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I Visit These Mountains With Frequency And Stand There With Arms Outstretched: The Dangling Conversation, Part XII

So we ran out of quotes from the Dangling Conversation (which is sort of an unnecessarily wordy song on second glance, isn't it?)  Today's title, then, comes from one of my favorite songs of all time, Rilo Kiley's "With Arms Outstretched" from their best record, The Execution of All Things.  Creepy, clever, and yet somehow uplifting, it is full of great songs.  Also, it's hard to not fall in love with Jenny Lewis. 

Anyway, on to today's hither-and-yon, the topic of which is the outlook for the Jays 2009 offense.

Hugo:  Will the Jays offense be better in 2009?

Rincewind:  Oh yeah, we’ll be better offensively. I’m tempted to say we can’t get no worse but that would be tempting fate too much, but I really think we’ll be better at every position other than short and catcher. Even those two spots could be better than last year; Barajas can’t possibly be as inconsistent as last year and Barrett really doesn’t have to do too much to improve on Zaun’s numbers. Our offense at short could improve just by McDonald getting fewer at bats. I know I was slow to come around to this but Mac just doesn’t hit enough to play major league ball no matter how well he fields.

Hugo:  I don’t have much hope for Barajas, personally, but Barrett might be of help, and Arencibia could provide a second-half boost. If Barrett is healthy (a big if) he could outplay Barajas offensively, but my guess is that Barajas gets the lion’s share of the at-bats due to defensive considerations, unless Barrett is really thumping or Barajas is terrible or gets hurt.

Rincewind:  We’ll improve at first just with Overbay being a year further removed from a broken hand and, I hope, Cito going to a platoon at first so that Lyle doesn’t face lefties too often. At second base Inglett was terrific last year, but Hill is a better offensive player so we improver there as long as Hill can play. Rolen finished the season strong at third, last year, and if you take out an awful stretch Rolen had before he went on the DL in early August, he had a pretty good season. So I’m expecting his numbers to improve and we are better positioned to handle his guaranteed DL time with Inglett there to play against right-handers and Bautista around to play against lefties.

Hugo:  I am thinking there is a decent chance that Overbay hits lefties better and hits for a little more power this season. It can take a full year or more to recover from a hand injury and get all your strength back, and Lyle was hitting for more power in the second half last season (both his SLG and his ISO-p were about 45 points higher after the break). He never had so much trouble with lefties as last season, so I’m also thinking if his hand is stronger that might help his bat speed, which would help his hitting against lefties. Lyle has a bit of a long swing so he really can’t afford a drop in bat speed. He won’t get back to 2006 levels, but it wouldn’t surprise me too much to see him improve from last season, which wasn’t all that bad – but there is one big factor against his rebounding – his age and comparable players. If his hitting against lefties doesn't improve, a platoon would be a good thing - but we have a lot of lefties who could use a right-handed caddy.

As for Rolen, I was more excited about his September before talking to a few Cards fans who mentioned that he had done the same thing with the Cards in his last 3 years there – his shoulder would get tired, he’d go on the DL, and then he’d return talking about changing his swing and hit like a champ for a little while before his shoulder tired again. It sounds like he made more of an adjustment this year, and I don’t remember him getting a cortisone shot this season (unlike in past seasons with the Cards), which I think is a good sign, but I’m not sure we'll see much of an improvement.

As for Hill, it wouldn’t surprise me if he has a big year. He’s consistently outperformed people’s forecasts of him and was a big part of the Jays’ offense in 2007.

Rincewind:  The outfield? Our numbers from our left fielders were awful last year. We had 22 doubles, 11 homers and 53 RBI from that spot. Travis Snyder can’t possibly be worse than that. In center Vernon did quite well other than being injured a lot of the season. Rios didn’t hit at all when he was playing center field. I’m pretty sure that playing center didn’t cause his troubles with the bat, I think it’s more likely he was playing center at the time when he was totally lost at the plate. If Vernon plays anything close to a full season we have better numbers out of CF. And right? When Rios moved to center we were treated to the fun of watching Wilkerson and Mench play right. We won’t have that again. And I’m expecting a big year from Alex, if he hits less than 25 homers this season I’d be surprised. A full year of Cito working with him and we’ll see the Alex Rios we expected last year.

Hugo:  Yeah , Wells had a very nice season last year when he was able to swing the bat and it will be a huge boost if he can avoid injury and play like that for a full season. I am a little worried that all those years of running around in centerfield are catching up to the 30-year old, he’s got a big frame to carry around. The wrist injury was obviously a fluke but the hamstring injury could be worrisome if it turns into a nagging thing. I’d put Rios in centerfield about once a week this season to keep Wells’ legs fresh and healthy. As for Rios, if he can just continue what he was doing in the second half of the season in 2008 (.876 OPS after the break, almost entirely a power upgrade), that’ll be perfect. Personally, I like the extra steals too – it gives our offense a little bit of a different dynamic. Not as a substitute for the power of course, but it’s nice to have another arrow in his (and the Jays’) quiver. My guess is Snider will experience his growing pains and have some 3 and 4 K games, but I think he’ll be an upgrade over what we had in left field last season. I also think he’ll catch on quicker than folks might think – it’ll be important for the Jays to stick with him if he goes through a rough streak.

Rincewind:  At DH Frank Thomas and Matt Stairs were terrible. Adam Lind had a .792 OPS after Cito gave him a full time job last year. Lind is 25 next year and, though I’m willing to concede that he might not become the player we thought he would, I am expecting a better season from him. He should give us 20 home runs and a .280. I’d like him to walk more but can’t have everything.

Hugo:  Lind should be a decent upgrade, I agree. Just being as good as he was last season would be an upgrade over 2008’s DH production, and there are some reasons to think he will improve on that. He’s getting closer to his offensive prime, which means his power is still likely coming on and his walk rates in the minors, while pedestrian, were respectable. If he gets a little more comfortable at the plate and shows some more patience while also adding some pop, he could be a huge asset to the lineup. Left-handed power has been sorely lacking since Stairs lit it up 2 seasons ago.

Rincewind:  So yeah I’m sure our offense will be better. I also believe that we will hit better with RISP than last year. I think our troubles with RISP were part bad luck and part a bad hitting philosophy, I’m sure the luck will change and Cito will continue to change how the batters view their at bats. If we don’t score at least 50 more runs than last season it would be a big surprise.

Hugo:  Here's the thing.  Going into last season, everyone was saying the offense would be better because, well, it just had to be.  I wasn't so sure and, as we saw this season, it didn't happen.  Some of the disaster seasons we saw in 2007 (Wells, Overbay) rebounded, yes, but we saw Stairs and Thomas fall apart, a parade of horribles in the corner outfield, an awful first half from Rios, and some unexpected injuries to Wells and Hill combine to ruin our offense for the second straight season.  This season, I do think we are looking better on paper with more depth (Inglett, Bautista) and some young and hopefully up-and-coming hitters.  There are a ton of question marks - if Rios reverts to 1st half 2008 levels, Wells falls off after a strong season last year, Hill can't come back from his injury and Inglett regresses, Lind and Snider don't produce at the major-league level, Rolen's shoulder can't hold up, and the others continue to age, we could actually be worse than last season.   Now I don't think all that will happen, but it illustrates how many question marks the offense has going into 2009.  If the offense does struggle, at least we can console ourselves that it is Lind and Snider taking, and hopefully learning from, the at-bats, rather than wasting them on people who aren’t part of the team’s plans.  I do think the offense will be better, but I think 2008 serves as a cautionary tale.

Here are our past Dangling Conversation installments:

Part 1: Good and Bad of 2008
Part 2: Jays Priorities for the Offseason
Part 3: Should the Jays Rebuild?
Part 4: Who Should Lead Off For the Jays?
Part 5: How Should the Jays Fill Out Their Rotation
Part 6: Can the Jays Complete with Barajas catching and Scutaro at Short?
Part 7: Should the Jays Trade From Their Bullpen?
Part 8: What Should Be Done About the DH Spot?
Part 9: What Should Snider's Role Be?
Part 10: What Can We Expect From Adam Lind This Season?
Part 11: What Jays Farmhands Will Make an Impact This Seasons?