In a word, no. In more words... probably no.
The heartening thing, if there is one, about this MLB playoff year is that the Orioles and Royals found success despite recent histories of embarrassing failure and ineptitude. In the midst of the angst over whether Jays management lied to the players about money being available, the question of whether Melky Cabrera can be resigned, and whether it’s possible to find a middle infielder and rebuild the bullpen without spending money or prospects, this is good news.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a really easy-to-follow narrative for either team that the Jays could emulate.
get good enough to win 96 games and reach the ALCS? Three years ago, we
were making “OriLOLs” jokes, mocking them for getting turned down by GM interviewee
Tony LaCava, and marveling that Peter Angelos might be a worse owner than Baltimore is. So what
worked for them? Rogers
Well, you can’t really say that
has built from a base of prospects. Nick Markakis, Matt Wieters, Dylan Bundy, Brian
Matusz, Zach Britton, Manny Machado, and Kevin Gausman were drafted, while
Wei-Yin Chin and Jonathan Schoop were international or minor-league free
agents. Machado and Markakis were worth 2.5 fWAR each; Chin, Gausman and
Britton were 2.6, 2.1, and 1.1 fWAR. Meanwhile, the Orioles top 4 hitters – Jones,
Peace, Cruz and Hardy – were worth an average of 4+ fWAR each and all came in as free agents or
via trade. David Lough (1.9 fWAR) and Delmon Young (0.9) came in via
trade, and Bud Norris, Chris Tillman, and Miguel Gonzalez (not to mention
Ubaldo Jiminez), 3/5 of the O’s rotation, came in via trade or free
agency. And outside of closer Britton, the Orioles’ top relievers
(Miller, O’Day, Hunter, Webb) came from outside the organization. Baltimore
What went well for the O’s on the field? Well, for one thing, their pitchers considerably outperformed their FIPs and xFIPs. The Orioles had the 3rd-best team ERA in 2014, but were 5th-worst in FIP and xFIP. To put that in perspective:
Orioles FIP/xFIP: 3.96/3.92
Blue Jays FIP/xFIP 3.97/3.99
In other words, the Blue Jays and Orioles pitching staffs performed pretty much at the same level, if you leave out the ‘random’ stuff like BABIP allowed (Orioles 3rd-best in AL at .280, trailing only the Mariners and A’s who play in notorious pitchers’ parks) and LOB% (strand rate, a league-best 77%). As it turns out, the Jays didn’t do well at the ‘random stuff’, and finished with a 4.09 team ERA, 12th in the
Of course, “FIP” stands for fielding-independent pitching, and the Orioles also finished first in the AL with 50 fielding runs above average, and 2nd in the AL in Fangraph’s defensive rankings. In other words, not only were the Orioles pitchers’ outperforming their fielding-independent stats (I’m not sure how you could teach that), but they also benefited from having an elite defense.
So to sum up: for the Jays to follow the same narrative as the Orioles, they need to get better defensively (which might be possible with full seasons of Lawrie and Gose/Pompey in the field, and a new 2B or 3B who can field) and… their pitchers need to be luckier. Riiiight, we'll get right on that.
Anyway, on to the Royals.
won just 89 games this year, but
snuck into the playoffs anyway. Like the Orioles, the Royals have a long
history of futility, winning 86 games in 2013 but losing 90+ in 2012, 2011,
2010, 2009, 2007, 2006, 2005, and 2004. But the silver lining behind a
decade of losing is a long parade of top prospects, which later turn into
young, talented major leaguers. Right? Kansas City
Well, so you would think. Take a look at these rankings:
Org rankings from Baseball Prospectus (top prospects in parentheses)
2009 Royals: 16th (Moustakas, Hosmer) Jays 10th (Snider, Arencibia)
2010 Royals: 10th (Moustakas, Hosmer) Jays 22nd (Wallace,
Jenkins) Drabek, Chad
2011 Royals: 1st (Moustakas, Hosmer) Jays 5th
2012 Royals: 5th (Myers, Starling, Odorizzi) Jays 2nd (D’Arnaud, Marisnick, Norris)
2013 Royals: 7th (Zimmer, Mondesi) Jays 13th (Sanchez, Tirado)
2014 Royals: 7th (
, Binford) Jays 13th
(Stroman, Castro) Ventura
What happened for the Royals this year? Did one-time hot prospects Moustakas and Hosmer finally blossom? No, not really (1.1 fWAR combined, this season). The Royals’ great players this year were Alex Gordon (failed 3B turned all-star LF), Lorenzo Cain (obtained in trade for Zack Greinke), Alcides Escobar (ditto), Salvador Perez (unheralded amateur free agent), Jarrod Dyson (drafted), James Shields (trade), Wade Davis (trade), Yordano Ventura (amateur free agent), Jason Vargas (free agent), Greg Holland (drafted) and Danny Duffy (drafted).
There are some eerie parallels between the 2014 Royals and 2014 Jays:
Failed hitting prospects – check (Moustakas and Hosmer/Snider and Arencibia)
Failed 3B turns into a star in another position – check (Gordon/Encarnacion)
Young pitchers making an impact – check (
Duffy/Stroman, hopefully Sanchez, Hutchison) Holland
Veteran pitchers gained from prospect-depleting trades – check (Shields and Davis/Dickey and Buehrle)
All-glove OF gained in trade for former ace – check (Cain/Gose(kind of))
It’s encouraging to see that the top prospects the Royals dealt for Shields/Davis weren’t wasted. And
and Stroman are nice comparison points.
And I’m surprised the narrativists haven’t seized on the fact the Royals
prospect system peaked in 2011, a year before the Jays’ system peaked.
But those parallels aside, it’s tough to see how the Jays could copy the
Royals. The Jays have drafted well and have an enviable set of prospects, as did the Royals, but the top prospects Ventura
had are not, for the most part, the key to their current success. Kansas City ’s team is
made up of a mix of draftees, young talent that veterans were traded for, veterans that
young talent was traded for, and a judicious amount of free agents… like pretty
much most other teams are. They didn’t get especially lucky with BABIP or
strand rates. They stole a lot of bases, something the Jays might not be
able to manage regardless of who plays 2B or CF next year. And outside of
sticking Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris in the bullpen fulltime in 2015,
there’s not a lot the Jays could do to look more like the 2014 Royals. Kansas City
In other words, the Jays can’t expect to stumble into a successful season without putting more effort into fixing the team’s obvious shortcomings. And as the Orioles and Royals show, that won’t be accomplished with prospects alone.