Lost Year for the Blue Jays?
Much of the press about the Toronto Blue Jays has focused on three things: (a) Cito Gaston’s swan song as manager and the aggressive approach he has encouraged his hitters to take; (b) the breakout year for Jose Bautista, and (c) their hot start in the AL East.
There’s no denying the breakout year for Jose Bautista has been a sight to behold – I don’t believe for a second we’re looking at a 50 HR per year guy, but I have seen enough to believe he’s a legit 25-30 HR player. However, can 2010 really be looked upon as a success? As a lifelong Yankees fan, I’m thrilled about the steps backwards that Toronto has taken.
Let’s begin with the raw numbers. The team’s .313 OBP is 2nd worst in the AL (ahead of only the Seattle Mariners – and for a discussion of the historically horrendous Mariners see my earlier oost here). Their team Swing% is 49%, highest in the league (The lowest two are the Red Sox and the Yankees). The Jays hit the lowest percentage of line drives (17%) in the league – of course, their HR/FB% is 13%, the best in the league.
Individually, Jose Bautista aside, their players have taken a significant step backwards. After launching 36 HRs and triple slashing 286/330/499, Aaron Hill has regressed significantly in 2010. He still has 21 HRs, but his line drives are down by half (19.6% to 10.1%) and his fly balls way up (54.3%, from 41%). While his swing percentage is nearly identical to 2009, it has stayed the same because he is chasing more balls out of the zone (31.0% against 26.5%) while swinging at fewer strikes. The story for Adam Lind is similar – Lind is swinging at 34.9% of pitches outside the strike zone, up from 24.7% last year. He is seeing 3.82 pitches per plate appearance, down from 4.03 last year. Lind has been a little unlucky both on balls in play and fly balls, but his triple slash of 231/284/406 is alarmingly lower than 305/370/562 from 2009, especially for a player that turned 27 in July.
From a contractual perspective, the 2010 Blue Jays must be considered subpar, if not a disaster. Vernon Wells’ contract can be ignored – with 4 years left and $85M, that is simply an albatross. However, looking through the rest of the roster:
— Lyle Overbay is in the last year of a contract earning $7M
— Edwin Encarcacion is in the last year of a contract earning $4.75M
— Scott Downs is in the last year of a contract earning $4M
— Jason Frasor is on a 1 year deal worth $2.65M
— John Buck is on a 1 year deal worth $2M
— Kevin Gregg is on a 1 year deal at $2M, with 2 club options at $4.5M for 2011-2012
The Jays do deserve credit for moving Alex Gonzalez at the deadline for Yunel Escobar, a younger (and likely better) version of Gonzo. But the fact that none of the abovementioned players was moved ought to be cause for great concern.
Moving beyond the deadline, I have serious concerns about the way in which this season’s plate appearances were allocated. With Brett Wallace raking in AAA, the Jays have given Overbay over 500 plate appearances (before trade Wallace for Anthony Gose, a 19 year old speed merchant who just posted a 724 OPS at Single-A in 2010). With JP Arencibia on his way to the PCL MVP, slugging 32 HRs, the Jays have given 500 Plate Appearances to John Buck and Jose Molina. Even now in September, Arencibia is not seeing regular at bats despite any credible argument about the Jays competitive chances out the window. 30 year old Fred Lewis has racked up nearly 500 plate appearances in the outfield – and it seems obvious to anyone that whenever the Jays do challenge the AL East’s holy trinity, Fred Lewis will not be a significant portion of that challenge.
On the bright side, the Jays do have some young pitching that is worth getting excited about – Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow both posted 4 WAR seasons, in the top 20 in the American League. Shaun Marcum battled injuries but has proven to be a solidly above average starter, and Brett Cecil appears to have a future in the middle to back of the rotation.
Beyond the rotation, however, I see nothing to be excited about. Looking back on the three topics of conversation about the Jays:
(a) I am not inside the clubhouse, but if Cito Gaston is responsible for the new “aggressive” approach at the plate, it has failed caused Adam Lind and Aaron Hill to regress terribly at the plate
(b) Yes – Jose Bautista has been a revelation, but if the Jays aren’t going to lock him up long term (either as their RF or 3B answer), he’d better be on the block because his trade value will never be higher
(c) The hot start that the Jays had effectively cost them what 2010 should have been – a year to solidify their answers in the outfield, at catcher and wherever Brett Wallace might play
This team is a wildly free swinging team with no plate discipline. This offseason the front office will let a number of veterans walk for no compensation where they might have fetched some in July – or worse, management will spend the money on those middling veterans when the cash should be spent ensuring the team can compete in 2012-2013. 2010 should have been a year for figuring out the answers that accompanying an exciting young staff – but all I see is a year of no (or the wrong) answers and a greater likelihood that when the Jays offense catches up, its good young pitching will be elsewhere.