Toronto Blue Jays Coverage: Analytical Accountability

 

One Jays From the Couch writer looks back on his analysis and assigns grades for his various pieces. See how he did.

 

 

I’ve regrettably been absent from Jays from the Couch since July and hope to contribute in the future when I am able. One of my pet peeves with regards to the seemingly expanding punditry class is the lack of accountability. It amazes me, whether it is consuming political, economic/business, or sports media, how many people remain supposedly credible “pundits” after having a poor record of analysis. So for better or worse, I am going to review my analytical contributions to JFtC for the 2016 season in chronological order.

 

My first analytical piece announced my selection of Michael Saunders as the Blue Jays top “breakout” candidate for the 2016 season, and boy was that pick looking like solid gold at the All Star break. However, as I later documented in my mean reversion piece, Saunders was likely to revert some in the 2nd half and he did so in miserable fashion. My forecast for his slash line for the season was actually pretty accurate, but his clutch stats resulted in poor run production, and his defensive metrics were awful. The net result was a wRC+ of 117 and WAR of 1.3/1.4 per Baseball Reference and Fangraphs, which was a good bit below what I forecasted. I’ll give myself a C grade overall, but I think Aaron Sanchez was the clear breakout player for 2016.

 

Next up was my piece examining an analysis done by the great Bill James regarding lineup construction and the benefit of mixing high contact hitters with power hitters. I argued that the Jays lineup was not a typical power-heavy lineup due to the ability of its power hitters to also get on base at a high rate and balance their walk and strikeout rates. However, the Jays power hitters, in total, appear to have fallen victim to the aging curve curse and the net result was more in line with Mr. James’ analysis.

 

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The injury-riddled season from Jose Bautista certainly didn’t help, as his performance was sub par and his strikeout rate spiked quite a bit. Despite big headline production for Edwin Encarnacion, his strikeout rate also spiked about 25% and approached his former career high in 2009, when his wRC+ was only 91. Russell Martin suffered significant injury problems which likely impacted his offensive production, but his strikeout rate ramped up about a third from around 20% to a nose bleed 27%.

 

First base/DH production ex-Encarnacion was dismal compared to the “Smoakabello” combo from 2015. Josh Donaldson did heroic work to partially offset all these other spikes, but he simply wasn’t enough by himself. I give myself a D on this one and think the lesson is an important one to keep in mind as the front office constructs the 2017 roster. Their discussion of more balance is likely a smart idea, especially if it can be achieved by coming down the aging curve as well.

 

Jay Bruce has been like a Freddie Krueger nightmare for some Jays fans, as he seems to keep popping up and won’t go away. I was actually a fan of the attempted trade involving the Jays’ acquisition of Bruce for Saunders last winter, and I believe my analysis holds up pretty well. Saunders  turned out to be relatively healthy for the 2016 season, but overall the other aspects of my analysis were pretty accurate. Bruce’s offensive production did revert back closer to his historical track record, though his defensive metrics were basically as bad as Saunders’.

 

If it were just about the 2016 season, Saunders modestly outperformed Bruce, but the extra year of control for Bruce was/is important. Many of Bruce’s peripherals were pretty good for 2016 and suggest some degree of bad batted ball luck, though increased shift deployment against him may also be a factor. I still think the trade would have been a good one and contrary to what seems to be the consensus amongst Jays fans, I would be just fine with Bruce occupying right field for the Jays in 2017. I give myself a solid B on this one.

 

Perhaps no Blue Jay generates more consternation than Kevin Pillar, and he’s become an instrument of analytical masochism for me. I wrote two columns on Mr. Pillar during the 2016 season, with one arguing that he was the best option as a leadoff hitter heading into the season (at least until Devon Travis’ return), and then another arguing that he would be an above average hitter. On the surface, I think most people would reasonably give me a D or F grade on those analyses, but I am going to give myself a barely passing grade of C-.

 

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Pillar was never a great option at leadoff, but then the Jays didn’t have an ideal option at the time. The issue was widely debated, and the other options many argued for were Tulo, Martin and Bautista. The first two would have been even worse than Pillar during their horrific April and May’s, and with the benefit of hindsight, Bautista’s .360 OBP prior to his injury in mid June would have been the best option. For context, from the beginning of the season through 6/16/2016, here are the OBP and wRC+ for each player in order of mention: .293/88, .300/67, .289/78 and .360/120. I give Bautista and John Gibbons credit for installing Bautista in the leadoff role upon his return from injury.

 

As for Pillar being an above average big league hitter, that simply has not yet occurred. As I argued in my commentaries, I believe there was a clear point when Pillar adjusted to big league pitching by the end of May 2015. Since June 1st 2015, he has produced a wRC+ of 93 with a .283/.318/.402 slash line over 1,006 plate appearances. For a CF that provides elite defense, that is actually not bad, but it is objectively not above average offense. The core of my analysis has been that Pillar’s speed and batted ball profile (high contact spray hitter to all fields) would result in an above average BABIP, but that just hasn’t happened. His BABIP was identical in 2015 and 2016 at .306, which is right around league average.

 

Pillar has reportedly played significant chunks of the past two seasons with a broken hand (2015) and then a bad thumb (2016), and he also likely suffered some sort of injury against the Dodgers in May 2016 that also drove a 2 week period of dreadful production. However, given his defensive style and playing on the Rogers Center turf, it is probably reasonable to expect him to be injured regularly. I still think a healthy Pillar with a little BABIP luck would be an above average big league hitter, but admit that mix may be unlikely to occur for any sustained period. I still haven’t given up hope of a run of health for Pillar so we can see if his production can surprise the consensus, but “hope” isn’t a good basis for analysis. Overall, I’ll give myself a D for my Pillar-related analysis.

 

Just prior to the beginning of the 2016 season, I compared the 2015 and 2016 Jays with the 1993 vintage. I’ll keep this one brief – the 2016 Jays simply did not produce offensively as many, including me, expected. As I addressed above regarding the Bill James piece, the Jays’ power was not balanced enough by other offensive skills, and run production suffered as a result. The pitching staff performed slightly better than their 1993 counterpart and much better than the 2015 vintage. I’ll give myself a D.

 

Next up, I wrote two pieces which took a look at Troy Tulowitzki’s emerging issues with hitting fastballs. The first, following the season’s opening week, examined what had been his problems in hitting fastballs up to that point since arriving in Toronto, and the second, in early July, updated the analysis after he appeared to turn a corner. I think I did some of my best analysis on this topic and fortunately Tulo settled into a production level which can reasonably be characterized as a reasonable aging curve-driven decline from an elite level. While aging players can and do put up huge years in their mid to late 30’s at times, doing so on a sustained basis is unusual.

 

From Tulo’s turning point on May 13th I referenced in the second piece, he slashed .281/.333/.478 over the remainder of the season. An OPS of over .800 is elite for a SS who is also a solid to plus defender (as Tulo remains), so that was an excellent level of production. Clearly, it is not video game level like he produced in Colorado, but it is more in line, with some aging-driven decline built in, with his production on the road when he was playing in Colorado. His batted ball figures remained excellent during the period, with a hard contact rate of 35.2% and a pull rate of 42.6%. Tulo’s overall production was excellent despite him not returning to being a fastball assassin, which I think reflects his ability to make adjustments as he ages. I give myself a badly needed A.

 

I authored two pieces regarding projections and mean reversion, with the first in early May addressing an early season bout of gloom amongst Jays fans, and the second in early June looking at the Jays relative to the Red Sox through the lens of the teams reverting to their season-long projections over the remainder of the year. In retrospect, I think my analyses in these two pieces holds up extremely well. The Jays’ offense improved a good bit but not quite enough to match their full year pre-season projections, but my argument that the Jays would likely revert and make a big playoff run proved prescient. In addition, the Red Sox also negatively reverted some, and my analysis of a 95 win season for them and 92-93 for the Jays (made in early June) was pretty good compared to the 93 and 89 wins which unfolded. I give myself an A here as well.

 

Overall, a mixed bag of analysis – I hope I at least offered thought provoking ideas and some interesting prose. I wish a happy and healthy New Year to everyone!

 

 

 

 

*Featured Image Credit: C Stem- JFtC

 

 

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