Today, I’m going to focus on two players that I feel can have a major impact on the second half of the season for the Jays. One has had the focus placed on him since his return from the minors, while the other player has been somewhat forgotten as a player who has helped ensure the Jays stay around .500 this season despite facing so many obstacles to remain there.
At a time when we can look down the Eastern seaboard and watch Alex Gonzalezhit .235/.270/.356 with 15 doubles, a triple, a SB, and 7 HRs with the Braves, the Jays are reaping the rewards of a much better end of the deal in 2011. Yunel Escobar has now managed a .289/.363/.440 line so far this season, and this includes 12 doubles, 3 triples, 9 HRs, and 3 SBs. However, it’s Yunel’s performance over his last 10 games, since signing an extension on June 19th of this year, that is simply ridiculously good when compared to Gonzalez.
Since June 22nd, Escobar has hit .421 (16 for 38) with 4 doubles, an OBP that has increased from .353 to .363, and a SLG that has increased from .424 to .440 over that span. Meanwhile, Gonzalez has hit .105 (4 for 38) with 1 double, an OBP that has diminished from .287 to .270, and a SLG that has diminished from .383 to .356. One of these hitters is not like the other.
I know that some will point to the defensive abilities of Gonzalez to substantiate the move for the Braves, and they’re right, his D is a lot better than Escobar’s overall. However, the Jays are benefiting from a 2.3 oWAR from Escobar which when combined with his exactly league average 0.0 dWAR gives them a much better total than that of Gonzalez, who has a 1.1 dWAR to go along with a -0.1 oWAR for a total of 1.0 WAR. Using this stat alone (WAR), Escobar’s value to the Jays has been more than double the value of Gonzalez to the Braves.
Their WAR ratings, and the fact that Escobar is 28 years old while Gonzalez is 34 years old, tells me that Alex Anthopoulos is creeping into the “has robbed the Braves” category when considering the main pieces of both sides of this deal. I still believe, however, that if the Braves had kept Tim Collinsto go along with Tyler Pastornicky, things would have looked a whole lot better on their end when all was said and done. As it is, they traded him to the Royals where he has earned himself a 0.6 WAR rating as a 21 year old reliever in the American League. At 5’7″ 170 lbs, I’m sure he’s an inspiration to many kids trying to make it with such a disadvantaged frame.
I’d like to add one last thing for the Jays concerning Yunel Esobar. Where would the Jays be without him leading off games during the 1st half of the season? In 2010, the Jays lead-off hitters managed a .243/.313/.385 line, and they accumulated 163 hits in 671 ABs, 38 doubles, 6 triples, 15 HRs, 54 RBI and 20 SB while doing it. In 2011, Escobar (and some others for short time periods) have accumulated a much improved .266/.333/.404 line to go along with 96 hits in 361 ABs and an almost exactly identical production of 17 doubles, 3 triples, 9 HRs, 32 RBI, and 10 SBs. I say almost identical production since if we adjusted for the total games to be played this season with the same performances as the first half has displayed, the Jays lead-off hitters would manage 31 doubles, 6 triples, 16 HRs, 59 RBI, and 20 SBs. What has changed is that the Jays are on base more often from the lead off position and are therefore in a better position to “bother” opposing pitchers. This must have also helped Jose Bautista reach new heights as well, as pitchers have been more distracted with him at the plate than they were in 2010.
Escobar, in my estimation, can lead off or hit second in the lineup. Either way, he proves to be productive and a great addition to the Jays lineup when you consider what they could have been getting from Gonzalez had they kept him around. Just how bad would the Jays have been this year without Escobar at the top of the lineup? For that reason, and the others stated above, I find that the Escobar acquisition has proved ridiculously good for the Toronto Blue Jays franchise.
I am only one of many thousands of Jays fans who really believed Snider would come out and prove himself to be one of the core lineup guys for the Jays this season. As we all know by now, that wasn’t in the cards, as he stepped backwards instead of forwards and really put into question whether or not he would make good on his potential as a hitter. There was a ton of disappointment and many questions raised when the Jays decided to send him back to the minors to “revamp” his swing, but those questions are now beginning to be answered.
First, the Jays designated Juan Rivera for assignment upon deciding to recall Snider. Although Rivera made it an easy call for the Jays due to some horrible play – both at the plate and in the field – the move still displayed the faith and trust the Jays have in Snider’s abilities. More importantly, however, is the fact that it forces the Jays to “stick it out” with Snider and to let him work things out for the remainder of the season.
Second, his return with the Jays included a flurry of doubles, 3 in total, which gave him 8 in total for the season. Although it proves little in terms of long-term improvements made by Snider, it does set things off on the right foot for him. That’s important, and to me at least as I watched each double, it proved two things: his swing is much quicker to the ball, and he’s not trying to hit a HR. Instead, he’s trying to hit the ball hard. He still isn’t the most patient hitter at the plate, and this may be his final hurdle to cross, but the improvements made to make more consistent contact will go a long way to giving him the confidence to improve on that aspect of his game in the future. After all, if you’re more confident in your ability to fight off pitches when in a 0-2 count, you can afford to work the count back into your favor. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen Jose Bautista do this successfully, but if Snider can replicate that approach at some point in the future, it could be the difference between a 6-hole hitting Snider and a 2 to 5-hole hitting Snider.
He has only been back for 3 games, so the sample size is too small to claim any successes or failures on Snider’s part, but if his shorter stroke sticks around and he builds on his confidence at the plate, Snider could find himself hitting ahead of Edwin Encarnacion and Aaron Hill before long. So long as he hits consistently, his RBI opportunities would increase a ton in that position of the lineup, and he could do a much better job than any of the Jays hitters have done in the 5-hole all season long.
His abilities to hit off-speed pitches have always been evident, so if his stroke remains shorter and allows him to catch up to fastballs more consistently, he could do some real damage in the second half of the season. I’m not saying he’ll be able to hit 15 HR with a great line, but even if he manages something around 10 HRs and a .280/.350/.415 line from here to the end of the season, he’ll provide the Jays with more production than they’ve received from anyone in the bottom of the lineup. What he’ll also provide, more than any other hitter the Jays could put in that position at this point, is some speed on the base-paths which could help the bottom of the lineup out a lot.
After kicking things off with a 5 for 13 return to the lineup, Snider is now above the Mendoza line (.210) and has the ability to build on that start. Whether or not he does remains to be seen, but so long as he doesn’t slip back into his long swing approach, I don’t see why he can’t continue to improve all season long.
I’m not exactly certain what will happen in the Jays OF between now and the 2013 season as it could play itself out in many ways. If Brett Lawrie takes over 3B from Bautista, it squeezes playing time for both Eric Thames and Travis Snider in the LF spot. If Lawrie can’t handle 3B, it brings Bautista back into the infield and likely puts Lawrie in the mix in one of the OF corners (or possibly a return to 2B to replace Hill?). Moises Sierra, Adam Loewen, and Anthony Gose all need to be considered as early as in 2012, and the Jays also have Justin Jackson, Jacob Marisnick, Michael Crouse, and Marcus Knecht following right behind them.
What does this indicate? Well, unless Travis Snider can prove himself to be an above-average Left-Fielder, he may not be able to stick with the Jays as long as most of us believe he might. Alex Anthopoulos has stated many times that he wants to improve competition at each position and wants to have above-average output at each position sometime in the near future. Those are his goals. If Snider needs to be moved to make that happen, I’m certain that the man who traded a player with the pedigree of Roy Halladay won’t blink as he pulls the trigger on the deal. Having said that, I sincerely hope he builds into the player we all know he can be, because watching him blossom into a 30+ HR with great lines on another club would be much to painful.
As for Yunel Escobar, it’s evident that he’s sticking in the top of the Jays lineup long term. He has done nothing but improve since he came to the Jays. What remains to be seen is how the Jays will handle 2012. Will Double-A’s All-Star SS Adeiny Hechavarria take over at SS, moving Escobar to 2B and allowing his bat to play up in the process? Or, will the Jays pick up Hill’s options and allow Hechavarria to develop a little more in the minors first? I can’t answer either of those questions, obviously, but keeping the money that would have been spent on Hill available to sign a bigger named FA or 2 does have its merits. After all, if the Jays don’t keep Hill around, they could have an experienced right side of the infield with Adam Lind (1B) andYunel Escobar (2B), while the left side would be made up of two rookies, Adeiny Hechavarria (SS) and Brett Lawrie (3B). Sure, they would learn on the job, but there’s a chance that the Jays will want to stagger their starts in Toronto a little to ease the process. Keeping Hechavarria in the minors, presumably AAA, until June 2012 would slow his Arbitration clock down as well, providing the Jays with more time to get him ready to face major league pitchers.
There is one problem with that theory however, in that the Jays would then have to find a taker for Aaron Hill’s contract in order to bring Hechavarria up in mid-2012. With the cost of such a move being approximately $12 million ($4 million for the remainder of 2012 and $8 million for 2013), I’m not sure that his value would be where it needs to be to allow the Jays to move him. A more likely scenario would have them designating him as they did with Juan Rivera, and/or eating a bunch of his salary – if not all of it. Personally, I believe the Jays and Alex Anthopoulos may be happier being able to draft someone in the sandwich round of the 2012 draft than to hope that they can extract that kind of value in an Aaron Hill deal in 2012 or 2013. At this point, Hill would qualify as a Type B FA, making a sandwich pick an automatic return on letting him walk post-2011.
Both Travis Snider and Yunel Escobar are keys to the Jays chances of making things interesting in the second half of the season. As the leadoff and possible #5 hitters in the lineup, they can help bring more stability to run production of the Jays lineup and finally get the pitching the support they need to get more wins under their belts. To me, they are the possible game-changers for the Jays from here on out. If they succeed, the Jays will do some damage and will improve on their 1st half numbers. If not, we could be in for a long second half of the season.
My gutsy predictions: Yunel will continue to be steady as it goes and will improve on his 1st half numbers slightly, Travis will earn himself a steady #5 spot in the lineup until Brett Lawrie arrives – at which point he’ll split time with Eric Thames in LF/DH, and Edwin Encarnacion will be moved to a contender looking for power in the lineup (with Seattle being the likeliest candidate). Both will help the Jays to an above .500 record for the season and will head into 2012 as key/core hitters in the Jays lineup.
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