Monday, 22 June 2015

Salient Points

A stream of points which I hope to be able to ultimately order into something like a sensible narrative-

In today's game, the bullpen pitched 6.2 innings, allowing 2 runs on 5 hits and 3 walks while striking out 6  before Cecil entered the game. The Jays would have happily taken such a performance from any of their SP. This was a one-inning issue, not a "whole bullpen sucks!" issue;

As of June 6, Brett Ceci, today's villain, l had a 2.65 ERA, had allowed runs in only 3 out of 20 appearances, and multiple runs only once. Only twice in 20 appearances did runs charged to Cecil contribute to a loss.Since June 10 he's been a mess, but it's unlikely to be an unfixable issue. Not irrelevant - he's given up runs in five of his last six outings, the Jays won 3 of those 5;

Yesterday's bad guy Aaron Loup's ERA from May 19 (the pitching turned around, you will recall, after the May 18 Redmond start) through June 19: 0.79 and threw 11.1 IP, 4 hits, 1 walk, 12 k and a single earned run. Four times this year he blew up real good, but before Saturday it had been a full month since the last one. His xFIP for the whole season is 2.94;

Is anyone dissatisfied with the work of Osuna, Hendricks, or Delebar? No? Good. Because you shouldn't be. You can add Tepera to that also, despite the mysterious demotion today, though he's been getting hardly any use, he's not been part of the problem. He had his only bad outing on May 18 (in a game the Jays won);

That takes us through the 6 relievers with the most innings. Schultz has started out pretty good but the sample is too small yet.

The Blue Jays have lost 12 games since May 18, 4 of those are on the SP (3 of those four the team scored 2 runs or less). Of the other 8,  3 were in the 7th, one in the 8th, 2 in the 9th, and 2 in extras.
2 on Cecil, 2 Loup, and 2 Osuna, giving up their own runs, and two on inherited runners (one Delebar, one Osuna). So in the last month, Osuna - whom no one doubts, nor should - has let more get away than either Cecil or Loup.

Of the Jays relievers who've pitched in 2015 who were not on the roster at the start of play on today, June 21, the last time any of them pitched in a major league game was May 16. The collective ERA of the Jays bullpen this year is 3.56 (8th in the league). Take away the collective stats of the six players who haven't been here in over a month, and that falls to 2.88 - which would be 4th in the league. I realize that all teams have poor pitchers on the shuttle, but for one comparison, it's better than the collective ERA of the Yankees (4th best team bullpen ERA in the AL) 7 most used relievers.

Point here being that since the pitching turned around, the six busiest Jays relievers have been fine, outside of Cecil's last 10 days which is most likely a blip. The thing is, you need at least 7 good ones and the plug-ins to not be awful.   So the lesson from that is that they either they need to find another reliable guy for the middle innings, or they need a titular closer in order to push Cecil back into more targeted match-ups. If the report about K-Rod was accurate, and assuming he's available, that would be an ideal addition at the right price. Put another way, the bullpen isn't a disaster at all, though it could use a select acquisition.

As for the starters, while their collective ERA for the season is 4.42, 14th in the AL - since May 18 (without Copeland) it's 3.47 which would rank 3rd.  Again, I understand the nature of Arbitrary End Points and as flaky as they are, unless I apply the same AEP to the other teams, their value is further reduced...BUT it is also a valid principle that more recent data is better than older data.  Clearly the rotation is thin, as Sanchez's injury exposed (barring the possibility that someone other than Copeland ends up being a competent 6th starter). But as long as the front five is healthy and pitching as they have for the most recent month+, they are certainly good enough to support the hitting.

The takeaway then is that if - and it's a not insignificant "if" - the most recent data is the real talent level (and it's far more likely to be than the mess than was the first quarter-season) then the pitching staff is not BAD, just thin. The lesson from that, for the starters, is that they don't need a Scott Kazmir (check his road splits) or Aaron Harrang at a too-expensive price. They need to either add a true ace, like Cueto, or be confident that Doubront, Norris, Boyd etc can fill the need when called upon - or find someone who can.

I suggest some deep breaths for the more panicky fans. 

Three players demoted today - not sure why Tepera was one of them - no word on the promotions byut Travis will surely be one. They can push back the open rotation spot to June 30 so they will likely recall a reliever there and then switch them out for the starter for that game. Figure the other guy will be a reliever too. Rasmussen deserves a shot, the other (temporary relief call-up) guy could be almost anyone that's on the 40 man roster.
Who starts on June 30 should prove interesting. The reporters say the team speaks of Sanchez being back "in a few weeks" partly based on the assumed need for one or more rehab starts. The thing they aren't saying is that it's only 3 weeks until the ASB. It's safe then to speculate Sanchez won't be back until after, barring a wonderful report tomorrow.   IF that's an accurate assumption, then there's at least 3 turns, beginning with that 6/30 start, for the unknown starter. There exists only three reasonable possibilities:

1. Give Norris a spin. He hasn't earned it by his work in Buffalo but a 3 start trial will either motivate him to step up or to press. Which would be valuable information on sevberal levels;
2. Go with Felix Doubront who's earned a look but who would need to be carried all season, traded, or lost on waiver claim when they were done with him. Such a valuable (presumably) insurance policy might be too valuable to lose for the marginal gain of three starts. Something to watch: While Doubront's next rotation turn is on Friday, that's going with 5 days rest because of an off-day. tomorrow. If the Jays flip he and Matt Boyd around, so that FD starts on Thursday, that would line Doubront up with the open major league turn and be a strong indication he was the choice;
3. Alex pulls off a trade in the coming week for a starting pitcher that would slot in - and who can predict his trades?

Also Dickey is due back tomorrow but if Travis is joining the team, it seems likely Kawasaki goes back to clear his spot.

Also, if you somehow missed it - Anthony Alford just moved up to Dunedin.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

The Subject at Hand

So the topic du'jour concerning the Blue Jays is, of course, pitching acquisitions, notably starting pitching. Hardly a day goes by without a fresh article parsing stats, some more relevantly than others, but (almost) all coming to the same conclusion: the Jays are obliged to go out and trade for a better starter than the ones they have. While I'm all for upgrades, there's one analysis I haven't seen (not that I am ANNNNNYthing like an analyst) and that's the split BR and AR (Before Redmond and After Redmond).

If you recall,  on May 18, in the 40th game of the season, the Blue Jays elected to push back the rotation an extra day and give Todd Redmond a spot start. Now, I don't pretend to have any insight into what that one extra day off did for them - I'm skeptical it was just a matter of rest. The last previous off day was only 10 days previous after all. But what do I know? Anyway, it's been 30 days since then, 27 games which is not a giant sample, but it's 1/6th of a season. What ca we learn from looking at this split?

First. as a team, the Jays gave up 4.9 runs per game through that game, and 3.55 runs per game since.

Second, the five primary starters in the 30 days since looks like this (ERA/FIP/xFIP) per Fangraphs:

Hutch - 5.16 / 4.39 / 3.56
Sanchez - 2.57 / 4.61 / 3.70
Dickey - 4.55 / 4.43 / 3.88
Buehrle - 2.35 / 3.78 / 4.33
Estrada - 4.78 -/3.86 / 4.51

Which looking down that last column, that's not embarrassing IMO. 27 game sample though it is.

Three Jays in the top 60, NO Yankees (53 fewer runs on the season than the Jays) and ONE Royal (77 fewer) in the top 60 - there's 2 Royals and one Yankee ranked higher by xFIP than Estrada

Again, sample size but...yeah, it's not nothing, right?

Other thoughts:
As Stoeten  observed in his take on the subject, an acquired pitcher has to take a slot from one of those guys. The easy answer, of course, Estrada goes back to the bullpen, deserved or not. But as a mental exercise, what are the other options? The main point of Stoeten's comments was whether or not Drew Hutchinson has the cache to front a trade for an upgrade. Notwithstanding a lot of folks thought he was going to take a big step up this season and be a key piece of the rotation, the results have been mixed enough to make one worry about counting on him, and equally worried about trading him. One big factor is that  Hutch's home/road ERA split is insane(2.38 / 9.46). I don't know how to combine splits, but I'd be interested in seeing how the xFIP lines up with that. I would not be at all surprised to find that the scouts see more value in him than the ERA suggests. And putting the guy with the most service time among the young starters (and arguably the least pure-talent of the bunch) at the front of a trade package would be not-crazy.
If I'm wrong, he DOES have that option if things go further south.

There is also, of course, the factor of how much money the Jays will  be willing to take on. Here's a thought: what if you simply asked the team you deal with to take Dickey/Thole back in the transaction? Let's say that you make a monster deal for Cueto & Chapman at the mid-point of the season. Include Dickey/Thole in the return package and the net increase in salary for the Jays is 2.15 million.
Of course if you do that you can't include Hutch, and god knows what it would cost in prospects to get those two - but you get the idea.

Still, if Sanchez comes back strong and this trend holds, maybe you don't need a deal. I admit there's a little part of me that would like to see the in-house crew take them to a playoff position and beyond, just so I could play Nelson to those folks who insist the current crew isn't good enough to make it.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Monthly Prospect Progress and Assorted MLB Stuff: 2 of 5

This is a lot more fun, ain't it? On Monday, May 18 I wrote about potential ways to get the rotation right, but one of the things that never crossed my mind was a spot-start by Todd Redmond. But that's what they Jays choose to do that very day. Beginning after that game the Jays have allowed an average of 3.33 runs per game before Hutchinson blew up real good last night (better starting leads to better relief work in the aggregate). Through that game that figure was 4.9 so what changed was obvious. By sad coincidence the offense went cold (mostly due to injury - remember some of those line-ups?) for a couple of weeks - in the 14 days after Redmond's start they went 5-8, scoring 3 runs or less 7 times, accounting for all but one of those loses. Over that span, even while scoring big in the wins most nights, they averaged a full run less per game than they have over the whole season, which undermined the resurrection of the pitching.

Point being, their biggest problem 26 days ago hasn't bee a problem since (last night notwithstanding).

In other news this week, there was some sort of draft going on? I won't presume to be a resource when there are so many excellent legit resources out there but briefly, We all know the world loves the Jon Harris pick. Harris just signed his contract, which is great for bith he and the Jays - I'm predicting he's going to open the season in Vancouver.  Though he may spend no more than a month there (depending on movement above him) if he preforms well. Not as many deep reports on Round 2 pick Brady Singer, a 6'5" RH high schooler who's a sort of helium pick which reminds me of how the Jays scored Noah Syndergaard. Round 3 brought another pick Kieth Law and others loved in lightly scouted (due to location) RHP Justin Maese. If you want a late round sleeper to watch, I'm going to go with 24th rounder Reggie Pruitt, a blazing CF that reports was considered a top-3-rounds talent coming into his senior year. IF he signs of course - there's a reason he dropped this far. With little wiggle room in the pool, Alex would have to work a miracle to land him. Another name some are pointing to is Chandler Eden.

 Turning to the minors, before I get more specific on individual players, this year's Lansing Lugnuts are a offensive juggernaut.  In 2012 they got to watch Sanchez, Syndergaard, Nicolino, and Desclafini in the same rotation and now this. The fascinating Anthony Alford, resurgent DJ Davis, blossoming Richard Urena, and slugger Rowdy Tellez in the same line-up, along with underdog hero Tim Locastro, unheralded Ryan McBroom and excellent work from a few Dunedin imports combine to leave opposing pitchers little recourse.
On top of that, every pitcher in the starting rotation is a legitimate prospect. You can't compare it man for man to the 2012 rotation but there's no filler. Any Jays fans within travel distance really ought to seize the chance before some of these guys start getting promoted.

This 1/5 report is a few days late so it's actually for 36 days instead of 30 - sue me. ;)

Starting Pitchers

Jeff Hoffman (Dunedin) - Five starts in now and you can see the progress from week to week.  There were a lot more hits in his first two appearances (18 in 9.1 IP) than his next two (4 in 9 IP) and more importantly, 8 runs in the first two combined, zero runs in the next two.On Thursday he pitched 4 scoreless with only two hits before getting touched up for 3 more (and 3 runs) in the process of getting two out in the fifth.  His ground-out rate is steadily climbing too. It's early but signs are positive.Increased endurance will come as he keeps pitching.

Matt Boyd (New Hampshire, Buffalo) - Has absolutely mastered AA, I'm mystified that the Blue Jays haven't found a way to get him to AAA until today. Yes, he was promoted today and starts for the Bisons tomorrow. I still don't know which  Buffalo pitcher will lose his turn, but Canadian Andrew Albers seems a likely candidate to pitch for Team Canada in the Pan Am games, possibly that's playing into it somehow. Some observers suggest Boyd's abilities are not necessarily as good as his stats suggest, so AAA might serve as a correction. Still, it's hard to not be impressed by a 0.77 WHIP, a 1.10 ERA, and a 3.89 K/BB ratio.

Daniel Norris (Buffalo) - In 7 AAA starts, only once has he not walked at least 3 batters. The Blue Jays are NOT going to give him another chance in the majors soon as long as he's doing that. Likely it's some mechanical issue but they will want to see it fixed.

Jario Labourt (Dunedin) - On the day I wrote the last of these monthly reports, Labourt walked 4 in a a 2 inning (plus a batter) start in which he apparently hit his pitch limit (he hadn't given up a run or a hit). At that point he had 15 walks and 13 strikeouts in 15.2 innings pitched and carried a 4.60 ERA through 5 starts. Since that game, he has had six more starts, totaling 30.2 IP, 12 BB, 29 k and a 2.64 ERA. I'm going to venture he's figured something out. He's probably not going to move up before Hoffman does, unless the first rounder suffers a serious reversal, but it wouldn't be shocking if he spent some of the second half in AA. Particularly if there's pressure from Lansing for an opening.
He pitched the back end of a double-header in Dunedin tonight and, naturally spit all over my comments on his newfound control. (this is what happens when you take too long to finish a post)

Scott Copeland (Buffalo) - proved against the Marlins that he's not to be taken lightly. In Buffalo he's given up more than 2 runs only once and has an insane ground ball rate. He has a future in the Blue Jays pen if things break right on the depth chart.

Felix Dourbront (Buffalo) - Had an ERA of 1.00 over his first 5 starts for Buffalo. There may come a time when an opt-out decision has to be made (I don't know if his contract with the Jays includes one, but they often do for major league veterans signed to minor league deals). His secondary numbers all support the idea that he's pitching well (unlike Randy Wolf).

and the Lansing Crew-
Sean Reid-Foley - He was, like Hoffman, a 2014 draftee (2nd round) but out of high school. So a full season assignment was aggressive. How's he doing? How does a 13.83 K/9 rate grab you? He walks way too many, still, but he's hard to hit and it may be that he is dealing with the same problem Sanchez had - too much movement on the fastball to try throwing it to the corners. I have not heard that, I'm just speculating. Whatever it is, if he gets it under control (and isn't traded in the mean time) then his name will be another on everyone's lips.

Shane Dawson - On the day I wrote my last update, Dawson had his first setback of the year. In his first start in June he had another. Outside those two he's been near magical. He's a Buehrle type, and he'll be challenged by the time he hits AA but he will surely get the chance at this rate. Coincidentally, John Lott has an interesting piece this week about Dawson and the muscle missing in his throwing shoulder.

Chase DeJong -  in two games that coincidentally bookended my last update post, DeJong allowed 12 runs in 11.2 innings and I was wavering on whether or not he was sliding off the prospect list (not that he was super-highly regarded anyway, but he was in the back end of a few Top 20 lists and I had him at #26). In 6 starts since he's put up a 2.26 ERA and that includes allowing five earned runs in one of those.  Also it's worth noting that he has either 1, or 0 walks in 9 of 13 appearances and a respectable 7.75 K/9 ratio and a 4.47 K/BB rate.

Conner Greene - under the radar RH just needs to find consistency. He has just over 1 k per IP and a nice K/BB ratio. Over three games (May 3-14) he got knocked around, giving up a collective 11 runs over 11.1 IP (15 H, 6 BB, 7 K) - outside that run he's only had two bad starts. In his other 6 starts he's given up a mere six runs. There might be something here.

Jesus Tinoco - A Venezuelan bonus baby that hasn't gotten as much press as some other Latin signings, Tinoco is second only to Reid-Foley in talent in this rotation. Tonight's game was his peak so far, but it didn't look that way to start. The first 4 batters got a hit, 3 of them scored, and the pressure was on. Tinoco promptly struck out the next three batters. that touched off seven scoreless innings, with only 4 more hits and no walks and a total of 10 strikeouts. As with Reid-Foley, he sits on the verge of being a "high buzz" name among Jays fans. The prospect experts already know what he's about.


The main question-
Dalton Pompey (New Hampshire) - The Blue Jays' management team thought perhaps Pompey was putting too much pressure on himself in Buffalo to make a quick return to Toronto. So they gave him some distance by dropping him to AA New Hampshire. Only Pompey can say whether he was, in fact, pressing in AAA but he sure found his groove once he moved East. It's only a seven game sample but a 1.334 OPS is kinda eye-catching. Alex said initially that he only anticipated Pompey being in New Hampshire "a couple of weeks" - that looks like an accurate prediction.

the Lansing Crew-
Anthony Alford - Alford has cooled some since his OPS peaked at an astonishing .909 on May 26 (It wasn't logical to assume THAT was going to last) and some adversty is good for a ballplayers soul. In the 14 games since then, he's 11 for 55 (.200) with 23 strikeouts and only one XBH. Speculation from afar means little, but based on the strikeouts (that's almost exactly twice the rate of his previous 107 AB) one might guess they've learned how to make him chase balls outside the zone and he hasn't adjusted his approach.

Richard Urena - The gifted shortstp has a story that's the reverse of Alford. He was very cold to start the season (at the plate and in general, as a Latin player opening the season in Michigan for the first time). The stats for his first 11 games (.188/.234/.256/.490) has served to disguise how well he's doing since to the casual observer. Beginning April 23 until the beginning of play today, his slash numbers are .305/.319/.519/.838 in 187 at bats. The power is shocking pretty much everyone and is likely to regress as the season wears on. The flip side is he has ten times as many strikeouts as walks over that stretch. Still, it's an interesting factoid that he's outhitting the traded rival for the tag shortstop of the future, Frankin Barreto, so far this season.

Rowdy Tellez - June has not been kind to Rowdy so far, sorting a .485 OPS (at the start of play tonight) as a result of a slump that actually started 2 days before June arrived. He does enjoy a reputation with his manager and the organization of being a very smart hitter who knows how to adjust. Which, given he's yet to go more than two consecutive games without a hit, there's something to that. He continued that pattern going 2/3 in tonight's game. A 12 game sample, though, is far too small to tell us much. One thing I've learned over the years is a that a minor leaguer can look like the mext Mike Trout for a month, and like Ryan Goins the next.

DJ Davis - Anthony Alford may have a rival for most interesting story in the system in fellow Mississippian Davis. A lot of observers, myself included, were on the verge of shoving him out of the "prospects only" room after his ugly 2014 campaign. To remind you, he slashed .213/.286/.316/583 last year with 167 strikeouts in 494 at bats. When his OPS sank from .845 on April 25 to .681 on May 17 the narrative practically wrote itself. But Davis, this time, was having none of it.  In the 21 games since(coming into Saturday), he's slashing .373/.440/.520/.960 which is, of course, unsustainable but it shows he has the ability in there. Still hasn't mastered the SB yet, but one thing at a time. He's also pounded LHP in a small sample this year.

Tim Locastro - Here's a guy who's got "future folk hero" written all over him. Not drafted as a prospect or praised as one at any previous point in his career, but the second baseman has one outstanding calling card: he'll do whatever it takes to get on base.  Locastro was hit by a pitch an incredible 32 times in 67 games in Vancouver last season and is on a similar pace this year. For perspective, that pace last year, had it been over 150 major league games would have around 20 beyond the major league record. Reports are he takes the same "do anything" attitude to the basepath and the field.All that and he finished tonight hitting .326

Ryan McBroom - The 1B who's forced to DH because Tellez needs the reps in the field, is considered a potential power threat and not for no reason - he did hit 11 in 70 games in Vancouver last year to go with 23 doubles. But he has only 2 homers so far for Lansing, Otherwise though, his offensive game is better than ever so far, notably a much better walk rate. He's probably going to be stuck with playing second fiddle to Tellez throughout the system, but some observers think he has potential to surprise.

Others of note-
JD Davis (Dunedin) - Last month he'd have been a part of that list of Lansing hitters putting up eye-catching stats, but he was promoted to Dunedin halfway through May and after three great games hit the DL. He was out until June 4 but he came back just as hot as when he sat down. In 14 games in Lansing he hit over .400 with an OPS of 1.094, in 9 games in Dunedin he's hitting .424 with an OPS of 1.078 and six steals at each stop (which may not sound like much but pro-rate that to 162 games and it's 84). This from a guy who's a charter member of Marcus Stroman's HDMH club, standing 5'8" (officially). Suddenly the Jays are loaded with interesting CF prospects.

Roemon Fields - Like Urena, it pays to see how he's been coming along after a short cold start. Drop the first six games of the year from his record and he's slashing .292/.333/.387/.720 over the last 53 games. Hes, it's blatant A.E.P. sampling, but there's value, in my opinion, in watching trends.  This alone doesn't make him a top prospect, of course, but given how very few professional at-bats he has, compared to other High-A players, and his blazing speed, he doesn't have to be putting up an .800+ OPS to be interesting.

Andy Burns - I keep thinking this guy is, you know, just a guy after all, but he keeps doing just enough to keep from being dismissed as an org guy. Take away the guys no longer on the team, and major league veteran Luke Scott, and Burns is the second best hitter on the veteran Buffalo squad. He doesn't do anything great, but he does most everything pretty good. That still doesn't likely get him to the show, but who knows? He doesn't seem to go away.

Matt Hague - The best hitter (left) in Buffalo is this guy. He's spent most of the season at 3B, you won't see him in the majors unless the unspeakable happens, but you can't not mention a guy hitting .350 in AAA either.

Alrighty then. That went on longer than I expected, both in word count and time spent, but there ya go.