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I Need Your Government Warning Like I Need a Hole in the Head: Jays 2009 Hitting Projections

Let’s take a look at two projection systems for the 2009 Jays:  Bill James and ZIPS.  Last season, some of you may remember, Bill James was a lot more bullish on the Jays’ hitters than was ZIPS, and ZIPS turned out to be a lot closer to the truth.  This season, ZIPS actually has Matt Watson, career minor-leaguer, as the 2nd best hitter on the Jays, which I wouldn’t interpret as a good sign.  Let’s see what they have in store for our azure-clad (at least on Flashback Fridays) heroes next season, starting with the hitters.  Full ZIPS projections are, as always, available here on Baseball Think Factory. The James numbers are an SB Nation sneak preview but will eventually, I think, be up on Fangraphs. 

                     At-Bats    2B    HR    AVG    OBP    SLG    OPS
Alexis Rios
ZIPS                596        39    18    .293    .347    .478    .825
James             611        42    16    .291    .344    .462    .806

Lyle Overbay       
ZIPS                 496        32    13    .270    .350    .417    .767
James             520        37    15    .271    .355    .433    .788

Scott Rolen
ZIPS                363        25    10    .259    .340    .416    .756
James            488        35    17    .268    .356    .453    .809

Adam Lind
ZIPS                460        25    16    .276    .323    .443    .766
James            597        39    23    .300    .349    .494    .863

Vernon Wells       
ZIPS                514        29    18    .274    .329    .444    .773
James            533        33    23    .281    .336    .480    .816

Aaron Hill   
ZIPS                438        29    7    .281    .334    .400    .734
James            463        32    9    .285    .343    .421    .764

Joe Inglett       
ZIPS                414        18    4    .283    .338    .379    .717
James            294        15    3    .289    .349    .391    .740

Jose Bautista   
ZIPS                457        25    19    .230    .319    .414    .733
James            374        22    14    .251    .336    .428    .764   

Marco Scutaro       
ZIPS                352        16    6    .261    .334    .364    .698
James            437        23    7    .259    .332    .368    .700

Travis Snider
ZIPS                526        27    19    .251    .304    .411    .715   
James            448        29    19    .270    .342    .462    .804

And then the bleak catching situation:
Rod Barajas
ZIPS                277        17    9    .242    .298    .401    .699
James            384        24    13    .240    .291    .404    .695   

J.P. Arencibia
ZIPS                396        21    15    .247    .272    .414    .686

Brian Jeroloman
ZIPS                336        14    5    .226    .320    .313    .633

Curtis Thigpen
ZIPS                339        20    4    .221    .281    .322    .603
James            154        10    2    .240    .299    .344    .643

Well.  This isn’t very inspiring.  According to ZIPS, most of the Jays are either average or below average for their respective positions.  It is interesting to see how different the James numbers are for the Jays’ young hitters, Lind and Snider.  ZIPS has Lind as an exactly average offensive performer (OPS of .766, OPS+ of 100), not good enough for a corner outfield spot, while James has him as an excellent one (OPS of .863 and 6.31 RC/27), the best on the team by a very wide margin, in fact.   As for Snider, ZIPS has him really struggling to get on base (.304 OBP), while James has him as capable of holding down an everyday job in a corner (.802 OPS).  James and ZIPS are fairly consistent for the veterans, though I’d rather see James’ numbers for Overbay and Rolen, as they are substantially higher.  Neither James nor ZIPS is particularly bullish on Rios, but ZIPS has him a bit better. 

If Scutaro can indeed play average defense at SS over a full season next year, which I doubt, his offense is only slightly below that of the average SS.  ZIPS didn’t even bother to predict J-Mac, but if he lives up to James’ projection of a .560 OPS, there’s no way the Jays can afford to carry him in the lineup unless they improve substantially elsewhere.  Would J.J. Hardy’s projected line ever look good in this lineup (.273/.336/.462) or what? 

Rolen actually projects out as better than the average offensive 3rd baseman according to ZIPS, and considering his still-fantastic defense that would be great except they have him only playing just over half a season.  An Inglett/Bautista platoon wouldn’t be too bad as a temporary fill-in, though.  I like Inglett/Scutaro a lot better (at least Scoot offers good D at 3rd and can get on base a bit) if the Jays could only find someone to play SS. 

And finally, the catching situation.  These are some bad looking stats.  ZIPS doesn’t think we can count on Jeroloman or Arencibia this sesason, and I don’t think we can count on Barajas to play every day.  I bet we sign a vet on a short-term deal, similar to what we’ve done pretty much every year for a long time while we’ve waited for countless Jays catchers of the future to be ready.  Any chance we could get Ramon Castro?  I’ve always thought he had the skills to be an everyday catcher (good secondary skillset) but he’s never really gotten the chance.  FWIW, James projects him to OPS .785. 

The upshot:  I’m not sure we can sit back and hope James is right about Lind AND Snider.  The Jays need to upgrade their offense.  The difficulty is doing it:  a huge bat is going to be ridiculously expensive and the Jays have needs elsewhere.  And the free-agent market isn’t exactly littered with big-hitting shortstops or catchers.  Some possible options that seem reasonable:  someone like Jack Cust or Jason Giambi to DH, with whom J.P. has some ties.  James projects both to put up high-800s OPSes, which would be very likely to lead the team.  On a short-term deal, neither would necessarily block Snider.  Perhaps Khalil Greene could be tried at SS, with Scoot and/or Mac as a backup option.  There’s no guarantee that it would work out, but it certainly offers some upside that Scoot and Mac don’t (though James has Greene and Scoot almost exactly the same offensively, moving from Petco could help Greene).