Monday, October 26, 2015

Every beast has its poison

There was no good way for the 2015 Blue Jays season to end. There was only one acceptable outcome, given the improbable run up and come back and full weight of expectation. 29 teams fail to win the World Series every year, which doesn’t meant that they’re all failures.

In some ways it is reassuring that the Blue Jays went down as they did, flipping the script with stolen bases and leadoff singles from hitters otherwise left for dead. The inability to push across the tying run against baseball’s best reliever won’t sit well, not now and certainly not during the long, dark winter.

The Toronto Blue Jays 2015 season ended ten days too early. It easily could’ve ended ten days ago, or, absent a whirlwind trade deadline, ten days before that. But it ended on a warm October evening in Missouri, after a rain delay and an unforgettable baseball game.

The Blue Jays season is over for among the most basebally of baseball reasons. They were beaten by a team that won more regular season games but probably represented less on-field talent. The Royals, the team that beat the Blue Jays, made a boatload of their own luck while also identifying and highlighting skills that made for a tough, maddening opponent to watch.

There are few hoary cliches less insightful than “baseball is a game of inches.” Among corny baseball truisms, it is might be the corniest. But it is the kernel of truth in this axiom that sent the Blue Jays home and propelled the Royals to a date with the Mets. In Game Six of the ALCS, the inches grew and grew.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The trees die so they can grow again

One of my least favorite sports tropes is the “long-suffering fan.” Leaving aside the credulity-bending notion that the hours spent watching sports on TV constituted “the state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship,” nobody that watched any of the 300-odd starts Roy Halladay made in these colours or the 330 home runs Carlos Delgado clouted in this town can truly say they suffered at the hands of the Toronto Blue Jays.

It’s more an extension of the dreaded marketing buzzword “FOMO” - the fear of missing out. In Toronto, we’ve missed out. For more than 20 years, we missed out on Dave Roberts’ steals and Adam Wainwright freezing Carlos Beltran in place and Madison Bumgarner transcending the astral plane. Those unforgettable moments all happened, just not to us. It’s always better having a little skin in the game.

Friday, September 11, 2015

In miles or kilometres

For the better part of the last five years, one of the great concerns among some corners of Blue Jays fandom was squandering Jose Bautista’s peak. Improbable as it seemed when the team excised Alex Rios from the roster and gave Bautista his big break, surrounding him with a good supporting cast was job one for management as of about May 1st, 2011.

It wasn’t for a lack of trying in past years but, finally, the Blue Jays have a more than capable lineup surrounding Jose Bautista. He still sits in the middle of this potent offense, hitting third and playing right field every day despite a wonky shoulder (injured, of course, under inauspicious yet delightful circumstances.) And his team is now very good, in first place with mere weeks remaining on the schedule. They wouldn’t be there without him and they won’t stay there without his contributions.

He’s still a very good player but on this very good team, he doesn’t need to be The Man. Josh Donaldson and Edwin Encarnacion and Troy Tulowitzki and David Price aren’t Bautista’s supporting cast, they are equally integral to the Blue Jays rise to contention and drive to stay there. And that’s okay.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


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.