Blue Jays' Playoff Whiff Is Historical, According to the Numbers


As they helplessly sat watching Rafael Devers blast them out of the playoffs, even after a season-ending 12-4 demolition of the Baltimore Orioles, the Toronto Blue Jays couldn't help but think what could have been. 

Three different "home" parks, bullpen collapses and ill-timed slumps all played a large role in leaving the Blue Jays on the outside looking in. But their playoff whiff in 2021 is historically stunning, when looking at one very particular predictive team statistic.

+183 is Toronto's "tragic number". That's the Jays' run-differential in 2021, third-best in the American League. But what makes it so tragic, as pointed out by Yahoo's Nick Ashbourne, is that since the Wild Card era began over 25 years ago, the highest run-differential for a non-playoff team before this year's +183 by Toronto, was +120, by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2012. 

The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, who edged them out for the Wild Card spots, have a combined run-differential of +122. 

As postulated by Bill James, run-differential is normally a highly predictive indicator of a team's won-loss record. 

Of the 90 playoff teams in the last 10 years (not including the short 2020 season), only 22 had better run-differentials than this year's Blue Jays, according to Ashbourne. Even World Series winners have averaged only +153, far below Toronto's mark this season. 

Another predictive statistic, ESPN's Relative Power Index (RPI), also bases its expected team winning percentage on Runs Scored and Runs Against. Based on this equation in 2021, the Blue Jays calculated out to a 100-62 record. That's nine games better than their actual 91-71 finish. 

RPI calculations would say that the Red Sox and Yankees should have won 89 and 86 games, respectively. But somehow, they both found a way to top Toronto's 91. 

Yes, the games aren't played on paper, or in mathematical equations; they're played between the white lines. Unfortunately for the Blue Jays, those white lines were historically cruel in 2021. 

Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sport