Friday, 11 July 2008

Truthiness and Revisionism

Since the prevailing wisdom in Jays commentary and fandom is that there is a high probability that JP Ricciardi will pay the price at the end of the year for the snake-bit season the team is enduring, I thought that I would, over the rest of this season and into the off-season, take a look at how JP compares to previous Jays GMs, as well as the some other general comparisons in an attempt to combat some of the negative mythology about JP’s work.

I want to say frankly up front that I am NOT trying to make a case for Ricciardi keeping his job. I have acknowledged in this space, and continue to accept, that regardless of whatever case might be made for his work, Ricciardi is probably going to have to be let go (short of a miracle playoff run). The reality is that a GM, in many ways like a Prime Minister, must not only make the right moves but enjoy the confidence of those he leads.

Between his unfortunate propensity for “incidents” (from Hudson’s pimp remark, to the Dunn Drama), his abrasive personality, and the fact that the Jays have been jinxed in the years when he had expected them to be serious contenders, JP seems to have lost the confidence of the vast majority of those who voice an opinion on the Jays. For that reason, if for no other, he’s probably going to have to walk the plank (hopefully to be replaced by Tony LaCava) and I don’t object to that.

I do find it very sad that the quality of a person’s work must be judged through the lens of personality issues - plop JP into the GM’s chair in Philadelphia or Boston or NY or Chicago and he’s just another guy - but it is what it is. So I’m NOT campaigning for his job. I just happen to be a stickler for truthiness. Let’s not develop a false mythology about how awful his work was just because we have been the victim of a lot of bad karma.

Be warned - I know that your typical blog post is brief and to the point, and I generally try to keep that in mind, but these articles will of necessity often be fairly lengthy, so if you are looking for a bite-sized bit of information, this is probably not for you.

Let me also mention this caveat: In all these articles in which I will refer to draft picks, I will - for the sake of brevity - only speak of those players who made a notable major league impact. It is not really relevant to the comparative draft skills of JP or Gordo that we remember to mention Dave Gassner or Dewon Day. Therefore, I intend to consider irrelevant any pitcher who did not post 250 major league IP, and any batter who did not register 250 major league at bats. In so doing I have excluded a ton of scrubs, and no one who really changes the analysis.
* * * * *
For the first installment of this series, I want to take a look at how JP compares to the late unlamented Gord Ash in terms of how their drafting had impacted the team they put on the field in their last year (again, assuming this is the JP’s last year).

We sit today at a point roughly half-way through JP’s seventh season. Gord Ash was fired after seven seasons. So it’s an easy thing to look at your Toronto Blue Jays v. 2001 and make a comparison. In 2001, Ash’s team gave at bats to four players who had been drafted during his tenure. All of them in their rookie year, none of them in the role of a starter (except when forced by injury). These four - Felipe Lopez, Vernon Wells, Ryan Freel, and Josh Phelps, combined for 307 at bats. Wells had gotten 90 at bats in previous seasons, Phelps had gotten one.

Other hitters drafted by Ash who had major league experience in 2001 (all in their first season, followed by extended work in the majors) included: Craig Wilson (dealt to Pittsburgh in the huge trade that netted us Dan Plesac and others best left unmentioned), Brent Abernathy (to T.B. for Steve Trachsel), Casey Blake (waived), Jay Gibbons (lost to Rule 5 draft) and Michael Young (infamously traded for Esteban Loaiza). Combined, all these hitters had logged 1565 at bats, virtually all of them in 2001.

On the pitching side of the ledger, the 2001 Jays gave innings to three players drafted by the Ash team - Roy Halladay (in his third partial season, and rebounding from the worst season in major league history by a guy with at least 10 starts), Billy Koch (also his third season), and Brandon Lyon (blazed through the minors to make the majors in his second full professional season). There was not a pitcher anywhere else in the majors drafted by Gord Ash in 2001.

Future major leaguers still in the minors in 2001 included these players:

Mark Hendrickson - 27 years old and at AAA Syracuse where he posted a 4.66 ERA and struck out only 33 in 73 IP.
Orlando Hudson - split the season between AA and AAA posting an OPS over .800 at both stops.
Alex Rios - who posted an OPS of .650 in low A ball.
Reed Johnson - posted an .834 OPS in AA
Dustin McGowan - Put up a 3.75 ERA in short season A ball, but with control issues.
Vinnie Chulk - split the year between High-A and AA, pitching well both places.
Gabe Gross - who had just been drafted.

It’s worth noting that Ash enjoyed the luxury of picking in the top 10 picks in the June draft three times. To summarize. As of the day he was fired, Gord Ash’s draft record stood like this:

12 major leaguers

~7 on the Jays
~3 traded
~2 lost for nothing
7 future major leaguers still in the minors.

Let’s compare that to JP’s 2008 edition of the Blue Jays. This team features only two hitters drafted by JP (though we note in passing the rise and fall of a third, Russ Adams) but both are starters. Aaron Hill alone has posted more at bats than the combined total of all the hitters drafted by Ash through 2001. All the hitters drafted by JP have combined for 3,098 major league at-bats as of this writing with Adam Lind likely to add another 200 or more to that total before the year is out even if Hill is done for the year.

And ALL of those came in a Blue Jays uniform.

On the pitching side of the ledger, there have been four notable major league pitchers drafted and developed under JP, only one of whom has logged innings in a different uniform. Shaun Marcum, Casey Janssen, and Jesse Litsch are still important members of the Blue Jays team (Janssen’s injury notwithstanding) and David Bush now plies his trade in Milwaukee. While there is presumably no Halladay in this bunch (how often does one draft a Roy Halladay?) their combined efforts as of this writing equal or surpass those of the three pitchers Ash counted on his roster at the end of 2001.

Here’s how their combined total compare:

2001: 34-34, 5.88 ERA, 611 IP, 634 H, 399 ER, 244 BB, 440 K, 101 Sv
2008: 43-41, 3.86 ERA, 729 IP, 720 H, 313 ER, 211 BB, 465 K, 7 Sv

With the obvious exception of saves, none of JP’s three having been the full time closer, there is no contest.

To summarize so far:

7 major leaguers - Six on the Jays, none traded for the likes of Esteban Loaiza and none lost for nothing.

Obviously, the nature of this comparison makes it impossible for us to identify future major leaguers in the minors right now but let’s look at some potential comparisons:

Hendrickson v. David Purcey - at the same age, Purcey is looking far better at AAA.

Hudson v. Scott Campbell - While Campbell clearly lacks Hudson’s defensive wizardry, he is also clearly a superior hitter.

Rios v. Eric Eiland - One year younger in age, Eiland has a comparable slugging percentage and a much higher OBP and seems to be a better base-runner.

Johnson v. Brian Jeroloman - admittedly not the same position, but still - two players likely destined for bench work, whose main calling card is exemplary defense while featuring limited offensive potential. The catcher is a year younger than Reed was in AA, and hits for less power but plays a position where less offense is expected.

McGowan v. ?? - not really a good comp for McGowan here because JP doesn’t draft high ceiling high school pitchers, so this will be sloppy. But let’s compare him to Marc Rzepczynski. He’s a couple of years older, and at Low A instead of short-season, but he’s also a Lefty with a run and a half lower ERA. Zep’s probably not gonna be McGowan, but who knew how McGowan would turn out at the end of 2001? In particular, who knew it would take him six subsequent seasons to establish himself?

Chulk v. Robert Ray - Both pitched well enough in High A to earn a promotion. Chulk was already a reliever and most think Ray projects to be. Chulk had pitched to better results to that point, though it’s difficult to compare a reliever to a starter.

Gross v. David Cooper - Cooper has not yet appeared in Dunedin but these are comparable in very early results.

Now, where in Ash’s minors is there an equivalent player to Travis Snider? JP Arencibia? Brett Cecil? Justin Jackson? Kevin Aherns? Where’s the highly regarded guy who hasn't been mentioned yet because he didn’t pan out?

Joe Lawrence? Compares to Curtis Thigpen at best.

Clayton Andrews? No better than Kyle Ginley

Matt Ford? I could name you five minor league LHP who have a chance to match his accomplishments.

Miguel Negron? Say hello to Gord’s Russ Adams. No, wait, Adams actually made it to the majors.

Brandon League? I sure hope he capitalizes on his promise but if he does, he’s ONE guy over against 3-5 top shelf JP draftees still unaccounted for. How many of the 15 prospects I mentioned by name will succeed in the majors? Time will tell. More than seven of them? I wouldn’t bet against it.

Point being, on draft results as compared against what we knew about Gord on the day he was fired - there is no comparison. JP smokes his ass. He’s got him on quality of pitching, on quality of hitting still with the Jays, he’s got him on total production to that point from all hitters, and he’s got him on the potential found in the farm system. Now, seven years later we know who is quality and who isn't among Gord Ash's draftees. We don't know yet how Snider or Cecil's career will turn out - or even Marcum's for that matter - but that's not a fair comparison. What is fair is taking what we can see on the day each man lost his job and comparing THAT. And on that basis - JP comes out looking pretty good compared to Gord. be continued...



eyebleaf said...

damn, that was long. but well worth it. i look forward to the next installment.


Anonymous said...

Only you Willrain would try to say that whatever JP has drafted would be significantly better than Halladay, McGowan, Wells, Rios, O-Dog, Michael Young, Johnson, Koch, Freel, etc. Clearly it shows that you’re a homer.

I really love how you try to frame it how you consider Eiland better than Rios without even considering that Rios huge jump in his performance following his 2001 season, which any prospect is unlikely to do. Let’s see that huge spike in production from Eiland before we say he’s better.

Not to mention that your comparisons make no sense whatsoever. I would just compare the top talent from each regime and Ash’s haul is by far better. I would just go Halladay, McGowan, Wells, Rios, O-Dog, Michael Young, Johnson, Koch, and Freel vs Hill, Marcum, Snider, Arencibia, Cecil, Lind, and Litsch. The answer to who is better should be obvious.

Lloyd the Barber said...

If you draft Michael Young, then trade him for Esteban Loiza, you don't get to brag about drafting him.

Anonymous said...

Well, last time I checked this was a comparison of their drafts and nothing more. So, yes you do get to "brag" about drafting Young.

johnny said...

Cool, we get anon comments from people attacking us now...

I think this piece (which was awesome, by the way) WAS adequately prefaced with something to the effect that you can't really fully evaluate JP's drafting record b/c many of his picks are still developing.

And the O-Dawg love is a bit overstated by so many people. For whatever reason, he just rakes at Chase and is as weak a hitter as he was in TO on the road. And it was Butterfield who turned him (hrm... and also Hill...) into a defensive whiz.

Anonymous said...


It's cool that you commented and I don't want to sound hostile about it but you DID pick up on the very clearly stated qualifier that this was a comparison of the two GMs AS THINGS STOOD on the day they were fired? right?

IF that was the premise - and it is - then what does Rios' stepping up a year later do to undermine the thesis?

Do you propose that I analyze what JP's players will be doing a year from now? Talk about tons of room for second guessing.

For the record, I don't think Eiland is better than Rios and did not say so. I said you and I don't know what Eiland will be seven years from now any more than the folks who were calling Rios a wasted budget pick in 2001 (and that would be a HUGE precentage of the fans who commented about it on line) didn't know about Rios' future.

Let me give you a couple of tips, to make these conversations easier:

1. Give as a name to reply to

2. Try responding to a peice on the basis of what it, ya know, actually SAYS and not the assumptions you read into it.



sp said...

Brilliant, I've been waiting for this to be explored by someone. Everyone (JaysTalk retards) just assumes JP is a weak drafter but considering the nature of baseball drafting, he has brought in an avg return and in the last couple years has improved the farm system from laughing stock to middle ground. Add that to his stellar personnel record and he is a well above average GM. I do not think he deserves to be fired because he has improved every year he has been a GM. If not for plain bad luck, the AL East, and unstable payrolls, his teams have been good enough to make the playoffs at least 3 times in the 7 years. He WILL be fired though and LaCava will be a fine replacement.