Sunday, 28 September 2008

Requiem for a Season

Equal parts good, bad, and somewhere in between, it all comes to an end today, the Jays '09 season that we once anticipated with the impatience of children on Christmas Eve, in a pretty little ballpark in a grim little American city. Good and bad, yin and yang, that's the overly-simplified theme that runs through this rambling end-of-year thought bag.


I'd like to begin with some comments from the periphery of the Jays community about what we do and why we do it. I'll admit that it's a bit odd, this hobby of ours, blogging for a bunch of anonymous strangers who share our addiction to all things related to this club. There's no pay, a surprising number of hours invested crunching numbers/searching out interesting material to pass along, and an equally shocking amount of scrutiny from a small army of critics.

There are times when I wonder whether it's worth the bother.... seeing as the time I spend here should probably be allocated to the writing I'm actually going to get paid for... but most of the time I can't wait to rush out of bed in the morning and get those ideas that had been swirling in my head down before they're forgotten. It defies explanation.

The three of us here have never met and probably never will, which probably makes us a bit unique in the Jays blogosphere. When I started playing fantasy baseball three years ago I was looking for a bit of an edge when a google search of "baseball rumors" led me to and, indirectly, to the Jays board there. Over the span of a few months, Will, Twitchy and I bickered some, agreed more often than not, and slowly developed a mutual sense of respect.

And thus the blog was born, written by three guys who write in very different voices. This too is the end our first season. I'd like to think we did a good job despite being cromags when it comes to quite a few computer-related things, and that we will improve next year. But that assessment would be more meaningful coming from you, the readers, and I invite you to share your impressions with us.

The Best of the Bunch

So far as our colleagues are concerned, there's no denying that the most poignant words this year have come from the Tao of Stieb. Whether it was skewering a swarmy blowhard like Buzz Bissinger or rightfully tearing bandwagon fans a new one, ToS has established itself as the respected elder statesman of the the Jays blogosphere. Hat tip to you, sirs. You are a credit to this community.

The most hilarious, under-rated Jays commentary undeniably comes from the Ghostrunners, for whom I have an admiration that parallels Lloyd's mancrush on Rocco Baldelli. When I first started doing daily "roundups" here, I deliberately avoided reading any Jays blogs before I got through my own morning post to avoid repeating points made elsewhere. But then I got so hooked by the quirky posts and punk rock references that GoF had become the first thing I read in the morning, before my own blog even. These are indeed our Salad Days...

Jon Hale's work at The Mockingbird has always been required reading, though I secretly wish he had written more in the second half of the season...

Through their sophomore season the Drunk Jays Fans have kept on doing what it takes to draw staggering numbers of punters. They' ve also done a pretty fine job dealing with the raging assholes who seem to have descended on their comments section en masse in recent weeks. Seriously, what in the hell is wrong with people? Good on you, lads, and we all look forward to more of the same in the future; it's a winning formula. Should Stoeten be reading this, I will indeed buy you a pint (of something domestic, be reasonable) if we ever run into each other at the RC next season.

The Pros

Consuming mass quantities of writing on the Jays this year has led me to some conclusions, good and bad, on the usual suspects in the paid journalistic pack.

It starts with Mike Wilner, upon whom I tried to pin the nickname "The Oracle" at some point back in the spring. It didn't really stick, and he probably would've been uncomfortable with it anyway. Wilner's postgame show, JaysTalk, is required listening for fans lucid and otherwise, and the same goes for his oft-mentioned "blerg". Reading I mean, not listening, but you knew what I meant.

There's no denying that Wilner approaches his job with an unsurpassed degree of passion and dedication, even if I do find it somewhat quaint when he claims to be telling the objective truth when he's actually sharing an informed opinion. Wilner is frequently attacked (by mental midgits) for being a Rogers shill, which is unfair. The reality is that he comes across as perpetually optimistic because, like us, he's a fan at heart and none of this would be any fun if there wasn't hope for something better.

Jeff Blair at the Globe is the best baseball writer in the country, hands down. He's the wittiest, the most biting, and the most perceptive, but he's unable to contain his ambiguous relationship with the game, and a barely concealed indifference towards the Jays. I suppose we should expect as much from a prickly prairie boy who came up through the ranks covering the Expos. Blair is repected, but not liked. I strongly doubt he wants the adoration most Jays fans show Wilner, anyway.

As the Ghostrunners mentioned earlier in the week, Jordan Bastian of truly needs to be unshackled. For the uninitiated, Bastian is like a super polite version of Wilner, equally intelligent and capable enough of writing quality material. Yet that talent is mostly wasted cranking out cookie cutter articles in the same vein as the Cosmo writer who does those identical "11 ways to please your man" articles every month. The Star or Sun would do well to bring Bastian on board when their crusty old vets retire.

Speaking of which, brief mention of the ubiquitous Richard Griffin. The saddest thing about Griff is that he actually does have a strength and writes feature pieces as well as any baseball writer in Canada. That's becoming a forgotten art, which is lamentable. For some reason his editors still allow him to expose his greatest weakness--a total ignorance of statistics that leads him to predictable, kneejerk opposition to each and every of JP's moves--rather than have him stick to what he does well. Maybe it's not all his fault and someone higher up the food chain should know better. I'm holding out some hope that Cathal Kelly will be better; early indications are that he's open-minded enough to watch and learn from his colleagues and plagiarize from more able bloggers...

The Team

Around here, Will is Mr. Even Keel, and that is to his credit, something I'm grateful for. I am not, however, and sometimes get panicky, fatalistic, down, etc. even though I know that I should know better. Keep that in mind as you read on.

I've written before that in a 30-team league with all things being relatively equal, your club really shouldn't reach the top of the pile more than once a generation. Pause on that for a second. We had a terrific run from 1983 to 1993 that saw, well, you know what happened then, and have had to deal with the inevitable "market correction". As someone who grew up in a border town and saw more games at Tiger Stadium than the Skydome as a kid, I'm grounded by the decade plus of suck that Tigers fans had to endure from 1994 to their improbable AL Championship in 2006.

What I'm saying is is that that we should appreciate success when it comes, embrace it for all its worth, without forgetting that it is by nature fleeting. Be patient, there are more glory days to come, though I wouldn't venture a guess as to when.

Still, I look back on this season feeling that a window of opportunity was missed. The Yankees fielded their worst team in 15 years, but the Rays somehow required only 9 spot starts outside of their top 5. That's unreal, that bit of tremendous luck, and largely explains the success of a club that didn't really hit that much better than the Jays and shouldn't have finished more than a bit better than .500.

As for the Jays, JP took some gambles on veteran players and none of them paid off. Frank Thomas couldn't turn on a fastball anymore, David Eckstein couldn't throw well enough to play shortstop, and Shannon Stewart couldn't do much of anything. Unsurprising as that appears now, it truly was bad luck that JP didn't get an acceptable return on even one of them. Still, we'll be left wondering what could've been had he been a bit more creative in the off-season, looking to Milton Bradley, Alexei Ramirez, and yes, even Barry Bonds, to fill those roles instead.

And the early season replacements weren't any more impressive, either. Mariners' reject Brad Wilkerson had an atrocious season (OPS+ of 65), and I'd be surprised if he finds a major league roster spot next year. Kevin Mench (OPS+ of 77), who had pummeled lefties throughout his career, seemingly forgot how to hit, failing to even sock one lousy dinger. Later came Jose Batista (OPS+ of 71), who has been equally underwhelming, albeit over a much smaller sample size.

Really, though, does any of this matter?

It's my nature to cringe a bit when I hear optimists say, "if only this, this, and this had happened differently..." regardless of how much merit there might be to what they're saying. But there was good, much good, to counterbalance the club's offensive deficiencies: the best pitching staff 1-12 in baseball and one of the best defensive units in the game. On the whole, this was a team that should've won over 90 games according to Old Man Pythagoras, which clearly indicates that there most definitely were many positives to carry forward into 2009.

Still, I can't help but feel uneasy about another year with JP at the helm. He's had cash to play with for three seasons, during which time he had one masterful off-season (2005-06), and two mediocre/subpar ones (2006-07, 2007-08). I think it's understandable that a broad swath of Jays fandom is weary of him, though I wish his opponents would focus their criticism where it's truly deserved.

I don't expect this team to be better next year... without an infusion of new personnel. And the moves and non-moves will play out in due time, so there's nothing left to do other than wait. We'll be talking about the off-season in greater detail over the coming weeks.

And that's a wrap. Thanks for staying with this post to the end, and again, much appreciation to all of you who've been loyal readers this year.

To better days ahead,

Johnny Was


eyebleaf said...

i started reading this blog a few months ago, and it quickly became a favourite. enjoyed your work this season, boys, and am looking forward to the off-season and to 2009. well done.

navin aka eyebleaf

Tao of Stieb said...


Lloyd the Barber said...

Good looking out my friend. You fine gentlemen did more than your share to make this fine season even better. Thanks for the kind words.

SP said...

I think this is the best of a bunch of great Jays blogs. You guys provide some seriously good analysis and opinion. Is it just me or is the Jays blogosphere in general the best in baseball? No one other team can match the QUALITY of the writing around these parts.