Tao of Stieb: Six fearless predictions for the 2018 Blue Jays

Toronto Blue Jays' Devon Travis, right, shakes hands with Luke Maile after scoring on an RBI single by Teoscar Hernandez off Philadelphia Phillies' Edubray Ramos during the fourth inning of a spring training baseball game Wednesday, March 21, 2018, in Dunedin, Fla. (Chris O'Meara/CP)

They say you can’t predict baseball, but why should that stop any of us from trying?

Surely, it’s a futile exercise. Baseball is a game that requires exceptional levels of skill and even more luck. Toss in the potential of injury and the goofily inconsistent construction to the actual baseball, and who could even hazard a guess as to how anything will play out?

Still, answering any speculative question on the year ahead with an assertion of “I guess we’ll just have to wait and see” is prudent, but a dullard’s way out.

The sun’s about to come out. The season is almost here. Let’s have some fun. Here are fearless predictions for the 2018 Blue Jays…

Kevin Pillar will have fewer than five defensive runs saved
In past years, I’ve predicted that Pillar would hit 20 homers or hit .300 for the season. With all due respect, I’m not going to get caught out by overestimating him again.

There’s StatCast data that tells us that Pillar is slower than we think, and that his spectacular catches are something of a figment of our imagination. While I consider that data a ridiculous killjoy, I’m not betting against it.

Moreover, Pillar will have some better defensive support to either side of him, so rather than being forced into Superman duty, he can perhaps keep his tie on and stay in Clark Kent mode more often.

Pillar has posted defensive runs saved numbers of 22, 21 and 15 over the past three seasons. He will still be a very good defensive outfielder, but expect that number to come down this year.

Two starting pitchers will throw 200 innings
In all of Major League Baseball, only 15 pitchers threw more than 200 innings last year. Five years ago that number was 31 and in 2007 it was 38. For a multitude of reasons, the trend is rapidly moving away from heavy workloads for pitchers.

Marcus Stroman has reached the 200-inning plateau in consecutive years, and while spring injury concerns should not be dismissed, his exceptional physical preparation and dogged determination makes it feel likely that he could reach that plateau again.

Without a multi-inning reliever clearly defined in the Jays bullpen, and with the mound visit rules perhaps altering how John Gibbons can stall to get a reliever up and in a game, the guess here is that another of the Jays’ top five starters will get left in for an extra inning or portion thereof enough times to cross that threshold.

Seung-hwan Oh will save 10 or more games
Again, the pace of play rules may end up having their most significant impact on bullpens, where relievers will be left in to face batters because there simply isn’t enough time to stall the game to get replacements up and ready.
Could that mean that twice a month, the Jays will be in a situation where Roberto Osuna in unavailable?

More to the point, could The Final Boss prove himself to be back to his 2016 form after a disappointing 2017 season? If so, it will give Gibbons more alternatives late in games.

Or, you know. It’s the bullpen. Stuff happens.

The Blue Jays will lead the league in home runs
Sure, the Yankees are supposed to hit thousands of dingers, what with their ridiculous power lineup and mirthful ballpark dimensions.

But even in a down season overall for the offence, the Blue Jays still ranked 10th in baseball in homers last season. With the addition of Curtis Granderson (26 homers in 527 plate appearances last year), Randal Grichuk (22 in 427 plate appearances) and Yangervis Solarte (18 in 512 plate appearances), there is some added power throughout the lineup.

If those players support the expected power of Josh Donaldson and Justin Smoak, and if Kendrys Morales’ launch angle can rise above this year, the Blue Jays will become a lineup of loud bats.

Both Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette will play in the majors this year
All signs point to the Blue Jays taking the slow approach to working these two extraordinary prospects through the system.

At the same time, all indications are that the two players will push the team’s hand, and make keeping them in the minors a more difficult task with each passing month.

Even if the Jays take the most prudent approach, it will be hard to send them home to cool their heels in September if they continue on their upward trajectories.

Even if it is for a very small cup of highly-caffeinated espresso, we’ll see both at some point this year.

Devon Travis will play more than 130 games
There’s little doubt as to Devon Travis’ abilities when he’s on the field, but keeping him healthy has remained a challenge for both the player and the club.

By all accounts, the team will take extra precautions with Travis, and will look for opportunities to rest him to ensure that he doesn’t break down. So even if Travis is perfectly healthy for the full season, he’ll likely still spend some of that time on the bench.

But the guess here is that the combination of good health and good performance will mean that Travis will be hard to keep out of the lineup, and will serve as a key late inning pinch hitter in games of consequence as the season rolls on.

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