Thursday, July 29, 2010

Prospect Pr0n - Barely Legal Edition!

Here we go, no bullshit. I don't know the first thing about Anthony Gose, just as I knew next to nothing about Brett Wallace. Being a sportsnerd on the Internet in the year 2010, it's easy to jump to irrational positions and fall in love — hard — without thinking clearly or seeing the whole picture.

Brett Wallace came with pedigree, an accomplished hitter with gap power and a sweet swing. We saw the home runs pile up in Vegas and sat back, content in the knowledge that the first baseman of the future was secure. Very few, if any, of us bothered looking much more deeply at Wallace or many of his numbers. The harsh, sober light of post-trade day opens eyes and invites scrutiny. Maybe his power wasn't what it should be, maybe his splits were unfavorable, and maybe a potential franchise cornerstone should absolutely demolish the PCL, leaving no question as to his viability at the next level.

Flipping him for a raw 19 year old confuses and frustrates those of us who began investing heavily in his cause two weeks into Lyle Overbay's early season slump. 19-year toolsy outfielders are difficult to project and nail down. Sure, you can throw pigtails and a cheerleader uniform on just about anyone (athleticism off the charts!) Toss them a lollipop and you're halfway to 10 to 15 (love his makeup!) But does that make the unpolished kid the grade A stuff, unsullied and untouched while the busty, heavy-set proven commodity has the look of someone whose seen one too many DPs?

The numbers for Gose aren't pretty but as a 19 year old in High A, I feel you can throw them out the window, especially for a converted pitcher. A player in the mold of Brett Gardner is incredibly valuable. Patient fly catchers don't fall out trees. But the patient part, that's where it gets tricky. Gose is still learning the strike zone and how to recognize offspeed pitches, we're told. Call me crazy, but I fall in the camp that believes a lot of that ability is damn near innate. This isn't tricking your body to stop smoking or start flossing, plate patience and knowing when to pull the trigger requires an ungodly amount of discipline and control. I'm not sure you can teach it, at any age.

I keep coming back to the Tao's comment section from earlier this week. I drew an analogy between building a baseball team and progressive blackjack betting systems. Place a bet: if you win, you up the stakes a little while feeding your stack. Win again, do the same. Incrementally, you build and build, capitalizing on hot streaks while minimizing losses during the cold snap.

Moving Wallace as his stock slips (but still maintains some value) may be an example of Anthopoulos and friends employing this very strategy. The Jays can't afford to ovecommit to a guy like Brett Wallace - a professional hitter with limited (2 or 3 Win?) ceiling. They keep building the stack. Wallace could be good and controllable, but finding a guy with his skillset is much, much easier than finding 5 tool guys at the Sally league or above.

Consider me firmly in the tank for AA, and willing to explain and justify away any doubts I may have. It's what we do. This team traded my three favorite players in the same season; I think I can roll with a few blue chippers shipping out from time to time.

Give the Old Mind Grapes a Quick Memory Squeeze

Travis Snider is coming back and, sad as it is that we all need reminding from time to time, Travis Snider is fucking amazing.

Looking at the Jays Hit Tracker page for more fuel for the towering inferno of Jose Bautista traDebate, I came across one tidy tidbit of information. Whose home run had the greatest speed off the bat this year? Front Foot Down Jose? Vernon "Rope the High Fastabll that Nobody Else Can Touch" Wells? Adam Lind - the Lower Middleclass Man's John Olerud? Aaron "Bat Speed is all I Got" Hill? Nope - it was the Great Big Pasty White Hope.

Not only is it the hardest contact on a team that prides itself on hard contact, it is the fourth highest number (119.7 mph) in baseball this year. Interestingly, it is ranked as a "just enough" tater by the HTO gurus. Which, to me, suggests a laser beam sent out force enough to knock the wall down had the ball not cleared it.

Please ignore the clueless pundits (there are many) opining that trading the 8th youngest player in the American League is a good idea. The man can and will rake. If that comes at the expense of some of Fred Lewis' playing time (or all of Edwin Encarnacion's), fine. So be it. Tomorrow starts today.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Hold on Tightly

One quick note about the growing cacophony of Blue Jays trade noise: we must temper our expectations. I said as much in the comments below Stoeten's excellent post yesterday - the haul for Jose Bautista will fall far, far short of your hopes and dreams.

Imagine, for a second, the Jays played in the AL Central and were nipping at the heels of the division leaders (stay with me). Needing one extra bat, the Pirates call up offering the services of Garrett Jones - an unproven commodity putting together a monster season. Would you give up Brett Cecil to chase the division title? Henderson Alverez? Shaun Marcum? No. Chance.

It doesn't take a very long memory to recall the major pieces exchanged for three of the best pitchers in baseball over the past few years: Matt LaPorta, Brett Wallace, Justin Smoak.

Translation: what the Jays get back for Jose Bautista is going to underwhelm you completely. The name won't come from one of KLaw's or Baseball America's top 100 lists, unless the GM in question is completely out to lunch.

The other, much more Canadian, side of this debate runs consistent with a twitter exchange I had with the fine purveyor of this morning. The comment linked is in reference to a rumored offer of Scott Downs for either Jesus Montero or Casey Kelly. If the Jays were close, would you trade a controllable impact bat for a relief pitcher, no matter how good? Unlikely.

While "the American media" bogyman and/or bogymen certainly underrate the abilities of Scott Downs; making big league trades is pretty delicate, with so many optic concerns and moving pieces. Snowing a big league GM, especially given AA's reputation for snowing GMs, is increasingly unlikely. It sucks but it is true.

If, from the other side, Alex Anthopoulos made any of the deals we're shocked and appalled to hear bounced around, we'd call for his head. The market for a 30 year old slugger — one is clearly and undeniably awesome — does not stand to materialize in a way that will satisfy anybody. The lack of a big name will disappoint those in the "his value will never be higher" camp, the same lack of a big name will crush the "don't trade him, he's all we've got" camp.

As for the "sign him to a team-friendly three year deal" people, I don't know what to tell you. Decline phase isn't anything to mess with. 32 year old sluggers hanging on to old player skills aren't really friendly, more molestey than anything.

Image courtesy of Flikr user Paulo Brandao

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


It isn't to say that I am against Jose Bautista, I simply approached both his hot September and incredible start to 2010 with extreme cynicism. Cynicism borne of 4 years worth of struggles and a dash of evidence to suggest what he did wasn't "special." I refused to get caught up in BAS-fever — not because of a selfish need to be right or a personal vendetta against the bearded wonder — but simply because it only made sense that his success was unsustainable.

Whelp, we're 100 games, 400 plate appearances and 28 home runs in at this point. Guess what? He's good. Be it a change in approach or whatever, Jose Bautista is a bona fide stud. Throw in his hilariously awesome arm (while ignoring his wholly average all-around play in the outfield) and you have a nice player.

At this point in the season, many of the "sample size!!1!" cries are quieting down. Over 400 plate appearances, it is safe to say much of what we're seeing is a legit reflection of his current skills and abilities. Which isn't to say he'll carry these rates forward into infinity - career years are career years. Using the incredibly valuable research of a guy named Pizza Cutter, we can look at certain rate and component stats and examine Jose's season for what it is: outstanding.

From the "When Samples Become Reliable Post" we know the following:
50 PA: Swing %
100 PA: Contact Rate
150 PA: Strikeout Rate, Line Drive Rate, Pitches/PA
200 PA: Walk Rate, Groundball Rate, GB/FB
250 PA: Flyball Rate
300 PA: Home Run Rate, HR/FB
500 PA: OBP, SLG, OPS, 1B Rate, Popup Rate
550 PA: ISO
Considering Jose Bautista has 405 plate appearances this year, let's examine his current rates against his career marks.
Swing% - 41.3% (40.5% career)
Contact - 80.5 % (79.8% career)
Strikeout Rate - 21.7% (24.2% career)
Line Drive - 15.5% (15.3% career)
Pitchers per Plate Appearance - 4.11 (4.13 career)
Walk Rate - 13.3% (11.3% career)
Groundball Rate - 31.0 % (40.1% career)
GB/FB - 0.58 (0.90 career)
Flyball Rate - 53.4% (44.7% career)
Home Run per Fly Ball - 18.9% (12.1% career)
Gee, what sticks out to you? The batted ball data is slightly crazy in terms of its break from the norm. It does suggest a change in approach, the Citocity Way blasting through like a bull in a hanging slider shop. The increase in fly balls not only fuels the precipitous falloff in BABIP but figures to keep it suppressed as well. The walk rate? Exceptional, I can't say I'm anything but impressed.

Again I will offer the warning: this does not suggest Jose Bautista will continue this next year and into the free-agent future. It just means that what we see above "isn't a fluke" in the random fluctuations sense of the word. Are they "fluky" as in unrepeatable? Will holes in his swing grow in time? What if, just like teammate Aaron Hill, the balls start falling in front of the warning track rather than just beyond it?

Even with a good-sized arbitration raise, it is worth the Jays time to roll the dice for next year and figure out what the 2011 version of Bautista looks like. Should he keep walking and clouting and making crazy contact, it wouldn't be too surprising. If he puts together a strong first half, either trade suitors or Type B designation (fingers crossed) awaits.

Reuters photo via Daylife, data via Fangraphs and Baseball Reference

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Diamondbacks Just Sucked all the Fun out of the Trade Deadline

The very loud internet buzzing around the Blue Jays, both this week and last, is all about trades. Who goes, who stays, who cares? Obviously, hardcore fans live and die with the various (empty) rumors exploding from twitter. Usually without merit, it sure is fun to get all excited for future rosterbation. Sadly, most of the twitter bulletins are more along the lines of "Heard this: the Dora the Explorer theme song is catchier than Tijuana VD1."

Two separate events figure to deprive Jays fans from squealing with delight this deadline, I fear. Both of these things center around GMs not wanting to look like idiots; I can't say that I blame them as usually costs them their job in the aftermath. Firstly: Alex Anthopoulos is getting a reputation as a pickpocket. No over matched GM clinging to wins and ERA wants a free trip to the cleaners on the Blue Jays team bus.

Which brings us to the debacle in the desert. The D-Backs haul for Dan Haren is, at best, pathetic. Stockpiling left-handed strike throwers as the Snakes may be, it doesn't change the fact that they get a left-handed fifth starter for a top-line pitcher with two manageable years remaining on his existing contract. Consider the savage beatings handed out in the press (free of charge!) to the AZ front office; many other teams stand to take a step back and reconsider their actions.

It seems like a cyclical thing: prospects and young players are coveted out of fear of giving away too much. The market dries up, somebody overpays, the flood gates open. Then the prices drop again and an alert GM thieves his way into a tidy haul. Consider this Haren trade the soap dropping in the GM prison shower - all the buttocks are clenching and nobody plans to give it up for free.

This doesn't bode well for a team shopping middle relievers and one-year wonders. I don't think the Jays would trade Jose Bautista for anything. The desired haul for Scott Downs is a good place to start, since his Type A designation gives the Jays all kinds of leverage. Alex Anthopoulos seems smart enough to not worry about the silly "don't trade within your division" thinking as Downs' A status means a team like Yankees or Red Sox would be unlikely to re-sign him anyway. Frasor, Camp, Janssen are all nice arms but limited upside, in my mind, have a much greater impact on the type of farmhand offered in return.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Litsches get Stitches

Look, beating up on poor Jesse Litsch isn't fun. I get no pleasure from knocking around the pudgy red-headed kid. Good people? I'm sure of it. A decent athlete? Relative to his cup size, of course! A big league pitcher? Mehhh, I'm not convinced.

Maybe that isn't fair, he IS a big league pitcher, making 58 starts over 4 seasons in The Show. Not me nor anyone else is going to take that away from him. My biggest beef with the Jays continually trotting out Litsch is his ceiling. This is it, isn't it? He can be good in very specific circumstances, but completely vulnerable in nearly every other instance.

A line in Mike Wilner's latest blog entry got me on this line of thinking. Quoth the Wilner:
He (Marc Rzepczynksi) may be the odd man out on Tuesday when (if?) Travis Snider gets recalled, especially given the way Jesse Litsch has pitched lately, but the landscape may change dramatically between now and then, with the trade deadline approaching.
The way Litsch pitched lately? The same as always. Yes, Jesse Litsch put together a good start in Kansas City, holding the Royals to 1 run on EIGHT hits in 5 2/3 innings. Zero walks and zero strikeouts. After giving up two home runs in each of his previous two starts, Litsch managed keep the ball in the yard against the Royals. Which would be good if not for one key detail:


The Royals, charitably, suck. Awful. A punchless lineup of slap-hitters (and Billy Butler) with no power whatsoever. I defy you to find a better match for Jesse Lisch's skills and abilities. That isn't a good start, pitching well against the Royals counts for nil in my book. Let's not forget the heavy air and vast outfield expanses.

The Royals offensive ineptitude nearly drove me to drink this week. It's bad enough that their poor fans have to deal with it every day, but Buck and Tabby blowing smoke up the long-dead ass of Ewing Kaufman nearly pushed me over the edge. "This is Royals baseball!" they exclaimed as the Royals registered two non-consecutive singles. THE ROYALS ARE A TERRIBLE OFFENSIVE TEAM.

Their strategy is one to avoid at all costs. Remember a few weeks ago when I discussed the correlations between various hitting metrics and runs scored? THE ROYALS ARE THE LIVING EMBODIMENT OF THIS VERY RESEARCH. Hitting for a high average does not generate offense. It just serves to piss me off and waste my precious time. Which, as this post should tell you, is in serious demand.

Image of Listch in the dark courtesy of Reuters via Daylife. Note: those dark shadows IN NO WAY contributed to his decent start against the Red Sox

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Fred Lewis and That Nagging Feeling

Will you look at the clock? It is time for my quarterly worry session over the future of Fred Lewis!

Maybe his combination of fortune and misfortune on Tuesday night is sticking in my head, but I (again) have concerns over the ongoing of viability of Fred Lewis playing every day. Tuesday night he picked up a lucky double after Scott Podsednik misplayed a fly ball, likely due to the video boards recently installed at The K. Later in the same game, Lewis laced bullet line drives on consecutive at bats, directly at the first and/or second baseman. He drew a walk so his day was a success; but still I worry.

There are positive signs in Fred Lewis' monthly splits. His walk rate rises each month, all the way to 11.4% here in July. His K's are on the way down too, with a season low 17% in July. Still, his swing rates and contact patterns show a man deep in the heart of an old fashioned Cito-ing.

Fred Lewis' out of zone swings are a career high of 27%, way up from 18/19% range of his last two seasons. He swings at more pitches overall and makes for more contact out side of the zone. Should we be worried?

Lewis came with the calling card of a patient gap-hitter, a speedy guy with a high BABIP. More infield pop ups and fewer infield hits yet he still outpaces his expected batting average on balls in play (.351 BABIP, .323 xBABIP.) There is a slump waiting to happen wearing number 15 for the Jays.

A slump he can't afford, considering the imminent return of Travis Snider and the large sunk cost of Edwin Encarnacion still moping around. As you might imagine, I'm pretty content with Fdot's offensive output thus far. The stolen bases are coming with a little more regularity (5 in July!) also nice to see.

Hopefully Lewis bounces back quickly from his ankle injury as he and Yunel Escobar make quite the tandem. Maybe, just maybe, having a legit number 2 guy behind him will free Lewis to swipe bags and take walks with impunity. Whatever that's worth.

Fred Lewis image courtesy of the goddamn Air Force.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Final Piece of the Kevin Gregg Triforce

Vintage Kevin Gregg is not yet on display in Toronto, but it is only a matter of time. Not vintage like the supercool leather jacket your dad used to pull trim at the Gasworks back in the day, vintage as in "shitty like we all thought he was."

Kevin Gregg's 2010 is all about regression. Came out of the gate like an animal, striking out 14 while walking only 1 in April. The wheels steadily came off as the weeks rolled by until his most recent struggles. The culprit? Walks. Lots and lots of walks. Walks to shitty hitters, as I detailed yesterday. But Gregg's single greatest weakness is yet to surface, meaning plenty of fireworks for the rest of the season. Get ready for the tater tots.

Kevin Gregg serves it up more often than your kid sister after 3 Bud Light Limes. Gregg's great love of the gopher ball is what landed him in Toronto for a song in the first place. So far this year he's kept it in the yard, but fear not, it won't last.

With the walks will come a long, important talk with head cheerleader Bruce Walton. Gregg will take the mound with purpose, determined to throw strikes and challenge hitters. And challenge them he will, no doubt. Except the challenge won't be "here's my best stuff, do with it what you will", it will be more along the "I bet you can log a better time on the Tater Trot Tracker than the guy who just hit one so hard the ball peed a little." It's going to be ugly, yet glorious. This will not end well, but then again, it rarely does.

Prospect Porn is Not For the Faint

In all the hustle and bustle, a couple interesting tidbits on some of the Jays best young arms came down last week. The Futures game featured a few Jays farmhands, including Next Big Thing Henderson Alvarez. First piece of exciting information: Alvarez throws damn hard. Only one outing in an unusual circumstance, but the same held for all the other guys on the list. Weee, smoke! That's good, right?

Hold your horses, Jeremy Greenhouse of Baseball Analysts is about to stomp down on your youth and will to live.
Henderson Alvarez of the Blue Jays is currently starting, and impressing, in High-A, but to me he profiles more as a right-handed reliever. His best pitch appears to be a sweeping low-80s slider, and his hard fastball runs away from RHBs, so unless his changeup develops into something, Alvarez looks like a sinker/slider guy out of the pen.
Annnndddd wilt. That's no fun, at all. Sinker/slider guy out of the pen? Great. Jason Frasor is the next big thing. Why is it so hard to retire left handed batters? Scott Richmond should start a support group in Dunedin.

What about giant Canadian Trystan Magnuson?
Trystan Magnuson's best pitch is a cut fastball that comes in at 88, moving across the plate. He also throws a split-finger fastball at 88. And his actual fastball is only a bit harder at 92-93, which makes for a unique repertoire. I don't know how much success it'll have.
Unique repertoire is code for "difficult to pigeonhole", in my mind. Is Magnuson one good offspeed pitch away from climbing the ladder? Projectability means a lot when it comes to the kids, I've learned. Taking minor league numbers at face value is dangerous, as is dismissing them out of hand. Where these two guys fit in or end up is anyone's guess, but a hard throwing guy and a unique 3 pitch mix guy are certainly decent places to start.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Oriole Way

Anytime you can go into Baltimore and sweep the O's, you have a reason to celebrate. Like the rising of the Earth's yellow sun, the Orioles go out and lose themselves a ballgame nearly every day.

It isn't by accident either, the Orioles lose in ways you cannot really fathom. Consider Saturday's game, the sight of the now infamous spat between Clarence and closer Kevin Gregg. Obviously Gregg didn't have his best stuff, having loaded the bases with a mere one run lead. One integral part of that half inning that, against nearly any other team, could have changed the face of that entire ball game.

Gregg enters the game and proceeds to make All star whipping boy Ty Wigginton look downright foolish. Then it all changes. Gregg accomplishes the Herculean task of walking Adam Jones. Jones' lack of plate discipline is a bit of a bone of contention among the astute Orioles blogosphere. Jones has 11 total walks in nearly 400 plate appearances this year, good for a Cito-approved 2.9% walk rate. Warning sign number one that Gregg just ain't right, though their battle was a long one. Let's give credit to Jones here, just to be pricks.

Gregg then walks Felix Pie, not quite as unlikely as Jones but something that still takes effort. Real, concerted, shitty effort. Now Gregg is on the ropes, two walks to two so-so offensive players meaning the winning run now stands on first base with one out. In steps Scott Moore, a quad-A tweener who is most certainly not Brian Roberts, nor will he ever be.

With a struggling closer on the mound and the winning run on first base, what does mighty Scott Moore — he of 13 career extra base hits — opt to do? Swing at the first pitch he sees. Moore swings at the first pitch and meekly flew out to left field. One more important thing to note: this was Scott Moore: PINCH HITTER. Pinch hitting, cold off the bench, swung at the first pitch. Amazing.

Somewhat shockingly, Scott Moore got the start on Sunday, walking once while shouldering the scorn of his teammates, if they had any brains whatsoever. Sadly for Nick "Roccopoulos" Markakis, the Orioles have none brains. None. He is the tallest midget and it is a damn shame.

Blue Jays fans should take Moore's gift and remember that the Jays won on Saturday. The Orioles did not. They lost. They started Jeremy Guthrie this weekend and guess what? He gave up a home run. It has been written, he's the worst starter in the American League. For this, and for the arrival of Yunel Escobar, let us all be thankful.

AP photo courtesy of Daylife.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Intangibles of the Improbable

Seeing Tim Collins traded sucks for a lot of reasons, the ongoing success of the Toronto Blue Jays being somewhere towards the bottom. Collins strikeout numbers suggest he has a future in the major league; the brightness of which is up for debate.

Tim Collins seems to be an interesting bi-product of an strange age in baseball fandom. Of all the people ruing his departure yesterday, very few (myself included) have ever seen him pitch or know much about him. His low-level strikeout numbers make him an anomaly, his tiny stature makes him a legend. It makes us root for him and hopefully his success continues as he climbs the ladder.

Everybody was bummed when Timmy 2.0 was lumped into the trade, but let's be real: he has a limited shelf life. I envision (not project or anything tangible, I just get a sense) that he'd be amazing once through the league. Some Eichhorn in '86 type shit, but then that'd be it.

But Tim Collins represented a whole lot of fun because of his (implied) ability to overcome the odds. A little guy who didn't just scrap and hustle his way into the show, a guy that got there because he is good. Those are fun stories, and eye-popping strikeout numbers move the needle and quicken the heartbeat.

Blair Leaps in Judgement

Other than bemoaning the loss of a possible one-year wonder, I haven't offered much on the Escobar/Gonzalez trade. Let me codify my feelings by taking my favorite Jays(ish) writer to task on a couple points that stuck out in his column earlier this week.
But the Braves have added a superior defensive shortstop having a blistering offensive year and playing to guarantee an option year in 2011. Gonzalez is a shortstop with postseason experience who, if he continues his offensive pace in the National League, will help address a worrying lack of offensive production out of Chipper Jones and Brian McCann, instead of exacerbating it as Escobar did.
While it is true that Alex Gonzalez is an excellent defensive shortstop who saved more than his share of outs, I wouldn't say in any way he's superior to Yunel Escobar. Superior compared to average, but Escobar is a defensive stud. Both UZR (4 runs saved this year, 4.4/150 for his career) and Dewan's +/- (a whopping 21 this year, +14 average over the last three seasons) favor the newest Blue Jay.

To me this is an example of contorting the truth to solidify your point. Yup, Alex is great in the field, but I defy you to find me anybody who thinks he's better than Esco. I don't believe you can.

The "if he continues his offensive production" line is a tricky one. Does anyone believe he will? Considering the way balls fly out to left in Toronto and die in the thick, hateful air in Atlanta, expecting Gonzo to continue mashing dingers and little else is wishful at best.

It goes on to be a classic "these three months are everything/these three months are nothing." Those who wish to paint the Jays as winners point to the track records over time, others look at the recent results and say "landslide." The truth is in the middle, if it exists at all. Like the Rolen/Glaus swap, crazy shit can happen and the pieces involved are three dimensional. Hopefully some of these moving parts fall into place in Toronto for once.

Image courtesy of Robin Thom's Flickrstream

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Fruit Hangs Low

Two days off during the All Star break? How must one fill time and column space? Why listicles, of course! The National Post's Jeremy Sandler clearly took the task of generating letter grades and mid-season awards as you or would take to washing the dishes or raking the yard.

Mid-season awards are a decent way to spark a tiny bit of debate, mostly around the criteria used for said selections. Jeremy Sandler nips this in bud by seemingly eschewing criteria all together. Allow Sandler to explain why he feels Ubaldo Jimenez deserves the NL Cy Young while Roy Halladay deserves nothing because Chase Utley broke his thumb.
All the sabermetricians who argue wins don't matter take note: a league-average 10 wins in place of Jimenez's 15 would drop Colorado from breathing down San Diego's neck in the NL West to a .500 team in fourth place...Innings leader Roy Halladay (10-7, 2.19 ERA) is the NL pitcher owed an apology by his offence. He has two complete game losses and a nine-inning shutout for which he got a no decision.
Hardly a sabermetrician, I still must argue that wins do matter as they're the thing we use in the standings to tell which team is better than the other teams. Team. It's a team stat and this is an individual award. Halladay is quite rightly owed an apology by the Phils worsening offence, yet Yoo-Baldo gets all the credit for his Rockies picking him up? I dunno. Besides, this is Josh Johnson's award to lose and no amount of HR/FB suppression will let Ubaldo take it away.

The Jays grades are tough to figure. John Buck gets an A+ thanks to his 14 home runs and 43 RBI, "on pace for personal highs." Adam Lind gets a F for his 12 home runs and 40 RBI, because those are sad numbers for a talented hitter. The lesson here: everyone wins with lowered expectations.

One would think Vernon Wells lackluster fielding over the last few years would bring the expectations to the basement, and one would be right. Sandler insists Wells's defense is in decline but the numbers suggest otherwise.

UZR finds Wells still below average but not to the degree of the last two years while Dewan's plus/minus has Vernon 5 runs to the happy side. Considering the depths of his hamstring and shoulder woes, this is at least decent news.

All in all, the only thing more forced and pointless than mid-season report cards and hypothetical halfway awards are blog hit pieces fisking those articles. The circle of life!

Thanks to Seasonal Chef for the obvious image

Just Remember, Part II

The Home Run Derby sucks, but the All Star game is — warts and all — awesome. Scott Rolen goes first to third then Matt Thornton enters the game; giving rise to extended Inception trailers? That is my idea of a good time.

Another thing to just remember: I called Joe Girardi a clown yesterday, way before he went out and proved his clowndom to the world. Remember to check out the Walkoff Walk live All Star glogcast - a cast of thousands riffing cheaply on whatever wanders before us like overfed veal calves.

Reuters image courtesy of Daylife.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Just Remember

Though I'm not entirely comfortable with the roll of villain, I embraced it last night amidst the deafening howls of injustice over Jose Bautista's exclusion from the home run derby. Outrage!

Do you see the picture above? Do you remember when ESPN aired the clusterfuck of the ages, hosted by a "ball-less, drooling sycophant Jim Gray?" Do you think ESPN is in the "doing what's right" business, or the "selling lots of adspace" business? What makes any of the outraged Blue Jays fans, who seemingly cannot wrap their heads around the politics of excluding Jose Bautista from the home run derby, think that ESPN suddenly had a change of heart on the weekend?

Before we get into the vagaries of who or should be included in the backbackbackbackbackstravaganza, consider the following (All Stars in italics):

Alex RiosWhite Sox3.3
Ben ZobristRays3.1
Shin-Soo ChooIndians2.8
Brennan BoeschTigers2.7
David DeJesusRoyals2.7
Magglio OrdonezTigers2.6
J.D. DrewRed Sox2.4
Jose BautistaBlue Jays2.3

I don't mean to be a dick, but there are several outfielders who could make the case that Jose (and/or Vernon) don't deserve to be at the All Star game. I am not one of those people, and it has nothing to do with any personal stake I (apparently) have in casting doubt on the validity of Bautista's skills.

Personally, I think Jose will get plenty of burn tonight; as he's a valuable utility guy who plays multiple positions. Hopefully that clown Girardi sees it that way. Let's do right by the BAS and appreciate that he's in, not angrily spew over his exclusion from a drawn-out Bermanfest.

WAR data courtesy of Fangraphs, image courtesy of

Monday, July 12, 2010

All Star Break Thoughts

Heading into the break, I'm surely not alone in wondering where the first half of the season went? Not where it went wrong, but where it went in general. 89 games down already? Crazy. That means there are fewer Blue Jays games remaining than we've already seen. That's a bummer.

You know what else is a bummer? The Jays offense. Sure, home runs are fun and all, but the good people at Sportsnet put up a simple graphic during yesterday's game that sort of blew my mind. The Jays offense, for all its ding-donging, is performing worse than last year. As a team the Jays have scored 30 runs fewer than they scored at the exact same point last year, despite hitting an extra 35 home runs. That is....messed up.

How is that possible? Oh RIGHT, the outs. Making all the outs. Hitting the solo jone runs and what not. It got me thinking: which stat has the most direct relationship to runs scored? Rather than do actual, valuable research, I think I'll make a graph!

Here's what I did: I took all runs scored totals for each team thus far in 2010 and graphed it against their on-base, slugging, OPS, and weight on-base average (wOBA.) Then I added a trendline and took the R-squared or coefficient of determination. Basically I'm using this small, noisy sample to show which rate has the strongest relationship to runs scored. The higher the number (closer to 1), the stronger the relationship between that stat and scoring runs. Hardly scientific or ironclad, but worth a look either way. The results are below, click to enlarge.

Man, those nerds aren't just talking out of their collective, square-shaped asses. Does the Jays offense reflect this? They rank 15th in runs scored, 27th in OBP, 2nd in slugging, 9th in OPS, and 12th in wOBA. The conclusion? Despite what we all learned as starving bachelors; man cannot live on tater tots alone.

A couple interesting asides: the Jays are victims of the worst BABIP in baseball, though luck isn't the only one to blame. The incredible number of fly balls they hit make them easy to defend efficiently. Also having one of the lower line drive rates in baseball makes it hard to get people on base. The HR/FB% is super high but, as I've mentioned before, that might be by design.

The other exciting finding from this little experiment has to do with batting average. I gave good old baseball card average the same treatment against runs scored, and guess what I found? A R2 of 0.4815. A mere 60% of the relationship between OPS, wOBA & runs scored. This surely isn't news to anyone who'd be interested in this kind of information but it certainly lays waste to the value of average for basically anything, doesn't it?

Image courtesy of Happy Hour Valley, data courtesy of Fangraphs

The Wellness Train Rolls On

By virtue of patience and remembering that interacting with other people can be fun, I made my way to a BBQ with a whole pile of old friends on Saturday afternoon. After being the most excited guy on the subway on the way there, I heard a couple interesting things. The first was a quote I submit without comment: "They're from Barrie, they eat cheeseburgers every day."

A couple friends of friends provided the second thing. Turns out a two members of the Toronto Maple Leafs inter-county team were in attendance, one of which is an old friend of my host. I got to talking to one dude and it turns out he played a couple years in the Jays minor league systems, both at Auburn and another short-season stop. Following up a comment-section discussion from earlier this summer, I set out to ask him about nutrition in the minor leagues. Thrusting on my quasi-reporter hat I asked how they were treated at the outset of their careers.

His answer (paraphrased): other than a short tutorial in the spring, the only time players hear anything about their eating is if they gain so much weight that it impacts their performance.

I then asked him about the way they're treated; if the team treats bonus babies better or differently. His (shocking) answer: of course! They have a vested interest in the kids with big price tags attached to their names. In his words "some guys don't even get a shot, they're just there to fill out the rosters." Sad but true, likely with no small amount of autobiography.

The other thing that struck me was how big these dudes are. Both pitchers, they had chests so far around you could go over Niagara Falls in their rib cages. Big, thick dudes who got close and now play semi-pro for love of the game or whatever. They also said people are crazy, as random dudes start adding them on facebook and send along weird messages. I don't think I need to tell anyone reading this: don't be that guy.

Image Courtesy of This is Why You're Fat

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Détente Cycle

Just under two years ago, I publicly copped to going soft on the Yankees. The impending closure of old (real) Yankee Stadium and the Mo factor combined with the Yankees single season of mortality made it easy to focus my hate on the Red Sox.

Well, two years and three four? aces later, guess what? The Yankee hate is in full swing while the Red Sox limp into down, bloodied but unbowed. Maybe it's the bum rap given to the nerd-friendly "pitching and defense" offseason approach, but I feel pretty bad for the Red Sox. The fans don't travel like they did and my standard issue love of Adrian Beltre softens up my hatred for the Irish.

Jon Lester? Love him to pieces. Dan Bard? Be mine. Pedroia & Yook? You can still die in separate, non-consecutive fires. Did you know Daisuke Matsuzaka directly translates to "great sponge of all fun?" But, after all, this team willingly employed Rocco? How could I hate that?

Stepping into the Friday Rockout Void

The Tao's counterpoint to this post left a gaping hole in the Friday Rockout universe. So I'll step up and offer The Bronx "They Will Kill Us all Without Mercy" No subtext, just an awesome song from a great record.

Image courtesy of the Deist Review

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Ice Ages

On consecutive nights this week, the Rogers Centre showcased two very different pitchers. One who does nearly everything right, one who might be at the end of his leash.

Marc Rzepczynski pitched wonderfully Wednesday night, striking out 7 against only one walk. He missed bats, he changed speeds, he induced ground balls. It was awesome. I'm unabashed in my support/belief in Rzepczynski and last night went a long way in explaining why. Other than the two home runs he surrendered; he was great.

Jesse Litsch, deep in his post-Tommy John hangover period, was the opposite. Litsch was bad, as he has been all season long. Jesse Litsch gets nobody out, no matter how hard he tries. His 7 strikeouts in 24.2 innings thrown in 2010 make for a tidy 2.55 K/9! That's downright awful, even for "heave-it-and-hope" Jesse.

See, strikeouts are important. Jeff Sullivan of SB Nation and Lookout Landing summed it up nicely yesterday in reference to Brandon "holy shit, Anthopoulos made Jack Z his dog's bitch" Morrow
But you can afford some walks when you strike out more than a quarter of the batters you face. Striking out that many batters limits their opportunities to do damage...While strikeouts aren't everything, they can help make up for an awful lot of shortcomings
Everybody has shortcomings. Marc Rzepczynski sometimes loses sight of the plate and offers up a few more gopher balls than you'd like. But Litsch? If the Listch isn't exactly right, he gets covered to all corners of the yard.

Remember when B.J. Ryan came back from Tommy John and begged, borrowed, and stole 32 saves? It took him a while to find his spots and his velocity and movement were way down, but he was okay? Doing that for one inning a night, needing to con only three hitters into retiring themselves is one thing. Trying to get all the way through a major league lineup twice is something else entirely.

Jesse Litsch needs to go away - soon. Not that I wish him ill, he just doesn't have what it takes at this time. Usually the kind of guys who can get away with really low K rates are sinkerballing maniacs. Litsch may throw that slutter of his until the precious new tendons deep in his elbow are ground to a fine paste, but he has a long way to go to reach maniac-level status. See, that's the thing with barely above replacement-level fifth starters: it doesn't take much for someone better to take your job.

Why that video? No reason, it's simply the funniest thing I've ever seen in my life. It is perfect. Not many things are. Sorry, Lebron-fatigue (on both sides) makes me wistful.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Knowledge is Power

The good men at Mop Up Duty wrote an interesting post yesterday about the rise of the power pitcher. Callum provides a laundry list of big-armed hurlers known to touch triple digits on the handy stadium radar gun. Despite taking spurious shots at Brandon League, the make a fair observation. My questions is why?

Hard throwing guys getting chance after chance is nothing new to baseball, but perhaps the volumes of research done over the past 15 years or so is coming home to roost. The value of missed bats, ground balls, and strikes thrown causes a selection bias of Strasburgian proportions.

While finding phenoms in the rough is no easier now than before, the combination of better training, more specified coaching at younger ages, and baseball's age of enlightenment funneling these pitchers — let's call them "good" — to the big leagues in record numbers.

Impossibly tall athletes like Ubaldo or Halladay or whomever are steered towards the the fine art of pitching. Baseball grooms pitchers with very specific skills sets, emphasizing very specific outcomes (grounders, whiffs) where once guys (may have) gotten by on guile, reputation, and harder-to-pin-down soft skills. Such training isn't quite available to hitters, their's being an reactive event to the pitcher's initiation of the action.

That isn't to say focusing on big arms and big whiffs is a new phenomenon. But perhaps the ability to drill down to the bare essentials causes the upswing in pitcher performance. As this Denver Post piece on "The Year of The Pitcher" points out, the type of offensive players and offensive strategies (Ks aren't the end of the world) make it much easier to rack up big strikeout numbers. Or maybe it's just a cyclical thing, one coinciding with a drug shakedown inside the sport. Whatever, it's fun to watch.

Midsummer SuperNova

If you have any sense, you read the Tao's pro-All Star post long ago. If not, do so now. Twice even. The Tao makes a impassioned case for the All Star game and for not losing sight of what makes us all fans. And he's right. Except for one sad little thing: I don't like the All Star festivities because it's bad TV.

Bad TV is a hell of a thing. Overproduced, underwhelming broadcasts choke full of so much hyperbole and time-filling garbage as to overshadow the actual thing I'm supposed to be enjoying.

The NFL is largely bad TV, unless you use that TV as an excuse to do scores of other, awesomer things. To sit and watch a full football game is an excruciating experience unless your home is awash in beer, friends, and greasy snack foods.

Much like the All Star Weekend Spectacular. It's an ESPN property now, meaning all the stuff that once made it fun and exciting is now scrubbed clean and/or shoe-horned into every moment of television time.

The home run derby is much worse, but as a made of TV extravaganza, I have a hard time taking it in. The Bermanisms get turned to 1000, the steadicam shots add nothing (which is really hard to do; steadicam should be impossible to fuck up), the boring interviews and the interminable round after round coverage and the endless commercial breaks don't exactly make for appointment TV.

Hey, I realize the kids gotta eat and networks need to make money, but quality of that being broadcast suffers when the event is an exhibition game at best. The attempts to legitimize it while grafting weirdly inclusive rules and working extra hard to keep the egg of Bud Selig's face don't really excite me. Watching Matt Thornton strike out Brian McCann, David Wright, and Joey Votto1 Ryan Howard in order en route to another American League victory certainly does excite me, I simply can't handle the 4 hours of hype and ESPYs promos required to get there.

1 - Yeah right, Votto will stick'em.

Image courtesy of the Mud Monkey's Photostream on Flickr. It's awesome, huge thanks to them.

Friday, July 2, 2010


What you see above is the first (FIRST!!1) comment on my Fangraphs Q & A session with the esteemed Carson Cistulli1. While I certainly don't believe I whine about being a Blue Jays fan, "Kyle" brings up an interesting point: how much worse off are the O's than the Jays?

On the surface, one would say "a lot." The Orioles are abjectly awful and have been for years. But consider the criteria we use for success, consider the complaints generally lobbied against the Jays. No playoffs since 1993? The Orioles made the playoffs in both 1996 & 1997, the latter club winning 98 games. Sure, they haven't won even 80 games since then, but if your thought process is Playoffs or Bust; what's the difference?

The Rogers Dome is a sterile, unlovable concrete toilet bowl. Camden Yards is the blueprint and standard measuring stick for all retro themed baseball-specific playgrounds. Who's ahead here?

The Jays got 12 glorious years of Roy Halladay greatness, the Orioles had 300-odd seasons of demigod Cal Ripken anointing the sores on Dukie's feet. The RSN and Yankees take over both buildings so that's a wash.

The Orioles spend money on free agents (with generally hilarious results), if you listen to Jays Talk callers the Jays haven't done that since Jack Morris. The Jays win scads of "meaningless" games but that certainly doesn't sate the "meaningful baseball" hordes.

So what's the difference? Would you rather be the excellent also-ran or consistently pitiful doormat? Is there a difference? Are the Jays really no better than the Pirates or Nationals because the results, ultimately, are the same?

1 - Please read this. It is no small amount of mind-blowing to see my name on Fangraphs in any capacity. Incalculable thanks to Carson Cistulli for including me.