Toronto Blue Jays Reverting Back to 'Moneyball' Approach to Win Games?

Brad LeClair@beerad87Correspondent IJanuary 30, 2012

After reading the book and watching Moneyball, it really got me to thinking about the Jays and their current situation.

Unlike the Oakland Athletics, the Jays are a large-market team with plenty of money to spend. However, unlike the Athletics ownership, which wanted to spend the money but didn't have it, the Jays ownership won't spend the money despite actually having it.

A little history here: The concept of Moneyball stems from the use of sabermetrics, where a range of statistics and trends are used to predict the value of a player in the future.

Moneyball puts less focus on stats like batting average, stolen bases, runs batted in, etc., and more focus on stats such as on-base percentage and slugging percentage. This focus resulted in the stat known as OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage).

The Athletics used this concept to help bring in players to replace the likes of Johnny Damon, Jason Giambi and Jason Isringhausen when the club lost them to free agency.

The season after, the club managed to make it to the playoffs on a $41 million payroll, eventually losing to the Minnesota Twins. The Yankees had a payroll that season of over $125 million and won the exact same number of games as the A's.

Unlike the A's, who had the luxury of playing in a weaker division, the Jays play in the toughest division in baseball, and unfortunately that doesn't look like its going to change.

Talk around the water cooler is that Jays ownership is willing to spend the money to get the Jays back to competitive ball, but they want to see more people in the stands before that happens.

Winning, regardless of money spent, brings fans back to the ballpark. Buzz from a big free-agent signing will spark interest in the city. Fans won't come back just to watch the Jays youngsters develop, but they will when the Jays start winning.

There's an old adage, "you can't make money unless you're willing to spend money." which I like to live by, and it fits perfectly with what the Jays are going for here.

Back to the Moneyball concept. It's apparent the Jays in recent years were in a state of limbo, not knowing which direction they wanted to go.

On one side you have a GM who was willing to spend the money to bring in free agents and failed (JP Ricciardi), and on the other side you have Alex Anthopolous, who is spending more money at the MLB draft, rather than picking up that large free agent that could put this team over the top.

Truly, looking back at statistics from last season, the Jays have abandoned the Moneyball concept.

The league average for on-base percentage in the modern era is around .340. Only two players on the Jays team who qualified were at or above that number—Jose Bautista and Yunel Escobar.

Other players such as Kelly Johnson, Brett Lawrie and Jose Molina were also over that total, but didn't have the necessary at-bats to qualify for that statistic.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Jays had seven regulars sit at an OBP below .300. Those players were JP Arencibia, Adam Lind, Aaron Hill, Travis Snider, Rajai Davis, Corey Patterson and Colby Rasmus.

While Davis and Rasmus each have an OBP well over .300 in their careers, they both had down-years with the Jays last season. Meanwhile, players like Lind and Hill, minus their good seasons two years ago, have OBPs hovering around .300.

The day the Jays re-signed Hill and Lind to those contracts was the day I knew the Jays abandoned Moneyball.

But with recent moves by Alex Anthopolous, it is leading me back to thinking they may be going back to looking at sabermetrics more carefully.

Escobar, acquired last year for Alex Gonzalez, has a career OBP over .360. Kelly Johnson, acquired by the Jays for Aaron Hill, has a career OBP over .340. Another statistic worth noting is that Johnson has a career OBP over .360 in seasons where he sees at least 500 at-bats, excluding last season.

Rasmus—acquired by Anthopolous for pitchers Edwin Jackson, Marc Rzepczynski, Octavio Dotel and outfielder Corey Patterson—despite only having a .201 OBP with the Jays, has a career mark close to the league average of .340, if you discount last season's brain fart of a season.

Lastly, the Jays traded ace Shaun Marcum for a kid by the name of Brett Lawrie. Lawrie has burst onto the scene with the Jays and put together a Rookie of the Year caliber season with the club, and yes, finished with an OBP of .373.

The fact is, you have to get on base to score runs. You also have to get on base to force the opposing pitcher to think a little bit and work to get out of trouble, thus getting to the bullpen a little quicker.

The stat of on-base plus slugging (OPS) is another statistic you could use when looking the Jays hitters over. I believe an OPS over .740 is generally about average for a major leaguer. Only Escobar, Bautista, Lawrie, Edwin Encarnacion, Eric Thames and Kelly Johnson were over .740.

If the Jays are truly going back to this approach, looking for value where others don't see it, I can easily make a few predictions coming from this.

Players like Hill were moved out, but look for Adam Lind to be next on the chopping block. He doesn't get on base near enough for what it costs to dress him every night; his OPS as a clean-up hitter is one of the worst in all of baseball.

When Travis D'Arnaud is ready for prime time, look for JP Arencibia to possibly get dealt if he doesn't improve his ability to get on base. Like many of his teammates, his OPS is below the league average, despite hitting over 20 home runs.

The same goes for Travis Snider, who may be on the outside looking in with star outfield prospect Anthony Gose about a year away from making it to the majors. If Snider doesn't improve his on-base numbers, he could be out of the picture within the calendar year.

Again, those are just predictions based on getting value and using the on-base percentage statistic as a guideline.

If you look at teams like the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers, one stat is ever apparent: they all get on base and force the opponent to work.

When the Jays improve their ability to get on base regularly, you will see the wins come.


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