In an age of predictive statistics and multiple projection systems, pre-season (or early-season) predictions aren’t what they used to be.
Scan across a number of these articles or charts, and you’ll mostly find variations on similar themes: the Red Sox, the Cleveland baseball club, the Astros, the Dodgers and the Cubs are almost universally seen as division winners, with the Blue Jays, Rangers, Mariners, Giants, Mets and Nationals considered legitimate candidates to upset for the pennants.
Even the MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year predictions are prone to sticking with the chalk, perhaps because the chalk has gotten much smarter over the years. Or because Mike Trout is Mike Trout.
It takes a determined fool with almost complete disregard for their personal reputation as a baseball writer to go far afield in their forecasts. And to that, I say: Hold my beer.
Here are a few predictions for the coming season, both regarding the Blue Jays and the rest of the Majors. Call me crazy, but last year, your prescient Uncle Tao predicted the following:
• That Aaron Sanchez would be a starter for the entirety of the season;
• that the Blue Jays would have four All-Stars, including a surprise;
• and, that a sneaky trade would pay big dividends.
Maybe those predictions seem too vague, like a television psychic’s leading suggestions. But it’s hard to imagine anyone being so precise as to have named Captain Canada Michael Saunders or Marco Estrada as All-Stars or Jason Grilli and Joaquin Benoit as future acquisitions.
With that self-congratulation behind us, let’s look ahead at the daring and audacious forecast for the coming season...
A Blue Jays pitcher will hit 100 mph
Between a couple of young pitchers who are emerging into the early part of their prime, and some measurement systems that are running “hot” as a result of some recent changes, expect at least one pitch to touch triple digits at some point.
Kevin Pillar will flirt with .300 for most of the season
In some sense, the walks that Pillar has taken through the spring and in the first few games of the season are beside the point. If Pillar can resist the pitches that are impossible to hit, and maybe extend at bats to the point where he can use his athleticism and hand-eye coordination to get a good swing on a better pitch, he will raise his batting average and maybe even hit a few more extra base hits along the way.
Justin Smoak will be a Blue Jay for the full season
He may not be the MVP, and he may even lose his starting job, but in spite of the opposition to his contract and continued presence, Smoak will do just enough to hang in for the full campaign. And on that note…
Rowdy Tellez will not be a Blue Jay until September
For as much love as the studious, opposite-field hitter has engendered amongst the front office, fans, media and especially John Gibbons, he will be put to the test in triple-A Buffalo. Moreover, the pile-up of first base/DH/left field options on the MLB roster, plus Chris Coghlan’s presence means that the Jays won’t need to rush his development this year.
The Blue Jays use no more than seven starters
Conventional wisdom suggests some regression awaits after a season in which they used just seven starting pitchers, with all but ten starts being handled by the primary five. In most seasons, it takes ten starters or more to get through to the end of September. A team couldn't be so lucky two years in a row, could they? Yes, they could, if you believe that health isn’t completely random. Moreover, they will be in a battle for a playoff spot all season, and won’t have much reason to shuttle prospects or fringe roster players into the rotation. At the same time…
The Blue Jays will use fewer than last year’s 29 pitchers, but it will feel like more
This is the first year of the 10-day DL, and there is an impulse to expect that this new rule will be exploited, especially when it comes to pitchers. If there is something to make you waver on the prediction above, it could be the notion that it will be easy to shelve Estrada or Aaron Sanchez if you need to buy them a single start’s worth of rest.
But even with some reasonable depth in emerging bullpen options, last season’s numbers were goosed by two position players pitching, as well as the not-so-illustrious Blue Jays careers of Arnold Leon and Franklin Morales. Take the under on the total number of pitchers, but expect lots of transactions as the club cycles relievers into the fold.
Madison Bumgarner will be the NL MVP, but not win the Cy Young
Accuse me of recency bias if you must. I won’t deny that seeing Bumgarner hit two dingers on Opening Day shaped this theory. But if you imagine Clayton Kershaw continuing to be Clayton Kershaw this year, you can imagine a scenario where Bumgarner’s pitching value is excellent but not the best. You can also imagine Bumgarner continuing to take immense pride in his offensive contributions, including some occasional pinch hitting and hitting for himself in American League parks.
This is certainly a stretch, since Bumgarner’s wRC+ was 71 last year, and he struck out 44.3 per cent of the time. But do you want to doubt his intensity? If he stays dialed in and hits even at level that's close to league average, some could make the case that a couple of wins above replacement as a hitter and fielder added to his pitching WAR puts him over the top.
That’s my narrative. And I’m sticking to it.