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Reasons for Toronto Skepticism

Baseball Prospectus's Joel Sheehan has a talent for digging up numbers that expose teams that appear to be succeeding beyond anyone's wildest expectations. On Wednesday, he set his laser sights on the Toronto Blue Jays, and he has some pretty good reasons to doubt that the Jays' blazing start to the season is remotely sustainable.

Sheehan starts by pointing out that the Blue Jays entered the season with a lineup that was all but identical to the one that scored only 714 runs. Right now, Toronto is on pace to score around 890 runs, despite preseason projections that had them between 710 and 740 runs. Clearly -- the impressive start of rookie Travis Snider not withstanding -- that's not going to keep up.

Add to that the fact that Toronto's second most productive starting pitcher from 2008 -- A.J. Burnett -- is now pitching for a division rival, and there's little hope that the Blue Jays can actually keep racking up wins like this is 1992.

If all this statistical analysis hasn't swayed you yet, that's ok, because Sheehan's strongest argument focuses squarely on the team's schedule. As you might imagine from a team that has made a stunningly swift start, the Jays haven't exactly played the toughest portion of the American League yet. What makes matters worse is that the toughest part of the AL is undebatably in Toronto's own division, which means they have to face a whole lot more of them than anyone else.

Here's how Sheehan puts it:

You can't hold this against the Jays, who are playing the hand they've been dealt, but they have benefited from a schedule that has thus far included none of their three AL East rivals, teams that may be the three best in the league. The Jays have played every team in the AL Central, as well as the A's and Rangers in the West. They have illustrated a point I think every analyst would agree with: if you put the Jays in any other division, they would be at worst a contender, and often a favorite. The pessimism about their chances this year stems in no small part from their having to play perhaps the toughest schedule in baseball. They haven't gotten into that yet, and in fact, they won't see the Red Sox, Yankees, or Rays for another two weeks. They play every AL team other than the Mariners before seeing any of those three, and in fact, the Jays don't play the Rays at all until June 29. (In a whack-job of a schedule, the Jays play just nine of their first 78 games against the big three, then get them 42 times in their next 71 contests.)

If Sheehan is right, and the Rays, Red Sox and Yankees really are the three best teams in the AL (and you can definitely make a case for that claim), then the Jays would have to beat those three teams at least seven times from game 79-149 just to finish .500 in that pivotal stretch of the season, and that would assume that they won every other game they played. Obviously, that's not going to happen, which means Toronto would need a pretty massive cushion after 78 games to have a shot of sustaining a divisional lead. That's hard to buy into, particularly given the team's youth in the rotation and a commitment to promoting more young starters as the season moves on (Ricky Romero should return from injury and re-enter the rotation, and Sheehan notes Brett Cecil as one starter who could be up by mid-July).

So what can Blue Jays fans realistically pull for? Should they demand the team consider trades and try to make a run at the division this year, hoping for a synthesis of young talent and veterans who are just young enough to provide valuable at bats, like the Rays had last year? Or should they put more faith in General Manager J.P. Ricciardi, assuming that his continued development of internal young talent will put the team in a true Tampa Bay scenario soon, without having to go through the "worst in the league" growing pains felt in Florida? What do people think?

By Cameron Smith  |  April 30, 2009; 11:52 AM ET
Categories:  Blue Jays  
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Comments

I think the Jays have to look to the future. They are not good enough to make a deep postseason run this year if they trade away their good, young talent or have sustained success if they do trade away parts.

Obviously the goal of every major league team is to make it at least to the playoffs. Once you do the teams bank since they don't have to pay the players any extra salary for the postseason. If the Blue Jays write this season off as a building (at least it's not a rebuilding) year to position themselves for a multi-year playoff run, then it's a whole lot smarter than mortgaging their whole future on one year.

Long story short, they're still screwed in that division.

Posted by: adampschroeder | April 30, 2009 12:23 PM | Report abuse

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