The Toronto Blue Jays aren’t getting much love from the ZiPS projection system entering 2016, but their work in the field is being forecasted as excellent
The MLB offseason comes with a calendar of its own. Spread out evenly enough, thankfully, to maintain some faint level of sanity among baseball fans.
After the transactional rush of free agency and trade negotiations in November and December, January and February are filled mostly by offseason prospect lists and projections for the year to come.
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FanGraphs is an excellent hub for this, and after releasing the 2016 ZiPS projections and playoff odds on Tuesday morning, August Fagerstrom gave the Blue Jays some love in this article previewing the best and worst defenses entering the coming season.
The bad news first, you say? Toronto’s bar has been set rather low in the playoff odds.
With an expected record of 84.1 wins and 77.9 losses, the Blue Jays are being projected to regress from their 2015 season and place second in the division behind the Boston Red Sox (who are projected to win 88.4 games).
In large part, this is due to the expectation from ZiPS and Steamer projections that several Blue Jays are due for regressions individually. These include Edwin Encarnacion (projections are not kind to aging DH types), Kevin Pillar, Marco Estrada, and 2015 BABIP King Chris Colabello.
As it stands currently, the Blue Jays are given a 45.2% chance at making the playoffs either through the division or wild card, with an 8.2% chance of winning the ALCS and a 3.8% chance of winning the World Series. There exists some room for improvement, at least.
The good news? Toronto ranks as the number two defence in baseball according to FanGraphs projections behind only the Kansas City Royals [profane remarks withheld].
“You might not think of the Blue Jays as a defensive powerhouse,” writes Fagerstrom, “but they’ve got defensive stars in both the infield and outfield, and perhaps most importantly, they’ve got great defenders at the premier positions. From behind the plate to center field, they’re fantastic up the middle, and their only only weak spots defensively are where you don’t mind having weak spots: first base and the corners in the outfield.”
Even looking to Toronto’s reserve players, defence seems to be a priority. Justin Smoak brings a quality glove at first, Darwin Barney brings a Gold Glove to the middle infield, and Josh Thole is likely to grab a roster spot based on his ability to catch R.A. Dickey‘s knuckleball alone. Once Devon Travis returns, the Blue Jays will be given flexibility with the elite glove of Ryan Goins, as well. These are not luxuries enjoyed by every Major League team.
Projecting a team’s defensive capabilities is far more based in reality than projecting a team’s overall performance across 162 games, so some real optimism lies in this.
The Toronto defence and league-best lineup will help to cushion the starting rotation and bullpen, which both enter camp with question marks, but the Blue Jays should have little trouble making the “over” a smart bet on the 84.1 win projection.