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2006 Team Preview: Toronto Blue Jays, Positional Players

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One of the busiest, if not the busiest, club of the offseason, but how far will Toronto get in 2006 with their new look lineup? First, let's take a quick look at who is in and who is out on the offensive and defensive side of the game.

That is a considerable amount of player movement, especially when you consider that is only the positional players. Jason Phillips most likely won't even stick with the major league roster, as now-third string catcher Guillermo Quiroz is out of options. Considering Gregg Zaun is 35 years old and Ben Molina only signed a one-year deal with an option, losing your potentially promising young catcher shouldn't be on the to-do list.

Troy Glaus should add some much needed pop to the lineup, although his defense at third post-shoulder injury is questionable. After the reliable gloves of Aaron Hill and Corey Koskie splitting time at third in 2005, that may be an issue for a very infield defense dependendent rotation, when combined with the loss of the defensively stellar Orlando Hudson. Not to mention Russ Adams was one of the poorer defensive shortstops in the league in 2005. Lyle Overbay should add to the defense (and offense) at first though, and Bengie Molina can potentially be more effective offensively and defensively than Gregg Zaun. The best way to look at this is position by position, which is exactly what the plan is. If you have read the past two team reviews, you can skip this next paragraph, unless you want...well, a review.

The rules are the same as last time. I'm using Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA Cards in order to assess the projected AVG/OBP/SLG of the new players. I am also calculating positionally adjusted Net Runs Above Average.

NRAA of course measures offensive and defensive value together in rate or cumulative form, depending on whether or not I leave it in per 100 game form, or if it is adjusted for games played. The idea behind pNRAA is -- you guessed it -- to adjust for positional differences. My favorite example so far is Darin Erstad. Using the raw figures for Net Runs Above Average, Erstad is an above average combination of offense and defense. In fact, he is considered to be worth 2.51 NRAA per 100 games (which from now on, will not have a per 100 games after it; NRAA is in the per 100 game form). Using the positional adjustment, Erstad's value drops all the way to -9.90; first base was the position with the most offensive contribution in 2005, and Erstad's adjusted numbers suffer for that. In fact, if Erstad was a league average defensive player rather than 9 runs above average per 100 games, his pNRAA would be -18.90, which is to say in my Boston speak, "wicked awful". With results like this for various players, I really enjoy what pNRAA brings to the table analysis wise.

AVG/OBP/SLG will be used along with pNRAA (remember, per 100 game form) and pNRAA/GP (Games Played).

Catcher
2005: Gregg Zaun .251/.355/.373; +0.89 pNRAA; +1.18 pNRAA/GP

2006: Bengie Molina .274/.313/.420; +6.09 pNRAA; +5.05 pNRAA/GP
2006: Gregg Zaun .252/.350/.381; +5.58 pNRAA; +4.57 pNRAA/GP

These two are very evenly matched according to pNRAA; it really depends on if you prefer a little extra slugging or a little extra on-base ability. Zaun will be on base more often, even with a lower batting average, and Molina should showcase more power. The best way to use them may be as a platoon though.

  • Molina Splits 2003-2005
  • Versus Righties: .272/.303/.389
  • Versus Lefties: .316/.352/.537
  • Zaun Splits 2003-2005
  • Versus Righties: .245/.350/.377
  • Versus Lefties: .281/.356/.374
Zaun has much more plate patience, and seems more successful against righties than Molina. Ben on the other hand crushes lefties to the tune of a .537 slugging percentage. Molina is paid more at the moment, and is listed first on the depth chart, so the chance of him sitting against righthanders is pretty slim. It is an option though. Check out the projections one of the extremely talented (and handsome too!) writers at Bluebird Banter laid out for Zaun and Molina.

First Base
2005: Shea Hillenbrand .291/.343/.449; -10.59 pNRAA; -16.10 pNRAA/GP
2005: Eric Hinske .262/.333/.430; -16.89 pNRAA; -24.83 pNRAA/GP

2006: Lyle Overbay .280/.363/.459; +8.64 pNRAA; +11.67 pNRAA/GP

There has been a great deal of analysis on Overbay, saying that he does hit well enough to justify some of the praise the Jays have received for upgrading at first. Granted, he is just above the average offensively at first base (or at it) and his defense is the key to a good deal of his value, but he certainly is not one-dimensional like say, Doug Mientkiewicz, and to be fair, take a look at the pNRAA figures for Toronto's first basemen last year. If Overbay was exactly league average in his value, he would be a massive upgrade, considering Hinske's poorer values took up more of the playing time. Since he should end up somewhere around +8-+15 pNRAA, the Jays certainly win on this move.

Hillenbrand and Hinske are both league average hitters, but a league average hitter has an EqA of .260; a league average first basemen (in 2005) had an EqA of .284. Overbay is much more suited to play first than either of those two, especially considering that they are both defensively challenged as well.

Second Base
2005: Orlando Hudson .271/.315/.412; +7.93 pNRAA; +10.39 pNRAA/GP

2006: Aaron Hill .269/.330/.399; +2.51 pNRAA; +3.09 pNRAA/GP

One move I did not like all that much was jettisoning Orlando Hudson. I think keeping him at second base, while moving Aaron Hill to shortstop to replace the defensively challenged Russ Adams may have been for the best. Gustavo Chacin and Josh Towers would have continued to benefit from the infield defense (as they need to), and the Jays would have been able to make up for some of the defense lost at third with the acquisition of Troy Glaus. Of course, Arizona wanted Orlando Hudson for the same reason; to make Brandon Webb (4.34 G/F ratio in 2005; 3.78 for his career) even deadlier on the mound.

Aaron Hill is a capable replacement at second base, and I think PECOTA may have cut some of his defensive ability out from under him with his weighted mean projection. I think Hill will end up with a rate of 7.51 pNRAA, rather than the lower figure given. If his offensive abilities can grow somewhat, it could be even higher.

Third Base
2005: Corey Koskie .249/.337/.398; -0.48 pNRAA; -0.47 pNRAA/GP
2005: Aaron Hill .274/.342/.385; +2.20 pNRAA; +2.21 pNRAA/GP

2006: Troy Glaus .269/.369/.542; +18.36 pNRAA; +22.95 pNRAA/GP

I just want to make one statement about the pNRAA/GP in the projections: PECOTA's weighted mean usually has playing time a tad lower than one might expect a player to actually accumulate, so some of those totals are a little lower than they should be, such as Glaus, who is projected to play in 125 games or so according to his plate appearance projection. With that out of the way...

Troy Glaus is most likely going to be Toronto's most valuable positional player (and most valuable overall if Roy Halladay cannot stay healthy). What they were missing in 2005 was a serious threat in the lineup, and Glaus certainly gives them that. If his defense can improve somewhat simply by getting further away from his shoulder problems, then he may look even better than his projection indicates. A great deal of the potential success for the Jays in 2006 rides on how effective Glaus is at the plate.

Shortstop
2005: Russ Adams .256/.325/.383; -22.79 pNRAA; -31.67 pNRAA/GP

2006: Russ Adams .267/.332/.391; -5.56 pNRAA; -7.40 pNRAA/GP

This is going to sound kind of odd, but Blue Jays should be thankful if Russ Adams reaches his projection. His Rate2 in 2005 was 81...that is, he was 19 runs below average defensively per 100 games played. It is not just the BPro stats that feel Adams was awful either; David Gassko's defensive system had Adams at -34.1 Runs Above Averagel; second to last among shortstops. As a league average hitting type, he is actually well suited for shortstop. If his defensive problems do not fix themselves though, the Jays may be forced to use John McDonald (career Rate2 of 101 at shortstop in 107.3 AdjG I don't see the Jays making that sort of move, but Frank Menechino is not around to fall back on defensively anymore. I think Adams will be able to improve and reach his projected pNRAA figures, but the prospect of him not doing so is extremely frightening, and sadly present. He was terrible in his 21 game trial in 2004 at shortstop as well, posting a Rate2 of 77...23 runs below average per 100 games.

Left Field
2005: Frank Catalanotto .301/.367/.451; +9.68 pNRAA; 12.58 pNRAA/GP
2005: Reed Johnson .269/.332/.412; +0.25 pNRAA; +0.30 pNRAA/GP

2006: Frank Catalanotto .286/.343/.425; -0.51 pNRAA; -0.41 pNRAA/GP

Frank Catalanotto was the Blue Jays best position player in 2005. He beat out Vernon Wells in both pNRAA and pNRAA/GP, and was one of three regulars (Wells and Orlando Hudson were the others) to have double-digit pNRAA/GP. That said, Catalanotto is most effective in a right field platoon with Reed Johnson.

  • Catalanotto Splits 2003-2005
  • Versus Righties: 1014 AB, .310/.368/.464
  • Versus Lefties: 143 AB, .217/.269/.329
  • Johnson Splits 2003-2005
  • Versus Righties: 888 AB, .265/.325/.376
  • Versus Lefties: 459 AB, .301/.350/.458
Combine that as the Blue Jays have in the past few seasons, and you have yourselves a pretty nifty left fielder. Reed Johnson is also a very capable left fielder, with a Rate2 of 106 for his career there, and a 110 figure last year. With the addition of Glaus to the lineup, Cat/Johnson shouldn't be the best player on the roster anymore, but will most likely end up in the top three or four if all goes to plan.

Center Field
2005: Vernon Wells .269/.320/.463; +7.00 pNRAA; +10.92 pNRAA/GP

2006: Vernon Wells .286/.343/.498; +15.95 pNRAA; +23.61 pNRAA/GP

The competition with Troy Glaus for most valuable position player, Vernon Wells PECOTA projection is especially optimistic, considering his last two seasons. If Wells can achieve his pNRAA figure (besting Glaus' projection) then the Blue Jays will most likely be in the hunt come September. If not, it will take a little more work from their other players to get there, with a tad more dependence on the pitching.

Right Field
2005: Alexis Rios .262/.306/.397; -4.74 pNRAA; -6.92 pNRAA/GP

2006: Alexis Rios .278/.322.433; -3.66 pNRAA; -3.81 pNRAA/GP

Well that is quite interesting. Rios offense is expected to improve significantly in 2006, but his defense is projected to take a dive after posting a Rate2 of 108 in 2005. I think I can explain that: in 2004, Rios was only a league average defensive player, and the same can be said for 2003 in the minor leagues. PECOTA takes into account some sort of weighted average among the past three seasons, so until Rios can be more than a league average outfielder more than once, PECOTA will be down on his defense. So if Rios can put up a comparitive Rate2 to 2005's, say, 106, than he will actually sneak just above the league average threshold in right field, which would be a decent boost to the Jays lineup and defense.

Designated Hitter 2005: Shea Hillenbrand .291/.343/.449; -7.47 pNRAA; -11.35 pNRAA/GP
2005: Eric Hinske .262/.333/.430; -14.14 pNRAA; -20.78 pNRAA/GP

2006: Shea Hillenbrand .287/.324/.446; -5.27 pNRAA; -6.69 pNRAA/GP

Hillenbrand does not really have the bat to succeed as a Designated Hitter, but neither does Hinske. Personally, if Hillenbrand gets hot early on (like in 2005), I say deal him and move Hinske to DH. Whatever you get for Hillenbrand will help make up for whatever drop in production Hinske brings if the trade is done well, and Hinske may even have a better season in the long run.

Hillenbrands 2005 numbers are certainly overstated when compared to his true effectiveness:

Ok...so maybe neither of them is very consistent. Scratch the trade idea. A platoon may be the answer.

  • Hillenbrand Splits 2003-2005
  • Versus Righties: 1190 AB, .285/.328/.438
  • Versus Lefties: 481 AB, .316/.353/.516
  • Hinske Splits 2003-2005
  • Versus Righties: 1107 AB, .253/.334/.416
  • Versus Lefties: 389 AB, .242/.294/.398
Hinske hit much better against righties in 2005, at a .283/.358/.452 clip, so it certainly is worth trying. After all, Hinske did have his best offensive season since 2002 last year, so he may be more capable of putting up the 2005 line than the three year average. He's going to be on the roster, so splitting up the time between him and Hillenbrand in a way that most effectively utilizes their skills is certainly something to give some thought to. The Jays have shown they are not averse to platoons in the past...if they could just add a few more to their roster, they would be guaranteed a serious lineup.
  1. Jays 2006 Projected Lineup
  2. Frank Catalanotto/Reed Johnson
  3. Lyle Overbay
  4. Vernon Wells
  5. Troy Glaus
  6. Eric Hinske/Shea Hillenbrand
  7. Bengie Molina/Gregg Zaun
  8. Aaron Hill
  9. Alexis Rios
  10. Russ Adams
When Zaun starts at catcher, I suggest moving him down in the lineup, preferably the 9th spot, in order to have someone on base for the leadoff man. The lineup above is my preference for a lineup, not the one the Jays have released. As for the lineup projected by David Pinto's latest program, the Lineup Analysis tool, developed with research by BtB's own Cyril Morong and Catfish Stew's Ken Arneson, it looks somewhat different:
  1. Lineup Analysis Projected
  2. Overbay
  3. Glaus
  4. Hill
  5. Wells
  6. Catalanotto
  7. Rios
  8. Hinske
  9. Molina
  10. Adams
My projected lineup above is expected to score 5.146 Runs Per Game, or 834 runs on the season, while the projected lineup from Pinto's program clocks in at 5.189 RPG, or 840 runs. The difference between these two lineups is not that severe production wise, but I also styled my lineup somewhat in the same vein by placing a higher OBP guy in the #9 slot and #2 slot, while keeping the power more towards the middle of the lineup. A good deal of the mathematical work is still being discussed on blogs and message boards, so I do not want to 100% endorse this exact incarnation of the Lineup Analysis system as of yet; I fully endorse the idea of a system that can put together more successful, even if unconventional, lineups, and I believe this one can be that with some work, but it still needs to have a good deal of tweaking done to it. I'll continue to stick these lineups in the team reviews, and we'll see what transpires in the next month or so.

If the Jays can score 834 runs as predicted by my own projected lineup, and the pitching is improved as improved as it supposedly is (of course, adding a full season of Roy Halladay is an improvement all in itself) then the Jays may be contenders come September. It depends on the development of their own players, if the team can stay healthy, and if the Red Sox have the same sort of luck or not. It should be a great 2006 in the American League East.