The first half of this entry, down at #32, provided an in-depth review of the 2002 seasons of Toronto's infield positions, using Baseball Prospectus-inspired statistics to measure the Jays' performance in the context of all other regulars at their position. In this concluding part, I take a look at the outfielders and DH. Explanations of the various statistical methods and terms are in Part 1. For various reasons, including the fact that most of the 2002 pitching staff will be parking their Camaros elsewhere than at Skydome next year, I won't be looking at the pitchers, other than to say that Roy Halladay rocks.
I'll also repeat my caveat from Part 1, which is that I'm about as mathematically adept as the chair you're sitting in. So I'd be happy to hear from you about errors in the calculations, or about any agreement, disagreement, movie deals or libel claims you might have related to these analyses. Allons-y:
Shannon Stewart (636 PA)
Rank: 10/26 (Minimum 450 PAs)
Between: Adam Dunn and Kevin Millar
Jose Cruz Jr. (514 PA)
Between: Moises Alou and Marty Cordova
First of all, I want to show you the rankings for left field RARP, from Stewart on up:
Shannon Stewart 29.1
Adam Dunn 32.8
Garrett Anderson 38.1
Luis Gonzalez 39.3
Pat Burrell 49.5
Albert Pujols 55.4
Chipper Jones 62.0
Manny Ramirez 73.0
Brian Giles 73.9
Barry Bonds 140.8
I just wanted to graphically demonstrate how Barry Bonds is performing in a different plane than the rest of major-league baseball. Bonds is as far ahead of Brian Giles in RARP as Giles is ahead of Todd Hollandsworth. We are privileged to watch this man play at the peak of his powers.
Stewart is in pretty good company here, on either side of Dunn and Millar (though Dunn will be in Giles territory very, very soon), which is to say that he’s a perfectly fine left fielder with the bat. He doesn’t run much anymore, with his weak hamstrings and Skydome’s concrete floor, but it’s not like Ricciardi’s teams use their speed for much more than going first to third on a single. Stewart has settled into a pretty predictable .300 BA, .360ish OBP every year, with some power blips now and then. He wasn’t terrible defensively in 2002: his chronically weak arm contributed to only three assists, but his FP and RF were in the top half of regular left fielders, while his zone rating was at the median. Stewart is right at the edge of the upper third of major-league left fielders.
That type of production might not justify the multi-year, $6 million or so per annum deal he’s surely going to seek, though. Stewart signed a one-year contact last January to avoid arbitration, but the same process rears its head this off-season, with free agency looming just beyond. Toronto has some very promising outfield talent in the minors, and Stewart would probably want to see what the market looks like, especially someplace where the outfield grass is real. Interestingly, however, BP suggested last year that Stewart may be a late bloomer like Bernie Williams, who didn’t really go off until his late 20s, which he's now approaching. Further, for this type of offence, Stewart may in fact be the perfect table-setter, and reliable .360 leadoff guys with wheels aren't terribly plentiful. Accordingly, I'd be more surprised by a mid-season trade than by a four-year contract announcement between now and July. Greater minds than mine will decide, but in the meantime, the Blue Jays will be happy enough to put him at leadoff and let him score 100 runs for the foreseeable.
The BP folks listed Jose Cruz Jr. as a left fielder, and indeed he played most of his games there, though he also spent considerable time at the other two outfield positions, not to mention in the trainer’s room. It was a train wreck of a season for Cruz, coming off a 30/30 year which wasn’t the breakthrough everyone said it was (as his appalling secondary numbers in 2001 – a .326 OBP, a 45/138 BB/K ratio – revealed). The sad part is that he once showed pretty decent plate discipline, back before Cito Gaston became the team's Hacking Coach for a while. Cruz evidently tried to re-master the art of plate discipline in 2002, as his BB/K ratio “rebounded” to 51/106, but that and a .751 OPS will get you a fourth-outfielder job on a good ballclub. His basic 2002 numbers (.245, 18, 70) look even worse when you consider that 10 of those HRs and 36 of those RBIs came against Tampa Bay and Baltimore.
On the plus side, Jose’s defence was pretty terrific, as he finished at or near the top of the left-field rankings in FP, RF and ZR (he fared less well at his new position in right). Cruz has always suffered from high expectations in this city, and considering he learned nothing about pitch selection in Seattle’s system, those expectations were bound to do him in. He seems a mortal lock to be the odd man out in the outfield by next summer, to be followed out of town by the dreaded twin tags “disappointment” and “underachiever.” At this point, the relentlessness of the trade rumours has likely extinguished any chance he could develop further in Toronto; everyone would be better off if he started over someplace else.
Assessment: The Revolving Skydome Outfield of 2002 probably won’t return unless there's an injury or someone like Jayson Werth or, even less likely, Gabe Gross blows everyone’s doors off in spring training. 2003’s starting outfield should see Stewart in left, Wells in centre and Cruz in right, up until a trade for pitching (anywhere from March to July 31) sends one of them (likely Cruz) packing and opens a spot for one of the prospects. Stewart has become quite the rock of consistency: the team should rely on a .300 BA, a .360, OBP, a dozen homers, a hundred runs scored, 20 games missed with nagging injuries, and one of the game’s few reliable leadoff men. The better Cruz plays next spring and summer, the better return he should bring and the happier he’ll likely be.
Vernon Wells (634 PAs)
17/26 (minimum 425 PAs)
Between: Dave Roberts and Preston Wilson
Is that ranking and those neighbours surprising? They shouldn’t be, really: Vernon Wells is not (yet) one of the better centrefielders in baseball, but his fluky RBI total provided the appearance of stardom. For a truer sense of how far Wells has to go, check out his 27/85 BB/K ratio and his stunningly poor .305 OBP. Think about that: he walked about once every 24 plate appearances. Yeesh. This is a young man who does not yet know the strike zone, and his minor-league numbers made clear that he didn’t know it there either. His massive mid-season slump showed that opposing pitchers were learning this too, and they’ll be coming back with more of the same next season. Wells has a lot of work to do to become a true offensive force.
All that said – and I like to get the negatives out of the way early – Vernon Wells is going to be Andre Dawson very shortly. He will own centre field; his range factor was pretty good and will improve as he learns to read the ballparks, the hitters and his own pitching staff. His power is no illusion: 34 doubles and 23 HRs would be encouraging from even a corner outfielder in his first full season; from a talented centerfielder, they’re intoxicating. Wells is strong, fast, and built like the football player his father was. I fully expect 30-HR seasons as a matter of course within the next few years. This is a young, raw talent, and every indication is that he has the tool and the desire to improve himself year over year.
Assessment: There’s little question that teaching Vernon Wells plate discipline is going to be the number-one task of the coaching staff next season. The thing is, it’s notoriously difficult to learn, maybe the toughest ability in the game, and picking it up at the major-league level represents a tremendous challenge. Some guys get it, some guys don’t. If Wells doesn’t make any strike-zone progress, pitchers will take advantage, and he’ll probably end up with Devon White’s career; nothing terribly wrong with that. If he does become a .360 OBP guy, though .... well, Dawson had a borderline HOF career with a lifetime .323 OBP and 1-3 BB/K ratio.
Raul Mondesi (334 PA as Blue Jay, 633 total)
EQA/EQR/RARP: .262/77.8/ 9.1
Ranking: 22/27 (Minimum 425 PA)
Between: Bubba Trammell and Rob Mackoviak
Yup, Bubba Trammell would have been a better investment last year than Raul Mondesi, and that’s not even counting the salary savings. The $12 million Buffalo was just nine runs better than a league-average right fielder. Do you really want to know that Shawn Green was 58.6 runs better, and posted an EqA/EqR of .322/124.2? I didn’t think so. The Blue Jays front office probably sent flowers and chocolates to whichever member of the Yankees ground crew left the golf cart out in Juan Rivera’s path that fateful day. Rivera’s injury, of course, triggered the subsequent phone call from George Steinbrenner to Paul Godfrey that sent Mondesi and all but $6 million of his contract to New York, and even netted a decent situational-lefty prospect in Scott Wiggins as well. Nothing made the Jays braintrust happier in 2002 than to see Raul’s substantial tuchus flying off to Gotham. Between Mondesi’s reported poor influence on Felipe Lopez, his snarly challenge to Carlos Tosca’s authority, and the undeniable fact that he just wasn’t very good anymore, well, George’s acquisition of Mondesi was a better gift than any commissioner-mandated transfer payment. Adios, big fella.
Right field was manned by a motley cast of characters following Mondesi’s liberation. DeWayne Wise started 21 games there, posting a remarkable .185 EqA and performing 7.5 runs worse than a paper-bag right fielder. Sidebar: did you ever have one of those players who performed tremendously every time you saw him, but sucked windpipe the rest of the time? That was DeWayne Wise for me in 2002. I think I must have witnessed all his extra-base hits and laser-throw assists from the outfield. I like him way more than I should. I once had a girlfriend who thought Jimmy Key was terrible because he’d lose every time she watched him pitch. I suggested she not watch any of his starts, one of the many, many reasons it didn’t work out between us. End of sidebar.
Vernon Wells played 13 games in RF in 2002 and handled himself well, though obviously his future is in centre. Dave Berg put in his requisite ten games at the position when the team was short on outfielders for a while. But the most interesting debut was from former catching prospect Jayson Werth, who put up a respectable .258 EqA in his 15 big-league games. Werth posted a .257/.354/.445 line in 127 games at Syracuse, with a 67/125 BB/K ratio and 24 steals in 31 attempts, showing a pretty good eye, surprising speed for an ex-catcher, and decent power with 18 HRs. BP says he produced a .296 EqA at Syracuse and a ML_EqA of .256. That is not at all bad, but it’s premature to write his name into the right-field slot for 162 games at the Dome next year. He’s still not making a lot of contact, and he may need to learn to be more aggressive within the strike zone, as opposed to letting pitches go by that he could be driving. There seems little doubt Werth is capable of that adjustment, and that right field should be his by next September
Assessment: Like Vernon Wells, Werth is a former first-round draft pick with excellent athletic bloodlines and an evidently good head on his shoulders, so it seems likely that he’ll continue to develop his abilities. But it’s probably better for all concerned that he do so in the International League, and then return to Toronto no earlier than the All-Star Break. The in-season promotion worked wonders for Josh Phelps and Orlando Hudson, so it seems sensible to treat Werth the same way. By September 2003, Wells and Werth should become a matched set in the outfield.
Josh Phelps (287 PA)
7/12 (Minimum 225 PA, AL-only)
Between: Brad Fullmer & David Ortiz
Not a bad little debut, huh? His seventh-place ranking is misleading, since his limited playing time adversely affected his RARP. Only Edgar Martinez and Jeremy Freakin' Giambi (who played part of the year in the NL) had a higher EqA than Phelps’ .311. Stretched over a full season, that sort of average is going to produce a whole lot of runs and a great deal of value. So the question, of course, is whether we’ll see this production from Phelps in 2003.
Phelps had gained a reputation as he moved up through the minors as a hitter who needed about a full season at every new level to adjust to the challenges pitchers provided. But in his first year at Syracuse, his bat was dealing out thunder: in 257 ABs, Phelps posted a remarkable .292/.380/.658 line; his 24 HRs ranked among the end-of-season IL leaders even though he was promoted to the bigs mid-year. The man can hit the ball, and he can hit it far. So, what are the caveats? Start with his 32/82 BB/K ratio. Now, 32 walks in 257 at-bats isn’t at all bad, and again, the encouragement from his coaching staff to improve his knowledge of the strike zone will be relentless. But 83 strikeouts in 257 ABs is a whole lotta whiffin’, even for a power hitter. Team strikeout records may be in jeopardy next year, but the power he should deliver will make the K's very much worthwhile. The team appears intent on leaving him at DH for the moment, which is probably the right way for him to continue to learn his craft.
Assessment: Phelps provides a legitimate right-handed threat in the lineup behind Carlos Delgado, which can only help Delgado see better pitches. His future is probably at first base once Carlos’ contract is up, but the Blue Jays will be happy to keep him at DH for the time being. It’s too early to forecast what kind of hitter he’ll grow into, but the Blue Jays couldn’t have asked for a better debut. Big, big upside here.
Wrap-up: If 2002 is a harbinger of things to come, then the Jays’ 3-4-5 combo of Hinske, Delgado and Phelps will be lethal for the next couple of years. Should Orlando Hudson continue to develop, then he and Shannon Stewart can provide excellent table-setters for the big guns. Vernon Wells is probably best suited for the 6-hole right now, but if that on-base percentage increases, then he has all the markings of a classic #3 guy. The jury is still out on Chris Woodward, and it seems likely that both Jayson Werth and Kevin Cash will need some more time in the minors, so Jose Cruz Jr. and Ken Huckaby will probably man right field and catcher until the youngsters are ready or a trade is made. Overall, two-thirds of a dangerous lineup should face opposing pitchers on Opening Day 2003, providing more excitement and optimism than has been seen in Toronto for quite some time.