When thinking about the 2014 Blue Jays, certain weaknesses seem to stand out more than others. The team's defence appeared to be below average, while the pitching (particularly the bullpen) did not exactly take the league by storm. While these flaws were pointed out and discussed throughout the season, the offence seemed to get a bit of a free pass.
The Jays had the fifth best offence in all of baseball last season, at least according to the stat wRC+ (weighted runs created). The team made the top ten in home runs, average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and runs. At first glance, there does not appear to be much of a problem with the Blue Jays offensively. After further investigation, one major weakness stands out:
|2014 vs. RHP||109||3rd|
|2014 vs. LHP||95||21st|
With the third best offence in the league, the Jays crushed right-handed pitching to the tune of a 109 wRC+. Unfortunately, there was a completely different level of offensive production against left-handed pitching. The Blue Jays ranked 21st in the league against southpaws, finishing behind all ten playoff teams. Though right-handed pitchers are much more common, the Jays' hitters did see a lefty on the mound for just over one-quarter of their plate appearances. To improve the team's chances of making the playoffs, the Jays certainly needed to improve their offence against left-handed pitching.
What Went Wrong?
The Jays' struggles against lefties was a bit of a surprise. The team's two best hitters were right handed, while three other starting position players could switch-hit. Jose Bautista was actually one of the best hitters in baseball when a left-handed pitcher was on the mound.
With smart management, teams can utilize platoons in order to improve their offence. Combine a strong hitter against righties with a strong hitter against lefties and all of the sudden you have one "super-player" to play everyday. Since left-handed pitchers are less common, players that excel against southpaws (but struggle against right-handed pitchers) are typically considered bench players. As bench players, they are typically very affordable and easy to acquire.
Though it appears to be quite easy to find a right-handed hitting side of a platoon, the Blue Jays failed to have quality options to platoon with players such as Adam Lind and Ryan Goins. To start the season, the Blue Jays' bench consisted of Maicer Izturis, Josh Thole and Moises Sierra. Izturis is a switch hitter who has been a below average hitter against lefties for his career. Sierra has been around league average, but his bat was below average relative to the position he would play (DH). Josh Thole's offensive numbers against lefties are well-below average, but he would be in the lineup against a southpaw if R.A Dickey was on the mound.
The Blue Jays' struggles against left-handed pitching was not just a one year thing. This problem has persisted for three consecutive seasons:
|2014 vs LHP||95||21st|
|2013 vs. LHP||83||28th|
|2012 vs. LHP||93||18th|
The Blue Jays clearly have some room to improve in the 2015 season. Fortunately for Blue Jays fans, hitting lefties no longer seems to be much of a problem. While right-handed hitters such as Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin have been added, the Jays' bench could consist of "lefty-mashers" such as Danny Valencia, Kevin Pillar, Dioner Navarro and Steve Tolleson.
Here's a quick look at the type of lineup the Jays could feature in 2015 against left-handed pitchers (A 100 wRC+ is considered league average):
|2012-2014 vs LHP||wRC+|
Quite the improvement, as every player in the lineup has been just around league average or better over the last three seasons. Dioner Navarro (who had a 135 wrc+) did not even make it into the lineup, while Dalton Pompey and Justin Smoak are both switch-hitters.
Josh Donaldson has been one of the best hitters in baseball against lefties, so his addition to the lineup is obviously a major plus. Valencia, Pillar and Tolleson figure to earn less than $5M combined in 2015, yet their contributions could be quite significant. It is worth noting that Pillar was extremely strong against lefties in his minor league career, so we may expect his numbers to be even better going forward once the sample size increases.
The Jays appear to have improved drastically against left-handed pitching. One of the team's biggest weaknesses has been turned into a strength. The team finally has quality platoon options from the right-side, which will help the offence against lefties significantly. A full year of Danny Valencia, Kevin Pillar and maybe even Steve Tolleson will be a nice change from what Toronto fans have seen in the past. Adding Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin does not hurt either.
With increased roster flexibility, the Jays should be able to play the matchup game far more often. Players should not be forced into the lineup if they struggle greatly against left-handers. Opposing managers will not be able to bring in a left-handed reliever without the fear of a quality bat coming in as a pinch hitter.
The Blue Jays can finally hit left-handed pitching. For Wei-Yin Chen, CC Sabathia, Wade Miley and Matt Moore, consider this as a warning.