As October comes to a close, it’s beginning to set in for baseball fans: the season is nearing its end. For Jays fans, this is yet another year where we are on the outside looking in during the playoffs. In fact, this was the 18th straight year that the Toronto Blue Jays missed the playoffs. Nevertheless, as we examine the performance of the 2011 Blue Jays, there does seem to be some kind of a chance that the streak won’t extend to 19 years.
Throughout the last decade, one word has been repeated by the Jays brass: “rebuilding”. Former general manager JP Richardi gave up on his rebuilding plan halfway through the decade after his prospects failed to live up to the expectations and after a disastrous spending spree that sent BJ Ryan, AJ Burnett, and later even the aging Frank Thomas to Toronto. After this experiment failed, it was time for Alex Anthopolous to clean house and build the team from the ground up.
Anthopolous has placed an emphasis on young talent, preferring to allocate funds in his budget to the scouting department and rookie contracts rather than going the route of his predecessor and overspending for veterans. With a few shrewd moves, the familiar faces of Roy Halladay and Vernon Wells, along with the latter’s disastrous contract, were gone and replaced with young talent.
Given that the Jays have focussed on allowing their young talent to develop, expectations weren’t high for the 2011 team. Having said that, this was the year that fans expected to see some real progress. An analysis of their performance this past year reveals just that, although the team still has many weaknesses that were exploited throughout the year.
Ace Ricky Romero was exceptional, proving to be one of the best young arms in the American League. Beyond that, the pitching staff is full of question marks.
Brandon Morrow logged 179 innings in 2011 but he seemed far less effective than he did in his first season with the club. With a sub-par Earned Run Average (ERA) of 4.72, Morrow was a far cry from the pitcher that he was talked up to be in the off-season. He was still electrifying, but his command was erratic and his performance was extremely inconsistent.
Brett Cecil and Kyle Drabek, two of the young starters that are integral to the Jays future plans, both struggled and spent a considerable amount of time in the minor leagues. If the Jays are to bounce back in 2012, both of these young pitchers will need to adjust to Major League hitting. Drabek was easily the most disappointing Blue Jay this past season, as he was the key piece in the Roy Halladay trade and many analysts felt he could make an immediate impact as a number-two starter for the club.
The relievers were a major problem for the Jays in 2011. The closer-by-committee approach failed miserably as both Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch struggled to close games. Casey Jansen emerged as a reliable member of the ’pen after several years of average performance for the Jays. After unloading a great deal of relief talent in the Colby Rasmus trade, the Jays will have to look for bullpen help to add some much-needed depth to this weak group this offseason.
While the pitching failed to live up to expectations this year, the offensive performance is what has the team very optimistic about its future. The most intriguing storyline heading into the 2011 season revolved around José Bautista. Fans and experts alike were torn on whether or not he would be able to repeat his 2010 performance.
Bautista did not put up the same power numbers, but he continued to drive in runs and greatly improved his ability to get on base, as evidenced by his phenomenal average of .302 and his career-high On-Base Percentage Plus Slugging (OPS) of 1.056.
Yunel Escobar emerged as one of the premier shortstops in Major League Baseball. His defence was extraordinary, as he was able to show off the technique that the Atlanta coaching staff was unable to convince him to implement. Offensively, Escobar had an average of .292, setting the tone with crucial hits in the leadoff spot on a daily basis for the Jays.
The one player that has the Jays fans most excited about the future of this team is Canadian third-baseman Brett Lawrie. In just 43 games, Lawrie was able to showcase his powerful bat and surprised many people with his adequate defence on third base.