Blue Jays Pitchers Have Struggled in the Clutch

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Jays have generally gotten fairly good pitching in 2014, but the staff has allowed hits at the least opportune moments.

The 2014 Toronto Blue Jays have been an inconsistent squad.

That is a statement that can be made about most teams that hover around .500, but it feels especially appropriate for this year's Blue Jays.

Toronto's lineup has been about as good as expected, with Jose Bautista's unbelievable production and Juan Francisco's emergence offsetting a slow start for Jose Reyes and an injury to Colby Rasmus. However, the pitching has been dominant at times and hopeless at others, experiencing every point between the two extremes.There have been moments when no lead was safe and no starter seemed to be getting out of the sixth, and there have been moments like Drew Hutchison's shutout, where all seemed right in the world with this team's arms.

Such a pattern generally manifests itself in OK total numbers, which is what the Jays have accumulated. The following chart shows how this staff has done compared to league averages.

Sample

ERA

FIP

xFIP

WAR

Blue Jays Pitchers

4.44

3.96

4.28

4.5

League Average

3.81

3.81

3.81

3.9 (per team)

The Blue Jays are below average in ERA, FIP, and xFIP but given the difficult predicament their pitchers face playing in the AL in a hitter's park, the staff has actually performed admirably. As a result, Toronto's pitchers have produced 4.5 WAR, the 11th best total in the league. That being said, the solid overall numbers mask the day-to-day inconsistency of the Jays pitchers, who have lost the team more than a handful of games.

One place where they have really struggled is in "High Leverage" situations. A great deal of this has to do with bullpen meltdowns, but it also seems that other teams are getting big hits when they are needed most. The table below shows how Jays pitchers have fared when the stakes are highest compared to their overall numbers.

Sample

K%

BB%

AVG against

OBP against

SLG against

All Situations

19.6%

10.1%

.261

.342

.420

"High Leverage" Situations

18.0%

12.2%

.252

.360

.513

When this team has needed to limit the damage the most, other teams have been feasting on their pitching. On a basic level this a bummer. It's annoying to see the team you support fail to get outs in the clutch. However, there are reasons for optimism:

1) The team can't possibly as "unclutch" as they've shown here.

This has to be rock bottom. There is no way that every pitcher that puts on a Jays uniform has the mental fortitude of Chuck Knoblach. It should be noted that I could have easily said "Russ Adams" there, but there's no need to open that wound. Although pitchers do generally give up a higher OBP with runners on base, and some of them can struggle out of the stretch, that doesn't mean they turn every batter they face into an elite power hitter.

2) This is a small sample size.

You know the spiel here, so there's no need to go through it. High leverage situations are relatively rare so the sample is pretty small.

3) Casey Janssen is back.

The Blue Jays have had Sergio Santos pitching in a lot of critical moments in 2014 and the results have been just awful. With the reliable Janssen stabilizing the back of the pen, the Jays should see fewer meltdowns. Probably.

At a time when the American League East is completely and utterly up for grabs, the Blue Jays have spent an awful lot of time treading water, failing to make a move. One of their obstacles to sustained success has been a pitching staff that has allowed other teams to deliver the dagger at crucial moments at an almost absurd rate.

With a closer that keeps the fans' blood pressure in check and a little more luck this team should be able to break that pattern. If they do, then the Blue Jays might be ready to leave their familiar position floating around the .500 mark. While a winning team is an upgrade over the last two years, for a team that has only finished less than 10 games back of a division crown once in the last 20 seasons, it's not enough.

*Note: All stats do not include last night's game, which given my luck of course included a fair amount of Jays hurlers pitching their way out of trouble and an appearance from Casey Janssen that did not lower anyone's blood pressure.

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