Projections and Paces – Blue Jays

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The article below is meant to provide a quick look at how my
preseason projections match up with the paces of select major league
hitters.

Alex Rios
2008: .291/.337/.461, 15 HR, 91 R, 79 RBI, 32 SB in 635 AB
Proj..: .299/.355/.502, 25 HR, 96 R, 89 RBI, 21 SB in 613 AB
Pace: .278/.336/.454, 22 HR, 82 R, 80 RBI, 27 SB in 660 AB

Vernon Wells
2008: .300/.343/.496, 20 HR, 63 R, 78 RBI, 4 SB in 427 AB
Proj..: .285/.340/.489, 25 HR, 86 R, 92 RBI, 9 SB in 571 AB
Pace: .241/.299/.367, 12 HR, 99 R, 68 RBI, 27 SB in 653 AB

We know which one of the Jays’ two “superstars” has Cito Gaston on his
side. Rios was recently moved down third to sixth in the lineup despite
an OPS right around 850 since the beginning of May. Wells was moved up
to third despite one of the worst showings of any regular in the
majors. He’s hit .214/.271/.310 in 171 at-bats since May 1.

Aaron Hill
2008: .263/.324/.361, 2 HR, 19 R, 20 RBI, 4 SB in 205 AB
Proj..: .281/.345/.428, 14 HR, 80 R, 71 RBI, 7 SB in 594 AB
Pace: .315/.352/.503, 36 HR, 94 R, 114 RBI, 5 SB in 692 AB

Hill entered this year with 114 doubles and 28 homers in his career. He currently has nine doubles and 15 homers.

Marco Scutaro
2008: .267/.341/.356, 7 HR, 76 R, 60 RBI, 7 SB in 517 AB
Proj..: .262/.338/.374, 8 HR, 63 R, 46 RBI, 5 SB in 439 AB
Pace: .298/.396/.434, 12 HR, 121 R, 70 RBI, 15 SB in 641 AB

All five of Scutaro’s homers came in April, so it seems unlikely
that he’ll really finish with 12 this year. However, he shows no signs
of losing his hold on the leadoff spot in Toronto’s lineup. The century
mark in runs is well with reach.

Adam Lind
2008: .282/.316/.439, 9 HR, 48 R, 40 RBI, 2 SB in 326 AB
Proj..: .277/.324/.460, 19 HR, 64 R, 74 RBI, 2 SB in 494 AB
Pace: .301/.367/.539, 31 HR, 94 R, 111 RBI, 2 SB in 619 AB

Lind was a tough projection after the Jays kept going back and forth
with him during his first three partial seasons, especially in light of
the fact that he finished poorly this year. He’s likely a legitimate
25-homer guy. I don’t think it’s all that likely that he keeps hitting
.300.

Scott Rolen
2008: .262/.349/.431, 11 HR, 58 R, 50 RBI, 5 SB in 408 AB
Proj..: .259/.341/.429, 13 HR, 60 R, 64 RBI, 4 SB in 413 AB
Pace: .325/.394/.471, 10 HR, 82 R, 53 RBI, 7 SB in 498 AB

Rolen knows his limitations now and has adapted his game. The power
probably isn’t coming back, but it no longer looks like he’ll be out of
the league by age 36 or 37.

The Phillies are trying out prospect J.P. Crawford at third base

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On Sunday, for the first time in his professional career, Phillies shortstop prospect J.P. Crawford started at third base. He picked up three hits in five at-bats, continuing his torrid pace. Since the start of July, he’s hitting .306/.397/.595 with 11 home runs, 28 RBI, 33 runs scored, and a 37/25 K/BB ratio in 199 plate appearances.

With September looming, the Phillies may be considering a promotion for Crawford. Shortstop, however, is currently taken by Freddy Galvis who has appeared in every game this season and has taken on a leadership role with the team. Meanwhile, third baseman Maikel Franco has been mired in a season-long slump as he’s carrying a devilish .666 OPS.

The Phillies haven’t been averse to trying their prospects out at new positions. Prior to his recent promotion, Rhys Hoskins had played only first base throughout his professional career, but the Phillies moved him to left field for a few games, then called him up to the majors. Hoskins has made nine starts in the outfield and two at first base in the majors thus far.

As MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki notes, the Phillies are also considering trying out second base prospect Scott Kingery at shortstop or third base before the end of the minor league season.

These aren’t long-term plans; it’s just a way for the Phillies to find meaningful playing time for their prospects and giving manager Pete Mackanin potential flexibility. Assistant GM Ned Rice said, “It benefits the player and benefits the team when more guys are able to play multiple positions. It just gives Pete [Mackanin] a lot more options at the big league level. The more guys we can bring up who have been exposed to different positions, the better.”

Players having great seasons under the radar

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Yesterday, I watched a myriad of defensive highlights from Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons (who also homered). Curious, I looked up his stats and found him among the leaders in Wins Above Replacement. And then I found a handful of other players having great seasons and realized I’ve hardly heard anything about them. Let this be my contribution towards raising them into the spotlight.

Andrelton Simmons (Angels): The 27-year-old is having the best offensive season of his career. He posted a .751 OPS in his rookie season, but that spanned only 49 games. From 2013-16, he had an aggregate .664 OPS. His defense never wavered, of course, which is why he kept getting regular playing time and why the Angels were eager to trade for him in November 2015. This season, however, he’s been a terrific hitter, batting .292/.345/.451 with 13 home runs, 57 RBI, 62 runs scored, and 17 stolen bases in 502 plate appearances. He’s four home runs away from matching a career-high. Simmons is 11th in baseball in FanGraphs’ version of WAR, heavily predicated on the valuation of his defense, but it’s not too outlandish for me to believe Simmons has added nearly two wins above replacement on defense alone. While Jose Altuve, Aaron Judge, and Mike Trout will fight for the lion’s share of AL MVP votes, Simmons could get some down ballot consideration.

Gio Gonzalez (Nationals): Gonzalez nearly threw a no-hitter earlier this season against the Marlins, which brought some eyeballs to his stat line. Still, he hasn’t been talked about much somehow. He’s 12-5 with a 2.39 ERA and a  150/62 K/BB ratio in 162 innings. It’s nothing new for Gonzalez, as he won 21 games with a 2.89 ERA en route to finishing third in Cy Young balloting in 2012. There’s also some reason to believe Gonzalez’s performance is in some part due to great fortune as his batting average on balls in play is about 50 points below league average and his rate of stranding runners on base is more than 11 percent higher than his career average. Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer have had better seasons and will be the first and second place finishers in this year’s balloting, but Gonzalez is looking at likely finishing third again, which is no small feat.

Aaron Nola (Phillies): After a dismal June 16 start against the Diamondbacks, Nola stood with a disappointing 4.76 ERA. After the first two innings of last Thursday’s start against the Giants, he briefly brought it under 3.00. Currently, it’s at 3.26 along with a 128/38 K/BB ratio in 124 1/3 innings. Since that June 16 start, he’s made 11 starts with a composite 2.21 ERA across 73 1/3 innings. The right-hander out of LSU showed promise in his rookie year in 2015, then struggled last year before succumbing to injury. Finally, it’s appearing that Nola is showing the promise the Phillies believed in when they took him in the first round (seventh overall) in the 2014 draft. Perhaps more importantly, he looks like a pitcher the Phillies can build around. If there’s one thing the Phillies have lacked since trading Cole Hamels, it’s a starter capable of throwing seven or eight innings and holding the opposition to one or two runs.

Chris Taylor (Dodgers): On a team that features Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Justin Turner, Alex Wood, and recently added Yu Darvish, it’s understandable that Taylor would slip under the radar. He’s played five different positions this season — left field, second base, center field, third base, and shortstop — while batting .311/.383/.549 with 17 home runs, 58 RBI, 69 runs scored, and 14 stolen bases in 413 plate appearances. He’s played average to above-average defense at most of those positions, which is why his 4.6 fWAR ranks 13th in baseball and 10th in the National League. Before the Dodgers acquired him from the Mariners last June in a very little talked about trade, Taylor had been a weak-hitting utilityman. Now, he’s the starting center fielder for baseball’s best team.

Felipe Rivero (Pirates): The Pirates acquired Rivero from the Nationals last year in the Mark Melancon trade. It worked out well for the Buccos. Though the club sits at a disappointing 60-64 in fourth place in the NL Central, Rivero has been a bright spot, owning a major league best 1.31 ERA with 14 saves and a 73/16 K/BB ratio in 61 2/3 innings. The lefty took over the closer’s role when Tony Watson began to struggle in the first half. While Rivero has been terrific against right-handed hitters, limiting them to a .547 OPS, he’s been death to lefties (.227 OPS). After the season, Rivero will be eligible for arbitration for the first of four years, so it wouldn’t be shocking if he got traded at some point, but for now, they’ll enjoy his outstanding 2017 campaign.