Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Hooks


There is nothing like a tidy seven game winning streak to brush off two months without even a “win one, lose one” baseline of performance. All of May’s despairing moans are gone, replaced with “told ya so’s” directed towards a venerable institution in the radio booth and longing looks up the standings.

And yet, you’d have to twist yourself into a knots to convince yourself that the 2015 Toronto Blue Jays are a great baseball team. By watching them, you see the highest scoring team in baseball (by a not insignificant margin) with a pitching staff that either pitches better than it looks or looks worse than it pitches. The defense is a comforting non-factor, the highest praise one could ever heap upon the nine (or so) men pushing more than five runs per game across the plate.

They aren’t a bad baseball team by any stretch of the imagination. But there is something about them that doesn’t feel good enough.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Rough Seas In A Rickety Boat



Lonely. This was the word R.A. Dickey used last year when asked about the process of re-making himself as a knuckleballer. Lots of learning the hard way - trial and error with endless reps, pitches pitches thrown against a brick wall in pursuit of something elusive. His career as a conventional pitcher was all but over, so he forged a new path.

When asked about the pieces coming together in 2010, as a member of the then-New York Mets affiliated Buffalo Bisons, Dickey explains there wasn’t one precise moment when it all clicked:
It was the culmination of a lot of days where I thought “Okay, I can repeat this. This is good.” And then another day would come along and I would say “Oh, so my stride needs to be a little short!” or “Oh, my glove takeaway needs to be a little up.” It was just a bunch of things, all of them coming together.
Five years later and it all feels like it’s happening in reverse. The self-talk and tinkering are attempts to hold something together, papering over the cracks of age and deterioration of skill. Dickey is in the middle of his worst season since the light switched on in 2010, sitting decidedly below replacement after ten starts of bad luck, bad location, and few glimmers of hope.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Hello, Mr. Thompson



There exists a particularly tortured analogy between the current Blue Jays outfield situation and a famous Biblical tale (read obtusely and gleaned from Wikipedia.) A failure to heed the warnings of angels resulted in a woman turning into a pillar of salt, a suboptimal outcome for a once-living creature.

Sending an oft-injured player to do drills at a trash facility isn’t exactly disobeying the warnings of angels but it is certainly a dangerous game, one that leaves the Toronto Blue Jays facing the proposition of Kevin Pillar spending half the season starting in their outfield. Is the prospect of handing a starting job to a non-prospect as bleak as it feels?

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Error Bars


With football season officially over, which makes the space from now until Spring Training starts a blank void of regular season NBA walk-throughs and NHL non-events. For baseball fans, the Hot Stove is stowed away for the summer so we're left with...Projection Season.

PECOTA dropped last week and your Toronto Blue Jays ZiPS projections should show up on Fangraphs this week. Steamer's been here all along, putting the Jays in the 84 win range. Numerical projections are easy to hate and hard to love, mostly because of the indelicate way in which they're handled. Either taken as gospel or thrown aside without a second thought, the output of these complex systems does offer information worth considering - with context and an eye on the bigger picture.

The vagaries of the projections aren't important. That one algorithm likes the team, as currently constructed, more than another isn't the important information imparted upon us. If adding the WARs was all it took to win baseball games, nobody would bother to watch.

There are, however, important lessons to learn from the ledger lines and aging curves set before us. Not as prediction of what might happen over 162 games but as an indication of talent on hand and how that talent spreads out.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Calming the Savage Beest


There is no doubting his popularity, that’s for sure. Paul Beeston, beaming and chomping a cigar, is a defining image for the Toronto Blue Jays baseball club. And maybe that’s part of the problem.

Beeston rose through the ranks and his status as Galactic Blue Jays ambassador to the world is well-earned, as is the respect and appreciation for his role in making the Blue Jays the team to play for in the late 1980s and early 90s.

The problem, of course, is we’re now into 2015. And while Beeston wasn’t around for the entire generation of on-field futility, his greatest triumph as a front office guy is now old enough to drink.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Hustle Martin


The most successful film produced by Disney's Pixar is Cars. It isn't the best movie the animated house produced, instead it's probably the worst of their 14 features. But it's the most successful in that it's the most profitable. Cars moves merchandise, and sequels and spinoffs put more money in more pockets than the quasi-progressive Wall-E or The Incredibles aka the Best Pixar Film.

It might not be high-minded Oscarbait or making a timeless classic, but Disney's prestige arm understands the value of doing more than making a great movie for a great movie's sake.

Signing Russell Martin makes the Blue Jays a better baseball team for the 2015 season because of the things Martin does on the field. Yet Martin signifies the importance the baseball industry, and the Blue Jays in particular, place on soft skills. On the field, Martin is regarded as an elite pitch framer and game caller, which doesn't absolve all sins but it cannot be ignored. It opens up the range of options for his bat to make the whole operation hum.

Leadership -- the eternal moving target and fall back excuse for old, bad players -- is a soft skill that doesn't count well but it cannot be dismissed just because the idea is unpalatable for those of us on the outside. It matters. Only up to a point, but it matters.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Other Teams Are Better


No point in burying the lede. The Blue Jays aren't in the playoffs (though they're still mathematically alive) because they other teams are better. Or they're not good enough. One of those two things.

It isn't for a lack of trying and it isn't by a lot, but wins 84-90 are a lot tougher to come by than wins 74 to 83. There was one great month and few months that were decidedly less than great, months that undid the goodness of that magical May.

That pretty much sums up the club on a more granular level, too. For all Jose Bautista's GBOATery, there were far too many sinkholes undercutting his production. Rather than tower over the lesser mortals, he was a fully-grown actor walking in a moat so Sylvester Stallone doesn't look like oompa loompa while laying waste to an Oregon village.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Gobbobons À Gogo


It is September 10th and the Toronto Blue Jays season is not technically dead. The contact high from "not technically dead" is enough to make a very green fanbase going full "post this salvia trip on Youtube!" up and down Blue Jays Way. "Not technically dead" is all we can ever really hope for in this life.

It is curious that the current state of "not technically dead" runs concurrent to the benching of Colby Rasmus and all but kicking Casey Janssen to touch. The Jays were close enough that presumably better players would help their cause but, in the mind of John Gibbons and Alex Anthopoulos and just about everybody in between, it doesn't matter who's "better" as much as who's better for the team.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Under Cover of Night

image courtesy of There Will Be Bourbon

There is little doubt in my mind that the Jays sweep in Seattle might have saved the season. Our perspective of the season, that is. If they laid an egg after a three-day gestation period in the Eastern Time Zone, the knives are out to a much greater degree than today.

Let there be no doubt, going down in such a timid manner at the hands of the Mariners is bad news for 2014 chances. But it's hard to maintain radio call-in ire when you're drifting off to sleep during the fifth inning. There's a certain kind of malaise that sets in when the team is reeling and playing late at night here on Earth, the gentle caress of "what great travelling support from West Coast Jays fans!" soothing your troubled soul. A nation united makes for more pleasant dreams than burning angst directed towards Juan Francsico.

Plus, when R.A. Dickey gives up two runs in the first inning, it feels like the game is already over. You're fast asleep before you realize how right you were, blissfully unaware of the five dece innings that followed.

It adds up to a whole lot of air let out of the Jays balloon. The circumstances allow it to leak out slowly and silently, rather than a whoopee cushion effect when they fall flat under the CN Tower's long shadow.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Never forget your first


The next time Travis Snider steps onto the field for big league action, it will mark the 500th game of his career. Of those 500 games, more came wearing the uniform of the Pittsburgh Pirates than the Toronto Blue Jays.

Travis Snider was the first prospect I followed closely. His shooting star was the first weighed down by the hopes and expectations of the blog generation, as the rise of Jays-specific sites coincided with his meteoric ascent through the minor leagues.

And though Snider got his name on more scoresheets in the National League, he actually played more with the Jays (917 PAs with Toronto compared to 642 with the Bucs.) As a top prospect, the Jays gave him every opportunity to fail. He was the high school batter destined to challenge for MVPs and hit in the heart of the order for years to come.