This is going to be sort of a rambling, chain-of-thought post, not my highest grammatical achievement. Still, it's on my mind.
I know people will point and laugh, I'm used to it, but here's what I keep coming back to - what might we expect from the Jays next year compared to what was successful in other cities last year? Comparisons are always tricky but still . . . consider this.
I matched up the potential starters as well as i could where direct comparisons were not possible, and the figures cited are xFIP
Front part of rotation RHP -
Shields (age 30) - 3.25 xFIP: His career year, coming off his worst year. The two combined look much more like his career figures except the K's got some higher.
Morrow (27) - 3.53: Has about .4 run higher career ERA, but more stuff, a higher ceiling, and he's 3 years younger. I see no reason why Morrow couldn't take a similar step forward in 2012 as Sheilds did in '11. No one would have penciled Sheilds in for a sub-3 ERA a year ago.
Front part of the rotation LHP-
Price (26) - 3.32: actually pitched better in '11 than in '10 even though ERA went up. True front of rotation high ceiling talent. Can only get better.
Romero (27) - 3.80: As Shields is to Morrow, so Romero is to Price. Producing similar results, but with noticeably less raw stuff and upside.
Taken as a set, though, there's little difference between the talent and ability - and potential for producing similar results - between their set and ours, in my opinion.
Oldest pitcher among those remaining-
Neimann - (29) 3.73: Basically average guy (Jesse Listch has a better career ERA+)
McGowan - (30) 4.38: Injury prone is an understatement, but virtually legendary ability before the injury and Jays people say he's pretty much all the way back. No way to know how long he will last but EVERY reason to think that while he's out there he's noticeable better than Neimann.
Hellickson - (25) 4.72
Cecil - (25) 4.43 [4.03 in 2010]
This is the comparison that a lot of you will scoff at. But Cecil, even in his "bad" year had a better FIP and xFIP than Hellickson, has a slightly better BB/9 and also a better K/9. Cecil had a worse H/9, which cost him last year when he got the ball up, but on actual results they are very close - far more so than the ERA would suggest. Now, the flip side is that Hellickson comes with better scouting reports and shinier clippings than Cecil ever had. One may safely assume he has more stuff and a higher ceiling. but if we pair these last two sets, as we did the first two, it's arguable that on stuff, McGowan exceeds Neimann to a similar degree that Hellickson exceeds Cecil.
The slight edge going to the Rays because one can't assume McGowan can last all year. But assuming health, as with the 1-2 set, the outcome in '12 should display a very marginal difference between their two and our two.
Young and unproven:
Moore - (23) ??
Alvarez - (22) 3.38
Moore is considered the best pitching prospect in the game, Alvarez is quite good but he doesn't carry THAT reputation. The only question here is whether Moore will pitch up to his reputation in the first year. BUT let's remember that the premise here is not what will happen next year, but what happened last year. Moore did not significantly contribute to the Rays record last year. The fifth busiest starter for the Rays in 2011 was Wade Davis. while one has to acknowledge the potential that Moore will out-preform Alvarez, one also has to expect Alvarez will be better than Davis was last year.
Davis - 4.82
Drabek - 5.13
One might argue similar potential as a prospect, they were similarly ranked in the minors, but Drabek has the edge in age (2 years) and Davis has the edge in not having the difficulties Drabek had in his first year. But taking the 2011 results as a reference, it's not crazy to suggest Drabek could rebound to the level Davis produced, if he were in the rotation.
Ultimately, I have no answer for Matt Moore if he pitches up to his press, but Price was every bit as highly regarded and he was just league average in his rookie year so it obviously can happen. Otherwise, where is this vast gap between the Rays staff and the Jays? I think it's quite overstated.
Jumping to the bullpen, let's look at the ERA and xFIP of the Rays' relievers who are still on the team:
Farnsworth - 2.18 / 3.23
Peralta - 2.93 / 3.88
Ramos - 3.92 / 4.85
Howell - 6.16 / 4.35
Gomes - 2.92 / 4.51
Russell - 3.03 / 5.50
McGee - 4.50 / 4.35
Santos - 3.55 / 2.69
Cordero - 2.45 / 4.14
Oliver - 2.29 / 3.24
Frasor - 2.98 / 3.94
Janssen - 2.26 / 3.04
Villianueva - 4.04 / 4.48
Perez - 5.12 / 3.79
Acknowledging that McGee has the potential to get dramatically better, I still contend the latter set is superior to the former. And the idea that cumulatively they could match or exceed what the Rays got in relief last year is easy to accept.
Now the offense:
Catcher - the Rays are going with the 37 year old guy who's career OPS+ going into 2011 was 62. The Jays are going with the guy who, for all his offensive flaws, posted a 90 as a rookie (and who's not an "out of left field" fluke like Jaso was). I like our chances of getting better results in 2012, but on the point of whether this Jays team can do what the 2011 Rays did statistically, JP was way better than Shoppach was. Here's the collective line JP and Jeff have to best:
.194 - .274 - .333 - .607 - I'm going to say that's in the bag.
First - Adam Lind brings a 106 into the season, which seems short of matching Kotchman's 128 last year. Except when you consider that Kotchman brought a career mark of 91 into last season. CAN Lind throw up an OPS better than .800 this year? Sure he can. Will he? Who the heck knows. Here's the cumulative like for 1B for the '11 Rays:
.288 - .357 - .388 - .745 - Move 50 points from OBP to SLG (I know that the higher math says one is more important than the other) and there is no reason at all Lind can't be expected to do that well, and likely better.
Second Base - Ben Zobrist put up a 132 last year, which is better than Johnson's career mark. I'm not going to pretend Johnson can do anything like that this year. However, Zobrist wasn't the only fellow playing 2B. Sean Rodriguez spent some time there too, and that drug the cumulative line down to something more reasonable:
.262 - .343 - .451 - .793 - now go look at Kelly Johnson's career line.
Shortstop - the combination of Ried Brignac (abysmal) and Sean Rodriguez (average) fell far short of what Yunel can reasonably be expected to do. In fact, the combined offense of TB shortstops in '11 is a line John McDonald could challenge:
.193 - .256 - .282 - .539
Third - Longoria wasn't himself for most of the year, but it's the year he had in the season in question and Lawrie is certainly capable of matching it's value. Certainly he MIGHT regress, but I'm speaking here of reasonable optimism. it's not unreasonable to suggest lawrie could throw up an .850 OPS. I think Lawrie is our Longoria. and of course, Longoria was hurt for the first month or so of the season, so the cumulative production at 3B for the season was an easier bar for Our Hero to reach:
.231 - .335 - .466 - .801 - anyone NOT want the over on that?
Right - Matt Joyce had a fine little year, but Jose ran-roughshod over it, more than enough so to make up for any minor negative elsewhere.
.261 - .338 - .436 - .774
Center - B.J. Upton's OPS was .759, in 2010 Rasmus' OPS was exactly 100 points higher. No one can say for sure he WILL return to those levels but he certainly CAN.
.257 - .341 - .440 - .781 - I, for one, am very confident Rasmus will out-do that line.
Left - yes, the future is Jennings, and it's an open question whether snider will step up and contest him on who is better (I think he's at least his equal in talent, but whether he can overcome the effects of having been rushed...) BUT this comparison is with last years Rays, for whom the primary FL was good old Sam Fuld, who finished the year with a .673 OPS. Thames can easily beat that, let alone Snider.
.241 - .313 - .406 - .720 - not a high bar to clear.
DH - EE already did better in 2011 as a DH than Damon did for the Rays.
.260 - .320 . 424 - .744
The 2012 Jays are not just better than the 2011 Rays offensively, they are WAY better. The counter argument being that the team totals for the 2011 jays are not much higher, but this is a different team: Hill is gone, Lawrie and Rasmus will be with them all year, and since I'm arguing "possible" and not "guaranteed" - it's reasonably possible snider busts out and not inconceivable that Lind rebounds somewhat.
I think the bullpen, if, on average, they pitch to their abilities, is clearly better.
Which brings us right back around to the rotation.
The Blue Jays were one full run (of ERA) behind the Rays in this department in 2011, and not even I would deny they have some stepping up to do. But I, for one, think they are capable of it. That doesn't necessarily imply that they will be better than the Rays in 2012. A full season of Jennings and Moore make potentially a great difference, as does a rebound from Longoria and the return of Carlos Pena (though I'm not as impressed with Pena as many are). I wouldn't be terribly shocked if both teams passed the Red Sox, however. I expect all three teams to land somewhere between 87 and 92 wins and that could be in virtually any order (and the best of those could be 8-10 games behind the Yankees).