Monday, January 27, 2014

Which Blue Jays Could Breakout in 2014?

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In many eyes, 2014 is a "make or break" year for the Toronto Blue Jays. Another disappointing season may not necessarily equate a rebuild, but one thing's for sure; what happens on the field in 2014 will have a huge impact on what happens going forward.

In order for the Toronto Blue Jays to succeed in 2014, not only will they need big years from their heavy hitters, they're going to need contributions from a few dark horse candidates. The Blue Jays will definitely need that one breakout star.

Last week, I came across an interesting post on the Blue Jays Reddit page, where the user "BettyWhiteOnSteroids" (I guess "BeaArthurOnPEDs" was taken) breaks down how the Blue Jays have had a breakout player every other season dating back to 1996.

It's actually a pretty interesting formula, and true to form the Toronto Blue Jays have benefited from over ten breakout seasons in the past 16 years. I guess the term "breakout" is loosely defined as at least a three wins above replacement (WAR) improvement year over year.

Going by this formula, the last breakout player for the Blue Jays was Edwin Encarnacion, who posted a 1.1 WAR season in 2011 and improved 4.1 WAR in 2012.

So who is poised to be the next breakout star for the Blue Jays in 2014? Here are a few candidates that could make the jump to superstar status, with Steamer, ZIPS and Oliver projections courtesy of FanGraphs (although the Reddit post used Baseball Reference WAR, or rWAR).

Brett Lawrie

2013 WAR2014 (Steamer)2014 (ZIPS)2014 (Oliver)
1.33.53.33.2

You could argue Brett Lawrie's breakout season has been three years in the making, but due to a cavalcade of injuries, Lawrie just hasn't been able to live up to the hype that was set by his incredible debut in 2011. Remember how he put up 2.5 wins in just 43 games?

There are indications Brett Lawrie could be trending upward, as the adjustments he made to his swing mid-season made a profound change on his game. Lawrie hit .204 in the first half compared to .283 after the All-Star break.

Plus, on the defensive side, just imagine how many runs Brett Lawrie could save with a full season under his belt at third base. The defensive metrics would only add to the long-awaited breakout campaign for Brett Lawrie.

Although his breakout has been a long time coming, it's incredible to think Brett Lawrie is only entering his age 24 season.

Colby Rasmus

2013 WAR2014 (Steamer)2014 (ZIPS)2014 (Oliver)
4.83.32.83.5

At first glance, I thought Colby Rasmus was poised to put together a bounce back 2014 campaign. But it turns his 2013 season already set the bar pretty high; a 4.8 win season by Rasmus was an impressive feat for someone who only played 126 games.

Even if Colby Rasmus does remain healthy this season, one wonders whether he's due for a bit of a regression in part to an unusually high .356 BABIP last season.

Colby's offensive numbers may take a bit of a dip, but playing solid defense a premium position like centre field will likely still keep him on track for another 3-4 win season.

Edwin Encarnacion

2013 WAR2014 (Steamer)2014 (ZIPS)2014 (Oliver)
4.13.73.23.9

Is it possible for someone who's already broken out to break out even further? That's the question when it comes to Edwin Encarnacion. He's finally gaining some respect around the league, but for the most part he's still one baseball's most unsung heroes.

Encarnacion's walk and strikeout rates were phenomenal in 2013 (82 walks compared to only 62 strikeouts), and one has to think that kind of plate discipline is something that carries over year-to-year and isn't something that just evaporates overnight.

A curiously low .247 BABIP in 2013 by Edwin points toward a potential offensive bump in 2014, and Encarnacion also cut down on his fly balls (43.3%) and increased his line drives (21.6%) which may point towards further progression.

Edwin Encarnacion is very close to eclipsing Jose Bautista has the most dangerous hitters in the Blue Jays lineup, and many would argue EE already has. I think most now are finally seeing the potential Encarnacion had all along.

Melky Cabrera

2013 WAR2014 (Steamer)2014 (ZIPS)2014 (Oliver)
-0.91.31.21.7

As far as 2013 goes, I'd say Melky Cabrera gets a pass. No one knows exactly how much the spinal tumour affected his play and when the ill effects exactly began, but surely the 2013 iteration of Melky Cabrera was an outlier and not a true reflection of his potential.

Going into last season, I had a great deal of trouble figuring out where Melky's baseline season was. His injury in 2013 has now fogged the measure even further, but is it really all that unreasonable to expect a 2-3 win season out of a healthy Melky Cabrera?

If Melky Cabrera is fully recovered from his tumour, I wouldn't expect Melky to suddenly become Anthony Gose out there with his improved ability; but if the side effects continue to linger, the Blue Jays could always potentially look at moving Melky to DH.

Brandon Morrow

2013 WAR2014 (Steamer)2014 (ZIPS)2014 (Oliver)
-0.11.82.21.3

Much like Brett Lawrie, a lot of people are waiting on Brandon Morrow's eventual breakout season. Yet due to a series of injuries the past few years (some fluky, some related to his throwing arm), it just hasn't happened yet for Brandon Morrow.

When healthy, there's no question Morrow has the potential to be a front-line starter. And as I wrote about a few weeks ago, the primary concern is Brandon Morrow's ability to make 30 plus starts this year and avoid significant time on the DL with nagging injuries.

Maicer Izturis

2013 WAR2014 (Steamer)2014 (ZIPS)2014 (Oliver)
-2.10.30.10.6

I know it seems crazy to consider Maicer Izturis as a breakout candidate, but hear me out on this one. Much like the Blue Jays themselves, Izturis can't quite possibly be as bad as he was in 2013.

His defense was the main sticking point last year, and if he does in fact push Ryan Goins out of the starting second baseman job, hopefully Maicer Izturis will be much more accustomed to the Rogers Centre turf in 2014.

Defensively speaking, 2013 was the worst season of Maicer Izturis' career, so there's belief last year may have just been an anomaly and his numbers will somewhat stabilize and return to career normals in 2014.

After a -2.1 win season (yes, negative), Maicer Izturis really has nowhere left to go but up. Also don't forget, the Blue Jays have him under contract through 2015, with an option for 2016.

Image courtesy of Zimbio

1 comment:

  1. I'm picking Lawrie. A full season of healthy, controlled Brett Lawrie can have MANY positive impacts. Defense is better with him. Offense is better if he can perform consistently. Need him.

    ReplyDelete

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