Blue Jays Analyst vs The Numbers

Toronto Blue Jays Analyst, Gregg Zaun, shares his thoughts on the 2016 club. Jays From the Couch looks at whether he’s accurate in his assessment.

 

Baseball fans everywhere are ramping up their excitement with Spring Training upon us. It seems as though there is a heightened interest in the game. This is especially true of the Toronto Blue Jays given the way they left us heading into the winter. We’re all chomping at the bit to follow up the 2015 postseason. As such, there is no shortage of opinions, etc about the upcoming season.

On Thursday afternoon, Sportsnet.ca’s Blue Jays “(man)analyst”, Gregg Zaun, appeared on the Jeff Blair show (via Jeff Simmons of Sportsnet.ca) and gave us his take on how the Toronto Blue Jays look heading into Spring Training 2016. He touched on a number of topics in his assessment and gave us some moments to pause and think. Zaunie is always good for a sound bite. Here’s what he had to say:

Drew Hutchison has to pitch the Spring Training of his life in order to crack the Opening Day rotation. In his own words, Zaun says things have to go “perfectly” for Hutch lest he find himself off the big league roster. That isn’t exactly groundbreaking as many of us have thought that this winter has provided the club with several other starting options. With Aaron Sanchez a possibility, along with Jesse Chavez, and even Gavin Floyd with a long shot, to start, Zaun feels Hutchison is the 7th starter on the list.

Further, as tantalizing as Hutchison’s stuff is, Zaun feels he doesn’t throw enough strikes to be considered as a reliever. That may be fair given that (according to Fangraphs.com), he saw the strike zone 45.2% of the time. Brooks Baseball breaks it down even further: he threw his fastball for strikes 28.4% of the time, his sinker 21.7%, his change 18.43% and his slider 29.17%. Perhaps Zaun is referring to actually throwing swinging strikes. Hutch’s slider did the best at 13.89%. This negative assessment of Hutch may or may not prove to be fair. After all, he did suffer a BABIP of .343.

Regardless of whether you agree with Zaun that Hutchison needs to prove himself this season, how many of us would have taken it as far as Zaunie by suggesting that a change in scenery is in order?

I wouldn’t be surprised if he did get a change of scenery [in a trade]. He might get a different pitching coach with a different message. Even just saying the same thing in a different way.

This seems a bit much given that the player is not even eligible for arbitration until 2017 and won’t be a free agent until 2019. Isn’t it worth paying the minimum in the hopes of him reaching his potential? And, even if the Blue Jays did consider trading him, what value does Hutchison offer at this point (assuming the above assessment is true)? Enough to bring in anyone worth plugging areas of need, like say, backup catcher. If you listen to Zaun, Hutch wouldn’t fetch a return worth considering.

Perhaps your decision to go along with Zaun’s ideas will be impacted by his thoughts on the “Ace by Default”, Marcus Stroman:

Stroman, I’m still kind of up in the air on him. I don’t know what we’re going to see from him [in 2016] or where he’s going to go with his stuff. His fastball command has to get better.

Up in the air?! As far as throwing strikes…In his legendary return at the end of 2015, 3 of Stroman’s 6 (SIX!!!) offerings averaged strikes at more than 32%. Only his slider was thrown for strikes at under 20%. Maybe Zaun is reserving judgement to see if Stroman can have success over a whole season. Maybe an electric September/ October isn’t enough for the notoriously hard on young players former catcher.

We should also note that he’s not high on the signing of J.A. Happ since “anyone can have a good month”. Zaun is referring to the late season awesomeness that Happ seemed to pull out of nowhere. Instead of being excited about that, we should remember what Happ is and hedge any excitement, apparently.

He wasn’t done there, though. He also fears for the entire staff’s flyball rates. He’s worried about the long ball biting the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre (which it would also bite the opposition- perhaps more). Let’s see: R.A. Dickey 2015 37.2% FB%, 9.8% HR/FB, Marco Estrada: 52.3% FB%, 8.7% HR/FB, Stroman (career) 26.1% FB%, 7.4% HR/FB, Happ: 34.1% FB%, 9.2% HR/FB. The league average FB/HR rate is 9.5%, for reference. Does this sound alarming to you?

As if all of this weren’t enough, he decided to touch on the offense. Apparently, there is no one on the club capable of leading off. Zaun is not a fan of Troy Tulowitzki batting first as he’s more of a middle of the order bat. Fair enough. But, check out what came next:

You need a high on-base percentage to be the lead-off guy. They don’t have one of those guys.

The Toronto Blue Jays don’t have any high OBP guys? Really? What about Jose Bautista and his 2015 OBP of .377? Or, Russell Martin and his career .352 mark? Josh Donaldson saw an OBP of .371 in 2015. The entire 2015 Blue Jays had an OBP of .340. Again, for context, an average OBP is .320. MLB hasn’t seen a league average OBP above .320 since 2011. Now, this is not to suggest that any of the above names should leadoff, but should manager, John Gibbons choose to, he could go with any of them. Perhaps the club lacks one of those “traditional” leadoff guys, but this is not a traditional lineup. Traditional thinking may need to be tossed out the window.

And, that is what is striking about Zaun’s comments. He has recently expressed a desire to get into management. We know that he’s what some would call “old school”.  That means that he would bring a level of tough, hard nosed “analysis” to running a baseball team. But, in this case, he may not be being fair to the Toronto Blue Jays.

I know what many of you are thinking at this point. “Why put so much stock into what Gregg Zaun thinks? He’s paid to appear on TV with personality and flair to get people to watch.” However, that is just the point. If he’s reaching a large audience; one that has definitely grown in the last year or so, then perhaps his attempts at being controversial should not appear so questionable.

We’re excited for Spring Training and the 2016 season. We’ve waited all winter for this. Let’s not ruin it.

 

*FEATURED IMAGE CREDIT: wyliepoon UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0

 

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Shaun Doyle

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.