Friday, 19 July 2013

Mid-Season Report Cards: Position Players

This will be the second installment of the Mid-Season Report Cards series, in which I will focus on the Blue Jays position players. As mentioned in the intro to the Starting Rotation piece, the original plan was to go around the diamond position by position, but that fell apart pretty quickly. The Jays have had too many injuries that have forced bench players into nearly full time duty at multiple positions for it to have made any sense.

Not to make excuses, but the injuries really have been a thing (again, sigh...) for the Blue Jays in 2013. Even if you ignore the injuries to the rotation, what was projected to be the starting lineup hasn't played a single game together since the season began. First Lawrie started the year on the DL, and by the time he came back Reyes was out. When Reyes came back Lawrie was out again with his own ankle injury, and when he returned it was Melky Cabrera finally taking his turn on the DL for the hamstring and quad injuries that have had him hobbling around left field like it's a geriatric ward. That doesn't even include the injuries to bench players like Rajai Davis, or the injuries to Lind, Bautista and Encarnacion that kept them out of the lineup for a few days even if they managed to avoid the DL. Obviously every team suffers injuries, but usually teams are able to field their starting lineup for at least one bloody game by the All Star break. Just sayin'...

J.P. Arencibia: C-

I've been very critical of J.P. Arencibia this year, so you might have expected me to just slap him with a D and move on. So far in 2013 he has hit for a .221/.256/.419 line for a .292 wOBA and a 79 wRC+. His OBP is worst among qualified catchers, and his wOBA and wRC+ are both second worst. The biggest problem is his strikeouts. His 30.2% K rate ranks 153rd out of 161 qualified batters and his 4.0% walk rate is 149th. In short, he's made outs nearly 75% of the time he's been to the plate in 2013 and with that strikeout rate and his 15.1% popup rate, a lot of them don't even have the potential to be "productive outs" that move runners. He's just struggling to put the ball in play with any kind of regularity. Most frustrating of all has been his apparent unwillingness to acknowledge that there's problem not just with his results, but with his process as well. He's gone off on the media on multiple occasions for being critical of him, one of which I wrote about here. All of his sins at the plate might be forgiven if he were strong defensively, but he's not by any measure you choose to look at.

Since his arrogant sounding outbursts though, he's actually shown a few signs of trying to be more selective at the plate. He maintained a BB% of 2.0 through April and May, but it crept up to 5.7% in June and has been 10.8% in a very small July sample size. I'm not saying he's cured, but maybe he's trying despite his bluster and I'm more than happy to eat all my words if he manages to continue being more selective. He's also smacked 16 homers which is good for the league lead among catchers. It's for these meager signs of attempted improvement and the home runs, which aren't nothing, that he avoids a D.

Edwin Encarnacion - A+

Edwin has been the Edwin we were hoping would show up again in 2013. Playing as the Blue Jays' primary first baseman and occasional designated hitter, he's hit his way to a .264/.353/.532 line with 25 home runs, and leads the team in wOBA and wRC+ with a .380 and 140 respectively. In a season that has seemed to feature streaky play from a number of players Encarnacion has been the model of consistency. He hasn't posted a wOBA under .363 in any month of the 2013 season and has been worth 2.7 fWAR so far this year. There really isn't that much more you could have asked for from Edwin. He's in the top 10 in the American League by both wOBA and wRC+, his defense and base running have been fine, and he's been, for the most part, healthy. He was rewarded with his first All Star Game appearance (if you go in for such things), and we as Jays fans should really just continue hoping for more of the same going forward.

Adam Lind - A- 

Much like JPA, I have said said many unkind things (some of them still floating around the internet I'm sure) about Adam Lind over the past couple of years. Unlike JPA, he made me eat my words (as much as I tried not to) in the early parts of the 2013 season. So far, he's put up a .306/.360/.511 line with 11 homers, and a second on the team .372 wOBA and 134 wRC+. He's played primarily at DH, but has filled in at first on Edwin's days at DH. He hasn't hit a ton of home runs, but he's been spraying hard hit balls all over the diamond and I'll take that any day of the week. As hard as it is to believe if you've followed the Jays the last few years, Adam Lind is a top 30 hitter in the American League by both wOBA and wRC+. Crazy, right?

That said, he makes me pretty nervous going forward. For starters, his recent track record doesn't just disappear. I don't wanna get into it too much, but he's been really bad ever since his breakout 2009. One of the biggest issues over that timespan was his disappointing OBP. So when when he had managed to post a 14.8 K% and 15.5 BB% through May, one could be forgiven for hoping he had turned a corner in that respect. For June and July, however, those numbers are a 24.5 K% and 2.6 BB%. His season OBP has been buoyed by a ridiculously hot May and June, but his BABIP was pushing .400 both months. That's not a sign of sustainable success. While he's maintained a reasonably respectable OBP overall, he hasn't shown any ability to walk since May. Since then he's walked less than J.P. Arencibia and Emilio Bonifacio. Basically his OBP has been very BABIP driven and I don't think that's something they should count on going forward. As great as his overall numbers have been so far, I see a lot of red flags there. The Jays might want to entertain trading him while he might have tricked some GMs into thinking he can hit left handed pitching and his value is at its highest in years.

Emilio Bonifacio - D+

Bonifacio has been an unmitigated disaster so far in 2013. His primary asset, his speed, has been mostly wasted due to his complete and utter inability to get on base. His .207/.248/.304 line with a .244 wOBA and 46 wRC+ is hard to look at, and well below his already unspectacular career norms. Even when he has gotten on base and tried to run, he's been caught 5 out of 16 times for a 69% success rate, which isn't very good for a guy with his speed and well below his very good career rate of 79%. Perhaps given his struggles this year he's trying to force the running game when he does get on base, but that's pretty much just speculation. He's played primarily at second base, where his defense has often looked suspect, which is supported by defensive metrics for whatever faith you put in them with a half season sample size. Unfortunately, there's not much in his monthly splits to suggest that he's trending in a positive direction. The only thing that really gives me much hope is his career line of .260/.319/.338 with a .294 wOBA and 78 wRC+. If he can get back to anything like that he could have quite a bit of value with his speed and positional versatility.

Maicer Izturis - B-

Maicer Izturis has been pretty much what we could have expected, or at least he has been since his atrocious first month of the season. His .257/.297/.353 line, .287 wOBA and 76 wRC+ are all below his career norms, but they've been heading in the right direction since the aforementioned ugly April. He doesn't walk or strikeout much, putting lots of balls in play, so he's also been hurt a bit by his .272 BABIP. That should get back to normal as the rest of the season plays out, further helping his cause. His defense didn't look so hot in April either, but since then he's looked just fine wherever he's played which has mostly been at third. He's no Brett Lawrie at 3B (or at 2B?) and his bat doesn't play as well there as it might at second, but he's been serviceable. I can live with him starting, but I'd rather he get pushed into a utility role by some sort of acquisition at the trade deadline.

Brett Lawrie - C

There's lots of room for improvement in Brett Lawrie's game this year. For starters he's only played in 39 games, having spent the rest of the time on the DL with rib and ankle injuries. When he's been on the field at third base, he's flashed his usual elite defense but hasn't really been tested that much since the second base experiment began. He's had a couple of opportunities to show his great range, but there haven't really been any of his trademark highlight reel plays. If you make the assumption that his defense will continue to be great wherever he is on the diamond, you need only concern yourself with his offense. There is some reason for concern, but also for optimism.

So far he is hitting just .204/.261/.361, with a .272 wOBA, a 66 wRC+ and almost no power to speak of. That is not good. He's being punished by BABIP to some extent, as his is only .234 and doesn't really have anywhere to go but up. However, he's also struck out 23% of the time and walked 5.6% of the time. He's had a 17.7 K% and 6.7 BB% for a career, so that's not a promising change to see. However, if you consider that he missed almost all of spring training and was pretty much trying to get himself into shape mid-season, you can maybe forgive the lousy offense so far. If he gets back to something like his career .264/.322/.430 line with a .328 wOBA and 104 wRC+ he'll be a big help to the team wherever he plays, and there's reason to hope for better. It's easy to forget that he's still just 23. A lot of players his age are still learning their trade in the minors and waiting for their first call to the show.

Mark DeRosa - B

I've got to give it to Mark DeRosa. He has been far better than anyone expected him to be after the .188/.300/.247 line he posted in 47 games last year with the Nationals. That was good for just a .257 wOBA and a 57 wRC+, so we were probably expecting to be... let's say underwhelmed in 2013. The general assumption was that his primary role was to be a good "clubhouse guy" (whatever that really means) and to teach Brett Lawrie that running full steam into solid objects hurts. He's already seen more action this year than we would have expected, having gotten into 52 games due to all the injuries, and has acquitted himself very well, especially relative to expectations. He has a .216/.301/.408 line with 5 homers for a .307 wOBA and a 90 wRC+. That's shockingly close to his league average career norms for a guy that entered the league when Brett Lawrie was eight years old. His defense (primarily at third) has been better than you'd expect from a man of his advanced age, and he can probably provide even more value off the bench going forward.

He's seen more right handed pitching than we'd prefer this year, and against right handers he's hit for just a .262 wOBA and 56 wRC+. However, against lefties he's hit for a very respectable .336 wOBA and 109 wRC+. This would make him a perfectly acceptable pinch hitting option against lefties, or maybe even the right handed half of some sort of infield platoon should it become necessary. Maybe the wrist injury really was the cause of his struggles last year and we were more down on him than we should have been, but his play, while unspectacular, has been a pleasant surprise.

Jose Reyes - B

When healthy, Jose Reyes has been exactly the kind of table setter at the top of the order the Blue Jays were expecting when they acquired him from the Marlins this past off-season. The problem is, he's only been healthy for 28 games. In those 28 games though, he's hit .322/.368/.461 with a .362 wOBA and 127 wRC+. He's stolen 8 bases and only been caught once. Those numbers are above his career averages (he was hitting almost .400 when he hurt himself in April after all) but not out of line with previous single season numbers, so you wouldn't expect him to fall off too terribly much. Defensively he's perfectly adequate. His range at shortstop is great and so is his arm, but he's never been known for his glove so most of his contributions will be offensive. He has to be healthy to contribute though, and that's why he got stuck with a B despite his excellent play when he's been on the field.

Munenori Kawasaki - C+

While he's not technically still with the team, and hopefully won't be again for some time, I figured I'd include Kawasaki because he has after all played a bunch more games as the team's starting shortstop than Reyes has. What can we say about Munenori Kawasaki? The dancing, bowing, broken-English-interview-giving fan favourite with competent defense and some on-base skills was a lot of fun while his presence was required, but the fact of the matter is that if we have to see much more of him it probably means bad things for the Blue Jays. He really just wasn't that good. Sure he battled out his at bats, walking 12% of the time and striking out just 13%, but he still only hit for a .213/.319/.298 line with a .282 wOBA and 73 wRC+. His most valuable attribute was a .327 OBP against right handed pitchers, but that's not a whole heck of a lot to hang your hat on. There aren't a lot of teams that could go so deep on their shortstop depth chart and get even as much value as Kawasaki provided, and he deserves to be commended for that, but for the Jays to have any chance of making the second half interesting let's hope he remains as depth.

Melky Cabrera - C-

Most Blue Jays fans had high hopes for Melky Cabrera after he signed at a deep discount this off-season after serving a 50 game suspension for testing positive for PEDs last year. While expecting him to return to the form that made him one of the NL's most dangerous hitters in 2012 probably wasn't realistic, hoping for something better than the .278/.321/.362 line, .302 wOBA and 86 wRC+ he's posted so far wasn't unreasonable. The biggest problem is the almost total power outage he's been experiencing. Melky has never been known as a home run hitter, so that he's hit just 3 of them should come as little surprise. His power has always been of the doubles and triples variety, but so far he's hit just thirteen doubles and two triples. It's seemed like the leg injuries that have hampered him all season have on occasion turned doubles into singles, but that probably isn't the whole explanation. There is no doubt at all that the injuries have also affected his defense, as watching him limp after fly balls has been downright painful for much of the season. Hopefully his DL stint over the All Star break will have helped in this regard, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's an issue all season. Running around the Rogers Centre's carpet on concrete outfield isn't known for being helpful with leg injuries.

Rajai Davis - B+

Rajai has had a good year for the Blue Jays so far. He's outperformed his career norms to the tune of a .288/.335/.380 line, a .317 wOBA and a 96 wRC+. He's basically been a league average hitter, as well as being the absolute terror on the base paths that we would expect. He's already stolen 24 bases in 27 attempts, and that's with him having missed the better part of a month with an oblique injury. He still isn't as strong as a defender as you'd think he should be with his great speed, but he's passable in left or center with his arm becoming a liability when he's forced into duty in right. Overall he's been a great contributor for a bench guy and more of the same going forward might make for some interesting decisions as he approaches free agency this off-season.

Colby Rasmus - A

On a personal level, I'm thrilled that Colby Rasmus is having the season that he is so far. He's taken a ton of flack from fans and the media in his time as a Blue Jay, and has often been mentioned in the same breath as J.P. Arencibia as a guy that hits a bunch of home runs and strikes out too much. The Arencibia comparison in particular always made me pull my hair out because it's just so inaccurate, and J.P. would still get treated like a golden boy while some people were ready to drive Rasmus to the airport themselves. Now, in 2013 he's hitting .263/.332/.484, with a .354 wOBA and a 122 wRC+. His wOBA places him seventh among all qualified center fielders and his 16 home runs are second behind Adam Jones' 19. He still strikes out a ton, 30.3% of the time to be precise, but unlike JPA he still gets on base at an above average clip. Also unlike Arencibia, he actually plays quality defense at his premium position so there is a lot of room for him to provide value even if his offense should fall off. In the past his collapses have generally come in the second half, so we may be in for a gigantic letdown yet, but I've always been a Colby believer so I'm just going to go ahead and give him the benefit of the doubt.

The biggest issue with Colby long term, is that arbitration and the free agent market values home runs, and even when he isn't doing a lot else particularly well he's always smacked a bunch of those for a center fielder. He's heading into his last arbitration year and will be a free agent after 2014, and if he continues this kind of play he's going to get paid. Potentially in the neighbourhood of a $12-15 million dollar average annual value based on recent deals handed out to free agent center fielders, most of whom were older than Colby will be when they hit free agency. Andrew Stoeten wrote a great piece on the comparisons at Drunk Jays Fans that you can read here, and I encourage you to do so. I warn you though, it's a little scary.

Jose Bautista - B+

Bautista's a tough grade to hand out at the midway-ish point of this season. On the one hand, he's been really good when you look at his season numbers of .254/.351/.493 with a .365 wOBA and 129 wRC+. On the other hand, he's absolutely disappeared for weeks at a time. He always maintains good overall numbers because of his walks and home runs, but he hasn't been the same reasonably consistent hitter we've come to expect. His .254 batting average is right in line with his career average, but at this point it's buoyed by a hot May in which he hit .337. It hasn't been over .230 in any other month. June was particularly troublesome as his walk rate was only 8.5% after maintaining a career rate of 13.5%. It sort of confirms the eyeball test, in that he's looked like a hitter who is pressing and trying to do too much. Bautista has said as much in interviews, that he let his struggles start affecting his plate discipline. He's a very smart hitter, so he knows what he needs to do and there's no reason to think he won't be able to do it. Let's just hope he can do it sooner rather than later, because Bautista being more Bautista-like would go a long way in helping the Blue Jays make some noise in the second half of the year.

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