Monday, 5 March 2012

AL East Match-ups: Toronto v. Tampa Bay

Noted in passing that Jesse Litsch is on the shelf for at least six weeks after a fluke setback to his recent course of treatment. the nerd in me notes that if the jays needed to manage his return in the most roster friendly way while they waited for a potential major league opening, it wouldn't take much to juggle it so that they don't have to have him in Vegas long enough to burn an option until the All-Star break. for sure you won't see him in a rehab game before May at the earliest.

Now to the subject at hand.

I will follow the format of my previous post with all the standard caveats. If you haven't read it, what the hell is wrong with you!? As before, my opinion of the potential of the Blue Jays players is reflected in my team preview post, and the same philosophy is applied to the opposing team - that is a reasonable view of what is possible, without being overly optimistic or pessimistic, assuming health. also, one should NOT see these INDIVIDUAL projections as a TEAM projection. some players will exceed my guesses, others will fail them, and some will get hurt. this is a 100% guarantee. It's just impossible to know WHICH will do what.

Catchers: Arencibia v. Molina

Something familiar about this. I want to give due respect to Molina's totally abbe rational career year last year, but let's be realistic. Molina's career OPS when he came to Toronto was .609 and he's going to turn 37 in June. He's never going to get close to last year's numbers again and as a full time (more or less) starter it could get ugly. BIG edge to the Jays here.

First Base: Lind v. Pena

The difficulty here is figuring out which Pena you are dealing with? is it the guy who posted a .732 OPS in Tampa in 2010, or the guy who posted an .819 in 2011 in the NL Central? He's coming up on 34 now and logically on the down-slope of his career. I'm convinced that Lind will be at least his equal this year if not better. But sadly, objectivity forces me to note that it's been longer since Lind was food and give the provisional nod to the Rays.

Second Base: Johnson v. Zobrist

Even I have to admit Zobrist has delivered three of the last four years. Johnson's a nice little player but I have to give the Rays the edge here.

Shortstop: Escobar v. Rodriguez

Escobar is one of the better hitting shortstops in the league, Sean Rodriguez is an all-field no-hit guy. He might lose out to Reid Brignac (remember when he was a top 50 prospect in baseball?) if the latter can pull his act together, but he's been even worse that Rodriguez so far. BIG Edge to the Blue Jays.

Third Base: Lawrie v. Longoria

As you may have noticed, I patterned my projection for Lawrie on the early career of Longoria. I'm not shy about saying I think that he's at least Longo's equal. Youth and inexperience be damned, I rate this a push.

Right Field: Bautista v. Joyce

As nice a hitter as Joyce might be, if maybe a little light for the traditional expectations for RF, he's not close to Bautista at all, nor is he likely to get close in the future. BIG edge for the Blue Jays.

Center Field: Rasmus v. Upton

Lowered expectations seem to be Upton's lot in life. At one time he was always the guy who was just about to turn the corner and be really special - and he might yet, in any given year. But for the last 4 seasons his combined OPS is .744 and it might be time for the Rays to resign themselves to the notion that this is just what he is. Rasmus, while having stumbled last year, does not have that sort of track record yet. One must admit that it's possible either guy could make a run at a .900 OPS this year, based on their tools, I think there's a reasonable likelihood that Rasmus is the more valuable guy in 2012. Small edge to the Blue Jays.

Left Field: Snider v. Jennings

I have to give Jennings his due. No one believes in Snider more than I do, and I love Thames as well, but Jennings SB total last year pro-rates to 50 over a full season, and he'll probably see his OBP tic up some this year too. A sophomore slump is not impossible, but if I'm going to give props to Lawrie I have to be fair here as well. He could easily be the second best hitter (behind Longoria) in this line-up. Edge - potentially large - to the Rays.

On the other hand, things look somewhat better for the Jays here. But not ideal. Luke Scott was awful in 2011, but was that a fluke, or the start of a trend? in the five seasons prior he posted cumulatively an .869 OPS and that's nothing at which to sneeze. I think EE is going to break out and have his best year in the majors, but I can't throw Scott under the bus based on one bad year. i don't think he will return to his previous levels but I have to say, provisionally, edge Rays.

If you are keeping score, that's 4-4 with a push They seem fairly evenly matched on offense.

Comparing lineups (based on above observations):

Escobar v. Jennings - Rays
Johnson v. Upton - push
Bautista v. Longoria - Jays
Lind v. Pena - Rays
Encarnacion v. Zobrist - Rays (slightly)
Rasmus v. Joyce - push
Lawrie v. Scott - Jays
Snider v. Rodriguez - Jays
Arencibia v. Molina - Jays

As with Boston, the depth of the line-up works for Toronto.

Turning to the pitching . . .

Career wise, Price is the guy with the accolades, the glowing reports, the strikeout pitch. But last year he regressed a bit from his excellent 2010, while Romero matched that great season in may ways. Price has more stuff, and if you were forced to place your bets, you'd have to grit your teeth and choose him. But Romero seems to get the very best results from his abilities and that counts for something. This one goes to the Rays but it's a lot closer than it ought to be.

Shields and Morrow sort of set up the opposite equation here. The latter is the guy with the big booming stuff, the former is the guy coming off the great year. But Shield's 2011 was unlike anything he'd done before, and I dare him to do it again. Morrow is younger, has more stuff, and less mileage on his arm. I'll give Morrow the edge going forward.

Cecil is, of course, one of the big stories in Blue Jays camp. Many forget that he matched David price stat for stat through their respective ascensions through the minor leagues (no, Cecil isn't THAT good) and instead focus too heavily on last season. Hellickson looks like the easy call but the thing is, his xFIP in 2011 was higher than Cecil's (4.72 to 4.47). Hellickson pitched a lot worse than his ERA in 2011 and he's primed for a regression. Cecil, by all accounts, is set for his best year yet. By far. Edge to the Rays, but again, they are a lot closer than you think.

Blue Jays fans love Alvarez, rightly so, he's set to have a very nice year and career. but Moore is the best pitching prospect in the game. I can't begin to construct an argument that mitigates that reality. I will not for the record that rookies sometimes stumble, but on paper this is a big edge for the Rays.

The Rays have to be scratching their heads a bit about Davis. He was thought to be a pretty studly prospect as he came up through the minors but the more he's pitched in the majors, the more ordinary he's become. He's still just 26, but at very best he has a similar ceiling to, say, Kyle Drabek. and he's taking some time to show signs of moving towards that ceiling. Like Upton, there may come a time when they have to say - this is all he's going to be. As for McGowan, there's no recent track record to analyze, one has to go completely off scouting which, to be fair, comes mostly out of Jays camp.But the praise level is pretty astonishing, with JP saying he has #1 starter stuff and he's bringing it this spring. I believe he described him as the best pitcher he'd seen in the majors. Obviously if you are going to put a health caveat on anyone, it's McGowan, but i said i was assuming health and with that in mind - Edge Blue Jays.

If one were to note the next guy in line, for the Jays that's likely Kyle Drabek, and for the Rays it would presumably be pulling Jeff Neimann back out of the bullpen.

On the whole, I have to give the Rays the edge on paper. I could see the Blue Jays starters producing a very similar level of production though - both teams have two guys that might break into the elite level in any given year. None of them are sending a BAD starter out there. The Jays have probably somewhat better fallback options, more depth, but the front five tilts towards Tampa for now.

Farnsworth tends to be a tease. Every few years he will be virtually untouchable, then go back to frustrating his team with under-achievement. in 2001 he was magnificent, then went completely off the rails in 2002. in 2005 he was again one of the best at what he did, then he delivered four years worth of ordinary. before pitching above average ball in 2010 and excellent ball in 2011. Has he finally figured it out? or will he go back to being Kyle Farnsworth? What we do know is that he's 36 and has 10 times as many professional innings as Santos. i'll give him the benefit of the doubt and rate this a push, but I know who I'd rather have going forward.

Upon first glance you have to like Peralta, but he's another guy who's going to be 36 on opening day and he was so lightly regarded after the 2010 season that the Nationals non-tendered him. Last year he was pretty much as good as Cordero (no spring chicken himself), and in a harder division. but he doesn't have remotely the track record. Again, i know who i trust more (though there's cause for doubt with both) but I'll be respectful and call it a push here as well.

All the way through his minor league career, McGee graced the Rays Top 10 prospect list. He was a starter until 2011 when the Rays shifted him to relief and the noise was that he was on his way to being a top-shelf closer. if that's still the plan then moving into late inning relief this year would be expected. Here the age factor cuts in the Rays favor, but someone didn't tell Darren Oliver. He's past 40 but he's gotten better for five straight years. At some point, that trend will probably reverse. Until then you have to respect the results, no matter how highly praised McGee is. Showing my customary deference to highly touted youth, i'll call this a push, but that's making some Rays-friendly assumptions.

Frasor has been a rock for the Jays for several seasons now. It's not entirely clear how Neimann translates to relief pitching (if, in fact, they don't find an attractive opportunity to trade him) but we know what Frasor can do and it's good. Edge Blue Jays.

Janssen in a walk over. Again. Rodney has some stuff but he's yet to dominate anyone the way Janssen did in 2011

I am a bit torn. Howell was very good for two years before losing 2010 to injury, and his comback season was pretty ugly. Logically, this year should be better - potentially as good as he was before. By contrast, Villianueva, other than that stretch where he ran out of gas and hurt himself in a minor way, was an excellent pitcher for the Blue Jays. Howell has a track record, Carlos V has health. Call it a push.

Perez was more hittable, Ramos had more free passes. otherwise, taking Perez's work as a reliever, they are quite comparable. Push.

In the bullpen, Janssen is the major edge for Toronto but not enough to offset the difference in the pitching. I'll be ridiculed for saying so but I just don't see a massive talent gap between these two teams. i saw one commentator saying this might be the best Rays team yet, but I don't think it's really all that much better than last years team. I'd venture to say Jennings and Moore might be so very good that they elevate this team, the potential is certainly there, but when you are counting on two rookies/near-rookies, you have unanswered questions. And that's something else they have in common with the Jays. Jennings is to Tampa as Lawrie is to Toronto. Moore is to Tampa as Alvarez is to Toronto (in terms of role on the team). The questions about Lind somewhat apply to Pena. and so forth.

All that said, I think that the safest guess is that the Rays will finished slightly ahead of the Jays, but i also believe that the two of them, and Boston, will run down the stretch together.

1 comment:

Ian - BJH said...

It shocked me a little bit how close the Price vs. Romero battle actually is. I think Price is Ricky's #1 comparable on Baseball Reference, so that's a very good sign!