2011 Season Forecast: Toronto Blue Jays

Last Five Years:

2010: 85 – 77 (4th in AL East)
2009: 75 – 87
2008: 86 – 76
2007: 83 – 79
2006: 87 – 75

Consistently good, not always as competitive in the toughest division to win in baseball.

Runs Scored: 755 (6th in AL, but 4th in the AL East)
Runs Allowed: 728 (9th in AL)

With this combination of run scored and allowed, you’d expect 84 wins, so Toronto was pretty much on the money.

2010 Recap:

Most everyone had them fourth – so no surprises here.  Well, not at a team level anyway…  A LOT of surprises at the player level – but we’ll cover that down below.

After trading wins and losses for a month, the Blue Jays got hot in May and raced toward the top of the division.  Unfortunately, the Jays were equally cold in June and fell back to fourth.  June was their only losing month – from July 7th on, the Jays were 14 over .500, so if they hadn’t gone cold for the 30 days from June 6 to July 6, it’s very likely that the Jays could have sneaked into the playoffs.

What made Toronto competitive on heals of losing the best pitcher in their team’s history, Roy Halliday, was a BUNCH of home runs.  Jose Bautista hit 54, Vernon Wells slammed 31 dingers, John Buck had 20, Edwin Encarnacion hit 21, even Alex Gonzalez had 17 in just 85 games.  Aaron Hill didn’t hit much, but clocked 26 homers.  Adam Lind tallied 23, Lyle Overbay slashed 20, and even the half season of Travis Snider was good for 14.  Toronto hit 257 homers but only allowed 150, a gap that covered for other weaknesses.

During the season, the Jays made a few minor deals, but the one that made a splash was the trade in July that sent shortstop Alex Gonzalez and two minor leaguers to Atlanta for Yunel Escobar and Jo-Jo Reyes.

Starters:

As mentioned, Roy Halliday was gone, and the Blue Jays were forced to rely on a bunch of young arms – many of whom were returning from prior shoulder and elbow injuries.  Ricky Romero improved on an impressive 2009 rookie season and made 32 starts, logged 210 innings and win 14 games, pitching like an ace for much of the season.  Shaun Marcum returned to go 13 – 8 and missed by a start of hitting 200 innings.  Brett Cecil, the #1 pick in 2007, raced through the minors and showed moxie – leading the team with 15 wins.  Brandon Morrow, who never seemed to live up to the hype in Seattle, fanned 178 batters in just 146.1 innings, kept hitters off stride, and won 10 decisions.  The fifth starter role was given to Marc Rzepczynski and Dana Eveland, but at the end was given to former Phillie prospect Kyle Drabek, who looks to make the rotation in 2011.

Looking ahead, Shaun Marcum is gone, having been moved to Milwaukee for Brett Lawrie, a top second base prospect.  That leaves Romero, Cecil, Morrow, and either Rzepczynski, Drabek, Reyes, or Jesse Litsch – another former Jays starter coming back from hip surgery.  Drabek comes with the most hype – the top prospect in the Toronto chain, having gone 14 – 9 for New Hampshire in the Eastern League.  Reyes can pitch some, but more likely will start the year in the bullpen and pick up a start from time to time, which leaves Litsch and Rzepczynski battling for the fifth slot.  I think Drabek can be every bit as good as Marcum was in 2010, and if Litsch or Rzepczynski can make 25 healthy starts, this will be a slight improvement – if only because you won’t have the nine less than stellar starts of Dana Eveland in the mix (or, for that matter, Litsch’s nine less than impressive starts).

Bullpen:

Gone is Kevin Gregg, who saved 37 games last year.  Gregg is NOT a dominant closer – but rather a tolerable one,  He was ably supported by Shawn Camp, Scott Downs, Jason Frasor, Casey Janssen, and David Purcey.

For 2011, the closer looks to be former Ranger closer Frank Francisco, who can be much better than Gregg but historically is just marginally better.  Other closers are in camp, including Octavio Dotel and Jon Rauch, as well as Frasor, Janssen, Camp, and Purcey.  This is a very deep staff and should continue to keep Toronto in games.

Catching:

Last year’s duo of John Buck and Jose Molina were impressive defensively – above average in six different categories, and league average in terms of basic mobility.  Buck also hit well – an all-star level performance.

Looking ahead, Toronto will be depending on rookie J.P. Arencibia.  After struggling through a rough 2009 season in Las Vegas, Arencibia pounded PCL pitchers to the tune of 32 – 85 – .301 in 104 games.  That translates to about 20 – 65 – .250, which is not too far from a typical John Buck season.  Molina remains as a capable defensive backup.

Infield:

The changes continue from the infield that started the 2010 season.  Basher Jose Bautista showed to be more consistent at third than Edwin Encarnacion, who will move to first or DH in 2011.  Yunel Escobar can find his groove and hopefully contribute like the hitter he was in 2009, and second baseman Aaron Hill will rebound from his .205 2010 season and hopefully retain his power.  Adam Lind moves to first base, replacing Lyle Overbay.  I’m nervous about this unit.  The left side will be marginally better than 2010 defensively, but the right side will not be.  Lind has yet to produce as many runs as Overbay, and the 85 games Alex Gonzalez played were productive and hard to immediately replace.

John McDonald is still around to back everyone up – as is Encarncion.

Outfield:

Left field will be manned by former Angel Juan Rivera, who replaces Fred Lewis – a fourth outfielder at best.  While an improvement, Rivera is starting to get old and in ten seasons has never played 140 games in a season.  Vernon Wells is gone, replaced by Rajai Davis.  Davis is faster than Wells, but about 25 runs behind him as a hitter.  In right is Travis Snider, who replaces Bautista’s role.  Snider is due to step forward as a hitter, but hasn’t been a strong fielder.

Down on the Farm:

AAA Las Vegas wasn’t loaded with prospects other than Arencibia, who will start on opening day, and Brett Wallace, who was traded to Houston for Anthony Gose – a low level centerfielder with speed to burn, but a problem with contact and little power.  (I’ll be honest, I don’t see the reasoning there unless one thinks Wallace didn’t have a future in Toronto, but I think he’s better than Encarnacion.)

AA New Hampshire had Drabek, but also Zach Stewart, who is a year older but not quite as good.  David Cooper is a first baseman who has stats that look like Lyle Overbay – but at AA.  He might be a year away, but he’s not quite there yet.  Eric Thames has more power and a touch of speed.  He could replace Juan Rivera and you might not lose a step.  Darin Mastroianni is a leadoff type hitter, great speed and good on base percentages.  At 25, he’s getting old for a prospect, but he could help somebody for a months if needed.  The guy who is really interesting is Cuban import Adeiny Hechavarria, who looks like Davy Concepcion did when he was 21 years old – great glove, could grow into a hitter (but not yet).  Tristan Magnuson was successful as a reliever in AA, with great control, but Danny Farquhar has better stuff – 79Ks in 76 innings, just 50 hits allowed.  He’s a touch wild.

Alan Farina didn’t look like a prospect after a season of struggle at A+ Dunedin, but he DOMINATED A+ in 2010 and moved up to New Hampshire and kept right on going (74Ks in 55.2 innings).  If he does this in Las Vegas, he may make the roster in September, 2011.  Joel Carreno is a starter with moxie who will start in AA this year after a successful run in 2010 with Dunedin.  Catcher Travis D’Arnaud will get to build on a reasonably successful 2010 season, but it would help if he shows a little more power.

2011 Forecast:

There are things to like.  The outfield defense should be stronger.  The team will be spending less money at a couple of positions, which helped pay for a Jose Bautista contract.  The pitching staff is rather deep, especially in the bullpen.  The only slip defensively is at first base – which means the team will likely stay around 715 runs allowed, if not a few less than that.

The things that make you nervous?  I think the offense has to fall back.  I can see Bautista having a good season, but will it be as good as last year?  Probably not.  You have a drop in offense at first and center and possibly at catcher against potential improvements in left and second.  But there are too many “downs” to make up for the possible “ups” – and I see this as being sixty to eighty runs less than 2010.  As such, I see Toronto falling below .500 to about 77 – 85, which could very well be last in the AL East.  This isn’t a BAD team, just a team in the wrong division and falling back because a couple of guys were over their heads last year.  On the other hand, there are signs that this team is trying to build a new foundation of young players that can get them over the 90 win plateau and finally get back to the playoffs.

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2010 Top AL Right Fielders

Jose Bautista – TOR (131.3 Runs Created, -7.3 Runs Saved = 124.0 Total Runs Productivity)

Earned a long term contract by having the greatest fluke season in the last 50 years.  An historic improvement over his previous career.  Let’s get to what he can do…  He’s a pretty good infielder and wasn’t very good as a right fielder.  He MIGHT be able to stay around 30 homers for a couple of years.  One fears for him, however, if he gets off to a really slow start in 2011 and it starts to get into his head around June.

Ichiro Suzuki – SEA (115.6 Runs Created, 5.8 Runs Saved = 121.4 Total Runs Productivity)

Fell off a little in 2010 and was still a remarkable hit machine.  Still can fly, still can throw, still can slap singles all over the place.  3678 hits in professional baseball means he’s probably three to four years away from Pete Rose – and four to five years away from 3000 hits as a major leaguer, which would likely assure his place in the Hall of Fame, not that he should have a problem racing in there when he’s done.  Can you tell that, at 37, he’s lost a step?  I don’t see it.

Nelson Cruz – TEX (86.8 Runs Created, 25.9 Runs Saved = 112.7 Total Runs Productivity)

Imagine how good Cruz would have been had he played 154 games instead of 108.  Totally capable of a 30 homer, 100 RBI season, batting well over .300, stealing 25 bases, and with eye popping defensive stats.  2010 season projected to 162 games, we’re talking 160 or more runs of value – MVP type numbers.  Scary good.

Nick Swisher – NYY (95.9 Runs Created, 14.5 Runs Saved = 110.4 Total Runs Productivity)

A decent outfielder in a position where he’ll get a lot of fly balls because teams occasionally load up the lineup with guys who try to hit homers over his head.  A decent power hitter who, if he played in Minnesota, might have stats that look like Jason Kubel’s instead.  And yet, even after you adjust for things like that, he comes out looking like a VERY valuable player.  He is.

Torii Hunter will be playing in right field for much of 2011 and had started that process at the end of 2010.  As a right fielder, Hunter would likely be ranked right here (109.8 Total Runs Productivity).

Shin-Soo Choo – CLE (114.9 Runs Created, -7.2 Runs Saved = 107.7 Total Runs Productivity)

A truly impressive player; 20/20 club, with 90 RBI, .400+ OBP, though his defensive range fell off in 2010.  Deserves a chance to play where people can see how good he really is.  At the age where he could have a truly break-out season, so he might be worth eying in your fantasy draft.

Ben Zobrist – TB (79.9 Runs Created, 14.4 Runs Saved = 94.3 Total Runs Productivity)

His batting average fell way off, as did his power, in 2010 and yet he was STILL very productive because he can run, he drew 92 walks, and can play every position on the field except, perhaps, catcher.  One of my favorite players, in part, because he’s the type of player I wished I could be when I was a little leaguer.

Nick Markakis – BAL (97.9 Runs Created, -7.1 Runs Saved = 90.8 Total Runs Productivity)

Durable player, below average range but a big arm, seems to be losing power though he hits a lot of doubles (45 in 2010).  Has gone from a number three, four, or five hitter to a number two hitter.  Like Choo, just turned 27, so this could be his big year.

Michael Cuddyer – MIN (88.9 Runs Created, 1.2 Runs Saved = 90.1 Total Runs Productivity)

The right fielder for the first half of the season, and the first baseman after Morneau went down to an injury.  Actually played slightly better defensively as a first baseman, but wasn’t awful in the outfield either.  Power fell off with the move to the new Target field and, when he turns 32 in March, will have reached the point in his career where he will leave his peak years and head into his decline phase.

Bobby Abreu – LAA (99.9 Runs Created, -13.3 Runs Saved = 86.6 Total Runs Productivity)

His batting average fell to .255, but he still created just shy of 100 runs.  A defensive liability, so perhaps it’s time to become a DH.  People see the stolen base numbers and assume he can cover ground in the outfield – until they see him try to cut off a fly ball.  Is Abreu a Hall of Famer?  Let the discussion begin.

Jason Kubel – MIN (73.4 Runs Created, -5.0 Runs Saved = 68.4 Total Runs Productivity)

A poor fielder, who is usually asked to DH, but had to play in the field more after Justin Morneau’s injury.  He did the best he could and remains a productive player.

Brennan Boesch – DET (64.0 Runs Created, 4.0 Runs Saved = 68.0 Total Runs Productivity)

Also played in left field – nearly full time combined.  He’s got mid-range power, can cover some ground, a bit better eye than Ryan Raburn.  If nothing else, when the Tigers kept Damon or Ordonez as a DH, they had a young and mobile outfield.  Damon is gone now, so both Raburn and Boesch will get 550 at bats rather than 400.

J.D. Drew – BOS (72.1 Runs Created, -7.0 Runs Saved = 65.1 Total Runs Productivity)

Still a productive player, despite a body that has never really been able to take a 150 game schedule, much less 162.  Now 35 and in his decline phase, the Red Sox will need to be looking for his replacement.

I don’t know if you remember how his career started.  When he came out of Florida State, he was the big deal – but he never signed when drafted in 1997 because he and the Phillies couldn’t agree as to the value of such a high draft pick (#2).  After playing a year for free as a member of the St. Paul Saints, he was drafted again by the Cards and immediately became the top prospect in MLB.  In his first cup of coffee, he hit .417 with five homers in 36 at bats.  His rookie season was off, he never stayed healthy, and for a couple of years, he was a nomad.  Only once has he hit .300, or hit 30 homers, or driven in 100 runs (okay, he also hit .323 but in only 109 games and wouldn’t have qualified for a batting title).  And, he never did any of those in the same season.  Considering how he was viewed then, and now looking back after playing in nearly 1500 games, he seems like a disappointment.

Magglio Ordonez – DET (58.9 Runs Created, -0.5 Runs Saved = 58.4 Total Runs Productivity)

Another player in his decline phase – missed half the 2010 season.  Still hits when he’s in the lineup – and that near-league average defensive rating is a half-season accident.  He’s not that good.  Now 37, his career won’t long after he hits his 300th homer (he’s at 289).  I just got done calling Drew a minor bust.  Magglio hit 30 homers four times, cleared 100 RBIs seven times, and his career average is .312.  I’ll miss him when he’s gone.

Carlos Quentin – CHI (70.3 Runs Created, -13.5 Runs Saved = 56.8 Total Runs Productivity)

Still has prodigious power, is losing his range.  That being said, his 2010 season is exactly the kind of player he is.  He hits about .250 with good power and has a decent idea of the strike zone.  He is more like his 2010 season than his breakout 2008 season.  At 28, he is still young enough to have slightly better seasons, but I wouldn’t be counting on .270 as much as just hoping for it.

David DeJesus – KC (60.4 Runs Created, -7.1 Runs Saved = 53.3 Total Runs Productivity)

As a hitter, a poor man’s Carl Crawford.  Defensively, he plays well in left, but he was moved to right field in 2010.  Injured his thumb, requiring surgery, crashing into the wall at Yankee Stadium.  Will help the Oakland As next year, but is nearing the end of the peak phase of his career (31).  It may take a couple of months to find what little power he has, and isn’t in a park where he can hit homers anyway.

Matt Joyce – TB (42.1 Runs Created, 4.9 Runs Saved = 47.0 Total Runs Productivity)

Plays a lot of right field because Ben Zobrist will play everywhere else to give someone a day off.  Has some power, respects the strike zone, and is a solid defensive player.  He could start for a lot of teams and be an immediate improvement.

Ryan Sweeney – OAK (41.2 Runs Created, 3.9 Runs Saved = 45.1 Total Runs Productivity)

Chronic knee pain required season ending surgery on his right knee, but his left knee isn’t always 100% either.  A fourth outfielder type on a good team because he hits for a decent average, though with absolutely no power, can play both corner outfield positions well and, if necessary, won’t embarrass you in center – which reminds you of Greg Gross.  Could be a pinch hitter for another decade, or more.

Andruw Jones – CHI (45.0 Runs Created, -5.7 Runs Saved = 39.3 Total Runs Productivity)

An old version of Carlos Quentin.  I thought I would never write that, for sure.

2010 Top AL Left Fielders

Carl Crawford – TB (128.8 Runs Created, 13.1 Runs Saved = 141.9 Total Runs Productivity)

Which player had the better contract season, Crawford or Adrian Beltre?   Maybe it was Jose Bautista…  Did what he always does, only with a few more homers and triples.  Nobody compares them, but Crawford and Johnny Damon are extremely similar players.  Well – the Damon of a few years ago, anyway.

Josh Hamilton – TEX (131.5 Runs Created, 3.7 Runs Saved = 135.2 Total Runs Productivity)

Still played some center, but only because Julio Borbon isn’t that strong a hitter.  Who does he remind you of, as a hitter?  I can’t think of any modern player…  Al Simmons?  Goose Goslin?

Scott Podsednik – KC/LAD (77.6 Runs Created, 10.0 Runs Saved = 87.6 Total Runs Productivity)

Kind of like Juan Pierre, but with a touch more power and a bit more range.  Led the AL in hitting early on, earning a trip to a contender – that flopped upon his arrival.  Returns to the AL with Toronto in 2011.  Turns 35 in spring training, which should give you pause, but has retained his speed and skill thus far.  Alex Gordon got the spot after Podsednik left and proved he still isn’t a prospect.

Bobby Abreu, if he were a regular left fielder, would rank about here (85.2 Total Runs Productivity).

Juan Pierre – CHI (77.9 Runs Created, 3.1 Runs Saved = 81.0 Total Runs Productivity)

Still can run (68 stolen bases), still slaps singles but not at the rate he once did.  Unless he hits .310, he’s not that valuable, but he still gets 650 at bats because he has a great work ethic and people think his speed makes up for a complete lack of power and a bunch of ground outs.

Brett Gardner – NYY (73.2 Runs Created, 3.9 Runs Saved = 77.1 Total Runs Productivity)

A better leadoff hitter than Derek Jeter, and the best #9 hitter in baseball.  Gets on base, runs like the wind, and covers plenty of ground.  The new Brett Butler.  If he had 650 at bats rather than 450 (not that you can tell Jeter he’s batting ninth), would have created about 100 runs.  One day, he will.

Johnny Damon – DET (79.7 Runs Created, -3.0 Runs Saved = 76.7 Total Runs Productivity)

Heads to Tampa where he and/or Manny Ramirez will share the field and DH duties.  Not as mobile as he used to be as a myriad of leg injuries are sapping him of his old speed, but he’s still a quality bat.  Damon’s power, never great, is tolerable and he now works the count like a veteran who is losing his ability to catch up to a fastball.  Not sure how many years he has left and wouldn’t be surprised if his career runs out of steam.  29 hits from 2600.

Delmon Young – MIN (97.7 Runs Created, -25.0 Runs Saved = 72.7 Total Runs Productivity)

Took his batting and fielding to new levels – albeit in different directions.  Hit .298 with power, driving in 112 runs – by far his best season.  Also avoided fly balls at a career worst rate.  Hard to believe he’s really that bad in left, but he just doesn’t get to anything.

Juan Rivera – LAA (57.6 Runs Created, 12.1 Runs Saved = 69.7 Total Runs Productivity)

Decent hitter, average glove (don’t let the runs saved number fool you, it was his best season since 2006 and usually is a shade under league average).  Another guy moving to Toronto where he might explode for a year.

Brennan Boesch – DET (64.0 Runs Created, 4.0 Runs Saved = 68.0 Total Runs Productivity)

Played more in right field – nearly full time combined.  He’s got mid-range power, can cover some ground, a bit better eye than Ryan Raburn.  If nothing else, when the Tigers kept Damon or Ordonez as a DH, they had a young and mobile outfield.  Damon is gone now, so both Raburn and Boesch will get 550 at bats rather than 400.

Austin Kearns – CLE/NY (57.3 Runs Created, 8.8 Runs Saved = 66.1 Total Runs Productivity)

Saved what looked to be a dead career with a strong start as an unplanned outfielder in Cleveland and wound up an insurance extra outfielder for the Yankees.  Showed surprising range in the outfield and contributed by hitting for a little power and getting on base.  He hasn’t been consistently productive, but if he plays like he did in 2010, he’ll have a job for a few more years.  Heck, he probably got two years of contracts out of this season alone.

Ryan Raburn – DET (61.2 Runs Created, 1.8 Runs Saved = 63.0 Total Runs Productivity)

Played a lot of left, but also snuck innings in at second base (not badly), third, first, center, and right.  A decent hitter, too – sowed power and hit .280.  Will get more time in 2011 – might be worth a late look in your fantasy leagues.

Fourteen guys played left field for Oakland, led by Rajai Davis at 320.1 innings – but Davis also split time in center with Coco Crisp, leading the team in innings there, too.  Josh Willingham would appear to have the job in 2011 (62.7 Total Runs Productivity).  Willingham hits, plays hard, is a consumate professional, but with a stiff back is really not a good outfielder.

Trevor Crowe – CLE (49.0 Runs Created, 11.4 Runs Saved = 60.4 Total Runs Productivity)

Has speed, but will probably show little growth as a hitter since he’s already 27 and wasn’t a world beater in the minors, Crowe played more centerfield but was just a few innings from leading the Indians in time spent in left field as well.  At this point, he’s a much better defensive player than Grady Sizemore, but he needs to increase either his on base percentage or slugging percentage to be worth giving 1000 innings in the field.  He’s really a fifth outfielder at best.

Corey Patterson – BAL/OAK (52.7 Runs Created, 7.0 Runs Saved = 59.7 Total Runs Productivity)

An older version of Felix Pie with more power and a greater willingness to steal bases.

David Murphy – TEX (67.4 Runs Created, -7.9 Runs Saved = 59.5 Total Runs Productivity)

Would be the best fourth outfielder in baseball if he were more consistent in the field, but he never gets to play one position for a long period of time.  Valuable player.

Fred Lewis – TOR (60.6 Runs Created, -9.2 Runs Saved = 51.4 Total Runs Productivity)

Doesn’t hit for much power, doesn’t get on base enough, runs a little but not a ton.  Didn’t field his position well in 2010 (was slightly below average in 2008, slightly above in 2009).  Fourth outfielder at best.

Bill Hall – BOS (49.5 Runs Created, -2.5 Runs Saved = 47.0 Total Runs Productivity)

Valuable player, logging time at six positions and playing most of them pretty well.  With the current rosters lugging bigger pitching staffs, a guy like Hall is remarkably valuable.

Michael Saunders – SEA (35.7 Runs Created, 7.9 Runs Saved = 43.6 Total Runs Productivity)

A bit of power and decent range in the outfield made up for a low batting average – strikes out a lot.  Never had a GREAT year in the minors and I’d be hard pressed to believe he’s really a 20 homer guy.  I think he might improve – but that means .240 with 15 homers, which isn’t good enough.

Felix Pie – BAL (35.5 Runs Created, 6.4 Runs Saved = 41.9 Total Runs Productivity)

Mobile fielder, can play all three fields, ordinary hitter with no bonuses for on base percentage.  Once a prospect, now a servicable fourth outfielder.

Milton Bradley – SEA (29.1 Runs Created, 6.1 Runs Saved = 35.2 Total Runs Productivity)

If he’s got ANYTHING left, he’s way over due to show it.  Career may be in final tailspin and with his personal history, it’s not like people are going to bend over to give him an EXTRA chance.

Shelley Duncan – CLE (31.5 Runs Created, -3.0 Runs Saved = 28.5 Total Runs Productivity)

Got a chance because he has decent power and his dad is Dave Duncan.  Doesn’t do much else, though…  Low batting average, not much of a fielder.

Jeremy Hermida – BOS/OAK (17.4 Runs Created, 5.4 Runs Saved = 22.8 Total Runs Productivity)

Awkwardly effective in the outfield (runs fast, plays the ball well, but hates diving and walls), and a disappointing hitter – won’t be in the majors after next year, probably, unless he can turn himself into Jay Johnstone.  And Hermida’s not that funny.

Daniel Nava – BOS (19.8 Runs Created, -10.4 Runs Saved = 9.4 Total Runs Productivity)

Got the most innings when Jacoby Ellsbury went out with more maladies than a guest star on House.  Not that strong a hitter, for someone who is fast Nava didn’t look comfortable playing in Boston’s oddly shaped left field.

2010 Top AL First Basemen

Mark Teixeira – NYY (97.7 Runs Created, 31.7 Runs Saved = 129.4 Total Runs Productivity)

His batting average never recovered from a miserable .136 April but he continued to show power (69 extra base hits) and kept reaching base.  Additionally, he had one of those years where his defensive stats were outstanding – nobody fluctuates more than Teixeira for some reason, but he’s been in a lot of different stadiums over the last few years.  I’m not sure that I’d take him over Cabrera or even Butler for 2011, but he’s been the new Rafael Palmeiro in terms of hitting consistency.  Will pass 300 homers this year assuming he staus healthy (never less than 30 since 2003) and probably 1000 RBIs, too (seven straight over 100 RBI).  Turns 31 just after Opening Day, so he’s got at least five or six good years left, wouldn’t you think?

Miguel Cabrera – DET (147.0 Runs Created, – 19.9 Runs Saved = 127.1 Total Runs Productivity)

The most feared hitter in the AL right now – power, batting average, decent enough eye.  He’s starting to look thicker like Manny Ramirez, who is the the person Cabrera reminds me of the most.  Per game, Youkilis is more productive, but Cabrera doesn’t miss games.  The Marlins should have kept him and just given him shares of ownership or something.

Paul Konerko – CHI (119.0 Runs Created, -10.2 Runs Saved = 108.8 Total Runs Productivity)

A fantastic season for the White Sox first baseman.  Konerko hit a ton, doesn’t necessarily help with the glove, and has been rather productive for a number of years now.  It was his sixth 30 homer season, fifth of at least 100 RBI, and third time clearing .300 in batting average.  Turns 35 in March, so don’t be surprised if there’s a drop off this year.  Adam Dunn will give Konerko a break between DH duties and add even more thunder to the middle of the lineup.

Billy Butler – KC (109.3 Runs Created, -1.3 Runs Saved = 108.0 Total Runs Productivity)

Konerko edged Butler by a shade less than a run, but I’d rather have Butler.  He’s worked hard to become a tolerable defensive player, he doesn’t have the top end power of Cabrera but he’s a threat to get 200 hits a year, and he’s capable of hitting 25 homers (or more) at some point – based on his hitting 45 doubles last year and 51 in 2009.  If you are in a keeper fantasy league, go get him.

Kevin Youkilis – BOS (82.8 Runs Created, 17.8 Runs Saved = 100.6 Total Runs Productivity)

An injury ended his season after just 102 games, but few people actually produce a full productive run per game and Youkilis nearly did just that.  When Mike Lowell was forced to play there more regularly, he looked okay defensively (as you might expect), but he didn’t generate any offense, which contributed to the Red Sox falling off as the season progressed.  Is Kevin Youkilis a potential Hall of Famer?  Let the discussion begin.  Adrian Gonzalez, imported from San Diego, will take over the role, moving Youkilis over to third base.

Michael Cuddyer – MIN (88.9 Runs Created, 1.2 Runs Saved = 90.1 Total Runs Productivity)

Justin Morneau was hitting like Ted Williams when a concussion ended his season after just 81 games.  Cuddyer took over down the stretch and was very good.  He played the position well enough (he actually saved 4.5 runs as a first baseman but gave a few runs away in the outfield) and hits for power among his other virtues.  Morneau says he’ll be ready for spring training, and the Twins hope he’s at 100% when the season starts.  If not, Cuddyer is a fine alternative.

Ty Wigginton – BAL (72.2 Runs Created, 15.0 Runs Saved = 87.2 Total Runs Productivity)

Wigginton, who can play all over the infield and outfield, got the lion’s share of innings and was surprisingly effective as a first baseman, if not quite a solid offensive contributor.  His 22 homers and 76 RBIs look okay, but the .248/.415/.316 percentage line as a bit weak for the position.  In the SI baseball preview, Joe Sheehan suggested that Garrett Atkins was a lousy short-term solution for a team that should be focusing on youth.  Atkins hit .214 with 1 homer in 140 at bats – nailing that prediction.

Daric Barton – OAK (92.7 Runs Created, -17.3 Runs Saved = 75.4 Total Runs Productivity)

Oakland says they are happy with Barton, who is a poor man’s Mark Grace.  Barely enough power but gets on base a lot, hits a few doubles.  However, he doesn’t seem to have Grace’s defensive skills.  To his credit, he’s gotten better every year, he’s just 25, and he has room to grow.  If he can find his comfort zone defensively and add a little more offense, he’d get to 100 runs of productivity for sure, which would make him a more valuable commodity.

Carlos Pena – TB (72.6 Runs Created, 0.5 Runs Saved = 73.1 Total Runs Productivity)

The Cubs payed $10 million for a guy who got 95 hits in 571 plate appearances.  Still has power, still has a great eye, but strikes out a ton and is no longer a defensive force as he ages.  If he hits .240 as a Cub, I’ll take it – but I’ll also be surprised.

Justin Morneau – MIN (81.9 Runs Created, -12.0 Runs Saved = 69.9 Total Runs Productivity)

A concussion suffered when getting kneed in the head while sliding into second base ended his season.  A ferocious hitter, but a brick with the glove.  See Michael Cuddyer, above.

Lyle Overbay – TOR (74.4 Runs Created, -6.5 Runs Saved = 67.9 Total Runs Productivity)

Showed a little power to make up for his fading batting average, still draws a few walks.  His strikeout rate makes you nervous and he no longer flashes the leather as well as he used to.  He’s outside the top ten at his position, and that means he’s won a job in Pittsburgh.  At least he’s durable, right?  Looking over the Blue Jays roster, does this mean Adam Lind or Travis Snider or Jose Bautista or someone is moving over?  Watch the Jays in Spring Training and see what happens.

Justin Smoak – TEX/SEA (40.6 Runs Created, 17.5 Runs Saved = 58.1 Total Runs Productivity)

Should get the Seattle job in 2011, unless Mariners management goes through another round of goofiness.  Didn’t hit very well and needs to show improvement, but he did flash leather in two cities.  Still a kid – worth giving 500 at bats to see what happens.  See Casey Kotchman, below.

Mike Napoli – LAA (73.1 Runs Created, -19.2 Runs Saved = 53.3 Total Runs Productivity)

See Kendry Morales, below.  Played first because he was probably the best option when Morales went down but really isn’t a first baseman.  May get time there in Texas for 2011, but I’d rather see him catch five days and DH twice a week.

Kendry Morales – LAA (35.1 Runs Created, 11.2 Runs Saved = 46.3 Total Runs Productivity)

Mike Napoli played 140 more innings because Morales went down to a freak leg injury celebrating a home run.  Morales was pacing for about 135 runs of total productivity, which would have placed him ahead of Cabrera, when he was sidelined.  Hits for power and average, great range – a fantastic player.  His injury, as much as anything, cost the Angels the AL West.  It forced an out of position player to first and put a bad hitter in the lineup – costing the team about 80 runs over the course of the season.

Casey Kotchman – SEA (43.4 Runs Created, -5.9 Runs Saved = 37.5 Total Runs Productivity)

I’m not sure what Seattle was thinking here – Kotchman hasn’t been consistent as a Mark Grace type, falling off to hitting just .217 last year.  He gets raves for his glove, but hasn’t been consistent there, either.  They should have just committed to Russell Branyan, given him a decent check, and let him come to the park confident in having a job.  If Seattle is serious about contending, they need to find 70 more runs at this position in 2011.  Justin Smoak was imported from Texas for Branyan and has power and a decent eye, seems to be a much better fielder.  A full season of Smoak, especially if he can improve from .218 to .260 and hit 25 homers, would be worth at least 45 more runs.  If Kotchman gets a full season of at bats anymore, I’ll be stunned.

Mitch Moreland – TEX (24.5 Runs Created, -3.3 Runs Saved = 21.2 Total Runs Productivity)

Chris Davis had the job but couldn’t hit .200.  Justin Smoak got a chance, wasn’t horrible, but was sent to Seattle for Russell BranyanJorge Cantu was imported from Florida and didn’t really earn much playing time.  Mitch Moreland took over down the stretch and was pretty good – hit for power, got on base, did the job at first – though he needs to get comfortable there and a full season later he might not be too bad.  He’s low down the list now, but expect him to move up a few notches in 2011.

Matt LaPorta – CLE (42.9 Runs Created, -25.0 Runs Saved = 17.9 Total Runs Productivity)

Russell Branyan came over from Seattle and was far more productive in his 47 games at first (32.8 total runs) than LaPorta, who played 93 games at first and another seven in left field and butchered it both offensively and defensively.  Of course, Branyan doesn’t have a job and LaPorta is listed at the top of the depth chart heading into Spring Training.  Pity my friends who are Cleveland fans.

2010 AL Gold Glove and Dirty Brick Award Winners

My fielding ranking system is a method that looks at the number of plays made per 800 balls in play.  In effect, if someone makes one play more than another person at the same position, he reduces the batting average of the hitter by a point.  The best fielders occasionally make a run at 15 plays per 800 balls in play more than average, the worst can go 15 in the other direction.  Then, I convert those plays made into runs saved (or not saved, if the number is negative) based on the types of hits allowed on balls hit toward that fielder.  I also convert double plays and errors into runs based on Pete Palmer formulas found in the old Total Baseball encyclopedias.

Does it work?  Actually – yes.  It passes the eye ball test (Elvis Andrus, when you watch him, looks like an impressive fielder), and the system is comparable to other methodologies.  I’ve used this for about ten years, when I was first trying to rate fielders to make player cards for the old Superstar Baseball board game.

I try to remove biases for groundball/flyball tendencies, and for lefty/righty balls in play.  If there is one position where I am always concerned, it’s first base because much of that is based on the rest of the infield – so I essentially remove infield assists from the first baseman’s putout total.  Even with that, there is usually a greater range between the best and worst fielders.  However, after doing this for years, I have reached the conclusion that the reason for this has more to do with the fact that the worst fielders are, indeed, the least mobile athletes on the field and if you get someone at first base who is young and still fleet of foot, that person is going to make GOBS more plays than a big lumbering first baseman whose first move is to start heading to first to catch a throw on almost any ball hit to his right.

Mighty Casey generally doesn’t rank pitchers individually, but the best team in this regard was probably Cleveland.  Cleveland pitchers had a positive ratio of double plays to errors (19/13, where the league pitchers participated in 180 DPs and made 181 errors) and also handled about 5 chances more than the average team per 800 balls in play.  The worst was easily Detroit (17 DPs, 18 errors, 6.4 plays below average per 800 balls in play).

I also rank catchers differently, choosing to score them as a team.  There are seven categories for which a team of catchers could be graded:  ERA, Winning Percentage, SB%, Fielding Percentage on plays not including strikeouts, Mistakes per Game (passed balls, errors), Plays Made per Game (or Mobility), Other Assists per Game (not including Caught Stealing).  The catchers get a point for each category in which they are above the league average, and lose a point if below league average.  The highest score, theoretically, is seven and the lowest would be -7.  Nobody was that good, nor that bad.

Catcher:

Toronto had the best rankings, being above average in six categories and dead even on Mobility.  John Buck did the yeoman’s share of the work, but his backup Jose Molina was also exceptional against the run, tossing out 15 of 34 runners.  That being said, I don’t think that John Buck is the best catcher in the AL, it’s Joe Mauer.  But the rankings say that Toronto’s catchers held their own collectively.

Behind Toronto, the White Sox scored at positive four, failing only in mobility categories, and then a tie between Boston, Detroit, and Minnesota at positive three.

The worst catching was a toss up between three teams that all scored at -3: Seattle, Los Angeles, and Kansas City.

First Base:

For the first time in several years, the stats matched the reputation.  Mark Teixeira earns the nod, saving his team nearly 32 runs with his range and ability to avoid errors and turn double plays.  I was surprised at how good Ty Wigginton was, showing even better range, but then again – he’s an infielder moving over to first – and frequently those guys are used to straying as far as possible to get grounders where many first basemen will give up on balls to the right and let the second sacker get them while moving to first base.

I’m not totally certain that Teixeira would have won the award had Kendry Morales not gotten hurt.  Morales, in just 51 games, had a slightly higher range and was on pace to save just as many runs as Big Tex.  Two others who didn’t get 1000 innings at the position also scored well here – Kevin Youkilis and rookie Justin Smoak.

Player        Innings    Range    Runs Saved
Mark Teixeira    1291.2    10.2    31.7
Ty Wigginton    787    12.5    18.7
Justin Smoak    807.2    10.3    17.5

The Dirty Brick goes to Cleveland’s Matt LaPorta, whose poor range didn’t help a season where his bat wasn’t very strong – negating half of the runs he created offensively.  The other two shouldn’t be a surprise.  Miguel Cabrera is looking less and less lean, and Mike Napoli is a catcher playing first.

Player        Innings    Range    Runs Saved
Matt LaPorta    791.1    -13.5    -25.0
Miguel Cabrera    1285.1    -5.6    -19.9
Mike Napoli    586.1    -12.7    -19.2

Dishonorable mentions go out to Daric Barton, Justin Morneau (on pace to match LaPorta, but he missed half the season), and Paul Konerko…

Second Base:

Robinson Cano had an amazing year with the bat, and was equally strong with the glove.  His range factor was nearly 11 plays per 800 balls in play more than average, and he made just 3 errors while turning 114 double plays.  As such, he not only saved his team 26 runs just by eliminating hits, but he took more than seven more runs off the board by avoiding errors and helping with the DP – the most at his position by far.  Orlando Hudson provided value for Minnesota, and KC’s Mike Aviles returned and made a positive contribution with the bat and glove, too.  Regular leaders here, Ian Kinsler and Mark Ellis, fell back as both missed about 500 innings at the position due to injuries.  Honorable mention to Sean Rodriguez at Tampa who nearly made the list in just a half season of innings, and to Gordon Beckham who switched over from third and was solid for the White Sox.

Player        Innings    Range    Runs Saved
Robinson Cano    1393.1    10.9    33.3
Orlando Hudson    1067    7.4    16.3
Mike Aviles    765.2    14.8    15.8

The Dirty Brick goes to a position switch as well – Seattle’s Chone Figgins.  He was a decided bust at second base, making 19 errors and making an adjusted 4.11 plays per nine – 11.9 plays fewer per 800 balls in play than the average second baseman.  Seattle signed him as a third baseman, switched him over to let Jose Lopez play third.  Thankfully, Lopez was fantastic over there – else it would have been a total loss…  Brian Roberts, a regular to the brick list, was abhorrant in a shade under 500 innings, 20 plays worse than the average second sacker per 800 balls in play, and Aaron Hill took his struggles at the plate with him to the field.  Dishonorable mentions to supposed glove man Chris Getz (-7 runs) and rookie Scott Sizemore (-11 runs in must 314 innings).  So much for replacing Placido Polanco…

Player        Innings    Range    Runs Saved
Chone Figgins    1417    -11.9    -33.3
Brian Roberts    498.1    -19.5    -17.1
Aaron Hill    1188    -6.1    -14.5

Third Base:

As poorly as Chone Figgins played second base for Seattle, converted third baseman Jose Lopez was a decided success.  His range was superior, and he didn’t disappoint in terms of errors or double plays.  Evan Longoria remained in the 30 runs saved range – a remarkable player, really – and Adrian Beltre continued to field his position remarkably well.  An honorable mention goes to the reluctantly converted Miguel Tejada, who had greater range than even Longoria, but played just 808 innings before being shipped out.  Nick Punto played an out shy of 345 innings there without making an error…

Player        Innings    Range    Runs Saved
Jose Lopez    1252.2    13.3    36.9
Evan Longoria    1330.2    8.7    31.1
Adrian Beltre    1342.2    6.6    19.0

The dirty brick goes to a part-timer, Royals infielder Wilson Betemit, who must have had ball repellant on him, making barely 2.2 plays per nine and having a range about 17 plays worse than the average player per 800 balls in play.  Another halftimer, Omar Vizquel got close to 600 unnecessary innings at third base for the White Sox – he’s an ancient shortstop who hadn’t played there for his entire career.  You want to know why the White Sox lost the division – look right here.  Of the regulars, Michael Young was, again, a lousy third baseman – but he did make improvement over last year.  No wonder he volunteered to be a DH.

Player        Innings    Range    Runs Saved
Wilson Betemit    455.1    -16.9    -18.4
Omar Vizquel    582.1    -19.4    -17.4
Michael Young    1370.1    -3.3    -10.3

Shortstop:

Nobody was more surprised to see this than I, but Alexei Ramirez had a remarkable year at shortstop, showing great range – as good as he ever played.  He was one assist shy of 500 – a great season by any measurement.  Cliff Pennington helped out the young A’s staff by making his share of plays, and Elvis Andrus remained among the best fielders of his time.  Seattle’s Jack and Josh Wilson, if combined, saved Seattle more than 20 runs.

Player        Innings    Range    Runs Saved
Alexei Ramirez    1376.2    12.8    32.1
Cliff Pennington   1304.2    12.0    26.9
Elvis Andrus    1291.1    10.3    26.0

At least the reigning gold glove winner didn’t finish last, but he did have the worst range amongst the regulars.  This year, Marco Scutaro’s 18 errors and only contributing to 57 double plays made up for making slightly more plays than Derek Jeter, who had just 6 errors and 94 double plays.  The 11 run swing gave the brick to Scutaro, who killed the Red Sox infield.  He’ll need to be replaced soon if the Sox want to be competitive.  Third place went to Jason Bartlett who no longer looks like the slick fielding shortstop he was before all the ankle injuries in 2009.  Thankfully for the Rays, they have other options for 2011.

Player        Innings    Range    Runs Saved
Marco Scutaro    1166    -13.2    -32.0
Derek Jeter    1303.2    -15.0    -27.4
Jason Bartlett    1104    -8.9    -16.4

Left Field:

A centerfielder playing left who also had his best offensive season heading into free agency, the gold glove goes to the perennially amazing Carl Crawford.  Crawford was the only left fielder to save his team more than 10 runs, but only because the next closest guys played too few innings to save enough runs.  Only three left fielders played 1000 innings there in 2010.

Player        Innings    Range    Runs Saved
Carl Crawford    1260.1    4.2    13.1
Michael Saunders   647.2    6.3    9.6
Alex Gordon    486.1    7.6    9.0

One of those three was Dirty Brick winner Delmon Young, who abused left field until he cost the Twins 25 runs out there.  At least he found his bat last year…  Fred Lewis played a disinterested left field for Toronto, and Daniel Nava was the Boston representative of the list of bad outfielders who played between 200 and 500 innings in the AL.

Player        Innings    Range    Runs Saved
Delmon Young    1277.2    -8.5    -25.0
Fred Lewis    726.1    -7.8    -13.2
Daniel Nava    380    -12.9    -10.4

Center Field:

The Angels are rightfully excited about the defensive capabilities of their new centerfielder, Peter Bourjos.  The man can fly – reminding you of a young Gary Pettis.  He can throw, too – ten assists in what amounts to a third of a season in the field.  This allows Los Angeles to move Torii Hunter, who is now a slightly below average centerfielder to right (where he was really good), and makes room for another below average centerfielder, Vernon Wells, to move to left.  As it was, there isn’t a whole lot of difference amongst the starting centerfielders, except for Bourjos, in terms of overall range.

Player        Innings    Range    Runs Saved
Peter Bourjos    449.2    12.0    12.4
Adam Jones    1298.1    2.9    7.9
Alex Rios    1246.2    2.8    7.1

The Dirty Brick goes to a guy whose body and game are falling apart, and that’s Grady Sizemore.  One hopes he can heal and start to put his career back in the right direction, but it’s probably going to have to be at a different position.  Sadly, his replacement (Brantley) doesn’t look much better, and among those who played at least 1000 innings, Vernon Wells, who was healthier than in recent seasons, is still the worst of the lot (costing his team about 7.5 runs).  Thankfully, he’s done as a centerfielder.

Player        Innings    Range    Runs Saved
Grady Sizemore    269.2    -17.5    -11.2
Michael Brantley562.2    -6.9    -9.4
Gregor Blanco    347    -11.2    -8.4

Right Field:

For the second year in a row, Nelson Cruz was a remarkable outfielder, though he threw hardly anybody out from right.  I was surprised to see how well Nick Swisher did, but that could be because opponents may allow more lefties to bat in the new Yankee Stadium.  Honorable mention to Ben Zobrist, who has to play everywhere but looked solid enough in right.  I wonder if there isn’t some form of statistical bias in Texas, though, as even Vlad Guerrero showed up as above average in his 118.2 innings there.  Not WAY above average, but slightly.

Player        Innings    Range    Runs Saved
Nelson Cruz    799.1    15.2    25.9
Nick Swisher    1102    6.1    14.5
Jason Repko    226    16.4    9.3

The Dirty Brick goes to the surprise hammer of the league – Jose Bautista, followed by a bunch of guys who are either ill-suited for the outfield, aging, our out of position (David DeJesus).  The worst right fielder who played at least 1000 innings was Shin-Soo Choo, who barely edged out the immobile Nick Markakis and the aging J.D. Drew, and were all between -7.02 and -7.17 runs in the wrong direction.

Player        Innings    Range    Runs Saved
Jose Bautista    982.2    -6.8    -14.6
Carlos Quentin    897    -5.3    -13.6
Bobby Abreu    805.2    -3.4    -7.9

2010 Season Forecast: Toronto Blue Jays

Last Five Years:

2009: 75 – 87 (4th AL East)
2008: 86 – 76
2007: 83 – 79
2006: 87 – 75
2005: 80 – 82

Runs Scored: 798 (6th AL)
Runs Allowed: 771 (12th AL)

Having outscored their opponents by 27 runs, the Jays should have won about 84 games.  This isn’t the first time that Toronto has won fewer games than one might expect based on their runs scored and allowed data.  In 2008, they were ten games over .500 with essentially the same ratio of runs as the World Series bound Tampa Rays.  In 2007, the Jays scored one fewer run than they allowed in road games, but lost 47 of 81 games.  And that 2005 club finished under .500 despite outscoring their opponents by 70 runs.  That’s four of five years that Roy Halliday thinks that he should have been on a contending team – only to fall by the wayside.

Who should be held responsible for this?

Season Recap:

Most teams had the Jays landing in fourth place in the prediction category, but most of us figured it would have been more like 85 wins.

The Jays got off to a GREAT start.  It wasn’t long before Toronto, led by Halliday, Scott Richmond, and Ricky Romero, were running off and looking like they would be a force in the AL Beast.  After sweeping the Chicago White Sox on May 18, Toronto hit a SLUMP – all CAPS because they lost nine straight, six to Boston and Baltimore.  Rumors that Halliday was to be traded starting dominating the news – when it wasn’t some member of the rotation going down to injury – and I think the Jays got horribly distracted.

I know this – the team’s OBP every month was about .333 except July, when they must have started swinging at everything.  The OBP in July was .298.  So, even though the pitching staff was still getting the job done (a 3.81 ERA, best of the year), they couldn’t win, and it was July that put them out.

At this point, the Jays lost a lot – killing off the season as July started and finally bottoming out after reaching fifteen below .500 in early September.  Halliday never got traded and, in fact, once the team figured out they had better just enjoy being a team the rest of the way, the team had a winning September when it didn’t matter.

Pitching:

Roy Halliday was marvelous – 17 – 10 with a 2.50 ERA and saving his club 47 runs more than average pitching would have provided.  Ricky Romero finished with 13 wins and was about 8.5 runs better than average in 178 innings.  Scott Richmond lost 11 of his last 15 decisions, costing his team 14.5 runs, and then hit the DL where he’ll likely miss most of 2010.  Brian Tallett got 160 innings and his control got the best of him.  Brett Cecil got 17 starts, had a winning record, but seemed very hittable (5.30 ERA, 17 homers and 116 hits in 93.1 innings).

On the other hand, Marc Rzepczynski proved a potential rotation player with 11 decent enough starts – and hopefully can build on that for 2010.

In the bullpen, a closer could not keep a job.  B.J. Ryan wasn’t worthy – 6.53 ERA – and was shipped out.  Scott Downs hung in there for a while with 9 saves and decent numbers (good control); Jason Frasor was even better and eventually earned the closer role for good.

No worries – for 2010, the pitching staff will look different with Halliday having been shipped to Philadelphia for a boatload of prospects.

First, Shaun Marcum returns from an injury forced exile to take over the front of the rotation.  I like Marcum – he’s a fine pitcher, but he’s no Halliday.  Romero returns, as does Rzepczynski and Tallett, with former Mariner Brandon Morrow joining the rotation to take the ball in the first inning every fifth turn.

Marcum has always been an above average pitcher – but not 40 runs above average.  And Morrow has never been dependable as a starter.  Even Tallett is a converted reliever – which means his arm hasn’t been abused, but he needs to find consistency this year.

The bullpen starts with Frasor, but adds Kevin Gregg from the Cubs.  Scott Downs returns and will help.  Jesse Carlson and Jeremy Accardo round out the top five.  Gregg is inconsistent, too – but he’ll be a nice eighth inning option.  There is more depth here than in, say Baltimore.  I like Baltimore’s rotation better, though.

Looking forward, I see this unit performing about 50 runs worse than the 2009 rotation – mostly because Halliday won’t be there.  That puts a lot of pressure on the bullpen, and the sixth and seventh guys.  And THOSE aren’t the guys you want pitching important innings.

Catching:

Rod Barajas provided solid catching, but couldn’t get his batting average over .230.  Still – he had 19 homers and 71 RBI.  Essentially, the Blue Jays replaced him with the same guy – former Royal John Buck.  Buck can get the same numbers at the plate but probably not behind it; Buck isn’t as good as Barajas against the run.

Infield:

Lyle Overbay didn’t seem as mobile with the glove, and with a falloff at the plate, he was a bit of a problem.  Overbay ISN’T a bad first baseman.  Usually he makes up for his lack of power with fantastic fielding.  If he’s not going to be a gold glove winner, then his bat – still above average – looks pedestrian when compared to others.  His backup, Kevin Millar, didn’t help at the plate or in the field.

Aaron Hill came back from concussion issues to give head injuries to the baseball, hitting 36 homers and another 37 doubles.  Hill was nearly an MVP candidate.

Marco Scutaro was an amazing leadoff hitter, getting on base at a .383 clip and scoring 100 runs.  Backup infielder John McDonald still fields well, but his hitting is pedestrian.

The Jays started with Scott Rolen, who hit .320 (who saw THAT?), but was traded to Cincinnati for Edwin Encarnacion – who didn’t.  Rolen was traded because he was expensive, but at least he was producing.

For 2010, the infield still has Overbay and Hill, but the other side of the infield features Alex Gonzalez, who has little range and a fading bat.  He WON’T generate 100 runs of offense, and he’ll be worse in the field than the below average Scutaro.  Rolen, until the injuries, was know for being dependable – something Encarnacion is not – and he won’t ever hit like Rolen, either.  I can’t see Hill repeating, Overbay may slide some more, and the other two will KILL the Blue Jays offense.  Look for a 80 run decline offensively and a 20 run decline defensively.

Outfield:

Yes – Alex Rios was disappointing when considering his pay and his production.  However, Rios is an above average fielder and hitter.  He’s gone.  Jose Bautista, who was nearly as productive and cheaper, will get the nod in right field.  It’s no better than a wash going forward.

Vernon Wells remains in centerfield.  He’s old, has had below average range for half a decade now, and will have hamstring problems until he’s 100.  He’s no longer capable of 20 homers and doesn’t get on base much.  He also has a contract nobody else wants.

In left, Adam Lind will be a DH (whew!) but Travis Snider needs to step forward.  There’s a lot to like – he has power, but needs to make better contact.  At least he’ll get to more fly balls than Lind.  Randy Ruiz, a slugger, will also get some more at bats after hitting ten homers in 115 at bats last year.  Like Lind, Ruiz is immobile in the field, too.

I don’t think Bautista is a long-term answer and if Wells go down (and he will), they’ll need to get Phillies prospect Michael Taylor to the big leagues.

Prospects:

First, you have the prospects that the Jays got in the Halliday trade.  one, catcher Travis D’Arnaud, will make the club in a couple of years.  Pitcher Kyle Drabek will be allowed to find his feet in AAA before moving up to the bigs later this year.  And Michael Taylor isn’t listed on the 25 man roster, so he’ll get some time to prove his worth before getting the call.

Looking at AAA Las Vegas, you have to remember that to be a prospect, you have to hit about .330 – like Travis Snider.  J.P. Arencibia would be a better power prospect if he hit .336, but he hit .236 instead.  Other than Snider, who should be ready, nobody else is a prospect for the lineup.  For the same reason, pitching prospects never look so good – so you want good control and an ERA under 4.00 and there just aren’t that many who fit that bill.  Dirk Hayhurst might be close – but he starts 2010 on the 60-day DL after surgery on his right shoulder.  Maybe he can come back in 2011.

At AA New Hampshire, Reidier Gonzalez showed control but not enough strikeouts in his 93 innings.  Fabio Castro, a tiny lefty who has seven years with four franchises, looked okay but doesn’t have a strikeout pitch that he can depend on as he moves up and faces AAA hitting.

The best hitter at AA was Brian Dopirak, who hasn’t yet made it to the bigs but is starting to look like he might hit about .270 with some power if he gets there.  Dopirak hit .308 with 19 homers in New Hampshire, then .330 with 8 homers in Las Vegas.  With Overbay around, he won’t get a chance without someone getting hurt.

A+ Dunedin featured Darin Mastroianni, a speedy centerfielder who can steal bases (70 in Dunedin and New Hampshire last year) and finally started to look like a hitter last year.  He needs to keep drawing more walks to look like a Brett Butler type, but he made progress on that last year, too – 76 in 131 games.  Pitcher Bobby Bell had 112 Ks and just 22 walks in 96.1 innings, but the real ace might be reliever Tim Collins, a teenager last year, who had 99 Ks and 29 walks in just 64.2 innings.  That’s CLOSER material, and I’d name him as the most exciting prospect on the farm.

The Lansing Lugnuts featured a few young arms with promise.  Of them, I like Henderson Alvarez, who walked just 19 in 124.1 innings and led his team in Innings, ERA and wins.

Forecast:

Let the rebuilding begin.  We’re talking about a team that is going to lose 100 runs of offense, probably, and another 80 runs defensively.  Toronto will likely lose 95 games and possibly 100, costing Cito Gaston his sanity if not his job.  The system says 65.5 wins, but I’m rounding down in this division.

Top AL Right Fielders

Shin-Soo Choo (CLE):  Wonderful hitter – 20/20 guy with patience, and he happens to play a fine right field.  I admit it – I knew very little about him but he’s the most productive right fielder in the AL.  (128.5 Runs Created, 10.0 Runs Saved = 138.49 Total Run Production)

Ichiro Suzuki (SEA):  Slaps 200 or more hits every year, still runs like the wind and has a cannon for an arm.  If you count his days in Japan, Ichiro has a reasonably good chance to have more hits as a professional baseball player than anyone ever.  (123.6 Runs Created, 3.1 Runs Saved = 126.72 Total Run Production)

Nelson Cruz (TEX):  Remarkably good fielder, amazing power.  Had a year that reminds you a bit of Brook Jacoby because he hit 33 homers with just 76 RBI (Jacoby in 1987 went 32 – 69).  Part of that is because he hit 25 solo homers and his slugging percentage tailed off considerably with runners on base (.577 vs. .447).

So I checked.  The Texas Ranger, as a team, hit 224 homers with 145 occuring with nobody on base and 79 driving home ducks.  75.8 of Cruz’s homers were solo shots.  For everyone else on the team, it was 62.8%.  Anyway – it might be a one-year thing…  Until last year, he had 13 homers with men on base and just 9 solo homers.

The other thing is his fielding numbers, which are stunning.  And then you see that he had nearly as many putouts in nearly 367 fewer innings than Nick Markakis.  It’s legit.  He got to a lot of fly balls.  (80.9 Runs Created, 36.4 Runs Saved = 117.30 Total Run Production)

Bobby Abreu (LAA):  Another year just like the rest, though with a little less power.  Still drives in around 100 runs, still gets 30 stolen bases, still gets on base around 40% of the time, actually looked limber in right field.  At what point do we wonder if Abreu is worthy of the Hall of Fame?  (102.3 Runs Created, 2.5 Runs Saved = 104.87 Total Run Production.)

Jason Kubel (MIN):  Not a horrible outfielder – but a legitimate hitter.  He’s not the regular right fielder, but he can play it in a pinch.  (98.1 Runs Created, -0.3 Runs Saved = 97.80 Total Run Production)

Nick Swisher (NYY):  He may not throw many guys out, but he hits for a little power, gets on base, and can still cover ground.  I know he struggled in the post-season, but Swisher kept the offense moving most of the year and the Yankees should be glad he’s still around.  (94.6 Runs Created, 2.6 Runs Saved = 97.21 Total Run Production)

Ryan Sweeney (OAK):  I need to watch more A’s games to see with my own eyes how good he is.  Fast enough to cover centerfield.  Seems to throw well enough,  Gets on base a little but you’d like to see a little more power.  Still – a productive player if his defense is really this good.  (71.2 Runs Created, 23.9 Runs Saved = 95.18 Total Run Production)

J.D. Drew (BOS):  The new George Brett.  Can’t stay in the lineup for 150 games, but when he plays he hits.  Still has a great eye at the plate, but his back is affecting his range in the field.  I wouldn’t let him cover center anymore, that’s for sure.  (89.9 Runs Created, -2.8 Runs Saved = 87.13 Total Run Production)

Alex Rios (TOR/CWS):  Hit .199 after arriving in Chicago’s south side – and we hoped the change in scenery would help get him back to where he was a year or two ago.  And yet, he’s not really a bad player.  Some power, a lot of doubles, good speed, decent defensively.  He just gets paid a lot for what seems like mediocrity.  (73.9 Runs Created, 10.1 Runs Saved = 84.00 Total Run Production)

Michael Cuddyer (MIN):  Good power, fair bat and eye, miserable defender.  Based on the stats, maybe Kubel should play in right and Cuddyer become the DH…  (100.7 Runs Created, -22.64 Runs Saved = 78.10 Total Run Production)

Nick Markakis (BAL):  From what I can tell, he’s overrated.  He doesn’t really hit for power – more doubles than homers, not that it’s a problem.  He doesn’t have an exceptionally high batting average.  He doesn’t run very well.  He can throw, but he doesn’t get to many flies.  On the other hand, he turns 27 at the end of this season, so he could be one of those guys who is ready to have his career year.  If not this year, maybe next year.  (101.8 Runs Created, -28.7 Runs Saved = 73.11 Total Run Production)

Jermaine Dye (CWS):  Like Alex Rios, he struggled mightily down the stretch.  I can still remember when the Royals acquired Dye from Atlanta and the fans were upset about losing Michael Tucker.  Um…  Which player still has a major league job?  It’s a season showing signs of decline, but still productive.  (75.4 Runs Created, -3 Runs Saved = 72.41 Total Run Production)

Magglio Ordonez (DET):  He rescued a poor batting average after that lousy start, but he’s still just a miserable outfielder.  If he doesn’t put 100 – 120 runs on the board offensively (and he’s still not half bad), his lack of range just kills you.  Time to move on, wouldn’t you think?  Maybe make him a DH?  (75.3 Runs Created, -17.85 Runs Saved = 57.47 Total Run Production)

Willie Bloomquist (KC):  Played a lot of different positions and that makes him Alfredo Amezega.  He’s better than Jose Guillen, but that’s not much.  (49.1 Runs Created, 3.8 Runs Saved = 52.97 Total Run Production)

Jose Bautista (TOR):  Not really a right fielder, but he got some time here last season.  He’s at least a slightly better than replacement level player.  (50.4 Runs Created, .8 Runs Saved = 51.27 Total Run Production)

Two Gabes (TB):  Gabe Kapler and Gabe Gross split time in right field for Tampa and combined 14 – 68 – .235.  Kapler was a slightly better hitter or fielder, but combined weren’t really enough.

Jose Guillen (KC):  Now THAT was a good use of limited money.  Can’t hit, can’t stay healthy, can’t field.  Less production than EITHER Gabe…  (30.9 Runs Created, -14.8 Runs Saved = 16.05 Total Run Production.)