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Riding with the Wind, ’14: Week One

Well, the first week of the 2014 season hasn’t exactly been exemplary for the Toronto Blue Jays. They played the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees in their first seven games of the season and are 3-4 at the end of a week.  A split in Tampa was somewhat encouraging; a series loss to the apparently over-the-hill-and-lost-their-skills Yankees wasn’t.  The Jays also lost Jose Reyes and Casey Janssen to the DL, forcing them to scramble a little.

RA Dickey has been (very) bad once and (very) good once, as has Drew Hutchison, though they did it in opposite fashion.  Mark Buehrle was staggeringly dominant.  Brandon Morrow and Dustin McGowan, the feel good story of Spring Training, were eminently hittable.  What we saw from two of the starters–Dickey; Morrow–was within expectations.  What we saw from another two–McGowan; Hutchison–was a learning experience.  What we saw from one of them–Buehrle–will probably never happen again.  Interestingly, however, the Jays were #1 in MLB in rotation WAR before the rubber match against the Yankees.  Improvement over last season is essential, but do they have the horses?

The bullpen, sans Casey Janssen who is also on the DL, has been its usual self: solid and over-worked.  A few blips are expected, as their #13 rank in MLB in ‘pen WAR attests, but overall they’ve acquitted themselves well.  In the series finale against NY, for instance, Todd Redmond, Steve Delabar, and Esmil Rogers combined to throw 5.2 IP of 3-hit, no-run ball with 1 BB and 6 Ks against the NYY, allowing the Jays at least the opportunity to get back into the game.  This is a good ‘pen that will get better when Janssen returns.  In a surprising early move Jeremy Jeffress, who struggled to find the strike zone, was DFA’ed and replaced by Marcus Walden.

Offensively, the Jays have either been brutal or very good.  Edwin Encarnacion, Colby Rasmus, Ryan Goins, Moises Sierra, and Brett Lawrie are struggling mightily and fit the fomer designation.  Edwin struggled out of the gate last season, then really hit his stride.  Expect that to happen again.  Colby’s off to a cold start and Goins/Sierra have little-to-no experience but Lawrie’s struggles are troubling.  He came up with a good reputation, but has yet to adjust well to the big leagues.  It’s difficult to know what to expect from Brett Lawrie.  Sierra’s still looking for his first hit of the season.  Goins wasn’t expected to hit.

Jose Bautista, Melky Cabrera, and Adam Lind are hitting well.  Jose looks like 2010-2011 Jose in the early going.  A tumour-less Melky is a sight to behold, running hard and pounding balls all over the yard.  His 3 HR already equal his total of 2013.  Expect a 3.0-3.5 fWAR season from him.  Adam Lind and Maicer Izturis are both off to very good starts offensively.  Jonathan Diaz, Reyes’ replacement, has contributed positive WAR so far, and reminds some of former super-sub John MacDonald.

The catching trio of Navarro, Thole, and Kratz isn’t a black hole in any way, which is refreshing.  Kratz was re-called when Janssen was put on the DL, Thole has caught Dickey twice and Navarro is receiving rave reviews from teammates.  He’s contributed offensively, as well, but not enough to be a positive contributor.  It’s his defense and game management that’s in focus.  Defensively, the trio really needs to work on throwing out base stealers.  The trio ranks 10th in MLB defensively, which is a serious upgrade.  Interestingly, the teams that rank #1 and #2 in catcher defense this season are the Mets and Texas.

Defensively this team is light years ahead of last year’s squad.  Diaz and Goins have been solid up the middle, as has Colby Rasmus.  Melky’s covering ground very well for him.  We don’t expect a Gold Glove, but we’re being treated to a vast improvement.  Melky and Rasmus both have OF assists already.  Lawrie’s hitting struggles aren’t affecting his play in the field adversely, while Lind and Encarnacion are passable at 1B.  Jose is Jose in RF.

The Blue Jays are 3-4, all against AL East opponents.  They have only one off day in April (tomorrow, April 7), and no off days in May.  It’s not going to be easy for them but, frustratingly, it’s crucial to get off to a good start in the AL East.  Last season the Jays were 2-5 after 7 games, on their way to a 10-17 April record.

This team needs to hold their own for the first couple of months.  A .500 record after a month or so is perfectly acceptable, because runs can be made.  Digging themselves too deep a hole, as they did in 2013, will result in another sub-par season and, undoubtedly, some significant changes.  What I’d like to see is consistency, whether consistently bad or consistently good is irrelevant to me.  Either way, they know what they have and corresponding moves can be made.

Wes Kepstro

RA Dickey Shows 3 MPH Increase On Knuckler, Dominates Yankees

RA Dickey gave the Toronto Blue Jays a glimpse of how good his knuckleball can be Saturday afternoon against the New York Yankees.  Dickey was masterful over 6.2 shutout innings striking out 6 Yankee batters.  So the question has to be asked – is RA Dickey circa 2012 back?

Dickey was extremely ineffective in his first start this season and after a promising spring training where he had been throwing the knuckler slightly harder it was definitely a disappointing beginning to the season.

A lot of discussion was had surrounding his velocity, or lack thereof last season so I thought I would take a closer look at just that today.  Here is a chart showing the velocity and movement of RA Dickey’s knuckleball from four different starts.  The first is a start against the Tampa Bay Rays in 2012, then the opener against Cleveland in 2013 and of course his first two starts of this current season.

Start Date   Velo (Max)   H-Break   V-Break   Count   Whiffs / %  
6/13/2012 78.7 (82.4) 2.75 1.99 101 23 / 22.8%
4/2/2013 77.3 (80.9) 0.37 0.43 97 9 / 9.3%
3/31/2014 75.5 (78.6) 2.20 2.39 82 10 / 12.2%
4/5/2014 77.7 (81.4) -0.49 1.74 94 13 / 13.8%

As you can see Dickey really was able to power that knuckler during his NL Cy Young campaign from 2012 with the New York Mets.  The average velocity was still 1 MPH higher in that start than during his last start versus the New York Yankees yesterday.  His highest average knuckler also maxed out over 1 MPH higher as well.

Dickey was basically a man possessed during that start against the Rays in 2012 generating a ridiculous 22.8% whiff rate.  He was good against the New York Yankees yesterday but will probably never be able to match that particular start in 2012 – nor should he be expected to.

In 2013 he threw 224.2 IPs with a 4.21 ERA, 7.09 K/9, 4.58 FIP and 2.0 fWAR.  Overall those aren’t terrible numbers but fans expected a lot more from the reigning 2012 NL Cy Young winner when he was acquired last offseason for the hefty price of Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard.

He didn’t quite flash Cy Young yesterday form but when compared to his first start of the 2014 campaign RA Dickey was almost a completely different and better pitcher.  He was on average over 2 MPH harder and each knuckleball and his hardest “power” knuckler was nearly 3 MPH harder.  He was also able to throw much more strikes consistently.

As you can also see from all four starts the knuckleball really has a mind of its own in terms of movement both horizontally and vertically.  I don’t think Russell Crowe in a Beautiful Mind could find a pattern in that data.

If RA Dickey can maintain his velocity and success from his last start against the New York Yankees it would definitely bode well for any sustained success from the 39-year old knuckleball pitcher.  Dickey is under contract with the Blue Jays for another season (2015) plus an option year.  At the very least Dickey could increase his trade value league wide if Alex Anthopoulos was looking to cash in.

Balance of Power – Jays Struggles With Tampa Bay More than Just Simple Road Woes

Balance of Power – Blue Jays Struggles With Tampa Bay More Than Just Simple Road Woes

After beginning the season with a series split against the AL East powerhouse Tampa Bay Rays I was beginning to think of what it would take for the Toronto Blue Jays to really become an annual contender themselves.  I fully expect this season to be up and down and if the Blue Jays finish the season around the .500 mark I don’t think most fans would be shocked.

But no I am talking about becoming extremely competitive, year in and year out.

How can a team truly consider themselves a contender when you hear the words “if he stays healthy” for 60% of the starting rotation?  Yes health is a key equation for any potential success league wide but if health will almost completely dictate your fate then you were defeated before you even began the season.

The key to this current season for me isn’t Brandon Morrow, RA Dickey or even Jose Reyes.  This season the key players will be the development of Drew Hutchison, Daniel Norris, Kyle Drabek, Marcus Stroman, Roberto Osuna and Aaron Sanchez.  In short development of the most volatile commodity in baseball will be the real key for the franchise going forward.

The Tampa Bay Rays are the model organization in baseball and when they lose a key member of the starting rotation there is no panic, just a replacement.  James Shields would have been the best pitcher the Blue Jays organization has had over the last decade not named Roy Halladay.

The Rays rotation not only continued to thrive in his absence but they were able to parlay Shields into a potential all-star in right field.  Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, Matt Moore and Jake Odorizzi make it easy for a team to simply trade their ace and if not for injury they would have stud right handed prospect Taylor Guerreri knocking on the proverbial major league door as well.

The Blue Jays need to take a step back and reassess what is working and what is not.  The current major league team is not a contender and when Josh Johnson and RA Dickey proved to be less than Ace 1 and Ace 1a this team never had a chance as currently constructed.  Alex Anthopoulos right or wrong took his shot and unfortunately appears to have come up short.

I don’t doubt his intentions and neither did a majority of the fan base.  While I don’t think anyone in their right mind thought the trade of Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard for RA Dickey was shrewd the notion of contending in 2013 can somewhat justify the move.  Of course in hindsight it could turn out to be one of the most lop-sided trades in the Alex Anthopoulos era.

I think it was simply a case where the Blue Jays made their move about one season too soon.  If they had Aaron Sanchez, Noah Syndergaard, Justin Nicolino, Drew Hutchison and Marcus Stroman all knocking on the door ready to contribute to a major league roster it makes filling out a winning roster much easier.

Bringing in Ervin Santana would not have been the answer.  If the team had been close to the playoffs last season I think you could justify if not promote bringing in that extra piece or as a replacement for Josh Johnson but when a season goes so off the rails and was nowhere near good enough the entire roster is likely due for a major tune-up.

If the engine of a race car just can’t match the output of other race cars there is no sense buying expensive tires to compensate.  Though it will be painful and a sign of defeat the engine must be rebuilt.  This isn’t to say that there is a complete blow-up of the current team but until we can roll out a young quartet of starting pitchers that Tampa Bay possesses or we decide that no price is too great to sign Yu Darvish, Zack Greinke or David Price then we are not in a place to contend.

Mark Buehrle was brought in to be the number four or five starter but is now seemingly our only reliable option every five days.  That should tell a team everything it needs to know.  The path to major league success is not linear and I hold out hope that one or two (or more) of Marcus Stroman, Drew Hutchison, Kyle Drabek, Aaron Sanchez, Daniel Norris, Roberto Osuna take a big step forward in 2014.

If the trade of either Jose Bautista or Edwin Encarnacion can speed up the quick retool with a too good to pass up offer of young cost controlled pitching prospects than I think Alex Anthopoulos has to give strong consideration to pulling the trigger.  I love both hitters but the market has shown you can add veteran sluggers (maybe not at their level) on the cheap.  Nelson Cruz was barely able to land a contract and Stephen Drew continues to sit out waiting for an appropriate contract.

I have enjoyed the early season Blue Jays action because I am a loyal fan of the team and they have looked sharper with the gloves and have shown some resolve playing in a house of horrors.  Like anyone else I am quietly optimistic that the team plays above expectations and fights for playoff contention.

But I am also a realist who gets discouraged when I compare our current organizational depth chart with our rivals from Tampa Bay.  Pitching has to come from internal development, astute trades and occasionally free agency.  The team has had a very difficult time drafting and developing legitimate major league starting pitchers and that is still very concerning.

Until we roll into Tampa Bay with a starting rotation that can match or exceed the Rays it will continue to be a house of horrors.  The balance of power in the AL East has shifted considerably over the last decade and it certainly hasn’t proved advantageous to the Toronto Blue Jays.

AL East Prospect Report – April 5, 2014

Some great performances by Blue Jays prospects.  Alberto Tirado dominates and AJ Jimenez off to fast start.  In other news Cleveland’s Trevor Bauer dominates.  LA Dodgers teenage phenom Julio Urias looked sharp.

Hitters:

BAL AA Alvarez, Dariel CF 4 1 1 1 .333
BAL AA Ohlman, Michael C 3 2 3 1 .571 2 BB (3)
BAL AA Walker, Christian 1B 5 2 3 1 .500
BAL AAA Urrutia, Henry LF 3 1 1 0 .286 BB (1), CS (1)
BAL HiA Davis, Glynn CF 5 2 2 0 .375 2B (1)
BAL LoA Mancini, Trey 1B 5 0 1 1 .250 2B (1), SB (1)
BAL LoA Sisco, Chance C 4 1 1 0 .429
BAL MAJ Schoop, Jonathan 3B 4 0 1 1 .182

 
BOS AA Betts, Mookie 2B 5 0 3 0 .778 2 2B (2), CS (1)
BOS AA Coyle, Sean 3B 4 1 2 2 .333 HR (1)
BOS AA Marrero, Deven SS 4 1 1 0 .375 2B (3), BB (1)
BOS AA Swihart, Blake C 4 0 1 1 .429
BOS AAA Brentz, Bryce RF 3 1 1 2 .167 BB (1)
BOS AAA Butler, Dan DH 4 0 1 0 .250
BOS AAA Cecchini, Garin 3B 4 1 1 2 .333 2B (1)
BOS AAA Vazquez, Christian C 4 1 3 2 .429 2 2B (2)
BOS LoA Rijo, Wendell 2B 4 0 2 0 .375 2B (1)

NYY AA Sanchez, Gary C 5 1 1 0 .125 2B (1)
NYY AA Williams, Mason CF 4 1 1 0 .250 BB (1)
NYY HiA Gumbs, Angelo 2B 4 0 1 0 .125
NYY LoA Avelino, Abiatal SS 2 2 2 1 .429 3 BB (3), SB (1)
NYY LoA Judge, Aaron RF 4 0 1 0 .125 BB (1)
NYY LoA Katoh, Gosuke 2B 3 1 1 0 .400 BB (3), 2 SB (3)

TB AA Casali, Curt DH 4 0 1 0 .143
TB AA Shaffer, Richie 3B 4 1 1 1 .125 HR (1)
TB AAA Kiermaier, Kevin CF 5 3 3 1 .444 HR (2)

TOR AA Burns, Andy 3B 4 0 1 1 .111
TOR AA Jimenez, A.J. C 4 1 3 2 .625 2 2B (2)
TOR AA Wilson, Kenny CF 5 1 1 0 .333
TOR LoA Davis, D.J. CF 4 1 2 2 .500 2B (1), 2 SB (2)
TOR LoA Dean, Matt 1B 5 1 1 0 .200
TOR LoA Nay, Mitch 3B 5 1 2 2 .400 2B (1)

Pitchers:

BAL AAA Gausman, Kevin 4.2 3 0 0 2 6 0.00
BAL HiA Bridwell, Parker 4 4 4 3 6 3 6.75
BAL HiA Givens, Mychal 1 0 0 0 0 1 0.00
BAL LoA Harvey, Hunter 6 4 0 0 0 5 0.00 W (1-0)
BAL MAJ Stinson, Josh 2.2 4 1 1 0 0 2.45

 

BOS AAA Ranaudo, Anthony 4 4 4 1 4 7 2.25
BOS AAA Wilson, Alex 1 0 0 0 2 1 0.00
BOS LoA Callahan, Jamie 3.2 4 3 3 6 4 7.36 L (0-1)

NYY LoA Severino, Luis 2 2 3 3 2 2 13.50 L (0-1)
NYY MAJ Betances, Dellin 0.1 0 0 0 2 0 0.00
NYY MAJ Tanaka, Masahiro 7 6 3 2 0 8 2.57 W (1-0)

TB AA Floro, Dylan 5 7 4 4 1 4 7.20
TB AAA Romero, Enny 4 6 6 4 3 4 9.00 L (0-1)
TB MAJ Odorizzi, Jake 6 3 0 0 3 4 0.00 W (1-0)

TOR LoA Labourt, Jairo 3.1 2 1 1 4 4 2.70
TOR LoA Tirado, Alberto 4 5 1 1 1 7 2.25 Sv (1)

AL East Prospect Report – April 4, 2014

Hitters:

BAL AA Alvarez, Dariel CF 5 1 2 1 .400 2 2B (2)
BAL AA Walker, Christian 1B 5 1 2 0 .400 2B (1)
BAL AA Ohlman, Michael C 4 1 1 0 .250 2B (1), BB (1)
BAL AAA Urrutia, Henry RF 4 0 1 0 .250
BAL HiA Davis, Glynn CF 3 3 1 2 .333 2 BB (2), SB (1)
BAL HiA Marin, Adrian SS 4 0 1 0 .250
BAL LoA Sisco, Chance C 3 2 2 1 .667 2 2B (2), BB (1)
BAL LoA Mancini, Trey 1B 3 0 1 0 .333 BB (1)

 
BOS AA Betts, Mookie 2B 4 3 4 1 1.000 HR (1)
BOS AA Marrero, Deven SS 4 0 2 2 .500 2 2B (2)
BOS AA Swihart, Blake C 3 0 2 1 .667 3B (1)
BOS AAA Cecchini, Garin 3B 2 0 1 0 .500 BB (1)
BOS LoA Lin, Tzu-Wei SS 3 0 3 0 1.000 BB (1), 2 SB (2)
BOS LoA Rijo, Wendell 2B 4 0 1 0 .250
BOS MAJ Bogaerts, Xander SS 4 2 3 0 .556
BOS MAJ Bradley, Jackie CF 4 1 2 1 .400

NYY AA Williams, Mason CF 4 0 1 0 .250
NYY AAA Flores, Ramon RF 4 0 2 1 .500 3B (1)
NYY HiA O’Brien, Peter C 4 2 1 2 .250 HR (1)
NYY HiA Cave, Jake CF 4 0 1 0 .250
NYY LoA Andujar, Miguel 3B 4 0 1 1 .250 3B (1)
NYY LoA Avelino, Abiatal SS 5 0 1 1 .200 2B (1)
NYY LoA Katoh, Gosuke 2B 2 1 1 0 .500 2 BB (2), SB (1)
NYY LoA Torrens, Luis C 3 1 1 0 .333

TB AA Hager, Jake SS 4 0 1 0 .250 3B (1)
TB AAA Kiermaier, Kevin CF 4 1 1 3 .250 HR (1)
TB AAA Mahtook, Mikie RF 4 0 1 0 .250 SB (1)
TB HiA Toles, Andrew CF 5 0 1 0 .200 2B (1), CS (1)
TB HiA Goeddel, Tyler 3B 4 0 1 0 .250 SB (1)
TB HiA O’Conner, Justin C 4 1 1 0 .250
TB LoA Hernandez, Oscar C 4 1 1 4 .250 HR (1)

TOR AA Wilson, Kenny CF 4 1 2 3 .500 3B (1)
TOR AA Jimenez, A.J. C 4 0 2 1 .500 BB (1)
TOR HiA Smith, Dwight LF 5 1 4 0 .800
TOR HiA Pompey, Dalton CF 4 2 1 1 .250 BB (1)

Pitchers:

BAL AA Gurka, Jason 2 1 1 1 0 3 4.50
BAL AA Rodriguez, Eduardo 5 8 5 4 2 2 7.20 W (1-0)
BAL AAA Jones, Chris 2.2 1 0 0 0 1 0.00
BAL HiA Kline, Branden 5 7 1 1 0 4 1.80 W (1-0)
BAL LoA Brault, Steven 4 8 6 6 2 2 13.50 L (0-1)
BAL LoA Keller, Jon 2 1 0 0 0 4 0.00

BOS AA Owens, Henry 6 0 0 0 2 9 0.00 W (1-0)
BOS AAA Britton, Drake 1.1 1 0 0 0 1 0.00
BOS AAA Webster, Allen 3.2 7 3 3 2 4 7.36 L (0-1)
BOS HiA Johnson, Brian 5 4 2 1 2 7 1.80 W (1-0)
BOS LoA Kukuk, Cody 5 3 1 1 4 4 1.80 W (1-0)
BOS MAJ Workman, Brandon 0.2 1 0 0 1 1 0.00

NYY AA Mitchell, Bryan 4 4 4 4 2 4 9.00 L (0-1)
NYY HiA Banuelos, Manny 3 0 0 0 1 3 0.00

TB AAA Karns, Nate 2.2 3 6 5 7 1 16.88

TOR AA Sanchez, Aaron 5 1 0 0 2 5 0.00 W (1-0)
TOR AAA Stilson, John 0.2 1 1 1 2 1 13.50
TOR AAA Stroman, Marcus 4 4 2 2 1 4 4.50

 

Riding with the Wind, ’14: A Good Read

I just read a community research article at http://www.fangraphs.com written by Foster Honeck a few days ago, entitled “Baseball’s Biggest Market Inefficiency”.  It is worth your time, whether you agree or disagree with him.

I won’t play the role of spoiler, but I will make one comment about the Toronto Blue Jays: you will be interested or outraged or intrigued or surprised or something else to see the Jays’ rank.  It is unlikely that you will be indifferent.

Read it, enjoy it, respond to it thoughtfully, or react to it viscerally.  It was not what I expected nor did it tell me what I wanted to hear, both of which contributed to my enjoyment.

Wes Kepstro

Break from Baseball – Sultans of Swing

The Sultans of Swing, our Toronto Blue Jays are on the verge of another baseball season.  Here is a quick break from baseball for a sweet cover – fittingly given the composition of our roster with a Cajun flair!


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