So much for the magical season.
Yes, that was me who wrote in March that this was THE year. So it's a very bittersweet conclusion to the season for me. It's not as bad as being a Mets fan right now, I'm sure, but I can't help but look back at this season and feel more than the usual level of frustration.
JW and Twitch have already contributed solid "look back" posts and I don't want to "plow the same ground", so this is more just a random thoughts post... clearing out some things that don't really warrant their own separate topics.
JP Ricciardi - Volumes have and will be written on this subject, not a little of it by me. For now I will only say that I did not need the ten game streak to convince me he deserved to be back. I could see an argument for firing him based on his lack of PR skills - at one time conceded he probably needed to go on that basis alone - but the more I considered it the more I concluded that his player personnel work was satisfying to me. Obviously I would have loved to have seen the stars align for playoff baseball at some point, but short of that, I like this team a lot better than I did in the days of Steve Parris and Joey Hamilton and Raul Mondesi.
John Gibbons - I have no ill will about Gibbons either way. I still think he could very easily be a successful manager some day. Nor do I resent how long it took to fire him. I'm open to the idea that he should have lost his job in the off-season or during last season if you would argue that injuries don't matter, but I also think it's reasonable he got a mulligan on that. But once this season started, I don't see another more obvious time when he should have been fired. That 20-10 run in May made it pretty hard to let him go before he was. Likewise, I have no beef that he was fired, clearly the mental burden of the losing spiral was out of control.
Cito Gaston - Mike Wilner says Gaston is the best manager in baseball between the end of one game and the start of the next, I think that's maybe a good way to recognize that what he brought to the team wasn't so much the new hitting coach or anything you can see "on paper" - rather he just knew how to make these guys believe in themselves again, or so it seems to me.
Alex Rios - No one on the team benefited more from Cito's arrival than Alex. While he still had his spacey moments, he clearly found something at the plate he had been missing. Here's his stat line before Cito and after Cito:
.270 .328 .372 .700 (in 71 games)
.308 .343 .533 .876 (in 84 games)
Rios' counting stats under Cito pro-rated to 162 games work out to 60 doubles, 23 HR, and 100 RBI. Impressive totals and consistent.
Vernon Wells - Vernon also got considerably better after Cito got here, but a straight attribution of that to Cito is more difficult because Vernon had more than one health issue this year. His season as a whole was impressive, hitting at a pace that would have accumulate 30 HR and well over 100 RBI over 162 games. But he finished very strong. Since he came off the DL the last time his OPS is .931 so that magnifies his "under Cito" line. But there's 44 games there and only 17 games between Cito's hiring and his next injury, so relative sample sizes and all that.
Here's the same comparison is with Rios above:
.279 .328 .443 .771 (47 games)
.316 .355 .537 .892 (61 games)
Scott Rolen - Obviously for me, this is the biggest disappointment of the 2008 season. I haven't been so excited about a new acquisition by the Jays since Roger Clemens and I was really hoping to see the classic Rolen on both sides of the ball. His glove was obviously as advertised, but we all know how the year went with the bat. At the close of play on June 30, Rolen had a line like this:
.288 .377 .474 .851
that in 59 games and with counting stats that pro-rated to 50 doubles and 16 HR. Then, from there until he went on the DL, it read like this:
.172 .291 .242 .533 (in 29 games)
After the DL trip, they said he would get a lot of rest and days off but he didn't. He also said he'd re-tooled his swing to save pressure on his shoulder. The results were impressive.
.298 .350 .532 .882
With counting stats that pro-rate to 48 doubles and 24 HR. I can't argue against the one who would say that Rolen can't be depended on for 2009, but irrational optimist that I am, I'm looking forward to a strong year from all three of these guys next season. Just as I was this season *shrug*.
Adam Lind - here's a bit of an odd converse to the foregoing. After being a monster for 1/3 of a season after his second recall (.943 OPS in 51 games) he faded badly in his last 31 games, posting a .555 ops. My first inclination was to think that perhaps it was too aggressive to hit him as high as 5th in the order, but his first 8 games in the five hole were very good. Still though, as impressive as his season was, it looks like there's still going to be some streakiness.
Travis Snider - Not going to say too much here - the kid was very impressive, but I certainly hope that circumstances afford us the opportunity to not have to count on him as a key cog next year. As much as sentiment says "he's ready!" it's really to irrational even for me to count on it.
Jesse Listch - Last year at this time I was perfectly willing to caution anyone who would listen that Jesse's secondary numbers screamed "fluke" and urge you to with skepticism indulge the notion that he was more than a fifth starter. But this year is different. His WHIP was down, his K rate was better, his BB/K rate was MUCH better. The interesting thing, though, is that after his recall, both his strikeouts and his walks went up, but his ERA and WHIP got much better. Listch posted a 1.92 ERA in the nine starts since his recall. I, for one, am no longer prepared to say Listch can't be a mid-rotation starter over the next several years.
I'm sure there's more observations I meant to make and haven't. The bottom line for me is this - I see a lot of resignation about next year from all quarters, and unlike last offseason I can't just whip out some numbers and explain it all away. There are simply too many variables (Rolen's bat, how well McGowan and Janssen recover being the main ones), but I'm not inclined to be down about next season. If - and it's a huge if - McGowan can come back to his best level by at least June, and if Janssen is fully recovered, I don't think a rotation of Doc, McG, Listch, Purcey, and Janssen will be an embarrassment down the stretch even if we don't add a starter (which I think is a given). I am still more worried about who our DH is next season than who the other SP is (in terms of on-the-field production). I'm going to be optimistic that if we put a Manny or even Giambi or Ibanez type hitter in at #4 that the heart of our lineup will be a perfectly capable crew. I can see this:
Being just fine. I can see the pen being just fine of course. And I'm not as worried about the rotation as most. surprise surprise, eh? Still, I AM more worried about the opposition next year than I was coming into this season. I do think Tampa Bay is this year's version of last year's D'Backs or Rockies - no way they win high-90's again, but they won't be last place scrubs anymore and the Yanks will spend the budget of a small country to get back into contention. So there's no doubt we need good karma in place of the bad we've had in the past, but aren't we due some?