Monday, 31 March 2008

Everybody has a preview... (Part II)

Continuing with my look ahead at the upcoming season . . .

Roy Halladay - Oddly and disquietingly, some bozo on ESPN's Baseball Tonight (in a fantasy preview special) said that there was word that Halladay's stuff was slipping - but every other source I have seen this spring so I am inclined to dismiss the remark as spurious. I have been saying at least since the acquisition of Rolen that Doc has one more Cy (at least) left in him and in a season when Santana is out of the league and the young horses (Verlander, McGowan, etc) have not quite peaked, the field is ideally situated for him to make his run. He is almost insanely passionate about the time to win being NOW and unless that leads him into some over-work or other stress related consequence, I see no reason to not expect the sort of performance that normally leads to 20+ wins.

AJ Burnett - AJ has come to the point now where the dice HAVE to fall in his favor at some point. Yes, he's clearly never going to be a horse in the sense Doc is, but he showed down the stretch last season what he can do when everything is working. I don't deny the possibility that he takes his annual summer vacation over some little strain, but if we get 28-30 starts out of him at that level, he'll more than have earned his money.

Dustin McGowan - There are still some less well informed baseball fans out there who are not aware just how VERY good Chops was last year. They look at the ERA and dismiss him out of hand as a "good young guy who might do something some day". What they are not looking at is the fact that his ERC was essentially the equal of Josh Beckett, or that in the opponent batting statistic categories, McGowan was in the top 3 or 4 pitchers in the AL. Before long, McGowan is going to be a better pitcher than Doc . . stuff wise he already is. Once he learns the "intangibles" of being an ace (i.e. the things that make Doc Doc) nothing but injuries can keep him from being one of the elite pitchers in baseball. With any luck that era begins in 2008.

Shawn Marcum - I'm not in a position to say how well Marcum's effort to keep the ball on the ground and in the park is going to work this season, and I have to admit that my slight inclination to put SOME brake on my unbridled optimism makes me want to join the "Marcum will regress" common wisdom that seems to be in the air, but at the same time, I don't want to be unfair to a man who has really not given me a reason to be down on him. His ERA as a starter last season was 3.81 and, other than the propensity to give up the gopher ball, he did nothing to make me worry. In fact, if I were to give you a comparison, I think there's a lot of similarity to guys like Pat Hentgen and Brad Radke. So, it is with some mixed emotions that I suggest that Marcum's ERA this season will be within a tenth of a point either way of 4.00. I realize that saying your 4th starter will be that good is painting a pretty rosy picture, but I have to have something other than a "something bad has bound to happen to someone" feeling in order to slam a guy who has done more than we could have asked and done it well.

Jessie Litsch - Jessie, on the other hand, gave us every reason last season to suspect that he will have greater difficulty this year. He DID have much more impressive ratios in spring training, and that bodes well. But still, if you are going to be worried about a Jays starter, worry about Litsch until he shows better ratios in his secondary stats.

David Purcey - I'll say more about him in the minor league preview, but JP seems to think he is poised to be the first guy called. if indeed he justifies that faith early on in Syracuse, then he's gonna be the guy who pinch-pitches for AJ when he has his usual break. The question in my mind is, will Litsch be pitching well at that point or will a good 3-5 starts from Purcey tempt the team to turn the #5 spot over to him? Something to watch . . .

B. J. Ryan - I'm perfectly content to wait until May or so for Ryan to return to activity, longer if necessary. What i am watching for is the first month or two after he's back up to speed. I know he will be an effective pitcher, what scares me is whether the surgical repair job will hold up under the stress of his violent unorthodox delivery. If he comes back well and the Jays play deep into the playoffs this year, and Accardo, and League be what many of us think they will, it would not be the worst idea to sell high on Ryan in the offseason, as much as i like the guy.

Jeremy Accardo - While I have no direct evidence to support it, this is the one guy who really kinda makes me uneasy on the staff. Not that I imagine he will be a "bad" pitcher at all, just that he came so totally out of nowhere that I wonder if he can really come close to remaining at that level of production. if the Jays are going to succeed, he'd better.

Brandon League - Just a hunch, but this guy is going to pick up fans this season faster than that Japanese dude picks up hot dogs. I think that by the time this season is over, League will be the presumptive successor to Ryan when his contract is up, no matter if Accardo repeats 2007 or not.

Scotty Downs - Will almost certainly regress, but can regress quite a ways and still be one of the best LH set-up men in the league. don't expect 2007 again, but don't expect to spend a lot of time cursing the screen while he's pitching either.

Brian Tallett - Underrated guy. One of those sorts who's ERA could move a lot without his actual day to day effectiveness changing much. Keep an eye on the secondaries and don't sweat the ERA.

Jason Frasor - the kind of guy that baseball announcers invoke the word "yeoman" about. Will never get the credit in Toronto he deserves. If you look at the 2007 game log, you will see a guy who fell apart for two, non-consecutive weeks in the whole season, and in between went weeks at a stretch virtually untouched. And for that he gets a mediocre ERA and a manager who lets him rot on the far end of the bench for pretty much the whole second half. Some day, Frasor will move on to another team, will be forced by circumstances into a closer role, and will do a fine job - God knows there are considerably worse talents closing out games in the majors this year.

Brian Wolfe and Randy Wells - One of these guys will go down when Ryan is ready, likely Wolfe. I don't think either of them plays enough of a role to be worth much commentary here. They are filler.

So, what do I think all this says for the season? I think the Yanks could be, for them, quite ordinary...something like 90 wins. I think the Red Sox, on paper, could win 95 or so but also have the potential to repeat 2006. they are not invincible.

I think the Jays are a VERY good team on the front line - better than the Yanks and virtually the equal of the Sox, but that they have a very thn margin. MAYBE Purcey can be the Marcum of this season if we need him; MAYBE Ryan will be his old self for 2/3 of the season and those guys like Parrish were not an illusion if we take some bullpen hits; MAYBE Adam Lind is fully ready to hit like Olerud at the major league forth and so on. Being the optimist I am, I'm gonna say this is our year and that those things do pan out and everyone does what can reasonably be expected of them....if they do, the Jays will be in front of the Yanks and with just a little underachieving in Boston, division champs.
And make no mistake, if we get into the playoffs, it will be on the premise that Doc/AJ/Chops are as good as we think they are...and if they are that's one helluva playoff rotation. what you are looking at here is a team that might - MIGHT - miss the playoffs altogether, but if they do make it, could easily pitch their way to a World Series win.

One thing I would almost guarantee - they are NOT going to frustrate and disappoint you all season. Let's face it, after the decade we have had, just staying in the race all the way down to the latter days of September, having a real chance, will be a very satisfying season even if we do fall slightly short. That said, I want in - I want to see that chorus of JP critics (and Gibbons critics) have to argue something more substantive than "we haven't made the playoffs."


No comments: