Road kill

It’s my column and I’ll cry if I want to.

Moving along…

The biggest purple snorklewacker in the Jays’ anxiety closet in 2007 is undoubtedly their performance (or lack of same) on the road. After a 6-5 April, the Jays have managed to completely wet the bed in true Michael Binkley fashion when not on home turf—they have hobbled to a 16-30 mark (.348 winning percentage). Put another way, since May 1, the Jays would be the worst team in MLB when they leave Canada.

Ouch.

As a form of therapy (and being out of beer) I decided to see if I could figure out why the Jays are easier than Paris Hilton after a pitcher of margaritas south of the 49th.

List one—the pitching on the road:

Month     ERA    IP    BB/9   K/9  HR/9   W-L
April    4.41   96.0   4.13  6.84  0.94   6-5
May      5.70  131.0   3.64  6.94  1.37   4-11
June     4.11  105.0   3.24  5.45   .51   5-9
July     3.81  146.1   2.89  6.03   .98   7-10

Other than a crummy May, the Jays have had better than league average pitching every month. Check out the BB/9 rates; they haven’t been beating themselves and only in May did they average more than one HR/9 in any month. Reduce the walks, reduce the long balls and you can do a lot with some offense.

Which is the problem (below):

Month   R/G*  BA   OBP  SLG  H/9  BB/9  K/9 HR/9
April   5.5  .291 .363 .411 10.88 4.22 6.38 0.84
May     6.0  .239 .312 .442  8.73 3.85 6.39 1.72
June    3.7  .241 .364 .411  8.35 2.64 7.15 0.85
July    3.6  .266 .323 .406  9.78 3.08 6.52 0.74
*runs per game

The thing that really jumps out at me here is the home run rate in May. The hitting was poor, as was the OBP but when they connected, it went a long way. Almost two HR/9. Although the batting average and OBP went up in subsequent months, they really struggled to put runs on the board. One wonders what May (4-11 on the road) might have looked like had the Blue Birds’ rotation not been in a major state of flux. Even a 7-8 record that month would have the Jays sitting 59-52, with the wild card within reach. Over the last two months, the Jays aren’t averaging even four runs per game. In that light, a 12-19 record is a real tribute to the pitching staff.

(Yes, as a matter of fact I do like tormenting myself, thank-you-very-much. Just be glad I’m not writing about the Maple Leafs; ever wonder what the love child of Jann Arden and Richard Griffin might sound like?)

In 57 road games, the Jays have scored 259 runs, good for about 4.54 runs per game. The Jays’ road ERA is 4.55. Ideally, you’d think the Jays should be about .500 (give or take) on the road. However, run distribution has been highly uneven. The Jays have scored nine or more runs seven times for a total of 73 runs. That leaves 186 runs for the other 50 games–or 3.72 runs per game. The Jays have the fourth best ERA (4.12) in the AL and second best in the East, but even a league best mark (Boston: 3.74 ERA) would only be good for a .500-ish record. Other than a nasty May, Jays pitching has been league average or better every month. Besides, anyone who has suffered through Jays games knows that the big bugaboo has been the offense.

To keep this to a manageable size, I’m simply going to focus on the players who were expected to be the club’s big run producers in 2007 (Matt Stairs is having a terrific year, but he was signed simply for bench strength): Alex Rios, Troy Glaus, Frank Thomas, Lyle Overbay, Royce Clayton (just making sure you’re paying attention) and Vernon Wells, and see how they have fared on the road this season:

Road totals April-July 31

Player    BA  OBP  SLG
Rios    .319 .367 .522
Glaus   .237 .318 .457
Thomas  .260 .357 .424
Overbay .291 .389 .475
Wells   .274 .325 .447

A quick and dirty look tells us that for the most part, our five run producers have fared better on the road than at home. Rios, Overbay and Thomas all have hit better away from the Rogers Centre while Glaus is 30 OPS points better in Toronto and Wells is slightly better at home. Overbay, oddly, has been limp on home turf (.200/.289/.357). Overall, the five have a slightly better OBP on the road (.346) than at home (.343). The Blue Jays have gotten more hits and walks on the road as well, yet have scored 20 fewer runs south of 49.

Which points to poor situational hitting—the Jays’ biggest bugaboo (Yes, I like saying bugaboo, try it sometime) in 2007. Although I’m hardly objective, I’m amazed at how unthreatening a first and second/nobody out situation for the Jays feels. (More on this later.)

For fun some additional gut-wrenching torture, let’s break it down month by month:

April

Player    BA  OBP  SLG
Rios    .260 .302 .340
Glaus   .286 .412 .500
Thomas  .333 .415 .452
Overbay .250 .362 .350
Wells   .415 .467 .707

By far, the best overall month—which of course is why April was the only month in which the Jays had a winning road record (6-5).

May

Player    BA  OBP  SLG
Rios    .350 .418 .617
Glaus   .231 .310 .519
Thomas  .227 .333 .432
Overbay .310 .394 .621
Wells   .211 .237 .298

We see a huge drop in OBP save from Overbay and Rios. However three slugged in excess of .500. The Jays averaged almost two HR per nine innings in May. Unsettled pitching led to a 4-11 mark. Vernon Wells was positively Neiferrific in May.

June

Player    BA  OBP  SLG
Rios    .314 .340 .549
Glaus   .225 .340 .425
Thomas  .208 .321 .375
Overbay  Did not play
Wells   .196 .203 .326

Only Rios had a decent month, although the OBP was largely BA driven. If you thought Wells couldn’t get any worse, you were wrong. Wells batted .204/.241/.311 in May and June on the road. When you consider that manager John Gibbons was giving a large number of at bats to Sal Fasano, Jason Phillips, John McDonald, Royce Clayton and Adam Lind, having Wells’ Viagra-less bat in the line up was a killer. It’s a wonder they didn’t have a worse record (9-20) those months.

July

Player    BA  OBP  SLG
Rios    .338 .400 .559
Glaus   .250 .294 .438
Thomas  .254 .313 .373
Overbay .325 .438 .425
Wells   .296 .351 .507

Probably their second best month of road hitting, which explains their second best effort on the road (7-10).

They had some chances but didn’t get it done. They lacked…

The killer instinct

Aug. 6, 2007, Yankees vs. Jays. The Blue Jays are up 3-1 opening the bottom of the fifth inning. Number nine hitter John McDonald leads off with a double. Leadoff hitter Reed Johnson walks. Men on first and second, none out. They pull off a double steal. Second and third, none out with two through four hitters due up. Alex Rios strikes out, Vernon Wells gets an infield single—McDonald scores. Frank Thomas whiffs. So does Troy Glaus.

Second and third, nobody out, and Rios, Wells, Thomas and Glaus cannot get a single ball to the outfield.

I turned to my wife at this point and said: “Watch this. The Yankees are gonna have a big inning now.”

Top of the sixth: Bobby Abreu opens with a walk. Alex Rodriguez singles him to second. Like the Jays, they start the inning with men on second and first, nobody out. Hideki Matsui singles to left scoring Abreu with Rodriguez to third. After Jorge Posada strikes out, Robbie Cano doubles to deep center scoring A-Rod and Godzilla. Andy Phillips grounds out to short, Cano to third, and Melky Cabrera singles to right scoring Cano.

A 3-1 lead becomes a 5-3 deficit. For the first time in almost 20 years of marriage, my wife thinks I’m a freakin’ genius.

That’s the Jays’ season in a nutshell. It’s what they’re missing. They had a golden opportunity to deliver the knockout punch and missed—badly. They let the Yankees off the hook. The Yankees feast on opportunities like that. They get the exact same situation and parlay it into four runs.

Making it worse is that it was the meat of the Toronto order that spit the bit (Rios/Thomas/Glaus) while the bottom of the Yankees’ lineup made Jesse Litsch and Scott Downs pay for giving them first and second with nobody out.

Bottom of the sixth, how do the Jays respond? Andy Pettitte allows a single and a walk but with two out, Jim Brower is brought in and keeps Toronto at bay.

This is the picture-perfect example of a team snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. A common cliché is that “a team knows how to win.” Well, the Yankees have come back from the dead, going from eight games below .500 and being considered dead, buried, and completely saponified to winning 40 of 60 (or so) and are alive and well in the playoff hunt.

The Jays show signs of life in sweeping Texas, and possibly going three games over .500 for the first time since week three of the season, and they choke.

No other word for it. They had it, they let it slip away.

An Aaron Hill home run in the eighth closes the gap to one. Jays get two on, two out. Time for the big hit—nope. Bottom of the ninth—granted against Mariano Rivera, but it’s Alex Rios, Vernon Wells and Frank Thomas due up. Mo unleashes the Klan on them: K-K-K. Seven at-bats with the game potentially on the line, with the run-producing part of the lineup coming up. An infield hit and six strikeouts.

Is it the roster? Is it poor game preparation? Is it a problem with the attitude in the clubhouse? An attitude of being comfortable with mediocrity?

The Jays have terrific pitching and what should be a decent offense, but time and again—especially on the road—they cannot get it done. They’re among the worst teams in baseball at hitting with runs in scoring position and two out as well as “late and close.” Clutch hitting may not be a repeatable skill, but choking appears to be; the Jays have done it time and again in 2007. This year’s lineup has been the greatest team effort in repeated choking since the Pierrepoint family. At least the Pierrepoints didn’t let their “customers” suffer. Unlike the Jays, they were good to the last drop.

It was, literally, a perfect one-game snapshot of an entire season. A print in black and white entitled: “The Will To Lose.”

Since Webb Searching Has Gotten a 404…

And it’s all Barry all the time:

In defense of Barry Bonds Part 1 A different perspective on the chase for 756

In defense of Barry Bonds Part 2 The new home run king can’t tarnish the legacy of the old one

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