Why the Jays won't compete: the importance of the late inning long ball

August 29, 2008

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Karol Kudyba

Why the Jays won't compete: the importance of the late inning long ball

To compete, a baseball team needs pitching and defense. An old adage maybe, but it exists for a reason. A team that continuously gives up runs ends up yanking their starters early in games and taxes their bullpen, lessening their effectiveness over time and thereby compounding the problem over the season. Ironically, trying to keep games close hurts the team in the long run. But with one of the best fielding percentages and team ERA’s in the league, the Toronto Blue Jays are competing.

 

In the end, however, the best pitching and defense can ever do is keep you in a game long enough for your offence to pull you out. After all, it’s impossible to win a game 0-0 (although the Dodgers proved this season that you can win without a hit).

 

More than simple offense, in the modern era of baseball, for a team to make the World Series it needs a home run threat.

 

Let me be clear, not a home run hitter, a home run threat. In the late innings of any game, with Mariano Rivera or Jonathon Paplebon on the mound, who plays Mighty Casey for the fans? Who on the Toronto Blue Jays makes you feel like the game is already over? Any player on the field can hit a home run, even David Eckstein gets his 3-5 a year. A home run threat is a player, who, at any time, in any situation, has the potential to either win, tie or make it a close game. Looking at the 2008 Blue Jays Roster, is there anyone on their roster give you that feeling?

        

           Take Wednesday’s extra inning loss against the Red Sox, where the Jays lost in the 11th inning, with the game on the line, who do you want at the plate? In Wednesday’s game the Blue Jays went through their entire order with the game on the line and not one player made me feel like he could end it with one swing. Not the Blue Jays 18 million dollar man Vernon Wells, not homerun derby finalist Alex Rios, I found myself instead hoping that Jason Bay would lose a ball in the lights or Dustin Pedroia would miss a throw to first. I wasn’t pinning my hopes on the Blue Jays to winning, but rather that the Red Sox would lose it.

 

           When Mighty Casey stepped up to bat for the Mudville Nine as the winning run in the bottom of the ninth , every fan stood up waiting for the long ball to come. And although Casey struck out at the end of the poem and his team walked away with their heads down, nothing can take away from the feeling that went through the fans when he stepped up to the plate. Even with two strikes, his home run was a given.

 

           Although a double and sacrifice flies can win a game, the odds of winning an extra-inning game change dramatically without a home run hitter. For instance pitchers don’t pound the zone on lesser hitters to avoid getting to the clean-up position. Taking nothing away from Jeff Kent, but with Manny Ramirez 5 spots away, the 8 and 9 hitters on the Dodgers get a lot easier pitches to hit. The Red Sox have Papi, the Yankess have the light hitting but clutch Derek Jeter, even the run manufacturing/sacrifice-flying-and-bunting Angels realized they were missing something and traded for Mighty Mark Texeira.

 

           Without a homerun threat, the Blue Jays do not have a chance at making the postseason. Since 2000, looking at the stats of the home run leaders on the World Series winning teams, we get this chart:

 

Year/Team

Player

HRs

At-bats

Ratio

2007 Boston Red Sox

David Ortiz

35

549

15.7

2006 St Louis Cardinals

Albert Pujols

49

535

10.9

2005 Chicago White Sox

Paul Konerko

40

575

14.4

2004 Boston Red Sox

Manny Ramirez

43

568

13.2

2003 Florida Marlins

Mike Lowell

32

492

15.4

2002 California (Now LA _ A) Angels

Troy Glaus

30

569

19.0

2001 Arizona Diamondbacks

Luis Gonzalez

57

609

10.7

2000 New York Yankees

Bernie Williams

30

537

17.9

                      (all numbers from baseball-reference.com)

 

           In the 21st century, no team has won the World Series without a player hitting less than 30 home runs during the regular season. Right now, the homerun leader of the Blue Jays – Vernon Wells – projects to hit 19. Although injuries have limited his numbers, Wells is hitting a long ball only once out of every 22.6 at bats, higher than any player on this list. He isn’t getting any help either.

 

           Typically a team’s power should come from the corner infield and outfield positions, unfortunately the numbers put these Jays to shame. Lyle Overbay has hit 11 for a ratio of 40.8. Although he is less of a prototypical first basemen, with his current average of .274 there is no-excuse for that kind of overall power outage. Even in John Olerude’s worst year with the Jays (8 home runs in 1995), he still hit over .290. And perhaps most shamefully, Alex Rios is hitting a blast only once every 52.2 at-bats

 

           When the Blue Jays won the World Series in 1992 and 1993 Joe Carter had ratios of 18.3 and 19.4 respectfully. A high number when compared to the chart above but still comparable to Glaus in 2002 and a lot better than any of the Jays outfielders today.

 

 If the Jays cannot find their own Roy Hobbs in the next few years (I’m referring to the movie version of Roy Hobbs, who ends the film with a light shattering shot, not the original novel character who throws the game in the late innings and sobs silently in the corner at the end of the story), a player who can blast a ball seemingly on command, then the championship window opened by Roy Halladay et al. is over.

 

 Although drafting first basemen David Cooper was a good idea, he won’t help. Cooper will take at least 3 years in the system and who can guess what roster will look like then? 3 years ago every regular infield position player (Counter Clockwise: Eric Hinske, Orlando Hudson, Russ Adams and Corie Koskie) was different. It’s impossible to tell when a farm system will kick in.

 

 Something has to be done now. A trade; a promotion to Travis Snyder; something needs to happen. If not, the Jays will stick in 88 win limbo and torture fans souls for another year, trapped in a rut of semi-competition and August playoff exits.

Posted by Karol Kudyba | Like this post? Share it:
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