Well we’ve reached the point in the off-season where, despite their being 90 players still out there as free agents, things are so slow that even news about the Blue Jays signing RHP Lucas Harrell to a minor league contract was the ‘big story’. So when you have an opportunity to write something all basebally you have to seize the moment, right? Imagine my smile then, when Russell Carleton drops this gem into the Twitter-verse:
Pick one franchise. One guy from each of the last 25 years. No repeated players. Must form a coherent 25-man. Don't cheat on positions. Go.
— Russell A. Carleton (@pizzacutter4) January 27, 2017
My methodology was pretty basic. I used Baseball Reference and consulted the Franchise Encyclopedia for the statistical leaders list first. I created a “pencil” list of obvious choices and ticked off the years those accounted for, then I surveyed the best choice from the other years and tried to connect them to the still open positions. After that, I looked for opportunities to refine the list. For example, the initial bullpen didn’t have a dominant closer, so I traded off Robbie Alomar’s best season as a Blue Jays (1992) for a lesser year so that I could add Duane Ward. What I ended up with was a team total of 124.3 BWAR. My first instinct was to tell you how that would compare to a typical championship team but the comparison is unfair, because there are full time players on the bench with a fantasy team like this so the plate appearances are skewed very high, plus, there are no shuttle riders like Junior Lake dragging things down with empty at-bats.
To be fair, there are many possible variations of this sort of project, two of my colleagues here at BPT tweeted out attempts of their own (and I cribbed at least one idea from one of them!) but here is my humble offering:
C – Greg Zaun, 2005 – 3.5 WAR
I had a burning desire to take Russ Martin’s 2015, but I was unwilling to give up the MVP season at 3B. Happily, it turns out Zaun actually edges out Martin who posted a 3.3 WAR in 2015.
1B – John Olerud, 1993 – 7.7 WAR
First base is, of course, the position at which the team has a wealth of options. Olerud’s best year, however, was then and still remains the best single season WAR performance of any 1B the team has ever employed. Until 2011, the best in franchise history regardless of offensive position.
2B – Roberto Alomar, 1994 – 2.2 WAR
Yes, Robbie gave three times as much value in 1992 as he did in ’94, that year was otherwise a real pain to to work with. In 1994 only Paul Molitor represented any kind of temptation, and as I mentioned above, it gets Ward into the bullpen.
It also helps to remember here that Alomar played the equivilant of 2/3 of a season in the strike year, so WAR is not as kind to him as the other players on this team. In 1991 his OPS was lower and his defense graded out similarly. His value in that full season was 4.5 WAR, which is probably the range to which you could extrapolate his 1994 season to.
SS – Marco Scutaro, 2009 – 5.3 WAR
Going in, I would never have guessed that this would be the choice here, but let’s be honest, between Tony Fernandez and the arrival of Jose Reyes, there’s a lot HORRENDOUS offensive performances from the shortstop position. However, we have to give Scutaro credit, 5+ WAR from SS will play in any league.
3B – Josh Donaldson, 2015 – 8.8 WAR
There really wasn’t any practical way to ignore the best offensive season in team history, right?
LF – Shawn Green, 1999 – 6.4 WAR
Russel does says, “don’t cheat on positions,” but flipping Shawn Green to the other corner of the OF will have to do. It’s not as if we’ve put Delgado out there, even though Carlos did in fact get a few appearances in left. Cheating would have been putting Green in CF, where he did get a handful of starts.
CF – Vernon Wells, 2003 – 4.5 WAR
As was the case with Roberto Alomar, by choosing 2003 we aren’t getting Vernon’s best year; that would be 2006. Still, it’s his best offensive year (5.8 oWAR) and one in which he led the AL in PA, hits, doubles, and total bases.
RF – Jose Bautista, 2011 – 8.1 WAR
Like Donaldson’s year mentioned above, this is one of those seasons you lock in and work the rest of your team around it. Jose posted a 1.056 OPS that year (one of three 1.000+ OPS in the starting lineup here).
DH – Carlos Delgado, 2000 – 7.3 WAR
Delgado’s monster year is the centerpiece of this offense and the best ever posted by a Blue Jay (in my opinion). It was marred only by his substandard defense at 1B, meaning that Olerud gets that assignment.
John Buck, 2010 – 1.8 WAR
Buck’s defence knocks his value down a bit here, but he’s the only practical choice for 2010 when you strike the guys you used elsewhere.
Edwin Encarnacion, 2012 – 5.0 WAR
As noted, there’s no shortage of great choices in the 1B/DH category. Edwin’s overall value suffers a bit from poor defense (even though he only played 68 games at 1B that year), but five wins is more than enough out of our bench hitter.
Jose Reyes, 2014 – 3.2 WAR
Say what you will about the declining glove, but a reserve player with Reyes’ speed is quite the asset.
Alex Rios, 2007 – 5.6 WAR
Sentimentally you might have taken lovable Matt Stairs for 2007, but a lot of Stairs’ PA came at DH leading to Rios accumulating a much higher WAR and, of course, your reserve OF needs to be capable of backing up all three positions. You also pick up some speed here, Rios stole 17 bases in 2007.
Frank Menechino, 2004 – 1.4 WAR
Cue the younger fans saying “Who?” Menechino is the one true bench player on this team. If you look at the roster for 2004, ranked by WAR, Orlando Hudson is the obvious choice, but like Kevin Pillar on the current squad, draws a lot of value from his defense. Rather than prioritize defense of the bench for this team, I gave in to the seduction of offense. Looking at the old school stats, Menechino’s OPS in 276 PA was .904 and that’s a very nice for a pinch hitter.
Roger Clemens, 1997 – 11.9 WAR
Roger’s 1997 was the most valuable season in franchise history. He may have been a jerk, but he was OUR jerk (until the Jays basically gave him away). Clemens pitched to a 2.05 ERA over 264 IP and struck out almost 300. Dominance at it’s finest.
Pat Hentgen, 1996 – 8.5 WAR
People maybe don’t remember just how good Hentgen was. The fact that he got to 265 IP and had 10 complete games is also a boon to his value.
Roy Halladay, 2002 – 7.4 WAR
Halladay had a higher WAR in 2003 (owing to his league leading 266 IP), but had a slightly better ERA in 2002 and this is the year where he fit best under the stipulations of this challenge.
David Cone, 1995 – 4.4 WAR
Here’s another one of those years when it helps to do some mental adjusting. He only made 17 starts before being traded to the (siiiigh) Yankees. Combined on the whole season he accumulated a WAR of 7.0 and that’s the pitcher I’m getting here.
Aaron Sanchez, 2016 – 4.8 WAR
This might smell a bit like favoritism but walk with me here. If you eliminate the years that falls outside this exercise, the years already listed, and the years which overlap other indispensable years (notably Rickey Romero’s 6.3 in 2011 and Juan Guzman’s 6.8 in 1996) this ends up being the next best available season by a SP.
B.J. Ryan, 2006 – 3.5 WAR
He gets a lot of flack because of his contract, but this was an insanely good season, and worth a higher WAR than any other bullpen season during the time period in question (only Mark Eichhorn’s crazy 1986 is higher). For this reason I passed on Vernon Wells’ higher WAR season, as was mentioned above.
Duane Ward, 1992 – 3.1 WAR
A legendary season among older Jays fans. Not only did Duane Ward have a sub-2 ERA, but that was over 100 IP out of the bullpen. Between he and B.J., these two form a left/right tandem as good as any you could name.
Paul Quantrill, 1998 – 2.8 WAR
Quantrill is our token Canadian and also the only sensible choice for the ’98 team after eliminating everyone else.
Scott Downs, 2008 – 2.8 WAR
A decade later we add another guy with a super-low ERA (1.78) who matched Quantrill’s value and was the obvious choice for similar reasons in the context of this challenge.
Kelvim Escobar, 2001 – 2.9 WAR
Kelvim’s total is boosted here because he made 11 starts, which also makes him an ideal choice for a squad like this where you want a long man to pick up multiple innings and be available to spot start.
Casey Janssen, 2013 – 1.4 WAR
In a year without any stand-out performances, and our team being in need of one more reliever, Janssen was a choice that made sense. Closing experience and a near 4:1 ratio of strikeouts to walks is nothing to sneeze at.
Have a better version of the Blue Jays 25 year challenge? Post it in the comments! It’s always fun to compare the results.
Now…back to overthinking J.P. Howell and the rest of your regularly scheduled January content.
Lead Photo: © Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
2 comments on “The Blue Jays 25-Year, 25-Man Roster Challenge”
I’m curious why you say the team still needed Ward as its dominant closer. Would he even be the closer at all or rather the set-up man for Ryan?
Six man ‘pen… interesting. Easiest thing to do for a 7th man would be to drop Menechino and replace him with a 26-year-old Jason Frasor (0.9 WAR in 2004).
My preferred solution would be to drop Menechino and Aaron Sanchez, replacing them with Ted Lilly (4.8 WAR in 2004) and Roberto Osuna (2.0 in 2016) if you do, in fact, want 7 guys in the bullpen. That’s just tinkering with your model though, I feel like I need to try this exercise on my own now.