Toronto Blue Jays 2017 infield projections from Steamer and ZiPS
The Blue Jays’ infield might already be set for 2017, save for backup catcher and the slim chance that yet another bat is added to the already-crowded 1B/DH group.
Following is a look at how the Steamer and ZiPS projection systems forecast the current players to perform in the year ahead. Read here for Toronto’s starting rotation projections, here for the bullpen projections, and here for the outfield projections.
(Disclaimer: Playing time projections are largely unreliable and subject to constant change. Pay them little mind).
3B Josh Donaldson
Steamer: 645 PA, 31 HR, 91 RBI – .270/.374/.514 (.888 OPS) – 6.1 WAR
ZiPS: 657 PA, 34 HR, 105 RBI – .276/.372/.525 (.897 OPS) – 7.0 WAR
Donaldson will be relied on to lead Toronto’s run production in 2017, so those counting stats (and WAR totals) have a strong chance to exceed projections. One key to Donaldson’s overall value in 2017 will be his defence, as those metrics quietly took a step back last season (2 DRS in 2016 compared to 11 and 20 the two years prior). With WAR totals of 8.7 and 7.6 in his two seasons with the Blue Jays, expect more of the same.
SS Troy Tulowitzki
Steamer: 543 PA, 21 HR, 71 RBI – .260/.330/.445 (.774 OPS) – 2.9 WAR
ZiPS: 481 PA, 19 HR, 67 RBI – .258/.326/.439 (.765 OPS) – 3.3 WAR
Health will be first on Tulowitzki’s checklist. If he stays in the lineup for a full season, which he’s come close to doing the past two years, then he should have an opportunity to top these OPS projections and counting stats. Tulowitzki’s days of sitting near a 5.5 WAR may be behind him, but a total of 3.0-4.0 WAR is still entirely conceivable given his complementary value at shortstop. With Encarnacion gone and Bautista likely to follow, Tulowitzki should see far more opportunities with runners on base.
2B Devon Travis
Steamer: 508 PA, 12 HR, 54 RBI – .274/.318/.418 (.736 OPS) – 1.8 WAR
ZiPS: 481 PA, 15 HR, 61 RBI – .284/.330/.463 (.793 OPS) – 2.9 WAR
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Travis is an interesting case when it comes to projection systems. On one hand, he’s had both seasons cut short by injury at the MLB level. On the other hand, he’s shown the potential to be a 4.0+ WAR second-baseman over a full season when healthy.
ZiPS is higher on Travis than Steamer, and even lists Jeff Kent as the No. 1 comparable player for him in 2017. Kent grew into an MVP-calibre player in his 30s, of course, but had similar numbers around Travis’ age (mid-20s) with the New York Mets. Travis has the pop to sit near 15 home runs, but if he’s destined for the leadoff spot, that on-base percentage will be just as important ahead of the big bats. His health and performance will be critical to the Jays’ offence.
DH Kendrys Morales
Steamer: 508 PA, 22 HR, 72 RBI – .265/.331/.468 (.799 OPS) – 0.7 WAR
ZiPS: 557 PA, 25 HR, 94 RBI – .266/.329/.470 (.799 OPS) – 2.0 WAR
Morales is likely headed for full-time DH reps, so the 2.0 WAR projected by ZiPS might be beyond what should be expected (though he did reach 1.9 fWAR as recently as 2015). His position will leave many to unfairly hold him responsible for directly replacing Encarnacion’s production, which he’ll only be capable of to a certain extent. Don’t discount the advantage of Morales moving from Kauffman Stadium to the more friendly Rogers Centre, though. The likeliest outcome is ZiPS counting stats with Steamer WAR (slightly above, perhaps).
C Russell Martin
Steamer: 524 PA, 19 HR, 62 RBI – .229/.328/.403 (.730 OPS) – 2.8 WAR
ZiPS: 462 PA, 18 HR, 71 RBI – .233/.334/.410 (.744 OPS) – 3.1 WAR
Both systems project a bounce-back for Martin in terms of overall value with similar offensive numbers to his first two seasons in Toronto. Martin’s defensive metrics were not as strong last season as in years past, so a return to his career norms would accomplish that. Entering the final three years of his contract — all valued at $20 million — keeping Martin fresh and productive will be a top priority for John Gibbons and the Blue Jays.
1B Justin Smoak
Steamer: 442 PA, 17 HR, 54 RBI – .224/.313/.407 (.720 OPS) – 0.3 WAR
ZiPS: 387 PA, 16 HR, 54 RBI – .230/.313/.417 (.720 OPS) – 0.4 WAR
The forecasts for Smoak are nearly identical, and at this point, these are the numbers to expect from him. It remains to be seen how he’ll fit in the 1B/DH picture, but given his recent extension, there will be a role for him. For Smoak, the key to his value will be cutting down on a strikeout rate that finished at 32.8% last season, a career high.
2B Darwin Barney
Steamer: 208 PA, 3 HR, 19 RBI – .242/.294/.348 (.642 OPS) – 0.3 WAR
ZiPS: 356 PA, 5 HR, 29 RBI – .250/.297/.345 (.642 OPS) – 0.8 WAR
Barney is currently the safest bet to open the season as the primary reserve infielder given his ability to play multiple positions with plus defence. While his .695 OPS from 2016 may not be sustainable, something just above these projections is a a reasonable expectation and that would be enough to warrant his position (and arbitration salary). Gibbons has shown a high level of trust in Barney, and with both Tulowitzki and Travis hitting the DL each of the past two seasons, Barney could see spurts of regular work through the year.
C A.J. Jimenez
Steamer: 120 PA, 2 HR, 11 RBI – .231/.275/..344 (.618 OPS) – 0.1 WAR
ZiPS: 240 PA, 3 HR, 25 RBI – .243/.279/.363 (.642 OPS) – 0.9 WAR
Until another catcher is added, Jimenez is slotted in as the primary backup to Martin. An OPS below .650 may not look the most appealing, but in the catching world, that’s almost above average from a second-tier option. Jimenez hit .241 with a .668 OPS in triple-A Buffalo last season, but has struggled somewhat this winter in Liga de Beisbol Profesional Roberto Clemente (Puerto Rico). His ability to handle the staff and limit the running game (40% of runners thrown out in MiLB career) will be more important than his bat.
2B Ryan Goins
Steamer: 125 PA, 1 HR, 11 RBI – .238/.286/.339 (.625 OPS) – 0.0 WAR
ZiPS: 425 PA, 5 HR, 37 RBI – .226/.269/.326 (.595 OPS) – 0.0 WAR
Goins could feel the squeeze this year given that he’s out of options, and his 2016 did little to help. The glove-first 28-year-old hit just .183 and was valued at -1.0 WAR. If he does stick on the roster out of spring, he’ll need to hit at a career-high level.