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Headlined by Alexis Rios, Toronto right fielders in 2005 combined for a .251 EqA–the Jays’ deepest offensive sinkhole besides catcher. Defense was the outfield’s saving grace, though, yielding a combined 33 runs fewer than league average. For better or worse, the outfield remains intact. The extent of the Jays’ tinkering occurred in the Lyle Overbay deal, which shipped fifth outfielder Gabe Gross to Milwaukee. (He only logged 92 at-bats in 2005.)

The real transformations, rather, have focused on fixing the infield, rotation, and bullpen. The ink was still fresh on B.J. Ryan‘s new papers last time we checked in, so today we will explore the infield and starting pitching changes. As a twist, we’ll completely ignore the financial aspects, since they’ve already been covered and the Jays did have cash to burn. Instead, how does the 2006 squad stack up against last year’s?

  • Crowded Corners: Toronto’s first season sans Carlos Delgado was rough. Eric Hinske slid across the diamond to play first, Corey Koskie signed a fat three-year deal, and Shea Hillenbrand was acquired to DH and split time at both corners. The Jays used 10 players at DH who together scraped out a roughly league-average line of .272/.347/.432. Hinske’s disastrous year was mostly responsible for the .267/.314/.449 production among the first basemen (well below league average). At third base, decent numbers from Koskie and Aaron Hill helped establish a .282/.361/.421 line (well above league average). Not the most inspiring collection of corner men and DHs, but if the goal was .500 baseball, this posse certainly got the job done. If all this weren’t average enough, fielders at the corners combined for -1 Fielding Run Above Average (FRAA). Incredibly average.

    New guys Troy Glaus and Overbay will definitely add thunder to this bunch. Flipping Koskie to Milwaukee unclogged things some, but the corner logjam remains as congested as ever. Now Hillenbrand and Hinske will share time at DH, spelling Glaus and Overbay when necessary.

                2005                       proj. 2006
                 AdjG  Rate  EqA*              G   Rate  EqA
    Hinske       96.2   94  .269    Overbay   137  106  .279
    Hillenbrand  65.8   99  .278
    TOTAL       162.0  104  .270
                2005                       proj. 2006
                 AdjG  Rate  EqA*              G   Rate  EqA
    Koskie       75.5  105  .264    Glaus     128   95  .299
    Hillenbrand  50.5   98  .278
    Hill         32.1  106  .261
    Menechino     3.9  125  .255
    TOTAL       162.0  104  .270

    *In all cases, the player’s listed Equivalent Average (EqA) is his total EqA at all positions; therefore, team positional totals will not add up evenly.

  • Squandered: Prior to the Glaus and Koskie trades, Dayn Perry stood up for the Blue Jays amidst the jeering of the masses. But these most recent moves have severely damaged the defense. Not only does Toronto lose the glove of Orlando Hudson–often regarded as baseball’s slickest second baseman–there’s also the defensive downgrade at third, exacerbated by Koskie’s exodus. Once these crippling moves were made, Perry had no choice but to recant in an article at
                2005                       proj. 2006
                 AdjG  Rate  EqA*              G   Rate  EqA
    Hudson      119.5  114  .259    Hill      126  103^ .250
    Menechino    20.0  120  .255
    Hill         19.9  120  .261
    McDonald      2.6  100  .256
    TOTAL       162.0  115  .262
                                    ^Hill's Rate actually projected at SS
                2005                       proj. 2006
                 AdjG  Rate  EqA*              G   Rate  EqA
    Adams       123.2   82  .259    Adams     137   93  .250
    McDonald     25.1  100  .256
    Hill         13.5  100  .261
    Menechino     0.2  100  .255
    TOTAL       162.0   87  .260

    What’s more, unless the Blue Jays let Ryan Roberts or Rob Cosby leapfrog Triple-A, either John McDonald or Sergio Santos appears next in line as the backup middle infielder. One more layer of depth is peeled away.

    Overall, despite the hike in production at the hot corner and a modest gain at first base, the defensive tradeoffs around the infield are very significant. Factor in the projected loss of offense up the middle, and it’s debatable whether the Blue Jays have improved their infield at all.

  • Who Knows?: Plus A.J. Burnett, minus David Bush. While this seems straightforward and the Jays rotation looks strong at first glance, each starter will arrive in Dunedin with a varying degree of baggage.

    There’s no reason Roy Halladay shouldn’t be healthy this year. The shin injury–wrought by a Kevin Mench line drive–was a fluke. In his healthy months, Halladay’s numbers rivaled his 2003 Cy Young campaign. Still, when your trustiest starter hasn’t pitched in nine months (come Opening Day), it’s small cause for concern. Burnett enjoyed his healthiest year to date in 2005, but he’s moving to a new league in a tougher park for pitchers. With his less-than-pristine health record, the Jays will need to keep an eye on him.

    After the big two, things get far sketchier. Ted Lilly is coming off a miserable season after three years of decency. Gustavo Chacin‘s peripherals didn’t support his fine 2005 debut, and PECOTA has him pegged for a 4.69 ERA. Josh Towers, also coming off a nice season, is the type of pitcher whose low walk and low strikeout rates carry a high risk of implosion (see his 2004).

    To grasp the volatility of this staff, look at what they’ve done the past three years:

                   2005             2004             2003
               ERA  IP  VORP    ERA  IP  VORP    ERA  IP  VORP
    Halladay  2.41 142  52.7   4.20 133  26.1   3.25 266  68.8
    Burnett   3.44 209  33.1   3.67 120  26.8   4.70  23   1.6
    Lilly     5.56 126   2.8   4.06 197  44.6   4.34 178  28.5
    Chacin    3.72 203  38.4   2.57  14   5.7
    Towers    3.71 209  34.1   5.11 116  10.5   4.48  64   9.5

    Fortunately, the Jays bullpen has several swingmen-types who could step into the rotation in the event of injury. But we’ll save the pen for another day.

Dave Haller