Are the Toronto Blue Jays Contenders or Pretenders?


The iconic “touch em’ all Joe” home run by Joe Carter in 1993 was the last playoff hit in Blue Jays history.

So don’t mind Blue Jays fans for being excited as May draws to a close and they sit a top the AL East. Who could blame the fan base for being excited? It’s only been 21 years since they saw October baseball!

Although being in first place in the AL East is great, it does not give you the full picture of just how well these Blue Jays are playing – especially in the month of May.

Toronto is 20-8 in May, 13-2 over their last 15 games and just finished a 9-game win streak! Add in series sweeps over the Phillies, Red Sox, Athletics and Rays and you have baseball’s hottest team.

But is this just a hot month by a pretender? Or are Blue Jays ready to contend in the American League?

I say contender.

When you examine the Blue Jays, it would be easy to pinpoint their recent success to a few developments: a healthy lineup, Edwin Encarnacion‘s 16 home runs in May. Mark Buehrle‘s big 9-1 start with the Jays going 10-1 in games he pitches, and the presence of a healthy Jose Reyes.

Sure all of those developments are fantastic, but we can not expect that type of torrid production to sustain over a 162 game season.

When you analyze the Blue Jays production further, you will actually notice that most of their output is similar to, or slightly above last years pace according to Fan Graphs.

Offensively, their strikeout rate is 18.8% – slightly above last years rate of 18.3%. Their walk rate is 8.8% – slightly above their 8.3% rate last year, and their OBP (on base percentage) is .331 – slightly above last years .318.

So where is the big improvement?

Well, it is exactly where you thought it was – the long ball.

The Blue Jays currently lead the league in home runs with 79, averaging 1.44 home runs per game. Last year they totalled 185 home runs, averaging a home run every 1.14 games. Even their home run per fly ball rate has seen a modest increase, going up to 14.0%, from last years 11.8% rate. Given their current pace, the Blue Jays should easily surpass their home run totals of last year.

Although most of their offensive output is similar to last years metrics, there is one area the Blue Jays could certainly improve on. That area is the percentage of line drives they hit. The Jays currently rank dead last in line drive percentage, hitting a line drive only 17.3% of the time they make contact. That even ranks below offensively challenged teams like the Padres and Royals. When you compare that to last years rate of 20.4%, you can see that the Jays still have room to improve offensively.

Even though statistics would indicate that the Blue Jays are predominately over achieving in the home run department, the rest of the offence could still improve this year.

From a pitching standpoint, the Blue Jays have been very fortunate. Much like the offence, the pitching staff has posted numbers similar numbers to last years; posting an ERA of 4.19, a strikeout per 9 innings rate of 7.48, a walk rate per 9 innings of 3.71 and a ground ball rate of 41.6%.

Compare those numbers to last years where the Jays posted a 4.26 ERA, a strikeout per 9 innings rate of 7.49, a walk rate per 9 innings of 3.10 and a ground ball rate of 44%, and you can see that there really hasn’t been a dramatic improvement.

So what gives?

Ironically enough, the long ball has helped the pitching staff too. Not their ability to hit it, but instead, to prevent it.

Last year the Blue Jays gave up 1.21 home runs per 9 innings, ranking as the 2nd worst pitching staff in that department. This year, the Blue Jays are giving up 0.84 home runs per 9 innings. A substantial increase that has helped give the Jays a chance to win each night.

Aside from the dip in home runs allowed, the Blue Jays pitching staff is still a sub par unit that will definitely require improvements throughout the year.

Whether they be through a trade, or the emergence of young arms like Marcus Stroman or Aaron Sanchez, the Blue Jays will need to improve their pitching staff at some point this season.

From an analytical standpoint, the Blue Jays possess numbers of a .500 ball club that has slightly overachieved in a few areas.

While that may be true, take this perspective into consideration when applying that notion. With 107 games left, a 54-53 record would give Toronto a 86-76 record. With the way the AL East is shaping up, that kind of record should make the Blue Jays contenders within their division.

Last year the AL East was Toronto’s Achilles heel, as they went 30-46 against AL East opponents. This year has been a different story early on. The Blue Jays have opened the season with a 13-9 record against divisional opponents, catapulting them a top of the division. With 54 games remaining against AL East opponents, the Jays season will ultimately be decided by their ability to win within the AL East.

Even though the Jays should regress a bit as the season goes on, playing anything in the vicinity of .500 baseball from here on out, should keep them in the thick of things in the AL East.

While we enjoyed their recent streak, we may not actually understand the importance of it until we look back in September and see the Blue Jays contending for their first playoff birth in 21 years.

But until then, enjoy the ride everybody.

Your Toronto Blue Jays are the most exciting team in baseball and more importantly, reign a top of the AL East.