Wednesday 19 February 2014

Banking on Guys

That's a thing people say, right?  To bank on someone?  Like to rely on them?  K.

Just using Fangraphs here, since it's the first website I checked, but the Jays, as of right now, project to have an 82-80 record this year.  These projections, as far as I can tell, pretty much assign full projections of individual players and smash them all together to make a team projection, but I'm not expert.  Despite that, I do know that the individual projections that make them up take a lot of things in to account (such as past performance, player comparisons, age, regression of unsustainable stats like babip or HR/FB ratio) but they also correct for non-individual things like run differential.  These projection systems, for the most part, are pretty accurate to within a couple of wins a significant percentage of the time, but, as we may remember from last season, can occasionally be way, way off.

The Jays, by and large, were favorites to run away with the AL East in 2013, and were being thrown in to some early World Series favorite discussions, yet we know how that turned out.  I'm sure if you were to go back and look at a post from this time last year (go ahead, I'll wait.  It's only like 40 posts anyway), you'd see something that suggests the Jays lining up for 90-some odd wins.  ZiPS, which is my preferred projection system, had the Jays at 88 wins (45 WAR) last year, and whiffed big time.  Of course, 10 of those projected WAR were from Ricky Romero, Josh Johnson and Brandon Morrow, so you see where we're headed here.

Alex Anthopoulos, as you must be aware of by now, neglected to do much of anything this offseason.  JP Arencibia was replaced by Dioner Navarro, Emilio Bonifacio was kind of replaced by Ryan Goins but not really, Rajai Davis is probably going to be replaced by Anthony Gose or Moises Sierra or something, and then Ubaldo Jimenez nope on the rotation.

I mean, yeah, injuries kind of piled up, and Maicer Izturis was supposed to quite a bit better than the worst player in baseball last year, but (1) injuries happen to every team, (2) health, to an extent, is a skill, and (3) some things worked out alright too.

If the three above statements are true, then GM's should:

  1. Stop assembling injury prone players
  2. Have a backup plan for injuries
  3. Not use up roster spots on guys like Mark DeRosa, Aaron Laffey, Ramon Ortiz, who aren't going to work out alright.
I'm getting a little astray from the point that I didn't yet make here, which is that by not improving the rotation, which ranked 26th in total combined WAR, 29th in combined ERA, 28th in combined FIP, 28th in combined xFIP in 2013, and 28th in innings pitched, one of the following must be true for 2014: 
  • AA is banking on some combo of a return to form from some rotation guys (Dickey, Morrow, Romero?) and a coming of age from others (Drabek, Stroman, Hutchison, maybe Sanchez? Nolin?)
  • AA is expecting even more from his offense (i.e. similar production from Bautista, Edwin, Rasmus, Lind, with more from Lawrie, Reyes, and Melky), with the hope to offset the rotation woes.
  • AA's bank is outta money all of a sudden.  The plan was to go buy a free agent pitcher and suddenly, the money's at Fred's house.
I'm kind of inclined to believe bits and pieces of all three of those, actually.  If it took that long for Ubaldo to find 4/$50MM, especially with reports suggesting that the O's decided just the other day to up it to a 4th year, the Jays probably could have had him at a pretty similar price if they wanted to offer it at some point over the last two weeks or so. Similarily, if all it took was a fourth year at $12ish, for a team spending $130MM or so already, and with a bunch of that money coming off the books before that 4th guaranteed year, no less, so maybe they really just didn't want him.

I guess, in a roundabout way, I'm trying to bring this back to the thing about projections taking some things in to account, and not taking in others.  Again, you can look at every team and find an exception or two that we'd never find in projection systems, but I dunno.  This thing, I guess:

A lot of those things aren't accounted for in projection systems.  So, where do we go?  Using ZiPS, one by one, I guess:

  • Dickey was complaining about upper back/neck issues for the early part of the season, and said that the WBC sort of messed him up as well.  Now, he says, he'll be more ready to go early on in the year with a no pain and a full spring with his team.  He also doesn't have to pitch with the fear of throwing a knuckleball towards JP Arencibia in the event of something going wrong with Josh Thole.  ZiPS expects 3 WAR out of Dickey, and I'll not argue.
  • Mark Buehrle is projected to supply 2 wins and 168 innings.  That's just how projections work.  Most people don't throw 200 innings every year the way Buehrle does.  Most people see their production drop off by half a WAR per season after a certain age.  Most people get hurt and spend time on the DL at least once in their careers.  Even at 35, I'd probably use a pen to write that Buehrle will throw closer to 200 innings than 168.  After this though, we're getting optimistic.
  • Brandon Morrow missed three quarters of the season last year, and didn't look good for the other quarter.  He was clearly pitching hurt, but still put up some ugly numbers, which do fuck around with projections (2013 is weighed more heavily than 2012, which is weighed more heavily than 2011).  Still, he isn't exactly a model of health, and shouldn't be relied upon to throw 200 innings until he does it a couple times.  ZiPS likes him for 2.2 WAR and 127 innings, and frankly, we should be thrilled if we get that.
  • JA Happ got clocked in the head by a baseball last year and missed a bunch of time.  Most people don't get clocked in the head by a baseball and miss a bunch of time, so it's hard to say what we should be expecting from him.  It's certainly fair to say that he would have been in the rotation all year had he not been clocked in the head by a baseball last year and missed a bunch of time, but projection systems take in to account injury, not head clockings.  Had he missed time with an arm or shoulder injury, we might have a different story.  Had he pitched fewer innings thanks to being relegated to the bullpen or minors we'd have a different story as well.  He probably won't be clocked in the head with a baseball this year, because most pitchers aren't clocked in the head with a baseball every year.  Happ is still a mediocre pitcher, but innings pitched is a component of WAR, which is useful since every inning he throws is one that Ramon Ortiz doesn't.
  • Marcus Stroman is a rookie with 0 big league experience.  If he makes the opening day rotation, he shouldn't be expected to do a whole hell of a lot.  ZiPS has him at 114 innings and 1.2 WAR.  There's tons of upside there, but it's unfair to expect much from him.  Still, I think the absence of a Santana or Jimenez means that Stroman is pitching as a starter, and is going to be in the bigs before the all-star break.  I don't necessarily expect Stroman to start the season in Toronto, for development reasons, for service time reasons, and the simple fact that there are some guys without options, and others that are probably ready to go without any extra development in the minors.  They might let Stroman work stuff out in the minors for a few starts and take a flyer on some other guys in the meantime. For example:
  • Drew Hutchison, Kyle Drabek, Dustin McGowan, Esmil Rogers, Sean Nolin, Ricky Romero, Todd Redmond, Deck McGuire, Chad Jenkins, or someone else.  Those names aren't all making the rotation.  They won't all get to be the fifth guy in the rotation, and some might not even be Blue Jays by opening day, but a year of healing for some, development for others certainly helps.  Redmond will have to pitch better than he did last year in order to be the guy who gets the call when a pitcher is needed.  Nolin is better than 1.1IP of 40 ERA ball.  Romero won't be 6th on the depth chart unless he pitches well out of the gate.  The depth is better, and if someone comes up and Chien Ming Wang's a start or two-- I use that as a verb despite the fact that 3 of his 7 starts were downright reasonable-- there should be a shorter leash, as opposed to this past year, where there was no option for a while other than to stick with him.  This year's next best option ought to be a lot better than last year's next best option, and it's going to take more injuries to get down to the riffraff 
As far as hitters go, I think we can expect more of the same from Edwin, and most everything else has some variables.
  • Melky Cabrera is pretty much the whole reason I decided to make this post.  He had a tumor on his spine that limited his running.  Defensively, we should hopefully see a guy that can actually run around a little bit out there, even if his speed-power or power-power doesn't return.  Even if he ages at the normal rate from a true-talent standpoint, I don't see why that power or mobility wouldn't return at least a bit.  ZiPS has him at 575 PA's and 1.2 WAR, and any other projection system is reasonably close to that, but again, if we can blame the tumor then we should be able to expect more.  His batted ball profile this year was pretty much in tune with his career numbers, but his power numbers were way, way down.  At the absolute worst, he's in a contract year so he should be awesome.
  • Adam Lind's projection probably isn't taking in to account the fact that he won't see many lefties this year.  I assume the 524 PA's that he's projected for (ZiPS) consists of good performance against righties and bad performance against lefties, so that needs to be weighted differently, whether that's higher value for him or for some RHB getting more lefty time.
  • Colby Rasmus will probably take a step back, given his babip spike and better-than-normal defense.  If he doesn't, though...!
  • Maicer Izturis probably isn't a -2 WAR player, and if he is, the Jays probably just release/DFA him.
  • Can we expect full-ish seasons from Jose Bautista and Jose Reyes?  Is Dioner Navarro going to be able to handle a fuller workload behind the plate?
  • 24 year old's with 1100+ plate appearances tend to get pretty good eventually.  Brett Lawrie is projected to be worth 3.5 WAR per ZiPS, and something like that on most other systems..
Obviously things aren't work out perfectly for everyone, but I think it's pretty clear that AA's mind was made up entering the offseason-- the 2013 iteration of the team wasn't bad, it just couldn't stay on the field.  I'm not so sure.  Yeah, 2013 was pretty unfortunate, but even if this is the exact same team that 2013's version was supposed to be-- and it isn't; Reyes is a year older, Bautista is a year older, Dickey, Buehrle, Edwin... all a year older, all a year past their theoretical primes, wherever the fuck they may be-- injuries and performance rates are going to have to be more preferable than the typical year.  And remember, health is a skill.  Morrow, Reyes, Lawrie and Bautista are all odds-on to miss at least some time. This was a bad offseason.

Update- Yeah, This.

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