Tuesday, September 30, 2008

What Might Have Been

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:

Scutaro
Hill
Rios
Manny/whoever
Wells
Lind
Rolen
Overbay
Barajas

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?

~WillRain

Monday, September 29, 2008

Twitchy's year end awards

First off, I just want to say that was a phenomenal post by Johnny. Really made me feel proud to be a part of this blog. Hell of a post.

Now, this is primarily a Jays blog, but I thought with the season coming to an end that I'd do my own set of awards. I don't think we'd be doing our duty as bloggers, or baseball fans, if we didn't at least throw in our 2 cents as to who were the best players in baseball this season. So let's get started!

AL MVP - Joe Mauer.

That's right, I'm not supporting Dustin Pedroia. First off, I can't stand that fuck. Or Youkilis, fucking asshole. But that's for another time....

I don't know where all this MVP bullshit support came from for "Pedroia the Destroya", but there's no way in hell I can support a 123 OPS+ player as MVP. No way. Yeah, he plays a key defensive position, but guess what? So does another guy on a (currently) first place team - Joe Mauer.

First off, Mauer has an identical OPS (330/415/454/869) to Pedroia (326/376/493/869). They went 1-2 in the AL for batting average, which is pretty impressive. That'll be Mauer's second batting award, something unheard of for a catcher. His 135 OPS+ kills Pedroia's 123. Even if you ignore the positional difference (Mauer obviously playing the more valuable one), he still beats Pedroia offensively.

The one problem with Mauer is that he's got about 100 less at bats than Pedroia. But to have a catcher play 145 games, while providing elite defense as a catcher (36.3% CS good enough for third in the AL and fourth overall) and posting a 135 OPS+ on offense, it's just tough not to pick him.

Hell, Morneau is getting more MVP votes than Mauer, and they both have the same OPS+! Mauer hit as well as an above average 1B, while doing a phenomenal job leading/handling a young pitching staff.

It's a shame that Mauer isn't getting any MVP support, because he was the most valuable player in the AL this year.

NL MVP - Albert Pujols. The best player in the game, Pujols posted a pedestrian 190 OPS+ while hitting 357/462/653. There were some pretty good players in the NL this year, but Pujols was the best of them. It's not even a contest here.

AL comeback player of the year - Milton Bradley. Cliff Lee was a good candidate for this, but I think Bradley had to overcome a lot more. He had a significant injury, and a lot of teams couldn't trust that he'd last the season, avoid injuries, or stay out of trouble.

Well, Bradley only played in 126 games, but he made the most out of them. Bradley hit 321/436/563 (163 OPS+) in one of the game's best lineups.

Kudos to Will who I believe suggested Milton Bradley as an option for the Jays. And congrats to Bradley, who had a terrific year and, in my opinion, is the comeback player of the year. He really showed what he's capable of, and he's very dangerous with a bat.

NL Comeback player of the year - Randy Johnson. There may be others who disagree with this pick, but Randy is a superstar who put his injuries behind him. Johnson threw 56 innings last year, but managed to start 30 this year, giving the D-Backs 184 incredible innings. He had a 3.91 ERA, and nearly a strikeout an inning. His return gave the Diamondbacks one of the scariest trios in the game - Brandon Webb, Danny Haren, and Randy Johnson. As much as we like to imagine a Doc/AJ/Marcum rotation in the playoffs, their's might even be better.

Welcome back Randy, and here's to hoping you get your 300th win next year.

AL Cy Young - Cliff Lee. Halladay pitched more innings, and faced tougher competition, but Lee had a hell of a year. 22-3, 2.54 ERA, 175 ERA+....you all know I love the good Doctor, but even he'd have to admit that Lee was the best pitcher in the AL this year.

NL Cy Young - Tim Lincecum. Bet you wish that Rios for Lincecum trade went through now, don't ya? While Rios hit 291/337/461, Lincecum only threw 227 dominant innings while striking out 265! He had a 164+ ERA+, a 1.17 WHIP, and a 2.62 ERA. Oh, and he went 18-5 on a Giants team that was 72-90. So Lincecum accounted for 25% of his teams wins.

Not that wins are important, but still. Lincecum is very deserving of the prized NL Cy Young award.

Rookie of the Year (AL) - Evan Longoria. Longoria was a huge reason why the Rays won this year (other than the pitching, the improved defense, the bullpen, and did I mention better pitching?), and the scary thing is he's only going to get better. Unless he takes advice from a former rookie of the year winner on the Rays, in which case he'll start being booed mercilessly by the Tampa Bay Heckler.

Longoria's a young, pre-shoulder damaged Scott Rolen - and by that I mean a gifted defender and an impact offensive player. Funny enough, Longoria's ZR was .010 behind Rolen, at 797.

Longoria hit 272/343/531, an impressive batting line for a 22 year old. Once he improves his plate discipline, and gains some more experience in the majors, he'll be an MVP candidate. For now, he'll have to settle for being my rookie of the year.

NL Rookie of the year - Geovany Soto - There were several good rookie candidates (Votto, Volquez, Jurrjens), but none as good as Soto. Geovany hit 285/364/504, while providing terrific defense behind the plate. He did a tremendous job with the pitching staff as well, and in my opinion, is one of the top 5 catchers in the game (the others being Mauer, McCann, Martin...and I'm probably forgetting someone).

Executive of the year - Doug Melvin. I know, a lot of people will take the "trendy" pick and go with the Rays, but I think Melvin deserves some praise. Getting CC when he did saved the Brewers season, and he made a lot of small moves that helped them out. He's going to get some good draft picks from CC and Sheets leaving in free agency, and so he gave up a slugging 1B (of which the Brewers have several) for a top tier starting pitcher.

Manager of the year - Ok, NOW I'm going with the "trendy" pick of Joe Maddon. Like the Rays or not, you can't deny he did a tremendous job leading that club. Yes, they had the talent, but Maddon got the most out of that talent.

Quick thoughts on the Jays

I'll expand on this as the off-season gets into full swing, but I'm getting the feeling the Jays are going to be in for a rough 2009. Like Johnny said in his last post, the window has essentially closed. Mortgaging the future, or trying to get a mid level starter is the worst possible move for a franchise that in 2010 could have any of Doc, Marcum, McGowan, Purcey, Litsch, Cecil, Janssen etc in the starting rotation. Most, if not all of whom will be cheaper and better than the replacements in 09 who will want a long term deal.

The Jays need to make the tough decision, bite the bullet, and retool so that they can win in 2010. That means BJ Ryan needs to be traded for prospects. Overbay should be traded as well if Cooper shows that he would be in the running for a spot in 2010 - of course, this hinges on Cooper's development and how well Overbay plays.

I hate to just give up on a season, but the best opportunity for the Jays to win is in 2010 and beyond. As Johnny said - Snider, Lind, Cooper, Cecil, Arencibia are the future, and we're going to need them up here to win. Hopefully JP will realize this, and make the right decisions.

By the way, Shana Tova and a Happy Rosh Hashanah.

Twitchy.

Sunday, September 28, 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.

Subheadings?

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 prosportsdaily.com 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 mlb.com 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

Friday, September 26, 2008

Good Readin'

Buster Olney (who's becoming one of my favorite national commentators on baseball) wrote a fascinating article on ESPN about the production of the products of the various major league team's far system. While his primary focus is on the abysmal performance of the Yankees in that regard (take note all y'all who covet Brian Cashman for your GM) there's a chart which ranks the teams by number of offensive players and pitchers they have put in the major leagues in all the drafts from 1997 to 2005.

The hidden gem of the article though, is the column which shows the number of collective at bats or innings pitched for these players. If you rank the teams according to that data, then you find that the team which has developed the most collective at bats from their minors in the majors is - your Toronto Blue Jays (and yes i know that's a mixture of the work of two different GMs)

The Jays rank 8th on the list in innings pitched. It's good stuff, check it out.

~WillRain

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Cito officially extended


Sportsnet is reporting that Gaston's officially been extended for 2 years. It was bound to happen eventually, but it's nice to know it's official.

The article states the Jays went 48-36 for a winning % of 571 since Cito's taken over. That's a 92 win pace, and would have put the Jays a few games back of the WC this year.

I guess this means JP is coming back next year, as it wouldn't have made much sense to sign the manager and fire the GM. The GM would want to pick his own manager, so it stands to reason JP will be back for 09.

I'm not going to always agree with Cito's decisions (I don't understand why he keeps his starters in so long), but overall he's done a pretty good with the team. He's made a tremendous impact on the starting lineup, which has been scoring nearly a run per game more than under the Gibbons regime. Not to mention the fact he's done a stellar job bridging the gap from AAA to the majors for prospects such as Adam Lind and Travis Snider. It makes me feel a lot more comfortable knowing Cito can handle the rooks, because the Jays should continue to bring up the next wave of top prospects (Cecil, Cooper, Arencibia, etc) over the next couple of years.

Welcome back for good, Cito. We can't wait to see what you'll do now that you're starting from Day 1.

Update: I'll include some of the players quotes, which weren't available when I first read the article:

"We've obviously played much better since he and his staff have been here," said centre fielder Vernon Wells. "It's good to know who we are going to have leading us into next year."

"There are some good things going on," said first baseman Lyle Overbay. "I'm excited, I want to see what he can do for a whole year.

Makes 2 of us, Lyle.

Twitchy.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Purcey shut down

We're probably a little late to the punch, but bluejays.com is reporting that Purcey has been shut down for the year. The reason is because he pitched 182 innings this year over various levels, and they don't want to ruin his future by having him throw so many innings in a season.

Generally with young pitching the rule is never to increase a pitcher's workload by more than 30 innings over their previous career high. Purcey only pitched 62 innings last year, but before that his career high for innings in a season was 140, back in 2006.

The Jays must be well aware of the fact that young pitchers should not throw more than 30 innings over their previous career high, which is why it's odd that Purcey was allowed to throw 182 innings this season. Unless I'm mistaken, the most he's ever thrown was the 140 in 06, which means that he shouldn't have thrown more than 170 this year over AAA/MLB.

Purcey hit 171 innings on Sept 7, when the Jays beat Garza and the Rays 1-0. At that point, I believe they were around 6-7 games out of a playoff spot. Purcey should have been shut down then, with his starts being given to Richmond or Parrish. Purcey's future with the Jays is more important than trying to push him in order to compete for a playoff spot.

I'm sure some of you are reading this, wondering why I'm making such a big deal about an extra 10 innings. But with so many young Blue Jay pitchers getting injured, it would have been wise to take a more cautious approach than to push Purcey over the 30 inning mark.

The article also makes a brief mention about McGowan, stating that:

The Jays will also be missing starter Dustin McGowan at the onset of next season. The right-hander had shoulder surgery earlier this year and may not be ready to return until at least May.

That might change between now and spring training, but if that's the case then May might be a best case scenario. Dusty is more likely to show up in June after a couple of tune up starts down in the minors.

Twitchy.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

JP Claims AAA LHP Reid San... Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Slow news day as the Jays play out the string during the final week of the season, then it's announced that JP has plucked beanpole lefty reliever Reid Santos out of the Indians system. Commence wooting... Now!

Santos now becomes the third weirdest-looking pitcher on the Jays 40-man roster, just ahead of Jeremy Accardo, but trailing Brandon League by a considerable margin. Video here if you've got 30 seconds to spare.

Santos, 26, 13th round pick in 2002, Virgo, insert random biographical fact here, split the year between AA and AAA, posting a crappy ERA despite reasonable-ish peripherals (except for the 42 hits allowed in 25 AAA IP) as you had probably already guessed. He started at A ball in 2005, almost exclusively relieved in 2006, got a few starts in at AA in 2007, then went all bully this year. What role he plays next year is probably TBD.

Plagiarizing liberally from a post at Tony Lastoria's nice blog, Cleveland Indians Minor Leaguer, in January:

Santos is not overpowering in that his fastball sits around 91-92 MPH, but for a little guy he throws harder than you think. His fastball has good velocity, and he has a good assortment of secondary pitches with a slider, curveball and changeup. His changeup is good enough too where it really plays up the speed of his fastball, and he has the ability to strikeout hitters with his fastball, slider and changeup. He is a strike-thrower and has very good command and location of his pitches to all areas of the strike zone. His durability is also helped because of a low effort delivery.

Santos was much like a super utility pitcher last year in Akron as he pitched in every role conceivable be it in middle or long relief, setup man or closer, or in the starting rotation...

Santos has a great attitude, and his versatility to pitch out of the bullpen or as a starter - especially since he is left-handed - makes him very valuable to the Indians as a possible swing man down the road. The Indians see him as an early lefty out of the bullpen because he has the pitches to come in and attack both right-handed and left-handed hitters.

And there you have it.

Whether Santos ends up pitching in Toronto or not next year, little moves like this (be it scooping up good arms like Scott Downs, Jesse Carlson, Brian Tallet, etc. for cheap) have resulted in the best bullpen in baseball and are nothing to be scoffed at. I note this as a part-time Diamondbacks enthusiast dismayed at how that club likely won't be on its way to the playoffs because the Brandon Webb/Dan Haren tandem, a bevy of exciting young position players, and the key deadline acquisition of slugger Adam Dunn weren't enough to overcome the limitations imposed by a shitty, closerless bullpen.

-- Johnny Was

Monday, September 22, 2008

Farm Report: Third Basemen

Is it just me, or am I taking too long to continue this series? Ah well, life has been eventful lately, but I can't let the lapse go on too long.

Third base is another position at which the Jays have struggled for some time. The team has not produced, from its own system, a credible major league 3B since Ed Sprague, and he was a catcher for a while.

Now, although the upper levels are still quite thin, there are some lower-level 3B which are worth talking about.

1. Kevin Ahrens - 20, 6'1", 205, 2007 1st round

Ahrens was frequently compared to Chipper Jones out of high school, and not just because he's a switch hitter. He was reported to have an equally good approach from either side of the plate with a simple smooth swing and developing power. He's said to have soft hands as a fielder and Baseball America rated his 3B arm the best in his league. On the other side, he's a below average runner. However, Aherns has been only ordinary as a pro. He was not streaky or inconsistent this year - he was consistently ordinary. He finished Lansing with a sub-.700 OPS which would seem to indicate he's likely to be back there next season. Someone needs to figure out why a guy who was reported to have such skill hasn't tapped it.

ETA: Late 2012


2. Robert Sobolewski - 22, 6'1" 200, 2008, Round 4

Drafted as a true sophomore out of Miami, Sobo is a highly regarded but quite raw talent. With enough power potential to hit cleanup on a team with Yonder Alonso, he was considered a possible first round talent in the 2008 draft but dropped due to the assumption that he couldn't be signed given that some scouts were saying he could reach the upper half of the first round next year. Many think the Jays got a real steal by picking him and getting him signed this year. That said, Sobo's team played deep into the College World Series and he was running on fumes in his first professional at bats. He was unimpressive at the plate as a pro but under the circumstances he should get a mulligan on that.

Defensively, he has a strong arm but tends to drop to a 3/4 angle which leads to throwing errors but this is considered correctable. He has good footwork around the plate and, while still a work in progress, 3B is considered his most projectable position.

ETA: 2013

3. Balbino Fuenmayor - 19, 6'3" 195, Non-Drafted Free Agent

Signed out of Venezuela in August of 2006 at the tender age of 16, Balbino took some time to adjust to pro ball. But his just completed GCL season reaffirmed his status as a prospect and, one could easily argue he belongs at the top of this list. After an abbreviated and flacid June, Fuenmayor steadily improved as the season wore on. He finished the season hitting .307 (.819) which was a stunning improvement on his .174 (.485) totals in 2007. Late in the season, JP said in rather direct terms that Fuenmayor would be moving across the diamond to 1B next season, but I can't find any indication that he is sub-standard defensively. I include him here because that's been where he's played and JP has been known to toss out something like that and nothing ever come of it.

One possible explanation is overcrowding the system. The Jays needed Aherns to earn his promotion to Dunedin so that Sobo could go to Lansing and Balbino to Auburn. That not happening creates a situation where two top prospects would be sharing a position. Hopefully then, Balbino is simply moving over until the older players advance (i.e. one of Ahrens and Sobo moves to Dunedin) and then he will move back to the hot corner. The thing about this list so far is this: any of these three could turn on the jets and advance quickly through the system as Snider and Arencibia did in 2008. You could see all three have issues next year, of course, but you could also see any of of these guys hot through three levels in a season. I tend to think that Balbino will have such a year, whether it's 2009, or some later year.

ETA: 2012 if he has a monster year at some point, 2014 if he takes it one step at a time.

4. Anthony Hatch - 25, 6'4" 200, 2005, 13th round

Hatch is a versatile guy capable of playing anywhere in the infield (and I suspect a corner OF if pressed). He might have a future as a utility guy, though he has somewhat more power than the stereotypical supersub, or maybe at 2B in the right situation. But he's a perfectly capable 3B too. Offensively, he's been less projectable.

In his first pro season, playing rookie ball as a 21 year old, he was impressive. In 2006 at Lansing, he had his best year posting a .954 OPS in 239 AB with a low strikeout total. Those numbers should have put him right in the middle of conversations about Jays prospects but for the most part he remained under the radar. In 2007 he was promoted to Dunedin and stumbled, posting an unimpressive .723 OPS. He was nevertheless assigned to AA to begin 2008 and, predictably, struggled hitting .235 in 74 games before stepping back to High A ball.
There, however, he regained his stroke. In 48 games in the FSL he posted an OPS of .977 and recovered his excellent BB/K ratio. Hatch is probably back on the radar as a prospect if the Jays take their time and understand he's not so good with aggressive promotion. He should start 2009 in AA and the team might be wise, if he preforms well, to give him a few weeks in AAA at the end of the season to give him a head start on adjusting to the next level.

ETA: Mid-late 2011

5. Andrew Pinkney - 27, 6'1" 205, 2004, 34th round (Red Sox)

I could go into detail about this guy, but I'd be wasting both our times. He's a late round system filler guy who's on his third (at least) organization and he was only middling while playing in AA at 26. He'll never play in the majors.

ETA: Never.


Next up - Catchers.

~WillRain

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Congrats, I Guess...

Yesterday's game marked a milestone of sorts for SeƱor Marco Scutaro, the team MVP front-runner in certain segments of the milkshake community. Scutaro, aka "Scoots", aka "Cooter", aka "Uncle Cooter", saw action in his 138th game this year to best his previous single-season high in 2004 back when he was an Oakland Athletic. Whatever you want to say about the guy, he came as advertised and did a yeoman's effort this year.

I didn't hear mention of this personal achievement during the radio broadcast and read nothing in print, so let us be the first to offer our hearty congratulations. Now that that's out of the way, here's hoping Aaron Hill, Scott Rolen and Lyle Overbay all stay healthy enough that I don't have to do this again next year.

-- Johnny Was

Friday, September 19, 2008

Shaun Marcum Pronounced Dead at the Scene

Normally I don't immediately jump to fatalistic conclusions, but I'm going to make an exception for this update from Robert MacLeod.

Fuck this bullshit! Fuck right the fuck off, you fucking fucker:

The Jays are already convinced from their initial investigations that Marcum requires the [motherfucking Tommy John] surgery. The visit with Dr. Andrews, which is expected to happen some time today, is to confirm the diagnosis of the Jays' medical staff.

“I don't think the news is very good,” said the source. “We suspect the worst – Tommy John surgery. It's not career ending but it's not great.”

Should Marcum need surgery, he will be out at least one year which would mean he would not be available for the majority, if not all, of next season.

While the departed Reverend Jerry Falwell would probably have blamed this unpleasant development on the semi-legal status of marriage-you-wanna and general tolerance for homosexuality in Canada, this is really just rotten, shitty luck. The loss of Marcum for '09, combined with the giant question marks surrounding whether Dustin McGowan will be able to pitch effectively again and the possible?/probable?/certain? departure of AJ Burnett, does not bode well to put things mildly. We expected to see an off-season where JP or his successor tried to patch a single hole in the rotation, but now it's looking more likely that he's in for a full-on talent search to man at least 2 mid-rotation spots and/or replace lost depth when everyone else gets bumped up.

Maybe that idea of having Downs start again wasn't so crazy after all. Ricky Romero, grab the apple and take a bite. Scott Richmond, apply your stevedore's work ethic on the diamond. I'll even dust off the ol' slider of death just in case they need me...

-- Johnny Was

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Commence the Wailing and Gnashing of Teeth.

Well, we have it on good authority now! Uncle Dick has cleared it up for us. On Tuesday Richard Griffin wrote an article in which he assured us that the unsigned status of Cito Gaston was de facto evidence that JP Ricciardi's job status for 2009 was still in limbo:

On Aug.6, GM J.P. Ricciardi announced on his loose-cannon radio show that Gaston would return as manager in 2009, effectively removing any "interim" tag from his title. Yet, in the ensuing 41 days, nothing has happened in that regard. What gives?

The simple answer is that it was never Ricciardi's prerogative to make the Gaston announcement as long as his own status for '09 was still in doubt – which it is. Yes, the folks at the Rogers campus have a significant financial commitment to Ricciardi through 2010, but there is still active discussion from on high as to whether J.P. should be allowed to continue into Year 8 of the five-year plan.

Now, pay no mind to the fact that Uncle Dick is still deluding himself that there ever was a five year plan, he's a professional journalist and he's well connected and knows his stuff so if he says JP's status is still up in the air you can take that to the bank!

Eh? Hold on, wait a sec, the intern is telling me something....What's that? The HELL you say!

Okay, shit, late breaking news folks!

Our intrepid reporter has been at work again today. The ink stained scribe delivers to us the hottest news uncovered by his never-ending search for the truth:

The timing of the Gaston news conference, during rather than after the season, confirms what sources have whispered. Ricciardi's job as GM is safe for another year. If the Jays were going to replace Ricciardi, as had been under serious consideration, they would have waited until the new guy was in place. In the majors, the GM in most cases will make the announcement of his field manager.

So, there you have it - JP's status us not still up in the air! Oh . . .wait . . . hmmm. So...if "sources have whispered" JP was coming back then why did Griffin write ONLY YESTERDAY that his status was uncertain?

Couldn't be because his skills are failing him since we know he gets all his facts straight - just look at the five year plan! Ok, well, maybe bad example. Anyway, maybe it's just because the man is fucking obsessed? Honeslty, for all his flaws, I support JP, I think he's done more good than bad and I'm not the sort to hold out for the Practically Perfect GM. But if I thought he was the biggest train-wreck since Bill Bavasi, I would still be very tempted to hope he keeps the job just on the off chance that we'll get to see Uncle Dick's head explode when he's retained.

Thus the headline. From Griffin to Rotoworld all the way down to anonymous posters on BBS, the venom directed at JP on-line borders on that directed at GWB. It's pathological. (No, I don't mean EVERY criticism, many are quite reasonable). I can't say that I'm not a little amused that those who were so certain he would be gone have to suffer through another year. Call me petty.


~WillRain

Monday, September 15, 2008

Sometimes you make me want to say so long...

I'm not quite yet prepared to offer my comments on the weekend series that effectively ended the Jays season, so let us make do with a MLBTR report (via Jerry Howarth at The Fan) that Brad Arnsberg figures AJ Burnett WILL re-sign with the Jays. Not resign like Richard Nixon, but re-sign.

Commence total plagarization NOW:

Arnsberg's heart says Burnett will stay in Toronto. Burnett's wife loves it there. Arnsberg had multiple heart-to-heart conversations with Burnett discussing the pitcher's future, and leans toward Burnett returning. Arnsberg speculates that it could take another year on the contract to bring him back.

If this is indeed true, it would put JP/JP's successor in a very difficult position because an offer from the AJ camp to have him stay in exchange for a third year would be rather magnanimous considering what he could get from scoundrel Hank Steinbrenner on the open market. That said, I don't necessarily think it's a good idea to reach an agreement on those terms.

Prefacing the following with this:

* AJ is a very talented pitcher who has been superb this month with the team on the fringes of a playoff race
* the Jays will be worse off without him unless they find a replacement outside the organization, and there really isn't a free agent equivilant available in his price range
* I like him as a personality on a team that's otherwise pretty square (looking at you, Lyle Overbay)

Ok, now...

Remembering the maxim that you don't pay a player for the season he just had, it's worth noting that with his next start AJ will almost certainly establish a career high for innings pitched after already posting his best single-season strikeout and win totals. As much as I hate saying it, this was after all only the second fully healthy season (both contract years) of his career. You just can't bank on getting anything like this from AJ ever again.

While his overall numbers this year are very good, but there was a considerable degree of Jeckyl and Hyde-ism: he had two horrid months (April and June), one mediocre one (August), two solid ones (May and July), and it looks like he's on his way to a superhuman September. Every time I hear someone say they saw signs of maturity in AJ this year I kind of wonder what he might've done out of the gate had he not wrecked his fingernail in his car door after what I've always assumed was an offseason temper tantrum.

I really, truly want to see the good, but can't overlook the bad.

Back in February I had a look at AJ's most similar pitchers at baseball-reference and found a depressing list of once-promising power pitchers who flamed out spectacularly in their early 30s (AJ will be 32 going into next season). I'd reckon mightily that whichever team chooses to lock him up through his ages 35/36 seasons is going to see very little--if any--return on their investment towards the end of the deal.

Could AJ help the Jays in '09? Most likely yes, but not so much that a team with limited resources should run the risk of locking him up long-term. At some point in the coming weeks we're going to do a comprehensive, omnibus look at what we think the Jays should do going forward, but I'm coming to the opinion that JP/JP's successor needs to make a big splash this off season (a la 2005/2006) or just batten down the hatches and wait for an infusion of youth (Arencibia, Campbell, Cecil most notably) in 2010.

I'm gonna have to say punt on AJ now, keep those tasty draft picks, and try to patch up the rotation next year with a a cheap one-year turd blossom. (The Oracle likes Carl Pavano, who has pitched very Scott Richmond-ily since coming back from an assortment of faked injuries in August.) But no, I won't celebrate the news if this is what ultimately ends up happening.

-- Johnny Was

Should the Jays "Longoria" Snider?

I was thinking this morning about how amazing Travis Snider is as a 20 year old. I'll admit that I did not want him up here this season in the majors. But in 38 at bats, he's exceeded my expectations. He's hitting a ridiculous 316/366/533 (140 OPS+). The strikeouts are pretty scary - 10 K's in 38 AB which would give him 144-145 in 550 at bats. So it couldn't hurt to give him just a little more time in AAA in my opinion, despite his early success.

But if and when the Jays do ultimately decide to make him a major leaguer, there's very little doubt at this point that he'll become a star. Whether it's as a RF, a LF, a 1B, or a DH, he's going to be one of, if not the best player on the team. So wouldn't it make sense to give him a long term contract, and make sure he's around for as long as possible?

That's when I started thinking about the deal Longoria got from the Rays. Another 06 draftee, Longoria was given a 6 year deal worth 17.5 million dollars, with team options for 3 years worth 7.5, 11, and 11.5 million. So including those numbers, it's a 9 year deal worth 47.5 million. An average value of 5.3 million per year.

Snider and Longoria had very similar numbers going through the minors - Longoria posted a 920 OPS in his brief stay in the minors, while Snider had an 888 OPS in the minors. Snider was 2 years younger, and only had faced high school competition, whereas Longoria had been through a couple of years of playing in college. So it seems more impressive that Snider hit the ground running, and did almost as well as a guy who faced tougher competition, while being YOUNGER than Longoria.

Now, the one thing in Longoria's favour is that he plays better defense at a more critical position. Not only that, he plays it very well - right now he's 7th for qualifiers in ZR, which is very impressive. Snider might end up only playing LF, 1B or DH, as he's currently blocked by Rios in RF for the forseeable future.

Of course there are risks to doing this deal - what if Snider turns out to be a bust? What if he gets injured? Well, you've only guaranteed him 6 years at 17.5 million, for an annual cost of 2.91 mil per season. There is a 3 million dollar buyout to avoid paying the other options, so at worst you pay 20.5 mil over 6 years to a guy who looked like a stud but couldn't deliver.

On the other hand, what if Snider becomes the superstar we expect him to be? In that case, as I've said earlier, you've locked him up for 9 years, at a ridiculously low rate (47.5 or so million). He wouldn't be a free agent till he's what, 30?

In order to beat teams like the Sox and the Yanks, the Jays are going to need to take risks. Signing Snider now (or whenever he becomes a fulltime player) to a deal like this would be a relatively small risk, with a very large reward. It would allow them to build a team around Snider, while ensuring their best player is under market value through his prime years.

There's no guarantee Snider's going to start in 2009 with the Jays. But if he is going to be a regular, the Jays need to look into trying to sign him to a "Longoria" type deal. There's no guarantee Snider would even accept it, but it's an option the Jays just can't ignore.

Twitchy.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Don't You Dare

I realize what I'm about to say doesn't apply to everyone, but you know who you are.

Reading on the various BBS and blogs and comments I keep running across remarks about this weekend series like "we didn't come to play" and "they choked" and "the Red Sox wanted it more" and "the Jays couldn't handle the pressure".

To all of you who feel that way I'd like to kindly invite you to fuck-the-hell-off.

This is a team that has been playing the best baseball in the American League for more than two months, but was digging out of a very big hole. We were going into the home park of arguably the best team in the league - a home park where they play .700 ball, and we were playing a team who's still playing for the division title, not just the wild card.

And some of you are somehow shocked and stunned that we lost 3 of 4? Why? Why the hell do you think we all knew this time last week it would take a miracle? Because we hate to beat Baltimore? Because the Red Sox might lose to Tampa Bay?

No. We knew it was a very long shot precisely because we knew how hard it was to win 3 or more games AT FENWAY PARK!

So yeah, ya know, in case I didn't make it clear, if you are turning like rats and bitching about our players this weekend, questioning their desire and drive, then by all means - "fuck off" is not remotely a strong enough expression for what you need to do right now. Just slink back to that sewer that you bandwagon jumpers lurk in most of the season, go ahead and start preparing all the irrational reasons why JP needs to be fired and the whole roster needs to be blown up. But whatever you do, if you can't be proud of this team for getting this close considering where they stood on June 21, and would rather cry like a little girl because what happened this weekend is exactly what was SUPPOSED to happen, then just keep your damn mouth shut and save yourself the embarrassment of the shit that will flow when you open it.

In the meantime, I, for one, will extend kudos to a team that managed to crawl back into contention when pretty much no one, even most of their own fans, had left them for dead.

Good job, boys. Hat's off to ya.

~WillRain

State of the rotation

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the State of the Bullpen, in which I took a look at who I believe should be in the bullpen for the 09 Jays. I'm not talking about who I expect to be in the pen, but rather, who I think would be best used in the 09 bullpen. I'm going to take a look at who I think should be in the 09 rotation - which is more complicated than it sounds.

I'm not going to waste too much time on Roy Halladay & Shaun Marcum - barring some late season or offseason injury, they're both likely to be the top two pitchers heading into 09. I wouldn't expect Halladay to be this good - as his 154 ERA+ is his third best since 2002. But there's no question he should remain one of the best starters in the AL, if not the majors. Marcum's shown that he can be an above average pitcher, and he should remain one as he gains more experience heading into 2009. The biggest question on Marcum would be his HR rate - is it possible for him to bring it down? He's allowed 21 HR's in 149 1/3 innings pitched, which is an improvement on his 07 season (27 HR's in 159 innings pitched). Still, in order for him to really take that leap to top of the rotation starter, he's going to need to cut down on the HR rates. Otherwise, he'll settle in as a mid rotation guy - and not that that's a bad thing.

Dustin McGowan is a pretty safe bet to have a spot - but the real question is going to be how healthy is he when he comes back. He's expected to be back by spring training, but it's anybody's guess as to how effective he is. Maybe he returns to being that dominant guy we've been waiting for to show up - but he could just as easily be the below average pitcher he was in 08 (98 ERA+). We really don't know, and I think a big part of how well the Jays do next year will depend on Dusty. If he exceeds expecations, and has a huge breakout season (ie sub 4 ERA), the Jays could be in line for a playoff spot. Of course, if he has trouble pitching effectively (due to the surgery or messed up mechanics), the rotation goes from being a strength to a liability.

Assuming McGowan is healthy, Litsch should be the #4 starter heading into 09. Litsch has been surprisingly dominant since his return from the minors - over his past 34 innings, he's won 3 games, has 18 strikeouts (4.7 K/9), and a 1.18 WHIP. Those are good numbers, yes, but the strikeout rate hasn't changed much overall for Litsch. Excluding these 34 innings, the Pre-Litsch strikeout rate was 4.6K/9. Since he's returned, it's 4.8K/9. Not a big improvement to be honest. The only thing I can think of is his groundball rate has improved.

I'll be honest - I'm not really a big fan of Litsch. I feel really nervous when he's pitching, and my gut tells me he's going to regress. I wish him the best, but I just can't shake the feeling he's going to post a 4+ ERA. He's exceeded my expectations this year with a 3.75 ERA, and a 1.28 WHIP, so I'll give him credit for that.

In the end, if Litsch is the fourth starter I think he'll provide us with quality innings, and keep us in the game. Which is all you can really ask. If he's our third starter heading into the season, I think we'll be in for a world of hurt.

Finally, this brings us to David Purcey. Like most young pitchers, Purcey has been very inconsistent. A big reason for that has been his lack of control. He's posting terrific strikeout numbers, and he's allowing less hits than innings pitched. That's always a good sign, but Purcey's lack of control is what's stopping him from being an average, if not above average lefty starter. In September he's walked 7 in 17 1/3 (3.5BB/9), and when you're allowing so many base runners to get on for free it's going to cost you. I think he'll be an adequate 5th starter heading into the year. He won't be as good as Litsch was for us, but really you just want your fifth starter to give you 5-6 innings while keeping you in the game.

What I like about using Purcey in the fifth spot over some veteran is that Purcey has a ton of upside. If later in the season he improves his control, then it'll be one of the factors that helps push the team towards the playoffs. Like McGowan, Purcey is going to be one of the keys to the rotation.

We've all been spoiled by the 2008 Jays rotation, which is second in the majors in ERA (at 3.77). It'll be next to impossible for the 09 rotation to be better than the 08, simply because AJ Burnett will be out of the rotation. What's interesting, however, is that out of all the starters who broke camp with the Jays (Doc, AJ, Marcum, McGowan, Litsch), AJ is the one with the worst ERA+ (102), and the worst ERA at 4.19 (minimum 140 innings pitched).

Obviously AJ is incredibly valuable to this rotation, and him leaving is going to make this team worse. I'm not suggesting that him leaving will make our rotation better because he was effectively our worst full time starter. But it's interesting that in what's his worst statistical year as a Jay, he's been given the most praise. Really, the only thing AJ improved on as a Jay was his innings pitched - but the quality of those innings aren't as high as in previous years.

With so many question marks in the rotation, losing a guy like AJ will hurt. Especially if McGowan isn't ready to start the year. Or even if McGowan/Purcey are ineffective - who can the Jays realistically expect to call up and improve the rotation? Current depth options are John Parrish (who may or may not re sign with the team) and Scott Richmond. I'd like to see Richmond get another chance, but I wouldn't want to count on him to take over for a struggling McGowan or Purcey for an extended period of time.

While it may seem like a minor issue, our starters are bound to be hurt, or be forced to miss games for a variety of reasons. Expecting Doc, Marcum, McGowan, Litsch & Purcey to throw 35 games each is setting yourself up for failure. So while it sounds like a small issue that the Jays 6th and 7th starters aren't very good, as we've seen over the past few years injuries happen and you need to be prepared for them. It'll be vital that JP or whoever is GM in the offseason find an adequate starter who they can stash in the minors in the event of an injury.

There's one option which I've neglected to bring up - I'm sure many of you are eager to see Brett Cecil come up and pitch in the majors. Unless I'm mistaken, however, Cecil only threw 118 2/3 innings this year. As a general rule, you try not to exceed a pitchers maxium innings by 30 per year, or else they find themselves having arm troubles (Gustavo Chacin would be a prime example). So to avoid injury to Cecil, I believe he cannot throw more than 148 innings next year. That means his innings need to be carefully monitored to avoid injuring him in the future. So in my opinion, it'd be wrong to call him up for an extended period of time, because it could put both his development and future at risk.

I want to see Cecil in a Jays uniform for a long time. And the sooner the better. But I don't want to see him pitching for the Jays until 2010, when his innings limit will be closer to 178 innings.

The big theme here is that the Jays 09 rotation is going to be dependent on how effective McGowan and Purcey are. If they both exceed our expectations, our rotation could improve on 2008. What's more likely to happen, however, is that Purcey remains inconsistent, McGowan comes back in May (or is inconsistent as well), and that Doc, Marcum & Litsch have to carry the bulk of the rotation.

As I'm going to address in the next issue, it's going to be up to the bats to make up for the loss of AJ and the inconsistencies of the rotation.

In the meantime though, let's just enjoy the fact the Jays have one of the best rotations in the game, and are doing their best to compete for a playoff spot. Because next year, we're going to miss the consistency (damnit, I've said consistency more times than Joe Morgan...) of the rotation.

Twitchy.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Following up on the followup

It's probably not my place to interject on someone else's post, but it's raining, I'm bored, there's no game for almost 3 hours, and Jordan Bastian of mlb.com (the Evan to Mike Wilner's Seth) was kind enough to look up some numbers to clarify something for us. Solid!

Go read Bastian's piece, then come back. Ok, good.

Given that the Jays 30+ year history has seen significant changes in the way the game is played and the pace of run scoring has varied greatly (remember the scrawny guys with bad mustaches in the '70s and '80s and the roided up sluggers in the mid '90s to early '00s?) , let's agree that ERA+ is a better measure of a staff's success over the years than raw ERA.

As everyone should know, OAC Finite, or "gambling math", is the only math worth learning. Nevertheless, baseball-reference describes ERA+ with the following esoteric formula that looks something like calculus:
  • ERA+ - the ratio of the league's ERA (adjusted to the pitcher's ballpark) to that of the pitcher. > 100 is above average and <>lgERA / ERA
For non-nerds, this is just a fancy way of evaluating how well a pitcher performed relative to the league after the advantages/disadvantages of the park he pitched in are factored in.

The Jays current staff ERA+ stands at 121 and probably won't change much with only 15 games remaining. That number bests the '92 (105) and '93 (103) Jays, who had a bit of team success, in addition to the '98 Jays (107), whom I mention only because they set the post-Glory Days high water mark for wins at 88.

And the ERA+ leaderboard through franchise history:

1985 - 129
2008 - 121
1987 - 121
1991 - 121
1997 - 115
1982 - 114
2007 - 112

The low ERA teams Monsieur Bastian cites as besting the current Jays staff are the 1989 A's (who laid a pummeling on the Jays in the ALCS) and the 1981 Yankees in a strike-shortened season.

The latter posted a team ERA+ of 118, while the former put up an impressive 123. I think it's fair to speculate that had the '81 Yankees played an additional 55 games for a full season, 36-year-old Rudy May and 38-year-old Tommy John would've seen their ERAs rise, though by how much is a matter of conjecture. Goose Gossage too posted an unreal ERA+ of 461 through 46.7 innings with good, but not unworldly, peripherals. I think their bully would've regressed a bit is what I'm saying.

There's no sortable way I know of to rank teams from 1977 on based on ERA+, so off-hand here are some other teams that popped into my head:

* The 2005 Chisox coasted to a World Series triumph with a relatively weak offense (that did sock dingers like nobody's business) on the backs of an excellent staff that put up an ERA+ of 124.

* The 2004 Bosox put up a 116... and won the World Series to everyone's great dismay. And a 123 in repeating that dirty, unspeakable act again last year.

* For sheer excellence year in, year out, look south. The Braves put up a wicked 129 in 1993, 124 in strike-shortened 1995, 124 again in 1996, 131 in 1997, 128 in 1998, 123 in 1999, 124 in 2001, and capped it with a savage 133 in 2002 before falling to more mortal levels in recent years. That impresses me greatly and the 2002 Braves probably had the best staff of the past 3 decades.

* The 2001 Mariners team that won 116 f'n regular season games before losing to the Yankees in the first round of the playoffs "only" put up a 118. Pussies.

* In the way back file, the 1979 AL Champ Baltimore Orioles had the best pitching of the great Earl Weaver teams of the late '70s and early '80s, putting up a 123.

It kind of sort of looks like the best AL staffs since 1977 were 2005 Chisox, the 2007 Bosox, the 1979 Orioles and 1981 Yankees in that order, but don't quote my fake internet pseudonym on that. If someone wants to invest more time into making a more comprehensive list, I invite you to delve into this long, hard slog and correct my work.

As it stands, it looks like the 2008 Jays do have a decent chance of finishing the season with the 2nd best staff ERA+ in team history, but will have to step it up a collective notch to best last year's Bosox and the 2005 Chisox. I don't think that takes away from the accomplishment, but does put it in perspective a bit.

Beer o'clock. Go Jays!

-- Johnny Was

I Stand Corrected

One of the things I hate is when someone proliferates a bit of erroneous info and it becomes "common knowledge" around the net. So I'll not let myself be a contributor to that if I can help it. The item I posted last night was attributed by a poster named "Matt" to Mike Wilner's blog. He, in turn, attributed the claim to a writer at Baseball Prospectus.

However, the reliable Jordan Bastian notes today that the claim is, in fact, not true. See his game blog today for the details.

I have no way of knowing if the error lies with Matt or with BP or if (most likely) the BP writer was referring to some stat other than "normal" ERA.

In any case, I stand corrected.

Oh, and I'm more than a little pleased to know that our humble blog is among those Mr. Bastian checks out from time to time. I hope we continue to be worthy.

~WillRain

Noted in passing

I'll try to link the source on this later but one of the commenters on Wilner's blog noted that Baseball Prospectus reports that the Jays current (I assume going into yesterday's play) 3.52 team ERA is the lowest in the AL since 1985. Think about that before you sign the petition to fire JP.

~WillRain

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Farm Report: Shortstops

I've been slow to continue these reports because I've been so caught up in The Steak that discussion of the future seemed kind of bad form, even with the certain knowledge that the hill is too high to climb. But I don't want to go so long between these lists as to lose the interest of the readers either, so I have to tear myself away from the drama for a bit.

The Jays have added a couple of intriguing alternatives at the position which seems to have been the bane of our franchise since the salad days of Tony Fernandez. But they are both young and far distant from making a major league impact. There are probably three more seasons before we can entertain the notion of an internal solution at SS (barring the not unreasonable idea of moving Hill back over).

1. Justin Jackson (20) 6'2", 175 - 1st round (supplemental) 2007

Jackson was perhaps the most maddening player in the system this year. He had massive swings in production, ranging from red-hot (in April and July) to stone-cold (in June and August) which leave evaluators like me grasping for explanations. There are a couple - he was coming off a stint on the DL during June which may have affected his performance, and it's conceivable that fatigue caught up with him in August - but it goes without saying that the Jays would like to see more consistency from such a highly regarded kid.

That said, there's a lot of raw material to work with here. J-Jack is said to wield a very-good-to-great glove, he's not a good base-stealer but he's a speedy and heads-up baserunner, he has a good eye at the plate (taking 62 walks in 121 at bats) which is impressive for a 19 year old. Physically, the easy comparison to Fernandez springs immediately to mind, and it's not entirely impossible that he would attain that level (which I hope because Fernandez is among my very favorite all-time Jays), but there's another, less inspiring comparison that jumps off the stat sheet: Alex Gonzalez.

Looking at Jackson's totals the biggest negative is easy to spot - 154 strikeouts. Everyone that remembers Gonzo remembers one thing above all: he was a gifted defender with a decent bat who would never give up the idea that he was a power hitter. The harder he tried to hit homers, the more his overall offense suffered. It may well be that we are seeing a similar situation with Jackson. We can only hope that good coaching along the way can get him to play to his strengths rather than trying to be the next A-Rod.

ETA: 2012 at the earliest.

2. Tyler Pastornicky (19) 5'11", 170, 5th round, 2008

A right handed hitter like Jackson, Pastornicky is another one of those players that deserves more notice than he's getting. The Florida high school product excels in all areas of the game except power hitting. The kid is said to have great hands, and is capable of throwing 90+ across the diamond. He has smooth fielding action and shortstop range. He has great speed and is a top notch base-stealer (27 bags in 32 attempts) and he has as many walks as strikeouts. He has the potential for doubles power when he bulks up a bit more, but he'll never be a slugger, nor should he try to be. On top of all this, he's said to have an outstanding makeup and be flowing with baseball savvy (comparable, for instance, to Aaron Hill).

ETA: late 2012, early 2013

3. Luis Sanchez (21) 5'11", 175, 46th round, 2005 (Braves)

Sanchez is a switch-hitter out of Puerto Rico, Sanchez is a well-regarded defender with a lightly-regarded bat. In June and July this season he looked like maybe he had solved that riddle but a severe August fade gave all that gained ground back. It's hard to be optimistic that he's going to hit enough to make the majors. If he does he'll be a very fringy guy.

ETA: likely never. No one you should be counting on if he does.

4. Ryan Klosterman (26) 5'11" 185, 5th round, 2004

Two years ago, Klosterman seemed to have a bright future (a cautionary note about success in the low minors). he had just had a breakout offensive season in which he'd posted an .839 OPS at Dunedin and earned a late season call to AA (where he did not embarrass himself). He was a bit old for his level at the time but not drastically so. He's a skilled smooth defender and his makeup was said to be off the charts. But in 2007 his offense totally collapsed against higher level pitching and has shown no sign of recovery.

If you haven't solved AA pitching by the age of 26, you are almost certainly not going to ever take the field as a major leaguer.

ETA: Never.

5. Pedro Lopez (25) 5'11" 205, signed as NDFA by White Sox

Lopez was once a top 10 prospect for the Chicago White Sox, but if you look at his track record, that was apparently more a function of a weak farm system than Lopez's skill set. Lopez has a 2B arm, lacks plate discipline or power, and is not a particularly good runner. Frankly, if I wasn't being compulsive about making all the lists either five or ten players in length, I would never have mentioned him.

ETA: Never.

Next time - Third Base.

~WillRain

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Ten! Ten Wonderful Wins!

Your hometown team was ballin' again today, as they are lately wont to do, picking up two more impressive victories as if they were drunken sluts in a Girls Gone Wild video. In the first game AJ Burnett threw seven innings of 1 hit ball (he had a no-hitter through five) and struck out 7 "good guys." In the second, three Blue Jays homered (Scutaro, Rolen, and Wells) and the Jays cruised to the 8-2 win.

PLAYOFFS!!

Also noted in passing, Alex Rios was the AL player of the week last week after hitting .414 in the first week of September. Continuing the running report on the progress he has made under Cito, Alex is now hitting .324 - .353 - .568 - .923 in 67 games played. Pro-rated to 162 games, Rios would have an incredible 104 XBH.

By the way, the Jays as a team are now 43-27 since Cito took over, which is a .614 winning percentage. That pace over a full season will get you 100 wins - only one AL team (the Angels) have more wins in that period of time. In case it escaped your notice, something similar is happening in Houston. The difference is, though, that the Astros are overachieving (they have an overall run deferential of -16, while the Jays have an RD of +96 (third best in the majors). And all this almost entirely without Dustin McGowan, with Marcum ineffective in half of his starts since the switch, without Aaron Hill ever having swung a bat under Cito, with Scott Rolen being a non-factor and Greg Zaun almost entirely out of gas.

THIS is what I was talking about back in March when I said this was a very good team. It's obviously not what I envisioned, but you never know how the details are going to play out. I'm NOT and never have been in the "Gibbons is a moron" crowd...I still tend to think he's going to get another job at some point (probably in the NL) and have a fine little career. And I was very adamant in April and June that this group of players could not continue to lose in such an aberrational way. BUT, I don't have a factual way to argue with the folks who will argue that Cito made the difference and JP blundered badly in not making the switch sooner EXCEPT to say this:

The Jays went 20-10 in May and were five games over and were 4 games out and well positioned to have had an excellent year. They had hit poorly in key situations (freakishly so) but had every reason to expect that to regress to the mean and to look ahead with optimism. Nineteen days later the Jays had played their manager out of a job. I, for one, do NOT consider three weeks "waiting too long" - even if the math knocks us out of the post season (7 games out with 18 to play!). If the Jays had played mediocre ball the whole time under Gibby, then yeah, but a 20-10 month rightfully buys a man some time.

Meanwhile, if we sweep the White Sox it will be, I believe, the longest winning streak in club history.

~WillRain

One More For The Arms Race?

To his credit, JP has assembled the best-armed armed fighting force the world has seen since the Khrushchev-era Red Army. As such he really shouldn't feel much pressure to add to the best staff in the majors in the offseason and even if he did want to build on what he's already got, why would he throw another reliever into an already-crowded bullpen?

The answer is baffling tale of 25-year-old Vancouverite southpaw RJ Swindle.

MLBTR informs us that Swindle was just DFA'd by the Phillies after 4 2/3 innings in the bigs. Pat Gillick, who's been enjoying a shockingly good year from a pen that was a massive weak spot for his club last season, uncermoniously dumped the young Canuck so he could add retread Japanese infielder Tad Iguchi to the Phillies 40-man roster for the stretch drive. This is the sort of transaction that usually gets buried in very, very fine print on the back pages of the sports section.

The move becomes considerably more eyebrow-raising when you look up Swindle's numbers. The only reason I felt curious enough to do so came because I remembered his name from something I posted on the Canadian Olympic baseball team. His minor league resume is stunning, really.

Some highlights through his 194 IP:

* a startling 9:1 K:BB ratio and 10.48 K/9 IP (226 K and 25 BB)

* 150 hits allowed

* only 4 HR

* 1.58 ERA

* WHIP of 0.90

* AAA success this year


You might wonder how someone with such a strong college background (Big South Conference Rookie of the Year, MVP and Pitcher of the Year awards) and the stuff to put up these sorts of pro numbers could be overlooked in independent ball then get bounced by three major league organizations (Bosox, Yankees and now Phillies). It's positively baffling...

The answer there would be this: despite his 6' 3", 195 lb frame has a BP fastball that tops out at 84 mph and makes his living off a looping 55 mph curve.

Just to demostrate how irrelevant his velocity is, how would you feel if I told you a minor league reliever had posted the above numbers with his 135 kmph fastball and 89 kmph curve? You'd be impressed, right?

It seems odd that post-Moneyball scouts would still dismiss something that doesn't quite conform to our pre-conceived notions of how players are supposed to look/play when the numbers clearly indicate that Swindle is succeeding mightily.

If only for AAA depth in '09, bring him home, JP, and score some nationalism points against Griffin/Elliot/et al. to boot.

***

I've refrained from commenting on the Jays' current winning streak largely because a) moving house and post-moving errands are so horrible that they should be made illegal and punishable by death; and b) I think the baseball that's being played now is pretty much self-explanatory, or perhaps unworthy of any greater dissection with the end-of-year post mortem just 3 weeks away. That's not to say I'm not enjoying the work of my colleagues here, the raging awesomeness of the Ghostrunners, the steady yeomanry of the Taos, the wistful Cassandra-ism from Jon Hale, and the 24-hour keg stand that is DJF. But I've kind of come to the view that it's meaningless to discuss whether these games are meaningful or not; just enjoy them for what they are. Or don't. Your choice.

-- Johnny Was

Monday, September 8, 2008

Purcey's on a roll

Don't look now, but Purcey's been dealing over his last 35 innings. With young pitchers (or in Purcey's case, rookie pitchers), you like to see signs of improvement as they spend more time in the majors. And since Purcey's been given an opportunity to pitch without fear of a demotion, he's taken full advantage of it.

Starting on August 8th against Cleveland, Purcey has gone 35 innings, with an ERA of 3.60 and a WHIP of 1.29. He's allowed 2 home runs in that time - a respectable total, especially considering on the season he's allowed 8 in 53 1/3 innings.

More importantly for Purcey is his control - it's the reason he was in the minor leagues for so long. Until 2007 in AA, Purcey's lowest BB/9 in the professional baseball was 4.48.

Over Purcey's last 35 innings, he's walked 12 batters, for a BB/9 of 3.0. That's not great, but it's not horrible either. Meanwhile, Purcey has struck out 40 in that timeframe, for a K/9 rate of 10.3. Over that timeframe, Purcey's K:BB has been an extremely impressive 3.4. Even AJ, who has a similar skillset in this regard (IE. trouble with walks and huge strikeout numbers) only has a 2.6 K:BB ratio this year.

Again, I realize it's an extremely small sample size, but it's nice to see that over this small stretch that Purcey has shown some improvement. He's not walking as many hitters as he did in his earlier call ups, and he's getting ahead of hitters and striking them out. If Purcey can keep the walks down and the K's up for the rest of the year, then I think he's a lock (barring a Free agent signing) to start next year in the rotation. And I'm really looking forward to see what the new and improved Purcey can do over a full season.

Twitchy.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Eight is NOT Enough!

I don't have any profound insights for you today, no little known fact or pearl of wisdom, I just really wanted to say "FUCK YEAH!!!" about sweeping those damned pesky Rays!

The Jays are finally doing what we have been waiting seemingly since the Great Depression for them to do: that's fulfill expectations. Do you realize that since July 7 the best record in the American League belongs to your Toronto Blue Jays? They are 33-19 during that span. You can figure all the way back to the hiring of Cito Gaston and they are still in the top 6 or 7 records in the game. And that for the whole season they have the 11th best record in baseball?

True, they are still 8 games behind the Red Sox, but they have a chance to finish second in the Wild Card and win as many games as any year since '93. Am I telling you anything you didn't know? Maybe not. But it was getting embarrassing that The Southpaw wasn't commenting on the best run of the year, so I had to come up with something!

So, with a tip of the cap to the Inebriated Ones, "PLAYOFFS!!"

~WillRain

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Farm Report: Second Base

Second base has traditionally been the place where the Jays system would turn out mildly competent role-players but not All-Stars. Aaron Hill may prove to be the best 2B to ever come out of the Jays system. In that tradition, there is no potential star lurking at the position this year either, insofar as we can tell at the moment. But there are a couple of guys who look to be better than the Nelson Liranos of the world, too.

1. Scott Campbell - 24 / 5'11", 190 / 10th round 2006

If you pay any attention at all to the Jays farm system, you must surely be aware that Campbell is trying to be the first native of New Zealand to play in the major leagues. While that is a low-grade “nice” story (somewhat better than John Hattig being the first native of Guam for sure, but still) the more interesting question is - “Is he any good?” Early indications are that the answer to that is “Yes, yes he is.”

Campbell spent all of 2008 at AA and that in only his second full professional season. He has an excellent idea of the strike zone (more walks than strikeouts at every level) and doubles power. He hits for a high average and is an on-base machine. On offense, he was ready for AAA pitching by mid-season. So why wasn’t he called up?

Defense. Reportedly he’s got relatively sure hands but the idiosyncrasies of playing 2B, particularly turning the double play, are coming slower to him. For a guy who played almost no organized ball before the college level, that’s not especially bad news.

It's notable that he had a lost August at the plate, after returning from a stint on the DL. Given the quality of the rest of his season we can give him a pass on that, I think. He's been assigned to the Jays squad going to the Arizona Fall League, so he'll get a chance to recover a bit of offensive momentum out there.

If you are one of those fans who loves a good player comparison, here’s the best one you will find in the Jays system - Campbell looks like nothing so much as a young Frank Catalanotto. I’m not 100% sure that there is a starting role for him on the Jays, though they could do worse for a utility guy off the bench, but there’s little doubt this guy is going to see his bat translate to the majors.

ETA: 2010

at AA: .302 - .398 - .427 - .825

2. Brad Emaus - 22 / 6'0", 190 / 11th round 2007

On April 30, few outside the Jays organization gave a second glance at Brad Emaus. He had posted an OPS of .614 in short-season Auburn in 2007, and in the first month at Dunedin, it was an unimpressive .620. But the last four months has put Emaus squarely in the conversation when you talk about future Jays middle infielders. Since May 1, Emaus has an OPS of .883 and in fact, might be in a position now to make a case for being #1 on this list.

His advantage over Campbell is this - he was selected by managers and coaches surveyed by Baseball America as the best defensive 2B in the Florida State League. He also seems to have a bit more power in his bat, having put up 34 doubles and 12 HR in a park and a league said to suppress power totals. When he was drafted, the scouting reports said he “lacked a true position” while observing he had the arm for third base, but not the power. But maybe he’s opened some eyes with both the bat and the glove. If there’s one guy you didn’t know six months ago that you need to keep your eye on, Emaus might just be that guy.

ETA: late 2010, early 2011

At High A: 300 - .378 - .461 - .839

3. John Tolisano - 20 / 5'11" 190 / 2nd round 2007

Many thought Tolisano was great value in the second round of the 2007 draft. So long have scouts been watching Tolisano that he was named the best 14 year old in the the nation in Baseball America’s annual article on the subject. Tolisano lived up to that billing his first two years in high school and then slacked off some and many felt the Jays had a steal. The switch-hitting Tolisano, who has been compared to former Cub Todd Walker, impressed scouts with his bat speed and mechanics at the plate, but less so with his hands and footwork around second base. He seems destined for left field, but such a move then provokes questions of whether he’ll hit enough for that job.

One thing we can say - his season at the plate this year has disappointed his supporters. Since an impressive May, his monthly totals have been in steady decline. The assumption had been that he would take the natural step to Dunedin next year but that has to be in some doubt as Tolisano stumbles down the stretch.

ETA: 2012 at the earliest.

at Low A: ..229 - .315 - .354 - .669

4. Russ Adams - 28 / 6'1", 178 / 1st round 2004

At the All-Star break, there would have been no real reason to mention the player who most personifies so many of the things that JP-bashers are unhappy about, but a funny thing happened on the way to oblivion - Adams figured out where his bat went. In 161 at bats since the AAA All-Star game, Adams has an OPS of .930 and that is a result of putting the bat on the ball. His walk rate has dipped some, and his HR rate is somewhat better. But his batting average went up in a huge way and he hit considerably more doubles per at bat.

Is it a mirage? Quite probably. At his age the likelihood that his abilities have improved that much all at once is very remote. That said, I would like to see a team with an already weak bat and no options at 2B (like the Cardinals for instance) give him one last shot at proving himself. He does have 12 errors, but he's played a lot of outfield and there's no telling how many came at which position, but it's not a massive total for 127 games played, regardless.

One things for sure - that last chance is not going to come in a Blue Jay uniform. It will be a mild surprise if he’s still in the organization next spring.

ETA: N/A

at AAA: .259 - .341 - .417 - .759

5. Jonathan Del Campo - 19 / 6'2", 185 / 20th round 2006

Del Campo rocked the GCL last year but in less than 100 at bats. The one time "best SS prospect in Arizona" was considered a good catch for such a low pick and the Jays gave him a nice bonus to sign. Alas, Del Campo has not entirely lived up to expectations in 2008. In short season Auburn, Del Campo has been just average, posting a .268 average and a .750 OPS. He’s played good defense (inasmuch as you can judge by the low total of only 10 errors) and he has the arm to play SS or third (there was some suspicion among scouts he would develop the power to play 3B). Certainly at his age Del Campo has a couple of years to put himself on the map.

ETA - 2013

at short-season: .268 - .342 - .408 - .750

Next time - shortstops.

~ WillRain