2009 Toronto Blue Jays: Were We Supposed to Add Players This Offseason?
BaseballEvolution.com Spring Preview
by Tony Aubry, BaseballEvolution.com
April 4, 2009
| Key Transactions |
| Acquired || Pos. |
| Kevin Millar|| Util |
| Michael Barrett|| C
| Matt Clement|| SP
| Mike Maroth|| C
| TJ Beam|| RP
| || |
| Departed || Pos. |
| AJ Burnett|| SP
| Matt Stairs|| DH|
| Brad Wilkerson|| OF|
| John Parrish|| RP
| Gregg Zaun|| C |
The Blue Jays won 86 games in 2008 based primarily on
pitching and defense. They were first in baseball in ERA and runs allowed, gave
up the 6th fewest walks, were 7th in strikeouts, and their
defense was ranked 8th best according to Ultimate Zone Rating. Alas,
the Jays lost three top pitchers heading into the 2009 season. AJ Burnett went
to the dark side via free agency, while both Shawn Marcum and Dustin McGowan had
major arm surgery.
Competing with the beasts of the east would have been tough
enough even with those pitchers; without them, it seems almost impossible for
the Jays to finish higher than fourth.
Out of all the teams in the AL East, the Jays probably are
the weakest at the catcher position. The combination of Rod Barajas and
Michael Barrett is certainly not too pleasant. Neither of them does anything
particularly well, and neither would start anywhere else.
Lyle Overbay bounced back in 2008 after having his worst
year of his career in 2007. However, much like Barrett and Barajas –although not
as bad- he does not do anything particularly well, with the exception of having
a good eye. After having a career year in 2006, his OPS has not reached .800
again, and the first baseman is now on the wrong side of 30.
Aaron Hill seemed poised to become a very solid player
after knocking 66 extra base hits and playing superb defense in 2007.
Unfortunately, he was bit by the injury bug and was limited to 55 games last
year. 2009 will be Aaron Hill’s age-27 season; throughout baseball history,
players have peaked at that age. Any offense resembling what he provided in 2007
combined with his excellent second base glove could make Hill one of the
best-kept secrets in the league.
Despite turning 35 years old today ,Scott Rolen can still
pick it at the hot corner with the best of them. On the other hand, Rolen has
failed to play 145 games in each of the past five seasons, and his offense has
been on the decline in the past three seasons. When manning third base,
Rolen should provide all-world defense with league-average offense.
Due to injuries to Hill and Rolen, Marco Scutaro played the
role of Honus Wagner for the Jays last season, and fielded the three positions
very well. On opening day, you will see Scutaro at shortstop, where he
played the best defense last season. An injury to Rolen is inevitable, which
will cause Scutaro to shift over to third. Taking his place at short will be
John McDonald , who is a damn good fielder in his own right.
Albeit never deserved, there was a point where some people
would call Vernon Wells one of the best players in the league. Oh, have the
times changed. Wells’ offense has declined, and a fractured wrist held him to
only 108 games last year. Also, for the first time in his career, Wells’ defense
plummeted, costing his team almost 14 UZR runs. Wells turned 30 recently, and
has been complaining about soreness in the wrist he fractured; the odds are
already against him for 2009.
Alex Rios, like his teammate Hill, did not progress after a very
good 2007 campaign. In fact, he got worse in almost every offensive category
aside from stolen bases. On the bright side, Rios had a great second half of
2008 by going .300/.337/.542 with 11 homeruns, which may be a sign of good
things to come. On the other side of the ball, Rios is the best right fielder in
all of baseball and of the best outfielders in baseball, period. According to UZR, Rios saved a combined 23 runs in both right and center field.
Starting left field will be rookie Travis Snider. Snider
was called up towards the end of 08 after getting through all three levels of
the minors and battling an elbow injury. Snider will probably not hit .300 like
he did in short stint in 2008, but will provide power.
Should Snider struggle or Wells get hurt, they have a
pretty good insurance policy in Adam Lind. Lind turns 26 this summer, and
although he has somewhat struggled in the majors, his career minor league
numbers are staggering. He is a career .318/.379/.509 hitter, but from his age-23 season onwards, he is a .333/.406/.525 hitter. Lind has struck out a lot at
every level, but in his time at the major league level his BB% has dipped below
6%. Of course, Lind playing in the outfield would mean that Kevin Millar
is getting regular at-bats as the team's designated hitter.
|Blue Jays Team Capsule|
9/30/10: Solo Molina - Something unprecedented is happening with a home run hitter in Toronto.
Sure, Jose Bautista is the first player ever to increase his home run total from the previous season by more than 40, having gone from 13 last season to 54 this year. But something equally odd is going on with backup catcher Jose Molina.
After hitting a solo home run on Friday, Molina has six homers for the year in 179 plate appearance. That may seem pretty reasonable, but get this: he's only driven in a dozen runs. To drive in 12 runs in 179 plate appearances is pretty terrible, but to do so despite hitting six homers is nearly unprecedented. Only eight players in the history of Major League Baseball have hit six homers while driving in fewer than 12 runs, and one was Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano in 2006. Of the ten players to have driven in exactly 12 runs while hitting six homers, only two have done so in more than 179 plate appearances. If Molina logs two more plate appearances this season without driving in a run, only one player would be "ahead" of him. 14 more PA, and he would have the most plate appearances ever for a player to hit as many as six homers but drive in as few as 12 runs in a season (passing Jerry Kindall of the 1957 Cubs). Five players have hit seven homers and driven in 12 runs (including Pittsburgh's Matt Clement this year), but each had fewer than 179 plate appearances.
It gets even weirder. Molina began the season with four RBI before hitting his first home run. So in his last 130 plate appearances, Jose Molina has hit six homers and driven in just eight runs. Luis Medina had six homers and eight RBI for the Indians in 1988, but that was in just 16 games. Molina has appeared in 56 games this year.
In case you were wondering, only five of Molina's homers this year were solo shots; he did hit a two-run homer. The crazy thing is that this ratio is not far outside of his career norm. 18 of his 26 career home runs have come with no one on base, a whopping 69%. That, my friends, is what you call not terribly clutch. --KG
Losing three-fifths of the best starting rotation in baseball this offseason
makes the Jays' starting rotation difficult to analyze, save for their
ace. After three workhorse seasons, Roy Halladay has shed his injury-risk
label and is the clear favorite for the AL Cy Young Award.
After Halladay, Jesse Litsch jumps from fifth-best starter in the rotation to
#2. He is a finesse pitcher who will be completely reliant upon the
excellent defense behind him. David Purcey, Ricardo Romero, and Scott
Richmond round out the front five. Purcey and Richmond were each
impressive in stints between Triple-A and the majors last year, while Romero
struggled in Double-A and has no place on a big league pitching staff.
22-year old southpaw Brett Cecil figures to replace him with his intriguing
four-pitch repertoire by mid-season.
While the back of the rotation is a mess, the
bullpen returns in-tact, even though it shouldn't have done. In BJ
Ryan, Brian Tallet, Scott Downs, and Jesse Carlson, the Jays had four of the
most effective left-handed relievers in baseball last year. Most
effective, but not best. Their peripheral stats were
solid-but-unspectacular, as they took advantage of the excellent defense behind
them as did the rest of the staff. One or two of these southpaws should
have been dealt for an innings-eater in the rotation and a dominant right-handed
reliever. The demand for effective southpaws is great, and the Jays have
missed an opportunity to parlay their surfeit into players that they actually
In the absence of such a deal, the Toronto pen figures to be good once again,
although regression to the mean should prevent them from being the best in the
league again. In fact, one of the reasons they were so effective last season is
that they threw the fewest innings of any bullpen in baseball. With the
rotation full of rookies, the workload for the pen will increase and the
effectiveness will be curtailed.
The Toronto offseason was terrible, as they lost three excellent starting
pitchers, failed to use their bullpen surplus to address other needs, and
boasted Kevin Millar as their marquee acquisition. But that doesn't mean
this isn't still a very good team. This is a ballclub that had a
pythagorean record of 93-69 (.574) that went 51-37 (.580) after Toronto legend
Cito Gaston reclaimed his rightful role as King of the Blue Jays. Full
seasons of Adam Lind and Travis Snider will replace worthless at-bats from Brad
Wilkerson, Matt Stairs, Frank Thomas, and Shannon Stewart, transforming their
offense from one of the worst in the league to at least league-average.
The question is whether their team defense is good enough to bolster their
unproven rotation to the point where they are serviceable pitchers. The
answer is probably no. The 2009 Blue Jays will be better than most people
expect, but probably won't be able to make the postseason unless the front
office is willing to show some initiative.
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