Who has been the most disappointing Toronto Blue Jay this season?
It’s a cruel but fair question to ask. While the Jays have climbed back to within four games of .500 — their record sits at 17-21 following Sunday’s walk-off win — riding a four-game winning streak against the Cleveland Indians and Seattle Mariners, they remain very much on the outside of the AL East looking in on the Red Sox, Orioles, and Yankees.
It’s clear who is pulling their weight and who is even stepping up. Kevin Pillar has been one of the better center fielders in baseball (non-Mike Trout division) so far in 2017, and Joe Biagini has gone from being the brightest spot in the Toronto bullpen to a member of their rotation, giving the Jays his second straight scoreless outing as a starting pitcher on Friday. Marcus Stroman and Marco Estrada have done their jobs admirably, and if Biagini’s for real, the Jays should be able to at least maintain some semblance of order at the front of the rotation. Some of the relievers, like Joe Smith and Aaron Loup, have been doing their jobs well.
The list of disappointments is much longer, however, and has a couple different tiers to it. The first tier is guys who have just stunk.
Mat Latos, SP: He won’t come anywhere close to being the most disappointing player on the 2017 Jays, but he deserves an honorable mention for tricking yet another team into thinking they’re the ones who can magically bring back 2013 Mat Latos again. Jays weren’t the first team to try and won’t be the last.
Jason Grilli, RP: There’s only so much damage a relief pitcher can do to your team, but Grilli got a chance to be disappointing early when he stepped in as closer for the injured Roberto Osuna. Over the month of April he managed one save, one hold, a blown save, and three losses as the pitcher of record, all in only 8.2 IP. His ERA currently stands at 7.94 and he’s running out of rope to bring that number down.
Devon Travis, 2B: Travis has been a streaky, frustrating player with high highs and low lows since the Jays got him, but his start to 2017 is unlike any funk he’s had before; he’s now sitting on 122 PA of .470 OPS hitting, which is frankly untenable, especially considering that due to injuries, rest of the infield is Justin Smoak, Ryan Goins, and Darwin Barney. Someone needs to step up and start hitting, and Travis has shown he has the talent.
There aren’t too many guys on the first tier; they’re not the Jays’ biggest problem. The big problem is the second tier: the guys who are hurt.
Russ Martin, C; Troy Tulowitzki, SS; Josh Donaldson, 3B; Aaron Sanchez, SP; J.A. Happ, SP; Francisco Liriano, SP
That’s sixty percent of the team’s projected starting rotation, half the starting infield, and the starting catcher, all hurt at the same time — and with the exception of Donaldson, none of them were particularly impressive on the field before their injuries. This is what leads to guys like Steve Pearce and Darwin Barney being asked to start on a consistent basis, exposing the flaws in their games that are usually hidden by managers only asking them to platoon or act as pinch runners and defensive substitutions. The 2017 Jays as constructed featured a bunch of fairly good players and a superstar, with the reasoning that if most of those players played at or slightly above their career norms, the team could win a whole lot of games. Instead both the superstar and the majority of his supporting cast all got hurt. Tulowitzki is the only guy on the list above expected back before the end of May.
It could be said, then, that the true disappointment in Toronto isn’t any of the players, but the strength and conditioning staff — thought it’s far from clear that any of this is their faults. Baseball’s a tough sport on the body, and sometimes injuries just happen in bunches. So if we’re disqualifying the trainers from contention, there’s only one choice for the most disappointing Jay of 2017:
Jose Bautista, RF: The decline started last year, but even the 2016 version of Joey Bats (118 OPS+, 22 home runs) far outstrips the guy playing right for the Jays this season. Toronto fans knew something like this was coming — Bautista is 36 years old, and no one else in the game wanted to give him the multi-year deal he wanted — but it’s been sudden, brutal, and painfully public the way Bautista’s offense has disappeared. He has only 25 hits in 162 PA, and while he’s still walking, he’s not doing much of anything else.
He’s the 2017 Jays writ small: a guy who was so recently one of the best in the business at what he does now struggling to stay afloat. It’s only the middle of May, so both Bautista and the Jays still have time to turn this thing around, but the ceiling keeps lowering on what a turned-around Toronto team can accomplish, especially as New York and Boston gain momentum at the top of the division.