Jays From the Couch looks into the Toronto Blue Jays depth and value and it is pretty darn good.
If any one phrase captures the Blue Jays’ 2017-18 off-season, it is “raise the floor”. None of the major-league additions (Randal Grichuk, Curtis Granderson, Yangervis Solarte, Aledmys Diaz and Jaime Garcia) are particularly flashy, yet each added depth to the team in some way. Grichuk and Granderson are solid MLB regulars who should improve the Blue Jay outfield from bad (28th in 2017 fWAR, with 2.8) to average (projected to rank 15th in 2018, with 6.3).
Good health from Troy Tulowitzki and Devon Travis is a big reason why the Blue Jays’ infield production is projected to rebound mightily from 2017—the infield is projected to produce 16.9 fWAR (5th in the majors) in 2018, compared to 6.1 fWAR (29th) last season. Adding Solarte (projected 2018 wOBA of .330) and Diaz (projected 2018 wOBA of .312) helps ensure that the infield can survive (reasonably well) even without the two middle-infield starters. For perspective, Ryan Goins posted a .278 wOBA over 459 PA last season, while Darwin Barney ran a .263 wOBA over 362 PA. Even their career-bests (.297 for Goins in 2015, .303 for Barney in 2016) fall well short of Solarte and Diaz’s projected marks for 2018.
With the team already boasting four above-average starting pitchers, the Blue Jays’ addition of Jaime Garcia (a roughly average starter in recent years) ensures that the Jays do not have a truly soft spot in their entire rotation. All in all, the Jays appear to have a well-balanced lineup. Me being me, I was curious to see if the numbers backed that up. As there are no widely accepted “measures of depth” (that I’m aware of), I had to put some together myself.
The number of positions projected to produce X+ fWAR in 2018
A deep team should have quality players at each position. Fangraphs displays the overall fWAR that each team is projected to produce at each position. First, let’s focus on the position players. In order to make comparison of AL/NL teams easier, I’ll leave out the DH and limit my attention to the eight non-pitcher fielding positions. For the record though, the Blue Jays currently project to have middle-of-the-road production from the DH spot (0.9 fWAR, tied for eighth in the AL).
The Jays rank eighth in the majors in terms of projected position player fWAR. However, the team is tied for first in terms of the number of positions projected to produce at least 1.5 fWAR in 2018 (all eight positions project to produce at least 1.6 fWAR). About two-thirds (71%) of positions produced at least 1.5 fWAR last season, so this seems like an appropriate threshold for “below-average, but not terrible” position player production.
The Blue Jays are tied for fifth in terms of the number of positions projected to produce at least 2.5 fWAR in 2018 (five), behind a pack of teams projected to have solid production from six positions. About half (48%) of positions produced at least 2.5 fWAR last season, so a team producing 2.5+ fWAR from a position can be reasonably considered “above-average” there. As a bonus, the Blue Jays are one of only three teams projected to have a 6+ fWAR position— Mike Trout at CF (Angels), Josh Donaldson at 3B (Blue Jays) and Carlos Correa at SS (Astros).
All told, the Blue Jays are projected to get solid production throughout the lineup. The Jays have an above-average infield, with each position projected to produce no less than 2.3 fWAR in 2018. In the outfield, consistently above-average production in CF (2.8 fWAR, ranking 13th among projected CF) will be flanked by roughly average production in LF (1.6 fWAR, ranking 15th) and RF (1.9 fWAR, ranking 14th).
The number of starting pitchers projected to produce X+ fWAR in 2018
While the Jays are projected to rank 14th in starting pitcher fWAR this season, they project to have the second most 1+ fWAR starting pitchers in the majors, with six. Only the Rockies boast seven 1+ fWAR starting pitchers, which is why I focused on them as potential trading partners for the Jays, before they opted to sign Garcia. A 1 fWAR pitcher is a useful player to have in the major leagues—among the 218 starting pitchers who cracked 30 IP last season, only 121 met that standard. Effectively, 1 fWAR is #4 starting pitcher-type production.
The Jays are tied for ninth with four starting pitchers projected to crack 1.5 fWAR in 2018. 88 starters met that standard last year, implying that the threshold to be a #3 starting pitcher (at least in this limited, statistical sense) was about 1.5 fWAR. All told, the Blue Jays have a #1 (Marcus Stroman, 4.3 projected fWAR), a #2 (J.A Happ, 2.7) and two guys who are (at least) #3s (Aaron Sanchez, 1.9 and Marco Estrada, 1.7). Behind them, Garcia (1.4) and Joe Biagini (1.2) are each projected for good #4-type production. This is a deep rotation.
The number of relief pitchers projected to produce X+ fWAR in 2018
Finally, the same tables, for relief pitchers. Fangraphs’ Depth Charts projections are not very optimistic about the Blue Jays’ bullpen. It’s worth noting that there is a large gap between how the Steamer system and ZiPS system view the Toronto bullpen (these two systems are the main inputs for the Depth Charts projection system). For example, while the four bullpen locks (Roberto Osuna, Ryan Tepera, Aaron Loup and Danny Barnes) are projected by ZiPS to produce 3.1 zWAR in 259.2 IP , they are only projected to produce 1.6 fWAR in 240 IP by Steamer.
Given the limited track records of Jays relievers not named Osuna or Loup, these low projections are not entirely unexpected. Unsurprisingly, the bullpen is the only area to which Ross Atkins believes he will add to before Opening Day. By the sounds of it, the Blue Jays have signed reliever Seung Hwan Oh to a major-league deal, pending a physical—more relevant than usual, as he failed a physical earlier this month after signing with the Rangers.
If completed, his signing would change the tables above quite a bit, such is the value of a good reliever. After an excellent 2016 season (2.6 fWAR), 2017 went very poorly for Oh (0.1 fWAR). The projection systems once again disagree, with ZiPS optimistically projecting Oh to produce a 3.38 FIP and 0.8 zWAR, and Steamer projecting a 4.42 FIP and 0 fWAR. Depth Charts splits the difference with a 3.90 FIP. Maintained over the number of innings he pitched in 2017 (59.1), he’d produce about 0.6 fWAR.
With Oh on board (and if my guess about his eventual Jays’ Depth Charts projection is accurate), the Jays’ bullpen would move up to 15th in total projected fWAR (3.4, up from 24th). The team’s increased depth is reflected in the updated stats—the team would be tied for third with 4 relievers projected for a 0.4+ fWAR season and tied for fifth with 3 relievers projected for a 0.6+ fWAR season.
The median projected fWAR of the 25-man rosters
Calculating and comparing the median projected fWAR of each team’s 25-man roster is another method of quantifying balance. For each team, I built a hypothetical 25-man roster by taking Fangraphs’ Depth Charts projections (as of Friday, February 23) and picking out the 12 position players with the most projected PA and 13 pitchers with the most projected IP (which usually resulted in five SP, seven RP and one swingman). I used this breakdown since eight-men bullpens are all the rage right now. I then calculated the median projected fWAR amongst each team’s position players and pitchers separately, then for the whole team combined.
Overall, the Jays’ total 25-man projected WAR ranks 10th in the majors, but the median WAR of their 25-man roster ranked 7th. Individually, their positions players’ (6th) and pitchers’ (3rd) median WAR rank even better.
Medians can tell us whether the overall totals are driven by a relatively equal or unequal distribution. Case in point, the favourites for the AL’s second wild card spot, the Angels and the Blue Jays. While the Angels have a slightly higher projected fWAR overall, the Blue Jays are superior in terms of median fWAR. The Angels are more top-heavy than the Jays—the Angels have four players projected to crack 3+ fWAR, while the Jays only have two. On the other hand, the Jays have 14 players projected to produce between 1 and 2.9 fWAR, while the Angels only have nine. They’re similar teams overall, but the Jays are much better balanced than the Angels.
All else being equal, a more productive team is better than a less productive team over the course of 162 games. However, depth and balance are both relevant variables, particularly when looking at projections instead of past results. Stronger balance means that a team is less reliant on a small number of players and more robust to injuries, underperformance and bad luck. The scars of 2017 were fresh in the minds of all members of the Blue Jays’ front office team this off-season, and clearly motivated their key decisions.
The numbers that we looked at suggest that the team was generally successful in this regard, as it now boasts a relatively large number of solid major leaguers throughout the lineup. Another solid reliever is really the only bit of business left and now that appears to be taken care of, with the signing of Oh. The more I examine this team, the more I think it will surprise a lot of people in 2018 (obviously, beware of bias on my part). The 25-man roster is filled with players who are average or better in their positions, a very good place to start. While there are all kinds of potential downside risks (particularly, injury and age-related decline), there are as many potential upsides in this team—Grichuk more fully tapping into his potential, Kendrys hitting like he did in his (not-so-distant) Royals days, Estrada beating his projections again, Sanchez picking up where he left off in 2016 or the bullpen (with plenty of returning members from 2017’s 7th best ‘pen by fWAR) performing well again. This is gonna be a fun summer.
*Featured Image Via C Stem- JFtC
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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.