The Problem Lies With The Other Guys

This misleading trick photography creates the illusion that Emilio Bonifacio is hitting a baseball - USA TODAY Sports

The heart of the Blue Jays lineup has been excellent, but what about everyone else?

Going into the season I, like many I would imagine, figured that the Jays stood a pretty good chance of scoring a lot of runs. The Dominican quartet at the top of the lineup (Reyes, Cabrera, Bautista and Encarnacion) all projected to be well above average offensive performers and so long as guys like Rasmus, Lind and Lawrie could hover around average offensively the lineup seemed likely to be able to deal with the holes at second base and catcher. After all, even the best lineups tend to have one or two guys that are there for their defense or because of a lack of viable alternatives.

In a sense the Blue Jays have delivered on exactly this model. The team has scored the 7th most runs in the MLB and has the 10th best wRC+ showing themselves to be an above average offensive outfit. Colby Rasmus has been a revelation. Adam Lind has exceeded the expectations of even people who have been in a coma since 2009. Encarnacion and Reyes have delivered exactly as advertised albeit with Reyes missing a big chunk of time. Jose Bautista's season has been slightly disappointing but not disastrously so by any means. While Melky Cabrera has disappointed, the core five of Reyes, Bautista, Encarnacion, Lind and Rasmus has been terrific. Below is their combined production (going into last night's game):

PA

HR

ISO

BB%

K%

AVG

OBP

SLG

WAR

1645

81

.223

10.3%

18.3%

.274

.351

.497

12.1

That is pretty impressive stuff. When more than half your lineup can do that you should be looking at an elite offense, not merely a good one. The problem is that a lineup is composed of nine players not five. This is one of the things that is so fascinating about baseball. In sports like basketball, football and even hockey at times a superstar or a two can carry a team on their backs. However, in baseball each player can only affect the game at certain times like when they are at bat or a ball comes their way in the field. Often they will have no impact on the game for a couple innings no matter how good they are. Lebron James is never going to be utterly insignificant to the outcome of a game for 22.2% of it but Jose Bautista could bat in the 1st and then not bat again until the 4th with no balls coming his way in the outfield. In most games J.P. Arencibia will be at bat the same amount as Edwin Encarnacion despite the massive disparity in their respective abilities to hit a baseball.

Although football often claims to be the ultimate team game, I think baseball would be a more appropriate choice for that title. A franchise quarterback can cure a lot of ills elsewhere but your best players can't hit for your worst and your best starters can't pitch every day and as such in baseball teams are more reliant on their weakest links than teams in other sports. The hope is that your weakest links are sturdy enough to hold things together when called upon. For the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays this has not been the case. Below is the aggregated line for every position player other than the five mentioned above who has appeared for the Blue Jays this year:

PA

HR

ISO

BB%

K%

AVG

OBP

SLG

WAR

2081

41

.118

6.6%

18.8%

.236

.289

.354

-1.2

This is an utterly pitiful line and it has come with some pretty poor defense from guys like Izturis, Bonifacio and Arencibia as well. While most teams would show a fairly large gap between their top guys and the bottom of the lineup I'm not sure if there is any teamwhere it is as stark as it is for the Blue Jays. The second half of this batting order has been a black hole or an anchor or whatever metaphor you prefer that posits that they have been terrible. There is some reason for hope here as perhaps Melky Cabrera has healed to some degree and can be more productive down the stretch. Brett Lawrie is also too young and talented to give up on either in the short or long term. That being said, even a rebound by those two won't save this from being a sorry group in 2013.

What this really indicates is what this club needs to address in terms of position players going forward. Cabrera, barring additional suspension, will be back and as will Lawrie but their improvement isn't 100% a given and the other two spots need to be upgraded. Pitching may be the weakness of this team but it doesn't really matter where you find your upgrades so long as you find them. The bigger the weakness the easier it is to find an upgrade because more things constitute an upgrade. I am not saying that the Blue Jays shouldn't be working on their rotation, but at least three of the starters they currently have (Dickey, Buehrle and Morrow) are pretty much locks to return so there isn't going to be the overhaul there that some people are likely hoping for. There's even a chance that Josh Johnson returns on a cheap deal or qualifying offer and Esmil Rogers may get another chance if he continues to do well. I wouldn't wager a ton of money on those five as your starting rotation but it isn't beyond the realm of possibility. As much as it may be frustrating for some fans, improved performance from the Blue Jays starting rotation in the years to come is largely going to have to come from within.

The bottom of this lineup is an abomination that is being masked somewhat by excellent production from the top guys and even worse pitching drawing away the proverbial Eye of Sauron. The Blue Jays front office needs to address this issue if they hope to contend in 2014 or 2015. If the bottom four in this lineup was even close to average the Blue Jays would have one of the most dominant offenses in the league. We are seeing this year that even if the majority of your lineup is excelling that isn't enough to guarantee elite offensive performance. The complementary pieces don't necessarily have to be good, or even average, they just can't be this bad. When it comes down to it you need to get something from your non-star players. Baseball is the ultimate team game.

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