I’ve already taken a look at the 2013 ZiPS and Bill James projections for the Jays, but today I kind of wanted to take a different approach to looking at some of the numbers forecast for this year’s club, and rather than go back through what we’ve already half-assedly looked at, it seemed a good opportunity to look at what some of the other number-spitting systems are telling us. Fortunately, there are several still out there, including CAIRO, available as an Excel file at Replacement Level Yankees Weblog, and quite nicely updated, formatted, and composed by individual team at RotoChamp. We can see the Jays’ team RotoChamp page here.
Now, be warned: some of these projections seem awfully light [read: mostly too scary to contemplate seriously]. So… don’t get too alarmed. Especially since, as I seem to mention every time I begin a post about projections, they’re all kind of a bit pointless anyway. Or, at the very least, hardly to be taken as the gospel. On the other hand, as you’ll see, it’s not easy to make the case that they’re terribly off target. Besides, what the hell else are we going to talk about? Let’s see what the robots are saying, beginning today with part one: the lineup. (Sorry about the trad stats).
Jose Reyes: 430 AB, 63 R, 9 HR, 22 SB, .297/.347/.460
Why he’ll be better: While health isn’t exactly his calling card, with the exception of 2009, Reyes hasn’t had so few plate appearances since 2004, so the counting stats projected here should be better. He stole nearly twice as many bases last year and hit more home runs, despite playing in a less friendly park. The .460 SLG being projected is higher than last year’s mark, his career mark, and his composite mark over the last three seasons– and that makes sense, but I think with it can be more tangible power. Plus, with the guys behind him in the lineup, a career full-season low in runs scored just doesn’t make sense.
Why the projection could be about right: Reyes missed significant time in 2009, and about a month’s worth in each of ’10 and ’11, so it’s a little premature to consider his healthy 2012 as the new normal, especially with a history of hamstring injuries that may be exacerbated by the Rogers Centre turf. Plus, Reyes has more power from the left side, while the Rogers Centre plays better for right-handed power hitters, which might not mean as much of a bump as you’d expect in what little power you can expect from him– especially with the low estimation of plate appearances. The slash stats look fair enough– at least the OBP, as Reyes has only had one season of OBP below .347 since 2006.
Melky Cabrera: 524 AB, 77 R, 14 HR, 13 SB, .304/.349/.469
Why he’ll be better: CAIRO essentially, and understandably, looks as Cabrera’s 2012 as a fluke or some other, perhaps more sinister, outlier, and expects essentially the same guy the Royals had in 2011– which isn’t bad, but seems a little light for a couple of reasons. First off, speaking of outliers, Cabrera’s walk rate was a low-end outlier in 2011, over 2% lower than both his 2012 rate and his career norm. So, even if his 2012 OBP was a mostly-BABIP-driven .390, some of that bump was from his walk rate getting back to normal. The power numbers are a bit light as well, as Cabrera clubbed 18 home runs in a much more pitcher-friendly home park in 2011. Cabrera has more power from the right side, which should be played up at the Rogers Centre as well.
Why the projection could be about right: Cabrera’s career, of course, didn’t just begin in 2011, and he was quite a different player before then, having never cracked a wRC+ of 100 and posting a slugging percentage above .391 only once (2009′s .416). His BABIP spike in 2012 certainly jumps out more, but at .332, it was way up in 2011, after he came into the season with a career mark of just .290 through over 2,600 plate appearances. If the past two seasons were nothing more than an extended fluke, or driven by a new level of fitness he won’t be able to maintain without doing what he’d been doing, the regression back from MVP-like numbers that’s inevitable will only be amplified. It’s a legitimate worry.
Jose Bautista: 335 AB, 64 R, 25 HR, .260/.382/.538
Why he’ll be better: Because that’s a staggeringly small number of at-bats for a guy who, prior to 2012′s season-ending wrist injury, had been extremely healthy throughout his career, his only DL stint coming in 2007 with Pittsburgh. Perhaps the fact that he wasn’t playing quite as much in the years prior to 2010 is helping to drag down the projection. But, of course, back then he wasn’t Jose Bautista. The slash stats suggest a bounceback from a 2012 that was below the standard Bautista had set in the two years previous. However, with his season being cut short the way it was, the numbers are a little more warped than they might have otherwise been by his slumptacular April. I’ll bet the over.
Why the projection could be about right: Wrist injuries can be tough– they can take longer to recover from than simply the time it takes for the ailment to heal, and it can sap a player’s power in the process. Though Bautista has maintained all along that things are going well and he’ll be ready for the spring, the Jays are being cautious with him by not allowing him to participate in the World Baseball Classic, despite his (reportedly mild) protestations. Not to get too cynical, but all of the tremendous goodwill– and ticket sales– built by the club over the winter would be damaged considerably by a negative report surrounding Bautista’s wrist. I’m not suggesting they’re lying when they say that everything is fine, but I’d be surprised if they were telling us anything else.
Edwin Encarnacion: 476 AB, 74 R, 28 HR, .265/.349/.496
Why he’ll be better: If we really must speak in at-bats, I can say that Encarnacion had about this many in 2011. He had 542 in 2012, but only 332 in 2010 and 293 the year before, meaning that the projection is essentially just splitting the difference, and maybe weighing a little too heavily the time missed when he was demoted in 2010. A healthy year alone should bump the home run totals. Then there are the slash stats, which appear to be similarly calculated, as one would expect. Fine as they are, and as happy as we might be with what we see here, Encarnacion truly looked like a different hitter in 2012 than we’d seen before. He remembered how to take a walk the way he’d been capable of during his last years in Cincinnati– and then some, walking 5% more often than he had the previous two seasons. He also took his ISO to a whole new level, with many of what may have been doubles in 2011 leaving the yard in 2012.
Why the projection is about right: How badly have we been spoiled by Jose Bautista’s career turnaround? Badly enough, I think, to sometimes forget the one year wonders who’ve followed success with crushing disappointment. We’ve seen many around here in recent years– Adam Lind, Aaron Hill, and Alex Rios. Granted, Rios and Hill proved they had more in them in 2012, but not after long periods in the wilderness. I feel good about Encarnacion’s chances to keep up the improvements he showed this season– he always had power, used to take walks and changed his swing– but, again, the walk rate and the ISO sure stand in contrast to what he’d been doing previously. I believe in him, but we can’t honestly call him a Bautista story just yet.
Brett Lawrie: 498 AB, 70 R, 15 HR, 16 SB, .266/.319/.440
Why he’ll be better: The projection here has Lawrie taking a further step back from his sophomore slump-y 2012 in terms of average and on-base in exchange for a higher slugging percentage and less than a handful more home runs. Add in Lawrie’s fantastic debut cameo in 2010 and he’s played 168 games in the bigs, with a .276/.336/.446 line and a .340 wOBA, and maybe I’m a pie-eyed optimist, but that seems a little more like it. Especially so given his pedigree as a prospect and the successes he had in the minors in 2010 and 2011, as well. This seasons he started coming around with a big June (143 wRC+), but slumped in the first two-plus weeks of August, before he fell into a Yankee Stadium camera bay and was never quite the same, eventually going on the DL with an oblique strain that took the wind out of his rebounding swing. I just can’t believe that there isn’t still more growth there.
Why the projection is about right: Lawrie was a different hitter in 2012 than we’d seen the year before, walking over 3% less, losing 150 points off his ISO, and, perhaps even more alarmingly, going from a 38:45 ratio of ground balls to fly balls, to 50:30. He swung the bat far more frequently– 8.5% more than in 2011, with about the same increase in swings outside the zone– and while he made more contact as a consequence, he wasn’t doing nearly as much with it. We’ve all heard that the club asked him to be more selective as he tried to mash his way out of Las Vegas in the spring of 2011, and that he magically made the adjustment, going from a walk rate just under 4% to up over 10% in the month he was called up, drastically cutting down on the number of ground balls he hit in the process. He’ll probably need to have another one of those kinds of transformations in him, otherwise the projection here is probably what we’re really looking at.
Colby Rasmus: 514 AB, 76 R, 22 HR, .241/.312/.437
Why he’ll be better: This card is looking worn from having been played so often on Rasmus’ behalf, but through most of the second half of 2012 he looked hurt, and more than just a little bit lost. It’s hard to know what to reasonably attribute to that sort of stuff– or, indeed, how real it even is– but it’s at least plausible that, with so many of his fellow Jays regulars having succumbed to injury, and Anthony Gose readying himself for a run at the starting CF gig, Rasmus may have pressed too hard to stay in the lineup, and done his overall numbers a disservice in the process. At the All-Star break he had a .349 wOBA and 120 wRC+, and he’d been similarly successful in 2010. The ability is there, and a little part of me still thinks it may finally resurface in 2013. Then again, the ability to post a .230 wOBA and 38 wRC+, as he did in the second half, is also there.
Why the projection is about right: There have really only been two times in his big league career that Rasmus has been successful on the level that made Jays fans giddy when the club was able to acquiring him mid-2011: a BABIP outlier-driven 2010 season, and the brief period last summer after he started standing closer to the plate, before the league’s pitchers caught up to his adjustment. He’s been tinkering a lot, and largely that seems to be because nothing is working. It’s getting harder and harder to believe that he’ll ever quite figure it out, and this projection– which shows him with a 14 point boost in OBP and a 37 point boost in SLG over his high water marks for the last two seasons– may be the rare one that’s generous.
Adam Lind: 440 AB, 52 R, 19 HR, .263/.320/.449
Why he’ll be better: Adam Lind has benefited from more rope and more excuse-making than any Jays player in recent memory, so it’s a little bit hard to swallow when you see a halfway decent projection like this, but he truly was a different hitter in the second half of 2012, following his mid-May demotion to Las Vegas. Even after a back injury that cost him much of August, Lind returned to being as productive as he’d been since the recall. His walk rate may have taken a hit, but he posted a .339 wOBA and 113 wRC+ after the All-Star break, as compared to .294 and 83 in the first half. With a second half slash Line of .304/.343/.441, Lind can mayebe even be a much more productive hitter than the projection suggests, as long as he picks up right where he left off.
Why the projection is about right: If we’re being entirely honest, it’s probably a little optimistic. Even with the mini-resurrection in 2012, he still was brutal against left-handed pitchers, and the club has already said that he’ll be on a short leash when it comes to facing them– as he should be, with the capable Rajai Davis ready to platoon with him in the DH role. So even 440 at-bats seems a stretch. The .449 SLG is higher than any of his big league seasons, save his 2009 “breakout,” and the OBP projected would be his best in four years as well, and I just can’t see why it makes anything close to sense to believe in his last 175 plate appearances, when a rather different story– a .313 wOBA story, with a brutal platoon split against lefties– emerges from his last 1500.
J.P. Arencibia: 424 AB, 55 R, 21 HR, .232/.287/.446
Why he’ll be better: Arencibia had an up-and-down season in 2012, but he was just getting hot when he sidelined with a fractured hand in July. The injury sapped much of his power when he returned, as he posted just a .303 SLG, which helped to drag his numbers down to a shade below where this projection has him. With that now fully healed, plus additional playing time coming his way if Henry Blanco makes the team as his backup, Arencibia should be able to exceed these numbers. Plus, his walk and strikeout rates both trended in the wrong direction in 2012, and while he may never quite walk a tonne, it’s still much too early in his career to not expect a bounceback that will help these numbers as well– especially since young catchers, perhaps because they have so much more on their plate than just hitting, sometimes take longer to develop, offensively.
Why the projection is about right: Save for a half-season in A-ball and his repeat year in Triple-A, this is basically what Arencibia has always been. He doesn’t walk, strikes out a lot, and hits for some power. Sure, heading into his age-27 season, there is still room for improvement in those areas, but as each year passes the chance of it being more than marginal improvement sinks lower. Some fans may still see him as an up-and-comer with a lot more in the bat left to show, but that’s really not quite the case. Seeing Baseball Reference suggesting guys like Bobby Estallella and Miguelo Olivo as similar players through age 26 is sobering.
Emilio Bonifacio: 410 AB, 56 R, 4 HR, 27 SB, .263/.323/.354
Why he’ll be better: Bonifacio’s 2012 was a season cut short by injury, with a thumb sprain sidelining him from mid-May until July and a knee sprain ending his year in late August. Thumb trouble, in particular, can make it difficult for a player to grip the bat the way he wants to, which makes it all the more difficult to read into the numbers we’re seeing. He slumped out of the gate, but was heating up, posting a .349 wOBA in May, at the point he went down. His numbers were also dragged down by the atrocious time he had against left-handed pitching– something that had otherwise been a strong point during his career. Being healthy, and on a club with the luxury of deploying him favourably for his skillset, should go a long way to having him outproduce this projection. And in 2012 he stole more bases in 150 fewer at-bats, so that number should be easily eclipsed with this kind of playing time.
Why the projection is about right: As much as we’d rather look to Bonifacio’s breakout 2011 as the baseline for his future performance, his numbers in every other season suggest that’s probably not a great idea, and look very much in line with what CAIRO is projecting here. They have the power numbers trending up a little, which you’d expect for a guy moving from Marlins Stadium to the Rogers Centre, and the stolen base numbers may be mitigated by John Gibbons’ disinclination to run into outs, especially given the top of the order that will be coming up after Bonifacio most nights. The Jays may love Bonifacio, but this really is about what you can honestly expect.
Stay tuned for part two of this piece, looking at the Jays’ rotation, coming up… er… eventually.