Toronto Blue Jays 2009 Season Preview

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Toronto Blue Jays 2009 Season Preview

In Brief

 

  • 2008 Record: 86 – 76
  • Key Additions: Michael Barrett, Kevin Millar, Mike Maroth, Matt Clement
  • Key Subtractions: A.J. Burnett, Gregg Zaun

 

A Look at the Lineup

 

It’s going to be a long year for the Blue Jays. They’ve got a couple of bright spots coming from the farm for a full season's worth of action, but I wouldn’t get too excited.

 

Although the Blue Jays do get Aaron Hill back from an almost season-long bout with post-concussion syndrome and will get a year’s worth of production out of Travis Snider and Adam Lind, this is simply a Blue Jays team that won’t be able to compete in the AL East.

 

The influence of Cito Gaston has been seen, as the Jays batted ten points higher and slugged .421 after the All-Star break as compared to .384 before.

 

That being said, they are a team that is going to have to replace a very productive 109 starts from last year's lead-off hitter, Joe Inglett.

 

 

 

Catcher

 

A season after jilting the Blue Jays in a Raphael Furcal-type way, Rod Barajas was behind the dish for Toronto. Last year he split games with veteran Gregg Zaun and ultimately won the job later in the year before tearing his hamstring in September. Barajas does have some pop for a catcher, but offensively, that is about his only virtue.

 

That being said, Barajas yielded 42 stolen bases in 22 attempts, good for a caught-stealing rate of 34.4 percent, or seventh among catchers with at least 100 games played.

 

Coincidentally, his .994 fielding percentage was also good for seventh for catchers that played more that 100 times in 2008. Also impressive was that fact that Barajas was tied with Chris Snyder with an 8.26 range factor.

 

Luckily for Rod, there shouldn’t be much of a push from his backup, who has thrown out 55 of 331 base stealers since 2006. Barrett, who has been in decline since his time in Chicago, has complimented his lack of defense with a shrinking offensive contribution. In 30 games last year, Barrett managed to bat 13 points below his weight of 215 lbs.

 

 

 

First Base

 

Lyle Overbay is the face of recent incarnations of the Toronto Blue Jays. He is a really nice player (as the Jays have been a really nice team), but unfortunately, that’s about it. He has never been able to recapture the form that saw him average 44.3 doubles and 19 home runs per year while batting .296 from '04 to '06. Still, Overbay is quietly solid with his glove at first base, sporting a .997 fielding percentage and a range factor of 9.77.

 

It has become obvious that Lyle has an inability to deal with left handed pitching. In 149 AB vs. southpaws last year, Overbay hit just .215 (he batted .290 vs. righties) and had 0 HR.

 

I wouldn’t expect Kevin Millar or Jose Bautista to steal too many at bats from Overbay this year, as Millar was only .238 vs. lefties and Bautista was .250 (and .238 for the year in 370 total AB).

 

 

 

Second Base

 

This is a huge bright spot for the Blue Jays, as they get 26-year-old Aaron Hill back in the fold. He has the potential to return to his 2007 form, which had him batting .291 with 47 doubles and 17 home runs.

 

Before his concussion, Hill was quietly becoming a very good second baseman. In 2007, Hill posted a range factor of 5.13, which would’ve been good enough for sixth among second basemen last year, between Freddy Sanchez and Robinson Cano. At the same time, his 818 total chances were good for second in the majors and were more than MLB leader Chase Utley’s 816 in 2008.

 

In a division with Brian Roberts, reigning AL MVP Dustin Pedroia, Robinson Cano, and Japanese stand out Ankinori Iwamura, Hill gives the Blue Jays a player that is potentially every bit as good as the rest of them, if he is in fact over the concussion that shut him down after 55 games last year.

 

And to top if off, this is easily the deepest and most talented of all the Blue jays infield positions. Surprise utility man Joe Inglett filled in admirably for Hill last season. Inglett started at six different positions in 2008, making 66 of his 109 starts at the No. 4 position on the diamond.

 

Through all the turmoil, Inglett managed 102 hits in 344 AB. His lack of pop will keep him behind Hill, but he's an extremely reliable back up.

 

 

 

Shortstop

 

John MacDonald might be the best glove in the shortstop business. He makes all the routine plays and, over the course of the year, blows your mind a few times too.

 

The knock on MacDonald has always been that he flat-out can’t hit. Witness his batting line of .210/.255/.269 in 2008, and you may agree. Although, it is interesting to note that in years where MacDonald had more than 250 at-bats, he hit .250 or more and his OPS in was over.600.

 

Now, it doesn’t look like much, but if MacDonald can get enough at-bats to get comfortable, he may very well be able to contribute with the bat. The losses would more than be made up for by his glove; his career range factor at SS in 413 games played is 4.84, or point 0.01 behind Cesar Izturis' major league-leading 4.85 from 2008.

 

The second option for the Blue Jays is Marco Scutaro, who played in 145 games and was the glue that held the injury-prone Toronto infield together in 2008. Of course, his career .261/.325/.377 isn’t that much better than Johnny Mac’s .236/.276/.310, and the disparity in fielding skill is considerable.

 

In the end, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Cito Gaston try to get Joe Inglett a few starts at short just to get his bat in the lineup after his break 2008.

 

 

 

Third Base

 

During the 2007 offseason, the Blue Jays traded one aging, talented, injury-prone player for another. Exit Troy Glaus and enter Scott Rolen.

 

Well, this is one of those classic J.P. Riccardi moves that blows up in his face. Both teams involved in the swap had underachieved the year before and struggled with injuries. Rolen’s line in 2007 was .265/.331/.398 in 112, and he nearly duplicated it with a line of .262/.349/.431 in 115 games in 2008. His 2.60 Range factor lands him at 12th in the majors last year.

 

On the other hand, the exiled Troy Glaus, he of the injury and no heart in Toronto, had the type of year Riccardi had expected was long gone when he produced 27 HR, batted .270 (which is 14 points over his career average), and posted an OPS of .855.

 

Just for good measure, Glaus’ range factor was 2.74, and he posted four fewer errors despite having 83 more chances and 31 more games than Rolen.

 

This could again be a position where the Jays coaching staff could look to get Joe Inglett some at-bats. Is anyone else seeing the pattern here?

 

Most depth charts have Inglett behind Bautista and Scutaro, but I think that his proven production will lead Cito to try to get him in the lineup everywhere he can.

 

 

 

Left Field

 

The Toronto outfield is young and talented, and Adam Lind is the poster boy. Early in 2008, he was heralded as the new every-day left fielder.

 

But soon after the hoopla faded, John Gibbons lost confidence in Lind, and Adam followed suit by getting down on himself. But then Cito Gaston and Gene Tenace took over, and a promise to the 25-year-old from Munice, Indiana turned his season around.

 

“You will play everyday.”

 

The rest, as they say, “was history.”

 

Following Gaston’s arrival, Lind got hot. He batted .379/.396/.644 in July. Although Lind cooled off afterwards, he hit for a very respectable total of .286/.321/.427 after the break.

 

He looks to having something going for himself. He managed just nine HR in 326 at-bats, but showed some developing gap power and speed with an additional 16 doubles and four triples on his resume.

 

 


Center Field

 

Vernon Wells suffered through a number of back, knee, and shoulder injuries that limited his effectiveness in 2007. He followed that up by missing six weeks in 2008 after he broke his wrist diving for a ball in Cleveland. Now, it already looks like he’s going to miss some time in '09, as he was shut down in spring training because of a hamstring injury.

 

But that being said, Well’s post All-Star break numbers seem to mirror those of his hey day of 2006 (2008 post All-Star break line of .318/.365/.566 vs. 2006's .317/.359/.550). I think could be a sign of things to come for Wells.

 

Unfortunately for the Blue Jays, Wells was 24th in Range factor with a fielding percentage of .987, a far cry from his Gold Glove form. Consider that in 62 games, Alex Rios posted a range factor of 2.86 and 10 outfield assists (twice as many as Vernon), and you may see a switch coming at some point this season.

 

 

 

Right Field

 

"Captain Underachiever" for his entire career, Alex Rios, has been a five-tool player with developing (fill in the blank).

 

Last year, Rios posted a 1.91 range factor, good enough for 16th among every-day right fielders. He only posted four assists from the right side, but I’d have to guess that's more a product of his reputation than anything. In 608 career games Rios has posted 39 assists.

 

As far as highlights go, he did manage to swipe 32 bases last year. But he otherwise regressed as a hitter after a career highs in runs, hits, triples, home runs, and RBI in 2007. Rios showed little to no signs of being able to take the next step in 2008.

 

DH

 

This is Toronto's Golden Boy for 2009 and why not? Travis Snider has shown at every level the ability to achieve. He flat out forced his way in the major leagues last year. He started the season with 17 bombs in Double A. He then posted a .344 average in 64 at bats in Syracuse. Oh yeah, he then followed it up by going .301/.338/.466 in 73 at bats with the big club. He's probably going to spend the year striking out a ton and developing the approach and patience (only 5 walks vs. 23 K's in 24 games last year.) to be an effective major league hitter. His spring has shown no reason to doubt the young power hitting prospect going .379/.400/.655 in 29 official trips to the plate.

 

 

 

Starting Pitching

 

What a difference a year makes. Last year, the Blue Jays had a pair of horses pulling their wagon and three very different kids on the back end developing nicely.

 

Then Shawn Marcum went down with an injury that will cost him all of 2009.

 

And Dustin McGowan, a blue chipper that probably has the most raw talent on the staff, was shut down and probably won’t be ready to go until at least two months into the regular season, if not longer.

 

Then, for the big kick, A.J. Burnett finally stayed healthy, but opted out of his deal early to try his hand a free agency. He ended up a Yankee.

 

 

 

Roy Halladay...what do I say about "Doc" that hasn’t already been said? He knows how to get people out. He’s always been a great ground ball pitcher, and it’s no surprise that he listed Orlando Hudson as his all-time favorite teammate and requests John McDonald at short when he pitches.

 

On top of that, just to prove he can do it all, Halladay last year added a devastating changeup to go with his fast ball, cutter, and ungodly breaking ball. This helped him to 206 K. Nice stat for a groundball pitcher.

 

He also has a 5.28:1 K-to-BB ratio. People can say what they want about the Yankees adding CC, Doc has been the best pitcher in the American League, if not the Majors, since 2002.

 

 

 

Filling the No. 2 role is a very talented Jesse Litsch. In 48 career starts in the American League, the 24-year-old has a career ERA below four (3.67). And in his second season in the bigs, he lowered his opponents' stats against him in batting average, OBP, slugging, OPS, and ERA, while increasing his strikeouts per nine and strikeouts to walk ratio.

 

 

 

But after that, things get a little...umm, well, interesting, I guess.

 

David Purcey has first-round pedigree, but he’s 27 years old and his window is closing. In 12 starts last year, he posted an ERA of 5.58 and 58 strikeouts in 65 innings. But that's it for his major league career so far.

 

Scott Richmond is interesting to look at. He is 29 years old and managed to get his first major league start in 2008, like Purcey. His ERA was only 4.00 in five starts last year.

 

Although he is clearly not a strikeout machine (6.67 per nine), he did exhibit exceptional control, offering only one free pass for every 10 K. Even though he throws a ton of strikes, his WHIP was only 1.26.

 

Casey Janssen is one year removed from having a torn labrum repaired. He showed great promise as a setup man in 2007, with an ERA of 2.35 in 70 appearances (72.2 innings).

 

But that was after a disastrous 2006 as a starter, when he managed to go 6–10 in 17 starts with an ERA of 5.07. He may give the Blue Jays a quality start here and there, but I would expect to see him back in the 'pen when McGowan returns.

 

 

 

Bullpen

 

This is the best 'pen in baseball, period. That’s right, you heard me.

 

It's a fact: one to five plus closer, no one comes close. Scott Downs is one of the best setup men in the game. The 33-year-old flat-out shuts people down, lefties and righties, and boasted a WHIP of 1.15 and an ERA of 1.78 last season.

 

In limited action last year, fire baller Brandon League had a WHIP of 1.30 and a sub-2.50 ERA. Jesse Carlson was another pleasant surprise in '06, making 60 appearances with a WHIP of 1.03.

 

The bullpen also includes Jeremy Accardo, who suffered in '08 but saved 30 of 35 games with an ERA of 2.14 for the Blue Jays in 2007. Expect him to be doing plenty of setup for...

 

B.J. Ryan. Unlike Accardo, he didn't miss a beat between '07 and '08, going 32-for-36 in save opportunities and posting a 2.95 ERA.

 

 

 

Overall Outlook

 

There is a pretty good chance the Jays will drive the ball all over the park this year. But at the end of the day, Roy Halladay can’t pitch on one day's rest. Although, I am sure if Cito asked him, to he’d start 81 games. He’d probably take a shot at completing 30 or 40 of them too, given his competitiveness.

 

Given that it’s a very real chance that they are going to struggle to hand over leads to a very good 'pen (and if they do, Gaston may burn them out trying to play to his strength), this Jays team can expect to win about 75 games this year, maybe 80 if Doc can repeat his 20-win performance from 2008.

 

 

Prediction for 2009: 75-87

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