After a tepid start to the Blue Jays season where the offence has mostly tip-toed into the frigid waters north of the border, the Toronto Blue Jays have finally awoke to game altering baseball.
The Jays currently own a 29-26 record in the AL East, good for third place just behind the Baltimore Orioles. This is largely the result of a strong month of May after a miserable April. If you tuned into talk radio and listened to the conversation, or just logged onto Twitter during a Jays game, you'd have heard of the metaphorical sky falling around the Rogers Centre because of an 11-14 record during the season's first month.
Then the weather warmed, Rougned Odor punched Jose Bautista in the face and Devon Travis made his way back from the unknown abyss. It's why they've won 10 of their last 13 games and finished the month of May with a 17-12 record. Another positive aspect to these winning ways is that they've been doing it against competition that's been particularly difficult. According to ESPN Stats and Info, the Jays strength of competition has been the fourth toughest in the entire league. While the AL East isn't the toughest division in the world, it is certainly up there and the Jays have played 32 of their 55 games against the East. It will no doubt be nice playing teams like the Philadelphia Phillies and Arizona Diamondbacks this month, hoping to build on their established winning ways and chipping away at the lead the Boston Red Sox have already established.
Those who know the Jays and looked beyond the grim faces of players like Troy Tulowitzki to start the season, knew that this day was coming. The phrase that the offence was, "just too good" to play this bad had been muttered more times than a mumbled "uhhhhhhh" during a John Gibbons press conference. John Lott recently penned a well written piece on VICE about how bad the Jays luck has been on balls in play, illuminating the possibility that the Blue Jays offence were going to break out of their spring slump. In it, he addressed players like Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista who have hit the ball hard this season but haven't been rewarded with base hits thus far. Those factors will undoubtedly play a factor going forward for some of the team's top hitters.
One variable he left out of his report on the Jays lack of luck is the idea of cluster luck. Jonah Keri wrote about the idea of cluster luck last season during one of his infamous "The 30" posts for the now defunct Grantland.
Joe Peta, a former Wall Street trader, presented cluster luck in his book, Trading Bases. Essentially, the concept boils down to this: When a team’s batters cluster hits together to score more runs and a team’s pitchers spread hits apart to allow fewer runs, that’s cluster luck. Say a team tallies nine singles in one game. If all of those singles occur in the same inning, the team would likely score seven runs; if each single occurs in a different inning, however, it’d likely mean a shutout.
To gauge where the Blue Jays fit in on cluster luck, we turn to ThePowerRank.com, a site maintained by former Grantland writer Ed Feng. The Jays currently rank 21st in the league in cluster luck combined (offence and defence). Looking at only the offensive component, the Jays rank in the middle of the pack nine runs below average. That is, the Jays' offence isn't clustering hits optimally--a thing they can't always control--which is causing the entire offence to suffer. Of course, this is supported by the Jays having the 26th ranked batting average with runners in scoring position.
When you look at the defence, that is pitching, they currently sit at +1.5 runs supporting the notion that the Blue Jays truly do own one of the best pitching staffs in baseball and that their success isn't simply fluke performance.
Thus the Jays appear to be turning a corner right now and picking up speed quickly. If you were to look a year ago at this time, you'd be looking at an ugly 24-30 record with a four-and-a-half game deficit in the division. It seems they're destined to reach top speed soon, hot on the trail of the Red Sox for the division lead. The season is starting to look a lot like late 2015.