by Quinn Sweetzir
With the beginning of the long awaited MLB regular season, it is expected by many that the Toronto Blue Jays will be among the leagues better teams. With a generally talented roster - including a rather exceptional starting rotation - most projections believe that the Jays will be serious playoff and World Series contenders once again in 2017.
However, the same cannot be said for the San Diego Padres or the Cincinnati Reds. Both these teams project to be among the worst teams in baseball in 2017, and their starting rotations are both particularly appalling.
When you compare the rotation of a team like the Jays to either the Padres or Reds, you see that 1 through 5, Toronto’s rotation is simply exceptional when compared to the worst rotations in the league. But what would it take for Toronto’s rotation to perform as badly as Cincinnati's or San Diego’s?
In order to do this, we first must determine just how bad the weakest rotations in baseball are. Among the 5 (healthy) starters currently listed both San Diego’s and Cincinnati's depth chart, ZiPS projects them to earn 3.5 and 4.3 WAR respectively. In comparison, Aaron Sanchez on his own projects to be worth 3.6 WAR, which goes to show just how bad these rotations are.
As a team, the Jays starting five project to be worth about 12.8 WAR according to ZiPS, and that is despite the fact that there is a reasonable argument to be made that at least 4 of the Jays starting 5 could conceivably exceed these projections.
If Toronto was to provide a performance worse than that of San Diego or Cincinnati, each pitcher would have to be about 2 WAR worse than there already low projections. For this to happen, that the starters would have to perform accessible poorly.
Marco Estrada would have to resemble his 2014 form. Francisco Liriano would have to resemble last season's form before his trade to Toronto. Marcus Stroman would have to perform as he did in June of last season. Aaron Sanchez would have to perform similarly to how he did as a starter in 2015. J.A. Happ would have to perform worse than he did with the Jays in 2013. If all of the above happens, and no moves are made by Toronto’s front office, than the Jays rotation has a chance of performing worse than San Diego or Cincinnati.
Thankfully, this doesn't appear to be realistic, as both the eye-test and projections mean that this reality has such a small chance of happening, that it would be almost inconceivable. What this means is, the Jays can expect to see a solid job from their starting five in 2017, a job which may be good enough to propel them into a World Series ring.
by Quinn Sweetzir
Just a couple weeks remain before spring training ends and opening day begins and despite the fact that the Blue Jays’ candidates for a left field job are flawed, ineffective, and generally project to be at or near replacement level next season. It appears likely that the Jays left fielder is going to be some combination of Melvin Upton Jr., Ezequiel Carrera, Steve Pearce, and possibly Dalton Pompey or Darrell Ceciliani which is puzzling because there is a perfectly useful, starting caliber left fielder still on the open market for a relatively meager price. Angel Pagan has been a starting outfielder on the San Francisco Giants for the last five seasons. In all but one of these seasons, Pagan has managed to record at least a 2.3 WAR/600 PA and a WRC+ above 105. This combined with his surely low asking price makes me wonder why the Jays would rather start some combination of weak and incompetent outfielders instead of a quality major leaguer.
For most of the offseason, I considered Angel Pagan to be a strong target for a Blue Jays team looking to contend for a World Series in 2017. His unique skillset would be a welcome addition to the Blue Jays lineup, and his passable corner outfield defense welcome sight for a team that watched Jose Bautista and Michael Saunders play a combined 1845 innings in the field. His weak 2015 season was a result of fixable problems which he improved upon dramatically in 2016, and his relatively minimal contract demands should lead him to a starting left field job in Toronto.
Coming into the offseason, one of the Blue Jays supposed needs was to increase the amount of left handed hitters in their lineup. Although they did that by adding the switch hitting Kendrys Morales, another switch hitter would be welcome, and Angel Pagan does just that. Although he was slightly worse against right handed pitchers overall, his ability to switch hit is something the Jays might need down the stretch if they hope to contend. He also possesses the ability to hit line drives at a high rate, recording a LD% of 25.1% in 2016. When you consider his .298 BABIP – a number which was well below his career average of .316 – you can see the possibility for improvement on his already solid .277 batting average. Continuing on, we see that Pagan still has the ability to steal bases when necessary. Having recorded double digit stolen bases in all but one season since 2009, we can see that Pagan still has a knack for stealing the occasional base even at his advanced age of 35. As you can see, his unique skills are a good fit for a Blue Jays team hoping to contend for a title in 2017.
Beyond his obviously good fit in the Blue Jays lineup, his passable defense is something which the Jays need to consider. Compared to Melvin Upton Jr. and Ezequiel Carrera, Pagan’s defense should play at a similarly average level to these two forth outfielders. We could probably expect all three players to record average defensive numbers. Adding Pagan would be a very dramatic improvement form the defense of departed Michael Saunders. It would also allow the club to play occasionally play Bautista at first base if/when Steve Pearce gets hurt without suffering a very big drop off in overall performance. Clearly, the possible improvement in the Jays skill from an outfield defense standpoint is a real plus to a theoretical singeing that already makes too much sense.
Despite the seemingly strong case for signing Pagan, it is possible that the Jays front office is concerned with his 2015 performance when he recorded -0.7 WAR. Though this number is troubling, there are reasons for this decline in performance which can be explained. Contributing to this WAR total was a variety of factors however I’ll stop at three. First, his strikeout rate was about 5% higher that it was in both 2014 and 2016, resulting in a very relatively low WRC+. Secondly, his power was incredibly weak in 2015, with just 3 home runs and a .070 ISO. However, both these totals increased by a large margin in 2016, with a home run total rising to 12, and an ISO rising to .141. Most importantly, his defense was incredibly bad in 2015, when he recorded a UZR/150 of -19.0. Although this number is remarkably bad, it did improve to 3.9 upon a move to the corner in 2016, and could be expected to more or less continue that way for 2017. His struggles in 2015 were a result of factors which were solved in 2016, and can most likely be expected to continue rather than return in 2017.
Another reason why the Jays should sign Pagan is his surely small contract demands. Considering Pagan is 35 years old, struggled with injuries as recently as 2014, and is still unsigned more than halfway through spring training, we could probably get Pagan on a 1 year deal with a cheap base salary. Perhaps the Jays could include some playing time incentives to protect themselves if Pagan does get hurt or struggles through a bad season. If he doesn’t, and plays to his worth, than the Jays have a starting caliber outfielder to throw into left field every day and play at a level greater than that of their current outfielders.
The advantages of signing Pagan are extensive. He is a solid starting outfielder currently on the open market and not expected to sign for much. His useful skillset, passable defense, general consistency, and probably cheap contract should be reason enough for the Jays to sign Pagan to a major league contract. Doing so could be the difference between making and missing the playoffs for a team projected to win around 87 games in 2017.
by Quinn Sweetzir
It’s that time of year again folks. March Madness is back, with the tournament set to begin tomorrow, I decided create my own bracket. Instead of using the teams participating in the tournament, I decided to find and rank 64 Blue Jays moments, and put them into a newly made, custom bracket. Afterwards, I would put polls on Twitter, in order to see which moments are the best in the eyes of Jays fans.
Just like the real March Madness, the bracket has been set up into 4 groups of 16, ranked more or less in the order of significance. However, as is always the case, there is potential for upsets, and I am interested to see which moments are most important to Jays fans as a whole.
Polls will be posted on my Twitter, and new polls will be updated every half an hour or so. In addition, I will encourage everyone to use the hashtag #BlueJaysMarchMadness. I hope you all participate and we can figure out once and for all, what the most important moments are in Blue Jays history.
With their first game happening tonight at 6:00 PM EST, Team Canada hopes to over achieve their relatively meager expectations, and achieve success in the World Baseball Classic by making it to past the first round for the first time in their history. Even though many of Canada’s better players opted out of participating in the WBC, the club is still hopeful that they can have a successful performance over the course of the tournament. Despite this enthusiasm, few are expecting Canada to make it past the round robin stage this year, as the fact remains that two of the best teams in the tournament are in the same group as Canada. Because of this, Canada’s odds of advancing are slim, but that isn’t stopping me from making bold predictions.
A Major Upset
In order to advance to the second round, Canada would have to defeat either the Dominican Republic or the USA, and despite the seemingly long odds, I believe that Canada has a chance of defeating one of these teams. For this to happen, Canada needs a standout performance from one of its starting pitchers, either Ryan Dempster, who is pitching in game 1 against the Dominican Republic, or whomever Canada decides to use in the third game against the United States. Even though the odds are slim, I believe that Team Canada has the potential to upset the favorites in at least one of these games. The fact remains that a sizable amount of a baseball game is decided by luck, and if Canada turns in a good performance with a little bit of luck, they may be able to walk away from one of these games victorious.
Éric Gangé Pitches his Way to a Sizable Contract
Having last played major league baseball in 2008, baseball was almost universally surprised when Team Canada announced that Éric Gangé would be on the roster for Team Canada. With rumors of a comeback, the 41 year old former Cy Young winner hopes his WBC performance can be a stepping stone for a return to major league baseball. In a pre-tournament game against the Blue Jays, Gangé’s velocity was similar to that of when he last played in the big leagues and his overall performance was solid. If he plays at a reasonably high level at the WBC, he could be in line for a minor league deal with some achievable performance incentives, a strong probability for someone who last pitched in the majors 9 seasons ago.
Dalton Pompey Dominates
In a similar fashion to Michael Saunders in the last WBC, Dalton Pompey will have a breakthrough performance and play a critical role in the success of Team Canada. In comparing Saunders to Pompey, there are a lot of similarities. Saunders was an outfielder on the fringes of becoming a useful player at the big league level; a situation which is quite similar to that of Dalton Pompey today. In addition to this, Pompey is expected to be one of Canada’s offensive and defensive leaders on the field, a reasonable expectation considering his strong talent and high potential. Of all my prodictions, this one is the most likely, as a strong performance from Pompey could the Jays’ front office into pushing him into a full time role in 2017.
An Unexpected Contribution
Even though Canada’s best players like Freedie Freeman, Dalton Pompey, and Ryan Dempster are going to have to play strong in order for Canada to be successful, relatively unknown players are also going to have to perform well. Perhaps we should keep our eyes on Jonathan Malo or Rene Tosoni, a pair of players from independent leagues who are going to have to over perform if this team is going to exceed expectations. On the pitching side, players like Blue Jays farmhand Shane Dawson or Houston Astros reliever Kevin Chapman (not entirely sure how he’s Canadian) will need to be useful for this team to be successful. Whether through major leaguers, minor leaguers, or independent leaguers, Canada will need everyone performing at their best if they want to be successful.
There you have it. These are my bold predictions for Team Canada at the 2017 WBC. If the club wants to be successful, all of these expectations must come true and a strong contributes must remain useful. Even if Canada fails to advance to the second round, we can chalk up their failure to both the lack of their most talented players on the roster, and considerably more difficult group. If Canada is lucky enough to achieve a few of these, you can expect another piece like this for the second round.
Image courtesy of http://heavy.com/sports/2017/03/world-baseball-classic-canada-roster-players-pitchers-2017-who-is-playing-on-canadian/
Despite lasting for what felt like an eternity, the dreaded offseason is fading away into one of the most relaxing times of the year; spring training. The Toronto Blue Jays are no exception, and with one of the more talented rosters in the majors, we could expect another strong season from the boys in blue (or red for certain occasions). Having been defeated in back to back ALCS appearances, the Jays should be looking to improve in their quest for a World Series title. This begs the question; how many wins could we realistically expect from this club, and would this total be good enough for a playoff spot?
Last season, the Toronto Blue Jays managed to win a total of 89 regular season games, good enough for a Wild Card playoff spot against the Baltimore Orioles. If we use this information in addition in conjunction with an investigation of WAR totals among players on the Jays roster last season, we should be able to determine a WAR based win total for the Blue Jays in 2016. According to saber bucs, a team with 0.0 WAR could expect to win around 48 games. Therefore, if we add 48 to the total team WAR, we should get a number close to that of the clubs actual win total. Last season, the Blue Jays recorded 42.6 total WAR, and if we add this to the 48 wins defined above, than we see that the Jays should have won approximately 90.6 wins last season, more or less in line with their actual total of 89.
But of course, we must consider arriving and departing players, and in doing so, determine how many wins the Jays have lost or gained. If you combine the WAR of players no longer on the Jays roster, we see they have lost about 5.6 WAR in the offseason. When offset with the newly acquired 2.8 WAR which the Jays have acquired this offseason, we can see that the team is approximately 2.8 wins worse than they were last season. Unfortunately, assumes that every player will perform exactly as well as they did last season, which is simply not possible thanks to progression and regression.
Because of this, we should instead look at WAR totals from projection systems; in this case, Steamer. Steamer projects the Blue Jays to record 37.8 total WAR. If we add this to 48 wins, we see that the Blue Jays should win about 85.6 games in 2017, a rather solid if unexceptional number. Unfortunately for Jays fans, this number is probably not good enough for the team to make a run at a playoff spot. Despite this seemingly unfavorable number, there is a bit of give and take between WAR totals and actual wins. Because of this, I decided to investigate my projection a little bit further.
Using Pythagorean run expectancy, we can see that the Blue Jays should have won approximately 91.5 games rather than 89 games in 2016. If we use this number, and subtract the 2.8 wins lost this offseason, we see that the Blue Jays are about an 88.7 win team if everyone performs as they did in 2016. If the Jays were an 88.7 win team, than they would have a real chance of making the playoffs, albeit through a Wild Card Spot.
But of course, when considering progression or regression, we need to use projections to make an educated guess. If we use the Steamer projections for runs scored and allowed by the Blue Jays in 2017, we can determine through Pythagorean run expectancy that the 2017 Blue Jays are an 88.4 win team, again putting the Jays in contention for a wild card spot.
Whether through WAR totals or Pythagorean win expectancies, it becomes apparent that analytics expect the Jays to win somewhere between 85 and 90 games in 2017. In addition to my analysis, several baseball analysts expect the Jays to win a similar number of games, including Bleacher Report (86 Wins), USA Today (87 Wins), and MLB Reports (88 Wins). Most projections and analysts agree (PECOTA notwithstanding) that the Jays have a solid roster with a real chance of making the postseason.
This leaves me to ask whether or not an 87 win team could make the playoffs. Since the introduction of the second wild card spot in 2012, the average number of wins recorded by the second wild card team is between 89 and 90, however that number has generally trended downward in recent seasons. Therefore, the Jays would need to reach the high point of their projections in order to expect a postseason appearance, though reaching the midpoint still gives them a shot. Of course, there is always a possibility that the Jays could outperform these expectations and win upwards of 95 games, good enough to give the team a chance to make a run at the division title. But it we are projecting realistically, I find it difficult to expect a season where the Jays win more than 90 games. The fact is that this team still has a couple of serious holes, including left field and rotation depth, and it the team expects to compete for more than about 90 wins, than a few spring training additions are going to have to be made.
My final predicted record: 87-75
Although the bullpen was among the Toronto Blue Jays biggest areas of need entering this years offseason, the general consensus is that the signings of J.P. Howell and Joe Smith have at least stabilized the bullpen somewhat. By signing Howell for 1 year and 3 million dollars, the Blue Jays added to a frighteningly thin group of left handed relievers for the Toronto Blue Jays. When the team later added Joe Smith on an identical contact, the belief was that the Jays had simply added a solid middle reliever to a relatively mediocre bullpen.
Essentially, the latest moves have led most of us to believe that the Blue Jays bullpen should perform reasonably well in 2017. But what do the projections say, and is this bullpen really capable of at least average performance, or is it destined to fail in a similarly miserable way to the bullpen of 2016's first half. To find out, I turned to some projection systems to decide whether or not the Blue Jays bullpen can perform up to snuff.
For this article I will be using ZiPS and Steamer projections in order to find the expected performance of several of relievers currently on the Blue Jays 40 man roster.
The Locks for a Roster Spot
ZiPS: 72 G, 71.1 IP, 10.42 K/9, 1.88 BB/9, 2.76 ERA, 3.01 FIP, 1.4 WAR
Steamer: 65 G, 65 IP, 10.21 K/9, 2.72 BB/9, 3.43 ERA, 3.47 FIP, 0.9 WAR
If you consider Osuna's lack of a long term track record, and the volatility traditionally displayed by young relievers, than you understand why these projections expect some regression in the performance of Osuna from previous seasons. However, I believe that Osuna has a reasonably good chance of exceeding these projections assuming he stays consistent and healthy. These projections are balancing the best and worst possible seasons for Osuna, and not necessarily considering the likelihood of each actually coming true.
ZiPS: 47 G, 41.3 IP, 11.55 K/9, 3.92 BB/9, 3.70 ERA, 3.74 FIP, 0.3 WAR
Steamer: 65 G, 65 IP, 10.18 K/9, 3.63 BB/9, 3.85 ERA, 3.95 FIP, 0.4 WAR
Considering his age, and his wild career trajectory, these projections seem relatively fair. Due to his general streakiness, I expect Grilli to post numbers similar to those of his projections. If he can do this, than the Blue Jays have a solid setup/middle relief option to place in their bullpen.
ZiPS: 60 G, 66.7 IP, 8.50 K/9, 2.70 BB/9, 3.78 ERA, 3.81 FIP, 0.5 WAR
Steamer: 33 G, 71 IP, 6.70 K/9, 3.07 BB/9, 4.35 ERA, 4.37 FIP, 0.5 WAR
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the projections seem to anticipate a decline in the success of Joe Biagini next season. The reason is quite similar to that of Osuna, as Biagini has just one season of major league experience. Interestingly, ZiPS projects Biagini to make zero starts however, Steamer projects 8 starts for Biagini in 2017. Since Biagini is probably the sixth starter going into spring training, one could probably expect him to make several starts for injured rotation members next season.
ZiPS: 60 G, 45 IP, 7.80 K/9, 3.20 BB/9, 3.60 ERA, 3.74 FIP, 0.2 WAR
Steamer: 55 G, 55 IP, 6.91 K/9, 3.58 BB/9, 4.09 ERA, 4.28 FIP, 0.2 WAR
After considering the projections for Howell, it appears that his decline in performance last season is largely here to stay. Howell had his worst season since 2011, recording a 4.09 ERA in 2016. Even if performs similarly to how he did last year, he is still a solid contributor to the Blue Jays next season, either as a lefty specialist or as a middle relief arm. If he returns to his 2012-2015 form, than the Blue Jays have a solid, left handed reliever in the bullpen, for the bargain price of 3 million dollars.
ZiPS: 62 G, 52 IP, 8.07 K/9, 2.79 BB/9, 3.41 ERA, 3..77 FIP, 0.5 WAR
Steamer: 55 G, 55 IP, 7.39 K/9, 3.07 BB/9, 3.90 ERA, 4.05 FIP, 0.3 WAR
Although Smith has never had a season with an ERA greater than 3.83 (back in 2010), the projections seem to believe that Smith is going to regress somewhat in 2017. Perhaps the projections are concerned with his 4.99 FIP in 2016, but I expect Smith to play decently enough anyways to justify a middle relief role. Even if he matches his projections, his value to the Blue Jays is still good, because like Howell before him, he would be a solid middle reliever at a bargain price.
The Contenders for a Roster Spot
ZiPS: 50 G, 66.3 IP, 9.41 K/9, 3.68 BB/9, 3.53 ERA, 3.33 FIP, 0.7 WAR
Steamer: 45 G, 45 IP, 9.06 K/9, 2.84 BB/9, 3.67 ERA, 3.71 FIP, 0.5 WAR
Perhaps surprisingly, the projections for Danny Barnes are actually quite solid. If Barnes can put up these kind of numbers, than the Blue Jays bullpen becomes substantially deeper, with as many as six quality weapons for John Gibbons to use. If Barnes can approach these projections - which I believe is quite possible - than the Blue Jays have a serious new relief option in 2017.
ZiPS: 26 G, 112 IP, 8.92 K/9, 3.38 BB/9, 4.58 ERA, 4.28 FIP, 0.9 WAR
Steamer: 6 G, 36 IP, 8.09 K/9, 3.51 BB/9, 4.38 ERA, 4.33 FIP, 0.5 WAR
Even though Boslinger is probably the clubs seventh starter as spring training approaches, these projections seem to believe that Boslinger is going to make a rather high amount of starts as opposed to relief appearances in 2017. Despite the usually reasonable projections, I tend to disagree this time because Boslinger is out of options, and therefore unable to be sent to AAA without passing through waivers. As a result, Boslinger probably opens the season the the Blue Jays long reliever, capable of making a spot start here and there, while pitching a fair number or relief appearances throughout the season. This increase in relief appearances probably causes results which are substantially different from the above projections.
ZiPS: 57 G, 47 IP, 8.81 K/9, 3.00 BB/9, 3.94 ERA, 4.02 FIP, 0.2 WAR
Steamer: 40 G, 40 IP, 8.29 ERA, 3.10 BB/9, 3.53 ERA, 3.74 FIP, 0.4 WAR
After performing solidly throughout his first three seasons, Loup has struggled since 2015. Even if the days of being a solid arm with a mid 2.00's ERA for Loup is gone, the projections seem to believe that Loup is at least worthy roster consideration as a left handed specialist. If the club decided to go with an 8 man bullpen (PLEASE NO!!!), than the chance of Loup making the roster as a second lefty goes up dramatically. Otherwise, he'll need a strong camp if he expects to be on the opening day roster in 2017.
ZiPS: Not available. This will be updated if found.
Steamer: 30 G, 35 IP, 8.03 K/9, 2.63 BB/9 , 3.94 ERA, 3.98 FIP, 0.2 WAR
Considering Sparkman has exactly zero innings of major league experience, this projection is actually quite decent. Steamer seems to believe that Sparkman has enough skill to be a decent middle relief option. Despite this, it's highly likely that Sparkman ends up outside the Blue Jays organization come opening day as a result of being selected in the Rule 5 Draft. He would need to have a very strong spring training to make the team and therefore remain with the Blue Jays. Even if he isn't necessarily a second coming of Joe Biagini, it is possible that Sparkman could put up decent numbers out of the bullpen if he makes and stays on the roster.
ZiPS: 53 G, 61 IP, 8.85 K/9, 3.39 BB/9, 3.98 ERA, 4.07 FIP, 0.3 WAR
Steamer: 35 G, 35 IP, 8.60 K/9, 3.50 BB/9, 3.93 ERA, 4.02 FIP, 0.2 WAR
The truth about Tepera is that he probably won't start the season on the roster, but he will probably end up being scuttled between AAA and the big leagues several times in 2017. His projections are generally in line with his career numbers, and Tepera's best asset is probably his consistency. We know that Tepera is going to give you decent middle relief with an ERA of about 4.00, and the his 2017 projections seem to agree.
As for other arms on the 40 man roster (not including the starting rotation) such as Ryan Borucki, Matt Dermordy, Dominic Leone, Bo Schultz, and Chris Smith, there is a small chance that they could make the opening day roster. Whether through a very good spring, an influx of injuries, or something else, the chance remains there, regardless of how slim.
If you move outside the 40 man roster, recently DFA'd Chad Girodo strikes me as a player with a chance of making the big league club out of spring training. Gavin Floyd also has a chance of making the team provided he has a good spring. Besides them, perhaps a middle tear pitching prospect such as Angel Perdomo, or Jon Harris could impress the front office enough to fast track them to the big leagues through the bullpen spot. However this is extremely unlikely, and I believe that the Toronto Blue Jays bullpen will consist of the locks I mentioned above (Osuna, Grilli, Biagini, Howell, Smith) as well as Mike Boslinger, Aaron Loup, and possibly Danny Barnes if the Jays start the season with an eight man bullpen (please no).
Despite these projections, how individual pitchers perform in spring training will have a dramatic impact on how this bullpen is constructed for opening day. But since none of the games have been played yet, and pitchers and catchers don't report for another three days, all we can do is speculate on what's going to happen.
In addition, it's also nice to see that the Blue Jays bullpen does have a decent amount of depth if certain players struggle or are injured. Even if they don't all perform to expectations, I identified at least ten pitchers with enough talent to perform as average middle relievers. Combine them together, and it's easy to see why many are confident in this years bullpen. Regardless of how the opening day bullpen shapes up, I expect to see several arms performing at a high level by the end of the season.
Like every organization in baseball, the Toronto Blue Jays had several curious and eye opening statistics which I decided were weird enough to share. Whether the culprit is small sample size, bad luck, or largely unexplainable, I found 16 of my favourite Blue Jays statistics from last season and decided to share them with you.
As the long offseason drags into February, subsequently resulting in a decline in the complexity and frequency of offseason rumours into the start of spring training, it’s now time to start thinking about how the big league roster is going to be constructed for opening day. Among the Toronto Blue Jays biggest strengths is their starting rotation, where they are considered to be one of the MLB’s elite. With several strong arms, how the Blue Jays order the starting rotation will be among the teams most interesting questions in spring training. Because of this, I decided to try and determine what the strongest and most efficient starting rotation order for the Blue Jays in 2017.
Unless a spring training injury occurs, the Blue Jays rotation will consist of Marco Estrada, J.A. Happ, Francisco Liriano, Aaron Sanchez, and Marcus Stroman. Although there are sometimes exceptions, the general rule is to find the pitchers with drastic differences in pitch selection, pitch velocity, batted ball types, handedness, etc. close to each other in the rotation and therefore forcing the opposition to make more dramatic adjustments between games in a series. We’ve seen manager John Gibbons employ this strategy before, particularly in 2012, when his rotation consisted of R.A. Dickey, Brandon Morrow, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, and J.A. Happ respectively. Day to day, those starters had several differences between each other whether the velocity adjustments, or handedness, or pitch selection. Knowing this, I expect the Blue Jays to do something similar in 2017.
Traditionally, a clubs most dominant pitcher, the “ace” of the staff usually leads the starting rotation. Considering the performance of the clubs five pitchers last season, Aaron Sanchez appears to be the most ace-like on the roster. With a dominant sinker that averages almost 95 and an American League leading 3.00 ERA to back it up, Sanchez is clearly a deserving for the clubs opening day starter, especially considering his simply filthy stuff. Because of this, I have Sanchez leading the rotation into the 2017 season.
Considering Sanchez is an extreme ground ball pitcher, a hard thrower, and a righty the ideal candidate would be the a starter with an opposite skill set. Because of his, more or less equal ground ball and fly ball rates, the second slowest fastball velocity on the staff, and his left handed arm, J.A. Happ would be an ideal compliment behind Sanchez.. This spot is also fitting because for most of last season, Happ was the Blue Jays second best starter. As such, I have decided to place him second in the rotation.
Happ could logically by followed by either Marcus Stroman of Marco Estrada, given their differences from Happ. Because Happ is a happy medium between the fly ball heavy Estrada, and the ground ball heavy Stroman, it would make sense to go with either Estrada or Stroman. Despite Estrada’s strong case, I believe that Stroman is a better fit mostly because his style is more suited between Happ and Liriano than between Liriano and Sanchez. From a batted ball and pitch selection standpoint, Stroman and Sanchez simply have too much in common to place next to each other in the rotation, thus I have picked Stroman to go third. His extreme ground ball rates and opposite handedness will be a welcome difference from Happ before him, which is why I placed him here.
Following Stroman should be Francisco Liriano, who managed to perform well after a mid-season trade to the Blue Jays last season. Since Liriano is both left-handed, and a far less extreme ground ball pitcher than Stroman, the fit is decent. Although the fit isn’t perfect, due to Stroman and Liriano's similar pitch selections and velocities and the fact that Liriano is also a ground ball pitcher, the handedness and reasonable difference in ground ball rates should be enough for this pair to balance each other out fairly well.
This leaves Liriano to be followed by Marco Estrada and the fit is quite good. There are massive differences in velocity, pitch selection, handedness, and batted ball types between Liriano. In addition to this, Estrada followed by Sanchez is represtents the biggest difference in raw stuff is the most different between any two other starters on the roster. In fact, Estrada followed by Sanchez works so well that I almost placed Estrada second in the rotation; however he compliments Sanchez just as well in the fifth spot and the rest of the rotation worked better as it is. The only similarity between Sanchez and Estrada is that they are both right-handed, however there was always going to be one spot where this is a problem as a result of an unequal balance, so I decided that the other differences make this the best placer to take the bullet.
In short, a combination of pitch velocity, pitch selection, batted ball data, and pitch handedness lead me to believe the best order for the Blue Jays rotation next season should be Aaron Sanchez, J.A. Happ, Marcus Stroman, Francisco Liriano, and Marco Estrada respectively. Despite this, it is quite possible that there are several reasons for the Jays to consider other rotations, not to mention injuries, which could just throw the whole plan in a loop. Regardless, I believe that this rotation will deliver the team with their most impressive results if everything goes as planned.
Considering everything else, the Toronto Blue Jays starting rotation was one of the few areas where there are very few concerns regarding the teams 2017 roster. With Aaron Sanchez, Marco Estrada, Marcus Stroman, J.A. Happ, and Francisco Liriano holding all five of the spots, the rotation is expected to be one of the teams biggest strengths in 2017. I expect reasonable performances from all five starters, but I expect a big improvement over his last season from Francisco Liriano, who mostly struggled in 2016 with a 4.69 ERA and just 0.4 fWAR. Despite these seemingly bad numbers, there is reasonable reason to expect improvement from Liriano besides the obvious numbers which people point out.
The clearest and most talked about reason for why Liriano struggled in 2016 was his walk totals, which increased from 3.38 BB/9 in 2015 to 4.69 BB/9 in 2016. When people combine the improvements in Liriano, as well as Jason Grilli and Joaquin Benoit after trades to the Blue Jays, it appears that the reduced walks caused a dramatic improvement in performance. Although this may be true for Grilli and Benoit because of their small sample size, I discovered a more impactful reason for Liriano’s struggles in 2016. He simply gave up too many home runs.
Liriano had the highest home run rates of his career in 2016. Liriano’s total of 0.72 HR/9 in 2015 to 1.44 HR/9 in 2016. And there is more to this than an increased fly ball rate, as this increased by just 4% from 2015 to 2016, hardly enough of a difference to cause an increase of this magnitude. It’s not as if 2015 was an outlier either, in fact his career HR/9 of 0.87, proving that his 2016 struggles were a result of bad luck.
The fact of the matter is Liriano gave up more home runs that can be reasonably expected in the average pitcher. His HR/FB was a whopping 18.8%, a massive increase from his career average of 11.6%. Considering the league average HR/FB was 12.8% in 2016, there is an obvious correlation between Liriano’s struggles and the increase in home runs. With these inflated home run totals, one could expect Liriano to progress back towards his career norms next season, as a result of simply dumb luck in 2016.
This isn't result of park factors either even though the Rodgers Centre is the first hitters park that Liriano has regularly had to pitch in during his career. Although Liriano may have given up a few extra home runs in 2016 as a result of his move, it surely can’t account for this dramatic of an increase. In fact, his HR/FB decreased from 19.6% to 17.1% after being moved to Toronto. In addition to this, there was only 0.07 more home runs per game at the Rodgers Centre over the American League average, and many of these were a result of the Blue Jays home run heavy offence, which proves that Francisco Liriano was more unlucky than bad in 2016.
But in addition to the increase in home runs, Liriano also had a dramatic increase in hard contact rate in 2016. This number increased from 24.3% in 2015 to 34.8%, a rather large increase from his career norms. Like the home runs, this increase is largely unexplained, as his pitch locations were more or less the same in both seasons. In addition, there was no major change in pitch velocity from his 2015 numbers or his career numbers and his only real increase in pitch selection was 4.2% increase in fastball usage. Although some would consider this to be a major reason for his struggles, I find it more likely that he was forced to use it more as a result of pitching behind in the count and needing to throw a strike.
To summarize, I believe that Liriano’s struggles in 2016 were a result of some rotten luck rather than a noticeable decline in skill, and I expect Liriano to be among the Jays better pitchers in 2017. Assuming his home run and hard contact rates progress back towards his career norms, I believe that there is reasonable reason to expect improvement in Francisco Liriano’s performance next season.
Baseball Prospectus reports that the Toronto Blue Jays reached an agreement on a 1 year contract worth 18 million dollars. Incentives and options could raise the total up to 3 years and 60 million dollars.
This is a very good deal for the Blue Jays. Without any real safe free agents outfielders left on the open marker, signing Bautista was among the only viable options the team had. In signing Bautista, the Jays have filled a major hole in the outfield, and now have just one major missing piece in left.
Bautista has been among the games best players since turning his career around in 2010. His bat is still some of the most feared in baseball, and he managed to record a WRC+ of 122 in what was considered a bad year. Assuming his hitting remains solid, this deal could prove to be extremely beneficial to the Jays next season, as it now means that full time at bats do not have to be handed out to Melvin Upton Jr, and Ezequiel Carrera. Although Bautista is a talented hitter, there are some serious concerns, mainly with his defence. His DRS of -8 last season was the lowest total of his career, and a -5.6 UZR shows that his defence is deteriorating. With declining range and a weakening arm, his defence will surely cause me to break something next season when he fails to make a play, his bat will surely make up for the occasional defensive error.
This leaves the Blue Jays with only one major hole remaining in their lineup, that being at left field or first base. A possible lineup combination come opening day will be Travis-Donaldson-Bautista-Morales-Tulowitzki-Martin-Pearce-Pillar-a LF. Whether the team decides to peruse rumoured trade options like Andrew McCutchen or sign a smaller free agent like Angel Pagan, the team should consider at least one smaller move to fill up the lineup.
Of course the Blue Jays have lost a significant amount of space in there budget as well a draft pick but this should not be of concern if the team is in contention. With whatever budget remains, the team needs to consider other outfielders as well as at least one reliever.
But that’s something to consider tomorrow. Today, we need to be thankful of what this legend has done for the Blue Jays and be thankful for what is to come. And so I thank Jose Bautista for remaining with the Blue Jays, even if the deal did not take place on a Friday.
Back in November I wrote about Jose’s biggest moments with the Blue Jays. You can check it out here: http://dingersfromthe6ix.weebly.com/home/jose-bautista-his-time-as-our-blue-jay