The 2015 version of the Toronto Blue Jays looks like a portion of an All Star team. Everywhere you look there are big names with big resumes. And, it is leading to a big season. But, we should not forget about the “other guys”. The Blue Jays bench is proving to be quite solid and productive. In fact, the duo of first basemen this club runs out there has proven to be quite productive. For minimal money, the Blue Jays have a platoon of sorts at first base that is providing great numbers. It’s been a great bargain.
Chris Colabello and Justin Smoak have combined to provide the Blue Jays with a great two headed beast at first. While they each bring a little something different, together they are a solid first base option. Combined, they have produced 30 HR and 104 RBI. That’s great production from the 1B position. In fact, a quick look around the division will give you a sense of how that stacks up.
The New York Yankees were enjoying a great season from Mark Teixeira before they finally realized he had a broken leg. His 31 HR and 79 RBI were keeping them in the playoff race. Tampa Bay is getting 4 HR and 32 RBI from James Loney and another 2 HR and 16 RBI from Jake Elmore. The Red Sox have Travis Shaw and his 11 HR and 25 RBI. They also parted ways with Mike Napoli who provided 13 HR and 40 RBI. Really, the Orioles are the only club getting the kind of production out of 1B that the Blue Jays are. Except, they’re getting it from one guy- Chris Davis. His 42 HR and 107 RBI are clearly tops in the division. But, 2nd best is still OK.
Toronto Blue Jays
To take this a bit further and look around MLB at HR (using Yahoo sortable positional rankings) totals for first basemen, we get some pretty good news. If Colabello and Smoak were one hitter, they would rank tied for 6th among 1B in MLB for HR. They would also be 2nd in RBI. Not bad at all.
Now, obviously, HR and RBI totals are not the only measure to look at, as impressive as they are. When you look at the slash lines, you get Smoak at .226/.302/.471 in 120 games and Colabello at .329/.378/.526 in 91 games. A combination of these lines would be just fine, thank you very much. And, yes, Colabello is being helped by a .415 BABIP. Many thought that it would regress. It hasn’t. Regardless, this type of line is more than acceptable out of the 1B spot.
Maybe you’d like to see a better OBP. Smoak is walking just 9.6% to Colabello’s 6.6%. That’s not great. In fact, it might be surprising that Smoak’s is actually better. They’re both striking out at an eerily similar rate of nearly 26%: Smoak at 25.8% and Colabello at 26.7%. And, that is about where you’d expect one of your sluggers to be. Fewer whiffs would be nice, but generally, power hitters bring more strike outs. The great ones can avoid the K, though. Regardless, the ISO of .245 for Smoak and .197 for Colabello indicate the kind of power you’d expect from the position.
OK, so the Blue Jays are benefiting from great offensive production. But, what about the glove? Well, according to Fangraphs.com, Smoak has put up 2.5 UZR/150 and has been worth 3 DRS. Colabello has looked good at times at first, but has put up a UZR/150 of -3.9 and been worth -4 DRS. It would be nice if we could say that the two balance each other out, but that is not really the case. Smoak is the better defender. But, for the production the two provide, can you live with a difference of -1 DRS? Maybe. Some will be more comfortable than others.
Obviously, the Blue Jays are comfortable with this set up. And, why not? From a business standpoint, this might be the bargain of the season, aside from Josh Donaldson, of course. When the club brought these two aboard, they appeared to be a couple of those “depth” moves designed as insurance or even to create some kind of competition for the starting job. It might even have appeared like the bargain hunting/ dumpster diving moves of the past. Except, it actually worked. When you look at the information provided by Fangraphs, you see the value the club is getting.
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Smoak is being paid $1M for 2015. Colabello is getting the league minimum at $500K. That’s $1.5M between the two. Fangraphs lays out their performance value thusly: Smoak: $3.7M, Colabello: $7.3M for a total value of $11M. So, for a fraction of their performance cost, the Blue Jays are getting top production out of this first base duo. Yes, there are holes in their game. But, very few players have no holes. And, when you’re paying bargain prices, it comes with the territory. But, for the Blue Jays, you’re OK with some of those holes in favor of top shelf production. In a game of dollars, this might be a winning move.
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