Monday, 18 May 2015

Brainstorming solutions

[Update: some of the assumptions below have been altered somewhat by the Blue Jays decision to bump their rotation back a day. I trust my readers - both of you - to be able to  sort through those implications. Damned if I'm going to edit the thing. I will, however note that if they are going to take this step to rest the starters, it's markedly less likely the use the upcoming off days to juggle in the manner about which I speculated if it means costing too many of them the extra rest]

I'm still remaining calm, but I admit to being a bit morose. I suppose it's too much to hope for to be a powerhouse over the course of a season when you're just hoping for your first October in over two decades, but constant mediocrity grinds you down in a way that just being obviously awful wouldn't. And despite having lost 15 of their last 22, this isn't a BAD team. If it occurs to you at some point that I'll sound like Wilner in my position on this team, that's understandable because on this question, I think he's right.

So what's wrong with it? Let's narrow the possibilities. As of this writing the Blue Jays are still the most prolific offensive team in the game. They are the first and so far only team in the majors to 200 runs, and only one AL team is even close. This despite getting no offense at all form SS, little from CF, and playing two AAAA place holders in the outfield (albeit both contributing a lot with the bat). Asking the team to improve by scoring even more runs isn't rational, nor is quibbling about the timing of said runs (i.e. only scoring 2 today to name just one case). It is true that the team potentially gets better still on offense when everyone is where they were intended to be. But adding in Reyes, Saunders, and whoever is playing 1B today isn't necessarily going to be a ton better than Colabello, Carrera and the hapless Goins have been collectively. They just have a more reliable track record.

So then if it's not the offense then what? Fielding? let's don't be silly. Donaldson, Goins, and Travis make up an excellent infield (EE isn't an embarrassment) and Pillar is a well known magician. Martin I don't even have to defend. Colabello is a liability but we're not five games under because of LF defense.

That leaves pitching. The much disrespected bullpen? Not really. There have been some ugly moments, to be sure, however by most measures they compare well (4th in the AL in K/9 for example, 7th in OOPS, OOBP, and WHIP). Not lights out or anything, but serviceable enough  Speaking in particular of the guys currently on the team, there's really only one issue - Jeff Francis. I think we're all mystified how he's still on the team. Loup? Nah. Six of his nine runs allowed came three apiece in two outings, with five weeks between them. He's fine.
ETA: As I was writing this, Francis was thankfully DFA'd and Todd Redmond was recalled. Redmond was good enough in 2014 to make me slow to read too much into his 4.1 innings in 2015. We'll see how it goes. 

It's not a Hitchcockian twist that I have arrived where you knew i was going all along. The rotation.

Drew Hutchison - 6.17 ERA
Hutch has the worst ERA of the current five, but he's been fine in his last two starts (3 ER over 11 IP) other than the need to economize his pitches and go deeper. My brainstorm which inspired this post was the idea of demoting him but you can't really do that coming off two good starts.

Mark Buehrle - 5.36 ERA
Practically speaking, you can't do anything with Buehrle anyway. If he's not part of the solution then there is no solution. Beyond that, almost 1/3 of his runs allowed came in one of his eight starts. Take away that one start and his ERA otherwise is 4.22 which is not good enough but it's major. Take that one and the one immediately prior to it and we're down to 3.65 which is slightly better than his career ERA. We're going to have to hope that starts #4 and 5 were just a horrible blip and that he'll be fine from now on. It's not an irrational hope at all but our collective nerves are jumpy, right?

Aaron Sanchez - 4.26 ERA
Channeling Wilner again on this point - we can't fairly say what Sanchez's baseline is. We know he has the stuff to get far better, but we have no idea when or if he turns it on. Someone pointed out on Twitter the other night the example of Chris Archer. Archer is a monster now, at the age of 26 and has been well above average for three years with a BB/9 of 3.1 as a major leaguer, yet from 2008 through 2011, at A and AA, his collective BB/9 was 5.25 and ranged as high as 6.6 so great talent can overcome control issues. Not to say it always does. His last start was his worst, and it can't be ruled out to give him the Norris Maneuver and see how it goes - particularly if he's still inconsistent when Norris is ready to return. Still, they'll likely give him at least two more starts before deciding anything. His third turn out falls on an off day so that wold be a natural point to maybe make a move.

Marco Estrada - 5.52 ERA (as starter)
Has gotten better results start to start but if he can't economize and get beyond the 5th inning, he's not going to have the job long. It's not a matter of being stretched out, he's thrown almost 100 pitches in the last two outings and still only went five. With a rotation otherwise struggling and a bullpen that's soft towards the back, you can't have that. He's got two more turns before the Jays come to a 15 day stretch with three off days. If he doesn't step up in that time I expect some rotation changes while they have some flexibility.

RA Dickey - 5.76 ERA
I was worried about Dickey before the season started, and was saying that I didn't think his option would be - or should be - picked up. But I didn't see this coming. Still, if I make an effort to parse things out and be fair, I could argue that five of his first six games were fine - 3.15 ERA n those five games and a not insane 4.38 with the bad one. But the last two have been hideous. You have to hope it's a blip - remember Buehrle had two awful games and recovered - because this team is NOT going to be quick to do something different with him for the very reason that the knuckleball is a recipe for inconsistency. If he, and the team, don't feel he's gotten it together in two more starts, they have the opportunity to do some jugging with the off days in order to let him skip a start, but it's kind of a tricky thing because there'd be a start that, well, let e show you.

As it stands, the rotation from May 24 goes like this:
Hutch > RAD > Estrada > Buehrle > off > Sanchez > Hutch > RAD > Estrada > Buehrle > Sanchez >off

Now what you can do is flip RAD and Hutch, giving the latter a 7th day start (he pitches much better on long rest) while RA goes on his normal rest but also lines up his next turn with an off day. Cool except - if he pitches well in that start do you still want to skip the turn? Me, I'd flip them anyway just to have the option - but the Blue Jays haven't been known for such maneuvering. And of course, there might be other ways you'd prefer to use the off day - say to line Estrada''s turn up with the guy you anticipate replacing him with. Still, all you can do with Dickey in the most radical extreme is let him pitch in long relief and i don't think that they would anticipate that as the best role for recapturing some measure of consistency.

What? You thought I'd have answers?
My long-distance judgement is that Hutch is likely to be fine going forward, as is Buehrle, and that you're stuck with Dickey. If I'm wrong about Hutch, and if he really looks bad for, say, three consecutive starts, he does in fact have an option.
Sanchez? I don't think they will let him go all year walking this many. How much rope he gets may well depend on internal evaluations of progress that we won't be told about unless he's optioned. It's maybe 40/60 he's given a visit to Buffalo before the end of the month (here i disagree with Wilner, I don't think they just punt him to the bullpen. There's some short term gain there but if you want him to eventually be a top-shelf starter you have to resist that.
Estrada? Yeah, unless he pulls out a 7 inning start with good stats, he's got two more turns - three at most to try. Because the options made be as good at it as he is and quite possibly better.

Options? Yeah, here's the top of that list:

Daniel Norris - only the internal observations can really tell us if he's making the progress in Buffalo that they are looking for. The BB/9 ratio is virtually identical, the K's are up a tick, the contact down some - but this is AAA after all. His longest outing, 6.1 IP on 103 pitches. Slightly better than Estrada on efficiency, likely to get better results. but ENOUGH better to justify recalling Norris if you aren't satisfied he's in the groove? I'm not sure. One factor, if you aren't down for 20 days you don't use up an option - he has three days left on that clock, if he's still in Buffalo on Thursday it cold be a while.
On the other hand, we're gaining an extra year of control in 2021 so that's fun!

Randy Wolf - Yes, he's owning the IL right now. He ran off a string of 22 scoreless innings, and he's given up more than 1 earned run (3) in only one of his 7 starts. He's hot. He's also not really this good. He's a 38 year old soft-tosser who's using a lot of guile and a little stuff. He could be the equivalent of Francis against big league hitters (which is exactly what he's been since 2011). Still and all, he has a June 1 opt out and if Estrada (or Sanchez) doesn't firm up their grip before the next off day the Blue Jays will have to at least consider seeing if he can give them a band-aid that will at least buy the kids some more time. Let's say for the sake of argument Sanchez holds on and Estrada doesn't.  If you plug Wolf into Estrada's turn and push it back every time an off day allows you to, then three starts (enough to draw some conclusions) would string it out until June 21 before you had to make a call on Norris or some other kid. He's on the same rotation day as Estrada, FWIW.

Felix Doubront - Has made only one appearance for Buffalo, but coincidentally his third turn out from now aligns with Sanchez's day to pitch (if they don't skip him on the off day). He enjoys the advantage over Wolf of being 11 years younger, but his one good year (at 25) was just slightly below average, so unless they see something the stats don't sow he's no savior. He's probably better than Albers and definitely better than Francis but otherwise - who the hell knows?

Scott Copeland - At 27 (same as Doubront) he's sort of an org-guy clawing his way onto the radar. He's a ground-ball machine who really impressed them in the Spring and he's already been up once. Don't expect a miracle, but like Wolf, he might be a guy who could buy them 4-6 weeks to see if the kids are going to pull things together.  give Sanchez 4 more kicks at the can and Copeland's turn lines up with his for the fifth turn out, on June 9.

Matt Boyd - a 24 year old LH college kid who's owning the EL on the AA level and really probably is gonna need to be challenged. He's a bit of a fly ball pitcher but he gets a lot of K's and gives up - at least at this level - not many baserunners. As long as the Jays are hoarding veterans (Wolf, Doubront, Albers) at AAA there's not a lot of room for him there (if we count Castro's developmental turns, they actually have six starters their now) and if they think he can handle the jump i wouldn't be at all surprised to see Boyd make the jump to the majors in the right spot - though I'd be mildly surprised if it was more than just a patch-over 2-3 start thing. If Wolf opts out at the end of the month, Boyd will surely be promoted. He's another guy, by the way, who projects to start in close parallel to Sanchez's start days (outside the vaguries caused by off-days).

In summation, while I'm not down on Estrada if he's the fifth guy based on his career, I'm not sure he's a good fit for a sometimes struggling group and see nothing lost if any of these guys get a trial in that turn (other than not wanting  Norris to be yoyo'ed). They may or may not be better, but it might save your 'pen a bit at least. As for Sanchez, we simply can't know without internal info what they are thinking with him. I suspect that if at least three of the others get in a reliable quality groove they will give him a lot of rope, but if Dickey continues to flounder, Estrada stays short, and/or one of the others goes backwards then Sanchez may become the change to make just out of an urge to do SOMETHING.  The old-timers in his spot would be a come down, as the potential for a dominant start pretty much disappears, but I'd as soon see either of those young lefties in his spot as see him remain.

None of this, by the way, should be read as me giving up on either Hutch, Sanchez, or Norris. I love dreaming on the future with those three along with Stroman, Hoffman, and Osuna and consider these growing pains part of the process. But sadly, they are backed into a win-now corner so a balance has to be struck.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Monthly Prospect Progress and Stuff: 1 of 5

I'm kind of feeling unnecessary again. In the Jays' blogosphere there's so very much good work being done by those well equipped to address virtually any angle that there's really almost no room for some little long distance casual blogger like myself to contribute anything more than an occasionally interesting (I hope!) opinion. Does anyone read sports blogs for opinions, really? They're looking for actual facts and information they didn't already have - and they all pretty much follow the same sources I do, the ones who don't have some sort of inside contact in the organization and know more on any given day that I do.

I could list off a dozen blogs that any half-interested Blue Jays fan really ought to be following religiously. But I can't honestly say mine would be one of those. No sooner than I thought I'd found a niche doing weekly updates than i realized some 3 or more other bloggers were doing it as well, and generally better (either via deeper analysis or better connections). I'm probably not going to bother with that anymore.

Still, in previous seasons (last year's unfortunate events notwithstanding) I'd done updates at the end, roughly, of each month of the minor league season. I need to be plugging away at SOME thing or their won't be enough content here to make it worthwhile to post at all so I'll see how this works. I had previously done these reports more in relation to player status and performance than by team (be honest, do you REALLY care who's in first place in the Midwest League on May 1? if you're not a fan of the Midwest league team first - no you don't, and maybe not even then) and I'll continue that pattern, but slightly modified in that I'll format it a bit more toward the Top Prospect list.

What follows then will reflect a consensus prospect list which results from combining the rankings by myself and nine other bloggers (technically more than nine since it uses the Batters Box list which is itself a compilation of the minor league contributes there). The list tracks fairly closely to a consensus list of nine leading professional sources (BA, BP, Kieth Law, John Sickels and others)  - each list has the same 10 players in the top 10, although in slightly different order from 5-10 - but four of the pro lists only go to 10, while every blogger went to at least 20 (and most to 30 or beyond. This allows me to get a consensus list 20 deep, and I'll also look at other players of note at the end, particularly guys who might end up in the Top 20 by years end. As per the old format, they are divided into pitchers and hitters.


1. Dan Norris  / LH / Buffalo - Given his work to this point has been in the majors, you know the deal. Beat reporters have noted that the team thinks the issue is mostly mental (i.e. struggling with shaking off a bit of adversity, and/or trying to be too perfect) and over-dependence on the fastball.

2. Aaron Sanchez  / RH / Toronto - Tantalizing and frustrating for reasons I'm sure you've noted. 

4. Jeff Hoffman / RH /  (extended) - drawing rave reviews before he even gets into game action, he's probably less than two weeks away from being assigned (my money is on Dunedin) and the talk suggests he's rise as fast as his production dictates ala Graveman, Norris, etc last year. Legit possibility the jays see him in September but one must be careful about assuming too much.

5. Roberto Osuna  / RH / Toronto - so far so good. A busy reliever's standard workload is just about right as he builds up his IP, the real question is whether they trap him in relief or let him spend part of a year back on the farm in 2016 adding to those 80 or so innings so that he's an option for the rotation if the need arises. I never heard anyone say he projected as a reliever anyway until late spring so I wonder if that's a bit revisionist.

6. Miguel Castro  / RH / Toronto Buffalo - Conversely, I have little problem envisioning Castro on track to be the closer long term rather than being re-tracked into a starting role next year. I'm not sure I can explain completely why I view the two so differently. But basically, Castro was the guy with the devastating fastball while needing  lot of work on secondary offerings - one upgrade, to the change, turned him into a guy with two above average pitches but no one really describes the others as  ready (though the slider gets some buzz). OTOH, Osuna was described as a guy with an arsenal and the pitchability of one much older back when he was 15. But given the depth of young stud pitchers, it's not a bad thing at all if he ends up closing. All that said, I don't figure anyone is stunned to see an A-ball guy take a minute or two to adapt to being in the majors. I would worry over much about the demotion.

10. Sean Reid-Foley  / RH / Lansing - If one could overlook the wildness, they'd find his line astonishing. For someone who was still in his last days of high school a year ago and already in A Ball, you have to like it.

 13. Matt Smoral / LH(extended) - Shi Davidi helpfully provided some insight here into the as-yet-unassigned pitching and Smoral was one mentioned. Most of us amateurs were puzzled he didn't break with a full-season squad but the dirt here is that he had a minor injury they chose to be cautious with. Now that he's getting read to get into real games, there's a bit of a crowding issue. This applies to others on the list as well so let me g on a bit of a tangent here.

The current Lansing starting staff has six guys, four of who appear elsewhere in this post. In Dunedin there's less crowding and three veteran free agent organization filler guys (Allen, Santos, and Smith) on hand. Hoffman figures to kick one of those guys aside and logically, one or two of the Lansing guys ought to be on the verge of doing the same to the other two. One would assume that when this happens, there'll be room for Smoral in Lansing.

14. Jario Labourt  / LH / Dunedin - Last year he was aggressively placed to Lansing, he was a mess and after a mere 14 IP (in which he walked 20!) he was dropped back to extended before being assigned to Vancouver where he pitched great (albeit still wit more walks than ideal, but that's not shocking for younger guys). He earned an assignment to Dunedin this spring, skipping the cold of Lansing, but it hasn't been all sunshine anyway. He went great start awful start, great then awful again. Now he's on the 7-Day DL.(That's what happens when you write a post a week before you plan to publish it)

18. Alberto Tirado / RH /  Dunedin - Same as above, he started 2014 in Lansing along with Labourt, and was awful - walking almost a batter an inning until they pulled the plug after 40 IP and sent him down to Vancouver, where he improved somewhat but still walked too many initially. He never made it back to Lansing but showed enough this spring for another aggressive promotion (albeit this time as a reliever) to Dunedin. In the early going, he's not stumbled this time. Davidi quotes Jays' Farm Director Tony LaCava in reporting Tirado may eventually be tried as a starter again, but needed to have some success.

19. Ryan Borucki / LH /  (extended) - Disabled after an elbow clean-up, there's no fresh news which implies he's not on the mound yet.

Beyond the Top 20, in order of how I ranked them:

Jesus Tinoco / RH  / (extended) - Pitched well enough in extended that when Lansing needed an arm for the duble-header the found themselves in this week, he got the promotion. He wasn't immediately sent back out after so maybe they are going to give him an extended look.
Case DeJong  / LH / Lansing - Re-bounding nicely from last year's struggles, should be on the countdown to make the move to Dunedin soon (as discussed above). Of course, I'm only looking at the stat line as with many of my comments.
Clint Hollon  / RH  / (extended) - When/if DeJong (or someone else - see below) moves up, Smoral is in line to replace him - this guy, an almost forgotten by many 2nd round choice,  would then be next in line, although it's possible that he'll be held back long enough to get a taste of Canada in Vancouver (something Alex talked about a few weeks ago as something the team would factor in when making assignments) 
Matt Boyd  / LH / New Hampshire -  Dominating so far, LaCava told Davidi he still needed work on his secondary pitches. Still, a lot of observers feel like that he might be a guy who could push his way into a late-season bullpen appearance. If he can overcome the logjam of relievers the Jays have stockpiled in AAA of course. Which is not to say they will not continue to view him as a starter for as long as possible. Also could be one of the more attractive trade candidates.
Adonys Cardona / RH /  (extended) -recovering from yet another injury that shortened 2014, LaCava reports he's hitting as high as 97 again. To try and keep him healthy, he'll work from the bullpen as what LaCava called a "priority reliever" which I take to me, he'll get his innings on a regular schedule regardless of situation, and then they will re-evaluate his future as a starter f he stays out there all year. Should be activated by Lansing soon.

Others to watch:
Shane Dawson  / LH / Lansing - Soft-tosser is fooling everyone and needs to be challenged with a promotion which one would think would be coming quite soon, P
Conner Greene  /  RH / Lansing - 2013 draftee (7th round), just past his 20th birthday, posting tasty ratios in the early going which bodes well for continued success.
John Anderson / LH / New Hampshire -The Dustin McGowan of the Jays minor leagues, he has good enough stuff for them to stick with him, but enough injuries to make everything uncertain. He's accumulated less than 300 IP in the system since 2008. LaCava says he has "probably the best stuff" on the AA team but he just needs consistent work. Given the org depth among SP, that window of opportunity may have closed for him but a power lefty in the 'pen is a valuable thing if that's where he lands.

In no particular order, other than being grouped by level, the following guys have rocked it so far - minor league relieving being what it is, who can say which of these might offer major league results at some point. (Not nitpicking here about what constitutes actual "prospect")
Buffalo - Colt Hynes, Ryan Tepera, Rob Rasmussen, Preston Gulmet, Bo Schultz (apart from one bad inning from Luis Perez, the whole 'pen here really)
New Hampshire - Matt West, Danny Barnes, Blake McFarland, Dustin Antolin, Tiago Da Silva (just promoted)
Dunedin - Will Browning, Chad Giordo, Jimmy Cordero


3. Dalton Pompey / CF /  Buffalo -  You know at least as much as I, there hasn't yet been any in-depth reporting on the demotion but one might suppose that this is one of those "how will you react to failure?" moments that high-character payers will come back from just fine.

7. Max Pentacost / C /  (extended) - Technically listed on the Dunedin roster, and on the 7 day DL, but the originally mentioned recovery times dovetails nicely with the beginning of the short-season teams' season, and I'm inclined to think the Jays might give him a little run through the Northwest League before moving him back to A ball.

8. Devon Travis / 2B /  Toronto - Really nothing to say here, right?

9. Richard Urena / SS /  Lansing -needs to start getting that K rate down but for a Dominican playing in the cold for the first time, some grace is warranted. Not enough data yet.

11. Mitch Nay / 3B / Dunedin - LaCava explains they've made adjustments to Nay to see if he can pull the ball more to capitalize his in-game power (most think he has significant power potential but it doesn't manifest in games, the team thinks, because he tends to hit to the middle of the field. As such, you can't make too much of his stats so far.

12. Dwight Smith, Jr. / LF / New Hampshire - If he had more power, or speed, or glove, he'd get a lot more notice. For me, he's still a "tweener" who lacks a clear major league path, but he can hit ad draw walks and that's not nothing. Might be helpful in a trade to a less ambitious team.

15. Anthony Alford / CF / Lansing - Has done nothing to dim the high praise he's now getting from all quarters. It's not a crazy claim to suggest he's already the best position player prospect the Jays have.  Still, it's early and adjustments - and counter adjustments - are yet in the future.

16. Rowdy Tellez / 1B / Lansing -.899 OPS since April 15, like Urena, too many K's but pretty easy to overlook if he's producing. Put it down as a goal, more than a concern.

17. Dawel Lugo / SS / Dunedin - he's just 20 and at A+ which buys some grace, but I seriously worry whether he'll ever hit and the stat line does nothing to convince me I'm wrong so far. LaCava says they are happy with him though so...shrug?

20 AJ Jimenez / C / Buffalo - Just promoted after spending some time in AA when he came off the DL (presumably because Thole being in Buffalo would have regulated one of them to the bench). He's done nothing in 2015 and he's in danger of losing what tiny sliver of prospect status he has left unless he has a pretty remarkable rest-of-the-season.

Beyond the Top 20 (as I ranked them):
Lane Thomas / IF-OF / (extended) - It's not that they don't list him as a 2B, it's that he's so good they can't decide where his bat plays best. He probably doesn't have the pop traditionally associated with 3B, so it's here or CF and it's probably easier to move out later if needed than in.
Matt Dean / 1B / Dunedin - Some occasional homers can't disguise the horrid BB/K ratio. That would take massive power he hasn't shown. Averaging a strikeout per game at 22 without it tends to kill your prospect status.
DJ Davis / CF / Lansing -Really seemed to have figured things out for a secnd, then hit a 1 for 17 over 5 games that suppressed his rates. You know how early season slumps can kill a player's line. Bears watching.
Dan Jansen / C - Lansing -It's like most of the Lansing squad wasn't ready for Michigan in early April and took the first week off. Jansen was 0 for 14 in his first five games. Unlike some of the other slow starters, he hasn't gotten untracked yet. Time will tell if the progression was too aggressive or if he finds a way to get his swing going.

Others to watch:
Andy Burns / IF / Buffalo - More "sleeper" than prospect by the most generous of estimates. But his some versatility and maybe enough bat to cling to the end of a major league bench. Maybe. Probably not but...maybe.
Christan Lopes / 2B / New Hampshire - very well regarded when drafted, Lopes has mastered the art of mediocre as a pro. He seemed to show some significant breakout potential in winter ball down under but it was more of "pretty okay" for Dunedin in April. Still, maybe the Jays see something - he was just promoted to NH - or maybe it was just the best they could do when the AA squad found themselves short-handed.
 Roemon Fields - / CF / Dunedin - first (almost) week was a disaster - a .167 OPS in the first six games - but since April 15 his OPS is .760 which, given his inexperience, is pretty okay.
Dicke Joe Thon / IF-OF / Dunedin - Kicked ass at Lansing - but was some 2 years (at least) two old for the league, off to a slow start in five games in Dunedin but I'm sucker enough for the feel-good story that I'll give him a minute.
Ryan McBroom / 1B / Lansing -He's a 1B, DHing only because Tellez is on the same team. He's hitting well, and he's 3 years older than Tellez so obviously much impacted by that in terms of prospect status.

In the future, I'll address actual news, good and bad, and not include guys just because they were on a pre-season list.