team and its current philosophy will have to adjust to a new manager and possibly a whole new staff next year. Wither Butter? Wither Pappy? Will the players be able to get onside with a new manager and new coaching staff immediately?
(And if any of you want to complain that I didn't separate this appropriately between internal and external factors, you can kiss my ass. I didn't ask you to facilitate this process, did I?)