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Player Comments: Toronto Blue Jays

Continuing after yesterday's team review, we move on to the Blue Jays player comments. This will be a "Read More" post, since it is about 8 pages long in Microsoft Word. The comments are broken up into position player comments and pitcher comments, in alphabetical order. This was not the way it was planned for the annual (that was going to have a player register) but since the format is now on the website in posting, this is how it's going down. As always, NRAA is Net Runs Above Average, which combines offensive and defensive value together into one above average figure run figure. NRAA/GP is the cumulative version of that statistic. DPT is Doubles + Triples, and mOPS+ is modifiedOPS compared to the league average. Enjoy!

Positional Player Comments

After a promising start to his major league career in 2004, Russ Adams took a step backwards in 2005. His defense improved only slightly, but is still awful. He seems like he may be better suited for second base, especially with Aaron Hill on the major league roster as well. The problem here is that Hill's best defensive positions were second and then third, with shortstop basically average. Adams most likely will not hit like he did in 2004 again, but something in between his 2004 and 2005 campaigns is certainly something to expect. Hopefully he can improve his defense, because then we can refer to him as one of those league average types that help to anchor average lineups like Toronto's. Net Runs Above Average does not like what he has done so far, but that can be remedied with a positional switch most likely.

This may be hard to believe, but Little Cat was the best starting position player on the entire Blue Jays roster. He played some of the best defense on the team and hit above the league average as well. Toronto's lineup is comprised entirely of players like Catalanotto by the way; capable enough hitters with defensive skills to make the pitching staff better. As their team review says, their team NRAA was -0.18, which is essentially an entire roster of league average. There is no reason for Catalanotto's bat to regress again, unless he has trouble with his eyes for the umpteenth time.

Griffin has basically been running in place in the minor leagues for a few seasons now, and continued that trend this year in Triple-A Syracuse. His only real skill is in his bat, and if that does not develop any further even that has no real use. This was his age 25 season, and he may be developing late, so he should get another shot or two. I am not sure if the Jays should bother though, considering the multiple DH types they already have on the roster that do not seem moveable.

After tearing up spring training, Gross went down to Triple-A Syracuse and hit well, but not overly impressive. His line was .297/.380/.438, which was the same as his Double-A line the year before with a tad less power. In 102 plate appearances in the majors he did not seem to cut it offensively, but his defense was superb in both corner spots. It will be interesting to see if Alexis Rios' bat can develop in order to fend off Gross, because they are defensive equals. The Jays could use some more offense in the lineup and in the outfield, so if Gross does finally hit major league pitching they have themselves an in-house solution.

He needs to walk more, and he needs to hit for more power, but all in all, a very good start to his major league career. The 23 year old Hill played superior defense at second base and above average defense at third, while playing league average defensively at shortstop. It figures though, because Orlando Hudson is just as good defensively at second base, meaning that unless Hill starts to hit, the Jays did not really gain anything by including him in the lineup. Look for improvement offensively in 2006.

Hillenbrand, contrary to what you heard at various points in the season, actually performed worse than in 2004. He started the season off quite hot though: Through April - .390/.421/.530; Through May - .320/.367/.463; Rest of season: .276/.330/.442. That last line most likely reflects his capabilities outside of Bank One Ballpark. Couple this with the fact that he was hit by 22 pitches this year, and you have a reason to deal Hillenbrand while his value is perceived is high. The Jays have too many 1B/DH types as it is, and Hillenbrand's other position, third base, is already covered by Corey Koskie and then Aaron Hill. The Hillenbrand acquisition itself was sort of a questionable move for a team attempting to retool like the Blue Jays.

Sometimes I wonder if Billy Beane (or at the least, one of his front office personnel) had a good feeling that Eric Hinske and Carlos Pena would fall apart shortly after leaving the organization. Add Ben Grieve to that list. Do they draft players with old player skills just to dump them after becoming Jackie Robinson Award candidates? He was slightly above average offensively, which would be fine and dandy if he could field a ball on occasion. He improved greatly over his 2004 season on the offensive side of the ball, and if he could be kept only at DH, would be fine for the scheme the Jays are using. That does not mean they should not find a better option though.

Huckaby was over the Mendoza line this year, which is an improvement of sorts. His SecAvg, Iso and BB/PA all fell though, which sort of contradicts what I just said about improving. Huckaby is a free agent, 34 years old, and is just over one year of major league service time. On the positive side of things Huckaby has fielded exceptionally in two straight seasons now. This does not make up for the complete lack of offensive output, but at least it justifies his position on a roster if he is used correctly.

Hudson's offense took a dive this year back to 2003 levels, which was somewhat of a disappointment. He may be moved this offseason due to Aaron Hill's emergence, and whatever team gets him will be lucky to have him. He does not hurt you with the bat very much, even when he is in sort of an off year with the bat, and his defense is always some of the best in the league. His Established Performance Level for 2006 looks to be close to 10.00 Net Runs Above Average, mostly thanks to his defensive value of 13.87 runs above average per 100 games.

Reed Johnson was a league average hitter by basically every definition of the word. His mOPS+ is right on the baseline, his .269/.332/.412 line looks close to the league average of .270/.334/.429. He has value, especially considering his low price ($342,000 in 2005) and his above average defense. If he can remain a league average hitter, or even improve slightly, he retains that value. If his power and patience fall to 2004 levels he loses some of that. A very good fourth outfielder for the Blue Jays to slot into the corner spots, and even centerfield on occasion.

Koskie is basically a league average player at this point; one that is injury-prone and still has $11 million guaranteed on his deal. The price for Koskie is not the real issue, it is more a matter of why did the Jays need to be the ones to do it? With Aaron Hill and Russ Adams coming up through the system, as well as the Orlando Hudson Defensive Show at second, the infield was going to be set. Now Hudson will most likely be moved, and Hill will play middle infield. Koskie most likely will not hurt the team with his actual numbers, but they may have put themselves in a situation like Anaheim's, where the best players are the ones sitting on the bench night after night or playing out of position.

Menechino led the Blue Jays in the rate version of Net Runs Above Average in 2005, but much of that may have been due to a fluke defensive season at second base. His Established Performance Level for second base (his primary position in 2005) gives him a rate of 7 runs above average per 100 games defensively, whereas his 2005 line in reality was 19 runs above in the same time frame. Although a very good defensive player at some positions, this season was most likely an extreme. He is a useful player, considering the many positions he can play (2B, 3B and SS, but DH may not be a good idea considering his value is in his defensive play) but he is not the kind of player who should realistically lead the Jays in NRAA. Of course, with limited playing time and small sample sizes, that does tend to happen.

Greg Myers was locked in at the plate in 2003, and was 15% above the league average offensively according to mOPS+. Sadly, injuries cut short 2003-2005, which gave Gregg Zaun a chance to claim the starting catching job. If he could have avoided injury he would have been a help offensively to this club, although Zaun has done a good job in his stead behind the plate. You always feel bad for players who have been in the league for a good deal of time (since 1987 for Myers) and look like they are leaving after a few tough injuries. If Myers could stay healthy, he would most likely be productive offensively. Defense has not been his strong suit in large samples since the late 90's though, and aging is not going to help that.

What you see might be what you get with Quiroz, as his minor league numbers are rather sickly looking excepting a 2003 Double-A line of .282/.372/.518 at age 21. In 2005 he put up these three lines at three levels: .237/.326/.421 at Single-A, .229/.309/.482 in Triple-A, and the major league line seen above in the card. Granted, this was in about one-third of a season total, but the outlook is not pretty. In two years in the majors he has been a handful of runs below average defensively as well as league average on the nose. Becoming a respectable defensive catcher may be the key to sticking around for Quiroz.

At this point, all of Rios' value comes from his defensive play in the corner spots and his ability to play center field. He was below average offensively again, but he did hit 10 homeruns rather than the single longball from 2004. He was caught stealing a bit too often, and he walked 3 times less in 2005 in 59 additional plate appearances. Rios holds the starting job, but if Gabe Gross continues to hit well in AAA (or becomes more than a tweener), Alexis might turn into a fourth outfielder.

Vernon Wells 2005 season was a disappointment turned into a success, and then back into a disappointment. 2003 looks to have been the fluke year, since his 2005 season turned out worse than his 2004 one. He is still an above average player, just not one of the league's emerging elite. He is a tad above average defensively in centerfield, which is always a plus, and can hit just enough above league average thanks to homeruns to give the appearance of middle-of-the-order bopper. In reality though, Wells and Eric Hinske were both the same percentage above the league average offensively according to mOPS+. Well's base stealing helps him out, although he does not go for the extra base much, and his defense is superior to Hinske's in every way. A bounceback in 2006 would be nice, and is plausible considering Wells' April line (.191/.248/.372) had a lot to do with his number regression. He hit .283/.333/.479 for the rest of the season, which gives him an mOPS of .929 rather than his season line .898. It's the little things that count.

Zaun was above average offensively this year, thanks to his OBP and his ISO, and considering the relative dearth of useful catcher's available right now, his NRAA of -5.45 was really a blessing. Amongst catcher's with 200 plate appearances or more, Zaun ranked 9th in mOPS, and was 6% above the average catcher's offensive production. He also led all catchers in walks with 73 on the season. The Jays would do themselves a huge favor picking up his $1 million option for 2006. An above average catcher for a cool million? I'll take 2, thank you.

Pitcher Comments

Miguel Batista's conversion to closer was a success in a relative sense. He was more useful than he had been as a starter in the Jays 2004 rotation at the back of the team's bullpen in 2005, and his peripherals improved: his walk rate was cut down a great deal, his strikeout rate climbed up both on a per 9 inning and a per plate appearance basis, and his peripheral ERA improved by 1/10th of a run. Oddly enough, his homerun rate has become progressively worse since he left Bank One Ballpark, which is much more of a bandbox than the Rogers Centre, although it can stake its own claim as a severe hitter's environment. With the signing of B.J. Ryan as the Jays new closer, look for Batista to be dealt to one of the losers of that sweepstakes.

Bush has done well for himself in the first 234 innings of his major league career. His main problems seem to be a below average strikeout rate with too many homeruns given up, something that showed up in his ERA and xERA this season. Bush is a solid back of the rotation option at this point, and if he can lower his homeruns allowed rate he would increase his value greatly. Expect Bush to improve as time goes no, not to get worse, since he is only 25 years old.

Chacin looked to be a lock for the American League Rookie of the Year Award. Then Huston Street become a closer, Jonny Gomes was promoted and played, and Robinson Cano took over at second base for the Yankees. Things quickly changed, but not through any real fault of Chacin's. Another Jays starter with a low strikeout rate, Chacin also walks a few too many batters. He gave the Blue Bird's 200 inning of above average pitching though, and was only 24 years old. As long as they pay attention to his workload, the Jays should be happy about Chacin in their rotation. A solid #3 better suited for #4 perhaps, but he is young so it is hard to tell. Depth is the name of the Jays pitching game right now.

In 2004 Chulk was no great shakes; he had an above average strikeout rate but walked far too many batters to be effective. In 2005, he forgot how to strike batters out, reduced his walk rate, and increased his homerun rate. Luckily for him, his Batting Average on Balls in Play dropped .046 points, saving his season. This is a tough call: if his BABIP regresses to the mean, Chulk is going to get hammered in 2006. If his BABIP regresses but his strikeout rate returns to normal while his walk rate continues to improve, the Jays might have a useful piece in their bullpen. At least the Jays can see how hittable he is in spring training.

All of the Blue Jays starters and relievers (excepting that Roy Halladay guy) seem to have a common theme going on. They give up too many homeruns, walk too many batters, and do not strike enough of them out. Scott Downs at least strikes batters out, but he walks too many and gives up homeruns. Downs is a decent enough emergency starter though, as long as he can keep that K rate up. David Bush will most likely be demoted to this role if the Birds sign another starting pitcher.

By cutting down on his walk rate and adding to his strikeout rates, Jason Frasor was able to improve upon his 2004 season out of the Toronto bullpen. He actually was the leading pitcher in the Baseball Prospectus Inherited/Bequeathed Runners Report for relief pitchers, finishing just ahead of Cliff Politte. His walk rate seems a little high to maintain that sort of dominance, but he did have a 1.55 G/F ratio this year and 15 double plays to aid him. Credit that to the Jays excellent defense (although Russ Adams was a bit...uh...shaky in his first full season), and expect a repeat performance if Frasor can keep the ball down and J.P. Ricciardi keeps signing glovemen.

That didn't work out so well. His peripherals have never been impressive, and it showed in 2005. Granted, 13 innings pitched is not the best sample size, but when you throw a guy out there who walks almost as many batters as he strikes out while giving up homeruns, your going to have problems. The thing to remember is that he was just in his age 22 season though, so all of this could be ironed out over time. His strikeout rates did improve this year, and if he could stop having to face so many batters due to walks and hits, his K/PA would reflect that sort of change. Gaudin pitched much better in Triple-A Syracuse, posting a WHIP of 1.16, as opposed to the 1.72 figure his major league career carries. Expect him to contribute in the future, but maybe not early 2006.

Roy Halladay was on his game in 2005. He came back fresh after an injury-plagued 2004 season, and batters learned that to the tune of a 2.41 ERA. His xERA was under 3.00 as well, and his BB/9 stood at an impressive 1.59. If Halladay had pitched the entire season, he would have been the Cy Young award winner easily. His Batting Average on Balls in Play was quite low, but it was low in 2003 as well. A good deal of Toronto's low BABIP's can be attributed to their excellent defensive play. In 2004 he seemed hittable due to his injury problems for the most part. If he is healthy in 2006, expect him and Johan Santana to battle it out for the Cy Young Award again. The first take didn't work that well, so baseball fans should demand a rematch. I'm sure Jays and Twins fans won't mind in the slightest. Healthy, there might not be anyone I'd rather see on the mound than Halladay in the American League, besides maybe the aforementioned Santana. Halladay seems to last longer in ballgames though, which gives him the nod.

A disappointing season, but luckily, only his age 22 season. There is still time for Brandon League to develop into the fine relief pitcher that his minor league statistics show he can be. Homeruns and walks destroyed League, but most of the homerun punishment came from two games against Detroit where League gave up 8 runs in 3.3 innings, including 4 homeruns. He keeps the ball on the ground, as his 2.59 G/F ratio attests to, so once the balls that people get a hold of stop flying into the stratosphere he'll be a much better pitcher. 27 flyballs, 8 homeruns. Ouch. With the Jays defense to assist League's groundball tendencies, all should be well once he can settle down and develop somewhat.

At this point it should be safe to say that Ted Lilly is a league average pitcher who has the occasional brilliant start. 9 times out of 10 this start comes against Boston it seems, but it is still only occasional. His strikeout rate fell, his walk rate remained much too high, and his BABIP was .033 points higher than the previous season, where he appeared to have turned a corner of sorts. A 1.64 HR/9 is not going to help you win games; when you also walk four guys per nine, your not helping yourself out any. I would not be surprised to see Lilly as the pitcher Toronto does away with from the rotation if they sign a starter such as A.J. Burnett.

McGowan was a victim of Tommy John surgery in 2004. He pitched well for Double-A New Hampshire after returning from injury, but gave up a too few homeruns for my liking. His stay in the majors was not pleasant, as you can see by his card. He was highly thought of prior to surgery as being a top pitching prospect, so we'll see how he progresses from here. He has been mentioned recently in Lyle Overbay trade rumors, but I'm not sure how much stock I'd put into those as of yet.

Schoeneweis did well in 2005, and it can be credited entirely to two things: The number of ground balls he put into play (2.45 G/F) and the Blue Jays defense that cleaned up those grounders. He walked too many batters again, but his homerun allowed rate fell back down to 2003 levels, which fixed some of the problems from the previous year. The Schoeneweis signing was another head scratcher out of Toronto, but it seems to have worked out well the first season. If his G/F ratio falls like it did in 2004 in Chicago, the Jays are going to be sorry that they signed him though.

As much as Justin Speier seems to have pitched well, that Batting Average on Balls in Play worries me. It is roughly 100 points under the league average, which is a whole lot of regression. He strikes guys out, doesn't walk many batters, but gives up too many homeruns. Really, the Blue Jays could use a different type of pitcher, don't you think? He is one of the best options in the pen along with Jason Frasor, but I would not count on mid-2.00s ERA from Speier every season. If he can keep his walk rate down like he did in 2005, you can expect good things from him consistently at the least.

Josh Towers was rewarded for his 2005 blossoming with a brand new contract for $5.2 million over the next two seasons. He has exceptional control that rivals Halladay for the best on the entire staff and makes up for his complete lack of strikeouts. He gives up over one homerun per nine innings pitched, but there are not usually a good deal of runners on base. His G/F was 1.23, but with the Jays defense behind him it allowed for 19 double plays. Towers has a contract that helps to keep the depth in the Blue Jays rotation by paying Bush, Chacin and Towers himself very little money while paying Halladay top shelf. This also allows Toronto to spend a good deal of money on another starting pitcher, someone like A.J. Burnett perhaps? Look for Towers to replicate his 2005 season for the most part, but an ERA in the low-to-mid 4.00's would not surprise me in the least.

If you have gone this far in the book, you can relax. Pete Walker is the last Blue Jays pitcher in the entire annual, which means it is the last time you will read these words, "Blue Jays pitcher X does not strike out enough batters to reach the league average, while also walking nearly four batters per nine and giving up too many homeruns. His BABIP was his savior, as it was well below the league average. This can be attributed to the Blue Jays defense in some respects, but expect some regression in 2006." Walker is a good bet to repeat his 2003 ERA numbers before he repeats his 2005 ones. He needs to cut down on the walks some more, but 2005 was a decent enough start to that. I don't expect much change at this stage of the game, considering Walker is 36 years old, but you never know.

Not only would I like some feedback on the comments, but I'd like feedback on the structure of this post. Should it be broken up differently, is it too long, etc. Thanks everyone, we'll be posting another team maybe tomorrow.