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Gregg Zaun Is Dead Wrong About Toronto Blue Jays


Jun 13, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Munenori Kawasaki (66) lays down a sacrifice bunt in the eighth inning of the game against the Texas Rangers at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. The Blue Jays won 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

I really hope that former player turned Toronto Blue Jays analyst Gregg Zaun wasn’t eyeing a job in a big league front office. Based on his blathering nonsense yesterday I don’t think any major league clubs will be calling for his “expert” advice anytime soon… or ever.

In case you missed it, Zaun went off about the Toronto Blue Jays on the Tim and Sid show on Sportsnet (or theScore, or whatever they are calling it these days).

Unlike Tim Micallef I pretty much have a problem with everything that Zaun said yesterday but I’m going to have to narrow down my focus to keep this post readable. I’m no GM and I don’t pretend to be one. I’ll leave the trade talk rumours to the people who are much more in the know than me. Rather I’m going to key on Zaun’s self-proclaimed “bottom line”. Here’s a quote I transcribed from his interview with Tim and Sid yesterday:

"Get what you can for these guys because the bottom line is we [the Toronto Blue Jays] got guys in the big leagues who can’t get a bunt down, who can’t figure out how to situational hit, who play sloppy defense, who are underachieving on the mound, why would you want to hang on to these guys?"

So that’s what the problem is – gotta get those bunts down eh Zauner?*

*Denotes sarcasm. And please Gregg, a bit of grammar would be nice… but comments like this do help explain how you ended up with an extra “g” at the end of your first name.

The fact that we are hearing this crap from Zaun should come as no surprise. After all, is it not every time the Jays are down he pops up on our televisions and preaches they just need to “hit the ball up the middle” or “swing to opposite field” like he was some sort of expert?

So I figured it might be fun to take a look at good old Greggy boy’s career numbers to see what type of “situational hitter**” he really was.

**I’m going to pretend situational hitting actually exists, or I guess I should say is very important, just for the biased purposes of this post. Please bear with me hardcore saber-heads.

The definition and importance of clutch hitting is still open for debate, but FanGraphs does calculate a clutch stat based on high leverage plate situations vs. normal plate situations. So how did Gregg Zaun fare in these “clutch” situations during his major league career?

The answer is… not very well. He has a career clutch of -2.72 (with 0 being supposedly average). Anything below -1 in a single season is below average and Zaun had some pretty bad seasons including -1.03 in 1998, -0.99 in 2003, and -0.81 in 2010 and. His career best year was only 0.58 in 2008.

Since the clutch stat compares a player to himself, it’s safe to say that Zaun was never the type of situational hitter he claims the Jays need, even based on his lowly career standards. But the Blue Jays better listen to him if they want to get themselves out of this slump!*

*Again, denotes sarcasm. I really hope I don’t have to continue with these asterisks…

Another way of trying to quantify value is through WPA/LI or situational winning. I will admit it took me awhile to figure out exactly what WPA/LI means. Basically it’s a way to attempt to quantify what Zaun is talking about during his mid-inning sermons by weighting outcomes based on the probability they affect game. Confusing yes, but a great measurement of value. Just check out the MLB leaders.

So did Zaun practice what he now preaches as an active player?

Hardly. He had a career WPA/LI of -4.18, with lows of -1.58 in 1998 and -1.07 in 2002 compared to a career high of only 0.63 in 2001. More seasons than not he was a negative WPA/LI contributor to his team. But this is the guy the Toronto Blue Jays should be listening to…*

*You get the point.

So now let’s compare this to qualifying Toronto Blue Jays hitters this year (all five of them… and I promise I will learn how to actually make a table before my next post.)

Player ///// WPA ///// WPA/LI ///// Clutch
Edwin Encarnacion ///// 1.07 ///// 1.33 ///// -0.32
Jose Bautista ///// 1.03 ///// 1.35 ///// -0.43
J.P. Arencibia ///// -0.14 ///// -0.69 ///// 0.56
Colby Rasmus ///// -0.61 ///// 0.01 ///// -0.58
Melky Cabrera ///// -1.55 ///// 0.03 ///// -1.44

Although according to Zaun now is time for a Toronto Blue Jays fire sale but there is simply not enough data to support his claim. The clutch stat is a bit of a “luck” stat and gives us more of a historical context instead of a predictor of future success. And the sample size is just not big enough to make such irrational conclusions the way that Zaun does.

WPA/LI is positive for both Encarnacion and Bautista, which shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who has watched the Blue Jays this year. It actually meshes nicely with their respective 135 and 141 wRC+. As for these other guys that Zaun claims we should know about by now, they don’t even qualify based on the required minimum plate appearances. So I think it might be just a TAD early to write off the entire Blue Jays team.

As for Zaun’s future in baseball, I would suggest that he sticks to the booth and far, far away from anything that resembles a front office. But please Mr. Zaun if you are this willing to sell low on the entire team you are more than welcome to join my fantasy baseball league next year!