Grading Jonah Keri’s Year-End Blue Jays Grades

The time for reflection on the just-ended Blue Jays season has come a little earlier than anybody would have hoped, but come it has, and that can only mean one thing: off-season content! And specifically, pre-bullshit season off-season content!

There’s a pretty good chance that this winter is going to be a fascinating one for the Blue Jays, with rumours and transactions and intrigue likely to be flying our way from basically the end of World Series in early November, through the GM meetings, the Winter Meetings, all the way until mid-January when the club avoids arbitration with Josh Donaldson and announces that they’ve signed him to a giant multi-year deal. In the meantime, though, while other teams ride that playoff high (y’know, provided that John Farrell isn’t their manager), we’re wrapping ourselves in all kinds of familiar off-season content.

I’ve already chipped in myself, with my A to Z recapping of the 2017 Blue Jays season for the Athletic. Over at Sportsnet, Jonah Keri has provided letter grades for the Blue Jays’ key players. And at BP Toronto, Josh Howsam has put a clever spin on his attempt at this sort of exercise, providing a quote from The Wire for each Blue Jays pitcher, hitter, and prospect.

It’s from Josh’s and Jonah’s pieces that today I’m going to pivot. Jonah, as you’d entirely expect, has done a great job handing out his grades. And Josh’s piece, and its hook, was absolutely inspired. With virtually no Blue Jays news on the horizon for the next few weeks, I love the idea of putting a fresh twist on the limited kinds of pieces we can do, and so I’ve decided it might be fun to go a bit meta — which, since you’ve almost certainly have already read the title of this piece, I guess you already know. So without further preambling, let’s just do this already! Here are my grades of Jonah’s grades for the 2017 Blue Jays!

Russell Martin: Jonah’s Grade: C

This grade is pretty good, because Martin missed a lot of time this season, so it’s a little hard to justify bumping it up any. But I wonder if his sweet, sweet intangibles should maybe give him a little extra juice, and also if maybe we’d look on his season a little more kindly if not for the fact that his 1.8 fWAR hadn’t essentially been entirely undone by the -0.6 WAR put up by each of Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Luke Maile, and Miguel Montero. I can’t say it shouldn’t be a C, though. Martin doesn’t necessarily need to be better, but he sure needs to be healthier — or have a better understudy.

Justin Smoak: Jonah’s Grade: A+

I mean, yeah. Yeah. Sure. True. Smoak had an unbelievable campaign, and I think it’s right to recognize that — and the fact that he provided so much more to the 2017 Jays than could possibly have been expected or hoped. He was magnificent, and you’d be hard pressed to find a bigger, more significant transformation in any player’s stats this season than Smoak’s strikeout rate dropping by almost 13 percentage points, from 32.8% in 2016 to 20.1 this year. It’s just… y’know… over his last 215 plate appearances of the season, Smoak’s wRC+ was just 81. Ross Atkins told reporters this week that it was largely due to injury, and that’s fine. And it’s especially good that his contact and strikeout rates held basically steady over that stretch — which I tend to believe means that the problem really was physical, not Smoak reverting to his old ways. But it’s a little hard for me to sign off on an A+ for a guy who slashed .202/.302/.383.

Devon Travis and Troy Tulowitzki: Jonah’s Grade: F

Jonah didn’t combine these two, but it seems about right to do so, because the stories of their seasons were so similar. Except… Travis was pretty spectacular in May, which felt especially positive because he’d missed so much of spring training that we were ready to give him a mulligan on April. That’s pretty flimsy reasoning to bump a grade from an F to, say, a D-, but I could have maybe accepted that argument — or at least heard it. Then again, Travis played only 50 games, and because of the dogshit April ended the season with just an 89 wRC+, so… yeah. Both of these guys… woof.

Josh Donaldson: Jonah’s Grade: B

I mean, it really comes down to how much you weigh expectations here, I think. As I’ve noted a few times in various writings over the last few weeks, Donaldson had a 110 wRC+ on July 22nd. That he finished a shade below 150 and ended up being worth five wins, despite a month-long mid-season slump and six weeks on the DL, is pretty damned remarkable. And if his name was, say, Troy Tulowitzki, or… pretty much anybody but Josh Donalson, it would have been a king hell of a season — a season that surely would have netted a grade higher than a B, I’d think. But I get it. Especially since, if I’m dinging Smoak for his poor second half, I probably have to do the same for Donaldson’s first.

Ezequiel Carrera: Jonah’s Grade: C-

I mean, yeah, Carrera is, like, the definition of a second division player. Or… third division, maybe? It would be a different story if he could actually pass for a competent centrefielder — or, if we’re being honest, a leftfielder — but still, he’s definitely a big leaguer and he had a tidy year at plate. Nearly a win above replacement in 325 plate appearances isn’t great, but you could certainly do worse. And while, if I were the Blue Jays, I’d be doing everything in my power to make him not part of my plans in 2018 — he’d be such a better fit on a team that was intentionally trying to be bad while attempting to at least look vaguely competent at the big league level — I think I have to give him a little more love here than a C-. He was second on the Blue Jays in on-base percentage, and while I know that’s damning with faint praise, I’d probably bump him up a half a grade or more. Weird, I know.

Teoscar Hernández: Jonah’s Grade: B+

Sure, he came in and was great in September, but it was just one month, and an especially useless month at that. I don’t want to take anything away from Teoscar, except… I guess I do. This is a little high for me.

Steve Pearce: Jonah’s Grade: D-

Fair enough. Fair enough. But I might not be quite so harsh on Pearce, who was thrust into a less-than-ideal situation (read: playing anywhere but first base or DH), due to the fact that Justin Smoak, it turned out, didn’t suck. Also: Pearce went 0-for-April, then struggled at the end of the season with a back injury, but in between — a stretch that I will grant requires me to use the most pathetically generous arbitrary endpoints imaginable — he was really pretty good! From May 11th to August 24th, he slashed .311/.384/.547, good for a wRC+ of 146. Those numbers come down if you include what he did through the end of the season (114 wRC+), or the season as a whole (99 wRC+), but I dunno. For a while he was pretty good!

Kevin Pillar: Jonah’s Grade: C+

“Kevin Pillar has been Kevin Pillar.” That was Ross Atkins’ late-season assessment of the outfielder, and… yeah, pretty much. The defensive metrics didn’t like him as much this year, and the bat yet again failed to take the step forward that so many Jays fans still have pipe dreams about it doing, but… yeah. Can you argue he deserves some form of a B? A D? I don’t think so. And the way that his glove was so crucial in an outfield where he was so often flanked by bad outfielders makes me feel OK with the +. This is about right.

Bench: Jonah’s Grade: D

The bench deserves an F. Let’s be fuckin’ serious here.

Marcus Stroman: Jonah’s Grade: A-

What would Stroman have to do to get rid of that little minus sign. Miss a few more bats? Yeah, probably. Fully deserved grade for an outstanding season.

Aaron Sanchez: Jonah’s Grade: F

Maybe this is me being inconsistent with what I’ve said above about some of the Jays’ injured players, but I might have leaned hard towards giving Sanchez an incomplete. Even when he was on the mound for the Jays this season, it wasn’t really him.

J.A. Happ: Jonah’s Grade: B

If it feels like, by this point in this exercise, I’m mailing it in with these shorter explanations, that’s probably true, but I dunno… what the hell other grade would you give for another very-good-but-maybe-not-quite-great season from Happ? Especially one in which he only made 25 starts. Perhaps an A? I could buy that even — hence my not giving Jonah one here — because Happ somewhat quietly had a really fucking good season for the Jays. Among AL pitchers with at least 140 innings in 2017, his ERA ranked 11th, his FIP ranked 9th, and his xFIP ranked 12th. And he posted the best strikeout and walk rates of his Blue Jays career. Pretty not bad!

Marco Estrada: Jonah’s Grade: C-

I could argue for higher I suppose — maybe? — but Estrada didn’t really look himself all season, and especially didn’t for that ugly stretch during the middle. He started well, coming into the end of May with a 3.18 ERA and a 3.38 FIP, and having struck out 78 batters in 68.2 innings. But then that bump in the road happened. For a nine start stretch from June 1st to July 21st, his ERA was 9.52. It was fugly. And though he turned his season around after that, at least in terms of results, it wasn’t exactly a reversion to form. True, from July 26th to September 22 he pitched to a 3.51 ERA, but his FIP for that spell was 4.76, his xFIP 5.64, he struck out just 56 in 74.1 innings, and allowed 12 home runs in 12 starts. Yeah, actually a C- seems about right.

Joe Biagini: Jonah’s Grade: C-

Like Pearce, the Jays didn’t really do Biagini any favours, bouncing him around from bullpen to the rotation to the bullpen to Buffalo and back again to the rotation, and I don’t think he’s a “C- player” — I think he can be much more helpful to the Jays going forward than he was — but yeah… he was pretty bad.

Roberto Osuna: Jonah’s Grade: B-

Osuna had an incredible year by just about anybody’s standard but his own. That’s a weird thing to say about a reliever pegged at 1.5 WAR by Baseball Reference and a ridiculous 2.9 wins by FanGraphs, and who bested his own single-season strikeout mark despite throwing ten fewer innings than the year in which he set it (he struck out 82 in 74 innings last year, 83 in 64 this season). And who very publicly and maturely dealt with anxiety issues in the middle of the season. But man, those blown saves. A closer isn’t going to save every game, and there’s a lot of bad luck and sequencing involved in a lot of innings that go sideways — especially for a pitcher as great as Osuna. But man. Those blown saves.

Rest of the Bullpen: Jonah’s Grade: B

Yeah. Sure. That big group of relievers who I can never quite keep straight was pretty good. And I wouldn’t have singled any of them out either!

… and finally

José Bautista: Jonah’s Grade: A+

Yes, yes, this is sentimental, because hoo boy, Bautista was hot trash all season for the Jays. But like Josh says, channeling D’Angelo Barksdale in his piece with the Wire quotes, “the king stay the king.” No Jays fan will ever waste much time remembering how bad Bautista was in his final year with the club. But they’ll sure as hell remember José fucking Bautista.