On the weekend I decided to take my lovely wife out for a special Valentines Day dinner and a movie. Given that it took us until the last minute to find a sitter for our two children it didn't leave me any time to make dinner reservations...big mistake. We got to the restaurant strategically located close to the theatre and unfortunately the wait time for a table was much too long if we wanted to make it to the movie in time, so we decided to go elsewhere. Of course being the Saturday before Valentines Day everywhere we went there were no tables available. After finally ending up eating at a quicky soup and sandwich place, because there was just no time at left for anything else, we gobbled down our mediocre sandwiches and rushed back to the movie theater. The movie we settled on, being Valentine's Day weekend and all, was The Vow, which I figured would be pretty much like every other movie of that genre and just entertaining enough that I wouldn't fall asleep. Sometime though, very rarely of course, these types of movies can be surprisingly outstanding. Of course I never got a chance to find out as the movie was sold out and the entire night was a disaster.
As I can relate anything back to baseball this night got me thinking that the 2012 Blue Jays are kind of like the movie The Vow, in that I have very little expectations for this team heading into the season. Most likely this team is going to be middle of the road and just entertaining enough to keep my interest. However, every once in a while a team comes out of nowhere and surprises you in being much better than anyone ever expected. So could the 2012 Blue Jays be one of those teams that surprises everyone, and really what should we be expecting for this season?
Going into the 2012 season the general consensus seems to be that the Toronto Blue Jays likeliest outcome is another 4th place finish behind the Yankees, Rays and Red Sox. In fact, I've been pretty vocal that 2012 should be viewed as a season to figure out what this team really has, and used to determine their biggest needs. It feels like almost everyone on this team outside of Jose Bautista and Ricky Romero could be great, or horrible, making it really difficult to determine what positions are in the greatest need of an upgrade. But what do the numbers say, how many wins should we really be expecting from this team?
Last year I sat down and did this very exercise that I'm about to do today and I used projected Wins Above Replacement (WAR) to forecast the number of wins we should expect from the Blue Jays. I came up with with my own projections bases on my expectations, trending and past results to forecast players WAR values and in the end I came up with the projection that the Blue Jays would win 84 games in 2011. As it turns out if it weren't for a late season stumble I may have been bang on and as it was I wasn't far off as the Blue Jays won 81 games. This season, I'm going to do things a little differently which we will get into a little later, but first I want to look back on 2011 and using players WAR values see how many games the Blue Jays should have won this past season.
Looking Back on 2011
The principle theory behind the Wins Above Replacement (WAR) statistic is that it assigns a specific number of wins (positive or negative) to a player in relation to replacement level talent. Replacement level talent is defined as a combined set of players that would make up a team with a .320 winning percentage, which is equivalent to 52 wins over a 162 game schedule.
Below you will find a list of each 2011 Blue Jays players final season WAR values broken out by position player (table 1) and pitcher (table 2).
Table 1 - Total WAR by Batter for the 2011 Toronto Blue Jays
Table 2 - Total WAR by Pitcher for the 2011 Toronto Blue Jays
From the tables above we see that the 2011 Toronto Blue Jays offense (and defense) represented a total of 18.4 wins above replacement level and the pitchers represented 15.2 wins for a combined 33.6 wins above replacement. Add this to the number of wins a replacement level team should win (52 or 51.84 to be exact), and this would suggest that the Blue Jays should have won approximately 85.44 games in 2011. Not that far off from the actual 81 games the team won, however from my limited experience doing these types of exercises I have found that when you add up a teams total player WAR value, it often does result in 3 or 4 more wins than the actual amount.
This year when projecting each Blue Jays player WAR values, rather than make my own, probably biased, educated guess for each player, I decided to turn to the fine folks of Fangraph who polled the general public of their expectations for the majority of players in baseball. To see the results for the Toronto Blue Jays player projections go to Fangraphs here, or refer to the tables below for the projected WAR values by batter (Table 3) and by pitcher (Table 4).
Note: for any player who didn't have WAR projections for the 2012 season, I projected a repeat of their 2011 WAR value.
Table 3 - Projected WAR Values for Blue Jays 2012 Batters
Table 4 - Projected WAR Values for Blue Jays 2012 Pitchers
From the tables above we see that the 2012 Toronto Blue Jays projected offense (and defense) represent a total of 34.3 wins above replacement level and the pitchers represent 16.7 wins for a combined 51 wins above replacement. Add this to the number of wins a replacement level team should win (52), and this would suggest that the Blue Jays will win 103 games in 2012.
The Blue Jays will win 103 games in 2012!
Something has got to be wrong here. Could someone please look over my numbers as I must have made a mistake, my calculations state that the Blue Jays will win 103 games this year. That this years team is actually the greatest Blue Jays team ever assembled. Next thing you will tell me is that The Vow will be the surprise Oscar winner for best movie.