Starting today, a few members of the staff here at Beyond the Box Score want to take a look back at our season, examining and re-examining some of the site's articles on each of the teams who made it to the League Championship Series. Today, I'll be reviewing our coverage of the dearly-departed Toronto Blue Jays. Miss you already, Joey Bats.
Pre-Season Coverage and Predictions
First things first: coming into the season, the BtBS staff ranked the best players in baseball for the 2015 season. The Jays had two players in the top 10: Josh Donaldson at No. 7 and Jose Bautista at No. 9. That wasn't a bad guess -- Donaldson was third in baseball in FanGraphs' wins above replacement (pitchers and hitters included) with 8.7 fWAR, while Bautista merely cracked the top-30 for position players with 4.5 fWAR. Edwin Encarnacion also tied Bautista with 4.5 fWAR, but he didn't make the list.
Interestingly, the Blue Jays would later add two more players who cracked our predictions for the top-25: Troy Tulowitzki (No. 11) and David Price (No. 24). They were both pretty good, with Price potentially the best pitcher in the American League this season. What's striking here is that the Jays were the only team to carry two of (our prediction) the 10 best players in baseball this year. You'd think that this would carry a little weight leading into the start of the season, and I think it did.
As for the team itself, our writers as a whole predicted that the Red Sox would win the AL East, not the Jays. Not a great look. However, despite none of our 14 predictors choosing the Jays to win the division, our group had enough overall confidence in this franchise to put them as the No. 2 team in the AL East.
Other than that, we didn't run much content on the Jays leading into the season, save a piece by Jeffrey Bellone on how the the team was quite popup-heavy in 2014. Jeff posited that the team hitting a lot of popups coincided with the team hitting a lot of fly balls and home runs as well. Well, Jeff ... with much the same offensive team as 2014, the Jays led baseball in infield flies (14.1%), home runs (232), and HR/FB% (15.0%), while hitting the seventh-most flies. Go ahead and hang that Mission Accomplished banner.
Once the season got started, the site ramped up its overall coverage of the team ... especially when things got interesting late in the season. In April, Michael Bradburn wrote a very early piece about how Kevin Pillar deserved a full-time shot replacing Michael Saunders in left field. Michael was wrong about Pillar in the least important way: he became the team's full-time center fielder instead, and posted a 4.3 fWAR season that some would call a breakout. Pillar's not an offensive monster, his just-below-league-average bat is fine, but he adds a remarkable amount of value via defense and baserunning -- his 8.1 baserunning runs added is almost a full win right there. Just a couple of days ago, Spencer Bingol wrote up a follow-on piece that details how he thinks Pillar is leveraging his speed into improved offensive production.
In mid-season, our writers attempted to tackle some aberrational cases on the Jays. First, there was Chris Teeter's article on Chris Colabello. The thrust of this Chris-on-Chris piece was that Colabello would regress heavily, and that the Jays were best served replacing him, as his improved offense might not abide, and his defense is awful. Colabello, an indifferent hitter in 401 PA over the previous two seasons, was on fire when Chris wrote him up in July. At that point, he'd posted a 143 wRC+ -- far and away better than anything he'd ever done in the big leagues.
Colabello finished the season with a 142 wRC+, so whoops.
However, Chris's point about Colabello being a bad outfielder remained true: fWAR pegged that defense and the positional adjustment robbed Colabello of approximately 20 runs over the season, which crashed his fWAR down to 0.8 -- a long fall from where it could have been had he been a more average defender.
Then, also in July, there's the tale of Drew Hutchison's strange season. Spencer B. noted that his slider lost steam and his changeup improved, but Hutch couldn't avoid a demotion, nor a 5.57 seasonal ERA, despite vastly better peripherals (4.42 FIP). Also to note: his strand rate (64.5%) was third-worst among all pitchers with over 100 innings, which is a great way to see your ERA bust up good underlying rates.
In June, the Blue Jays were playing very well, but they were a good team with flaws. Eric Garcia-McKinley noted that the team's starting rotation was the worst in baseball. While Marco Estrada would stay hot for most of the season, and R.A. Dickey would vastly improve as the season went on, there was no question that this was a team that needed to make a deal to acquire pitching talent. Of course, as we all know, the Jays made a blockbuster move at the deadline to acquire ...
Surprising everyone, the team doubled-down on a strength, and Kevin Ruprecht and Michael Bradburn wrote up the deal for the site. They identified that Tulo's underlying skills were still quite good even though he was having a down season offensively, and supported the trade from the jump. Tula provided very strong defensive value through the end of the season, even though he dealt with injury and never saw his hitting performance recover since landing north of the wall.
Of course, just a couple of days later, the Jays got their ace, acquiring David Price. The cost was steep -- Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd could both be solid rotation options for Detroit in the future -- but Price was supposed to be the missing piece for the Jays. He played that part well, popping up 2.7 fWAR in just 74.3 innings of work before the Jays hit the postseason. Both sides of this deal are probably pretty pleased how things ended up, though the Jays would be a bit more pleased if Price's peripherals could translate to fewer runs during the postseason.
The Run to October
As the season finished up, more and more of our writers examined the Jays leading into the playoffs. In August, Eric Garcia-McKinley opined on the Tulo-Donaldson partnership being the greatest left side of an infield of all time. (As a Rockies supporter, that had to hurt.) Shawn Brody delved into Josh Donaldson's power surge after the All-Star break. Matt Goldman covered the team's nigh-historical offensive output, and posited that the team could be just the fifth team since 1974 to lead baseball in HR, ISO, RE24, wRAA, and wRC+. They eventually performed that feat, as Matt had identified, plus they set the major-league record for offensive RE24 in a season, with a mark of 217.79. For what that's worth, it beats the '01 Mariners and their 116 wins, the '98 Yankees, and the '75 and '76 Big Red Machine.
By the last few weeks of the season, our coverage was all about trying to describe the Jays' terrific season. Kevin Ruprecht tried to find a way to shut down their offense, and his best guess was to throw more breaking balls at them. He should've just guessed "Be the Royals." Chris Teeter did a great job breaking down how the Jays' success seems to have translated into strong attendance numbers. Steven Martano posited that the Jays' September momentum might not mean much in the postseason, and Michael Bradburn made the case that the Jays will win the World Series -- namely due to the fact that their historical offense now has support from David Price, Marcus Stroman, and Marco Estrada.
In the end, it looks like we covered the Jays from a variety of angles. Truthfully, it's hard not to when a team is this interesting and engaging, and made two mid-season blockbusters. While not all of our projections or predictions turned out perfectly, we covered some of the team's big-ticket items: namely their superlative offense and the moves they made mid-season to jet into the playoffs. Though they weren't able to make it to the World Series, they provided a very entertaining set of games, and their biggest and best season since 1993.
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Bryan Grosnick is the Lead Writer at Beyond the Box Score and a columnist at Baseball Prospectus - Boston. He likes a good bat flip, but you can certainly have too much of a good thing.