Tuesday, 20 March 2012

What a difference a year makes!

While I'm on the theme of comparisons, how about a comparison between the April 2011 Blue Jays and the April 2012 Blue Jays?

I say "April" because all rosters change throughout the year, and a comparison between, say, the August 2011 Jays and the April 2011 jays would reveal many differences and we can take the April team and "this is what came after in 2011, and this is what projects to come after in 2012" Similarly, you can't just take the opening day roster because circumstances might have caused an odd arrangement in that one game - plus you can't talk about the whole pitching staff if you do that.

So, as always, position by position - taking at each the guy who got the bulk of playing time at that position in April 2011 and the guy who figures to do that in 2012, with notes on the rest of the year following.

The stat line at each position is the combined total of all players at that position in 2011. i recognize that this comparison won't include bench players (necessarily impossible) and so it's not entirely fair to compare the starter vs. the combined stats from last year, but it does provide a quick & dirty snapshot.


JP Arencibia v. JP Arencibia - JP was an untested rookie last year who, frankly, provoked some angst in some quarters about how he'd translate to the majors. Initially that question was answered in the affirmative, as JP finished April with an .862 OPS. later in the season a hand injury would carve a big hole out of his stats (since he insisted on playing with pain which he now admits hampered him) - from June 1 to July 21 his OPS was .505 which made a dramatic difference in the final line. Before June, he hit .816, after he hit .779 - my guess is that he should end up with a 50 point jump in OPS this year. It seems pretty unlikely he will go down.

On balance, this is the one position where a prognosticator can confidently assume a significant number of at bats from the reserve player. In this case there's every reason to assume the reserve will contribute much less to the overall line than the previous guy (albeit, we said the same thing about Molina when he came to town and he'd never been considered a hitting prospect as Mathis once was). Still, it's best to be conservative and assume that the drop off from the reserve player will neatly cancel out much of JP's improvement.

.238 / .302 / .446 / .747
Prognosis: Up slightly.

First Base

Adam Lind v. Adam Lind - as has been oft-noted, Lind was good for much of the first half, but he was just ordinary for the month of April. His OPS at the end of that month was .742, but by June 18 it had climbed to 1.017 and he was on a pace that would have resulted in 53 homers over 162 games. but it was all down hill from there as lingering back pain (and Farrell's unwise insistence on playing him every day) led to a very unproductive rest of the season. you can't put too much stock in arbitrary end points (AEPs) unless you have a definitive marker - that is a reason why things were different before and after the AEP such as an injury. But it's hard to assume that there's no hint of that guy in the person who will take the field in 2012. We can only hope that the Good Adam emerges again this year and sticks around all year. Also, we can continue to assume good things from EE as a reserve so in theory ever how much Lind improves (if he does) is pretty much a net gain for the position overall.

.270 / .309 / .448 / .757
Prognosis: cautiously Up marginally.

Second Base

Aaron Hill v. Kelly Johnson - It is still incomprehensible to me how Aaron Hill got (and stayed) so VERY bad. Last year he was one of the worst qualifying hitters at any position in the majors. Johnson had an off year, to be sure, but his OPS+ as a Jay was almost TWICE Hill's. Further, Johnson's OPS in Toronto was right in line with his career figure, ditto for OPS+. It's true he's been inconsistent from year to year, but he's yet to have two consecutive down years.

.235 / .290 / .344 / .634
Prognosis: Way Up


Yunel Escobar v. Yunel Escobar - Very little to say here. Esco is probably at his peak, and barring an unpredictable outlier (either up or down) somewhere within 20 points +/- last year's OPS is a pretty solid prediction.

.279 / .355 / .389 / .744
Prognosis: Even

Third Base

Jayson Nix v. Brett Lawrie - In fairness, it was only the moving around of Encarnacion which allows this comparison, and I could easily list him here. But EE was the most regular DH over the course of the year and since he still has that job, it's much less complex to simply do the comparison for him there (plus it removes awkward glances at his defense). I don't think I need to say anything about the comparison here, it's difficult to imagine a bigger upgrade being possible at any position on any team. We do need to acknowledge that Lawrie got roughly 1/4 of the 3B starts last year, but that only slightly mitigates the potential impact. The stat line below includes not only Lawrie's contribution but Bautista's. But 60% of the at-bats at 3B last year went to someone else - and THOSE guys combined to put up THIS: .194/.263/.328/.591

.236 / .322 / .451 / .773
Prognosis: Way WAY Up.

Right Field

Jose Bautista v. Jose Bautista - Logically, given the heights he's been at the past two years, and the whole aging process, the logical thing here is to assume a mild regression at least. but that's what we said last year. That said, there were over 180 PA in RF by others last year, mainly Thames while Bautista was at 3B, and the extent to which those numbers depress what Bautista did last year (and presumably won't this year) mitigate some of that presumed regression.

.274 / .390 / .522 / .912
Prognosis: somewhat Down

Center Field

Corey Patterson v. Colby Rasmus - people that are worried about Rasmus might have something of a point. As much as I point to 2010, i cannot conclusively assert he WILL get back to that level (though I think it's safe to say he can't be as bad as he was in 2011). What those people forget, however, is that even as much as he fell off, his overall stats in 2011 were STILL better than the line Cory Patterson put up for the Jays - and that's before you consider Patterson's horrid defense and Rasmus' above average play in CF. And that's without mentioning hw badly Davis hit last year, since he might get some CF at-bats this year...maybe.

.213 / .255 / .341 / .596
Prognosis: Way Up

Left Field

Travis Snider v. Eric Thames - Okay, fine. It looks like I may be proven wrong on my long-held contention that somehow Snider would end up opening the year in LF. Whichever guy gets the most AB out there for the Blue Jays, they should easily do better than Snider did last year.

.244 / .295 / .382 / .677
Prognosis: Up

Designated Hitter

Edwin Encarnacion v. Edwin Encarnacion - I see no reason why he shouldn't do at least as well as he did in 2011, and the Blue Jays still believe there's yet more in there. if he ever breaks out and has a career year, he will be a huge asset, but we won't predict that here.

.262 / .338 / .432 / .770
Prognosis: Even

(Cheating here. Juan Rivera actually got more starts at DH in April 2011 than Encarnacion did, but EE eventually got the most DH at bats and since that's his presumed position in 2012, it just makes sense to work it this way)


Jose Molina v. Jeff Mathis - down
John McDonald v. Omar Vizquel - Even at least
Raji Davis v. Raji Davis - possibly up
Juan Rivera v. Ben Francisco - marginally up

TONS of reasons for optimism. Even if Rasmus and Lind don't come around, this will be a solid offense and if they do it could be as good as any in the league.


Ricky Romero v. Ricky Romero - It's difficult for me to assume that Ricky keeps trending upward, particularly when his supporting numbers last year imply a bit of luck (stats like xFIP imply he was actually pitching better in 2010) however, the continued improvement of the defense seems to have the potential to counter any regression in "luck" so I also don't expect him to be significantly worse.

Prognosis: Even

Brandon Morrow v. Brandon Morrow - Another cheat here - Morrow started the year on the DL and Jesse Litsch got four April starts (some for Morrow and some for Cecil) - but he was the presumptive opening day #2 so I'm going to roll with this because we don't want this to get too complex.

For the second straight year, the advanced metrics indicate Morrow should have had much better results in the old-school stats than he did. Virtually every observer believes Morrow still has another level to reach - management testified to their view with the contract extension - other than the odd outlier, which can happen to any player, there's little reason to assume he would get worse and every reason to assume he gets better results. Potentially a great deal better.

Prognosis: Up, potentially way up.

Brett Cecil v. Brett Cecil - So far this spring, while he's only gotten knocked around once, the vibe coming out of the spring has been subdued about Cecil's work, despite the high praise for his improved conditioning. He's had to make mechanical adjustments after the dramatic weight loss and the feel, from a distance, is that those are not entirely smoothed out yet. On top of that, there's the lingering uncertainty of whether his former velocity ever comes back - at least as a starter. This is a key year for Cecil because he needs to be impressive to hold off the charging herd of minor league starters.

Before today, I was beginning to suspect that there was a possibility Cecil would be optioned to continue refining his approach while Drabek got another chance in the major league rotation (with at least a non-zero possibility that he ends up relieving, long term, which was his role in college). But events can create a lot of moving parts and so we will go with the assumption that he does return to his spot in the major league rotation. I'll further presume that he will be mediocre early until he gets the kinks worked out and then he will either be better or be replaced, the ultimate combination of starts in this spot being similar to what happened last year (though closer to the xFIP than the actual ERA)

Prognosis: Even to slightly up

Jo-Jo Reyes v. Henderson Alvarez - I don't think I need to pound on this one. Barring injury, it's almost inconceivable Alvarez would not be much much better than Reyes was. He's been dominant this spring, and been the object of lavish praise from all in his presence - he might very well have as big a breakout as I've been projecting for Morrow, but certainly he can do well enough to win this battle easily.

Prognosis: Way up.

Kyle Drabek v. Dustin McGowan - Even if McGowan is only, say, 60% of what he was at his peak, he will deliver better results than Drabek's stumble last year. That's not to say that Drabek wouldn't as well, he's not at all as bad as he looked in 2011. If McGowan's body won't let him stay out there, Drabek v. 2012 will still deliver a considerable upgrade in this spot.

Prognosis: Up.

Jesse Litsch v. Kyle Drabek - Not to be harsh on Litsch but Drabek is simply a far more talented guy. There's no reason still to think that given an extended chance he won't eventually produce. of course he had a huge crash last year, but based on the spring results it doesn't seem to be an Ankiel moment. It's not impossible for a very good prospect to fail, of course, but it's far too early to EXPECT he will.

Prognosis - Marginally up.

One other note here - particularly in light of today's events:
If the need for a 6th guy is short term, then probably the Jays will use Aaron Laffey in that role. To use the obvious current example, Dustin McGowan left his start today in the second inning with plantar fascia. Alex Anthopoulos heavily downplayed the idea that it was a major injury or setback but given that such an injury is notorious for being a lingering recurring problem, it makes for a great example.
If McGowan is, indeed, sidelined for a very short time - say he misses one or two turns - then he will still have to rebuild his innings and the Blue jays would be foolish to not take their time with that. One can easily imagine him missing the first two major league turns through the rotation (which he would likely have only gotten one start anyway). in such a scenario, it will almost certainly be Laffey who picks up that start. If, on the other hand, the injury is chronic and ongoing, the scales shift to the guy who's an actual prospect. Drabek.

A similar logic applies with Cecil - if he were to be optioned out, the person who took his spot would tell you much about how long the Jays think he will be down there. Albeit if McGowan does his a few weeks, Cecil will almost certainly go north with the team.


(there's no way to do a one-to-one comparison here, except possibly for the closer and even there given that the Jays cycled through three guys during the first half of the season that too is a problem. So instead I'll look at the holdovers as a group, and the newcomers as a group)

Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch, Shawn Camp, Octavio Dotel and Marc Rzepcayinski
Sergio Santos, Francisco Cordero, Darren Oliver, Luis Perez

Technically Perez is not a newcomer but in terms of his role, he goes from a sort of bit player for most of the season to an important core guy so I put him here. The consensus from all quarters is that the bullpen imports are remarkably better than those who departed. This post is long enough that i won't get tedious with a point by point breakdown - I'm just going to roll with the consensus here.


Casey Janssen, Jason Frasor, Carlos Villianueva

Janssen has the potential for regression just because he was so damned good last year; Frasor is a rock (laying aside his first week or two in Chicago) and can be expected to hold steady; the question is Villianueva. Last year he had excellent results in relief, but actually improved in the rotation before running out of gas. If he can carry over the rates he had as a starter into his relief role this year, he should be very reliable.

There's also a solid contingent of guys who can step in iff any of these folks go down - Joel Carreno, Andrew Carpenter, Trystan Magnuson, Aaron Laffey, Chad Beck and others.

Other than the question of whether or not Cordero fades with age, there seems to be very little reason to worry here.

Overall, I continue to maintain that this team has every reason to expect to get considerably better. whatever you think of how they compare to the other contenders, I'm mystified by anyone who thinks this is still a .500ish team. That's not to say that almost any team can't collapse, but on paper there's a huge pile of reasons to expect that any movement would be in the upward direction.

And thus ends my comparison series - at last! I have one more sort of preview type post in my head, and then it's time to settle into the day-to-day business of the season. Can't come soon enough!

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