Jays From the Couch looks at the Toronto Blue Jays vastly under-rated defense, which just might be better in 2017
Much of the offseason talk around the Toronto Blue Jays has to do with their offense, followed by their pitching, specifically the bullpen. We’re worried about having a balanced lineup, including how many lefties are run out there. We worry about just how the relief core will shape up when the season begins. But, one of the least talked about storylines this winter has been that of the Blue Jays’ defense.
A while back, I wrote about the club looking to perhaps bank on run prevention over production in 2017. That post was to point out that the offense may take a hit, but the defense will be much improved. Over at Fangraphs, Jeff Sullivan broke down the kind of defensive improvement each team in baseball can expect in 2017. In short, he looked at team DRS/UZR scores to see how the teams performed in 2016 and how they project for 2017.
In 2016, the Toronto Blue Jays sat in 8th spot in all of baseball, ahead of Cleveland and behind the likes of Boston, Houston and the league leading Chicago Cubs. Despite having players with negative DRS scores playing defensive positions, the Blue Jays managed to rank quite well , comparatively. For example, Jose Bautista‘s -8 DRS and Michael Saunders‘ -11 overall DRS certainly skewed the team’s average. Josh Donaldson‘s 2 DRS, Kevin Pillar‘s 21 (!) and Troy Tulowitzki‘s 10 helped the other way.
According to Sullivan, the Blue Jays look to be even better in 2017. He has them projected to be 5th in baseball, ahead of Boston and Cleveland, but still behind those Cubbies. This improvement won’t be among the biggest in baseball, according to Sullivan, but it does represent a positive change that not many people are talking about. In fact, the defensive changes made very well could represent one of Toronto’s strong suits heading into 2017.
If we look at the 0 DRS Edwin Encarnacion put up at 1B in 2016 and replace it with some combination of Justin Smoak‘s -5 (which is surprisingly low, considering his reputation with the glove) and Steve Pearce‘s 2, you mightn’t get the sense of defensive improvement. Simple math says that it isn’t. But, on the whole, the defense should be much better.
Donaldson and Tulo will be back on the left side with Devon Travis at second, who has put up 3 DRS in his total time at the keystone position. That is not even mentioning the very slick fielding (projected) bench of Darwin Barney and Ryan Goins.
That said, the outfield is where the Blue Jays will see their biggest gains in defense. Rather than sending Saunders out, the club could go with Melvin Upton Jr.and his 10 DRS and/or Ezequiel Carrera and his overall score of 7. Going from Saunders’ -11 to even an average of the above 2 (~8) is a significant upgrade. That is not even mentioning what Dalton Pompey (career 5 DRS) might bring from the fringes of the outfield conversation.
Depending upon manager, John Gibbons and his lineup configuration(s), we could see a number of defensive alignments. That could include more late game substitutions for someone like Bautista, whether he likes it, or not. When you are in a situation where you’re facing an uphill battle to win the division, you have to consider things you mightn’t have in the past. That means, Gibby might be forced to be more proactive in his managing decisions in order to win games to keep pace with the Red Sox, who look to be rather good.
Obviously, games need to be played out. The Red Sox look good on paper, but the game is not played on paper. It’s played on the field. And, the field is where the Toronto Blue Jays look to have improved. Their defense has not been getting as much attention as it should. Whether that trend continues remains to be seen. But, for now, the club looks to be in good shape heading into the 2017 season…or, at the very least, in better shape than last year.
*Featured Image Credit: Keith Allison UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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Shaun Doyle is a long time Blue Jays fan and writer! He decided to put those things together and create Jays From the Couch. Shaun is the host of Jays From the Couch Radio, which is highly ranked in iTunes, and he has appeared on TV and radio spots.