Tuesday, August 31, 2010


A very telling quote, culled from Mr. Bastian's gamer after last night's tough luck loss.
Hill declined to speak with reporters.
Aaron Hill, maker of a crucial error, did not make himself available to the media. Not a big deal in some eyes, signs of petulance and a serious no-no in the eyes of others. It makes me think of one thing, the same thing I thought about yesterday: Travis Snider needs to play every day.

Obviously Aaron Hill is balls-deep in a terrible season at the plate. Aaron Hill is thought of by many, Jeff Blair most notably, as an awesome guy who is always honest and available. After 5 months of struggles and what I can only imagine is a sickening feeling of not pulling one's weight, Aaron Hill clearly had enough. Last night he didn't want to talk about it. He didn't want to say my bad a dozen different ways. He wanted to have a shower and get the hell out of there. Can't say that I blame him, but it's noteworthy either way.

What does this uncharacteristic have to do with Travis Snider? He needs to play every day, through the bad times. He must, like quasi-phenom Brennan Boesch in Detroit, face some tough lefties and pick up the pieces afterwards. He needs to face the music and deal with the psychological burden of slumps, without a three-day weekend to twist in the wind or a sabbatical in Vegas to bash some confidence out of triple A fodder.

Will a month of steady at bats on an also-ran provide this experience? Not on its own, but you must start somewhere. If the Jays plan on competing with Snider as a key piece, he needs to start making these adjustments immediately. Whenever it is the Jays make their real, concerted push towards the post-season, they won't have any kind of cushion to screw around with. Everything needs to be right, there is no margin for error.

Snider's also picked up a few injuries during these nascent stages of his career. His body is still adjusting to the grind and —all together now—playing with pain. Hill's anguish is proof this never goes away, just like the gruesome quotes from John Lott's excellent piece on Lyle Overbay's early season struggles. They always doubt, they always wonder. Get Snider out there every day to experience these trials. The sooner, the better. It isn't about at bats or reps in the field, it's about experience.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Highly Movable Object

When pining for Fred Lewis lo those many months ago, I hoped he'd provide league average to above average play at nominal rate. I hoped he'd walk and steal a bag or two and maybe rope some doubles. As 2010 progresses, it is clear to see that Fred Lewis can do all those things, with his walk rate increasing. (Though all his other rates decrease.)

Remember, going into 2010 league average play out of the left fielder was far from a foregone conclusion. The Menchersons of the world were fresh in our heads; and the difference between league average and replacement level is much larger than we realize. And into this fray stepped Fred Lewis, doing an admirable1 job. He hasn't set the world on fire, but he did a job very few Blue Jays were qualified to do. Until now.

At this juncture of the season, with all the moving parts at play, Clarence needs to sit Fred Lewis so Travis Snider can play every day. Not a popular choice — especially with Lewis, who seems to believe himself an everyday kinda guy — but this is the only piece that fits both a) the Jays future plans for their young players and b) the ideology of the current skipper.

Lyle Overbay is playing for a contract, meaning Clarence must do right by his veteran. Jose Bautista fills in at third base but The Manager loves him in right field. When healthy, Clarence can't get away from E5. Even without EE, Clarence often finds ways to keep Bautista in the outfield and one of the young outfielders on the bench.

Foolish as it might be to assume The Manager is in tune with the contract status of all his players, he has to know Lewis is due but a modest raise next year. If something has to give, it must be Lewis. League average is nice but this team has bigger fish to fry, as I'm sure I've said a million times. Travis Snider is a special talent and his at bats should be paramount.

Hardly breaking new ground, but this seems like the only way to work it. If Overbay must play every day, let him DH a bunch with Lind at first. If Bautista isn't playing right field, plug John MacDonald or McCoy or whomever in a third. Just leave Snider in left. Every night, every day. Tough lefty or shitballing righty. All Snider, all the time.

1 - Admirable is a relative thing. Over his last 200 PAs, Lewis has an OPS a hair over .725. He's a streaky dude but that ain't too hot. Walks are good but the doubles have all but disappeared.

Reuters picture from Daylife

Friday, August 27, 2010

Alex Anthopoulos' First Real Decision

Alex Anthopoulos inherited quite a situation. Tasked with trading his team's best player, AA did about as well as one could ask. A tough chore but not a tough choice. Signing John Buck and Alex Gonzalez? Wise decisions but not especially trying. Acquiring Fred Lewis and Yunel Escobar? No brainers. Contract decisions aren't easy with so many moving pieces but that doesn't make them tough the way I'm thinking about them.

As Jeff Blair and Mike Wilner discussed during Prime Time Sports Thursday (look for it on iTunes as it isn't on The Fan's site proper. 4 o'clock hour, second segment), Aaron Hill's contract options are now far from a forgone conclusion. Hill's deal contract calls for $4 mil this year and $5 mil next. The next three years are club options; three of which can be activated at the end of this season with only two available at the end of 2011.

Blair intimates that Blue Jays high-ups considered re-jigging Hill's deal at some point this season, sewing up the option years to avoid the ugliness. Aaron Hill's precipitous 2010 dropoff pretty much silenced all that talk in a hurry. Wilner goes as far as to suggest he might be a non-tender candidate were the contract situation a little different.

For a little perspective on how bad/shocking Hill's line continues to be in 2010, continue this comparison:
  1. .208/.280/.386/.292 wOBA
  2. .231/.274/.435/.301 wOBA
Player A is of course Aaron Hill, while player B? None other than waiver-clearer Rod Barajas. Barajas seems like a jovial lad but his offensive contribution amounts to 20 home runs and that's it. That is a scary company for Hill to keep, as I don't think the offensive skillset that excited us all was "all-or-nothing replacement level catcher."

Wilner and Blair both agree the team almost certainly cannot pick up all three option years, a thought which mildly shocked me. Is this a road AA and the brain trust want to go down? What kind of fallout can we expect if the Jays tell Aaron Hill to prove, in no uncertain terms, that 2009 wasn't a fluke.

That isn't especially fair, since 2009 was almost certainly a fluke. Not a lucky fluke but a once-in-a-career, unrepeatable fluke. He can still pull himself together and have a fine career but 36 home runs again is a pretty tall order.

As Stoeten pointed out, the Jays seem to send out very mixed messages (via their manager) when it comes to veteran players. "Come to Toronto, we'll let you play!" might not be the official mantra of the Toronto Blue Jays Baseball Club, but the implication exists in the minds of Jays watchers. While I'm not above requiring young players to earn their large cheques, the Jays politely asking one of the franchise cornerstones to play it out and show that he's worth it can only disquiet the next generation of talent.

Hill is sure to say All the Right Things in the press, talking about earning his contract and understanding the official position. I don't know that this kind of pressure is the type that all players thrive under. Hill performed beautifully with his deal in hand last year. Will putting him under the gun help or harm that?

There are a lot of questions arising from Hill's off year. How Alex Anthopoulos and his cohorts handle this sends a loud message through the clubhouse. Will a guy like Travis Snider (should he ever get any at bats again) be less inclined to a sign a similar deal, preferring to take his chances or demand guaranteed years? You can bet Kyle Drabek's agent is watching this whole situation very, very closely.

Reuters image courtesy of Daylife

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Once Again, Just Sayin'

Whenever the "he's only _______ short of the cycle" talk starts and names like Kelly Gruber and Jeff Frye bounce around; my thoughts turn, as usual, to Carlos Delgado. And how much more badass (and noteworthy) his four home run game is than the cycle. 16 total bases son, that ain't nothing to fuck with.

Re-defining Quintessential

Ian the Blue Jay Hunter provided an excellent service and, in term, a excellent window into the mindset of a fanbase. Voting Joe Carter the quintessential Blue Jay by a decent margin shows Jays fans great love of the glory days.

Unfortunately for me, my overwhelming cynicism causes me to think this way: there's been a lot more quoteunquote heartbreak through the Jays storied history than triumph. What better epitomizes the true Blue Jays spirit than excellence toiling away in relative obscurity? Ten years of Carlos Delgado and Roy Halladay grabbing individual awards (or having them grabbed from them) while the team futilely trudged along.

The unending brilliance of Tony Fernandez might have ruined a generation's throwing arms1, the indifferent achievement of Delgado and Halladay is truly the quintessential Blue Jays experience.

1 - "Throw it overhand, dammit. Your arm won't get any stronger throwing it sidearm like that!" Many dads, 1984-2000 inclusive.

Image courtesy of the New York Daily News.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Saddest Cowboy

Aaron Hill is struggling. Badly. I thought I'd help him with this handy dandy map to the plate, pointing out the best route as he looks so damn lost up there, he likely needs the heads up.

Walk up the steps bro, and stand by the white dot. Grab something heavier than your normal bat and swing it a bunch of times. Focus or relax or eat or love or pray or whatever the hell you need to do, then do it.

After the guy ahead of you makes an out, hits a home run, or walks (lulz!), walk up to the plate. Let the glorious strains of Foghat wash over you, make it a slow ride as your saunter up to take your turn. Maybe change it up, seek out a deeper cut from the Dazed and Confused soundtrack. You really — seriously — cannot go wrong with Black Sabbath. At any time of the day or your life.

To say Aaron Hill looks lost at the plate is an understatement. Dude looks completely out of sorts and that helpless feeling manifests itself in the saddest panda on the Blue Jays. Moping to the plate (and quickly back to the dugout) after doing his very best to work in concert with the pitcher's plan to retire him. Swinging at pitches out of the zone (which he sees more than ever) and making contact with balls thrown off the plate (again, at a career high.)

I don't know what I'm advocating as a plan to get Hill back on track. Just like great years, shitty years happen. Hill's BABIP is criminally low and, as a huge driver of his offensive performance, a little luck is due to come his way. Moving him down in the order seems the likely move but to what end?

Maybe give him a few days off here and there. I can't pretend to know what will snap his funk. Hill certainly seems like (based on reputation and limited video evidence) a good dude and a key part of this team in the future. I'm a lot more worried about his rebound than Adam Lind, as I believe Adam Lind is a far better hitter caught in a transitional year in his career (marriage, new contract and the associated expectations1.) I just know that Aaron Hill is a fun player to watch, just not when he clearly isn't having any fun at all.

Travis Snider, Fred Lewis, and Confirmation Bias

During last night's gong show, Travis Snider legged out 1.5 infield hits. One was clearly an error on the pitcher (whom Snider trucked as gingerly as a refrigerator shaped man can) and another that found a hole. Travis Snider, it would seem, is pretty fast.

When a professional pundit makes an assertion that is nearly impossible to prove, he is likely to hear about it. Especially from those with an ax to grind against him. So Mike Wilner's personal belief — that Travis Snider is a faster runner than Fred Lewis — met with some resistance.

Fred Lewis has more stolen bases and a higher speed score (a counting stat, it should be noted. Lewis has more than double the plate appearances of Snider.) Also, Fred Lewis is a lean, athletic black guy while Travis Snider is a thick white dude who played fullback in high school.

It's a lot easier to assume Fred Lewis is faster because he looks like a fast runner. Travis Snider does not. That's more than enough reason to deride Wilner for making a seemingly questionable yet perfectly valid point.

I guess my question is: why is it so batshit crazy to suggest Travis Snider is a faster runner than Fred Lewis? Because of what you see on TV or because of what your brain conditions2 you to assume?

1 - Hahah, there's no context to a player's performance. DRUGS!

2 - By no fault of your brain; that's just what brains do.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

On Changing the Approach

I'm not about to link to the bait post written by a certain high-profile columnist on a certain major league home run leader. I won't name him either, lest his hourly self-Googling register another notch on his trollbelt. A classic case of a column turned in drenched with smirking self-satisfaction. Goading bloggers and commenters to take the bait as he proudly turns heel, much to the delight of his editors. A true tourist who likely needs a map to find the Rogers Centre, I don't think his words carry a lot of weight in the Blue Jays clubhouse.

The frustrating part, for me, is that he's a quarter right when he says it's baseball's fault. Baseball's fault for doing nothing to alter the pre-determined narrative that steroids help home runs hitters hit more home runs, ignoring the burden of proof and jumping past the obvious benefactors (pitchers) to cast a pall on a generation of highly-tuned athletes.

We're to ignore a generation that, instead of playing baseball in between harvests at Pa's wheat farm, grew up with specialized trainers and hitting coaches from the age of 13. Ignore the shrinking ballparks and tightly-wound balls and complete irresponsibility of teams when it came to protecting their young arms. Ignore advances in video technology that made everyone a better hitter. At the same time, ignore the ban on amphetamines when anointing this The Year of the Pitcher.

None of that stuff matters because a significant chunk of the writer's association feels — at the behest of their readership, it should be said — that steroids are cheating and cheating is bad. It cheats the game and the fans, and anything that could be described as random must be fishy.

The stupid thing is baseball is the only sport burdened by the "guilty 'til proven innocent, and then still assumed guilty" attitude. Chris Johnson added 50 yards to his yard/game from one year to the next - is he on drugs? Are there whispers? No.

Which brings me to the idea of "changing one's approach." I came into this season doubting Jose Bautista's ability to put up the kind of numbers over time. We're currently approaching one full calender year and some 700-odd of sustained, eye-popping success. At some point a hot streak becomes a little bit more.

I like to think my cynicism had more to do with true talent level not matching performance, so I sought more information. I looked for holes in his game and stayed guarded about his power surge, though the thought of "he must be juicing" never once entered my head. Mostly because I don't care, but I figured muscles aren't the be all and end all. If they were, wouldn't Gabe Kapler win the Triple Crown every year?

When you're a big-time columnist spread thin, you don't have time to look things up or fashion crude MS Paint diagrams. You shoot from the hip and wait for the red light to come on so you can re-iterate the same points. You spent enough time spitting up half-baked thoughts on TV, you can't expect accountability for them all.

Back to Jose Bautista - there is a great deal to be said for his change in approach. As a young player battling for playing time, a guy like Bautista isn't exactly empowered to go for broke in every at bat. Teams smartly discourage their young bats from giving away at bats - put a guy with a quick bat in the midst of enablers who don't mind the odd whiff and strange things happen.

Putting a similar spin on other sports, imagine if a grinder like Steve Begin or Max Talbot suddenly starting playing like Phil Kessel; lingering around the blue line waiting for breakouts, shooting from all angles and at all times. Now imagine a coach sees talent in said glue guy and plays him on the powerplay and pairs him with a setup man of some regard. Suddenly, his numbers skyrocket! HE MUST BE ON DRUGS! Of course not, not when considered within the context provided.

To spit in the ocean a little further, imagine Jose Calderon fancied himself a Spanish version of Allen Iverson circa-2001. He broke down the defense at every opportunity, took 45% of his teams' shots and turned the ball over with reckless abandon. But he averages 28 a night! DRUGS!

Nope, nobody would ever say that about two guys who would certainly benefit a lot more from additional strength and power than somebody trying to decide which pitch thrown at 90 mph from 60 feet away is suitable to hit.

But if you're a "questionable" baseball slugger, you don't get context. You don't get the benefit of thought, let alone doubt. Sudden boost or power? DRUGS. More home runs for the Jays? DRUGS DRUGS DRUGS EVERYBODY! Don't waste your time with details like fly ball rates (increased!), contact rates (increased!), or mechanical adjustments. If a guy like Bautista can hit this many home runs, he'd have been doing it all along! It's that simple, and it's that lazy.

Jose Bautista may never have a season like this again, and we all saw this backlash coming, but that doesn't make what this goof did any less cheap or lazy. Congrats to the editors who reveal in such cynical fan-baiting and encouragement of such insincere bullshit. You must be so proud of your author's willingness to brush aside calls for proof or evidence as "too funny." Considering the source, I'll do well in the future to always assume the worst.

Image courtesy of Reuters via Daylife.

Friday, August 20, 2010

What's a Rzepczynski Worth?

The endless debate that is Marc Rzepczynski rages on within the Blue Jays blogosphere. In the previous post on this very site, the talk went back and forth between "I think R-Zep makes a fine swingman" and "I think he's a great 5th starter." As you likely know by now, I'm firmly in the latter camp. In fact, I think he's better than a fifth starter. Whether he gets a chance to prove it in Toronto is another story.

Marc Rzepczynski showed his best stuff last weekend in a start against the Angels. The two-seamer was diving and the ground balls rolled like heads at Sportsnet One if Bell doesn't sign on. It was a virtuoso performance.

One start later, R-Zep struggled badly against the weirdest team in baseball aka the Oakland A's. (Seriously, what an odd collection of oddities. ) What was the problem? Not enough sink in the sinker? Let's take a look, though I think the answer is much more obvious.

Remember this is our movement chart, plotting horizontal movement against vertical. I moved away from using this plot because it gets quite muddy. We see a little less horizontal break on the curve, for what that's worth. The fastball/sinker/changeup area looks a little muddy. Let's try to clean it up by measuring vertical break against the velocity of the pitch.

A little more clear, but nothing jumps out as being an obvious cause of his struggles. Am I overthinking? Looking for flat fastballs when the culprit lies elsewhere? It wouldn't be the first time I look for something cool and gimmicky when the answer is just good, old-fashioned, suckiness. Allow me to present what will have to stand in for The Smoking Gun.

Angels A's
Batters Faced2521
Ahead 0-1138
Ahead 0-252
Behind 2-0ZERO!!!6

There really isn't much more to add. Get ahead. R-Zep already gets life-saving ground balls (50% of the time) and misses a few bats here and there. Just get ahead. Strike one - the most important pitch in baseball. Simple but effective.

If it was as easy to throw strike one as it is to say "get ahead", this wouldn't be an issue. But, again, all this stuff adds up to a guy like Marc Rzepczynski being a valuable guy as the Jays move forward. If Jesse Litsch was a good fifth starter then somebody with R-Zep's skill set can be much more. People love to focus on big righties like Chad Jenkins or Henderson Alvarez, but I think Marc Rzepczynski might be one to hold on to.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Differential Madness!

No, not the kind of run differential madness that drives most Jays fans to drink. That kind of differential madness shows the Jays as the sixth best team in baseball (by Third-Order wins), still only good enough for fourth in their own division.

Nope, I'm taking about strikeout-walk differential. We're all familiar with strikeout to walk ratio as a decent measure of a pitcher's worth. The good men at The Book blog (aka Tom Tango) believe K-BB differential has a stronger relationship to both same year success as well as future performance.

One of the biggest troubles with striker per walk is it overvalues eliminating walks relative to adding strikeouts. From the comment section of that very post, we see that if a pitcher strikes out 6 per 9 compared to 3 walks, his ratio is 2. Drop a walk per nine and poof! you're a 3 K/BB and feted as a king. Add one strikeout but keep your walks the same, you're marginally better with a 2.33 K/BB. That just ain't right, especially since guys who miss bats are rack up Ks are harder to come by than guys who limit walks.

Another problem with K/BB is it doesn't stand up to the asymmetry test. If you invert the numbers, the results aren't the same. 3/1 gives a ratio of 3.00, 1/3 gives 0.333. These two numbers aren't the same "distance" from one, which makes them pretty flawed. Another reason home run per fly ball is a much better rate than AB/HR (a ratio.)

Anyway, lets look at the numbers. Which Jays stand to benefit the most for looking at their numbers this way (hint: Brandon Morrow.)

Brandon Morrow10.484.112.556.37
Casey Janssen8.272.193.776.08
Shaun Marcum7.52.063.645.44
Scott Downs7.081.863.85.22
Kevin Gregg9.664.532.135.13
Marc Rzepczynski7.292.692.714.60
Jason Frasor8.
Ricky Romero7.653.262.344.39
David Purcey7.713.512.24.20
Shawn Camp5.671.833.093.84
Brett Cecil6.412.812.283.60
Brian Tallet6.074.551.331.52
Jesse Litsch3.092.891.070.20
Dana Eveland4.235.440.78-1.21

Pretty logical stuff. Guys like Gregg and Morrow get away with much, much more than a Jesse Litsch, and this differential method really shows it. By K/BB, Litsch and Tallet don't lag too far behind Morrow and Gregg. A better valuation of strikeouts makes the differences that much more striking.

Thinking about it another way, consider we flipped the rates used. Instead of strikeouts per 9 innings, we used K per batter faced. A pitcher may walk 12% of the hitters he faces but strike out 25%. His K/BB is 2 to 1, just like a pitcher who walks only 6% and strikes out 12%. Using the differential method, we see a much better representation of the qualities of a good pitcher.

If you click through and read The Book post, you'll see that not only are these "the qualities of a good pitcher" as I just wrote, they're also consistent with better pitching performance. Which is good, right?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Hide Your Kids, Hide Your Wife

There are few things in life more satisfying than taking two out of three from the California Angels. While the soft underbelly of my fandom is frequently exposed by all manner of benign American league foes, the Angels are one of the few clubs that still feel my rancor.

I hate the Angels. I strongly dislike Mike Scioscia and his Mike Scioscia face. I don't like Erick Aybar or anything named Izturis. I like Mike Napoli mostly because Scioscia clearly doesn't. First K-Rod and now Fuentes. Hate.

Which makes it all the most satisfying when Ricky Romero strolls into his home park, mere hours after doing right by his parents, and shuts their sorry asses down. It's great stuff.

Just like the great stuff Marc Rzepcynzki had on Friday night. As per a request in the comment section, I'm going to take a closer look at what made R-Zep so awesome that night. Hopefully in time for his next start.

If I could veer off-topic for a brief moment, I just want to take the opportunity to say how proud I am of the comments and commenters who frequent Ghostrunner on First. From the amazing insight added by radar in the previous post to the "support" shown when a rare hater wandered into our midst. It is pretty rare that the like minds who congregate around here get to have our fun pretty much by un-interrupted by trolls. There might be some changes afoot but I have faith that nothing will change in that department.

I just want to give a big thank you to everyone who comments and contributes to this site. From the long-time guys like Ian, Navin, Joanna, and The Ack; to the Mattts and Gils and Tys and everybody else. Thank you. It means a lot.

AP image of the loud-mouthed boob from Daylife.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Note for the Cibians

The Star's Richard Griffin took a lot of heat on Twitter last night when he posted a throwaway comment about Aaron Cibia's catcher ERA (It isn't good, unlike Griff's Jamaican flag twitter background, which is amazing.) While this tweet was surely accompanied by a knowing smirk, a small part of me worries he might not be all wrong.

Above is a screen grab (from Gameday, holla!) of Arencibia's target as Marcum prepared to deliver to J.D. Drew. The pitch, I don't think I need to remind you, traveled some 450 feet and put a sweet dent in the facing of the second deck. If you look closely you'll notice the target provided by Arencibia is no target at all.

The San Francisco Giants held can't-miss stud Buster Posey out of the big league lineup for far too long this season, citing his unpolished defensive skills. While the Giants generally operate on a "don't do what we do" basis, maybe they were on to something.

Scouts praise Arencibia's improved defense and the Jays don't seem too worried about it. Providing a strong target is a tiny, mostly insignificant piece of the defensive puzzle; but you do tend to hear ex-catchers and pitchers in the broadcast booth rave about certain catcher's ability to provide a big target.

Maybe it's nothing, maybe it's something. But given the results and the photographic evidence, this should be an easy fix to eliminate at least one possible cause of consecutive bad outings.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Scott Downs Joins the Chain Gang

During the late innings of last night's tilt with the Red Sox, Scott Downs pitched about as well as you can ask. He faced four hitters; striking out one and inducing three ground balls from the others. One man reached on an error but was quickly erased via a double play. Scott Downs is really, really good at his job - this much we know.

During my liveblog of the game, the question of re-signing Downs arose. We pondered what type of contract he might be offered (I prefer to think of Scott Downs as a gentleman of modest means. He wouldn't demand a big deal, he'd simply accept one of the many offers for his services.) Considering that, insanely, Brandon Lyon got a 3 year, $15 million dollar deal to not close for the worst team in baseball last winter, just about anything is in play. Lyon's pitched well enough this season (credit his wacky low HR rate), though not as well as Downs. How valuable does that make Downs? To the right team in the right (read: wrong) situation: very valuable. To the 2011 Blue Jays? Not so much.

The topic of reliever value is much debated around the nerdier end of the internet and known as bullpen chaining. I'll attempt to nutshell it: if you lose a reliever, his replacement doesn't come "off the street" in the form of a true replacement player.

If Kevin Gregg does down with an injury, you don't call up a Brad Mills or a Marc Rzepcynzki to be the closer, you call up Rommie Lewis or (God willing) Jeremy Accardo. When you call up that bullpen arm, they don't slot directly into the closer's role. Everybody just moves up the chain into a slightly higher leveraged role and you make due until the big man returns.

As such, unless the team finds itself requiring the extra boost a sure-thing stopper provides and is willing to pay for it, you have to let Scott Downs walk at the end of this season. The team is grooming David Purcey for a role similar to Downs' with a few other internal options and scrap heap finds lurking in the shadows. Even if a guy like Purcey comes in and doesn't pitch as well, the greater impact on the success of the season is minimal.

He's been a great Blue Jay for 5 years, but asking him leave big bags of money on the table is foolish and unlikely. He's 34 years old and this is his last deal. He might hang around for some Orosco years as he approaches 40, but his time in Toronto is nearly up.

Image courtesy of Reuters via Daylife

Monday, August 9, 2010

The PNC Park Experience

Ballpark review? Hardly. What, you think I was wondering around taking notes and posing for pictures beside statues? No thanks. There were ales to enjoy and keyboard cat t-shirts to witness with mine own eyes.

Why belabour the point that the Rogers Centre is grim concrete toilet bowl; more suitable for a mass grave than playing host to the Massholes? PNC utter destroys the RC with its interesting and diverse food selections (of which I tried none), excellent beer list (of which I tried many) and jaw-dropping view of the Pittsburgh core and bridge system. You don't need to hear that.

But that doesn't make the ballpark experience on its own. Not even a crazy four-hour game — with an insane win probability chart that look like/gives me a boner — is enough to make a trip to the ballpark an experience. Making a herd of new friends is a great place to start but still; something special needs to stick out in your mind.

Cue the top of the 9th inning. The Pirates stage a dramatic (for the Pirates) rally, bringing up pinch hitter (and erstwhile Blue Jays target) Ryan Doumit. On-hand Pirates blogger and source Pat of the great Where Have You Gone, Andy Van Slyke (who put up with not only my Jose Bautista ribbing but my Montreal Canadiens razzing too) mentioned earlier that Doumit's walkup music is Mother by Danzig.

Up strolls Doumit and the Mother riffs crash down on sold-out PNC Park. While most bob their heads or nervously clap, three rows strong of Walkoff Walk associated degenerates proceed to SCREAM Mother at the top of their collective lungs. Rockies manager Jim Tracy took the opportunity (winning run on first base) to stage a mound meeting. Which meant a little more Danzig - which meant more singing. The entire first verse and chorus, thankyouverymuch. The music actually stopped but the HEIST crew rolled on, much to the delight/horror/disdain of Yinzers on the first base line.

That, my friends, is a ballpark experience. Wins, losses, expensive sandwiches, face-melting walkoff homers, all eventually fade away. But 30 like-minded goofs singing a hilarious and/or great rock song released in 1988 is the kind of thing you tend to remember. Forever.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Fault and Fracture

It wasn't long ago that I seemed to have an impressive ability to walk my way into near-no hitters. I'd wander around Deadtown Nowhere for a while, come home, and find some guy making the minimum facing the minimum through 5 or 6 innings. Of course there's no connection and jinxes and stuff aren't real, but then again....

Yesterday afternoon I'm mere steps from returning to Canada after a weekend in Pittsburgh doing all manner of #Heist-ey activities (more on that belowlater). After Wilner's interview with a disconcertingly accented Aaron Cibia, the game was on! Morrow mows down the Rays through the first few innings, I make a brief stop, all is well.

With a spouse suffering from inevitable baseball fatigue, the game went off for a while until she dozed off. Back to Jerry and Alan, I am shocked by what I hear. "Did he just say Brandon Morrow has 13 strikeouts???" Not only that but he hasn't allowed a hit? Zounds!

Morrow keeps rolling but so does my fine German automobile. Overmanagin' Joe Maddon drags his feet and screws around, trying to disrupt the Morrow express. Right about this time I realize I'm going to reach my destination before Morrow reaches destiny. I feel sick. I slow down as subtly as possible. Making the turn onto rural sideroad X as the top of 9 starts, I think I might be okay. Zobrist walks. Sickness once again.

We pull into the baby sitting in-laws place and there, after her first weekend at somebody else's place, is my kid. All cute and little and fun sponging. Oh shit, this is really going to happen. The kid's mom dives from the moving vehicle, desperate to smush the punim of her spawn. I dawdle in the driver's seat, opening the windows while leaving the radio up loud. The child chases into the house, Crawford lines out.

I'm defeated. I'm getting justified death eyes from a patient wife. The Kid cries out for me to come in, the very understanding grandparents —who disrupted their very busy lives for a weekend so I could drink Yuengling and shout my phone number at Troy Tulowitzki— eye me warily - this is it. I turn off the car, head inside to grab my offspring; confident in the knowledge that my actions have no impact on Brandon Morrow's slider.

Ten seconds later, my pocket vibrates. I grab the phone, hoping for the best. I don't finish reading the text before my daughter grabs the phone from my hands. The best is a relative thing.

AP Photo via Daylife.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Life Sucks and Then You Die

Yup, that is your Toronto Blue Jays ranking 4th in Beyond the Box Score's mathematically-derived power rankings. Ifs, buts, candy, nuts.

Credit to Alex Anthopoulos and his team for doing their best to avoid the candy & nuts aspects of his job. As he told John Lott (after mentioning that Aaron Cibia will get the bulk of the playing time):
"We want to create depth at premium positions,” he said. “At shortstop and catcher, we feel like we have that now. Even in centre field, although it’s lower down the rungs, there are guys like Gose and Jake Marisnick [a third-round draft pick last year].

“From a position-player standpoint, those seem to be the most difficult positions to either draft or acquire in a trade.”
More than depth, they have ceilings. They have two players who, if they're tools develop into skills, could become high-end major league baseball players.

Which brings me back to the Mop Up Duty piece I linked above. Of course scouting is important, more important than ever as the cost of doing business is now so very high. The biggest driver, in my eyes, of this approach isn't a Scouts versus Stats, Us versus Them battle. It is about the difference between being a good team and a great one.

If you look at the numbers compiled in the aforementioned Beyond the Box Score post; you'll see the Jays are either a good team or an average team playing over its head. The debate could go all night long, but nobody would ever argue the Jays are great. And that is what they need to be to sate the playoff!!!1 lust of this fine city.

The Jays traded up this year, building progressively to improve pieces and solidify the team moving forward. But plugging holes with league average guys like John Buck or Fred Lewis is one thing, the Jays needs are going to change in the next few years. The days of replacement-level scrubs popping up here and there are, or should be, nearly over. Now1 is the time to write some checks and install high-end players into important places.

And for that, they must pay. Upfront or down the line, the marginal value of a scrap heap finds and somethings for nothings compared to the value of securing top-line talent is the next challenge. Obviously free agency is a fool's errand with far more risk than reward. So it comes to the kids. Gose or Marisnick or the next toolsy kid they find in Cuba or Venezuela or Japan, somebody needs to develop into a 6 win type player.

It is a similar story in the rotation. The common refrain "there isn't a number one in this group" might be tired but there is something to it. With only 25 spots on a big league roster, having two 3 win guys isn't as good as having one 6 win guy. So you have to pay for the privilege. A staff of four 4 win guys is pretty good (damn fine actually) but finding an true stud — and his extra three wins — is the kind of upgrading Alex Anthopoulos stays up nights thinking about.

It isn't that building an 85 win team on a budget is easy, it surely isn't. Building a sustainable 85 win core then building on those extra 6 or 7 wins is the real challenge. I think AA and his team are on the right track but the hard work is still very much ahead of them.

1 - Now is relative. Not now like today, but now like whenever you plan to make the next step.

Image courtesy of Beyond The Box Score

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Your 2011 Blue Jays Managerial Shortlist

Sure he lacks any experience and kinda sorta might want to still play. Carlos, your highness, I'm here to tell you that your playing days are over - you have a higher calling.

Managing a baseball team is all about managing egos and personalities while not driving your team straight into a mountain. Manage the bullpen, let good hitters get more at bats than bad ones, etc.

Carlos Delgado is an erudite, thoughtful guy with a strong humanitarian background. He's Latin (but not enough to scare away the Dougies of the world) and played the game (at a high level for a long time coughcoughClarencecough) so, failing an upset of everything that is good and just in the world, he'd instantly earn the respect of the clubhouse.

He doesn't come with the built in slurp record of (clowns) like Bobby Valentine or whatever "big name" manager being drudged up as a favor to old allies. Honestly, who cares? Make him a hitting instructor or bench coach to some grizzled old battle veteran so he can "learn the game" or some such nonsense.

There are 146 million other reasons Carlos Delgado might make an interesting managerial choice: he understands the pressures and experiences of signing an insanely high contract extension. He knows, as Adam Lind now does, about balancing the pressing need to deliver the goods with what I can only assume is an overwhelming desire to coast. No Overmanagin' scrub can identify with those traits, though they're the single biggest reason Delgado won't be in a rush to juggle egos and Bob Elliott's Favrian text messages.

Whether he'd handle the pitching staff with The Manager's deft touch or just kind of sitting there in a state of perpetual shock like the previous stunt hire remains to be seen. Misguided as this may be and a sucker as I apparently am, I just want to have a classy, smart, likable guy back in the mix.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

David Purcey - High Leverage Reliever

Hard to believe that this day has come! David Purcey - that big foot havin' mofo - is a viable, reliable reliever in big spots. Who knew? Clarence (who managed the bullpen like a champ last night) continues to show faith in David Purcey. Purcey repays Clarence's confidence with a string of successful appearances1 setting him up for more and more heavy lifting.

The graph below tracks the situational leverage of the game when David Purcey enters (in blue). Quite a few mop up roles (0.00 LI) but a positive trend towards steady work in the last innings of close games. The black line represents Purcey's win probability added in each game. Obviously high leverage situation means the outcome is still in doubt, meaning Purcey can still impact the game either way. Giving up 3 runs in a mop up role doesn't really impact your WPA because, just like you can't be "more late", you can't ruin a game that's already in the bag (so to speak.)

Decent stuff, a definite trend. But wait, was that 1 floating around from before?

Right! I said his appearances were successful, which they have been. What I didn't say was they haven't been especially good or repeatable. Trouble brews.

David Purcey sports a gaudy ERA under 2 with only one loss and one save in 21 appearances. Unfortunately, all his peripherals point to one monstrous, hideous appearance in the not-so-distant future. His .200 BABIP will swell but quick, his 82.% strand rate might not hold up for much longer either (his spotty track record is of a man with a terrible strand rate, so the real Purcey is somewhere in the middle.) His home run per fly ball is uncomfortably low, especially for a guy who gets ground balls only 36% of the time.

That doesn't mean that the 2010 version of David Purcey is the same, largely ineffective David Purcey from season's past. His swinging strikes are up, his contact rates are down. More swings at pitches outside the zone, less contact inside the strike zone. Those are harbingers of an effective pitcher.

He throws his fastball a lot more and to a much greater effect. While he'll never be confused with Shaun Marcum or Greg Maddux, getting ahead with the fastball and using his slider almost exclusively as an offspeed continues to pay dividends.

David Purcey is, shockingly, 28 years old. He's under team control for another 4 years, which is hilarious. There is no reason to believe he can't survive the coming normalization of his numbers and continue developing into a top-notch reliever, not unlike his teammate Scott Downs. Or, as previously discussed here, a cut rate closer with a heavy fastball for an up-and-coming team on a budget.

Image courtesy of Blog TO, data from Fangraphs and BR.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Screw your Holiday

Not working today? Screw you. Here are — in honor of all of us forced to toil on High Holy Simcoe Day — some exciting outfield tips from three bad defensive outfielders and patron saint Rocco Baldelli. It's old but deliciousness lasts forever.

For what it is worth:
  • Matt Kemp: -17 DRS +/- this year, -9 UZR/150 for his career in center field.
  • Andre Ethier: -10 DRS +/- this year, -12 UZR/150 for his career in right field.
  • Jason Bay: -1 DRS +/- this year, -8 UZR/150 for his career in left field.
  • Rocco Baldelli: +4 hearts filled this year, +30 swoons/150 for his career.
Enjoy your day off, ingrates.

Video courtesy of Seamus Baseball