Warm-Up Tosses: It’s book release week, so the publication of team previews will continue to be spotty. Please know that if a team’s write-up is shorter, it’s not because the numbers haven’t been run – I’m just shortening the writing process.
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Toronto Blue Jays
What They Did: 73-89, 4th Place AL East.
Actual Runs: Scored 716 runs, Allowed 784.
Expected wins based on RS and RA: 74.3 (1.3 above actual)
Restated: Scored 677 runs, Allowed 811.
Exp. wins based on restated RS and RA: 67.8 (5.2 below actual)
(Glossary: Expected wins, based on a modification of Bill James’ Pythagorean Theorem, are the amount of wins a team should win in any season based on the amount of runs it actually scored and allowed. Deviations will be explained in the appropriate team capsules.
Restated Runs Scored and Runs Allowed are the amount of runs a team should have tallied based on its actual components of batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging achieved/allowed. In the case of the Blue Jays, if they posted exactly the same stats in 2013 as 2012, they should expect to win 68 games.)
The Blue Jays and Red Sox were essentially mirror images of each other last year. Boston played like a 74-win team that actually won 69 games and Toronto won 73 games but complied offensive and defensive statistics that would most likely result in 68 wins. While anecdotal, it also points out a problem for a Blue Jays team which made major changes to its roster during the offseason: In evaluating these marginal changes, it must be noted Toronto was starting from a worst point than it appeared but I don’t think the front office knows that.
Make no mistake about it, Toronto is going to be better this year on both sides of the ledger. On offense, the changes are straightforward and marginally positive. Melky Cabrera will replace Rajai Davis who moves to a backup outfielder role. Jose Reyes takes over at shortstop in place of the departed Yunel Escobar and the new second baseman is Emilio Bonifacio replacing Kelly Johnson. Unlike the changes on some teams, the Blue Jays have replaced weak performers. Of the ten players on last year’s team who had at least 350 plate appearances, the Blue Jays have replaced three of the four players who were furthest below league average in creating runs at their position. (The fourth, Colby Rasmus, remains the starting center fielder.) While no one should expect any improvement from the addition of Bonifacio, Reyes and Cabrera will certainly provide offensive upgrades. The problem for Toronto then is how much improvement will Reyes and Cabrera provide and can they get improvement anywhere else?
After adjusting for park factors, Toronto had the fourth worst offense in the American League. The possibility of another 200 plate appearances from Jose Bautista, who only appeared in 92 games in 2012, could help as could natural aging curve improvement from under-28 year-olds Brett Lawrie, Colby Rasmus, and J.P. Arencibia. However, regression from Edwin Encarnacion’s career year would most likely eat into some, if not the majority of any improvement from returning players. Thanks to the presence of Reyes and Cabrera, Toronto will score more runs this year and the projection below incorporates that. 740 runs scored reflects 63 additional runs or roughly, 3 more wins each from Reyes and Cabrera. However the Blue Jays were 11th in the AL in batting average last year, and a next-to-last 13th in on-base percentage. They’ll be better and there’s some room for upside from the projection but to my eye there is not nearly enough improvement to foresee Toronto possessing a playoff-caliber offense.
Of course, you can get to the playoffs riding your pitching staff as well, and Toronto has made significant upgrades there as well. In fact, the improvement in runs allowed projects to be significantly bigger than the runs scored improvement. NL Cy Young Award winner, R.A. Dickey comes to Toronto in a trade and while the idea that he is a one-year wonder is overstated, the truth is he did have a career year last year at age 37 and he’s moving to a tougher league. Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle, both acquired from Miami, could offer significant upgrades from a staff that had five different starters with ERAs above 4.50 in 2012. But beyond Dickey and last year’s legitimate ace Brandon Morrow there are definite questions about how much production Johnson, Buehrle, and Ricky Romero can give the Blue Jays.
No bullpen in the AL had an ERA above 4.00 last year except Toronto whose pen sported an alarming 4.33 ERA. Due to the volatile nature of bullpens from year to year (often because teams can replace bullpen parts so easily, which is exactly what Toronto did) the Blue Jays project to have the biggest improvement in its bullpen across the American League. However, the changes to the starting lineup almost certainly makes the team worse in the field and that will cost some runs – and could be an especially acute problem for Mark Buehrle who is entirely dependent on the defense behind him to keep runs off the board.
Toronto will be much more competitive this year and for the first time in a while won’t necessarily need to win high-scoring affairs to amass victories. While there is undeniable improvement, Toronto is starting from too big a talent gap to suddenly become playoff contenders – even if the additions are very high profile.
Oddsmakers’ expectations: It’s those high profile additions that have made Toronto a darling of the oddsmakers this year. Their opening total wins market of 87 ½ sits just one game beneath the Yankees. With the pre-season injuries to Curtis Granderson and now, Mark Texeria, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see Toronto to actually have a higher market by the time the season is ready to begin. This is my favorite under in the American League.
82-80 – Fourth in AL East
740 Runs Scored 727 Runs Allowed
Mop Up Duty:
Joe Peta is the author of Trading Bases, A Story About Wall Street, Gambling, and Baseball* (*) Not necessarily in that order, a Dutton Books/Penguin (U.S.A.) March 7, 2013 release. It is available for pre-order from a number of on-line booksellers. Here are three you can currently choose from:
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