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Note from the editor: When Baseball Digest first started in 1944, the magazine gathered writers from all across the country to provide insight to the teams that they covered on a regular basis. This provided content and coverage that was in depth and more insightful than having national writers cover teams and players that they barely knew.
BaseballDigest.com aims to keep up that tradition. This season, we bring you a Report Card on each team in Major League Baseball from writers that cover that team directly. At the bottom of each write up, you will find the writer’s name, website, and any other pertinent information.
Toronto Blue Jays President Paul Beaston and General Manager Alex Anthopoulos made no secret of the fact that 2011 would be a transitional year for the team. Expectations were tempered as the team was more interested in adding pieces, developing the future core group of young players and finding out exactly what this team had, and if all went well maybe 2012 would be the year they went for it.
The result was a mixed bag of ups and downs for the Toronto Blue Jays 2011 season and the end result was a 4th place finish and an 81-81 record for season. The positives included the emergence of Brett Lawrie, the continued development of Ricky Romero as a staff ace and the surprising success of Henderson Alverez. Some of the negatives included Travis Snider’s continued inability to live up to his potential, an ominous beginning to the career of Kyle Drabek who was the key piece sent in return for Roy Halladay, and a Jekyll and Hyde season from Adam Lind.
Rotation: Grade C
The obvious bright spot of the rotation was Rickey Romero who finished the year with 225 IP, a 2.92 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP. Things kind of fell apart from there as Brandon Morrow couldn’t build off his second half success from 2010 and did his best A.J. Burnett impression by looking unhittable one night and awful the next. Jo-Jo Reyes was released after 20 horrendous starts, Kyle Drabek was sent down to Las Vegas after an unremarkable half season, Brett Cecil’s fastball disappeared and it took 12 starts in the minors for him to find it again, and a revolving door of Carlos Villanueva, Luis Perez, Brad Mills, Jesse Litsch, and Zach Stewart didn’t fair much better.
It was not all bad however as fans witnessed a remarkable comeback from Dustin McGowan, who hadn’t pitched in 3 years as a result of injuries, and even though his results were mixed just seeing him on the mound again was all that seemed to matter. Additionally, Henderson Alvarez opened some eyes with an impressive 10 start performance with the big club to close out the season.
Bullpen: Grade C
Frank Francisco the teams’ closer started the season on the DL and just didn’t seem right until after the All-star break. He lost his role as closer to Jon Rauch who was equally unsuccessful, then regained the role and finishing the season strong. It was also a tale of two seasons for the rest of the bullpen as Marc Rzepczynski, Jason Frasor and Octavio Dotel were traded mid season which left the team without any reliable options in the pen other than Casey Janssen.
Catchers: Grade B-
Rookie catcher J.P. Arencibia immediately played himself into the starting role and performed admirably in his 129 games. His defensive abilities, which were identified as a weakness to begin the season, steadily improved although he still needs to work on blocking balls in the dirt. Arencibia who is known for his power didn’t disappoint knocking 23 home runs and coming one short of setting a team record for most home runs by a rookie, and for most this was enough to overlook his pedestrian .282 on-base percentage. Back-up Jose Molina had what may have been his best season, posting a stat line of .281/.342/.415.
Infield: Grade B-
Going around the horn beginning with first base, Adam Lind was given the Blue Jays everyday job in spite of not having played there since college. The big concern going into the season was how he could handle the position defensively, however he played the position like he had been doing so for years, consistently scooping throws out of the dirt and committing only 4 errors all season. Lind also got off to a strong start offensively putting up a pre all-star break stat line of .300/.349/.515, however his second half was historically bad leading many to question how healthy he really was and some fans suggesting the team should find an alternative solution in 2012 at 1st base.
At second base incumbent Aaron Hill put up a second consecutive disappointing season offensively, and this year his power also disappeared. Hill was eventually dealt along with John MacDonald to Arizona for Kelly Johnson. At shortstop Yunel Escobar dazzled on defense and also had a strong year offensively leading to a season of 4.4 Wins Above Replacement (WAR).
The 2011 season at Third base for the Blue Jays didn’t start off with a bang as Edwin Encarnacion received more playing time than anyone expected, or wanted, then Jayson Nix started to receive regular playing time before getting released, then the team had to move Jose Bautista to third base from RF temporarily. On August 4th, Langley, British Columbia’s Brett Lawrie was called up from Las Vegas to take over the 3rd base position permanently and an instant sensation was born. Before going down with a broken bone in his hand in the final week of the season, Lawrie in 150 at bats slugged 8 doubles, 4 triples and 9 home runs on his way to a stat line of .293/.373/.580.
Outfield: Grade B+
The shining star of the Toronto Blue Jays was once again right fielder Jose Bautista. After signing a 5 year contract extension in the off season, Bautista followed up with a second consecutive Hank Aaron award given to the top hitter in the American league and Silver Slugger award for the best hitter at his position.
In centerfield the season began with Rajai Davis manning the position and although he continued to steal bases at an impressive rate, he just didn’t get on base at an acceptable rate. Then Alex Anthopoulos pulled off what was deemed the deal of the century, acquiring Colby Rasmus for what was thought to be very little. Rasmus was immediately identified as a core piece of the teams’ future, however after much turmoil with Tony LaRussa in St. Louis he never got his head straight and struggled mightily in his brief time with Toronto.
In left field Travis Snider started the season in what many expected would finally be his break out season. Unfortunately it was more of the same from previous season which saw his continued inconsistent play lead to multiple demotions. Rookie Eric Thames was then given the everyday job in the second half of the season and put up respectable numbers in 95 games, including hitting 24 doubles, 5 triples and 12 home runs.
Top Offensive Player
Since I voted for Jose Bautista for first place in my Stan Musial Award ballot here…
An award given out by the Baseball Bloggers Alliance for the Top Player in the American League, I think it is safe to say that I also think he was the top offensive player for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2011.
This one is fairly easy call as well, as Ricky Romero season was far better than anyone else on the team in 2011. Although some advance statistics suggest that if it weren’t for bad luck, Brandon Morrow would have been the best pitcher on the team, however I’m not buying it.
Some Thoughts on Baseball
Topics: Adam Lind, Alverez, Baseball Digest, Brandon Morrow, Grade C, Information Toronto, Jekyll And Hyde, jo-jo reyes, Kyle Drabek, Lawrie, Major League Baseball, National Writers, Other Pertinent Information, President Paul, Ricky Romero, Roy Halladay, Team Expectations, Th Place, Toronto Blue Jays, Travis Snider, Ups, Ups And Downs