Toronto Blue Jays Platoon: Dr. Shapkins or: How I learned to stop worrying and tolerate the Smoak

 

Jays From the Couch looks into the Toronto Blue Jays 1B/LF platoon situation, which isn’t as scary as you think.

 

Embed from Getty Images

 

The Toronto Blue Jays front office has established the fact that they have Plans A through Z for every situation.  From everything they’ve said, their Plan A for 1B/LF appears to be:

 

This plan scares the crap out of people, which is justifiable given Smoak and Upton’s 2016 performances. It shouldn’t for a couple of reasons:

  1. If Plan A sucks, they will move to Plan B, likely Pearce at 1B full-time and Dalton Pompey replacing Pearce in LF vs. righties.
  2. If Plan B sucks, they will move to Plan C, which might include Rowdy Tellez at 1B vs. righties.
  3. There’s actually a chance that Plan A might not suck!

 

I can prove this with very reasonable numbers.  However, before I get yelled at for quasi-defending he who will not be named, let me clarify that I am no Smoak fan and prefer Plan B.  Pearce’s career numbers suggest that he would be a Top 5 first basemen given a full time role, while Pompey’s upside and platoon splits suggest that he could flourish in LF, at the very least in a platoon role against righties.

 

At any rate, in order to evaluate Plan A, let’s look at what we can expect from these players in the three key dimensions: hitting, defense and baserunning.

 

First, a brief explanation of the statistics I’ll use:

  • wRC+ (weighted runs created) tries to capture a player’s overall ability to create runs with his bat
  • UZR/150 (ultimate zone rating) tries to capture a fielder’s overall ability to prevent runs
  • BsR/600 captures a players overall ability to create runs on the base paths
  • For wRC+, 100 is league average.  For UZR/150 and BsR/600, 0 is league average.  In all cases, a higher number is better.
  • I’ve projected platoon WAR in a very rough way.  Based on z-scores for wRC+, UZR and BsR, I estimated the platoon’s overall rank in the MLB last season and jotted down the WAR of the team that actually achieved that rank.  Using the average of nearby teams (instead of just the one team) resulted in very similar results.

 

Career wRC+ Career UZR/150 Career BSR/600 Proj WAR
Upton LF vs L 109 4.2 4.3
Pearce LF vs R 100 2.1 1.4
Left Field Platoon 102 2.5 2.0 2.0
Left Field MLB Rank 12th 14th 10th 12th

 

This LF platoon has top-third baserunning, with middle-third hitting and fielding.  This platoon would be roughly the 12th best LF overall, which should amount to about 2WAR (the Red Sox had the 12th best LF in 2016 and produced 2WAR).

 

Career wRC+ Career UZR/150 Career BSR/600 Proj WAR
Pearce 1B vs L 130 8.8 1.4
Smoak 1B vs R 100 0.2 -4.7
First Base Platoon 106 1.9 -3.5 1.6
First Base MLB Rank 18th 11th 19th 16th

 

This 1B platoon has middle-third hitting, baserunning and fielding.  This platoon would be roughly the 16th best 1B overall, which would amount to about 1.6WAR (the White Sox had the 16th best 1B in 2016 and produced 1.6WAR).

 

The two platoons cost a combined $11.5M ($6.5M + $1M + $4M), yet are projected to produce a combined 3.6WAR (1.6WAR at 1B and 2WAR in LF).  For $11.5M, a fair return would be about 1.5WAR.  At that low a bar, the two platoons have the potential to be solid value plays.  Moreover, each platoon is between average and slightly above average for their positions.

 

If recent seasons can be replicated, the two platoons have the potential to be incredible value plays.  The career numbers used so far are generally conservative, particularly when it comes to Steve Pearce’s hitting.  Replicating the tables above, but with data from 2014-16, we get:

 

2014-2016 wRC+ 2014-16 UZR/150 2014-16 BSR/600 Proj WAR
Upton LF vs L 106 4.1 4.5
Pearce LF vs R 125 4.1 0.4
Left Field Platoon 121 4.1 1.2 3.9
Left Field MLB Rank 3rd 14th 16th 5th
2014-16 wRC+ 2014-16 UZR/150 2014-16 BSR/600 Proj WAR
Pearce 1B vs L 145 10.3 0.4
Smoak 1B vs R 97 0.7 -3.6
First Base Platoon 107 2.6 -2.8 2.9
First Base MLB Rank 16th 10th 17th 14th

 

These more optimistic projections suggest a combined WAR of roughly 7!  While this outcome is unlikely, a range of 3.6-6.8 WAR for the Blue Jays at 1B and LF would go a long way towards putting the Jays back into the playoffs.  For comparison, the 2016 Jays produced a combined 4.4 WAR between 1B and LF.

 

Finally, to get an idea of a possible floor, I replicated the original tables, but used Upton and Smoak’s performances with the Jays in 2016.

 

Data Source wRC+  UZR/150  BSR/600 Proj WAR
Upton LF vs L 2016 with Blue Jays 107 -1.9 7.3
Pearce LF vs R Career 100 2.1 1.4
Left Field Platoon 101 1.3 2.6 2.0
Left Field MLB Rank 13th 14th 13th 13th
Data Source  wRC+  UZR/150  BSR/600 Proj WAR
Pearce 1B vs L Career 130 8.8 1.4
Smoak 1B vs R 2016 with Blue Jays 99 -3.1 -1.9
First Base Platoon 105 -0.7 -1.3 1.6
First Base MLB Rank 17th 17th 9th 16th

 

While their performances last year were nothing to write home about, their terribleness was mainly the result of facing both lefties and righties.  Employing the two in strict platoon roles alongside the highly underrated Steve Pearce, the Jays could get at least league average production from 1B/LF.  If Pearce keeps up his performances from recent seasons and Upton/Smoak do no worse than 2016, these two platoons can potentially out-produce the 2016 Blue Jays in 1B and LF.

 

 

 

 

 

*Featured Image Credit: Keith Allison UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0

 

 

 

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I’m an economics professor in the GTA whose lifelong love for the Jays was reignited by that magical August of 2015 and the amazing moments since.

Jeff Quattrociocchi

I'm an economics professor in the GTA whose lifelong love for the Jays was reignited by that magical August of 2015 and the amazing moments since.