Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Time for Prognostication is Over. Thank the Stars.

We're not sure how it happened, but the blog over the past few months has regressed into a stream of plucked-straight-from-our-butthole predictions on everything from win totals to call-up time frames to contract values to individual performances for the coming year, the near future and the distant future.

(Have we told you about how we think Canada's superior knowledge of robot arms will help us in the 2053 season?)

Generally, we like to have fun and jibber jabber with all of you throughout the offseason, but we have to say that we're utterly relieved to be done with that part of the calendar. It's easy to get caught up in looking ahead at the coming season, and trying to figure out how it's all going to play out.

But we'll confess to feeling like a bit of a fraud, because the answers we've been giving hither and yon about what may happen are just uneducated guesses, based mostly on hope, partially on dread, and generally in ignorance of any supporting data.

As we look around at the sports pages and throughout many of our regular web haunts, pre-season predictions seem to dominate the coverage at this point, and that is understandable.
But we'd prefer not to play the part of the Oracle from here on out.

The fun part of baseball is not where you have all of your expectations proven out, thus establishing yourself as some sort of sage. The fun part is where you're surprised every day by the unpredictability of the outcomes, and the constant development of the narrative of the team, its players, and the game itself.

When Ricky Romero delivers the first pitch of the season tomorrow night, we're sure to feel a palpable sense of relief that the season is finally underway. There's plenty of interesting matter to discuss about the game that takes place outside the lines, especially given the management team that the Jays currently have in place.

But for us, the game is the thing. And we can't wait to begin the next chapter.

(Photo swiped from The Hilarious House of Frightenstein Tribute Site. If you only knew how much we love that show.)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

From the Ashes to the Hot Corner...Again

We remember thinking this sometime after Edwin Encarnacion was acquired by the Oakland A's this past offseason: NOW's when Edwin is going to go nuts and hit 40 bombs, and his iffy defense is won't be in the lede of every piece about him, and it's just a damn shame that we're not going to see that for ourselves.

Well now...

It took us a second to recognize what had happened with the announcement by the Jays that José Bautista would return to the outfield, and Edwin Encarnacion would make his way back to third on a full-time basis. Initially, we were certain that this portended five other deals and speedy callups of future stars, because that's just the way we think in the Anthopoulos Era.

(And as of late, haven't we all been wrong about the other shoes which never did drop?)

This shouldn't have come as a surprise, because manager John Farrell kept referring to the fact that he thought that Edwin could spell JoBau here and there at third. And once you get past the notion that "He's E5! He will ruin you with his defense!", it's pretty easy to make the leap that allows you to play him there every day.

Moving Juan Rivera's veteran, somewhat-disposable bat to the DH slot strengthens the outfield defense (a bit), while swapping EE in for JoBau at third shouldn't be a huge drop off. Once you balance it all out, it does appear as though they really have found their strongest lineup.

We, as Jays fans, have been spoiled by exceptional infield defense over the past five or six seasons. So much so that any downgrade in the field defensively is approached with trepidation. But we can live with a year of growing pains for Adam Lind at first, and the opportunity to see what a lighter, more dexterous Encarnacion has to offer in the field. be a bit more pithy: We like it.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Two Intriguing Situations (Plus One Developing Situation at Home)

(Okay, I kinda hate myself for that photo.)

As we muddled our way through two roto drafts over the weekend, we found that the rest of the baseball world came into our field of view like a sucker punch as we scrambled on-the-clock to make drafting decisions on guys who may still be viable options, may be defrocked prospects or who may have retired three years ago. (Our frantic searches for Jermaine Dye went for naught.)

There's lots of catching up with the rest of the league for us now that we've written approximately 12 posts and 1000 tweets on Brett Lawrie's place on the 2011 roster. In particular, two caught our attention this weekend.

The Reds' Outfield Situation: We love the Reds for a whole bunch of reasons, and our patriotic affections for their first baseman are probably the least of them. (But high on that list, you would find the awesome Spring Training uni's that the Reds are sporting, all richly red with the large white script. Divine.) Mostly, though, we are focused on the Reds outfield, which contains three of our favorite young players in the game: Jay Bruce, Drew Stubbs and Chris Heisey, who make up the core of a saliva-inducing future for the Red Stockings.

Add in the possibility of finding at bats for major-league-ready 1B Yonder Alonso in left, and you have a nice problem of too few at bats for too many promising young hitters.

And if it were us, we'd be more than happy to run those guys out for 162 games and see what they produced. But we, being somewhat lacking in the wristbands-and-toothpick department, don't get to make those decisions. Dusty Baker does. And if there is one thing that lacks resonance with Dusty, it's the need to get young guys into the lineup.

And so there's been lots of talk about running tubby DH-type Johnny Gomes out in an every day role for the Reds this season. And try as we might, we can't possible make the case for such a move. The most sensible explanation that we can conceive for it is that it will allow Dusty to bring in a better defensive option late in games...but frankly, putting corner lamp in left would improve over Gomes enthusiastically awful defense.

Frankly, we'd prefer to keep former Jay Fred Lewis and our never-ending, past-expiry-date-prospect-mancrush Jeremy Hermida over Gomes if you're going to switch his role from outstanding pinch-hitter to everyday player.

We can't wait to see what happens in Cincinnati this summer with the young talent that they have. (And we'd be perfectly happy to tune in to see Johnny Gomes reel off dramatic pinch hits late in games as well.) We just hope that the Reds don't squander and stunt the development of the outstanding talent that they have.

The Tampa Closer Situation: Somewhere along the line, we tweeted a comment about Joe Maddon's brilliant insanity and willingness to subvert the orthodoxy.

(So brilliant was said bon mot that the world's leading authority on Maddon's goofball-genius, Jonah Keri, actually responded that he intended to steal the term. But for the life of us, we can't remember what we said, so even if he did include it in The Extra 2% - How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team From Worst to First - available at fine bookstores near you - we probably wouldn't have either the memory nor the moral authority to attempt to claim it back.)

It remains to be seen whether if the proverbial "bullpen-by-committee" that the Rays seem to have fashioned actually remains as such much into the season. But with a multitude of late-inning options - none of whom come bearing the Scarlet C of the Closer - we'll be fascinated to observe how Maddon manages his bullpen late in games.

The thought initially seemed to be that Kyle Farnsworth would get the bulk of the closing opportunities, though the cagey Maddon seems to have thrown both rookie Jake McGee and vet J.P. Howell into the mix.

If there is a manager who could begin to change the manner in which the back of the bullpen is utilized, and truly look more towards matchups and game situations and manage in a manner that is agnostic to the save statistic, it would be Joe Maddon.

(Though we partially assume that all of this results in McGee's closer coronation by June. Which isn't the least intriguing outcome.)

BONUS! Hometown Intriguing Jays Situation
So the Jays have announced that Edwin Encarnacion will get the start at third, and José Bautista will play right.

Well mash my taters.

(And also: Slow down on the wiseacre "E5" comments there, Chachi. We've heard them all before. And frankly, we don't think he's as bad as you've heard. So there.)

What does this mean? Does it mean that the Jays see Brett Lawrie's ascension to the big leagues as imminent? Does it mean that their use for Juan Rivera has passed already? Does it mean that they simply view this as the best offensive configuration for the team, and are willing to give up a bit of defense in order to attain it? (Which is the argument we would make.)

It will bear watching. There doesn't seem to be a deal in place for Rivera as of yet, nor do we see an immediate need for a mid-range offensive outfielder around the league. We hope to be surprised.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Tweetbaggery: You ask . We answer. Sorta.

Tweets! Answered! And the crazy comes right at the top!

@LD10 just lost again at Roll Up the Rim. Nevertheless, he asks: how many years until Lawrie wins MVP?

Okay, simmer down there Gordie. It's fun to get out of your mind excited about a prospect. But can we cool it down for a second on Brett Lawrie? What you (and every other Dougie Canadian) are doing is building up expectations on a young man which he'll have a hard time living up to. It's like looking at your new born and saying: "One day, you'll be the greatest (insert your own preoccupation here...ballerina, hockey player, pole dancer, school administrator...what have you)."

Can't we just let the dude go and get some reps, get himself ready and build his way into what we hope will be a long and productive career? Relax.

Man about town @MassF throws it down like it ain'no thang: Assuming Morrow misses just 1 start who stays and who goes between JL Jo-Jo and KD?

This is a trick question that supposed to get us to deny our undying affection for Jo-Jo Reyes, and we're not having it. What happens is that Morrow comes back, and Jo-Jo goes to the pen temporarily, while the team invents an injury for David Purcey so that they can put him on the DL and have a long rehab period while he recovers from hysterical blindness. Or some such thing.

the_real_THF (as opposed to the fake one, we suppose) asks: Should we be freaking out about Cecil? If not, can you give me an acceptable substitute? #gottafreakoutaboutsomething

You know, if you sing "Gotta freak out about something" to the tune of Michael Jackson's "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'", you can totally lose your train of thought. Especially when you get to the "ma ma se ma ma sa ma ma coo sa" part. Sorry, what did you ask?

Ah yes, Cecil.

We'll put it to you this way: We don't want to encourage freaking out, because frankly, it's not good for you. It puts you in a foul state of mind, and you end up doing crazy stuff just to make yourself feel better. (At least, that's a couple of hundred episodes of Intervention have led us to believe.) Let the season play out, and let's see what we have to actually freak out about before we start inventing scenarios to lead us to anguish.

We ask you THF: Will you accept this gift of sanity that we offer you here today?

The Nefarious Y.V.R.,
dlbrows, taking a break from attempting to run the Roto-Hoedown of its rails, asks: bigger year, Adam Lind or Travis Snider? (relevant to the Hoe-Down)

Oh that's rich. (And yes you bear all the blame. Drew is absolved.) But if we must help you in any way in the Hoe-Down, we would say that the upside of both players is about the same, and the question is who is best equipped to reach that upside. Most of the projections that we've seen would tend towards Lind because of his past performance, and we'd tend to agree, at least in HRs, OBP, and SLG. Snider (depending on his spot in the batting order) could be stronger in Runs, and Net Stolen Bases.

Over the next three years, though? We'd definitely take Snider.

Life is just a fantasy,
BlueJayHunter can live his fantasy life: Who is your Fantasy Baseball mancrush this year and why the bromance for said player?

We hate to give away our real targets on the eve of our fantasy baseball drafts. So we won't. (Nice try!) But we'll go a little further down the board and pimp one of our home nine's more interesting options: Rajai Davis.

Davis is going to have an everyday job in Toronto, mostly because there are precious other options in center. (And if Corey Patterson were to make the team and get a regular turn, we'd image that Davis would shift to a corner.) Plus, he's going to run. And even more so, he's going to a hitter's park for the first time in his career. We could see him hitting more than 15 homers and stealing more than 40 bags, which is a pretty intriguing combination for a third outfielder.

More questions! Marathon Tweet Bag! Rub your eyes, shake your brain and dig in!

The man, the myth, the legend, Starbyson asks: pretend we're 2.5 games back in July. Who do we pick up at the deadline?

That question is way too hypothetical to even broach. It depends too much on who's healthy, who's hurt, who the Jays are chasing, and so on. But the bigger point here is that the Jays have started to assemble a very strong minor league system, and they should be cautious about emptying it out for the sake of a low-percentage run in 2011.

But if Colorado were offering up Ubaldo Jimenez, we'd be interested in listening.

My other brother,
darelleats, asks: Q: Do you know where Griffin worked before he covered the Jays? He's never mentioned it and I'm legitimately curious.

You are funny.

is all like" You can't see me or my tweets! Suck it!" Still, he offers: do u feel Rivera will surprise a few people and put up more than respectable numbers this yr being his 'contract yr'?

Yes, actually. We keep hearing about how Rivera is some useless slug, mostly from those who are in the pro-Lawrie camp. (Lawrie to third! JoBau to right! Cannon arm! Future MVP! BALLLLLSSS!!!!!)

And yet, we actually think that the best lineup that the Jays can put out every day has Rivera as part of it. His upside is 25 homers, 85 RBI and an OPS over .820, and a 1.5-2.0 WAR. Which don't seem unattainable, and seem very respectable from where we sit.

More modest projections figure him for 15 homers and an OPS in the .740 range, which we think is still better than what Lawrie would put up this year once the real men's games start in earnest.

Last one! NicholasDerosa asks: how's frasor been pitching? His velocity sucked this time last year

Indeed, Frasor's April was forgettable. But sometime after losing the closer's job to Kevin Gregg, his velocity mostly came back (his heater averaged 92.8 MPH for the year versus 93.8 for the previous...not an insignificant drop, but not off a cliff.) He had at least enough to get guys out.

As for this year, he's pitched four innings in fake games, and we haven't seen or heard any of them, and we won't read too much into the output (2Ks, 2BBs). We're not about to lobby for him to get the closer spot again. He's a decent arm, but we probably cast more thoughts towards Shawn Camp than him.

That's it! Go have a weekend! Everybody, get up and dance! Be happy for chrissakes!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

John Farrell is somewhat awesome

This morning, as we were catching up on a week's worth of podcasts, we had the opportunity to hear John Farrell speak twice.

And good gravy, that man impresses us.

Sure, being a good talker is only one aspect of the job for a manager1, but what what warms our cockles is to hear Farrell bring the perspective of a former opponent to bear on the decisions he makes. This week alone, he's told Bob McCown and Damien Cox on Prime Time Sports that the Jays were regarded as "one-dimensional" offensively, and an easy team to prepare to face.

He also revealed to Jeff Blair on the Fan 590 that "around the industry"2, people knew that Aaron Hill's swing was being affected by his injury, and that he'd expanded his strike zone and was chasing pitches. He also underlined the fact that the Jays were very fortunate last year to get through the season with only a minimal amount of games lost to the DL by significant players, and that as they set their sights on the coming season, their expectations in terms of true advancement for the team has to be balanced off against that fact.

Now, it's entirely likely that the former Manager understood these concepts, and simply chose not to discuss them publicly. Maybe he just didn't feel as though everyone deserved to be let in on the knowledge of the game that he possessed.

But on the other hand, it seems as though Farrell relishes discussing the complexity and nuance of the task before him, and that there really aren't any simple answers to what's going to happen with this team now, and in the near future.

Hearing the man speak is such a way that doesn't sound as though he's dumbing down his task for the unwashed, presumed stupid masses might sound like small mercies. And yet, it's reassuring. It makes us feel as though we're in good hands.


1. And for all of the Cito-love that exists out there, his PR skills were every bit as bad as his in-game management. Cito seldom revealed anything that appeared to present an outlook beyond that day's game, much less a development plan for the franchise. The condescension in his voice as he spoke to those "outside the game" was palpable, as was his inability to take any sort of substantial question from a thoughtful member of the media. So there.

2. "Around the industry" might be the most awesome thing we've heard come from him. It makes him sound like a senior management-type as opposed to a good old boy with a minor league playing pedigree and an affable manner.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Making something out of numbers that mean nothing

(I've never actually seen the show above. Though both of those guys seems like real mensches.)

Indulge us, if you will, the latitude to contradict1 ourselves.2

If years of reading this blog hasn't led you to the notion that we don't put much stock into Spring Training, then perhaps you've missed the past few years where we refer to this part of the schedule as "fake games".

And yet...tilt your head in just the right way, and there's something to be gleaned from the collected output of 21 exhibition matches. Not that we think that they are overly predictive, but some of the whatnot and wherefore makes for amusing chatter. So here are a few curios that we've plucked out of the pile.

Iron Men: Both Jonathan Diaz and David Cooper have played in 20 games thus far in the spring, most of any of the Dunedin denizens. Though most of those appearances have come off the bench, allowing their big league brethren to peel out of the parking lot before the last pitch is thrown, we suspect that the brain trust have chosen to take a longer look at them in the pre-season. Same goes for Eric Thames, whose 46 ABs (in 18 games) are most this spring for the Jays.

Why the lingering gaze? In the case of Thames and Cooper, we get the sense that a decision has to be made within the next 12 months on where they fit in the plans for the future, and this spring is a crucial piece of their evaluations. Neither player is heading north any time soon, but the 2012-2013 rosters are beginning to take shape. And as well as they've performed so far, we suspect that neither will have any sort of profound impact on those future contenders.

As for Diaz, he sounds as though he's in possession of a magnificent glove, though his acumen with the bat makes Mike McCoy seem like the Splendid Splinter. Our guess is that he's a body who can fill in at enough positions to get the Jays through the overly long tune-up period.

Ratios! We heard ESPN fantasy dude Nate Ravitz make mention on his podcast this week that the only stat he observes through the spring are K-to-walk ratios for pitchers. Which seems about right to us, especially with his proviso that the ratio has to be really impressive or really bad to catch his attention. So here's what we found upon a brief review of the Jays' hurlers:

Jesse Litsch - 17Ks/3 BBs. Woah. If we had any reservation about his spot in the rotation, it's probably gone. For now.

Brandon Morrow - 16Ks/3 BBs. Okay, we're not going to put too much stock into this...But Jesse Litsch's K/BB ratio is slightly better than Brandon Morrow's so far. Roll that around your noggin for a while.

Kyle Drabek - 9Ks/1 BB. Still under a strikeout per inning pitched, but you at least have a sense that he's ready to step in as the fourth/fifth guy and work his way up the ladder.

Bret Cecil - 10Ks/4BBs. Sounds about right.

Ricky Romero - 10Ks/9BBs. Aside from Aaron Hill's spotty attendance record so far, this is the March development that concerns us most. When we watched him a few weekends ago, he looked as though he had great control over all his we'll chalk this up to spring experimentation.

David Purcey - 5Ks/7BBs. That's how you pitch your way out of town. Or pitch Marc Rzepczynski (9/6) into contention for your spot in the bullpen.

Other fun numbers of note: The Jays are taking a lot of walks so far, with J.P. Arencibia leading the way with six (tied with Thames). For all of the talk about his bad start at the plate, we'll gladly take the walks...Rajai Davis is slugging .639, with three homers and five doubles so far. Now that's our kind of slap-hitter...Yunel Escobar has 16 hits and five walks so far, which gives us a modicum of hope that he'll be back to a 3ish WAR.

So that's about it. We could really parse these numb3rs and try to figure out who the killer is before the third commercial break, but that would just make us look silly, wouldn't it?


1. Walt Whitman wrote: Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.) So there.

2. Amongst the hazards of my continuing insistence on using this "we" voice is getting stuck with this awkward quandry: "ourself" or "ourselves"? Either way sounds wrong. Comes off simultaneously as oafish and poofy . No small feat, that.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Johnny Mac!

Frankly, I'm not sure it speaks more to the cult-like reverence John McDonald holds amongst Blue Jay fans or to the respect he's earned within the organization's front office that Johnny Mac heads into camp with nary a peep concerning his undisputed hold on a roster spot.

And again, quite frankly, I'm good with that.

I've always been a bit of a closet Mac fan myself. Never been able to bring myself into really questioning why a career .604 OPS baseball player has been a constant part on a team rife with turnover over the course of the last six seasons, and haven't been able to heap the usual scorn reserved for those who would blindly defend his presence.

I mean.... he's Johnny Mac fer chrissakes!

Love him or hate him - and how could you, really - he's played the cliched role of human highlight reel on a team that's seen more downs than ups during the course of his time as a Blue Jay. And given the circumstances of the club, isn't that exactly what you'd like to see from a reserve middle infielder?

Of course, there have been the "bads" to go with the "goods". Those would be the times when Mac has been miscast as an everyday player. Be it by necessity or poor judgement. And let's not forget the times when McDonald, whose value lies entirely in his ability to play the shit out of shortstop and a little second base...... was drawing at-bats as a left-fielder.

But let's not dwell on those "bads". Let's not punish McDonald for the poor decisions of others. Let's celebrate McDonald, very likely (you'd think?) in his last big-league season, for what he does do and has done: defensive wizardry, a seemingly calming presence and all around good dude. Should some of those qualities ever be taken into account when evaluating baseball players? No, of course not. But we (I?) do anyway.

Hey, we don't punish Yunel for being flashy, do we? This ain't Atlanta.

So here's to you, Johnny Mac, and one more year of highlights. Looking forward to it.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Jo-Jo Reyes - Your Summer is Calling

It's not even spring, and we nearly took a header trying to walk down our street today, thanks to some of the sneakiest sidewalk ice we've never seen.

And yet: The Summer of Jo-Jo begins today.

Okay, so maybe we're recycling a meme, leaving you with the same feeling you'd get seeing the "What's Up With That" sketch on SNL for the fifth time. (For the record: Lindsey Buckingham deserves better.) But we've had this great feeling that the Jays had found a tremendously undervalued arm in their acquisition of Jo-Jo Reyes with his quiet inclusion in the Yunel Escobar/Alex Gonzalez deal last summer.

(And if you want to get the whole story on him, NatPostie John Lott's story from Tuesday pretty much covers off his chaotic 2010 campaign.)

Sure, we've heard your scorn when we've floated the notion of Jo-Jo being any part of the team this year. His 24.30 ERA is tossed out with sarcasm (which is to say: completely witlessly), and his poor track record (6.40 ERA in 194 innings over four seasons to date) held up as proof that he's nothing more than cannon fodder.

And yet, there something beneath the muck that shines brilliantly to us.

Mostly, we have a sense that people are too ready to write off a young arm, given that Jo-Jo is just 26. He's younger than fellow lefties Jesse Carlsson or David Purcey, and is also younger than fringe arms such as Scott Richmond, Josh Roenicke, and Robert Ray. And he's only marginally older than Brad Mills and Jesse Litsch (less than six months their senior.)

Our optimism is also fueled by the fact that Reyes' minor league stats demonstrate that he improved from one level to the next throughout his development, interrupted by ill-advised recalls to Atlanta periodically. Reyes' ERA went from 4.16 at A to 4.11 at High-A, to 3.40 at AA and 3.11 at AAA. If any other arm in the system had demonstrated an ascension like that, the fan base would be doing more than shrugging off the inevitability of his release.

Today, Jo-Jo Reyes takes the mound for a scheduled five-inning start versus the Phillies this afternoon. We'll be keeping a watchful eye on the results, as a good start could pry open a spot on the opening day roster for our new favorite southpaw.

And from there, a glorious Summer of Jo-Jo.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Imaginary Battles - Yunel vs. Lunchbox for the Two-Hole

Somewhere along the line, we got it in our head that the two-hole hitter for the Jays (and in general) should be a left-handed hitter. Maybe we were half-joking initially about this, but it's become a bit of a truism lately.

It's probably a remnant of some of the old-timey axiomatic knowledge that we still carry around, but the notion of having a speedy leadoff hitter with a left-handed batter to hit behind him and take advantage of the hole between second and first has stuck with us. It could be because it still works in video games.

Also, the metrics around lineup construction go over our head, though we suspect that they are all bunk anyhow.1

Still, quick look back through all of the Jays' successful teams of the past, and you'll invariably find a lefty or a switch hitter hitting second. Rance, Tony, Robbie, Mookie Wilson...Every time the Jays have gotten good, there's been a lefty in that slot.2

As such, we've found ourselves only half-kiddingly proposing Travis Snider as the team's number two hitter for the coming season, rather than the more likely choice of Yunel Escobar.

The thought process, we have to admit, is a bit sketchy. Snider's a lefty (check!), and looks better to us handling the bat, as even Yunel's successful swings appear as though he's hurled himself off-balance into some positive happenstance. We have visions (in part based on a couple of the screaming hot singles we've had the chance to see Travis hit this Spring) of Snider cranking out hit after hit through the right side of the infield, with Rajai Davis scampering around the third on the play.

Of course, the only fly in the ointment is the fact of...well, the facts. For whatever it looks like to our untrained eyes, Yunel has posted a much higher contact rate (85.7 versus 72.8% for Snider), swings less often at pitches outside the zone (24.6% versus 32.9%). Snider is also more of a hacker than Escobar, going after 51.9% of pitches sent his way (versus 44.6% for Yunel.)

Mind you, Snider's numbers in almost all of those swing discipline numbers are showing progress, so we'd like to think that a full season of regular use would help to prove us right, even if we kinda look wrong right now.3

One final thought: Though these Fox Sports hit charts (Yunel at home, Snider at home) are somewhat less than optimal, what we notice are a lot of ground ball outs made to the right side of the infield by Snider. Were he to hit second and a runner in front of him pressing the defense, might there be an opportunity to turn more of those outs into hits?

Sources: Fangraphs for swing discipline and contact stats, Baseball Reference for batting orders and historical information, Fox Sports for spray charts.

Notes! Fun!

1. Our suspicion over these sorts analyses emanates from the fact that many of the examples we've seen are tested in the lab - computer simulations - rather than in the field - er, the field of play - and there are a multitude of variables that we think the simulations miss. Which is why the simulations continually spit out results that make it appear as though you could reorder your lineup by drawing out of a hat each day and over the length of the season (And more cynically, we'd guess that there are some who run these analyses who aren't particularly interested in complicating the equation, lest it complicate the solution, which they've already stated is dead simple.)

2. The Mookie Wilson example is particularly germane. In 1989, Jimy Williams began the year hitting right-handed Kelly Gruber second in the order. While Gruber did fine (.380/.426/.806, 3 HRs and 18 RBI in 28 games), the offense sputtered (4.13 runs per game) en route to a 12-24 start and Williams' dismissal.

On Cito Gaston's first day as manager on May 15th, he swapped Tony Fernandez and Gruber's spots in the order versus Cleveland starter (I swear I'm not making this up) John Farrell. He'd keep Fernandez in that spot until August, when the Jays would add the veteran Wilson, who hit second for most of the remainder of the season. Post-Jimy, the Jays put up 4.64 runs per game over the remainder of the season, and went 77-49, winning the AL East.

3. And if you know of an argument that says that contact rates are irrelevant markers of success in the two-hole, we'd be happy to hear it!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Thoughts on moving pictures

It's a hell of a concept, these motion pictures. Watching a game of baseball on the TV, and suddenly, you're filled with whims and notions and some things that might even approach the territory where they could be called "ideas". Amazing.

As such, a few of those things that popped up following this weekend's game.

Brett Lawrie is Brad Fullmer: Okay, we'll say not really, if only to head of the heaps of scorn that we'd get in the comments for such a remark.

Nevertheless, Lawrie's big, broad upper-body, his batting stance (deep crouch, hands high and bat active), and even his angular features bring to mind the Jays' former DH. And while some would write off Fullmer's performance because of the brevity of his career and his time in Toronto, his 2000 season (32 HRs, 104 RBI, .898 OPS) was amongst the best ever single seasons in the team's history. So don't be giving him no guff.

The chief difference between the two is the glove (though it's probably worth noting that Fullmer might have had the chance to be a passable fielder if he weren't blocked by Carlos Delgado.) Lawrie has looked very much up to the task thus far at third, with good hands and a very strong and accurate arm. We could even envision him being discussed as a Gold Glove candidate at some point down the road. (For whatever that's worth.)

And before we ignite another Lawrie controversy: We still think he should start the season in Las Vegas. The Jays have other outfield options, so there is not the great necessity of moving JoBau to right and bringing Lawrie up immediately to play third. Let Lawrie go get his reps in at AAA, and see a lot more balls at third, and if sometime later this season the Jays feel incapable of keeping him down, then call him up.

Talking OPS: It's probably a sign of how slow the older media are to change when the notion of OPS on a broadcast becomes a novelty. But yesterday, Sportsnet posted the AL leaders in OPS last year to underscore José Bautista's 2010 excellence. And while Pat Tabler was extolling its virtue as a stat that better elucidates a player's worth (which it does! Yay Tabby!), he started tiptoeing dangerously close to some strange "walks clog bases" notions in his discussion.

Baby steps, to be sure. Though we noticed that the stat line in the Sportsnet broadcast later in the game included 2010 OPS numbers, which is a splendid addition to the production mix.

JoBau Bombs: Yes, the Rays very astutely tossed a bunch of random cannon fodder (best selling authors included) out against their divisional rivals, so it's hard to gauge that much from the shit-kicking that the offense laid on those marginal arms. But the swing that José Bautista put on Cory Wade's pitch was a thing of beauty.

And while Wade isn't exactly the Rolaids Relief Award frontrunner (and did you know they still hand that award out?), JoBau's ability to identify the pitch and time his step into it makes us feel much better about the prospects of another productive season.

2010 was no fluke. Go tell that.

Pitch session: We were impressed with each of the initial three pitchers, as Brandon Morrow looked as though he is ramping up, Marc Rzepczynski looked like a major league pitcher, and Carlos Villaneuva looked good enough to get relief innings (though wild enough not to get high leverage innings.)

As for Casey Janssen: He looks like such an unbridled ball of anxiety every time he's on the mound. We still love the look of his delivery, and his performance last year probably merits him a spot in this year's bullpen. But with the heap of humanity available to pitch in relief this year for the Jays, that spot is for Casey is no given.

Infuriatingly Yunel: We're in for a long season with young Mr. Escobar. Early in the game, he rushed a throw and hurled a ball into the camera bay even though he had more than enough time. On the other hand, he hit the ball hard yesterday, and drove in runs. Even still: That swing of his looks like an off-balance lurch towards the pitch, which makes us worry about how repeatable those successes might be.

And even with all the negatives, we're vaguely optimistic about Yunel's 2011. Which is why we'll inevitably end up pulling our hair out by season's end. Should be fun.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

So, where we at?

(....other than in deep shit with the Tao when he see the grammatical construction of the post title....)

Although nothing is ever certain, there were a few areas of this year's Blue Jays squad that, heading into camp, seemed fairly easy to predict. Funny how that works. Turns out those areas of "certainty" are drawing more questions than answers as the preseason crawls on. But maybe that's just me. Probably just me. But let's discuss, shall we? I mean, we're here anyway.... let's just.

The Rotation
Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil, Kyle Drabek, Marc Rzepczynski. Bingo bango bongo. Done. Maybe three weeks ago.....

The new "big 3" are certainly set. But the 4/5 spots in the rotation? Wiiiiide open, it seems. Nothing but a personal vibe here, but all of a sudden, it seems like the phenom Drabek is no longer a lock to "head north" with the big club, and Rzepczynski seems more likely to be on the outside looking in with regards to the rotation. And why? New skip John Farrell seems enamored with Jesse Litsch (which, for this guy anyway, isn't the worst thing... LET HIM PLAY! LET HIM PLAY!), and out-of-options (and Tao fave) Jo Jo Reyes is pitching well enough that the "option play" might give him an edge.

Keeping in mind..... come June 1 (or whenever the magical arb cutoff date is), the spring battle will likely be long forgotten as Drabek (for sure) and Zach Stewart (for maybe?) will lay claim to the jobs if they haven't already.

All of this to say.... depth is good.

Brett Lawrie
Now, this is going to come across as an endorsement for Lawrie to skip AAA altogether and start the season in the homeland.....and it's not, necessarily..... but at what point does the usual spring hype give way to "maybe this kid really is ready" conversation?

Oh, I know all the usual caveats apply. Gabe Gross. Simon Pond. Chuckle chuckle snicker snicker. But wasn't the primary concern with Lawrie his conversion to 3rd base and questions on his defensive ability in general? And haven't all those actually there been saying how remarkably strong he's looked fielding the position? And if this club really is gearing towards actually trying to contend in 2012.... wouldn't it be better to get the kid a year of experience leading up?

Of course, it's not that simple. There's the service clock issue (don't you wish we didn't ever have to take "service clock" into consideration? Because I know I'm sick to death of it. But that's another post...). There's the fact he's probably not really ready to handle the grind of a full major league season. There's probably a multitude of additional reasons that space restrictions just will not allow me to flush out (nothing at all to do with being lazy, friends).

So how about this. How about we all agree - you too, AA - that Lawrie starts the season in Vegas under the guise of "seasoning", and once the arb date passes, and assuming Lawrie is indeed raking and not butchering the position defensively, he's recalled and handed the keys to the hot corner indefinitely. Seems obvious and logical, right? Right. Done and done.

Juan Rivera
Serious question: is he really part of the team? And if he is, why can't I fathom that? And if the club is really in need of left-handed thunder, can't we just give the job to Eric Thames and see where that takes us? If we can't have the Stewart bone, and if we have to wait out Lawrie, can't we have this?

OK, not really.

(But would you be against it necessarily? In a platoon at least? C'mon.)

The Bullpen
Oh boy. I'm not ready to even attempt to sort this one out yet. Maybe next weekend. Until then.....

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Fantasy Musings on Dumb Mistakes We Won't Repeat for the Third Time

In the Spring of 2004, as we wound through the initial keeper rounds of the draft in our long-time fantasy league (still going!), we checked our cheat sheets and braced ourselves for our initial non-keeper picks.

There, at the top of our list, was Johan Santana. Having made the transition the year before from the bullpen to the rotation with aplomb, we had the 25 year-old hurler in our sights as our top pick after the keepers were tucked away.

(Yes, that's how you managed your keeper lists in Yahoo in 2004. We've come a long way baby.)

But in the moments before the draft, we were struck with a sudden panic over the next name on our list: Kaz Matsui. Would he make it back to us? We'd have 19 picks after Johan to get him, and we couldn't imagine him lasting that long. Who could resist this new demi-god of Japanese baseball excellence? The New Ichiro! The thought of seeing Matsui put up a decade of high-average, high-steal, high-run totals with a little bit of power mixed in at a premium position like shortstop (seriously!), and to have passed over all of that goodness? How could we have lived with ourself?

And besides: It's not like everyone knew about Johan Santana, right? We'd have a good shot at getting him in the next round...wouldn't we?

As our moment on the board came up, we confidently selected future All-Star, Hall of Famer, Gold Glove, Silver Slugger and Bronze Spikes winner Kaz Matsui.

And with the very next pick, our pal Darren selected Johan Santana. And he's kept him ever since.

We spent much of that season staring on in disbelief as Santana went on to win the Cy Young (and Darren went on to win the league), while Matsui would fumble his way through 114 games to the tune of a 0.4 WAR. (We didn't know what WAR was then, but there were plenty of conventional metrics that convinced us to toss Matsui to the scrap heap before the season was out.)

And as a result of such a folly, we saw our team fall back from a second place finish the previous year to a fourth place finish in 2004.

We should have learned our lesson. But somewhere along the line, the pain that we felt in that season would cease to seem tragic in our memory of it, and came of more as a farcical anecdote. And so, somewhere in the early-middle rounds of a 2008 draft, we found ourself jumping ahead on our list and grabbing the brand-new, can't-miss Japanese phenom, Kosuke Fukudome.

Once again, Fukudome didn't last much more than half a season on our roster before we tossed him asunder, probably in favour of one of the game's true Ryan Langerhans or Austin Kearns. Whoever it was, they helped lead us to an inauspicious ninth place finish (out of ten teams) that year.

All this is prologue to one immutable law of our fantasy baseball draft season: We will not draft Twins newcomer Tsuyoshi Nishioka. No matter how many great things we hear about him, of how he'll fit perfectly in the lineup between Denard Span and Joe Mauer, and will in all likelihood score 200 runs without really trying this year, he will not find respite on our roto rosters.

When it comes to fantasy baseball, our road to abrogation generally starts with the selection of a first year position player from Japan.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A One-Sentence Post on...The Inevitability of Litsch Love

In spite of the golden retriever pelt on his face (and his retriever-like enthusiastically-needy personality on Twitter), his rotundness, the endless comments about his "surprising agility", the multitude of Devil Rays' bat boys stories and the notion that there are more interesting options in the mix for the rotation, there exists within us a small flickering light that keeps a little warmth in our heart for Jesse Litsch, a pitcher with a career 4.10 ERA - lower than both Cecil and Morrow's marks - who does not turn 26 until tomorrow.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Tao's Sports Book - Brett Lawrie Twitter Follower Edition

Apparently goaded on by teammates (who likely told of the incomparable thrill of sharing your meat-gorging speed records with thousands of followers), Brett Lawrie has joined Twitter. (Said carnivore told us so.)

Now, just the other day, we took note of our own Twitter account, and for someone who is little more than a nerdy simpleton shouting inanities into the ether, we're kinda impressed that we've amassed 1,640 followers in a year or more (Update: Turns out, 752 days on Twitter. Really? Holy shit.) that we've been here. We even get a certain thrill when someone who we respect suddenly takes it upon themselves to put up with our kvetching over the Sens and R.E.M.'s legacy and our feelings of inferiority to Ghostrunner's Drew. (Same guy! Only he's better! Humblebrag!)

Getting to the point, because time is of the essence: We're reasonably sure that young Mr. Lawrie will surpass our follower count within hours of signing up, and so we're proposing a handful of easily manipulated prop bets surrounding that momentous occasion.

Prop Bet #1 - Over/Under on time @ passes my follower count. Current line is 2:15pm today.

Prop Bet #2 - Number of tweets Lawrie has posted when he passes me - Over/Under is 2.5 tweets. (UPDATE! 12:42, Lawrie posts his third tweet. Approach the cashier gingerly. We may be busting the house here.)

Prop Bet #3 - Will @ have an actual profie pic or still the egg when he passes my follower count? (UPDATE! 12:42, He now has a profile pic. Looks like it was grabbed from a TV.)

Prop Bet #4 - Number of people Lawrie follows when he passes me. Over/Under is 8.5.

Put down your money (or make believe money, or gummy bears, what have you) in the comments.

UPDATE 12:51 pm - Lawrie's sitting at 1205 followers, four tweets, following five, one shiny profile pic.

UPDATE 2:09 pm - Lawrie's sitting at 1513 followers, still four tweets, still following five, still has a profile pic (What happens if he reverts back to the egg? Scandal!)

Update At the bell of 2:16 - DING DING DING! - Alas, young Mr. Lawrie falls short. Couple of props to be settled yet, but I'm pretty much as bored with this tomfoolery as you are.

Good night, and good luck.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

They're back, I'm back, let's all come back

Funny thing happened on the path towards following every bit of the excruciating minutiae of this 2011 Spring Training:

I haven't been.

See, sometimes life has a way of tossing a curveball at a guy every now and then (and what would my first post in over a month be without a hacktastic baseball pun, am I right?), and so I find myself seemingly on the periphery of the coverage.

Bautista's big contract, Brett Lawrie's major-league readiness, the battle for the 4th and 5th spots in the rotation, the development of Gose-Hechavarria et al..... I know all the basic plots but am probably lacking on the intricacies of each discussion.

Do I have opinions on each? Sure I do. Are they (even more) unfounded and unsupported (than usual)? Oh, probably.

But here I am once again, by the grace of Tao who allows me to entertain myself (and hopefully, at least some of you) around these parts. I have to say I'm looking forward to diving back in, starting with Sunday's televised exhibition game. Boo-ya indeed.

Holy shit - it's baseball season my friends.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Enough with the Michael Young Yakity-Yak

Go to Michael Young's Baseball Reference page. Go ahead...we'll wait.

Now check out his comparables. Sure, you see Nomar and Madlock and a few random marginal Hall of Famers. But the one that strikes us is his top comparable through age 33: Ray Durham.

Ray Fucking Durham.

Now think about this for a second: Are you about to trade away prospects for the privilege of paying Ray Durham $16 million this year, and for the next two? Of course you're not. You're not stupid. (We assume that only smart people read this blog. If you are dumb, we're sure there is a slide show of the hottest Blue Jays wives somewhere for you.)

We get why people have some sort of attachment to Michael Young, because for years, he's felt like the one who got away. When Gord Ash (and not J.P. Ricciardi)1 sent him to Texas for Esteban Loaiza, the Jays were depending on Frank Castillo to be their number two pitcher, while Kelvim Escobar and Chris Carpenter struggled and Roy Halladay got pasted to the tune of a 10.63 ERA. And when Castillo got hurt, shit went crazy.

(And while it's lost in the foggy mists of time, the Jays were a game and a half back in the AL East on July 19th, and feeling as though there were a legitimate shot at the division title. Yes, they were playing "meaningful games" at that point of the year, and "going for it". Which is all that Jays fans were asking at that time.)

That trade was likely the final straw for Ash, and with good reason.

Still, the mythology that has been built around Michael Young amongst Jays fans over the past decade is the sort that can only been driven by loathsome regret. It's like meeting up with that vaguely cute girl from university who you used to blow off, and then seeing her all glammed up and thinking "Damn...what was I thinking?"

(And then someone tells you that somewhere along the line, she got veneers and implants, and she's had a bunch of break downs and two failed engagements, and you're reminded: "Oh yeah...the reason I blew her off was because she was intensely unstable.")2

Because of the distance in time and geography, Jays fans have a pretty tertiary knowledge of Young's game. He plays a large number of his games on the West Coast, and really, how often do you find yourself parking your butt on the couch to sit through a Rangers-Mariners game on a fine summer evening?

We mostly know Young from news clippings and All-Star appearances, his bizarro 2008 Gold Glove, and the fact that he was great pals with Vernon Wells (which, at one point, was considered an asset.) But what we've lost sight of is the fact that Young has put together two excellent seasons and two above average seasons, but aside from that, he's not that much more productive than Juan Rivera.

Look at their career OPS: Young, .795, Rivera .789. And those six points are apparently worth $10.75 million, which is the difference between their 2011 salaries.

Or for that matter, look at Lyle Overbay, who just got chased out of town in spite of being a premium defender, which Young is not. Overbay's posted an .805 career OPS. (And yes, we think the same people who are advocating for Young's acquisition are also the same people who beat down Lylo for not being a "big power bat" because first base is a "power position". Well, what do you suppose DH or third is?)

And if you bring in Young (at SIXTEEN MILLION DOLLA-DOLLA BILLS, YO, FOR THREE MORE YEARS IN CASE WE HAVEN'T MADE THAT TOTALLY CLEAR), what does that mean for the at bats that would go to Adam Lind (.796 career OPS) or Edwin Encarnacion (.790 career OPS)?

Michael Young is a good singles hitter with some occasional pop, but Jays fans have built him into some otherworldly talent. Repatriating him for the sake of closure on the Loaiza deal is a dumbass idea, and we can't believe that it continues to come up by fans who want the Jays to "go for it" this year.

Those who do not learn from the past are damned to repeat it.


1. Seriously, we still hear people putting this trade on Ricciardi, given the ongoing notion that everything that's ever gone wrong with the team was somehow his fault.

2. Stop me before I sub-reference again. (Which is a reference in and of itself to the younger, skinnier, still-funny, Dennis Miller. Yes, sometime before he started doing M&M ads and turned into a right-wingnut, he was legitimately funny. You could look it up.)

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Chairman of the Bored

It shouldn't surprise us that Drew at Ghostrunner on First struck a nerve with us this week when he declared his boredom at the fake news coming out of the fake games at Spring Training. We are, after all, part of the Same Guy Baseball Blogging Borg Collective, and try as we might to underscore the differences between our worldviews, we generally wind up in the same place.

And that place, right about now, is bored out of our skull.

That likely makes us sound like the worst ingrate ever, given the long winter and the exciting changes to the on-field and off-field make up of our favorite team. Still, as we listen in to games or check out the stories and tweets coming out of Dunedin, our eyes glaze over like Ban Roll-On dispensers as we wait jam our knives and forks into the real meat of the season.

(A parenthetical note here in lieu of a footnote1: We were so determined to drive away the March blahs yesterday that we spent an hour trying to track down a flight to Tampa so that we could go to the actual Spring Training facility this weekend and smell the sweet odor of the Toronto Nine and hear the crack of the bat and fill our empty soul with real baseball activity. Alas, last minute decisions seem not to be the most effective manner of getting yourself a plane ticket at a reasonable price.)

There's probably two points here: Firstly, we've clearly become too engrossed with all of this Blue Jays tomfoolery. (No fucking kidding.) While podcasters and beat writers and the like took the winter off to write about fantasy football or curling or hockey or the Olympics-One-Glorious-Year-Later-Oh-My-God-Look-At-Melissa-Hollingsworth's-Powerful-Limbs, we spent our fall and winter up to now ears-deep into each story, non-story, whim/notion/idea/what-have-you leading into the coming season. Which is a bit like eating crème brulé three meals per day for three months. Eventually, you need something different.

Secondly, we fear that such a level of engrossment has led us to become exactly the thing that we loathed the most: Jaded. And cynical. And self-important. We've talked to a few bloggers over the years, and while most of us are embarassed to say this outside of that circle, this shit starts to feel like work at a certain point.

We shouldn't feel that way, of course. We started this blog for the love of the game and we've learned so much about the game over the past four seasons, in large part thanks to those of you who've shared your thoughts and a multitude of links through the comments and Twitter. But that knowledge can be stultifying at times, as one begins to be incapable of feeling something as a baseball fan.

This will all pass, certainly. The smell of Rogers Centre turf and the sound of many of us joined together for the season opener will almost certainly reawaken the visceral joy that the game provides us. We'll probably even snap out of this funk by the time Sunday rolls around, and the Jays are actually playing the Pirates right there on the TV. Just bear with us if we seem a little detached from the daily stories of this guy's tweak and that guy's chances and the other one's options.

April 1st can't get here quickly enough.

Hey! Music!


1. Because footnotes apparently drive some folks batshit crazy. Heyo!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Underdogs...Or Why We Root for the Return of Jo-Jo's Mojo

Everybody loves the Underdog. (Or at least that's what I'm1 led to believe by that song by the Spoons or whoever.)

But at this point of the season, well before anything worthy of note2 actually happens, I find myself picking out a handful of guys for whom I start to root and get overly attached. It happens most years: A couple of years back, I began touting a pre-Garfoose, pre-publishing empire, still-tolerable Dirk Hayhurst as my springtime mancrush , and I'd like to think that the positive vibes that I sent out into the universe precipitated his brief Major League tour with the Jays.3

This year, as others devote blog entries and tweets of praise and worship towards Darin Mastroianni or Eric Thames or Scott Richmond or Zach Stewart, we've (gargh! Tough habit to break) I've misappropriated my affections for the following long shots in this Spring's camp.

Jo-Jo Reyes: Yes, Jo-Jo has been shelled as a Major Leaguer. But we're (fuck it) of the opinion that he was tossed into situations that he was too inexperienced to step into by the Braves. A look back through his minor league numbers shows a guy who may well have some merit as a long reliever (even though newly tweeting Wilner says Farrell sees no use in long men). Reyes posted a 3.11 ERA in AAA and a 3.40 in AA, and had better-than-decent K/9 rates of 7.6 and 8.3 respectively.4

Reyes just turned 26 this year, and he's out of options, so we'd at least like to see him get a kick at a healthy few weeks at the big league level to show what he can do.

Josh Roenicke: Lost amongst the cascade of potential closer acquisitions this off-season, Roenicke's is unlikely to start the season with the Jays this April. With Camp, Dotel, Francisco, Frasor, Janssen, Purcey, Rauch and Villaneuva slotting in as the top eight relievers, Roenicke is likely to find himself in Vegas or elsewhere when the curtain rises. Still, there is something about those minor league K/9 rates above 10.0 that make us think that he could be a legitimate back of the rotation option.

On the other hand, he'll be 29 this August, so the future for Roenicke is right about now.

Edwin Encarnacion: We'll never be able to quit Edwin. Even when he was gone (for a week or so), we still figured that 2011 was going to be a year filled with monster homers and huge production for the Jays putative DH.

And are we wrong in thinking that Edwin, shorn of any responsibility for playing in the field, has the capacity to turn the corner like David Ortiz5 did in his 27th year and becomes a premium power hitter? Because that's not beyond the realm of possibility.

At least not in my, er, our, er, my mind.

1. Trying out this "I" thing over the "we" for a day. Just to see how it feels.

2. No, three runs in three FAKE games is not notable. Stop noting it. You're not even allowed to make a mental note.

3. Really. I'd like to think I have that power.

4. His AA numbers stack up pretty well against Zach Stewart's, for whatever that's worth.

5. The distinction, of course, is that Ortiz had always had a good eye at the plate which only improved with age, whereas EE's OBP has declined throughout his career. Edwin posted a .359 OBP in 2006 versus a .305 last season, and this is part of a pretty consistent trend line downwards.