Monday, 27 April 2015

Highs and Lows - 3 Weeks In

Sweep Orioles? Yay!
Get swept by Rays? Awww.

In fairness, the Jays have won one series in Tampa in . . . ever? . . . s losing at least two of these, particularly when Archer was in the mix, isn't crazy - but letting the Saturday night game slip away was a huge downer. That said, I still contend it's very foolish to get all bent out of shape about the bullpen. Stuff happens. To everyone. I remain calm, it's just too early. So - system review time!

Pitching wise, you have to be encouraged by Hutch and Norris but there's a ton of inconsistency in he staff as a whole. As much as I'd love to think that those two, at least, have found their happy place, I'd just as much like to hope Castro's last couple are only a blip but I have no objective argument to prove it's not the reverse.
Offensively you still have to be pretty happy about where they are with only half (less than, really, since he's benched the busier half of his personal platoon) of Reyes, and only one of the expected key bats raking (along with one gigantic surprise - Travis - and one mild one - Smoak).

The Bisons remain En Fuego - before Sunday's loss they were on an 11-1 run. The offense has caught up, nearly, with the pitching, with a team OPS good at .721 for 3rd in the league (.729 leads) though with such a veteran roster that should be expected. Chris Colabello has taken over the team lead in OPS with his league leading 5 home runs but Matt Hague remains right there with him.  Nothing to say about the pitchers except more of the same excellence.

New Hampshire
You may remember my praise of the bullpen last week, Matt West and Luis Perez still haven't surrendered a run and the next three best relievers have given up four, collectively, in 25.1 IP - the line for all five reads: 42.2 - 31 - 4 - 18 - 54. Matt Boyd finally saw his ERA budge off zero but it was my no means an ugly affair. On the offensive side, apart from noting that DSJ continues to perform well, i have to mention KC Hobson. He's blocked about 4 different ways at AAA, and he's been around this circuit too long (having been promoted mid-2013) but he's having his best season yet in the early going. It's unwise to assume so much from such a sample but even if he kept this up there'd still be a lot of questions.

At the start of play on April 18, Roemon Fields sported a BA of only .167 and an OPS of .461 - since then he's gone 15 for 31 and has a 1.110 OPS. Better keep your eye on him. Christian Lopes is also 7 for his last 17. Dawel Logo is 6 for 19, and Matt Dean is also clawing back from an awful start. On the pitching side, reliever Jimmy Cordero is hitting as high as 102 on the guns and so far fooling everyone. Prospect Alberto Tirado is doing solid work, while Jario Labourt seems to be getting in touch with his inner Aaron Sanchez, mixing dominating stuff with a shaky feel for the strike zone.

Where to start with this bunch? After 5 games Anthony "The Legend of" Alford is OPSing .917 and seemingly leading the team in stories told about. Dicke Thon (again, too old for the Midwest) is demanding promotion (.945). DJ Davis is bidding to be taken seriously again (OPS of .842). First Baseman/DH Ryan McBroom (whom broadcaster Jessie Goldberg-Strassler reports is very much on the radar of organizational power brokers as a guy with legit major league potential at the plate) is trying to elbow his way out of Rowdy Tellez's considerable shadow. Oh, and Danny Jansen seems to have shaken off his 0 for 14 start. On the mound, ultra-soft tosser Shane Dawson is fooling everyone, but it's uncertain how that will play as he moves up. College draftee Justin Schafer has looked good and Chase DeJong has done nothing to dim his luster.

It's not impossible that I find motivation to post more than once a week.  Sometime. It could happen.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Keeping Calm - 2 Weeks In

So it's been over a week without a post but I wasn't really comfortable with the "Random Notes" model, not that I might not use it again, and I see no point in just being one more voice in the throng just repeating every news item as it pops up. I'd rather try to provide at least a little original content.

That said, two weeks in it's reasonable to take stock through the system and see what things look like.

A lot of nervousness going on but, as Stoeten might say, simmer the fuck down. The Blue Jays lead the major leagues in scoring, and that with Bautista, Encarnacion, and Martin well below any reasonable expectation for output and only Devon Travis (among the starters) possibly a bit higher than you might have guessed (though he's changing a lot of minds in the early going). That should be cause for some excitement on that side of the ball. Plus, today's throwing error notwithstanding, the defense has gotten a lot of praise.

The pitching is another story, but there's some complexity there too. The team ERA is 14th in he league at 4.54 but take away Todd Redmond and it's 4.03 good for 7th in the league. Under the same selective calculation, the bullpen ERA - which is 4.14 and 12th in the AL would, without Redmond, turns into 2.68 which would be 4th in the AL.  I'm not saying such a calculation is exactly fair but it's key here because Redmond is gone (and may well be claimed, but even if he's not being off the 40 means he won't be at the front of the line to come back. It's also been suggested he may have the right to declare free agency rather than accept the assignment.

Of course, this doesn't help the rotation results so far. Buhrlie and Dickey have done what they do (albeit RA has to be concerned about those walks) and Norris, despite not having the life on his pitches he wants (he said after the game today that he's going through a "dead arm phase") but even so, until today he had numbers that, extrapolated to a whole season, would be a fine rookie season. But you really want Hutchison to step up to the expectations soon and everyone is watching Sanchez.

But still, one Tweeter (who's name I can't remember and I'm too lazy to look up) inspired me to look up his claim and elaborate. There was another Blue Jays team that started off slow. The were 7-6 after the games of April 20 and they would go on to be 11-12 over the next (almost) month and sat at 18-18 on May 15. By the way - that team went on to win the World Series in 1993.

Also - Gibby said post game that he "Hopes and thinks" that Reyes and Travis will both play Tuesday, and barring a further setback Michael Saunders should return in the next week sometime. So there's that.

The Bisons are riding a six game winning streak and the veteran roster is doing mostly what you'd expect. The pitching has been uniformly excellent apart from one Jenkins start and Scott "Groundball Machine" Copeland apparently has caught the eye of management. The pitching staff sports a collective ERA of 2.01, and that's how you run off a winning streak. The offense hasn't been as impressive, noticeably Caleg Gindl has cooled a bunch from his hot spring. But Andy Burns was promoted when Goins left for the majors and was 4/4 in hi first AAA game. He's now about the only semi-prospect among the position players on this otherwise veteran team.

New Hampshire
Here the story is really mostly about the two prospects on the team (recovering AJ Jimenez notwithstanding) and the unheralded residents of the bullpen. On offense, the one everyone is watching is Dwight Smith, Jr. Despite reports the Blue Jays had designs on trying him at 2B, he's played left exclusively in this young season - possibly because of the continued presence of Jon Berti, or possibly to avoid magnifying the pressure that comes with the leap to AA - but his hitting hasn't suffered. Prospect status aside (he was well regarded when drafted but hasn't impressed since) 1B KC Hobson is off to a nice start.
On the mound, LH starter Matt Boyd seems to have shaken off the hiccups he experienced in AA last season. He's pitched 9.1 innings in two starts so far and struck out 18 batters. Falling in the mid-low 20's on most prospect lists (notably, John Sickels had him at #16) Boyd will force some re-ordering if he keep this up. The rest of the AA rotation has been more shaky. The bullpen on the other hand has been lights out. Except for Corey Burns. He's given up 6 ER in 7.2 IP, the rest have allowed but 4 in a combined 44.1 IP - that works out to a bullpen ERA of 1.73 with Burns and 0.81 without. Among the featured players are waiver claim and sleeper prospect Matt West, old friend Luis Perez, and finally healthy Danny Barnes along with AFL surprise Blake McFarland. Arguably each of these men really ought to be at AAA and if they keep it up some tough decisions will have to be made.

The story here is much the same. The .500 (pending the results of today's rain-delayed tie game) team features uncertain hitting and praise-worthy pitching. It is a team, however, with more prospects to watch. Every position in the infield features a player who's been highly touted at some point (being perhaps too generous to Christian Lopes) - none of them are particularly disappointing or impressive in the early going. Among pitchers, Jario Labourt and Alberto Tirado are the two that bring the press clippings with them. Probably the observation most worth making is that Tirado, who's had some control issues, has only one walk against eight strikeouts so far.

The 8-3 Lugnuts are also the beneficiaries of a lot of excellent pitching. Other than one stumble by Conner Greene, it's hard to find a fault, and Chase DeJong along  with unheralded Starlyn Suriel are already pushing for their ticket back to Florida. Prize draft pick Sean Reid-Foley, only 19 this season, hasn't been dinged yet in two starts but has been a little more wild than ideal. At the plate, the player that has stood out from the rest is one-time prospect Dicke Joe Thon who's off to a blistering start with a 1.159 OPS. It would be a great feel-good story if he put himself back on the map, but he's 23 and taking his second go at Lo-A ball (at least one if not two levels lower than a real prospect his age ought to be) so he's got a lot of work to do.
The potential big bopper on this team is Rowdy Tellez who was 0-7 in his first two games but has heated up nicely, witness his .825 OPS in the nine games since (in which he's been on base in all but one of them). On the other hand, he's striking out at an alarming rate. DJ Davis is also off to an encouraging start, having reached base in every game before today's 0 for 4 effort.

So there ya go, if I know it now you know it.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Random notes...

...many of which you've already heard about or figured out for yourself.

Item: Winning a series a Yankee stadium is always the most important news of the day

Item: Castro is the closer, and that may possibly be true for years to come

Item: Max Pentacost has been assigned to Dunedin. This may have to do with his recuperation from surgery, or may be where he's going to play when he's healthy.

Item: Jeff Hoffman tweets he's got a two inning start in extended tomorrow. The reports on him have been a bit nuts, and he may make an appearance in Toronto by the end of 2016 if all goes well.

Item: Michale Saunders made his first rehap start tonight, but reports are he won't be ready for the home opener.

Item: Mitch Nay Matt Dean, and Dewal Lugo homered for the D-Jays tonight.

Item: I got no more items, but I wanted to at least notice these.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Observations on Minor League Rosters

Let me not miss the opportunity to extend two thumbs WAY up to the major league squad for their impressive Opening Day win before I wax verbose about minor leaguers. Castro, Travis, Pompey and Pillar certainly scoffed at the whole "pressure of Yankee Stadium on Opening Day" thing, eh?

So the format here is just to take a quick look at each of the rosters announced today and just do a stream of conscienceless reaction to each. Keep in mind that they might stil change before these teams play their first games later in the week.
 (most of the starting fielders are obvious but sometimes I'm guessing)

Buffalo Bisons-
SP: Randy Wolf, Jeff Francis, Chad Jenkins, Andrew Albers, Scott Copeland
RP: Steve Delebar, Rob Rasmussen, Ryan Tepera, Bo Schultz, Preston Gulimet, Scott Barnes, Greg Infante, Austin Bibens-Dirks, Bobby Korecky
Lineup:Josh Thole, Daric Barton, Mune Kawasaki, Ryan Goins, Matt Hague, Chris Dickerson, Ezequiel Carrera, Caleb Gindl, Andy Wilkins
Bench: Sean Ochinko, Chris Colabello, Jon Diaz, Brad Glenn
DL:John Stilson, Felix Doubront, Wilton Lopez, Johan Santana, AJ Jimenez, Ramon Santiago, Andy Dirks

This team is overflowing, literally, with major league and "4A" experience....expect liberal use of the "DL"...Jenkins in rotation is interesting...nice to see Copeland rewarded...Hendriks, Doubront and, hopefully, Santana will push a couple of those guys to 'pen at some point, but Santana will no doubt have to start recovery in much depth here that a few guys had to get shoved to AA despite having no real business there - expect more of these guys to get squeezed in similar fashion, or released...not sure where Juan Oramas lands once (if)  he clears waivers  

Compared to my projection: Pretty close, can't forcast DL, surprised West was squeezed out, Goins demotion affected Berti's placement I assume.

New Hampshire FisherCats
SP: Matt Boyd, Taylor Cole, John Anderson, Casey Lawrence, Mike Lee
RP: Dustin Antolin, Danny Barnes, Matt West, Arik Sikula, Blake McFarland, Cory Burns, Luis Perez, Greg Burke
Lineup: Jack Murphy, KC Hobson, Jon Berti, Jorge Flores, Andy Burns, Dwight Smith, Jr., Melky Mesa, Matt Newman, Jake Fox
Bench: Pierce Rankin, Shane Opitz, Kevin Nolan, Ryan Schimpf
DL: Ricky Romero, Derrik Chung

Assuming Romeero on this team is just an overflow issue from the loaded Buffalo DL...Boyd getting a lot of buzz but promotion may be difficult to win...Anderson is becoming the McGowan of the farm, they keep sticking with him so he must have something... Smith in LF reflects lack of OF options (as I mentioned in the preview post) and the presence of should-be-in-AAA Jon Berti...

Comparison to  my projection - Fox and Schimpf squeezed out of AAA as I predicted, a few consequential org guys a step up or down, usually because of crowding or positional needs

Dunedin Blue Jays
(secondary sources - official roster not updated  yet)
SP: Jario Labourt, Jayson Aquino, Jeremy Gabryszwski, Matt Dermody, Brad Allen, Luis Santos*
RP: Alberto Tirado, Brady Dragmire, Jimmy Cordero, Chad Girodo, Scott Silverstien, Will Browning, Tiago De Silva
Lineup:  Jorge Saez, Matt Dean, Christian Lopes, Dewal Lugo, Mitch Nay,David Harris, Roemon Fields, Derrik Loveless
Bench: Mike Reeves, LB Danzler, Emilio Guerrero, Jason Leblebijian, Ian Parmley
DL: Griffin Murphy, Chris Schaffer, Seth Conner

Labourt apparently blew them away in the spring...Aquino is the guy they got for Ybarra...Luis Santos is a guy I never heard of until I saw him listed on this roster at Bluebird Banter - was released by the Royals - he physical is pending...Look for Hoffman on this roster when he's activated...Tirado is another one that forced their hand in the spring...De Silva and Browning are crowded out of AA by the surplus of pitching there...Lopes is a possible break-out...Fields showed enough, plus age being a factor, to be jumped to least one report suggest Conner may be moving into a coaching role?

Compared to my projections - I pretty much whiffed on the rotation, save for Allen (albeit White suddenly retired) but I was fairly close otherwise. I had hoped Alford would show enough to land here to avoid the CF conflict but it's not illogical that Fields, being 4 years older, would be the one pushed.

Lansing Lugnuts
SP: Chase De Jong, Shane Dawson, Chase Mallard, Starlyn Suriel, Justin Schafer, Alonzo Gonzalez
RP: Mark Biggs, Jose Fernandez, Andrew Case, Tim Mayza, Chase Wellbrock, Francisco Gracesqui, Colton Turner, Phil Kish
Lineup: Dan Jansen, Rowdy Tellez, DJ Thon, Richard Urena, Gunner Heidt, Boomer Collins, DJ Davis, Josh Almonte
Bench: Justin Atkinson, Michael De La Cruz, Ryan McBroom, Tim Locastro, Chris Carlson
DL: Adonys Cardona, Tom Robson, Anthony Alford, Jon Davis

Biggs must have shown them something this spring because he looked like a bust last year...Jansen i on everyone's sleeper list...Rowdy Tellez is the one here I'm most fascinated by...Heidt isn't an ideal 3B but there's no better alternative on this roster...Atkinson is being converted to catcher...when Alford is ready, there will be a conflict as both he and Davis are natural CF, but my guess is Alford will play RF when they play together...Cardona and Robson are both prospects if healthy.

Compared to my projections - Borucki had clean-up surgery on his elbow so he was held back, Smoral is yet unexplained but presumably they wanted to keep working on some of his shortcomings. Yeyfry Del Rosario was released so I was badly wrong there. Urena possibly provided enough upward pressure push Lugo up to Dunedin despite mixed results.

Over the next few days, sources close to the teams wil no doubt have conversations with some of the more well connected sources liike Charlie Caskey and Jesse Goldberg-Strassler and Gerry at Batters Box and we'll get more insight into why these various choices were made and what the organization felt it learned in camp. Fascinating stuff for those addicted to prospect porn.

Not as fascinating, perhaps, as games like the Blue Jays played today but not every game will be so enjoyable I'm sure. Which reminds me, I don't think I've made my prediction this spring. I'm going to be bolder than most (no surprise since I'm a compulsive optimist) and cal this a 90 win team (+/-3) and a division winner. So there, I'm on the record now.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Head to Head

Apparently the consensus of the various people who do predictions Have the Red Sox as the division favorites, with the Blue Jays and defending champ Orioles well back. I'm thinking maybe take a little closer look at that, in my own homerish fashion. I'll admit to being wary of dismissing the O's since i dismissed them into the early days of August last year and they still won 96 games, but I'll admit that on-aper they don't look like they belong in this discussion. I'm also worried about overlooking the Yankees, so let's do a 4-way head to head look at these teams and see where I think the consensus might be wrong, as we await the first pitch in the Bronx tonight. No, scratch that - let's include the Rays too.

To simplify things, since I'm not a math-whiz in advanced baseball metrics, I'm going to stick to projected fWAR as found in the Positional Power Rankings at Fangraphs. On occasion, I'll finesse some points I feel are not well reflected n the numbers (playing time, or some situation that's changed since the projections were made) but those numbers are the jumping off point. Also, I'm separating starter from bench and consolidating all of one players total under his primary position. I recognize that skews the numbers a tiny bit due to positional defense adjustments but screw it. You want meticulous detail you ain't readin' my stuff anyway.

Martin - 3.8
McCann - 3.1
Weiters - 3.0
Hannigan - 2.2
Rivera - 2
Big change here is that Hannigan steps in for the injured Vazquez in Boston, all I can do is pro-rate the PA but when I do, the Red Sox actually gain ground (make of that what you will). Jays and O's get biggest contributions from reserves. O's entertaining injury risk.

First Base
Napoli - 2.7
Davis - 2.5
Texeria - 1.6
Loney - 1.2
Smoak - 0.6
I could point out the flaws in the other guys but that'd mean I was buying into the air up my skirt about Smoak having potential for more. Not sure I do. But everyone here except Napoli is soft so it wouldn't take much to climb the list.

Second Base
Pedroia - 4.3
Franklin - 1.7
Travis - 1.5
Schoop - 1.4
Drew - 1.0
This was calculated before Franklin looked like he was going to spend around 1/4 of the season on the DL, but since they didn't credit him with a full season of PA, there was no easy way to calculate an adjustment. By contrast, Travis was projected only 175 PA and I took the liberty of tripling that. I don't know that he won't fail, but I'm making an executive decision based on the results of the spring.

Reyes - 2.7
Hardy - 2.6
Bogarts - 2.5
Cabrera - 2.0
Gregorious - 1.2
IF Reyes' D  IS improved by his health (big if granted) he might put some space in here

Third Base
Donaldson - 5.5
Machado - 5.0
Longoria - 4.8
Headly - 4.0
Sandoval - 3.4
Strongest position in the division, last place here higher than 1st place at shortstop and 1B

Left Field
Ramirez - 3.4
Gardner - 3.3
Saunders - 2.6
Jennings - 2.0
De Aza - 1.6
Pretty remarkable that for the vast difference in reputation and contract, there's less than 1 WAR between Ramirez and Saunders

Center Field
Jones - 3.8
Elsbury - 3.8
Betts - 3.3
Kiermaier - 2.8
Pompey - 1.4
I've inflated Pompey by 100% (which is still a bit shy of his ZIPS projection - ZIPS likes him much more than Steamer) for the simple reason that the power rankings show him a below average defender which is just damned silly. Also, as weak a hitter as Anthony Gose which also seems quite crazy. I compared him to Cleveland's Michael Bourn, who himself only projects to a .667 OPS and a slightly above average fielder, adjusted for fewer plate appearances, and came up with 1.4 WAR - still last on the list but not crazy, certainly the projection is easily within Pompey's abilities.Also, I don't buy in on Betts. I want to see him do it again (well, I don't WANT to but you get the idea).

Right Field
Bautista - 5.3
Peirce - 3.0
Souza - 1.8
Victorino - 1.6
Young - 1.4
Pierce is spread all over the place on the rankings, I just consolidated him into RF (though if Davis fails again he'd be at 1B) - the guy busted out at 31 which isn't unheard of but I'm skeptical. Souza may well be better than this projection.

Encarnacion - 3.2
Ortiz -2.6
Jaso - 1.3
Beltran - 0.9
Snider - 0.8
Snider's just the guy with the highest total among O's bench players. There's nothing here that allows for A-Rod accumulating anything above replacement as I'm confident he will.

Total starting lineup
Blue Jays - 26.6
Red Sox - 26.0
Orioles - 23.7
Rays - 19.6
Yankees - 19.3

Red Sox - 3.7
Yankees - 2.4
Blue Jays - 2.2
Rays - 2.2
Orioles - 1.5

Total offense
Red Sox - 29.7
Blue Jays - 28.8
Orioles - 25.2
Yankees - 21.7
Rays - 21.8
(giving the Yanks a cushion here due to aforementioned A-Rod factor)

Starting pitchers
NYY: Tanaka (2.9 Sabathis (2.2) Pineda (2.1) Warren (1.8) Eovaldi (1.3) et al (1.3) - 11.6
TBR: Archer (2.2) Cobb (1.9) Smyly (1.9) Odorizzi (1.3) Karns (0.7) et al (1.4) - 9.4
BRS: Porcello (2.4) Buchholtz (1.5) Miley (1.5) Masterson (1.1) Kelly (0.5) et al (0.3) - 7.2
TBJ:  Buehrle (1.9) Hutchinson (1.7) Dickey (1.6) Norris (0.8) Sanchez (0.3) et al (0.8) - 7.1
BO: Chen (1.7) Tillman (1.3) Gausman (1.2)  Norris (1.0) Gonalez (0.5) et al (0.8) - 6.4

 Buehrle is as much as a full win too low, based on his track record and there's no reason I can see to project a regression from Hutch. Give the two of them just a repeat of last year and they jump from #25 to #18 on the Power Ranking list. The Yanks have injury concerns throughout and the Rays have already been hit by setbacks (I know, I know, Stroman - le sigh). The spread between #2 and #5 here is anyone's game.

TBR: McGee (1.7) Boxberger (1.0) Jepsen (0.1) Balfour (0.1) Frieri (0.1) et al (-0.2) - 3.0
NYY: Betances (1.6) Miller (1.4) Carpenter (0.2) Warren (0.2) et al (-0.5) - 3.0
BO: Britton (0.5) O'Day (0.5) Matsuz (0.3) Hunter (0.3) et al (-0.2) - 1.5
BRS: Uehara (1.5) Tazawa (0.7) et al (-0.9) - 1.3
TBJ: Cecil (0.8) Loup (0.4) Redomond (0.1) et al (-0.8) - 0.5
Let's first acknowledge that bullpens are insanely volatile and further acknowledge that the gap between a middling bullpen (Baltimore) and one of the "worst" (by this measure) is only 1 WAR.

That said, there's some nuttiness with the Blue Jays projections. Marco Estrada at -0.1 makes little sense to me - his track record suggests much better, but the uncertainty concerning where his innings will come from (rotation or 'pen) likely suppresses the result. Worse, they rate Castro -0.4 which, if he pitches that poorly he won't be on the team long enough to accumulate (ditto Osuna at -0.2 for that matter)

Total pitching
Yankees- 14.6
Rays - 12.4
Red Sox - 8.5
Orioles - 7.9
Blue Jays - 7.6

Grand Total
Red Sox - 38.2
Blue Jays - 36.4
Yankees - 36.3
Rays - 34.2
Orioles - 33.1

Closing remarks -
I feel okay about the difference between the Red Sox and Jays because of my confidence that the projection metrics can't capture the potential contribution of rookie players, of whom we have more in starting roles than the other teams combined. On the other hand, I'm worried that I, as many others, are underestimating the Yankees and I'm forced to cling to the hope that they will get beat up by injuries. I also don't buy the O's falling into last place though I'd be totally cool with that.

All in all, it looks pretty much like the "eye view" impression looks - not much of a gap from top to bottom, fairly evenly matched teams, the winner reliant as much on "breaks" as anything else, and every team facing the imperative of doing all the little things right because the margin for error is almost non-existent.

Let the games begin!