Tao of Stieb: The case for Halladay atop list of greatest Blue Jays

As the Blue Jays are set to embark on a home-away-from-home series with the Mariners, MLB insider Dan Shulman speaks on the club’s fanbase in Seattle, says there’s no other MLB comparable.

The fun of lists is that it’s almost impossible to read someone else’s without feeling the need to re-order it to your own taste.

Sportsnet’s recently released 40 in 40: Greatest Blue Jays ranking tool is no exception, and with drag-and-drop functionality that allows you to immediately begin moving players up and down versus the public’s consensus, one needn’t resist the urge.

Ranking the greatest Blue Jays of all time is likely an exercise that most fans have engaged in at some point or another, if not perpetually and on an ongoing basis. Any such ranking is inevitably highly subjective, even if one makes an effort towards some level of empirically objective approach.

Below are a few highlights of at least version 3.0 of my own list, and especially those players on whom my opinion varies somewhat from the general consensus.

The Blue Jays celebrated their 40th anniversary on April 7, and we're taking a look back at the players who shaped the franchise.

A quick note on my rough methodology: These aren’t necessarily the most valuable Blue Jays, although WAR was a consideration. I also valued at least some degree of longevity, so players like Dave Winfield and David Cone slide out of my list entirely.

Here are my top five:

1. Roy Halladay
2. Jose Bautista
3. Dave Stieb
4. Carlos Delgado
5. Roberto Alomar

I was tempted to have Bautista in the top spot, as his value, achievements and historical significance continue to grow. But it’s hard not to put Doc at the top of the heap, especially after going through his individual seasons and recognizing how exceptionally well he pitched in every season from 2002 through 2009.

Up until the past few years, I would have always had Carlos Delgado at the top, and it somehow feels wrong to list him as low as fourth. It’s less a reflection of his contributions lowering in my view than others’ rising.

Alomar, the current consensus pick as number one, slips on my list in part because some of his best attributes seem better in the memory. We likely valued stolen bases and batting averages to a far greater degree in the nineties, but comparing Alomar’s wOBA or wRC+ slides him down the list slightly.

6. Tony Fernandez
7. Josh Donaldson
8. John Olerud
9. Edwin Encarnacion
10. Jimmy Key

Most everyone in this second section bumps up somewhat from the consensus, although the peoples’ vote seems to be moving several of these players upwards in recent days.

Donaldson’s two seasons and a few weeks are as brilliant as almost any in Jays history, as he sits 15th among batters in WAR in just 333 games. If Donaldson produces three wins from now through the end of the season, he’ll pass Alomar for 11th on that list.

Olerud ranks higher in my estimation than most, perhaps because of his .395 career OBP, highest all-time for any Jay with more than 400 plate appearances.

Despite the moniker I’ve carried for more than a decade, Jimmy Key was always my favourite Blue Jays pitcher. He ranks third all-time in WAR among Jays pitchers, and was the ace of the staff in many of the key seasons between 1985 and 1991.

11. Fred McGriff
12. Vernon Wells
13. Tom Henke
14. Lloyd Moseby
15. Jesse Barfield
16. George Bell
17. Devon White
18. Paul Molitor
19. Shawn Green
20. Roger Clemens

McGriff currently sits 24th amongst the consensus, which is either a reflection of fans never quite appreciating his plate discipline or perhaps not associating him as a Blue Jay. According the wRC+, only Josh Donaldson exceeds his offensive output as a Blue Jay.

Vernon Wells also lags in the popular opinion, and I’ll confess that there are good reasons to leave him further down the list. But his positives, like his exceptional defence for much of his Jays career, seem to be overshadowed by a bad contract and a couple of bad seasons.

It seems appropriate to bunch Moseby, Barfield and Bell together, given their historical connection as well as their similar overall numbers.

Clemens might have dropped further down, but even with just two seasons in Toronto and the shadows cast by allegations of PED use and his generally unlikeable demeanour, it’s hard to overlook how amazing those two seasons were.

21. Joe Carter
22. Pat Hentgen
23. Duane Ward
24. Rance Mulliniks
25. Kelly Gruber
26. Ernie Whitt
27. Shannon Stewart
28. Juan Guzman
29. Russ Martin
30. Willie Upshaw

This portion of the list seems to be a resting place for players who were downgraded from most folks’ favourites.

There was a time when I might have pushed Carter even further down, and there’s a statistical rationale for doing so, but having watched him in some classic games over the past year, I’ve developed a greater appreciation for him as a power hitter in an era where they weren’t as plentiful.

Ernie Whitt climbs significantly in my list, as the best offensive catcher in Jays history. Pat Borders, beloved though he may be, falls out of my top 40 entirely. Russell Martin’s ranking is probably aggressive, but he’s clearly the best defensive catcher I’ve seen play for this franchise.

31. David Wells
32. Alex Rios
33. Marco Estrada
34. Mark Eichhorn
35. Jose Cruz Jr.
36. Otto Velez
37. Casey Janssen
38. Jim Clancy
39. Aaron Hill
40. Jason Frasor

The bottom 10 of my list pulls some players who dropped below the line in the general consensus. Though they never seemed to fully achieve their promise, Alex Rios and Jose Cruz Jr. were similarly maligned talents who still possessed a compelling combination of power and speed.

Were this list purely based on my favourites, Mark Eichhorn would rank even higher. His 1986 season remains one of the most extraordinary in my memory.

Jim Clancy ranks high in terms of all-time WAR, but feels like more of an accumulator than a franchise icon. You wouldn’t need to work hard to convince me to drop him completely.

On the other hand, Casey Janssen and Jason Frasor don’t rank as well as others in some statistical analysis. But Frasor’s achievement as the all-time games pitched leader is worth recognizing, and their generally good performances (3.52 and 3.73 ERAs, respectively) sneak them into the bottom of my list.

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