Life is pain … and anyone who says differently is selling something.

For those of you who enjoy golf, we know that when a player makes a shot and the ball lands two inches from the hole generally we’ll tell him to pick up the ball and assume that his two inch putt will fall in.

We call it a gimme.

Well, if you’re out golfing with a member of the 2008 Blue Jays’ lineup I strongly suggest you make him putt it out. Otherwise you’ll fall victim to one of history’s classic blunders! The most famous is never get involved in a land war in Asia, but only slightly less well-known is this: never pitch around a Blue Jay when a game is on the line!

If you doubt me, read on.

In the second inning of last Sunday’s Jays-Angels game, Toronto got Vernon Wells to third with none out and couldn’t cash him in. Having been fed up, I decided to see how many times the Blue Jays had missed a gimme run thus far in 2008.

Toronto has been in that situation 49 times this season; however, many times besides the man on third, there were other runners on (with none out). In those 49 chances, the Jays had on a total of 100 base runners with 147 outs to work with—they cashed in a total of 74 runs which may not seem so awful (it is).

However…

… in those innings, they added another 47 runners; of the original 100 base runners, 72 came around to score. Of the additional 47, only two were plated. In all, they stranded 73 while whiffing 38 times and hitting into eight twin-killings.

Of note: 28 of those runs were scored with something other than a hit a few productive outs—a wild pitch, an error, some bases loaded walks et cetera.

In all, they were skunked 11 times and 22 times held to a single run. Only on 16 of 49 occasions did they come away with more than one run. Of those 21 times when they scored (after getting to the point of at least a man on third and none out) at least a run only five run scoring base hits were struck (two doubles, three singles), there were 11 sacrifice hits, three bases-loaded walks, an error and a wild pitch.

It gets much uglier.

{exp:list_maker}Innings 1-3: 16 times such a scenario arose and 34 runs were cashed in.
Innings 4-6: 12 times such a scenario arose and 18 runs were cashed in, however four of those runs came in games with a five-run differential.
From the seventh inning on: 21 times such a scenario arose and 22 runs were cashed in, however 14 of those runs came in games with a five-run differential. In seven of those chances the game was within two runs or less and the Jays managed to plate just two runs. {/exp:list_maker}

Inconceivable?

I wish.

Of those 49 chances, only nine times did the follow-up at-bat with (at least a) man on third, none out result in a hit (plus two walks) for a .191 batting average; from the seventh inning on it drops to .158. Overall with at least a man on third, none out and 42 available base runners, the Jays are hitting .085/.270/.119 with 15 strikeouts and five GiDP (from the seventh inning onward).

Think about this: 11 times in the seventh inning or later, the Jays had either second and third or bases loaded and none out—in one game when down 9-1 in the ninth they rallied for four runs.

However, in the other 10: They had bases loaded, none out seven times and came away with three runs—two on walks, one on a sac fly—and hit into three double plays. On three occasions with second and third, none out they came away with two runs—both on sac flies and went 0-for-24.

It’s as if the opposing pitchers are thinking “Then why do I see fear on your face?

That’s not luck and that’s not random variance—that’s simply choking. The closer the game, the later the inning, the more golden the opportunity and the Blue Jays crash and burn. They have no problem swinging the bats and getting on base, but when the time comes for the big hit the windpipe collapses. They scored 46 percent of their runs with at least a man on third and none out in the first three innings, yet they manage the most such opportunities late (43 percent) from the seventh inning onward, but when the game is close and late (14 percent of the situations under consideration) only 3 percent of the runners on base (with at least one on third) and none out come across to score.

They struggle mightily enough in innings seven through end of game, but when the game is on the line and winnable they sink to a (w)hole new depth.

The thing is, I know about randomness and luck but I also know what a choke job looks like—anybody who has been subjected to Jays games this year knows that not only are they not getting the big hit, they are seldom robbed by highlight reel defensive gems. Generally, it’s a strike out, a ground ball to the infield or a lazy fly ball that the outfielder can casually jog to gather in.

They swing the bat just fine when putting on base runners, but as I documented on my blog last Friday, when it’s show time they have a collective Depends Moment:

The Jays have had 415 PA with (at least) a man on third base; they’re hitting .206/.328/.304. They have struck out as many times as they have hit (69 H/69 K … symbolic–n’est-ce pas?) ; they have walked almost as often as they have hit (61 BB). In 415 PA they have just 21 extra base hits with a man on third.

The Mariners have had 348 PA with (at least) a man on third and are batting .272/.369/.356 and despite almost 70 fewer PA they have six more hit with two more for extra bases.

The Royals have had 319 PA with (at least) a man on third and are hitting .311/.384/.422 with 20 extra base hits despite almost 100 few PA.

The Angels, like the Mariners, have had 348 PA with (at least) a man on third and are batting .295/.400/.421 with 27 extra base hits (8 HR).

These are the four lowest scoring teams in the AL (11. Royals, 12. Blue Jays, 13. Angels, 14. Mariners)–even among the lightweights of the AL the Jays offense in clutch situations is abysmal.

Team        BA  OBP  SLG  2B 3B  HR  BB
Royals    .311/.384/.422  15  0   5  32
Blue Jays .206/.328/.304  15  0   6  61
Angels    .295/.400/.421  18  1   8  50
Mariners  .272/.369/.356  19  0   4  42

David Eckstein is on the trading block and with men on third he’s hitting .308/.379/384–absent the X-Factor, the team is batting .197/.324/.298 in that situation. Dear God, if they deal Eckstein we may see a team intentionally load the bases in the ninth inning with nobody out and a one-run lead to better their chances of closing out the game.

I’ll say this much—the last two years the Toronto Blue Jays have shaken my sabermetric beliefs (such as they are) to the core. Last year, I landed in hot water for suggesting that bunting occasionally might be the cure for the Jays’ man-on-first-and-second woes (provided there were none out and the bottom the order was due up). Other than man on first, it was their second most common on-base situation, and the Jays hit a mere .239/.308/.361 while the rest of the AL batted .254/.320/.398. Watching potential rallies repeatedly self-destruct got me to thinking that if these guys batting 7-9 loved making outs so much that maybe they should try and move up some base runners while doing so.

This year, it’s trying to reconcile the concepts of random variation and luck from repeatedly watching absolutely jaw-dropping, eyeball-bugging, projectile-vomiting offensive ineptitude in key situations to thinking that maybe the problem is from the neck upward with the hitters.

It’s not just the batters either; it seems the bullpen spits the bit (follow the links) when the going gets tough as well.

“Fezzik—tear his arms off.”

To me, if it’s just random variation and luck then why does it always work against the Blue Jays? Under J.P. Ricciardi the Jays are 523-537 (.493) but our Pythagorean W-L is 545-515 (.514). Is Pythagoras a Greek word meaning “J.P. Ricciardi is the greatest Jay-killer since Rickey Henderson” or something?

Maybe the Jays woes are a fluke, maybe it’s just luck or it might be that Ricciardi is related to Pierrepoints. Regardless, when random variation and luck starting working in the Jays’ favor I may be more inclined to think that the Jays’ play isn’t the result of the gag reflex. The season isn’t quite over for the Jays yet, but…

“Now, mostly dead is slightly alive. Now, all dead…well, with all dead, there’s usually only one thing that you can do … go through the list of free agents and look for a big bat.”

This much I do know—even if Ricciardi isn’t part of the problem, I think he’s proven fairly conclusively that he’s not part of the solution. As long as he’s running the team, Jays fans are in …

“… the Pit of Despair—don’t even think don’t even think about trying to escape. The lineup is far too thin. And don’t dream of being rescued either.

References & Resources
If you’re wondering where I got my data … well I slugged through 89 separate box scores to get it. You can disagree with my conclusions but don’t tell me I don’t do my homework!

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