2011 Record: 81-81, 4th AL East
2011 Prediction:
79-83, 4th AL East

Impact Player: RF Jose Bautista
Impact Pitcher:
RHP Brandon Morrow
Best Reliever:
RHP Sergio Santos
Top Prospect:
C Travis d’Arnaud

Last Year
In the first half of the 2011 season, the Blue Jays gave a fair amount of playing time to the likes of Corey Patterson, Rajai Davis, Jayson Nix and Aaron Hill. By the end of the year, General Manager Alex Anthopoulos had acquired a potential All-Star centerfielder in Colby Rasmus and an undervalued asset in second baseman Kelly Johnson. The call-up of The God of Maple Syrup, Brett Lawrie, completed a mid-season transformation and suddenly the Blue Jays looked like a team on the verge of contending. The results on the field did not necessarily reflect this, but combined with the complete revamping of the farm system over the last few years, it’s clear that not only are the Jays headed in the right direction, but they’re suddenly a very dangerous and capable team.

Still, the Jays gave up more runs than they scored and at times the pitching was so bad it was hard to watch. Anthopoulos largely stood pat this offseason, upgrading the bullpen significantly and adding some bench depth in outfielder Ben Francisco and the older-than-time Omar Vizquel. Some fans and media members scolded Rogers, the Blue Jays well-heeled owners, for not opening the purse strings for players like Prince Fielder and C.J. Wilson, but not making those moves is going to turn out to be a much wiser move for the club long-term; even if it doesn’t benefit the team in 2012.

Pitching
Only the Orioles, Twins and Royals allowed more runs in the AL than the Blue Jays last season. Ricky Romero led the team with an impressive 2.92 ERA and 225 inning-pitched, but his peripherals actually took a step back in 2011. His 3.80 xFIP, although still solid, was behind Brandon Morrow for the best on the team. Morrow led the AL in K/9 rate for the second straight season at 10.19. He vastly underpitched his peripherals once again and saw his home run rate jump dramatically. If he can put it all together and avoid some bad luck, he will probably be the best pitcher on the team.

After Morrow, the rotation depth drops off. Henderson Alvarez has yet to have his 22nd birthday, and although he pitched well in a 63-inning cameo last year, he lacks a quality breaking ball. Pitchers that lack a true swing-and-miss breaking ball tend to have limited ceilings; especially in the AL East. Lefty Brett Cecil was inconsistent in 2011, pitching to a 4.47 xFIP and losing his modest ability to accrue groundballs, but if he’s healthy, he should rebound slightly and be a quality back-end starter.

The fifth spot could go to Dustin McGowan who has miraculously come back from multiple shoulder and knee injuries. After missing more than three full seasons, McGowan performed reasonably well in a September call-up, averaging just less than 94 MPH on his fastball. However, relying on him to make 30 or more starts is probably foolish at this point. Another option for the fifth spot is Kyle Drabek who completely lost his ability to throw strikes at any level last season. The upside is still tremendous and he is just 24-years-old; he has plenty of time to figure it out and could still turn out to be an above-average pitcher. Rick VandenHurk, Nelson Figueroa and lefties Luis Perez and Aaron Laffey are also options. The front office is also reportedly toying with the idea of bringing prospect Drew Hutchison up from AA to get a shot.

The bullpen that included Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch, Shawn Camp, and Octavio Dotel is no more as Anthopoulos’ main order of business this winter was improving upon a group that struggled at times in 2011 (although not nearly as badly as some would have you believe). Anthopoulos first pulled off a trade that ESPN’s Keith Law said was “the trade of the offseason by any club” by pilfering closer and slider-artist Sergio Santos from Kenny Williams and the White Sox for middling prospect Nestor Molina. Santos has an extremely team-friendly deal that could potentially see him in a Jays uniform until 2017. He then signed veteran lefty Darren Oliver and re-acquired Jason Frasor from the White Sox (sent there as part of the Colby Rasmus acquisition) for two fringe-prospect relievers. Finally, he added Francisco Cordero to help out incumbent Casey Janssen in the late innings. Swing man Carlos Villanueva is back and will likely see time in both the rotation and the bullpen. His strikeout-rate fell from 11.45 in 2010 to just 5.72 last year.

Lineup

While the pitching was mostly abysmal for Toronto in 2011, the offense scored the fifth-most runs in the AL, being outdone by only the Red Sox, Yankees, Rangers and Tigers. Bautista finished third in MVP voting (heresy!), leading the AL in home runs, slugging, wOBA, wRC+, ISO and finishing second in on-base percentage and fWAR. He proved many (including me) wrong by not only repeating his improbable 2010 performance, but surpassing it easily.

Yunel Escobar finished third among AL shortstops in wRC+, solidifying him as one of the best in the league, while his double-play partner Johnson should improve upon his .316 wOBA which was brought down by an unusually-low BABIP. He’s only a year removed from a 5.9 fWAR season which ranked him third among all second basemen in baseball.

Third baseman and noted Canadian deity Brett Lawrie accumulated the highest fWAR among all AL rookie position players in 2011 despite playing just 43 games which has led many to predict Bondsian numbers going forward. He’ll very likely be an excellent player, but expectations should probably be tempered slightly. Across the diamond, the Jays are going to continue to run Adam Lind to first base. Lind was very good in 2009, but he has now posted two straight years with an on-base percentage below .300.

Rasmus will get a full season to play every day away from St. Louis and will hopefully get back to the form that saw him finish second among NL centerfielders in wOBA in 2010. Suggestions that Rasmus is done after one bad (and rather hectic) season are entirely overblown. There’s no reason to think that with a bit of mechanical adjustment and a more settled environment he can’t return to at least most of that level of production. The final outfield spot will be a spring competition between Eric Thames, Travis Snider and possibly Ben Francisco and (sigh) Rajai Davis. Snider without a doubt has the highest ceiling of any of these options, but has to show he can put it all together for long stretches of time. The other three offer little in terms of overall ceiling.

Catching will be the domain of J.P. Arencibia who showed he can certainly hit home runs in 2011, but has yet to show the ability to take a walk or hit particularly well. Combine that with his sub-par defense and Arencibia might be playing his last season as the Jays’ everyday catcher. Top prospect Travis d’Arnaud will start the year in AAA and is primed for a mid-season call-up. He could surpass Arencibia on the depth chart as early as next season.

The DH will once again be Edwin Encarnacion who will also see time at first base, third base and potentially even in leftfield. His defensive value is null, but when he’s on, he can hit it out of the park with just about anyone. His .367 career wOBA against lefties does make him a decent platoon option with Lind at first if the Jays want to give one of their many outfielders a day off from the field.

Bench

Jeff Mathis was curiously brought in to be Toronto’s backup catcher in 2012 despite costing nearly as much as it would have taken to re-sign incumbent Jose Molina. Mathis has a .246 wOBA since coming into the league semi-regularly in 2006; only Brandon Wood and Tony Pena (who’s now a pitcher) have had lower marks among players with at least 600 plate appearances in that time. Francisco and Davis will be extra outfielders with one of three infielders, Mike McCoy, Luis Valbuena or Vizquel taking the final roster spot.

For a detailed statistical look at the Blue Jays’ depth chart, click here

Outlook
The Blue Jays farm system has witnessed a monumental turnaround in the two short years Anthopoulos has been running the team. Although many people would like nothing more than to have him spend on high-priced free agents, he’s building the team the right way. The results have yet to be seen at the Major League level, but they are not far off. Barring a catastrophe, the Jays should be marginally better than they were last year with full seasons from Lawrie, Johnson and Rasmus. However, the rotation will be no better (at least to start the year) and true contention is probably at least a year off.

2012 Prediction: 83-79, 4th AL East

Comments (39)

  1. A box of KD, no butter, no milk they win 85. #DoIt

  2. At least it will be nice seeing the Jays in blue uni’s again.

  3. Lets say all this happens:

    Rasmus rebounds, as does Kelly.

    Snider finally puts it together.

    Skinny Cecil = better Cecil

    Mcgowan’s arm doesn’t fall off until Drabek re-learns how to throw strikes.

    Thats a comtender right?

    None of that is TOO outlandish right? Similar to the year the Rays made an unexpected leap?

    Go Jays!

    • You forgot Morrow.

      • You would also have to hope for the Bo Sox to stumble out of the gate and pull up lame again (Or Yanks). I think for the Jays its not a matter of how well our team plays per say, but more so I believe our ability to compete within our division will determine our fate.

        Add with the massive improvements in Texas and LA and I just don’t see it happening. The AL is just so damn strong this year…

    • For contending they need to get close to 15 more wins (81 to 96). That gets you about half way. Where are the rest coming from? Its already outlandish (although not TOO much so) but start listing other scenarios to get the rest of the way and the chance of it all happening is essentially zero.

      • All the teams contending need some things to go their way:

        Boston has to hope that Ellsbury doesn’t drop back to what he was, that their rotation can stay healthy and that Bard can make the transition, that this isn’t the year Big Papi’s bat finally slows down.

        New York similarly has a lot of older guys (Jeter, A-Rod, Rivera) who they need to keep it up. They need to hope that Pineda can adapt to pitching in New York (both pressure and stadium) and can keep adding innings. They need Cano and Granderson to be great again, instead of just really good like they’ve been before.

        Tampa relies on young pitching and a put together offense that somehow gets it done.

        Those teams all have a bigger margin of error than Toronto, but IMO not by as much as people think.

    • It you get all of that plus consistency from Morrow, no regression from JPA or Lawrie and good Lind over bad Lind, you’ve got 90 plus wins and the Jays are in the hunt. If it goes the other way and none of the warm and funny projections come to fruition, you’re looking at a 72 win season. With this group, it could go either way. Truth is, it is unlikely to be either all good or all bad. Likely, we’ll get some of each and the Jays will end up somewhat better than they were a year ago. I’m going to be optimistic and say 88-74. Will be disappointed but not totally shocked if the wheels come off and those numbers are flipped.

    • Other assumptions you forgot to include in that hopeful prediction:

      - Bautista keeps it up

      - Lawrie’s small sample size was representative

      - Escobar has another good year

  4. I really hope the presence of both Francisco and Davis means that AA has told Farrell to employ more platoon tandems. VS. LHP’s i’d like to see EE play 1st, Francisco play LF, and Davis DH and lead off. Just doing this would likely be a 3-4 WAR move.

    • Davis should never lead off. He can’t get on base.

      • davis’ best position is on the bench, letting his running shoes do the talkin…

        I feel the same though, as the writer about farrell’s lineups….and when aa said that he wants to go with 5 outfielders, maybe farrell is being pointed in the direction of platoons. farrell seems to be the only constant in all of these assumptions and assertions, nevertheless.

        the defence should enable the starters to go longer into games, and the bullpen should be able to keep/ save more this year than last…thus, creating more wins than 81 but maybe not 96 which seems to be the number which would keep september interesting.

        so, what happens to this super bullpen during the last week of june, if the team is faltering?

        thx for the great write up. spring training at last.

  5. They’re the 7th best team in the AL, but the top six are all *much* better than they are right now, at least in terms of the records they’re going to have at the end of the season. The rotation is only two deep with guys you’d even think about starting a playoff game with. There’s going to be series where neither Morrow nor Romero pitch where they’re going to have 30+ runs scored against them.

    I have no issues with JP’s ability to put together a quality hitting lineup. His bullpen moves at least make sense this year, so that’s fine. But this team has a gaping hole in its starting pitching, and are going to need tremendous seasons from the top two to even break 0.500 in the league as it stands right now.

    As much as I hate to say it, 80 – 82, (a distant) 4th in the East. As good as the lineup could be, this team still needs a LOT of help to get into the 95 win range that’s going to be necessary to even win the Wild Card in the AL. That’s my biggest issue with the team – it’s very smartly assembled, but I don’t see the moves being made to put them up at that next level. At the moment, the Jays are a second-rate version of Tampa, largely due to the starting pitching.

  6. I predict a 88-74 season. I think some things are going to finally come together for this team.
    We just have to say several “hail lawries” each night, perhaps sacrifice the odd beaver, and we’ll be fine..

  7. I predict an 85-77 finish for the Jays, which puts them solidly in 4th place in the East. They have some guys who, if they perform up to their ability, could push them higher than that, but they also have a number of guys who could completely tank. I think they could legitimately finish with anywhere from 79-89 wins.

  8. Extra wildcard spot huge for Jays. As I see it, four teams will be fighting for a wildcard:

    0- From central. Detroit wins outright, nobody in running for wildcard.
    1- From west. Angels and Rangers. One wins division, other challenges for wildcard.
    3- From east. Yankees, Sox, Rays and Jays. One wins, others challenge for wildcard.

    With Jays being a relatively distant fourth contender, the difference between one and two wilcards is huge for them. If they’re fighting for only one wildcard, the have almost no chance to surpass all three other challengers. If two wildcards, their chances rise to highly unlikely, but conceivable. Hope that one of the other three teams blow up (either through injuries or dysfunction), then it’s a three horse race, with win and place being in the money.
    My best guess would be the Jays falling just short, but playing meaningful games in September. I would be more than okay with that.

    • I think the Jays will do better than people think, but still finish just shy of the Wildcard:
      1) We lost 25 games last year due to blown saves. If we recoup half of those (I predict 10 games better) then we are at 91 wins.
      2) There are always ifs when predicting how players will do, but if you have enough players where you can see potential upside and a certain percentage of them come true, then you’ll be further ahead than last year. They don’t ALL have to come to fruition; Brett Lawrie, JP Arencibia (who has hit well his whole career and will rebound) Rasmus, Johnson and Thames/Snider that have to be better than Patterson was.
      3) Having a good Closer will help keep the rest of the bullpen fresh and give confidence to the young starters. I expect Romero to be the same as last year, Morrow to be slightly better, Cecil to be better but somewhere around .500, Alvarez to around .500 as well as either McCowan or Drabek to be around .500. Nothing amazing but slight improvements and no JJ Reyes etc. to kill us. No superstars in the pitching but enough overall to contribute.

      • To beat a dead horse, of the 25 blown saves only 8(I believe) actually resulted in losses. There’s an old post about it somewhere here…

      • bit.ly/uIjSTK please read this

        • That post says the blown saves can be attributed to the individual appointed to the 9th inning save situation in 8 games. It also says 16 losses resulted from a blown save.

          I don’t want to get into an argument about the 25 vs 8 number, but there must be a positive swing resulting from a better bullpen? Or where would 16 blown saves by the bullpen sit relative to average?

      • How does having a good closer keep the bullpen fresh? Good starting pitching does that. Unless you are in Fredi Gonzalez’s bullpen.

  9. Good preview.

    ZIPS absolutely loves both Bautista and Lawrie. Not so much for pretty much the entire pitching staff, which is understandable. Romero’s periphials suggests that his lowish ERA was due more to luck than anything else (and conversely the opposite for Morrow, where one can argue his low LOB% and poor pitch selection? with RISP really hurt him last year).

    I think Romero is going to be okay and Morrow should see some improvement but you have to wonder about the middle and back end of the rotation. Cecil needs to be better and Alvarez needs to refine his ‘outpitch’. McGowan looked decent in his last start against the Angels but realistically, the Jays can only bank on getting 125 to 140 innings max. There is more optimism this year as we won’t see 20 starts from Jo-Jo and the depth at the AA and AAA level is more intriguing as opposed to last year.

    I think the offence will score runs. I am not overly worried about Lind, Rasmus and Johnson. They won’t produce all-star numbers but I think we will see a marked improvement from last year.

    Not so sure that the pitching will hold up for 162 games. Ultimately, the Blue Jays will identify who goes and who stays to form part of AA’s core going forward. So yet another year of development from a pitching perspective.

    I was not disappointed when Fielder went to Detroit. But I am still disappointed with the whole Darvish saga. I just think it would have been neat to see him pitch for the Jays. The Blue Jays need to find another quality arm to add depth to the rotation. Perhaps we will see some movement before the deadline. There will also be some intriguing FA pitchers in the 2012-2013 offseason. I am sure that the hotstove chatter will be colourful next off-season.

    Given the precarious pitching situation in Boston, I think the Red Sox will have a tougher year than expected. For that reason, I can see the Jays fighting the Red Sox for 3rd place this year.

    If things go well, the Jays can win 88 games. If things go poorly, 78 to 82 wins is the likely outcome. Go Jays.

    • Agree completely with all of this. Romero looks to be able to sustain his peripherals as pitchers who do generate high levels of ground balls tend to sustain lower BABIP’s. Morrow’s cutter at the end of last season really looked to help.

      I actually have high hopes for Lind this year to rebound between 09 and 10 totals, Rasmus I see bouncing back to 2010 form. I don’t see the Jays getting too much out of LF unless its Thames hitting. Love Snidey, but I have lost complete faith on his pitch recognition skills. Johnson should show a modest improvement as well as JPA. Lawrie is not going to post wRC+ of 163 for the season nor will Bautista 188. Its going to be an interesting season for sure.

  10. Pretty solid prediction to be honest, Even if everything goes right for Rasmus, Thames/Snider, Johnson, Lawrie, Lind, EE. Bautista is not going to repeat last year, there is just not a chance in hell.

  11. Travis always is about 2 wins low on the Jays, so it really sounds about right haha

  12. Jays 90-72. Jays get wild-card. Jays lose in the AL Championship.

  13. I say they finish around 81 wins again…. as much as i love Bautista i cant see him duplicating the same type of year with no support again. He will probably be walked more times this year than last… every year its always the breakout year for Morrow, Snider etc….. i’m not getting my hopes up anymore. If it happens great, if not then my dreams arent shattered, lol. I honestly see Snider batting .200 by May and being demoted if he wins the job. He will be packaged up for something at the trade deadline. I see marginal imrpovements with Lind, Rasmus and Kelly. If EE can hit the way he did the second half of last year all year we should have a thumping offensive team that could finish in the top 3 in runs, but bottom 3 in runs allowed. Not a good balance.

    2013 should be the breakout year. FA pitcher market will be interesting.

    It would be nice to see AA pull a trade mid season if the Reds are tanking and bring in Votto. Pipe dream at best but something to look forward to. There wont be any big boppers availavle like Pujols and Fielder in 2013, he is best option coming up. I dont want a chance of him hitting the FA market. We will get screwed again and outbid.Just make a trade that blows the socks off the Reds and bring him here.Lawrie ,Votto, and Bautista would bring some ppl back to the games.

    • I enjoyed reading this blog.

      With respect to some of the comments, I understand that Bautista has had 2 1/2 fantastic years and by any measure. What I fail to comprehend is why most fans discount him. Yes, he has been dominant for 2 1/2 years but has he given us any real indication of slowing down? Let his approach and his production speak for itself rather than assuming a repeat performance to be an impossibility based on odds of 3+ of dominance. I see Joey Bat’s numbers as

      .285/.391/.570 48 HRs 120 RBIs 100 BBs and 110 Ks

      Unfortunately for the Jays, there are many variables. As referenced in the blog and by some of you, the starting pitching is satisfactory (at best). However, if you all can recall, over the last few years, anytime there’s been little pressure on the staff to perform, they did just that. When they were expected to be good, they failed to meet.

      My overall predictions of the team:

      84-78 ….. 4th in the AL east and 4.0 games out of a wildcard birth. I hope I’m wrong.

  14. Very nice preview on the Jays and for all the teams so far for that matter. I am looking forward to seeing the rest. Excellent piece of work on the spreadsheet too.

    Agree with you on the 83 wins. Yes they will be better in some areas but there is bound to be some regression or stumbles too.

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