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Midseason Report Card, Part I: the Hitters

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With the season now half over, it's time to grade the Jays' performance thusfar. Would love to get y'all's feedback in the comments. Also, keep in mind that grades are somewhat (though not entirely) relative to expectations, which I think is only fair. Also, some of the numbers are slightly dated, but only slightly.

Vernon Wells: C+
Vernon has really struggled this season at the plate, and has thusfar put up an OPS+ of 96 (much lower before his recent resurgence, in fact, when I started writing this review it was 85), not what Toronto was hoping for when they signed him to a huge 7-year, $126 Million dollar deal this offseason. Vernon is the team's franchise player and needs to improve his approach at the plate by laying off bad pitches (particuarly those up in the zone). Of course, this is easier said than done, Vernon has shown glimpses of emerging from his funk, and it's unfair to judge a feel hitter by his slump, because a hitter like Vernon will have stretches were he can't buy a good at-bat and then stretches where it seems impossible to get him out except on a scorching liner. I expect him to turn it around, but this first half has been a huge disappointment, and a .314 OBP is not major league quality, let alone what the Jays need from their cornerstone. But there are signs that he is emerging from his slump, and I expect him to be well above average the second half, if not quite up to his 2006 level.

Alexis Rios: A-
Rios looks like an emerging superstar and has shown that last season's improved hitting was no half-season fluke but genuine development. His SLG is right where it was last season (.520) despite decreased batting average, and he has already equaled his last season HR total of 17. The only slight disappointment is that Rios hasn't improved his discipline much over last season (.047 ISO-d in 2006 v. .056 in 2007). It looked like Rios was improving his discipline (13 BBs in May after only 5 in April), but in June he went back to his hacktastic ways (24 Ks v. 6 BBs). The K's aren't a problem, but Rios would go from star to superstar if he could just work a few more walks without sacrificing the aggressiveness that has allowed him to have success as a hitter.

Adam Lind: C+
Lind has shown glimpses of the player the Jays know he can be, and glimpses of the player he was last season in limited duty, but they've only been glimpses. Overall, he has not performed well (70 OPS+) which is surprising given how polished a hitter he appeared early on. He's been a complete loss against lefties (.164/.213/.236) and although his June was an improvement over his horrendous May (.480 OPS over 82 ABs), it is still not close to where Lind needs to be (.648 OPS). He does have 8 HRs and he has played adequate defense. I think Lind will ultimately be fine, but time is running out for him to turn it around by the time Reed Johnson returns from back surgery, which means that Lind is likely to be sent down to the minors, which might not be a terrible thing.

Matt Stairs: A
Stairs has just done a fantastic job so far this season. Expected to be a lefty bat off the bench and occasional outfield fill-in, Stairs has found himself pressed into regular OF and 1B duty after injuries to Reed Johnson and Lyle Overbay. Stairs has responded extremely well, with a 130 OPS+ and 13 HR in 195 AB. He is weak in the field, but has managed not to embarass himself. Although no one can possibly gainsay what Stairs has done, he has never been an effective hitter against lefties and will probably benefit from a return to a part-time role. However, if the Jays wish to trade Stairs, he has played so well that it's possible that they would get a useful player or mid-level prospect in return.

Aaron Hill: B
Hill has so far seen a power increase this season (Iso-P 2007 .167 v. Iso-P 2006 .095) and not sacrified discipline to do so (Iso-D 2007 .059 v. 2006 .058), but a decline in his AVG has caused his overall OBP to decrease from a very respectable (for a middle infielder) .349 last season to .325. Still, he has improved to the point where he is about a league averagehitter (OPS+ 96 so far in 2007), which is excellent for a middle infielder who fields his position as well as Hill. Hill has maintained his excellent play at 2nd. The real questions around him are whether he can keep up the increased power and whether the organization wants to move him to SS (where he struggled defensively last season). He continues to struggle for weeks at a time, and has had a lousy May and June/pre-break July after a stellar April, seeing his power drop way back to what it was last season, suggesting that he may not be able to maintain the increase.

Royce Clayton: D
Not much to say here. Clayton has been horrid at the plate (66 OPS+) and not particularly good in the field (RF 3.89). He has lost playing time ot John McDonald which, as Russ Adams proved last season, shows that you're really struggling. It's not that it's not impressive that Clayton has maintained his ability to play SS and hit at his age, but he has become a real liability in doing so. There's no upside here, and the Jays should probably move on and try to trade Clayton for a low level prospect to a playoff type team looking for depth at middle IF.

Frank Thomas: C+
After basically skipping spring training, Frank started terribly, as everyone saw (.223/.355/.397 through June 1) but has picked it up since then, with a .297/.427/.526 line. Believe it or not, he's dragged his OPS+ up to 113. Frank has 51 walks (to only 53 K's) suggesting that he has enough bat speed, eye, and contact ability left to continue to be effective, and although his power is still way down (.441 in '07 v. .562 career), it is coming back. He doesn't have to get back into the high .500s to be an effective DH for the team, just continuing his June resurgence would be great. I was worried, but now am a little less so. Still, it's hard to grade him much higher than a C.

Troy Glaus: A-
Troy has done a great job for the team this season despite nagging heel and hamstring injuries. He's steady around the bag, although his range appears to be down significantly this season (it remains to be seen whether this is statistical anomaly, career decline, or injury-related). His offense has actually taken a bit of a step forward (at least anecdotally), as he has made beautiful adjustments with runners in scoring position and 2 strikes, going the other way more. His OPS+ is 132, significantly higher than his career mark of 121. However, he's as old a 30 as there is, and seems to be day-to-day most of the time, although he has managed 62 games thusfar and has been around 150 his last two seasons. He fouled a ball off his foot before the break, causing him to miss about a week, but x-rays were negative and he figures to return after the break. If the Jays look to move players, Troy will have to be part of that discussion, but he's still a big part of the team and there's no one organizationally to replace him.

John McDonald: B-
What is there to say about John McDonald? He's a singles hitter who doesn't get on base or hit for power. However, he does some little things well, plays capable defense at SS and 3B, and runs the bases with reckless abandon despite average speed. You basically know what he's going to give you, and it's not starting SS material, particularly not in the AL. This is an area the Jays really need to address. Still, J-Mac is useful coming off the bench, and it's not his fault that the Jays thought Royce Clayton was an everyday SS.

Lyle Overbay: C+
I'm trying to be fair to Lyle, but he's been victimized a bit by circumstance. He started slow, and when he started to get going he was hit on the hand by a pitch, breaking a bone. As it is, his OPS stands just under .800. However, I'm not worried at all. He's never had an OBP under .365, and he was on pace for his 45 doubles and 20-25 hr before he got hurt. So long as he's healing up, he'll be fine, and he plays great defense at 1st, particularly around the bag on errant throws, where fielding metrics don't do him justice.

I won't grade Phillips because it is just too depressing or Jason Smith b/c he's gone, and Zaun, Fasano, Sparky, Clark, etc are incompletes. I also won't grade Thigpen, although he looked decent at the plate, but with nowhere near enough power to stick at a corner IF spot for the long term. I will address the Thigpen situation in Part III (Management).

Pitchers next time, fellow Corvid fanatics!