Sunday, January 27, 2013

Things That Happened More Than Twenty Years Ago

Alright, so maybe it's been three weeks since I've put some baseball thoughts together for inclusion on this here blog.  I haven't been particularly engaged in baseball comings and goings of baseball for the 2013 season lately, spoiled as we Jays fans have been with getting so much of the important heavy lifting in improving the roster so early in the off-season.  Notwithstanding a Henry Blanco here or a Mark DeRosa there, it does look like we're into hurry-up-and-wait time for the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays.

And hey, what better way to fill in those dismal winter weeks leading to Opening Day than with full-blown nostalgia and pining for the past?  Via the 24-hour news feed that doubles as an excuse to display photographs of our breakfasts, Twitter, we learned today that our benevolent corporate overlords at Rogers Sportsnet will follow up on the apparently successful showing of the 1992 World Series before Christmas, by running the 1993 Fall Classic on the network at some point next month.


The tweet cited above from Jamie Campbell of Sportsnet has been deleted.  What does it mean?  Maybe there's something planned but not confirmed over at the network, or maybe Jamie Campbell was speaking out of turn, or maybe the Illuminati have decided that giving Blue Jays fans too much excitement at one time would be detrimental to the New World Order they're bent on establishing.  Whatever the circumstances, it's made this blog post moot.  Go ahead and throw your own conspiracy theories into the mix in the comments.

Maybe it was because I was a year older, or maybe it was because the '93 team had the benefit of being defending champions and the resulting national attention that created at the time.  Or maybe it was because the characters and the moments of the '93 series were more compelling.  But my memories of '93 are much, much more vivid than they were of '92.

I was frankly a bit surprised by how little of the '92 series rung a bell with me when I watched them again this winter, apart from my visceral hatred of Otis Nixon and all he represented.  But 1993 was different.  There was Rickey Henderson and Paul Molitor.  Tony Fernandez was back.  There was the opposition -- the ragtag Phillies of John Kruk, Lenny Dykstra and Mitch Williams -- who stood out far more to me than the nondescript Sid Breams and Damon Berryhills of the '92 Braves.  And of course, there was the iconic Joe Carter home run to end it all.  So much more of '93 stands out to me.

In any case, if you're going to fill the frigid February days or nights with programming that isn't hockey or basketball, you could do a hell of a lot worse than re-running the 1993 World Series.  This is particularly true if, say, you're a network that has a certain vested interest in ratcheting up interest for an upcoming Jays season and might be looking for a natural platform through which to get potential viewers excited about some big acquisitions that are going to cost a pretty penny more than the team has spent in years past.  But maybe I'm being too cynical.

Chances are, you'll know exactly where to find me when the series is re-broadcast.  And some of the best fun I've had on Twitter recently has been while those '92 games were on.  It's been a great warm-up for if (when?) we get our playoff games this fall.

I'll save the analysis for after the games are over... er, again.  Or maybe I'll just watch and reminisce.  But if we're stuck in the dead of winter with no new baseball, I'll settle for old baseball.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Friday Tweet Bag - Answering Your Winter Questions, Such As They Are

For those of us north of the border, it is ridiculously cold, and Spring Training seems so very far away. It's almost disheartening, isn't it?

So let us warm the cockles of our shivering hearts with a little baseball chatter. You tweeted me your questions, and I shall answer them to the best of my abilities, acknowledging the fact that I'm just some slob who has little authority to do so. Let's dig into the Tweet Bag.

(Before we start: Sorry for that weirdly over-enthusiastic piece of self-effacement. It's just that some people have spent too much time in academia and dislike when people speak a degree of certitude. But reading all that weaselly passive voice is no one's idea of fun. And that's what this is supposed to be: Fun. That's all.)

Onward! Tweet Bag regular @whatadewitt asks: With Gose looking so good in Sept (I know don't count sept stats) how long of a leash do you give Rasmus this year? 

Before we start down this road, I'm a bit shocked that Anthony Gose played 56 games last season. Was it really that many? Oddly enough, those games split perfectly between 28 played in his initial call to the bigs, and 28 in September.

Let's agree to disagree on just how good Anthony Gose looked in September of last year. He certainly didn't look as bad as he did in July/August (.256 OBP, .244 SLG), but his .740 OPS (.347/.393) could just as likely be a blip or the result of some weaker pitching as it is an indication that he'd turned a corner and steadied himself at the MLB-level.

My guess is that we will see Gose for a sizable chunk of the season, but that it will have little to do with Rasmus' performance. If an everyday outfielder goes down with an injury, I'd assume that the Jays will look to Gose to fill in. I doubt he'll come up unless he were to get full time at bats.

Nextly, @coolhead2010 asks: How much weight do you see AA put into the personality/outlook of his player acquisitions?Does this bode well for Colby Rasmus?

Wow, you guys really have it in for Colby Rasmus, don't you?

To your first question: I think that the "soft skills" matter somewhat to Alex Anthopoulos, but not to the degree that you hear them discussed after roster moves are made. On-field performance still matters most, but "intangibles" talk is easier to expound upon with the members of the media.

Don't forget that a year ago, Anthopoulos went through a period of criticism for his lack of transparency among members of the baseball press. Talking up the intangibles provides lots of fodder for the public discussion about these moves without AA being forced to open up in any sort of substantive manner about the process behind the transactions.

As for how any of this affects Colby, I don't get the impression that Rasmus is a bad dude at all, though that's a position I take from a perspective that is far detached from the clubhouse, and a point of view that is sympathetic to him in general.

The bottom line is that if Colby hits like he showed he could for a significant chunk of last season, we'll talk a lot less about his demeanour and hair and all these trivialities.

And so on...@KenInToronto asks: How many AB does Cooper get this year? Any chance he forces Lind to the bench?

On the one hand, I think that people should brace themselves for a lot of Adam Lind this year. He might be hidden from tough lefties, and me might only start four days per week, but by the season's end, I'm guessing that he has at least 400 ABs in a Blue Jays uniform.

Think of it this way: Lind is an asset with virtually no value at this point, and the only transactions left for the Jays to make are to eat his salary and release him or eat his salary and trade him for nothing. Same difference, pretty much.

But put yourself into Alex Anthopoulos' shoes for a moment, and imagine that you're walking down the hall to tell your bosses - who just opened up their wallet and provided a sizable increase in your operating budget - that you're about to flush $7 million down the toilet because you just want to get this one player out of town. Do you think that's a wise use of Anthopoulos' professional capital within the organization?

There's probably some sort of argument to be made that David Cooper - the unremarkable mayonnaise sandwich on white bread with the crusts cut off that he is - might be a marginally better option for 2013, especially if he were used as a platoon player in the way I'm supposing that Lind will.

Cooper's 111 OPS+ (in a tiny 145 PA sample) was nominally better than Lind's 96 (or Brett Lawrie's 97, or J.P. Arencibia's 89), but he pulled that off with a 2.8% walk rate (i.e. four bases on balls) and a BABIP of .333. If you're asking me to bet on the sustainability of those numbers versus the possibility of a decent-enough year from Lind, I'd take the latter.

Moving right along, let's finish off with the Speed Round!

@JamieWine asks: With the Jays make over will venom to be directed at Rasmus and/or Lind? Or will it be someone else? Or will it be a love in?

I think the first few questions should give you a sense of that. I'm guessing someone other than those two unexpectedly emerges as a significant goat this year, though I also imagine that Jays fans won't let up on either player until they are moved.

@tJays05 asks: What are the chances of someone other than Mark DeRosa being the 25th man? 

I suppose it is possible. There's a chance that DeRosa arrives in Dunedin and there is a sudden realization - either on his part or the team's - that he's no longer cut out to be a major leaguer. I don't see anyone wresting the job from him in a Spring Training battle.

@walshag asks: Is there really a competition for back up catcher, or is Hank White (Henry Blanco) a lock?

Given the need for a catcher who can reliably handle the knuckleball, I'd assume the backup catcher job is Josh Thole's. Not to mention the fact that Thole has an outside chance to push Arencibia for playing time if he reverts to his 2009-11 form (.350 OBP in 672 PAs.) Blanco strikes me as org depth.

@mattyjames1 asks: Who's gonna hit more dingers next year, Lind or Rasmus? Lawrie or Arencebia? EE or JB? Gibby or Fasano? 

Yeah! Never mind the rate stats, these are the dingers! The long bombs! The jackxxxxxxs! My best guess is that Lind hits more than Rasmus, Lawrie hits more than JPA, and Encarnacion bests Bautista. Though I could go either way on those, which probably makes them decent prop bets.

As for Gibby and Fasano? Pfft. Now you're just being silly.

@Roll_Fizzlebeef asks: New Orleans Pelicans new logo/colours out today. Your thoughts? Bets on next baseball team to go through the laundry switcheroo?

Ah, nice job appealing to my uniform nerdery. I really like the Pelicans name and logo. There's a great little detail at the top middle of the logo with a wrought iron feature, playing off the local architecture. I'd want to see more of the actual uniform kit before I pass judgment, but this is a nice start.

As for which MLB team takes the plunge next, you have to consider who hasn't made a change in recent years, which narrows the pool. My best guess is that given the new ownership, the Los Angeles Dodgers might add a new alternate jersey. Or not. Who knows? Regardless, there will probably be at least five teams making uniform amendments for 2014. 

@JoshKogon asks: If you were managing, how closely do you examine Bonifacio vs Izturis for starting 2B?

Seriously, I've gone back and forth on this question all winter long. I like both players, and have since before they became Jays. At the moment, I'd lean towards Izturis because I think he has better walk and strikeout rates, as well as more experience at the position. But ask me in five minutes, and I could change my mind.

Finally, @EthanDR asks: How much do you miss baseball? Use specific, comparable examples.

I miss baseball LOT. Like, I'm not good with similes.My mind is like an empty pail when it comes to similes.

But needless to say, I look forward to baseball season. Like Tom Hanks looked forward to having an awkward moment with Helen Hunt at the end of Cast Away. Does that work?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Mark DeRosa Might Be Your 25th Man

Of all of this offseason's signings, this is the one that I choose to discuss? Well, sure. Why the heck not?

Last week, in the midst of another unveiling of another big ticket winter acquisition, Alex Anthopoulos told Prime Time Sports that the team might still be looking for a 25th man, and there are few players who fit that bill better than Mark DeRosa at this point.

This isn't to dump on the player at all. There was a moment in his career when DeRosa seemed like a pretty legitimate guy, posting a .368 OBP and 109 OPS+ over three seasons from 2006 through 2008. The fact that he could be put just about anywhere in the lineup or on the field only added to his value. But a series of injuries hampered his performance, leaving him tucked at the back of the bench for the Cardinals, Giants and Nationals.

DeRosa's output has been at sub-Menchersonian levels in recent seasons: .309 OBP, .269 SLG with one home run in 302 plate appearances over the past three campaigns. His versatility in the field should be an asset, but even that can be overstated if you only glance at which positions he's played. Last season, DeRosa did make appearances all over the diamond, but he has mostly settled into a role as a fifth outfielder with the occasional emergency assignment around the infield. Last season, his forays at were limited at first (4.2 innings), second (3.0 innings) and shortstop (9 innings in one start). He can still play his old position at third base regularly if needed (128 innings over the past two seasons, and 519 in 2009), though there's seemingly some redundancy at that position for the Blue Jays already.

(Then again, with Brett Lawrie being the starter, an extra contingency plan couldn't hurt, right?)

So what's the value of a guy like DeRosa? The temptation is to set aside the "affable veteran" aspects that he brings to the team, because that seems like a big blanket to cover over some significant flaws. At the same time, these are some pretty low stakes that we're discussing, and maybe it is unwise to pull out the oversized detective's loupe when parsing over his value.

For the hundred plate appearances that DeRosa might get in a Jays uniform, his output in game action will probably be far less significant than what he does in the clubhouse, on the team flights, in the dugout and all of the other places where the players congregate when not in the field of play. Unfortunately, we're not there to see how those moments play out, so we'll just have to hope that the handful of raves that DeRosa gets for his off-field congeniality amounts to something.

There's an argument that maybe you give a younger player the opportunity to tag along with the team over the year to gain some seasoning, but how many young players can you remember who benefited from sitting on the bench in their twenties? Did Derek Bell really learn anything from those great Blue Jays teams?

But this is mice nuts. So tiny as to be insignificant, and not worth any sort of angst. I doubt that any of us will look back upon the 2013 season with any amount of dread for this signing. Though I suppose I'd have said the same thing of Omar Vizquel last year.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Hockey Is Back, And Maybe We Should Care Or Maybe Not

Addendum after posting: The Org Wife points out that in this photo, the umpire looks a lot like Joe Paterno. I don't know if it's him, but if so, my inclusion of him was unintentional. I just liked the shot of Gretzky playing baseball.

I used to be an enormous hockey fan.  Or to be more accurate, I was at least an enormous fan of my favourite NHL and major junior teams.  But nearly a year ago, I posted a piece about how getting older seemed to have made me a bigger fan of baseball than I was of other sports like hockey.  As an Edmonton Oilers fan, I had a rejuvenation of interest in the sport in the wake of their amazing 2006 playoff run, but since then, the game and I grew apart somewhat (I blame Ty Conklin).  The space between us got even wider as the NHL lockout  killed off the better part of the 2012-13 season.

Unless you've been living in your tool shed with no television or internet access, you'll know the heretofore-intractable labour dispute between the NHL and its Players' Association came to an end this weekend.  It was the first news that greeted me when I woke up this morning, and even after wall-to-wall media coverage since, my reaction hasn't changed a great deal from when I heard it:  stoic indifference.  Everyone sort of knew a resolution was coming soon.  The fact it came Saturday night/Sunday morning didn't put an exclamation point on the proceedings.  Not much really changed for me, although I realize I'm probably in the minority of Canadian sports fans in that regard.

Now, you might be asking: why is he mentioning all this on what is ostensibly a baseball blog about the Toronto Blue Jays?  Well, it's not like nothing has changed.  For the first time in I don't know how long -- 20 years, I guess? -- the Toronto Blue Jays were the most compelling story in the Canadian sports scene in the months of October, November and December.  Great things were happening with my favourite baseball team, and with the hockey media milling around the lobbies of New York hotels writing stories about make-whole provisions and disclaimers of interest, people were noticing the Jays. It was fun to feel special for a while.

The state of play today, in terms of media exposure and fan interest for the Jays, is different than it was yesterday now that the lockout has been resolved (and to a lesser extent, with the NFL playoffs underway).  Even with the game-changing moves the team has made this off-season, they face stiff competition for eyes, ears and dollars from a finite pool.  Even if you believe the odd rumblings from fans saying they won't come back -- and no doubt, the NHL has some relationship-mending to do with its fans -- I firmly believe Canadian support isn't going to see a substantial downturn.  Hockey will always be king of the Canadian castle in the competition for sports fans here.

I don't mean to be a Negative Nancy here.  To the extent we can measure these things or have access to data on them at all, the Jays are going in the right direction in terms of fan interest, ticket sales, TV ratings and revenue.  Anecdotally, I can go back to my experience when the team barnstormed through Ottawa last winter and know that interest and support for the team, and for baseball in general, is alive and well here.  Today, 12 months later, you can look up the Twitter timeline of our old friend The Ack in Winnipeg to see that the story is playing out similarly on the frozen prairies this weekend -- big lineups, lots of young and old fans.

The people heading to shopping malls to meet Jose Bautista and other Jays aren't all just looky-loos, and they're not all hardcore fans either.  Regardless of their dedication level, the trick now is to keep them and add more in the face of stiffened competition -- and with the off-season they've had, this team is going in the right direction to do that too.

Squibbers Up The Line

The Broadcast Booth:  It won't quite be the same listening to a game on the radio without Alan Ashby in the booth along with Jerry Howarth.  I'm a massive Ashby fan, and Houston is lucky to get him back.  Nobody is going to fill his shoes in the broadcast booth. My personal wish, though, is that Mike Wilner gets a crack at a more prominent in-game role with Ashby gone.  I realize Wilner rubs many the wrong way, and not everyone is a fan, but he's done a difficult on-air job for a long time, and has paid his media dues.  There's a lot to be said for that.  And while it's easy to rag on media personalities (fun too!), it's not easy to go onto the radio or television and be interesting and original a couple hundred times a year.

Oliver:  It's a distasteful bit of business Darren Oliver is engaged in right now with the Jays, isn't it?  I've read plenty on the subject and still don't know whose side I'm on (and if Twitter has taught me anything, it's that we absolutely must take sides on every issue. There is no middle ground).  I don't think the team will trade him to Texas just because he asked, which leaves retirement or a raise.  Part of me says Alex Anthopoulos should tell him to go pound sand, and run J.A. Happ and Brett Cecil out as the lefty relievers to start the season alongside Sergio Santos, Casey Janssen, Brad Lincoln, Steve Delabar and Esmil Rogers -- with Aaron Loup and Jeremy Jeffress a short car ride away.  But then sometimes I think this instead:

Put it this way:  whatever Oliver gets at the end of this -- retirement or a raise -- he'll deserve it.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Podcastery - Reviewing the Replay of the 1992 World Series

Why are these men smiling?
Before I get any further, let me start by wishing you a Happy New Year, Jays fans. May it be prosperous for all.

For those of you who spent your holiday season locked in your house, avoiding the cold and dodging the chill of interpersonal interactions, you likely caught some or all of the replay of the 1992 World Series on Sportsnet.

(At least if you were in Canada. For the 20-ish percent of you who come here from the U.S., at least you can take solace in your leaders swerving before they went off the Economic Precipice. Nice work there. And for the other 2% that come from various and sundry places around the world, wish you'd been there.)

From the traffic on Twitter and some of the notes I received since the airings, it sounds like the replay of the Series brought back a lot of great memories, some new insights and helped to build anticipation for the coming season. If nothing else, it was great to watch baseball for a few days and avoid the orgy of teenage hockey tournaments. For me at least.

And now, a special treat. Following the Series, I spoke with managing editor Mike Cormack for what was supposed to be a short recap, but turned into a longer gabfest. It's split into two easily digestible parts below, each about 20 minutes long. Go stick it in your ear.

Part 1 -

Part 2-

Apologia, corrections and other addenda

For those who wish to indulge me, here are a few notes to go along with the audio program.

1) Excuse me for breathing: I've had trouble breathing through my nose for most of the holidays, plus I rushed home to record this and was still catching my breath when we set the reel to reel in motion. Just before we started recording, Mike asked if I needed a second to catch my breath, and I was all like "LET'S DO THIS!" I should really listen to the professionals, lest I sound like an obscene caller.

2) Also, excuse me for losing my breath: I have a bad habit of pacing when I talk on the phone, which include walking up and down stairs. Combine my ongoing respiratory distress with my general lack of fitness, and you can hear me gasping for air like a fish on a boat bottom at several points in here.

3) Excuse the crying baby: I really wasn't neglecting my child to record a podcast. Honest.

4) On Cooper bats: I wrongly assert that the Cooper bats used by many of the Jays were made of maple. Turns out, they were actually ash. Oops.

5) Excuse my verbal ticks: Especially "um" and "so". And pensive pauses. And any others that I'm not self-aware enough to identify.

6) Excuse my malapropism: I don't think that "crossed a precipice" was what I meant to say. Talking is hard sometimes.

7) Excuse the Debbie Downer moment: We're all excited for the 2013 Jays. Sorry I smeared my ongoing anhedonia all over next season before it even starts.

8) Finally, a word of thanks: To Mike Cormack and the digital folks at Sportsnet for doing the hard work of editing and posting this while I just prattled on endlessly.

I hope you enjoy. Feel free to share your thoughts or to let me have it in the comments.