Thursday, June 30, 2011

Thursday Pre-Canada Day Tweetbag

It's Canada Day, goddamnit! Time to get yo draaaank on and feel vaguely superior because, you know...we're not Americans. (With due apologies to our American readers. Sometimes, our patriotism comes at your expense. Though your loyal blogger is not of that sort.)

Wave a flag, raise a brew, and let's get on with it. Tweetbag into the weekend!

First up, asks: Who's next year's backup catcher? Hard to dislike 2011's Molina, but is 2012 a younger guy's turn? What's your Canada Day beer?

There's a question, we suppose, as to whether is José Molina will break down physically by next year to the point where his best attributes (notably, that smile, his great haircut and his well groomed facial hair) will fall into question. Molina has been perfectly serviceable, and we think he's been a good mentor to J.P. Arencibia, though really, how the hell would we know such a thing?

There's a question as to whether if Travis d'Arnaud will be ready by next year, or if Brian Jeroloman might be the catch-and-throw guy in 2012 or 2013, and whether if the Jays are ready to go with two younger catchers. We don't think that such a thing will send the rotation into freefall, given that Arencibia has already shown some impressive growth in his defensive and game calling abilities. If it were Molina, we'd be fine with that, but if one of the youngsters is ready, then we'd be happy to see the (stop us before we say it) Catcher of the Fut...Urgh. Just barfed in the wastebasket.

Speaking of which: Beer choices! We were going to rock the Kronnenbourg 1667 for Canada Day (Mais oui!), but given that we should show some damn patriotism, we'll be scarfing back some Propeller Best Bitter (Halifax! What up!) and some other local Ontario beer that we can't remember, but that we picked up in Merrickville a few weeks ago. We'll tweet the name later.


asks: Does the warm reception Doc's sure to get hold throughout Saturday's game? Should it?

Oh sure. Why not. It should be fun for people to see Doc again, and get to appreciate what he brought to the team for lo, those many individually glorious years.

(Though, if Toronto fans seem so determined to boo every cat who comes back, why would they heap scorn on Lyle Overbay? Especially since his worst crime against the franchise was, you know, being Lyle Overbay...Meanwhile, Halladay pretty much engineered his exit and limited the Jays' potential for maximizing their return by insisting on essentially one destination...But nevermind that.)

Here's what we suggest: Get misty-eyed in the first inning when you see Roy in another team's uni, standing on the Rogers Centre mound. And then, when the Jays light him up for ten runs (it could happen!), hit your feet and root root root for the home team. Halladay was a special player, and deserves a nice ovation. But let's not lose track of where our allegiances lie.

And another thing! asks: Best guess: DFAd or traded (or neither) by July 31: Rivera? Patterson? EE? Nix? Hill (gasp)?

Is this sorta like that Fuck/Marry/Kill game? (And BTW, doesn't that game end up in a pretty grim place? Like, couldn't it be Fuck/Marry/Completely Ignore? Just to be more civilized?)

To the point, though. We'll call this game "Here/Released/Elsewhere", and we'll extend the timeframe to August 31, because some of these sorts of players probably only get dealt after the deadline, and closer to September 1st. And here it is:

Hill - Here
Nix - Released
EE - Here
Rivera - Elsewhere
Patterson - Elsewhere

Another! asks: do you think Davis's faith issues were really a problem, or using it as a crutch?

(For those who are wondering about this question, there's this article from John Lott at the Post that is a fairly intriguing look into Rajai's headspace.) I'm not even particularly sure that what Davis had was a "faith" issue per se, but that's how he's defining it, so who are we to judge? ("Crutch" sounds pretty harsh here.) Suffice to say, Davis is going through stuff, and it is taking away from his ability to perform his duties on the field. That's all we really care about.

However it is that he thinks he's going to make amends or adjust his behaviour in order to get back on track, that's his deal. We just expect him to perform.

Onward! asks: seeing Thames hit his 1st big league HR live last night was a thing of beauty. What kind of player can Thames be for the Jays?

The more we see of Thames, the more we like. We don't figure him to really be a right fielder, so the sooner the Jays can move him back to left, the better. Is he above the Mencherson Line(TM)? Certainly. We see him as an .800 OPS guy, maybe contributing along the lines of the later-era Shannon Stewart. (After he stopped running.) And you know, that's not half bad.

Last one! asks: Isn't doing the same thing over & over expecting a diff. response textbook insane? (re: starting Aaron Hill)

Hill's actually looked as though he's stopped swinging for the fences, and he's still playing good defense, so we're not sure that replacing him with Johnny Mac or Jason Nix at this point makes sense. Hill's never going to be a great on base guy, and dialing back the home run swings in favour of some singles and doubles might lead him into a .320 OBP/.400 SLG territory that could be okay at the bottom of your lineup. We just have to adjust our mindset and not think of him as a Silver Slugger who's having a bad year. He's an okay hitter who had one great year.

Okay! That's it! And of course, it only took us all day to get around to this. That's okay. You'll have all weekend to comment!

Have a great Canada Day weekend, and we'll see you back

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

We Believe in Edwin Encarnacion

(Blogger seems to be acting funny again with the photos, so you'll just have to pretend that you can see the photo of Edwin Encarnacion, shining with a heavenly light with the dulcet tones of the choir invisible singing his praises. It's kinda cool.)

Last night, somewhere in between his two home runs, we offered forth two thoughts on Edwin Encarnacion, which we will recycle here. (You'll forgive us for quoting ourself, like we're Chet from Kicking and Screaming.)

Firstly: "You know who still calls EE "E5"? Prickish fucking ingrates. "

And then: "You may say I'm a dreamer...But a 20 HR season for EE is not out of the question."

And we all had a good laugh, and then Edwin cranked another home run, and you all stood dumbfounded by our foresight. (Right?)

It's damn hard being an EE apologist, what with the awful start to the season at the plate, and let's not even mention the fielding. Yet, we've felt for some time as though Encarnacion was starting to pull himself out of the funk and make himself into a perfectly good DH. And yes, the thought that he's the next coming of David Ortiz - a no field, all hit late bloomer - may have crossed our mind. Like, a thousand times or so.

It's not just last night's offensive onslaught that has us thinking in this manner, though. For the month of June, EE has posted a .967 OPS (.356 OBP, .611 SLG) with five doubles and four homers in 59 plate appearances. (And if you want to play a little dirtier with arbitrary endpoints, you can back up a couple of days to May 29th, and jack that OPS up to 1.019 and add another home run to the tote board. Just for fun.)

We've heard EE describe in much harsher terms than "E5" earlier this season, as fans torqued up their anticipatory frustration with the franchise and began referring to Edwin as "garbage" and "nothing" and "worthless". We're not so foolish as to use one game to tell you that we told you so. But we hope some of those who trade in hyperbolic vitriol as they preemptively vacate the bandwagon find that the harsh words towards EE are now much harder to summon.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

An Ode to Brett Cecil's Thighs

O! Thighs of Brett Cecil! Mighty stanchions of our hero!
Thou art both rigid and pliable,
Providing both a sound, supportive base,
And dynamic energy for the day's errand.

Pat Tabler might be tempted to say
That thou art "So strong".
(Though such a thing is so often offered forth by the Blonde Banterer
As to be utterly inconsequential.)

Rather, perhaps, thoust are unwavering,
Or unyielding, (though perhaps only somewhat yielding,
What with that one night in Fresno, in which so much was yielded.)

No matter! Thou art true and constant,
Serving as the very base of the man,
Who is occasionally derelict
In his use of your generous capacity for virtuous brawn.

(Because he, who tends to you with squats and lifts -
And all manner of calisthenic -
Will often neglect you, and show undue favour towards
Dubious shoulder, or enigmatic arm.)

Dost he not recognize the folly of merely standing on magnificent pillars,
Using them primarily as a pivot,
When the authoritative brawn within those bedrock limbs
Is the very footing of his future prosperity?

Thighs of Brett Cecil: We implore you
To remain stalwart, staunch and stout.
Hoist the full heft of the man with resolute conviction,
And provide him with the robust mechanism
To once again gleam like a gem
On this, the preeminent pitching plane.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Another Swing of the Pendulum

A week ago, we're all climbing the walls and losing our senses and shouting from the rooftops about just how goddamned mad we are about the shite state of affairs for the Jays.

A week later, we're all good. A weekend sweep will do that.

Okay, it could be that we're swinging a little too far towards the positive after going way over into the negative (or at least what passes for negative from us.) Some of you haven't quite managed to get the taste of the past few weeks from your mouth, and to be honest, we haven't quite either. Getting a weekend to pound on the NL Central is fun and all, but it still featured a pretty sparse lineup that, for the most part, continues to struggle.1

Still, if there's some saving grace, it is that that the brain trust of the organization seems at the very least prepared to adapt and adjust course at this point of the season, and that they recognize the failings of the team as constructed. The announcement last week that José Bautista would return to the infield to patrol third base might have been seen as a radical move in some markets, but given the year-long exhibition of Jayson Nix's offensive befuddlement and Edwin Encarnacion's immunity to Brian Butterfield's magical defensive coaching powers, Jays fans were ready to give up some of the One Man Gang's outfield worth in favour of a rebalancing of the lineup.

Mind you, the Jays brought up Eric Thames and sat him on Sunday afternoon in spite of the right-hander on the mound. Of course, this speaks to the deeper problem of having one centrefielder who can't hit, three leftfielders to cycle through and only Corey Patterson to fill in up the middle.2

Still, all indications seem to be that Travis Snider will return as soon as he gets a few more games in AAA to shake of the post-beaning rust, and Brett Lawrie will be recalled at the earliest possible time. So there's forward motion, of a sort.

And with all of this, the Jays still sit at an even .500, with a 39-39 record. Now think about all that's gone wrong with this team, and the injuries and backsliding, and the fact that a guy who most wouldn't have figured to make the bullpen is now the team's second-best starter...and yet this team is still ahead of where many of us thought they'd be this year.

Those are small mercies, to be sure. But there are still embers of optimism to be stoked.
Endnotes are back! Because we love them!

1. The Ricky Romero two-run single is really fun, and we can all enjoy it. But take those two runs he drove in and set them aside, and it underscores the paucity of offensive production that the Jays continue to get, especially from Rajai Davis.

2. And boy howdy! Didn't Corey Patterson do an exquisite job of demonstrating his inability to play CF yesterday.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Friday Jays Chat with...Hum and Chuck

(Yesterday afternoon, Joanna from Hum and Chuck and I caught up on the off day to discuss the awfulness of the Braves series, as well as the high and low points of the season so far. Below is a transcript of our chat.)

umChuck: Hey

Tao: Ding ding ding...Let's get it on!

HumChuck: So, that was a rather shitty series

Tao: Dreadful. It was drudgery to watch it unfold. And it's not as if you could even really get much of a hate-on for the Braves. Chipper aside, I guess.

HumChuck: No, they seem to be a pretty good team, which some nice young arms and pitchers that hit home runs

Tao: I wondered that night if Tim Hudson was really that good, of if the Jays just made them look good. You take a look at the strike zone graphs, and the Jays (Hill and Davis, in particular) we waving at stuff that was nowhere near the strike zone. Down down down and away away.

HumChuck: Davis' new name is "Down and Away." In funks like this, I sometimes wonder if it would better to not swing at anything. Cause swinging at balls is just torture.

Tao: When the Jays got Davis, I think I said "good fourth outfielder, and could play every day in a pinch." But that was probably a bit too enthusiastic. He actually looks worse at the plate right now than Snider did when he got sent down, and that's saying something. He probably belongs on the bench, but the Jays just don't have another CF option.

HumChuck: Some people are whispering "Vernon...." some places. Not loudly or aggressively.
It's just a different situation to be in. We have no options at centre field for the first time in a long time.

Tao: I forget if it was in the comments or in a post, but I mentioned that - money set aside, and you can never really do that - I kinda miss some of what Vernon did. But yeah, for years, we couldn't wait to bump Vernon because we had a perfectly good replacement in Rios...and now neither are here. And productive CFs don't just fall out of the sky.

HumChuck: If he could leave his contract in Los Angeles, Vernon can come play any day.

Tao: Just looking up their numbers: Rios, .599 OPS. Yikes! That's Nixian territory. And Wells is .566, which is EXACTLY the same as Jayson Nix. Wow. Maybe we should keep our nostalgia in check. (Ray-Jay is a monster .622, BTW.)

HumChuck: What did you think about the Romero comments? Big deal out of nothing?

Tao: In a weird way, it was probably good for the team. He says something upsetting (possibly) to the media about his teammates, and then he comes back and says: "OK, I'm sorry. I love you guys. We're family. But seriously, start hitting." And it's all out in the open. Ricky seems like a guy who wears his emotions on his sleeve, and I don't think it's smart to just stifle him, because he really wasn't wrong at all with what he said.

I also see it as a situation where all of these people are adults, and he said what he said in the most diplomatic way. He said "We" a lot and he didn't say specific names. I don't think what he said was wrong, either.

Tao: And by the way: The way that the Jays' media corps dealt with this? They should remember this the next time they spend months on end getting media-trained non-answers. They really torqued this into something else.

HumChuck Yeah, what it became was totally blown out of proportion.

Tao: Saying RickRo "called out" his teammates was really turning this into something that it wasn't. But then, here we are still talking about it. Onto happier dunno.

HumChuck: Let's answer some Twitter questions.

Tao: Bring it.

HumChuck: @Grubersmullet asks Can Carlos V be a legit #4/#5 starter for Jays? Possibly taking over Litsch?

Tao: I don't know that Jesse is all that close, or that he can stay healthy for any amount of time, so I'd take the second part out of the equation. But can Villanueva be a part of the rotation? I think so, but I think in the long term, he might be best suited to a middle relief role. His second or third time through the league, I'm not sure if he's going to continue to be as effective with just pounding 89 MPH fastballs down. But he's been great so far, and probably my favourite acquisition this offseason.

HumChuck: It was robbery what AA did. Our current #5 cost 100,000 dollars.
I really like what Villanueva has done so far, and what I think the policy on pitching should be is that the best guys pitch. And the ones that are successful stay and the ones that aren't get swapped out. Having too much pitching is a luxury

Tao: It's a good philosophy, although I think people would have been tempted early in the season to punt Jo-Jo Reyes out of the rotation (or frankly, out of the organization.) We're lucky that there wasn't a quick hook on him, because he's really been the second or third most effective starter, behind RickRo and sorta behind Villanueva.

HumChuck: There are always different rules for southpaws.
I will amend my philosophy, and say that success would be judged by more than just certain numbers. Cause JoJo had turned a corner at a one point that happened several starts before the win.

Tao: Yeah, he's been alright. But it kinda raises the other question, which is: What's the deal with Brandon Morrow, and when does he snap out of it?

HumChuck: Morrow showed signs that he snapped out of it his last start. Morrow's 2010 first half numbers are eerily similar to his first half this season. I had just forgotten because he was so awesome the 2nd half. His next few starts should really be indicative. And he should use his changeup more.

Tao: It would be nice to think that he could put an entire season together, but we'll settle for now for a good second half. As for the change: He's been missing with fastballs early in counts, which means he ends up playing with a smaller deck. Still, he should come around. Any more questions from the tweeps?

HumChuck: Morrow also missed a chunk of time on the DL, so he might have "snapped out of it" earlier had that not happened. More tweep questions.
@Roll_Fizzlebeef wants us to talk about baserunning, why some people have a knack for it and why some people need a stop sign at every base.

Tao: I hate to go too far down this road, because I can see where someone might want to take this, but I think some guys are just smarter players than others. Some have the skill because they've worked at it, or because they've learned the hard way when not to take the extra base. Some guys have to be smart base runners, the way some other players have to be good defensive players. They need the skill to supplement other weaknesses. I guess. I don't know. I kinda feel like that question was leading to something...

: Corey Patterson is a bad baserunner is where it is leading.
I don't think he is dumb, but he may have been one of those guys who are so talented, they never had to learn the way to do something. Alex Rios is like that. Jose Bautista is not like that.

Tao: Corey Patterson is the black Reed Johnson. Actually, Reed Johnson's probably better. And it pains me to say that, because 1) I hate Reed Johnson and 2) Reed Johnson runs like a girl.
No offense.

HumChuck: Running is for children and idiots. Unless you are getting paid.
Reed Johnson plays smarter.

Tao: I stick to "meaningful strutting" if I need to get somewhere fast.
You're racist.

HumChuck: Yeah, you caught me. Should I mention that some people on Wilner's Sportsnet chat (which I go to often) failed to comprehend why the Braves' chant was racist?

Tao: Let's not go there. It's kinda depressing. One more tweeted question, and let's put a bow on this thing.

HumChuck: I'll just say "IT'S RACIST. REALLY RACIST."
@darelleats asks "Should Escobar have gotten more $$$?" and our opinion on pants in the summer.

Tao: If Escobar didn't ask for more, then I'm not going to give him any more. But if he'd played his cards right, I think he probably could have had another good season and a half and doubled the back end of the agreement. As for pants: Pants if necessary, though not necessarily pants.

HumChuck: I am very tall and very white, sometimes pants help to prevent the whole "My God, you are white" situation I sometimes run in to. I think if that's what Escobar agreed to, I think it's enough. I love him, by the way. So the deal makes me happy.

Tao: Yeah, I love Yunel as well. I just root for him, because I think he was put into a box and misunderstood in Atlanta, and I love to see a guy flourish given the right situation. I think people in North America forget how hard it can be to function in a second language, because most of them never have to speak anything other than English to succeed. I'm sure that being isolated as he was on the Braves was tough.

HumChuck: I think the fact that Bautista had to take him aside and basically say "No one dislikes you here, you can be yourself." says everything about that situation. The idea of the Latin coaches being necessary in this types of situations is really undervalued.

Tao: As for relative pastiness: I still can't really comprehend the whole "look at how tanned I am" thing. It's odd to me that people still want to go fry themselves, with everything we know about skin cancer and the like. You go to Central America, and see how the people there deal with the sun: They stay the fuck out of it, so that they don't croak. We should be as smart.

HumChuck: A lot of them are naturally brown anyway.

Tao: I was making the case for Latin coaches (or a Latin manager) and took heat from some people. Still, I think it's a skill that should be valued. If I were a catcher in the big leagues, you know I'd be learning Spanish and playing in Winter leagues to try to enhance my communications skills. I'd rather that than just speaking slow and loud, as though my Latin teammates are dogs.
Sill there?

HumChuck: Yep...and yeah, to help with the culture shock, too. I remember Pedro Martinez's stories about helping Vlad Guerrero out when he first got to Montreal. Cause Vlad was right off the farm in the DR. But Pedro found places for food in the Haitian community in Montreal, and it felt a little more homey.

Tao: Alright. So, we've answered everything that anyone could possibly want to know. Closing thoughts?

HumChuck: Um, hit the baseball, everyone? And there were more questions. But I think we are done.

Tao: We shouldn't give people too much goodness all at once. It's like drinking a whole case of "retro" Pepsi in one sitting. As for the Jays: A little offense would be nice. Not a 15-run explosion, and then a couple of one-run games, though. I'd like to see seven runs per game against the Cardinals. That's not too much to ask, is it?

: It might be.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Let's Talk About Deck Chairs

So John Farrell thinks the Jays' offense might need a "spark". Well la-di-fucking-duh. Thanks for tuning in, Skip. And don't worry: Once Interleague games are over, you can go right back to worrying about your overstocked bullpen. Maybe even use Mike McCoy as your backup catcher so that you can trim your bench down to a single body to maximize the arms available to you at any given moment.

Sorry...Does it sound like we might have pissed on the wrong side of our Cinnamon Toast Crunch this morning? It certainly feels that way.

Generally, we're the optimist when it comes to the Jays' fortunes, preaching patience and forbearance and the like as the rest of the internet calls for the immediate and swift beheading of anyone who's had a bad week. So we fancy ourselves as the voice of reason (an incredibly immodest stance to take, we realize.) But after the unmitigated shit show of the past few weeks, it's getting harder everyday to watch a team that fields two fourth outfielders as starters everyday, and who supplements that with a second baseman who's forgotten how to hit line drives (and that's how he made it to the big leagues in the first place, for Jimmy's sake!) and a third baseman who hits just slightly better than the pitchers might.

So, yeah. Maybe it's time to reconsider Corey Patterson's spot in the lineup.

(And is it just us, or does Patterson have some sort of charisma and charm that makes managers think of him as a gamer and a guy they have to get in the lineup, in spite of, you know, all the shittiness? "The speedster" gets thrown out six times trying to steal, and yet: "Get him in there! He's a waterbug! A sparkety-fucking-sparky-plug for the offense!")

Hey! Quick flashback, friends: Remember when this team was going to be the Go-Go Jays, running the bases with abandon and keeping pressure on the other pitchers? Well, one key problem with that approach is that you actually have to get on base to make it work. (We'd actually thought last night that a positive in recent weeks was that we hadn't seen the Jays make a lot of needless outs on the basepaths, until it occurred to us that most of the outs are being made at the plate anyways.)

But wait: Wasn't this the best offense in the game just a few short weeks ago? Why yes, it was, fellow traveller. But consider what's happened over that time: Since pounding around Royals pitching for a couple of nights this month, the Jays have posted a .194 team batting average - cut to Jayson Nix asking: "What's wrong with that?" - and a .254 OBP to add to a .326 SLG for a galactically shitteriffic .581 OPS. (Standard arbitrary endpoint caveats apply.)

And over those 13 games, the Jays are averaging 2.4 runs per outing. Also, they are striking out at a higher rate (7.9/game) then they are getting base hits (6.3/game).

We can play along and try to figure out where you slot Aaron Hill to minimize the impact of his popping pretty much everything up to the infield (and for god's sake, don't suggest that he go to the top of the lineup...just stop with all of that tomfoolery), but really, we're getting to a point where we've seen enough of this team to know that outside of Adam Lind and José Bautista, there's not much there.

A spark? That'd be a start.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Ricky Romero Blows a Head Gasket, Kicks the Family Dog

If you watched Ricky Romero leave the field in a fit of body-convulsing expletives after the seventh inning last night, then his frustrated rant in the post game shouldn't have come as any surprise. We're sure that getting taken deep by the opposing pitcher is infuriating enough, but to have it done to you when you have no margin for error is probably enough to send any competitive soul into paroxysms of rage.

We're not going to channel out inner Emily Post and tell you whether or not if it was good manners to underscore the failings of his teammates in a public forum. If such a thing offends your sensibilities, that's fine, we get how it could be taken as poor form. But then, such a thought is what results in all the "110%", "one game at a time", "best shape of my life", "win as a team, lose as a team" platitudes that have become the white noise of sports journalism.

Here's the thought to which we've been returning over the past half-hour: Ricky Romero is not unlike our patron saint around here. Back in his day, Dave Stieb used to glare at infielders who didn't make plays behind him, and earned himself a reputation as a "not nice" guy (which, in polite Canadian society is just a small step beneath "war criminal" in terms of justifications for public scorn.) But Stieb's excellence was born of a singular focus on perfecting his own craft, and a fierce competitive streak that drove him to rise above and improve his performance.

Two seasons ago, a 24 year-old Romero was getting one more shot to prove he could contribute after an unspectacular minor league career. What he's done since to refine his game (and in particular, the mental aspects of using his pitches more astutely) is commendable, and surely stoked by the same fire that leads a player to vent frustration after seeing one teammate after another wave weakly at balls down and away.

(Seriously: RickyRo mad contact with a couple of pitches, and as such, had better at bats than either Aaron Hill or Rajai Davis last night. He's got a leg to stand on.)

The fact is that after posting 4.8 runs per game over the first two months of the season, the Jays have slid back in the month of June so far, managing 4.2 runs per outing. This can be attributed, as RickRo rightly pointed out, to not getting on base (OBP for April/May: .331; for June: .296) and not taking advantage of the opportunities (SLG drops from .424 to .382 for same time periods.)

Maybe you buy into some bullshit athlete's code, and maybe this should have "stayed in the room". But you can't question the truth of what Romero said, and we don't think you can question his motivations.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Three Thoughts on the Yunel Signing

These might be a bit too light or sparse to even be considered thoughts. Whims maybe, at best. (Have we made that joke before? It's one of our favorites.)

1) Timing is Everything: It's hard to think of a sweeter note on which to begin the interleague series in Atlanta than to have just announced a two-to-four year commitment to the guy that they could not wait to run out of town. If Yunel remains on pace this season and reclaims the 3.7/4.5 fWAR form he had in his initial pro seasons, the Jays will be getting a winning contribution from him as they ascend the AL East ranks, while the good old boys who chased him out of town will be stewing in their retirement and knocking up waffle house waitresses. Or something like that. Whatever: Eat it, ATL. (And do us a solid: Make sure that you fly the Canadian flag right side up this week, mmm'kay?)

2) Patience is a Virtue: There's this comment that keeps echoing in our head this year, courtesy of the father-in-law: "That Travis, what a disappointment." This was in the first week of the season, mind you. And it's been echoed or magnified by others with any number of targets. Seemingly, for Toronto sports fans, the foam finger has been replaced by a pitchfork for one hand and a torch for the other, as any player who has a bad month/week/game/at bat gets figuratively chased out of town. As was the mistake in Atlanta with Yunel.

The point here is not to get overly comfortable with the likes of Juan Rivera or Edwin Encarnacion. (Though EE is actually younger than Yunel, for whatever that's worth.) But the notion of "this player is worthless, so he must be replaced immediately" is far too common considering what a reactionary and short-sighted response it is.

It's been stated repeatedly, here and all around the game: Baseball is a game of failure. If you cannot embrace that, then every throw in the dirt, every pop up to the infield, and every out with RISP will drive you nuts. You gotta breathe your way through that stuff, son.

And germane to this conversation: Yunel was once washing out of a dumb organization who wanted to give up on the future in favour of the next week's win. And then Brooks Conrad let the present skip under his glove anyhow.

3) Where Does Yunel Play?: The very first thought that we had upon seeing Yunel in a Blue Jays uni was: That cat's moving to third base. He's by no means the lanky, Tony Fernandez model of a shortstop who looks as though he's able to make all sorts of plays up the middle to save runs. Yunel is big and broad across the shoulders, and his straight ahead footspeed is not every impressive. He just doesn't look like he should be able to get to balls. And yet, as we've now had close to a full year of Yunel, we're starting to come back around on this thought.

(The fact that SS prospect Adeiny Hechevarria looks as though he may qualify as Alex Anthopoulos' first significant miss certainly helps to push this thought forward. Though, if we're heeding our own guidance from above, we won't lose the faith quite yet.)

There are a few things that we really like about watching Yunel play shortstop. He's cut down on some of the off-balance throws and has planted himself more consistently this year, firing hard and accurate lasers directly into Adam Lind's trapper. He also positions himself well with each batter, and has good lateral speed, meaning he gets to a lot of balls not by reacting to where the ball is hit, but by anticipating it and getting squared up in front of the ball.

We realize that probably sounds like middle age baseball writer hokum. It may well be. Yunel is posting a -1.9 UZR to this point, attributable mostly to a decline in range. (-2.5 Range Runs Above Average...or so they say. Generally, Yunel has been positive in this metric through his career, so we'll see what the second half brings.)

Besides: Cal Ripken Jr., who was 6'4" and 225 lbs played short until he was 35. Yunel (6'2", 200 lbs) should be able to handle the position until the end of this two-plus-one-plus-one deal, right?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Yunel plays the game the Blue Jays way

So Alex Anthopoulos went off the radar and locked up Yunel for (potentially) the next four seasons at $5M per, huh? Did not see that coming, which means I probably should have.

The news is fresh off the wire as of this posting, so I haven't yet had time to fully wrap my mind around it..... but I don't think I'm going to overthink this one.

I like watching Yunel Escobar play baseball. Five million dollars per season for an all-star calibre player at a position like shortstop is not a lot of money (relatively speaking). So what's not to like?

I suppose there are going to be a lot of reasons put out there in the days (hours?) ahead. With any player, there are worries that with a big contract comes reduced motivation. Bobby Cox and The Braves Way disciples will probably overstate the significance of this factor when applied to Yunel (too flashy! He dogs it! No grit!).

Others will wonder if Yunel will hold up at short for the duration of the contract, and if he doesn't, well.... maybe $5M per doesn't look as good for a second baseman with average pop and speed. I don't know. But at two years guaranteed and two seasons at club option, does that even matter?

A few other points:

* What does the signing say about the Jays thoughts on the development of Adeiny Hechavarria and his potential as a long-term fit at the major league level? He's only 22, but a career minor league OPS in the low .600's isn't.... promising, let's say.

* ... or does it speak more to the club's thoughts on Aaron Hill, who has team options hanging in the balance?

* Par for the course with Anthopoulos, but the "out of nowhere" factor with this signing reinforces my belief that we could see a potentially significant shuffling of the deck as the season plays out and the deadline approaches.

And once again, I'll mention that I like watching Yunel Escobar play baseball. I grew up idolizing Tony Fernandez flash his glove and play shortstop with flair, and Yunel is most definitely not shy about making his swag known.

I'm sure many folks smarter than this guy will provide many defensible reasons as to why this is not a good deal for the Jays, but in the meantime, I'll just enjoy watching the guy play.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Premature Tweet Bag - More Fun for Your Friday

Eventually, our shoe fetish post is gonna see the light of day. But in the interim? TweetBaggery! Let's immerse ourselves, and feel each of those economically expended characters wash over us, like a warm soapy bubble bath. (Sorry. Too much time on Tumblr lately.)

Let's go!

First up, touches on the issues of the day: alleged pre-draft deal with Beede: AA flat-out denies it. If true, big deal or not?

Probably not a big deal, as even Keith Law (who kinda torqued this story up, though without much intent, or so we thing) mentioned that these sorts of deals are pretty common. We're guessing that Anthopoulos is chafing at the notion that he's transgressed the generally accepted practices, when all he really did was make sure that he had enough intel on the kid. AA is getting a reputation as a dodgy talker, though we think that has more to do with the Toronto/Canadian impulse to want to scrutinize every action and every word from our sports GMs. Which is a whole other post...

And another thing! (and also, ) ask: Who is most likely to be cut from the 40-man roster when Lawrie is ready to be called up? Or does a trade takes care of it?

First off: How did the 40-man creep back up to 40 men after the release of Josh Roenicke? Who the hell got added? Sorry, this probably doesn't instill confidence in our ability to answer. But let's pretend: Our sense of Anthopoulos (and aren't we just acting like his shrink today) is that he doesn't want to give up something for nothing. So to send somebody packing just to take flyer on the preparedness of a 21 year-old seems like a stretch. The problem is that none of the bargain store veterans have really distinguished themselves to the point where they'll be an asset. (Maybe Corey Patterson, but marginal left fielders can probably be found in many other places.) We dunno. We're stumped.

Speaking of C-Patts, his biggest fan asks: chances we see Patterson in center if he's still around when Snider returns.

Yeesh. Entirely likely, though incredibly unfortunate. We had the chance to sit in left field for two games this weekend, and to watch Patterson's footwork as he settles under the ball is to watch a man who is never entirely certain that he'll make the catch until it hits his glove. Say what you will about Vernon Wells' loss of speed (and his denial of the same) which led to some declining UZRs and such, but watching Patterson and Rajai Davis play second tier outfield defense this year has made us appreciate what Vernon did, even in his decline.

Also: Snider played a few innings in centre before his demotion. Given the choice between Patterson and Snider, we might take Snider. (And we'd be pilloried for it, but nevertheless.)

Coming up on the program: roto baseball sandbagger asks: which jays pitcher will prove to be the best hitter during interleague play? (and isn't the notion of interleague played out?)

What: Are you in a roto league that counts pitchers' offensive stats? What do we look like to you? Matthew Berry? The Talented Mr. RoTao? Nevertheless, a similar question was posed by a few other tweeters ( as well, though he asked for the worst), so it's a matter of concern. So here's the career numbers of the Jays' starters:

Reyes - .360 OPS (8 for 59, including two doubles and two RBI.)
Villanueva - .196 OPS (5 for 60, plus two walks and two batted in.)
Morrow - .000 OPS (0 for 6)
RickRo - .000 OPS (0 for 10)
Stewart - Nothing registered in the minors, at least according to Baseball Reference. Which kinda freaks us out if we consider the possibility of sending a top pitching prospect to the dish for the amusement of the fans in Ohio.

Which speaks to the second half of the question, to which we say: There's entirely too much interleague, though two series a year would strike us as a fine balance. And we might even advocate for playing the visiting team's rules (DH in NL parks, pitchers hit in AL parks) if only to add to the interest. But ultimately, the weeks on end of Interleague seriously mess with the competitive balance, and shit is tight enough on our team as it stands.

Next: A rules question! asks: Line drive, one hop, off the foul pole back onto the field. G. R. double or in play?

Funny that you should ask, because this very play happened to us whilst playing MLB 11 in Road to the Show mode last night. (Yeah, we live an exciting life.) But if a ball bounces over the fence and hits the foul pole, it is considered to have gone out of play and is a ground rule double. (Because The Show don't lie. Right?) Fine...if you really must know, MLB Rule 6.09 (e) states: "The batter becomes a runner when -- A fair ball, after touching the ground, bounds into the stands, or passes through, over or under a fence, or through or under a scoreboard, or through or under shrubbery, or vines on the fence, in which case the batter and the runners shall be entitled to advance two bases."

Let's bang some out quickly!

asks - What does Brad Mills have to do to get a shot? He's killing it in the PCL

Indeed he is, leading the league in ERA (3.04), innings pitched (91.2) and strikeouts (84). Those are man-sized numbers, but we wonder about his motion, and whether if it has been cleaned up since last season, when it looked overly articulated and too jerky by a half. We haven't actually seen him play, so it's hard for us to say, though we suspect the Jays may have given Stewart the nod to help add to his marketability. Just a hunch.

relatedly asks - Which Blue Jay represents the best trade chip moving towards the deadline? Also, best pre-game snack when watching from home?

We'd say that Stewart would be near the top, as a young pitcher who has yet to prove that he can't pitch in the Majors. (As for Mr. Drabek? His sticker price won't be met anytime soon.) We'd also imagine that teams are starting to notice Jake Marisnick's evolution from an athlete into an all-around producer in the Midwest League. For a big league name to come to Toronto, we're assuming that Marisnick's name would have to be in the mix. And also: Metro grocery stores have an impressive house brand of deli meats, called the Artisan Collection. (Roll your eyes if you must food snobs. Credit to the corporate grocer for a deli quality product.) The greatest of these fine cured meats is a Spicy Red Pepper Salami. Oh my god. So good. We could eat a pound of this stuff.

asks: Even with the glut of starting pitching the Jays have in the org, should they sign Scott Kazmir? Buy low! (Hopefully) Sell high!

Oh my word, man. Have you lost your senses? Kazmir's ceiling now is probably a mid-tier LOOGY. Nothing more. Run, don't walk away from him. We might choose Victor Zambrano over him in a fantasy draft, and he hasn't pitched since 2007.

Less talk more rock!

How many more starts for Zach Stewart? Is he here only until Drabek comes back or for good? He'll get a few more. Though we suspect he'll be supplanted by either Mills or Cecil before Drabek. Will be interesting to see how he plays against teams that aren't hacking whiff machines.

: With both Thames and Snider in AAA for the time being, who would you like to see step their facial hair game up? Villaneuva has been killing it lately. Wouldn't mind seeing JPA take his facial hair a little more seriously. Groom that face, young man.

: do you have a favorite jays season? WS excepted? Great idea. Will totally write a post on this next week. Remind us.

: Ottawa's sports bars re: the jays. How far are they below a replacement level sports bar? It's a pretty sad state of affairs, though we are in the season where it becomes 10% more likely that you'll catch a Jays game on TV. At least until the CFL regular season starts. Now that Chez Lucien was overtaken by hockey fans, there isn't really a great baseball bar in town. Sad.

And on that note, we're off with only a lantern, going from pub door to pub door to find a decent place to watch a game in the Capital City. We'll report back for those who care about such things.

Have a great weekend, and give some love to the Ack this weekend. He's a fire starter. Just like his namesake!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

On Faith, Cynicism, Impatience and Stone Blind Love

So...are we all cool now?

First off, a mea culpa, if you'll indulge. If anyone threw gas on the smouldering embers yesterday, it was yours truly, and if we seemed less than charitable or more than a little impertinent, we apologize. Having said that, we've had a good night's sleep and some time to think about some of the points drawn out in yesterday's cavalcade of comments, and we'll address them with a bit of a clearer head.

The Boston series sucked: We made a rare trip into Toronto in order to see the games this weekend, and it was demoralizing. It's part of why we couldn't bring ourself to write much of anything on Monday morning, because we just figured that emo Tao is not all that fun to read. (Well, sometimes...) We get why people would be losing their faith in the team, the plan and all that junk. We sympathize.

On "mediocrity": If there's a word that we've come to loathe hearing when talking about the Jays, it's "mediocre". In fits of pique, revisionists like to trot out how Jays fans have suffered through 18 years of mediocre baseball, which helps to rationalize their catcalls back in the direction of those faithfully glued to the bandwagon.

So let us ask: Did last year's 85 win team feel "mediocre" to you at the time? In the last five seasons, the Jays have finished under .500 just that really mediocre?

Yes, the Jays have been on the outside looking in at the pennant races, mostly because one of either the Sox or Yanks or Rays has sprinted out ahead early in the season. But making the playoffs in baseball is hard, especially in the AL East. And the lack of a playoff appearance might be frustrating, but it doesn't mean that there hasn't been good baseball over that time.

The Plan is Dead. Long Live the Plan: J.P. Ricciardi had his plans. Now Alex Anthopoulos has his. Frankly, everybody's got a plan. The whole notion that there is something too clever about having a plan is lost on us: You take an approach that you think will work, and you stay true to it as best as you can. You don't panic and pull up stakes and revamp the direction because of a bad week, or month, or year.

And if there was one thing about which J.P. deserved some criticism, it was deviating wildly from his own plans based on the results of the previous season. Ricciardi's plans were always focused on short-term gains (college draft picks, big free agent signings), often at the expense of the long-term growth of the team.

So now, ten weeks into Alex Anthopoulos' second season as the GM, people are calling him out for not indulging in the very things for which they pilloried Ricciardi: Why didn't the Vernon Wells money get spent on free agents? If we don't spend to the Yanks' and Sox' level, we'll never compete! Abandon the plan! And who the hell does Anthopoulos think he is? He thinks he's so smart...

And furthermore, we thought that we've been pretty restrained around here in contrast to some of the cartoonish deification of Alex Anthopoulos that's taken place. We're willing to go along with his plan for a few more years and see how it plays out. Maybe it doesn't work out in the end, and maybe 50% of those clever moves come back to haunt the Jays. But we're not going to pull the chute now because we've got decades of frustration feeding into our more negative thoughts.

Soon, it will be winter, and people will be kvetching on every outlet about why James Reimer has suddenly turned into a pumpkin. But for now, there's a lot of baseball yet to play. And some fun stuff coming. Let's relax and enjoy it.

Our tenure as a Jays fan: Since 1983. (Our third favourite team, after a few years of loving the Pirates and the Expos, if it matters.) If you feel that the extra six seasons that you spent watching Rico Carty and Rick Cerone makes you more of an authority on the Jays, we'd invite you to start your own blog and stop reading this one. We don't care to bask in the annihilating glow of your contempt for what we do here.

Rogers is rich, but...: Rogers is a billion dollar communications company. They make their money in part because Ted Rogers was astute enough to invest his own money on building the infrastructure that brings the HD images into your homes and the chatter, texts, and everything else into your mobile device. (And if you feel like you're paying too much or there is something unfair about the way they do business, switch. You have alternatives. Even if it is a pocket full of quarters.)

When it comes to baseball: Rogers is not a billion dollar company. Sure, they're able to leverage some additional promotional exposure through the Jays, and they probably won't lose much more than they can stomach on the team. But you're not going to have a corporation's profitable divisions throw money down a hole in order to take a significant financial risk on big name free agents.

Seriously: People are self-interested, and you can't tell us that a senior executive in the cable or broadcast or (especially) the wireless side are going to sign off on creating a budget for the Jays that makes the company less profitable and eats into their personal bonus structure, just because Johnny from Markham wants to sign Prince Fielder.

The Red Sox and Yankees ARE billion dollar baseball businesses, and so they can make those decisions, and if they mess up, it's on them. If the Jays had, let's say, signed Jason Bay to a deal that would have brought our hometown kid (from the other end of the country) to town to the tune of $16 million over the next four years, only to see him turn into a pumpkin himself. Wouldn't the GM be mocked for such a waste of resources?

Have we all forgotten the Vernon Wells deal?

But the point is that there are other ways to compete with those behemoths. The Tampa Rays have already demonstrated how it can be done. And the Jays can find a way to compete with the big boys without creating a situation where they are a burden to their corporate ownership.

Do we all remember how fun it was to be in ownership limbo?

It's baseball, after all: We're not sure how much longer we've got before someone shuts out the lights and calls it a day for us. We're optimistic that we've got a few decades left. And if we spend the rest of those years and the Jays never quite make it over the hump for any number of reasons, we're not sure that we'll find ourself on our final day begrudging the time that we invested in this team. Baseball's pretty fun. Frustrating, to be sure. But if it ever stops being fun for us to be a Blue Jays fan, we'll just walk away.

The game is the game. Take it for what it is, or don't. But don't curse it because the games don't play out the way you'd like. We had our time at the top, and now we're caught in the middle. But have some faith.

One day, everything is going to sound like a rhapsody.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

You have to make a choice

I know, I know.... I drop at least one of these posts every year. I'm running the risk of getting all shticky in here. But, y'know, fuck it.... if I'm going to be repetitive, this seems like the point in the season to do it. So here we go....

I'm of the opinion - the opinion - that if you're a fan of a team (let's say, for example, the Toronto Blue Jays), then you're a fan of a team Win or Lose. Win or fucking Lose.

Now, I'm not here to give anybody shit. I'm not your dad. But whoever said this would be easy? You know what's easy? Being a fan of, say, today's Boston Red Sox. They are built to win now. They have the financial resources to build a winner and spend the cash to fill the holes as Theo sees fit. Ownership has set that precedent; need an arm? Go get one. Short a power bat to fill the 6 hole? Who's available (statement not question).

So this is where the cynical fucks tell me to look at Rogers' balance sheet. Remind me of the resources that should be available then point to the stopgap options and roster fillers filling the major league bench.

And this may surprise you, but I'll tell you that you're right.

I'll also tell you to fucking get over it, because it is what it is and no amount of twitter bitching or otherwise is going to change any spending habits.

Me? I take comfort in seeing that The Plan put forward has been unwavering - build internally, throw big money at the draft (all indications are, 2011's should cost.... a lot), develop a homegrown roster of stars, and strike at free agency when the time is right.

Now is pretty clearly not yet that time. There have been setbacks - big ones with Travis Snider, Brett Cecil, and Kyle Drabek. Not all prospects will develop as hoped - whatever happened to the Adeiny Hechavarria hype machine? But that's what happens when you shoot for "ceiling" (as a scout might say). They aren't always going to hit.

But seems to me the squawking was never louder than during the Ricciardi era where safe reliable talent and big money free agent signings where the method to roster construction.

So take your pick. I know which route I prefer.

Back to the statement up top - it's easy to be a fan of today's Boston Red Sox. But it will be entirely more satisfying to be a fan of tomorrow's Toronto Blue Jays.

Timely disconnect

Sometimes those trivial moments in life, which on first appearance appear to be total day-wreckers, turn out to be the happiest of blessings.

Take today, for example. I woke up excited to watch the Jays-Red Sox matinee, because let's face it.... as much as we all hate the god-damned Red Sox, the games are fun to watch. Well, it just so happened that things came together where the assists I needed to turn my backyard into an oasis of fun and relaxation fell into place. OK, so I was building a shed (as an aside, there's a lot to be said for hiring people to do these things for me. I work in an office!).

Upon further review, turns out that was a good thing.

You see, if I had watched the game, I might be inclined to worry about whether Brandon Morrow was indeed on his way to becoming a rich man's AJ Burnett. Or if he was simply destined to become an underachieving arm with dynamite stuff but no results. AKA, AJ Burnett.

I also might have looked at a lineup including Molina, Nix, and McCoy and taken to The Twitter to vent my anger.

I might have - no, definitely would have - screamed curse words my kids probably shouldn't even hear for another 5 or 10 years watching Pedroia collect three hits and three ribbies.

I would have watched another powerless outing from JoBau and fretted over whether he was "only" going to hit 35 home runs versus the 45 I had penciled in.

I might have taken mild joy in McCoy's inning on the mound, but not enough to get over the rest of the bullpen nonsense.

A strong possibility exists I would have watched that drubbing, and started worrying about whether or not the franchise really was headed in the right direction, or if we were simply in the midst of another false start.

In other words.... I probably, for a few moments at least, would have turned into the exact type of fan that causes me to lose my shit. Over one game.

But instead of dealing with all of the above, I watched nary a highlight - boxscore only. So instead I'll believe it was bad luck, bloop singles, and bullshit calls. It's just easier that way.

Everything's cool. Can't wait for tomorrow's game!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Friday Tweet Bag! We Know Stuff About Stuff!

Here's the thing about the Tweet Bag: Back when it started, we thought it would be a funny way to mock the hacky mailbag columns in which some writers (who could that be?) indulge to basically fill space.

But here's the kooky thing that happened along the way: We started to like tweet bagging, because it actually gives us a better sense of what's on your mind, and helps us take the pulse of Blue Jays fans who are literate enough to compose a tweet clever enough to be answered. (All of which might be a high-minded bit of bluster that rationalizes our own hacky tendencies. Which is fine. We're vaguely comfortable with that.)

Let's dive into the Tweet Bag like Scrooge McDuck into his vault of coins. (Which would have hurt like hell when you really think about it. But we probably shouldn't get too literal about the physics of walking-talking mallards wearing spats.)

Batting leadoff! asks: In your opinion, does Kansas City still have the finest ballpark in all of baseball?

For almost as long as we can remember, we've loved Kaufman Stadium. It just seems like a perfectly formed ballpark, and the sort of place where we'd spend hours in a state of baseball-induced bliss. Or at least, we did...

We'll confess to a touch of old dude conservatism, and the new party patios and the like that they've added beyond the outfield fence (see here) does take some of the beauty away from the old configuration, with the (admittedly useless) lawn surround the fountains. Still, you could do much worse. And frankly, if they've turned the outfield into a party atmosphere, they've figured out something which Rogers has not: That wasted space in the outfield can be enlivened. Pull down the windows! Party Patio!

Bottom line: We'll still give Kauffman the nod as our favorite park, though PNC in Pittsburgh is right there as well. (And no, we've not actually BEEN to either. We're lucky to make it to the SkyDome a couple of times per year!)

Batting second (we presume you're a lefty), asks: Who will take Rivera and EE off of our hands in order to let Lawrie, Loewen, and Snider get much needed major league AB's?

To quote W. Axl Rose:

Said woman take it slow
It'll work itself out fine
All we need is just a little patience

Said sugar make it slow

And we'll come together fine

All we need is just a little patience

(Mind you, Axl was probably singing this shortly after a coke-fuelled beating of some random chick, so take that as you will.)

The point here is that two of those three players are still young, still developing and still need seasoning before they're ready to become all that they can be. (And the other guy is just a sort of curiosity who doesn't really have a place to play. But remind me to tell you one day about Joe Vitiello. That's a good story, and quite germane.) We know that it drives you nuts to sit there and stare at the numbers that those guys are putting up in the PCL like they are gifts nestled beneath a Douglas fir and it's two weeks before you're allowed to unwrap them. But relax. They'll be here in good time.

Besides: No one is giving the Jays anything for EE and/or Rivera (at least, not yet) so we might as well buckle down and see if they can make themselves useful.

Batting third! asks: What's the air speed velocity of an unladen sparrow? Also what should the team do with Cooper? He's killing AAA again...

Since you asked: Joe Vitiello was a career minor league hitter, and one year, he came to play for the hometown Ottawa Lynx. And damn it if that guy didn't rake. A .910 OPS, 82 RBI in 119 games. As a 24 year old in the Royals system in Omaha, he cranked it out, posting a .966 OPS with a .440(!) OBP. And moreover, he posted a .908 OPS in 10 seasons at Triple-A.

Oh yeah. There's the rub. In seven seasons and 282 games in the big leagues, Joe Vitiello managed to put up a .749 OPS. Which is nothing to be ashamed of, really. (We're still scared of the ball...given 100 ABs, we figure we might hit one ball solidly.) Still, Cooper faces the same problem as Vitiello: He's a corner infielder who might be able to post decent numbers at the MLB level, but never enough to warrant a regular spot in the lineup.

Still, the Jays should hang on to Cooper until they can't anymore.

The cleanup hitter! asks: Time for AA to trade Corey Patterson (aka Tropic Thunder) while he's hot?

Okay, first of all: THANK YOU. We spent all season trying to figure out who it was that Corey Patterson resembled, and we knew it was a white actor, but we couldn't quite figure it out. But there is was all along:
As for trading Patterson, we'd be all for it, though 1) Patterson has yet to reach the value that Alex Gonzalez hit last season, so don't figure on getting another Yunel, because 2) We don't suppose that any team is going to come begging to be fleeced in the same manner that the gold ole boys in Atlanta wished to be.

In the five-hole! asks: Explain to me why I should be happy Frank Francisco is part of the Blue Jays bullpen?

Because for his career, Frank Francisco strikes out almost 10 batters (9.97 if you want to be picky) per nine innings. And when it comes to a guy at the back of your bullpen who is going to have to pitch in high leverage situations, you're going to need a guy who can blow it past people. Pitching to contact is all well and good when you're a starter trying to eat innings, but when you absolutely, positively need to get outs, taking the bat out of the hitter's hands before he has the opportunity to put bleeders and bloops in play is a vital skill.

And as dodgy as Francisco has been this season, he's still striking out 9.39/9. His home run rate (2.20/9) should come back closer to his career number (0.93/9), and then he'll look far more like the guy you want closing games out.

Batting sixth! asks: How long should Carlos V be a starter and when do you think we will see Cecil in a jersey next?

As long as Villaneuva pitches well, we'd be fine with leaving him in the rotation. He pounds strikes down in the zone, and doesn't give up a ton of free passes, so for now, we'd be inclined to leave him in this role. As for Cecil: He'll have to string together four or five good starts consecutively before he returns. We wouldn't want to hazard a guess on how soon that is, but don't be surprised if the leaves are turning colours by the time he's back.

Quickly through the bottom of the order! Batting seventh, asks: Do you want to see Bautista in the Homerun Derby?

Yes, we do. In fact, we're not watching the Derby this year unless he's in it. (Because truth be told, it's incredibly boring, and no one should subject themselves to four hours of Chris Berman. That's just not healthy.)

We presume that part of what motivates your question, though, is a concern that the One Man Gang will somehow screw up his swing and be forever lost after his participation. Poppycock. Bautista has an astoundingly well balanced swing, and no extended batting practice session is going to set him astray.

Batting 8th, asks: Jays are 4th in MLB in SB with lower SB% than any other team in top 9. Jays also 4th in MLB in runs. Should they steal less?

Saying that the Jays should steal less is probably an oversimplification. But yeah, they should probably be a bit more judicious about how often they set baserunners loose. (For one thing, Corey Patterson seems hell bent on getting Bautista intentionally walked in recent weeks.) Part of improving the base running game is getting smarter about when go, and the Jays seem to be approaching the running game like they are the Duke Boys being pursued by Roscoe P. Coltrane.

Of course, this supposes that stolen bases are the goal of the Jays' running game, and there is an argument that they simply want to create a constant sense of apprehension in the minds of their opponents by getting crazy on the basepaths. That sort of anarchy can be ugly to look at.

In the ninth spot in the lineup, we'll squeeze in three questions, because they're all related:

asks: Oh authority on all things Blue Jays, here's one for you: Who gets called (back) up first, Zach Stewart, or Travis Snider?

asks: how's Snider doing? When do you think we'll see him with Jays again?

asks: Is Snider going to carry the team into the promised land with his huge thighs, or should he convert himself to a LOOGY?

First things first: Snider has an OPS of .750, including a slugging percentage of .382. We're not seeing how those numbers are coming together, but it seems as though he's not hitting the ball hard anymore (one homer since his demotion). And this is the PCL. Chris Woodward is sluggin .429, for chrissakes!

Now, we've heard the stories (as you have as well, we're sure) that the Jays are reworking his swing, because it had reached a point where it was ugly and easily exploited by breaking balls. (Also, Snider would swing so hard at high fastballs that his head would come off the ball and he'd miss badly.) We're optimistic that when Snider returns, he'll come back with a swing that is sound and measured, and he'll be back for good. But we wouldn't anticipate that promotion coming until September at the earliest. And Zach Stewart? He might make it here in September, but we wouldn't assume so, given his record so far this year.

Snider's got work to do. Better that he do it down there.

Extra Innings!

Because you take the time to write, we'll take the time to answer, even if it's brief.

- go out on a limb - JoJo win streak at 3 after tonight? Blog policy: No predictions about Jo-Jo. We fear we've cursed him before, and we won't do it again.

- any advice on how I should deal with obnoxious Red Sox fans at the box office this weekend? They're the worst. Don't be preemptively obnoxious. We've found a lot of Sox fans at the games to be perfectly well behaved. And if they're not, don't confront them. Just pretend that you're on safari, observing the Fitzys and Sullys.

- give me your wish of what the lineup should look like in June 2012! We're not one to get ahead of the game, and frankly, we're pretty happy to live in the here and now. But since you asked: We're happy to have JPA, Lind, Yunel and JoBau back, and we hope that a productive Lawrie and Snider are part of the mix at that point. And it would be really cool if Hechevarria and Gose were ready too. See! We're not immune to prospect pron!

- Kyle Drabek: trade now or wait till the deadline? That's beyond stupid.

Finally: - Lind and Bautista have both been great, but I don't really remember them being "hot" at the same time. How awesome will this be? Pretty awesome. (I think...I'm not totally sure what you're saying here.)

That's it! Thanks for the questions, and thanks for reading through the whole post (supposing you have, and that you didn't just skip ahead). The finest Weekend Editor in the land, The Ack, will be back with more goodness this weekend. (And doesn't he deserve more opportunities to stretch his wings and bring some fresh air to this place?) Show him some love.

Also: Sunscreen. Don't kid yourself.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Fun With Numbers: Stuff We Learned Looking at Team Stats

Once you're in the midst of a baseball season, it gets harder to pull yourself back out of the day-to-day fray of and get some perspective on your own team.

For instance: We've spoken all year about how thin the Jays' offense is, and how beyond José Bautista, it's a bunch of chumps getting the bats knocked out of their hands (supposing that they ever do put bat to ball.)

And then you look it up, and goddamnit if they aren't the most prolific scoring machine in the American League, with their 309 runs scored outpacing the Red Sox (307), Yankees (303), and Rangers (298). Suddenly, we're left to wonder about our complaints around the batting order or the extra outs being made on the bases. (Well, they have been caught stealing the second most times of any team in the AL, so the world isn't about to spin off its axis.)

Now, most of us probably prefer the granularity of looking at each particular contributor to figure out what parts of the machine are working and which are not. This is entirely fair, but we wonder if there isn't some value to assessing the team as "The Team", to try to understand whether if the whole adds up to something more than the various components, or whether if the philosophy (imposed either by the on-field or off-field management) is determining the outcome.

Below is some other stuff that we found at Fangraphs, which may or may not be surprising. (And BTW: We haven't figured in the NL to this, because it's a bit of a different game over there, and we don't want to parse these numbers by figuring out what's attributable to pitchers batting. So there.)

Hustlin' heartily: The Jays are tied for the league lead in triples with the Royals (16), and are tied for second in stolen bases with those same Royals at 59. (KC has managed to give up 11 fewer outs though, so they are a bit more efficient.) On the other hand, they're mid pack in infield hits (47), while the Royals sit third with 60 and the Angels lead the way with 62.

How they hit it: The Jays have the fourth lowest line drive rate (17.6%) and the second lowest ground ball rate (40.8%). Their ground-ball-to-fly ball ratio is almost even (o.98) for whatever that's worth (Yankees sit at 1.20, which we attribute entirely to Derek Jeter. The Mariners are at 1.30.) But here's the piece of info that you probably didn't need from us: The Jays have the highest percentage of infield fly balls (15.8%...sonofabitch!), and its not even really that close. They sit almost two-and-a-half points worse than the Orioles (13.1%) and the Twins (13.1%).

Like facing Frank Tanana every night: Nobody sees fewer fastballs than the Jays, who are dealt the heater just 55% of the time. And oddly, the Royals lead the league in seeing fastballs, with the catcher putting down one finger 63.5% of the time. (Swear to Henke, we'll delete this blog today if some takes us to task on how many fingers catchers put down for pitches.)

So what do the Jays get instead of fastballs? They lead the AL in both the percentage of sliders they see (16.6%) and the percentage of curveballs (10.3%).

So cuttered? No so much: For all of the talk about the use of the cutter by the Blue Jays' pitchers, we expected that they'd at least be in the top echelon in terms of usage of the pitch. But the Jays are tossing cut fastballs 6.1% of the time, sixth most in the AL. However, this stands in stark contrast to John Farrell's former brigade in Boston, who cut it 14.5% of the time. (And if someone wants to make an argument as to the mislabelling of pitches, we're all ears.)

Also, the Jays throw the second lowest percentage of curve balls in the league (6.0%), and considering that Ricky Romero is the only guy on the team who we can think of who has a good curve, this seems entirely reasonable.

Stop us if you've heard us say this before: The Jays need to throw strikes. In total, they've hurled in 3589 balls this year, second only to the Royals. They walk 3.72 hitters per nine innings, which is the worst in the AL. Of course, this could be offset to some extent by the fact that the Jays also have the highest strikeout rate (7.31 Ks/nine innings) amongst pitching staffs.

BABIP!: It might be too early (and too easy) to call the Jays' pitchers "unlucky", but their batting average on balls in play to this point of the season is .289, third highest in the AL. Of course, the fact that the Jays sit in the bottom third of the league in RZR, UZR/150, and error runs. Consolation prize? The Jays have the best rating in the league for their outfield arms, who have helped to contain the scampering around the bases.

See? Numbers are fun! Any numbers you'd like to share? Hit us up in the comments, or over on the Twitter. (Come, follow me! I'm a fun guy!)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Roster Smash Up Derby! Who Will Survive?

Give the paucity of offense (aside from that which is generated by the One Man Gang) and the number of bullpen oopsies in recent weeks, it seems a little difficult to make the case that there aren't enough spots on the Jays' roster to accommodate all the talent.

And yet...

By the time you start to get some of the walking wounded stumbling back from the 4077th (dated reference?) to the front lines, there are going to be choices that have to be made in terms of who comes back to Toronto, and who is provided with a bus ticket and a Gideon Bible for their breast pocket on their journey back to Sin City. Or worse.

In an effort to figure out who goes where and why and who'll be left blowing bubbles from their nose, we've isolated the fellas into separate and distinct street gangs. (When did this go from demolition derby to M*A*S*H* to The Warriors?) This is focused mostly on the short term, and not necessarily taking into account deadline deals. They are as follows:

The One Man Gang: José Bautista. He has the contract, the performance, and the fan adoration on his side. The things that would have to play out that would lead to his exit are too crazy to even ponder. Hey, was that a frog that just fell from the sky?

The Rock Solid Crew: Barring injury (which is no guarantee this year), these guys are certain to stick around through the end of the season. Led by starters Rickey Romero and Brandon Morrow, swingman Carlos Villaneuva and economical relievers Marc Rzepczynski (in spite of last night), Casey Janssen, Shawn Camp and Jason Frasor. Key position players Adam Lind and Yunel Escobar aren't going anywhere, while Rajai Davis is likely safe (no better CF option, and a two year deal). The Jays hold options on J.P. Arencibia, but he's performed well enough to merit inclusion here, and his backup, José Molina, fits the team's needs for the time being.

There. That's 13 players. Plus...

The Returning Wounded: John McDonald will make a beautiful dollar for this team so long as he wishes, so they'll make room for him as soon as he's ready. Jesse Litsch? Hmmm...Maybe? Dustin McGowan is a 2012 project, and Jesse Carlson will likely never sling another Frisbee for the Jays.

Let's assume that Litsch rejoins the team, and Johnny Mac's a given. That brings us to 15 players (Seven position players, three starters, four relievers plus Villaneuva.) Now let's add...

The Rising Sons: Gordie Dougie's arrival will come within the week, as soon as his hand recovers. At some point, the Jays are going to have to consider the return of Travis Snider. Eric Thames acquitted himself fairly well in his recall, though his return is unlikely until September. He may be joined by Adam Loewen, if only momentarily. Meanwhile, Brett "Squints" Cecil has allegedly regained some of his form, and may be knocking on the door to make his return. He may have to wait in line behind Brad Mills, who has pitched like a man all season long. David Cooper is a better PCL hitter than he is a real hitter. If the need arises for a bench outfielder, DeWayne Wise's name might come up as a quick solution.

So add Gordie Dougie, and hold the rest of these guys for now, and we're up to 16 players. Now's where the math gets tricky.

The Bubble Boys: Jo-Jo Reyes has pitched well in recent starts, but a regression over the next few weeks could see him back in peril. Kyle Drabek has to stop pitching around batters, or he's going to get to smell the dry air of the PCL real soon. The Jays could move Octavio Dotel, Jon Rauch or Frank Francisco at a moment's notice, though all three will likely stick around until close to the trade deadline, supposing they'll still return draft picks. Juan Rivera is Juan Rivera, but (like it or not), he's our Juan Rivera until something really odd happens, if it ever does. Aaron Hill probably doesn't belong here, but we'll put him here just because we have that sort of authority. And Corey Patterson has been a treat as of late, but the Jays really only have him as a placeholder, and should he ever become a pumpkin again, it'll be easy to part ways.

So: Let's add Jo-Jo, subtract Drabek (just for sport, just for now), and add the three former closers and hold Rivera and Hill. And for now, C-Patts can keep stealing bases so that the One Man Gang gets walked. Now we've got our insane eight man bullpen back, plus a four man rotation and three roster spots left.

The Fallen: Edwin Encarnacion is singing for his supper with every at bat. Same with Jayson Nix, who at least has some positional flexibility on his side, but he was the last man in and may end up being the first man out. Mike McCoy should probably just wear his 51's uniform, even when he's in Toronto, because he's never really a part of this team. Luis Perez has been a welcome addition to the bullpen, but he's to easy to return to Triple-A.

So the obvious answer here is to dump McCoy and Perez and hold on EE (which this team will likely do through the end of the year). Nix is the most disposable player should the need arise to add someone to the 40-man (like Wise), but until he's pushed, he'll stick around.

So add Drabek back to the rotation (if you must), and you've got a roster that pretty much looks like it does now: Too heavily built around the bullpen, without a lot of capacity to move players like Cecil and Snider back into the fold, and a bench that is populated by either defensive replacements or pinch hitters, but not a player who does both.

Which is to say: Enjoy the recall of Brett Lawrie, because there's not a lot more of that coming between now and September.