The Jays sit a game above .500 in fourth place in an insanely tight and highly competitive AL East. While 4 games out isn’t significant, the Jays have definitely missed some opportunities to shrink the gap. With very few push-over opponents in June (only 6 games against sub-.500 teams, and 3 of those are the Phillies), I wanted to see if the Jays have the chops to hang through their toughest month. Today I’ll look at hitters, and later in the week I’ll look at pitchers.
Before the season got under way, I took a look at the ZIPS projections for the Jays’ lineup, making my own playing time assumptions and adjustments. I concluded that the Jays could expect to be marginally better on the offensive side of things in 2012, which hasn’t quite been the case. While the Jays rank fifth in the Majors in runs per game, their underlying slash lines haven’t lived up to expectations.
As you can see below, the team is struggling to hit for average and get on base at an adequate clip, but their slugging has kept up with last season’s rate. The fact that runs per game are up despite a drop in OPS can be attributed to a few things, not the least of which may just be luck. I thought maybe some extra inning games had helped boost the totals while the rates remained low, but they’ve actually averaged nearly the same number of plate appearances per game as last year (38.4 vs 38.3). So while some of this may have to do with timely hitting, lineup optimization (naw), or even just the inconsistent nature of a home run hitting team, you’d certainly like to see the rate stats come up if you’re expecting the runs per game to stay high.
|Stat||2011 (MLB)||ZIPS ’12||Actual ’12 (MLB)|
|Runs/Gm||4.6 (6th)||4.8||4.8 (5th)|
|Avg||.249 (20)||0.254||.244 (22)|
|OBP||.317 (18)||0.321||.309 (23)|
|SLG||.413 (10)||0.442||.413 (8)|
|OPS||.730 (11)||0.763||.722 (14)|
So, if the overall ZIPS projections were too bullish on the team, or it appears that way so far, what is ZIPS saying now? The great thing about ZIPS (via Fangraphs) is that there are ROS (Rest of Season) projections that are constantly being updated. Basically, ZIPS takes all performances as “new information” and blends it with “old information” (prior performance) to constantly refresh their projections. As such, we can take a look at some of the Jays’ under- or over-performers and see who ZIPS likes to regress, and who we should be worried or excited about. Let’s start with the obvious…
2011: 302/447/608, 43HR
2012: 224/326/448, 12HR
ZIPS ROS Projection: 262/391/541, 26HR (249/369/509 final line with 38HR)
Analysis: Obviously, everyone knows Joey Bats got off to a wretched start to the year. Whether being pinched by umpires, getting under the ball too much, or even being too selective, something changed around the time the calendar flipped to May. Bautista has since turned things around (.890 May OPS) but still isn’t all the way back to his 2011 form. The home runs are there, and while the average probably won’t end up back around .300, I don’t think there’s any reason to worry.
2011: 272/334/453, 17HR, 8SB
2012: 274/335/579, 16HR, 6SB
ZIPS ROS Projection: 263/332/492, 18HR, 5SB (267/333/524 final line with 34-11 HR-SB)
Analysis: Edwin has been the most pleasant surprise of the season, finally capitalizing on his enormous power potential. While his glove will always leave something to be desired, the power is definitely legitimate, and the team seems to have finally found a 30-homer man to back up Jose (sorry, Adam Lind).
2011: 225/298/391, 14HR, 5SB
2012: 234/303/413, 5HR, 3SB
ZIPS ROS Projection: 245/319/446, 15HR, 6SB (242/314/436 final line with 20-9 HR-SB)
Analysis: I chose to look at Rasmus next because he seems to split the fan base more than anyone, with #RasmusNation going toe-to-toe with an equally vocal group of Rasmus haters. His overall line looks weak, but he has been on fire for the last two weeks. His 22.3% line drive rate is elite and strongly suggests that his .268 BABIP is due for an increase. Even with his weak batting line, his glove and base running have made him nearly as valuable as Edwin according to WAR (1.0 vs 1.2). I’m on Team Rasmus, and think a 275/330/450 line is a more appropriate ROS projection.
2011: 293/373/580, 9HR, 7SB (43 games)
2012: 273/314/364, 3HR, 7SB
ZIPS ROS Projection: 274/327/476, 17HR, 17SB (274/323/443 final line with 20-24 HR-SB)
Analysis: The Golden Boy has been anything but so far this year, saving himself some value by way of his exceptional range at third rather than his bat, which is the exact opposite of what we were told to expect. Lawrie hasn’t hit anything for extra bases (just a .091 ISO and only 5 doubles), though his line drive rate is a healthy 18.8%. His biggest issues seem to be his lack of discipline (a 4:1 K:BB rate) and a tendency to hit far too many balls on the ground (56.3%). While his speed allows him to beat out singles more than most, it’s still not a healthy trend for a guy who was supposed to slug. I’m not overreacting yet, though, as ZIPS likes the power to return, and he’s still just 22.
2011: 222/304/413, 21HR, 16SB
2012: 263/360/446, 9HR, 5SB
ZIPS ROS Projection: 246/331/436, 15HR, 9SB (251/340/439 final line with 24-14 HR-SB)
Analysis: Kelly Johnson is always one of the toughest players to get a read on, as since his debut in 2005 with the Braves, his wRC+ has fluctuated wildly: 95-117-109-84-128-93-126. He has, at times, been one of the best and worst second basemen in the league. This year he is more of the former, adding significant value with both the bat and the glove. While he’ll always strike out a lot, he’s back to walking at a substantial clip (12.8%). His HR/FB rate of 22.5% is due to regress, but his .327 BABIP isn’t out of line with his .312 career rate, and we’ve seen this OBP/SLG combo from him before. Hopefully his recurring hamstring issue doesn’t slow him down.
2011: 290/369/413, 11HR
2012: 262/313/338, 2HR
ZIPS ROS Projection: 268/341/384, 8HR (266/332/369 final line with 10HR)
Analysis: In April, the OBP has completely disappeared for Yunel, making him look more like the 2010 version that the Braves gave up on than the 2011 or early-career OBP-machine versions. Escobar has responded well to being dropped into the two-hole, and his OBP was .373 for May. If this trend continues, Escobar regains his value as a near-elite shortstop (he was worth over 4 WAR last year). He has elite contact skills but really needs to keep his eye sharp, as most of his offensive value comes from that OBP figure. If he can stay the course from May, a .350 final OBP isn’t unrealistic, and he should score a boatload of runs hitting ahead of Jose and Edwin.
2011: 219/273/476, 23HR
2012: 245/273/476, 9HR
ZIPS ROS Projection: 233/282/446, 17HR (237/279/455 final line with 26HR)
Analysis: J.P. has the 13th-worst OBP among all qualified hitters in baseball, and ZIPS thinks it’s going to stay that way. It’s usually very difficult to maintain offensive value with an OBP that low, but Arencibia has managed to do so thanks to a fantastic .231 ISO, proving the power he displayed in the minors and as a rookie is a legitimate tool. Beyond being one of the most likable guys in the game, Arencibia has made small improvements to his K% (still too high at 26.5% but down from 27.4%) and his line drive rate (up from 15.7% to 16.8%), as well as a big improvement to his HR/FB rate (21.4% from 14.7%, though this may be due to regress). Arencibia’s primary OBP inhibiter is that he swings at 38.5% of pitches out of the zone and 53.2% of pitches overall, making contact just 77.3% of the time. It’s tough to make the argument he should sacrifice some of that free swinging for selectivity because, again, he’s the rare case of an OBP sink-hole providing offensive value. He obviously needs to improve his eye and pitch recognition, as all the home runs in the world won’t keep him in the starter’s chair if prospect Travis d’Arnaud keeps knocking at the door with the “complete package.”
2011: 262/313/456, 12HR
2012: 243/288/365, 3HR
ZIPS ROS Projection: 249/308/421, 13HR (247/302/406 final line with 16HR)
Analysis: Thames has been a bit of a disappointment, but one that I think some saw coming. He’s always projected as more of a fourth outfielder than a slugging starter, and this year has put some of his flaws on display. He’s another OBP sink-hole, striking out more than 4 times as much as he walks and swinging at 35.3% of pitches out of the zone. He’s traded line drives for ground balls compared to last year, and his ISO has dropped off significantly. He’s actually been below replacement level according to WAR, as both his bat and his glove provide negative value at a position low on the defensive spectrum. He seems like an extremely personable guy, but he likely requires a tune-up in Las Vegas when Travis Snider is healthy, before returning to his ideal role as a fourth outfielder.
I didn’t bother to look at Adam Lind (down in the minors because, well, he’s awful) or Travis Snider (down in the minors, waiting for his wrist to heal so he can reclaim his LF job from Thames), or the bench players. You’d think some additional value could be mined from any type of rebound from Lind (even as a left-handed bench bat) and the upgrade you’d expect from a Snider recall. There’s also the possibility of Vladdy adding some value to the mix.
Beyond the bats, the defense has been among the league’s best according to advanced metrics and among the league’s worst according to old-school metrics, so they probably lie somewhere between. The infield has range for days, Rasmus is a stellar center fielder, and Snider would provide an above-average glove and arm in left if/when he gets the call.
In general, I think we can expect the rate stats to improve closer to what ZIPS had originally projected for the squad moving forward, maybe in the 250/315/420 range. With that said, I’d expect the runs per game to stay where it is, meaning any substantial improvement in record will need to come by way of the pitching or random variance (the team’s Pythagorean record is actually 27-22, not 25-24). It’s far too early to draw sweeping conclusions, but a June slate that includes BOS, CWS, ATL, WAS, PHI, MIL, MIA, BOS, and LAA should be a solid proving ground.