Mail bag: On signing a starter, Teoscar's breakout, ranking the rotation, predicting the future, next winter's free agent market, projection systems, and more!

Like the Blue Jays’ quest to find another starting pitcher, my quest to get this week’s mail bag done has been a long and arduous one. Alas, unlike the Jays’, my quest is at least now, finally, over.

Pitchers and catchers are reporting to camp this very week, so the Blue Jays’ roster is taking shape, their off-season is presumably coming to a close, and we will soon have Grapefruit League baseball to watch. Or listen to. Or at least know is going on despite our inability to follow along. (Hey Rogers, it might be a good idea to announce your spring broadcast schedules, eh?)

The beginning of the season is the backdrop for this week’s round of questions. I got so many once again that I could barely get them all in before running into Substack’s post length limit, which is truly amazing to me, considering I’m only accepting questions from paid subscribers. I don’t want to sound like too much of a broken record on this stuff, but I genuinely am thrilled that this venture seems as though it’s going to work, and endlessly thankful to all of you for being here.

Now on to the questions! As always, I have not read any of Griff's answers.

Great work Stoeten, as always. I noticed Scott Mitchell of TSN tweeted that he thinks the Jays might be more of less out of money to spend on the offseason. I think that might be a guess more than anything, but if he's right, does that make you think twice about the Semien signing? I'm very happy to have Semien here on a one year deal, but if the choice was to spend that 20 million or so on him or a starter, I think I would have preferred that go toward a starter rather than adding to their already stacked line up. Or maybe they just felt there weren't starters out there beyond Bauer that warranted that kind of paycheque? Thanks again! — James

Thanks for the kind words, James. I don’t think it’s impossible that Scott is right on this, and he’s surely more plugged in than I am, but if he’s right that would mean a whole lot of reports of the Jays sniffing around various guys lately have been wrong. Given the nature of the rumour mill that wouldn’t be terribly surprising on its own, but based on the way I’m reading the tea leaves, I’m not ready to believe they’re done just yet.

Why do I say that?

Well, Mark Feinsand of reported back on Thursday, when Marwin Gonzalez went to the Red Sox, that the Blue Jays had been in on him as well. Gonzalez’s agent is Scott Boras, and while I certainly don’t want to accuse Mark of reporting something incorrect, I don’t think it’s completely outlandish to wonder if it might have been in Boras’s interest to perpetuate the idea that the Jays are sill lurking around with money to spend, even if that might not have been entirely true. After all, he’s still got Trevor Rosenthal and Jackie Bradley Jr. available, and at the time had James Paxton as well.

But then we have Chad Dey of Vancouver’s Sportsnet 650, who broke the news of Paxton going to the Mariners on Saturday, then added that the Blue Jays had kept regular contact with Paxton’s camp, but didn’t offer a deal. The same Boras caveats apply here, I suppose, except Dey isn’t a usual MLB news breaker, and, according to Twitter, his location is Ladner, B.C. — aka Paxton’s hometown. It looks like there’s probably a personal connection there, which means it isn’t a source you’d expect to have been affected by that kind of potential manipulation.

Then we have a report from Fansided’s Robert Murray back on Friday, which had the Jays seemingly more interested in Taijuan Walker anyway, noting that "the two sides have not lined up on the length of a contract" but that the Jays "have made it clear that they would like to bring him back if the price is right."

Pat Ragazzo of Metsmerized added on Sunday that he has "been told the Blue Jays are focused on" Taijuan Walker as oposed to Jake Odorizzi.

So, there’s probably still too much smoke out there to think that nothing is going on. And while that doesn’t necessarily mean they have a ton left to spend, or that they’re certain to land anyone, I think it remains more likely than not.

As for Semien, failing to sign another starter wouldn’t change my view of that deal at all for me. He is essentially replacing Travis Shaw on the roster — a guy who was used less during last year’s playoffs than Joe Panik. It’s a significant upgrade. And I’m not sure what pitcher the Jays could have repurposed that money for that would have made them a better team than Semien does. Kevin Gausman and Charlie Morton were really the only one to sign comparable contracts to Semien, and both did so earlier on in the winter, when the Jays were trying to balance adding rotation depth while leaving enough room in the budget for George Springer.

That led them to a reunion with Robbie Ray, and while you could quibble with the idea of giving Ray $8 million when a guy like Paxton only wound up getting $8.5 (though incentives could take it up to $10 million), I can’t imagine Paxton would have taken that deal back in November.

More to the point, none of this is really worth worrying about until we know for sure that they didn’t sign one of Walker or Odorizzi, or otherwise make a trade to fill out their rotation. Like I say, I still think they probably will.

Is it just me or are we not talking about Teoscar Hernández enough? I would love to know if you think his incredible season last year (until his oblique injury) was just a small sample hot streak or if something actually clicked. If it’s the latter, he sure looked a lot like Joey Bats 2.0. If he’s fully healthy now and hitting 4 in our lineup, I feel like he could be a dark horse MVP candidate. — Julian

I think an MVP will be tough because he offers little on the defensive side of the ball, and the Bautista comparison falls short for me because Teoscar will never walk enough and will always strike out too much to really look like a Bautista, nor does he pull the ball enough. But if you just mean, more generally, a late bloomer who found the right tweak to suddenly become an incredibly productive hitter, I think it’s genuinely possible!

Teoscar was slashing .189/.262/.299 when he was demoted to Buffalo in mid-May of 2019. He came back June 5th, and though it took him about a month to get his feet back under him, he managed to produce a 126 wRC+ from then until the end of the season. From July 1 until the end of the 2019 season he produced a 138 wRC+, and kept on going from there right through 2020. Since July 1, 2019, Teoscar's 140 wRC+ ranks 20th among 127 qualified big league hitters, putting him right between Tim Anderson and Eugenio Suarez. The strikeout rate is still on the high side, but his .307 ISO over that span ranks sixth in baseball, and makes him one of just eight players with a mark above .300.

That particular list is impressive. Mike Trout, José Ramírez, Suarez, Nelson Cruz, Juan Soto, Miguel Sanó, and Jorge Soler. There are no mirages there. Those guys have serious power. But Teoscar has always had power, and the things he’s been doing differently since the mid-2019 demotion aren’t necessarily easy to see in the statistical data.

Looking at his page at Baseball Savant, we can see that Teoscar was swinging a lot less at pitches in the zone in 2020 than in 2018 or 2019 (63% of the time compared to 72%), and that his rate of swinging at the first pitch was way down as well (from 35-38% to 26.6%). The percentage of his total number of strikeouts that have come on pitches low and outside has also dropped; from 34% in 2018 to a hair under 27% in 2020.

He still swings and misses a ton, and that's worrisome. But it looks like he's been a little more selective in terms of the pitches he does swing at, especially in the zone. In 2020 that appears to have driven a significant increase in the percentage of balls he hit on the sweet spot of the bat* (40.6% in 2020 compared to 30.6% in 2019 and 34.8% in 2018). Or at least that seems plausible enough.

If so, and if it keeps working, that will be outstanding news for the Blue Jays. But for me he's still very much in "let's see if it's real" territory at the moment, rather than "potential MVP candidate" territory.

Of course, if it is real, there could be a lot of overlap between the two.

*Statcast's sweet spot percentage measures batted balls that came off the bat with a launch angle between eight and 32 degrees; it doesn't take exit velocity or expected batting average or slugging percentage into account the way Statcast's measurement of barrels does.

AS, love the trajectory Jays are on. Making good moves this off-season, a budding young core, a well-regarded farm system. But aren't folks starting to expect too much from the Jays this year? An 85 win team certainly beats the ‘17 and ‘18 Jays, but is it really even a playoff team? A World Series contender? They seem half-pregnant to me. There are several upgrades still out there in free agency. Won't the Jays need to make a couple more moves this off-season to really be considered a contender? I know they can improve in-season via trades and up to trade deadline, but so will other teams. When the Angels, Red Sox and Indians are neck and neck with Jays on paper, feels like there is still some work to do. — Seth

Sorry, who is being greedy here?

The Jays just went in one off-season from being a barely-above-.500 club that snuck into an expanded playoff field to a legitimate playoff contender under the old format. That’s pretty incredibly good. Yes, one projection system (PECOTA) has them at 85 wins (they also have the Red Sox at 80, so I’m not sure where “neck and neck” is coming from, unless that changed in the time since you submitted this question because of the Benintendi trade). Another set, found on FanGraphs’ new playoff odds page, have them at 87.3 wins and taking the second wild card spot.

Yes, the team can still improve, but they don’t seem yet out on the remaining free agent starters, and — as you say yourself — the trade deadline will give them another opportunity. Other teams will be able to improve at that point as well, but do they have the kind of farm system to trade from that the Jays do? Cleveland probably does, but I wouldn’t worry so much about the other two.

They’re in fine shape, and better shape at this point than anybody would have expected at the end of 2019. So I’m not really sure what your complaint here is — especially when it comes to where other fans are at.

Seems like the Jays could use an upgrade for the backup IF/bench bat spot. This would also allow Espinal to get a full AAA season in (if they go ahead). Ideally they get a LHB or SH.

Do any of Brad Miller (LHB), the return of Travis Shaw (LHB), Asdrubal Cabrera (SH) or Jedd Gyorko (RHB) grab your attention? — Lewis

I definitely would have been into Brad Miller, but I guess Joe Panik it is. For now.

I still would most like to see Cavan Biggio in that role, to be perfectly honest. But that would be a real luxury, if I’m being fair. I’m fine seeing what Biggio can do — and what adjustments he can make if things start to falter — over a full season in 2021.

Youth is king. It's a young man's game. Where will Martin and Groshans play? Can they arrive in 2022? Who would be optimistic comparables for them? — Jay M

As of last July, there were only two big league clubs with an average age below 27 years old (Seattle at 26.9, and San Diego at 26.7), so let's maybe not get too carried away about youth. Martin and Groshans are two very exciting prospects, and it's rare that hitters with their kind of pedigree don't turn into useful big leaguers or better, but it doesn't always happen, and it doesn't always happen right away either.

That said, both can definitely arrive in 2022, and I think it would probably be a surprise if we didn’t see them until 2023.

Groshans spoke last week about his goal being to play in the majors this season, which is impressively ambitious and not even entirely out of the question. He's extremely confident after spending last summer at the club's alternate site in Rochester, which allowed him to see — and succeed against — more advanced pitching than he'd ever faced before. Maybe that experience will let guys like him and Martin eat minor league pitchers alive and fly through the system. I wouldn't bet against them, but I wouldn't exactly bet on it just yet either.

Where they play, honestly, doesn’t really matter. People love asking this question, but it’s just not a thing that needs to be decided any time soon. They’re both capable at playing shortstop in the minors, and while it may be a stretch to have them there in the bigs, that leaves third, second, first, either outfield corner, and (in Martin’s case) centre field as realistic possibilities. Their long-term homes are more likely on the infield, but where they end up depends mostly on how the Jays can best use them.

As for comparables, I don't really like doing that, to be honest. Kiley McDaniel of ESPN and Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs both have compared Groshans to Josh Donaldson multiple times, because of his swing (and, presumably, his attitude), but to me that’s a lot. I think it makes sense coming from them, because of their expertise, the fact that they’ve seen him up close, and that they’re writing for people who are well versed in the scouting world, whereas if I were to do it I’d sound like Pierre McGuire calling every defenceman taken before the 25th pick in the NHL draft the next Ray Bourque.

I’ve been reading that people think Springer is going to age better than other players who have signed big contracts at age 31. Can you help me understand why writers, and baseball folks, think this to be true? — Steve D.

Do they? Because I can’t explain that.

Which isn’t to say I don’t think Springer will be entirely fine. His playing on the Rogers Centre turf is maybe a bit of a concern, given the fact that he’s not exactly been a 162-game guy the last few years, but he’s a great hitter — not just a pure power hitter — and hitters hit.

If you’re interested in how Springer might age, I thought this was an interesting piece from Bluebird Banter on the topic. And as for whatever you saw that suggests he might age better than most, I’d be happy to have a look. Because, sure! Sounds great!

Hey Andrew, what's your go to order at Arby's? That is all. — Simon Pond

Depends on my mood.

How would you rank the following in terms of innings pitched/starts made for the Jays in the coming season: Ray, Stripling, Roark, Matz, Thornton, Hatch, Kay, Merryweather, Zeuch, Walker, and Paxton? Am I missing any serious rotation contenders? — Simon

I mean, obviously I can’t really answer this with any real level of certainty at this point. I doubt Ross Atkins could even answer it meaningfully. But I’ll give it a shot for fun, focusing on starts rather than innings pitched.

First, just to make sure I’ve got all my bases covered, I’ll add Patrick Murphy, Jacob Waguespack, Simeon Woods Richards, Alek Manoah, and Tyler Chatwood to the mix.

OK, here goes nothing.

1. Tanner Roark — He was awful last year and nobody is particularly excited to see him back, but until he’s either traded or released he’s got a rotation spot. He can’t be sent to Buffalo, he makes less sense coming out of the bullpen than anyone, and his track record is the best of the bunch.

2. Robbie Ray — Does Ray sign a free agent deal so quickly without some kind of assurance of a rotation spot? I’m not so sure. He can still pitch plenty of innings out of the bullpen if not, but I think they’re going to give him a lot of rope.

3. Steven Matz — No assurances would have been offered here, since the Jays traded for Matz, but he’s a starter. I could see the Jays helping him get back to being the lower-middle of the rotation kind of guy he was, and the fact that he’s on a big league contract puts him ahead of some of younger guys who might be just as good.

4. Taijuan Walker — Obviously Paxton won’t be in the mix for the Jays, but as I’m writing this Walker is still out there, and while I’m maybe not as confident that the Jays will end up with him as I would have been a few days ago, this seems like a good place to hedge my bet.

5. Julian Merryweather — This is maybe wishful thinking on my part, but I think Merryweather having an additional option year imposed on him means that he likely gets to continue as a starter for at least another season, and if he stays healthy he’s the guy I think has the best shot of forcing his way into the rotation.

6. Trent Thornton — It’s hard to know what to make of Thornton. His overall numbers in 2019 weren't great, but he pitched well a lot of the time. That year he had 15 outings of at least 4 2/3 innings in which he allowed two earned runs or less. That's not nothing. But 2020 was a lost year, he's coming off surgery, and he always seemed like a guy who might not hold up as a starter anyway (the Astros were very careful with him in 2018, giving him at least five days rest between starts and often more). He might get lost in the shuffle, but because of his prior time in the big leagues may end up getting a look ahead of some of the Jays' other young arms.

7 - 9. Thomas Hatch, Anthony Kay, Patrick Murphy — These guys aren’t here because they lack potential. I like them quite a bit, I just don’t think the Jays have much they can do with them at this stage, given their inexperience and the composition of the roster, except send them to Buffalo and see what happens. You could probably make the case for any of these three to be the standout of this group. You could probably make the case that any of them winds up a reliever, too. Either way, they’ll have to force their way past a lot of names to get out of the Buffalo rotation and into the one in Toronto (er… Dunedin).

10. Ross Stripling — Stripling can be optioned, but he’s a veteran and has been a really useful big leaguer for the Dodgers over the years, so I’m not sure how likely that really is. I know he's pitched in Dodger Stadium a ton, but coming into 2020 his career ERA was 3.51 over nearly 400 innings. That’s really good! He's proven that he's comfortable working out of the 'pen though, so that's why I think it's a little less likely that he'll get a real run as a starter.

11. Tyler Chatwood — The Jays seem to have signed Chatwood to be a reliever. Even though he’s started in the past, I figure that they’re hoping to see the Chatwood who struck out 25 batters in 18 2/3 innings in 2020 go out and log 70 innings or more as a multi-inning reliever, like he did in 2019.

12 - 13. Jacob Waguespack, T.J. Zeuch — These are types whose usefulness diminishes as the team they play for gets better. Not guys you want to see making big contributions in 2021.

14 - 15. Alek Manoah, Simeon Woods Richardson — While these aren’t the young arms the Jays are going to be counting on this season, don’t be shocked if they make cameos by the end of the year. That probably won’t mean starting games, unless the Jays are somehow out of the race by September, but it could!

If you were to rank Sonny Gray against the FA pitchers and David Price, where would he end up? It might take a lot to get him but his contract and 2019 season might put him at the top of the list for me. — Phil P.

Gray is really good, and probably would be the best of the bunch in my book. That’s because of his relative durability and the quality of his stuff. I know his experience in the AL East with the Yankees didn’t go so well in 2018, but that wouldn’t scare me off. What would scare me off is the acquisition cost. He’s on very reasonable contract ($10 million in each of the next two years, plus a $12 million club option in 2023), and I’d much prefer the Jays use money to acquire players at this point than go trading prospects.

There was a thought at one point in the off-season that the Reds might be looking to shed salary, and that maybe a package deal like Gray and Mike Moustakas (who is owed $52 million over the next three years) would help keep the prospect cost down. I think a deal like that would work great for the Jays, even though they’re seemingly a bit wary of making commitments that will hurt their ability to add a top tier free agent next winter. Thing is, that would require the Reds to take a real step back — the Jays can’t offer them much in terms of big league ready talent in return — and it doesn’t seem like they’re ready to do that.

I get the Taijuan Walker's peripherals are concerning, but I still have a hard time reconciling team's not being willing to bet on the fact he's a former top prospect who is only 28. It just seems like 2-3 years should be easily attainable for a guy like that. — Josho

Concerning peripherals, the fact that he pitched a total of just 14 innings over the two full seasons prior to 2020, and the fact that he hasn’t made 30 starts in a season since 2012 are all pretty good reasons why it’s likely a two- or three-year deal isn’t on the cards for Walker. Maybe if more teams were out there looking to spend it would be different, but as it is there simply doesn’t seem to be the need for teams to offer more.

Hey Andrew - what type of composition do you think will make up the taxi squad, and will it mostly/usually be veterans so that younger guys at AAA can continue to develop? How will it play into their season strategy? — Mister MEH

My guess is that you’re right, that the taxi squad will feature veterans on the position player side — Rubén Tejada and Caleb Joseph types — combined with pitchers who are more like warm bodies than they are prospects. Zeuch, Waguespack, and Joel Payamps are all on the 40-man, and they’d certainly make some sense there, I think.

Hey Andrew! Longtime reader, first-time questioner. It's Opening Day 2023. We're at ballgames because that's a totally normal, safe thing now. And the Toronto Blue Jays run onto the field! What's their infield configuration? Thanks for the glimpse into the future. — Howard Megdal

Oh man, thanks for the question Howard, but my crystal ball has never worked especially well. Right now it’s telling me Jordan Groshans at third, Bo Bichette at short, Marcus Semien at second, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. at first.

My saying so basically guarantees that it won’t happen, but I think Groshans being entrenched at third by opening day 2023 is very realistic, and if this year with Semien goes well, why not bring him back? Certainly not because of Austin Martin, who by then will be in centre (or so this balky crystal ball says), which will push George Springer into right, leaving left field and DH to be split between Teoscar Hernández, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Rowdy Tellez, and Cavan Biggio — though one of those guys may end up traded away for pitching.

On one of the Winter Week (still Winter Caravan in my heart) sessions, I believe it was Ryan Borucki who said that the new player development complex in Dunedin is "the best in baseball.” I know that Rogers probably wants to get the team back to Toronto by late summer, once vaccination rates are up, to wring some ticket revenue out of this season, but strictly from a player perspective, do you think they'd prefer to just play out the whole year in Dunedin — quiet beachfront town, state-of-the-art facilities — rather than uprooting to Toronto at some arbitrary date? — Matt E

I do not!

Gun to your head, you *have* to trade one of Gurriel or Hernandez. Which one hurts more after their 6 WAR breakout season for someone else? — Joe

I’d be too angry that someone would do that over such a meaningless question to care. Also, it would depend on who came back in the trade. If the trade was for the exact same return then it’s Gurriel, who is cheaper and under club control for an extra year. But if we’re making changes to the hypothetical here, can we please first get rid of the gun?

Of the youngish, AAA/MLB borderline pitcher group (Hatch, Thornton, Kay, Merryweather), who do you like the best? — matt

As I got into a little bit above, I think Merryweather is the only one of that group with the potential to really be a top-end starter. Maybe not an ace or a number one, but I thought he was really impressive in terms of the quality of his stuff he showed when he came up last year, especially in his early appearances.

Of course, he almost immediately got hurt, and that’s really the whole problem with him, isn’t it? The injury history doesn’t exactly make you feel great about his ability to eventually turn into a 180 inning guy.

I like the chances of Kay and Hatch staying healthy better than the other two, and if Hatch can go back to avoiding walks the way he did in 2019 when he first came over from the Cubs, that could be game-changing. So I guess for me the decision comes down to whether Hatch can improve his command or Merryweather can stay healthy. Sadly for Merryweather, that probably means I’m taking Hatch.

With the Jays having splurged on Springer but otherwise maintaining some future financial flexibility with their bevy of one-year deals, I'm wondering what your thoughts are on next year's possible free agent SP market?

From my uninformed position, it doesn't look too promising: while there are some big names like Verlander, Greinke, and Scherzer, those are guys on the high side of 30 and—given their illustrious careers—are probably still going to expect high value, longer-term deals.

And while someone like Syndergaard might be appealing, I have to imagine that the Mets will try to extend him, especially having lost the Bauer sweepstakes.

Just wondering how you see this impacting the Jays going forward. Starting pitching seems like such a big need for the team but I don't know if I see many obvious targets.

Thanks as always! — Christopher

Yeah, it seems unlikely that guys like Verlander, Grienke, Scherzer, Kershaw, etc., would actually end up with the Blue Jays — and strange to even try to picture them in the uniform — but I actually think those are indeed some very obvious targets. And other than the 34-year-old Kershaw (who I have a hard time seeing leave Los Angeles anyway), given their ages, no, I don’t think they’ll be looking for especially long-term deals. They’ll actually probably looking at deals that could fit very nicely with what the Blue Jays want to do. And by then the Jays might really look like the kind of contending team that could use guys like that to get them over the top.

I’m not saying it’s likely, but don’t sleep on the idea.

And even if that doesn’t work out, and if Syndergaard gets extended, and if Marcus Stroman is clearly not coming back, you'll also have Lance Lynn, Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman, Corey Kluber, Charlie Morton, Eduardo Rodriguez, potentially Bauer again, and a whole bunch of guys with success in the past who could dramatically improve their stock with a good 2021.

Trades also will still exist. So, yeah, I wouldn’t worry about it!

If we were putting money on Jays pitchers for innings-pitched in 2021, might Trent Thornton be undervalued next to some of the shinier new or rising players? — Delgado Media Holdings

As mentioned above, I think he’s definitely been a bit overlooked. It wouldn’t shock me to see him pitch his way into a pretty important role for the Jays this year, either in the rotation or the bullpen. But there’s just so much competition for those spots that it’s hard to back any one arm in particular. When Thornton has been good, he’s been very good though. Anyone who is overlooking him probably shouldn’t.

Based on this year's market do you see teams dragging their free agent signings (particularly bullpens since these are always in flux ) into late March to see how things shake out? Or will signings ramp up over the next two weeks? — TheFWordNB

I think that, for the most part, teams will want guys to have a full camp. And I think for most players signing at this point — who, save for a few, aren’t likely to be signing multi-year deals — will want that, too. If you’re on a one-year deal, you need the season to provide the best possible platform for you to go back into free agency next winter. Missing a bunch of spring training isn’t the way to do that.

That maybe doesn’t mean everyone will sign before pitchers and catchers report, but I don’t see these sagas playing out until it’s nearly opening day.

The Phelps/Yamaguchi transaction is a net gain on its own as you nicely argue in your piece (Thursday), but could the Jays be building depth in the bullpen in order to create a glut of tweener pitchers who could shuttle between the majors/minors and openers/spot starters/relievers as a way of avoiding the remaining SP market? The benefits of depth and flexibility notwithstanding, are they focusing their resources on the bullpen to avoid paying Walker, Paxton, et al? — James

No, I think they would be building a more flexible bullpen regardless. That doesn’t mean they’re guaranteed to sign one of those guys, by any means (and Paxton is now obviously no longer an option). But I don’t think we need to get conspiratorial about it. The Jays quite rightly want to make sure they preserve opportunities for the kinds of younger guys you’re talking about, but they surely aren’t blind to the fact that the rotation is the weak link at the moment. All the chatter out there is that they’re still in on the starting pitching market. Maybe they’ll pivot at some point if more teams get in and the prices go beyond their comfort zone, but I think you have to still believe they’ll land a starter.

Should we be *expecting* a rotation add before the season starts?

Obviously there are guys out there who'd fill the role, but would you be surprised if the starting pitching depth is the same now as it is when the team actually plays games? — Craig Needles

Hmm. Seems I just answered this one above. That was easy. Thanks for the question though, man!

Could the Jays and Bisons both play in Buffalo and is there a way the team could benefit from that?

I'm thinking with the news that there is potential for a travel ban in the U.S. concerning Florida, while at the same time New York State is opening up somewhat allowing for a small number of fans to attend (and Canada lagging in vaccines), Buffalo may be seeming more likely.

It's become common in hockey to keep affiliate teams close (i.e. Leafs and Marlies in Toronto) to facilitate easily moving guys around. Maybe the taxi squad makes it less important but wondering how the Jays could use the arrangement if it breaks down that way to their advantage. — Matt C

I think that by having their Triple-A team in Buffalo the Jays are already benefitting about as much as they possibly can by geographic closeness. Remember the Vegas years? Remember poor Mike McCoy?

This incredible map, made by Minor Leaguer from over at Bluebird Banter, is pure nightmare fuel.

As for having both the Jays and Bisons at Sahlen Field, I don’t think think it’s ideal. When the Jays went looking for other big league stadiums to call home last year, it seemed a lot of the logistical hurdles they faced stemmed from COVID protocols requiring frequent cleaning of facilities and strict guidelines on spacing. Sharing a space with the Bisons would pose many of the same problems.

Also, I wrote last Wednesday that the Jays are apparently still looking at Buffalo as a potential home in 2021, and that the mid-summer weather in Florida is one area that would be of obvious concern if they stayed there. Something I didn’t mention? April and May in Buffalo aren’t exactly great, weather-wise, either.

I still think Dunedin is where they most likely end up.

Stoeten — I was shocked to see that the Depth Charts projections at FanGraphs have the Red Sox (88) to be within one win of the Jays (89). Perhaps I'm overweighting the tire-fire that was 2020 for the Sox. But really? Are you buying this? I for one am much more concerned about the Rays when it comes to wild card spots (and of course the Yankees but they seem likely division winners), but maybe I'm just an idiot. — Old Dolio

I don’t believe the Red Sox are going to be that good, no. Like you, I’m more concerned about the Rays — though I sometimes wonder if we’re a little to quick to think they’ll be able to relatively easily overcome having traded Blake Snell and having chosen not to bring back Charlie Morton.

But what I would say here is that an output like that from a projection is actually what makes them interesting. They’re obviously not able to predict the future, but they can be quite good at challenging our assumptions. So, what is it about the Red Sox that FanGraphs is seeing that we’re not? Or that other projections aren’t?

Well, we can actually look into that second question. PECOTA has the Red Sox winning 80 games, which is eight fewer than what Depth Charts is projecting. The difference seems to be on the offensive side of the ball. Depth Charts projects them to allow 781 runs while PECOTA has them at 765 — so, pretty close. But where PECOTA has them scoring just 759 runs, Depth Charts has them at a whopping 849!

Depth Charts projections tend to be friendlier on the offensive side of the ball, so this maybe isn’t surprising, but it’s a pretty extreme example. Let's take three of the Red Sox' most important hitters and look at how the different systems see them and how that compares to what they did in 2019 and 2020.

Rafael Devers:
PECOTA: .255/.314/.461, 24 HR, 2.0 WARP
Depth Charts: .287/.341/.528, 33 HR, 3.7 WAR
2020: .263/.310/.483, 11 HR, 0.5 WAR
2019: .311/.361/.555, 32 HR, 5.9 WAR

Xander Bogaerts:
PECOTA: .281/.353/.475, 22 HR, 3.6 WARP
Depth Charts: .285/.359/.496, 27 HR, 4.2 WAR
2020: .300/.364/.502, 11 HR, 1.9 WAR
2019: .309/.384/.502, 33 HR, 6.8 WAR

J.D. Martinez:
PECOTA: .246/.326/.453, 26 HR, 2.1 WARP
Depth Charts: .271/.350/.505, 32 HR, 1.8 WAR
2020: .213/.291/.389, 7 HR, -1.0 WAR
2019: .304/.383/.557, 36 HR, 3.2 WAR

Let’s start with Devers. Depth Charts seems to have effectively split the difference between his great 2019 and his OK 2020. PECOTA, on the other hand, has arrived at a line that looks more like 2020 — and also like his underwhelming 2018 as well (.240/.298/.433). PECOTA seems to be putting more weight on his last three years, two of which weren’t great (especially in terms of OBP), while Depth Charts hews closer to his career marks, and his strong 2019.

Bogaerts, on the other hand, hasn’t had the same kind of dramatic swings over the last last few years — his last three seasons by wRC+ have been 133, 140, 130 — so both systems are much closer to agreement.

Lastly, we have Martinez. He was awful in 2020, but was so good in 2017 and 2018 that both systems expect a bounce back, just not to the level of even 2019. Depth Charts expects a much bigger bounce, however. And I suspect if you went down the list of Red Sox hitters, you’d find more than a few instances where Depth Charts is that much more bullish.

Add it all up, and you end up with a team that one system thinks will be a top five offence and another that has it ninth in the American League. I don’t think one or the other is right or wrong — and since they’re both black boxes we couldn’t really know anyway — but I’ll say this: having gone through just this small set of numbers, I’m already slightly more worried about Boston. I’ll take the over on where PECOTA has Devers, at the very least.

Hey Andrew,

First time question asker here. With the recent PECOTA projections one of first things to pop out to me was the difference between projected win% and run differential across the AL divisions. A White Sox team (-10) has a projected 83 wins, and the Blue Jays (+39) are projected at 84+ wins. Now, I am no statistician and understand these projections are complex, but I’d think a +50 difference is more than 1 win. Does this suggest significant differences in divisional strengths? If so, I know there is a lot of talk about increasing competitiveness across the league in the next CBA, any thoughts on possibly reworking the divisional framework.

Thanks for what you do! — Daniel Petty

Thanks for the kind words, man! I can’t speak for the folks at Baseball Prospectus, but I have to believe you’re right about this reflecting the divisions and MLB’s unbalanced schedule. Teams play their divisional opponents 19 times each, so, to use some rather crude math, for the Jays, that means playing 76 games against teams PECOTA has averaging 82.5 wins each. For the White Sox, it means playing 76 games against teams PECOTA projects to win 78.4 games on average. And if you look at their projections in the NL West, you'll see that the Diamondbacks are projected to score the exact same number of runs as the White Sox (771), while giving up 11 fewer. So they're a +1 in terms of projected run differential, yet their win projection is just 79.4. That's because Arizona's four divisional opponents project to 83.5 wins on average.

Having a weaker division is definitely an advantage with an unbalanced schedule!

As for whether that will ever change, I honestly doubt it. Just follow the money. The league loves those 19 Yankees-Red Sox games every year. Teams like the Jays, in years when they’re not drawing well themselves, also love it when teams like the Yankees or Red Sox come to town. Plus, playing in-division as often as possible makes for a better TV product, because it means fewer games outside of the local team’s time zone.

Clearly having a level playing field for all teams is just not as important to this league as making as much money as possible.

Hey Andrew,
Been reading your stuff for a long time across various platforms and it’s been cool to follow your writing career. I always felt that you wrote what you felt, and never because “Shit, you have to”. I remember seeing your Birds All Day Q & A’s for the National post during the Jays 2015 run and thinking, “Wow, this guy’s becoming big time”. During the Jays rebuilding years I admittedly lost some interest in your work, but this was a symptom of the team’s play. My question is this, could you give us some insight as to the ups and downs of a beat writer? When things are going well are you balling, and do you have serious financial worries when things are bad? On the outside looking in it seems like quite a precarious career you’re in.

Wish you the best,
Jeff from Montreal

Thanks for all the kind words, Jeff. It is absolutely a precarious career, but what isn’t these days? In my case I am at least extremely fortunate to have an audience that has been incredibly loyal over the years and followed me through all of the ups and downs. Not everybody in this business has a thing like I do with all of you, and that’s the only thing that has allowed me to keep landing on my feet. When I explain what my job is to friends who don’t follow sports at all, what I basically say is that it’s like I’ve licensed my work to various platforms who’ve paid me for the privilege of bringing my audience to them. I’ve always been happy to keep it that way, not to chase a bigger and bigger platform or try to be something that I’m not, and that’s afforded me a whole lot of stability despite the fact the names on the websites I write for keep changing.

The financial stuff I don’t really want to get into much, but I’ll say this: Until now, whether times have been good or less good has depended on whether the paycheque was steady, not whether the team was competitive. Freelance work is hard. I shudder at the thought of having to pitch pieces, plan things in advance, hit deadlines, chase paycheques, and wait for editors to go over something I’ve submitted as it loses immediacy by the second.

That’s why I’ve chosen not to go that route despite being again out here on my own. It’s definitely been a scary few months, but being on Substack now, being my own boss, has a real good chance of being the best thing that’s ever happened to my career. I still have a long way to go before I hit the subscriber goals I’ve set for myself, but it’s going very well so far, time is still on my side, and I think I’m doing some of the best work I’ve ever done. The Jays being good definitely would be good for business, but no matter how the season goes I feel great about where I’m at. I can’t speak for other writers because, like I say, I’m extremely lucky this is even feasible in the first place, and I can’t thank every single person reading this enough for being the reason that’s the case!

(Hey and while you’re here, definitely feel free to become a paid subscriber if you can afford to and haven’t already! There’s a handy link to do so right below these words!)

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