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Projecting the 2021 Blue Jays: outfield

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MLB: Detroit Tigers at Toronto Blue Jays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

While there is no shortage of quality baseball projections, in large measure they are single numbers representing some measure of central likelihood such as a weighted average or median expectation. This is only half the story, as the compliment to average is the variance and shape of the distribution. Accordingly, this is an attempt to build out projections that incorporate both dimensions. For more background, see here.

These distributions are based on projecting playing time (PA/IP) and productivity on a seven point scale on each dimension to create a 7x7 matrix of 49 outcomes. The seven points roughly correspond to the 5th/20th/35th/50th/65th/80th/95th percentile outcomes on each dimension. I’ve used the public projection systems to guide the inputs, but also incorporating my own expectations (biases).

Projecting the 2021 Blue Jays regulars: Catchers/DH | Infield | Outfield | Starting Pitchers

Lourdes Gurriel Jr.

Gurriel 2021 projection

Frankly, this is more of a symmetric distribution than I expected to get for Gurriel. Though his productivity is tied to achieving batted ball outcomes, he’s hit at a fairly high level since mid-2019 so it’s not a stretch to project him as a solid regular. However, there are defensive question marks, which could result in more marginal production if his batting line dips. Conversely, a big season at the plate could plausibly boost him to a 3-4 WAR type season. Injuries have caused some missed time since signing before 2018, factoring that in also limits total production a little bit.

George Springer

Springer 2021 projection

Though there’s been no formal announcement on the prognosis, given the seriousness of oblique injuries, I’ve assumed some missed time to start the season and adjusted his playing time downward especially at the mid-upper end of the distribution (effectively capping his upside). More broadly, a history of missed time to minor injuries results in a conservative forecast for how much he’ll play, limiting the total production.

A peak in the 2-3 WAR range may seem low, but that presents a combination of lower productivity/higher playing time and higher productivity/lower playing time scenarios. It also results in the long right tail, where if he gets and stays mostly healthy there’s the possibility of MVP-level production. And of course, the left tail rises quickly given his superlative track record of productivity.

Teoscar Hernandez

Teoscar 2021 projection

This projection ends up fairly symmetric and central on average-ish, 2-WAR production. That may seem pessimistic after 2020’s breakout, but it’s reflecting a significant amount of offensive regression given that his plate outcomes barely improves and are a drag on his prodigious batted balls. Moreover, Teoscar’s defensive/positional value remains tenuous and it wouldn’t be surprised if he saw a good amount of time at DH given the outfield mix.

Given that profile and a marginal record prior to mid-2019, there is real risk of low production in 2021, but on the other side there is a reasonable long tail of higher production as well. It’s appropriately a fairly flat wide distribution for a player with almost 1500 career PA, reflecting higher uncertainty.

Randal Grichuk

Grichuk 2021 projection

Grichuk is nominally the fourth outfielder, and though he figures to get plenty of playing time via injuries, and rotating others through DH to keep them fresh and take them out of the field, it does limit his projected playing time and create a relatively tall, narrow distribution. 2015 was the last time that Grichuk played at an above average level, settling in a solid average regular since (7 WAR in 2200 PA), so there’s not much of a right tail.

In terms of productivity, though Grichuk experiences extended hot and cold stretches, it has tended to even out. To the extent there’s uncertainty, it’s more the drift in his profile as his strikeout rate and power output have become less extreme. The other factor is how one evaluates Grichuk’s defense (I’m on the higher end, even in CF).

Inputs

2021 outfield data inputs