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The Blue Jays have better reinforcements in 2014

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Every team begins the season with a 25-man roster, but it takes more than 25 men to have a successful year.

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Following three straight series wins and an immensely satisfying 14-1 shellacking of the Boston Red Sox, the Blue Jays are soaring.

The driving force behind the team's recent hot streak is an offense that has come to life since the All-Star Break. The Jays have put together a .312/.381/.499 line in their last 11 games, winning eight of them. Interestingly, the Blue Jays have done this without the services of Edwin Encarnacion, Adam Lind, or Brett Lawrie.

Instead, it has been a lineup full of names like Dan Johnson, Steve Tolleson, and of course Munenori Kawasaki, that has driven this team forward.

The Blue Jays are succeeding with players that certainly weren't in the team's plans when the season opened, and the front office deserves some credit for stockpiling useful depth players. The process continued yesterday as the Jays acquired third baseman Danny Valencia from the Royals in exchange for some magic beans. It appears that Valencia may have some use to the Blue Jays as a platoon bat:

Full disclosure, I'm not 100 percent sure what the etiquette is in terms of embedding one's own tweets, but I know that it definitely feels wrong. However, that's neither here nor there.

The point is that the Jays have done a good job of plugging holes with at least semi-capable players. As the team learned last year, it's pretty easy for injuries to send a promising season to hell in a handbasket. Despite the fact the team made a seemingly endless series of waiver claims prior to the 2013 season, when things went sideways the reinforcements from the minor leagues did not perform competently.

This season the reinforcements have been much better. To try and illustrate the difference through quantification we need a simple definition for "reinforcements". It should be noted that the term normally used here is "replacement players" and it is one I've shied away from intentionally. The term "replacement player" has come to imply minor league veterans that can easily be plucked off the street. Alternatively, "reinforcements" include highly-touted minor leaguers, as well as anyone a team has traded for.

As such the working definition for "reinforcements" is a simple one. For a player to qualify for this completely made-up designation they simply must not have been on the Opening Day roster of a team. By looking at a team's reinforcements you can see how well a team did at building depth in their minor league system and at bringing in players as needed during the year.

Today I mean to compare the 2014 Jays to last year's iteration in this regard. Beginning with position players:

Sample

PA

BB%

K%

AVG

OBP

SLG

WAR

2013 "Reinforcements"

947

7.5%

20.3%

.234

.293

.341

0.5

2014 "Reinforcements"

905

8.0%

26.1%

.241

.301

.352

2.7

The offensive numbers here actually aren't all that different. Awful performances by guys like Erik Kratz have dragged down the total numbers and masked some solid work by Juan Francisco. These numbers could improve if Francisco, Tolleson, and Kawasaki continue to do well over the next few weeks. In fact they already have, as the numbers do not include last night's action. Anthony Gose's defence and base running is also playing a huge role in the improved WAR.

When it comes to pitching the WAR gap is also significant, largely due to the unbelievable ineptitude of the pitching reinforcements last season, something I went into depressing detail on at the time.

Sample

IP

BB%

K%

ERA

FIP

WAR

2013 "Reinforcements"

298.1

9.4%

17.1%

5.01

5.18

-1.0

2014 "Reinforcements"

128.2

6.4%

18.4%

4.68

3.92

1.3

If you add the WAR totals together the Blue Jays have found 4.5 more wins in 2014 by getting more production from guys who didn't start the season with the team. To be fair, they had a dynamite prospect in Marcus Stroman to bring up. On the other hand, Alex Anthopolous has conjured a useful slugger in Juan Francisco, and a productive utility man in Steve Tolleson out of more or less thin air.

The ultimate success or failure of the Jays' 2014 season will largely rest on the shoulders of players who were with the team when they lost 9-2 to the Tampa Bay Rays on March 31st. However, there are a few other guys who are going to play important roles in determining if this franchise makes the playoffs for the first time since 1993.

At this particular moment those guys are the glue that is keeping this rickety squad together. Hopefully, they can keep it up. Anyone who watched the Jays last year knows how ugly it can get when a team comes unglued.