Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Thoughts on the Elias Rankings

Courtesy of the ESB Official Website
With the passing of the draft pick signing deadline on midnight August 16th, MLB Trade Rumors put out an updated version of the Elias Ranking projections (seen here) to give us a glimpse of how the draft might be in 2012. These Elias Ranking projections showed us that the Jays currently have 5 players who could garner them sandwich picks in the 2012 MLB Draft. These players are Jose Molina, Edwin Encarnacion, Aaron Hill, Frank Francisco, and Jon Rauch. Though that looks good on paper it is still dependent on many variables such as guys accepting arbitration and some club options possibly being exercised by the Blue Jays. Nonetheless it is an impressive number that if all 5 players sign with other teams then it would be more compensation picks in the sandwich round for 2012 than in this year's draft.

Jose Molina
Jose has been a solid back up to rookie J.P. Arencibia this year with a 138 wRC+ (per FanGraphs) in his 139 plate appearances this year and the fact that he has hit well in limited plate appearances this year and last has propelled him to Type B free agent status. While looking at stats for this post, one thing that I did find interesting is that Jose actually has a better WAR this year than J.P. according to both FanGraphs and Baseball Reference. According to FanGraphs he has been worth 1.5 WAR, where as J.P. has only been worth 1.0 and according to Baseball Reference the difference has been even bigger with Molina at 1.2 WAR and J.P. at 0.5 WAR.

By no means am I suggesting that we should have played Jose Molina all year, because had we played Molina more he probably would have regressed as the way he is hitting is far above his career numbers (2011 wRC+=138, Career wRC+=67). As well the hot hitting J.P. is still our catcher of the future (at least for now), while Jose Molina is just one of many stop gaps that AA has instituted. At the very least he has been a pretty good stop gap in terms of offensive and defensive numbers as well as being able to mentor J.P. and catch for the young pitchers (Drabek, Morrow, etc.).

He may be a valuable commodity to the Blue Jays right now, but currently he qualifies for Type B status and a draft pick is worth more than keeping him on board. There will be other Jose Molina type catchers in the offseason like Ramon Castro, Ivan Rodriguez, and Jason Varitek (if he would play for a team other than the Red Sox next season). With that potent backup catcher free agent class as well as Travis d'Arnaud absolutely lighting up AA pitching it would appear as if the Jays don't need to bring Molina back next season and therefore can afford to let him go for that ever so precious compensation pick. If AA can pull off a draft pick for a guy that we signed to backup John Buck then that will be yet another accomplishment to place on his resumé.

Edwin Encarnacion
If you had asked anyone knowledgeable about the Blue Jays at the end of May whether or not the Jays would exercise EE's option to bring him back next year I'm sure you would have got a resounding no. But since then Edwin has turned things around to become one of the most productive hitters in the whole league. He still may not be hitting a lot of homers, but he is hitting to a 218 wRC+ (per FanGraphs) in August which ranks him seventh in the league.

If he can continue this pace or at least continue on his July pace then he may be able to reach Type A status next year, but that is assuming that the CBA remains unchanged and it doesn't take away or change the free agent compensation system. As well it assumes that he gets some playing time at 3B to stay in the 2B/SS/3B category. If either of these things change then that could mean a lost draft pick in 2013. So then what this comes down to is whether the Jays feel like they are contending next year and that they could use his bat in the lineup everyday or whether they give themselves one more year to groom young players such as Eric Thames and Travis Snider, who would presumably be sharing the DH and LF spots for 2012. It is a big decision that could either potentially lose the Jays a draft pick or if they play well enough next year a playoff spot.

In my opinion I don't want to see Edwin back in a Jays uniform for next year. Yes, he is producing at extremely high levels and yes, he would be on an extremely team friendly contract, but this surge in production for EE is nothing new. He may not have produced at levels this high before but nonetheless Edwin Encarnacion is a very streaky player and when you delve further into the stats you see for yourself. What I found through research on FanGraphs is that in every year that Edwin has played since 2005 he has been consistently inconsistent.

When you look at Edwin's wRC+ month by month for every season in which he has played since his call up in 2005 you generally see a pattern. There is a couple months where he is above average, a couple where he is below average, a suckage month, and then a monster month. So far this year according to wRC+ Edwin has had two above average months, two below average months, and a monster month (which isn't done yet and will probably die down), therefore we would have to think that would lead us to believe that EE is going to have a suckage month in September. The only thing that is different about this year is he has gradually got better. After starting out badly the first couple months Edwin has gradually progressed and has posted a higher wRC+ every month.

Taking that in to account it may be evidence that there is improvement, but I don't buy it. There is no way that he can hold this 218 wRC+ that he currently has as he holds a BABIP at .400 which is 115 points above his career mark. What all this says is that this hot streak shouldn't be taken too much into account when the Jays decide upon his fate for next season, if Emilio Bonofacio can have a 26 game hit streak then EE can do what he has done in the month of August, but that doesn't mean it will continue forever.

Aaron Hill
Aaron Hill is definitely the most interesting of all of these free agent cases as he was the star player in 2009 and has been declining ever since, which is something that shouldn't be new to any of you. But what is interesting is that in recent Blue Jays broadcasts specifically last night's broadcast Buck and Pat were discussing how Dwayne Murphy has been working especially with Aaron Hill lately and how the Jays would like Hill to be their second baseman for the foreseeable future. Presumably because of this "extra" time working with Dwayne, Aaron Hill has been hitting better lately than before, but not to a level where he should be our starter with his 2012 salary. In the last week he has hit to a 96 wRC+ which is much better than his season mark of 67, but it is still below average and you don't purposely pay a below average player $8 million dollars.

I'm not in the Jays front office and I don't really know what they are considering for next season in terms of who is playing second base, but I can't see the Jays paying Aaron Hill $8 million to start for them. There still is the possibility that they decline Hill's options for 2012 and 2013 and then try and rework a contract for him, though if they do that then they give up any draft pick that they may get this year. Where as if they sign another second basemen to a one year deal then they can let Adeiny Hechavarria improve in the minors and then presumably take over at shortstop in 2013 with Yunel Escobar moving to second base (If you don't believe in Hech's progress then check out this Jays Journal article here). That seems like the most likely possibility, but the Jays may believe in Aaron and may want to keep giving him at bats. In my opinion I believe that he has had enough chances and that we should start moving away from the past and towards the future, which seems to be Adeiny Hechavarria.

Frank Francisco
With Frankie there isn't much to say other than what has been said. Some fans may say that we never should have traded for him in the first place pointing to the 3.0 WAR that Mike Napoli has produced for the Rangers, but Napoli never fit into our long term plans and he would have taken at-bats away from other deserving players. Regardless the Francisco for Napoli trade happened and there is no taking it back, but then the question becomes what do we do with Frank Francisco. We could offer him arbitration and have him decline it netting us a sandwich pick, but that depends on whether he would decline arbitration.

With Francisco having the bad-ish season that he is, with him making $4 million this year, and with the 2012 free agent market filled with top notch closers Francisco may want to accept arbitration or on the flip-side the Jays may not want to offer him arbitration at all. This creates a problem not only for the front office as they wouldn't get a draft pick, but it also gives the haters something to jab at Anthopolous with. This is because not only has Napoli had a good season for the Rangers on the field, but he has also produced enough to be projected as a Type A free agent for the 2013 offseason. The only way this would seem to work out for the Blue Jays is if AA and Frank Francisco have a handshake agreement for him to decline arbitration, thus netting the Jays yet another 2012 sandwich pick and then all is good in the world.

Jon Rauch
Last but not least is the guy who is currently on the 15 day DL Jon Rauch. There isn't much to say with Jon Rauch other than that he has had a bad season shown by his 1.79 HR/9 that ranks second last among qualified relievers as well as a 4.45 xFIP that ranks 16th last among qualified relievers (but still better than Kevin Gregg). Despite this he has still been able to muster up 11 saves woo hoo [sarcasm]. I along with most of you probably wouldn't care to see Rauch back next year despite his club option.

To be honest there is probably at least 5 other Rauches out there on the free agent market this offseason so then it would seem like AA won't have a hard time finding a replacement. The only problem then becomes whether Rauch would accept arbitration because he may test the market, but he may also want to keep the "guranteed" money from arbitration. Presumably AA would have to do the same thing with Rauch as he would with Francisco and that is to get the handshake agreement to solidify whether or not to offer these guys arbitration.

Final Thoughts
It would be nice to see the Jays have 7 picks in the first round (including the sandwich round) for the 2012 draft, but something is bound to change. Someone will probably accept arbitration just like Jason Frasor did last year and the Jays may just want to keep someone around for next year (Hill? Encarnacion?). Overall I am sure the Jays will find a way to work things out and they may even pull another Miguel Olivo to acquire another sandwich pick even if teams are more wary this time around. If all goes well then the Jays could be looking forward to another top farm system in 2012 and 2013 as we continue to take advantage of the free agent compensation system that may be gone in the next couple years.

Any Opinions, Arguments, Criticisms? Let me know in the comments below.

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