Saturday, October 29, 2011

Everyday People

In the parlance of our times, to describe something as “everyday” is to diminish its value, uniqueness or strengths. Goofy magicians start their tricks with, “Behold! A common, everyday pack of playing cards,” before they make them disappear or make sparks shoot from the Queen of Spades’ ass or whatever. (It’s been a while since I’ve seen a decent magic show that didn’t involve coming back from a 10.5 game deficit in the wild card race, so I’m not really sure what the cool tricks are nowadays.)

But “everyday” means something entirely different when describing a Major League Baseball player. Being an everyday player on a big league roster means you’ve achieved a lot. For one thing, you’ve beat out every other aspirant in the bus leagues who would happily chop off a less-than-essential body part for a chance to be where you are. You’ve also beat out the collection of utility infielders, fourth outfielders, and backups who wear a big league uniform, yet don’t lay claim to an everyday spot in the batting order.

So perhaps it’s the very term “everyday” that leads us to underestimate just how good a player must be to meet that description. Hell, Lyle Overbay was the everyday first baseman for the Blue Jays for a long time, and he’s not exactly a superstar, but he was better than the alternative.

In the American League East, being an everyday player means you have to be something a little more than “better than the alternative”. You can go through other teams’ rosters and rhyme off their everyday players with relative ease – not just because of familiarity or media exposure, but because they’re generally excellent players, including names like Ellsbury, Gonzalez, Pedroia, Cano, Teixeira, Granderson, Zobrist, Longoria.

Can you do the same for the Blue Jays? We spend an entire spring every year speculating on who the everyday guys will be at every position on the diamond. The team settles on some, puts some form of platoon in place in others, and then goes with what they got – with an eye to improve where they can, when they can.

It’s been generally accepted amongst a swath of Jays fans (and been a source of extreme consternation amongst a seemingly much larger swath of others) that 2011 was a transitional season, a chance to see whether several players could be everyday guys over an extended period. That question, more than anything, seemed to inform the composition of the everyday lineup the team brought into April. The fact that the team looked as significantly different as it did by the end of September is a testament to just how transitional a season it was.

Our esteemed host Tao is promising to go through many of these examples in more detail, but let’s recap, at least offensively:

  • The everyday third baseman became the everyday right fielder and, granted, was pretty incredible all year.

  • The everyday shortstop was plagued by injuries here and there, but was otherwise a top performer in the division.

  • The everyday DH started very slowly, but from May 1 to September 30, he raised his OBP from .268 to .334, his slugging percentage from .346 to .453, and has a very reasonable $3.5 million team option for next year.

  • The rookie everyday catcher was solid, if unspectacular, putting up highly respectable power numbers, but less than sparkling on-base numbers.

  • The everyday left fielder was shuttled back and forth to Las Vegas.

  • The guys who got the most plate appearances in left field and at third base ended being guys who didn’t break camp with the club.

  • The everyday centerfielder got just over half the number of plate appearances as the everyday third-baseman-turned-right-fielder, and was replaced by a mid-season acquisition.

  • The everyday first baseman missed a month due to injury and his performance has many fans lighting candles in their windows in the hope a slugging free agent will follow the flame home.

  • The everyday second baseman struggled mightily as well, replaced late in the season with a player who, if re-signed, will open 2012 as the everyday second baseman.

Consider all that. It’s not a picture of consistency. There are a couple outstanding performances, but over the course of the season, changes had to be made to get the best out of almost every position.

This is not bad news, though. Getting better takes a long time, and fans aren’t naturally patient. Regardless, the changes made over the course of the 2011 season almost uniformly resulted in a better lineup. That’s progress, and a little bit of progress is much better than getting worse – and there are teams that indeed got worse this year.

It’s not always easy to recognize progress when you see it. It was a .500 season, and there are still be some easily identifiable holes to fill.

But by the end of this season, the Blue Jays had established a clear trend of adding players who are better than the ones who preceded them on the big league roster. There are fewer holes than there were at the start of 2011. The 2012 edition of the Blue Jays is going to have “everyday” players at almost every position who aren’t just preferable to the alternative. It’s not the end of the process, by any means. But it’s getting closer.


Mark said...

You make a good point about the quality of the players at each spot. But I have to disagree with the comment of Arencibia being solid if unspectacular.

He was one of the worst starting catcher in the majors. He's 21/26 catchers with 300+ PA with WAR (1.5). 20/26 in wOBA. That Hardball Times study a few weeks ago about catching defense had him as the fourth worst defensive C in the majors (out of 64 I believe). He became a below replacement level player when they factored in his defense.

Seems like a nice guy, but at this point Arencibia is about as big a liability as Lind is.

Anonymous said...

Good point about Arencibia. I guess the question is whether this year was his ceiling. I'm inclined to think it isn't given his age. It's hard to guess whether his OBP will approach the .319 he put up in the minors, but I would hope at age 26 next year he could at least add 20 points to the .275 he put up if he can show some of the discipline he had his last season in Vegas. Regardless, at least we can safely assume the power is real, which makes him at a good asset with decent trade value, I suspect.

He does need to improve, much like almost every other spot on the roster (as per the post). My short comment on him wasn't meant to make it seem like he didn't need to -- just that at the very least, he was one of only a couple players who entered the season as the everyday guy and finished the season there too.

Mark said...

I don't know if the walk rate will improve. You figure he's gotta boost his BA from 220, but likely not much since he hits so many damn pop flies. That's probably how he pushes up his OBP though.

He's a case where I think his fantasy baseball stats (HR/RBI etc) will net more value in a trade than his on field production.

I think there's more upside, but I'm not sure how much. I guess I could see 250/312/470. Not great, but wouldn't be horrible as a stopgap in a sense for D'Arnaud.

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