Over/Under: Previewing the Blue Jays Infielders using ZiPS projections
2 years ago
The Blue Jays are expected to be good this season, really good. To preview the season I am going to go through each player’s ZiPS projection from FanGraphs, to give an idea just how good every player is expected to be this season. Then given what we have seen in the past from these players and what they have done in Spring Training I am going to guess whether I think the players will over or underperform those projections. Today will start with the infield.
Of the projection systems at FanGraphs, ZiPS is the most optimistic in terms of playing time for Kirk and thus has the highest WAR projection. I think everyone would be thrilled if Kirk was a 2-win catcher this season, however I think he could even surpass that. Kirk can hit and he will be in the MLB this season because of his bat. He is going to hit for average, he sprays the ball around the field. He showed a good eye in the minors and I expect him to walk more than the 4.0% he did in 2020. I am going to take the over on these projections.
Jansen had a weird 2020 season. His average dropped below .200, he lost 3 mph of exit velocity and didn’t pull the ball as much as he did in 2018 and 2019. His swing rates were down, his contact rate down and his swinging strike rate increased. Though his strikeout rate barely increased and he significantly improved his walk rate. Putting that all together Jansen’s wRC+ improved from 68 to 86. His defence wasn’t as strong in 2019 particularly his pitch framing but I expect that to bounce back this season. Better defence provides him a solid floor but I am going to take the under on his projection. He hasn’t shown he can be a league average hitter, outside of 2018, and if he struggles out of the gate, he could start to lose playing time to Kirk. Going with the under.
It’s hard to say what the Blue Jays will do with McGuire. They are not the type of team to just waive an asset like this. I think he makes the team and the team carries three catchers as they try to work out a trade for McGuire. That would allow them to give Kirk some DH at bats without the risk of losing the DH should the catcher get injured. I’ll take the under on the projections, simply because I don’t think McGuire plays anywhere near 100 games for the club.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Vlad is having a fantastic Spring, and while Spring stats are mostly meaningless a couple stand out for Guerrero Jr. The first is his average launch angle which per Baseball Savant is 10° on 24 batted balls. That is well above his 2020 season average of 4.6°. If Vlad is able to elevate the ball consistently he will easily hit 30 home runs, with 40 not out of the question, provided he can stay on the field. He got himself in shape this off-season and is already seeing the benefits of that. As Andrew Simon tweeted on Sunday Vlad’s sprint speed beating out a ground ball was 28.8 ft/s. That is above the league average of 27 ft/s, and well above his 2020 average of 25.3 ft/s. I’m taking the over, I think Vlad is going to have a monster season.
Rowdy’s breakout last season was fueled by an increase in contact on pitches outside of the strike zone. That reduced his swinging strike rate and his strikeout rate. That’s a difficult way to succeed over a full season as pitchers will try to make him chase more and more knowing he swings at those pitches off the plate. His power is there, he’s hit four balls harder than 110 mph this Spring, per Baseball Savant. The concern is in the strikeout rate, if he doesn’t keep the gains he made in 2020, and reverts back to the 28% strikeout rate hitter he was in 2019 then he’s basically a power bat off the bench. I believe in the changes he made in 2020 and am going to take the over on his projections.
Semien’s high WAR projection comes from his durability and a strong defensive projection. Semien will be sliding over to second base this season, but as Mike Petriello explains, he should be a good fit there. When the Blue Jays signed Semien I noted how in 2020 he dealt with an oblique injury and he hit more fly balls, possibly in an attempt to hit for more power. So far in Spring he looks healthy, no reports saying he isn’t. His flyball rate on 25 batted balls is 40% which is right in line with where he was in 2018 and 2019. The optimist in me wants to say over but he’s only had one season in his career better than these projections, so I am going to take the under.
Bichette is a tricky player to predict in something like this. His talent is obvious, he’s had 134 wRC+ in the big leagues so far. The issue is his health, he’s dealt with injuries in each of the last two seasons, only playing in 75 games. Bo doesn’t walk nearly enough but he hits line drives all over the field giving him a high but deserved BABIP. Based off of Spring Training it looks like he is going to start the season hitting third, which will give him ample opportunities to drive in runs. For those who may have been worried about Bo’s slow Spring, his two home runs against the Yankees yesterday should put that to rest. I’ll take the over on his triple slash but under on the WAR because of the health concern.
This season will be one of change for Biggio. He will be playing a new position and have a new spot in the batting order. For most of his career Biggio has hit either first or second. This season it looks like Charlie Montoyo will hit George Springer leadoff followed by Semien and Bichette, pushing Biggio down towards the bottom of the order. Biggio’s offensive game shouldn’t be affected by this, he will still take his walks and get on base. I think his inability to hit fastballs is overblown and he’s shown he can be an effective hitter regardless of his ability to hit hard fastballs. He is not a player who hits the ball hard like Vlad or Bo, but it’s encouraging to see him hit two balls this Spring over 102 mph, something he only did six times last season. Biggio has yet to put up numbers this low in his career so I’ll take the over here.
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