Season in Review: Toronto Blue Jays

A continuation of the series of retrospectives looking back at the regular season and how teams fared. They will be presented, from first to last, in order of their run differential as given by the BaseRuns formula and adjusted for strength of schedule, which I feel is the best measurement of a team’s actual talent level.

Number Four: Toronto Blue Jays

This is probably a surprising result to many considering the Blue Jays finished fourth in their own division, much less in all of baseball, but anyone paying attention to adjusted standings throughout the season will have seen this coming as the Blue Jays posted a 93-69 pythag record. Their BaseRuns record wasn’t quite that impressive, docking them an additional 30 runs allowed, but still good enough to qualify them above 26 other teams.

It is here that I have to take a moment to bring up a modification to the rankings. I mentioned in the Rays review that the Rays’ strength of schedule (SoS) was the toughest in the league. Well it occurred to me that if I was using BaseRuns to try and correct for luck on the field, I might as well use SoS to try and correct for luck in scheduling as well. To that extent, I modified each team’s BaseRuns winning percentage by adding their SoS to their BaseRuns pythag and then subtracting 0.5. The rest of the rankings will proceed using this methodology and there’s already one change. Because of Tampa’s toughest schedule and the Cubs relatively mild one, the Rays overcome the Cubs for second in the league. So for those keeping score at home, here’s the adjusted win totals of the first four teams:

1. Boston 101.5
2. Tampa 96.1
3. Chicago (N) 95.8
4. Toronto 91.8

Now then, we can get on with the focus on the Blue Jays. The staple so far had been balanced teams, but the Blue Jays break that mold by having probably the most dominant run prevention corps in the league. They rank 2nd overall, but by just eight runs allowed to a National League team.

A.J. Burnett and Roy Halladay (who probably deserves the AL Cy Young over Cliff Lee) anchored the staff but the avoidance of any black holes in the rotation helped equally in creating such a strong staff. Unfortunately, much of that is up in the air for 2009 with Burnett having an option to leave, and Dustin McGowan and Shaun Marcum suffering through arm surgery. On the relief side, a big kudos goes to Scott Downs and his crazy groundball rates that helped limit home runs and his solid enough strikeout and walk rates making him one of the better relievers in the league this season.

Offensively, there wasn’t much to celebrate. Vernon Wells was one of the few bright spots, recovering from his disastrous 2007 year to post a very solid season much more in line with his previous efforts. The Blue Jays dumped Frank Thomas, who went on to be good in Oakland (before getting hurt), for Matt Stairs, who went on to be mediocre and then was traded to Philadelphia. Alexis Rios cemented himself as a capable hitter with his third consecutive productive year. Travis Snider had a good first 80 plate appearances, hopefully providing Toronto with some hope for a future that looks tough behind Boston, New York and Tampa.

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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.