Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year from the Best Jays Team of the Decade

Something to remember as you read a dozen or so "another decade of failure" articles on the local nine. The 2006 Toronto Blue Jays were a great, great ball club. In terms of WAR, they were the best team in the league that year. Better than the Yankees and Tigers, Angels and World Series Champion Cardinals.

The Jays married one of the better offenses of the decade with strong but apparently not good enough pitching staff. The Jays added a few big bats and high-priced initials enthusiasts B.J. Ryan & A.J. Burnett before the season. This was the Jays going for it, and go for it they did. (Update: little mix up there. All better.) Consider a few things:
  • The Jays got 4 WAR of production out of the catcher position. Molina's .785 OPS is a career high, Zaun's 12 taters are his lifetime best.
  • Reed Johnson's career year in the plate and the field pushed him to a stunning 4.5 wins. His wRC+ of 130 is by far his high mark, same for his UZR of 15.
  • Troy Glaus hit 38 damn home runs and played in 153 games, including 8 at short!
  • Lyle Overbay, Frank Catalanatto, and Aaron Hill each chipped in more than 2 wins apiece.
  • BJ Ryan contributed 3 wins above replacement. For a reliever, that is astounding. Only Jonathon Broxton approached that level of production in 2009. This was the Beej we all knew and loved, he was at his best.
  • Roy Halladay put forth his ho-hum 6 wins, Burnett 3 and Lily 2 more. More to the point, the only negative contribution for the season came in the form of 130 innings of Chacin & Towers, who only combined for 0.6 WAR below replacement. Obviously terrible, but B.J. Ryan managed that all by himself in just 20 innings this year.
  • Lastly, some guy named Vernon Wells was a 5.8 WAR player. 3 runs above average MORE than Roy Halladay. According to UZR he was good in the field and of course dominant at the plate (.899 OPS, 32 home runs, 17 steals).
We should all take this into account when decrying his current contract, especially since 2006 was not his contract year. Please consider this list of 6 win centerfielders from 2009: Franklin Gutierrez, based solely on the strength of his defense. Wells had a much better track record and performed at an incredibly high level.

What happened to this 47.7 WAR juggernaut? They were 4 games out of first place on July 1st but went two games under .500 in July and 5 games under in August. The 17 games out of 27 they won in September were immaterial.

They weren't particularly awful in the clutch, they hit alright with men on base. They just didn't win enough games. A pity. But we should celebrate this fine team as we celebrate a new decade and new hope for the Jays! Happy New Year!

Update I dumped a few of the Jays better years into a spreadsheet if you want to see how they stack up. All data courtesy of Fangraphs.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

'Tis the Season

For small-town local papers to appreciate the conquering heroes who possess the good sense and natural athletic gifts to flee their two stoplight prisons! The kind of towns in which the sports headline "Big Pirates Too Much for Mossyrock" are not out of place.

While Adam Lind may seem like a life-long Blue Jay and Toronto native, he's actually from the Outer Mongolian reaches of Indiana. The Jays mashing lefty finally emerged from Jimmy Chitwood's shadow in his hometown of Anderson to garner a mention in the Anderson Herald Bulletin's year-end editorial. After fulfilling MY lifelong dream of mention in the same breath as Octomom, Lind is held up as an example to the teeming masses as a done-good story.
Highland graduate Adam Lind, the Toronto Blue Jays designated hitter/outfielder, wasn’t in town to make a difference, but his exploits on the baseball diamond made him a local celebrity and, of course, a role model for sports-minded youngsters.
That's right kids, learn to use the entire field with power and you too can experience the joy of local architecture greater than 10 stories tall.

While listicles are a great way to encapsulate the now-ending decade for pageview hungry bloggers, local sports scribes aren't immune to the allure of lists and two hour lunches. Jays stud Travis Snider is honored as the second best high school athlete of the decade by Evertt County Washington's Heraldnet! Travis Snider's high school numbers are surely eye-popping, but let's not count out his contributions as starting fullback for some other dude!
As a senior, the burly yet relatively fast outfielder batted .500 with 45 runs batted in and 11 home runs, helping nationally ranked Jackson go 27-0 and win the Class 4A state baseball championship. An Arizona State University recruit, Snider instead opted to go pro and was a first-round Major League Baseball draft pick of the Blue Jays, who gave Snider a $1.7 million signing bonus. Before deciding to focus on baseball, Snider was a standout football player. He was Johnie Kirton's lead blocker in 2002 when Kirton rushed for 2,675 yards.
Snohomish County's online news source goes to great lengths to explain why local stud Grady Sizemore does NOT qualify as prep athlete of the decade. Awesome to think of Travis Snider using his burly yet relatively fast abilities to run game all over a rainy pine-encircled burb.

Aaron Hill is no stranger to the spotlight in Toronto, where he's quickly being positioned as Face of the Franchise. Tell that to the good people of Visalia California and you're sure to get some odd looks. A quick poll of elementary school attendees at Hill's first annual baseball camp showed support for the hometown boy could use some boosting.
Several of the campers were asked who their favorite Major League Baseball player was and Jeter was one of the names repeated more than once.

The campers, who were fourth through eighth graders, listed off players like Manny Ramirez, Albert Pujols, David Ortiz and Evan Longoria as their favorites.
Poor Aaron Hill. Can't a man come right the fuck out of nowhere to knock 36 dingers earn some respect around here?? Also awesome are the comments that follow this Visalia Times-Delta piece which immediately claim Hill's All Star game exposure is due in large part to Chase Utley's injury and withdrawal from the game. Visalia California &mdash baseball hotbed.

I shouldn't tease these small town papers and players of lily white humble beginnings. Hell, much puffier puff pieces appear in every paper in Toronto when born in South Africa, raised 3000 KM away Steve Nash comes to town. It is awesome to see guys like Aaron Hill make the most of the tax breaks available to them and give back to their community. Jesus, doesn't this cynicism switch have an off position? Hope everybody had a good Christmas!

Image Courtesy of Picasa User Stumpekyle

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

They're Basically The Same Guy

Really quickly before everybody goes away for Christmas, I took a quick look at Dustin McGowan and Brandon Morrow. I only used a few starts (important distinction, Morrow threw MUCH harder out of the bullpen) but in terms of their stuff, they're like twins.

Click to enlarge
Look at that! Same dudes! McGowan looks to throw a two-seamer that Morrow doesn't have in his arsenal. Morrow's change is a little more 12-6, which means very little to me right now. That is the big pitch for both these guys, not to mention every league average pitcher around. What about the old-fashioned break chart?

Click to enlarge
That's a crazy amount of break on some of Morrow's curveballs. In these instances there isn't a lot of side-to-side movement on his slider either. Looks like what they say is true: he is absolutely in love with his fastball. Balance friend, you need balance.

Sorry this post is a little light on content, but what do we think?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Holiday Cheer!

Alex Anthopoulos Poses at the Blue Jays Holiday PartyYou would think that someone who first wrote about their fondness for Brandon Morrow in June of 2008 would be excited at the prospect of acquiring such a stud. When that stud comes at the expense of my favorite enigma, I'm less than impressed.

Consider the past seven days. Two of my favorite players jettisoned from the team I follow with a third signing a very team-friendly extension in another town (an extension he never would've signed here, but I digress.) If the Jays do include Zach Stewart in the Morrow deal (it looks like they won't. COTF!) then I'm not quite sure what I'll do with myself. Sure, Josh Roenicke could replace League's production in the 'pen, but he certainly won't satisfy my curiosity or desire to be entertained.

Style is funny thing, especially in baseball. Roy Halladay and Brandon League couldn't possibly contrast any more, yet I held them in the same perverse regard. There's little chance of any current Blue Jay taking up the role of confirmed anomaly. I appreciate what AA's trying to do (fuck with me?) and my fandom is not in doubt, but it's tough to imagine my slavish devotion to laundry being stretched any further.

Which is to say nothing of my sliderule's favorite pitch f/x subjects. Who's left? Who's interesting? I'll look at Morrow more closely sometime soon, and I think Brett Cecil has a chance to be my next favorite. But there's no replacing the clinical Halladay and the fit-to-be-tied League.

Instead of morosely staring at my navel and feeling sorry for myself, I'll instead look back at some of my favorite Brandon League posts. It's been a slice Brandon. Here's hoping you can acquire number 22 in Seattle without too much difficulty. Now on to the self pity!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Sneak Peak: Evaluating Baseball's Managers: Cito Gaston

If you read The Hardball Times (and I assume you do) you've likely seen the Evaluating Baseball's Managers series written by Chris Jaffe. Chris wrote a book on the subject (pre-order yours today!) and it is simply a must-read for any self respecting baseball nerd. Chris was kind enough to send along an excerpt of his excellent work and I'm proud to offer my take and a couple juicy quotes here at Ghostrunner on First.

The process evaluates managers based on their tendencies and a million other factors. For a full explanation, check out the book's official site and FAQ. Of the four Blue Jays skippers featured; I'll of course focus on The Manager, the man Bill James referred to as "inert" in his own managerial book.
To Cito Gaston, “bunt” was a four-letter word. So were “pinch hit,” “defensive replacement,” and “young pitcher.” His hitters had power and knew how to get on base, but struck out a ton. Pat Hentgen and Roger Clemens accounted for 36.6% of all innings thrown on the 1997 Blue Jays, the highest percentage by any team’s top two hurlers in the last twenty years.
Cito rides 'em hard and puts them away wet, especially if they're old. Nothing we haven't seen before. Two batters too late Cito seems to amble out to the mound.
There is an underlying philosophy: to succeed, a manger’s best bet is always to trust his players’ talent – especially the frontline players – more than his brilliance. Maneuvers like intentional walks and mid-game replacements just get in the way of victory. Ultimately, Gaston’s passivity hurt his reputation.
I wonder if this hurt his reputation or his pettiness and inability to let go of grudges hurt his reputation. Cito's championship teams certainly seemed to manager themselves, didn't they? His bad teams clearly do the same.
During his latter years people began to doubt whether Gaston was good enough to be a tactical non-entity...Gaston’s passive approach could easily be seen as a negative: he could not even bother to rearrange the deck chairs while the ship sank. By the time Toronto fired Gaston, several desultory seasons in Canada had tarnished his reputation.
In some ways, Cito seems like the ideal modern manager. Stay out of the players way, don't give away outs. Yet watching his teams play, it feels quite different. One has to wonder if his long absence from the game was indeed fueled by questions of his actual impact on the field. I think Cito would be the first to admit that isn't his number one goal or priority. He manages people as best he can, with preferences given (seemingly) to guys Cito either identifies with or respects.
Actually, one key exception to Gaston’s minimalist ways should be addressed. He promoted an active running game in which his players not only frequently attempted steals, but recorded an impressive success rate as well.
Jaffe points to numerous instances of base stealers improving their numbers under his watch, not to mention the current iteration of the blue Jays improving their thefts by more 20%. No doubt the Jays of John Gibbons weren't inclined nor built to run but Cito helped let Alex Rios and Vernon Wells loose. While it is easy to praise Cito for giving the right guys the green light, I wonder how many guys he offered free reign? Perhaps this is more proof that Cito's specialties are player coddling and espionage rather than minute-to-minute managing.

Ultimately, Chris shows Cito as a manager that does very little and doesn't always get the most of his teams. Cito-managed ballclubs underperform their Pythag record time and again; putting a little more stock in the theory that managers can indeed make a difference.

Thanks to Chris Jaffe and his publishers for letting me get my eyes on this section of his book. It is exceedingly interesting and exhaustively researched. Order a copy online or demand your local retailer order it for you. And thanks to Dave from Go Jays Go for the heads-up on the awesome the SI Vault image.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Take

Poor, misguided soul Andrew wondered about the Halladay take in the comment section of the previous post. I can't even pretend to have any sort of prospect expertise/insight, but I'll offer my thoughts on the players coming this way based on the myriad reactions I've read online.

Brett Wallace

In my mind this pickup is impossible to dislike. As Keith Law said, he hits all pitches in all zones with no quarter given to lefties. There shouldn't be any concerns about his quote unquote bad body since it's nearly 2010. Guys that can hit are always important and will always have a home, no matter how bootylicious they might be. I doubt there's any question as to his ability to put up numbers at the big league level.

Defensively, I'm of two minds. Word is Wallace has steady hands, a strong arm and no range at third. Most people already have him playing first base. However, I'm not ready to close the book on him at the hot corner. If he develops into a "makes all the plays you expect" kind of guy, is that the worst thing in the world? Alex Gonzales isn't the rangiest shortstop around, but is it too much to hope for a plus shortstop to help take the burden off a league-average third baseman? Justin Jackson has decent Total Zone numbers in the minors, but will his bat allow him to rise to the big league level? (Answer: yes.)

The downside, and largest contributor to Wallace becoming the Jays shortstop third baseman of the future, is this. Put another way:
  • Brett Cecil - Throws Left
  • Marc Rzepczynski - Throws Left
  • Ricky Romero - Throws Left
  • Brad Mills - Throws Left
  • Brian Tallet - Throws Left
  • David Purcey - Throws Left
More left-handed pitching means more right handed batters faced. More righties = more importance of quality third base defense.

If the Jays move Adam Lind to first convert or anyone other than Wallace for 2011; they stand to have weak corner defense countered but excellence up the middle. While a decent idea, I'm not sure you can get away with two mediocre or less-than-rangy guys on the RC turf. One sure. Two, I dunno.

Kyle Drabek

Tommy John? A mere formality in this day and age. Temperament issues? He's a pitcher, who cares? Dave Stieb was the biggest prick in town, but dude was great. Stuff? Unless I read with much less prejudice in the winter than the summer, I think Drabek's stock rose as summer turned to autumn. People are projecting him as close to a top of the rotation kind of guy. Awesome! Two good pitches with a third on the way? A good Arnsberging will coach that third pitch up to speed two pitches are plenty!!!

There is a lot to like about Drabek. Pedigree (less than meaningless!), ground balls, home run suppression, control. All things you'd like to see from a 22 year old. Will he make the big club next year? I doubt it. I'm sure AA is a Super Two hawk and the earliest we'll see Drabek is September 2010.

Travis D'Arnaud

Catcher Of The Future! Who knows? Throw some chicken blood on the floor, smear in the some tea leaves. The COTF's RC+ will be revealed!

Like all COTF, he can hit but has shitty footwork and suspect mechanics. Alex Anthopoulos buys his first ticket in the COTF lottery.

Other Stuff

With this week consumed by Harry LeRoy Halladay, I put off a pretty cool post. Please check back Monday for some exclusive goodness here at Ghostrunner on First. I swear it will be worth it. You may look at The Manager in a whole new light.

Image courtesy of some Korean Website Friction Entertainment. Lube's on me.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Toronto Blue Jays: Year One

Okay. We're here. Trade done, rebuilding commenced. I'm ready. I'm on board. But now Alex, I need something from you. Now, more than ever, is time to turn the page. End the farcical navel gazing and corpse raping. End Flashback Fridays and all manner of regressive self-wankery.

Comic books do this all the time. The reboot, re-tool, re-imagine, retcon, whatever they can to refresh stale characters and convoluted storylines to attract new audiences and invigorate the die-hards. Trading Roy Halladay and arming this team for the future is the biggest re-tool and reboot this team's ever gone through.

I recognize getting any bums into seats this year will be difficult. Nearly impossible. But bums in seats won't matter in 2010. The young core you've assembled are the only thing that will drive attendance and interest in this team now and in the future. Only success will save us now.

Success needn't come overnight, but continuing the fresh outlook from this front office is the only way to go. Continue making inroads in Quebec, embrace new Canadians and finding new baseball teams. Continue hocking powder blue jerseys and white ball caps in the club shop if you must, but don't sell the present and the future short. Sell the youth. Sell the promise.

There certainly is a lot of promise. This team made out just fine in this trade and certainly has its share of pieces for the future. Enough young pitching exists that even if only 60% of it pans out, the team is set. These young players are the key, and the story you need to tell your fans and customers. I can't speak for anyone else, but I don't give a shit about the old days anymore. They're gone.

So give Cito his victory lap then let him shuffle off into the sunset. You gave the old dogs from 92/93 their chance to reclaim the spotlight. When Joe Carter or whomever else comes sniffing around in 2012 or 2013 with thoughts of 20 year anniversaries on their mind, say thanks but no thanks. Hopefully the team you started building today can stand on its own merits by then. They certainly have a shot.

Image courtesy of Infinite Jesterings

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bionic Style Like Steve Austin

Allow me to apologize straightaway for the nightmare fuel; it comes courtesy of Tug Haines, Meech and my friends at The Fightins.

A quick thought before this ship officially sails and the new Blue Jays epoch dawns. I find it quite strange that people are making noise (the bad kind) about the six million dollars the Jays sent along with Halladay.

This money, as it relates to 2010 and beyond, means nothing. Let it go. If it makes the Phillies more willing to part with valued prospects; so be it. It has no connection to unsigned draft picks, between monies given to Johnny Mac or not given to Bobby Abreu or whomever. This money is immaterial.

It isn't standing between the Jays and competing in 2010. It isn't going to impact the next draft or the next deal or the next anything. It is lubricant; grease to help extract three of the Phillies four best prospects.

Don't sweat this cash. Don't hold it up as reason to fault AA. There will be plenty of time for that once Kyle Drabek's arm falls off or Brett Wallace follows Beyonce into 2011 pear-shaped hell.

Update: Hey, look at that! Jeff "The Bavarian Bobsleigher" Blair returns in time to write a much better version of this very same post! Check it out.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Ironic Detachment has the Day Off

Unfortunately, my anger is subsiding quickly. I don't even think I was angry, I was actually anxious. There was a weird feeling in my chest, like reading the last twenty pages of The Road. But those feelings are fading and I'll likely have some postive and cogent thoughts on all this noise tomorrow. Or Wednesday, whenever the details finally surface.

But now I'm a little annoyed. Consider this a preemptive hatefisk. The matter of touristy baseball analysts got my Irish up in the summer, the Roy Halladay trade is only going to make it worse. I'm not talking about the badly outdated business model Bob McCown espouses; believing there's a straight line to draw between money and success. This is about an innocent tweet from The Fan's Eric Smith.

Look, I respect the way Eric Smith competently regurgitates the Raptors information and analysis. It's a thankless job on the road and he's a fine fit. On his radio show The Gameplan, he's really good at getting to the :20 minute sports updates. As many times as I've heard him calling for baseball to expand the playoffs, I should know better than to consider what he thinks about baseball.

My anger isn't with Smith; he's just going to end up as my proxy. When Smith tweets he's underwhelmed by the reported packages coming back for Halladay, why exactly am I supposed to care? Is Eric Smith familiar with the Phillies and Mariners farm systems? The players involved? Is he underwhelmed because he had never heard of a single one prospects before today? Why would he? It isn't really his job to know that stuff, just like it isn't really his job to comment.

Basketball and baseball are very, very different. I hope Smith wasn't, like Score buddy James Borbath of Dino Blogger, comparing getting a truckload of baseball prospects with players in the NBA D-League. Holy fuck, those two things couldn't be any more different. You know this, I know this, hopefully media members would realize this if they spent a few seconds thinking about it.

There is no way the Jays are getting Roy Halladay II back in this trade. But they have a good chance of picking up some future rotation pieces, a starting outfielder this year or next, and maybe a starting shortstop in 2011. That is the way this works. The Jays were one of the league's oldest teams last year, depending on the haul they could be quite young by Opening Day. That's a good thing. (unless Brandon League goes to sweeten the pot. Expect a ritualistic suicide live on webcam in that case.)

BAS Audit

It seems as though Jose Bautista and I got off on the wrong foot. I appreciate the things he does on the diamond, and I'm not even disappointed the Jays tendered him a contract. In this rebuilding year, who really cares how the team squanders their money? So long as JoeBau isn't blocking a worthwhile prospect (nope, the cupboard is bar-I MEAN ALL THE FOOD IS ON THE TABLE), why not let him get some reps in the outfield while offering capable backup for EE?

It's hard to deny that Jose Baustista killed the ball in the month of September, as Ian at the Blue Jay Hunter points out. If you've been following the BAS journey from the start, you realize I'm less than enamored with Baustista's September contribution. Back in September I stated my beleaf in the "Never Trust Anything That Happens in April or September" theory. It seems clear that teams eat innings with Brian Tallets and Sergio Mitres in hopes of sparing their bullpen, while good young arms are shut down to protect their development. Looking at Jose Bautista's record in September does nothing to dissuade that belief.

Below you'll see a list of the murderer's row Bautista victimized by way of the September long ball. Names accompanied by a star were September call-ups with very limited innings in 2009:

ScumbagHandFIPHR AllowedHR/9HR/FB
Jeremy GuthrieR5.31351.5810.9
Chris RayR5.3681.6614.3
Hideki OkajimaL4.2081.188.5
Clay BuchholzR4.69131.2713.7
Hunter Jones *L6.6532.1313.0
Ian SnellR4.88140.877.5
Chad GaudinR4.16140.869.0
Michael Dunn *L7.6012.2533.3
Scott BakerR4.08281.269.7
Jeff Manship *R4.9341.1410.3

While hitting a major league pitch over a fence standing 300-odd feat away is certainly quite a feat, this list doesn't fill my heart with glee, other than the perverse glee associated with being right. Hitting a home run off of Jeremy Guthrie is a rite of passage, like carrying a Dora backpack to the bullpen or pissing on Don Zimmer in the shower. It's something every big leaguer does at least once in their career. Chris Ray is equally terrible. The three kids that Bautista took deep all struggled mightily during their cameos, Dunn's appearance being his only one of the year.

Interesting that the final 5 home runs of the season were hit on the road, including three over the Green Monster. Only recently did I realize why they call it the Green Monster. Not because of the paint, it's all the money it makes for right-handed hitters at Fenway.

The homers off Buchholz, Snell, Gaudin and Baker should be the real focus here. All are actual, serviceable, right-handed big league arms. Snell pitched well after coming to the American League and Gaudin gave the Yankees some useful innings. Any Blue Jays fan that watch Buchholz crush the Toronto lineup over and again knows what he can do. Let's take a quick look at what kind of pitches Bautista squared up (click and it grows!).

Almost all fastballs (one change, one two-seamer) and all on the inside half. Interesting that Jose jumped on the first pitch he saw three times! Confidence is a wonderful thing I think, hopefully it carries over into 2010.

Some of the projections for Bautista offer some reason for (guarded) optimism. Dinger-happy Bill James suggests Jose could smack 13 taters in 2010, while CHONE believes he's good for 15. The real question, other than the less than stellar rates projected, is plate appearances. Until the biggest other shoe in franchise history drops, there is a log jam at most positions Jose figures to play. I'd be quite surprised to see him grab 400 PAs as he did in 2009. If he plays good defense when given the chance and builds on these late-season successes against right handed pitching, Jose Bautista could prove a worthy signing for 2010. But please Cito, don't fall in love with him all over again.

Big thanks to Ian the Blue Jay Hunter for the image, Hit Tracker for the dong info, Fangraphs for the pitcher details, and Brooks Baseball for the Pitch F/X.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

O Cito Why Cito?

It is amazing how quickly my mood and feelings toward our Black Dad can change. This morning, having dropped the Barber's Apprentice off at her jail for babies daycare facility, I pointed the BarberBus towards Soulsuckers Inc. for another day of drudgery. Just before I turned on some soothing commuter ballads, I heard tale of Cito appearing next as the Fan Morning Show's baseball insider. Cito! I figured I'd give the old guy a chance and hear what he had to say about nothing in particular.

Cito began blathering away, answering Gordo's softballs with aplomb. My mind turned to a minor project I kicked around but didn't follow through on: a fake Cito Twitter account. I realize fake Twitters are PLAYED OUT, but the real reason this fake Cito thing went nowhere was I didn't have the heart to do it. I don't want to be mean to Cito. I have just as many strong feelings and affections towards Cito as anyone, I simply cannot support him in his current role.

The segment progressed and my animosity towards Cito faded quickly. I found myself putting together a post &mdash not unlike the first two paragraphs of this one &mdash in my head, confessing to transgressions against Citocity and the greater Blue Jays good. At the same time, I LoLed to myself at the thought of a question about Brad Arnsberg. Then, out of the fucking blue, Don Fucking Landry busts out a question about Brian Butterfield! Donny I could kiss you! Give Cito the chance clear the air about divisions/dissension within his coaching staff and make good with a very popular coach. Except Cito did not do that. In addition to forgetting what city he was in yesterday, Cito opted to let his bitter old bastardom air for all to hear.

Here's a link to the audio and I'll transcribe Cito's answer to Landry's question. In a nutshell; Don asked if Cito thought Butterfield could be a manager in the big leagues one day. Cito offered this bon mot:

Well you know, it's hard for me to say. Butterfield did a good job for us as the bench coach and third base coach, but who knows? There's a lot of guys don't play in the big leagues cuz they can't handle the pressure, just like there's a lot of guys that can't manage in the big leagues because they can't handle the pressure. We'll have to see what Butterfield is like under pressure.

Holy fucking shit. A quick BR search reveals Brian Butterfield did not, in fact, play in the big leagues. Which seems to eliminate him from contention to ever manage in the majors because "he didn't play the game." Seriously Cito? Was it really that hard to say one single postive thing about Brian Butterfield and all he's done for this team? Were you and Geno Goddamn Tenacci out there making Marco Scutaro rich and netting Orlando Hudson and Aaron Hill boatloads of accolades?

It was really disappointing to hear Cito not quite disparage Butter but hint at a unspoken level of disapproval. Butterfield's father worked as a suit in the Yankee organization, the same team BB spent most of his minor league career with. No doubt the calls of nepotism followed him at every step, probably with good reason. But how sad is it that some 30 years later he could still be dealing with the same type of derision?

The entire segment left a bitter taste in my mouth and somehow tarnished my image of The Manager even further. Cito's reputation as a petty grudge-holder is now, more than ever, cemented in my mind. Congratulations to The Manager for proving himself to be inept and disappointing off the field too.

Image courtesy of your Toronto Star.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Alex Anthopoulos versus Euclid

No matter how many reassuring words we read about the pedigree of one Alex Anthopoulos, I can't help but worry he's already losing the optical battle. While surely not a major concern of his during the winter meetings, AA sends out a high volume of mixed signals via his Wall of White Noise PR approach. While the constant babble of non-committal "no comments" may play it safe, it isn't doing a damn thing for hard-up masses itching for a look at the next phase of the plan.

I think I can help young Alex. He just needs to make a few slight adjustments to his delivery and style, enough to keep the teeming masses sated a while longer. We really want to believe in you Alex, meet us half way.

  • Grow a Filthy Beard. The first step in your development is to grow a long, mangy beard. A good beard can both disarm and engage. Right now, you're far too fresh-faced. The other GMs see this as weakness. You can't up your cragginess to J.P. levels overnight, so why not cover your youthful visage in a swath of wiry hair?

    The inane ramblings you're famous for spewing will instantly transform into cryptic soothsaying or downright madness. Is he dancing his way around this straight forward yes-or-no answer or reciting the lyrics to Helter Sketler backwards? Either way, there will be a lot more tea leaf-reading and far fewer glazed-over beat writers waiting for you to finish. Plus, you're Greek! You can probably grow an hearty beard between now and your next appointment on Santa Beeston's lap.

  • Distance yourself from Cito. Holy crap, this will work wonders! The further you keep your wheelings and dealings from the bizarre workings of The Manager, the better. Cito stepped into The Manager's chair as all of our benevolent black dad, a kindly face from the past with little in way of ill will. Now he's a marketing nightmare dressed up as a hopelessly out of touch baseball dinosaur.

    I'm not suggesting your replace him as manager (actually, I am) but if you're going to keep him around, DON'T LET HIM IMPACT PLAYER DECISIONS. Managers fall victim to their own cronyism far too often, bringing in old buddies or the guy that killed them that one time based on foggy memories. The team needs your bearded, passionless hand making difficult decisions. Like when to pull the plug on The Manager.

  • Enough with the Howard Hughes routine. Absconded in your hotel suite, refusing to shake hands out of fear of filthy, filthy germs? Playing a bizarre game of hide-n-go-seek with the local media? You're a baseball man. Grab yer chaw, grab yer dipcup and sit yerself down for a good ole chinwag. Your distinct lack of swagger is going to cost you, my friend. You have the swingingest dick of all, the best pitcher in baseball. Get out there and network! Press the flesh! Obviously keep the nitty gritty details close to your vest, but show these teams you aren't afraid to get out there and get grimy.

  • Flesh out your entourage. The life of a baseball GM is surely a lonely one, so you need a crew to enhance your swagger and show the league you and the Blue Jays are for real. Sure, Theo and Cashman have their lieutenants, but you the Jays need to roll even deeper to make an impression.

    Having Handsome Tony Viner at your side is never a bad thing, but may I recommend a large, silent goon? A strapping man wearing sunglasses indoors is sure to draw attention, especially when his vibe is all "I know you're watching me but I don't even care." I know the perfect guy! From your Expos days, Frank Robinson! Noted hardass? Check. Baseball man? Check. Possibly beef with Cito? Why not? Frank Robinson hates EVERYBODY! What better way to send a message to the baseball world than have Frank Robinson standing silently beside you? You can't lose!

These are merely guidelines Alex, a jumping-off point to reform your public image. Another good way would be saying something of substance EVEN ONCE in your life. Failing that, rock the beard. Build your clique. Perfect your pimplimp. Just make sure you make your mark on this baseball team. In a hurry if possible.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Eyes Have It

With the Winter Meetings under way* and Roy Halladay's time in a Blue Jays uniform drawing to a close, I thought I'd look into one point of quasi-contention before he leaves town. If you think back to the series of posts I did on Halladay's fastballs. Pitch F/X thinks he throws (at least) 3 different types, most of our eyes suggest otherwise. Does he throw a true four-seamer? Is Mark Teixeira's assertion accurate?

Before we get to the colorful charty goodness, a little background into how and why I did what I did. Firstly, I don't believe anything Pat Tabler says. Secondly, because my SQL skills do not exist, I simply dumped a bunch of starts together and looked at the fastballs (anything throw at or above 88 miles per hour. I am a child of the eighties after all.) I ignored pitch f/x's built in distinctions and simply took them as they came. First we'll look at a more "traditional" movement chart, which the smart kids are calling "spin deflection" these days. Sometimes this approach makes pitch differentiation easier, other times harder. Because I've discounted slower pitches (i.e. Roy's changeup) this might help us. Click to enlarge. Natch

That's pretty compelling evidence. Two nice and distinct groups. The cutters tend to the run the gamut in terms of movement. Remember, this represents that amount each pitch moves up and down & side to side. The cluster on the left represent two seam sinking fastballs, moving down and in to right-handed hitters. Halladay typically throws this pitch on the outside corner against righties, coming in the back door as the kids say. Against lefties it sneaks under their hands to catch the inside corner after the batter gives up on it. The cutters move away from righties, starting at their hands and breaking towards the inside corner. Perhaps the wide variety of cutters suggests, as Jonathon Hale of the Mockingbird suggests, that Halladay throws two different types of cutters.

Let's examine the speed versus spin direction results. Again, this is a great way to group similar pitches. The spin direction indicates the axis on which the ball spins.

Hmmm. Not quite as clear, but still distinct. The group to the right are two seamers, they spin much more and at a greater angle (of spin.) I'm a little bit surprised this doesn't clear things up a little bit more, but I think we can still safely say that Roy Halladay DOES indeed only throw two types of fastballs. I don't think there's quite enough ambiguity to argue much to the contrary (for more on Halladay's stuff check out this Fangraphs post from July).

* - make sure you stop by Drunk Jays Fans for all your Winter Meeting Needs, they have that shit on lock down. Hopefully at least one sportswriter will make a Kurt Vonnegut reference when in the city that pigment forgot.

Friday, December 4, 2009

In The Weeds

One thing you've certainly noticed if you read Ghostrunner on First at all this season is a certain affinity for Brandon League. I love him because he's unique and because he's awesome. Despite nearly giving up on League in August, by season's end I was convinced of his ability and feel he's ready to make The Leap. All signs point to a monster 2010 for League, for a million different reasons.

I've already drawn attention to his curiously low FIP and superbly low xFIP (lower than Zack fucking Greinke!) and his impressive uptick in strikeouts and strikeout ratio.

Another thing that could work in League's favor? His complete inability to get a call. Jeremy Greenhouse did some awesome work yesterday on Baseball Analysts looking at who "controls the zone" and which players face a larger strike zone. Who was right there at the bottom, with a whopping 35 balls that "should've" been strikes called against him? Why our Brandon League of course! It's an extension of the fine work done by our very own Jon Hale suggesting control pitchers get better calls than power guys. What if League gets even half his missed pitches called strikes? Brandon League is blowing up!

On Wells

So AA chooses to believe his eyes over the various cloak & dagger defensive metrics when it comes to Vernon Wells's defense. I get it, they're flawed. Many of the flaws come out when the reps get high enough (as Bastian points out - he's averaged -11 UZR over the past three seasons) but that's fine, they aren't the be-all or the end-all. What does AA see, other than a massive inherited contract?

My eyes see a guy that doesn't take terrific routes, for whatever reason. I see a guy chasing the ball rather than running to the spot. I made a similar comment on a DJF post in July, using this video as an example. Wells makes the catch there, but the last second hard right turn is troubling.

Does Franklin Gutierrez use evasive maneuvers at the last second? An extreme example, but no. He runs to the spot, stands around, waits, chats to Ichiro about the latest in tentacle rape porn, then makes the play. Outfielders typically begin declining after they hit 30, so we can't expect Wells to improve. I think he would make a fine right fielder, mostly because I don't have any thing else left to believe.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

First Round Fleshbot

Everybody relaxxx. The randomly selected quote from one of Roy Halladay's advisers claims Halladay won't approve a trade once Spring Training is under way. While this may be (almost assuredly) false, we don't have to worry. See even if the Jays don't trade or re-sign Roy Halladay, they'll get draft picks for him! Picks are valuable you see. You turn nothing into something.

Except draft picks probably aren't nearly as valuable as we think. They definitely aren't as valuable as we want them to be. They say the baseball draft is an inexact science, different from the NBA or NFL drafts where young studs are widely acknowledged and impact their new teams almost immediately.

Except the baseball draft is a VERY exact science. Draft in the top half of the first round or else the talent is gone. Period. Just because the NCAA hasn't parlayed the luscious ting of aluminum bats into a national TV deal with a catchy name doesn't mean the future stars and contributors aren't as clear as day.

Look at the incredible amount of research done on the draft. Players taken outside the top 20 provide 0.24 WAR per year on average. Over 6 years that is a whopping 1.5 WAR. That, well, sucks. That is anything but a sure thing. Or consider this graph relating draft position to lifetime WAR. Any player taken outside the first round is lucky to provide the equivalent of two league-average years for their entire career.

The Jays own raft of picks in the up-coming draft. Is it a great opportunity to restock the minors? Of course. But hoping for the Jays to draft the entire 2015 starting lineup is nothing more than wishful thinking. The fact of the matter is any picks outside the top 10 or 15 end up being mostly trivial.

The teams look at the picks financially, fans can't or shouldn't waste their time with that. We should do some fanmath. Consider the emotionally investment you have in Roy Halladay, now create a dollar figure for it. What are the chances you will end up that invested in a future sandwich pick? Pretty slim. Subtract the resentment we'll all feel for whomever comes back for Halladay and I feel like we (I?) can't win. The appreciation and enjoyment we get from watching Roy Halladay pitch is a sunk cost. We're just going to swallow it.

So yeah, get mad that Halladay is on his way. We should be mad. A player that, by all accounts, loves playing in Toronto and always has is on his way out. Get mad at thought of him wearing pinstripes or a pink B hat because of the inability of his supporting cast to get him over the hump. Get madder still at the thought of douchebags booing him because of it. Looking on the bright side is one thing; failing to reflect on what we're losing is another, far too callous for even my tastes. We'll miss you Roy, even when we've still got you.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Treasure Map to the Key to the Golden City

If you recall last week in this space I threw a bunch of information up on a graph and made bold claims about the nature of fandom and the need for more than just "on-field success". Lots of interesting discussion arose in the aftermath, much of it revolving around my decision to use percentage of tickets sold rather than raw tickets sold. The difference in stadium size seemed to be the main sticking point. Selling 100% of a small stadium is the same as selling 60% of a huge one!!11!

After a little research, I can say it breaks down like this with a little more confidence: there are 6 stadiums with capacities under 40000, with Oakland's listed as smallest at 35067. It should be noted that Network Associates Coliseum, like two of the other "undersized" stadiums, has a much larger true capacity. The clubs simple rope off massive sections of the park to avoid looking ridiculous. These are also three teams that rank at the bottom of the attendance % anyway, so I don't think it skews the numbers. Also, the arthimetic mean capacity is 43772, so the difference between any two stadiums isn't really that great.

The way the information was presented wasn't exactly perfect (or perfectly clear) so I took a slightly different approach. Using 81 wins (50%) as one baseline and the median attendance percentage (63.5%) as the other to create four quadrants: well supported good teams, poorly supported good teams, lovable losers and apathetic crapfactories. The results are mildly interesting as you can see below.

Click here for a break down of which teams sit where. Some highlights:
  • There is a real glut of teams right around the center (circled them in red). They all hover around the .500 mark and hover around the median attendance numbers. Mainly teams, like the Jays, with middling success and moderate to impassionate fanbases.
  • Of the 90 or so instances of good teams with good attendance, 1/3 are Red Sox, Yankees or Cardinals.
  • The number of good teams with good attendance is nearly identical to the number of bad teams with poor attendance.
  • The Twins! Lo, the role model Twins sit in the over .500 record but sub-median attendance a whooping 7 times! The A's are the other stalwart successful team with poor gate numbers. Both of these teams qualified for post season play on multiple occasions in the last decade and should serve as giant red warning beacons.
  • Bad teams with loyal fans? The Cubs, Orioles, and Giants feature the most patient fanbases, though the Orioles support dwindled greatly as the decade wore on.
  • As stated above the Red Ring of Death is a real village of the damned. Drifting and bobbing in the vast sea of ambivalence. The Marlins (the two years after they won the World Series) the Reds, the Mets, and your 2007 Toronto Blue Jays.
It seems that looking at the information this way presents a slightly clearer picture of how teams are supported. In short, a team like Phillies capitalized on their new ballpark with an exciting and successful team to create a passionate fanbase. By virtue of history and diehardedness, teams like the Giants draw crowds because hanging out at AT&T Park beats a kick in the head. Just across the Bay the far more successful A's can't draw people to a crappy ballpark no matter how many games they win. Could a new ballpark change the fortunes of the A's or Twins? The owners sure think so. Hopefully the loyal taxpayers aren't on the hook to figure it out.

Friday, November 27, 2009


Here in the sober light of day, I'm much more accepting of the Alex Gonzalez move. It IS only a one year deal plus an option and his defense should save the pitching staff some outs. He projects as a 5/6 UZR fielder, which is good. Not too much better than Scutaro was for the bulk of the year, but better none the less. The one thing people are failing to remind me is where — especially after a Lyle Overbay trade — the rest of the defense is coming from. With an epic trifecta of defense fail in the outfield & the legend that is EE currently slotted in a third base; we're asking a lot of Gonzalez and Aaron Hill. If sparing the arms is the plan a lot of defense work needs to be done (coughMikeCameroncough).

One little click of a button threw cold water on my Mike McCoy hopes and dreams. They were exactly dreams of McCoy, but dreams of an white knight swooping in and stealing our hearts. It didn't HAVE to be McCoy, he was just the proxy. We all like to droll over his minor league line (.310/.404/.403/.807) but a sobering click on the Major League Equivalent button on and you see this ugliness: .252/.328/.320/.648. Wow. Not quite the same when you de-PCL that shit.

But Mike McCoy is the unknown commodity, that which modern fans cling to with incredible ferocity. Check out the prospect porn that runs rampantly through the majors right now. We in Toronto were guilty of it just last year. Adam Lind? Cast him out. I wrote a little more than 365 days ago that, if he was available as rumoured, the Jays should move heaven and Earth to acquire Billy Butler. At the time I said "I wasn't married to the idea of Adam Lind", especially with huge stud Travis Snider ready for his closeup. Then 2009 happened. Nobody went anywhere but Adam Lind and Billy Butler raked. Now Travis Snider is the one surrounded by questions, which is a shame because the answer to those questions is right there: Billy Butler.

Like Snider, Butler was a bad body player with a can't miss bat. Like Snider, Butler crushed all minor league competition and stormed through the system. Like Snider, Butler burst on the big league scene with a promising cameo, showing patience and pop. Like Snider, Butler struggled through his first full season, raising questions about his makeup and attitude.

Butler came into 2009 with something to prove, and proof is what he offered. 51 doubles, 21 home runs, .369 wOBA. A slightly better approach, one can only assume an increase in maturity, a more robust BABIP and off he went. Good news for Travis Snider and Travis Snider fans because, well, Travis Snider is WAY better than Billy Butler.

I don't need to remind you of his minor league numbers, they're insane. Even more insane when you realize he's younger than Butler. Almost all of Snider's numbers follow Butler's progression, with one year less seasoning. This doesn't mean we should go ahead and spot Snider 50 doubles and 20 tots now, but there is hope. There is a lot of hope because there is plenty of ability.

AA and the brass are making All The Right noises now with regard to Snider's future. "He has to play his way onto this team" they say, even though he has next to nothing left to prove in the minors (especially the PCL minors.) But we can all rest assured that the precedent for a guy just like Snider to bounce back and figure it out in year three exists. He's going to be just fine.

Image apparently courtesy of Porters Tahoe.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Time to Lay the Mac Down

Because I'd rather die than reference a shitty Euro R&B jam from the late nineties, I'll drop some Craig Mack and hope against hope that someones going to kick some brand new flavour in Alex Anthopoulous's ear.

This post originally started as a sop to John MacDonald and everyone, the fans and the team, trying to catch lightning in a bottle twice. John MacDonald's defense came out of nowhere and stole the hearts of a fanbase looking for something to latch onto, given the schizophrenic nature of the Jays in the middle of this decade. It makes sense to bring John MacDonald back as a gap-filling mascot, someone the casual supporters can cheer who boosts the feeling in the clubhouse by representing zero threat to any one's job. I get it. But branding him as a mentor and Butterfield Jr. one day only to sign the Latin version of John MacDonald the very next fucking day bewilders me.

I don't mean to disparage John MacDonald or what he means to this ball club in the future. Or the past. His role and legacy with the Blue Jays is more than cemented. If the team isn't trying to Win next year than perhaps there is space for a mentor for shortstop X the Jays planned to acquire. Except the Jays haven't done that. They did the thing they've done too many times before: reached out for a known, replacement level commodity. And I hate it.

Yup, Alex Gonzalez turns in solid defense from an important position. Better, statistically, than John MacDonald. He also can't hit a lick and gets on base nada, as evidenced by his .275 wOBA last year. .295 for his career.

It isn't that I want a 5 tool stud or nothing at shortstop. The market for that position sucks. It's just that A-Gon represents nothing. He represents stasis. There is no hope that Gonzalez will be anything other than what he already is. Exciting in the field, useless at the plate. Just like that guy he's playing ahead of.

The biggest hue and cry from the Blue Jays commentariat seems to revolve around the cost of Johnnie Mac relative to unsigned draft picks. I'm willing to believe those two buckets are independent of one and another, and money spent here does not equal money better spent there. But signing TWO guys to ostensibly bring the same meager bag of tools to the table stinks.

Which brings us back to Mike McCoy. Does Mike McCoy project as a worse offensive player than either of the two incumbents? Better yet, McCoy projects something completely different: hope. As the unknown commodity, McCoy represents the opportunity to fall in love again, to be dazzled again for the first time. He represents the ultimate in low risk-high reward proposition for both team and fan. As an unheralded waiver-wire scoop, he represents minimal investment for both sides of the coin. The team pays him nothing and the causal fans expectations are nil until he runs out on the field for the first time.

Instead, the Jays have two replacement level shortstops eating $5 million dollars of payroll with a somewhat promising alternative now effectively blocked. As commenter Torgen mentioned on Twitter yesterday, Jack Zduriencik improved a much worse team than the 2009 Blue Jays by picking up players with a considerable marginal value. The Jays seem determined to do the opposite. At best Gonzalez and MacDonald might play to their pay scale and represent break even contracts. That isn't going to be good enough on a team tossing money into a giant void wearing number 10.

Cronyism and placeholders are the stuff that makes us sick. Give us kids. Give us hope. Give yourself the chance to play with house money. Save your rehashed veterans and Kevin Millar 2.0. I appreciate the dedication to defense but this sucks.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Keys to the Golden City

One of the oft-repeated tropes in sports, especially when it comes to Toronto, goes like this: If You Build It, They Will Come. Fans love a winner, especially those aren't fans like you and me, they're more "folks interested in a good time." Somehow, especially being a Jays fan, this rings a little hollow. It seems to take a whole lot more than just a good and/or competitive team to fill your building. Tampa Bay seemed to go out of their way proving this, struggling to sell tickets until the playoffs rolled around. Other teams see attendance bumps during the drive to the Dance only to suffer a hangover once the winning subsides.

So here's what I did: I compiled every team's winning percentage dating back to 2001 and graphed it against their attendance figures (via ESPN) from the same year. I used percentage of tickets sold as it tells more of a story than just raw ticket sales. Now I know book-cooking and ticket malfeasance is rife within baseball front offices, no where more than here in Toronto. But I can only do with that I have, so here we go. Click to enlarge, it gets big!

Tickets Sold versus Games Won

A couple notes: I highlighted teams playing their first season in a new ballpark. Twice teams (brutal ones - Washington and The Natti) failed to sell 70% of the seats in their new yard. The Rays are highlighted for lolariousness and the Jays are there to bum you out. The Expos final choking breaths you can see there at the bottom.

Other stuff? I can't believe how many games the 2001 Mariners won. It makes little to no sense how great that season was. There's a cluster of teams that won nearly 60% of their games and sold only 60% of their tickets - would you hazard a guess who? Billy Beane's Oakland A's with a liberal helping of Atlanta Braves win apathy thrown in for good measure.

I recognize this is just a start. There is a lot more I could do on a granular level, measuring the attendance of games depending on distance from first place and/or the wild card. I'll find the time one day, I just don't have it now.

You may notice the Blue Jays years are nicely settled under the trend line. Does this have to do with mostly meaningless 80-odd win seasons or the lack of baseball interest in Toronto. If you compare Toronto to other cities, it is clearly the latter.

Here's a bar graph mapping the Jays seasons. Notice the attendance trended upward for seven consecutive years before hitting the skids under Beeston's rule of honesty. Below that you'll see the Seattle Mariners, a team that reached great heights at the start of the decade but fell on relatively tough times. Notice the gap in attendance.

Toronto Win % vs Attendance

Seattle Win % vs Attendance

Now we're not comparing apples to apples here. The Jays don't have the luxury of a new ballpark to lure fans in, even if that trick only works for a year or so. But the fact remains: the Jays attendance sucks. So does the Rays and the Orioles, by and large. If we accounted from the 18 games these teams play host to the Red Sox and Yankees; they'd be even worse. Why? Is winning everything?

The trend line on the first graph doesn't say so. There is a correlation (not particularly strong) but certainly no causation. Just to cover all my bases, I did one more thing. I examined teams attendance versus winning percentage from the previous year. Would it create a noticeable uptick in sales?

In a word: no. The difference in trend year over year is slight. If the team was really bad one year, they stay away. If the team was really good, they come out a little more. What does this mean? It takes a lot more than one dip in the playoffs to build a baseball city. The new braintrust can talk about building for long term success, and I hope they do, but it nothing short of a full court press of marketing and creativity will get people back into the Dome on a consistent basis.

Thoughts? Feelings? If you're into it, I shared the data in Google Docs. Shoot me an email if you'd like to use it for your own blog or whatever purpose.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Aaron Hill, Adam Lind Pick Up MVP Votes

Awesome! For the most part. Whichever ink-stained wretch slotted Aaron Hill in as the fifth most valuable player in the American League, god love ya but come on. Hill had a wonderful season hitting the ball over the fence, but he's not the most valuable Blue Jay, is he? Roy Halladay failed to garner a single MVP vote once again, despite votes going to fellow hurlers Grienke, Verlander, Mo Rivera, Sabathia, and Hernandez.

The down-ballot stuff gets extra wacky on the MVP vote, as the 10 spots allow for lots of improvisation and/or wink wink nudge nudge bonus activation. Luckily Aaron Hill has no such provision in his contract, so the brave soul that tossed Hill a bone did so out of the goodness of his heart.

Nice to see Adam Lind MVP love, albeit on a smaller scale than Hill. Also interesting to see Kendry Morales, Jason Bay and Bobby Abreu rack up much higher tallies despite similar/inferior numbers. I'm loathe to do the player ABCD trick, but here goes.
  1. 43 2B, 34 HR, 108 RBI, 7.5% BB, 20.7% K, .355 OBP, .569 SLG,.924 OPS, .263 ISO, .382 wOBA, +5 UZR, 4.2 WAR

  2. 46 2B, 35 HR, 114 RBI, 9.0% BB, 18.7% K .370 OBP, .562 SLG, .932 OPS, .257 ISO, .394 wOBA, -8 UZR, 3.7 WAR

  3. 29 2B, 36 HR, 119 RBI, 15.0% BB, 30.5% K, .384 OBP, .537 SLG, .921 OPS, .269 ISO, .397 wOBA, -13 UZR, 3.5 WAR

  4. 29 2B, 15 HR, 103 RBI, 14.3% BB, 20.1% K, .390 OBP, .435 SLG, .825 OPS, .142 ISO, .367 wOBA, -11 UZR, 2.5 WAR

Needless to say, the MVP award is about more than just wins above replacement. I'm sure Bobby Abreu's influence on the Angels did increase his value to the team. That doesn't mean to suggest the gulf between this group of players (many of whom were surrounded by better players on winning teams) is as great as the writers would suggest.

That said, who cares. The down-ballot stuff isn't worth crying over, given how the right man got the award. Good to see the Jays silver sluggers getting a little bit more due.

In case you weren't sure ABCD = Morales, Lind, Bay, Abreu.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Hardcore Haberdashery

Would He Wear a Blue Hat?  DoubtfulThough it's been a while since any Jays news moved me (apparently I've been writing for the AV Club under the pseudonym "Jason Heller"); a recent twitter back-and-forth between yours truly and the class of the Blue Jays blogosphere focussed on hats and logos and shook me from my doldrums. The Tao, as you may well know, is a dyed in the wool blue loyalist, wearing his black hat hatred with as much pride as his anonymity. Myself, I'm decidedly on the other side of the fence. I quite enjoy the black hats. I own three different versions of the same cap, one purchased every other year since 2005.

These three hats are the only pieces of Blue Jays (or non-soccer jersey) sports memorabilia I own*. My quest for complete ironic detachment prevents me from wearing a baseball jersey in public and team sanctioned merchandise (Property balls) is generally gaudy and, well, uncool. I was in Asia when the Jays made the switch and I bought up the new black hats as soon as I returned to Canadian terra firma. Why did I wait? I don't really like blue hats. There, I said it. Especially the two shittastic logos they rolled out over the preceding 5 years.

Yes, they're the Blue Jays so I suppose they're hats should be blue. But that doesn't mean I have to wear a blue hat. Let's look at what's available down ye ole hatshoppe and who might be in the market for such goods.

If you own this hat, there's a better than average chance you love Cito implicitly. You appreciate the corporate tie-ins from days gone by for their simplicity and upfront honesty. You enjoy the traditional logo and the traditions it represents. You hate the brown stains (or "stink lines") that creep through the white front as you sweat out a Jason Frasor save attempt on Flashback Friday. Especially if you're Jason Frasor.

Brim Curvature? 60% of owners will curve the brim in a tasteful manner, 30% leave it flat for the modern throwback look, 10% bend it severely.

This hat is awesome in that it embodies everything that is awful and unfair in the world. The hideous, arbitrary color scheme coupled with quite possibility the cheesiest logo of all time? Where do I sign? Hey, it's even on sale and can be mine for the low, low price of $27.99? Bonus.

Let's talk about that logo for a second? What the fuck was going on in the late nineties that we needed everything to be cutesy and cartoonish? What a nightmare. If you own this hat, we can never be friends.

Brim Curvature? Nil, at least not applicable. No single person on Earth ever has or will purchase this hat. It is an abomination, the perverse lovechild of ill-advised marketing and poorly conceived branding all in one. May God have mercy on our souls.

When looking ridiculous just isn't enough, why not reach for the hat that proves, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you're from Oakville. Generally worn precariously perched atop of the head of someone who loves buying shoes on eBay and outlandishly coloured hoodies, this hat is another sure sign that your slow march towards old age and death is well under way. Asking the wearer of this hat to name a Blue Jays player is likely to result in head-scratching (don't knock the lid!) and a sentence that starts with "Shhiitttttt, I dunno..."

Brim Curvature? Are you kidding? The sticker might come loose!

These all blue numbers &mdash like your kid sister's chronically undersized dorm twinbed&mdash definitely get slept on by more than one Jays fan. It represents a particularly dark time in Jays history and is washed from our minds by the garish wave of red that followed. If you rock one of these, there is a good chance you know what the fuck is up. You also remember the negative side of Cito and are nonplussed that he's sticking around. We could definitely hang out, just don't tell your sister.

Brim Curvature? Absolutely. Without a doubt. Sweat stained to the core and proud of it.

What an odd combination. The all white says "I enjoy wearing linen pants and drinking on chartered boats that circle Toronto Harbor until a fight breaks out; causing the barely-seaworthy craft to gun it for Scarborough, where the totality of its passengers live. Also, my hat features a logo created over a smoke break by someone in merchandising who needed to increase sales by 3% to activate a bonus."

Brim Curvature? Doubtful. This is the kind of hat that is worn once and promptly lost or stolen. Pay if forward.

If you wear the awful red and blue hat, we can't be friends because I won't be seen in public next to that monstrosity. The modern hats, while not blue, are pretty awesome. The logo is no great shakes but it doesn't embarrass itself or you by wearing it, something we can't exactly say about past designs. So go ahead, rock an old school blue and white or a modern logo upstart. Just don't bring them together, the results could tear the style-time continuum!

* - I do own a Carlos Delgado bobblehead that I picked up on the eve of Alex Rios's big league debut. They didn't give them away that night, but I had an acquaintance in the ticket office whom I got acquainted with off and on for a while. They hooked me and El Leal up with Delgado bobbleheads though I soon after ceased acquainting said acquaintance.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Portents of Defensive Doom

Projections are a weird beast. The grinding mathematical efficiency of the whole thing leaves a bad taste in many people's mouths. The wide range of offensive projections run the gamut and give hope to those searching for it, provided they search long enough. Jeff Zimmerman of Beyond the Box Score uses age regression and past performance (explained here) to project UZR for every player with at least 63 games played at a given position over the past 4 years. Guess what? It doesn't look good for our Blue Jays.

I've created three groups: Current Blue Jays, free agent Blue Jays, and potential Blue Jays as targeted by myself or the greater rumour mill.

NamePositionProjected UZRNumber of Games at Position in Last 4 YearsAge on Opening Day
Adam LindLF-2.020826
Travis SniderLF-0.76922
Vernon WellsCF-8.055332
Aaron Hill2B1.948328
Lyle Overbay1B-0.355033
Edwin Encarnacion3B-9.047627
Jose BautistaCF-4.26829
Joe Inglett2B-2.312229
Marco ScutaroSS-0.331134
John McDonaldSS1.429035
Rocco BaldelliCF1.711928
Brandon Phillips2B6.258928
Carlos GonzalezCF1.011224
Dexter FowlerCF-7.613624
Matt MurtonLF0.819028
Felipe LopezSS-8.727929
Adrian Beltre3B7.655231
Brett GardnerCF3.012126

Before we get into a big fight, let's get this out of the way.
  • No, UZR is not perfect. What it does, especially with 3 years of data, is paint a pretty good picture of a player in the field.
  • No, projections aren't perfect either. While the varieties of offensive or pitching projections swing wildly, I think defense is the type of thing that can project well. For most of these dudes, this is who they are.
  • A lot of these guys, especially the young guys are close to average. This is because, well, that's how it gets to be the average. Young players require more games to truly show how crappy they can be, so they tend to get the benefit of the doubt.

Sigh, not happeningSafe to say this bad defensive team isn't about to get much better. Some of these stiff corncobs will benefit from a healthy slathering of Butterfield, but let's not expect too much. EE displayed a strong arm at third base, but he is who he is. If anything, his rocket arm is detrimental to his chances of improvement as a fielder (his strong arm overcame other deficiencies, allowing bad habits to creep in at an early age.)

Had Jose Bautista done ANYTHING at the plate in the parts of 2009 that "mattered", I'd be tempted to give him the everyday rightfielder's job in 2009 2010. But he didn't so fuck him. Would a guy like Matt Murton be much better or worse? Probably not, but he'd be cheaper. Is he a non-tender candidate? Likely. The arbitration system is broken and I don't expect the Jays to Do The Right Thing by their journeyman.

As for the "targets", not much to choose from there. Rocco's best days in the field are behind him, Matt Murton is pretty much average all around. Brandon Philips is a fine second baseman but the Jays already have one of those. The numbers suggest both men are good where they are. Former Jay Felipe Lopez had an outstanding year with the bat though his defense is pretty much awful. Two of the young outfielders that would come to town at a terrible, terrible price are speedy glovemen with limited offensive upside (Gardner & Grand Theft Auto) while Fowler is a toolsy stud that is charitably described as raw (read: black dude!) with great potential.

Additionally, the Jays added a couple quad-A nawspects this month. Either of these guys could become another Marco Scutaro or Johnny Mac. Mike McCoy played all over the diamond with the bulk of his time coming at short. His defense was worth +7 runs according to TotalZone. He also pitched an inning in 2009, something I haven't seen a Blue Jays position player do in a long, long time. Jarrett Hoffpauir plays second base almost exclusively and doesn't appear to do it particularly well. So we can pretty much count him out.

I'm of two minds when it comes to shoring up the Jays potential defense. It would be foolish to overemphasize the impact of marginally better fielders. The difference between a good fielder and an average one (or an average fielder and a bad one) is rather slight. A large percentage of plays made are pretty routine, whomever you choose to send out there at the big league level has a pretty good shot of making a clean play on it.

That said, we must all recognize one thing: if Roy Halladay goes, so go a whole lot of strikeouts and a whole lot of groundballs. If Shaun Marcum is to step in and reclaim his place in the rotation, many flyballs come with him. Dustin McGowan has a GB/FB above 1, but he certainly puts his share of runners on base. Cecil, Romero, Rzepczynski, Purcey, Janssen&mdash none of them are as efficient as HALF of Roy Halladay. Defense will matter for this club now and in the future, to support the burgeoning pitching staff and give a team in need of every possible break slight edge.