Wednesday, 29 February 2012

AL East match-ups: Toronto v. Boston

The first in my series of comparisons between the Jays and their AL East playoff rivals focuses on the Boston Red Sox. the format here is a direct comparison position for position (including line-up v. lineup) between my projected reasonable possible outcomes from my last post and a similar understanding of the Boston team. such projections are of course fraught with the potential for home-team bias but I will do my best to control for that.

Salty has almost three times as many major league at-bats as JP, and coming into 2011 he hadn't been as good with the bat as JP was as a rookie. At 27 this year he's presumably in his peak seasons. his batting average constituted the biggest advantage last year over JP in what were reasonably similar seasons, and his batting average has been dropping since his rookie year. To me, there's not any reason to presume any upward movement in his production. I think there's a likelihood that this is at minimum a push with a small but recognizable potential for a slight edge for the Jays.
(Shoppach was almost as much an offensive non-factor as Mathis - enough so to not affect this calculation)

First Base: Lind v. Gonzalez

The Major question mark vs. an MVP candidate. Sigh. Even though I expect somewhat of a recovery from Lind and even though through 1/3 of 2011 he was right with A-Gone . . . let's just move on. Big edge - Boston.

Second Base: Johnson v. Pedroia

Even a fairly optimistic view of Johnson is 80-100 points of OPS away from Pedroia in a typical year. Big edge - Boston.

Shortstop: Escobar v. Aviles

Escobar has had one truly bad season, Aviles has had one truly good one. Aviles' best season was his rookie year at age 27, despite a reasonable 100 at bats in Boston, baseball history and his history does not indicate an upward trend. His OPS over the last three seasons falls short of .700 and he's not reportedly all that good a defender. In short, Escobar's offensive edge here is almost as great as Pedroia's is at 2B, and the defensive edge is probably greater. Big edge - Toronto.

Third Base: Lawrie v. Youklis

An interesting comparison, this. Youklis had a three year peak age 29-31. Last year he dropped back to a level highly consistent with his two years before the peak. Which provokes the question: is this (an .833 OPS in 2011) the "new normal"? Let's look closer. The top line is Youk in '06-'07 (162 game average), the second line is '08-'10 and the third line is 2011:
BA - OBP - SLG - OPS - 2B - 3B - HR - RBI - BB - K
.284 - .385 - .440 - .826 - 43 - 3 - 17 - 87 - 94 - 125
.308 - .404 - .560 - .964 - 45 - 5 - 32 - 115 - 84 - 127
.258 - .373 - .459 - .833 - 32 - 2 - 17 - 80 - 68 - 100

There's a lot of similarities between the top line and the bottom one but the comparison is not perfect. Note the drop in HR power, RBI, and slugging. There are no guarantees of course, but based on this I'm leaning towards this being something similar to what the Red Sox can expect going forward. Lawrie is a reasonable bet to top that level of production, he's not likely to chase that peak level. Splitting the difference, I'll call this one a push.

Right Field: Bautista v. Ross

At least to start the season. Eventually Ryan Kalish might push Ross aside. But there's certainly no guarantee that he will be a major upgrade. Basically, to make a long story short, the Jays get back every bit of imbalance her they lost at 1B. Big edge - Toronto.
Through six spots we have essentially a tie.

Center Field: Rasmus v. Ellsbury

Last year was unlike anything he's done over a full season before. In many ways it looks a lot like Lind's 2009. Will he continue at this level? Or fall back 100 points? or something in between. I think that, other than speed, his actual talent level and Rasmus' are very similar - but I can't in good conscious call a push when one's coming off an MVP type season and the other one is recovering from his worst season. This will be possibly the key position which will determine if the Jays are right with the Red Sox on offense or whether they lag behind. For now, Edge - Boston.

Left Field: Snider v. Crawford

I'm going to lay aside Crawford's lost year, and the fact that he's recovering from a minor writs surgery. During the three years previous to 2011, his OPS was .803 and his game revolved around his speed. Snider, while much better on the bases than most notice, can't run with him. But he does have more power. I believe Snider - if my previous projection is in the right neighborhood, can generate a similar amount of offense (again, apart from the running game). I'm giving the Red Sox the edge here, because Snider simply hasn't done it yet. But I don't think it will be huge.

Ortiz will be 36 this season, and his three years previous to 2011 were much more, I think, a reflection of what can reasonably be expected in 2012. but even at that level he's clearly EE's superior. It's POSSIBLE that age will catch up with him enough to even this out but you can't call it until you see it - edge Boston.

Overall, offensively, the Red Sox project to be a better team, but not a team without question marks. If Ellsbury and Rasmus even out, and if Snider hits as well as I believe he can, both quite possible, then only DH remains to give them the edge. Boston is better but not by as much as might be supposed.

Comparing lineups:

Escobar v. Ellsbury - Boston (large)
Johnson v. Pedroia - Boston (large)
Bautista v. Gonzalez - Toronto (slightly)
Lind v. Youklis - Boston
Encarnacion v. Ortiz - Boston
Rasmus v. Crawford - Toronto (IMO)
Lawrie v. Ross - Toronto (large)
Snider v. Saltalamacchia - Toronto (potentially large)
Arencibia v. Aviles - Toronto

Seen that way, it looks a bit better. I don't have the time or the space to pull out all the statistics from last year but that is no more reliable than this because of various factors.

Turning to the pitching . . .

(note: I have matched the first two pairs up for similarity sake)
Career wise, Lester is better as he got to this level of production earlier by age, but Romero is on that level now, he had a better year in 2011 and while xFIP will tell us he over-achieved a bit, this is still essentially a push.

Since 2005, the now 32 year old Beckett has alternated good years and mediocre (at best) years. If the cycle held, this would be a down year but that's not the most reliable predictor. As a Red Sox, his ERA over six seasons is 4.04 and his ERA+ is 113, if you cut it to the last three years, it's still virtually the same. That's the bar for Morrow to reach. As you know, my projection for Morrow well exceeds that bar, and his career ERA as a starter to this point is about half a run worse than that. Morrow is 27 and has tremendous potential to get better, Beckett is five years older and is likely as good as he's ever going to be. I'll get a lot of disagreement for this but I think they are equals (at least) in talent and all that remains is for Morrow to consolidate the results which I believe he will do this year. I call it a push.

Cecil is a lot better than he showed last year, he's probably roughly as good as Buchholz was last year. but if he's healthy, Buchholz is a lot better than he was last year. Edge - Boston.

Bard will be 27 this year and he hasn't been a full time starter in five years and he wasn't good at it then. The idea of putting him in the rotation reeks of failure and he might not even make it to Opening Day in that role, but if they are even considering it, what does that tell you about the quality of their other options? Alverez may well regress some but he will be at least average and likely better and that's far more than enough to win this one going away. Edge - Toronto.

This might be Andrew Miller instead, or even Vicente Padilla or Carlos Silva - does it really matter? they are all extremely marginal guys and, if healthy, mcGowan will humiliate them by comparison. if he's not healthy, any exec in baseball would still take Drabek over any of this lot. Edge - Toronto

Other starting options: Drabek, Laffey, McGuire, Hutchison, Jenkins, Villianueva - all pretty much superior to the list of scrubs coming to camp for the Sox.

For the early part of the winter a lot of Jays fans were lusting over Bailey as a solution for the Toronto closer problem. Alex had a better idea. Santos has thrown less than 150 professional inning IN ALL, and he's already a bona-fide major league closer with an insane 13.1 SO/9 ratio and needing only to further refine his control to be eye-poppingly good. Bailey has a good K rate and quite good control - but he got there via almost 300 minor league innings and was pretty much a finished product his rookie year. And while he's still pretty good, he's gotten worse every year in the majors. Going forward, you have to prefer Santos I think. Edge - Toronto.

Usually the age factor cuts in favor of the jays but not this time. Cordero is 10 years older than Melancon and is the one here that must be presumed to be on the downward slope of his career. That said, in 4 of his last 5 years his ERA+ was better than Melancon has accumulated in his much shorter career, and he was better last year. Going forward, the younger guy is the better bet, but Cordero can still lose some and be his equal this year. Both are new to the AL East (other than 16 IP in Melancon's rookie year) so that washes out. For 2012, I make it a push.

Again, age cuts against the Jays, at least in theory, but Oliver seems to have a map to the fountain of youth. Oliver will be 41 but he's actually gotten better, year over year, every year for the last four in a row, statistically speaking. Morales was actually a huge underachiver until he came to Boston in the first half of last year. It's hard to say yet if that was an illusion but with their dearth of good LH relievers, he'll get a shot to prove it. In any case, Oliver owns him. Edge - Toronto.

Frasor has been quietly excellent for the Blue Jays for three straight years. Aceves has been excellent when he's been on the field, better than Frasor by a bit, but there's a worry for Sox fans. He missed almost all of 2010 with injury and the Sox came right back and worked him for 114 innings, most of it out of the pen, in 2011. I'd be real worried about injury this year. In the mean time, slight edge to the Red Sox.

Janssen in a walk over. Not even any reason to discuss it. BIG edge - Toronto.

In three tries, Bowden hasn't proven he should stick in the majors. V was excellent in relief in a smallish sample and a life-saver as a starter. Bowden might have more ability but he hasn't done it yet. Edge - Toronto.

Perez has more results, Doubront is younger and might have more upside. I'll call it a push.

In summation, the Jays have a deeper and arguably better rotation and a much better bullpen. I think the pitching even's out Bostons offensive advantage, and that these two teams are very similar in talent level - it will be external circumstances which determine who ends up higher in the standings.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting perspective and analysis (as usual). While I think that you have been just a tiny bit too kind to the boys in blue on the rotation, I also think that KJ could rebound in the dome and be on par to Pedroia. What this makes amply clear is that if we had a 1B we could really be in this!
This does make me feel better about how this season lines up. Also if you look at how the schedule rolls out, if the Jays are pushing 50 wins by the ASB, they could add that bat .......please let the Reds fall on their face and be out of it by the end of May!