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.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Medical School Volume II

The trade rumor horseshit is cutting me both ways right now. I have no interest in peddling half-truths yet the Jays rumours all revolve around Roy Halladay and it makes me sad. I guess we'd better get as many of these (well-received, thanks to everyone for their feedback) Halladay pitch sequence features in as we can before the Day After Tomorrow; I'll just post Morrissey, Elliot, or Patsy Cline videos every day until the season starts. Today, we look at Doc versus Kevin Youkilis.

Yoooooook hits Roy Halladay very, very well. Which is to say Youkilis hits everyone well, but he's owned Roy to the tune of a .938 OPS over his career (sweet, free Play Index trial until Nov 20th!) In 2009 Youk went 4 for 9 with a walk. Ugly. First and foremost, click here to check out Youkilis's hot zones. Basically he loves the ball down and in, or anywhere on the inside or middle of the plate. His only vulnerabilities are up and away. Will our hero stay away from this patient slugger?

The first time Youkilis faced Halladay this year was July 19th, a complete game six hitter thrown by the good Doctor. Youk managed 2 of the Sox 6 hits, a double and a single. How'd he do it? Click to enlarge it.

  • Double to Left Two Seamer (called strike), Curve (in play)
  • Single to Right Two seam (called strike), change (ball), fastball* (in play)
  • Ground Out Two seam (in play)
  • Ground Out Cutter (called strike), two seam (ball), change (foul), cutter (ball), curve (in play).

Strange. Halladay stayed inside almost exclusively for the first three at bats. It burned him the first two times before he got away with one later. I wonder if Halladay didn't figure Yook would look away so tried to bust him inside? That is almost assuredly what Roy thought in the third at bat. Youkilis offered at the first pitch he saw and ground out to first base.

The final at bat is just a nice job by Halladay. Starts away with the backup two seamer, misses low with a change before going inside then out to get the rollover. Really nice stuff. What about the next time out? Halladay was about as bad as he gets on August 19th, giving up 5 runs (4 earned) in only 5 innings. The horror!

  • Strikeout Looking: Two seam (ball), two seam (ball), cutter (called strike, lulz), two seam (ball), cutter (foul), two seam (called strike, STFD).
  • Single to left: Cutter (called strike), Fastball* (in play)
  • Grounder to second: Cutter (called strike), change (ball), change (ball), fastball* (called strike), fastball* (foul), two seam (in play).

It is apparent that Kevin Youkilis's reputation as a whiny bitch precedes him, as he doesn't seem to get many calls. His strikeout features a pitch WELL off the plate in addition to strike three which is debatable but probably still a strike. Yook raps a solid single on one of the in-between fastballs that Halladay throws. In accordance with public opinion, I tried to label the fastballs as only two seam or cutter, but to me this and the other asterisked pitches weren't either. In any event, no chance Roy Halladay wanted to throw a straight fastball down and in.

The final at bat features one of the heaviest sinkers I've noticed Halladay throw (the last pitch in the sequence) as well as back to back change ups. Unusual. Looking at all the pitches thrown that night you see a more concerted effort by the Jays battery to stay away from Youkilis, especially when compared to the previous start. Did he do anything different during his third and final start versus Youkilis and the Sox?

  • Double to left: Two seam (ball), curve (called strike), two seam (foul), cutter (foul), change (ball), curve (in play)
  • Fly out to deep CF: Two seam (ball), two seam (in play)
  • Strike out looking: Curve (called strike), cutter (whiff), curve (ball), curve (ball), two seam (GTFO)

The last at bat is an inspiration. Halladay had no intention of coming anywhere near Youk during this encounter, the ump and the batter (the player?) did their best to play along. Earlier we see something strange: Youkilis hammers Roy's curveball over and again. Halladay was not at his best on this day either; surrendering 4 runs in six innings, including a home run to Rocco. These things happen. He left too many pitches on the inside part of the plate to Youkilis, a mistake many men have made before. The first at bat especially featured a number of pitches that Halladay didn't put where he wanted.

Overall, Youkilis is an incredibly patient hitter willing to wait out even the great Roy Halladay. That the Greek God of Douchebaggery is able to hit the curve like he does is testament to the his quick bat and excellent eye. Provided they aren't suddenly teammates (aw, look at my keyboard. Covered in vomit), perhaps Halladay can try to work the cutter away earlier in the count. He seems to use it as his out pitch against Youk, but staying away from his power source (inside) might work to his advantage. Thoughts?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Baseball's Racist Grandparents Award Torii Hunter a Gold Glove

Torii Hunter - excellent at being famousThe Gold Gloves are a joke and I'm an idiot for getting worked up about them. The Jays were pretty much the worst defensive team in baseball this year so I (we?) don't even have a horse in the race. But fuck Torii Hunter. Jeter I can deal with (he had a solid? year in the field despite not being able to throw. At all.) Ichiro? Awesome. I didn't award him one of my exclusive Walkoff Walk Gilded Leather awards as I gave Franklin Gutierrez two. That's right, I gave Death to Flying Things two awards for one season. Why?

Because I love defense, and he's the best outfielder I've seen since Devo. That good. Making the impossible look easy and the easy a memory. Amazing. Up in Them Gutz, of course, didn't win a Gold Glove. Because they're a joke, and arguing about them is trying to beat sense into the skull of a senile, racist old fuck who doesn't care about rational thought any more. They're just waiting to die. To wit, from the Seattle Times' Larry Stone:
Let's just say I wasn't impressed with the depth of knowledge of the coaches when it came to evaluating the candidates and coming to a conclusion. They'd pretty much blurt out the name of a guy that they remembered as making some good plays against them (often asking a fellow coach what he thought, and coming to a consensus opinion that way), or pick the player that had the reputation as being the best at his position, even if that reputation was no longer deserved. I'm pretty sure my team wasn't the only one that operated this way...
Nothing you didn't know, but still worth building up a nice lather over once a year. Once again, I want them to matter but they do not. In any way. Failure abounds.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Fog of War

Things just ain't right inside my thoughthole these days; thankfully I'm well aware and able to trace the source. November despair mixed with general Blue Jays malaise is leading me down a dangerous path though I'm going without a fight.

The heavily-rumored (way to keep it close to the vest AA!) Overbay-for-Snyder deal fell apart on the weekend. Understandable concern for the surgically repaired back of a catcher reportedly queered the deal. As much as I enjoy Overbay and all that he does, I was okay with the move. Overbay would absolutely kill it in that overheated bandbox while Synder potentially brought decent numbers for a catcher with the Snakes footing some of the bill.

So I started to think of other catchers that would work within the Jays indentured servitude youth movement. My mind first came to Chris Iannetta, the somewhat disposed catcher for the Colorado Rockies. Iannetta disappointed the Rockies in 2009 with a low batting average (who cares!) but still posted an excellent walk rate (!), high Ks (meh), and too many fly balls. Basically he swung at too many bad balls and developed a penchant for home run swings. He lost his job to Yorvit Torrealba down the stretch in 2009 though the Rockies had the good sense to decline Yorvit's 2010 option. Iannetta is cheap and under team control for 3 more years, meaning he wouldn't come cheap.

Naturally I strained to think what the Jays could offer to prize the young backstop from the Rockies clutches. Then I remembered I would want to take Matt Murton along with Iannetta. The Rockies have no need for Overbay or any other disposable Blue Jays piece, then my mind turned the corner.
The Jays should trade Roy Halladay to the Rockies.
Have I lost my mind? I'd freely sign up for a 1984-styled Thought Police service if it kept me from even thinking these awful, awful thoughts. After I finished bathing myself in astringents I realized what I'd done. My mind willingly attached Roy Halladay to a trade. The horror! But Halladay is exactly what the Rockies want and need. He's induces ground balls and limits dingers. He's Roy fucking Halladay. He's local. The Rocks have space in their rotation and Halladay would pretty much guarantee them many Rocktobers to come.

What would I demand back from the Rockies in exchange for The Blue Jay? Troy Tulowitzki, obviously. The perverse nature of trading for a player you easily could have drafted is dimished by AA pulling the trigger with Beeston behind him. The taint of passing doesn't stick to them so they can start with Tulo and build from there. That Tulowitzki signed a hilariously team-friendly deal long before Evan Longoria makes it all the sweeter. Throw in Iannetta, and the excellent Dexter Fowler.

Pie in the sky? Probably. Detached from reality? Indeed. A package that includes, basically, the three best Rockie prospects is borderline insane. But so is trading Roy Halladay!! If Tulowitzki is a deal-breaker, replace the face of the franchise (before Halladay would assume the title) with Christian Friedrich. Admitting that Roy Halladay is going to be gone next year is hard enough, don't expect me to take it well.

If AA is going to do it (and many people think he will) he'd better land himself 3 major league ready players. At least. Distant prospects are fine and good, but the Blue Jays' boat will rock with such force that a fleet of kids will do more harm than good.

Friday, November 6, 2009

GROF Exclusive: Live Streaming Video of the Yankees Parade

Thanks to the new programming mandate at the Score, I have new access to videofeeds the world over! Enjoy the Yankees marching on Hyperbole Hill.

Housekeeping? What you keep in your house?

You've surely noticed and I hope you enjoy the new Ghostrunner on First banner, created by old friend Dennis of Amplified Communications. I'm appreciative of all his hard work and though we'll miss JP & Rocco, this is a much better direction. Interesting note about the graphic designer in question: he was once ejected from a baseball game for informing an umpire "you have no penis." After being ejected, Dennis insisted: "but sir, you have no penis!"

Because its Friday and the season is now, finally and sadly, over; I thought I'd do a quick look back at some of my favorite posts of the year. Not before I thank each and every person that's commented, read, linked, ignored, dismissed, or even thought of Ghostrunner on First over the past season. I hope you have as much fun as I do. 100 days to spring training!
Have a good weekend peoples. Rocco filed for free agency yesterday so hope still lives!!!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Medical School

It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say over the past few weeks I've come close to losing my religion. Closer than you think and closer than I'm ready to admit. The offseason lends itself to this kind of hyperbole and horseshit, but I've had enough. Mix in a mild existential criss and I'm ready to dive into something far removed from front office games. Instead I want to think about baseball.

One area of analysis that I believe will gain more and more importance is pitch sequencing. How to set up a hitter, how to let him get himself out. I looked at this topic in less detail at Walkoff Walk a couple weeks ago, only using the first two pitches to an entire order. I thought here I go a little more in-depth with probably the best pitcher I've seen at carving up hitters: Roy Halladay.

Halladay is an easy selection because his control is superb and he commands all his pitches so well, he is known for building a pitching plan, and because he makes such a pitiful example of so many hitters. Also, his Brooks Baseball page is sponsored by the awesomest site in the world.

After watching Alex Rodriquez tee-off on all manner of playoff pitching, I thought I'd examine how Roy Halladay goes about getting him out, something Halladay does well considering how great A-Rod is against everyone else. I don't know if that's credit to Halladay for holding down such an offensive force or A-Rod for managing a .788 OPS against our lord and savior. Gregg Zaun of Sportsnet did a great job showing how Rodriquez is so difficult to pitch against because he always tries to take the fastball the other way and turn on breaking stuff. Below I selected two games from late in the year. The first on September 4th was Halladay's one hit masterpiece at the Rogers Centre. The other is an outing from September 15th in which Halladay struggled (11 hits over 6 innings) but only surrendered two runs. Click to enlarge either chart.

  1. Pop out: Cutter (whiff), cutter (ball), two seam (ball), four seam (in play)
  2. Fly out: Four seam (in play)
  3. Strike out: Two seam (foul), curve (ball), cutter (foul), four seam (called strike)
  4. Fly out: Cutter (ball), cutter (in play)
This game was Halladay at his best as we all remember. This is impressive stuff. In to out, up to down. The first AB Halladay throws a cutter down and away that A-Rod can only hope to bloop into right field even if he hits it. Halladay then goes off the plate away with another cutter before coming back inside with a four seamer. The inside fastball keeps the batter thinking, especially knowing (as A-Rod surely does) how much Halladay likes to front door his cutter if you lean out over the plate. Rodriquez did well to take both these pitches and probably would like another shot at the 2-1 fastball over the plate. This are the kind of mistakes Halladay gets away with because of his ability to both cut and sink his fastball.

The second AB saw Rodriquez trying to jump on a fastball away only to fly out. The third at bat gives Alex his first look at the curveball. Halladay again starts out with a sinking fastball that Rodriquez fouls away, a pitch that likely started over the heart of the plate. Halladay shows Rodriquez the curve but just misses to even the count. The key 1-1 pitch is a tough cutter that A Rod can't take (again due to Halladay's mixed bag of fastballs, especially after the four seamer in nearly the same spot last AB) before Roy finishes him off with a fastball on the inside corner. Impressive stuff.

The final at bat sees Halladay miss with a cutter and get Rodriquez to fly out for the final time. Interesting that Halladay offered but one curveball all day to Alex Rodriquez. His fastball command seemed to take of it for him.

  1. Fly out: Four seam (whiff), curve (in play)
  2. Double: Four seam (ball), four seam (whiff), two seam (ball), four seam (whiff), four seam (in play)
  3. Ground out: Two seam (ball), two seam (ball), curve (called strike), four seam (whiff), two seam (in play)
Halladay wasn't as sharp on this day but still limited Rodriquez to only a double. The first AB we see Halladay throw a fastball past Rodriquez before getting him to fly out on a nice curve down in the zone, definitely a pitcher's pitch.

Rodriquez notches a double during an at bat that featured only fastballs. Halladay falls behind and leaves a fastball over the plate where A Rod finally can get good wood it. I'm sure Halladay wanted that pitch a little further outside. Or inside. I dunno.

The third at bat is the only one I've detailed to end in a groundout. Halladay misses with two straight sinkers only to come back 2-0 with curve for a strike. That's fair. A fastball (which might actually be a cutter) that Rodriquez misses before a perfectly placed two-seamer finishes Alex off. A pitch he can't take as Halladay makes bank tailing that fastball over the outside corner. Beautiful.

So a couple questions: would you say Halladay has a specific plan in mind to retire Alex Rodriquez? He seems to rush out with fastballs to get ahead, generally on the outside part of the plate. He tends to come immediately back inside to keep Rodriquez honest and then works hard to keep him off-balance. My other question? Does anybody care about this other than me? Is this interesting to you? Would you like to see more? Let me know in the comments or by email.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Heat-Seeking Missiles. Bloodhounds. Foxes.

If, for some inexplicable reason, you mention "star-six-nine" to someone, you stand to get one of a couple distinct reactions. For people of a certain age&mdash born in the 90s or later&mdash you are likely to receive a quizzical look. People over 40 are likely to give you weathered version of the same look. The group of people who were teenagers or young adults in the early nineties likely used the crap out of *69, likely because they didn't pay the bills or have much else to do.

That doesn't mean any rational person remembers this telecommunications application with any fondness, it was like sexual discretion: you used it because you were young, dumb, and didn't have any other option.

Somehow, in spite of all rationale and reason, the same theory does not apply to Cito Gaston. No matter how far into the rearview mirror his triumph disappear, no matter how far out of touch with the modern player he seems to be, Cito sticks. In a power struggle between the members of the coaching staff held over from a previous regime and his band of cuddly codgers, Cito sticks.

The Blue Jays pitching staff is very young, this much we know. The Blue Jays pitching staff held Brad Arnsburg is high esteem, this much we know. Turning this young staff over to an inexperienced pitching coach seems like folly to me, but he is an in-house guy and known to the players.

It isn't that I want to see Cito fired or dismissed. It is the message it sends to the fans of this team. The hardcore fans, the long-suffering fans. The message is simple: you don't matter. Sending out a lameduck manager in a rebuilding year? Pointless. Why keep a manager in place when he isn't part of the plan?

Courtesy of Walkoff WalkWhat does a six month farewell to the game net Blue Jays fans and supporters? Nothing. How many times does Beeston plan to sheer this same sheep? If the results on the field don't match up, this is just another sad chapter in the Jays ever-growing history of selling us something we already own. Personally, I don't want to rehash the past any more. I can only assume season ticket holders feel the same way. Beeston seems intent on recapturing the public that made the Jays the number one show in town back in the heyday. Too bad it won't work. The face of Toronto is decidedly different, if you want to grow a business in Toronto in 2010, you're going to need to capture fans who either weren't born or possibly weren't even Canadians in 1992. They sure as shit don't care who Cito Gaston is. They, like everyone else, want to cheer and celebrate and party on Yonge Street celebrating something new and real, not old and repackaged.

By my count there are two managers making victory laps in 2010: Cito and Bobby Cox. That they both managed in the 1992 World Series and both used to manage the Blue Jays are where the similarities end. Cox has taken great teams to the World Series and taken crappy teams to the playoffs. He took a team that lost Nate McClouth&mdash and missed him!&mdash into the last week of the season with a shot at the wildcard. Cito can make no such claim. One man has been a constant for his team, leading them to countless playoff appearances and disappointments. The other left his first tenure from the team in a huff, didn't receive another chance in the big leagues (right or wrong) and returned to oversee three good months of baseball. One is owed a victory lap, the other not so much.

If, as the hopefully still employed Jeremy Sandler points out, it is a "shot across the bow" of disgruntled players; I can't think of a worse strategy. Alienate the players in a difficult recruiting market at the best of times while ceding power to an increasingly aloof manager with nothing to lose or gain? That sounds a lot like suicide to me.