Archive for March, 2012

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.

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.

WAR Prediction: 1.8

Sources: Fangraphs, Baseball Reference

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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 Granderson did 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.

Sources: Fangraphs, Baseball Reference, Baseball America , Baseball Prospectus, ESPN

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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 the Infield post 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 Lawrie now 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 Prediction: 1.4

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.

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