Series Preview #44: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Toronto Blue Jays

Tom Szczerbowski

Tonight, on a very special episode of Series Previews...

Let's play a little game I like to call "So You Think You Can Be an MLB General Manager?" Just as a thought experiment, imagine you're in charge of a team that's good but not great. The offense is fine, but the starting rotation has been bad for a while now, and there's no immediate help on the horizon. You've painstakingly built a top-10 farm system, but it's filled with a bunch of position players who play largely redundant positions.

Oh, and you happen to general manage a team in a market that consistently punches under its weight and isn't a free agent destination. Also, you play in one of the best divisions in baseball, so "good but not great" doesn't get you anywhere. What's your plan for the offseason?

A.) Trade your veterans for more prospects, stick the prospects you already have out there, and wait patiently for 2017.

B.) Spend money on the bullpen, and augment the offense with two-year deals for veterans.

C.) Trade Upton for bullpen pieces, regardless of whether your team currently employs an Upton.

D.) Fleece stupid and/or desperate teams out of their front-line pitchers by dangling your redundant prospects in a trade.

Unless you're Jeffrey Loria, a probably-unfair caricature of Kevin Towers, or a definitely-unfair caricature of an AZ Central commenter, you probably chose Option D. I know this because I specifically set up this example to get you to choose Option D. But it does show that there's nothing all that irrational about what Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos did to build his team. Which is worth keeping in mind, because everything that's happened since then has been a tire fire.

What the Stats Say (Courtesy of Fangraphs):


Arizona
(69-66)
Toronto
(62-75)
Edge
Hitting (wRC+): 94 99 Toronto
Pitching (ERA-/FIP-):
98/101 107/107 Arizona
Fielding (UZR):
40.1 -28.0

Arizona


It's probably not fair to say that the offseason moves that the Blue Jays made didn't help the pitching staff. Last year, the Jays had a team ERA- of 110. So they turned around and added Josh Johnson and R.A. Dickey, two starters who pitched like aces relatively recently.

They now have an ERA- of 107, which technically counts as progress! Of course, Dickey and Johnson have combined for an ERA- of about 125, so the marginal improvement really isn't coming from them at all, but rather from an improved bullpen and throw-in Mark Buehrle.

Starting Lineups:

Arizona Diamondbacks

1. Adam Eaton, LF
2. A.J. Pollock, CF
3. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
4. Aaron Hill, 2B
5. Martin Prado, 3B
6. Gerardo Parra, RF
7. Miguel Montero, C
8. Didi Gregorius, SS



The Blue Jays added Jose Reyes to a potent offensive core that already included, among others, Jose Bautista, Lind, Encarnacion, Brett Lawrie, and Adam Lind. Offense wasn't supposed to be a problem. And yet, in what would have been a crucial late-August division matchup against the Yankees in an alternate reality, the Blue Jays had Mark DeRosa DH and bat cleanup. Yeah, that Mark DeRosa.

That's probably the second-best lineup-based metaphor for the Blue Jays' season, behind expecting to have Jose Bautista in left field and winding up with Rajai Davis instead.

And if you haven't been paying attention to the AL recently, you probably stopped thinking about Brett Lawrie back when he was still a 21-year-old phenom who put up 2.5 fWAR in a quarter of a year. The reason you probably haven't thought about him since as that he's been roughly league-average in the nearly 900 PAs he's had since then. Considering that he was supposed to be Manny Machado before Manny Machado, this has to qualify as a disappointment. He's only 23 though, and still has plenty of time to develop.

Side note: I had no idea that Edwin Encarnacion has been a 4 WAR player the past two years.

Starting Pitchers:

Monday: Brandon McCarthy (3-8, 5.03) vs. Esmil Rogers (3-7, 5.03)

Insightful Commentary: Mechanical adjustments are almost always post facto explanations, but in this case I think I'm going to let myself hope. I was getting pretty close to concluding that Brandon McCarthy was not going to be an effective pitcher for a long time going forward, but shortly after announcing that he was tweaking his mechanics, he came up with a seven-inning, one run start against the Padres. He didn't allow a walk. It might be nothing, but I'm letting myself hope because this rotation is way better with a healthy Brandon McCarthy in it, both this year and next.

I last seriously thought about Esmil Rogers in the beginning of 2010. At that point, the Rockies were coming off a playoff appearance, and Rogers was a promising 23-year-old righty who would have a chance to slot into a good young rotation. Since then, Esmil Rogers has pitched four seasons, and had an ERA under 5 in exactly one of those. He is who he is at this point: a below-average starter who would be a swingman on most teams. The Blue Jays do not have that luxury at the moment, however.

Tuesday: Wade Miley (9-9, 3.55) vs. Todd Redmond (2-2, 4.30)

Insightful Commentary: Miley is seventh among qualified major league pitchers in GB%, which is a pretty startling turnaround from last year, where he was fairly close to average. Boosting your ground ball rate by ten percent can make up for a lot of ills, and Miley is showing that this year.

Redmond has been something of a minor-league journeyman, bouncing from the Pirates to the Braves to the Reds organization all without reaching the majors until 2012, by which time he was already 27. It's hard to fathom how many pitchers the Jays would have rather started than Todd Redmond. But in the 9 starts he's had for the Blue Jays this year, he's been solid, and has been among their most consistent starters.

Wednesday: Randall Delgado (4-5, 3.67) vs. Mark Buehrle (11-7, 3.92)

Insightful Commentary: As long as we're talking about post facto explanations, the perscription glasses story for Randall Delgado probably deserves to be addressed. In his second start wearing glasses, Delgado was stellar against the Giants. But it's not like that's the first time that Delgado has had success, and it's not even the first time he's had success against the Giants this year. And more importantly, if Delgado came up at the beginning of June, and no one figured out that the problem was that he just couldn't see home plate, someone should probably be fired.

Buehrle was a disaster to start the season, but he's bounced back to put up essentially the same season he always puts up. Which is to say, ERA in the high 3s, middling strikeout rate that offsets a really low BB%, and a BABIP that always seems a bit lower than it "should" be. Which is nice, because that Mark Buehrle is a valuable pitcher.

For Those Still Clinging to Hope...

Reds (6 games up) at home against St. Louis

Monday: Wainwright vs. Latos
Tuesday: Wacha vs. Bailey
Wednesday: Miller vs. Arroyo
Thursday: Lynn vs. Reynolds

Coolstandings.com Playoff Odds: 6.2%

Blue Jays Blog: Bluebird Banter

(All stats from Fangraphs or Baseball-Reference unless otherwise indicated.)

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