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A Rumsfeldian look at the 2016 Blue Jays

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Probably not a person who image you ever expected to here on this here site
Probably not a person who image you ever expected to here on this here site
Alex Wong/Getty Images
[T]here are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don't know we don't know...it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.

- Donald H. Rumsfeld, Feb. 12, 2002

Donald Rumsfeld's place in history, for better or worse, will be as the second longest tenured Defense Secretary in U.S. history. That's neither here nor there for a baseball blog, but what I will always remember is the above quote that he popularized (though didn't coin) in a 2002 news conference . It serves as a useful analytical framework to think about information and uncertainty. And I think it applies pretty well to thinking about and characterizing a baseball season.

Approaching the midpoint of the Spring Training, let's apply this framework to the 2016 Blue Jays and the upcoming season. What follows is not meant to be exhaustive, just some of the most interesting or important things in each bucket. Use the comments to add others.

Known knowns

  • The line-up will score a lot of runs,  returning most of the lineup that led baseball in 2015 with 891 runs (over 100 more than any other team). Some regression is likely in order, but even if things swung the other way with down seasons and substantial injuries, it's very likely the Jays will be a top-five run scoring team in 2016.
  • R.A. Dickey will not require Tommy John surgery, and is likely good for 30+ starts. A dangerous prediction to make of a pitcher, but it helps not to have a UCL in the first place.
  • Older, veteran teams have more injury issues, both nagging and ones that require DL stints. Having quality depth that can perform when it happens and allow for offdays will be more critical than usual.

Known unknowns

  • Marcus Stroman will be good, but how good? Thus far, Stroman has made 27 career starts--roughly one full season equivalent--with an ERA just above 3.00 and peripherals right in line. In my books, that makes him a good #2 pitcher (where a #1/ace are the top 10-12 pitchers over a multiyear period and #2s are the next 30 best or so). With his incredible stuff, can he take the next step and become a true ace?
  • Troy Tulowitzki's going to miss games, but how many? Tulowitzki hasn't had 600 plate appearances since 2011, nor has he played in 150 games since 2009. Now that he's on the wrong side of 30, it's unrealistic to expect a full season, but the question is exactly how much he's stay on the field. In the last four seasons, he's has two where he mostly stayed on the field, and two where he mostly didn't. Where Tulowitzki ends up in 2016 on that spectrum will be critical.
  • How much MLB time does Dalton Pompey see? It appears he's likely to be ticketed to Buffalo, but should be the first guy up in the event of an outfield injury or he could force his way to a role in Toronto if he shoots the lights out in Buffalo.
  • Who wins the fourth outfield position? Even if Pompey's out of the mix, there are still at least four options in play: Ezequiel Carrera, Junior Lake, Darrell Ceciliani and Domonic Brown. We probably can't count out a trade or late waiver claim if none of the above step up or a better option becomes available.
  • How does the bullpen shake out? Roberto Osuna hasn't been stretched out, so it looks like he's destined to join Brett Cecil and Drew Storen. Beyond that, it's up for grabs between a bunch of guys who could start or relieve, as well as multiple relievers without options.
  • Quick hits: How will the Justin Smoak / Chris Colabello platoon work? How much does Marco Estrada regress (and will he be ready for opening day)? Will we get Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Happ?

Unknown unknowns

  • What crazy injury is going to happen? Last year of course, there was Michael Saunders and the water sprinkler and Marcus Stroman tearing his ACL on a routine play. In previous years, Cecil has had problems with blenders, Edwin Encarnacion a fireworks mishap, and our Tom Dakers injured all the pitchers by attending games in Toronto back in June 2012. I can't wait to see what 2016 has in store.
  • How will Dickey's surgery (and weight change) affect him? He's been a notoriously slow starter with the Jays, and starting 2016 strong would be a nice change. On the other hand, he pitched best late in 2016, when it seems like the injury was worst. Go figure.
  • Which AL East teams will surprise to the upside and downside? FanGraphs has all between 80 and 88 wins, Baseball Prospectus / PECOTA shows a little more differences with four between 85 and 91 and the Orioles lagging behind at 74. But the Blue Jays' total wins of 93 last year was lowest to capture the East since Yankees took the division with 87 in 2000, at least 95 wins needed to get the title in between. Which AL East team will win 95 this year?
  • Do things fall off a cliff? Much is made of aging curves, and sometimes that's how it goes, but at the player level aging tends to be more like a cliff: one year a player is highly productive, and the next he's greatly diminished or done. At the team level, it's more likely to be a curve since you're averaging across players, but sometimes veteran teams just fall off. Look no further than the Phillies: 102 wins in 2011 to 81 in 2012 to 73 in 2013 and a rebuild. Or for that matter, look at the 1994-95 Blue Jays.

And one more category...

Perhaps you've noticed that there are four permutations of "known" and "unknown", but Rumsfeld quote only covers three. Earlier this year, Rumsfeld appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and Colbert asked about the fourth: unknown knowns, that is, "the things we know, and then we choose not to know them or not let other people know we know". Basically, information that is known to a select and withheld from (unknown to) everyone else. Applied here, things that front office knows that we don't, but would ideally like to know if they could be made to take some truth serum.

Unknown knowns

  • What is the budget? The current opening day payroll looks to be around $135-million, but is money being held back midseason additions like last year (and if so, how much)?
  • What was the front office thinking regarding Jay Bruce?
  • Knowing how the winter progressed, how much would they like to undo the Jesse Chavez - Liam Hendriks trade?
  • How actively is Ed Rogers involved in calling the shots? The dysfunctional tension in the battle between the Rogers heirs and outside management has been well chronicled. Between him being sidelined from the main company operations, his role in seeking a replacement for Paul Beeston and now installed as chairman, it would appear as though the Blue Jays are now his fiefdom.