Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Provenance: Savannah, Georgia. Attended Long County High School in Ludowici, GA.
Acquired: Drafted by the Blue Jays in the first round (33rd overall) of the 2000 MLB amateur draft.
Contract Status: Signed a three-year, $4.1 million contract before last season. Slated to make $1.5 million this year and $1.5 million in 2014. A $4 million club option for 2015 is also available, with a $500,000 buyout. Is out of options.
Back of the Baseball Card: Over five seasons, 80 games pitched, all for the Blue Jays, including 60 starts. Last pitched on September 26th, 2011. Posted a 4.80 ERA, with an 18.8% strikeout rate and 9.5% walk rate.
Career Repertoire, as per Brooks Baseball: Four seam fastball (36%, 95.9 MPH); Sinker (26%, 95.8 MPH); Slider (21%, 88.9 MPH), Changeup (11%, 87.8 MPH); Curveball (10%, 82.4 MPH).
Recent Injury History: Five separate yet interrelated 60-day DL stints for shoulder injuries to both the rotator cuff and labrum. Tommy John Surgery in 2004.
Looking Back: You'd think that we would have learned by now not to get overly excited by the sparkles and flashes that are conveyed through second-hand accounts of Dustin McGowan's progress.
It's been too long. There have been too many setbacks. There might not have been enough quality there in the first place. And yet, we're captivated. Tales of one spring training inning - ONE INNING - and people get hooked anew by the promise of Dusty and his "stuff".
Oh, stuff. It's such a mesmerizing thing. An intricate weave of velocity, movement, and aspirations. You'll note that when people speak of McGowan's stuff, they invariably invoke the names of Roy Halladay or Chris Carpenter, in part because the ambition among some fans and some media is that the big right-hander assume that mantle. Even with Brandon Morrow and Josh Johnson already on board, there's an appeal to the recent history of the Jays, and McGowan is the next piece in that narrative.
This isn't to completely dismiss the notion that McGowan could be something. In his erratic return to the Blue Jays in 2011, his fastballs would peak in the high 90's, though where they ended up was anyone's guess. That sort of power can occasionally gloss over a lack of control on occasion, but it's not a path towards long-term success.
Looking Ahead: They say that past performance is the best predictor of future success...but is there anything meaningful from the past four years of McGowan's career that we can look upon to find insight as to what he might be this year?
The most likely scenario for this season is that McGowan pitches in some portion of the season, and might add his name into the growing and impressive list of hard-throwing right-handers. But does that mean five games? Or 10? Or 20?
The other scenario that has the potential to play out is that the Jays attempt to slip McGowan through waivers in order to kick their decision on him down the road. His million-and-a-half salary this year and next might be enough to ward off some teams that don't have the levels of attachment and patience necessary to wait and dream McGowan through another season.
Pessimistically: Never makes it off the complex. Begins looking at a career after baseball.
Optimistically: Is healthy enough to play baseball, and good enough to matter to the big league team.
Provenance: Passaic, New Jersey. Not far from Hackensack. Selected by the Atlanta Braves in the seventh round of the 1996 amateur draft out of the University of Pennsylvania. Debuted for the Braves in September of 1998.
Contract Status: Signed one-year, $750,000 contract with the Jays in January, 2013. A $750,000 cub option for 2014 is included, with a $25,000 buyout.
Back of the Baseball Card: In 15 MLB seasons, has played 1153 games with the Braves, Rangers, Cubs, Clevelanders, Cardinals, Giants and Nationals. Posted a .340 OBP, .412 slugging in 3858 plate appearances. Hit 93 dingers, including a career-high 23 in 2009 between Cleveland and St. Louis. His last homer was on April 5, 2010. Career WAR of 12.3 according to Fangraphs, including a 4.3 in 2008 with the Cubs.
2012 Stats: In 48 games with the Nationals, made 101 plate appearances, with an OBP of .300 (okay, not bad) and a slugging percentage of .247 (yeesh). Strikeout rate of 17.8%, walk rate of 13.9%.
Injury History: A long list of ailments over the past five years have served to limit DeRosa's effectiveness. Missed two months early and one month late in 2012 with oblique strains. Missed more than three months of 2011 with wrist problems, which had previously ended his 2010 season in May.
Looking Back: His medical chart screams "retire already!". He hits the ball so tepidly that his isolated power numbers over the past three season - .065, .023, .059 from 2010 through 2012 respectively - profile more along the lines of a skinny teenage infielder.
DeRosa's real skill or added value to the team is alleged to be the way that he ties the room together, not unlike like Lebowski's rug. If that's the case, then you'd have to assume that his intangible value is off the imperceptible chart, if only because the less ethereal value is so scarce as to be impossible to find in the stat lines.
It wasn't always thus, and there was a moment in his career where DeRosa had emerged as a second-tier star. After signing a three-year deal with the Cubs in 2007, DeRosa more than lived up to the bargain, posting an .800 OPS (.355 OBP, .445 SLG) through the deal's conclusion with the Cardinals. He averaged 18 homers, and filled in admirably around the diamond, getting reps everywhere but pitcher, catcher and centrefield.
Injuries have severely limited DeRosa in the past five seasons, and his wrist injury seems to be chronic. If past injury history is the most telling harbinger of future trouble, the chances of getting much more than 100 plate appearances seems remote.
Looking Ahead: The current narrative is that DeRosa is in camp to be the new, older and wiser best pal for Brett Lawrie. Maybe he's there to hide the Red Bull, or to suggest a use for his time and money that doesn't include more ink on the marginal segments of exposed flesh that the young phenom has remaining.
With today's news that Lawrie will start the season on the DL, though, it seems as though DeRosa will have a role to immediately fill in for the first week of the season, and maybe longer.
For all of the data that has piled up through a long career thus far, it is hard to say what to expect from DeRosa in the short term. Is there any pop left in his bat? And that's not to kid ourselves into thinking of him as any sort of power threat...but can he hit a double? Or send something past the infielders with enough gusto that a .235 BABIP doesn't become the norm?
Pessimistically: Gets injured quickly, ushers in the Andy LaRoche era before they even start opening the dome on a regular basis.
Optimistically: 2009 is a long time ago now, but is it out of the question to think that DeRosa could keep his OPS above .700 and play in more than 50 games?
Monday, March 25, 2013
Provenance: Born in Fort Knox, Kentucky. Went to high school in and around Tulsa Oklahoma.
Selected in the 29th round of the 2003 amateur draft by the San Diego Padres. Made his major league debut for the Seattle Mariners on September 11, 2011.
Acquired: Traded to the Blue Jays on July 30, 2012, in exchange for Eric Thames.
Contract Status: Will not be eligible for arbitration until the 2015 season.
Back of the Baseball Card: Pitched 67 games and 73 innings over one season plus one month with the Mariners and the Jays. Posted a 3.82 ERA in 2012 - including a 3.38 mark after the trade to the Blue Jays - striking out 33.6% of batters while walking 9.5%. Was homer-prone in Seattle, oddly enough, giving up 2.2 HRs per nine innings, but dropped that number to 0.9 in his 27 games in Toronto.
2012 Repertoire, as per Brooks Baseball: Four seam fastball (60%, 95.3 MPH average); Splitter (36%, 87.4 MPH); Slider (4%, 86.8 MPH).
Recent Injury History: Fractured right arm while pitching in independent ball in 2009, requiring a steel plate and nine screws to be inserted surgically to stabilize his elbow. Delabar left baseball for a year, but returned when he rediscovered his velocity while testing the radar gun for the high school team he helped coach in Elizabethtown, KY.
Looking Back: In the moment, it seemed as though the deal to acquire Steve Delabar last year might have been one of the least interesting trades the team has made in recent years. If anything, it seemed like the Jays were dumping Eric Thames just to get him out of their system and move on.
When Delabar arrived, he came with the reputation of being a big arm who threw hard but straight, and when he found the strikezone, he often found trouble. But at a time where the pitching corps was ailing and in need of reinforcements, bringing in any warm body with a vaguely functional arm seemed like a not-bad idea. The likelihood of Delabar sticking around in the long term, though, seemed a bit remote.
But something funny happened over the last two months of the season: Delabar began working ahead in the count, upping his percentage of first-pitch strikes. Batters also started swinging at a marginally higher pace, and missing with those swings more often. All of which resulted in Delabar becoming one of the Jays' more reliable bullpen arms in the late stages of the season. In some crazy corners of the interwebs, it even got some people considering the idea that maybe - just maybe - he might be an option to set up or even close games at some point in the near future.
Having a visually stunning breaking pitch certainly helps to make that case. In September - and standard caveats about the value of stats in meaningless September games apply - Delabar began working his split-fingered fastball into the equation more frequently, throwing it almost as often (114 times) as his fastball (116 times). It seems unlikely that Delabar could keep up a near 50/50 split (pardon the pun) between his four-seam and splitter over the full length of the schedule.
Looking Ahead: While the Blue Jays' bullpen is packed, and features many power arms, there are enough questions about the back end to warrant some lofty considerations for Delabar in 2013.
What's the deal with Casey Janssen's injury? Or what will Sergio Santos look like in his return? If neither of them are effective or available in the early part of the season, Delabar's role could become more vital to the Jays' chances of an AL East pennant.
Does that mean that Delabar could be the closer at some point? It's certainly possible, though most fans would probably wish against the series of events that would bring that reality to bear. On a more positive line of thought, Delabar could serve the team very well as a late inning option to get big strikeouts when necessary.
Pessimistically: Is another hard throwing depth arm in the bullpen. Might walk too many, or get hit hard at times. He still has options.
Optimistically: The end-of-season trend continues, and Delabar strikes out a lot of batters in late and close situations.
Sunday, March 24, 2013
I'm a fan of spring training. I really am. It may not seem like it based on how infrequently I've turned up for my weekend blogging duties since the annual pre-season ritual has gotten underway (sorry 'bout that), but I've been enjoying the fact that there's even the most meaningless of baseball games being played in Florida and Arizona. You can't get to the real games until you play the fake ones.
Before spring training got underway, I wrote hereabouts that there really was surprisingly little left to settle with respect to the roster that would head north for the Toronto Blue Jays. There was the backup catcher situation to sort out, and the question of choosing between Emilio Bonifacio and Maicer Izturis as the predominant second base option. These position battles, such as they are, have actually unfolded pretty quietly: looks like Henry Blanco will get the nod to try and track R.A. Dickey's knuckleball every fifth day, while John Gibbons may have chosen not to answer the second base question definitively one way or the other. Which is well within his rights, and might be the wisest course of action anyway.
There's a pertinent question to ask, though, about to what extent these position battles were ever a real thing at all. It's entirely possible the team knew exactly what the answers to these questions would be long before the beat writers and broadcasters gathered in Dunedin started to pose them in the media.
I was listening to the second edition of "Behind the Dish", Keith Law's excellent new podcast from ESPN.com, in which he interviewed former Washington Nationals and Cleveland Indians manager Manny Acta. Acta had some very interesting things to say about the number of roster decisions most organizations have basically predetermined prior to spring, if not carved in stone, then at least written out in permanent Magic Marker.
The truth is there are very few real competitions in spring training, to hear Acta tell it. He wasn't revealing some earth-shattering behind-the-scenes truth, but his discussion of organizational expectations of players coming into camp went beyond the standard "spring stats don't mean shit" that we all understand intuitively already.
Acta also talked a bit about the difference between coaches making mechanical changes with a player who is more certain to be on the Opening Day roster, as opposed to one who is legitimately fighting for a spot on the team. In short, if teams want a clear picture of what a player can do against various qualities of competition in camp -- from major league talent to A-ball fodder -- they tend to leave his mechanics alone. This gives the organizations a sense of where he truly is in his development, and it's fairer to the player, since he's not struggling with consistency due to tweaks to his batting stance or pitching stride.
Bearing all of this in mind, even if most players in major league camp can't really do anything to play themselves into the opening day roster, can they do enough to play their way off of it? Or, to make it more applicable to the media narrative du jour, what's it all mean for Ricky Romero vs. J.A. Happ for that fifth rotation spot?
Romero has struggled badly in spring, after a horrible 2012 season. Yet if you follow the Acta logic -- which actually makes some sense to me -- if Romero were really in a battle for his big-league spot, most organizations wouldn't start monkeying around with his delivery. In fact, the logic would say the exact opposite: it's because Romero's spot is relatively safe that the organization isn't worried about the results he's putting up while he works through his mechanical adjustments against minor leaguers on the back fields.
Now, granted, the mechanical intervention with Romero is coming awfully late in camp. And while the question of whether there's a fifth starter battle might not have generated an actual fire yet, there's a helluva lot of smoke. In any case, I found Acta's insights interesting if you're really looking for another way to analyze this from a distance (or over-analyze, if you like).
Even as an anonymous blogger literally writing this in his basement, I don't have the guts to make a solid prediction one way or the other, but gun to my head, I still think Ricky Romero is going to get some rope at the back end of the rotation. While it may look to the outside world like he's put his rotation spot in jeopardy and he's got a week to put a stranglehold back on it, it's just as likely that the decision to bring him north has already been made.
Friday, March 22, 2013
Provenance: Born in Minneapolis. Went to high school in and around Tulsa Oklahoma.
(Pause while I go listen to Don Williams' "Tulsa Time", which is a great song. Sorry. Onward.)
Selected in the fourth round of the 2002 amateur draft by the Florida Marlins. Made his major league debut at the age of 21 on September 10, 2005.
Contract Status: Entering the final season of a four-year, $39 million contract. Will earn $13.75 million in base salary this season. Bonus clauses include $1 million payout if he is named World Series MVP and $500,000 for winning the Cy Young.
Back of the Baseball Card: 3.15 ERA in 916.2 innings pitched in eight seasons, all with the Marlins. Struck out 21.9% of batters (8.17 per nine) and walked 8.1 % (3.02) in 154 games pitched, including 144 starts. Two-time All-Star, finished fifth in Cy Young voting in 2010.
2012 Stats: Started 31 games for the Marlins, posting a 3.81 ERA in 191.1 innings. Struck out 20.7% of batters (7.76 per nine) and walked 8.2% (3.06). Worth 3.8 wins above replacement according to Fangraphs, 3.1 per Baseball Reference and 3.0 per Baseball Prospectus.
2012 Repertoire, as per Brooks Baseball: Four seam fastball (51%, 93.5 MPH average); Slider (24%, 87.5 MPH), Curve (16%, 79.1 MPH). Changeup (5%, 87.8 MPH); Sinker (4%, 93.0 MPH).
Recent Injury History: Started only nine games at the start of 2011, before being sidelined with shoulder inflammation. Had previously missed the final month of 2010 with the same ailment. Had Tommy John Surgery in August, 2007.
Looking Back: Josh Johnson's 2012 season was one of the more scrutinized returns from injury in recent years.
After a remarkable 2010 season in which he won the NL ERA title (2.30), Johnson was set up to be one of the premier power pitchers in the game. He was building on that success admirably in early 2011 when his shoulder went awry, though the extent of the injury took a painfully long time to sort out. Though his last start was in May, he wasn't officially shut down until almost two months later.
That frustrating delay had fans watching throughout 2012 with a high level of trepidation. His fastball velocity, which dropped by more than two miles per hour from its 2010 levels (95.6 MPH), remained under constant scrutiny. A predictable mid-season dip in his fastball velocity raised alarms, but by the final starts of the season in September, he had begun to regain a couple of clicks on the pitch.
Also notable in Johnson's 2012 season is the increased use of a curveball. According to the Brooks Baseball database, he didn't throw a single curve in 2010, relying almost entirely on a four-seam/slider arsenal in that season.
For the most part, Johnson's peripheral numbers came back to their historical levels last season, though his inflated ERA is likely due to an uptick in his homer-to-flyball ratio. At 8.4%, last year's mark was double that of his 2010 season (4.2%, if you needed the math guidance), and marginally higher than his career mark (7.2%).
Looking Ahead: Johnson certainly benefited from playing in home parks that were sympathetic to pitchers through his first eight seasons.
He's held the opposition to a .623 OPS against between ProPlayer/Sun Life Stadium and the new Marlins Park, while putting up a still decent .692 OPS on the road. Still, he's never pitched in his career at Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park, so it will be interesting to see how the fun house atmosphere of those bizarro parks.
On the other hand, a pitcher who can miss a lot of bats can help to neutralize the effects of hitters parks.And thus far in the completely meaningless fake games of spring, Johnson has done a pretty snazzy job of sending batters back to the bench with their lumber in their hands, unscathed by leather. In his first four games, Johnson fanned 11 in 10.2 innings without walking a batter.
It might not be enough to proclaim that the fearsome hurler is back to his best form, but it's a nice sign in a spring that has elicited more than its share of caveats for poor performance by potential starting pitchers.
And since we're indulging in hoary old saws, it certainly bears mentioning that this is a contract year for Josh Johnson. It seems as though it is a long shot that the Jays will keep him in the longer term, but the question remains as to whether a great performance by JJ in the first four months will make him indispensable for the stretch run, or a key trade chip by the end of July.
Pessimistically: The deeper lineups of the American League make life more challenging for Johnson, bumping his ERA up and leaving him to minimize the damage from the fly balls that become dingers in some AL East parks. Shoulder/back/bunion pain (or what have you) undermines his season.
Optimistically: Regains his strength, while adding the wisdom and guile of age to his game. Asserts himself as a legitimate ace. Dominates in big games.
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Provenance: Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Signed as an amateur free agent in 2005.
Contract Status: Still on year-to-year deals. Has 65 days of Major League service time.
2012 Stats: In his big league debut, posted .274 OBP and .374 slugging with 44 strikeouts and eight walks in 157 plate appearances. Plus six dingers and a stolen base.
Back of the Baseball Card: Has improved progressively through his seven seasons of minor league ball. Overall, has a .332 OBP and .405 slugging, but his best showings have been in Double-A and Triple-A: .343/.439 with 19 HRs in 141 games at New Hampshire, .360/.472 with 17 HRs in 100 games at Las Vegas. Also posted an impressive .372 OBP in 185 PAs in the Dominican League this winter, walking 19 times versus 32 strikeouts.
Injury History: Missed most of 2010 with a stress fracture and a fracture of the hamate bone.
Looking Back: There were moments in 2012 where it seemed as though Moises Sierra was compiling his own personal blooper reel.
Fly balls were often an adventure, especially when he neglected to put his sunglasses on his face before an inning. He made some of the ugliest slides you'll ever see, and his baserunning seemed as though it should always have "Yakety Sax" playing as its soundtrack. At the plate, it seemed as though there wasn't a pitch that could be thrown in his direction that wouldn't elicit a swing.
So why is Sierra so darn lovable? Maybe it's the infectious abandon with which Sierra plays. It can be frustrating at moments, and if you didn't remind yourself that he's still just 23 years old, you might wonder if there is any salvaging such a raw player. There are just enough highs to make you think that one day, they might outweigh the lows.
If you can get past the some of the goofy-ugly play, it might be worth remembering that Sierra - at best an afterthought for franchise depth a year ago - eventually went on to hit as many homers as Travis Snider and Eric Thames combined. Or that he posted a better OPS than Yunel Escobar or Adeiny Hechevarria. Apples and oranges, but still.
If you couldn't find the affection for him based on the small exposure to him in Toronto last year, maybe his Dominican Winter League line could offer a small glimmer of hope that he could learn to address his weaker points. The fact that he walked in more than 10% of his plate appearances has to be encouraging, right?
And if you have caught Sierra's outings in the World Baseball Classic for the Dominican Republic, it's easy to get caught up in the moment that he's having in that tournament.
Looking Ahead: With that said, we shouldn't kid ourselves as to what Moises Sierra is. In the short term, he might be a fifth or sixth outfielder. Moreover, his value as a bench player is limited by the fact that he is a highly specious choice to be played in center field.
For 2013, Sierra will provide Triple-A depth, and a season in the International League will serve him well. Getting an honest assessment of Sierra's true talent level outside of the PCL would certainly help to asses whether if his progress through the higher levels of the minor leagues is an illusion, or if there's still room for growth as he reaches his prime seasons.
Pessimistically: Is a non-factor in Buffalo, and slips back or out of the Jays' future plans completely.
Optimistically: A more selective approach means better pitches, more production, and maybe a fringe role on the big league roster in 2014 or beyond.
Friday, March 15, 2013
Provenance: Dunkirk, Maryland. Selected with the 38th pick overall of the 2007 amateur draft by the Blue Jays out of the University of Maryland. Made his major league debut less than two years later, on May 5, 2009.
Contract Status: No contract signed for 2013 as of yet. Is out of minor league options. First year of arbitration eligibility is next season.
Back of the Baseball Card: 4.79 ERA in 451.0 innings pitched over four seasons and 87 games, including 74 starts. Struck out 16.6 % of batters (6.47 per nine) and walked 8.1 % (3.13).
2012 Stats: Pitched 21 games for the Blue Jays, including nine starts. Posted a 5.71 ERA, striking out 18.9 % of batters (7.48 per nine) and walked 8.5 % (3.38). In 15 starts between Double-A New Hampshire and Triple-A Las Vegas, posted a 2.95 ERA in 82.1 innings with 67 strikeouts and 21 walks.
2012 Repertoire, as per Brooks Baseball: Four seam fastball (33%, 89.8 MPH average); Curve (22%, 79.3 MPH). Cutter (14%, 85.7 MPH); Changeup (14%, 82.5 MPH); Sinker (11%, 88.5 MPH); Slider (5%, 82.2 MPH).
Recent Injury History: Nursed a groin injury for two months of 2012 in the minors. Injured pitching hand cleaning a blender in 2011. Had a case of the dead arm in late 2010.
Looking Back: There are few players who are more confusing to evaluate than Cecil. For a few moments, Cecil was the Jays' best pitching prospect, and seemed to solidify a role in the rotation after a solid 2010 season: 4.22 ERA, 117 Ks and 54 BBs in 172.2 innings...and a 15-7, if that's your style.
If you were paying attention closely in the final months of the 2010 season, though, there were signs of the struggles that were to come. Cecil was shelved for a week with arm fatigue, and saw his fastball velocity drop off by a couple of miles per hour. In the moment, you could have written it off as a typical late season lag, but in the ensuing two years, that velocity never really returned.
With less heat behind his pitches, Cecil's homer-to-flyball ratio exploded from a very respectable 8.7% to 13.3% in 2011 and 14.5% in 2012. Couple this with a simultaneous rise in his fly ball rate - perhaps as a result of a less effective sinker? - and you see a rapid decline from a pitcher with peripherals that were tenuously those of a major league starter.
Towards the end of 2012, Cecil re-emerged in a return to the bullpen. With less of a workload per outing, Cecil seemingly felt free to let fly in his short stints, and his fastball velocity in September popped back up above 92 MPH.
One other odd note about Cecil in 2012: He has seemingly abandoned his slider, choosing to go with a curveball as his breaking pitch of choice. Throughout his emergence through the Jays' system, Cecil's slider was always the breaking pitch that was mentioned in the shorthand analyses of his arsenal, but by September of last season, he had seemingly stripped it out of his game, tossing the pitch just three times in 12 appearances at the end of last year.
Looking Ahead: A closer in college, the Jays spent much of the past five years stretching him out to make use of his expansive repertoire. Now, his best hopes to stick on the big league roster - and indeed, with the organization - come as he shifts back to the bullpen.
The Jays find themselves in a position where they have a fair bit of left-handed pitching that can step into the big league club's bullpen. In the pecking order of bullpen southpaws, Cecil will enter the season behind Darren Oliver and slightly ahead of Aaron Loup based on the latter having options remaining. Later in the season, Luis Perez will re-enter this crowded situation if his recovery from a July 2012 Tommy John procedure is successful.
Given that competition, Cecil will need to be something more than a middling middle-reliever to retain his spot on the roster.
Pessimistically: Cecil's homer rates continue to rise, and he shifts to the back of a smaller bullpen. And when you start to back yourself out on a plank like that, it isn't long before you realize suddenly how short it really is.
Optimistically: A more focused approach and the return of some velocity makes Cecil a reliable option to quell mid-game rallies. Pitches well enough to get a nice deal to buy out a few arbitration years.
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Provenance: Caracas, Venezuela. Signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers as an amateur free agent in 1989. Made his major-league debut with the Dodgers in July, 1997.
Contract Status: Joined the Blue Jays on a one-year, non-guaranteed deal worth $750,000 in January, 2013.
Back of the Baseball Card: Fifteen MLB seasons with the Dodgers, Rockies, Brewers, Braves, Twins, Cubs, Padres, Mets and Diamondbacks. Posted a .291 OBP and .367 slugging in 921 games played (2937 plate appearances). Hit 69 homers. Posted an 8.0 career WAR (as per Fangraphs) and 3.4 WARP (Baseball Prospectus). Strike out rate of 17.4 %, walk rate of 8.2 %.
2012 Stats: Played in 21 games for the D-Backs with a slash line of .224 OBP/.281 SLG in 67 plate appearances. Strike out rate of 26.9%. Hit eight homers in 112 plate appearances in 2011 with Arizona.
Injury History: Had season-ending surgery last year year on his left thumb. Six DL stints in his career. A recurring problem with a herniated disc in his neck has kept sidelined him in 2007 and again in 2010.
Looking Back: The last time that Henry Blanco had something resembling an everyday job in the Majors was in 2004 with the Minnesota Twins. Which also coincides with the season in which Johan Santana won his first Cy Young Award. Just dropping that notion in there.
Since then, he's averaged 48 games and 148 games per season as a well-travelled backup. Along the way, he served as a personal catcher for Greg Maddux in his autumn years with the Cubs, and caught new Jay R.A. Dickey seven times in 2010 with the Mets.
Blanco's calling card is his catcher's mitt, but it can be difficult to evaluate it. We're in the nascent stages of the development of metrics to evaluate catchers' defensive value, but let's play along and look at Stolen Base Runs Saved (rSB). Since 2010, Blanco has caught 795.2 innings, and in that time, he's posted six runs saved by throwing out potential base stealers.
Not a bad number for a part-time player, considering Matt Wieters has posted 16 runs saved and Yadier Molina 14 over the same time period, but in more than six times as many innings. Meanwhile, J.P. Arencibia has posted a -8 in 1922.2 innings while Josh Thole has a -5 in 2059.0 innings caught.
Another defensive stat for catchers is RPP, which expresses how good a catcher is at blocking pitches though a runs above average measurement. In this stat, Blanco posts a 0.6 (29th among catchers with more than 700 innings caught since 2010), while Thole has a 1.4 (24th) and Arencibia has a -4.1 (52nd).
Looking Ahead: There's a notion that the relationship Blanco developed with Dickey in their brief time together motivated the Jays to give the veteran a deal heading into camp. Dickey has told reporters that Blanco was the best catcher that he's worked with when it comes to catching the knuckleball, but following the knuckleballer's subsequent comments on the subject is a bit like...well, catching a knuckleball.
Just a week ago, Jays manager John Gibbons told reporters that immediately following the World Baseball Classic, the team would pick a personal catcher for their uncommon staff ace. But today, Dickey is quoted by the National Post's John Lott as saying that he's not particularly fussed by the question.
"It’s a non-issue, really … I’m comfortable with all of them, so it gives Gibby a lot of latitude to be able to put in there who he thinks is the best fit for that day," he said. (NatPost)It's possible - if not likely - that Dickey is remaining somewhat cagey on this issue so as not to upset the apple cart with the long line of other catchers who might end up kneeling before him over the course of the season. With J.P. Arencibia, Josh Thole and even Mike Nickeas as other potential options before the year is out, one might suspect that Dickey would like to avoid publicly naming favourites this early in the year.
In the longer term, it's hard to imagine a scenario where Blanco continues to catch Dickey through this season and into the next one and through to the end of his deal. At some point, either Thole or Arencibia will be taking a regular turn behind the plate.
But in this "all-in" year, it's not a bad option to see if Blanco and Dickey can recapture the magic they made together in that handful of starts three seasons ago.
Pessimistically: Is a negative at the bottom of the batting order and does not do enough to help Dickey along to justify his presence. Is not a reliable option to give J.P. Arencibia regular rest.
Optimistically: Makes beautiful music with Dickey. Becomes an invaluable tool for the pitching staff in the preparation before series. Holds his own at the plate. Hits a couple of taters.
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Provenance: Born in South Boston, Virginia. Selected with the 16th pick overall of the 2006 amateur draft by the Milwaukee Brewers out of Halifax County (VA) High School. (No, really!)
Acquired: Purchased from the Kansas City Royals on November 8th, 2012 after being designated for assignment.
Contract Status: No contract signed for 2013 as of yet. Is out of minor league options.
Back of the Baseball Card: 4.89 ERA in 37 relief appearances (38.2 innings) over three seasons with the Brewers and the Royals. Struck out 18.7% of batters while walking 16.5%. In 151 minor league games (421 innings), struck out 10.0 batters per nine innings while walking 5.4 per nine.
2012 Stats: At Triple-A Omaha - so standard Pacific Coast League caveats apply - threw 58 innings over 37 games, posting a 4.97 ERA. Struck out 25.3% of batters while walking 10.4%. In 13 games with the Royals, walked 13 and struck out 13. (Symmetry!)
2012 Repertoire, as per Brooks Baseball: Four seam fastball (76%, 95.7 MPH average); Curve (20%, 79.9 MPH). Ten cutters (92.2 MPH) and four changeups (88.3 MPH) mixed in for good measure.
Recent Injury History: No previous injury history reported.
Looking Back: If you knew much or anything about Jeremy Jeffress before this offseason, it might have been for his inclusion in the trade that brought Zach Greinke to Milwaukee. If you're enough of a fantasy baseball geek, you may remember his name being tossed around as a potential future closer after a nice September callup in 2010.
Or, perhaps you saw his name drift across the newswire for his multiple suspensions for marijuana use. Those three formal admonishments now leave him in a situation where his next smoke will put him (so sorry for this) one toke over the line.
(Perhaps I'm indulging in cornball references to songs from the 1970's to get over the idea that someone could be suspended for life from baseball for smoking weed, while a long list of ballplayers face little or no repercussions for getting liquored up, stumbling into the driver's seat of their car and actually driving off in a stupor. It's so far beyond absurd that I'll never understand it.)
Setting the off-field matters aside, Jeffress is an intriguing player. He has shown tantalizing velocity throughout his development, regularly touching 99 MPH with his fastball. But while he has always been able to let it fly, he seemingly had little sense of where it was going once it left his hand.
If you wanted to add a sympathetic note to Jeffress' minor league résumé, you could point to the fact that he travelled the bumpy and inhospitable road through the Texas and Pacific Coast leagues after the trade from Milwaukee.
Few young pitchers make it through that path unscathed, and Jeffress' first exposure to those leagues saw his K/BB ratio shrink to 1.10 in 2011.Was he pitching around batters? Attempting to avoid contact? Whatever happened initially, he improved that same metric dramatically last season in his second go-round in those hitters' leagues, with a 2.46 mark. Not dazzling, but an improvement to be sure.
Looking Ahead: Jeffress will be hard-pressed to make the Blue Jays out of Spring Training, and until several readers asked for a preview piece on him, he wasn't even going to make the cut in this 37-part series.
Jeffress' profile is very similar to Esmil Rogers, another fireballing bullpen righty who is out of options, and without a number of injuries between now and Opening Day, it is hard to imagine both of them remaining a Blue Jay into April.
Through the first few weeks of pre-season action, both pitchers have struck out a lot of batters - 11.4 per nine for Jeffress, 12.9 for Rogers - while keeping their walk totals reasonable: two walks each through 6.1 innings for Jeffress and five innings for Rogers. Both have given up a lot of hits - Jeffress: 6; Rogers: 7 - though the latter's hits seem a little more apt to leave the yard (three homers to one.)
But then, that's a tiny sliver of spring stats, to be taken with all the salt in the sea.
If it comes down to a choice between the two where the performance in the fake games of pre-spring create little separation, one wonders if the cost of the players might enter the equation. Rogers was the player that ultimately was the return for former manager John Farrell, while Jeffress was essentially a free pick up.
And while it might be unfair, the fact that Jeffress is so close to a lifetime ban might ultimately make him the more volatile asset. Which is terrible.
Pessimistically: Jeffress loses the handle in a couple of late spring games, and finds his way onto the waiver wire. Another team is certain to take a chance on him, given the opportunity.
Optimistically: Continues to show improvements in control, and ekes his way onto the April roster. Establishes himself as a solid middle reliever who can shut down a rally with a key strikeout.
Monday, March 11, 2013
Provenance: Barquisimeto, Venezuela. Signed by Cleveland as an amateur free agent in 1998. Made his major-league debut as a Montreal Expo in the twilight of their final season.
Contract Status: Joined the Blue Jays on a three-year, $10 million contract in November, 2012.
Back of the Baseball Card: Nine MLB seasons with the Expos and Angels. Posted a .337 OBP and .381 slugging in 791 games (2913 plate appearances). Stole 91 bases, hit 34 homers. Posted a 13.5 career WAR (as per Fangraphs) and 8.5 WARP (Baseball Prospectus). Strike out rate of 10.7%, walk rate of 8.2%.
2012 Stats: .320 OBP and .315 slugging in 100 games (319 plate appearances) with the Angels. Strike out rate of 11.9%, walk rate of 7.8%. Two homers, 11 doubles, 17 stolen bases.
Injury History: Nine separate DL stints in his career. Issues vary from knee and hamstring issues early in his career, thumb surgery that ended his 2008 season, and shoulder trouble that sidelined him and rendered him ineffective in 2010. Was mostly healthy last season, with the exception of a ribcage issue late in the season.
Looking Back: There was a brief moment in November - before the joyous tumult of the rapid roster reconstruction - when Maicer Izturis was sum total of the Blue Jays' offseason acquisitions.
At the time, it seemed like a tidy bit of business: A veteran with a lot of versatility around the field - and a switch hitter to boot - who could fill in around the infield. If you were feeling particularly happy in the moment, you might even imagine him replicating his 2009 season (.359 OBP/.434 SLG/3.4 fWAR).
That season will likely go down as the high point in Izturis' career, but there's still value to be drawn from him in the later stages of his career. He's still a player who doesn't strike out a lot, makes lots of contact (89.5% of the time), and just two seasons ago stroked 35 doubles.
In the field, Izturis has handled second, short and third with little fall off at any of the three positions. The Ultimate Zone Rating metric - as frustrating as it is - looks with a mostly kind eye on his work at third and second, while there seems to be a lot of noise in the measurement of his work at short (really high highs and weirdly low lows). If you step back from those numbers and couple an impressionistic approach with the eye test, Izturis seems to be an estimable defensive player wherever his glove is utilized.
Even with that defensive versatility, Izturis struggled to keep himself in the starting lineup over the past eight seasons with the Anaheim nine. When his performance was ascendant and he managed to eke his way into an everyday role, injuries would sidetrack him and he'd find his way back to a fill-in role.
Looking Ahead: The frequency with which Izturis has been hurt should be a concern, especially if you ponder the possibility of his production being on a downward trajectory in the next three seasons.
If his shoulder issues have robbed him of whatever marginal increments of power that he had in the first place, Izturis' bat might not be enough to keep him out of a bench role for a team that is intent on contending this year.
As a second baseman - and it increasingly looks as though his defense might win him the starting role there - Izturis rates close to the league average offensively. (The average output for second basemen in 2012 was .318 OBP/.383 SLG according the Baseball Reference.) With a little BABIP luck, he could hold his own at the bottom of the order simply by getting on base to be cashed in when the lineup turns over and the bigger bats come up.
Pessimistically: Injuries take him out of the lineup for significant portions of the season, and limit his effectiveness when he is able to play. Loses starting job, and spends more time as a defensive replacement.
Optimistically: Is healthy enough to find some of the doubles power he displayed in 2009 and 2011. Possibly moves his way up the lineup to the sixth or seventh spot. Locks down the second base job and holds on to it all year.
Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Provenance: Born in St. Charles, Missouri, a half hour west of St. Louis. Drafted in the 38th round of the 1998 amateur draft by the Chicago White Sox out of Jefferson College.
Acquired: Acquired from the Miami Marlins as part of an 11-player deal in November, 2012.
Contract Status: Signed four-year, heavily back-loaded $58 million deal with Marlins before 2012. Is owed $11 million this season, as well as $18 million next year and $19 million in 2015.
Back of the Baseball Card: 3.82 ERA in 421 games (396 starts) over 12 seasons with the White Sox and one with the Marlins. Has thrown 2679 innings in his career, striking out 5.11 batters per nine (13.7%) and walked 2.03 per nine (5.4%).
2012 Stats: Buehrle gonna Buehrle. Threw over 200 innings (202.1) for the 12th straight season, posting a respectable 3.74 ERA in 31 starts. Struck out 5.56 per nine (15.1%) while walking 1.78 batters per nine (4.8%).
012 Repertoire, as per Brooks Baseball: Four seam fastball (29%, 85.7 MPH average); Changeup (26%, 78.8 MPH); Cutter (20%, 80.3 MPH); Sinker (14%, 85.1 MPH); Curve (11%, 71.8 MPH).
Recent Injury History: The personification of good health and reliability, Buehrle has yet to spend a day on the disabled list in his career. In twelve seasons. Let that sink in.
Looking Back: When the Marlins first signed Buehrle to his progressively costly four-year deal in the middle of their offseason splurge a year ago, the thought was that he was a very good pitcher but not worth that deal. And those last two years? Those were going to hurt. They might even be stuck with an untradeable asset in the end.
That's the nature of free agent contracts, though, and with the influx of new cash in the system, a bad deal or two can fit into a payroll without forcing a team into a hard or unpalatable decision.
Where this may become an issue is if Buehrle does not take to Toronto, especially in the absence of his family and beloved pit bulls. The option to separate himself from his family for the sake of their banned-in-Ontario terriers seems like one that will weigh on him personally, and it hardly seems like a tenable solution over the next three seasons.
On the other hand, even if the Jays were willing to move Buehrle for personal reasons, it seems unlikely that many teams would eat the last two years of his deal, much less give Toronto anything in return.
Looking Ahead: None of this speaks a word to Buehrle's performance. An efficient and reliable pitcher, Buehrle consistently wrings more than one would expect from an arsenal without much heat.
Essentially, he has thrived for more than a decade with the sort of stuff that gets Brett Cecil demoted. Where Buehrle succeeds is in his ability to throw all of his pitches for strikes, not allowing hitters to sit on a specific fastball or breaking ball.
Buehrle has also won four straight Gold Gloves, and does a nifty job of shutting down opponents' running games, allowing only five stolen bases in 2012 against three runners who were caught and four who were picked off.
There's a line of thought that the legendary speed with which Buehrle works - he's always among the league's five fastest workers - is the difference in keeping his own fielders on their toes while keeping opposing hitters off-balance. It's a notion that sounds a little hokey in this age of precise weights and measures. But the collection of skills that
Regardless: Buehrle's presence and the absence of Jason Frasor means that Jays fans might have an additional few hours of "me time" this summer. Use them as you will.
Pessimistically: Buerhle's return to the AL is inhospitable, especially in the funhouse ballparks in the Bronx in Boston. Misses his puppies, and hits the DL with a bruised heart. ERA finally matches his FIP, and bumps up over 4.40.
Optimistically: Keeps doing that thing he does, defying the odds, and math and nature. Makes 30+ starts and posts an ERA under 3.80 while providing sage counsel to Ricky Romero and Brett Cecil.
Sunday, March 3, 2013
Last year, Bryan O'Connor at the Replacement Level Baseball Blog asked me and three other bloggers who follow AL East teams to submit a little preview of the season as part of a collaborative effort to get a handle on the division as a whole. We're doing it again, so I hope you don't mind if I use this space to take a short break from Tao's commendable 37 Jays in 37-ish Days series to take a look from 30,000 feet instead. Zip over to Bryan's blog for the whole thing in the days ahead. In the meantime, here's what I came up with for the Jays in 2013.
What is your team’s ceiling? What has to go right for your team to win the AL East?
It's an odd feeling for Blue Jays fans to consider the ceiling of their chosen team and realize that for the first time in, oh, 15 years, that ceiling is a season of 90 to 95 wins and an American League East title. It's an odd feeling because for the last decade and a half, the best fans could do was hope for a bunch of things to break just right, and if they did, then maybe -- MAYBE -- the team could sniff the post-season.
You have to live north of the border to have a real sense of just how different things feel about the 2013 Blue Jays. Sportscasts and talk radio shows throughout the fall and winter are usually dominated by hockey, whether it's the NHL or lower-level junior competition. Baseball is the afterthought. I don't need to recap all the acquisitions and departures for you, but not only did Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos completely revamp the major league roster this off-season; he did it in a way that made a largely dormant fan base sit up and take notice. People are paying attention to the Blue Jays again in Canada.
Sure, during the 20-year dry spell we've endured, Jays fans have seen big names come to town before -- Roger Clemens, AJ Burnett, Frank Thomas -- but it never felt like it was part of a real plan to solidify the major league roster in a way that was intended to do anything more than just get some more butts in seats for a while. This off-season has appeared to be more of the culmination of a plan, such as it is, than previous efforts that seemed a lot more like flying by the seat of our pants.
Yet for all the talk about how Anthopoulos made his move for 2013 sensing weakness in New York, Boston, Tampa and Baltimore, he's been the first to tell anyone who ascribes that motive to him that they're off base. The East will be an enormously tough division in which to put up a 90 win season.
To do it, the Jays have to stay healthy. This seems obvious to the point of cliché , but Jays fans are pretty neurotic when it comes to injury after watching 60% of the starting rotation go down in a five day period last summer, watching a rogue's gallery of relievers parade through the bullpen and losing the likes of Jose Bautista and Brett Lawrie for extended periods. But health won't be enough. They can't afford for many players on the roster to take steps backward. A team that gets the best of R.A Dickey, Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, and Melky Cabrera, just to name a few, will be competitive. A repeat power performance from Edwin Encarnacion and another MVP-caliber season from Jose Bautista would help immensely too. But none of those things are certain. They have to play the games, they tell me, and you don't get any pennants for winning the off-season.
What’s the floor for your team this season? What has to go wrong for them to miss the playoffs?
Perhaps it's 20 years of having cautious pessimism drilled into me when it comes to them, but despite the hype, there actually doesn't seem like that much at all that has to go wrong for the Jays to miss the playoffs and hit a floor of another 4th place finish. Some of that relates to the quality of the division, but some of it relates to lingering questions about the team.
There's a flamethrowing bullpen -- made up of a lot of guys who've only been successful for extremely short periods, if at all.
There's precocious talent in Colby Rasmus and Brett Lawrie -- talent that hasn't burst onto the scene the way many would have hoped in their respective tenures of fewer than two full seasons in Toronto.
There's a bit of pop in the DH and catcher positions with Adam Lind and J.P. Arencibia -- but serious concerns about their ability to get on base.
There's a core of upper-tier talent on the roster -- a core that's barely played together, to say nothing of the fact that many members of that core haven't played in the American League at all.
Negative outcomes in more than a couple of those little dichotomies could make all the pre-season love for the Blue Jays turn sour in a big hurry.
How do you see the division playing out? Is there one team you’re particularly afraid of?
This might be the first time in a long time that I've actually been afraid of the Yankees, Red Sox or Rays, because I'm far more accustomed to being resigned to their superiority and anticipating tough games and a losing record against them. Now I'm scared of all of them (maybe even the Orioles) because I feel like they can very easily take a sledgehammer to my hopes and dreams of post-season baseball whenever they meet for a series.
But spring is when we're supposed to be optimistic, so I'll make my prediction of a first place finish for the Blue Jays in 2013, with 93 wins. I'll pick the Yankees second, the Rays third, Red Sox fourth and Orioles fifth. Fortune favours the bold.
Friday, March 1, 2013
Provenance: Columbus, Georgia, U.S.A. Attended high school nearby in Seale, Alabama. Drafted in the first round (28th overall) of the 2005 amateur draft by the St. Louis Cardinals. Received $1 million signing bonus.
Acquired: Via trade on July 27, 2011 as part of a three-team deal with the Cardinals and White Sox. Many players were involved. But that's neither here nor there.
Contract Status: Avoided arbitration with a one-year, $4.675 million deal in January. The Blue Jays hold one more year of arbitration rights before Rasmus becomes a free agent the 2014 season.
Back of the Baseball Card: .313 OBP, .422 slugging in 571 games (2205 plate appearances) with St. Louis and Toronto. Hit 76 homers and stole 24 bags. Posted a 9.2 career WAR (as per Fangraphs) and 3.3 WARP (Baseball Prospectus). Strike out rate of 23.0%, walk rate of 8.9%.
2012 Stats: Set career high in games played (151), but career low in OBP (.289). His OPS of .689 was only fractionally better than his previous low of .688 posted in 2011. Matched career high in home runs (23). Walk rate of 7.5% was lowest since his rookie season. Struck out 23.8% of the time.
Injury History: Missed a few games with groin problems in 2012. His only DL stint over his career was a month in late 2011 with a wrist sprain, but he has a long list of minor boo-boos in recent years: Fingers, abdomen, leg, knee, ankle, foot.
Looking Back: Colby Rasmus has become a polarizing figure among Jays fans. Many casual observers wonder what the fuss was about this alleged blue chip prospect who strikes out too much and never seems to live up to the hype.
On the other hand, those who like Colby like him a lot. If you cut up the season into convenient slices, you can find moments where he looks like the emerging star who can provide very good defense and tear the cover off the ball at the plate.
For instance: If you take the 52 games from May 5th through to the All-Star break, Rasmus posted a .908 OPS (.352 OBP) with 13 homers and 14 doubles. He also lowered his strikeout rate to 16.7% over that period. He was exciting in much of that first half of the season, and a fan could start to dream on the idea that he was finding his footing. If only that was the end of the story.
Following the All-Star break, Rasmus fell off significantly, with an almost unfathomable .515 OPS through his final 66 games of the season. Part of that might have been due to extraordinary bad luck, as evidenced by his .227 BABIP post-break. But it seemed as though some of the improvements made in his swing and approach - the quicker, quieter swing and his daring proximity to the plate - went missing at times as he struggled down the stretch.
I hate the word "inconsistent", because it is entirely overused in sports talk. But Rasmus seems to tinker with his swing and approach and mindset so often that you never really know which player is about to step into the box on any given at bat.
Looking Ahead: One wonders if Rasmus heard Anthony Gose's footsteps behind him as they took they took their frigid tour of Western Canada this winter.
While Gose might have struggled in his first taste of the Majors, there's reason to believe that over a full season, he might be able to put up equivalent offensive value to Rasmus' while providing defense that is at least the equal if not better. You have to think that the Jays' brain trust will closely monitor the return on their investment in Rasmus in 2013 with a view towards planning out the 2014 season.
And if we're talking about these players in econometric terms: Colby Rasmus is a volatile commodity. At Colby's best, it's hard to imagine anyone in the Jays' plans matching his dynamic offensive game. At his worst, he's a below-replacement-level centrefielder who might struggle to maintain his playing time on a team with more depth.
For those of us who genuinely like Rasmus, love watching him play and constantly hope for him to prove himself to the non-believers, this year could be agonizingly tense.
Pessimistically: Rasmus continues to hack away at the bottom of the order, doing little to keep his spot. He paves the way for a move out of Toronto to become someone else's reclamation project.
Optimistically: In a deeper lineup where he could have become a role player, Rasmus asserts himself as a significant bat in the middle of the lineup, posting an OPS over .800 with game-changing power.