Friday, 6 July 2012

Nixing the Narrative: The It's Not All Cordero's Fault Edition

Photo Courtesy of Reuters Pictures via Daylife
It was a calm, cool Thursday night in Toronto. The air was crisp, but there was a odd smell of anger and frustration as Francisco Cordero strolled on over to the mound in the top of the 8th inning. At the time the score was Royals 5, Blue Jays 3.

The first batter of the inning, Mike Moustakas, singled on a ground ball up the middle. The anger tweets began. The next batter, Jeff Francouer, followed suit with a second ground ball up the middle. However this time both Yunel Escobar and Kelly Johnson got to the ball, but in what was almost a nasty collision neither player came up with it. The anger tweets multiplied.

After a few more ground balls as well as a couple line drives the anger tweets were growing at an exponential rate. The inning seemed to have dragged on too long already, but the beast that is Eric Hosmer was just stepping up to the plate. Unfortunately for Mr. Hosmer all he could muster was a ground ball to the right side of the infield, but wait...somehow he is safe at first because Cordero couldn't get to the bag in time. The anger tweets were at an all time high.

Following the game one could find many a tweet proclaiming something along the lines of DFA CORDERO. It wasn't the most subtle of approaches, but it sure got the message across. I don't intend on going all Wilner here, but at this point in the season the Cordero hate is becoming ridiculous. It isn't all his fault.

Starting with Thursday night's debacle, most people if asked would likely agree with the statement "Francisco Cordero was the reason the Blue Jays lost that game". On the surface it certainly seemed like that was the case, but a fan's reactive tendencies, especially to a player who is already in the doghouse, can cause a lack of recognition of what really went on.

For one thing in the first 4 batters of that inning Francisco Cordero induced 3 ground balls and only 1 line drive. The first ground ball was well hit right up the middle. The second ground ball was mishandled and had KJ and Escobar not both gone for the ball it could have very likely been a double play. The line drive Cordero gave up to the Salvador Perez would then only result in one man on first and the subsequent ground ball induced from Jarrod Dyson would have ended the inning. No runs scored.

In another situation where one assumes that the mishandled ball by KJ and Escobar still happens and you look strictly at the rest of the inning two of the three runs could have easily been prevented. After Hosmer hit the ground ball it is true that if Cordero were possibly hustling a bit more they may have gotten out of the inning, but there was also why Cordero wasn't at the bag sooner. On that play the Blue Jays were playing the shift and Kelly Johnson was closer to first base than usual. Because of that Edwin did not need to go after the ball and instead could have left it to KJ creating an easy out at first base, inning over. In that situation only 1 run would have scored.

Some may point out that these are all hypothetical situations and while that is true on a batted ball results level Cordero didn't actually pitch that poorly. Over the course of the 7 batters that Cordero faced he induced 4 ground balls and 1 strikeout. Of course the other 2 batters hit line drives, but a 28 LD% is also not mind-blowingly awful. Cordero was in no way outstanding on the night, but to blame everything on him expresses a lack of observation as to what actually went on.

As for the rest of the season, well it hasn't exactly been peachy. After Thursday's night's proceedings Cordero brought his shutdown to meltdown ratio to an even .500 and in case you didn't know thats not very good. Another couple tidbits from this year include that Cordero has brought his walk rate back up after dropping it in 2011, he is tied for the second worst fWAR among relievers, he has the highest home run rate of his career, and last but not least Cordero currently sports a 6.00 ERA accompanied by a 5.68 FIP and 4.65 xFIP.

At first, second, third, and maybe even fourth glance those don't look like a good set of numbers, but looking at some of the underlying stats it might tell you a slightly different story. First off the statement that many have made this year "Cordero was bit by the BABIP monster" is a statement that holds through over the season. Francisco Cordero's .376 BABIP on the year ranks as the sixth worst among qualified relievers. That number is 162 points higher than where it was last year and 78 points above Cordero's career average.

Beyond that this year Cordero sports a ridiculous 17.9% HR/FB, which again ranks near the bottom of the league, but more importantly it is over double Francisco Cordero's career average. Thus explaining where a fair amount of Cordero's home run woes have been.

Despite the evidence brought forth a few of you on Twitter wanted to argue that there is no way that Cordero could have been unlucky for 3 whole months. While that is partially true, Cordero has also only pitched 33 innings this year which means that if he were a starter that would amount to a about a month's worth of pitching, a small sample size. Inherently that is one of the many volatility problems with relievers in that they don't pitch a lot so bad luck and bad pitching can be carried along over a longer period of time without making the actual sample size significantly bigger.

With all that said it certainly hasn't been all luck, Francisco Cordero has been a bad pitcher this year. Though his velocity has remained relatively consistent with where it was last year after having dropped the two years previous he hasn't been able to harness his pitches the way he was able to last year. More specifically in the 2012 season Cordero has not been able to get players to chase and swing at pitches outside the zone. His O-Swing% this year, a measly 22.6%, ranks 5th last among qualified relievers and is roughly 6% lower than where it was last year as well as Cordero's career average.

Seeing that Cordero has been unlucky and frankly not the best of pitchers one thing I do question is why the Blue Jays continue to place him in high leverage situations. One would argue that if you are paying a player a significant amount of money to perform to a level that he has performed to in the past then the right course of action is not to DFA such a player when he is pitching poorly. At the very least you could shrink down his impact on the game while he is working things out. Pitch him in mop up duty or even as part of a long relief crew, but don't pitch him in a 5-3 ball game when the leverage is arguably the highest in the entire game.

At that point it is the manager's fault for placing Cordero in that situation. Cordero doesn't get to choose where he pitches and pitching him in close games only exacerbates the problem by bringing it front and centre to both the fans and the media.

To my detriment, you can decree a Cordero DFA all you want, but Cordero can be a better pitcher than what he is now, Anthopoulous knows that, Farrell knows that. Also if you want to DFA Cordero then who do you propose as a replacement? Scott Richmond? Shawn Hill? Joel Carreno? Chad Beck?

The other options may seem good, but there is also a reason those pitchers are in AAA. Us fans may not be able to recognize their true talent level because we haven't seen them in the majors in a significant capacity. The Blue Jays front office on the other hand has multiple people scouting their players and they are able to have a much better barometer of the players' respective talent levels.

Ultimately blame Cordero for what he has done and that is pitch poorly, but don't blame him for the plethora of factors that have contributed to the cornucopia of Cordero hate. Finally regarding specifically Thursday night's performance there is one last thing I'd like to say...
Special thanks to @SMcEwen_eh and @Mentoch on Twitter for helping to fight the good fight in calming people's reactions last night as well as providing a couple of ideas for this post. If you're not already following them then go do so right now.

Sources: Fangraphs, Baseball Reference

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

How to Go About "Going For It"

Photo Courtesy of Reuters Pictures via DayLife
On Saturday Jon Morosi had an interesting column over at Fox Sports that included a couple key quotes from Blue Jays superstar Jose Bautista.  The quote that was most notable (and most tweeted (over and over and over)) was the one in which the star player of a baseball team urges his front office to and I quote "go for it". Shocker. 

You may think this is going to be some angry blog post talking about how much I disagree with Jose Bautista, but actually for once I agree with a player's belief that the Jays should "go for it". Depending on your fandom and optimism levels you might think I'm A) A Homer or B) An Idiot, but I can assure you that I am neither.

The subset reasoning behind such a belief is that as stupid as it may sound the Jays need to appease the fan base. In most cases the blogger and sabrmetrician in me would scoff at such a statement and probably tell myself to throw away such a cockamamy idea never to be gazed upon again. However in this particular case there is a couple of things I would like to point out. 

The Blue Jays average attendance this year sits firmly at 27,285 people per game. Last year the Blue Jays average attendence going in to the 40th home game of the season was only 21,152 people per game and that number only rose to 22,446 by the end of the 2011 season. The Blue Jays attendance this year is the highest it has been since 2008.

As well not only has the attendance been better, but so too has the influence. There were a couple of stories at the beginning of the year highlighting the fact that the Blue Jays were the talk of the town and to at least my surprise that interest has seemed to have carried through thus far. People are coming down to the ballpark once again and even if the Blue Jays don't make the playoffs this year, then at the very least they should make it seem like they tried.

You see attendance to any form of ongoing entertainment is like a plant. The interest that there has been in the Blue Jays this year is like a seed and in order to grow that seed into a plant that seed must be cultured and grown. In order to continue the positive trends in attendance the Blue Jays need to win and at this point in order to win they are going to need to do something at the deadline.

One direction to take could be similar to that of the 2011 Pittsburgh Pirates who last year remained within 5 games of a playoff throughout the course of July. Seeing their position and their team the Pirates stayed away from names like Beltran, Pence, Bourn and instead settled for a couple of lower key free agents in Ryan Ludwick and Derrek Lee.

Another possibility is to do something similar to the 2008 Brewers who remained within 3 games of a playoff spot throughout July of 2008. Come deadline time they made a couple of big moves to get C.C. Sabathia and Ray Durham. Their trade deadline acquisitions along with their already potent team pushed them to their first playoff berth in 26 years.

In the Pirates case they assessed that their team was probably over performing. In response they made a couple of moves to appease the fans' interest, but didn't put the interest over the importance of retaining their top prospects. In the Brewers case they assessed that their team was playing to their potential, made the moves necessary to push them into the playoffs, then reaped the rewards of a playoff birth.

Now where do the Jays fit into all of this? Well for starters the Jays sure aren't the 2011 Pittsburgh Pirates and probably lie much much closer to the '08 Brewers on a talent level. The thing that sets the Jays apart is on an ease of a path to the playoffs level, the Jays have a lot more to overcome.

Not only do they have to overcome a 2.5 game deficit in the always tough AL East, but after what happened in June it looks like they will have to do without Hutchison and Drabek for most if not all of the season. As well they'll be without Brandon Morrow, who was pitching quite brilliantly, for a few more starts at the very least. On top of all that as we saw on Monday, Ricky Romero simply isn't Ricky Romero anymore. Or at least he hasn't been thus far and isn't really showing any signs of improvement.

That leaves the Jays with no starters that they can "trust" until Morrow comes back and that assumes that he comes back the same as he left, which probably isn't the most realistic possibility. As well Including Romero, none of the current Blue Jays starters has a career FIP below 4.00 and the staff as a whole has a 15.8 K% which ranks 4th last in the league.

On top of all that the bullpen that many praised for its depth and quality in the preseason hasn't really performed up to par. Part of that is due to the fact that "Capital C Closer" and really good relief pitcher Sergio Santos has only pitched 5 innings this year, but the fact that the Blue Jays bullpen has given up the most home runs per nine innings of any team in the league sure hasn't helped.

That is why despite my homeristic inclination to say that the Jays should go all out and trade for Zack Greinke or Cole Hamels or whoever else is available, I am reluctant because I can see the potential road blocks and risks that could very easily outweigh the slim potential for the reward of a playoff spot.

That doesn't mean that the Jays should stand pat at the deadline, instead why not go the same route that the Pirates took last year. Trade for a starting pitcher in the ilk of Jeremy Guthrie and maybe a couple bullpen pieces. Make a push for the playoffs, but don't sacrifice the future. It is easier said than done, but with Anthopoulos at the helm it can happen.

Sources: Fangraphs, Baseball Reference,, The Sports Network

Thursday, 17 May 2012

No One is Safe Anymore - The Adam Lind Story

Photo Credit: Reuters Pictures via Daylife
Over the course of his tenure in Toronto Alex Anthopoulos has quietly stressed one thing and that is that no one is safe, (almost) anyone can be traded at any time and apparently demoted too.

Last year Travis Snider a player everyone seemed to like was sent down after less than 2 months of production. Earlier this year Brett Cecil a player everyone seemed to think was destined for a rotation spot was demoted after a bad spring. Now the latest recipient of this treatment is former All-Star first baseman Adam Lind who yesterday was sent down after an absolutely horrid start to the season.

When I had originally wrote this blog post I had gone on the premise that I would absolutely condone the demotion of Adam Lind that I would get along on the band wagon and make Adam Lind my Official Blue Jays Scapegoat for the 2012 season.

I was going on the premise that Adam Lind had been terrible the entire season, which in a way he has, but before today I hadn't really taken a good look at his FanGraphs page and I may have been going on the wrong premise.

Yes, it is true that Adam Lind is hitting .186 on the season and that he has a wRC+ among the likes of Chone Figgins and Willie Bloomquist, but did you know that Lind is actually walking at a higher rate than he did in even 2009?

His weighted runs created might not look too hot, but he is walking at a career pace and maybe even getting a tad unlucky to boot. Over the course of the season thus far Adam Lind has a .209 BABIP. That number is 53 points below where it was last season, 68 points below his 2010 number, 82 points below Lind's career average, and 91 points below the league average.

Of course BABIP isn't perfect and a slower, power hitting (?) first base type like Lind generally sustains a BABIP that is lower than normal, but a .209 BABIP should easily move up and regress to the mean. Does that regression to the mean make him 2009 Adam Lind, probably not, but Lind is doing a couple things to try and make that happen. These underlying things lie in Lind's plate discipline data.

This is Adam Lind's Pitch F/X Plate Discipline Line from 2009
27.9 O-Swing% - 59.0 Z-Swing% - 43.0 Swing%
75.5% O-Contact% - 87.1 Z-Contact% - 83.2 Contact%

This is Adam Lind's Pitch F/X Plate Discipline Line from 2010 and 2011 Combined
35.1 O-Swing% - 64.5 Z-Swing% - 49.3 Swing%
67.6 O-Contact% - 84.7 Z-Contact% - 78.4 Contact%

This is Adam Lind's Pitch F/X Plate Discipline Line from 2012
27.9 O-Swing% - 57.3 Z-Swing% - 41.7 Swing%
75.6 O-Contact% - 88.0 Z-Contact% - 83.6 Contact%

Take a look at those three lines, take a really good look at them. What do you see? Well if you looked hard enough you probably saw that the 2010 and 2011 combination line is completely different from either of the other two lines oh and yeah Lind's 2012 plate discispline is eerily similar to his 2009 numbers.

Those same 2009 numbers that made Adam Lind an All-Star, a Silver Slugger, and even an MVP Vote Getter. It seems for the past two seasons Jays fans have been holding on to the glory of that magical season hoping for more production from their failing first baseman. Will this be the year that it happens?

Well let's not get too far ahead of ourselves here. Yes, it is nice that Lind is taking more pitches and swinging at less pitches outside the strike zone. It is also nice that Lind is making contact on 5% more of the pitches that he swings at, but unfortunately solely plate discipline doesn't tell the whole story.

Though Lind's plate discipline has been great and he is likely getting better pitches because of it he isn't necessarily taking advantage of these opportunities. He may be making contact on 83.6% of the pitches that he swings at, but Lind is also creating ground balls on 48.9% of the balls he is putting in play.

In comparison to 2009 that 48.9% is 6.9% higher, but then the thing about batted ball outcomes is that they aren't solely independent. Those extra ground balls that Lind has been hitting are coming out of his line drive rate and fly ball rate resulting in close to career lows in both categories.

Beyond that what has hurt Lind in the power department is his 9.7% HR/FB, a number 5.4% below Lind's career average.

So then after all this where does the verdict lie? In terms of plate discipline Lind has been right on par with his 2009 numbers, but then in the batted ball data he is far from where he was that magical year.

The Jays have purportedly cited that they sent Lind down in order for him to "gain confidence". That so called "confidence" that Lind supposedly needs will very likely come while he is off crushing balls in that bandbox park in Vegas and in that bandbox of a league that is the PCL, but it is possible that it could come at the expense of his approach?

I don't know about you, but if I was seeing pitches I knew I could just crush out of the ballpark I'd probably swing at them as apposed to waiting for better ones that may or may not come.

Its kind of okay if this "confidence" comes back to Adam Lind in Vegas, but if he takes what I predict to be a new approach in Vegas back to the MLB he could have quite a few issues. At that point I'm not sure how well his confidence will do when he is swinging at pitches way outside the zone in the unforgiving big leagues.

Then if you even factor out the possible potential loss of production from Adam Lind, how well could it possibly serve you to be starting a potential AAAA player in Yan Gomes? My well thought hypothesis says that it probably won't go over so well.

In the end you the reader must realize that I was one of the ones criticzing Lind all season. I was one of the ones clamouring for Lind to be benched, but I have realized the ere of my ways. Lind surely doesn't need to be hitting in that clean up spot that he has not been suited for in over two years, but I fail to see how having him to AAA will help anything.

And please understand one thing, I am in no way suggesting that Lind will become what he was in 2009, but with the way he has been at the plate this year, he has put himself in the very best shape to do so. You know other than the fact that he hasn't been able to hit a fly ball to save his life.

Sources: Fangraphs, Baseball Reference, Texas Leaguers

Monday, 30 April 2012

Thinking Blue: Weekly Recap - April 30th

Photo Credit: Getty Images via Daylife
Record This Week: 3-3

All is no longer right in this world. Down is up, up is down and the Orioles are at the top of the AL East. Of course I'm kidding as thus far the Jays have only played 23 games, which is only 14% of the the 162 game season.

They sure didn't build on their success from last weekend in which they swept the Kansas City Royals in a 4 game series, but in a long season every team has slumps. This week the Jays relatively poor play resulted in a finish at 4th place in the AL East, but with one hot week they could be right back at the top.

Granted that week likely won't be this upcoming week as the Jays have a 3 game series with the Rangers at home and then a grueling 4 game series in Anaheim against the Angels. However the point still holds true. The Jays are only 2 games behind the Orioles in first and a half a game behind the Yankees for the second wild card spot.

Not that it needs to be taken too much into account though, if the Jays go winless in the next week, its not something that you want to see, but so what. Over the course of a full season the true talent level of this team will shine through and I think they'll be pretty darn good. If you're patient enough to sit through an entire baseball game you should be patient enough to wait for the outcome of the 162 game MLB season. Winning is nice, but patience is key.

If you follow the Blue Jays online community on Twitter (And really why wouldn't you be), you may or may not have noticed something, the lack of #FreeSnider tweets. That partially has to do that with the fact that Snider left Thursday's AAA game after jamming his wrist while trying to catch a ball in left field, but it could also be the fact that over the past week Eric Thames has been absolutely mashing. After this week Eric Thames is now the second best hitter on the Jays according to wOBA (that's excluding Jeff Mathis and his 18 plate appearances) and also is second on the team in OBP.

Of course again this is a very small sample size, but Thames has looked good, well offensively at least. During the series against the Orioles in which the Blue Jays amassed 3 runs in 3 games, Thames seemed to be the sole bright spot. He had two home runs (one off of his glove) and led the Jays in WPA or Win Probability added during that series.

However the one thing I fail to understand in all of this is the sort of anti-Colby-esque mindset that has been put around Eric Thames. When Colby has played well there has been dozens of tweets along the lines of "where the haters at now?" or "Colby don't look so bad anymore" as statistics based Jays fans make their proclamation to those who doubted Colby last year that Colby is in fact a good player. On the flipside of things when Thames has played well it has been the statistical community who is shut up by his production.

Don't get me wrong its nice to see Thames hitting well and the Jays getting good production out of left field, but I keep the mindset that as long as Snider is fully healthy (which he isn't at the present moment) he should be the one in the majors. The reason being that for one despite being the second best hitter on the team according to wOBA, Thames still has a negative WAR. Why? Because he has been terrible defensively, which has resulted in a -5.0 UZR.

I'm not going to go into all of the many details on the matter of who should be up with the Jays and why, as I did that pretty extensively back when Snider was demoted, but I'll say one thing. That is that the Jays gave Snider a very short leash in 2011 and to be honest, despite Eric Thames' sudden offensive power surge *cough* .354 BABIP *cough*, I'd hope they do the same with Thames in 2012. When he's hitting he can stay, but when he should be on the first plane back to AAA. Viva Las Vegas.

Where Oh Where has Bautista Gone
Last year on this day Jose Bautista had 1.312 OPS, a .366 BA and he led the league in practically every offensive category. This year so far he has had a .670 OPS and a .187 BA and has been one of the Jays' worst hitters.

At first glance that looks really bad and you probably either A. Spazzed out at your computer screen or B. Shrugged it off as just small sample size. Both sides may seem like plausible reactions, but the answer lies in between.

If you look beyond just the raw offensive numbers, Bautista hasn't really been as bad as he's seemed. His walk rate is below his gaudy 2011 numbers, but also above the 2010 numbers.  That walk rate is to go along with a career best 11.6% K rate. The encouraging thing about those numbers is that walk and strikeout rates are generally statistics that normalize quickly, meaning they can be taken in to context in smaller sample sizes.

Beyond that most of Bautista's plate discipline numbers have stayed relatively the same as well, meaning he hasn't necessarily "seen the ball" any worse than he had last season. However one thing worth noting is that Bautista's O-Swing% has jumped up 5% showing that despite him making contact with roughly the same amount of pitches and getting roughly the same amount of pitches in the strike zone, Bautista has been swinging more at pitches outside the zone.

Because Bautista is swinging at more pitches outside the zone and therefore making contact with more pitches outside the zone, in some ways it explains why numbers like his slugging percentage or isolated power have been so low.

It is true that he is still making contact with pitches, but the contact isn't necessarily good contact. Rather than hitting sweet homeruns he is hitting more weak grounders to the shortstop. This is shown through Bautista's batted ball data, which includes a drop in both LD% and FB% in order to facilitate an increase in GB%. Ground balls often aren't a good thing and especially not a good thing for a player who is considered a power hitter.

Though as with all that has happened so far in this season it still is small sample size and it shouldn't be taken as the end all be all luck stat, but Jose Bautista has had a ridiculous .179 BABIP. That number being almost .100 points below his career average.

So then Bautista may not be performing to the level he did last year, but it would be very hard to expect that from him. His approach seems to have changed slightly at the plate, but he also gotten extremely unlucky. He is regressing and he is getting older, there's no way he is this bad, give it time, have patience.

Bonus: The Home Run off of Thames' Glove
Sources: Fangraphs, Baseball Reference

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Discussing John Farrell's Managerial Capabilities

Photo Credit: AP Photo via Daylife
In baseball managers seem to play a significant role in the team. The managers manage the players, they manage the game and some fans would argue that they are the glue that holds a team together.

As a member of the more forward thinking baseball community I'm well aware that the little things that we can observe form managers like lineup cards and pitching changes is a very small percentile of the job in its entirety. However because those things are all that we can see they are also all the we can criticize.

In 2011 one could argue that there was quite a bit to criticize with Blue Jays Manager John Farrell. It seemed he had trouble identifying his pitcher's strengths in the bullpen and didn't give two shits about who was where in the Jays lineup.

At the beginning of the 2011 season, Farrell continually put Octavio Dotel up against left handers, when at that point he was pitching like a ROOGY. Furthermore, countless times he put Adam Lind in the cleanup spot against left handers despite Lind being the 6th worse hitter against lefties in the past decade (according to wRC+).

As the year wore and rookies were called up from the minors things didn't exactly improve. Farrell hit Eric Thames in the 2 hole whilst he was slumping and Brett Lawrie anywhere from 5-8 whilst he was hitting like one of the best players in the league. I digress.

Though Matthew Kory's (@MattyMatty2000) poop joke algorithm has declared John Farrell's managerial decisions as poop on the scale of 1-Poop, one must remember one thing. That thing is that last year John Farrell was a Rookie manager. As any Rookie player would do, a Rookie manager also makes mistakes.

What I find more important, which is also what scouts look for in a Rookie is improvement. This year Farrell seems to have improved to levels unimaginable. For one there is not a bullpen decision of his this year that has been too out of line. For another it seems he finally realizes what Adam Lind is...a platoon player.

In response to his newfound recognition of Lind's true abilities (or lack thereof) Farrell has taken to dropping Lind in the batting order and sometimes even benching him when the Jays are facing a lefty starter.

Furthermore, what has been described as a managerial trend in this short season and something Farrell seems to have embraced are shifts. If you have watched any number of the Jays games this season you probably have witnessed these shifts.

Particularly against lefties the Jays have played two different shifts. One shift where the SS, 2B, and 1B players all stay in their regular position, but Brett Lawrie over at third has moved into shallow right field. Another shift has done the same thing except Lawrie was instead moved to a position straight up the middle.

I'm sure there have been other slight adjustments that my eyes, always distracted by watching the pristine pitching performances put on the by the Jays, have not captured. Though for the particular shifts described above, they have seemed to be relatively effective. On multiple occasions the ball has been hit directly to the shifted player resulting in an out and end to the inning.

All of these changes, all of this improvement is wonderful. Where as last year it looked like John Farrell could become the next Jim Tracy with his managerial decisions, this year he seems to be moving towards the ever eternal Joe Maddon managerial territory.

Although good managerial decisions don't necessarily add a whole lot to the success of a team, they sure don't hurt. With good managerial decisions the players are happy, the fans are happy, and newspapers have to write about something other than the bad decision the manager made last night...everybody wins.

Sources: Fangraphs

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Thinking Blue: Weekly Recap - April 23rd

Courtesy of Daylife via Reuters Pictures
After a couple of weeks of a few lucky wins, it looks like the Blue Jays are getting back in the swing of things. Edwin is hitting, KJ is hitting, Colby is hitting, and even the so called slumping Bautista is recovering from early season troubles. Furthermore after yesterday's win against the Royals the Jays sit now atop the AL East tied with the Yankees for first place.

These next couple of weeks look to be pretty crucial in establishing the standings in the early goings. Both the OriLoLes, who haven't been so LoL worthy thus far, and the Rays are only a half game back of the Jays and Yankees. Of course the Red Sox and all of their beer and chicken issues are sitting firm in last place, and despite their atrocious relief pitching and the pessimistic beliefs of Red Sox fans everywhere they are still a force to be reckoned with in the AL East.

Hutch's First Big League Start
As I'm sure most of you saw, Drew Hutchison (Yes, that's H-u-t-c-h-i-s-o-n with one N) made a start for the Blue Jays on Saturday. Yes, the Blue Jays Top 10 prospect (and Top 100 MLB Prospect if you ask Keith Law) took to the mound in a duel against Luis Mendoza. Unfortunately I wasn't able to catch his entire outing as I missed the beginning, but from what I saw he looked like he held his own.

His line on the night didn't end up being exactly what you'd like to see. He gave up 5 runs over 5 1/3 innings and two home runs. To go along with that Hutchison walked 3 batters and hit one more. On the surface that doesn't look so great for a pitcher's debut, but Hutch is only 21 and most pitchers don't produce Kyle Drabek like debuts. Besides Hutchison did end up striking out 4 over the 5 1/3 innings and got the win, if thats the sort of thing you care about (I don't).

The outing wasn't the most impressive thing in the world, but I also wasn't disappointed. Again, he's still only 21 and will be for another 4 months, he was just called up from AA and its his first start in the majors. Not to excuse the performance, but occasionally that kind of pressure can be pretty daunting. Before we make any rash decisions or evaluations on Hutch lets at least see another start of his, an opportunity I hope the Jays give him.

P.S. If you want a more In-Depth Analysis of Hutch's first start, the kind of thing I have been known to do from time to time, you can check out MjwW's FanPost over at Bluebird Banter where he excellently broke down the start using Pitch F/X numbers.

Santos to the DL
One week after coming back from the birth of his first child, Sergio Santos is on the 15 day DL for Shoulder Inflammation as reported by @SNBarryDavis. This isn't exactly the news you want to hear from your favourite team, but it doesn't project to be a huge pressing issue. If you assume Santos is as good as he was last year over the course of this season, you lose only a little more than 0.1 WAR off the season total, which in the grand scheme of things is a relatively small number.

In the meantime the Jays have thrust "Capital C Closer" Francisco Cordero into the closer role. Cordero isn't as good as Santos, but having him as your closer isn't the worst thing in the world. He has a declining skill set, which I have outlined before, but he should be fine in the role for 15 days. However, one thing I fear with Cordero is if he actually performs "well" in his little stint in the 9th inning role, there may be pressure to keep him there.

Santos hasn't been great so far this season, but it has been an extremely small sample. Nonetheless if Cordero performs well, I could easily see the fans and the media for that matter building the narrative that Cordero needs to be in that closer role citing Santos' two blown saves in this short season. Of course I don't care about blown saves, but the Toronto media, well they sure seem to.

Colby Haters Be Gone
Colby Rasmus is always going to be easy pickin's as an entity that everyone can throw their anger at. He is the inevitable scapegoat, he is athletic and graceful both on the field and at the plate and that has gotten him the J.D. Drew treatment.

Nonetheless Colby has done his very best to silence his naysayers, which seemed to be more than half of the fan base after last year's debacle. After a terrible showing last season following his transition from NL to AL, St. Louis to Toronto, and La Russa to Freedom, Rasmus definitely wasn't helping himself in the fan appreciation department.

People called him lazy, people called the trade stupid, but people say a lot of things. Well at least they did.

Nowadays with Colby having hit 3 home runs thus far with an OBP of .321 all good for a 120 wRC+, people aren't saying a lot. These "people" have seemed to have been silenced by Colby's admittedly fantastic performance both at the plate and in center field.

He is not hitting to the level that he did in 2010, his wRC+ is 9 points lower, but his defense is being rated better by the always confusing UZR. This has put him on pace for a 5.4 fWAR season. That pace likely won't continue, but there is a chance that it very well could. Rasmus has the potential for that type of season, it will be interesting to see if he has that in him.

He's hitting that triple, double, single, that smooth home run, he is fire burning in the outfield and quickly sliding his way right back into Toronto fan's hearts...for the time being. #Colby2012


Side Note: Does anyone else see the resemblance?
Courtesy of Daylife via AP Photo and Getty Images
Sources: Fangraphs, Baseball Reference

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Drabek Watch: Overanalyzing His First Start

WARNING: Everything in this blog post must be taken in to context as it will be discussing the smallest of sample sizes, therefore any over or under-excitement that may be experienced through reading this blog post is not the fault of the writer, you were warned.

If you didn't already know from my overenthusiastic assessment of Drabek in the Projecting Performance series or the plea I made for him to become relevant among Jays discussion in February, I'm a pretty big Kyle Drabek fan. As such I was sure to attend his first start of the season last night and to say the least I had mixed feelings.

As a fan and observer, it seemed to me like he was keeping his composure better than he had last year, not reacting when things didn't go quite as planned and generally having a better presence on the mound. By this I mean he seemed like he kept a more consistent delivery, keeping on line with the plate, and not getting out of his mechanics when he gave up hits or runs.

As well from a very very amateur scouting standpoint (if you can even call it that), in terms of his actual pitches, they "looked" a lot better than last year. The key in that previous sentence being the vision aspect as any fan can attest to, when you're at the game you tend to get a little googly eyed and fandom can get in the way of your objectivity. This ultimately brought me to do the little bit of extra research after the game.

The reason I questioned my initial feelings about the game is though Drabek "looked good", from a stats point of view it didn't seem like there was too much change. After his first start Drabek has put himself at much improved 1.69 ERA and 2.86 FIP, but his 4.49 xFIP was more remeniscent of the 2011 season. It is true however, that number is influenced by his apparent luck as evidenced by the .200 BABIP and 83.3% strand rate, which in small sample sizes can be very iffy. Moreover when getting to the raw statistics, Drabek still walked 3 batters in his 5.2 innings of work and only struck out 4. Astonishingly to some that strikeout to walk rate is higher than last season, but it could not have gotten any worse and there is not nearly enough change to be evidence of any true change.

Furthermore despite the apparent change in mechanics and pitch choice that the Jays had done with Drabek in Spring Training and over the offseason, Drabek's Pitch F/X information showed mixed results. On Monday's Baseball Today Podcast Keith Law mentioned that in Spring Training the Jays had Drabek throwing more two seamers and cutters rather than four seamers, because Drabek was lacking movement on the four seamers in 2011.

However as per Texas Leaguers Drabek actually threw 47.3% four seamers in Tuesday's game, where as he only threw 34.8% four seamers last year. Beyond that the percentage of two seamers thrown was relatively similar and it seemed like Drabek threw quite a bit more curveballs and far less cutters. Of course this could always be an issue with pitch mislabeling and pitch choice would depend on the type of situation that Drabek is in so there is quite a bit of room for error per say.

Last, but not least one last "analysis" if you will would be of the pitch F/X variety. Last year if you looked at some of Drabek's pitch locations and release points (both graphs directly below) you can see that they a little bit scrambled. The pitches Drabek threw were very wild and his release point greatly varied not only form start to start, but from pitch to pitch.
Drabek's 2011 Release Points
Drabek's 2011 Pitch Locations
Then if you look at the pitch location and release point graphs for Drabek's start on Tuesday, they are much more condensed. The release points all look much more consistent than they were in 2011 and his pitches appear to be much less "wild" and more of where he would want to put them. The changes in the Pitch F/X results could be attributed to the mechanical changes that the Jays apparently did in Spring Training and are similar to those described by Keith law.
Drabek's 2012 Release Points
Drabek's 2012 Pitch Locations
In summary Drabek's first start looked pretty good through the simple stats and in person. Some of the luck stats suggested that his performance was helped by the luck gods and some of peripheral stats suggest he may not have been as good as advertised. However in terms of mechanical change rather than production, it appears he may be a bit of a changed pitcher. He is hitting his spots and getting a consistent release point, which could very easily result in better peripherals and game results than he had in 2011.

Though remember this is one game we're talking about here. In one game a terrible hitter like Jeff Mathis can hit 1.000 and a terrible pitcher like Armando Gallaraga can pitch a perfect game. Despite that, how Drabek produced in his first start of the season is intriguing to say the least and definitely pushes towards my hopes and predictions that he will be what we thought he would be when he was the Jays No. 1 Prospect only a year ago.

Sources: Fangraphs, Baseball Reference, Texas Leaguers, ESPN

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Projecting Performance: Infield

Projecting Performance is a series outlining each position of the Blue Jays roster with my thoughts on who should play the position and how well I expect them to perform for the 2012 season. The Starting Rotation and Outfield pieces are already posted.

Going in to 2011 the Blue Jays infield had more questions than Encarnacion has errors at third base. Would Lind and Hill return to 2009 form? Would Yunel Escobar build on a strong finish to the 2010 season? Would Arencibia improve on his abysmal call up performance? Would Encarnacion be able to play third base? Over the course of the season we found answers to those questions and things worked themselves out as they usually do. This year there may be even more questions with a couple of higher upside players in Kelly Johnson and Brett Lawrie added to the infield later in the year. However rather than questions on if players could be feasible, this year we seem to be asking how much better could they get.

Adam Lind
At this point I have lost all hope in Adam Lind. Some still seem to think that he could return to 2009 form many citing his .508 wOBA in the 2 months after he returned from injury. For one thing that was in a 123 PA sample and for another producing that well is great, but not when the other four months he produced a sub .300 wOBA to go along with his sub .300 OBP. As well when you consider that during Lind's stretch of extreme relevance he was facing 7% less lefties than the rest of the season you could see why he had a bit of a boost.

The problem I then have with the people who talk about Lind's two monster months are that they are also generally the same people that say Lind performed poorly late in the year because of his injury. What it really seems like is some people just can't let go of Lind's rather impressive 3.7 fWAR season in 2009 and who could blame them. Adam Lind was a great player, but there is a large emphasis on the 'was' there. As time goes on that great 2009 season more and more becomes the very definition of a 'career year'.

Of course I outlined this before, but in short in 2009 Lind simply saw the ball better. This isn't simply a factor of being hot though, in 2009 Lind had an O-Swing% almost 10% better than any other year of his career. He was seeing the ball better, but for whatever reason that really hasn't translated in to any other year of Lind's career and at this point I doubt it ever will.

The Verdict:
Lind isn't a great player, but he's not the worst first baseman in the league (He's close).  Despite the putrid results in 2011, I'd expect some improvement in 2012. He may not be one of the best hitters in baseball for a month again, but I'd guess that the production evens outs a little and he becomes at the very least an above average hitter in 2012. Unfortunately being a slightly above average hitter at first base simply won't cut it and the Jays could seriously find themselves pining for Votto come November. In the end of it all, it couldn't get any worse, could it?

WAR Prediction: 1.2

Kelly Johnson
Kelly Johnson didn't have a great 2011, but I'm definitely less worried about him than some of the others. Sure he did hit almost as terribly as Hill has the past couple years, but he's only one year removed from a 5.9 fWAR season. As well unlike Lind who did have a good season, Kelly has had a couple other respectable season with 2.7 fWAR in 2008 and 3.6 fWAR in 2007.

Furthermore it wasn't as if Kelly was Jeff Mathis with the stick last season. Despite hitting .222 last year Kelly Johnson still had a OBP higher than Adam Lind as well as a 2.2 fWAR. Meaning that even if he produced exactly the same as he did last year he would still be more than two times better than former second baseman Aaron Hill was.

The bonus on top of that if one would expect him to perform better. The course of his career has been a plethora of up and down seasons. He was bad last year so one would expect him to be better this year. Well that and he has shown that he has the skills to be a very good player.

The Verdict:
KJ wasn't great in 2011, but he was better than Aaron Hill and was more than just a serviceable second baseman. Beyond that he has history of success including his 5.9 fWAR season from 2010. Because of this one would expect a bounce back year from Kelly, maybe not to the tune of his 2010 season, but he could surely outperform what he did last year as well as what he did in 2008 and 2009.

WAR Prediction: 3.5

Yunel Escobar
Last year Yunel was the very proof that Anthopoulos' plan can work. He was unwanted in Atlanta because of supposed personal issues with Bobby Cox, but that didn't bother AA. He saw the potential and it payed off last year. Going forward Yunel would appear to continue to put out similar production. Prior to his iffy 2010 he was more than just a serviceable shortstop. Two other times he had an fWAR above 3.5 and in 2009 he had a better season than he did in 2011.

That right there is what sets Yunel apart from some of Toronto's other high potential players. Unlike the Sniders and Rasmusi (Yes that is the plural of Rasmus) of this world Yunel has a history of well sustained success. It wouldn't be crazy at all to assume at least another 4.0 WAR season out of Yunel with the possibility for more. He is aging and will be getting closer to the back end of his prime this year at age 29, but the tools he has generally aren't the ones that are conducive to the immediate effects of aging.

For example Yunel isn't much of a speedster, but rather a high hit tool, high walk kind of guy. That should do well to keep his offensive numbers up for longer than the average shortstop's prime. As well on the defensive side of things, a lot of Yunel's defensive value is gained from his throwing arm rather than his raw defensive techniques.

Although the fact that his arm is less conducive to aging could matter quite a bit less come 2013. At that time Cuban defensive wizard Adeiny Hechavarria could be pushing to make the big league roster, that is assuming he can hit and that assumption is no small load. If called up Adeiny could be the best defensive shortstop in the major leagues, but if his minor league numbers are any indication he could have a sub Adam Dunn batting average. In the end I'm going to bet the hitting will be his kryptonite and the reason why Yunel won't have to worry about anyone taking shortstop from him, for this year at least.

The Verdict
Outside of the first half of the 2010 season, Yunel Escobar has consistently been an above average to well above average shortstop and I don't expect much to change going forward. He's still going to hit for a high average, with some power, and some speed. He is most certainly not the prototypical shortstop, but his defense is slightly above average and he gets the job done. In the end thats all that really matters.

WAR Prediction: 4.0

Brett Lawrie
To Blue Jays fans, Brett Lawrie is more than just a player, he is an icon, a Canadian god, and the man who could take their team to the playoffs. From the excitement around him it would seem as if he is some sort of Tebow North, except he is definitely not as kosher as his equivalent to the south. Besides that Lawrie is good, but assuredly not as good as he was last season.

If Lawrie were to somehow become a Canadian god it may be possible that he would put up a 9.5 WAR season, which is his 2.7 fWAR season in 2011 prorated over 600 plate appearances, unfortunately for us he is not. However he is still very, very good. Keith Law ranked him at No. 10 on his Top 50 Players Under Age 25 list and John Sickels had him at No. 2 on his Favourite Players, 25 and Under list. In his write up Sickels said, "The only thing I'm concerned about here is a possible tendency towards nagging injuries," but also praised Lawrie's all around game.

Lawrie can run, he can throw, he can hit, he can hit for power, and as Sickels notes, "[he has] a glove that is underrated at the minimum." Lawrie has the tools, the question is just going to be whether he can turn those tools into fruition and then be able to stay on the field to sustain that production.

We saw what he can do in 171 plate appearances, but that is a still an eerily small sample size and nothing that should have fans realistically projecting him as an MVP candidate. ZiPS was pretty high on him, projecting a .275 average, 27 homers, 24 SBs, and a 119 OPS+. Beyond that they in the comps section his No. 1 comp was Chipper Jones and No. 2 was Adrian Beltre, which is definitely not too shabby in the projection category. As for me I think Lawrie is great, but he is really difficult to project. He could be on the Ryan Braun path or he could fall flat on his face. He did well according to both the numbers and scouts, which is encouraging, but it could take some time for him to reach superstar status.

WAR Prediction: 4.2

J.P. Arencibia 
J.P. is a lot of things, the holder of the franchise record for most home runs by a catcher in a rookie season, the creator of the Tim Kurkjian impersonations trend, a lady killer among female Blue Jays fans, and the not so proud owner .282 OBP. He was fine in 2011, he was a bad hitter, a bad defender, and he had some pop and there was nothing wrong with that the Jays had no other options. On the other hand going forward things could be much different. 

Blue Jays No. 1 prospect Travis d'Arnaud is inching ever so closely to the majors and being that he is playing in the hitter friendly PCL, he could be looking for a call up very soon. Once up it could be very hard to send him down, he is a better hitter than J.P, he has better defensive skills, and he could even hit more home runs. Granted J.P. has the major league experience, but Travis is a force to be reckoned with and will surely let make the Jays the owners of a nice problem to have.

The Verdict:.P. Arencibia isn't a terrible player, but he isn't as good as his 87 RBIs make him out to be. He could easily improve both his home run totals and OBP in 2012, but with his current skill set it is unlikely he ever becomes a star. However the Blue jays are still only paying Arencibia the league minimum salary to be a full time starting catcher, which isn't a half bad deal. JP is what he is and I don't see his skill set improving a whole lot, but that's not to say that he can't be a solid starting catcher.

WAR Prediction: 1.8

Sources: Fangraphs, Baseball Reference

Sunday, 25 March 2012

How Not to Fulfill the Prophecy

Snider sliding his way to Vegas
Photo courtesy of Daylife via AP Photo
I like Alex Anthopoulos, I think he's a great mind and has done great things to turn this club around from where it was going three years ago. Throughout his process his often stated prophecy has been to have 'All-Stars at every position' and that is a concept that I'm sure everyone can agree with.

He has made great efforts to fulfill said goal by acquiring players like Yunel Escobar, Brett Lawrire, and Colby Rasmus some of which have already become what was expected of them. However in recent execution of the same goal Anthopoulos and the Jays decided to demote Travis Snider to AAA, presumably in favour of Eric Thames in LF thereby hindering Anthopoulos' great vision.

I agree with most of what Anthopoulos has done and I'm guessing that I will continue to do so with his moves in the future. However the one thing I'll never understand is his constant misuse of Snider's presumed abilities. Last year I didn't agree with Snider's demotion, but I gave Anthopoulos the benefit of a doubt when he said that Snider needed to 'work on his swing'. This time around again, I disagree with the Jays' handling of Travis, but at this point I really don't understand what could possibly be gained from playing Thames rather than Snider.

As I previously mentioned Anthopoulos has said that he wants an All-Star at every position and I fail to see how Thames gives them that chance. In his 3 years in the Blue Jays minor leagues he was never put on any Blue Jays Top 10 list be it from Baseball America, Keith Law, or Kevin Goldstein, whereas Snider was atop each and every list a multitude of times.

In his 2011 Blue Jays Top 11 prospects Kevin Goldstein said, "As of now this spot (No. 12) could be low, because [Eric Thames] could be a solid everyday, corner outfielder." This same sentiment seems to be similar to that of many other prospect mavens, but I fail to see how in that sentence or any other evaluation of Eric Thames it expresses that he could be an All-Star. He was never in Baseball America's Top 100 Prospects and he broke in to the majors at 24, older than the average All-Star would have. Furthermore even when Thames did break into the majors he didn't show any indication that he had future All-Star potential.

As evidenced by his wRC+, Thames was 8% better than the average MLB hitter, but with terribly below average defense. This resulted in a good, but not All-Star potential-esque 0.9 fWAR. If you take that number and pro rate it over 600 plate appearances it would still only be 1.4 WAR. From there if you really believe Thames could be that much better, you could raise the production by 50% and get to a 2.1 WAR. That looks awfully small when you contrast that with the approximate 4.0+ WAR that it takes to be an All-Star.

To obtain that level of excellence Thames would have to perform 185% better than he did in 2011 over 600 plate appearances. Meaning that if you assume that his fielding and baserunning doesn't change he would have to hit as good as Curtis Granderson did last year to be an All-Star. Then even if you want to assume that Thames becomes average defensively in LF he would have to hit as good as Carlos Gonzalez did last year.

Snider, being the above average defender would still have to hit to a similar level, but the underlying point is that Snider has the potential to do so. Scouts have seen it in him, they saw it coming out of the draft, they saw it in his rookie season, and they even saw it last year.

Snider was the frickin' 6th best prospect in baseball at one point, Thames has been criticized every step of the way. Thames performed well last year when called up at age 24, but Snider performed similarly in past years at a younger age.

Do you think that if given the chance the White Sox would send Adam Dunn down to AAA because he 'didn't perform well enough' in 2011. No they would and will continue to play him, not only because he is owed a lot of money, but he has shown that he is a good ball player and just had a bad year. Travis may not be as distinguished a ball player as Dunn, but he did hit to around a league average level in his time in the majors with the potential for much more.

Thames may give the Jays a better chance at the playoffs in 2012, but Snider gives them a chance at that 'All-Stars at every position dream' as well as a shot at a World Series. I don't know about you, but I'm a patient fan and if winning a World Series or even a playoff series for that matter means waiting, I will. I'd rather that than watch the Jays go all in on one playoff run.

Anthopoulos has always said that his goal is create dynasty not a playoff team, which is why I really don't understand this move. Snider has shown what he can do in AAA, but hasn't been given the chance to do the same in the majors (Thanks Cito!). AA wants a team that can win and win for a while and I fail to see how playing Thames over Snider in a rebuilding year gives the Jays the best chance to do that. Thames has shown us just about the peak of his production, Snider still has room to grow.

Of course Snider could still turn in to that bust player, but at the very least give him the chance to fail just as many have been given before him. It would be terrible to see Snider leave and be the player he could always be for another team, now is the time to make the right choice #FreeSnider.

Sources: Fangraphs, Baseball Reference, Baseball America , Baseball Prospectus, ESPN

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Projecting Performance: Outfield

Photos Courtesy of DayLIfe via Reuters Pictures and AP Photo
Projecting Performance is a series outlining each position of the Blue Jays roster with my thoughts on who should play the position and how well I expect them to perform for the 2012 season. The Starting Rotation piece is already posted and the Infield post will come in subsequent weeks. 

In 2011 the Blue Jays had quite a few different players patrolling the outfield, some individuals worse than others *cough* Corey Patterson *cough*, but in the end it ended up being okay. To start the year they may have had Rajai Davis pencilled in as a starter, and they may have given a 31 year old Corey Patterson 341 plate appearances (Yes, that many), but as the year wore on things became somewhat clearer.

For one there is really no chance that Bautista ever goes back to 3B with Brett Lawrie now patrolling the hot corner and there's little to no chance that Rajai Davis is the starting CF for the Blue Jays as they now have their center fielder for the time being in Colby Rasmus. It may not be the strongest outfield having major questions with Colby Rasmus' bat as well as with who will take hold of the starting LF spot, but there's no question that it is an outfield with upside.

Jose Bautista
You would think starting the post off with the current Blue Jays superstar would be easy, wouldn't you? I mean how much could there be to talk about with a guy who has hit 18 more home runs than anyone else in the MLB over the past two years and has the league lead in fWAR over that same time period. The answer could be quite a bit actually.

Last year the questions about Bautista revolved around whether he could sustain the production he had in his 2010 season after having been a bench player the whole rest of his career. This year a question that doesn't seem to be getting any publicity is how long can Jose Bautista sustain his current production.

Sure his tools are not too conducive to the affects of aging, but he is beginning to get past his prime. He may not fall off a cliff ala Cecil Fielder, but he should at least be regressing away from the 8.3 fWAR in 2011, shouldn't he? There may not be any true statistical evidence that suggests he would be worse in 2012 than he was in 2011, but it is likely that his fielding will get worse as he ages as well as his speed, which will likely gradually effect Bautista's game.

Of course I'm mostly playing devil's advocate here because with Bautista there really isn't too much question. He was questioned in 2010 and he proved to be better in 2011.

The Verdict:
Jose Bautista has been gift from the heavens for the Blue Jays. Without him the Jays likely wouldn't have the Thames/Snider LF problem, but playoff hopes would also be a distant memory. With that said Bautista is a great player, one of the best in the game right now, but he is beginning to age past his prime and his best years should thoretically be behind him. I say theoretically because really who knows with Bautista. No one predicted he would lead the league in home runs in 2010 and no one predicted he would actually be better in 2011. With that said I expect some regression back to his 2010 production, but nonetheless he is still very good.

WAR Prediction: 6.8

Colby Rasmus
Last year Colby had a lot of issues. With coaching, with hitting, with adjusting. Because of these perceived issues and the fact that Rasmus had an almost sub .200 OBP (among other things) in his time with the Jays has some of the common fans shunning him and his supposed "lackadaisical" attitude. On the other hand as evidenced by the poll on this site, many of you think Rasmus will in a sense return to form in 2012. I tend to think the same.

As is with many of the Blue Jays players he has the talent, just didn't have the production, well in 2011 at least. However in 2010 he put up the 3rd highest wOBA among center fielders and hit 23 home runs all at the ripe ole age of 24. Over at Getting Blanked Dustin Parkes did point out a couple flaws in Rasmus' game, but they seemed to be mainly mechanical and nothing that couldn't be too hard to fix. Especially if you believe that his dad was creating problems in St. Louis, because Colby did recently state that he was trying to have less of his dad's influence in the training process.

The problem then with Colby Rasmus would seem to be that there is still a relatively large chance that he doesn't live up to expectations. In some sense he is unlike Snider because he has somewhat of a track record of success, but in the entire scheme of things they really aren't that different. Snider hasn't hit in the majors and therefore has a lot to prove, but he has a long track record of success at pretty much every level of the minors. Colby has hit in the majors, but it was two years ago and last year he had the 2nd worst wOBA among center fielders in the MLB meaning he is also going to have a lot to prove in 2012.

The Verdict:
Yes, Colby Rasmus has talent and yes he has transformed talent in to production in the big leagues. As I said before Parkes pointed out a few key flaws in Rasmus' swing, even if he has the talent it doen't mean it will necesarily translate into production until his swing, among other things, is fixed. As well in terms of obtaining a higher WAR it is dependent on his defensive stats. He more than passes the eye test, but the advanced defensive metrics, which can be unreliable, don't seem to like him too much. Despite all that, like you readers, Colby is one player who I'm fairly confident of in 2012.

WAR Prediction: 3.1

Travis Snider
Of all the high upside players the Blue Jays have on their current roster, Snider could be the cream of the crop. He's a former No. 6 overall prospect as according to Baseball America and a guy who Dan Szymborski lists in his "Finding the Next Bautista" article (Insider Req'd). Like many Jays, he has the talent, now its time for the production.

People often talk about how he hasn't produced in the majors, but when you look at it he really hasn't been given the chance. Whether it was being benched by Gaston or being demoted to AAA, both situations have prevented Snider from ever being given more than 320 plate appearances in a single season. On the flipside of things, Snider has been given what seems to be a substantial No. of plate appearances with a total of 877 over the past four years. Though as I expressed in my Snider post about a month ago, when you compare the playing time Snider was given to that of other former top outfield prospects you find that Snider was given the third least number of plate appearances in the first three years of the player's career of any top 20 outfield prospects in the past decade.

That right there is why, in my opinion, Snider needs to be given the piece of mind that he has the LF job. The real time to do that was last year when the Jays were farther away from contention and when the alternative was a 31 year old Corey Patterson. Now the Jays obviously have another young outfielder in Eric Thames, but if you ask just about any talent evaluator they will tell you Snider has the upside. He may not be better in 2011, but the upside is undeniable.

The Verdict:
On seemingly every chance he has, Anthopoulos continually states that he is trying to build sustainable success. The key to sustainable success and something Anthopoulos himself has mentioned is having All-Stars at every position. To create the most likely chance of that happening, one player needs to be playing, that player is Travis Snider. It seems so cliché to say, but really what Snider needs the most is playing time. He has shown he can hit in the minors, but really hasn't been given a shot in the majors. Given playing time I'd expect Snider to produce better than his 2010 season, but not at an All-Star level, just yet. All this is exactly why I hope for Snider to be the Opening Day left fielder, unfortunately I don't see it happening in 2012, which is the reasoning for my lower WAR prediction. 

WAR Prediction: 1.0

Eric Thames
Thus far through Spring Training it has seemed that publicly the Blue Jays favour Eric Thames, with Anthopoulos having said that "Eric [was] the frontrunner going in" and on multiple occasions having referenced what Thames did in 2011 as reason for him starting in 2012. At times I really don't understand this infatuation with Eric Thames. Maybe it's the fact that Farrell decided to hit in him in the No. 2 spot last year or just because he looked like a young Juan Rivera in left field, but I don't really like what Thames has to offer.

He was a slightly above league average hitter in 2/3 of a season in 2011, but he was also god awful defender in left field, which resulted in a 0.9 fWAR. Seemingly the only advantage he has over Snider is that he has performed better in his major league time, but even that isn't entirely true. In less playing time in 2010 Travis Snider actually outdid Thames' 2011 season and at the ripe age of 22 as well.

Beyond that on TSN Radio, Keith Law noted that, "Thames is a mistake hitter," and in a ESPN Chat he stated that, "Thames has a part-timer ceiling." For these reasons and many more it really seems to me that 2011 could be the highest level that he ever performs at. I know he supposedly has some revamped approach and he was the hype of the Blue Jays blogosphere when this picture was released, but for whatever reason I don't buy it. Assuming that he doesn't progress much in 2012, he really isn't the type of player that take you to the playoffs in the AL East.

The Verdict:
Thames was not some fantastic hitter in 2011 and I don't buy it that he will somehow blossom in 2012. Nonetheless it seems to my dismay that the Jays will give him the starting LF spot. I don't think it's the right decision and I'd bet they will regret it down the road when prospects are graduating and there is no more time for the former top prospect, Travis Snider, to try to become what scouts predicted four years ago. In spite of that I don't expect Thames to be terrible and I'll guess he goes back to roughly the same production as in 201, only pro-rated over 600 PA.

WAR Prediction: 1.4

Look for Part 3 of Projecting Performance, which will be on the Blue Jays Infield, the post will likely come out sometime later this week. 

PS: I know I've been on a bit of a hiatus in the past couple of weeks, but I have quite a few article ideas before the season starts so you can expect those pretty soon.

Sources: Fangraphs, Baseball Reference, ESPN, TSN