June 4, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; Toronto Blue Jays left fielder Melky Cabrera (53) at bat during the ninth inning against the San Francisco Giants at AT

WHY Gregg Zaun Was Wrong About Toronto Blue Jays


Yesterday I wrote about Toronto Blue Jays analyst Gregg Zaun‘s comments about the Toronto Blue Jays. I was hoping to poke a bit of fun at old Zauner based on his career numbers in the areas he gives the Jays the most slack about.

It sure was fun to give it right back to him!

But I would agree with readers that said Zaun’s numbers as a player provide limited insight to his value as a baseball analyst. So I (painfully) listened to the interview again and will attempt to explain why I think that he was wrong, this time leaving his aforementioned playing career out of it.

He responded to Sid Seixeiro‘s (qualified) question about who is in real jeopardy when it comes to the Toronto Blue Jays:

It’s kind of unfair for me to point fingers and say oh they are in jeopardy but I mean, let’s be honest, you can’t fire the whole team there’s quite a big chunk of it I would trade if the opportunity arose. Um, it’s my opinion that the Blue Jays should be sellers when it comes to certain people on the club. There’s certain guys you aren’t going to be able to move um, and if you can get winning-type ballplayers for them, and I’m not just talking about talent cause we’ve been talking about guy’s potential for a long time now, there’s some guys that are clearly not living up their potential and we are talking about a significant amount of time that we’ve been waiting for that to happen so, in my opinion, you run it til you know the end of July when the trade deadline comes, see if anybody makes massive changes but, if there’s somebody that’s due a big payday that’s not playing up to snuff um, that you think you can move and can bring in some, some pitching depth or even just some winning ballplayers, some guys that know how to play the game properly, I think you do it, you make wholesale changes.

Before moving on to the players that Zaun thinks the Blue Jays should move, let’s take a look at what he thinks the answer to the fix the currently underachieving roster, in general terms.

Zaun admits there are certain players that won’t be able to move. Daniel George already documented in his post about why the Blue Jays shouldn’t panic that it’s extremely unusual that Maicer Izturis, Josh Johnson, R.A. Dickey and Brandon Morrow are all having career-worst seasons, all at the same time. So his answer is to try to move what he considers overpaid, underachieving talent (based on a small sample size), that are all while performing at career lows, for pitching depth or “winning-type ballplayers” (read: WPA?) Is that what Zaun means when he says the Jays need “winning-type ballplayers”? Because he clearly states that he’s not just talking about talent. So let’s take a look at the win probability added (WPA) for some current Toronto Blue Jays in 2013 that he says he would try to move.

Josh Johnson
(-0.50) WPA

Mark Buehrle
(-0.17) WPA

J.P. Arencibia
(-0.18) WPA

Brett Lawrie
(-0.78) WPA

Maicer Izturis
(-1.49) WPA

Rajai Davis
(0.33) WPA

Let’s start with Buehrle. Andrew Stoeten at DJF did a very nice job clearing up the Jim Bowden insanity when Bowden suggested in his ESPN article (Insiders only) that the Jays could trade Marky Mark for an even worse contract in Andre Ethier.

At this point in his career, I think we should know what to expect with Mark Buehrle. On occasion he is vintage 2005 Buehrle – pretty damn awesome. Other nights he gets shelled with the best on them. But after a horrendous April, Buehrle has pitched much better of late. I figured it would be worthwhile to take a look at his monthly WPA splits.

Buehrle finished the month of April with a -0.84 WPA. He was on pace to allow the most home runs in single season history and his HR/FB ratio at 16.7% was bordering into the stratosphere. Despite the home runs being up, his FB% was decent at 35.3%. Buehrle pitched in tough parks in Toronto, Boston and New York and had a very rude welcoming to the American League East.

However in May, Buehrle was the best starter on the Blue Jays staff when it came to WPA, reversing his fortunes from earlier in the season and finished with a reasonable 0.35. His fly ball percentage actually increased slightly to 36.4% but as expected the HR/FB rate came back down to 11.6% for the month.

And he’s been even better in June, already contributing a 0.32 WPA in three starts (two were Jays wins, he earned one of them). His FB% is down to 28.6% and HR/FB is also way down to 5.6% despite two of his three starts being in Toronto and Texas.

It’s been well documented that Buehrle’s deal is extremely backloaded, with him scheduled to earn $18 million in 2014 and $19 million in 2015. Obviously he’s not going to be worth a $18.5 million average salary the next two years. But without the Jays willingness to take on his contract, they probably don’t end up with Jose Reyes. They also make up for overpaying Buehrle with below market value contracts for both Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Add to the fact that Adam Lind has a reasonable team option that the Jays can pick up if he keeps up his incredible play, and suddenly Buehrle’s contract doesn’t look so crippling. He’s as much of a lock there is to eat innings so as inconsistent as he’s been he add value to the Jays rotation going forward. Is it possible to be stable and inconsistent at the same time? I guess that’s what you get from a guy that pitches to so much contact. If possible, just try to forget how much money he’s making during those shellackings.

And after all of the money I have kindly donated to Rogers through my rising cable and internet costs all these years, I don’t have a problem with them keeping or adding to the current payroll instead of trying to flush contracts down the toilet in the name of “rebuilding”. Isn’t that the benefit of having a media conglomerate as your owner?

As for trading Josh Johnson, there has been much discussion about him possibly moving by the trade deadline. While he appears to be a shadow of his former self trading him doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. The return you would get on an expiring free agent who has yet to show he can pitch effectively since his injury isn’t ideal, while at the same time there’s still the slight chance Johnson could regain at part of his former ability for a fraction of the price next year. Unless there is something of value offered (which I doubt but obviously I have no idea what would be out there) I say the Jays hang on to him, see how he pitches the rest of the way (or can even stay healthy) and depending how the rest of your rotation plays out revisit the situation later this year. Depending on the quality of arms available, or if either Sean Nolin or Chad Jenkins are able to make the transition to the bigs, he may be at least worth considering holding on to if the money makes sense. But at the same time if he doesn’t perform it gives the Jays options.

Based on the new MLB collective bargaining agreement, the Jays can offer Johnson a qualifying offer based on the average MLB salary. If he agrees they could have him for another year. If he declines and signs elsewhere, the Jays would be awarded with a compensatory draft pick. So it’s not like the Jays would lose him for nothing if they don’t want to. I see the compensation pick possibly holding more long-term value than whatever the Jays can come up with for Johnson by the trade deadline.

As for Izturis, he’s caught wrath in Toronto for his overwhelmingly poor play so far this season. He’s not going to help you out defensively but I really liked the piece by Nick Ashbourne at Bluebird Banter about the illogical wisdom of starting Izturis. Nick’s been producing some really great work lately so make sure to check him out if you haven’t already. Izturis’ numbers are shockingly below his career average – there’s no way he is this bad. To trade him while his value is this low (or to expect him to keep performing this far below his career averages) doesn’t make sense.

In regards to Lawrie, I’m not going to get too in-depth since it seems he deserves a post to himself. As for his antics, I really couldn’t care less. As long as he hitting baseballs he can yell and scream all that he wants. He’s proven to be a bit eccentric but there have been more than a few extremely successful baseball players who you sometimes wonder if a screw or two loose upstairs.

I’m going to play the “he’s too young to make a call on yet” card since he smashed through the minors and probably raised our expectations a bit too quickly. He’s still only 23, there’s been concern with his mechanics and dropping numbers but he’s too talented to give up on yet. He’s pre-arbitration eligible this summer and he’s not exactly helping his case with a career low year. But based on the situation the Jays find themselves in with the infield I think he’s at least worth hanging while they control his future. Zaun might find all this potential just “pretty” but I’m more than willing to take a risk on Brett’s upside. It seems like Zaun wants to get rid of him more for his personality than ability, which I don’t think is a logical move. There is the argument is that he may never become the player we all hoped so we should cut our losses, but my personal opinion is that unless someone comes calling with a package worthy of Brett’s potential, the Jays would probably be best to ride it out with the immature third baseman.

With Arencibia, Travis Bateman was one of the first people to point out J.P.’s shocking K/BB percentage. So yeah, he’s pretty bad. I’m not a supporter but by trading Travis D’Arnaud it was made apparent who was the Jays catcher of at least the immediate future. I loved the call up of Josh Thole as I see his much better OBP a better fit with the current collection of Jays sluggers. So sure if someone wants a bag of baseballs (okay, maybe a bit more than that) for Arencibia I’d get rid of him. So Zaun I will give you this one. Maybe some GM will be blinded by his reckless power numbers.

Rajai Davis has been a pleasant surprise. The Jays don’t really need him so sure, like Zaun says, if someone wants a fourth outfielder with some speed and the deal makes sense sure. But don’t get on him because he can’t get a bunt down. I’d rather see him swing the bat with his .739 OPS. He’s been a pleasant surprise for Jays fans and although he may be at least a more logical choice since he’s playing above his career averages I don’t expect much noise around his name come July 31.

What I was really trying to get at in my last post is that based on his comments, Gregg Zaun would be my last choice as a general manager or front office type. But he sure is making a great Zaun Cherry – what can I say, his 12-minute rant inspired two posts (plus another from fellow staffer Alex Dineley) and over 2500 words from me!

All stats are courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball Reference.

Tags: Gregg Zaun Toronto Blue Jays