April 20, 2006
Cardinals, Blue Jays
When you don't like a team's chances of making the playoffs, the accusations of bias are a given. But when that team is Canada's major league franchise, the claims of bias run toward nationality--we are accused of hating Canada.
The irony of such an accusation is that, here at Baseball Prospectus, we love Canadians, adoration that borders on worship. Hardly a Canadian has ever stepped into BP's Palatial Headquarters without being crowded by supplicant statheads, shouting requests such as "Will you tell us what paradise is like?" or "Is it true that everyone has health care in Canada?" or the ever-popular "Canadian! Bless my child!"
You might ask, if we feel so strongly about Canadians, how can the Blue Jays only rank 12th on this week's Hit List? How can such a poor showing be anything other than rank bias against our neighbors to the North? The answer is simple. While the Toronto franchise is technically Canadian, its players are not. Looking up and down the 25 man roster, one finds more than a half-dozen Californians, a number of people from the Southern United States, the odd fellow from Puerto Rico or Venezuela--but not a single man who understands all the jokes in Strange Brew, or who can properly explain the new off-side rules.
So, you see, it isn't that the Blue Jays are too Canadian for our taste, it's that they're not nearly Canadian enough.
Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's talk baseball. As with much of the AL, the Jays are hovering near the .500 mark in the early going. The good news is, Toronto's leading the league in EqA--for those of you who are new here, that's Equivalent Average, a rate-based offensive statistic like batting average, just a bit more comprehensive. Some of the contributions are coming from the places you'd expect, your Vernon Wellses and Troy Glauses, while some contributions are coming from more mysterious sources.
For example, it took Alexis Rios 631 at bats to hit the first five home runs of his career. It's taken him 36 at bats to collect that same total in 2006. Now, Rios is a big kid listed at 6'5", and he just turned 25 years old, so he might have simply developed a new skill. But then again, this is April. Rios could easily wind up forty years from now in a rocking chair, telling his grandkids, "You remember that April, when I hit all the home runs? Of course you don't, you weren't even born yet. But it happened. You won't believe it, since I hit so few homers in my career, but your abuelito smoked Randy Johnson, smoked him like a Cuban cigar…"
On the other end of the offensive spectrum, Aaron Hill and Russ Adams may or may not be able to quit each other, but they certainly can't quit making outs. Through 48 at bats, Hill is running one of those lines where the batting average is higher than the on base percentage, .208/.204/.313. In April, that's an oddity--if it's still that way in June, it's time to see a doctor.
But the offense has so far not been the Blue Jays' problem. The Jays have the fourth-worst RA+ in the league, driven by their starting rotation, which is league-worst in SNLVAR--that is a support-neutral statistic for starting pitchers which isolates the pitcher's contribution from that of his teammates, and adjusts for the quality of lineups each pitcher has faced.
As Joe Sheehan pointed out this week, it's early. The team's top two starters have yet to get on track. A.J. Burnett only made his season debut this past weekend, Roy Halladay has been troubled in the early going by forearm trouble. Until and unless we see both of those players in the starting rotation at the same time, we won't really know if the skepticism toward the non-Canadian Canadian team is fully justified or not.