This week Dan Szymborski had a piece at ESPN.com (Insider Only) in which he told about just how close the AL East is now expected to be, based on the ZiPS projection system. As of yesterday morning, he explained, “ZiPS projects four of the five teams in the AL East to have a mean projection of finishing at 83 wins, with Toronto only a couple of games back.”
“Now,” he continued, “that doesn’t mean that 84 wins will win the AL East; it just means that, according to the projections, no single team in the division is more likely to finish with more than 84 games than not. In other words, the AL East isn’t likely to come down to who has the most talented team, but simply luck and which of the very evenly matched teams play above their expectations.”
So how can a team do that? There are all kinds of variables at play in this, but on a very basic level, one way for a team to play above what the projection system can register is to have a players come out of nowhere, to make a change, or to simply have something click in a way that it couldn’t be foreseen by any mere assessment of his track record — and in case you haven’t noticed, the Jays may genuinely have some of those.
Without a doubt, Drew Hutchison could be one, but 2014 has also been going swimmingly so far for a player whose grip on a contributing role may loosen this week — provided Adam Lind comes back on Thursday, as expected, and Brett Lawrie doesn’t wind up on the shelf — and that, of course, is Juan Francisco.
And Francisco really could play above the expectations/projections if he continues taking walks at the highest rate of his career, I think.
But can he?