Thursday, 5 July 2012

Mid-Season Thoughts

Traditionally I do a mid-season post, and I also have been doing periodic posts after each 1/5 (approximately) of the minor league season. Given the lack of bloggage around here (you will possibly note the absence of the 2/5 Report), I'm going to squeeze in both goals for this week.

On the major league level, it seems emotionally to have been a season plagued by more upheaval than normal. Between having almost all the key bats - everyone except EE - start off slowly, on an individual basis (yet, somehow, inexplicably, continue to score an above average number of runs) and only some of them recover to play well, to the obvious decimation of the pitching staff, to even the supposedly upgraded bullpen being inconsistent - there's not as much opportunity for projection as one might normally find. The idea that they could finish the first 81 games just over .500 but still within less than 3 games of the playoff spot is astonishing. Rather than go position by position, I want to just note some items worthy of consideration and then move on to the minors (all statistical quotes through the game of July 3):

Item: Brett Lawrie - Lawrie reached his lowest OPS of the season on May 25. Since that time (35 games) he's hit .320 with an OPS of .888 and most of that (since June 5) has been in the lead-off spot. His counting stats over that stretch pro-rate to 56 doubles and 23 homers over a full season.

Item: Colby Rasmus - The low point of the first half for Rasmus was May 18. Since then he's played in 40 games (that is, essentially 1/4 of a season) and the results have been better than any CF in the AL except Josh Hamilton. Try .304 with a .974 OPS for size. Pro rated he's on a pace that would produce 52 homers, 44 doubles and 144 RBI on the season. He probably won't keep that pace up, but it's not implausible he could take a run at the distinction of the best season by a CF in Blue Jays history. Remember, ths is the guy that a ton of vocal Jays fans were vehemently unhappy with just 2 months ago.

Item: Jose Bautista - As late as May 11 Jose Bautista's BA was still below the Mendoza line (all the way down to .177) on the back of a historically atrocious BABIP. Whatever was causing that, over the last 49 games he seems to have solved the problem His OPS over that time is 1.069 and he's hit 22 homers in just under 1/3 of a season's worth of games. For anyone else I'd say "he can't keep this up" but . . .we are speaking of Jose Bautista. it was reported a couple of days ago, and i will not trouble myself to verify if it has changed any in the last couple of days, that since the beginning of 2010, the #2 hitter in home runs is THIRTY THREE behind Joey Bats.
Who can guess what the second half holds for him?

Item: The rotation - Ricky Romero is now 8 games deep into easily the worst stretch of games in his major league career; Henderson Alvarez may or may not have turned the corner on a forgettable seven game stretch (six of which were regrettable) of his own; Brandon Morrow is likely out until(hopefully early) August; Drew Hutchison until September at best; and Kyle Drabek until the middle of next season. Still no progress on Dustin McGowan, and indeed a mysterious silence surrounds him. Jesse Litsch who might have been pressed into service is on the shelf for the year too. Brett Cecil didn't even make it out of ST but he's back now - who knows how well that will work out.

On the other hand Carlos Villianeuva is rewarding my faith in him (after the Jays waited entirely too long to turn to him, IMO) and Aaron Laffey continues to defy my expectations for him - which I do not expect to continue long term given his next three starts are against the White Sox, Yankees, and Tigers.If he's still shiny at the end of the month I'll be stunned.

Point being: until Morrow returns, at least, things are going to be adventurous unless AA trades for a significant starter. There was a time I coveted Eric Bedard (including in the off-season when he was on my VERY short list) but with the Pirates tied for first place (!) that is off the table. That makes my current first, realistic, choice Matt Garza. Dempster, when he comes off the DL, might be very tempting too. I like the way Alex talks about being buyers and not sellers but I have no real clue how that will play out. I certainly didn't see the Rasmus deal coming.

Item: Casey Janssen - He demands your respect. that is all.

My prophecy for the second half?
Lawrie continues to roll.
Rasmus continues to be one of the very best CF in the AL but slows some
Bautista keeps being Joey Bats
Encarnacion slows some, but still ends up with his best year ever
Lind rebound some, to respectability but not enough to quiet the critics
Johnson and Escobar CAN'T continue to be as bad as they have been - can they? (check out how Aaron Hill is doing these days)
Arencibia probably is this kind of a hitter and will continue to be.
As for left field, I have to believe Snider comes back after the All-Star break (barring another insanely poorly-timed injury) and I have faith in him when he does. overall, while the total of runs, which is already very good, may not reflect a big boost, i think the offense will be more consistent down the stretch BUT . . .

I'm REAL worried about the ability of the rotation to hold things together until Morrow returns. After tomorrow, the next 12 games are against teams with better records, and nine of those are on the road. If the Jays are still over .500 and within 3-4 games of the wild card on July 23, then there's a good argument for adding a big piece.
In theory Romero HAS to get better than he's been, if he can get out of his own head; I have a lot of faith in Villianueva and I'm pretty confident Alvarez is finding his groove again. Cecil and Laffey are, IMO, time bombs - especially the latter (although it's looking more and more like Laffey is Cecil's ceiling as a SP). The question being, can they both not blow up until Morrow returns.
The next rough patch starts on August 7 and I have all fingers and toes crossed that Morrow is back by then. 45 of the last 54 games are against teams currently in playoff contention (48 if you count Detroit). if they make it, it will be because they earned it.
On an additional note: the Blue Jays, as die-hard fans surely know, have not only signed Marcu Stroman to complete a sweep of their top 14 picks, but still have about $300k in the kitty for a couple of other intriguing guys. Stroman, so the report goes, may well be in Toronto by September.

In more prospecty goodness, the Jays singed - according to published reports - four of the top 13 players on Baseball america's list of eligible Latin Free Agents, including #1 on the list Franklin Barreto, a SS who some see as a future CF. The other three are Jose Castillo (the top LHP in the crop), Luis Castro (a big SS who's future might be at 3B), and Richard Urena (a slick fielding SS with doubles power). BUT that puts the Jays well over the league mandated ceiling, even with the tax figured in. late reports today (Wednesday) claim Castillo did not, in fact, sign with the Jays. This would entirely clear up the overage so it's probably accurate. also leaves the Jays just under $45k to spread around to lower profile guys.

Speaking of prospects, look for the 3/5 Report soon, including a revised Top Prospect list with a lot of baseless assumptions and hopeful thinking.

Edit: late breaking news - Scott Richmond out, AA prospect Sam Dyson (he of the 52.2 professional IP) is in. Even though Dyson's ratio's at AA suggest he's got work to do, I'm fascinated by this move.

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