Friday, February 26, 2010

In Defense of Eric Hinske

Eric Hinske, former American League Rookie of the Year, made headlines (with a small-H) this week when he unveiled a rather large back piece of Japanese inspiration. Unsurprisingly, this reveal provoked a great deal of snark in the usually informed and slow-to-judge Internet world.

Probably my least favorite insult of all time was lobbed towards the now-heavily tattooed Hinske; the old "he's going to look stupid when he's 60/he'll regret that in a few years" line of lazy attack. To them I say the same thing Eric Hinske is saying with his choice of skin decoration: fuck you.

Eric Hinske is rich. Really fucking rich. He may not be A-Rod or Vernon Wells rich, but he's still wildly, wildly wealthy. Beyond both my comprehension and yours. Eric Hinske's earned in upwards of $17 million dollars over his baseball career, spanning better than 8 seasons. That's Fuck You money no matter how you look at it. All he had to do to get it was excel at vocation in which competition is so stiff, so dependent on one or two individual performances in the moment with no margin for error. Not to mention the ongoing war of attrition with his joints and tendons. An athlete like Hinkse has likely forsaken friends, family, commitments and a stable home life in pursuit of his dream to play professional baseball.

Now, with 8 years of service time, he has a new pursuit. The Pension.

If Eric Hinkse reaches 10 years of service time, he's set. He can retire back to Wisconsin or Chicago or somewhere else in fly-over country and do fuck-all. He can work as the defensive line coach at the high school down the street or he can sit on his porch and watch the checks roll in.

So while it's easy to point at Hinske's potentially regrettable tattoos and laugh, think about what you'll look like when you're 60. A lifetime working, making somebody else an extra 2% on their annual bottom line in hopes that you can get your bonus and buy a boat. Or a cottage. Or a motorcycle. Or a trip to Belize. Eric Hinske can do that shit tomorrow with the change in his couch.

Think his tattoo might look stupid if he puts on an extra 25 pounds? When you put on that extra weight, you're just another fat guy. He's former Major Leaguer Eric Hinske, former Rookie of the Year, two-time World Series Champ. The flat ass you accrued through 30 years of sitting in a stiff office chair and fighting your way through traffic every day? The stress of meeting arbitrary deadline X for new douchebag boss Y? Eric Hinkse will laugh in your sagging, wrinkled, browbeaten face.

Eric Hinske chose to cover his back with a warrior of some description. Maybe that's how Hinske sees himself? He needs to fight back the snakes, the young up-and-comers standing between him and his 10 year pension. Maybe he didn't think it through past "whoa, that looks badass." Either way, Eric Hinske sat in a chair for 40-odd hours and inscribed something into his skin. He paid $5000 for the honor. Just about the exact amount of time most people reading this spent at work this week. Coordinating Outlook schedules. Pouring over spreadsheets. Dealing with rude or snotty customers. Resizing images or revising color schemes to "match the client's vision." Writing game stories on a 20 minute deadline. Chances are you're not paid $5000 bucks to do it. Now who's laughing?

Image via Matt T & the AJC.

The Next Level

via Geoff Baker's Marinerblog.

This is former Jays beat guy Geoff Baker doing two things at once. Firstly, Baker shows off his on-camera skills as he somewhat nakedly pursues a higher profile in the talking head sportsworld. Good for him, I say. Get those Baseball Tonight screenminutes.

Secondly, it shows the Mariners going where &mdash if they aren't already &mdash the rest of the baseball world needs to go. Especially the Blue Jays. Focusing on health and wellness and building better baseball players is nothing short of good business for mid-level teams unable to bury expensive mistakes in the dumpster behind old Yankee Stadium. The Mariners and Blue Jays have no recourse but to do everything in their power to keep Felix Hernandez or Aaron Hill on the field at all times. If they can hold off the decline phase of aging players until they reach free agency, teams are only maximizing their already razor-thin return on investment.

If stronger hips and cores allow Ricky Romero and Brett Cecil to pitch more effective innings sooner and sooner, the team MUST pursue every advantage they can get. Look at all the recent discussion of Vernon Wells' (perceived) weight fluctuations. Had the Jays stepped in and mandated a better, more holistic health approach, who knows if he'd suffer from the same nagging injuries that continue to plague him.

The Jays and their concrete jungle-playing surface need to make this their business about 10 minutes ago. Which isn't to say they haven't; Alex Anthopoulos doesn't seem like a guy to leave a single stone unturned. We can only hope the Jays recognize an opportunity to gain a minute edge before it's too late.

I, for one, welcome our new age of cyborg baseball players. Long may they reign.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

More on Wells

With lineup-based self-flagellation stepping in for rosterbation now that the roster is what it is, the calls for Vernon Wells to step forward as the new leadoff hitter are growing louder. While his free-swinging, rarely walking ways aren't exactly conducive to the role, who on this team would be better? Nobody.

In his latest at mailbag, Professor Griff fields questions from the S1Ws about all matters Blue Jay. Griffin suggests Wells might prosper at the top of the order because Wells "could be aggressive and see more good pitches early in counts." Despite this flying in the face of conventional "the leadoff guy sees a lot of pitches so everyone on the bench gets a good look at the starter" thinking, might be crazy enough to work?

Griffin slightly twisted logic came in response to a question about Vernon Wells's at bats and the script they apparently follow. Fastball down the middle, slider/curve away. 0-2 count or pop-up, take your pick. If only it was that simple.

431 fastballs out of 684 plate appearances. That's kind of a lot? 63% of the time, of which our boy Vernon took 141 for strikes. That's enough to create a bias all right. What about the ones he lashed at? Can Vernon make hay early in the count?

Vernon put the first pitch into play 94 times in 2009, reaching base 26 times (5 home runs!) BABIP of .274 in a teeny tiny sample size. Enough to go on? Does Vernon fair better early in the count rather than later?

Sort of. Vernon reached base 65 times when putting the first or second pitch he saw into play, 66 times when he put the bat on the third or fourth pitches he saw. Considering his pitches per plate appearance clocked in at 3.43, this is pretty interesting. Vernon doesn't need to work the count but is equally likely to reach if he goes up hacking versus waiting a little bit before letting fire.

In the end, not too much of this matters. If Vernon leads off or hits clean up, he's duty-bound to disappoint. The future of this team is patient fat dudes. The patient, powerful shortstop continues to elude AA and everyone in the front office. Hopefully Wells can fire on all cylinders once again.

Guess. And guess again.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Dear Vernon Wells

Hey Vernon, I hope you had a nice relaxing off season. Glad to see you finally made it to camp, hopefully a kind clubby places this in your locker next to your hideous new hat.

Look Vernon, this is going to be a trying year for you. Another one. Which is too bad, as you seem like a pretty chill dude who doesn't need this stress and strain. So I want you to do two things in 2010: don't let the haters get you down, and remember how to hit left handed pitching.

They both seem so simple, yet so unattainable. The first one is especially tough considering you earn nearly as much money as all your teammates combined. This ordinarily wouldn't be too big a deal as you could pay a team of midgets to keep your unwashed teammates at a distance, but every single Blue Jays fan knows how much money your earn per annum. As such, they rain hatred down upon you in any and all situations. That I can't back, as it will only make you bitter and withdrawn. Bitter and withdrawn isn't the public persona of the veteran leader of a rebuilding team. Fun-loving Vernon is better for everyone involved. If Fun Loving Vernon is the only Vernon during the twilight of your career, you'll be fondly remembered by Blue Jays fans.

You see Vernon, you're important to this town and this team, whether you like it or not. With each passing day and each counting stat accumulated, your stature within the greater Blue Jays organization grows. You've been here a long time, the longest time of your teammates. I don't want to see you go out like your boss, burning every bridge in town. Additionally, people in Toronto are so wet for Americans to see Hogtown for the bustling cosmopolitan metropolis it is, if you leave town and never come back it will only hurt our collective ego.

Ah, your boss. A man &mdash Clarence as he's now known around here &mdash who does you zero favors. The curious decision to slot you into the cleanup spot before the season even starts reminds me (not unlike every single moment of daily life) of a Simpsons episode. The one when Homer becomes the coach of Bart's football team. The lack of a true Nelson on the Jays means you're likely to stay in the clean up spot for the year.

It's a role you're slightly underqualified for, especially based on recent results. Is it your shoulder, Vernon? Does bum equipment make it impossible to overcome your pre-disposition to pull everything?

I looked at every pitch you faced in 2009 in trying to find the answer. I focused on your at bats against lefties, since they gave you such a hard time. A wOBA of .267 against southpaws in 2009? Against a career mark of .370??? How could that be? For starters, pitching you away is a great place to generate outs. To wit:

Nearly 50% of the pitches you faced from lefties were on the outside 4 inches of the plate. And how did you fare on those pitches? Not well. A BABIP of .236. Four doubles, 1 home run, and 8 singles. A ground ball rate of 66%. An 8% whiff rate. There aren't even getting cute, nearly 66% of the pitches are fastballs. Basically: nothing good.

To be honest, I don't know what it means. It might just be your shoulder doesn't let you reach them and your great love of the roll over exacerbates it. At any length, maybe a new approach (your third in three years!) will help. Maybe The Manager will whisper some sweet nothings into your ear and you'll magically rediscover your old form.

All I really want to see is a solid year from you, Vernon. Reclaim some good will among the fanbase and serve as a solid bat in the middle of the lineup, for no reason other than your "every other year" template is so maddening. Remember how to hit left-handed pitching and rediscover a lost step in the outfield. Remember to have fun and don't let mouthy jackasses from Barrie get you down.

Daylife and shit with the Pitch F/X assist to Joe Lefkowitz.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Clarence Relents

According to the Mayor of Dunedin, Cito finally backed off his pledge to hit Hill and Lind in the 3/4 slots, instead returning them to their familiar 2 and 3 holes. Says the zen master:
Even though I said I would try it in spring training, then I'm messing with their minds. Hill would do it in a second, but he's just going to put more pressure on himself. I want him to be himself. When Lind gets here I'll make sure I talk to him.
Professor Griff then awesomely points out that Adam Lind arrived in camp a few weeks ago. Cito doesn't need a lot of help looking out to lunch on just about everything, but it's nice to see Griffin get in on the act.

Speaking of out to lunch, the blog post I lifted that quote from is called "Top Four in batting order set." Guess who's hitting cleanup? Vernon Wells, that's who. With Bautista holding the inside track on the leadoff spot. Hill, Wells, and Bautista taking the most at bats in the lineup? That's a lot of outs being made right there. News like that and pictures like this aren't exactly creating a lot of baseball excitement deep in belly these days.

Thank God I've got Ichiro around to keep me going.

Image courtesy of these awesome dudes.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Burn the Book or Turn the Page

Stop smiling, you aren't making this any easier!As stated many times before, both here and around the greater blogoverse, hating on Cito Gaston is a difficult proposition. So many of the memories are so positive, his kindly black dad aura remains quite difficult to hate. With Spring Training opening, he's going to start saying some typically wacky shit, so we need to be ready. We must arm ourselves against his wily charms.

Without spending any time around The Man(ager), we aren't privy to his mood swings or grudges, his distance from the team and associates, or any of the other negative shit that floats around but refuses to stick to Cito. What is a die-hard armchair GM left to do? Change the angle. Tear down the brand. Start again. Lose the moniker.

Cito is a pretty sweet name, but it isn't The Manager's birth name. His real name is Clarence, and that's how we're going to refer to him from now on. Clarence Gaston means nothing to you, he sounds like the could even be your slightly rude co-worker from Quebec. You'd have no problem second guessing Clarence Gaston. I sure as shit hope Clarence Gaston gets run out of town on a rail. Beat it Clarence, Cito doesn't live here any more.

It might be just that simple. If, in all of our collective armchair GM minds, Clarence botches the development of any of the precious young talent; putting a new face to the name might get us over the hump. It won't be easy, I'm having a hard time even finishing this post. But it is necessary. Riding into the sunset during a lost season isn't a fate befitting a manager of his supposed stature. Might as well grease the wheels of acrimony while we still can.

Daylife stole it from Reuters and I stole if from them

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Work-Addled Braindump

Things, as you may have noticed, are scant around here these days. This isn't by choice; I'm simply in a new job that doesn't sit me at my computer all day. Which sucks. I'm trying to bang out a few quasi-worthwhile posts in the near future, with SIERA getting a look-see, but in the meantime I'll ramble and your time &mdash marginally valuable as it is &mdash is about to get wasted.

On Hill's Spray Charts

Fangraph's author Dave Allen did his awesome visualization thing on uber-pull hitter Aaron Hill last week. The graph is really pretty, but I'm a little bit afraid for Hill's future. His diagram is a mirror image of all or nothing former reclamation project Carlos Pena. Is Hill on the way to becoming a right handed Three True Outcomes guy? You don't see too many of those, especially since Hill doesn't walk. Which would give him two true outcomes. Which is bad.

On Religion in Baseball

For some odd reason, I started thinking about the Blue Jays players who may wear their "faith" on their sleeve. Are there any hardcore Christian Jays? Who could be candidates? Of the existing core (aka guys I pretend to know anything about.) With Halladay gone I'm at a loss.

I could see "The Latin Guys" as it seems to come with the territory, outwardly anyway. Hill? Too California. Frasor? Too Chicago-ish, if that's a thing. Downs? Definite candidate Jars of Clay t-shirt ownership. Litsch is either too ghetto (product of the RBI program!) or not ghetto enough (uh, you know.) Marcum? Perhaps, he has the geography aspect down but is awfully grimy. Cecil? He's got an uppercrust vibe, I'm doubtful. Everybody's favorite marketing genius The Garfoose doesn't seem like a born again die hard, but one of his early contest quizzes was bible verses and it flopped with a thud in front of his largely godless Canadian heathen following flock.

Travis Snider's life thus far has been far too real for him to fuck with church. Lind? Probably. Johnny Mac? Catholics don't count. Vernon's seems too pragmatic, Overbay is a good bet based on nothing.

What's the point of this? I'm glad I don't know. Keep it to yourself. Nobody cares, if anything I'm put-off by proselytizing athletes. Just skate around in a circle and fuck off.

The Richmond Thing

Poor Scott Richmond. I totally wrote him off last year, then he shows signs of awesomeness, then he struggles as the year winds down. Now he's hurt. That sucks. I don't think he was a candidate to make the team this year but I'm sure his wealth of options would keep him bouncing up and down whenever the need arose.

The rest of the bullpen intrigues me. In my mind, Frasor is closer with Gregg & Downs sharing the 8th. Despite both their odd left/right splits, I think Frasor misses enough bats and throws enough strikes for the back of the pen. Also, if Josh Roenicke doesn't make the team, something is seriously wrong. Despite giving it no thought whatsoever, I think he might be awesome. I'm still not over Brandon League, but I'm trying.

Image courtesy of This Isn't Happiness

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Dumbest Thing You Won't Read Today

Picking on Bleacher Report "articles" isn't really my style. I'm not the kind of guy to push drunks in front of oncoming buses, nor am I interested in throwing pennies at the intellectually homeless. However, by some freakish act of SEO charity or somebody selling his eSoul to the internet pecking order high-ups, Bleacher Report posts are lumped in with my "Toronto Blue Jays" Google Alert ALL THE TIME. They're usually awful but generally easy to ignore.

Unfortunately, I can't let anyone write something as stupid as this and get away with it. Bleacher Report seems to circumvent the whole "meritocracy" ideal of the internet. Ill-informed and poorly constructed articles get a lot more eyeballs on B.R. because of their deal with the GoogleBot Devil. So, in a word, fuck them.

You see the link, but I encourage you not to click it. The author of the post offers a completely asinine point and it only gets worse from there. Sample the opening paragraph and imagine how much worse it gets:
A major league baseball insider recently revealed that the Blue Jays management's apparent obsession with defense is just part of the low-grade propaganda advanced to convince fans to purchase 2010 season tickets in the face of a 100-loss year.
Yup, defense sells tickets. Casual fans flock from miles around to watch &mdash with reverence &mdash a crisp relay throw and smooth transfers during a 4-6-3. Cynical Blue Jays management is capitalizing on fans great love of subtly and nuance for the one millionth time. Same old song and dance, I guess.

This poor, misguided fool goes on to quote fielding percentage rates and how teams with bad records sometimes have good fielding percentages, but not before comparing the pay scales for John MacDonald and Manny Ramirez and a three paragraph digression on the term "spazz" (Seriously). Apples to apples! Shocking exposé!

The most disappointing part of this entire post (aside from me reading and responding to it) is the still-prevalent disconnect between pitching and defense. There are far, far more baseball fans that see the game exactly like this and don't seem to grasp how one supports the other.

It's easy to assume that, when inside the internet baseball bubble, Fangraphs is common knowledge to everyone that owns a baseball glove and Bill James is demigod. Clearly it just isn't so.

The last line of this brainrape is telling and not to be ignored. The author (after bragging about all the women he's ever bedded) expresses his dismay over the Jays failure to put a contending team on the field "right now." He doesn't get why they don't sign Jermaine Dye immediately, he's a proven slugger!

It's really a shame. The golden age of baseball knowledge and appreciation is passing right by too many good fans. Hopefully this guy (and many like him) realizes it is all for the better. The stats AND the rebuilding, that is.

Image courtesy of The BS Report

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Now. Now is the Time.

The search for the ultimate fifth outfield drags on. And on. No matter how irrelevant The Player, somehow his name becomes attached to the Jays. Fears of a lefty dominant bench and field run rampant, so Anthopoulos and friends drag up any old name.

One name, the name of a right-hand hitting outfielder is still out there. A man that crushes lefties, hits for power and can play all three outfield spots. A man named Rocco.

What is there to lose? The more at bats he steals from Jose Bautista the better we'll sleep. Of all the unfriendly acts perpetrated against the fans of this fine baseball team this year, one good deed might go a long way.

Well, it isn't really a good deed in most eyes. But my eyes would sure appreciate it. Think of the exposure! You really can't lose.

Think of it this way: Rocco is, at his worst, half as shitty as Kevin Gregg. And three times better than Joey Gathright, Jeremy Reed, Jose Bautista, and Endy Chavez combined. You can't lose!

So do it Alex, do it for the children (mine.) Do it for the potential children/future fans (more of my offspring again). Do it because humility doesn't grow on trees and style isn't a function of tree trunk-legged future studs. Do it because it might make somebody happy. There won't be too much of that in your neck of the woods Alex, a little joy is a good thing.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Possible Redemption of Ricky Romero

Chin Chin Young RRLike any self-respecting baseball nerd, I held off for a good 20 minutes before diving into Fangraphs new splits feature with both feet. Oooohhh Lyle Overbay, as we all knew, is good against right-handed pitching. Quickly realizing I should use this new fount of knowledge for good, not evil; I turned to Ricky Romero. Would anything stand out? Is there a chink in the armor/reason for hope?

Of course there is! Ricky Romero, as it turns out, gave up a high number of home runs to left-handed batters. Everything about facing lefties stays with the conventional line of reasoning: he doesn't walk them, he strikes them out much more than right handed batters, he just served up a whole bunch of lefty tater tots.

"How many is a whole bunch?" you may ask. 10 in total, which represent one quarter of all the fly balls surrendered to left-handed hitters.

Wow. Shocking! I am shocked. How does one amass a HR/FB of 23.3% against same handed hitters while only surrendering home runs on 8.2% of righties? So weird. There must be something to this.

Firstly, fly balls are not Ricky Romero's thing. He's a ground ball man, through and through. Which is good. But why the dingers. Let's take a look at where this dingerballs came from. You are clicking, you are enlarging.

Nothing jumps out at me. Seven fastballs, three sliders. Four first pitches, two full counts. So what's the deal? Why did Ricky serve up so many? Missing his spot is the one explanation, ballpark factors could be another.

These ten home runs fly from but three ballparks: the Rogers Centre, Camden Yards, and New Yankee Stadium. Hmm! Two incredibly lefty-friendly yards and one deep, despairing hole in the earth, a chasm that brings pleasure to no man. Now that's something. A mild smidgen of hope.

No matter how hard I try to spin it there is no doubt Ricky Romero should see an improvement against lefties. He's too good a pitcher to continue watching balls directed skyward by deeply flawed humans land in the right field bullpen one out of every four occasions. A few more dying on the warning track (especially in grown-up ballparks), a slight uptick in seasoning (moxie! guile!) and Ricky Romero can be even better in 2010.

Thanks to Reuters via Daylife for the photo, Fangraphs for the split info, Hit Tracker Online for a few key details and my new lord and master Joe Lefkowitz for the Pitch F/X goodness.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Extra G Stands for "Gaming the System"

Everywhere I turn the Jays acquisition of Kevin Gregg is lauded as a great "depth move" and appears to be a tidy bit of business: pick up hard-throwing right hander with mixed results in the past at a reasonable price. Hey, worst case scenario, you're buying a draft pick. So sayeth Mr. Wilner:
No, he’s not a great closer, and there’s plenty of debate that he’s even a good one, but that’s OK. He’s an established, durable guy with a good arm who is only costing the Blue Jays $2.75 million. And he’s all but guaranteed to be a Type-B free agent next season. So, at worst, the Jays just spent almost $3 million to secure themselves another top-40 pick in 2011


When you can get a guy like Gregg - whose numbers are kind of enigmatic - for less than three million bucks, you do it, even if the only reason is to turn him into a sandwich pick a year down the road.
That line of thinking, while fiscally sound, bums me out. Rebuilding is one thing, playing kids and developing your talent is necessary part of the process. Grabbing a seemingly useless reliever solely for his ability to garner a draft pick is a little too cynical and a little too much a "fuck you" to the paying customers.

At no point do the people in the stands or watching on TV deserve to sit through The Kevin Gregg experience with a salvaged draft pick the only reward. Means to an end? You can't build Rome in a day but you can't build a dragon slayer out of middling draft picks. I may be intrigued as to how the sausage is made, but I don't make me pay for a front row seat on the kill floor.

There is no hope in routing for the Elias rankings to decide Kevin Gregg is among the top 40% of relievers, especially when the chance of a sandwich pick (Brett Cecil notwithstanding) contributing anything to the process is pretty slim.

Moves like this exhaust my ability or desire to "play along at home" like so many mother's-basement GMs. I don't have it in me to praise or even care for this move. Kevin Gregg sucks, and that is about it. He sucked before his velocity starting slipping and his began throwing his cheesedick curveball all the time to compensate. Kevin Gregg, the human sandwich pick, sucks the life from me and stretches my credulity more than the ownership trying to put the "multi" back into "multipurpose facility" ever could.

We shouldn't expect ownership to run the team like a toy; however treating the fans like pawns (Don't worry, it's a valuable depth move! Think of the sandwich picks!) is a little much. It's a business, yes. One contingent on the confidence an dollars of the consumer. You can only goad coins into the collection plate for so long before the parishioners demand a miracle.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

What Were You Doing?

On your 22nd birthday. Likely reveling in the awesomeness of youth; imbibing alcohol heavily and fooling around with a girl out of your league. A student winding down your undergrad studies perhaps. Wearing your unemployment beard with pride while wearily considering another night at a local bar named for animal anatomy.

What you certainly WERE NOT doing on your 22nd was carrying the hopes and dreams of thousands of middle-aged obsessives around. You certainly didn't Google your own name and find page after page of written decrying your inability to play right field, your inability to control the strikezone, or your inability to gel with The Benevolent Manger. You didn't have grown men &mdash many of whom proudly carry their weight across the midsection and likely bleed high fructose corn syrup &mdash question your conditioning and dedication to fitness. You didn't have anonymous weirdos calling you fat and deciding another year in the minors was "best for you" from their cubicles at Soulsuckers Inc.

You didn't have 11 major league home runs to your name and 101 strikeouts. You didn't own a .915 career minor league OPS. You, dear reader, definitely had something to prove at the minor league level. Travis Snider does not.

Let him play. In the Big Leagues. Every day. Let no Ruiz nor Delgado; no Damon, Lind, Wallace nor Gathright stand in his way. Let him play and grow and we'll all be better for it.

One other minor detail: when you were 22 years old, you hadn't received a $1,700,000 signing bonus upon graduation of high school. You didn't earn $401,400 last year and you sure as shit aren't going to earn a little more next year. He is. Go earn it Snider.

Update: fixed some grammar in the last paragraph.

Reuters Image courtesy of Daylife