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The 2018 Blue Jays: How it Could all Go Right

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Chicago White Sox v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

If you look at FanGraphs’ projected standings, the Blue Jays are forecast for 86 wins, tied for the 5th best record in the American League with the Angels. These projections, as well as the individual player ones based on their depth charts, are very useful, but they only tell part of the story. They are simply average expectations, “point estimates”, that don’t tell us about the possible variation around the mean. The possibility of an extra 3 or 4 wins would have a huge payoff for the Jays, whereas 3 or 4 less wins likely doesn’t matter (a wild card is unlikely at 86 wins).

Last October, I wanted to get a sense of the range of outcomes for the 2018 Blue Jays, so I built distributions for each player and then ran 100 trials to get a rough high level forecast. Later, I showed the distributions for each player (position players / starting pitchers).

With all the moves the Jays made in the New Year, I wanted to go back and update these projections, with a few changes. In particular, going to a 7x7 matrix of playing time and production instead of 5x5 (so 49 possible seasons for each player instead of 25, which is more granular) and adding important bench players so I’m now projecting 12 individual players and 6 pitchers.

Having run 100 trial seasons through this model (with 43 different random variables per trial), I thought it would be fun to look at the top 5 2018 Blue Jays seasons, or basically how the 2018 could go right.

Best simulated 2018 Blue Jays team: 97 wins

These 2018 Blue Jays are more of a 92-93 win team that gains 5 wins relative to production (from timely hitting, winning one run games, etc). A “lucky” team. They get carried by the position players (28 wins), as the pitching is injury plagued (16 WAR)

  • Josh Donaldson puts up a vintage 7 win season, Justin Smoak follows up 2017 with a 4 WAR season, and Russell Martin rebounds to 3 WAR.
  • The outfield is very solid. Kevin Pillar has a 3 WAR year, Randall Grichuk 2.5 wins, and Granderson a solid 1.8 WAR. Steve Pearce has a big 2.7 WAR season (presumably with a bunch of time at DH)
  • Interestingly, a number of players have bad seasons: Devon Travis is only at 0.5 WAR (250 PA), Troy Tulowitzki nothing in 250 PA, and Kendrys Morales repeats last year (-0.5 WAR). Aledmys Diaz and Yangervis Solarte total 3 WAR in 800 PA filling in, along with another 300+ PA of replacement level production from other infield fill-ins. So it’s not a utopian season by any measure.
  • The starting rotation totals only 630 innings, with only Marco Estrada throwing a full season. Marcus Stroman is dominant (2.5 WAR), but misses half the year. Joe Biagini is serviceable in almost a full season, but the guys behind him are decent too.

99th percentile 2018 Blue Jays team: 97 wins

Overall, this team is similar to the first one, a 92 win team on paper that gains 5 wins from the “luck” factors. However, this team is carried by its starting pitchers, with decent contribution from the hitters.

  • The big hit to this team is that Donaldson misses a bunch of time and puts up only 2.5 WAR in 375 PA. That’s offset by Tulo rising from the ashes and giving them 2 WAR in the second half. Grichuk flops but Kevin Pillar has a 4 win season, Smoak and Martin are around 3 WAR, and Morales is also productive (2 WAR). However, the bench is quite poor, totalling just 2.5 WAR in 2,000 PA.
  • Thanks goodness for the starters, for whom it’s 2016 redux. Jaime Garcia only pitches a half season, but all the other starters put up at least 2.5 WAR, with Stroman leading the way at 4.5 WAR. The bullpen is one of the top units in the league as well.

98th percentile 2018 Blue Jays team: 96 wins

In terms of individual production, this is actually the best simulated 2018 team, a 99 win team in terms of WAR that loses 2.5 wins along the way to the random variation. Both the position players (29 WAR) and pitchers (22 WAR) produce near the best possible outcomes.

  • Donaldson’s 7 WAR is the only star level season. Smoak, Martin and Travis are average regulars, Grichuk a little above. Tulo provides nothing, but Aledmys Diaz steps in with a 3.5 win season, and Solarte chips in 3 wins.
  • Interestingly, the rest of the starting outfield doesn’t provide much, just 2.5 WAR, with Pillar playing half a season. Pearce provides nothing, but they dip down to the minors and get 2.5 wins from one or both of Teoscar Hernandez and Anthony Alford being ready.
  • The starting rotation totals 845 innings, with only Garcia only pitching a half year. The other four all throw 180+ innings, with Sanchez having a 4.5 win season and the other three 2.5-3. Biagini fills in ably (1.5 wins in a half season). The bullpen is a little better than last year.

The next three: 95 wins

  1. A 91 win team on paper that picks up 4 wins. Donaldson carries them with 7.5 WAR, no one else is better than an average regular. The team does also gets help from the minor league outfielders. Stroman and J.A. Happ have big seasons, though the bullpen is sketchy.
  2. Another team carried by its pitching (21 WAR). 935 innings from the starting rotation, Garcia’s a decent backend starter (1.5), the rest all above 3 WAR. Donaldson falls to 4 WAR in 450 PA, but the depth comes through with over 9 WAR from reserves (for this purpose, Tulo is considered the team’s starting SS)
  3. Another team very similar to the one above, with dominant starting pitching, lead by Stroman and Sanchez combining for 10 WAR. Though Donaldson misses time, this team doesn’t depend on the bench so much, with Grichuk having a 3.3 WAR breakout season.

Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at how it could all go wrong with the bottom 5 trial seasons...remember how much fun 2017 was?