Based on the box score, Tuesday’s 11-5 thrashing at the hands of the Yankees was one of the ugliest loses of the season for the Blue Jays, but a closer look reveals that it was actually one of the easiest losses to take big picture wise.
1) The Blue Jays were extremely likely to lose Tuesday’s game before it even started
There’s an old school of thought in baseball that tends to hold true outside of a couple of very historic teams: Everybody wins a third of their games, everybody loses a third of their games, and the middle third ultimately determines your fate.
Well, last night’s game was one of the third the Blue Jays were probably going lose no matter what they did. They drew a Tanaka vs. Latos match up on the road without two of their star players in Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki. Obviously anything can happen in baseball, but that smells like a battle you’re going to end up on the wrong side of the vast majority of the time.
Taking it one step further, the Jays are likely to lose most games they start Latos, and they’re also likely to lose most games they run into Tanaka with a depleted lineup. So they may have actually caught a break in doubling that up in the same night. If they can win tonight with Stroman on the mound, they end up taking a series in Yankee Stadium where they had to face Tanaka and pitch Latos, which is a pretty darn good outcome.
2) Steve Pearce may have broken out of his early season slump
Entering Tuesday, Pearce didn’t have an extra base hit on the season. Now he has three of them. He launched two home runs off Tanaka and later a double off of Tommy Layne, boosting his OPS from .377 to .607.
He obviously needs to build off this game if he’s going to give the Jays the production they want out of him this season, but considering he’s coming off forearm surgery this off season, maybe he just needed an extra month to get going. If last night is any sign of what he’s going to do going forward, this team has a much deeper lineup than it showed in April.
3) Grilli got hammered without costing the team another game
This is going to be a tough one for the team because Jason Grilli is a great guy who was a nice addition to the 2016 squad, but Grilli simply can’t be used in high leverage situations anymore. It was becoming apparent even before last night, but after that performance, it should be painfully obvious.
Grilli’s made it through just 8.2 innings in eleven outings and has an ERA of 10.38 on the season. He’s already allowed seven walks and four home runs (both poisonous outcomes in late and close games), and hitters now have a 1.090 OPS against him. At 40-years-old, odds favor Grilli never being an effective reliever again. Last summer was probably the last bit of gas he had left in the tank.
So why might this be a blessing? Well, I’m hoping that last night’s hideous outing seals the deal in terms of Grilli being kicked out of high leverage situations. I was thinking he was going to have cost the team another lead or two late in a game before that occurred, but that was such an ugly sequence coming on the back of other poor outings that there’s a good chance the team takes action.
Fangraphs has a lovely stat know as pLI, and it measures the average Leverage Index of all the plate appearances a player was involved in (1.00 is average). In other words, we can use it to see which players the team leans on most in crucial situations. Here’s the five Blue Jay pitchers with the highest pLI scores since the start of 2016 who’ve pitched at least ten innings: (I’ve also posted their WPA to show how much they’ve helped or hurt the team while in the those roles.)
Since being acquired from Atlanta last year, Grilli’s been handed more important outs than anyone on the team outside of Osuna. If you were to isolate his pLI to just this season, it actually comes out to 1.73 - Even higher than last year. This needs to end now. Virtually everybody else currently in that pen is a better option than Grilli at this point.
Fortunately, last night’s outing didn’t cost the Blue Jays the game. It might have felt like a high leverage situation when Grilli was on the mound because the Blue Jays just had the tying run at the plate, but once Kendrys Morales struck out with the bases loaded to end the top of the seventh, the game was well in hand for New York since it’s very hard to come from four runs down with only six outs to play with against that bullpen.
4) The Jays managed to make the Yankees use Betances in a game they won by six runs.
This is a small one, and it won’t prevent the Yankees from using Betances tonight if the situation calls for it, but it was nice to see the Yankees have to use a big arm like this in a game that felt like it was a blowout for 95 percent of the evening.
Now the Jays go into Wednesday’s match up with their high leverage arms fully rested (with an off day on Thursday) and a chance to be as aggressive as they want. At the same time, they’ve gotten two key hitters to the plate against Betances in Martin and Morales who might have more success if they see him for a second night in a row.
5) That game might get Mat Latos off the team
I've always disliked Mat Latos, both as a player and as a clubhouse guy based on the stories I’ve heard (there’s a reason he’s pitched for eight different teams over the last seven years and none of them for a second time folks). So if last night’s game gets him a ticket out of a Blue Jays uniform and they try someone else the next swing through the rotation, I’ll be a happy camper.
Even in Latos’ first two starts where he posted a 3.27 ERA, he walked more guys than he struck out, so you knew a complete stinker like the one we saw in New York last night was coming.
The off day Thursday gives the Jays a little bit of time to make a decision here as they can start Stroman today, Liriano on Friday and Estrada on normal rest Saturday before needing to dip beyond their desired starters again. The obvious choice people are going to point toward is T.J. House who’s doing a nice job in Buffalo, but the problem there is you can’t send him back to down once Happ and Sanchez are back in the rotation because he doesn’t have any options, and the team may want his depth long term if they think they can get two of their big guns back sooner rather than later.
If this is the case, they may have to hand Latos another start out of necessity, but you have to think after last night his walking papers are coming soon, and I personally can’t wait.