Five Questions: Toronto Blue Jays

Slightly less than two weeks ago, John Brattain of The Hardball Times wrote an article in which he poses five questions about the Blue Jays. It's rather late, but I'm going to post my thoughts on them.

His first question relates to the potential combined workload of the team's two best starters, Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett. John acknowledges the the many risks involved, but ultimately asserts that they will combine to pitch at least 450 innings during 2006. Well, even with Burnett's recent DL stint, that number is still attainable, but the past suggests it's unlikely.

Year    IP Halladay    IP Burnett    IP Combined
1998    14               0            14
1999    149.1           41.1         190.2
2000    67.2            82.2         150.1
2001    105.1          173.1         278.2
2002    239.1          204.1         443.2
2003    266             23           289
2004    133            120           253
2005    141.2          209           350.2

In the past, not only have they never to combined to pitch 450 innings in any one year, but they only even came close in only one year, 2002.

His second question pertains to the Blue Jays' bullpen, whose performance was stellar last season. He goes through each incumbent reliever separately and assesses their projected worth. I agree with all of them but one. In regards to Scott Schoeneweis, he writes:

Scott Schoeneweis's 2005 was way beyond his career norms, and should be expected to revert to his league average/just below league average form. He hasn't enjoyed a good spring, so he may not even open the season with Toronto.

Now, Schoeneweis is by no means a great pitcher. However, he most certainly has the ability to perform his role admirably. He performs exceptionally well against left-handed batters, which makes him a fine LOOGY (Left-handed One Out GuY). Last season, lefties posted a .499 OPS against him, and in the past three seasons combined, they posted a .549 OPS against him. If manager John Gibbons uses him correctly, he could be a very valuable part of the team's bullpen.

His third question asks, "Can the Jays draw 3 million fans? 2.5 million?"

Here are the team's attendance figures since their first full season in the Skydome/Rogers Centre, courtesy of baseball-reference.com:

Year    Attendance   AL Rank    W-L Record
1990    3,885,284    1 of 14    86-76
1991    4,001,527    1 of 14    91-71
1992    4,028,318    1 of 14    96-66
1993    4,057,947    1 of 14    95-67
1994    2,907,933    1 of 14    55-60 <-- Strike-shortened season
1995    2,826,483    3 of 14    56-88
1996    2,559,573    5 of 14    74-88
1997    2,589,297    6 of 14    76-86
1998    2,454,303    8 of 14    88-74
1999    2,163,464    8 of 14    84-78
2000    1,705,712    10 of 14   83-79
2001    1,915,438    10 of 14   80-82
2002    1,637,900    11 of 14   78-84
2003    1,799,458    11 of 14   86-76
2004    1,900,041    11 of 14   67-94
2005    2,014,995    11 of 14   80-82

It's difficult to explain the main causal factor of the Blue Jays' high attendance figures during the early '90s. Not only were they a very talented and productive ballclub, but they played half their games in a new state-of-the-art stadium. Likewise, it's difficult to pinpoint the main cause of their rapid decline in attendance. By 1994, they were no longer the talented force they had been during the previous 5-10 years, but that coincided with the players' strike, which led to a baseball-wide decrease in fan support.

Based on the team's attendance figures relative to their won-lost records, it's evident that no strong correlation exists between the two. In some years, their record improved but their attendance figure fell, and vice versa. However, an improved record can't hurt, obviously, so the fact their record should improve should only contribute to a higher attendance figure for 2006. But in the end, the attendance figure has never risen 485,005 -- the amount needed in order to reach 2.5 million -- so it'd be an unprecedented surprise for them to reach John's figure.

The fourth question he poses is in regards to the team's 3-4-5 hitters. I agree that, while not on par with the Yankees' or Red Sox's best hitters, they should perform somewhat well, if healthy.

The final, hilariously-worded question is, "Will no O-Dawg mean bitching pitchers?" It's no secret that Orlando Hudson is a wizard with the glove, and that the team's defense will suffer as a result of his departure coupled with the insertion of Troy Glaus at third base. But how reliant have Blue Jays pitchers been on groundball outs?

Player     2005 GB% K/9
Halladay    62%     6.9
Burnett     60%     7.7 <-- Florida-MLB
Towers      45%     4.8
Chacin      40%     5.3
Lilly       39%     6.7

Chulk       44%     4.9
Downs       54%     7
Frasor      41%     7.4
Ryan        46%     12.4 <-- Baltimore-MLB
Schoeneweis 60%     6.8
Speier      33%     7.8
Tallet      41%     4.2 <-- Buffalo-AAA
Walker      49%     4.6

According to Baseball Prospectus, the league average GB% is about 44%. I included K/9 because a high strikeout rate suggests that a pitcher is less reliant on his team's infield defense, regardless of his GB%. John suggests that Chacin will need to rely on the infield defense, but the numbers suggest that the team's two best pitchers, Halladay and Burnett, will rely on it the most. Fortunately, they possess good strikeout rates that should mitigate that reliance at least somewhat. In the end, I hope the defense can overcome the loss of Hudson, but as long as Russ Adams and Troy Glaus get the bulk of the playing time at their respective positions, that probably won't be the case.

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