Enough is enough, it is time for Blue Jays manager John Gibbons to put together a decent lineup. Toronto may have the best group of hitters in major league baseball, but failing to optimize the lineup begins to bridge the gap between the Jays and their division rivals. Due to a poor lineup construction, the Blue Jays are easy to matchup against late in games, and the team is simply wasting runs as a result.
It's pretty simple: Kevin Pillar has no business leading off in a lineup that features Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Troy Tulowitzki, Michael Saunders, and Russell Martin. If John Gibbons wants to help his team generate more runs, he should be looking to get his best hitters up to the plate as much as possible. While the lineup is filled with plenty of above average hitters, the Jays' leadoff man is below average in terms of weighted runs created, which simply equates to throwing away runs.
To be fair, Pillar is a terrific player that provides a ton of value to the Blue Jays in the field. His offensive production is very respectful for a defensive stud playing a premium position, but most of his value is generated in the field. Although he can hit for a strong average, limited power and a consistently below average walk rate makes him a poor choice to receive the most at bats on the team. If we want to maximize Pillar's bat, it does not make sense to hit him ahead of some of the best right-handed bats in the American League. Hitters such as Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista are going to be challenged by the best right-handed relievers the opposing team has to offer, and the leadoff spot is going to have to deal with these difficult match-ups as a result. Pillar was much stronger against left-handed pitching over his entire minor league career, and he should be put in a position where he will get to face the odd left-handed specialist.
Late Game Match-ups
It is extremely easy for opposing managers to exploit the current Blue Jays lineup late in games. Toronto has five consecutive right-handed hitters at the top of the lineup, which makes for an easy decision to bring in a right-handed reliever. Left-handed pitchers are then available to be used for Michael Saunders, Ryan Goins, and Justin Smoak, which lowers their production as a result. Although the Jays best right-handed hitters should hit at the top of the lineup, hitting Pillar lower in the lineup can reduce the number of consecutive righties from 5 to 4.
Troy Tulowitzki And The Leadoff Spot
When Tulowitzki first arrived in Toronto in late July, John Gibbons immediately placed him in the leadoff spot. The move made plenty of sense, as Tulo provides well above average offensive production just about every year. With All Star calibre hitters already in the 2-3-4 spots, it was ideal to put Tulowitzki in a position to get tons of at bats. To date, the 31 year old owns a career .368 on-base percentage, which would provide the Jays big hitters with plenty of opportunities to drive in runs. In comparison, Kevin Pillar's career on-base percentage is much lower at .301.
Here's the problem: Tulowitzki struggled at the plate during his time as a leadoff hitter. In 26 games at the top of the lineup, Tulo hit just .227 with a .325 on base percentage. Rather than attributing these struggles to a slump or simply poor performance, these struggles were largely blamed on hitting in an unfamiliar spot in the lineup.
Although Tulowitzki is hitting fifth this season, he is still struggling at the plate. Should we now suggest that this new spot in the lineup is causing his struggles? The fact of the matter is that good hitters can produce at any spot in the lineup, and it is not the spot in the order that has caused the majority of Tulowitzki's struggles. Now that he is struggling in the 5th spot, it is time to switch things up and try him in the leadoff spot once again. When he eventually heats up at the plate, we can all pretend that his new spot in the order is the reason for his success.
Proposed Lineup *Note: A 100 wRC+ represents league average production*
|Bats||Career wRC+ vs. RHP|
With this lineup, more at bats are given to Tulowitzki, Saunders, Martin, and Justin Smoak as they move up in the order. The Jays big hitters will hit with a runner on-base more often due to Tulo's higher on-base percentage, and Kevin Pillar should get to face more left-handed pitchers lower in the lineup. Michael Saunders will hit between two strong right-handed hitters, which will limit the number of times he faces a left-handed specialist. By providing hitters with the chance to receive a more favourable match-up, John Gibbons can help quickly improve his team's offensive production in the process.
All-in-all, the Jays should look to optimize their lineup sooner rather than later, providing a major advantage over division rivals. The lineup is scary enough as is, but there is no reason why the team should be wasting runs due to poor lineup construction. By providing the team's best hitters with more at bats, the Jays will be positioned for success like never before.