Friday, April 4, 2008
Moneyball in the MLB: Why the Jays Won't Make the Playoffs
My open love for the Toronto Blue Jays has caused me a measurable degree of strife when conjuring a topic for my Thursday MLB piece. As the date will attest, my reluctance to speak truthfully and realistically on the fate of this years Blue Jays squad and the MLB playoffs has delayed the submission altogether. So procrastination be damned, and I'll be frank in order to hasten the onset of certain agony: the Blue Jays (sadly) will not make the playoffs this year.
In a sporting era of outstanding league-wide competitive balance, the scenario facing the Blue Jays in the AL East is similar to the polarization of talent which sports fans across North America are well acquainted with. The highly competitive AL East, the Western Conferences of the NBA and NHL, and the AFC in the NFL all proudly stand alongside one another touting the distinction of superiority. The effect remains clearly discernible for playoff hopefuls like Toronto who yearn for the luxury of competing against inferior talent; a luxury lost on the Blue Jays for over a decade caused by the prevalence of the Moneyball culture in the American League.
Unlike the other major sporting leagues whose spending is restricted by the owner-loving, player-robbing salary cap, the polarization of talent in baseball has been fostered through Moneyball. This philosophy, in contrast to Sabremetrics, is applied by teams in the affluent North East with abundant free capital used to purchase player services at rates otherwise unaffordable to smaller, less wealthy teams. What does this mean for the Blue Jays?
Interestingly, they are a combination of both philosophies, thanks largely Owner Ted Rogers for opening up his wallet, and secondarily to GM JP Ricciardi and the tutelage he received during his time with the Oakland Athletics. While his tenure as GM in Toronto has yielded a team with a poor identity and shattered expectations, the Blue Jays of 2008 have been said to change all that riding their strong pitching staff and post-surgery stars, BJ Ryan and Vernon Wells. While superficially it may appear that the Blue Jays have the tools to win 90+ games, but their fans are best suited understanding the limitations of the Black Hole in which they are entrenched, and applying the following conclusions to their expectations.
Each league awards 4 playoff spots, 3 to the winners of the respective divisions and the last (the wild card) to the outstanding team with greatest number of victories. There are two formidable opponents within the AL's NE division (arguably the toughest in baseball) in the form of the Yankees and the Red Sox. All rational delineation leads me to believe the Blue Jays cannot win the AL East, hence their goals must be fixed upon sneaking in as a wild-card. The only problem: winning the Wild Card will, in all likelihood, be more difficult than the proposed futility of challenging for their division title.
The AL Central has the Indians and the Tigers, the AL West has the Mariners and the Angles, all teams capable of winning the lions share in their respective divisions. Adding the three contenders from the well-stocked AL East (Boston , NY and Toronto) a little math dictates that the 4 non-division winners will be fighting for the lone wild card.
Considered in these terms it looks entirely bleak for the Blue Jays in a season erroneously dubbed by some to have the greatest hope and potential to-date under Ricciadri and Gibbons. The landscape of the MLB has thrown the Blue Jays a nearly un-hittable pitch set to perpetuate their lack of achievement over the course of the 15 years. Naturally their struggles can be attributed to a number of the aforementioned impedances, be it financial restrictions, personnel decisions or injuries. Nevertheless fans in Toronto should demand more for this organization, lest they get stuck with the perennially over-hyped and underachieving Toronto franchise that is sadly becoming the hallmark of the cities' sports organizations.