Blue Jays: A tale of two projections for the 2018 season

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 30: Josh Donaldson
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 30: Josh Donaldson /

The 2018 MLB projections for PECOTA and Depth Charts have come out over the past few days as we’re drawing ever closer to the start of Spring Training. With a week to go for the Toronto Blue Jays, I’ll take you through the projections for both PECOTA and Depth Charts.

Projection 1 – PECOTA: 78 wins – 84 losses, 767 runs scored, 796 runs against, .252/.324/.425

The first thing that automatically stands out to me here is that the 2018 Blue Jays pitching staff is projected to struggle, allowing nearly 800 runs. That’s an average of almost 4.9 runs per game allowed by the staff. The 2017 Blue Jays, with all the injuries to the rotation and inconsistency from the bullpen allowed 720 runs.

The second thing that stands out here is that Baseball Prospectus does see a bounce back with the bats. In 2017, the Blue Jays as a team hit .240/.312/.412 and they only scored 693 runs. It’s pretty obvious that when you’re replacing the likes of Darwin Barney and Ryan Goins with Yangervis Solarte and Aledmys Diaz that you should instantly expect improvements there. You’ll also see improvements on Jose Bautista with the addition of Randal Grichuk.

Let’s look at the individual player’s projections from Baseball Prospectus. For the ease of presenting the data, I tweeted the projections and embedded the tweet into the post.

There are definitely some interesting nuts and bolts to absorb here. The big one is that PECOTA has Yangervis Solarte playing more at 2nd base than Devon Travis. At this point, that may be a safe bet. I like seeing that PECOTA likes a somewhat healthy and productive season from Troy Tulowitzki, which could be a big key for success in 2018. If Tulowitzki even manages 450+ productive plate appearances, there’s instant improvement.

Some disappointing things I see in these projections is a sharp regression from Justin Smoak and a sub .300 OBP for Randal Grichuk. I wrote last night that Smoak replicating his 2017 season in 2018 could be one of the biggest reasons for a good 2018 season for the team and this projection doesn’t have that.

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As mentioned above, the projections for the 2018 Blue Jays really do not favour the pitching staff, and I’m not quite sure why. Baseball Prospectus really thinks that key cogs from the 2017 bullpen like Danny Barnes and Ryan Tepera struggle pretty mightily in 2018. The projections are also rather harsh on the health of the 2018 rotation with no starter eclipsing the 200.0+ inning mark or making 30+ starts.

Baseball Prospectus clearly doesn’t see Marco Estrada turning it around and bouncing back in 2018, but the projections from every website always seem to not favour Estrada since he is a flyball pitcher in a hitters park. They also see pretty steep regression for J.A. Happ, who’s been fantastic in his 2nd go-round with the Blue Jays.

Overall, there does seem to be some potential for the Blue Jays offense with the PECOTA projections but they’re very suspicious of the pitching staff. In an ideal world, the front office still adds a starter between now and Opening Day. Regardless, I don’t see the rotation being as bad as what is being projected, which should get the Blue Jays closer to or at the .500 mark with minimal improvements on each of these projections.

Projection 2 – Fangraphs: 85 wins – 77 losses, 5.06 runs scored/game, 4.80 runs allowed/game

Well, you can see that Fangraphs Depth Charts projections for the 2018 Toronto Blue Jays are MUCH better than the projections put forward by PECOTA. These projections currently have the Houston Astros, Cleveland Indians, and Boston Red Sox as division winners. The two Wild-Card teams are the New York Yankees at 90 wins and the Los Angeles Angels at 88 wins.

These projections have the Blue Jays playing very meaningful baseball nearly all season long, which is something that is definitely a possibility if this roster stays healthy and has some bounce-back performances from key guys. After the Blue Jays, the only other team in the American League above .500 is the Minnesota Twins at 82-80.

Given how bad the likes of the Baltimore Orioles, Tampa Bay Rays, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Oakland Athletics, and potentially the Chicago White Sox (I think they may surprise in 2018) will be, that leaves the Blue Jays in the group of teams behind the division winners and likely the 2nd place AL East team to compete for the 2nd wildcard. The Blue Jays, Twins, Angels, Mariners, and Rangers are all potentials for the 2nd wildcard, and with these projections, the Blue Jays may be able to find themselves in the 2018 post-season.

Above is the 2018 projections for the Blue Jays offense. The first thing you notice is that compared to PECOTA, Josh Donaldson is a 6.2 win player. That’s much more likely what you’ll get from a healthy Josh Donaldson compared to the 3.7 mark set out by PECOTA. You can also see that even though Justin Smoak is projected to have his batting average decline by about 30 points, he still will remain productive with a 2.0 projected WAR. He is still looking like a good middle of the order bat with 32 projected homers and 93 RBI. It’s also nice to see both projections having Troy Tulowitzki bouncing back to a mid 2.0 win player.

The other encouraging sign here is the platoon of Steve Pearce and Curtis Granderson in the outfield combining for a WAR of 2.5. They have Granderson at 1.4 and Pearce at 1.1. If you get that level of production from those two, you’re looking at 6 positions around the diamond with WAR’s above 2.0. That’s a very nice starting point. Add a healthy Devon Travis and a potential breakout from Randal Grichuk and you could have close to everyone around the diamond at 2.0 wins or higher.

Overall, it looks like both Depth Charts and PECOTA have the Toronto Blue Jays offense improving in 2018. It would be hard to not improve on the 2017 offense, but the fact that both see the offense improving is a nice sign.

The biggest difference between the two projections is the pitching side of things. PECOTA is extremely down on the Blue Jays pitching staff while Depth Charts is more optimistic about what the staff can do. Keep in mind when looking at Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ’s projections that they always outperform their projections due to their flyballs tendencies as well as Happ’s fastball usage. I would bet money than we see both Happ and Estrada finish with ERA’s below 4.00 and that’s more-so on Happ, who’s been great his second tenure in Toronto.

Depth Charts are more optimistic on Marcus Stroman‘s WAR, starts, and innings totals than PECOTA. I still have a hard time believing in the projections of Stroman’s ERA totals. Perhaps they see a similar scenario to 2016 where groundballs were getting past infielders as opposed to 2017, where they were finding gloves. Stroman is getting much better with his strikeout totals as well.

Without a doubt, the big key to both of these projections is Aaron Sanchez. If Sanchez is healthy and somewhat close to his dominant 2016, you can guarantee that WAR raises from the projected 1.6 to somewhere in the 3.0’s. Depth Charts is also more favourable to the Blue Jays bullpen compared to PECOTA. Ryan Tepera and Danny Barnes continuing where they left off in 2017 will be a big key to adding some wins on this projected total.

What should we be expecting?

I think one thing is very clear with these two projections. The 2018 Toronto Blue Jays could either be a playoff team or at least in contention for a spot late into 2018 or things go belly-up and they sell assets at the deadline.

Looking at the current roster and the landscape of the American League, I think the Depth Charts projections are much more in line with what we can expect from the 2018 Toronto Blue Jays. Of course, health is the big key. If they’re healthy, they will be a contending team for a post-season berth.

Next: Toronto Blue Jays 2018 Top Prospects: #4 Nate Pearson

What projection do you see the 2018 Toronto Blue Jays resembling more? The pessimistic PECOTA projection? Or the optimistic Depth Charts? It’s an interesting debate and a case can be made for either, but there is potential with this roster, which is why I am more in line with what Depth Charts expects. What about you?