Team Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

Toronto really is the dark horse candidate in the vaunted American League East division. The club will face an uphill battle for division supremacy against the likes of Boston, New York and Tampa Bay. But each club has its weaknesses, so a fourth or fifth place finish for the Canadian club is not guaranteed. New manager John Farrell is a bit of a wild card. Fans of the team have no idea what to expect from the first-time manager. The strength of the team appears to be its pitching, so the former big league hurler and pitching coach should be the right man for the job.

The Starting Nine
CF Rajai Davis
SS Yunel Escobar
3B Jose Bautista
1B Adam Lind
DH Edwin Encarnacion
2B Aaron Hill
LF Juan Rivera
RF Travis Snider
C J.P. Arencibia

This is not a lineup that will strike a lot of fear in its opponents. With any luck, though, the grip-and-rip approach of the 2010 Jays under now-deposed manager Cito Gaston is long gone. But hitting coach Dwayne Murphy kept his job during the off-season so it remains to be seen how quickly the old approach will morph into a more balanced offensive attack. General manager Alex Anthopoulos has given the team flexibility on the base paths with the additions of Davis and (currently injured) Scott Podsednik. The club loses some pop with the surprising trade of former No. 1 draft pick Vernon Wells, who played parts of 12 seasons in Toronto. To help fill the power void, Rivera – obtained in the Wells trade – could see his power output increase with the move to the homer-happy home stadium, while rookie catcher Arencibia has the potential to produce a .200+ ISO rate (He might, though, hit just .220).

The club will look for big bounce-back seasons from Hill and Lind. The second baseman produced a Major-League-low BABIP of .196, which is unsustainably low to the extreme.

Aaron Hill BABIP

After slugging 36 homers in ’09, Hill spent the ’10 season trying to hit every ball out of the park but he saw his line-drive rate nosedive from 18.5% career to 10.6%. He’ll be a much more valuable player to Toronto if he once again focuses on simply hitting the ball hard. I’ll have more on Lind in a moment.

The new No. 1 go-to guy in the lineup will be Bautista, who is coming off of an unexpected season in which he just missed becoming a 7 win player. Although no one expects another 54-homer season (expect perhaps Bautista himself), there are signs that point to a true breakout, rather than a one-time blip. He posted a 14.6% walk rate and also saw his strikeout rate improve by 5.0% over the past two seasons. His BABIP in 2010 was only .233, which is hard to believe (His career rate is .270) despite the fact that he’s never hit for average. Bautista could be a valuable player for Toronto if he can produce a 5.0 WAR season and help fill the void at the hot corner (after spending much of 2010 in right field).

Escobar is entering his first full season with Toronto after coming over in a surprise 2010 trade with Atlanta. The Cuban shortstop had overstayed his welcome in Atlanta’s conservative organization but he has the potential to be an impact player – both on defense and at the plate. Even with a so-so season in 2010, Escobar matches up favorably to the other shortstops in the league, and he possesses the most upside of the bunch.

Escobar vs AL shortstops

Escobar also has a positive relationship with Bautista, who has been mentoring the younger player since his arrival in Toronto. Speaking of young players, Snider will look to have a fully healthy season (although he’s off to a bumpy start this spring with an intercostal muscle injury). With two part seasons at the MLB level already under his belt, it’s easy to forget that he’s still just 23 years old.

The Pitching Staff
LHP Ricky Romero
RHP Brandon Morrow
LHP Brett Cecil
RHP Jesse Litsch
RHP Kyle Drabek
LHP Marc Rzepczynski

RHP Frank Francisco
RHP Octavio Dotel
RHP Jon Rauch
RHP Jason Frasor
RHP Shawn Camp
RHP Carlos Villanueva
RHP Casey Janssen
RHP Josh Roenicke
LHP David Purcey
LHP Jesse Carlson

With the trade of veteran No. 3 hurler Shaun Marcum (to Milwaukee), the club’s depth in the starting rotation has been significantly impacted. There are a lot of arms in the picture but Major League experience is limited. No starting pitcher should be older than 26 years of age (Romero, Morrow, and Litsch). Only Romero has surpassed the 200.0 inning mark in a season, and he’s done that just once. Cecil has a good shot at hitting the 200.0 innings threshold in 2011 but Morrow would have to see an increase of 54.0 innings to hit that mark, which means he’s going to have to be a lot more efficient with his pitch counts.

Litsch has pitched just 55.0 innings over the past two seasons after undergoing significant surgeries on both his throwing elbow and hip; hoping for more than 130-150 innings might be a bit much. Rookie Drabek is penciled in for the fifth spot in the rotation but he could experience some growing pains with just 17.0 innings above the double-A level. Extra starters like Rzepczynski, Jo-Jo Reyes (although he’s out of options) and Brad Mills, all left-handers and all currently slated for triple-A work to begin the year, could become important depth players for the club.

The club went out and spent a fair bit of money on improving the bullpen depth after losing two key contributors from 2010′s relief corps (Scott Downs and Kevin Gregg), as well as long man Brian Tallet. The newcomers include three veteran pitchers with experience at closing games: Francisco, Dotel, and Rauch. Those three appear set to eat up the majority of the eighth- and ninth-inning duties.

Returnees Jason Frasor and Shawn Camp are also near-locks to make the club out of spring training. That leaves a number of bodies vying for another two spots: Villanueva (acquired from Milwaukee during the off-season), Janssen, Roenicke, as well as lefties Purcey and Carlson. Rzepczynski and Reyes also have outside shots at breaking camp as southpaw relievers.

Key Player

Prior to the 2010 season, Lind signed a lucrative contract extension with the Jays after a breakout ’09 season. As a result, he may have put too much pressure on himself and he produced a wOBA of .234 in May and .207 in June. After digging himself a hole that was difficult to climb out of, he still ended up with overall disappointing numbers on the season (.237/.287/.425) despite producing solid wOBAs in the final three months: .353, .368, and .336.

He was a 3.5 win player in ’09 and has a good shot at returning to that level in 2011. The 27-year-old player will also move from being a full-time DH to manning first base, and he’s reportedly displayed respectable work at the bag so far this spring. The club is hoping that his work in the field will help him avoid dwelling on his struggles at the plate. With Wells gone, someone is going to have to offer Bautista some protection and Lind needs to step up and be that player.

Summary
The 2011 Jays do not enter the season looking like a 90-win club but there is enough young talent on this team – and impact prospects on the cusp of the Majors like Drabek and Brett Lawrie – to make things interesting. Although the club many not be playing postseason ball, it’s definitely headed in the right direction and should be competitive in 2011, even against the likes of New York, Boston and Tampa Bay.




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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospect analysis. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

43 Responses to “Team Preview: Toronto Blue Jays”

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  1. Garrett G says:

    Brandon Morrow is not that far off from 200 innings, just as a reminder her was shut down by the club early for no reason other than he reached his yearly IP (decided before the season) which included a 17K one-hit complete game. I am feeling a break out year for Morrow.

    http://www.thestar.com/sports/baseball/mlb/bluejays/article/854079–jays-lose-to-tigers-shut-down-pitcher-brandon-morrow

    -bad article but just a reminder that he was shut down against his will.

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  2. andyC says:

    There are 100 influential Canadians in baseball?

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  3. André says:

    Aren’t home runs taken out of BABiP? Wouldn’t that be a good reason Bautista’s was so low?

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    • André says:

      I mean, he had 56 hits versus 54 home runs. His BABiP may very well go up this year while having a statistically worse season. Seems like a bizarre stat to use.

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    • theonemephisto says:

      I don’t think that necessarily means that his BABIP “should” be that low. As far as I know, the hits that go out of the park shouldn’t affect BABIP either way, as for the balls in play the fielder’s should have the same chance at.

      His crazy high FB%, on the other hand, could explain at least part of the low BABIP.

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      • André says:

        Well, they do. The first thing you do when calculating BABiP is subtract home runs from hits. If those home runs fall in as doubles instead, his BABiP is necessarily going to rise, even though he’ll be producing less runs. Or am I wrong? If I’m right it seems to be an easy place to account for the deviation from his .270 norm. Doesn’t mean his BABiP goes up next year or stays the same, just find it funny that I keep seeing BABiP referenced in support of his breakout year.

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      • André says:

        Whoops. Got way ahead of myself. 56 singles, not 56 hits, obviously. Now I’m confused and curious.

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      • JH says:

        Both the hit and the ball in play is subtracted. The number of home runs has no affect whatsoever on batting average on balls in play. It’s not a deduction. As the other poster wrote, the high FB% does drive down BABIP, but the number of balls that go over the fence have no effect on it.

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    • JH says:

      The number of balls not in play shouldn’t affect the rate at which the balls that do fall into play drop for hits. So, no.

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      • André says:

        But if more of those balls out of play (home runs) drop in for hits (doubles, singles, triples), that increases the rate of balls in play dropping for hits–assuming most of those drop for hits. No?

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      • don says:

        You can’t assume they’d all drop in for hits. A lot of them would be flyouts as well if they stayed in play.

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      • JH says:

        Yes, if all of his home runs would be hits if they weren’t home runs, his BABIP would be higher. That’s a fundamentally flawed assumption, though.

        HRs have no effect on BABIP. They are neutral.

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    • ajee says:

      No,
      Babip = H – HR / AB – HR – K + SF

      so HR’s are subtracted by both sides resulting in the same answer

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      • Killmak says:

        No just because HR’s are subtracted from both his hits and his at bats does not mean removing them would result in the same result as if they were left in. Both of them are removed from the same side of the equation so yes by removing them it affects BABIP.

        So using his numbers from last year his BABIP = (148-54)/(569-54-116+4) = 0.233

        If you didnt remove homeruns it would be = (148)/(569-116+4) = 0.317

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  4. Resolution says:

    Their offense really seems like it has a lot of room to grow – Lind, Hill, and Escobar all should have markedly improved seasons (though not necessarily their best), and if Travis Snider takes a nice step forward they have a lot of quality bats.

    Their pitching and defense though looks suspect…

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  5. Torgen says:

    By ‘balanced offense’ do you mean the balance between hitting with runners not in scoring position and runners in scoring position?

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  6. jkljk says:

    Quite excited about the Jays potential midseason callups…

    Lawrie has looked pretty good at 3B this spring, and if he is called up, Jose could move to RF where he is probably better suited.

    Zack Stewart could be another call-up if he performs. A lot of people have said good things about him, i think he is closer to Drabek than many people think.

    A rotation in September of Romero, Morrow, Cecil, Drabek and Stewart would be pretty cool to see.

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  7. Justin says:

    “This is not a lineup that will strike a lot of fear in its opponents.”

    And yet, with one significant difference, it did last year? I don’t know about this statement. They’ve replaced Buck with Arencibia, which I doubt is an offensive downgrade, Snider should be full time, and Lind and Hill look like bounce-back candidates. They’ve replaced Overbay/Lind with Lind/Encarnacion, likely an offensive upgrade. I mean, they lost Wells, who has never put together back-to-back quality seasons. I’m not too concerned about offensive production.

    As well, Snider has apparently been told he’ll be playing LF everyday this year, not RF as listed. I also don’t see him hitting eighth.

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    • david says:

      when compared to the rest of the al east this lineup isn’t very impsosing. way too many “?’s” and “what if’s?.” only known fact is encarnacion is garbage.

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    • Eric says:

      people forget how good buck was offensively last year. I don’t see Arencibia putting up a 114 wRC+. And losing Wells’ production (which doesn’t seem sustainable anyways) hurts the offense for sure.

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      • Cam says:

        Agreed on Buck – when he finally got the time, he was outstanding.
        This team…I dunno. A good chunk of it seems to be simply a bunch of stopgaps. Jose Bautista is a stopgap at third until Lawrie makes the team. Rajai Davis, while he could still surprise me still, is a guy I consider to be a stopgap until Anthony Gose gets up here. Juan Rivera is a stopgap until Jose gets shoved back into the outfield. Edwin is a stopgap until we find a pure hitter to take the DH spot. Maybe that guy is JPA when Travis d’Arnaud or Carlos Perez makes it to the Show. Maybe it’s not. That’s 3 guys for sure, and Edwin maybe…
        All I know is that a lot of Jays’ fans eyes (including mine) are going to be focused on New Hampshire, Dunedin, Lansing, or Las Vegas a little more this year.

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      • Eric says:

        exactly. This year is basically a throw-away. A lot of fans are blinded by the 85 wins last year.

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  8. CampBrice says:

    The problem the Jays have and will have is getting on-base, despite out homering the 2nd place Red Sox by 46 HR they managed to rank 9th in runs scored. This is in large part due to a team OBP of 0.312 which was good for 5th worst in the majors (and that was including Bautista’s 0.378 mark!). Wells and Overbay ranked 4th and 5th on the team in OBP and are gone.

    The team brought in Davis (0.330 lifetime OBP) and Rivera (0.328 lifetime OBP). Hardly top notch on-base guys

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  9. Statement says:

    Dear Fangraphs,

    Why no 10-Ten Prospects article related to the Blue Jays?

    Jonah Keri should be the first one tackling this.

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  10. Reuben says:

    “I’ll have more on Lind in a moment.”

    Where?

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  11. Pauly D says:

    Reuben:
    Those two paragraphs near the bottom in which he’s discussed as the Jays key player this year.

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  12. earlweaverfan says:

    Some serious misjudgements up above. First, the front four of the pitching rotation will be comparable to or better than every rotation in the league, possibly except for Tampa Bay. Romero, Morrow, and Cecil will all step up from strong years last year – look at their age and their trajectory year over year. Litsch looks likely to return to his pre-injury levels (or better, stay tuned), and whoever is the 5th starter will be much stronger than last year.

    Edwin Encarnacion was well defended above, but just to add that he is more likely to last a full season this year, as he will be mostly DHing. His pro-rated HR total last year was about 33, on a 150 games equivalency; the Jays are going to give him every chance to have the break-out hitting season that he is capable of. When he locks in as a hitter, he can hit anything. The challenge is to help him find his zone more often.

    Finally, the pen is stronger, three future superstars will come on board during the year (Drabek, Lawrie and Stewart), and the Yankees and Rays will be lesser teams than last year. While the Orioles have to be better with upgraded hitting, their pitching is no more impressive this year.

    Throwaway? Unlikely. Playoffs? Probably not. Better than the 85 wins of last year? I will take your under to my over, any time.

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  13. everdiso says:

    “This is not a lineup that will strike a lot of fear in its opponents.”

    Not sure how many other teams have 6 guys with the power potential of Bautista, Lind, Snider, Hill, Encarnacion, Arencibia. That’s 3 guys who all arguably have legit 30hr power (not to mention a 7th guy in Rivera with legit 20+ power).

    Maybe the Yanks with Tex, ARod, Cano, Granderson, Swisher, and Posada have 6 guys with that kind of power. And maybe the Orioles, I guess. not sure if there’s anyone else, though.

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  14. everdiso says:

    ISO: Career Best (Career Average)

    J.Bautista (30): .357 2010 (.209)
    A.Lind (27): .257 2009 (.202)
    E.Encarnacion (28): .238 2010 (.196)
    T.Snider (23): .208 2010 (.191)
    J.Rivera (32): .214 2006 (.181)
    A.Hill (29): .213 2009 (.157)
    J.Arencibia (25): .200 2010 (.200) – .325 2010 AAA

    the OBP might not impress, but that should be enough muscle to strike the fear of god in most pitchers, especially when you add in 80+sb potential from Davis/Podsednik to annoy the hell out of those pitchers on the basepaths.

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  15. es0terik says:

    Haha, I see in this article you wrote that if Bautista posted even a 5.0 WAR it’d be good. Did you ever imagine that he’d already have a 5.0 WAR before June even began?

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