House Of The Bluebird

How to Go About “Going For It”

Photo Courtesy of Reuters Pictures via DayLife

On Saturday Jon Morosi had an interesting column over at Fox Sports that included a couple key quotes from Blue Jays superstar Jose Bautista.  The quote that was most notable (and most tweeted (over and over and over)) was the one in which the star player of a baseball team urges his front office to and I quote “go for it”. Shocker. 

You may think this is going to be some angry blog post talking about how much I disagree with Jose Bautista, but actually for once I agree with a player’s belief that the Jays should “go for it”. Depending on your fandom and optimism levels you might think I’m A) A Homer or B) An Idiot, but I can assure you that I am neither.

The subset reasoning behind such a belief is that as stupid as it may sound the Jays need to appease the fan base. In most cases the blogger and sabrmetrician in me would scoff at such a statement and probably tell myself to throw away such a cockamamy idea never to be gazed upon again. However in this particular case there is a couple of things I would like to point out. 

The Blue Jays average attendance this year sits firmly at 27,285 people per game. Last year the Blue Jays average attendence going in to the 40th home game of the season was only 21,152 people per game and that number only rose to 22,446 by the end of the 2011 season. The Blue Jays attendance this year is the highest it has been since 2008.

As well not only has the attendance been better, but so too has the influence. There were a couple of stories at the beginning of the year highlighting the fact that the Blue Jays were the talk of the town and to at least my surprise that interest has seemed to have carried through thus far. People are coming down to the ballpark once again and even if the Blue Jays don’t make the playoffs this year, then at the very least they should make it seem like they tried.

You see attendance to any form of ongoing entertainment is like a plant. The interest that there has been in the Blue Jays this year is like a seed and in order to grow that seed into a plant that seed must be cultured and grown. In order to continue the positive trends in attendance the Blue Jays need to win and at this point in order to win they are going to need to do something at the deadline.

One direction to take could be similar to that of the 2011 Pittsburgh Pirates who last year remained within 5 games of a playoff throughout the course of July. Seeing their position and their team the Pirates stayed away from names like Beltran, Pence, Bourn and instead settled for a couple of lower key free agents in Ryan Ludwick and Derrek Lee.

Another possibility is to do something similar to the 2008 Brewers who remained within 3 games of a playoff spot throughout July of 2008. Come deadline time they made a couple of big moves to get C.C. Sabathia and Ray Durham. Their trade deadline acquisitions along with their already potent team pushed them to their first playoff berth in 26 years.

In the Pirates case they assessed that their team was probably over performing. In response they made a couple of moves to appease the fans’ interest, but didn’t put the interest over the importance of retaining their top prospects. In the Brewers case they assessed that their team was playing to their potential, made the moves necessary to push them into the playoffs, then reaped the rewards of a playoff birth.

Now where do the Jays fit into all of this? Well for starters the Jays sure aren’t the 2011 Pittsburgh Pirates and probably lie much much closer to the ’08 Brewers on a talent level. The thing that sets the Jays apart is on an ease of a path to the playoffs level, the Jays have a lot more to overcome.

Not only do they have to overcome a 2.5 game deficit in the always tough AL East, but after what happened in June it looks like they will have to do without Hutchison and Drabek for most if not all of the season. As well they’ll be without Brandon Morrow, who was pitching quite brilliantly, for a few more starts at the very least. On top of all that as we saw on Monday, Ricky Romero simply isn’t Ricky Romero anymore. Or at least he hasn’t been thus far and isn’t really showing any signs of improvement.

That leaves the Jays with no starters that they can “trust” until Morrow comes back and that assumes that he comes back the same as he left, which probably isn’t the most realistic possibility. As well Including Romero, none of the current Blue Jays starters has a career FIP below 4.00 and the staff as a whole has a 15.8 K% which ranks 4th last in the league.

On top of all that the bullpen that many praised for its depth and quality in the preseason hasn’t really performed up to par. Part of that is due to the fact that “Capital C Closer” and really good relief pitcher Sergio Santos has only pitched 5 innings this year, but the fact that the Blue Jays bullpen has given up the most home runs per nine innings of any team in the league sure hasn’t helped.

That is why despite my homeristic inclination to say that the Jays should go all out and trade for Zack Greinke or Cole Hamels or whoever else is available, I am reluctant because I can see the potential road blocks and risks that could very easily outweigh the slim potential for the reward of a playoff spot.

That doesn’t mean that the Jays should stand pat at the deadline, instead why not go the same route that the Pirates took last year. Trade for a starting pitcher in the ilk of Jeremy Guthrie and maybe a couple bullpen pieces. Make a push for the playoffs, but don’t sacrifice the future. It is easier said than done, but with Anthopoulos at the helm it can happen.

A Few Early Season Notes and Observations

8657171948_de88a52e1e_b
Courtesy of James G via Flickr

It feels like baseball has been back for quite a while now, yet in actuality it has only been a few weeks. This feeling comes as a result of the many twists and turns of this 2013 Blue Jays season. If you were to ask some JaysTalk callers they’d likely tell you that the Jays have gone from the worst team in the league to a World Series contender in mere days. Of course I say that in jest, but with the way this fan base has reacted to each and every win and loss it surely feels like that previous sentence is true. It’s been an odd season to say the least. It’s had everything from dominant pitching performances to blowout losses to everything in between. It hasn’t all been good, but it hasn’t all been bad either. If one thing is for sure it has certainly had it’s fair share of storylines to follow.

Replacing Jose Reyes
The acquisition of Jose Reyes was likely the most unexpected, but lauded acquisition of the offseason and for good reason. After a season of watching groundout after groundout after groundout from the now departed Yunel Escobar both the offence and general excitement surrounding Jose Reyes was sure to be a plus, and it had been…until Reyes injured himself last week.

Shortly after the injury we’d heard that Anthopoulos was looking for potential Jose Reyes replacements. Obviously a player of Reyes’ stature isn’t replaced so easily, but someone needed to fill that roster spot.

That someone became the GIF-able Munenori Kawasaki. As much I like and had liked Kawasaki I hardly thought he’d be a longterm replacement, but here we are. Of course Kawaski has hit to a 185 wRC+, which is unexpected, but not unprecedented for a 16 PA sample. There’s quite a bit of room for regression, but even then any offensive inadequacy that he holds is counter-acted in part by his general likeableness, so who really knows how long he’ll stay.

One interesting thing to note about Kawasaki is that while he isn’t the best of hitters he does go into a lot of deep counts and frequently makes the pitcher work to get him out. I asked Japanese baseball fan and Kawasaki connoisseur @yakyunightowl about this tendency and he had this to say.

I’ve observed that he has pretty good plate discipline & pitch recognition. Most Japanese players aren’t free swingers, but defend the zone.

So that’s encouraging.

Unexpectedly Expected Defensive Woes
Following the many acquisitions of the offseason, the defensive side of the game became one of the lesser talked about aspects of this 2013 Blue Jays team, but as I mentioned in the season preview…

Neither PECOTA nor ZiPS projects a Blue Jays regular not named Brett Lawrie to put up above average defensive numbers. There is no one Blue Jays fielder that is particularly awful, but there’s also not many with the potential for anything higher than average defence.

Having not had Brett Lawrie for the first 13 games of the season further amplified any previous expectation of defensive woes. If it wasn’t Mark DeRosa missing a preventable ground ball down the 3rd base line then it was Maicer Izturis making viewers cringe every time he’d picked up the ball. As a further result of that we saw the rather defensively limited Emilio Bonifacio regularly fielding at 2B. While it is nice to have an above average third baseman back at 3B, the defence is far from perfect…or really even adequate for that matter.

This problem is furthered by the fact that very few people recognize that this is not a good defensive ball club. When I put it out on Twitter a week ago that I was surprised that people were surprised this defence ranked so low in projections I was met with a lot of cynicism, but ultimately a few people changed their viewpoint.

As fans of this team we are continually told of the ‘great plays’ made by Jose Bautista and subsequently told of how great a guy like Jose Bautista is in RF. That’s just one example, but there is many others like it. As a baseball fan, unless one specifically watches for good routes in the outfield or something of that nature we fall into the trap of thinking that players who make highlight reel plays are good defenders, which simply isn’t always true.

The Waiver Wire Carousel
As MLBTR’s Steve Adams noted, Alex Anthopoulos has been the most active General Manager on the waiver wire since the start of the offseason late last October and by a rather large margin too. The same has been true this season. Of the 13 total waiver claims that have been made in major league baseball, Alex Anthopoulos has made three of those claims. The first such claim was Edgar Gonzalez who would go on pitch 3.1 innings as the last man in the bullpen before being subsequently DFA and being placed in AAA. The same was true for Mauro Gomez who was an interesting 1B/DH depth piece, but a depth piece nonetheless.

Neither of those two waiver claims were particularly interesting, but the third such claim was Casper Wells whom many could envision with a roster spot for the foreseeable future. This notion stemmed from Wells’ splits vs. LHP; in his career Casper Wells has hit lefties well above average (132 wRC+) in part due to his large uptick in walks. I hadn’t written a post about it at the time, but it wasn’t too hard to visualize a scenario wherein Casper Wells could move into a full time platoon with Colby Rasmus in CF, but clearly that didn’t happen.

Granted, it may have been slightly foolish to gesture that the Jays would platoon Rasmus, a player they had valued so highly, when a similar player, Adam Lind, took so long to even be considered in a platoon.

Even then Casper Wells could have been a valuable piece, if not in an outfield platoon then in a platoon with Adam Lind at DH. He’s a better hitting, better fielding, but less speedy Rajai Davis if you will. Perhaps there is something Anthopoulos sees that we do not, but it seemed odd that a player with Casper Wells’ skillset was even put on waivers for the first time, yet alone a second time.

The Potential Relevancy of Adam Lind
Speaking of Adam Lind, well he’s still a Toronto Blue Jay and a disappointing one at that…based on the result statistics at least. Through 15 games Lind has just a 66 wRC+, but as they most always do small sample size caveats do apply. In fact looking at the more raw data Adam Lind has been better than one might expect. In the 13 games he has gotten into Lind has posted a 9.8 BB% to go along with a very encouraging 7.3 K%. Furthermore he’s produced plate discipline numbers similar to those that were so encouraging before his demotion last season. It is just 13 games, which is a minuscule sample in the grand scheme of things, but walk rates, strikeout rates, and plate discipline statistics are among those that normalize more quickly.

On top of that, thus far this season, Adam Lind has yet to face a left-handed pitcher, starter or otherwise. In part this has been masked by the fact that the Blue Jays as a whole have only faced three left-handed starters. That meaning that this usage trend could easily be coincidence, but considering that John Gibbons is the manager my bet would be that this is purposeful usage.

What exactly does all this mean going forward? Well, assuming Lind is continually utilized as he has been so far we could very well see him excel in this lesser role. As many others have noted, Lind has been having better at-bats and has been getting unlucky on balls in play, but we still frequently see the remnants of the Lind that was (or still is?) in the continual at bats where we see him hit a first pitch ground ball. Perhaps those lesser ABs are reflective of some confirmation bias from myself, as I am one who has become rather frustrated with Lind after having started to believe in him last season. Or perhaps Lind still has much to learn. It’s probably a bit of both.

With all that said anything that has happened up to this point in the season can and will change very easily in the coming months. While it may feel like baseball has been back for a while now we have to continue to remind ourselves that it’s just 15 games. There’s still 5 months and 147 games left. What has happened so far could be irrelevant come May, but that’s just the way that baseball is.

No One is Safe Anymore – The Adam Lind Story

Photo Credit: Reuters Pictures via Daylife

Over the course of his tenure in Toronto Alex Anthopoulos has quietly stressed one thing and that is that no one is safe, (almost) anyone can be traded at any time and apparently demoted too.

Last year Travis Snider a player everyone seemed to like was sent down after less than 2 months of production. Earlier this year Brett Cecil a player everyone seemed to think was destined for a rotation spot was demoted after a bad spring. Now the latest recipient of this treatment is former All-Star first baseman Adam Lind who yesterday was sent down after an absolutely horrid start to the season.

When I had originally wrote this blog post I had gone on the premise that I would absolutely condone the demotion of Adam Lind that I would get along on the band wagon and make Adam Lind my Official Blue Jays Scapegoat for the 2012 season.

I was going on the premise that Adam Lind had been terrible the entire season, which in a way he has, but before today I hadn’t really taken a good look at his FanGraphs page and I may have been going on the wrong premise.

Yes, it is true that Adam Lind is hitting .186 on the season and that he has a wRC+ among the likes of Chone Figgins and Willie Bloomquist, but did you know that Lind is actually walking at a higher rate than he did in even 2009?

His weighted runs created might not look too hot, but he is walking at a career pace and maybe even getting a tad unlucky to boot. Over the course of the season thus far Adam Lind has a .209 BABIP. That number is 53 points below where it was last season, 68 points below his 2010 number, 82 points below Lind’s career average, and 91 points below the league average.

Of course BABIP isn’t perfect and a slower, power hitting (?) first base type like Lind generally sustains a BABIP that is lower than normal, but a .209 BABIP should easily move up and regress to the mean. Does that regression to the mean make him 2009 Adam Lind, probably not, but Lind is doing a couple things to try and make that happen. These underlying things lie in Lind’s plate discipline data.

This is Adam Lind’s Pitch F/X Plate Discipline Line from 2009
27.9 O-Swing% – 59.0 Z-Swing% – 43.0 Swing%
75.5% O-Contact% – 87.1 Z-Contact% – 83.2 Contact%

This is Adam Lind’s Pitch F/X Plate Discipline Line from 2010 and 2011 Combined
35.1 O-Swing% – 64.5 Z-Swing% – 49.3 Swing%
67.6 O-Contact% – 84.7 Z-Contact% – 78.4 Contact%

This is Adam Lind’s Pitch F/X Plate Discipline Line from 2012
27.9 O-Swing% – 57.3 Z-Swing% – 41.7 Swing%
75.6 O-Contact% – 88.0 Z-Contact% – 83.6 Contact%

Take a look at those three lines, take a really good look at them. What do you see? Well if you looked hard enough you probably saw that the 2010 and 2011 combination line is completely different from either of the other two lines oh and yeah Lind’s 2012 plate discispline is eerily similar to his 2009 numbers.

Those same 2009 numbers that made Adam Lind an All-Star, a Silver Slugger, and even an MVP Vote Getter. It seems for the past two seasons Jays fans have been holding on to the glory of that magical season hoping for more production from their failing first baseman. Will this be the year that it happens?

Well let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here. Yes, it is nice that Lind is taking more pitches and swinging at less pitches outside the strike zone. It is also nice that Lind is making contact on 5% more of the pitches that he swings at, but unfortunately solely plate discipline doesn’t tell the whole story.

Though Lind’s plate discipline has been great and he is likely getting better pitches because of it he isn’t necessarily taking advantage of these opportunities. He may be making contact on 83.6% of the pitches that he swings at, but Lind is also creating ground balls on 48.9% of the balls he is putting in play.

In comparison to 2009 that 48.9% is 6.9% higher, but then the thing about batted ball outcomes is that they aren’t solely independent. Those extra ground balls that Lind has been hitting are coming out of his line drive rate and fly ball rate resulting in close to career lows in both categories.

Beyond that what has hurt Lind in the power department is his 9.7% HR/FB, a number 5.4% below Lind’s career average.

So then after all this where does the verdict lie? In terms of plate discipline Lind has been right on par with his 2009 numbers, but then in the batted ball data he is far from where he was that magical year.

The Jays have purportedly cited that they sent Lind down in order for him to “gain confidence”. That so called “confidence” that Lind supposedly needs will very likely come while he is off crushing balls in that bandbox park in Vegas and in that bandbox of a league that is the PCL, but it is possible that it could come at the expense of his approach?

I don’t know about you, but if I was seeing pitches I knew I could just crush out of the ballpark I’d probably swing at them as apposed to waiting for better ones that may or may not come.

Its kind of okay if this “confidence” comes back to Adam Lind in Vegas, but if he takes what I predict to be a new approach in Vegas back to the MLB he could have quite a few issues. At that point I’m not sure how well his confidence will do when he is swinging at pitches way outside the zone in the unforgiving big leagues.

Then if you even factor out the possible potential loss of production from Adam Lind, how well could it possibly serve you to be starting a potential AAAA player in Yan Gomes? My well thought hypothesis says that it probably won’t go over so well.

In the end you the reader must realize that I was one of the ones criticzing Lind all season. I was one of the ones clamouring for Lind to be benched, but I have realized the ere of my ways. Lind surely doesn’t need to be hitting in that clean up spot that he has not been suited for in over two years, but I fail to see how having him to AAA will help anything.

And please understand one thing, I am in no way suggesting that Lind will become what he was in 2009, but with the way he has been at the plate this year, he has put himself in the very best shape to do so. You know other than the fact that he hasn’t been able to hit a fly ball to save his life.

Thinking Blue: Weekly Recap – April 30th

Photo Credit: Getty Images via Daylife

Record This Week: 3-3

All is no longer right in this world. Down is up, up is down and the Orioles are at the top of the AL East. Of course I’m kidding as thus far the Jays have only played 23 games, which is only 14% of the the 162 game season.

They sure didn’t build on their success from last weekend in which they swept the Kansas City Royals in a 4 game series, but in a long season every team has slumps. This week the Jays relatively poor play resulted in a finish at 4th place in the AL East, but with one hot week they could be right back at the top.

Granted that week likely won’t be this upcoming week as the Jays have a 3 game series with the Rangers at home and then a grueling 4 game series in Anaheim against the Angels. However the point still holds true. The Jays are only 2 games behind the Orioles in first and a half a game behind the Yankees for the second wild card spot.

Not that it needs to be taken too much into account though, if the Jays go winless in the next week, its not something that you want to see, but so what. Over the course of a full season the true talent level of this team will shine through and I think they’ll be pretty darn good. If you’re patient enough to sit through an entire baseball game you should be patient enough to wait for the outcome of the 162 game MLB season. Winning is nice, but patience is key.

#StillFreeSnider?
If you follow the Blue Jays online community on Twitter (And really why wouldn’t you be), you may or may not have noticed something, the lack of #FreeSnider tweets. That partially has to do that with the fact that Snider left Thursday’s AAA game after jamming his wrist while trying to catch a ball in left field, but it could also be the fact that over the past week Eric Thames has been absolutely mashing. After this week Eric Thames is now the second best hitter on the Jays according to wOBA (that’s excluding Jeff Mathis and his 18 plate appearances) and also is second on the team in OBP.

Of course again this is a very small sample size, but Thames has looked good, well offensively at least. During the series against the Orioles in which the Blue Jays amassed 3 runs in 3 games, Thames seemed to be the sole bright spot. He had two home runs (one off of his glove) and led the Jays in WPA or Win Probability added during that series.

However the one thing I fail to understand in all of this is the sort of anti-Colby-esque mindset that has been put around Eric Thames. When Colby has played well there has been dozens of tweets along the lines of “where the haters at now?” or “Colby don’t look so bad anymore” as statistics based Jays fans make their proclamation to those who doubted Colby last year that Colby is in fact a good player. On the flipside of things when Thames has played well it has been the statistical community who is shut up by his production.

Don’t get me wrong its nice to see Thames hitting well and the Jays getting good production out of left field, but I keep the mindset that as long as Snider is fully healthy (which he isn’t at the present moment) he should be the one in the majors. The reason being that for one despite being the second best hitter on the team according to wOBA, Thames still has a negative WAR. Why? Because he has been terrible defensively, which has resulted in a -5.0 UZR.

I’m not going to go into all of the many details on the matter of who should be up with the Jays and why, as I did that pretty extensively back when Snider was demoted, but I’ll say one thing. That is that the Jays gave Snider a very short leash in 2011 and to be honest, despite Eric Thames’ sudden offensive power surge *cough* .354 BABIP *cough*, I’d hope they do the same with Thames in 2012. When he’s hitting he can stay, but when he should be on the first plane back to AAA. Viva Las Vegas.

Where Oh Where has Bautista Gone
Last year on this day Jose Bautista had 1.312 OPS, a .366 BA and he led the league in practically every offensive category. This year so far he has had a .670 OPS and a .187 BA and has been one of the Jays’ worst hitters.

At first glance that looks really bad and you probably either A. Spazzed out at your computer screen or B. Shrugged it off as just small sample size. Both sides may seem like plausible reactions, but the answer lies in between.

If you look beyond just the raw offensive numbers, Bautista hasn’t really been as bad as he’s seemed. His walk rate is below his gaudy 2011 numbers, but also above the 2010 numbers.  That walk rate is to go along with a career best 11.6% K rate. The encouraging thing about those numbers is that walk and strikeout rates are generally statistics that normalize quickly, meaning they can be taken in to context in smaller sample sizes.

Beyond that most of Bautista’s plate discipline numbers have stayed relatively the same as well, meaning he hasn’t necessarily “seen the ball” any worse than he had last season. However one thing worth noting is that Bautista’s O-Swing% has jumped up 5% showing that despite him making contact with roughly the same amount of pitches and getting roughly the same amount of pitches in the strike zone, Bautista has been swinging more at pitches outside the zone.

Because Bautista is swinging at more pitches outside the zone and therefore making contact with more pitches outside the zone, in some ways it explains why numbers like his slugging percentage or isolated power have been so low.

It is true that he is still making contact with pitches, but the contact isn’t necessarily good contact. Rather than hitting sweet homeruns he is hitting more weak grounders to the shortstop. This is shown through Bautista’s batted ball data, which includes a drop in both LD% and FB% in order to facilitate an increase in GB%. Ground balls often aren’t a good thing and especially not a good thing for a player who is considered a power hitter.

Though as with all that has happened so far in this season it still is small sample size and it shouldn’t be taken as the end all be all luck stat, but Jose Bautista has had a ridiculous .179 BABIP. That number being almost .100 points below his career average.

So then Bautista may not be performing to the level he did last year, but it would be very hard to expect that from him. His approach seems to have changed slightly at the plate, but he also gotten extremely unlucky. He is regressing and he is getting older, there’s no way he is this bad, give it time, have patience.

Discussing John Farrell’s Managerial Capabilities

In baseball managers seem to play a significant role in the team. The managers manage the players, they manage the game and some fans would argue that they are the glue that holds a team together.

As a member of the more forward thinking baseball community I’m well aware that the little things that we can observe form managers like lineup cards and pitching changes is a very small percentile of the job in its entirety. However because those things are all that we can see they are also all the we can criticize.

In 2011 one could argue that there was quite a bit to criticize with Blue Jays Manager John Farrell. It seemed he had trouble identifying his pitcher’s strengths in the bullpen and didn’t give two shits about who was where in the Jays lineup.

At the beginning of the 2011 season, Farrell continually put Octavio Dotel up against left handers, when at that point he was pitching like a ROOGY. Furthermore, countless times he put Adam Lind in the cleanup spot against left handers despite Lind being the 6th worse hitter against lefties in the past decade (according to wRC+).

As the year wore and rookies were called up from the minors things didn’t exactly improve. Farrell hit Eric Thames in the 2 hole whilst he was slumping and Brett Lawrie anywhere from 5-8 whilst he was hitting like one of the best players in the league. I digress.

Though Matthew Kory’s (@MattyMatty2000) poop joke algorithm has declared John Farrell’s managerial decisions as poop on the scale of 1-Poop, one must remember one thing. That thing is that last year John Farrell was a Rookie manager. As any Rookie player would do, a Rookie manager also makes mistakes.

What I find more important, which is also what scouts look for in a Rookie is improvement. This year Farrell seems to have improved to levels unimaginable. For one there is not a bullpen decision of his this year that has been too out of line. For another it seems he finally realizes what Adam Lind is…a platoon player.

In response to his newfound recognition of Lind’s true abilities (or lack thereof) Farrell has taken to dropping Lind in the batting order and sometimes even benching him when the Jays are facing a lefty starter.

Furthermore, what has been described as a managerial trend in this short season and something Farrell seems to have embraced are shifts. If you have watched any number of the Jays games this season you probably have witnessed these shifts.

Particularly against lefties the Jays have played two different shifts. One shift where the SS, 2B, and 1B players all stay in their regular position, but Brett Lawrie over at third has moved into shallow right field. Another shift has done the same thing except Lawrie was instead moved to a position straight up the middle.

I’m sure there have been other slight adjustments that my eyes, always distracted by watching the pristine pitching performances put on the by the Jays, have not captured. Though for the particular shifts described above, they have seemed to be relatively effective. On multiple occasions the ball has been hit directly to the shifted player resulting in an out and end to the inning.

All of these changes, all of this improvement is wonderful. Where as last year it looked like John Farrell could become the next Jim Tracy with his managerial decisions, this year he seems to be moving towards the ever eternal Joe Maddon managerial territory.

Although good managerial decisions don’t necessarily add a whole lot to the success of a team, they sure don’t hurt. With good managerial decisions the players are happy, the fans are happy, and newspapers have to write about something other than the bad decision the manager made last night…everybody wins.

Thinking Blue: Weekly Recap – April 23rd

Courtesy of Daylife via Reuters Pictures

After a couple of weeks of a few lucky wins, it looks like the Blue Jays are getting back in the swing of things. Edwin is hitting, KJ is hitting, Colby is hitting, and even the so called slumping Bautista is recovering from early season troubles. Furthermore after yesterday’s win against the Royals the Jays sit now atop the AL East tied with the Yankees for first place.

These next couple of weeks look to be pretty crucial in establishing the standings in the early goings. Both the OriLoLes, who haven’t been so LoL worthy thus far, and the Rays are only a half game back of the Jays and Yankees. Of course the Red Sox and all of their beer and chicken issues are sitting firm in last place, and despite their atrocious relief pitching and the pessimistic beliefs of Red Sox fans everywhere they are still a force to be reckoned with in the AL East.

Hutch’s First Big League Start
As I’m sure most of you saw, Drew Hutchison (Yes, that’s H-u-t-c-h-i-s-o-n with one N) made a start for the Blue Jays on Saturday. Yes, the Blue Jays Top 10 prospect (and Top 100 MLB Prospect if you ask Keith Law) took to the mound in a duel against Luis Mendoza. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to catch his entire outing as I missed the beginning, but from what I saw he looked like he held his own.

His line on the night didn’t end up being exactly what you’d like to see. He gave up 5 runs over 5 1/3 innings and two home runs. To go along with that Hutchison walked 3 batters and hit one more. On the surface that doesn’t look so great for a pitcher’s debut, but Hutch is only 21 and most pitchers don’t produce Kyle Drabek like debuts. Besides Hutchison did end up striking out 4 over the 5 1/3 innings and got the win, if thats the sort of thing you care about (I don’t).

The outing wasn’t the most impressive thing in the world, but I also wasn’t disappointed. Again, he’s still only 21 and will be for another 4 months, he was just called up from AA and its his first start in the majors. Not to excuse the performance, but occasionally that kind of pressure can be pretty daunting. Before we make any rash decisions or evaluations on Hutch lets at least see another start of his, an opportunity I hope the Jays give him.

P.S. If you want a more In-Depth Analysis of Hutch’s first start, the kind of thing I have been known to do from time to time, you can check out MjwW’s FanPost over at Bluebird Banter where he excellently broke down the start using Pitch F/X numbers.

Santos to the DL
One week after coming back from the birth of his first child, Sergio Santos is on the 15 day DL for Shoulder Inflammation as reported by @SNBarryDavis. This isn’t exactly the news you want to hear from your favourite team, but it doesn’t project to be a huge pressing issue. If you assume Santos is as good as he was last year over the course of this season, you lose only a little more than 0.1 WAR off the season total, which in the grand scheme of things is a relatively small number.

In the meantime the Jays have thrust “Capital C Closer” Francisco Cordero into the closer role. Cordero isn’t as good as Santos, but having him as your closer isn’t the worst thing in the world. He has a declining skill set, which I have outlined before, but he should be fine in the role for 15 days. However, one thing I fear with Cordero is if he actually performs “well” in his little stint in the 9th inning role, there may be pressure to keep him there.

Santos hasn’t been great so far this season, but it has been an extremely small sample. Nonetheless if Cordero performs well, I could easily see the fans and the media for that matter building the narrative that Cordero needs to be in that closer role citing Santos’ two blown saves in this short season. Of course I don’t care about blown saves, but the Toronto media, well they sure seem to.

Colby Haters Be Gone
Colby Rasmus is always going to be easy pickin’s as an entity that everyone can throw their anger at. He is the inevitable scapegoat, he is athletic and graceful both on the field and at the plate and that has gotten him the J.D. Drew treatment.

Nonetheless Colby has done his very best to silence his naysayers, which seemed to be more than half of the fan base after last year’s debacle. After a terrible showing last season following his transition from NL to AL, St. Louis to Toronto, and La Russa to Freedom, Rasmus definitely wasn’t helping himself in the fan appreciation department.

People called him lazy, people called the trade stupid, but people say a lot of things. Well at least they did.

Nowadays with Colby having hit 3 home runs thus far with an OBP of .321 all good for a 120 wRC+, people aren’t saying a lot. These “people” have seemed to have been silenced by Colby’s admittedly fantastic performance both at the plate and in center field.

He is not hitting to the level that he did in 2010, his wRC+ is 9 points lower, but his defense is being rated better by the always confusing UZR. This has put him on pace for a 5.4 fWAR season. That pace likely won’t continue, but there is a chance that it very well could. Rasmus has the potential for that type of season, it will be interesting to see if he has that in him.

He’s hitting that triple, double, single, that smooth home run, he is fire burning in the outfield and quickly sliding his way right back into Toronto fan’s hearts…for the time being. #Colby2012




Side Note: Does anyone else see the resemblance?

Courtesy of Daylife via AP Photo and Getty Images

The Season Where it All Comes Together

Photo via o.canada.com
Photo via o.canada.com

3 Years, 5 Months, 30 Days. That’s how long it’s been since Alex Anthopoulos was named Blue Jays General Manager back in October 2009.

This was Baseball America’s Projected 2013 Lineup that was published shortly after Anthopoulos’ inauguration as Jays GM as part of their 2010 Blue Jays Top 10 Prospect List.

Catcher: J.P. Arencibia
First Base: David Cooper
Second Base: Aaron Hill
Third Base: Kevin Ahrens
Shortstop: Justin Jackson
Left Field: Travis Snider
Centre Field: Vernon Wells
Right Field: Jake Marisnick
Designated Hitter: Adam Lind
No. 1 Starter: Roy Halladay
No. 2 Starter: Zach Stewart
No. 3 Starter: Chad Jenkins
No. 4 Starter: Henderson Alvarez
No. 5 Starter: Ricky Romero
Closer: Josh Roenicke

Just two of those players were on the Blue Jays Opening Day roster (Arencibia, Lind) and just six are still in the Blue Jays organization (Arencibia, Ahrens, Jackson, Lind, Jenkins, Romero). Of those who are on the projected roster, but no longer in the Blue Jays organization, seven were traded. While that is a significant percentage of the overall projected roster it also represents a larger concept within Anthopoulos’ organizational philosophy…trades.

Since Alex Anthopoulos took over the Blue Jays GM job in October 2009 the Blue Jays have made 44 trades. In that same timeframe there has been an approximate total of 392 trades across the MLB. Meaning the Blue Jays have made roughly 11% of all MLB trades since Anthopoulos began his reign as Blue Jays General Manager.

Anthopoulos said he and his staff considered keeping the prospects and trying to fill the club’s needs through free agency. But “the bird in the hand” rather than gambling on an uncertain market was ultimately more attractive. – ”

Blue Jays trade: Paul Beeston to Alex Anthopoulos: ‘Go after it’” The Star

This offseason we saw that trade-based philosophy come to fruition. Both the Marlins trade and the R.A. Dickey trade, could be described as unexpected, perhaps even to Alex Anthopoulos himself. Back in October when I previewed the Free-Agent Market for the Jays, I listed a few pitching targets, but none of them as high-profile as Josh Johnson or R.A. Dickey. A few weeks after that post, the Blue Jays signed Maicer Izturis to a 3 year contract, for the most part we seemed to be in agreeance that he was a solid pickup for a team lacking a 2B. We were pleasantly surprised with Maicer Izturis. Our expectations were lower coming into this offseason last, we had been spurned by the rumour mill in the offseason prior, hoping on such players as Yu Darvish and Prince Fielder.

To get anyone of consequence would have been a joy and a surprise, but getting four players of consequence has been shocking, but delightful. Even today, as we approach the second game of the Blue Jays regular season you’ll see tweets along the lines of, “Jose Reyes is a Blue Jays,” it’s still almost unfathomable.

Getting beyond the wonderment of the 2012/2013 Offseason, with great potential once again comes great expectations. Shortly after the R.A. Dickey trade the Blue Jays’ World Series odds were as high as 8-1 and currently stand at 10-1 per Vegas Insider. A similar sentiment seems to be felt within the Toronto Blue Jays fan base. A World Series berth is not necessarily expected, but a playoff berth is almost required.

A few weeks ago, prior to the Granderson and Teixeira injuries, if you’d asked me whether the Blue Jays would even make the playoffs I don’t think I’d have been able to give you a definitive answer. Even today, with the fallen Yankees, it’s not inconceivable to see the Blue Jays on the periphery of playoff contention come late September.

Despite their potential prowess in run production and starting pitching there’s a lack of certainty in the bullpen and poor defense that doesn’t look like it will get much better.

In the bullpen, Steve Delabar strikes out more than his fair share of batters, but is he going to be able to keep his home run rate down? Is Sergio Santos going to be able to stay off the DL? How is Casey Janssen going to perform coming off of shoulder surgery? Can Aaron Loup sustain the success he found at the end of last season? Can Jeremy Jeffress find the strikezone? The list goes on and on. Staying true to theme of the rest of the Blue Jays roster, there is the possibility for greatness, but the questionability to envision the bullpen going horribly wrong.

The opposite may be true with the Blue Jays’ current defence, it’s pretty putrid and we know for fact. Neither PECOTA nor ZiPS projects a Blue Jays regular not named Brett Lawrie to put up above average defensive numbers. There is no one Blue Jays fielder that is particularly awful, but there’s also not many with the potential for anything higher than below defence. One might make the case that the Blue Jays as they are constructed have modelled themselves such that they can combat some potential defensive woes, similar to the 2012 Tigers. They have set themselves up with a rather awful defensive force, but they also have a strikeout intensive pitching staff. By 2012 numbers, the Blue Jays have four starters with above average strikeout rates (Dickey, Morrow, Johnson, Happ). If they can keep fewer balls on the ground or in the air and more in the catcher’s glove, that should at least somewhat aid defensive run prevention.

With that said this Blue Jays roster definitely shouldn’t be met entirely with pessimism. By fWAR the Blue Jays’ Opening Day roster contained nine players who have had at least one 4.0 fWAR season in their respective careers (Jose BautistaEdwin Encarnacion, R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, Josh Johnson, Mark BuehrleColby RasmusMark DeRosa). As well the current top 4 in the Blue Jays lineup (Reyes, Melky, Bautista, Encarnacion) could rival any in baseball, all four of them were among the top 5 in wRC+ at their respective positions.

The same can be said for the top of the rotation. R.A. Dickey was arguably the best pitcher in the National League last year and was awarded the NL Cy Young for his efforts. Brandon Morrow was near the top of the leader boards in both ERA and FIP prior to his season ending injury. Josh Johnson was a 3.4 fWAR pitcher in a season in which he was forced to tinker with his repertoire. Despite that, the questions once again surface. Is R.A. Dickey’s 2012 season sustainable, can either Brandon Morrow or Josh Johnson stay healthy? Who’s to say.

All of this results into a scenario where despite the many acquisitions and newfound depth, the Blue Jays have a large variance in their potential outcomes. PECOTA for example projects on the lower end of that variance at 84-78, while ZiPS projects on the higher end of that variance at 94-68.

As for me? I fall somewhere in between. I have worries about some of the offensive performances continuing from players such as Melky Cabrera and I’m also of the mindset that the Josh Johnson we have now is not at all the Josh Johnson of yesteryear. However I’m not as worried about injuries as some, they will happen, they can’t be predicted, but there is enough depth to combat them. If I was to put a number on it, I’d say the Jays finish 90-72 with the Rays right ahead at 91-71.

Is that a satisfying outcome? Does that count as “The Season Where it All Comes Together”? It’d be the first Blue Jays playoff berth in 20 years, but the expectations might be higher.

In the end, after all the predictions, the worries, the questions, the ambitions, the Blue Jays will undoubtedly be a fun, exciting, and very successful baseball team in 2013.

Jose Reyes is a Blue Jay.

Projecting Performance: Infield

Projecting Performance is a series outlining each position of the Blue Jays roster with my thoughts on who should play the position and how well I expect them to perform for the 2012 season. The Starting Rotation and Outfield pieces are already posted and the Bullpen post will come in a subsequent week.

Going in to 2011 the Blue Jays infield had more questions than Encarnacion has errors at third base. Would Lind and Hill return to 2009 form? Would Yunel Escobar build on a strong finish to the 2010 season? Would Arencibia improve on his abysmal call up performance? Would Encarnacion be able to play third base? Over the course of the season we found answers to those questions and things worked themselves out as they usually do. This year there may be even more questions with a couple of higher upside players in Kelly Johnson and Brett Lawrie added to the infield later in the year. However rather than questions on if players could be feasible, this year we seem to be asking how much better could they get.

Adam Lind
At this point I have lost all hope in Adam Lind. Some still seem to think that he could return to 2009 form many citing his .508 wOBA in the 2 months after he returned from injury. For one thing that was in a 123 PA sample and for another producing that well is great, but not when the other four months he produced a sub .300 wOBA to go along with his sub .300 OBP. As well when you consider that during Lind’s stretch of extreme relevance he was facing 7% less lefties than the rest of the season you could see why he had a bit of a boost.

The problem I then have with the people who talk about Lind’s two monster months are that they are also generally the same people that say Lind performed poorly late in the year because of his injury. What it really seems like is some people just can’t let go of Lind’s rather impressive 3.7 fWAR season in 2009 and who could blame them. Adam Lind was a great player, but there is a large emphasis on the ‘was’ there. As time goes on that great 2009 season more and more becomes the very definition of a ‘career year’.

Of course I outlined this before, but in short in 2009 Lind simply saw the ball better. This isn’t simply a factor of being hot though, in 2009 Lind had an O-Swing% almost 10% better than any other year of his career. He was seeing the ball better, but for whatever reason that really hasn’t translated in to any other year of Lind’s career and at this point I doubt it ever will.

The Verdict:
Lind isn’t a great player, but he’s not the worst first baseman in the league (He’s close).  Despite the putrid results in 2011, I’d expect some improvement in 2012. He may not be one of the best hitters in baseball for a month again, but I’d guess that the production evens outs a little and he becomes at the very least an above average hitter in 2012. Unfortunately being a slightly above average hitter at first base simply won’t cut it and the Jays could seriously find themselves pining for Votto come November. In the end of it all, it couldn’t get any worse, could it?

WAR Prediction: 1.2

Kelly Johnson
Kelly Johnson didn’t have a great 2011, but I’m definitely less worried about him than some of the others. Sure he did hit almost as terribly as Hill has the past couple years, but he’s only one year removed from a 5.9 fWAR season. As well unlike Lind who did have a good season, Kelly has had a couple other respectable season with 2.7 fWAR in 2008 and 3.6 fWAR in 2007.

Furthermore it wasn’t as if Kelly was Jeff Mathis with the stick last season. Despite hitting .222 last year Kelly Johnson still had a OBP higher than Adam Lind as well as a 2.2 fWAR. Meaning that even if he produced exactly the same as he did last year he would still be more than two times better than former second baseman Aaron Hill was.

The bonus on top of that if one would expect him to perform better. The course of his career has been a plethora of up and down seasons. He was bad last year so one would expect him to be better this year. Well that and he has shown that he has the skills to be a very good player.

The Verdict:
KJ wasn’t great in 2011, but he was better than Aaron Hill and was more than just a serviceable second baseman. Beyond that he has history of success including his 5.9 fWAR season from 2010. Because of this one would expect a bounce back year from Kelly, maybe not to the tune of his 2010 season, but he could surely outperform what he did last year as well as what he did in 2008 and 2009.

WAR Prediction: 3.5

Yunel Escobar
Last year Yunel was the very proof that Anthopoulos’ plan can work. He was unwanted in Atlanta because of supposed personal issues with Bobby Cox, but that didn’t bother AA. He saw the potential and it payed off last year. Going forward Yunel would appear to continue to put out similar production. Prior to his iffy 2010 he was more than just a serviceable shortstop. Two other times he had an fWAR above 3.5 and in 2009 he had a better season than he did in 2011.

That right there is what sets Yunel apart from some of Toronto’s other high potential players. Unlike the Sniders and Rasmusi (Yes that is the plural of Rasmus) of this world Yunel has a history of well sustained success. It wouldn’t be crazy at all to assume at least another 4.0 WAR season out of Yunel with the possibility for more. He is aging and will be getting closer to the back end of his prime this year at age 29, but the tools he has generally aren’t the ones that are conducive to the immediate effects of aging.

For example Yunel isn’t much of a speedster, but rather a high hit tool, high walk kind of guy. That should do well to keep his offensive numbers up for longer than the average shortstop’s prime. As well on the defensive side of things, a lot of Yunel’s defensive value is gained from his throwing arm rather than his raw defensive techniques.

Although the fact that his arm is less conducive to aging could matter quite a bit less come 2013. At that time Cuban defensive wizard Adeiny Hechavarria could be pushing to make the big league roster, that is assuming he can hit and that assumption is no small load. If called up Adeiny could be the best defensive shortstop in the major leagues, but if his minor league numbers are any indication he could have a sub Adam Dunn batting average. In the end I’m going to bet the hitting will be his kryptonite and the reason why Yunel won’t have to worry about anyone taking shortstop from him, for this year at least.

The Verdict
Outside of the first half of the 2010 season, Yunel Escobar has consistently been an above average to well above average shortstop and I don’t expect much to change going forward. He’s still going to hit for a high average, with some power, and some speed. He is most certainly not the prototypical shortstop, but his defense is slightly above average and he gets the job done. In the end thats all that really matters.

WAR Prediction: 4.0

Brett Lawrie
To Blue Jays fans, Brett Lawrie is more than just a player, he is an icon, a Canadian god, and the man who could take their team to the playoffs. From the excitement around him it would seem as if he is some sort of Tebow North, except he is definitely not as kosher as his equivalent to the south. Besides that Lawrie is good, but assuredly not as good as he was last season.

If Lawrie were to somehow become a Canadian god it may be possible that he would put up a 9.5 WAR season, which is his 2.7 fWAR season in 2011 prorated over 600 plate appearances, unfortunately for us he is not. However he is still very, very good. Keith Law ranked him at No. 10 on his Top 50 Players Under Age 25 list and John Sickels had him at No. 2 on his Favourite Players, 25 and Under list. In his write up Sickels said, “The only thing I’m concerned about here is a possible tendency towards nagging injuries,” but also praised Lawrie’s all around game.

Lawrie can run, he can throw, he can hit, he can hit for power, and as Sickels notes, “[he has] a glove that is underrated at the minimum.” Lawrie has the tools, the question is just going to be whether he can turn those tools into fruition and then be able to stay on the field to sustain that production.

We saw what he can do in 171 plate appearances, but that is a still an eerily small sample size and nothing that should have fans realistically projecting him as an MVP candidate. ZiPS was pretty high on him, projecting a .275 average, 27 homers, 24 SBs, and a 119 OPS+. Beyond that they in the comps section his No. 1 comp was Chipper Jones and No. 2 was Adrian Beltre, which is definitely not too shabby in the projection category. As for me I think Lawrie is great, but he is really difficult to project. He could be on the Ryan Braun path or he could fall flat on his face. He did well according to both the numbers and scouts, which is encouraging, but it could take some time for him to reach superstar status.

WAR Prediction: 4.2

J.P. Arencibia 
J.P. is a lot of things, the holder of the franchise record for most home runs by a catcher in a rookie season, the creator of the Tim Kurkjian impersonations trend, a lady killer among female Blue Jays fans, and the not so proud owner .282 OBP. He was fine in 2011, he was a bad hitter, a bad defender, and he had some pop and there was nothing wrong with that the Jays had no other options. On the other hand going forward things could be much different. 

Blue Jays No. 1 prospect Travis d’Arnaud is inching ever so closely to the majors and being that he is playing in the hitter friendly PCL, he could be looking for a call up very soon. Once up it could be very hard to send him down, he is a better hitter than J.P, he has better defensive skills, and he could even hit more home runs. Granted J.P. has the major league experience, but Travis is a force to be reckoned with and will surely let make the Jays the owners of a nice problem to have.

The Verdict:.P. Arencibia isn’t a terrible player, but he isn’t as good as his 87 RBIs make him out to be. He could easily improve both his home run totals and OBP in 2012, but with his current skill set it is unlikely he ever becomes a star. However the Blue jays are still only paying Arencibia the league minimum salary to be a full time starting catcher, which isn’t a half bad deal. JP is what he is and I don’t see his skill set improving a whole lot, but that’s not to say that he can’t be a solid starting catcher.

How Not to Fulfill the Prophecy

Snider sliding his way to Vegas
Photo courtesy of Daylife via AP Photo

I like Alex Anthopoulos, I think he’s a great mind and has done great things to turn this club around from where it was going three years ago. Throughout his process his often stated prophecy has been to have ‘All-Stars at every position’ and that is a concept that I’m sure everyone can agree with.

He has made great efforts to fulfill said goal by acquiring players like Yunel Escobar, Brett Lawrire, and Colby Rasmus some of which have already become what was expected of them. However in recent execution of the same goal Anthopoulos and the Jays decided to demote Travis Snider to AAA, presumably in favour of Eric Thames in LF thereby hindering Anthopoulos’ great vision.

I agree with most of what Anthopoulos has done and I’m guessing that I will continue to do so with his moves in the future. However the one thing I’ll never understand is his constant misuse of Snider’s presumed abilities. Last year I didn’t agree with Snider’s demotion, but I gave Anthopoulos the benefit of a doubt when he said that Snider needed to ‘work on his swing’. This time around again, I disagree with the Jays’ handling of Travis, but at this point I really don’t understand what could possibly be gained from playing Thames rather than Snider.

As I previously mentioned Anthopoulos has said that he wants an All-Star at every position and I fail to see how Thames gives them that chance. In his 3 years in the Blue Jays minor leagues he was never put on any Blue Jays Top 10 list be it from Baseball America, Keith Law, or Kevin Goldstein, whereas Snider was atop each and every list a multitude of times.

In his 2011 Blue Jays Top 11 prospects Kevin Goldstein said, “As of now this spot (No. 12) could be low, because [Eric Thames] could be a solid everyday, corner outfielder.” This same sentiment seems to be similar to that of many other prospect mavens, but I fail to see how in that sentence or any other evaluation of Eric Thames it expresses that he could be an All-Star. He was never in Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects and he broke in to the majors at 24, older than the average All-Star would have. Furthermore even when Thames did break into the majors he didn’t show any indication that he had future All-Star potential.

As evidenced by his wRC+, Thames was 8% better than the average MLB hitter, but with terribly below average defense. This resulted in a good, but not All-Star potential-esque 0.9 fWAR. If you take that number and pro rate it over 600 plate appearances it would still only be 1.4 WAR. From there if you really believe Thames could be that much better, you could raise the production by 50% and get to a 2.1 WAR. That looks awfully small when you contrast that with the approximate 4.0+ WAR that it takes to be an All-Star.

To obtain that level of excellence Thames would have to perform 185% better than he did in 2011 over 600 plate appearances. Meaning that if you assume that his fielding and baserunning doesn’t change he would have to hit as good as Curtis Grandersondid last year to be an All-Star. Then even if you want to assume that Thames becomes average defensively in LF he would have to hit as good as Carlos Gonzalez did last year.

Snider, being the above average defender would still have to hit to a similar level, but the underlying point is that Snider has the potential to do so. Scouts have seen it in him, they saw it coming out of the draft, they saw it in his rookie season, and they even saw it last year.

Snider was the frickin’ 6th best prospect in baseball at one point, Thames has been criticized every step of the way. Thames performed well last year when called up at age 24, but Snider performed similarly in past years at a younger age.

Do you think that if given the chance the White Sox would send Adam Dunn down to AAA because he ‘didn’t perform well enough’ in 2011. No they would and will continue to play him, not only because he is owed a lot of money, but he has shown that he is a good ball player and just had a bad year. Travis may not be as distinguished a ball player as Dunn, but he did hit to around a league average level in his time in the majors with the potential for much more.

Thames may give the Jays a better chance at the playoffs in 2012, but Snider gives them a chance at that ‘All-Stars at every position dream’ as well as a shot at a World Series. I don’t know about you, but I’m a patient fan and if winning a World Series or even a playoff series for that matter means waiting, I will. I’d rather that than watch the Jays go all in on one playoff run.

Anthopoulos has always said that his goal is create dynasty not a playoff team, which is why I really don’t understand this move. Snider has shown what he can do in AAA, but hasn’t been given the chance to do the same in the majors (Thanks Cito!). AA wants a team that can win and win for a while and I fail to see how playing Thames over Snider in a rebuilding year gives the Jays the best chance to do that. Thames has shown us just about the peak of his production, Snider still has room to grow.

Of course Snider could still turn in to that bust player, but at the very least give him the chance to fail just as many have been given before him. It would be terrible to see Snider leave and be the player he could always be for another team, now is the time to make the right choice #FreeSnider.

Projecting Performance: Outfield

Photos Courtesy of DayLIfe via Reuters Pictures and AP Photo

Projecting Performance is a series outlining each position of the Blue Jays roster with my thoughts on who should play the position and how well I expect them to perform for the 2012 season. The Starting Rotation piece is already posted and both the Infield and Bullpen posts will come in subsequent weeks. 

In 2011 the Blue Jays had quite a few different players patrolling the outfield, some individuals worse than others *cough* Corey Patterson *cough*, but in the end it ended up being okay. To start the year they may have had Rajai Davis pencilled in as a starter, and they may have given a 31 year old Corey Patterson 341 plate appearances (Yes, that many), but as the year wore on things became somewhat clearer.

For one there is really no chance that Bautista ever goes back to 3B with Brett Lawrienow patrolling the hot corner and there’s little to no chance that Rajai Davis is the starting CF for the Blue Jays as they now have their center fielder for the time being in Colby Rasmus. It may not be the strongest outfield having major questions with Colby Rasmus’ bat as well as with who will take hold of the starting LF spot, but there’s no question that it is an outfield with upside.
Jose Bautista
You would think starting the post off with the current Blue Jays superstar would be easy, wouldn’t you? I mean how much could there be to talk about with a guy who has hit 18 more home runs than anyone else in the MLB over the past two years and has the league lead in fWAR over that same time period. The answer could be quite a bit actually.

Last year the questions about Bautista revolved around whether he could sustain the production he had in his 2010 season after having been a bench player the whole rest of his career. This year a question that doesn’t seem to be getting any publicity is how long can Jose Bautista sustain his current production.

Sure his tools are not too conducive to the affects of aging, but he is beginning to get past his prime. He may not fall off a cliff ala Cecil Fielder, but he should at least be regressing away from the 8.3 fWAR in 2011, shouldn’t he? There may not be any true statistical evidence that suggests he would be worse in 2012 than he was in 2011, but it is likely that his fielding will get worse as he ages as well as his speed, which will likely gradually effect Bautista’s game.

Of course I’m mostly playing devil’s advocate here because with Bautista there really isn’t too much question. He was questioned in 2010 and he proved to be better in 2011.

The Verdict:
Jose Bautista has been gift from the heavens for the Blue Jays. Without him the Jays likely wouldn’t have the Thames/Snider LF problem, but playoff hopes would also be a distant memory. With that said Bautista is a great player, one of the best in the game right now, but he is beginning to age past his prime and his best years should thoretically be behind him. I say theoretically because really who knows with Bautista. No one predicted he would lead the league in home runs in 2010 and no one predicted he would actually be better in 2011. With that said I expect some regression back to his 2010 production, but nonetheless he is still very good.

WAR Prediction: 6.8

Colby Rasmus
Last year Colby had a lot of issues. With coaching, with hitting, with adjusting. Because of these perceived issues and the fact that Rasmus had an almost sub .200 OBP (among other things) in his time with the Jays has some of the common fans shunning him and his supposed “lackadaisical” attitude. On the other hand as evidenced by the poll on this site, many of you think Rasmus will in a sense return to form in 2012. I tend to think the same.

As is with many of the Blue Jays players he has the talent, just didn’t have the production, well in 2011 at least. However in 2010 he put up the 3rd highest wOBA among center fielders and hit 23 home runs all at the ripe ole age of 24. Over at Getting Blanked Dustin Parkes did point out a couple flaws in Rasmus’ game, but they seemed to be mainly mechanical and nothing that couldn’t be too hard to fix. Especially if you believe that his dad was creating problems in St. Louis, because Colby did recently state that he was trying to have less of his dad’s influence in the training process.

The problem then with Colby Rasmus would seem to be that there is still a relatively large chance that he doesn’t live up to expectations. In some sense he is unlike Snider because he has somewhat of a track record of success, but in the entire scheme of things they really aren’t that different. Snider hasn’t hit in the majors and therefore has a lot to prove, but he has a long track record of success at pretty much every level of the minors. Colby has hit in the majors, but it was two years ago and last year he had the 2nd worst wOBA among center fielders in the MLB meaning he is also going to have a lot to prove in 2012.

The Verdict:
Yes, Colby Rasmus has talent and yes he has transformed talent in to production in the big leagues. As I said before Parkes pointed out a few key flaws in Rasmus’ swing, even if he has the talent it doen’t mean it will necesarily translate into production until his swing, among other things, is fixed. As well in terms of obtaining a higher WAR it is dependent on his defensive stats. He more than passes the eye test, but the advanced defensive metrics, which can be unreliable, don’t seem to like him too much. Despite all that, like you readers, Colby is one player who I’m fairly confident of in 2012.

WAR Prediction: 3.1

Travis Snider
Of all the high upside players the Blue Jays have on their current roster, Snider could be the cream of the crop. He’s a former No. 6 overall prospect as according to Baseball America and a guy who Dan Szymborski lists in his “Finding the Next Bautista” article (Insider Req’d). Like many Jays, he has the talent, now its time for the production.

People often talk about how he hasn’t produced in the majors, but when you look at it he really hasn’t been given the chance. Whether it was being benched by Gaston or being demoted to AAA, both situations have prevented Snider from ever being given more than 320 plate appearances in a single season. On the flipside of things, Snider has been given what seems to be a substantial No. of plate appearances with a total of 877 over the past four years. Though as I expressed in my Snider post about a month ago, when you compare the playing time Snider was given to that of other former top outfield prospects you find that Snider was given the third least number of plate appearances in the first three years of the player’s career of any top 20 outfield prospects in the past decade.

That right there is why, in my opinion, Snider needs to be given the piece of mind that he has the LF job. The real time to do that was last year when the Jays were farther away from contention and when the alternative was a 31 year old Corey Patterson. Now the Jays obviously have another young outfielder in Eric Thames, but if you ask just about any talent evaluator they will tell you Snider has the upside. He may not be better in 2011, but the upside is undeniable.

The Verdict:
On seemingly every chance he has, Anthopoulos continually states that he is trying to build sustainable success. The key to sustainable success and something Anthopoulos himself has mentioned is having All-Stars at every position. To create the most likely chance of that happening, one player needs to be playing, that player is Travis Snider. It seems so cliché to say, but really what Snider needs the most is playing time. He has shown he can hit in the minors, but really hasn’t been given a shot in the majors. Given playing time I’d expect Snider to produce better than his 2010 season, but not at an All-Star level, just yet. All this is exactly why I hope for Snider to be the Opening Day left fielder, unfortunately I don’t see it happening in 2012, which is the reasoning for my lower WAR prediction. 

WAR Prediction: 1.0

Eric Thames
Thus far through Spring Training it has seemed that publicly the Blue Jays favour Eric Thames, with Anthopoulos having said that “Eric [was] the frontrunner going in” and on multiple occasions having referenced what Thames did in 2011 as reason for him starting in 2012. At times I really don’t understand this infatuation with Eric Thames. Maybe it’s the fact that Farrell decided to hit in him in the No. 2 spot last year or just because he looked like a young Juan Rivera in left field, but I don’t really like what Thames has to offer.

He was a slightly above league average hitter in 2/3 of a season in 2011, but he was also god awful defender in left field, which resulted in a 0.9 fWAR. Seemingly the only advantage he has over Snider is that he has performed better in his major league time, but even that isn’t entirely true. In less playing time in 2010 Travis Snider actually outdid Thames’ 2011 season and at the ripe age of 22 as well.

Beyond that on TSN Radio, Keith Law noted that, “Thames is a mistake hitter,” and in a ESPN Chat he stated that, “Thames has a part-timer ceiling.” For these reasons and many more it really seems to me that 2011 could be the highest level that he ever performs at. I know he supposedly has some revamped approach and he was the hype of the Blue Jays blogosphere when this picture was released, but for whatever reason I don’t buy it. Assuming that he doesn’t progress much in 2012, he really isn’t the type of player that take you to the playoffs in the AL East.

The Verdict:
Thames was not some fantastic hitter in 2011 and I don’t buy it that he will somehow blossom in 2012. Nonetheless it seems to my dismay that the Jays will give him the starting LF spot. I don’t think it’s the right decision and I’d bet they will regret it down the road when prospects are graduating and there is no more time for the former top prospect, Travis Snider, to try to become what scouts predicted four years ago. In spite of that I don’t expect Thames to be terrible and I’ll guess he goes back to roughly the same production as in 201, only pro-rated over 600 PA.

WAR Prediction1.4

Look for Part 3 of Projecting Performance, which will be on the Blue Jays Infield, the post will likely come out sometime later this week. 
PS: I know I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus in the past couple of weeks, but I have quite a few article ideas before the season starts so you can expect those pretty soon.

Scroll to top