The halfway point of a baseball season is games 81 and 82. Most first-half recaps happen at the All-Star break, though, which is usually around game 90… so my getting a jump on midseason reviews here, after game 78, is at least as justifiable as doing a report during the all-star break.
So.. who's been better or worse than expected?
Kevin Pillar, OF: Pillar is not, and maybe never will be, a great offensive performer. He’s never walked much and still isn’t walking much, so a .300 OBP might be all we should expect from him. Nonetheless, he’s exceeded expectations with the bat, and just as importantly, he’s outperformed expectations defensively and on the bases as well. Pillar is perhaps overvalued for his defense, but even if opposing batters stop hitting balls almost out of his reach (which pad his gaudy defensive runs saved numbers), he should continue to show good range in the field and good judgment on the bases. Put that together with his .304 wOBA and he’s got the makings of a solid 2-WAR player (if not a 3.5 WAR CF, which he’s on pace to be in 2014)
Chris Colabello, OF-1B-DH: Colabello has had a nice first half, but unlike Pillar, what he’s doing doesn’t seem to be sustainable. Colabello doesn’t add any value defensively or on the bases – his worth comes from his bat. And unfortunately, what Colabello is doing with his bat is almost entirely driven by his .437 BABIP. That .437 number is the highest BABIP in MLB, and the only other player above .400 is Dee Gordon, who is incredibly fast and much more likely to beat out infield grounders on a sustained basis than Colabello is. Beyond the BABIP? Walk rate is a bit down from last year, K rate at 25% (also down from 2014, but still not good) and Colabello has a decidedly mediocre ISO of .166 versus .150 and .151 in 2013 and 2014. Chris Colabello was worth negative WAR in 2013 and 2014, and sadly, once his BABIP regresses to the mean, he should be a replacement level bat again.
Devon Travis: Travis has been worth 1.3 WAR so far this year, which is more than Jays 2B were worth in all of 2014, 2013, 2012, and 2011. You have to go back to Aaron Hill’s 4-WAR 2009 to find a better season for a Jays 2B. Is Travis going to hit for the rest of the season like he did in April? Probably not, but he’s 4-13 (.308) since coming off the DL, and he’s been fine defensively. He’s a keeper.
Danny Valencia/Ezequiel Carrera/Justin Smoak: 346 PA, 2.0 fWAR. If they were a single person, they’d be 4th on the team in WAR. As it stands, they constitute the best bench the Jays have had for some time. Valencia kills LHP, Smoak hits righties fairly well and is a solid defensive option at 1B, and Carrera can hit a bit, runs fairly well, and is a decent defender in the outfield.
Roberto Osuna: 2.02 ERA is supported by an equally impressive 2.03 FIP. Walks just 2.5 per 9 innings and strikes out 10.6, and has been the closest thing to a sure thing in the bullpen this year. The only caveats to Osuna’s excellence are his 2.3% HR/FB rate and .247 BABIP allowed, which are unsustainably good, and the 27.9% groundball rate (which indicates too many fly balls, some of which may start turning into home runs).
Liam Hendriks: Aussie starter-turned-reliever has been solid in middle relief, with numbers that might be less prone to regression than Osuna’s. Hendriks has struck out 9.2 and walked just 1.5 batters per 9 innings, he gets grounders at a 50% clip, and the HR rate and BABIP aren’t outlandishly low. We’re starting to see Hendriks in higher-leverage situations of late, which is the right way to use him. Is the bullpen finally coming together, with half the season in the books?
Jose Reyes: NOTE: THIS IS NOT an endorsement of any crazy-ass plan to put Ryan Goins at shortstop and make Reyes into the second coming of "Hanley Ramirez, Left Fielder". The only reason Ryan Goins is not on the ‘disappointments’ list is because Ryan Goins is exactly what I thought he would be – a good defender who can’t hit at all (.258 wOBA). That said, Reyes is not playing as well as one would like. His K rate and walk rate are trending in opposite (bad) directions, and his wOBA is at just .292, versus .321 last year and a career .335. Yes, some of that bad hitting is due to Reyes trying to play through an injury, but Reyes was just at .301 wOBA in June, and a .305 OBP doesn’t cut it for a leadoff hitter.
Dalton Pompey: Pompey was all but handed the starting CF job before spring training started, but struggled offensively (a Goins-like .268 wOBA) and made some missteps in the field, before being sent down to AAA and now AA. The emergence of Kevin Pillar has mitigated the effect of Pompey’s demotion.
Michael Saunders: It’s not really fair to judge Saunders based on his 36 PA so far this season – the disappointment is in his not being able to successfully come back from knee surgery, the way we were led to believe he could. As with Pompey, the emergence of his replacements (Colabello/Carrera) has removed some of the sting from his absence.
RA Dickey: I’m starting to worry that I’ve developed a visceral dislike for RA Dickey which makes it impossible for me to assess him fairly. Here goes, anyway: Home run rate is up. Walk rate is up to 3.5, K rate is down to 5.6. Yes, he’s not getting run support, but he’s not pitching well, either. Dickey has been better in June, but that’s largely due to better strand rates and HR rates, not because his K/BB rates have materially changed for the better. Could Dickey get better over the rest of the season? I hope so, but I can’t see a reason why he would.
Drew Hutchison: Hutchison is the perfect subject with which to illustrate the fundamental difference between Fangraph’s pitcher WAR and Baseball-reference’s pitcher WAR. bWAR hates Hutchison; he’s been worth -0.1 WAR by their main measure, Runs Allowed per 9 innings. Meanwhile, fWAR loves Hutch because of his peripherals; he’s been victimized by BABIP (.336) and performance with runners on base, and his 8.25 K rate and 2.65 walk rate are quite good. The takeaway here is that Hutchison has been pretty bad (4.99 ERA, just 5.5 IP per start) but could be a lot better in the second half if (when?) his luck normalizes.
Aaron Loup: Loup is the left-handed relief version of Hutchison – he’s been undone by HR rate and horrible performances with runners on base or in high leverage situations. That sort of thing is probably random, and if or when Loup’s luck changes, the results will improve. Going by K rate (9.3) and BB rate (1.2), this is Loup’s best year since his rookie 2012.
Brett Cecil: Home runs and strand rate have not been kind to Cecil, and while he’s walking fewer hitters than he did in 2014, he doesn’t seem to be getting swings and misses the way he used to. Maybe he’s tipping his pitches, maybe he’s just been unlucky, but Cecil has been demoted from the closer job twice this year, and it’s not even July. That’s disappointing.
Numbers as of Monday night's game.