How Good Are The 2013 Jays? (Part Two): Team History

Analysis

On Wednesday I tried to project how many games the 2013 Blue Jays will win. Today I’d like to see how that prediction stacks up against previous Jays’ playoff teams (and I’ll throw in last year’s team as well). You’ll recall that I projected this team to win about 92 games consisting of: 52 replacement level wins + 45 team WAR (a number Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections also arrived at independently), less 5 WAR lost to injury. We also produced a graph showing how many wins each player contributed to that total. I’ve gone back and produced the same graph for all of the playoff teams in the history of the Jays (and the 2012 team). Here’s how it looks:

The first thing jumps out is that the 1985 team has the highest win total. Some may be surprised to learn that not only is their WAR projection the highest, the ’85 squad is the winningest team in Blue Jays (regular season) history with 99 wins, surpassing the ’92 team and the year we don’t speak of by 3 wins and outpacing the ’93 squad by another 4.

It’s also interesting to note the discrepancies between how these teams were built, with the World Series teams (especially the ’93 team) relying much more heavily on their offence than on starting pitching, while getting a solid contribution from the bullpen. The projection for this year’s team shows more balanced contributions, much like that team from ’85. In comparing the projected 2013 squad to last year’s team, the expected improvements in the pitching staff are quite apparent, as is the upgrade in left field.

To get the proper perspective on what these graphs are showing we’ll want to look at the components in more detail. We’ll start with the infielders:

Infield

CatcherFirst BaseSecond BaseThird BaseShort Stop
1985Ernie WhittWillie UpshawDamaso GarciaRance MulliniksTony Fernandez
1989Ernie Whitt/Pat BordersFred McGriffNelson LirianoKelly GruberTony Fernandez
1991Greg Myers/Pat BordersJohn OlerudRoberto AlomarKelly GruberManuel Lee
1992Pat BordersJohn OlerudRoberto AlomarKelly Gruber/Jeff KentManuel Lee
1993Pat BordersJohn OlerudRoberto AlomarEd SpragueTony Fernandez
2012J.P. Arencibia/Jeff MathisEdwin EncarnacionKelly JohnsonBrett LawrieYunel Escobar
2013J.P. ArencibiaEdwin EncarnacionMaicer IzturisBrett LawrieJose Reyes

As you can see this year’s infield stands up pretty well to the comparison and promises to be more productive than the ’85 squad and comparable to the teams from the glory years with Olerud‘s career year and Alomar‘s reliable production in ’93 giving that team a slight edge. Interestingly the across-the-board production from Whitt/Borders, McGriff, Liriano, Gruber and Fernandez in ’89 proves to be the gold standard.

Outfield/DH/Bench

Left FieldCentre FieldRight FieldDesignated Hitter
1985George BellLloyd MosebyJesse BarfieldJeff Burroughs
1989George BellLloyd MosebyJunior FelixRance Mulliniks
1991Candy MaldonadoDevon WhiteJoe CarterRance Mulliniks/Pat Tabler
1992Candy MaldonadoDevon WhiteJoe CarterDave Winfield
1993Ricky Henderson/Darnell ColesDevon WhiteJoe CarterPaul Molitor
2012Rajai DavisColby RasmusJose BautistaAdam Lind
2013Melky CabreraColby RasmusJose BautistaAdam Lind/Rajai Davis

Looking at the outfield we see that, unsurprisingly, Bell, Barfield and Moseby set the bar, but the addition of Cabrera puts this year’s squad on par with the Maldonado/White/Carter troika of the early ’90s. Meanwhile, the only significant contributions from the DH spot came from Winfield and Molitor in the World Series years.

Pitching 

Starting PitcherStarting PitcherStarting PitcherStarting PitcherStarting PitcherStarting PitcherStarting Pitcher
1985Dave StiebJimmy KeyDoyle AlexanderJim ClancyLuis Leal
1989Dave StiebJohn CeruttiJimmy KeyTodd StottlemyreMike Flanagan
1991Jimmy KeyTodd StottlemyreTom CandiottiJuan GuzmanDavid Wells
1992Juan GuzmanJimmy KeyJack MorrisDavid ConeTodd StottlemyreDave StiebDavid Wells
1993Juan GuzmanPat HentgenDave StewartAl LeiterTodd StottlemyreJack Morris
2012Brandon MorrowCarlos VillanuevaAaron LaffeyDrew HutchisonHenderson AlvarezKyle DrabekRicky Romero
2013Josh JohnsonR.A. DickeyBrandon MorrowMark BuehrleRicky Romero

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this graph, considering the success of those teams, is the drop off from 1991 to 1993 as Candiotti, Key and Wells left and Stottlemyre regressed. Pitching seems to be the most variable and the lack of production from starters not named Brandon Morrow last year is quite evident. On paper (or pixel) this year’s staff appears to be a vast improvement and it seems reasonable to expect the starters to achieve the same kind of results that Key/Stottlemyre/Candiotti/Guzman/Wells managed in ’91 or rekindle the magic of Stieb/Key/Alexander/Clancy in ’85.

Injuries

Naturally, injuries are the wild card in all of this. In retrospect we can see that, with the exception of the 1991 team which lost Dave Stieb for the season in May and saw Gruber and Mulliniks miss more than a month each, each of the Jays playoff teams stayed remarkably healthy. In ’93 not a single starter missed significant time with an injury, while in ’92 only Manuel Lee (128 GP) and Kelly Gruber (120 GP) were injured. In 1985, Jim Clancy was limited to 23 starts and in 1989 Al Leiter missed most of the season. Contrast that with last year’s team which lost Brett Lawrie, Brandon Morrow and J.P. Arencibia for more than a month each, Jose Bautista for more than two months and Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison for more than half of the season.

Overall, the 2013 team looks to be a well balanced group with no glaring weaknesses, much like the franchise’s first pennant winner in 1985. That should help them absorb the occasional injuries that are inevitable and Anthopoulos has learned the importance of depth after the catastrophic injury toll in 2012. However, few teams are capable of absorbing multiple injuries to star players, so obviously the 2013 Jays will need a little luck as well in order to realize their potential and make the playoffs.

Check back with us early next week for part three in which I’ll look at how this team compares with last year’s playoff teams and recent World Series winners.

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