By Rob Ficiur
When the 2017 Major League Baseball season starts next week the Toronto Blue Jays will try to make the playoffs for the third year in a row. After two amazing playoff runs can the same core do it again? The following are reasons that they Jays won’t make the playoffs:
1. It is hard to make the baseball playoffs three years in a row. In baseball, 10 of the 30 teams makes the post-season. Since 2002, there have been ten teams that have made the playoffs at least three years in a row. Ten teams in fifteen years can be interpreted many ways by a statistician. In those fifteen years the thirty baseball teams will have played 450 seasons; thirty-seven of those seasons (8.2%) are teams that were on a three year (or longer) playoff steak. Since we have seen ten teams in fifteen years that mean that in about 2/3 of the seasons there is one team on a three season playoff streak. This year the Blue Jays and the Chicago Cubs are both trying to be in the post season for the third year in a row.
If the Blue Jays don’t get to the final four like they did the last two season, everyone will consider the season a failure. Making the final four in the playoffs three years in a row is nearly impossible. In that same 17 year time period, only the Philadelphia Phillies made the final four for three years in a row (2008-2010).
However you write or interpret the numbers, history tells us that it will be hard to Toronto to repeat what they have done in 2015 and 2016.
1. Superstars are aging – The core of the Blue Jays star hitters are over 30 years old. Production in all sports drops off after a player reaches the 30 (ish) age range. The hitters that the Jays are expecting to power them to the playoffs are: Jose Bautista (37), Josh Donaldson (32), Russel Martin (32), Troy Tulowitzki (33), and Kendrys Morales (34). In 2016 these five players combined for 133 home runs and 414 runs batted in. In 2015, the same five players hit 143 home runs and added 490 runs batted in. That means in the courage of one year their combined home run production dropped 10 (7%) and runs batted in dropped 76 (16%). That kind of a drop again this year would likely leave the Jays on the outside of the playoff hunt. One could argue that nagging injuries to Donaldson, Bautista, Martin and Tulowitzki slowed the team down in 2016; and maybe it won’t happen this year. The truth is usually the opposite, the older a player gets the more injuries take a toll.
2. The Blue Jays have had a terrible pre-season. At this moment their record is nine wins and fifteen losses. This .375 winning percentage is the worst of all the American League teams. Many factors have led to a poor post season. The Jays were without several players who went to the World Baseball Classic (but so were other teams). The Blue Jays did not play their big leaguers in early exhibition games.
In the 2016 pre-season the Jays were 17-8. This .680 was the second best winning percentage in the American League. Interestingly, the 2015 World series champion Kansas City Royals had the worst 2016 pre-season record in the American League with a 14-21 (.400) record. It could have been argued that those 2016 Royals (like this year’s Jays) had gone far in the previous two post-seasons – so they were resting their veterans. In the end, the 2016 Royals missed the playoffs. A bad pre-season did equal a bad regular season for the defending champions.
3. Toronto Blue Jays depth is thin – Injuries are part of baseball. The Jays start the season with best five starting staff in baseball, but there is no depth. The drop off between #5 and a possible #6 starter is so wide we don’t know who it would be. The Jays have a solid starting roster. An injury to any position means we move from a star to a prospect (or fading star). The only consolation to the Jays is that all teams face a depth challenge at some positions. In the pre-season it is a challenge, it only becomes a crisis when (inevitably) injuries make it a crisis.
These are four of the reasons that the Jays will miss the 2017 playoffs. If the season does go south, unexpected challenges could arise.
Fear not Blue Jays fans! Next week’s column is entitled Why the 2017 Blue Jays will make the playoffs. We will erase all the pessimism of this article and show why this year’s Blue Jays are better than last year.