Friday, March 29, 2013

Back To The Future: 1993 vs. 2013, Part 2

With Opening Day impending and expectations running wild, we're taking look at how the 2013 roster compares to the 1993 club, which, as some of you may know, won the World Series.  Check out Part 1 of the series here.  

Rickey Henderson vs. Melky Cabrera

At the 1993 trade deadline, the Blue Jays sent Steve Karsay and PTBNL Jose Herrera to Oakland in exchange for a quick lease on the greatest leadoff hitter in baseball history.  Things didn't exactly work out as planned.  In his brief stint with the club — Henderson appeared in just 56 games with the Blue Jays, postseason included —the 34-year-old never really found his groove, producing a .675 OPS (.356 OBP) and stealing 22 bases over his final 44 regular season games before struggling throughout the playoffs, too.  His performance in Toronto left something to be desired, but in the grand scheme of things, it's little more than small sample flatulence.  Furthermore, for the purpose of this exercise, we need to examine the entire year's worth of numbers, as Henderson's 2013 counterpart won't be expected to participate in just 44 games.  So despite his struggles in Toronto, 1993 was, on the whole, another successful year for Rickey, as he posted an aggregate .289/.432/.474 line while stealing 53 bases in 61 attempts (87%).  The left fielder -- who drew a walk off Mitch Williams to lead off the ninth inning of Game 6 -- worked a free pass in 19.7% of his plate appearances that year while also reaching the 20-homerun plateau for the first time since 1990.  Just to give a little bit of context, only four qualified players have enjoyed seasons with a better walk rate since my bar mitzvah (2004): Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Jack Cust, and Jose Bautista.

Many will look at Melky Cabrera's performance over the last two seasons -- .322/.360/.489, 8.2 wins above replacement -- and attribute it, 
unequivocally, to PEDs.  Because, y'know, players can't simply get better or whatever.  The Blue Jays were a little more thoughtful, exploiting a market inefficiency to lock up a player (on the cheap) that they believe is capable of at least approximating his numbers over the past couple seasons, despite the PED concern.  Regression is likely, if not certain for Cabrera, but I'm far more concerned about BABIP than PEDs.  Cabrera fashioned a .379 BABIP in 2012, an unsustainable figure (70 points above his career mark) that contributed heavily to his .346 batting average.  But even if you are concerned that the spike in Cabrera's isolated power over the past two seasons is PED-charged, bear in mind that he's moving from the extremely pitcher-friendly environment  of AT&T Park to the much more hitter-friendly Rogers Centre, a transition that could mitigate the concern that Melky's power will be zapped now that he's been caught.  Over the past three seasons, the Concrete Convertible has produced 119 HRs for every 100 homeruns, according to  That's gotta be encouraging.  Furthermore, Melky has great bat-to-ball skills, striking out in just 12.1% of his career plate appearances, and provides value on the basepaths.  He's averaged about 17 steals per season over the past two years.  I'm very optimistic about Melky's 2013 prospects, and it'll be nice to have some stability in left field after several years of flux, but we're comparing him to the "Greatest of All Time."  Sorry, Melkman.

Winner: Henderson.  

Roberto Alomar vs. Emilio Bonifacio

I mean no disrespect to Emilio Bonifacio — I believe his versatility and speed will prove immensely useful; there's even rumour of him platooning with Rasmus in centrefield -- but this is tantamount to comparing your first love to some girl you just met at the bar.  Alomar, whose Cooperstown plaque depicts him sporting a Blue Jays cap, enjoyed another superb season in 1993, producing a .398 wOBA to lead all second basemen.  While his numbers have have been slightly dwarfed by the ridiculous feats accomplished by his teammates, Alomar presence at the top of the lineup contributed significantly to their RBI totals.  In 1993, his age 25-season, Alomar posted a .408 OBP, walking 11.7% of the time and picking up 192 hits, sixth-most in baseball.  His 55 stolen bases represented the third most in baseball (tied with Luis Polonia), while he eclipsed single digits in homeruns for the first time in his career, knocking 17 round-trippers.  Each of his big-3 rate stats that year -- .326/.408/.492 -- would stand as personal bests as a Blue Jay.  Ultimately, Alomar was worth 5.7 wins above replacement in 1993, and that's with defensive metrics costing him nearly a full win.  He won the Gold Glove anyway, for the record, if you're into that sort of thing.  And even if you're not, Alomar's tenure in Toronto was magical, and 1993 was his magnum opus.

The acquisition of Emilio Bonifacio was largely overshadowed by the other Marlins included in November's uber-deal, a reality further compounded by the eventual arrival of R.A. Dickey. But, as stated above, I believe Bonifacio's presence on the 25-man will afford manager John Gibbons lots of flexibility when it comes to crafting his lineup and making tactical decisions late in games.  That said, he's a utility guy — a valuable one, to be sure — but a utility guy when it comes down to it.  As such, speed remains one of central attributes; he stole 30 bases in just 64 contests last year while producing 6.1 BsR, a counting-stat metric that translates skills on the basepaths (excluding stolen bases) into runs, with 0 representing league average.  The latter figure, good for 16th in baseball, is particularly impressive considering how few games Boni played last season. Nobody in the top 15 appeared in fewer than 100 games.  But outside of that, none of his abilities jump out at you.  With a career .329 OBP, a number derived from a high BABIP, I suppose he's a touch above-average when it comes to avoiding outs.  Of course, what that really means is hitting singles — his walk rate routinely hovers around league average and he has zero power; only five players with at least 250 PAs in 2012 produced a lower ISO than Boni's .057.  So yeah, versatility will make Bonifacio a defensive nomad in 2013, as he'll play all over the diamond while providing a nice late-inning option to pinch run.  There's really no point trying to contrive a comparison between his prospects for 2013 and Alomar's ridiculous 1993 campaign. 

Winner: Alomar

Duane Ward vs. Casey Janssen

When I was maybe 12 years old, I ran into Duane Ward at a Toronto Raptors game (I know, I know) and, after asking him for an autograph, commended him on his 43 saves in 1993.  An older, more corpulent Ward politely reminded me that he had, in fact, collected 45 saves that season.  Following the departure of Tom Henke, Ward assumed closing duties in 1993 and was just as dominant as his predecessor.  In what proved to be his last successful season in baseball — arm trouble ended his career prematurely; he was out of baseball at 31 — Ward converted 88% of his saves opportunities, leading all relievers with a ridiculous 12.18 K/9, a ratio that bespeaks the unparalleled nastiness of his slider, or so my father says.  His 2.13 ERA (2.10 FIP) ranked sixth among relievers, to go along with a 1.03 WHIP, a career best.  After all, it's kind of tough to allow baserunners when you strike out roughly 35% of the batters you face.  Incidentally, opposing hitters compiled a meagre .191 batting average off Wardo in 1993.  What else can I say? He was real good.

Janssen, our favourite drop-and-drive practitioner, found himself thrust into the closer role in 2012 after newly acquired Sergio Santos hit the DL just six games into the regular season.  Despite the absence of a true out pitch or stuff that really incites tumescence, Janssen thrived in the ninth inning, picking up 22 saves in 25 chances (88%, whaddayaknow?) and fashioning a sub-3.00 ERA for a second consecutive season.  2012 saw Janssen whittle his walk rate down to 1.55/9, a career best, while striking out 27.7% of opposing hitters, also a career benchmark.  Same goes for his 9.5% swinging strike rate.  That said, he did outperform his peripherals a little in 2012, with a half-run discrepancy between his ERA (2.54) and FIP (3.08), so a little regression this year isn't unreasonable.  Furthermore, recovery from offseason surgery has muddled his prospects of being ready for Opening Day, and with Santos looking to reclaim the closer role (and Steve Delabar a potential ninth-inning option, too), the odds of Janssen holding onto the job for the entirety of 2013 seems a little improbable — not that the Save really matters, or anything.  Regardless, it's likely that Janssen doesn't enjoy as much success in 2013, with his strikeout rates, walk rates, and left-on-base percentage regressing closer to his career marks.  Considering this confluence of factors, it seems unlikely he's as dominant as Wardo.

Winner: Ward

Following today's sweep by the 1993 club, the series score currently stands at 4-1 for Cito's gang.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Back To The Future: 1993 vs. 2013, Part 1

It seems like a natural impulse to want to liken the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays to the 1993 incarnation of the club, a roster highlighted by names firmly ensconced into Toronto's sports hagiography.  I mean, look at all the similarities.  They're good; Dominican players abound; The year ends in "3."  Okay, sure.  But beyond these superficial parallels, how much does this this year's club really smell like the last group of Jays to hoist the Commissioner's Trophy?

Yesterday, CBC Sports published a piece providing a position-by-position comparison of the two respective Jays club, contrasting the performance of the 1993 players with the 2012 numbers from each of Toronto's putative 2013 starters.  In this series, we'll take a look at how the two teams stack up, because why not?

Catcher: Pat Borders vs. J.P. Arencibia

I suspect that Pat Borders' MVP performance in the 1992 World Series leaves most Jays fans with little but saccharine memories of the backstop.  And that's ok.  But it does little to mitigate the fact that he was a below-replacement level player in 1993.  In his age-30 season, which proved to be his final year as an everyday player, Borders posted a .254/.285/.371 line, belting nine homeruns in 520 plate appearances.  Walking in just 3.8% of his PAs, Borders' .285 OBP in 1993 represented his third consecutive campaign in which he reached base less than 30% of the time.  His .290 wOBA ranked second-last among the nine catchers to qualify for the batting title -- he finished .001 points ahead of Cincinnati's Joe Oliver -- while recording the lowest isolated power among that group, at .117.  Borders also committed 13 errors behind the plate that year, a career-high, while throwing out just 33% of prospective base-stealers, a figure three percent below the league average that year.

As deficient as Arencibia is in so many facets of the game (see: on-base ability, defense, running), his prospects for 2013 still seem brighter than Borders' 1993 campaign.  Despite missing nearly a third of 2012 due to a fractured hand, Arencibia still managed to be worth 1.2 wins above replacement, hitting for the requisite power while making strides in his defensive game.  His .202 ISO (read: meal ticket) ranked seventh among the 25 catchers with at least 350 PAs in 2012 -- Josh Thole ranked dead last, by-the-by.  And if we cherry-pick a little with our endpoints, Arencibia compiled a .294/.324/.676 over his final 22 games before hitting the disabled list, pumping seven homeruns over that span -- do with that info what you will.  But even more encouraging is the progress Arencibia made in his defensive game.  2012 saw Arencibia post above-average numbers in both Defensive Runs Saved (3) and RPP (1.9), a metric that measures a catcher's ability to block piches in the dirt translated into runs, with 0 representing league average.  He's still going to strike out a ton (career 28.2 K%) a propensity that's going to hurt his ability to reach base, but with just moderate improvements in that area and continued defensive development, he could approximate a 2-win player in 2013.

Winner: Arencibia

First base: John Olerud vs. Adam Lind

In September, I wrote a piece examining Colby Rasmus' disastrous second-half to the 2012 season, wherein I contended that Johnny O "possessed arguably the sweetest lefty swing in the history of the Blue Jays."  Nobody on the Blue Jays' roster did anything in the last month of the season to change my mind.  Olerud's smooth swing was operating at full capacity in 1993, when he was the best hitter in baseball not named Barry Bonds.  Olerud, then 24 (24!), led the league with a .363 batting average while recording a ridiculous .473 on-base percentage, walking in 16.8% of his trips of the plate; a .375 BABIP -- good for fourth among qualified hitters -- didn't hurt.  And his gaudy batting average wasn't empty, either.  Olerud's .236 ISO placed him fifth among qualified first basemen, topped only by behemoths like Frank Thomas (hey, Frank Thomas!) and Rafy Palmeiro, Fred McGriff, and Mickey Tettleton.  The svelte infielder's 24 homeruns in 1993 represent a career high.  Hell, pretty much everything for Olerud in 1993 was a career high.  He was also worth 4 Fielding Runs Above Average and hit .291/.413/.424 against lefties.  Cream.

Oh, Adam Lind.  The much maligned (and deservedly maligned) first baseman/designated hitter has seen his strock drop mightily over the past three seasons.  By now, you're surely familiar with the narrative.  He won the 2009 Silver Slugger award and has been terrible since.  Over the past three season, Lind's struggles against lefthanded pitching have become increasingly pronounced, to the point where they're almost comical.  Since 2010, he has a .186/.226/.281 line against southpaws over 390 plate appearances.  His struggles culminated in a demotion to Triple A Las Vegas last year, and he did show some signs of life upon his return; over his final 59 games, he posted an OPS north of .800 while holding his own against the lefties.  But if we look at this through a sober lens, Lind hasn't been better than a replacement level player in two of the past thee years, and, at this point, a platoon (Rajai? DeRosa?) represents the more sensible scenario.  Lind's prospects of outperforming Olerud's 1993 are about as likely as Mike Trout leading the Angels' rotation in wins in 2013.  At this point, if Lind can prove a serviceable platoon partner at 1B/DH while continuing to mash righthanded pitching, I'd be satisfied.

Winner: Olerud. Olerud also comes in second.

The series will continue tomorrow with a look at left field and closer, and maybe some others if I'm not feeling lazy.