The first thing I thought of when we received these assignments was “Know Your Enemy” by Rage Against the Machine. It’s a great song and although a slight variation in wording, it’s the same idea; know who you are dealing with. Know Thy Enemy.
In the AL East, the ‘enemies’ are all becoming well-positioned to compete and it is driven large part by the New York Yankees. It has a trickle-down effect on the division. You can say what you want about their spending, but their lead has forced the entire division to find new ways to step up and compete.
The Toronto Blue Jays have done it under the guidance and shepherding of young General Manager, Alex Anthopoulos. ‘AA’ as he is referred to, has revamped the Blue Jays and built what Baseball America now considers the fourth best minor-league system in baseball.
They also have former Red Sox coach John Farrell running the team on a day-to-day basis and have transformed themselves into dark horses in the AL East and thorns into the sides of the Boston Red Sox.
Statistics code: AVG/OBP/SLG for hitters. W-L, ERA, WHIP for starters. ERA, WHIP, IP for relievers. (*denotes minor league numbers included)
Catcher: J.P. Arencibia (2010 stats: .224/.265/.437*); Jose Molina (2010 stats:.246/.284/.377)
The catcher position in Toronto is a little unstable right now with the young Arencibia taking the reins after the departure of John Buck. Arencibia has very good power but has poor pitch selection and will probably go through a lot of growing pains this year. He’ll also hit 25 home runs. It might just come with a .225 BA.
Jose Molina has never had more than 300 ABs in a season in his career. He will most likely see about 200 ABs and provide comparable numbers to Arencibia. Neither player has a good eye but in Toronto, they swing for the fences and J. Molina showed some nice power in the second half last year.
First Base: Adam Lind (2010 stats: .237/.285/.425)
What happened to the budding superstar from 2009? Lind struggled mightily vs. left-handed pitching (.117 BA) and his first half in 2011 was a total skills collapse.
The power rebounded nicely in the second half for Lind and his BABIP bounced back as well giving optimism that the early part of 2010 was an anomaly. If that’s the case, then 30 HRs and 100 RBIs from Lind should be expected.
Second Base: Aaron Hill (2010 stats: .205/.262/.394)
We are seeing a trend here; the Blue Jays OBP is pretty bad. In fact, it was the 5th worst in all of baseball last season trailing only LAA, Pittsburgh, Houston and Seattle.
Hill was a culprit in this as he posted the lowest OBP of his career in a season where he hit 54% flyballs and just 11% line drives. When you couple that with just a 7% BB rate, you get a paltry OBP.
Hill embraced the Blue Jays home-run hitting philosophy and cranked out 26 dingers, but he’ll need to straighten out his G/L/F splits if he wants to be more than just an all-or-nothing hitter playing second.
Either that or he’ll need to put even more of those flyballs in the seats. He’s an interesting one to watch in 2011.
Shortstop: Yunel Escobar (2010 stats: .256/.331/.318)
Finally we come to a guy in the offense who showed some good plate skills in 2010. Escobar has a near-elite EYE at 0.98 but he suffers from some other problems; namely no power or and below average speed.
He came over to the Blue Jays in a deal that sent Alex Gonzalez to the Braves. Escobar in his prime and can certainly make very good contact but will need to show a little juice in his bat or a little hop in his step. Otherwise, he’s just a hollow profile who plays pretty good defense.
photo © 2009 Keith Allison | more info (via: Wylio)
Third Base: Jose Bautista (2010 stats: .260/.371/.617)
Holy smokes! Where did this monster come from? Previously a part-time player, Bautista cranked out 10 HRs in September of 2009 and carried that into 2010 by decimating the American League to the tune of 54 home runs.
He never slowed down, posted very good contact rates, and suffered a 24% hit rate. xBA says he was a .330 hitter so 2011 will be interesting. He will regress, but exactly how much? Is 40 HRs too much to ask?
Left Field: Juan Rivera (2010 stats: .252/.307/.409)
Rivera has a decent EYE (0.57) but his power has always been about league average. His ground ball trend is moving in the wrong direction, but something tells me that playing for the Blue Jays instead of the Angels will drastically shift that.
He was a 3.3 WAR player in 2009 but has been wildly inconsistent in terms of value over his career. Which Rivera are the Blue Jays getting?
Center Field: Rajai Davis (2010 stats: .284/.318/.377)
Davis is a 30-year old speedster whose value is tied to stolen base opportunities. Oakland let him run any time he was on base and Toronto will most likely do the same.
He has a a decent contact rate (83%) but cannot draw a walk and we all know the saying “You can’t steal first base”.
Davis will lead off for the Blue Jays and will have ample opportunity to run but counting on him to produce 50 SBs again seems like a stretch.
Right Field: Travis Snider (2010 stats: .256/.299/.464)
23 year old masher who saw nice growth in the power department in 2010. His skills are still bouncing around but he has the potential to be a really good player. Snider has been up and down between the big league team and the minors.
Toronto fans are hoping that this is the year he sticks.
Designated Hitter: Edwin Encarnacion (.252/.309/.489)
Hey, what do you know? Another guy who cannot get on base. His EYE isn’t even that bad, it’s just that ‘EE” has consistently posted low hit rates and the only thing he really has going for him is his excellent power. Encarnacion hit 23 home runs in just 364 ABs between the minors and Toronto.
He’s a butcher with the glove so it probably best served that he does not trot out to a position on the field every day. Encarnacion has never logged more than 506 ABs at the major league level in a season, but he could easily hit 40 HRs if they let him play every day.
SP #1: Ricky Romero (2010 stats: 14-9, 3.73, 1.29)
Can Romero be the Ace now that Shaun Marcum has left? Romero has gotten off to dominant starts in the last two seasons but faded in the second half of both. He’s proven that he can handle the AL East. The question is, can he do it for a full season?
SP #2: Brett Cecil (2010 stats: 15-7, 4.22, 1.33)
Cecil is another guy who hit the ground running in 2010 and then faded in the second half (1H – 3.90 ERA, 2H – 4.64 ERA). He’s just 24 years old, logged 175 IP in 2010, has a groundball tilt and decent command.
If he can keep it together with the help of John Farrell, then this could end up being a very good pitcher.
SP #3: Jesse Litsch (2010 stats*: 1-8, 6.05, 1.50)
Litsch, the former ball boy, has dealt with two major surgeries in the last two years (hip, Tommy John) and hopes to get back to his 2008 form when he won 13 games with a 3.58 ERA.
Litsch does not strike a lot of guys out, so he will need to regain his command and rely on inducing 50% groundballs to keep him in the rotation. A little health would help as well.
SP #4: Kyle Drabek (2010 stats*: 14-12, 3.27, 1.25)
Drabek is the prized-piece of the the Roy Halladay deal. He’s just 23 years old and features good command, decent K/9 and a very healthy groundball tilt (62%). His ERA in the second half of 2010 was 2.78.
SP #5: Brandon Morrow (2010 stats: 10-7, 4.49, 1.38)
Morrow may slot somewhere higher than #5 in the rotation, but he is currently starting the season on the disabled list with a strained forearm. He has Ace potential and in 2011, posted a dominant 11.0 K/9/. Morrow could really reshape this Blue Jays rotation if the hit rate comes back to Earth (35% in 2010) and he can shave a little off the BB/9 (4.1 in 2010)
Jon Rauch is slated to close for the Blue Jays in 2011. He had a good first half in 2010 and secured the closer job in Minnesota, but he imploded in July and lost the gig. He’ll have another shot in Toronto.
Setup man Jason Frasor has really good strikeout numbers and was the closer for Toronto last year to start the year. But he was so wild in April that he lost the job. Frasor has 9.2 K/9 and could provide a tough 1-2 punch to the end of games in Toronto.
2011 AL East predicted finish: 4th