Projecting Performance: Outfield

By | March 21, 2012
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.