Tuesday, 15 April 2008

History 101

Orioles catcher Ramon Hernandez crouches for a Steve Traschel
offering in last night's action at Camden Yards.

Apparently I've got some time on my hands here while I'm half-watching Trasch Can take his sweet time on the mound, so what better way to kill time with a bit of historical Jays research?

On Friday I set some lofty goals for the rotation partly just for fun, but also because I think we've got four "plus" starters and a decent enough fifth, all of whom are capable of putting up ERA+s better than 100. Whether they stay healthy is another matter.

This will be a more tempered, comparative historical look at the offense. Stop yawning!

When Scott Rolen returns at the end of the month the Jays' lineup will feature a group of remarkably similar hitters who will probably finish the year with relatively similar power numbers. As nice as it'd be to have 3-4 hitters with the raw power of Ortiz and Manram (or say Utley-Howard if you don't like to think of hated rival) at the heart of the order, I still like the idea of having a balanced lineup with seven all regulars capable of hitting 15+ dingers while maintaining good averages and OBPs.

Balance means that one or two slumping players cannot sink your offense on their own and there are no weaknesses in your lineup. This translates into consistency and wins ballgames ,even if it doesn't get you dates with a Suicide Girl (no matter how much Jay K. pines for one, any one of them even) .

I don't think it's wrong to assume all of the following players (listed at their current or probable spot in the lineup) will finish the year with 15+ dingers and OPS+s on the right side of 100:

2. Aaron Hill
3. Alex Rios
4. Vernon Wells
5. Scott Rolen
6. Frank Thomas
7. Matt Stairs
8. Lyle Overbay

Give Zaun honourable mention if you like; he'll likely finish in double digits for homeruns with at OPS+ that's roughly even (94, 112, 98 over the past three years, should you be wondering). There's nothing wrong with that from your number 9 hitter, even though it would probably be more appropriate to slot Eckstein down there, which is another matter entirely.

If these Jays keep on chugging as they have to date, they'll score 810 runs (5/game) for the year. That actually doesn't look as outrageous as it might first strike you considering that we've got Scutaro/Inglett playing for the injured Rolen. Ok, it's a 9-2 game as I write this, but still...

So far the 2008 team ERA is 3.66, which is only a bit worse than its second half ERA of 3.61 from last year. When things balance out over the course of the season, I think this is a club that surrenders somewhere in the order of 720 runs (a 33-run improvement on last year), for a run differential of about 80 or so.

So, which Jays teams of yore looked the most like the 2008 Jays and how did they fare?

There was a severe power shortage on the '77 through '79 Jays, all clubs that finished with 100 or fewer homeruns and 100+ losses, as would be expected during the infancy of an expansion team. Old farts like Rico Carty, John Mayberry and Otto Velez did pretty good slugger impressions, but there really wasn't anyone back then you'd feel the need to pitch around.

The '83 Jays were the first edition to feature quite a bit of pop, finishing second in the AL with 167 dingers from disparate sources ranging from Ernie Whitt to Lloyd Moseby. Nine players finished in double digits, while Willie Upshaw and Jesse Barfield tied for the team lead with 27. It was the sort of attack we can expect to be reasonably similar to what we get this year, though the 2008 Jays won't have a dead spot like Alfredo Griffin (.250/.289/.348 in what was sadly one of the best offensive years of his flamboyant career).

Damaso Garcia did put a pretty good Eckstein-esque line of .307/.336/.390, but Barry Bonnell (OF) and Buck Martinez (C) had much better years as platoon players than anything we can expect from Shannon Stewart or Rod Barajas this year. The bullpen was this team's most glaring weakness; only "closer" Randy Moffit--yeah, him--had an ERA+ better than 100.

End result: 89-73, third in the AL East with 795 runs scored against 726 allowed. There are more similarities than difference between this lot and the 2008 Jays, but it's not the best historical comparison. Hang tough, it's coming...

In '84 the offense got a bit worse, the pitching a bit better (but not the bullpen), and the win total stayed the same. I really don't feel this club compares well enough with 2008 to warrant any further comment.

We all know the '85 Jays were a fantastic club. They parlayed a good, but not great, offense with relatively little pop (only Bell and Barfield topped 20 dingers and Rance Mulliniks! had the highest OPS+ of the semi-regulars) and an outrageously good pitching staff (129 ERA+) into a 99-win AL East title season. Interestingly the worst ERA+ of the starters was Jim Clancy's at 113, and if he'd hit 200 IP for the season, this rotation would've met the criteria I arbitrarily set out earlier as a modern day equivilant of the four 20-game winners on the 1971 Baltimore Orioles' staff.

There's no possible hope that our pitching will be as good as the '85 Jays or put up a ridiculuous run differential of 171. No hope, bad comparison.

The '86 Jays had both more and less power than we do now, putting up a nice raw number that resulted from power spikes from George Bell/Jesse Barfield and wasn't spread out much through the lineup. The rotation was semi-comparable to the current one and the relievers were either excellent or spotty. Not a great match.

The '87 Jays scored like gangbusters and socked a tonne of dingers (215) with a very balanced lineup. They also had an excellent staff top to bottom, which means that their run differential is just too great (190) for a fair comparison.

The '88-'91 Jays were all much to very much worse offensively and none really fits the profile I'm looking for even though there are a couple of (relatively weak) playoff teams sandwiched in there.

Call it sacrilege, but I think the World Series-winning '92 Jays are the best comparison ever, all time.

They scored 780 and allowed 682 for a run differential of 98, all numbers that are in the ballpark for what I see in store this year. The power was relatively well spread out through the lineup, with no extreme home run threat (Carter lead the team with 34) and a raw total (163) that's probably fewer than what we'll see this year. This offense did have the incredible basestealing prowess of Devo (37 of 41) and Robbie Alomar (49 of 58), an exciting tool we don't have at our disposal now. But the 2008 Jays will probably compensate by scoring a dozen or so more runs.

The '92 rotation went from great (Guzman and Cone), very good (Jimmy Key), average (Jack Morris), to tolerable (Stottlemyre). The ERA+s look reasonably comparable to what we could expect from our front five this year. The bullpen was good at the back end (Ward/Henke) and soft up front (David Wells/Hentgen/Bob MacDonald/Timlin). Collectively, the '08 pen might be better, if still lacking the total lockdown that The Terminator and Wardo were.

The '93 Jays don't fit as well because they scored too much and allowed too many runs to score. Bums.

And thus began the decade of the locusts. The suckage was extreme during the final years of the Cito Gaston era, which mercifully ended in time for the 1998 season, a wonderfully exciting campaign under the stern guidance of manager/Vietnam vet/liar Tim Johnson. The team finished 88-74, still the high water mark of the post-World Series era, but had too much power, too much speed, too cruddy a staff and a worse projected run differential to make a comparison with 2008.

I kind of enjoyed the Jim Fregosi years (1998-2000) because I had reached legal drinking age and could enjoy several ice cold Dome Lagers at the park and let my old man drive me home. And also because these teams scored (and surrendered) and tonne of runs. The end result was three pretty similar seasons of slightly better than .500 ball.

In the early Ricciardi years, the pitching or offense was alternatively bad, except for 2003, when things kind of clicked and everyone started talking of this five-year plan thing. And then there was 2005: the bizarro season when the club finished the year with a run differential of 70 and still managed to finish below .500.

Which brings us, finally, to 2006. The main difference between this club and the present one is pitching: we now have a much better bullpen and drastically better fourth and fifth starters. And circuitiously, I come to the conclusion that those who said "match the offense of '06 and the run prevention of '07 and you've got yourself a mighty fine ball club" were not as crazy as they seemed four months ago.

Historically, the '08 Jays still match best with their '92 counterparts. Believe, bitches.


Totally unrelated to anything above, my legal will should note that I'd like to be buried in one of these.

-- Johnny Was


Jay K. said...

You'd think there'd be one chubbier, less attractive Suicide Girl out there that would lower her standards to me... just by the law of averages you'd have to think there'd be one.

The Southpaw said...

The vaginal piercings would really put me off, but hey, to each his own.