Thursday, 1 May 2008

An open letter to JP Ricciardi

Dear Mr. Ricciardi,

I am a loyal Jays fan, who wants nothing more than a competitive team, one which has a shot at playing October baseball, and not the one game that results of bad scheduling on the part of MLB. So as a fan I was hanging on to every word you said last night on the Fan 590, until you dropped this line which absolutely crushed me.

Last night, you said something to the effect of "David Eckstein is a better player over 162 games, and will hold up better than McDonald. He's a better SS (Eckstein), and he'll be in games during the later innings because of this".

There are a couple of issues I have with this statement, so I'll just throw them all out there, in the hopes that you will rectify the situation.

First off all, over the past 2 years Eckstein has started 112 and 119 games. So he's not exactly a symbol of health or durability. Which is all the more reason to give him more rest, especially when we're winning and have a defensive caddy in McDonald.

Remember in 05/06 when Cat was the LF, and we'd bring in Johnson for defense? Or even replacing Adams or all the other hacks at SS with John McDonald? Why won't you do that now? It's essentially the same situation with McDonald replacing Eckstein for defensive purposes. I know last night you said "Eckstein is a better player", but that's irrelevant to the fact that in the 7-8-9 innings, with a lead, that defense plays a bigger role in the game. With shortstop being the most critical defensive position in the game, it is a criminal misuse of an asset to leave McDonald out of those games.

That's not entirely true - you did approve of him being used as a pinch runner for Stairs. However, this was also a big mistake, one I'm disappointed you defended. You see, Stewart was on the bench too, and he would have made a much better pinch runner. Had the game continued, he would also have been a bigger threat than McDonald with the bat, in the DH role.

The other issue is that with McDonald out, and only Stewart left on the bench, if someone had gotten injured at catcher, or in the infield, Stewart would have had to fill in. Stewart cannot play these positions, and would have led to us losing the game even sooner. However, McDonald can be an emergency catcher, a key point with Zaun out and Barajas in as his replacement. He could also play any position on the IF, and play an adequate LF if neccessary. So it was a poor move by Gibbons to do this, and a worse choice for you to defend it.

Again, it is critical that McDonald plays SS in close and late situations. As you're well aware, this team struggles when it is close and late. In a close and late situation the two most important roles are played by the bullpen and the defense. The bullpen is doing pretty well, so the problem must logically be the defense. Your reponse was that "Not having McDonald in hasn't hurt us yet", but I don't believe that's the case. Earlier in the year, during an AJ Burnett start, Eckstein made a key fielding error which led to a loss. Had John McDonald been in, it's pretty safe to say that play is made cleanly, and we have a chance to win the game. In addition, over the past two days it's highly likely McDonald would have stopped, or gotten an out on balls hit up the middle that led to walk off hits by the Red Sox. Maybe he doesn't get an out, but he keeps the ball in the infield, something that Eckstein failed too do.

By putting in McDonald, you ensure that more outs are created with less pitches, which also protects the pitchers from being "burnt out" later on in the year. Every additional hit means 3-5 extra pitches have to be thrown per hitter, and it adds up over both a game and a long season.

If my anecdotes do not persuade you, maybe this will: David Eckstein has a zone rating of 882 this year - while that's second in the majors for qualifying SS, it is well below John McDonald's ZR of 941.

I understand you don't want to hurt Eckstein's feelings by bringing in McDonald during the later stages of the game. I hear that. But you and the media have tirelessly argued Eckstein is a team player - willing to do whatever he can to help the team win. Well, the team would be in a better position to win games if John McDonald is playing in the later stages of the game, such as the 7-8-9 innings when the Jays are winning, or in a tie ball game. For example, if Eckstein bats in the top of the 7th, he's highly unlikely to bat until the 10th inning. So you can essentially ignore the offensive contributions, and focus solely on the defensive contributions.

In addition to having significantly greater range and mobility to both his right and his left, John McDonald possesses an incredibly strong and accurate arm. He is a much smarter, and quite frankly a better defender. In a critical situation, McDonald is the most important player on this team because of his defensive abilities. To not have McDonald at SS in the later innings runs contrary to your arguments that you want to not only put the best team on the field (literally), but it also goes against your arguments of giving the team the best opportunity to win.

In addition to this, McDonald is actually a better hitter vs left handed pitching, so combined with his defensive advantage it would be wise to essentially platoon McDonald & Eckstein. Again, I know it'll hurt Eckstein's pride, but if he's the team player you say it is, he won't have a problem with it.

In closing, I want to thank you for reading this Mr. Riccardi. I feel that it would be in the best interests of the team to use McDonald in his proper role. You payed him around 3.8 million dollars to be a defensive specialist - not a pinch runner. Eckstein will understand that a defensive specialist should be brought in when defense, and not offense, is more important. The next time this team is winning a close game, I hope that John McDonald will be there at SS to ensure the victory.


1 comment:

Phil said...