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How Good Are The 2013 Jays? (Part One): Projected Wins
The changes that have been made to the Toronto Blue Jays roster this offseason have been well documented and the roster for 2013 is largely set. The Jays’ opponents still have some moves to make and we don’t yet know for certain how strong the competition in the American League (and the AL East in particular) will be, but we can start to try to project how many games this team will win. WAR is as good as any tool for this purpose, so as a starting point we can look at how many wins each player on the roster contributed to their teams last year. Here’s what we find:
|TOTAL WAR 2012||43.0|
Recalling that a replacement level team would be expected to win 52 games, WAR suggests that if everyone on the roster produced at the same level as last year this team would win about 95 games. But how realistic is that assumption? Edwin Encarnacion and R.A. Dickey had career years. Can they be expected to repeat those performances? Jose Bautista missed 70 games due to injury. Rajai Davis played 142 games last year, most of them in left field where Melky Cabrera is expected to start in 2013. Clearly some adjustments are required here.
It seems wise to look at more than one year’s worth of data in order to put last year’s performances in their proper context, so I looked at the last three years factoring in games played and then tried to project based on how many games I expected each player to play (150 in most cases for starters) and innings I expected each pitcher to pitch (160-205 for starters) if healthy. Let’s quickly go through the lineup:
Arencibia produced 1.4 WAR in 102 games last year. He should play a bit more, but there’s a good chance Josh Thole will catch almost all of Dickey’s starts. Arencibia is still fairly young, so it may be reasonable to project for some improvement, but not all players take a step forward when you expect them to and I’d rather take a conservative approach to these projections so we’ll pencil him in for 1.4 again.
Encarnacion rewarded the Jays patience with a breakout year in 2012 posting a 4.6 WAR. EE also had a strong finish to 2011 so there is reason to believe that his 2012 numbers are more representative of his true talent level than prior years. Having said that, history has taught us not to put too much stock in one year’s results and I think it’s wise to assume that Encarnacion won’t quite equal his production from last year. I’m gonna put him down for 3.5 WAR.
Second base appears to be the only position where the starter isn’t set in stone going into 2013. The comments I’ve read from Anthopoulos suggest that Izturis has a slight edge as AA likes what Bonifacio has to offer as a super-utility guy. Izturis produced 1.2 WAR in just 61 games played in 2010, 1.4 over 122 games in 2011 and 0.1 in 100 games last year. My best guess is that last year was a bit of an off year and he’ll bounce back somewhat this year. Let’s call it 1.0 WAR.
After bursting onto the scene in the final quarter of the 2011 season, Brett Lawrie had a very solid sophomore year, producing 4.1 WAR despite missing 37 games (though it should be noted his bWAR tends to get inflated as he gets credit for fielding balls in shallow right field when the Jays play the shift. Obviously those are balls that most third basemen do not get to). Lawrie will be 23 next week and certainly has the potential to get even better if he can hit for more power; of which he seems capable. If he can stay healthy, he should have no trouble putting up 5.0 WAR and quite possibly even more.
Reyes has averaged 3.2 WAR and 140 GP over the last three years and 3.0 WAR and 121 GP over his ten year MLB career. I’m gonna put him down for 3.1 in 2013.
Cabrera followed a break out 2011 with an even more impressive start to 2012 before being suspended for the final 49 games for testing positive for elevated levels of testosterone. Some have questioned how much of his production was the result of performance enhancing drug use, but Cabrera doesn’t profile as the type of player that would benefit significantly from PEDs. It’s generally assumed that power hitters benefit the most from performance enhancers as they help turn fly balls into home runs by improving a player’s strength and bat speed. Cabrera is a line drive hitter who uses the whole field, not a power hitter that relies on bat speed. If you’re interested in a more detailed scouting report on Cabrera you can find a good one here. The bigger red flag with Cabrera is luck. Batting average on balls in play is a statistic that can indicate whether a player has benefitted from luck. In 2012 Cabrera had a .379 BABIP, which dwarfs both the league average of .297 and his career BABIP of .309. However, even if we assume his BABIP luck runs out Cabrera should be a top-of-the-order bat for the Jays and I expect him to contribute about 3.8 WAR this year.
Colby Rasmus is an enigma. He has the tools to be a star player and has shown flashes of brilliance (Jays fans saw this in June of 2012), but has yet to be able to put it all together on a consistent basis. I’ll slot him in for a repeat of last year’s 1.4 WAR. If he’s unable to achieve that level of production he may be out of a job with Anthony Gose waiting in the wings.
When he’s been in the lineup over the last three years, Bautista has been the best hitter in baseball. Last year he managed 3.2 WAR despite missing 70 games and getting off to a really slow start. His BABIP was also .215, well below the aforementioned league average of .297 and his career BABIP of .270. However, Bautista is 32 and coming off a wrist injury, so I’m going to put him down for a relatively conservative (by his standards) 5.3 WAR.
Adam Lind was worse than replacement level in 2010 and 2011 and produced at replacement level last year. Yet, I’m going to project that he’ll produce 0.5 WAR in 2013. The reason? Lind is not very good against left-handed pitchers and I don’t expect him to hit against left-handers very often in 2013. Last year Lind had an OPS of .553 against lefties and .795 against righties. For his career the numbers are .607 and .836. If Lind is optimally deployed (used primarily against right-handed pitchers) he should be able to provide some value.
Rajai Davis has a career OPS of .766 against left-handed pitching (.659 vs. righties). Like Lind, he’s an example of a player who can provide value to the team when used optimally. His speed and platoon splits make him a fine bench player. I expect him to produce about 0.5 WAR as a platoon DH and 4th outfielder.
Bonifacio’s positional flexibility should ensure that he sees plenty of action. He should be able to produce 0.7 WAR.
Josh Thole is a defence oriented catcher who will spell Arencibia and figures to catch most of Dickey’s starts. Let’s say 0.2 WAR.
The final bench spot is up for grabs. I’ll slot David Cooper in here, but whoever it is they’re unlikely to offer much better than replacement level production so I’ll say 0.0 WAR from this spot, thus bringing the total contribution from the bench to 1.4 WAR
Josh Johnson has demonstrated that he can be a true ace in the past. He was injured in 2011 and only started to find his groove over his last ten starts in 2012. I expect he can produce 4.1 WAR this year.
Mark Buehrle will be 34 at the start of the season, but has proven to be a remarkably consistent and durable starter. He should be good for 3.1.
Brandon Morrow developed into the team’s best starter last year and there is little reason to think he can’t produce similar results. Still, to be conservative we’ll assume he regresses slightly, but manages to stay healthy and pitch 160 innings (he pitched 124 last year) resulting in WAR of 3.3.
Ricky Romero’s 2012 was an unmitigated disaster. However, his history would suggest that he’s capable of bouncing back somewhat so we’ll sign him up for 1.0 WAR. Like Rasmus, if Romero is unable to produce at that level he may be replaced by someone who can.
R.A. Dickey is the reigning National League Cy Young winner. Over the last three years he’s put up 12.1 WAR. 3.7 seems like a very achievable number for him.
As a group these 5 pitchers have produced WAR of 18.2, 16.8 and 13.4 over the last 3 years. Our projection of 15.2 for 2013 seems reasonable.
|D. Oliver/B. Cecil||1.3||1.4||1.2|
WAR numbers for relievers are notorious for varying widely from year to year, due largely to the fact that relievers appear in fewer innings than other players. As such I won’t go into too much detail. In 2010 this group produced 2.1 WAR, in 2011 it was 1.0 (note: Aaron Loup did not pitch at the major league level in either of those years), in 2012 they produced 6.0 (without an injured Santos). Even with Cecil potentially replacing Oliver, I’m going to peg them for and aggregate 3.7 in 2013.
You may have noticed that while generating these projections, I tended to assume that each player would be healthy for most of the season. Obviously that’s not realistic. The prior year numbers that I built my projections off of do account for normal rest and occasional wear and tear (a few games missed due to a muscle strain, etc.). However, it’s inevitable that there will be major injuries to a few players. Injuries are obviously largely random and hard to predict, but we’ll add in -5.0 WAR to account for the difference between the injured players and their replacements. This would represent, for example, a scenario where a 3.0 WAR player suffered a season ending injury in the first month, a 4.5 WAR player missed two months and two 3.0 WAR players missed a month each.
Putting this all together we get a projected win total of 92.3 for the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays. I’ve put together a visual representation of this below.
This should prove useful in the next couple of posts as I compare this Jays team to previous ones and to recent playoff teams. As you can see, wins produced by infielders are shaded blue, outfielders green, pitchers grey, etc. You may also note that the bar for replacement level wins only reaches to 47.0 (rather than the 52 wins a replacement level team is expected to produce). The reason for this is that our starting point for these 52 wins is not zero due to negative WAR numbers (-5 wins caused by injuries in this case); on these graphs the bars for negative WAR players and the Replacement Level bar will add up to 52.
So how would a 92 win Jays team stack up? Consider this: in the last ten years only three American League teams have won more than 90 games and failed to make the playoffs; the 2003 Mariners, 2004 A’s, and 2005 Indians. All three would have made the wild card game under the current system. It certainly does look like a good year to be a Jays fan.
Check back with us on Friday when we’ll look at how this Jays team compares to previous ones.