Jim & Bob's Palatial Baseball Blog

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Toronto Blue Jays 2008 Preview: If Wishes Were Horses

2007: The year that sucked/was groovy (pick one)

Although the Jays finished third at 83-79, most fans and team management would probably say it sucked. Coming into the season with high (some might say unrealistic) hopes of threatening the Red Sox/Yankees stranglehold on the division title, the Jays suffered serious injuries to Roy Hallady, A. J. Burnett, B. J. Ryan, Lyle Overbay, Gregg Zaun, and Reed Johnson and were never in the picture. The team's biggest moves this winter were to make a challenge trade of fragile third basemen with tattered reputations (trading the accused steroid user for the guy considered to not be a gamer) and hiring a shrimp to play shortstop.

They can put it on the board yes! no! maybe!

They thought they'd have a pretty decent offense in 2007, but that wasn't the case. The Jays scored 753 runs, tenth in the AL and last in their division. Injuries to Overbay and Johnson and a pretty cruddy year by Vernon Wells dragged them down. Due to the injuries, disappointments, and simply playing guys who aren't any good, the Jays gave 2335 at-bats to players with on base percentages below .320.

LF Reed Johnson
SS David Eckstein
RF Alexis Rios
DH Frank Thomas
CF Vernon Wells
3B Scott Rolen
1B Lyle Overbay
2B Aaron Hill
C Gregg Zaun

This lineup looks like a lot of wishcasting to me. Everyone in it has had pretty decent seasons in the recent past, but every one of them has also been a major disappointment within that same span. Tossing them all together and hoping that everyone plays at his 90th percentile level isn't the most reliable way to build an offense. Rios is their best player, but he's not the superstar the Jays pretend he is.

Pitchers or belly itchers?

Despite losing their top two starters and their closer for extended periods, the Blue Jays allowed the second fewest runs in the AL. Halladay pitched well, although his strikeout rate has been declining and he allowed more than a hit per inning. A. J. Burnett was frequently dominating in his 25 starts, striking out 9.56 batters per nine innings while allowing just 7.12 hits. Dustin McGowan went from top prospect to reliable starter, and Shawn Marcum and Jesse Litsch were effective as well. Jeremy Arcado, Scott Downs, Casey Janssen, Brian Tallet, and Brian Wolfe turned the bullpen into an asset.

SP Roy Halladay
SP A. J. Burnett
SP Dustin McGowan
SP Shawn Marcum
SP Jesse Litsch

CL B. J. Ryan
RP Jeremy Arcado
RP Scott Downs

I like all of these guys, but I expect some slippage in 2007. However, additional innings from Halladay, Burnett, and McGowan could make up the difference. The 2007 Jays gave 30 starts (a full rotation spot) to Tomo Ohka, Josh Towers, and Gustavo Chacin, none of whom had an ERA below 5.38. Simply distributing those starts among the five guys listed above would keep the Jays' rotation at a high level.

Jays management is extremely optimistic or perhaps delusional about Ryan's chances for a successful opening day return ten months after Tommy John surgery. We wish them well. The guys who filled in last year are good pitchers, but not as good as they looked in 2007.

Witnesses for the defense

One thing that the Jays did very well in 2007 was to turn batted balls into outs. They had the highest defensive efficiency record in the majors at .714. The changes on the left side of the infield are pretty much a wash: Rolen is a bit better defensively than Glaus, but Eckstein is not a very good shortstop, and John McDonald is.

Farm aid

Don't look for much help here. The Jays have only one really outstanding prospect, outfielder Travis Snider, but he's at least a year and a half away. None of their other reasonable prospects are any further advanced. What you see on the major league roster is what you get this year.

Watch out for that tree!

Frank Thomas is now 40 and runs as well as the Ford truck on blocks in your neighbor's yard. Despite reaching base 235 times he scored only 37 runs other than on his own home runs. I'm not ready to write off Scott Rolen yet, but I am compelled to point out that he's 33, very injury prone, and slugged .398 in 2007. Gregg Zaun is 37 and is not up to catching a full season's worth of games.

I can make a hat, or a broach...

I'm pretty sure that the Blue Jays are telling themselves that they are all set to contend this year. I'm here to tell them that they are wrong. It's hard to see any one area in which they will do better than in 2007. The plan seems to be, "have everyone be healthy and play well and we'll win." This is a business plan roughly as well thought out as that of the Underpants Gnomes.

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