“When I was around the Blue Jays — major, major questions about their bullpen,” said Buster Olney during a recent appearance on Boston’s WEEI. “I think the Red Sox are going to have a good bullpen, Yankees are going to have a good bullpen, Orioles, Rays are going to have good bullpens, and that’s a real problem for Toronto and that’s why I’m picking them fourth.”

Now, let’s be clear: this isn’t a prediction that I’d make. It certainly isn’t the sort of myopic reasoning I’d use if I were making a prediction– and, frankly, I don’t think the Jays have any more “major, major questions about their bullpen” than any other club does in any other season. Olney also picked the Orioles to finish first, earning hearty praise from Baltimore, in both the mainstream media, and the blogosphere, so… perhaps he’s simply trolling. But hoo boy, some Jays fans are positively aghast that anyone might dare think such things.

Parkes experienced some of this particular brand of insanity when, in a Ten Stray Thoughts On A Friday post back in February, he dared highlight numerous questions that surround this best-in-two-decades version of the Jays.

Thing is, there isn’t a whole lot between the five clubs of the American League East– even the Baltimores, who tend to get dismissed too quickly because of how they fluked their way to so many wins in 2012. In 2013 the Orioles will get a full year of Manny Machado, who is quite comparable at third base to Brett Lawrie. They could get upwards of 60 more games from Nick Markakis and his .359 wOBA. Nolan Reimold played in just 16 games last season, has a career .346 wOBA in over 900 plate appearances and should get regular playing time, as well.

Add in the fact that Adam Jones is Adam Jones, Matt Wieters can get even better, Brian Roberts looks finally to be healthy, and JJ Hardy can’t possibly be worse, and it means that the club may not even have to rely on repeat performances from last year’s biggest surprises, Chris Davis and Nate McLouth. And if those two stay productive? It could be a much scarier lineup than people want to give it credit for– especially people relying on Adam Lind, J.P. Arencibia, Colby Rasmus, Maicer Izturis and Emilio Bonifacio to not cash in on their very real abilities to fucking suck.

The O’s bullpen still looks good, and while it’s likely the starting pitching won’t be quite as magical, they’ve now got Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman waiting in the wings, and some other potential lightning-in-a-bottle options still lingering in the organization. So… they’re certainly not perfect, and certainly not as good as a Jays club that’s healthy and producing optimally. But no team ever is that, and I just don’t think it takes a whole lot of mental gymnastics for a person to get to a place where they’re generally more down on the possibility of the Jays’ key guys staying on the field and doing what they need to do, and more up on the Orioles’ chances.

Dave Cameron got to the nut of the trouble with assessing the Jays when summarizing FanGraphs’ recent positional power rankings:

The Blue Jays don’t grade out as a top tier team, even after their aggressive off-season of upgrades. I think the forecast is underselling R.A. Dickey here, and they have a decent chance to beat the 85 win forecast, but they are betting big on some high variance players coming off career years. Their season might very well come down to whether Dickey and Melky Cabrera can retain a good chunk of their breakout 2013 performances. These forecasts are down on both, but there’s certainly upside with both players beyond what is projected here.

Though the Jays’ win total is a shade low, for FanGraphs the Jays still project better than any team in the division, but that’s not the case for the similarly calculated projections at Baseball Prospectus, where the Jays are currently ranked fourth in the division– albeit ahead of the Orioles, surely much to Buster Olney’s chagrin.

In BP’s standings the Jays trail the Yankees by seven games, and are marginally behind the Rays and Red Sox as well. There are some reasons to think this represents a genuine flaw in the system, as I discussed back in February, including that– as Cameron admitted in the FanGraphs summary– the projection system’s (in this case PECOTA) trouble with the knuckleballing Dickey, or with the variance in the seasons in Cabrera’s track record. We can try to explain this away to ourselves by insisting that a differently– perhaps “ideally”– calibrated system would surely see the Jays being ahead the Rays and Red Sox, but that hardly means people ought to be surprised when the Jays aren’t automatically considered the best team in the division– especially when they see just how many people don’t see it that way.

Forty-three ESPN personalities made predictions last week, with twenty taking the Jays, twenty going for the Rays, Olney and Rick Sutcliffe picking Baltimore– which… OK, not-entirely-crazy as I may be suggesting that is, is pretty fucking hilarious– and Mark Simon taking the Yankees.

Keith Law breaks the tie at the Worldwide Leader by taking the Rays at 93 wins to the Jays’ 90, largely because of the Jays’ lack of depth and the fact that “the Rays have a history of exceeding expectations, perhaps due to their lack of name value, and they have reinforcements sitting in Triple-A ready to help by June or so, including top prospect Wil Myers.” (For what it’s worth, he throws Jays fans a bone later in the piece by taking Josh Johnson as his Cy Young pick in the AL.)

Similar to the breakdown at ESPN, Baseball Prospectus has 20 writers tapping Tampa as the AL East champs, with 16 for the Jays. The pattern repeats itself at FanGraphs, where the Jays were edged by the Rays in their writers’ poll, because the Rays received more Wild Card love, though the clubs split the AL East vote at fifteen apiece.

I do think that in there, colouring the predictions in ways that, while perhaps not exactly faulty, are assumptions I probably wouldn’t make– ones about organizations who have done it before, who’ve pulled rabbits out of their hats, who’ve miraculously fought off old age or developed young players into Major League-ready ones with frightening efficiency, being surer bets to do it again– and so I do feel no worse about the Jays’ chances of overcoming their myriad potential obstacles than I would if I were fans of those other teams. But it’s just slightly ridiculous to think anything but that the AL East is damn close.

Even the Red Sox– who will hit, especially in their ballpark, with Pedroia, Napoli, Gomes against lefties, and full health from Ellsbury and (eventually) Ortiz– need only for Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz to regain their form of two years ago in order to be a club capable of winning the division themselves, really. It’s a tall order, but I suppose the point I’m trying to make is, so is having Dickey pick up where he left off in 2012, keeping Johnson on the path to regaining his dominance, getting a healthy season from Brandon Morrow, and keeping the regression demons at bay when it comes to Mark Buehrle.

Saying, with the kind of certainty that I’ve seen, that one team– the team the person making the claim happens to live and die with– is that much more likely than the other to hit on their most positive outcome in this regard is simply wrong– not because it won’t necessarily end up that way, but because this has nothing to do with certainty– or even the kind of near certainty we had last year when it came to the Orioles and their inevitable fall back to earth that failed to come.

The Jays may have the most talent in the division in some abstract way that looks only at their optimal output at full health, but there’s enough nuance when it comes to the likelihood of that health or that kind of peak-capability performance– both for them and for their division rivals– to make clear that the “on paper” analysis is hopelessly narrow. Vegas, some may point out, in the latest iteration of their 2013 World Series odds, may have the Jays as the favourites, but that probably tells us more about how bookies think they can make money than it does anything about who might actually come on top. So, in my view, insisting with any kind of certainty that one team in this division is clearly ahead just doesn’t hold up. They’re close enough that, at this point, there really is no wrong answer to the question of who will win the AL East.

Mercifully for all of us, starting today for the Yankees and Red Sox, tomorrow for the Orioles, Rays and Jays, we get to the part where we actually start finding all of this out for real. Bring it the fuck on already.


Image via @TrippingOlney.

Comments (59)

  1. Well, at least it’s not a foolish “April fools, suckers!” post, but it’s also not making any predictions of your own? Come on Stoeten, give us something to hate on!

  2. It’s not going to be fun when people complain when the team is 2-4 to start the season if that occurs

  3. Is it too late to bet the farm on Jays over 85?

  4. Experts are retards. Jays are going to run away with the East.

  5. At least Olney tried to make a point. I mean, a concern about the bullpen—as unpredictable, fixable, and maybe unfounded as it is—is a better complain than the ‘chemistry issues’ some commentators highlight—have they even seen the pics of the Reyes, Joey, et al? Or the complaint that ‘sometimes, the best additions dont improve teams, see: Red Sox, Marlins,’ because more often than not, they do.

  6. I think this is an interesting assessment. A lot of casual fans in the city are expecting Big Things because of all these Big Moves, while it can be argued that this just brings us in line with a lot of other talented teams (sorry, Boston, not you).

    A lot of heightened expectations may wreak havoc this year. For once I’m actually hoping for some success from the Leafs, redirect some of the spotlight.

  7. Agree that the Jays or any other AL East team could end up anywhere 1-5 .. however ..

    Yankees – their line-up is laughable – at least for them
    Rays – I don’t buy Law’s – “they normally over achieve” line of thinking – in fact I am surprised he would use that as a even a small basis for his prediciton
    Sox – Farell poison
    O’s – not again, please not again

    The Jays have numerous scenarios that you just don’t want to see .. and frankly, they may be in the midst of that already ..

    Lawrie – hurt – lingering injury (could be) = too much playing time for Derosa, Izturis, etc.
    Santos & Jansen – early ST set backs – does this linger – both coming off surgery
    Romero – who knows

    A line-up with …


    … not quite as sexy as we would like especially if the regulars can’t take a small leap forward ..

    Time to get the real games under way already so we don’t need to think about “worst case” scenarios .. I am pumped and believe this team will win 90+ games and make the playoffs ..bias though ..

  8. We should be competitive this year. We should be buyers at the deadline.

    But this isn’t a must win this year or rebuild situation. Outside of Johnson your important pieces are locked up for 14 and even 15.

    Whatever the case it will be a much more interesting season to watch. But expectations should remain practical. This isn’t a 100 win team unless everything goes right (looking at you Colby and sleepy)

  9. I like this….. no expectations….. less pressure…. “Jays are under-dogs!”

    Fine with me.

  10. If the the Blue Jays stay healthy, they’ll be just fine. With that being said I think it’s fair to say that SP depth is a concern for this team. As far as bullpen goes, I think it’s too early to judge their performance.

    And those fucking O’s can kiss my ass. They always had the offence but they lacked starting pitching. Last year they over delivered. Bet it won’t happen again.

    Yanks are just awful. they can pitch though. and they know how to win. hitting wise they ain’t good enough.

    Red Sox are good this year. Fuck Farrell. Their pitching and their offence is mediocre to good. If things go their way they can make it. I just hope John Farrell fuck up their starters like he did here. Then their whole org will be berried in shit for years.

    Rays. ah fuck ‘em.

  11. The bullpen isnt that bad. Olney is out of his fucking mind. Its not top notch but its far from being a complete liability. I think olney is just bias and is looking for a reason to trash on the jays for whatever reason. Anyways, i can understand picking the rays over the jays. But the orioles?? Cmon with those starters? Give me a fucking break. No way they are fluking to all those wins again.

    • Although i will admit the rays offense is not far off from the a’s and mariners and thats not good. So if olney is worried about the jays bullpen, he should be equally worried about the rays offense.

    • Using a teams bullpen as a reason for trashing them is almost as stupid as using chemistry for a reason. The variance on BP performance is incredibly high. I would not be surprised to see the Orioles magical BP be very ordinary this year.

      Having said that, I don’t give a shit about anybody’s forecasts since they hold about as much weight as any knowledgeable fans opinion.

      • It’s not like bullpens are entirely abstract things. Did you see Pedro Strop in the WBC? They have some fantastic guys back there, though I agree that it’s not a reason to pick one team over another– at least unless someone’s gone to the trouble of showing how they’re even in other areas.

        • I didn’t see much of the WBC, actually.

          You’re obviously right that BP’s can be somewhat forecast. It’s just that year after year, excluding Mo Rivera, guys that are seen as BP stalwarts, for some reason, don’t perform to expectations in a given year. I think small sample size has much to do with this, actually since guys in the pen usually don’t pitch enough innings for luck to not have a drastic effect on their performance.

        • Are we not giving enough mention to the fact that this is probably the greatest (read: most profitable) time since the invention of the internet to be trolling Jays fans, as a sportswriter? The traffic that Olney must be driving after that prediction has got to be astronomical.

  12. i think this maybe our chance to get to the post season. I just dont know about next year as we will be a year older, and who knows what the team will look like next year, does anyone have a no trade clause?

    I am holding my breath for the start of the year, can’t wait, if we make the post season, sweet, if not, i at least hope we have a shot come sept so that i dont turn off the tv for that month and play outside with my kids like in years past.

  13. Its the same thing every year. And you never know how it all plays out till the last ball is thrown.

  14. This is why the games are played. Make the games start.

  15. Nice write up Mr. Stoeten.

    All I know is that the 140+ games I will get to watch will be a fuck of alot more entertaining than the ones over the last 3 years. I just hope the big strong Tabby and and his free flowing hair friend Buck are somehow more bearable this year.

    FUCK…can’t wait for Friday’s game!!

  16. Lawrie on 15 days DL.

  17. All these predictions rely on who will get bitten by the regression and injury bugs. Also Myers, Bradley and Machado are fine prospects, but I’m sure I heard of a prospect or two who failed to meet big league expectations.

  18. Best place to eat/drink close to the Rogers Centre?

  19. Over the past several seasons, Jays fans have been put in a position where we have to hope that (a) our team doesn’t stumble and (b) all the other teams in our division do. That was the only way the Jays were going to make the post-season. Banking on someone else’s failure as a recipe for success isn’t going to work out in your favour too often.

    This year we only have to hope that, on average, the teams all perform to reasonable expectations. The Jays have a chance to win any given game against any given team. We aren’t dependant on good luck for our guys and bad luck for their opponents, unlike some of the weaker teams out there in both leagues…and unlike the Jays of the recent past. There’s a hell of a lot of worse places to be in.

    Play ball!

  20. Great post Stoet. Really excellent.

    One quibble: “They’re close enough that, at this point, there really is no wrong answer to the question of who will win the AL East.” Yes, Yankees is a wrong answer. (Red Sox could win the division, but they are a wrong answer too because fuck Farrell.)

  21. Oh and about SP depth – the Jays have a different sort of SP depth. They don’t have the kinds of arms the O’s and Rays have in the wings, but their rotation is solid enough that in case of one or two injuries, everyone can move up a slot and not that much would be needed out of the new #5.

  22. Injuries can derail anyone. For any other team to win the division, they need either exceptional years from multiple players (Rays, Soxs), entire team to produce above abilities, (O’s), or a time machine, (Yanks). While any of these are possible, the Jays just need to play to potential to win. I like our chances.

  23. Stoets seeing as you mentioned good chemistry is a result of winning I have to jump in.(and not a personal attack). I have played team sports to a fairly high level and I have played on losing teams that had great chemistrty just as often as winning teams. The difference is the personalities in the room. There are your leaders in the room that speak up,. there are your leaders that lead by making light of others mistakes and beaking each other, and leaders that lead on the field through their actions.
    It takes a group of people WITH TALENT working together. accepting their roll. and cheering each other on. Holding each other accountable as a group for the success of the TEAM is the key So please stop with winning causes good chemistry because it is not a cause but can be a result

  24. I think that there is a more charitable way to read Law’s point about the Rays: perhaps there is a reason that the rays always exceed expectations (Maddon, forward-thinking, great scouting, Friedman’s genius,) and that reason has not changed, so maybe it is hard to bet against them doing so again.

  25. Go ahead and check out the actual yankee roster… is not good. it is aging..and it is injured. they will be buried so far back by june that even if they get a fully healthy granderson, tex, jeter, will be too late.

    im not worried about them at all. more worried about the sox than the yankees, and Im not that worried about them either.

    the team to worry about is the rays.

  26. I’m just gonna throw out a an offer for a 10-1 bet Rasmus wins comeback player this year…as hilarious as it might be he could put up 100 rbi in this lineup if he can bump up his slugging with RISP and the jays should win 90ish…old school anaylsts will vote him in based on that shit even if he only rocks a 3 WAR…plus I got him on my fantasy bench so I’m hoping for counting stats if one of my good OF gets hurt…ONE MORE DAY!!!!

  27. “so is having Dickey pick up where he left off in 2012, keeping Johnson on the path to regaining his dominance, getting a healthy season from Brandon Morrow, and keeping the regression demons at bay when it comes to Mark Buehrle”

    That really isn’t that tall of an order. And even if things don’t break exactly like that, they can still easily make the playoffs, and even contend for the division. I really don’t think Mark Buehrle has to be any better than league average to win a lot of games, for instance. Nor would JA Happ. Or Ricky Romero.

    Also, the reason i didn’t like Parkes’ piece is because i think it was trite BS passed off as ‘pressing questions’. You can come up with 10 things that could reasonably be expected to possibly go wrong and ruin a season for any team, any year. It was mundane stuff that was presented as suddenly necessary expectation tempering insight. Lame.

    Also, can we have disqus back?

  28. All predictions are always crazy. Every year pundits get it more wrong than right aand fans kill themselves over-analyzing the reports that come out. I have no problem with the idea that the Jays look great on paper but still face the small challenge of actually playing 162 games.

    Go Jays!

  29. With the information that we have at this time, the jays are better than the yanks, orioles, sox, and rays.

    if encarnacion gets abducted by aliens, lawrie gets bit by a chupacabara, and bautista becomes a meth head, we shall re asses

  30. Let’s be realistic. Yes, the Orioles have basically the same awesome bullpen as last year, but the rest of the team isn’t that different. Do we really think they’re going to run the table again in 1-run games? I don’t think so. Also, the ratings systems that use “regression toward the mean” always underestimate the slide that old players go through, so barring a huge comeback year from Vernon Wells, the Yankees are being over-rated. And yes, the Red Sox will hit well in their own ballpark, but so will everyone else, particularly against their pathetic rotation.

    The Yankees will hang in there, but the Jays’ biggest competition will come from the pesky Rays. Worst-case scenario, the Jays finish second in the AL-East and miss out on the Wildcard to whoever finishes second in the West.

  31. It’s interesting that, while Olney et al are using a weak bullpen to knock the Jays down, the Fangraphs’ projections have the Jays with an elite pen but knocks them back everywhere else on the field.

    fwiw, I think the FG projections stand a chance of selling short Lawrie and Bautista (both of whom are listed around 4 WAR by the projection they used) by a couple WAR or more between them, notwithstanding the likely underprojecting of Dickey and Cabrera.

  32. 27 out of 37 on ESPN had Jays making the playoffs one way or the other.

    Not bad for 12 months work!

  33. a bullpen doesn’t win you games, it just preserves them. .

    and i fail to see how the yanks or red sox bullpen is any higher projected than ours.

  34. So we’ll suck because of lack of “depth” and because after Santon, Janssen and Oliver we have an average bullpen.

    Last I checked the rotation and regular batting lineup has the most influence. I’ll take our starting rotation over having a great “6th inning guy”. And I’ll take our lineup that is great 1-4 and then has interesting bats all the rest of the way (Lind actually come to life? Lawrie? JP? Rasmus?) over having Candy Maldonado on the bench.

  35. I’m tired of hearing that the bullpen is the Jays’ Achilles heel.
    THis is my personal take on it – with the caveat being that the hell-spawned, injury-plagued starting rotation of the 2012 season was an outlier, and hopefully not repeated.
    The Jays have some decent starters this season..and hopefully will eclipse their 75 quality start of last season. Maybe they get 90-100 or so quality starts (Tampa and Detroit had 90 last year. Do-able, maybe) You use a couple of guys a night maybe….a LOOGY, etc. Santos and Janssen will be an effective 8th and 9th inning combo. So really, we’re talking about not beating the shit out of your bullpen on a regular, game-after-game basis.
    The bullpen’s success will depend on the starters, IMO.

  36. OK I’ve got to ask — who are the weak links in bullpen Olney? I mean that in all 100% honesty. WHO are you talking about? And since when does a few middle relievers which teams drop and trade like they’re groupies drop you from first to fourth in the division? I think Olney needs a catscan.

  37. I don’t know what you’re basing your assumption that the betting odds aren’t as good of a indicator as anything else when it comes to the Jays’ chances. They’ll never give you better odds than whatever they estimate to be the “true” underlying probability, but what’s the gain to manipulate the ordering? Do you really think people go: “oh, my favourite team has a low payoff if they win the world series! I gotta get me some of that!”

  38. welp

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