In my life, there have been a few constants. One of those, the trade deadline, almost never fails to disappoint, as most teams are so scared to fail that they won’t step up in order to succeed.
So let’s start here. I’ve been on the Roy Halladay watch along with most of my fellow Bleacher Creatures since the day J.P. Ricciardi announced that the quick-working, right-handed horse could be had for the right price.
Let's back it up and see if we can’t take a more objective look at the Jays and see how we got to where we are as far as their results this season.
The other thing that “I know” is that pitching and defense wins championships. So let's look at this as part one of the confusing summer that has thus far been the Toronto Blue Jays.
In each of these articles between now and Friday, July the 31st, we will look at the three facets of the game, examine what Toronto currently has cultivating in the system, and finally make a series of recommendations as to what I think Toronto might do, as well as what I think they should do at the 2009 trade deadline.
Since pitching and defense are paramount to the long-term success of a team, let’s start there. As a matter of fact, let’s talk defense right out of the chute. If there is one thing the 2009 edition of the Blue Jays have done, it is pick baseballs.
The Blue Jays as a unit have committed the fewest errors (32) over the course of 93 games played. They also lead the majors in fielding percentage and putouts and are second in total chances so far this season. Also, the 258 double plays they have turned rank them fourth out of 14 American League teams.
That is the good news; the bad news is what the rest of the numbers tell you. Well, not so much bad; more ho-hum, if you will. The Jays are 46-47 thus far, and although the traditional stats may be deceiving, defensively they look to be only slightly better than that.
BJ First Base
BJ Second Base
BJ Short Stop
BJ Third Base
BJ Left Fielder
BJ Center Field
BJ Right Field
(The Chart represents the play the Blue Jays have gotten defensively at each position other than pitcher vs. the American League average at each position.)
Based on fielding percentage and range factor, the Blue Jays are above average at every defensive position except left and center field.
As for individuals at each position, this table contains their rating and major league ranking among qualified starters in parentheses.
- = Lyle Overbay had the fewest total chances of the five first basemen tied with a .999 fielding percentage.
- = Adam Lind does not have enough outfield starts to actually qualify; those rankings are where his numbers would fit him among qualified outfielders.
- = Vernon Wells is third based on total chances.
- = Alex Rios is tied with Hunter Pence at .995 for first but has five fewer chances in right field.
In the traditional area of fielding percentage that simply accounts for the number of balls touched, divided by the number of plays made, the Jays are a very respectable group.
The Blue Jays average sixth in the major leagues per position in fielding percentage (5.555). If you put Alex, Vernon, and Lyle in the spots they are tied for, it drops to fifth or 4.6666.
Even when you use less traditional stats like Range Factor to determine the Blue Jays' defensive prowess, they come in at eighth in the bigs.
(For those that don’t know or have never heard of it, here is a quick side lesson in range factor. For those of you have never heard of it before, it simply states that the number of outs made by a player is more important than how many balls he handles cleanly. The stat is created by adding putouts to assists and dividing by the number of innings played.)
When using Zone Rating, on the other hand, the Blue Jays look very average.
(Zone Rating is determined by the balls played in a predetermined zone, as well as those plays that are made by going outside the zone. So it in theory measures both the reliability and the range of a player, or to simplify, plays made divided by balls put in play in their zone.)
Here is where there is a slight conflict with the high fielding percentages of the Blue Jays. The Blue Jays' fielding percentage is No. 1 in the bigs. The Zone Rating of the Blue Jays being a number that the Blue Jays are clearly struggling with shows a lack of team speed and quickness, as they are not covering their zones as well as many other starting major leaguers at the same position.
It is clear that former Gold Glove center fielder Vernon Wells has rounded back into form. A player that has been long struggling at the plate looks to be back in the groove in center field. The Blue Jays' staff has developed into a group of ground ball pitchers, as they try to follow in the mold of Roy Halladay, and this will clearly affect the number of outs that Vernon, Rios, and Lind can participate in.
(Ground ball to fly ball ratio, Blue Jays = 1.25, League Average = 1.04. Ground out to air out, Blue Jays = 0.82, League Average = 0.77)
From what we can see, the Jays are a mediocre defensive team that is masquerading as a solid defensive unit. They are sure-handed but slow of foot.
Can the Jays upgrade their defense to a playoff-caliber unit? We'll talk about potential additions and subtractions at the end of this series, but for now we are going to leave it at that.
Up next, pitching...