22 years later, thoughts on the Blue Jays’ ALDS roster

Title: 22 years later, thoughts on the Blue Jays’ ALDS roster
Date: October 4, 2015
Synopsis: This article broke down the three primary decisions facing the Toronto Blue Jays for their playoff (!!) roster.

For the first time in 22 seasons, the Toronto Blue Jays have to set a playoff roster. Seriously, this is happening, impossible though it may still feel.

And while there’s certainly an argument to be made for enjoying what’s happened and just being here, eschewing the opportunity to pick nits, this is the internet. Things don’t work that way. And I’ve got some time to kill on a Saturday afternoon while watching Josh Hamilton take Mat Latos deep, thereby restoring my faith in the universe.

Manager and O.G. John Gibbons has a few tough decisions to make ahead of the ALDS, which, again, the Toronto Blue Jays are playing in. Rosters shrink back to 25, and there are a number of factors to consider, not the least of which is that if the series goes the full five games, there will be two off-days.

As of this writing, the Jays don’t know their opponent, but it will be either the New York Yankees or one of three teams from the AL West. The specific opponent won’t change the thinking a great deal – it may shift a start from Justin Smoak to Chris Colabello, but it’s not changing the bench equation, and it may not factor into how the bullpen shakes out. (The Texas Rangers and Yankees skew lefty-heavy, while the Houston Astros are fairly neutral and Kole Calhoun is the only Los Angeles Angels lefty who hits against lefties with any regularity, but more on that shortly.)

It’s pretty safe to assume 22 of the names on the playoff roster.

HITTERS Role PITCHERS Role
Russell Martin* C David Price* SP1
Justin Smoak 1B R.A. Dickey SP2
Ryan Goins 2B Marcus Stroman* SP3
Josh Donaldson* 3B Marco Estrada SP4/Mop
Troy Tulowitzki* SS Roberto Osuna CL
Ben Revere LF Brett Cecil Set/LH CL
Kevin Pillar CF Mark Lowe Set
Jose Bautista* RF Aaron Sanchez ROOGY/DP
Edwin Encarnacion* DH LaTroy Hawkins Mid
Dioner Navarro C2 Liam Hendriks Mid
Chris Colabello PH TBD LOOGY/Long
Cliff Pennington MI TBD Mop/Mascot?
TBD OF4/PR
TBD Util?
* = yes, actually plays for the Blue Jays

This accounting leaves three spots to be determined. (Quibble with the rotation order [Dickey effect!] or bullpen setup, that’s not really relevant to this post.)

DECISION 1: Fourth Outfielder
Dalton Pompey vs. Ezequiel Carrera

The most important thing to remember here is the actual role that will be asked of the team’s 13th position player. Yes, there’s always the chance for injuries, but you can’t manage for a five-game series like that. There’s also no sense in considering things like a player slumping and needing a day off, or being banged up – it’s a five-game series, and it takes place over seven days. Gibbons is starting his three starting outfielders in each of those games.

So while there might be an argument for Carrera being the better fourth-outfielder option, it’s pretty thin through the lens of the ALDS.

Carrera is a veteran, played the good soldier with the up-and-down this season, and can somewhat capably man all three outfield spots. He’s also a lefty, if that matters to you at all (it shouldn’t – the Jays’ bench is going to have multiple switch hitters). At this stage, Carrera may be a better all-around player than Pompey (though a middling 190-PA season doesn’t exactly tell a resounding story). Carrera rarely walks (5.8%), he strikes out a fair amount (23.2%), and his wRC+ (92) is floated by a .352 BABIP that, even with a better approach and speed, wouldn’t be sustainable with pedestrian line-drive and hard-hit rates (he’s squarely below-average in both regards).

As for Pompey, well, he may not be very good yet. We probably can’t be sure. He was atrocious to start the season, earning a multi-level demotion. A hot start at Triple-A eventually gave way to what was a good, not great, .285/.372/.356 slash-line (114 wRC+). In 102 major-league plate appearances, he’s produced worse than Carrera, but he’s hit the ball harder on balance and hasn’t been nearly as fortunate on batted balls (.265 BABIP).

None of this really matters, because Pompey can really run.

While defined as a fourth-outfielder role, this job is a specialist role in a short series. The role is that of a pinch-runner and, because the Blue Jays aren’t substituting for any of their outfielders on defense, little else. There’s a possibility that Carrera/Pompey could be tasked with staying in the game beyond a pinch-run, if a double-switch opportunity presents itself (there are a few scenarios in which it could come up in an AL series, particularly if Smoak starts a game on the bench), but it’s a small one.

If the job is for a pinch-runner and someone who may man the field for an inning or two, rarely if ever swinging the bat, Pompey is the guy. He’s 5-of-6 stealing bases in the majors this year and went 23-of-33 across two minor-league levels, a season after going 53-of-62 over five levels. He’s also posted terrific speed scores all through the minors. While Carrera has done well taking extra bases and was a stolen-base threat throughout his minor league career, Pompey is presently a stronger stolen base threat, and the Jays seem more comfortable asking him to run.

Base Running Pompey Carrera
SB/CS 5/6 2/3
SBA/SBO 6/30 3/76
XBT% 40% 58%

The vote here goes to Pompey.

DECISION 2: Seventh Reliever
Aaron Loup vs. Bo Schultz vs. Ryan Tepera vs. Steve Delabar

Like with the fourth outfielder role, specialization is important to remember here. In a short series, the seventh reliever really isn’t going to be asked to do much, if anything at all. And so while it doesn’t feel good to suggest, Loup is the right call.

Loup has been largely terrible this season after two-and-a-half solid campaigns. He’s sporting a 4.61 ERA and a 3.80 FIP, and while there’s certainly some unfriendly variance at play (his 6.4:1 K:BB ratio and 55.4-percent ground ball rate are tidy), he’s been mistake prone. And very, very home run prone as a result. He has more meltdowns than shutdowns, and he’s been worth -1.35 runs situationally, by win probability added.

Schultz and Tepera have been better by ERA but both own troublesome underlying metrics, can’t miss bats, and while both have been tougher on lefties than righties, it’s tough to trust reverse splits in such small samples. Delabar is listed here because of a long track record of missing bats and being tough on lefties, but I can’t imagine there’s a soul comfortable with him throwing a pitch in the postseason.

And so, warts and all, Loup remains the call, especially in a bullpen with only one other lefty (only one who will be used, anyway). Despite the struggles, Loup’s held lefties to a modest .314 wOBA (1.89 FIP, as the .380 BABIP is bleeding him), a number that drops to .252 when looking at his career rates. It’s worth noting, too, that his gopheritis hasn’t extended to same-handed opponents, as Loup hasn’t allowed a home run to a lefty in 75 plate appearances this season.

The combination of his handedness, his strikeout rate, and his ground ball rate make him the safest bet to get a single out against a left-handed hitter, which is all this specialist role requires. LOOGY and nothing else.

There would be a small case to be made that Loup isn’t worth rostering opposite the Angels. Thanks to switch-hitters, substitutions, and a righty-heavy lineup, they’ve only asked a lefty to hit against a lefty on 288 occasions, 24th in the majors (the Jays are 29th at 212, for those curious). The argument for Loup gets much stronger opposite the Rangers (first in LvsL appearances) and Yankees (second), who each start five left-handed hitters. (The Astros are mid-pack, and the Royals lean slightly lefty-heavy.)

Reliever ERA/FIP K9/BB9 LHH wOBA LHH FIP GB%
Loup 4.61/3.80 9.88/1.54 0.314 1.89 55.4%
Schultz 3.56/4.86 6.49/2.93 .250 4.50 48.8%
Tepera 3.13/5.48 6.25/1.71 0.253 6.28 47.3%
Delabar 5.22/4.84 9.20/4.30 0.333 6.00 42.2%

It’s Loup, which is fine. To get one out. One. Out.

image

DECISION 3: 25th Man
Mark Buehrle vs. The World

In a five-game series, it seems fairly unlikely the 25th roster spot is going to come in to play. The team may only need three starters over the seven-day stretch, the bullpen should remain well-rested unless there’s a blowout loss, and the Jays have four players in their lineup who simply aren’t coming out of a playoff game (this excludes Edwin Encarnacion, who could conceivably be pinch-run for late in a close game). There are arguments to be made in several directions with the final spot, arguments that will hold more weight in the ALCS and World Series.

An extra infielder as Troy Tulowitzki insurance? Managing for disaster seems a poor way to go about things, especially since said player wouldn’t factor in unless Cliff Pennington or Ryan Goins also got hurt.

An extra reliever for specialization, especially if Loup doesn’t grab the seventh bullpen spot? That’s an awful lot of arms when nobody has to ever throw three consecutive days.

Drew Hutchison, in the event of a blowout? You know how they found water on Mars recently? That’s great, because that’s where I’d like to shoot Hutchison to for the playoffs. The further from the roster, the better.

Josh Thole? Lol, k bro.

A fifth bench bat just in case, likely the loser of the Pompey/Carrera? Again, the Jays have too many guys you just aren’t pinch-hitting for to make this a necessity, though it’s probably the most reasonable choice if not for…

Buehrle.

Look, Buehrle hasn’t been good of late, and a team with eyes on the World Series should absolutely not be managing for egos and emotions with the playoff roster. And the hugs after he came up short of 200 innings on Friday – and the team’s subsequent decision to start him again Sunday – made it seem like everyone knew his season was coming to a close Sunday.

But he has a ring, he has loads of experience in general, and he’s Papa Goddam Buehrle. Much as I’m rarely one to call for sentiment over results, I find it difficult to envision Gibbons not including Buehrle on the playoff roster, at least for the ALDS. He can be there as a mop-up option in the event of a blowout, he ostensibly gives you one more lefty (not that he’s been particularly good against lefties), and the likelihood of the person manning the roster spot being used is fairly slim.

Again, the team should probably be maximizing every roster spot. The marginal gain may be small, but the margins have never been so magnified. Still, I’d be surprised if Buehrle isn’t on the ALDS roster.

HITTERS Role PITCHERS Role
Russell Martin* C David Price* SP1
Justin Smoak 1B R.A. Dickey SP2
Ryan Goins 2B Marcus Stroman* SP3
Josh Donaldson* 3B Marco Estrada SP4/Mop
Troy Tulowitzki* SS Roberto Osuna CL
Ben Revere LF Brett Cecil Set/LH CL
Kevin Pillar CF Mark Lowe Set
Jose Bautista* RF Aaron Sanchez ROOGY/DP
Edwin Encarnacion* DH LaTroy Hawkins Mid
Dioner Navarro C2 Liam Hendriks Mid
Chris Colabello PH Aaron Loup LOOGY
Cliff Pennington MI Mark Buehrle Mascot
Dalton Pompey OF4/PR
* = yes, actually plays for the Blue Jays
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