Tuesday, May 31, 2011

YES! and NONONO!!!

It's been a decidedly wild 12 hours or so and not always in a good way. Alex Anthopoulos spoke to the press today and we heard things we liked:

1. Adam Lind is targeting a return on Saturday (Yay!);
2. Dustin McGowan's rehab is going so well (he's hitting 95 and feeling no unusual pains) they are rethinking the "settle for relieving" conclusion and they will begin to move him towards returning as a starter. He'll begin a re-hab assignment (that can't last more than 30 days) on June 21 (YAY!!);
3. Brett lawrie has pretty much forced their hand and now it's just a matter of "making a decision (probably who loses their roster spot) - then he told Mike Wilner that he had a personal philosophy of debuting highly touted rookies on the road laughing "You can probably read between the lines" which Mike did to assume that Lawrie would debut Friday night in Baltimore (YAAAAAYYY!!!!)

But WAIT, there's MORE!

Lawrie was hit on the top of the left hand by a pitch in the first inning of tonight's game in Las Vegas and is, as I type, waiting to get precautionary x-rays!

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We're all too aware of the dangers of hand injuries, all of JaysNation (including the atheists) are on bended knee at this moment in supplication he does NOT have a broken bone. This is SO not how this night was supposed to go . . .

In theory, Lind will bump Thames (simply as a function of playing time for the kid) and Lawrie would presumably push a reliever (likely Perez) out of the bullpen. Johnny Mac would then bump McCoy when he comes back middle of the month unless something changes. Of course now that's potentially up in the air so let's talk about something else.

The Jays have completed 1/3 of the season (which is what tonight's post was supposed to have been about before Alex spoke up. It's time for a look back to see how things are going and, frankly, the results are maddeningly indeterminate.

The team is, was before tonight's game I should say - all this refers to the first 54 games - 2 games over .500, on a pace for 84 wins (strikingly close to last year's results) and in that regard, doing quite well given the problems which we can note. IF (and it's a major "if") they gain the benefit they should be correcting the fixable problems, they should be quite interesting down the stretch. let's review:

Catcher - JP Arencibia has been all that and a bag of chips in the early going. Those who doubted how his offensive game would translate to the majors coming from the PCL are silenced, those who argued last summer that his defense was lacking, that Cito found him wanting or the pitchers didn't like throwing to him or whatever have been repudiated. All reports indicate everyone is very pleased with his work as a catcher, and the results at the plate are self evident. At this pace, he'll have the best year ever by ANY Blue Jay catcher. He's leading all major league rookies in OPS by a respectable margin. He's also bearing down on the Yankee's Russel Martin for second place among AL catchers. There's no reason in my mind why he cannot continue at this pace or maybe even a tic better.
Shockingly, Jose Molina is having a very good year with the bat as well. I have no explanation for this and assume it will stop happening at any moment.

First Base - It's remarkable that Adam Lind has appeared in little more than half of the games in our sample. But in that half he was a fine hitter - he's still second on the team in RBI! In fact, if you take away one horrendous 7 game slump, the rest of his work ranks with the best hitters in the AL not named Bautista. but of course, that's only 25 games. In any case, if Lind had hit over 54 games at the same rate as he hit in those 32, he'd be 4th in the AL in homers and first in RBI. In his absence
Juan Rivera has stepped into the 1B role and demonstrated his usefulness by playing perfectly acceptable 1B defense (as did Lind). He's also managed to generate the illusion that playing 1B has revived his bat. This, however, is not exactly true. On the season Rivera's OPS is .680, and since Lind sat down it's merely .710. In point of fact, in the 15 games BEFORE Lind was hurt, Rivera's OPS was .876. While I'm glad he shook off the early season disaster, he's still a stopgap. when Lind returns he will still get some 1B ABs and between the two of them they will soak up the DH at bats. But I expect in the back of their mind the team would still rather have Thames up. The problem is Rivera is the only other 1B on the team and that gives him some security.

2B - Aaron Hill. Whither Aaron Hill? The one time Golden Boy is fast falling out of favor with a lot of Jays fans. After his abysmal 2010, he's under a ton of scrutiny and there are 31 flavors of analysis concerning what's wrong with him. But if you look closely at this current season, his stat line is sent from mediocre to absysmal by the awful two week slump which opened the season. He's ben decent since mid-April (albeit he had a mini-slump recently). I don't think he's done, he's probably going to be at least a .750ish hitter at least from here on out.

SS - Yunel Escobar is quietly playing like a superstar player right now. Since Lind has been out, Esco has been by far the second best player on the team and as good as any hitter in the league (NNB) From May 8 to May 30 his OPS was .998 (and he had another great night tonight). Can he continue at that level? It's POSSIBLE but I certainly can't predict that because it's just too much. He was over .900 in the first two weeks then slumped HARD for two weeks. But he's apparently got something figured out and is on his way to a career year. If he maintains anything like the current pace he'll be called the obvious best SS in the AL by the end of the year.

3B - Wasteland. I'm not going to waste a paragraph detailing who's been here and how they have sucked. Just remember that Brett Lawrie could come up and utterly disappoint and still have a shot at being better than what the Jays have gotten from 3B this year. I don't think he'll disappoint. And coming over the transom as I write: JUST A BRUISE!!! Happy dance!!!!

RF - Bautista. do I really have to explain? Ok, he's on a pace to hit 67 homers, howzat?

CF - Raji Davis is not as bad as you think. He's played fine speedy defense, and he's hit perfectly well since coming off the DL. I'm often accused of arbitrary end points which I don't deny, but I think an end point that correlates a baseball event (such as coming off the DL) are instructive. In that time, Davis has the following slash lines: .312/.359/.422/.781 - I'm reasonably confident he can do that the rest of the year.

LF - Right now it's the Corey Patterson Show. Caution: do NOT get too excited about Patterson (I'm looking at you John Farrell). What he's doing now is pretty good but it's right in line with the better years of his career and there are hints that he's a the peak of the curve and is a big candidate for regression. I will note in fairness that his OPS is .860 over the last 34 games of our sample. Eventually, this is Travis Snider or Eric Thames. Hopefully when Patterson turns back into a pumpkin, Farrell is not too slow to pull the trigger.

DH - for now that's going to be whoever's not playing first most every game.

On the whole, I see potential for this offense, which as also very close to being league leading - to get even better.

The bullpen, despite the occasional frustrating save situation, has been one of the best in the league and will continue to be. Really no reason for extensive analysis.

The rotation has not been as good as it could be, but it's a testament to the promise to come that they can be a lot better. Ricky Romero has stepped up to legitimate #1, Brandon Morrow pitched well (up until tonight which we are ignoring) with only one completely insane inning making the results look worse than they should. Kyle Drabek has unexpected control issues, but he's usually barely missing and that should refine over time. If it does he stands to be scary-good. Jo-Jo Reyes as the #4 is slowly giving his critics more and more pause, other than a somewhat elevated WHIP he's got a perfectly respectable stat line for a #4 starter. The #5 is a point of interest - how long can Villianueva hold up? How serious is Listch's injury? How long will it take Cecil to get right? Can McGowan make it all the way back? Ideally, in my dreams, McGowan takes this up and runs with it in late July but there is SO many ways that can go wrong between now and then.
I have to admit, If I'm going to be objective AT ALL, that there's potential for regression in those last two spots, but there's potential for progress in the 2/3 spots too. Based on performance so far, the team is just about where it ought to be, but consider:
(paraphrasing Mike Wilner)

If you'd been told on March 1 that on June 1, the following would have happened in the first third of the season:
Brett Cecil pitched his way to Vegas;
Jesse Litsch was on the DL with shoulder woes;
Jo-Jo Reyes was still in the rotation;
Brandon Morrow missed his first 4 starts;
Carlos Villianueva had to be pressed into service as a starter;
There was no clear closer;
Adam Lind had missed over 20 games to injury;
Aaron Hill was still struggling;
EE was on a pace for 90 errors;
Jason Nix was your best 3B;
Raji Davis was hitting 8th, and had also spent most of April o nthe DL;
Corey Patterson was your third best hitter on the team and a regular starter;
Travis Snider had played his way to Vegas;

Would there have been ANY illusion in your mind that the team would be over .500 after all that? As always, I'm optimistic.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Shape of Things to Come

It's still over a week before my periodic Minor League review, but a post at the Tao of Stieb rekindles in my mind some speculation that i often consider, which is what exactly does come next for the building program?

Several times a week I see a poster somewhere on line either grumble that the Blue Jays have yet to spend money, or express their impatience for the money the Jays will spend soon, if not both. The prevailing assumption is and has been that the team will in the middle term open the checkbook and augment what we have her for a run. The thing is, in my view, that might not be what should happen.

Let's walk it through.

At catcher, JP Arencibia has established himself as the best rookie hitter in the AL during the early going (though Hosmer will likely blow by him). At AA, Travis d'Arnaud, who was more highly regarded than JPA before the season despite not hitting like an All-Star to that point, is tearing the cover off the ball and leading the Eastern League in OPS (though he's a few AB short of qualifying for the list). AJ Jimenez his a .911 OPS in the FSL which is almost unheard of for a catcher in that pitcher's league. And Carlos Perez in his first full season at Lansing is considered by some to have the highest ceiling of all of them. There's little logic in assuming any significant money will be spent on an import catcher.

At first base Adam Lind was proving himself defensively and hitting very well (outside of one brief slump he hit as well as any player not named Bautista around). Behind him are David Cooper and Mike McDade and Adam Loewen can play 1B too (more on him later). While the depth here is not as impressive, Lind is good enough that it doesn't make sense to go out and buy an upgrade unless it's Pujols. And even then (despite my off-season discussion) Lind may have recovered enough to make a deal like Pujols will require a bad investment.

At third base, Brett Lawrie will get every chance to succeed. Even if he struggles, we're going to see him have dibs on the spot for a couple of years or more after he comes up.

At short, the Jays have a contender for the title "best in the league" - he slumped for just over two weeks, but outside that slump he's sporting a .938 OPS, it's .945 over the last 19 games. He's a potential All Star and Gold Glover (yea, I know). Want to see the Jays spend? Don't be surprised if Yunel Escobar is a pretty wealthy guy in the near future.

RF? Yeah. Next 4-5 years spoken for. Some dude named Bautista. Maybe you've heard of him?

CF? for another year and a half, maybe two, we'll have to put up with a stopgap. Assuming no one loses their mind and puts a Colby Ramus on the market, it's almost a given the Jays will bide their time until Anthony Gose takes his crack at the job in (probably) 2013. On his heals, no more than a year and a half behind, is the possibly equally talented Jake Marisnick. There's very little chance the Jays will block these guys. There is, as far as I can tell, one realistic potential exception to this: Matt Kemp. If the Dodgers have a fire sale, I could see AA looking into a deal for Kemp. but whether or not they will meet the price to keep him past 2012 is a different matter.

LF is a position at issue potentially between long-awaited brilliance from Travis Snider, or unexpected (by many) impressiveness from Eric Thames. The jays are not going to be anxious to block either man - it will be hard enough figuring out how to get both enough AB if neither fails.
If both do fail, there's the dark horse: Adam Loewen. "What?" you say. "The 27 year old pipe-dream lingering in Las Vegas? Actually that would be one of the best hitter in the PCL in May.
Here's something you probably don't know about Loewen: David Cooper, who's 24, has 1,368 professional AB; Brett Lawrie, who's 21, has 1,186 professional AB; Loewen, despite being 27 - has 960. Remember when JP told us we'd need about 1,000 at bats to really know what Loewen could do?
Further down the chain, there's Moises Sierra a couple of years away, and Michael Crouse and Marcus Kencht along with Marisnick if Gose lives up to his billing. It's true the latter three are 2-3 years away, but it would take the Jays at least another year and a half to sort out the Snider/Thames business and as far as we know now, they fully believe Snider will still be a monster.

That leaves second base. now it's true that the Jury is still out on Aaron Hill (albeit, he's been a perfectly reasonable middle of the pack 2B since mid-April) and it's not unreasonable that the Jays might decline to lock him in at $8 mil a year after the season. BUT, when you speculate about the Jays ponying up a bunch of money on the team, 2B is not a premium place to do that. consider the list of the very best high-dollar 2B available:
(ranked by current OPS)

1. Howie Kendrick - Angels have the need, and the money. why would he go anywhere?
2. Rickie Weeks - signed through 2015
3. Robinson Cano - outbid the Yanks for one of their own?
4. Ben Zobrist - signed through 2015 (if you include options) and invaluable to the Rays.
5. Brandon Phillips - has a 2012 option that will surely be exercised. Might be available after 2012 to highest bidder. But he's had one year where he finished with an OPS over .776 - is this your difference maker?
6. Maicer Izturus - More a utility guy - has never broken .800 in his career.
7. Adam Kennedy - old cheap retread - not your big money target.
8. Ian Kinsler - not available.
9. Freddie Sanchez - just got extended, not available (and not that much better than Hill in the most generous estimation).
10. I'll throw in Chase Utley because he's just that good - but you ain't getting him either.

It goes on and on. the point is there is no available guy to throw money at for 2B who will be a significant upgrade on Hill, even if Hill is nothing but a .750ish hitter.

Oh, and I didn't mention DH. laying aside that the DH would be valuable for relieving the crowing in the OF, you could in theory throw a bunch of money at a big name DH, right? Well, you could use Thome there this year but he's not going to be around in a couple of years. But there are options. Would Berkman agree to DH? (Is he even for real this year? I've always been a fan but it's a risk); Hafner finally seems to be back - if you want to risk his health; Would Fielder DH? Can Ortiz hold up? Carlos Quintin will be a FA after 2012. There's a lot of question marks but I concede they might be willing to put some money into a DH who could be reliable over the next few years.

But you get the general idea.

On the pitching side, you are almost certainly not going to see a "savior" for the bullpen ala BJ Ryan. The kind of money being invested in Rauch and Francisco are what you expect a sane team to do in the bullpen.

With the rotation, you have two guys with mortal locks on a spot (if healthy) and a third who'd apparently got a real firm grip that immunizes him from expensive imports. you have to assume the fifth spot at least is the "audition" role. Beyond the Reyes experiment you have, in order of seniority more or less, a long train of candidates:
Mills
Stewart
Alvarez
Jenkins
McGuire
All guys who can train through that spot until someone sticks over the next couple of years. All guys who would be at least partially blocked by a big acquisition.

And the unmentioned spot is where you work out the success or failure of Brett Cecil and jesse Litsch over the next year or two (and by 2013 the wave of approaching prospects will demand room to work.

It's not impossible the Blue Jays would do something like try to pry Josh Johnson out of Florida (which would cost them not a few of those approaching prospects) but free agency? Maybe it's just me but I for one would much rather see what Henderson Alvarez can do for us than import some mid-level guy. If they happen to have the chance to go after, say, Matt Cain, they might. But the problem is for premium free agent starters - the Cole Hamels and Zach Grienkie's of the world - you have to pay a lot of money per year over a lot of years. the Jays can afford to, but the risk of depreciation is quite large.

All that to say this: the coming dynasty may very well be mostly stocked with guys already in the system. Between like of opportunity and lack of need, I don't expct a ton of FA spending and when the payroll does rise, it will be because we are paying out own guys to stay for the ride, like the Yankees did with Jeter, Rivera, et al. and frankly, I much prefer the idea. the thought that the jays might go deep into the playoofs in, say, 2014, with the following team makes me positively giddy:

Gose - CF
Escobar - SS
Lawrie - 3B
Bautista - RF
Snider - LF
Arencibia - DH
Lind - 1B
d'Arnaud - C
Hill - 2B

Bench: Jeroloman (allows JPA to alternate C/DH with d'Arnaud) Jackson (ss/2B/3B/CF) Loewen (corner OF) and heck, Johnny mac doing his best Vizquel "play forever" routine.

SP - Morrow, Romero, Drabek, Cecil, Alvarez
BP - Stewart, Zep, Janssen, Farina, Farquhar, Villianueva and maybe Mills or Carreno

I had MUCH rather succeed with that team than have it littered with overpaid JD Drew type imports. of course, I'm presuming that team would succeed and prospects will break your heart. But still, count me out of the "when are we gonna back up the armored car" conversation*.



*Except that I'm sure I'll have MUCH ore to say about Matt Kemp over the next couple of months.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

AAARGH!!!


Have I mentioned how much i LOATH interleague play? I mean, in like, the last five minutes?

'Cause I do. I mean I really really REALLY do.

I know it's sorta irrational. I know it feels just as bad in many ways to lost to Tampa back in the days when they sucked as it does to lose to a sucky NL team. but still what gets me is the consistent history of irrational failure vs National league opponents.

How in the heck am I supposed to feel good about going to NY for three with the Yankees when we dropped 2 of 3 AT HOME against the worst team in the NL? Even though I know the insane part is we're MORE likely to do well against the Yankees than the Astros (for reasons, if any there be, which make no sense at all).

Over the last seven seasons, there's been at least one series in each of those seasons but one, and sometimes two, inter-league series each season that makes you say "what the hell just happened here?!" The overall record really isn't miserable - it's just the "not beating the teams you are supposed to" theme that kills me.

At least four of the remaining five NL opponents are good teams. if we lose to them it will be easier to take. Now watch us get swept by the Pirates.

Some happier notes:

In Toronto -
Josh Hamilton had 6.5 WAR (as per BR) in 133 games last year. Jose Bautista had 4.3 when he got out of bed this morning, in 37.

In Vegas -
Brett Lawrie has adjusted to the pitching that adjusted to him and is now hitting better in May than his incredible April. (never-mind the 4 throwing errors this month).

In New Hampshire -
Travis d'Arnaud is hitting .500 with a 1.340 OPS in 11 games since coming off the DL.

Anthony Gose has an .855 OPS in 22 May games.

In Dunedin -
Justin Jackson is on a 7 game hit streak in which he's hit .452 with a 1.242 OPS - overall he's up to .878 in the OPS column, which puts him around 10th in the FSL - which is really good for Dunedin; BUT

AJ Jimenez is doing even better. He has a .911OPS on the year and his .364 BA leads the league.; BUT

Bradly Glenn is doing EVEN better. He's leading the FSL in homers. Which is near impossible to do playing at Dunedin.

In Lansing -
Marcus Knecht has pumped his season OPS up to .917 though he's striking out a good bit more in May.

So, think on the good things, right? Bring on the Damn Yankees! With a sweep we will pass them in the standings.


Edit: another thought crossed my mind.

Jays 3B in 2011:

.189/.246/.296/.542

Player referenced here:

.303/.410/.424/.834

Not sayin', just sayin'

Friday, May 20, 2011

Some Things Were Meant to Be


Check this out. could it be ANY cooler?Eric Thames - born to be a Blue Jay.


A little content for ya, while I'm here: Henderson Alvarez was promoted to AA New Hampshire today, I'm not sure who comes out of the rotation (logically it would be Lamura) or possibly promoted to Vegas (Gonzalez or Beck have pitched well enough, but Vegas would have to ditch MacDonald or a reliever (Collazo?).

While I'm on the subject of promotions - it's still too early yet for widespread system-wide promotions. You likely won't see that until after the newly drafted players start filtering in for the short-season teams. but being a prospect hound, and impatient, I'm going to ignore that and give you a brief overview of who I'd be looking to promote. Of course, i don't know everything the Jays management does and I'm certain they know what they are doing but, what the heck, we all got uninformed opinions, right? Also, I'm ignoring the possibility the Jays want someone at AA more than AAA (ala Stewart) and thinking traditionally here.

This will not be comprehensive - I'll probably miss something but it's as much of the obvious stuff as I can see:

1. Ditch MacDonald and Collazo at LV, promote Gonzalez and Beck from NH and figure out which starts and which relieves.
2. Clint Everts back to AA for Alan Farina (RHRP). Evan Crawford could use a promotion too, but there's no obvious player to replace. Crawford can assume the closer role in AA for now.
3. Justin Jackson to AA as the full time 2B. While it's good Jackson has the versatility to play the OF, he's not going to beat out Gose and he doesn't have corner power. His future is likely a utility role but his clearest path to exceed that is middle infield. With Adeiny at SS, that means 2B. But he's owning the FSL right now (not easy in that pitcher's league) and it's time to move him up, IMO.
4. Matt Wright (LHRP) from Dunedin to NH.
5. Consider moving up Kevin Ahrens soon. The sample size is small, he was ordinary at best in April and has been on fire the past 20 games or so, but there might be something to be gained from rewarding success after SO much struggle in Dunedin. Plus, Sobolewski is crashing at AA so there's not as much of a road block as normal.


The bigger promotions come later. At some point you might expect Jenkins to move to AA - maybe even McGuire, though there's something to be said for separating their time frames a bit. Brad Glenn is pushing for a move to AA. Later in the summer you might see Sierra in Vegas. Hutchinson might move up to Dunedin when Jenkins/McGuire move. You might see highly regarded Aaron Sanchez take his place if that happens. I hope to see the entirre Lansing starting outfield move up to Dunedin in the second half (assuming Glenn and Jackson have already moved up).

And, naturally, Snider and Lawrie in Toronto!

Speaking of the Jays, they are a game and a half out of a playoff spot. Not sayin', jus' sayin'.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Awesomeness arrives!

Look at that man. Just LOOK at him.

How can you NOT want that man on your team? Seriously, does he not just radiate awesomeness?

I've probably been more excited by Eric Thames than any other Jays writer since he was drafted in 2008. something or other I read at the time just intrigued me and I would say, when people discussed their favorite prospects, how much I believed he'd do big things if he ever got healthy (not that I'm some sort of prophet, I've also been a big dreamer, in the past, that Eric Eiland would get it together at some point to and that went horribly wrong).

Thames - for those of you who haven't been as obsessed with him as I have - only fell to the Jays because an injury during his final college season at Pepperdine (for the second year in a row) caused him to fall all the way to the seventh round (when he'd been discussed as a late first round talent before the injury). He was considered a bargain IF he could stay healthy. which of course did turn out to be a bit of a problem. He missed all of 2008 after signing, the team wanting to be really really recovered. Another, unrelated injury, badly shortened his 2009 season, but when he did play, he played very well, though he didn't display much home run power yet.

After only 59 games as a pro, the Blue Jays started Thames at AA in 2010 and it was there that he fully blossomed, staying healthy for the first time in his career. Playing in 130 games (he'd never topped 60 in a season before) Thames fell JUST short of a .900 OPS and put himself on the map with the rest of the Jays blogosphere.

We tend to think of Thames as behind Snider, and yes, Snider has immense talent and is even now a year younger than Thames. I have lost no affection for Travis Snider. BUT. Even the fast moving Snider has played in 394 minor league games, over 300 of those before his major league debut. Thames has played in 225. If you look at his track record, the man has yet to hit poorly anywhere under any circumstance. His arm isn't great, but otherwise he's a comparable fielder to Snider. Both at least competent. I'm not sure how much I like either player spending a lot of time DHing, but dammit I want both of them in the Blue jays line-up the next few years.

I, for one, am hoping he shows Farrell and Anthopoulos enough over the next week to stay for good. I frankly don't care if the team has to eat whatever minimal value there might be left in Rivera to do so. (Others advocate going back to a seven man 'pen but as long as that means screwing Casey Janssen I'm not in that camp)

No later than August 1 (and hopefully much sooner) I'm counting on both Snider and Thames to be joined by everyone's favorite prospect (including mine) Brett Lawrie. Don't forget the presence of JPA and you have something to be excited about (besides demigod Jose Bautista of course). As much as the stopgap guys are frustrating you right now, imagine this in august:

Davis
Escobar
Bautista
Lind
Arencibia
Snider
Hill
Thames
Lawrie

If someone could just get Hill figured out then that's fun at every single spot. I'd L-O-V-E LOVE it!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Hey, look over here!

I don't think I've ever done something quite like this but I think this is a worthy moment. Dustin Parkes has an analysis of yesterday's fateful 4th inning over at Getting Blanked that is a near perfect summary of what went wrong and why so many, including myself, were so upset by John Farrell's decision to lift Brandon Morrow from the game.

I could, of course, simply take his information and re-write it in my own words to make the same point, but I don't want to do that. instead I'm going to link the article (which by the way addresses several other points) and quote here the part I consider relevant to this post:

Anatomy Of An Inning Gone Wrong

After three innings of shutout baseball in which he struck out five batters, this is how Brandon Morrow’s fourth inning went:

  • Strikes out Brennan Boesch with an 88 mph slider in the dirt, but Jose Molina looks completely unprepared for the pitch he presumably called for and it hits the dirt as the catcher stabs at it with his backhand, missing and allowing Boesch to advance to first base. It’s scored a wild pitch.
  • Walks Miguel Cabrera on six pitches. Look at where that sixth pitch lands according to Brooks Baseball:
  • Gives up a deep fly ball to center field that is hard hit, but playable for a good center fielder. Corey Patterson is not a good center fielder as evidenced by his route to the ball. Victor Martinez comes away with a double and one run knocked in.
  • Gives up a line drive to shallow center field off the bat of Don Kelly, scoring Cabrera. Martinez advances to third.
  • Collects the first official out of the inning on Jhonny Peralta’s liner right to Yunel Escobar.
  • Walks Alex Avila to load the bases on five pitches. He was again squeezed by the home plate umpire. This time on the first pitch of the at bat.
  • Is pulled for Shawn Camp who gives up a double to clear the bases.

Morrow was pulled with a fielding independent pitching number of 2.04.

I'm going to leave the pitch charts out of this as added motivation for you to follow the link. So, review this in an alternate reality. Molina catches the "wild pitch" - that's out #1. Get's the call on the strike that should have set Cabrera down - that's out #2. Patterson catches the ball Davis would have caught to retire Molina - out #3.

Through 4 innings, Morrow has allowed one hit, one walk, no runs and struck out 7 - Jays lead 2-0.

these are not obscure fact. they are not the sort of thing that you need post-hob sabermetric calculations to understand. these are things that on-field managers HAVE to know. Take some time for a lingering mound visit after the Martinez double and introduce some calm back into the situation. make sure there's no emotional baggage from what Morrow himself MUST know is a situation not of his making and focus on the upcoming batters.

Easy-squeezy.

Understand, I am NOT a Farrell basher. He has no previous managerial experience and there WILL be rough spots and mistakes and panicky moments (and yes, I think that was nothing but an emotional panicky response yesterday) but the key for a smart man - and he's a smart man -is, no matter how you justify yourself to the media, to look back and say "damn I fucked that up" and learn from it.

All that said, I WILL get on the Farrell bashing bandwagon in one respect - the continued insane usage of Octavio Dotel. (Yes, I've been down this road before)

Dotel entered to start the seventh inning. the first batter was a LH hitter - he walked. The third hitter is a switch hitter who hits left vs Dotel - 2 run homer. The fourth hitter also a lefty, he is hit by a pitch. Sixth batter? lefty - walks. How long must this go on? Dotel now has recorded 26 plate appearances vs. RHP, and 23 vs LHP and the results are overwhelming. When facing RHP his OPS allowed is .397, compared to the insanely astonishing rate of 1.545 against lefty.

It's past time to learn from this mistake. to not do so is indicative of a much deeper and more troubling issue for the team.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Farm Report: 1/5

So, 1/5 of the minor league season is now in the books, time for ye olde farm report and prospect review! (In anticipation of which I'm sure you have been dying)

In terms of format, what I'm not going to do is run down the BABIP or FIP stats or any of that jazz. IMO it's too small a sample, still, to draw much of an inference from that sort of thing (and I'm too lazy). Here are the top 10 performers overall for the 2011 season in the Blue Jays system. Hitters and pitchers listed separately.

Hitters:

1. Jake Marisnick - the most accomplished hitter in the minor league system so far is obviously Marisnick. While playing an excellent CF for lansing, he's leading the league in RBI and amon the league leaders in slash-line stats, total bases and stolen bases.


2. Brett Lawrie - It's always difficult to know just how much to temper your view of PCL stats, and it is true that Lawrie has a less than impressive K:BB ratio, still lawrie has yet to be caught stealing, he's hitting for good average and power, and other than the recently promoted Eric Hosmer and league-leading Anthony Rizzo, everyone who's hitting better than him is at least 2 years older than he is (of the 22 with better OPS numbers, 15 are 4 year or more older). Defensively, Lawrie made 6 errors, most of them having to do with poor throwing mechanics, by April 19, but only 1 since. The team thinks he can definitely handle the position.

3. Eric Thames - He's shown slightly less power than Lawrie, but has walked three times as often (a team-leading 15 times) which might ultimately be a better sign. On the other hand, he's struck out 22 times in 28 games (second only to Lawrie on the team) and he's over 3 years older than the 3B.

4. A.J. Jimenez - Of all the Jays highly-touted catching prospects, the offensive standout so far has been (somewhat surprisingly) Jimenez. Playing in Dunedin, in the Florida State League wherein breaking an .800 OPS is impressive, Jimenez has an .889 mark. He's shown solid power, a good OPS (albeit it's batting average driven) and still too many strikeouts.

5. Mike McDade - On the eve of his 22nd birthday, Big Mike continues to defy the expectations. Expected to be a slugger who's contact might not be that great, he's riding a hot streak (.405 in his last 10 games) which has pushed his average to .347 and his power has been mostly doubles to this point (though you shouldn't worry about the homers, they will be fine). Like Jimenez and Lawrie, his K:BB ratio is cause for caution however.

6. David Cooper - The (reportedly) low-ceiling 1B picked up this year where he left off in 2010. He's leading the PCL in doubles (despite having spent over a week in the majors) and has fewer strikeouts than anyone within sight of the offensive leader board (he has 7 walks against 6 strikeouts). The "poor man's Overbay" comparisons still apply, but you have to recognize the accomplishments of a man with a 1.055 OPS too.

7. Michael Crouse - much less heralded than his Lansing teammate, the man who patrols to the left of Marisnick is on his heels at the plate in most categories. The biggest difference in the two is BA (where Jake leads .330 to .235). Crouse is also said to be a skilled defender and he's been successful in 14 of 15 steal attempts. While a .235 BA isn't usually praiseworthy, Crouse has turned that into an .848 OPS so clearly he's doing some things right.

8. Justin Jackson - the one time slick Shortstop has, because of various factors, found himself playing all over the field this year, primarily in the outfield and at 2B. Offensively he's hit the stride he'd only shown glimpses of in the past. He strikeout rate is way down, his contact rate is dramatically better, and his slugging is up some though that's mainly driven by the increased contact. On the other hand, he's not running as much so far as he has in the past. Jackson's margin for error is slim though, he doesn't have the power for an outfield corner and there are several other CF options, so he has to take possession of 2B at some point or his ceiling will be in a utility role. Think maybe an Alex Cintron type of player.

9. Moises Sierra - shaking off the rust after having been limited to 20 games last season, Sierra is back to his previous levels, but he still needs to add some standout offensive results to go with his defensive accolades. He's thought to be a tools guy who will "figure it out" at some point, but injuries have slowed that progression.

10. Marcus Kenect - the third member of Lansing's top-notch outfield, Kenect has missed a few games due to injury, and hes 3 for 25 since coming off the DL so one has to wonder if there is a connection.

HM: Shout out to SS Jon Diaz. He's been called "John McDonald 2.0" which means he is a great fielder who can't hit at all. but through the wonders of the PCL he's somehow managed a .841 OPS so far, with more walks that K's. Have to tip my metaphorical cap to that just because it's so unusual for him.

Pitchers:

1. Nestor Molina - The 22 year old Venezuelan RH is in his first year as a starter, having spent the previous three years working out of the bullpen. Molina serves as the perfect illustration of the way in which minor league starters can be prospects while relievers with similar results are viewed with skepticism. At this point Molina has a sterling 1.69 ERA while recording 26 K and only 3 BB in 26.2 innings of work.

2. Brad Mills - whatever anyone might think of Mills' ceiling as a major league pitcher, he certainly has figured out AAA so far. His ERA in six starts is 2.03 and that includes geting spanked hard in one of those. without that bad start his ERA would be 1.03 - and his supporting numbers are excellent as well.

3. Drew Hutchison - His numbers are skewed a bit by the impressive opening day start (7 IP, 1 BB 11 K no runs) but the 20 year old Lansing pitcher is definitely climbing the prospect chart.

4. Chad Jenkins - underestimated, perhaps, in the wake of sharing a rotation with more highly praised Deck McGuire to start the year, Jenkins has been just fine to start the year in Dunedin. His strikeout numbers could be better for a first rounder, but otherwise he's looked really good.

5. Deck McGuire - the difference between these two first ronders is one thing - Jenkins has allowed one homer and McGuire has allowed 4 big flies. Otherwise they are neck and neck.

6. Egan Smith - Hutch's LH Lansing rotation mate has allowed a bit too many hits, and struck out a bit too few to be compared to the more highly regarded Hutchison, but the results have been worthy of praise so far.

7. Zach Stewart - With Drabek in the majors, Stewart is the incumbent top-ranked pitching prospect. He might be gaining a reputation as a slow starter because he had issues last April and this year, while he's been much better than he was a year ago, he's not dominating as one might expect given he's repeating AA (through no fault of his own). He's dominated in 3 of his 6 starts, and escaped another without much damage despite being too hittable. but in his first start and his last, he struggled to resemble his prospect status. i epxct him to heat up with the weather.

8. Asher Wojciechowski - Was pounded in one start, but aces in the other four. Like McGuire, it's his first pro work and it's at Hi-A so some growing pains are to be expected.

9. Rieder Gonzalez - The strikeouts are low (18 in 32 IP) but the walks are even lower (2!!!) and Gonzalez, who sports a 1.38 ERA, is making his case to get back to AAA. Ultimately, the guy is short on talent to be a major league starter, but he might be putting himself back in consideration as a reliever in the majors (though maybe not in Toronto). He's 25 and in AA so that's worth noting, and he's 5'9" so he's never going to get a lot of respect. I consider him a fringe prospect at best.

10. Chad Beck - Beck is not, repeat not a prospect. He's the now 26 year old throw in organizational player the Jays got for David Eckstien. Unless he's learned a new pitch or some such which changed his outlook (about which I've heard nothing) this is a fluke. He's never pitched this well for this long before. Still, in the absence of other prospects lighting it up, you have to give props to a 2.42 ERA and a solidd K:BB ratio in his first 4 AA starts.



Honorable mention: It's simply too early, sample-size wise, for me to be giving props to relievers even well regarded ones, but given I ended the above list with two non-prospects I'll throw an HM to the following: Alan Farina (too many walks); Matt Wright (turns 24 today, has a 22:3 strikeout to walk ratio in Dunedin); Sean Nolin (12:1 in Lansing for the 21 yo 2010 draftee who may yet be starting); Steve Turnbull (good work but 24 in Lo-A so, yeah).


Finally, a nod of respect in the direction of Justin Verlander. Well done sir.


Monday, May 2, 2011

1/6 Review

You might have noticed that the MLB season divides more neatly into sixths than it does into quarters, plus it give me an earlier chance to take stock, right? Well, the truth of the matter is that it's still a dramatically small sample to look for patterns, or trends, or any such thing. but we can perhaps say "here's a thing i like" or "this concerns me" with the built in caveat that the sample size is a huge factor.

The first sixth of the season so happened to coincide with the end of the month of April, but that doesn't usually happen. The fact that the season has roughly six months is what inspired me to use a 1/6 model, since it provides a more even point of comparison than month-by-month breakdowns. but as a bit of mental shorthand you may think of these as monthly, if you prefer.

Hitters:

Frankly, outside of the god-like Jose Bautista, there's not a lot to enjoy here. Joey Bats finished the month with an incredible 265 OPS+. For comparison, that's right at 100 points higher than it was at the end of last season. Carlos Delgado's historic 2000 season only amounted to a 181. He's the most feared hitter in baseball right now.

After Bautista, things get much more dicey. Arguably the second best Jays hitter in April was none other than JP Arencibia. Right now, he's the best hitting rookie in the American League. Yunel Escobar has improved over last year, but even in this small sample he's been two different guys. in the first 10 games his OPS was 1.200, it's only been .493 in the last 15 games. Adam Lind's numbers look kinda bad, but they reflect a 7 games streak in which he went 2/26 and the rest of his play has been quite respectable. His slash lines without that week of work look like this:

.338/.352/.550/.902

Lets hope this is the REAL "2011 Adam Lind" and not just a function of sample size. Before his injury, cast-off Jayson Nix hit like he never has in the majors (you MUST chalk this up to sample size) and role-player Corey Patterson has been better than it was reasonable to expect (the last time he hit at this level was 2006). Jose Molina has hit well over his head and John McDonald started off well for him, both in bench roles of course.

On the other end of the spectrum, Aaron Hill continued to look lost right up until his recent injury, Travis Snider developed a mechanical flaw that distressed management enough to send him out to AAA for a fix, and unwanted-man Juan Rivera entered play on April 22 with an astonishingly low .342 OPS, albeit he's heated up over the last nine games to the tune of a rosy OPS of 1.063 over that stretch. Raji Davis got hurt and earns in "incomplete" grade having missed all but nine games this month, and played some of those hurt.

That leaves Edwin Encarnacion to comment on - Eddie has clearly let his defensive issues get into his head. Besides the unsightly error total, his hitting splits are just silly: a .430 OPS as a 3B, and a .917 OPS as a DH. Nix can't get back fast enough, though that fix only works so long as Nix's aberrational hitting continues. With luck, by the time he cools Brett Lawrie will be ready.

Speaking of defense, Escobar has drawn rave reviews, as has Davis when he's played. No one says a bad word about Hill's glove, or Bautista's, and both Arencibia and Lind have been said to be doing much better than expected. Reviews on Snider in LF were mixed, occasionally getting much praise and occasionally getting sharp criticism. Rivera's OF play has been routinely panned, but before Snider's demotion that was a minor concern. the real gaping wound on defense is 3B, where EE has just fallen apart (mentally) and Nix is sub-par.

The pitching outlook is much brighter. Ricky Romero has been great, Brandon Morrow has looked very much like the dominant guy from the second half of last year (albeit in only two starts) and Kyle Drabek, while not where you'd like him to be control-wise, has shown flashes that have observers drooling. Jesse Litsch has been ok as a 5th-turn placeholder. The other spot has of course been trouble. Brett Cecil lost velocity, then lost his mechanics trying to find his velocity, then lost his cool trying to find his mechanics - and found himself in Las Vegas. Cecil sort of illustrates the fact that you are always going to have something come up with your pitchers, you just seldom see it coming in specifics until it appears.
The other SP issue, of course, is the Jays lingering experiment with JoJo Reyes. Many fans have expressed considerable disquiet at the length of said experiment, but they'll be relieved to know that John Farrell has broadly hinted that Reyes needs to show him something in his next turn. Given the relationship between his schedule and Cecil's, I think he might well get two more shots (depending on how he looks Tuesday night) as it would be much easier to re-add Cecil in his spot on May 14 in Minnesota.

If/when Reyes loses his turn in the rotation, there's a solid possibility the Jays might try him in relief work, and an equally strong chance they will trade him as they did Dana Eveland after a similar experiment last year (though to be fair, even at his worst Rees has far more potential than Eveland ever did).

Speaking of the bullpen, while there are some higher order stats that don't like the work there so well, on the surface this seems an excellent group. The six busiest Jays relievers (Jon Rauch, Shawn Camp, Jason Frasor, Marc Rzepczynski, Casey Janssen and Carlos Villianueva) combined with recently activated co-closer Frank Francisco, make up a seven man core that all have an ERA of 2.84 or lower. They've combined for 80 2/3 IP and allowed only 19 ER (that's a 2.12 ERA). Carlos Villianueva is walking too many (8 so far in 14.2 IP) but otherwise, this has been as good a group as you could want.

The flaw in the slaw is Octavio Dotel - who is obviously NOT one of the seven described above. Dotel has walked 7 in 8 IP, but his problems are not entirely his fault. which leads us into the next subject . . .

John Farrell has drawn harsh criticism for his in game management from some quarters (Hiya Stoten!) but for the most part, the flaws I've heard about were and are "getting your sea legs" type stuff (for instance, certain players being a bit too aggressive on the basepaths). the one MAJOR screw up relates to, you guessed it, Octavio Dotel.

In 2010 Dotel allowed LHB to rake him to the tune of .993, while righties managed a paltry .576 - in rough terms every LH was Jose Bautista, every RH was John McDonald. It was like that in 2009 as well. Despite that, in 2011 Dotel has faced a RH at the plate 19 times and a LH at the plate 17 times. What do we have to show for it? lefties have an OPS of 1.409 against him this year, righties only .328 in roughly the same number of chances.

That, friends and neighbors, is flat out insanity. I love me some John Farrell but this shit has got to STOP.

On the whole, there's reason for optimism - above average pitching, solid plus defense (except at 3B and LF) and 3 hitters you can have some confidence in now, and 3-4 others (depending on how quickly Snider gets worked out) you can have some reasonable hope for. On the other hand, it's easy for the pessimist to point out ways things can go south (for instance, it's unreasonable to assume Bautista will keep hitting THAT well). All in all, they have a roughly .500 record at the 1/6th mark, and that's probably a pretty accurate representation of how they've played.

I'll be doing the minor leagues in 1/5th segments as i did last year, that first report comes up after the games of this coming Friday night so look for it next weekend.