With spring training just around the corner and the bullpen finally taking form we’re starting to get a real sense of how the 2017 Toronto Blue Jays will look come Opening Day. Part of the fun of the offseason’s final days is looking through the myriad projections that find their way onto our screens and into our hearts. Baseball Prospectus released their PECOTA projections yesterday, and had some interesting things to say about the Blue Jays.
(Ed. note: before we jump in, it’s important to note that the numbers below represent PECOTA’s 50th percentile forecast. Things look increasingly sunny in the higher percentiles, so it isn’t all doom and gloom- we’re looking at the median, so PECOTA gives the players a 50% probability of outperforming these projections)
While an early morning edition had the Jays at 82-80, behind the 90-72 Red Sox and 84-78 Rays, the ticking clock saw Toronto’s projected record drop to 81-81; tied with the Yankees. That’s a bit of a harsh evaluation of the team, but PECOTA does seem to view the Jays in a mostly positive light.
To wit, they’re projected to score 767 runs. While that’s only eight more than they scored last season, it would be good enough for fourth in PECOTA’s 2017 AL (behind Cleveland’s 798, Seattle’s 770 and Houston’s 768) and put them tied with the Cubs for fifth overall. As for the mighty Red Sox? PECOTA projects 750 runs, a drop from last year’s 878 that calls to mind the Jays’ own drop from 2015 (891) to 2016 (759). Here’s hoping.
Their team OBP of .332 would be good for third in both the AL and MLB, behind Cleveland and Boston, and their TAv of .266 trails only Houston at .268 and the Dodgers and Cubs at .267. Safe to say that PECOTA is projecting a strong offensive showing from Toronto’s new look roster.
Given the mastery of Kevin Pillar, Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki, it’s no surprise that the team rates highly by FRAA (Fielding Runs Above Average). Their FRAA of 27.0 would be good for seventh in all of MLB, though that number is closer to the middle of the pack than it is to Seattle’s whopping 59.2 and second-best LA’s 41.0.
So the Jays are projected to have a top five offense and a top ten defense, yet are a .500 ballclub. That’s because PECOTA clearly does not like Toronto’s pitching staff.
We know all about Toronto transforming their identity from 2015’s bangers and mashers to 2016’s elite pitching staff. To see them projected so harshly here is a bit of a surprise, though the picture clears up a bit when acknowledge that PECOTA uses comparable players and major league equivalencies of minor league stats.
Given the youth of the staff’s former best friends, the mid-career renaissance of JA Happ and the perpetual projection-buster that is Marco Estrada, it’s not all that surprising to see Toronto’s pitching projected for a step back. With the exception of Francisco Liriano, any projections relying on career baselines and player comparables rest on relatively shaky ground.
The four returning starters combined for 11.8 PWARP last season and are projected to total just 4.2 this season. Even acknowledging room for some regression, that pales in comparison to what we know this group is capable of. It should also be noted that PECOTA projects between 28 and 31 starts for all five members of the rotation, which would point to some good fortune in the health department.
Aaron Sanchez: 10-9, 4.40 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 139/75 K/BB, 1.1 WARP
Marcus Stroman: 11-9, 4.11 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 162/64 K/BB, 2.0 WARP
Marco Estrada: 10-10, 4.84 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 147/69 K/BB, 0.2 WARP
JA Happ: 10-10, 4.51 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 147/62 K/BB, 0.9 WARP
Francisco Liriano: 10-9, 4.27 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 177/86 K/BB, 1.4 WARP
With the signings of Joe Smith and JP Howell, the Jays suddenly have five of seven (please lord, not eight) spots in the bullpen filled and ready. They’ll be led, as always, by Roberto Osuna. Jason Grilli and Joe Biagini will join Howell, Smith, and some combination of Aaron Loup, Ryan Tepera, Bo Schultz, Danny Barnes and Glenn Sparkman. It should be noted that recent talk has Joe Biagini getting stretched out. He has a history of starting in the minors and has a terrific pitch mix, so he makes plenty of sense as a high leverage guy who can handle multiple innings or as a potential spot starter. But alas, PECOTA doesn’t feel too great about the bullpen either.
Roberto Osuna: 60 IP, 3.53 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 63/18 K/BB, 0.8 WARP
Joe Biagini: 70 IP, 4.27 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 52/27 K/BB, 0.4 WARP
Jason Grilli: 50 IP, 4.47 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 60/24 K/BB, 0.2 WARP
JP Howell: 45 IP, 4.37 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 38/16 K/BB, 0.0 WARP
Joe Smith: 50 IP, 4.61 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 42/18 K/BB, 0.1 WARP
The projections seem to dislike guys who don’t bring much velocity to the table as Howell and Smith join Estrada as high eighties tossers who get outs in the field. The projections are also quite rough on Osuna, who has played much closer to some of his higher percentile projections in his first two seasons.
The Jays’ top five players by WARP all handle the bats, and there’s no surprise at number one.
Josh Donaldson: .278/.367/.506, 31 HR, .299 TAv, 5.2 WARP
Russell Martin: .236/.337/.407, 19 HR, .264 TAv, 4.0 WARP
Troy Tulowitzki: .270/.346/.463, 22 HR, .277 TAv, 3.4 WARP
Jose Bautista: .253/.370/.488, 31 HR, .297 TAv, 3.2 WARP
Devon Travis: .276/.327/.434, 16 HR, .264 TAv, 2.4 WARP.
Donaldson’s projected WARP would be good for 11th in all of baseball; he’s pretty good at this. Somewhat surprisingly, Russell Martin is second on the list coming off a disappointing season that was haunted by nagging injuries. If the training staff can help keep Tulowitzki out there, expect some top flight numbers out of the shortstop position. PECOTA has Tulo making 542 plate appearances coming off a year where he made 544. A third year of good health is essential if the Jays want to outperform PECOTA’s record.
Considering Joey Bats was worth only 0.5 WARP last season, that’s a heck of a bounceback year. Perhaps more interestingly is the fact that Bautista is projected to play 70% of the games in right and another 15% at DH. That’s a bit more in the field than you’d like, but if he can deliver those numbers with the bat it’ll be worth the defensive pains.
For Devon Travis, the most pressing matter is always health. PECOTA has him slotted for 611 PA’s, which would be a dream come true for fans considering the promising second baseman has been kept to 238 and 432 PA’s in his first two seasons. A full year of Travis at second would be a tremendous boost; beyond his own production it would allow Darwin Barney and/or Ryan Goins to spell Donaldson and Tulowitzki more frequently.
There are some clear position battles at first base and in left field, and obviously Kendrys Morales is someone we’re all curious about, not to mention the rest of the bullpen, but we can’t give this all away! If you want to see the rest (and the 10-90th percentiles for all of these players), subscribe to Baseball Prospectus! If you use the promo code “PECOTA17″ you’ll get a 17% discount.
One of PECOTA’s most fun tools is the player comparables, which are sure to turn up some interesting parallels. Bautista’s top three are Lance Berkman, Gary Sheffield and Carlos Beltran, and Troy Tulowitzki’s third comparable is Derek Jeter. Someone should tell Buck Martinez, who might be able to mention the two in the same sentence if he really works at it. Roberto Osuna is in some good company, with his top two being Jose Fernandez and Chris Sale. Osuna’s five, six and seven are Clayton Kershaw, Stephen Strausburg and Madison Bumgarner. That’s uh, not too bad. Are we sure he should be a reliever?
Marcus Stroman also has some very nice names with Sonny Gray, Ubaldo Jimenez (circa 2010), and Jon Lester in his top five. In a cruel twist of fate, Aaron Sanchez’s third comparable is none other than Stroman himself. #RIPStroChez
Among other fun notes is that Rowdy Tellez has been tabbed for an eight game stint at first base, while PECOTA has A.J. Jimenez and Michael Ohlman as the two primary backup catchers. Jarrod Saltalamacchia will probably win the backup catcher job and Juan Graterol certainly has a better crack at the roster than Ohlman, but we’ll see what happens.
PECOTA is a projection system, not a prediction system, and is pretty conservative in its evaluations, but Toronto management would likely be quite pleased with the offensive projections and rest easy knowing that their pitchers are capable of busting the metrics. At the moment it’s good fun to see where the Blue Jays are predicted to finish according to the multitude of smart baseball minds doling out projections. We’ll be on to real baseball soon enough.
Once again, if you want to see the rest of the projections for not just the Blue Jays, but the entire league (in an easy to browse spreadsheet if you want), subscribe to Baseball Prospectus with the promo code “PECOTA17″ and you’ll have it all!
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