Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Tao's Tweet Bag - Sporadically Answering Your Correspondence in Due Time


Letters...we get letters.

I'll confess that part of the reason that I started doing these mailbag-style posts - which I confess can be a touch hacky - is that it gave me a chance to take the pulse of the fans, and see what preoccupies them. And if you'll indulge a bit of flattery towards my Twitter followers, I find that the preponderance of notes I receive are thoughtful, considered and maybe even a bit optimistic, in spite of several disappointing seasons in succession. It actually raises my spirits. 


In this round of solicited questions, what seems to be primarily gnawing away at the soul of Blue Jays fans is the fate of one Mr. Jonathan Paul Arencibia. I doubt that these questions would raise his spirits.

Let's dig in.
No, I don't think that's the case at all. Arencibia was a first-round draft pick, a top-50 prospect according to Baseball America, and a Pacific Coast League MVP. The dude had credentials coming into his major league career.

It's also easy to forget after this awful season for the Jays' catcher - both on and off the field - that there was a time when fans were left calling on the team to shove veteran John Buck out of the way to make room for the "catcher of the future", even after his remarkable debut. If the Jays parked JPA for weeks after his debut, there's little to suggest that one game would have had any impact on the decision to keep him in the starting role through two less than stellar seasons.  
It's hard to imagine that things could go much worse for Arencibia. Hard, but not impossible.

Still, there's evidence from his first two seasons that he's not nearly this bad as an offensive player. In his first two full seasons as the starter, JPA posted a .716 OPS (.279 OBP, .437 SLG). Those figures aren't extraordinary, but the average across the league for catchers this season is a .706 OPS (.313/.393), which would place Arencibia as slightly below average for the position.

If you suppose that a full season might not even be a sample size that is sufficient to make a decision on a player's worth, then the performance in the previous season should give some pause. It could be that there is something that is ailing Arencibia this season - physically, mentally, spiritually - leading to the past year being a weird and wonky fluke. Maybe he'll return to being a sorta-average player for his position in the coming years.

But roll all of his performance to date together, and he starts to look like a fringey MLB backup, with some pop in his bat.
Some guys see taking a pitch as a passive approach. If you're asking me to play amateur psychologist, I think that Arencibia is the sort of person who wants to make things happen, not wait for things to play themselves into a situation that might be more beneficial to him.

When Arencibia defiantly defended his reputation against the slings and arrows of baseball analysts, he pointed to the work that he had done for the team, such as the charity events and the winter tour. It was, in essence: "Look at what I do for you!"

It's about action. Making stuff happen. Maybe that sort of mindset doesn't lend itself to watching a borderline pitch go by early in the count to elicit a more predictable and hittable pitch later.
Not really. With the starting pitching woes that the Jays have faced this season, it's hard to imagine them handing the full-time starting job over to a rookie next year.

Moreover, I think that the Jays have started to show themselves to be more deliberate in how they promote players through the system, allowing them to master one level before ascending to the next. I think Jimenez still has a year of work to do in Buffalo before he gets promoted, though I could see him being mixed into the catching rotation towards the end of next season.

He's here. He's controllable. He might not be this bad. He might be a deal if his numbers return to 2011-2012 levels, and he gets less than $2 Million through arbitration or pre-arb negotiation.
I think Chooch might be expensive, and while he's just 34 years old, a multi-year deal at more than $6 Million per season might end up being a poor investment.

Still, there's Ruiz's decent reputation for handling pitchers - though who wouldn't look good with that pitching staff? - and a very solid OBP. He's posting a .342 this season, .361 for his career, and a peak of .400 in 2010 followed by a .394 mark last season.

If you're talking about a two-year deal, sure. Sign him up. If he's looking for more than $7 million and four years or more, I think you have to consider other options.

McCann might be one of the more sought-after pieces in this year's free agent market, as scant as the pickings are. He is younger than Ruiz, but has a long injury history with nary a body part left unscathed. He had shoulder surgery last offseason, suffered through hamstring tightness, knee contusions, intercostal and oblique strains, not to mention laser eye surgery that didn't quite take for the first few months afterwards.

McCann's .824 OPS (.350 OBP/.473 SLG) plays very well as a catcher, though his defense isn't exactly revered. The big question you're left with if you're investing a significant portion of your payroll over the next six or seven seasons in a player like that is how much surplus value does he bring if you need to shift him to first base or DH. Could he play left field if required?

Beyond all that, I still envision McCann in a Yankee uniform. I'm not sure I'd want to see the Jays attempting to outbid them for his services.   

One of the aspects of the Jays' roster that I was dead wrong about this year was the flexibility, and to a slightly lesser extent, the depth.

With multi-positional switch-hitters throughout the roster on Opening Day, I figured that the Jays would rarely find themselves in a pinch when it came to filling the lineup card. And for all of the misery this year, I think that the number of awful and inexplicable lineups were far less than the past two seasons.

Still, the Jays probably came into the season with too many bench players on the active roster and not enough legitimate starters, especially at second base. Moreover, the depth just beneath the Major League level was pretty suspect and comprised of veteran castoffs -Andy LaRoche, Mauro Gomez, Ryan Langerhans - who might have given you a good week or two when filling in for a DL'ed starter, but weren't really an option that anyone would want to rely on.

I suppose the emergence of Munenori Kawasaki was a fun spectacle to observe, but you certainly wouldn't want the Jays to look towards 2014 with off-field entertainment value as a priority for the club.

Ultimately, I think that organizational depth is something that you develop from within, and unfortunately, the Jays had - and will continue to have - a gap year or two between their available bench spots and their better positional prospects.
 
No, they don't. Dickey might have a Cy Young Award glistening on his mantle, but he probably profiles as a number three. A decent, innings-eating starter who takes the ball and gives you something between a 3.70 and 4.20 ERA.

If he has a good, healthy season as a 39 year-old, Dickey might emerge as a decent number two pitcher, but as a suffering Blue Jays fan, would you want to bank on the likelihood of that eventuality?

And would you also want to bank on the health of Brandon Morrow? I love watching Morrow pitch, and when he's healthy and available to take the ball, he has the ability to be a number two starter, and maybe something more. But players don't tend to get more healthy and less fragile as years go by, so again, I wouldn't want to plan on Morrow being more than 150 innings of number three starter quality.
I'd make a terrible clairvoyant. I can barely guess what I'm going to have for lunch, and I have infinitely more data points at my disposal to make such a postulation.

But if I just balance this out to guess at what is more likely, I would be left to wonder how much payroll the Jays' front office will be playing with this offseason. With big money commitments and raises being added onto next year's books - including Mark Buehrle's $7 million bump to become the Jays' highest paid player at $19 million next year - there's a lot of 2014 fiscal capacity that's already been eaten away.

And make no mistake, number threes are still valuable commodities around baseball. Ricky Nolasco is probably a number three, and  he'll be looking to improve on the $11.5 million he made this season when he enters the free agent market.

On the other hand, who do the Jays have to dangle in order to bring a number three pitcher into the fold? Do they send one of their offensive core - Reyes, Bautista, Encarnacion, Rasmus or Lawrie - out the door to bring back an Edwin Jackson-type? Do they again attempt to speed up their contention clock by moving Aaron Sanchez or D.J. Davis or Marcus Stroman out the door?

What do I think is the most likely of those scenarios? Ugh. I'd rather not think of it.

José Bautista has two years at $14 million per season left on his current deal, with a $16 million option for 2016. That might make him a fairly attractive commodity, either in this offseason or next.

The existential question for the Jays at this point is: Do you move Bautista now, and possibly take yet another step back away from contention in 2014? And towards what end?

And while I'm not typically one to place emphasis on the intanglibles, I think that Bautista plays an important clubhouse role for the Jays that they might not be eager to part with in the short term. But if the Jays get off to a bad start in 2014 and are in the bottom half of the American League in July, I think he'd be a prime candidate to move out in order to begin the rebuild.
No, I can't. I suppose someone smarter than me or with more immediate access to advanced data sets could look at defensive metrics and the use of shifts in both the oufield and the infield and figure out how many runs the Jays are giving back by not adapting their positions before pitches are thrown.

I really don't have an answer for this, but I include it here because it's a question that bothers me occasionally as well. While I like John Gibbons' lineup construction and bullpen management - the two most evident aspects of what a manager does - I have an odd feeling that there's a level of preparation for the season and for games that isn't in place this year.

I could be dead wrong on that, but it seemed to me that they Jays came out of the gate flat, after a Spring Training that was acknowledged by those who observed these things annually as "relaxed". For years, Brian Butterfield was the field marshal in Dunedin, running camp and prepping the team for the forthcoming season. And his work with infielders was held in significant regard.

Torey Lovullo was omnipresent on the top of the dugout steps in his tenure with the Jays, directing the outfielders on where they should play batters and often being the first face that a fielder saw on his down the dugout steps after an inning, presumably looking for a clarification on why a player made the choice he did, and suggesting the correction.

I'm not close enough to the team to see what's happening this year with the coaching staff. But I think its a question worth raising.

I really like Goins. I think he's a ballplayer. But I also don't see him evolving into much more than a decent bench player or a marginal starter. He might surprise beyond that, and I love the level of athleticism that he demonstrates, but again, I wouldn't want to bet part of my 2014 success on his ability to post a .700 OPS in the Majors.

My preferred course for him would be on the bench to spell José Reyes in the field on occasion, and to get some starts at second or third if needed. I might even want to see if he could handle some games in the outfield. Maybe I'm wrong about this, but I could see his best role in the big leagues as a Hairston Brothers' style supersub.
I agree that the Jays became a big deal (BIG DEAL!) this offseason, crossing over into the mainstream culture and news, and expanded their reach into some audiences that had been away for years or that hadn't yet engaged in the sport.

Attendance figures for 2013 are promising, with the Jays showing the most year-over-year growth at the turnstiles this season. I haven't seen the ratings in a while, but I don't think they'd be terribly disappointing, given the circumstances.

Of course, Toronto being Toronto, you can almost write the stories and talking points now that will come out next season, when Blue Jays attendance goes down by 1%, or 2% or even 5%. There's a smug cynicism about the sports scene in the Centre of the Universe, and it feasts of this sort of failure.

But those sorts of declines shouldn't be surprising, nor should they be alarming. Moreover, I have a hunch that the younger cohort of new fans will appreciate the experience of diving into baseball, and won't necessarily run away at the first sign of failure.

I'm sure that Blue Jays Talk host Mike Wilner will hear many declarations from fans who will state that they're finished with this team, but I get a sense that there has been enough goodwill engendered with a new generation of baseball fans.

It might be shocking to hear an old fart say this about kids in their twenties, but I don't get the sense that those new fans feel as entitled to a winning team every year. I think they might have enough patience to stick around for a few seasons and see how it all plays out.

Here's hoping they are rewarded.

2 comments:

Jonny Adornetto said...

Ron Washington for Prime Minister...or Blue Jays Manager:

http://www.rantsports.com/mlb/2013/09/17/toronto-blue-jays-rumors-ron-washington-a-perfect-fit/

bluejaysfan(onmygameballs.com) said...

"McCann's .824 OPS (.350 OBP/.473 SLG) plays very well as a catcher, though his defense isn't exactly revered."

McCann's framing abilities are consistently among the league's best, and grades out as slightly above average defensively(usually around +2 runs).