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Toronto Season Preview: Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Jays?

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Previewing the Toronto Blue Jays' 2016 Season

Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

During the 2014 off-season, the Toronto Blue Jays pulled a surprising trade with the Oakland Athletics, and sent Brett Lawrie along with prospects Kendall Graveman, Sean Nolin, and Franklin Barreto for star third baseman Josh Donaldson. This was the crowning move of a very busy off-season for the Blue Jays,  which saw them bring in Russell Martin and Michael Saunders.

The Blue Jays didn't stop there. Heading into July, the Blue Jays were TIED for 4th place with the Rays, and only sat 1.0 GB behind the 1st place Baltimore Orioles. A week before the trade deadline, the Blue Jays were tied with the Rays at 5.5 GB behind the ALE leading New York Yankees. That didn't stop them from acquiring Troy Tulowitzki and David Price at the trade deadline to make a playoff push.

That risk of going all in paid off, and the Blue Jays ran off with the division, finishing the regular season with a record of 93-69. They did, however, lose the ALCS to the eventual World Series champion Royals.

Lineup Prediction

Photo Credit: Bily Hamilton

Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton

In 2016, the Blue Jays are keeping most of their offense, with Jose Bautista and Edwin Enacarcion both entering the final year of their current contracts. Those two, alongside Tulo and Russell Martin, should form another intimidating middle of the order threat that hit a combined 143 HR and was worth 21.2 fWAR.

The Blue Jays also have the Canadian Outlaw in Kevin Pillar, whose glove propelled him to 4.3 fWAR and a gold glove nomination.

Here is what the Blue Jays healthy projected lineup looks like courtesy of X, with the Fangraphs' Steamer projections for 2016:

Player PA AVG SLG OBP ISO wRC+ fWAR
Kevin Pillar 548 .276 .313 .409 .133 95 2.6
Troy Tulowitzki 519 .256 .330 .436 .180 107 3.0
Josh Donaldson 655 .271 .350 .493 .222 129 5.9
Jose Bautista 583 .256 .369 .498 .243 137 3.6
Edwin Encarnacion 540 .264 .356 .513 .248 135 2.6
Russell Martin 458 .235 .330 .410 .177 103 3.3
Justin Smoak 310 .233 .311 .413 .185 97 0.3
Ryan Goins 384 .240 .289 .333 .094 69 0.3
Michael Saunders 269 .246 .325 .411 .166 101 0.7

Steamer is a little down on Tulo and Martin, with some regression due for the former playing outside of Coors field. The reigning MVP Donaldson is projected to build on a fantastic 2015, and Bautista and EE are expected to make strong contributions as well.

The key to the Blue Jays lineup, as is with all teams, is health. Enacarcion and Martin are 33, Bautista is 35; Donaldson and Tulo are both on the wrong side of 30. Tulowitzki did have a healthy year in 2015, but had less than 400 PA in 2014 and 2012. If the Blue Jays key players can stay healthy, their bats should be able to follow through on a strong 2015.

Pitching Prediction

Photo Credit: Reinhold Matay

Photo Credit: Reinhold Matay

If there is a weak link in the Jays, its with their pitching. At the trade deadline last season, the Blue Jays gave up top prospects for a David Price rental, who was an integral part of their first playoff appearance in 20 years. The rotation is lead by young phenom Marcus Stroman and veteran R. A. Dickey.

Those two should be followed by Marco Estrada, who posted a surprising 13-8 record with a 3.13 ERA in 168 innings. The last two spots should be a battle between prospect Aaron Sanchez, and newly acquired J.A. Happ and Gavin Floyd.

According to Fangraphs' depth chart, they have Sanchez above Floyd, so we'll go with that for the purpose of this article.

Player IP ERA FIP K% BB%
Marcus Stroman 193.0 3.63 3.68 19.8% 6.5%
R.A. Dickey 202.0 4.21 4.74 15.9% 7.2%
Marco Estrada 165.0 4.40 4.90 17.4% 7.1%
J.A. Happ 146.0 3.88 4.13 20.1% 7.3%
Aaron Sanchez 118.0 4.40 4.42 17.2% 11.0%

With a quick glance, the numbers are not promising. Only Dickey is predicted by Steamer to go more than 200 innings, with Stroman close at 193 wish a bit more postivie that I would think, considering he hasn't posted more than 130 innings at any level in the minors or major league.

The strikeout numbers and walk numbers (except for Sanchez) are better than one would think. The Blue Jays do have a sneaky solid defense behind them, and one of the best pitch framers in Russell, so we could easily see better numbers than what is predicted.

Photo Credit:

Photo Credit: Peter G. Aiken

Here is how the bullpen is scheduled to shake up:

Players IP ERA FIP K% BB%
Roberto Osuna 65.0 3.16 3.41 26.8% 7.9%
Brett Cecil 55.0 2.92 2.97 28.2% 8.6%
Drew Storen 65.0 3.31 3.54 24.4% 7.4%
Jesse Chavez 120.0 3.51 3.78 21.8% 6.6%
Drew Hutchinson 64.0 3.89 4.13 21.1% 7.0%
Randy Choate 20.0 3.77 3.99 17.8% 7.5%
Ryan Tempera 45.0 3.87 4.09 20.9% 8.5%
Pat Veinditte 35.0 3.98 4.35 19.4% 8.6%

The bullpen is built more solid than the rotation, with Storen, Cecil and Osuna forming Toronto's own version of the 3 headed monster. The addition of the ambidextrous Veinditte from Oakland allows manager John Gibbons to pair him up against both LHH and RHH. Chavez and Hutchinson provide solid depth should one of the starters go down.

Overall this bullpen is built pretty well, and might even be a step up above the Rays'.

Conclusion

By bringing everyone back for 2016, the Blue Jays are built to contend again for the AL East title. However, with the loss of David Price, and shaky health and an even shakier rotation, the Blue Jays will rely heavily on their big bats to get them back to the top.

Everyone in the AL East has improved their team this off-season, and the addition of J.A. Happ and Jesse Chavez is nothing to write home aboot. Its a long way to the top, and the Blue Jays will have their work cut out for them to make it through the extremely competitive AL East, especially the elite rotation and improved offense of the Rays, who the Blue Jays finished 9-10 in the series last season.