Jays From the Couch looks at the Toronto Blue Jays ability to make up for lost HR power with run prevention in 2017
The home run is king! The Toronto Blue Jays know this as well as anyone. But, if you look at the free agent market these days, you’d never know it. Shi Davidi and Ben Nicholson-Smith joined forces for the latest Big Read at Sportsnet and they dug into why sluggers are such a difficult sign this offseason. Basically, they looked into whether the long ball is not valued as it once was. And, there is something to that theory when guys like Jose Bautista, Mark Trumbo and Chris Carter still sit on the open market.
The long and short of it is that teams can make up 20 HR in today’s game rather
cheaply easily, so paying through the teeth for 35 HR doesn’t make much sense. Why pay so much more for what is only a small increase in the long ball. Guys who hit that many home runs have to be able to offer another skill set in order to be perceived as having value these days. The most obvious of those skill sets comes on the other side of the ball- defense.
Specifically, we are starting to see executives put more value on run prevention. If you can prevent a few more runs in a season, you don’t need to see as many leave the park. It is a logical approach- one that seems to be taking hold across baseball. This ‘renaissance’, if you will, is due to the advanced metrics, etc that teams pay lots of money for and keep close to their vests. Everyone has their system.
All of the above got me thinking about how the Toronto Blue Jays will look in 2017. With the loss of Edwin Encarnacion and (likely) Bautista, the obvious question becomes how they will recoup the long ball totals that have departed. And, make no mistake, the long ball is a part of the game when playing in the AL East. The ballparks are built for home run hitters. Heck, Didi Gregorius hit 20 last year, playing for the Yankees. Over at Jays Journal, Keegan Matheson explained why Kendrys Morales could be set to offset some of the home run loss, and a lot of it has to do with bringing his bat to the Rogers Centre.
Playing in a place like Kauffman Stadium, the home run isn’t as prevalent. Nor is it in a lot of NL parks. Instead, those teams might focus more on run production for their offense. Maybe, rather than waiting for the big fly, which doesn’t come as frequently, you try for the walk, double and a single to score a run. It isn’t as sexy, but it put points on the board, which is the name of the game. The problem is that in the AL East, it isn’t really the name of the game. You put points on the board by bashing the ‘you know what’ out of the ball.
But, there is a movement toward trying to prevent the other team from doing the same thing. So, run prevention is more important now than it has been in the past. For the Toronto Blue Jays, I wanted to look at what they were losing this offseason, how they look heading into 2017 and whether they are in a position to save a few more runs in the hopes of making up for the lost homers. To keep things simple, we’ll focus on Defensive Runs Saved, which is explained by Fangraphs HERE. It should be noted that pitchers play a rather significant role in preventing runs, but the context of this discussion puts them on the shelf for the moment, since we’re talking about the defense contributed by hitters.
So, in the loss column, we have:
Encarnacion: 0 DRS at 1B in 2016
Bautista: -8 DRS in RF in 2016
Michael Saunders: -6 DRS in LF in 2016 (for our purposes, we’ll just use his LF total, but he put up a total OF DRS of -11 in 2016)
Dioner Navarro: -5 DRS at C in 2016 (he did split his time between 2 clubs last year, but we’ll throw him in)
Josh Thole: -1 DRS at C in 2016 (he lost playing time when Navarro came aboard)
Darwin Barney: 9 DRS at 2B, SS, 3B and LF. That’s right, in 37 innings in LF, he was worth 1 DRS.
Currently, Barney is eligible for arbitration and should return to the Blue Jays, unless they lose their minds. His DRS totals alone should be worth an increase on the million he saw in 2016. And, if he were to depart, they would be in an even bigger hole defensively. So, for now, we won’t throw his numbers into the total.
So, looking at the above losses, the Blue Jays are shedding themselves of -14 DRS in the outfield (or another -5, if you take Saunders’ whole OF 2016 value), 0 DRS at first and -6 DRS behind the dish. That’a total of -20 DRS! Can you call it a loss when what you are losing is so drastically negative? I suppose the answer depends on how those holes will be filled.
Ezequiel Carrera: 2 DRS in LF & 8 DRS in RF (-3 DRS in CF, but that’s spoken for) in 2016
Melvin Upton Jr. 10 DRS in LF in 2016
Dalton Pompey: 5 DRS over his career as a MLB outfielder
Steve Pearce: 2 DRS at 1B, 0 DRS at 2B, -1 DRS in LF, -1 DRS in RF, so… OF= -2 DRS and 1B= 2 DRS
A.J. Jimenez: has yet to see big league innings, but figures to be the backup catcher in 2017 as things stand right now
When we total this all, we get +17 DRS (+15 if you count Pearce) in the outfield and 2 DRS at 1B. Pearce also had a 9 DRS showing at first base in 2014. But, for this fun little exercise, we’re just comparing the 2016 values. And, what does it all mean?
If the Toronto Blue Jays do nothing else (which is not likely to happen), they will have gone from seeing -20 DRS depart to welcoming +17 DRS. That is a huge difference! Even Jimenez, who is a solid defensive catcher will add to that total. Just by keeping things as they are right now, the Blue Jays very well could be a better defensive team. They could be so much better that losing the home run totals might be more palatable.
There is no way I would even try to convince anyone that the club is in a better position right now than they were at the end of the 2016 season. Even if I were to take that on, it would not go over well. The fact remains that the 2017 Blue Jays still don’t have a defined leadoff hitter, they don’t have regular players they can fill the outfield with everyday. They don’t have a lot of the thump they used to have. I mean, losing the 80 HR potential of Edwin and Jose and replacing it with the extremely flattering possibility of 55-60 from Morales and Pearce does not scream improvement. So, this little exercise is not about to try and make folks feel better about this coming season.
People still dig the longball, no question. In the AL East power is king. Good teams combine that power with some good run prevention. The Blue Jays have a pitching staff that can do that quite well. And, even though the club is missing some of their former power, they just might be able to compensate by saving a few runs here and there.
*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.