Back in the spring of 2006, I prevailed upon Liam, my bright and handsome son and heir, to contribute a Season Preview. His initial subject was the 2006 Detroit Tigers, who had gone 71-91 the year before. They promptly improved by 25 games and went to the World Series. Where they lost.
One year later, Liam examined the Colorado Rockies, who had gone 76-86 in 2006, finishing fourth. They improved by 14 games, and went to the World Series. Where they lost.
In 2008, Liam fixed his pre-season scrutiny on a good team, the Philadelphia Phillies. In 2007, the Phillies had won 89 games and lost the first round of the playoffs. They improved by just three games in 2008, but not only did they go the World Series - they won the damn thing.
As you can imagine, I've been trying to get Liam to do a Blue Jays preview ever since. And at last, at long last... he's bringing the mojo home.
Take it away, Liam. Make us proud...
Blue Jays preview: A Guesswork Orange
There are many methods of predicting a the results of a baseball season. Either by advanced numerical analysis, diligent observation, or just plain old throw-a-snowball-off-a-bridge-and-see-which-car-it-hits guesswork. And really, it's all the same thing, because baseball is wonderfully unpredictable. It is a game that expects you to embrace the unexpected, not just expect it.
Still, while no method is perfectly accurate, most can give us a reasonable idea of what to expect. Like Albert Pujols will be good this year and the Pittsburgh Pirates will not. Then there's the method I've thrown together here, which I must warn you will produce by far the least accurate predictions you're likely to read. Small disclaimer aside, let's begin!
Baseball is a game full of common specific outcomes. And so, I've decided to break down each position for the 2011 Toronto Blue Jays using this idea, identifying four possible outcomes for each of these positions. These outcomes will be: Home Run, Hit, Strikeout, and Hit By Pitch. (Yes, I'm aware that walks are far more common than both home runs and hit by pitches, but that doesn't suit my comedic purposes as well.) Let's start with catcher:
Catcher: J.P Arencibia
K: Goes through a terrible 3-45 streak to start the season and is sent to Las Vegas by April 26th. Jose Molina then pulls a hamstring running out an infield single, and Blue Jay fans are given an entire season of Ryan Budde, starting catcher.
H: A season of ups and downs. Arencibia hovers around .230-.245 all season, but manages 15 home runs and receives ever improving reviews for his ability handling pitchers.
HR: Arencibia adjusts to MLB pitching almost instantly, batting .290, belting 33 home runs and capturing the American League Rookie of the Year award. And he draws 60 walks!
HBP: Arencibia hits 20 home runs by June and makes the all-star team, but suddenly retires during the break so he can make millions starring on FOX's "The Bachelor: Bases Loaded Edition"
1B: Adam Lind
K: His struggles from last year continue, except this time the home run power completely disappears. Manager John Farrell makes a late inning habit of replacing him at first-base with Mike McCoy.
H: Settles somewhere around .260-.275 with 20 home runs, 80 RBI. Makes a fair number of errors at first base but is for the most part average, although looks damn awkward doing it.
HR: Rediscovers his 2009 swing, giving the Blue Jays a dynamite 3-4 punch in the lineup that combine for 250 RBIs. Lind also proves more than capable at first base, showing his quick hands are as useful with a first-baseman's glove as with a bat.
HBP: On June 10th, Lind becomes the first ever MLB player to hit five home runs and make 5 errors in the same game. The Blue Jays win 5-4.
2B: Aaron Hill
K: Battles Disabled List stints all through the first four months of the season, and is restricted to DH duty once back in the lineup for good. Bops out ten home runs, but loses ten points off his 2010 batting average.
H: Recovers his on-base-percentage ability somewhat, though the home run total is cut in half. Defensively he becomes steadier, and receives modest consideration for the gold glove.
HR: The 2009 power returns, along with a sudden base stealing hunger that leaves him just a steal short of becoming the third 30-30 Blue Jay.
HBP: Steps into a self-built time machine, looking to snatch back his 2007 glove and his 2009 bat. Emerges instead as Todd Zeile.
3B: Edwin Encarnacion
K: Goes through one of those streaks where he hits .103, for the entire season. An early season injury to Jose Bautista also forces him back to third base, and we've all seen that one before.
H: Still can't bring the batting average anywhere close to .270, but his sheer power gives him another 20 home run season and a career high in RBIs. The occasional injury gives him a DL stint or two, seemingly every time he looks about ready to explode on the American League.
HR: A slight tweak of his batting stance unlocks the consistent swing he'd been seeking his entire career, as the team HR record is nearly broken for the second year in a row. Makes his first all-star game, wins his first silver slugger, and doesn't make a single E5 all season.
HBP: Hits a home run into one of the Dome hotel rooms, as every sports-caster in North America says on the highlight reel: "That's..... room service!"
SS: Yunel Escobar
K: It becomes a rarity to see him hit the ball out of the infield, resulting in a horrifying .240 slugging percentage. Escobar's over-flashiness also piles up errors and infuriates fans, who clamour for another season where John McDonald replaces the starting shortstop.
H: Never really captures his power stroke, but posts a batting average and a defensive performance amongst the modest ranks of steadiness.
HR: After a full spring training with a team that believes in him, Yunel explodes on the league with 18 home runs, 100 runs scored, and countless bunt singles. Defensively, it's like that play where he shovelled it behind the back with his glove and got the out. Every single time.
HBP: Changes his name to Lenny, after countless announcers teeter-totter on the "You-nel" or "Jew-nel" pronunciation.
LF: Travis Snider
K: Healthy from April to September, Snider becomes the first Blue Jay to strike out over two hundred times in a season. This not translate into power or average for young Travis, as fans seriously wonder if his potential is simply an illusion.
H: The batting line remains similar to 2010, but the Lunchbox Hero develops a useful knack of driving in runs. His 95 RBI is second on the team, despite when an attempt by the team to make him a right-fielder for a month is dramatically unsuccessful.
RBI: American League pitchers take long looks at themselves in the mirror before facing the Blue Jays, because they can't discover a pitch he can't hit rocket hard. Is barely short of 30 home runs, choosing instead to lead the team in doubles, slugging percentage and batting average. His first all-star game is also memorable, with a late inning home run off an awestruck Heath Bell.
HBP: Begins writing a food blog that becomes wildly popular, prompting the Blue Jays to create a "Can You Eat More Than Travis Snider?" contest. There were no winners.
CF: Rajai Davis
K: Concerns about his ability to get on base prove much warranted, as the treacherous American League East eats him alive. Is picked off once by every left-handed starter the Blue Jays face.
H: He certainly doesn't get many hits bouncing grounders off the Dome turf, but his base stealing ability makes him a decent leadoff hitter or a terrifying number nine hitter all season.
HR: The power surge shown in spring training is no Florida fantasy, as Davis knocks out fourteen home runs and swipes over four times as many bags. His ability in centrefield is also a healthy surprise, evidenced by several highlight reel catches throughout the summer.
HBP: Rajai steals his 61st base on September 14th, suddenly proclaiming in a post-game interview that "I am the greatest!" The internet goes instantly abuzz with witty reactions before Davis can even finish his sentence with: "...in team history."
RF: Jose Bautista
K: Pitchers adjust, and suddenly Bautista leads the league in strikeouts through the entire season. Chaotic position shifts result in long offensive dry spells, and Red Sox fans and Yankees fans enjoy another case of pumpkin pie.
H: The prodigious power that was witnessed in 2010 only appears in flashes, but is still enough to lead the team. Bautista contributes in other ways as well, such as mentoring a called up Brett Lawrie.
HR: It turns out his hernia last season did affect his swing. He breaks the American League Home Run record, leads the AL in walks, wins the MVP, and homers off a shocked AJ Burnett in the ALCS, staring him down as the Blue Jays win Game Five.
HBP: Shockingly, announces he will bat left handed for the upcoming season, just to confuse all those right-handed pitchers who would've pitched outside on him. His batting line is: .121/.743/.121.
DH: Juan Rivera
K: Is discovered to have the durability of an offshore oil rig, as fans all season dread the inevitable moment a fly ball is hit to right field. Injuries put him away for good in July, beginning the Corey Patterson Experience, 2011 Tour.
H: Is discovered to have the durability of an offshore oil rig, but the bat is solid enough to stay in the everyday lineup until Brett Lawrie or Eric Thames arrive. Leads the team in outfield assists, surprisingly.
HR: Is discovered to have slightly better durability than an offshore oil rig, but an April and May where he blasts 20 home runs leaves a much more lasting impression. Also becomes a much needed veteran presence in the clubhouse, especially during the team's surprising late season pennant run.
HBP: Follows many of his teammates lead and gets a twitter account. His first post complains about how one writer keeps remarking how he has the durability of an offshore oil rig.
SP: Ricky Romero
K: Battles the command of his curveball almost every start, resulting in over 100 walks and not many more strikeouts. Is shut down for the year after loss number 16, well after snide fans begin the Tulowitzki comparisons again.
H: Doesn't really take a step forward or backwards, providing an almost identical season as 2010 except with a couple fewer victories. Leads the team in innings, with less wild pitches, more balks.
HR: Has 12 wins by the all-star break and as a result, doesn't get those three days off. Cuts his walk rate below 3.0, increases his strikeout rate over 8.0, and loses not a single game to the Yankees or the Red Sox all year.
HBP: Hits a sure-double off the wall June 18th in Cincinnati, but is thrown out at first after he stands in batters box watching the ball sail miraculously in the air, forgetting to run out of the batters box.
SP: Brandon Morrow
K: His supposedly short DL stint becomes a months-long affair, and returns to the mound with the same type of control he showed in April 2010. Has several six walk, six strikeout, six earned run games, until finally being banished to mop-up duty in the bullpen. Kelvim Escobar treatment ensues.
H: Can't deliver the monster season many fans expect, but improves on his win total and ERA from 2010. Essentially posts an average A.J. Burnett season, for millions less dollars and headaches.
HR: Toronto Blue Jay fans witness one of the rarest treats in baseball; watching a player with exceptional attitude and talent put it all together. Morrow leads the AL in strikeouts by over 30, wins 17 games, and beats Seattle twice, just to rub it in.
HBP: Takes a no hitter into the ninth with two out against Tampa Bay, with Evan Longoria batting. Realizing he's been here before, Morrow intentionally walks Longoria so he can strikeout Dan Johnson again.
SP: Brett Cecil
K: The league makes an adjustment to young goggled Cecil, batting over .300 and knocking out 30 home runs off the lefty. Is sent to Las Vegas twice to figure things out, a remedy consistent with curing the disease by killing the patient.
H: Well he doesn't lead the pitching staff in wins again, but continues to improve in allowing fewer hits and walks. Becomes the second left-handed Blue Jays starter to be locked up contractually long term.
HR: Becomes Jimmy Key. Stingy with walks, hits, baserunners in general. Fond of wins, big games against the Yankees, SO/BB ratios over 3.
HBP: Inspires a legion of goggles wearing fans, calling themselves the "Cecil B. Demilles."
SP: Jesse Litsch
K: Is just too hittable to succeed in the American Super-League East and is banished to Las Vegas in May, returning just once for a disastrous spot start. The Major Leagues never see the dopey, loveable grin of Litsch again.
H: Streaky. Is at times brilliant, especially against weaker teams, but struggles against more powerful, home run driven offences. Comes up just short of 10 wins, with slightly worse numbers than his rookie season.
HR: Wins his first three starts, as Blue Jays fans are introduced to a trimmer, matured Litsch. An improved change-up gives the American League fits, as Jesse sets career highs in, well, everything.
HBP: Throws nothing but cutters in a complete game start against the Orioles. Sixty-five bats are broken.
Fifth Starter: Kyle Drabek / Jo-Jo Reyes
K: Control problems plague the Son Of Doug, averaging a walk per inning before he is sent down in early May. In his place, Jo-Jo Reyes shows exactly why the Braves were so eager to get rid of him, and Brad Mills winds up getting 22 starts for the 2011 Blue Jays. You decide how that works out.
H: One of Drabek or Reyes become the surprise of the season, holding their own in the rotation for the entire year. Not once do fans cringe or mutter: "Damn rebuilding year" on days they pitch.
HR: Drabek quickly reveals he has unhittable stuff. Fastballs that sneak in on batters hands, curveballs that simultaneously fly high in the sky and dig for gold in the dirt, and a "something" pitch that even he cannot describe. Reyes breaks through as well, baffling hitters with excellent left-handed velocity and improved control, giving the Blue Jays a very, very good problem.
HBP: JoJo Reyes, Kyle Drabek, Zach Stewart, Brad Mills, Marc Rzepczynski and Scott Richmond all fall victim to mysterious opening week injuries, leaving Randy Boone as Toronto's fifth starter all season. Boone wins 16 games and the American League Rookie of the Year Award, naturally.
K: The two big acquisitions, Frank Francisco and Octavio Dotel, combine for 9 appearances and exactly one save. Their constant injuries force Jon Rauch into the closers role at first, then Jason Frasor, then Carlos Villanueva, then Rauch again. The constant shuffle leaves nobody with an ERA under 4.50, as Blue Jay fans who remember 2004 begin to think Kerry Ligtenberg himself is disguising himself as a different reliever each game.
H: A true lights-out closer does not emerge. Instead the bullpen rotates four very good setup men through the role, with mixed success. Resilient Jason Frasor leads the team in saves yet again, though it is Marc Rzepczynski closing out games in September.
HR: One hundred percent healthy on Opening Night, Francisco seizes the closing role and never lets it go. He strikes out over 100 batters, saves 40 games (including the all-star game), and limits hitters to an incredible .198 batting average. The strength at the top allows the other relievers to fall comfortably into their other roles, giving opposing teams only six innings to score against Toronto most nights.
HBP: The team introduces "Matador Mondays", a promotion where every Monday home game a different Toronto relief pitcher (from the bull-pen) playfully takes on a bull. The promotion is stopped after Jon Rauch's turn, when the bull flees the stadium and is never seen again.
Manager: John Farrell
K: Quickly learns that being a pitching coach and a major league manager are two very different jobs. Can't relate with the hitters, loses faith in his pitchers, and juggles the lineup so much that John McDonald is almost the starting catcher one game. Alienates everyone to a point just short of using made up stories about serving in Iraq to motivate the team.
H: Like every manager, displays considerable strengths and considerable weaknesses. Is good with the players, but perhaps not yet assertive enough in his rookie campaign.
HR: Brings that much needed culture, expectation and attitude of winning into the Blue Jays clubhouse. Is able to initiate an aggressive, successful running game, keep his pitchers healthy, and creates an unusual tandem starter concept to give more innings and experience to young call-ups like Zach Stewart. The final missing piece to a Blue Jays division title.
HBP: Surprisingly gets a bobblehead day in mid July. The game is in fact a sell out, but only because of the tens of thousands of teenage girls who mistook the bluebird skipper for heartthrob Pharrell Williams.
K: Despite the high preseason reviews, the Jays minor league system takes a disasterous step backwards. Injuries, suspect coaching, a drug suspension, and just plain old futility sees not a single Blue Jays prospect take a step forward. Adieny Hechevarria is especially bad, with more errors (42) than base hits by July. Rogers also appears determined to sell the team stateside to a FOX subsidiary.
H: Young players will break your heart, and some of the promising ones do. But others keep their considerable big league dreams alive and continue progressing. Late season appearances by Zach Stewart, Hechevarria, Brett Lawrie and Eric Thames give Toronto fans solid hope for the future.
HR: Lightning strikes, as Blue Jay prospects suddenly swarm towards the majors, obliterating minor leagues in their paths. At least eight players younger than 25 make their MLB debuts for Toronto, giving Toronto fans sky-high hope for the future.
HBP: In an effort to further promote their well ranked minor league system, the team hosts an exhibition game at the Dome between the New Hampshire Fisher Cats and the Dunedin Blue Jays. Somehow, Deck McGuire has the game-winning RBI.
So in conclusion, what have we learned?
What do we know?
And that's really the best prediction of all.