3 Things to Watch for Against the Angels

Written by Nick Dika, Greg Wisniewski, and Jenn Smith

Donaldson vs. Trout: Injured Superstars

The Jays offensive struggles this season have been well documented. The Jays now sit 27th in all of baseball with 412 runs scored and 25th in slugging percentage at .403.

When it comes to hitting the baseball, the Angels have been equally inept this season, ranking just ahead of the Blue Jays with 418 runs scored, Their team slugging percentage of .386 is the second lowest in baseball. Some of these issues stem from the fact that both teams best offensive players – Mike Trout and Josh Donaldson, have missed time due to injury. Trout, has only played in 57 of the team’s 102 games. In those 57 games, Trout has slashed .333/.454/.711 and put up a WARP of 3.8 – almost a full win higher than Blue Jays WARP leader Justin Smoak (2.9) has put up in 43 more games. Mike Trout: still amazing.

Unlike Trout, Donaldson (who has played in 59 games this season), has struggled to produce when in the lineup. While Donaldson is back on the field, some changes in his batted ball profile suggest that Donaldson may still be nursing some nagging injuries that are affecting his performance.

Average Exit Velocity (mph)
2015 93.3
2016 93.7
2017 90.5


Fly Ball Percentage
2015 37.9%
2016 40.6%
2017 34.2%

One of the most vocal proponents of MLB’s fly ball revolution, JD is hitting fewer fly balls than he has at any point in his career. He’s also hitting the ball with less authority than he has the last two seasons – with his average exit velocity dropping about three miles per hour this season. All this despite maintaining relatively consistent plate discipline numbers in relation to swing, strikeout and walk rates.

It is no secret that many major leaguers play hurt – well, it kinda is, cause they rarely tell us what is actually wrong. Its possible Donaldson is battling through a recurrence of the calf injuries that sidelined him this season and last; he could be feeling the affects of a jammed thumb he suffered earlier this month against the Red Sox, and its possible he is fighting through some other undisclosed injury.

Given Donaldson’s status as one of the best hitters in the game, the changes in his batted ball profile seem to suggest something is affecting the play of the Jays 31-year-old third baseman. The Jays and Angels will both struggle to score runs without their respective best players playing at full strength. This weekend might tell us more about who is healthiest rather than than which anemic offence is best.

Zombie Albert Pujols

The Blue Jays signed Jose Bautista to a (theoretically) 3 year contract in the offseason. Some lambasted this choice as an oversized investment in an aging player. Bautista has been…. underwhelming, hitting .221/.333/.394, (.255 TaV) and worth 1.0 WARP so far this season. If you feel like that’s a problem, let me ease your concerns as you get a chance to view one of the most majestic overpays in baseball right now.

Albert Pujols was a legend in St. Louis. Then he became a free agent (after earning over $100 million dollars in Cardinal red) and signed for $240 million in Anaheim. Even last year, Dan Szymborski had it pegged as one of the worst albatross contracts in the game. In 2016 you could make the argument that Pujols was at least worthy of being a 25 million dollar placeholder in the Angels lineup, genereating about 1 additional win for the Angels. As 2017 has developed, the real weight of the contract has revealed itself. Pujols is slashing .236/.282/.378, for a TaV of .228, almost 100 points below his career TaV of .326. Among players granted over 300 PA, he’s a little bit better than Rougned Odor and Jonathon Villar, but a little bit worse than Matt Weiters and Maikel Franco. You might have noticed that none of those other fellows are making 26 million dollars this year. In addition, none of them are guaranteed 114 million AFTER the end of 2017, and then 10 million “personal services contract” dollars after they retire. Pujols is already below replacement level this year, costing the team production compared to a minor league call-up, surely he won’t hold the line until he’s 41.

Jerry and Buck and Pat might wax poetic about his 605 home runs, or his 2911 hits and chase for 3000. They sort of have to do that, but you should see the Jays attacking him like a player who is hitting .189/.231/.297, which is exactly what he’s managed to accomplish over the last two weeks. Pujols was one of the biggest bats in baseball for a decade, now he’s just lurching and lunging, not dropping until someone pays out all he’s owed.


Decisions, Decisions

Rolling into Toronto for a three-game series just a head of the trade deadline, the Los Angeles Angels find themselves in a precarious position much like the Blue Jays. With a 49-54 record, the Angels sit 19 games back of the Houston Astros and are thus not in the conversation with respect to the American League West division title, but are just 5.5 games back of the second wild card spot – a half-game ahead of the Jays entering Friday’s game. Both teams find themselves in no-man’s land – not out of it, but not entirely in the race, either; and therein lies the question: will the Jays and Angels be buyers or sellers this season?

Both have been the victim of circumstance this season, having suffered injuries to several key players that have contributed to the teams’ underperformance. The Angels currently have nine players on the disabled list, eight of whom are pitchers, while the Jays have had to cobble together a pitching staff after injuries to multiple pitchers. Most notable, of course, is the fact that both teams lost their best hitter and MVP for significant periods of time. The (arguably) best player in baseball, Mike Trout, suffered a thumb injury on May 29th that required surgery, keeping him on the disabled list until July 15th. The Jays, of course, lost Josh Donaldson to a calf injury early in the season, and he hasn’t quite looked his MVP-self since. There’s no doubt that having both players healthy and contributing would have made a difference in the success of their respective teams.

Both teams also must try to find suitors for expiring contracts. The Angels, for example, might be looking to move Bud Norris, who’s a free agent at the end of this season. While he’s only making $1.75 million this season, there really isn’t a team in contention that’s in need of a closer, save perhaps for the Texas Rangers. The Jays, meanwhile, are expected to try to trade pending free agents Marco Estrada, Francisco Liriano and Joe Smith, two of whom have had underwhelming seasons. Though it makes sense for both teams to try to trade these players, neither may get the return they’re looking for.

Moreover, neither team has a strong farm system from which to trade to obtain the pieces necessary to make a push this season.

Baseball Prospectus currently gives the Blue Jays a 4.7% chance of making the playoffs; the Angels have a 4.3% shot at the postseason. While neither team’s situation suggests they should be buyers this season, it’s tempting to look at the standings and at the questionable resilience of the teams ahead in the standings and decide that you’re just one hot streak away from being right back in the conversation. You can bet that both front offices will be fielding phone calls all weekend while the two teams battle it out on the field.

 Lead Photo: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

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