The Jays won a respectable 85 games in 2010 despite every prediction heaped upon them giving them little chance of finishing out of the AL East basement let alone with a winning record.
The predictions were warranted, after all, Toronto did trade its franchise’s most dominant pitcher in December 2009 to the Phillies for a package of prospects thought to be at least a year or two away from impacting the major-league team on the field.
I myself, in all my acknowledged fan bias, picked the Jays to finish last in the AL East with a 68-94 record.
For the record, I’m very glad I was wrong.
But is it realistic for fans of Canada’s team to think big in 2011? Should we be happy with another .500ish season or do we want blood unless the team improves upon its 2010 win total, in other words contend for a wildcard?
Examining the elements that gave the Jays their best season since Eric Hinske won the Rookie of the Year and the likelihood of their repetition could allow us to see if the 2010 Jays were a fluke or a team ready to contend at any moment.
Let’s start with the good; Jose Bautista became the most unlikely 50 homer hitter of all time, Vernon Wells had a bounce-back season, John Buck was an All-Star, and the Jays’ young pitching staff outperformed all expectations. Which of these is most likely to continue, which is most likely to fall back?
The bad? After breakout 2009 campaigns, both Adam Lind and Aaron Hill took massive steps backward in 2010. Was it an aberration or a sign of things to come?
For the sake of space, I’ll focus on the four most polarized position players in 2010: Jose Bautista, Vernon Wells, Adam Lind, and Aaron Hill.
A journeyman utility-player, Bautista was once known for being the only player in major-league history to have the dubious distinction of being on 5 different major-league rosters in one season, now the thing he’s most known for is being one of 26 players to hit 50 homers in a season; and the first Jay to do it.
People have already started comparing him to Brady Anderson and Luis Gonzalez, players who had one unbelievable season and then faded back into relative obscurity. But is Bautista one of those players or will he put up all-star power numbers perennially?
Given that last year was only the second time Bautista accumulated enough at-bats to actually make a huge difference on the team, I think he’ll continue to put up decent numbers as long as he’s given the shot at playing every day, but there’s no way in hell he ever comes close to the numbers he put up last year.
Previous to 2010, Bautista had a career slash line of .238/.329/.400 compared to his 2010 numbers of .260/.378/.617. There will most certainly be a regression, but I sort of see Bautista as an extreme comparison to Jayson Werth.
Werth, like Bautista, waited until his late 20s to compile a career year that far outperformed any previous season. His wasn’t as drastic a breakout as Bautista’s, but I believe the comparison still holds true. Werth has managed to compile a few good seasons and I expect the same for Bautista. But late-bloomers tend to fizzle out early; I feel Werth and Bautista will both have very short peaks.
I honestly expect Bautista to slump back down to a stat line in the area of .250/.345/.500. Not super-human like 2010, but still a solid .850 OPS guy. I do expect a full regression by 2012 or 2013 so I’m desperately hoping the Jays don’t do something stupid like sign Joey Bats to a 7yr/$126-million extension or something. Let the Yankees or some other team make that horrible deal.
It might even be smart of Toronto to trade Bautista if they’re not contending by July and he’s having another solid season. The haul you’d get in return would be worth it.
Despite Parkes and Stoeten getting into a wicked sweet baseball blog battle for the ages over Wells’ recent comments to Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star, I could ultimately care less what he says off the field.
Parkes chastised Wells for being too complacent about his struggles and the fact that he hasn’t lived up to his massive contract, Stoeten, with much hilarity, decided Parkes was misreading what he said; I tend to agree with Stoeten on this one.
I’ve always kind of liked Wells’ bluntness and sometimes flippant attitude toward Toronto media and fans who give him a hard time. I don’t see him as the type who cares about what people think of him, and I like that; even if his on-field performance can be downright maddening.
I don’t take his comments as complacency; I just think he’s stating the obvious. I don’t see him as a lazy player and clearly his teammates don’t think so or they wouldn’t have made him their captain.
Saying something so obvious such as “I haven’t lived up to my contract” doesn’t necessarily mean that he doesn’t want to start living up to it as Parkes suggests, but I’m also not going to tell him to choose a new career because of his opinion. I digress.
Wells had a nice bounce-back year in 2010 after an ’09 that had fans of the team and pundits alike calling for his head on a platter. He finished with a solid if not spectacular slash line of .273/.331/.515 and hit 30 homers for the first time since 2006, a year before signing the massive extension. He recorded the second-highest WAR rating of his career at 4.0 and although he was still below average defensively, he managed to improve greatly over his previous two seasons, perhaps showing he was healthier than in previous years.
However, there are some troubling things about Wells’ 2010 that are worth mentioning.
Vernon got off to a torrid start. Between Opening Night and May 9th, Wells compiled a .339/.406/.661 line to make for a 1.067 OPS. He’d hit 9 homeruns and had driven in 25 in only 33 games. He compiled a walk rate of 9.8% during that time.
From May 10th through to the end of the year, Wells had a much more pedestrian .255/.310/.475 line for a .785 OPS. He hit 22 more homeruns while driving in 63 and saw his walk-rate drop nearly 3% to 7.1%.
If I was a betting man, I’d say the second set of numbers is more likely what you’ll see from Wells in 2011 and beyond.
But hey, it’s not all negative; Aaron Hill and Adam Lind each had breakout years in 2009, only to see horrid follow-up campaigns in 2010. It’s conceivable to think that they could bounce back.
Hill’s lone positive for 2010, his 26 homeruns, is quickly negated by the fact that his OPS fell from .829 in 2009 to .665 in 2010. His line drive percentage also took a nose-dive from 19.6% to 10.6%, being made up by a very high flyball rate of 54.2%.
The saving grace for Hill resides in the fact that his career line drive and flyball rates were closer to his 2009 numbers than his 2010 numbers, so there’s little reason to expect a continued rapid regression in that regard. Also, his walk rate went up significantly in 2010 and his strike out rate was about at par with his career rate.
I don’t see why Hill can’t return to numbers consistent with the ones he posted in 2009, although don’t be expecting 36 home runs, there was a lot of luck involved in that total.
Lind also saw a drastic drop across his slash line in 2010 after a break out ’09. He went from .305/.370/.562 to .237/.287/.425. His walk rate plummeted from 8.9% to 6.2% and his K rate went up nearly 7%.
Unfortunately, Lind’s 2010 strike out rate was more consistent with his career average, but his walk rate should rebound slightly. His career rate, minors and majors combined heading into 2010 was just under 8%.
Lind had a BABIP well below league average while his line drive rate and flyball rate weren’t substantially worse from ’09 to ’10, which suggests that he suffered through a significant amount of bad luck in 2010. In fact, his infield flyball rate was 3.9% better in 2010 than his 2009 rate, suggesting that he actually made solid contact as often as ever.
I expect all four of these players to settle back to happy mediums somewhere between their breakout/bounce-back years and their awful years directly before and after them. That’s the great thing about this game, things even out.
To be honest, as the team stands now, I can’t see how they’ll improve over their 2010 season, but I also don’t see them taking a giant step back either; .500ish sounds about right to me.