Archive for the 'State of the Union' Category

2014 State of the Union – Toronto Blue Jays

It was a roller coaster ride in 2013 for long suffering fans of the Toronto Blue Jays.

Everything seemingly was quiet until Alex Anthopoulos pulled off his first blockbuster trade since taking the reigns.  Early in the winter the Blue Jays added Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and Emilio Bonifacio.  After two separate transactions saw the team add veterans Melky Cabrera and the reigning Cy Young award winner RA Dickey expectations went through the roof.  

I had not witnessed as much unbridled enthusiasm and hope since the World Series years.  

In short the fans were back.

Even after the team got off to a slow start the fans continued to show loyalty and a renewed passion for the Blue Jays.  Passion is definitely something that hadn’t been seen in over a decade and it shows that there is sort of pent up “demand” for winning baseball in Toronto.

The TV ratings were out of this world, attendance was way up year over year and the launch of the new (old) logo and merchandise was a monster success.  Blue Jays fans that had seemingly been hibernating for the last decade were coming out of their shells in droves.  Blue Jays gear was everywhere and even my Grandma was talking excitedly about the team she hadn’t much cared for since Roberto Alomar left town.

There was an unmistakable buzz.  Then the season from hell happened.

A terrible start followed by a devastating injury to our new leader Jose Reyes and the season was pretty much over in May.  An ineffective and injury riddled campaign from both newcomers Josh Johnson and Melky Cabrera and incumbent third basemen Brett Lawrie didn’t help.  RA Dickey was nowhere near as sharp as expected and Brandon Morrow had a negative fWAR.

There wasn’t much to be excited about and very few bright spots to focus on.  Even the once touted farm system had been decimated with trades that haven’t had their desired effect on the current major league roster.  Most prospect pundits agree there is still some exciting talent but most of it is currently in the low minors with players nowhere near the big leagues.

When you are dealing with players just beginning their professional careers the development is choppy at best and who knows what the system will look like in one calendar year.  There could be renewed optimism with help on the horizon or there could be regression, injury and failure.  The development of a baseball prospect is never linear and the violent rise and fall of such players is renowned.

Heading into the offseason I think the tone of the Blue Jays fan base was a kind of cautious optimism.  If the team could remain healthy and management plugged the required holes in the ship this was a team that could definitely be in the hunt for a wild-card spot.

It appears the Jays brass is banking heavily on a full season of Melky Cabrera, Jose Reyes, Brett Lawrie, Jose Bautista and Brandon Morrow to right the ship.  In other words, the cavalry will not be coming.  Like Xzibit said – what you see is what you get.

Josh Johnson signed an extremely team friendly deal with the San Diego Padres.  Similar to Ervin Santana I don’t begrudge him as it is a prudent move if either player hopes to secure one more decent sized contract.  I know I’m in the minority on this one but I would’ve just begrudgingly qualified Josh Johnson with the expectation he accepts.

One year at about $14-million for a pitcher who prior to last season has been amazingly consistent when healthy doesn’t seem that outlandish when you considered the free agent market.  I am not saying big Josh would have competed for the Cy Young but when you have a rotation as awful as the Blue Jays was in 2013 how do you not bring in as many arms you can afford with any sort of past big league success?  He was an integral part of the trade that jettisoned several promising prospects and we just let him walk for nothing?

I was happy to see the team jettison one of the least productive catchers in baseball and bring in a competent stop-gap Dionar Navarro.  Not to sound like Buck Martinez but a catcher who cut his stripes in the Tampa Bay organization should be a sound game caller and receiver at worst.  Addition by subtraction (JP Arencibia) and changing the daily battery should help.

While adding a better defensive catcher is definitely a plus the reality is our offense will be fine with or without him and he will likely bat eighth in a lineup but not adding any significant pieces to the starting rotation is career suicide.

This was actually an offseason that proved to be a relative buyer’s market I terms of starting pitchers.  Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes and Ervin Santana all signed for deals at less than market value.  This isn’t an indictment based on not getting those specific pitchers but as a former unapologetic Alex Anthopoulos backer the only thing “ninja-like” about this offseason has been his disappearing act.

The Blue Jays have been linked to nearly every arm but in the end it doesn’t appear we had bid on any of the top available arms.  There is a shifting paradigm in baseball as it is a sport flush with cash.  Television deals and contracts have infused an unprecedented amount of spending money into the sport and this new reality has in turn hurt the Toronto Blue Jays in my opinion.

After the major markets New York, Boston and Los Angeles the Blue Jays had recently risen to a sort of “mid-major”.  We wouldn’t necessarily outbid any of the top dogs for free agent talent but if the major markets either passed on or didn’t need certain targets the Blue Jays stood out as the next in line for securing a decent contract.

We would have to pay up but over the years we still managed to bring in the likes of Troy Glaus, AJ Burnett, BJ Ryan, Roger Clemens, RA Dickey and Melky Cabrera.  However as we have seen in this past offseason with all the money floating around even teams like the Minnesota Twins have become players in free agency.

The Twins signed Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes and were linked with Tanaka, Garza, Santana and Jimenez.  This is bad news for Toronto.  We are no longer only competing with the New York’s and Boston’s but also smaller US markets that might have a leg up in terms of a desirable American location for free agents.

Rogers Corp. recently announced fourth quarter earnings and managed to make a $367MM profit for the three month period.  The Blue Jays have some of the deepest pockets in baseball but the changing league economics has made it harder than ever to actually land talent.

More available money league wide combined with teams becoming insanely efficient in locking up their stars to team friendly contracts has made competing in major league baseball tougher than ever.  You simply cannot afford any missteps in this ultra-competitive environment.  The front offices of baseball teams are not only filled with experienced baseball men but also some of the brightest and best mathematic and economics students who are packing Ph.Ds.  This is now an industry where Harvard graduates are willing to serve as interns to land their dream job in baseball.

Baseball is filled with sharks searching for market inefficiencies in hopes of taking advantage of even the smallest of edges.  Think top high-stakes poker players trying to grind out a measly hourly profit against other like-minded players.

In short, it is sink or swim.

I don’t think Alex Anthopoulos has shown he cannot compete but I also don’t think he is a proven winner.   The best way to compete is to draft well, develop talent at a consistent pace and either hope the talent contributes in a meaningful way (making league minimum salaries) or you cash in this prospect currency via smart trades that pay immediate dividends to your current major league roster (i.e. Miguel Cabrera).

Part of this equation is simply money.  You can use it to lock up your top young talent or to splash around in the less efficient free agent market to improve your roster – or preferably both.  Anthopoulos is calculating and perhaps even frugal and this has not worked to his advantage when it comes to helping field a competitive starting rotation.

The Blue Jays have not developed a competitive major league starting pitcher since Roy Halladay.  Ricky Romero appeared to have found his groove but it is not certain if he will ever contribute in a meaningful way again.  They also haven’t landed a top free agent starting pitcher since AJ Burnett was signed.  This is not to say the Blue Jays do not possess some legitimate major league talent across the diamond.

Edwin Encarnacion has blossomed into one of the game’s best all-around hitters.  Jose Reyes is worth the price of admission on an almost daily basis.  Brett Lawrie still has a tantalizing glove and untapped potential with the bat.  Jose Bautista and Melky Cabrera are still very solid professional hitters and combined with Colby Rasmus form a strong outfield nucleus.

Starting pitching should be better this season with a rebound from R.A. Dickey, Brandon Morrow and perhaps Ricky Romero.  Mark Buehrle will give us more of the same (4.50 ERA and 200 IPs) and the team hopes one or two of Kyle Drabek, Drew Hutchison, JA Happ, Todd Redmond, Sean Nolin and Dustin McGowan take a step forward.

In the minors the team is still counting on top prospect Aaron Sanchez to develop into a front line starter and help them forget about Noah Syndergaard, Justin Nicolino and Aaron Wojchieski.  Marcus Stroman appears major league ready and will be given every opportunity to contribute as a major league starting pitcher.  Roberto Osuna teased all of us with an amazing beginning to his professional career only to fall prey to the unavoidable Tommy John.

Beneath them is an intriguing group of talent including DJ Davis, Mitch Nay, Daniel Norris, Sean Nolin, Franklin Barreto, Alberto Tirado, Dawel Lugo and AJ Jimenez.

In closing the current “State of the Union” isn’t completely bleak but we appear to be a bit of a rudderless ship in one of the most cutthroat & competitive industries in all of sports – major league baseball.

Mission ’13: Isn’t a Dickey a Fake Turtle Neck?

RA Dickey has occupied my thoughts lately and Scott MacArthur did a nice piece about him at tsn.ca. It didn’t satisfy me, so I went to the usual sites for my fix. I know that I’ve voiced my fair share of complaints and exasperation about Robert Allen, and you’ve been very patient. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the interviews and opinions as being invaluable tools to help us assess a player. I just wanted to dig a little deeper than Mr. MacArthur did.

The Toronto Blue Jays’ #1 starter in what has been arguably the most disappointing season in franchise history has led the parade. It’s been disappointing because this isn’t the parade many of us anticipated. We all know the story: Roy Halladay (the ace of the past) was dealt to Philadelphia; the Jays received a package centered around Travis d’Arnaud (the catcher of the future) in return; and finally, 3 years later, d’Arnaud was re-packaged in the RA Dickey deal (the ace of the present). We didn’t need to get hyped up by the press: we could understand the value that the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner offered.

However, there was a disconnect between expectation and delivery. Overall, his numbers were up in a bad way (BB/9, HR/9, HR/FB, FIP, xFIP, ERA) and down in a bad way (SO/9, LOB%, GB%, WAR). But looking at his overall numbers is sort of like picking up a murder mystery and reading the chapter headings: the overview only tells part of the story.

Fair enough. Is it as consistently bad over the course of the season as the overview makes it seem? Not really. It’s not great, ace-style stuff, but the improvement is there, it’s noticeable, and it should be encouraging.

We all know that he pitched like a poor fifth starter in the early going, but he was also terrible in July. I decided to split the season into 2 chunks. Since normal seasons aren’t necessarily grouped into the bad months vs. all the good months, I separated it chronologically on the basis of when the good stuff began to happen with greater regularity. So what we’re left with is April-May and June-to-September. There, that ought to keep the Arbitrary Police off my back. That’s right, ALEastbound is stickin’ it to the man in its own little way.

Here’s what RA Dickey’s line looked like in April-May:

G

IP

ER

SO

BB

H

2B

3B

HR

GDP

ROE

HBP

BAbip

12

74.2

43

59

32

73

17

2

12

4

0

1

.281

But wait, there’s more. I took some of these numbers and altered their DNA just for you: Abraca-pocus!!

ERA

K/9

BB/9

H/9

xbh/9

HR/9

5.18

7.11

3.86

8.80

3.74

1.45

Okay I did it for me, too. Altruism is a lost motive anymore.

So, let’s summarize:

  • he wasn’t getting hit a lot but he was getting hit hard (I included a new-to-me stat, xbh/9, because I wanted a better idea about the quality of hits RA was yielding);
  • more than 2 of every 5 hits he gave up, on average, were for extra bases;
  • his K-rate wasn’t bad, but his walk rate was terrible: the ratio was 1.84:1;
  • GDP was included for 2 reasons: he put a lot of runners on base, and the defense was, um, substandard;
  • he averaged slightly more than six innings per start;

Perhaps you, like me, have bandied around the idea that they could have called up Noah Syndergaard for 12 starts and his performance would have been similar. The Jays were 4-8 in his 12 starts.

Okay, that’s the ‘bad stuff’ but we don’t want to dwell on it too much because it’s acid-forming. Here’s the rest of the season (June-September) cast into relief:

G

IP

ER

SO

BB

H

2B

3B

HR

GDP

ROE

BAbip

22

150

62

118

39

134

25

1

23

11

6

.258

And just in case you thought I’d forgotten, here are his rates for the last few months:

ERA

K/9

BB/9

H/9

xbh/9

HR/9

3.72

7.08

2.34

8.04

2.94

1.38

It’s not very close, is it? His K/9 is almost identical (which surprised me) but he excelled in almost everything else. In some cases, his performance is much better. The other thing that surprised me was how batters are still tattooing the ball. I was aware of the HR, since it’s mentioned every broadcast, but the doubles are a little disconcerting: 37% of the hits he gives up are for extra bases, and this is when he pitches well. At least it’s down from the >42% rate from the first 2 months of the season.

This man adapted. He was in a new league with a new team, and pitching in a new homer-friendly park. His early numbers showed that he struggled with the transition. What the numbers don’t show is that he was injured. A torn rhomboid muscle affected him adversely, ensuring that he wasn’t able to change speeds on his knuckler with his usual effectiveness.

The Blue Jays didn’t open the vault to extend the contract of a 2 WAR pitcher. They didn’t give up Wuilmer Becerra, Noah Syndergaard, and Travis d’Arnaud for a 4.21 ERA (4.33 in 104 IP against the AL East). A 13-9 team W-L record, 3.72 ERA and about 7 IP/start in the final two-thirds of 2013 is moving in the right direction, though.

There’s an additional consideration. RA Dickey’s contract extension doesn’t kick in until 2014-15, when he’ll make $12.5M AAV with an option year for 2016. This year, fans saw RA pitch to a 2.0 fWAR level for $5M. Given a rate of about $5.5-5.7MM/WAR, there was plenty of surplus value in his contract. At the risk of sounding hopelessly idealistic, it was a good year to learn the ropes.

He’s not Joe Blanton but I don’t think that RA Dickey is ace material. That said, he has the potential to be better than this, even though he’ll be 39 in a month. The Jays need to improve the rotation substantially—acquiring a top flight starter, and a healthy, effective Brandon Morrow would be 2 steps in the right direction—and several other upgrades need to be made in order to contend. No one will hand them the division crown or the World Series in 2014: this time they’ll have to earn it. And a healthy RA Dickey on the upswing of a steep learning curve is another step in the right direction.

Wes Kepstro

Mission ’13: Did Anthopoulos Boot a Routine Grounder in a Tight Game? A Response to Giving Him a ‘Pass’

Alex Anthopoulos does not get a pass from me. I’m not part of the radical fringe that screams for his head or whines game-in and game-out, but he’s responsible for this mess. I wouldn’t be upset if he was fired, I just don’t think it will happen. A results-based assessment recognizes that they’ve declined every year that he’s been at the helm. 2013 may be slightly better than 2012, but they had to double the payroll to do it.

I, too, think John Gibbons has done okay, given the teams’ indifferent/poor play and the overall circumstances (‘new’ manager; lots of new players). The problem is that someone needs to be held accountable and, since John Gibbons is AA’s man, the finger points at AA.

He rebuilt the farm quickly, then used it as currency to assemble a contender at the ML level. I like that strategy. As a matter of fact, it’s encouraging: it didn’t take long to restock a long-neglected aspect of the organization.

The problem is that the talent he assembled hasn’t contended. This problem is magnified by 2 other factors: an emptied farm; and different rules for draft pick acquisition. No longer can they sign the Miguel Olivos of the world for the purpose of acquiring a supplementary round draft pick when he signs elsewhere. Rebuilding the farm is more difficult now.

A Brief Review

I believe Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Mark DeRosa have lived up to advance billing. Reyes was injured for 60+ games, but that’s not surprising. When he’s played, he’s played pretty well. His defense isn’t great, but his offense has been good (.347 wOBA; 117 wRC+).

Buehrle had a rough start but has pitched as expected for some time now. He owns a 4.14 FIP and 4.17 xFIP for his career; this year they’re 4.18 and 4.19, respectively. He’s also on pace for 200+ IP.

Mark DeRosa’s real value has been on the bench: he’s a leader and he’s intelligent. On top of that, they’re getting unexpectedly good offensive production from him (7 HR, .328 wOBA, 104 wRC+). Offensively he’s playing slightly above the level of an average major leaguer, which is excellent for a utility player. It means the Jays don’t lose anything on offense when he starts occasionally or pinch hits.

Here’s the sordid side of the off season tale:

  • Maicer Izturis is the worst player in Major League Baseball;
  • ‘Ace’ RA Dickey presently has a FIP north of 4.75, which is 4th or 5th starter territory;
  • Melky Cabrera came injured, and has been one of the worst outfielders in baseball;
  • Emilio Bonifacio played so poorly in TOR that he’s already been dealt;
  • Josh Johnson is Ricky Romero 2.0. He may go down as the worst acquisition that the Toronto Blue Jays have ever made (at least Mike Sirotka didn’t play fast and loose with our hopes by subjecting us to AAA quality pitching);
  • Josh Thole catches Dickey, but he can’t hit and he’s not much better behind the plate than JPA; and
  • Mike Nickeas gave them veteran depth at catcher for AAA Buffalo.

Several other trades have produced a mixed bag of results, which is normal. Steve Delabar was a great pick-up, especially since Eric Thames did nothing with SEA and has since moved. Dumping Vernon Wells’ huge contract was a boon, as well. Other acquisitions (Brandon Morrow, Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch, Brad Lincoln, Francisco Cordero, Sergio Santos, Kelly Johnson, etc.) haven’t worked out very well.

What Can They Do?

I’d like to see Bautista dealt. It’s nearing the last opportunity to get a good return for him. His defense has been shoddy in the 2nd half—missed cut offs, misplayed balls, poor throws, etc.–and his offense is nothing like it was a couple of years ago. Trading him, plus some expiring contracts (Oliver, Rajai, etc.) may give them some wriggle room. The expiring contracts are (over) balanced by some arbitration cases (Rasmus, etc.) that loom.

The glaring weaknesses are: the rotation, left field, 2B, C and team consistency. The rotation needs 2 upper level pitchers but so does every other team in MLB except the Tigers. Where are the Jays going to find those pitchers? I don’t know. Someone may want to dump salary (LAA? TEX?), opening previously-closed doors, but I haven’t heard any rumours.

The free agent market, which AA is generally loath to use, isn’t very promising either. Perhaps they can re-sign Josh Johnson and get Tim Lincecum for serious bargains in the hopes that they’ll rebound from their poor performances. One problem is that dumpster diving hasn’t really worked very well for the Jays, partly because it’s a strategy they overuse.

I’d love to see them make a play for Cano, but that’s a pipe dream. Not only are the NYY and LAD likely to get into a bidding war but Jay-Z’s his new agent, and Jay-Z wants to make a splash. AA said he’s looking to go for a defense-first 2B. I don’t know who fits the bill here.

I’m not interested in Ellsbury: more injury-prone players are unnecessary. No, the next 100 games or so are make-or-break for Anthony Gose, AA’s ‘golden boy’. He pouted when he was demoted earlier in the season and has played poorly ever since (regardless of where he’s played). He’s yet another speed merchant that hasn’t performed because he doesn’t fit the Jays’ in-game strategy: they’re boppers, not bunters.

I don’t expect another year like this from Rasmus (Matt Klaassen wrote a good piece about him at http://www.fangraphs.com). I like what CLE and, to a lesser extent, BOS did when they acquired good OF. The Jays need a good all-round, reliable OF to play with Rasmus. They also need Colby to repeat his success this year…

Team consistency is likely going to be an issue again. The Jays have too many players who aren’t good enough to be consistent. Jose Bautista is a good player but a terrible leader. Leaders don’t argue, whine, or make as many misplays as he does. He’s also pretty inconsistent, and the team takes its cues from him. Adam Lind’s not consistent enough to play everyday. Then there are all the utility-level players (Rajai, Izturis, DeRosa, Thole, JPA, Kawasaki). These guys are a petrie dish for inconsistency, especially when they play full time.

Also if they don’t do something about their catching situation, they’re in trouble. They hitched their wagon to JPA, but he’s not a good catcher for reasons that have been flogged mercilessly. What other possibilities exist, though? How about Carlos Ruiz? Chooch is at the end of his tenure in Philly: he wants to stay, but they don’t seem interested. Another former ped abuser, nearing the end of his career, who isn’t wanted by his own team?

The Skinny

Adding it all up, the Jays need: 2 starters, a #1 catcher, a 2B, and an OF. Each one of these players needs to excel on offense or defense, preferably both. To acquire these needs, the Jays have: a bunch of underachieving MLers and a farm that’s been ransacked, but they’ve also ‘promised’ to maintain or increase payroll as necessary.

At this point my guess is we’ll see more of the same next year. There are too many needs and not enough talent or resources to fill all those needs, even if they trade roster players. They’d be selling low on almost everyone on the team. Also, do we seriously expect the ‘pen to be this good again?

Finally…

A key element of strong, contending teams is good homegrown talent. The Jays have Romero, McGowan, Lind, JPA, Lawrie, Pillar, and several ‘pen arms. Another element is good, astute trades that work out well. They haven’t been successful enough on the trade front for me to be confident that another round of trades will make a significant difference.

If Alex Anthopoulos is fired after the 2013 debacle, I won’t miss him. He’s not responsible for the poor play by good players, but he is responsible for the results. He assessed the talent, acquired the talent, but didn’t alter the talent. He’s given hope to the fan base, but it’s been a false hope.

In 2010, he promised 2 trips to the playoffs over the next 5 seasons. 2013 will be the 4th year of missing the playoffs under his direction, and the 19th straight overall. Pittsburgh and Kansas City have positioned themselves for the post-season, and Baltimore has leap-frogged the Jays in the AL East. Toronto is no longer the 4th-best team in their division: they’re the worst team 2 years running with only a fool’s hope of improvement. What more needs to be said? I used to sing his praises. Seeing as how I don’t think he’ll get canned, I won’t do that until anymore he gets some positive results. Why? I don’t trust him.

Wes Kepstro

Mission ’13: The Jays Need a Consistent Lefty Bat

It’s been interesting to watch the Jays this season. I say interesting because if I use some other word, I might start crying or throw a stool through the window. One Jay that I’ve tracked regularly but nonchalantly (I’m not a stalker…really, I’m not) is Adam Lind. I hoped for a little more of a breakout season from him. Perhaps you did, too. He seemed healthy, and I believed the line-up really needed his bat to be consistent. His consistency would help the rest of the line-up to be consistent, or so I reasoned.

I thought that way because the Jays have a host of strong right handed batters and a couple of switch hitters, but they’ve lacked a consistent left-handed hitter. Colby Rasmus has been inconsistent as a Blue Jay but offers stability in center field. I can take that without much contribution in any other way (offense; base running). Nope, it was going to be Adam Lind or another acquisition.

It’s no secret that Lind has struggled since his ‘breakout’ season in 2009. I single quote the word breakout, because he hasn’t followed it up with anything even remotely close to it. In other words, it may turn out to be no more than a career year. One reason he’s struggled is his recurring back problems. Having suffered some fairly serious back troubles in my day, I can sympathize: it really does a number on you. Other reasons have included swinging like a barn door at breaking pitches down and away and fastballs up and in. Then there was his tendency to pop up so often, as Aaron Hill and Vernon Wells did so frequently. So I thought I’d see if there was a correlation between Lind’s performance, which has been better this year than the last 3 seasons, and the Jays’ performance as a team.

Much like the Jays as a team, Adam Lind stumbled out of the gate. He was 0 for the first 4 games, and didn’t get his 10th hit until April 23rd against Baltimore. There was no reason to think that Lind’s struggles and the Jays’ struggles were connected. He wasn’t hitting, but no one was playing well.

He began to hit a little before April (mercifully) came to an end, but he dipped again at the end of the month and into the first couple of days in May. His slash line on May 2 was .220/.394/.280. He wasn’t hitting much but, at a pace of twice for every five PAs, he was getting on base at an excellent clip. Most of that OBP was attributable to base on balls. I remember thinking that he was striking the ball well, but making outs. We also notice that he had the power of a 8-year old schoolgirl. Check that, we don’t want to insult the girls. The team record on May 2 was 10-19.

Then he went on a tear. During the 30-game period from May 3 until June 10, Lind went 47-113 (.416) with 8 walks, 9 2B and 6 HR. There were 2 distinct segments in that time frame. Lind was hitting like a live-ball era superstar in the first 20 games, going 26-66 (.394). The next 10 games he was otherworldly, going 21-47 (.447). His slash line on June 10 was .335/.413/.532. This 30-game stretch saw the Jays improve dramatically, as they went 16-14.

He continued to hit during the win streak, too. I think it’s fair to say that most of us expected something of the sort all season. Not only were they winning, bit they were beating some pretty good teams. Perhaps, we thought, they’ve hit their stride. Incredibly, Adam Lind maintained his hot streak. We’d grown accustomed to seeing him get very hot for stretches over the last few years, but nothing like this. He’d already been hot for 30 games, but another 9 games? Forty-ish games of hot hitting suggested that Lind turned a corner offensively. His slash line at the end of the 11-game win streak stood at .337/.402/.554.This is the left-handed power hitting 1B/DH that the Jays needed.

This also means the ‘platoon’ of Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind (it’s more like job sharing than a classic platoon) wasn’t merely good: it was superb. Since Adam Lind found his stroke on May 3 the Jays were 27-14, pushing their record to 38-36.

The Jays have fallen on hard times since Tampa stuck a pin in their balloon. They were 38-36; now they’re 54-62. A 16-26 post-win-streak record has effectively ended their chances of the season many, including me, expected. Adam Lind’s slash line after today’s 5-4 win over Oakland (Lind was 0-3, 1 BB, 2 K) is .279/.347/.472. Since the streak ended Lind isn’t hitting or getting base regularly, and his power has dropped off dramatically.

I didn’t think there was much of a correlation between Adam Lind and the fortunes of the Blue Jays and, realistically speaking, I still don’t think there is. However, I do think that there’s a correlation between the Jays’ fortunes and a solid, consistent left handed bat. Consider the following: Adam Lind has played 37 games since the win streak ended and he has 27 hits. Lind’s hit distribution and the Jays’ record looks like this:

Lind’s Hit Total

The Jays’ Record

0 hits

3-13

1 hit

9-8

2+ hits

2-2

His walks (13 since the win streak) don’t correlate directly to wins. Five of those walks came in two games and the Jays lost both of those games. They’re 3-5 in the other games. Thirteen walks since the streak, and the Jays are 3-7 in those games. The walks are more meaningful at a personal level. Walks mean that Lind is seeing the ball well, and that perhaps another hot streak is on the horizon.

How do I interpret all of this? The Jays need a consistent lefty bat hitting either 4th or 5th in the line-up. It might mean bumping Edwin down in the line-up, but that kind of thing doesn’t matter after a season like this. I don’t think that left handed bat is Adam Lind. Lind is hitting better than he has, but back troubles and inconsistency continue to plague him. The Jays are a different team when he has hit well: they’re an average-to-good team, rather than a bad team. The problem is that Lind had 58 hits in 39 games from May 3-June 23. He has 37 hits in the other 62 games. The Jays need a lefty bat that produces more consistently than twice every 5 games (40%).

Don’t get me wrong. The disappointment of the 2013 season doesn’t rest on Adam Lind’s shoulders. I’m also not saying that the Jays would be in the hunt if Adam Lind was having an all star-calibre campaign. What I am saying is that one of the weaknesses on this squad is a consistent, solid left handed bat. Without it the Jays’ line-up is unbalanced and struggles unnecessarily.

Do I have any suggestions or am I just part of the problem, complaining and whining about their poor performance? Well, I’m no GM but I can say with a decent amount of confidence that Melky Cabrera isn’t the answer in left field, Emilio Bonifacio and Maicer Izturis aren’t the answer at 2B, and Adam Lind probably isn’t the answer at 1B/DH. JP Arencibia isn’t the answer behind the plate, either. Quality LH replacements at one or more of these positions might serve 2 functions, offering the Jays superior defense as well as a more balanced offensive attack. This doesn’t make them a playoff team necessarily—there’s still an under-performing rotation to consider—but it probably makes them better. How much better? Marginally better? A lot better? I don’t know, but the tentative correlation between Adam Lind’s success and the Blue Jays’ success suggests it’s not a mirage.

Wes Kepstro

Home Invasions and Road Rage

One of the questions I asked in the piece I wrote about peds in MLB was ‘how did it get this far?’ One could ask the exact same question about the Jays’ season. They’ve lost their first 3 games to Los Angeles and, not surprisingly, they’ve looked terrible. Their starters have pitched a grand total of 11 innings in the first 3 games. It’d be okay—this kind of stuff happens to everybody at some point in the season—if it was an aberration. The problem with the Jays is that poor play is the norm this season rather than a bump on the road.

The loss dropped the Jays to 22-32 on the road and 12-24 since their 11-game win streak. This squad is more like the ’02 Tampa Bay Devil Rays than the ’04 Oakland A’s, both of whom had prolonged win streaks but headed in different directions when those win streaks ended.

The pre-season hype is long gone, and I suspect that most of the intensity of our collective frustration is gone too. In my case, it’s been replaced by a fatalism that is foreign to my personality. When is the last time that a Blue Jays’ team was this poor? Perhaps 1994-95 but, in context, the 2013 Jays are easily the worst team of the last 20 years in my opinion.

Let’s get down to business, though. Brad Lincoln is the proximal reason for this piece because he symbolizes this season very well for me: so much promise, so little delivery. Acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates for Travis Snider in a swap of under-performing first-rounders with tremendous potential, Lincoln has been an average middle reliever (in all fairness, neither team has benefited much from the trade).

Lincoln was re-called from AAA Buffalo the other day as the Jays needed fresh arms in the ‘pen. Lincoln’s re-call gave the Jays nine pitchers in the ‘pen. Nine bullpen arms? Even writing it gives me an ominous sense of dread.

Lincoln entered last night’s game after 5 mostly-forgettable innings by starter Esmil Rogers, and mopped up with 3 IP of long relief. Lincoln acquitted himself well, pitching 3 innings of hitless, shutout ball, striking out a pair and walking one. But there’s the rub: he walked one. He’s now pitched 24.2 innings in 14 MLB games and has walked 14 batters, giving him an ugly 5.11 BB/9 in 2013. He’s only made 2 appearances when he hasn’t walked a batter. Since he was acquired, Lincoln has walked 24 batters in 53.1 IP (4.05 BB/9). It’s not pretty.

This is the same Brad Lincoln who, when interviewed about his demotion in early June, said he didn’t know what he had to do to stick with the big club. Granted, 3 of his last 7 appearances before being sent to BUF were good (7 IP, 2 H, 3 BB, 4 SO, 0 R) but the other 4 weren’t (6.2 IP, 11 H, 3 HR, 4 BB, 7 SO, 10 R, 7 ER). These are hardly the types of numbers that ‘earn’ a player the right to stay with the big club. The Jays as a whole are in the same boat as Lincoln: under-performing, but would be upset if the Jays did something drastic.

No one could have predicted that so many pitchers would perform so poorly, but the pitching staff is a train wreck. Their 4.38 ERA as a staff is 2nd worst in the AL, ahead of only the Houston Astros. Their 1.23 HR/9 and 4.39 FIP/4.12 xFIP tell a sordid tale as well. Mark Buehrle has pitched very well of late, but what more can be said of RA Dickey and Josh Johnson? Josh Johnson is this years Ricky Romero: he ranks #128 of the 141 pitchers in all MLB who have pitched at least 70 innings. It is a serious blessing that he was injured for so long early in the season. Overall, the pitching staff is worth about 7 WAR after 110 games.

The defense is very much like the 1930 Phillies. Even when they’re not making actual errors, they’re missing balls, not making plays they should, and just plain looking inept in the field. Have you ever seen a team make such consistently-poor throws from the outfield? Their throws either miss the cut-off man or are so far off line as to be harmful, allowing base runners to advance with ease. There are a couple of exceptions—notably Colby Rasmus and, until recently, Jose Bautista—but generally the Jays have played very poorly in the field. Their team RngR is 23rd in MLB, while their ErrR and UZR rank 25th in MLB. These are the metrics of a low-quality baseball team.

The offense, while powerful, is neither efficient nor dependable. However, it’s the least of the Jays’ problems. As a matter of fact, when combined with the bullpen, it’s the area of greatest strength. Colby Rasmus may be reaching his potential and Edwin Encarnacion is following his breakout season with another one like it, but there’s not much else positive to say about the offense. Jose Reyes has been good when healthy, but he’s missed a lot of time. Adam Lind is Adam Lind. His back problems will prevent him from being an impact player for more than a few weeks at a time. Jose Bautista has slipped dramatically and JP Arencibia is one-dimensional. Melky Cabrera has been disappointing and was placed on revocable waivers recently. The rest are utility players. They have performed at utility player levels, but have played full time.

Last year when the Jays had a couple of young starters in the rotation and their closer went down with an injury, they scrapped and fought until injuries decimated organizational depth. They were 3 games over .500, but finished with a 73-89 record. The 2013 Jays were pre-season favourites to go deep into the playoffs and perhaps challenge for a World Series title. Not only is that a distant memory, but this team may not even match the 73 wins achieved by last years squad. Just to reach their 2012 win total, the Jays need to go 23-29 (.442) the rest of the way, but they’ve played .333 ball in the 36 games since the 11-game win streak.

I’m a Jays’ fan and have followed them for a long, long time but this team is tough to watch. The 1994-95 teams were loaded with talent, but suffered the dip in performance that is common to many post-title teams. The Jays have declined every year since Alex Anthopolous took the helm as GM. Player turnover has been frequent, the farm has been built up and dismantled in short order, and the results on the field have been poor. They play poorly at home and even more poorly on the road. This is a bad team, and the prospect of improvement seems dim.

Perhaps the most distressing thought is that they will play well down the stretch, resurrecting the shallow, baseless hope that’s plagued this franchise for too many years now. My hope is that I’m wrong. I hope that RA Dickey, Josh Thole, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Emilio Bonifacio, Melky Cabrera and Maicer Izturis are all better than they’ve shown this year.

Wes Kepstro

Blue Jays 2012 – State Of The Union

Since the Detroit Tigers landed big slugging 1B/DH Prince Fielder and signed him to a massive nine-year $214 million dollar contract I have heard (and read) from a lot of Blue Jays fans – and the general consensus is they are fed up, frustrated and upset.  They heard the rumblings that the Jays were going to be potential players on this year’s free agent market, that the team had permission to spend, not as much as the New York Yankees but at least to the level of the Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Angels.

Alex Anthopoulos doesn’t make many mistakes and hasn’t taken much in the way of criticism since he took over the reins from J.P. Ricciardi but this offseason he has done a poor job at one thing, controlling the expectations of an impatient fan base.  The Jays were allegedly interested in Yu Darvish and might have (or not) placed on a bid for the Japanese star pitcher and “Jays Nation” ate this story up and ran with it.

Continue reading ‘Blue Jays 2012 – State Of The Union’


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