Blue Jays Off-Season Target: Felipe Lopez

Felipe Lopez taken 8th overall in 1998.

Felipe Lopez taken 8th overall in 1998.

 

Sometimes in order to build a successful future you should occasionally look to your past, and this off-season target would accomplish just that.  Felipe Lopez would make a great addition to the Blue Jays infield, preferably at third base, he would also be a great add to the top of the batting order.  Blue Jays fans may remember Lopez as one of the more hyped up middle infield prospects the Jays have ever had after the switch-hitter was taken 8th overall in the 1998 Amateur draft.

Fast forward eleven years  and Lopez could be a very astute addition for new Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos.  In 2009 with the Brewers/Diamondbacks Lopez hit a respectable 310/383/427 with a .356 wOBA as Lopez drove the ball hard (career high 22.3% LD rate) and caught a few breaks on balls hit into play (.360 BABIP) but even accounting for a little luck there is reason to believe Lopez can be a valuable commodity going forward.  The biggest improvement was made in the patience department where Lopez posted a respectable 10.5% BB rate to go along with a reasonable 16.6% K rate showing he could possibly thrive in a leadoff or two-hole home in a line-up, preferably the Jays line-up.

Lopez  was worth 4.6 wins above replacement (WAR) in 2009 based on his outstanding year at the dish and solid play in the field (2B – 7.6 UZR) and with a career 2.0 UZR in 95 games at 3B I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume he could be an above average 3B going forward.  Based on about 4.5 million/WAR on the free-agent market, Lopez was worth about 20 million last year (similar to Marco Scutaro – who we will get to later) and although no GM in their right mind would pay Lopez as a 4-5 win player (especially if he switches to 3B) I think Lopez can be valuable at 2 years/20 million.  If he could recapture some of his past speed exploits, this could be a real steal.

Now, signing him as a 3B would improve the Blue Jays defense, which I feel has to be refocused on if we hope to have any chance of competing with the Red Sox/Yankees/Rays for the foreseeable future.  The reason for most of the Jays success over the past 3-4 seasons has been its stellar play in the field and its ability to convert balls hit in play into outs, ask the Jays pitchers if you don’t believe me, or read my previous post on the JP Ricciardi era.  Defense is still being undervalued league wide and with every penny counting for the Blue Jays, continuing to add value on both the offensive side and defensive side is a solid strategy.

There is no sense improving at 3B if we are just going to let Marco Scutaro walk, so I would love to see the Blue Jays be aggressive and bring back Scooter to play another 2-3 years at SS and have Felipe Lopez right beside him at 3B.  With the plethora of left-handed starters we are likely to throw at teams in the next 4-5 years this would also sure up a left side of the infield that looked abysmal with the loss of Scott Rolen last year – an obvious bonus.

Having Scutaro bat leadoff all season would be nice too with his patient approach and pendency to take a walk or two, which would be exemplified by a switch hitting (slightly more aggressive) Felipe Lopez hitting behind him in the two hole.  With no internal candidates for either position, I would hope an aggressive approach like this would be in the cards for 2010 as we have one season to show Roy Halladay we are serious about turning the Blue Jays back into the model organization, while this is only one move (or two, with resigning Scutaro) I think they would both be smart pickups that would add value all over the field.

In ‘Defense’ Of J.P.

JP Ricciard was finally let go as GM.

JP Ricciard was finally let go as GM.

 

If you believe Michael Lewis (author of Moneyball) JP Ricciardi wasn’t exactly the Blue Jays first choice for General Manager when the team decided to part with former GM Gord Ash.  The team, and more specifically Paul Godfrey had eyes for Billy Beane’s right hand man Paul DePodesta but unfortunately for the team DePodesta would only leave for the ideal situation – aka not a non-traditional baseball market like Toronto.  The next logical choice for a team looking to compete on a budget turned out to be JP Ricciardi, a man who was supposed to have a real nose for talent and all in all a well respected baseball mind in the Oakland front office.

Ricciardi sold Paul Godfrey and the Blue Jays with the notion that less is more, especially when it comes to competing with less money than the big guys – New York and Boston.  Ricciardi’s tenure started with a bang as he roped in Erik Hinske who won the AL ROY and looked to have a bright future going forward, at this point the city and fans were hooked and though none of us will admit it – “In JP we trust” was a common phrase.  Anybody who says otherwise is flat out lying, Ricciardi was an exciting prospect for Blue Jays fans, and a slick tawking Bostonite who actually chose to come to Toronto, things were too good to be true.  So where did things go wrong?

Not to make excuses for the man but Ricciardi had a serious handicap that was at times too much to overcome – the city of Toronto.  The buzz and excitement of back-to-back championships was long gone and what was left was a fairly destitute baseball market, a market where no big time players really wanted to come.  This caused a serious problem for a team that had to watch every penny it was spending as the Blue Jays were forced to basically give an open cheque book to even entice any free agents to consider coming here.  Ted Lilly took less money to sign with Cubs, Gil Meche even took less to sign with the Kansas City Royals – to name a few.  The Blue Jays were officially the Atlanta Thrashers, Detroit Lions and Portland Trailblazers of destinations for free-agents in major league baseball – think about that before passing judgement.  You think any GM wants to sign Tomo Ohka

Ricciardi gets raked over the coals for signing Vernon Wells yet every fan and most media people were basically celebrating in the streets that the “Franchise” re-upped with the team.  Even with the huge commitment made the common thread was “Yeah, the money was big but it was going to look like a steal in 3-4 years with the rate salaries were climbing”.  The market turned extremely sour over the next couple years and suddenly for the price of one Vernon Wells the team could have had Bobby Abreu, Adam Dunn and Randy Wolf – but I don’t know many people with a crystal ball and who could’ve foreseen such a terrible economic time?  In my opinion, JP made the best of a terrible free-agent circumstance – a team with less money than its competitors and a destination few American born players wanted to come voluntarily.

Voluntarily – a key phrase and a key argument against JP Ricciardi and his tenure with the Toronto Blue Jays.  For a man who came from Billy Beane’s stable he certainly didn’t have all that much success in the MLB draft, especially early in his tenure.  It normally takes about 3-5 years for a player drafted to be knocking on the major league’s doors and in a perfect world you have about 1-2 guys ready to take over (cheaply I might add) every season at various positions, or at the very least push the incumbents to stay in tip top shape or, be useable trade bait to round out a competitive roster.  Did I mention they come cheap?  Ryan Braun was one of the top hitters and best overall players in the game last year, giving the Brewers unreal production (37 HRs, 106 RBIs, and 14 SBs) and had a salary of 500k.  Teams control the players they draft for many years before they are eligible for arbitration (and a raise) and most teams are buying out these years for even more cost certainty – think Evan Longoria (9 year total agreement at a max of 44 million!).

American born players might not want to sign with the Blue Jays but they certainly aren’t above getting drafted by them and taking the millions in guaranteed signing bonus, so this is the ideal time to strike and load up on young talent and control it for 7-8 years at a bargain price.  The best example of this is the Tampa Bay Rays – Carl Crawford, BJ Upton, James Shields, Evan Longoria, David Price, Jeff Niemann to name just a few stars, all drafted, signed and developed by the team.  Ricciardi’s drafts have shown a bit more promise lately as the team has showcased a few rising talents this season. 

The Jays core looks better – Adam Lind, Aaron Hill, Travis Snider, Ricky Romero and Brett Cecil is decent but nothing compared to the Rays list and obviously the biggest weakness Ricciardi has shown over his 7 years at the helm of the Jays.  Where is the James Shields taken in the 16th round?  Where are the super athletic specimens in Crawford and Upton?  In short, the cupboard is a bit bare and it has been for quite a few years.  There is nobody pushing our supposed stars, nobody has to look over their shoulders and see a bright eyed kid coming straight at them trying to take their spots.    

Defense has become a new focus in the world of sabermetrics with many new exciting metrics measuring a players worth in the field (Dewan’s +/-, UZR) and I think the Blue Jays front office was right at the top of the list in terms of teams that were revamping the way teams looked at defense.  The Jays were one of the top defensive teams in the game nearly every season JP Ricciardi was at the helm – and I don’t think it was by mistake.  Ricciardi and company astutely recognized that defense was being undervalued and he could get a bigger bang for his buck if he spent more money improving team defense – until this year when the team clearly gave up and in 2003 before JP put his stamp on the team.  With this, he would also be improving his pitching staff without actually replacing any of his pitchers with expensive and mostly overpaid free agents year after year. 

 

Year 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003
UZR -34 20.1 30.8 37.3 46.9 37.9 -60
Rank 25th 8th 6th 4th 3rd 3rd 28th

 

Another thing I wanted to address was the Blue Jays incredible bad luck on the field over the past few years, especially when you factor their Pythagorean record – Pythagorean expectation is a formula invented by Bill James to estimate how many games a baseball team “should” have won based on the number of runs they scored and allowed.  This takes out luck, meaning the Jays might have had an even better 2008 if they had a bit of luck go their way.  They gave up 3.7 runs per game, easily tops in the game which was a true testament to their pitching and defense game plan – something that never gets much credit.

Year 2008 2007 2006
Actual Record 86-76 83-79 87-75
Pythag. Record 92-70 86-76 86-76

 

Fact is, the Blue Jays were a top 5 team in 2008 based on Pythag. record, runs for and against, ability to suppress runs, team defense, lack of overall luck, strength of schedule and the toughest division in sports.

I didn’t include 2009, but for reference sake the Jays should have 8 more wins than they actually do even this season.  With any luck, the Jays should have earned a playoff berth over one of the past 3-4 seasons.  This isn’t even taking into account the strength of schedule and playing in the toughest, richest and best division in all of sports.  I can’t help but think if the Jays were in the AL Central (Jays 23-15 vs. the Central this year) JP Ricciardi might have been celebrated or praised as I am almost certain the Jays would be perennial playoff contenders in almost any other division, especially the AL Central – a division no team seems to want to win consistently.

JP Ricciardi was not a perfect GM, far from it, but I think to place all the blame on one man and not take into account the many factors that go into building a championship baseball team is extremely short-sighted and judgemental.  The next GM will have the same problems, issues and handicaps that the former GM had and for all the talk of Pat Gillick riding into Toronto and magically turning the team into a contender are seriously misplaced and even irresponsible – unless he is riding in with Cole Hamels, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and the $130+ million they spend annually.

Blue Jays Off-Season Target – Ricky Nolasco

Ricky Nolasco

Ricky Nolasco

 

The Blue Jays have a lot of decisions to make in the upcoming off-season, from a new team president to a likely new general manager and even deciding whether or not to keep the team’s greatest player of all time in Roy Halladay.  I am going to be doing a series of posts in the new few weeks and months as the looming off-season is nearly upon us, with players (realistically – sorry Pujols is just not an option) I feel the Blue Jays would be smart to acquire.

The first player on my off-season wish list is SP Ricky Nolasco.  I know what you are thinking, the first player the Blue Jays should be attempting to land is a pitcher coming off a 13-9, 5.06 ERA season – I must be crazy, or stupid.  Well, you just helped my case if you felt it would be just plain insanity to even consider a guy like Nolasco – maybe this is the perfect time to strike for a guy who appears to have had a rough year but whose peripheral stats were nearly as good as any pitcher in the majors and a man who suffered from some extremely tough luck in 2009.

Ricky Nolasco, who will be 27 years old on opening day in 2010 just had one of the strangest seasons a pitcher has had in a long time.  Nolasco had the highest ERA (5.06) for any pitcher in history with a 1.25 WHIP and one of the biggest discrepancies between his ERA (a relatively useless stat) and his FIP (fielding independent pitching).  Nolasco led all qualified starting pitchers in the major leagues with a 1.71 difference between his ERA (5.06) and his FIP (3.35) as he suffered from absolutely miserable luck this season – namely a .336 BABIP and very low 61% LOB.

Nolasco FIP ERA K/9 K/BB HR/9 GB% BABIP LOB%
2009 3.35 5.06 9.5 4.4 1.12 38 336 61
2008 3.77 3.52 7.9 4.4 1.19 38 284 76

 

As you can see that 5.06 ERA sticks out like a sore thumb when you look at all of the other stats listed on the above table, as does the .336 BABIP and 61% LOB rate.  All things considered Nolasco was actually a better pitcher in 2009 as he took his strikeout game to an entirely new level with a 9.5 K/9 with the help of his wicked slider (which was worth 12.2 runs per 100 pitches) and an improved split finger offering (worth 5.6 runs per 100 pitches thrown).  Nolasco recently struck out 9 batters in a row (one strikeout away from the record) and has been fairly dominant since his return to the major leagues after a quick demotion.

The Florida Marlins are reportedly already looking to shed salary and Nolasco will be entering his lucrative contract years in the near future and the Blue Jays have what any cost sensitive teams want, cheap young talent.  I am not sure what it would take to get the deal done, but if the Jays offered Brett Cecil and a young bat it might be enough – but that is strictly hearsay.  Likely the Marlins know what they have in Nolasco and the young stud righty is anything but available in their eyes, but it has to be worth a phone call –or two.

If the Blue Jays are serious about adding payroll in 2010 and want to keep Roy Halladay, adding a legit #2 starter to backup Roy Halladay ala the much missed A.J. Burnett would be the first move I would make before looking at adding a veteran bat to take pressure off Aaron Hill and Adam Lind in the heart of the Toronto order.  If the perceived value of Ricky Nolasco is low this would seem like the ideal time to try and pull off a steal.

Scutaro Worth the Risk for the Jays?

Marco Scutaro

Marco Scutaro

 

Marco Scutaro has been the most valuable Blue Jays position players this season, combining a solid glove at SS with his improved bat to post a 4.3 WAR.  Aaron Hill is a close second with a 3.9 WAR and while Adam Lind has been the best overall hitter, his relatively poor defence and work as a DH/LF hurts his overall WAR value (3.1).

Scutaro has a career high in nearly every major category (as well as a .354 wOBA – impressive for a SS) as he has been given a chance to play every day for the Blue Jays this season (eclipsing his former high in plate appearances of 592 in 2008 with 680 this season).  The biggest reason for Scutaro’s improved slash line (282/379/409) is his increased patience at the plate, posting a career best 13.6 BB% and career low o-swing% of 12.4 (career mark of 14.5%). 

In fact, Scutaro is barely swinging at anything this season, showing a Brian Giles like approach to batting with an overall swing % of just 34.7 (career 40.3% mark) while making contact with over 93% of pitches he swings at – a deadly combination that has thrust Marco Scutaro into the national spotlight for the first time in his career and just in time for a crucial contract year for Marco.

Sample size means everything.  Scutaro last season had an impressive 7.6 UZR rating in 56 games at SS but it appears this year the extra games and innings have given a more true reflection of Scutaro’s defensive prowess as his UZR sits at 0.5 for 2009 in 143 games (career UZR at SS is -8.8) .  That is still a very solid defensive season but also shows he is not quite as valuable as he looked after about 80 games this season when his UZR was markedly higher.  I think it’s fair to say Scutaro is a solid defender at SS – with less range than average but a very “heady” fielder who makes up for any lack of range with the tendency to make very few errors.

 Scutaro has been worth 4.3 wins above replacement (WAR) and has been worth nearly 20 million in “value” to the Blue Jays this season with his great work with the bat and solid work with the glove.  For the season, he currently ranks #5 among all qualified SS in WAR, just behind Rays SS Jason Bartlett (4.8) and just above the much publicized Braves SS Yunel Escobar (3.8).  Although WAR information was not available when this former Jays legendary SS played, I would think Scutaro’s season is right in line with any of Tony Fernandez’s best seasons – albeit only for one year.

Which brings us to the real issue, is this season a fluke?  Scutaro who turns 34 in October has never shown this ability to get on-base before (previous high in OBP was .350) but has not been getting helped by the luck department (BABIP – .308, HR/FB 5.5% – both right around career marks) although he has hit a lot less groundballs than in years past.  His .354 wOBA is well above his career mark of .320 but has Scutaro found a winning recipe with his new more patient approach, and what can we expect from him going forward?

Scutaro was worth 20 million dollars to the Jays in 2009 when we consider his WAR at a premium SS position and what the average teams pays for each win of WAR on the FA market.  Of course Scutaro will never in a million years receive a contract for 20 million I think he can easily expect a contract offer of 3 years and around 24 million (8 million/year).  If he continues to play at his current rate offensively and shows he can at the very least maintain his defensive prowess at SS he would probably make a team very happy at that price. 

But, if he regresses back to his old ways with the bat (career .320 wOBA, .265/.337/.384) he might not be worth the 3-year investment (likely over 20 million) that will probably be needed to secure his services.  Scutaro has earned a total of $40.9 million in value (again based on WAR) for his career and 20 million of that was earned in 2009 – so buyer beware.  A team could be wise to sign a more defensively minded shortstop in hopes the market will be less for a defence-first guy like Jack Wilson than a guy coming off a career year like Marco Scutaro.

If the Jays can get him on the books for 5-6 million per year I think they would have to make that move as there doesn’t appear to be any in-house replacements on the horizon who would give you what even a less than 2009 version of Marco Scutaro could.  With apologies to all of the John McDonald supporters but his career .262 wOBA is just not playable by any standards or salary. 

In closing, I love watching Marco Scutaro play and if there was a way to clone his intangibles and spread them to the other Blue Jays – I’d pay for it.  He seems to make one play every game that makes you say “wow” and he is certainly the type of ballplayer the Blue Jays should be adding to their roster year in and year out, but at 34 I think a little caution must be in order before the Blue Jays (or any other team) make a decision to offer big bucks in his direction.

Jays Happ-y with Romero

Ricky Romero in the sharp red jersey.

Ricky Romero in the sharp red jersey.

In the Blue Jays attempt to trade Roy Halladay the Philadelphia Phillies were the team considered by most insiders to be the favourites to land the big righty, and among the names the Blue Jays insisted be included was 27 year old lefty J.A. Happ.  According to some reports, the Phillies would only include Happ or Kyle Drabek, but not both.  He was even considered by some the integral piece in any potential trade and I found myself asking the same question over and over, why?  On the surface, it appears Happ is having a pretty solid season with a 10-4 record, a shiny 2.77 ERA and a tidy 1.19 WHIP.  But upon further review Happ wouldn’t even be the best Blue Jays pitcher this year, sans Halladay.    

That honour would have belonged to 25 year old rookie southpaw Ricky Romero.  Romero will always be forever linked to Colorado Rockies SS Troy Tulowitzki as Tulo was the man the Jays apparently passed on in order to take Romero.  The selection of Romero by most accounts was a relatively ‘off the board’ pick that took most GMs by surprise when the Jays decided to choose the Cal State Fullerton standout.  Romero looked phenomenal in his first pro season posting a tidy 2.99 FIP and a solid 9.4 K/9 in 58.1 IPs in Class ‘A’ ball.  He showed some inconsistency over the next couple of years but he bounced back in 2008 after he was promoted to ‘AAA’ and the light seemed to turn on for Romero and he started to show the faith shown in him was warranted.

Going into 2009 he was considered a long shot at best to make the Blue Jays rotation but Romero essentially gave Cito Gaston no option but to keep him with the big club.  Romero started the season with a pretty impressive 21 IPs in April going 2-0 with a low 1.71 ERA and 1.10 WHIP.  Suddenly the name Tulowitzki wasn’t being brought up with the same vigour.

Romero throws harder than Happ (91.8 MPH vs 89.7) and also generates more swings and misses (78% contact rate vs 83) as well as outside-zone swings (24.4% vs 20.3).  Romero has even suffered from relatively poor luck in comparison to Happ and this table gives a reflection of the seasons they are currently having:

  FIP K/9 K/BB GB % HR/9 HR/FB BABIP O-Swing
Romero 4.35 7.0 1.7 53 0.9 12.4% .323 24%
Happ 4.37 6.2 2.0 38 1.06 9.4% .256 20%

 

I am not opposed to trading Roy Halladay but I do worry about most of the proposed offers that came out of the Philly/Toronto talks, I would think we could do better than a deal where the only (or best) arm we would’ve landed would be J.A. Happ.  With a bit more refined control and command Ricky Romero could develop into a pretty decent #2 starter for the Jays going forward and Romero is the leader of a pack of fairly impressive lefties the Jays have debuted this season including Brett Cecil, Marc Rzepczynski and David Purcey.

Travis Snider Still Cruz-in?

Love the stache Jr!

Love the stache Jr!

 

Nothing quite captures the imagination of baseball fans like the rise of a top prospect through the minor league system and (hopefully) into the major leagues.  There is nothing like the intoxicating allure of a fresh faced and well hyped youngster to get the old proverbial baseball juices flowing.  For the Toronto Blue Jays faithful the name Travis Snider is now firmly synonymous with a word Blue Jays fans have been lacking as of late, hope.  Baseball America named him the Jays top prospect in 2009 and he has basically been labelled as a “can’t miss” hitting prospect.  With so much invested in him emotionally already and expectations so high, will we all be left well, disappointed at what he becomes?  Think of poor Jose Cruz Jr.

Travis Snider was drafted in the 1st round (14th overall) in the 2006 draft in a year that saw one of the premier arms Tim Lincecum go #10 to San Fran and Joba Chamberlain in the compensatory stages of the 1st round.  Snider was a bit of a rarity for the Jays up to this point in the fact that he was drafted out of high school.  Normally a no-no for the Moneyball conscientious JP Ricciardi led Toronto Blue Jays front office.  Snider wasted no time in justifying the pick as he absolutely destroyed rookie ball 325/412/567 including 11 HRs in only 194 at-bats.

The next year Snider played 118 games in Class “A” Lansing and continued to flash a very impressive bat this time posting a slash line of 313/377/525 again showing solid power with 16 HRs in 457 at-bats, good for a very solid .393 wOBA.  A few red flags were raised as Snider showed less than optimal patience at the plate as he posted a 28.2% K rate as well as a low(ish) 9.7% BB rate.  Still hard to argue with a kid that just posted back to back .200+ ISO seasons in his first two professional seasons directly out of high school.

In 2008 Snider had a meteoric rise through the ranks as he started the year in “A” ball and made it all the way to big leagues by season’s end.  His stats per league played in for 2008:

“A” – 279/333/557, .403 wOBA, 7.6% BB rate

“AA” – 262/357/461, .366 wOBA, 12.6% BB rate

“AAA” – 344/386/516, .399 wOBA, 5.9% BB rate.

All in all very these are very impressive numbers for a kid his age ascending the minor leagues in this fashion but they were not without a few warts.  Namely, Snider was basically swinging at everything as he showed very little in the way of plate discipline.  Snider made a brief cameo in the show for the Blue Jays and played in 24 games and did not look totally out of place, posting a .345 wOBA but again showing zero patience with a 6.4% BB rate and a fairly low contact rate of around 70%.

Expectations were sky high for “Lunch bucket” (Snider’s nickname) but unfortunately for the kid, things did not go too smoothly.  While the Jays were playing well above their heads, Snider was struggling miserably and was sent down on May 22nd as he basically looked lost at the plate.  To his credit, Snider didn’t sulk and whine while he was in “AAA” Las Vegas, in fact his bat caught fire and he absolutely dominated the league posting a 337/431/663 slash line and even showed an increased strike zone awareness with a solid 13.8% BB rate.  He was aided by a .395 BABIP but I am nitpicking here, the kid was on fire and got the call-up in mid August.  Since his return, Snider has basically been swinging at everything (in 100 ABs since his return, a staggering 47% K rate – yikes!) as Marc Hulet at FanGraphs points out here.

Defensively Travis Snider looks like a future DH in the making as his UZR in 86 career MLB games sits at a relatively poor -10.3, Reed Johnson he is not.  There is some talk that the Jays may try to convert Snider into a first-basemen where his lack of range and poor arm could be better hidden, but the jury is still out whether or not he could even be a league average first-basemen.

The comparisons are pouring in as you would expect and the name that is brought up the most when people mention Snider is none other than JP’s best bud OF/DH Adam Dunn.  I like the comparison for the power bat, no defence and high K-rate, but Adam Dunn also walks at an absurd clip (17.1% career BB rate).  If Snider became Adam Dunn Blue Jays fans should rejoice and although there are similarities to their games I think a more valid comparison would be a left-handed version of Jason Bay (career 12.9% BB rate, 27% K rate), assuming Snider can increase his BB rate over the next 4-5 seasons.

The future is still bright for Travis Snider but I think some of the lustre has come off as he is turning into a real player to Blue Jays fans and not the mystical fantasy known as “prospect”.  Snider is under team control for many more years and will provide value with his bat well beyond his actual salary regardless of defence/position.  But it will be up to Snider to iron out the kinks in his game, again like Aaron Hill, command of the strike zone.  If he does that I think the sky is the limit for this kid, if he doesn’t he will be just like Jose Cruz Jr – loved one minute and gone the next.

Comparing Hill to the AL East

 

hill

 

Toronto Blue Jays 2B Aaron Hill is having a career year at the age of 27, the age most players historically tend to have one of their best overall seasons.  Hill has enjoyed a huge spike in power this year with 32 HRs (1 better than Chase Utley) as he has also seen his HR/FB double his career mark (15.5% in 2009) so I doubt Hill will continue to show this sort of power output next season if his fly ball numbers normalize.  Any way you look at it though Aaron Hill is having a fine season, one of the best seasons a Toronto Blue Jays 2B has ever had in fact. 

It made me want to see how he compared to the other big 2B currently employed in the AL East, with one exception, I left off Rays Ben Zobrist who is having a great season but has played nearly every position on the diamond.  The four 2B we will look it will be Toronto’s Aaron Hill, New York’s Robinson Cano, Bahston’s Dustin Pedroia and the Orioles veteran Brian Roberts, let’s see who has had the best season in 2009.

Standard stats:

Robinson Cano – .319 avg (babip – .324), 185 hits, 41 2B, 23 HR, 95 runs, 4 SB

Dustin Pedroia – .297 avg (babip – .303), 164 hits,43 2B, 13 HR, 100 runs,17 SB

Aaron Hill – .288 avg (babip – .294), 175 hits, 30 2B, 32 HR, 88 runs, 4 SB

Brian Roberts – .285 avg (babip – .322), 160 hits, 51 2B, 15 HR, 100 runs, 29 SB

Nobody has been overly unlucky so far on balls hit into play in terms of batting average and each player brings their own skill set to the table in the standard stats category. 

Advanced stats:

Robinson Cano – 4.4% BB / 9.8% K, .350 OBP, .197 ISO, .367 wOBA

Dustin Pedroia – 10.1% BB / 7.4% K, .369 OBP, .152 ISO, .359 wOBA

Aaron Hill – 5.3% BB / 14.8% K, .327 OBP, .207 ISO, .353 wOBA

Brian Roberts – 9.9% BB / 17.1% K, .353 OBP, .174 ISO, .357 wOBA

Very close in the ever important wOBA category (weighted on-base average) but I think Dustin Pedroia’s ability to take a walk and limit his strikeouts stands out to me, what he lacks in ISO he more than makes up for with OBP skills.

Defence:

Robinson Cano – UZR (– 6.2), RF/9 – 4.7,

Dustin Pedroia – UZR (10.2), RF/9 – 4.4,

Aaron Hill – UZR (-0.6), RF/9 – 5.2,

Brian Roberts – UZR (-4.3), RF/9 – 4.5,

I think Pedroia is the best defender of the four, but Aaron Hill is a close second.  I posed the question to the FanGraphs faithful as to why UZR was giving Dustin Pedroia such a big advantage and the general answer was “not sure”.  Some feel Pedroia on average is just making better plays, while some feel the Jays employ the exaggerated “shift” on lefties more than the average team (more than Boston) and this is robbing Aaron Hill of more “rangy” plays that Marco Scutaro is taking from him as the SS.

Final Ranking (ranked each stat 1-4 in all three categories, the best in each category is given a 1)

(28) #1 Dustin Pedroia – BOS

(31) #2 Robinson Cano – NYY

(34) #3 Brian Roberts – BAL

(35) #4 Aaron Hill – TOR

These results (taken with a grain of salt) are not that surprising to me and they shouldn’t be to Jay’s fans either, even though the common thread is that Aaron Hill is having the best overall season for a 2B by a landslide.  This does not take anything away from what he has done, the power spike has been huge and the league has taken notice but Aaron Hill is not without his flaws – notably his overall command of the strike zone and lack of patience at the plate.  The talk is that Cito Gaston plans to use Aaron Hill in the 3-hole next season, a spot typically held for the team’s best all-around hitter and a spot I do not see Aaron Hill thriving in unless he makes a marked improvement in both his BB% and OBP.