Toronto Blue Jays: Defensively Improved


For a while, we’ve been hearing about the most potent offense in baseball being your Toronto Blue Jays. They’ve been outscoring the league. They should have been in first place all along with that offense. But, they weren’t. The moves made mid summer have been discussed a lot. The offense was improved by adding Troy Tulowitzki. The pitching staff was improved by adding David Price, Mark Lowe and LaTroy Hawkins. But, we should really look at the defense and talk about just how much it has improved. By adding the above players, Ben Revere and Cliff Pennington, the Blue Jays have put a heavy focus on defense. The difference is huge and it just might pay off.

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The old adage in baseball that “pitching and defense win championships” just might be put to the test with the 2015 Blue Jays. By adding Price, they’ve brought in an “Ace”. The bullpen has been morphed into quite a force. The additions of Hawkins and Lowe provide stability for what has become the very frightening back end of Aaron Sanchez and Roberto Osuna. All of a sudden the bullpen is a strength. Combine that with a rotation that is on fire right now and the ever dangerous offense, this Blue Jays club looks scary.

But, what about the defense? How have they improved? I went to to look at some numbers. Quite simply, I looked at what was there before the trades and compared it to what is there now. It is kind of a before and after look. I used the Rdrs score. This measures Defensive Runs Saved Above Average for each player based on total plays made in all positions; their total defensive contributions. Sounds like a good basic stat for this kind of exercise. I will concede that there are likely other, more involved, ways to find the desired information, but this is a quick and dirty way to satisfy my curiosity. 

Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto Blue Jays /

Toronto Blue Jays

So, I looked at players who’s defense has been removed or altered vs those who are new. Here we go:

Ezequiel Carrera (DFA’d- playing in AAA Buffalo): -10 Rdrs
Chris Colabello (likely now limited to DH/PH duties, glove removed): -18 Rdrs
Jose Reyes (sent packing to Colorado): -9 Rdrs
Danny Valencia (DFA’s, claimed by Oakland Athletics): -6 Rdrs
TOTAL: -43 Rdrs!

So, by jettisoning the above players’ gloves, the Blue Jays have rid themselves of defensive contributions that have led to -43 runs above average. Think of what could have been. How many games could they have won? Even if you figure an average of 5 runs per game (which is generous), that means 9 games could have gone in the other column. Again, it’s simple math, I know. But, you get the drift, here.

Now, let’s look at what the new guys are bringing. It has to be better, right? There may not be Gold Gloves handed out to this list, but it has to be better than -43 Rdrs.

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  • Additions:
    Ben Revere: 1 Rdrs. That is one run above average. Not amazing, but certainly much better than the LF platoon that was there before. Baseball Reference extrapolates that to 13 Rdrs/yr (1200 innings).
    Troy Tulowitzki: 2 Rdrs. He’ll save two runs above average. Baseball Reference extrapolates that to 25 Rdrs/yr (1200 innings).
    Cliff Pennington: 0 Rdrs. This might be a little misleading. According to the Rdrs stat, he is average. Still, that is better than a negative value. I’d much prefer a guy who is not going to cost runs.

    So, the net result is going from -43 Rdrs to 3 Rdrs. That’s quite an improvement. While we know that the defense has been improved upon, it is somewhat surprising to see it laid out. This gives us an idea as to just how much it has been improved.

    Again, none of this is to suggest that there will be some Gold Gloves landing in Toronto all of a sudden. Though, we should expect to hear Kevin Pillar‘s name in that discussion. Anything less would be a travesty. However, it is very clear that defense was a priority when GM, Alex Anthopoulos went “all in” at the Trade Deadline. Much is made of the high powered offense of the Blue Jays. The pitching has been great lately. The defense might just be able to keep up their end of things and create a complete team; one that is ready to compete for a championship.

    Next: What is the Measure of Success for Blue Jays in 2015?

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