2016 Toronto Blue Jays Batting Over-Under Predictions

The 2016 season is coming in hot! I’ve already dusted off the old glove (and subsequently already thrown my arm out), read as much Blue Jays content as I can, and  acquired a couple of tickets for April. The only thing keeping me from total baseball mode are those pesky 50-win Raptors.  I am ready for a summer of Pillar web gems, Donaldson bombs, Stroman fist pumps and Bautista bat flips. But until then I may as well fill my time with writing predictions and ignoring school work.

I’m not that big into gambling, but I feel that the Over-Under concept is a great starting point for some of my Blue Jays opinions and predictions. Essentially I take a look at various projected stats for Toronto Blue Jays players and predict whether their real numbers at year’s end is over or under the projection. For the sake of this piece, I will use FanGraphs’ Steamer Projections. At this point most people bet money on the outcome of their over-under guesses. But taking into account my aversion to taking risks (some call this “being a coward”) and my limited funds, gambling just doesn’t seem meant for me.

Wins Above Replacement (WAR)
Jose Bautista: 3.6 (Over)
Edwin Encarnacion: 2.6 (Over)
Josh Donaldson: 5.9 (Over)

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I have come to grips that I’m an absolute Homer when it comes to all things Toronto sports. But I really do feel like all three of the Jays’ murder’s row will outperform their projections. I realize that projection systems try to be conservative when it comes to their predictions but I just do not feel that Bautista, Encarnacion or Donaldson are primed for such dramatic drops in value.

Bautista’s decreasing WAR appears to be tied to a predicted drop in WRC+ from 148 last season to a projected 137 this season. That seems to be driven, surprisingly, by an 8 point drop in OBP and 38 point drop in slugging percentage. Jose’s 2015 batting numbers took a bit of a hit compared to his 2014 season, but that’s because he was playing the majority of the season with a bum shoulder. Despite being 35 years old, Bautista treats his body like a temple with a tireless regiment of yoga, stretching, core strengthening and weight lifting that should help him age well. Not to mention he is in a contract year with a Ross Atkins-sized chip on his shoulder. I am not betting against him.

Like Bautista, Eddy is in his contract season and he wants to get PAID. Fangraphs predicts that Encarnacion will miss 38 games this season, which… fair enough. Although it was announced that he isn’t to start the season on the DL, Eddy is already banged up and does not look to prove Fangraphs wrong in that regard. But for him to be projected for a WRC+ of 135, which would be his lowest since putting up 113 in 2011, seems a little rich. In his 2014 season–at 248 games, is a very comparable sample size–Edwin had a triple slash line of .268/.354/.547 which is much better than Steamer predicts for this season. Edwin has been batting through injuries his whole career and it is bound to catch up to him. Just don’t count on it this year.

Look, a 5.9 WAR is still representative of an elite player and would be the fourth highest projected WAR among position players. But I do not see a situation in which Donaldson’s WAR drops by 2.8. His WAR lowest total in the past three years has been 6.5, and this is his second season batting in the friendly confines of the Rogers Center as opposed to the empty, vast wasteland that is O.co Coliseum. I don’t expect to see the reigning MVP to repeat his eye-popping triple slash line of .297/.371/.568. But at the same time I also don’t expect his numbers to “drop” to similar batting stats as from his days in Oakland as his projections suggest. It is kind of crazy that I am complaining that a 5.9 WAR is “too low” of a projection… This is just how awesome Donaldson is. To think some fans were actually scared of giving up Lawrie…

Home Runs
Russell Martin: 16 (Under)
Troy Tulowitzki: 19 (Over)

Finally I made an under pick! As much as I like Russell Martin, I do not see him repeating his career high 23 home run 2015 season. His body should take less of a beating considering he will not have to catch RA Dickey anymore. But that doesn’t mean that his 2015 power spike wasn’t a bit of an outlier. While moving to the hitter-friendly Rogers Center has helped him immensely, at his age 33 season following a 2015 that saw his hard contact rate fall by 2% in 2015, I will not be shocked to see Martin regress to a more sensible 10-15 home run range. Keep in mind that Martin’s bread and butter is his elite defensive play which gives him the second-highest projected WAR among catchers. As long as he defends well, do not be too worried about a drop in power.

Before last season the only time Tulowitzki’s home run total dipped below 20 was in his injury riddled 2012 season that only saw him play in 47 games. While I do tend to look at baseball through an analytical lens, I am absolutely buying the narrative that Tulo’s struggles were due to his awkward transition from the only MLB team he has ever played for to moving to another country. I realize that he is no longer swinging at the launching pad that is Coors Field. But the Rogers Center was ranked as the second best hitter’s ball parks in 2015 by Sporting News. Plus, just as Jays sluggers before him, Tulo has added a leg kick to his swing. Giddy up!

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Batting Average
Kevin Pillar: .276 (Under)
Devon Travis: .270 (Over)
Chris Colabello: .260 (Under)

All three of these players had awesome 2015 seasons. A common thread between all of their successes is the short length of their careers in which they benefit from  lack of familiarity from opposing pitchers. Projections have all three dropping in batting average pretty significantly, but I feel that Pillar and Colabello will drop even further.

Now I do not need Jerry Howarth to remind me that Pillar has “hit at every level” and that he “puts in more work than anybody.” In my mind, last season was Pillar’s career year, as opposed to a breakout year. His defense makes him a very valuable center fielder, but I am not sold on his bat. His .278 average in 2015 was his career high and it was mostly buoyed by a hot month of June in which he had a WRC+ of 152. His hard hit contact % and weak hit contact % of 24.7% in both categories leaves much to be desired. I just don’t buy the argument that batting leadoff will lead to more fastballs than he saw last season. As far as I can tell, in this stacked Blue Jays lineup, opposing pitchers are more likely to pitch aggressively to hitters such as Pillar and Goins, regardless of their position in the order.

As for Devon Travis, I feel his 2015 performance is more repeatable just based on the eye test. While Pillar seems to hack at every pitch he sees, Travis–albeit in limited time–looked very poised and was very selective at the pitches he did offer at. When he got the bat off of his shoulder, he was absolutely cracking the ball to the tune of a hard contact % of 27.8% and medium contact % of 56.3%. This left a minuscule weak contact % of 15.9%. If Travis comes back from his injury completely healthy, I don’t see why he can’t carry on where he left off and supplant Pillar as the team’s leadoff hitter.

Even though Chris Colabello hit the ball very hard in 2015, his .411 BABIP suggests he benefited from very high batted ball luck. He is due for some big time regression and I tend to believe that he will regress even beyond the projections. I love the guy and love his story, but the clock is about to strike midnight. When the season begins I guess we really will see whether this guy is a legitimate slugger or a pumpkin.

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Plate Appearances
Dalton Pompey: 273 (Under)
Ezequiel Carrera: 226 (Under)
Darrell Ciciliani: 102 (Over)

There’s a couple different talking points here in regards to the Blue Jays’ outfield depth.

One year after cracking the Opening Day roster as a big league center fielder, Pompey finds himself in AAA Buffalo. He lost the fourth outfielder battle because Carrera and Brown were out of options, Ciciliani outplayed all potential suitors, and quite frankly he just did not look ready. He has the tools that should translate to the MLB game but only time will tell if he is more than a Snider-esque AAAA player. I do believe Pompey will get some looks in the MLB this season. Whether it is as the Jays regular left fielder or just as a pinch runner is completely up to him. I am of the opinion that he is still a year away from having a real impact.

My Carrera prediction is based more on hope than it being a well thought out prediction. I hope that Saunders has a solid, healthy year. Hopefully we don’t need to see any of these three outfielders in regular playing time at all. But if Saunders does miss extended time, I really hope that they use someone other than Carrera. I do not understand the fear from Blue Jays management of losing Ezequiel on waivers. Just send the guy down already. He is the definition of a replacement level player and if someone else picks him up off of waivers, it certainly will not keep me up at night.

In contrast to weak spring training numbers from Pompey and Carerra, fantastic spring from Ciciliani has catapulted himself up the outfield depth chart. He has passed Dominic Brown and Junior Lake, both of whom have much more MLB experience, as well as blue chip prospects Dalton Pompey and (to a lesser extant) Anthony Alford. A sweet .417/.500/.833 slash line in spring games, has turned many heads in both Blue Jays management and media alike. If it weren’t for his contract still having options and Carrera’s not, there is no doubt in my mind that he would have broken camp with the big league team. His immediate talent and lack of prospect pedigree make him a perfect call up candidate when Saunders predictably goes down. I expect we will definitely see more of Ciciliani this season.

 

 

 

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