Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Big Choice

Before I shower Marc Rzepcyznski with kisses and hugs, I want to make a quick point about attendance. The Rays attendance woes are well-documented and a pretty easy target for critics deeming the Tampa/St. Pete area unsuitable for future inhabitation.

Here in Toronto we hear similarly solemn paid figures, as many prepare to write-off the team as unworkable. Of course people should be coming out to the ballpark, it's a great time and beats a kick in the head any day.

I feel as though, lost in the hysteria today after the Rays poor gate showing last night, is news that the Texas Rangers signed a multi-billion dollar TV deal! The numbers vary between $1.5 and $3 billion, but you cannot look at that number and think the gate receipts are worth all the spilled ink.

The larger point is people consume their entertainment in many, many different ways in 2010 than they did in 1993. When clucking tongues gleefully quote nightly gate numbers, do they include MLB.tv subscriptions? Extra Innings packages? People that watch the Rays equivalent of "Jays in 30?" You simply can't expect all fans to express and/or experience their fandom in the same way they always have.

Take, for example, myself. As you might have read, I was at the ball game on Sunday with some of the nicest and funniest folks the internet has to offer. 5 "normal" friends joined me in section 211 and I had a blast joking with old friends and loudly talking over new ones.

A great time at the ballpark indeed. Not only did we nerd out big time, but I got to see little things I may have lost on TV at home such as Brian Roberts and Cesar Izturis faking out Travis Snider en route to a base running mistake. The sun was out and the beer (or reasonable facsimile) was cold. Sunday's game was my second of the year.

2 games, all season. I live approximately 1.25 hours from gate 5. I went once in the spring and once in the fall. Judge away. But guess what: if you think that makes me a lesser fan than anyone else, feel free to go fuck yourself.

When I inevitably hit publish 15 minutes too soon and spend that time revising dozens of spelling errors, this will be my 129th post of 2010. One of about 700 I've written in just under 3 years.

I have a a full-time job on top of this hobby obsession, a new-to-me house, and a toddler in day care. Guess what? Getting to the ballpark ain't that easy and it ain't that cheap, either. What I'd spend in one day at the ballpark what I spend on a month of cable; and last time I was there I can't watch Modern Family or Mad Men at the Rogers Centre. I don't think I'm alone in this situation, and I don't think that makes people like me bad fans or undeserving of a baseball team in our town.

Simply put, people spend their time with this commercial enterprise in a variety of ways. All these ways earn the team money in some capacity. You don't use drive-in movie theatre sales as the measure of a movie's worth, the in-stadium experience isn't the only way to consume this product.

That's what it is, at the end of the day. A product. Consumer usages shift, it's up to the businesses to adjust and capitalize on these habits before somebody else does. One look at the MLBAM books should tell you baseball is doing just fine, but thanks for asking.


He's awesome. I assume. I wasn't there to watch the game so how can I ever know? I'm not in the mood for this anymore. Swinging strikes are good.

Image courtesy of Artificial Owl

Friday, September 24, 2010

Great Moments in Awesomeness

Holy shit, yesterday was a ridiculous day to be awesome (unless your name is Felix, but I'm sure he's used to that by now.)

Big congratulations to Ichiro for ongoing greatness, Rocco for persevering awesomeness, and Jose Bautista for unlikely awesomeness. You made a believer out of the most cynical of critics.

50 home runs is an awesome feat. 50 home runs and (assuredly) 100 walks is great, great feat. 50 home runs with 100 walks when only 2 of them are intentional? Very, very interesting.

Daylife like a thief in the night.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Guilty by Association

The managerial replacement chase is heating up (quite prematurely, mind you) and Parkes the Drunk does a bang-up job running down the prospective replacements. While I'm firmly on team Butter, I don't know that I have too strong an opinion either way.

That's actually untrue. I have no desire to see a "name guy" just stepped off the managerial carousel walk in for a 16 month Canadian cameo. Internal options, young guys, Hispanic guys - I just want a manager I don't have to think about.

Suddenly, like a mulletted flash across the sky, Mitch Williams jabbed a previously ignored name into my frontal lobe: Nick Leyva. Consider the source for a moment then consider these comments:
Let's face it, the Blue Jays play in the toughest division in baseball, and a big-name manager is not going to be what puts them over the top. Don't be surprised if Nick Leyva gets another shot at managing, and he wouldn't cost the Blue Jays very much.
I don't know why, but the thought of Nick Leyva managing this club creeps me out. Maybe it's the reading glasses. All I know is I want someone free of Cito stink.

There was a shot of the dugout during last night's game with both Clarence and Leyva in the frame and I almost screamed. Shi Davidi, of the Canadian Press and hating me on Twitter fame, asked Leyva about moving to the big chair:
"My No. 1 goal is I'd like to replace Cito, and Alex knows that and I will get an interview when it's time to come around to us, I've been told that," he said. "Big shoes to fill. I feel my strengths are knowing this ball club."
Oh crap, I just got douche chills. For the love of good, don't give this man the reigns! "Knowing this ball club" is a simple way of saying "I have my mind made up on all these players." That we don't need. Fresh blood, fresh eyes, fresh outlook. Hope is where the heart is, after all.

Image courtesy of Baseball Card Busts and my very own confirmation bias

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Good for What Ails Ya

Would you look at that? The Mariners are in town, with their too-clever-by-a-half GM licking his wounds as this team of his creation engineers one of the worst offensive seasons in the modern era. The Mariners are spectacularly awful at the plate, hitting fewer home runs than Jose Bautista hits no-doubters.

The defense and pitching are still strong but this team does less than nothing at the plate. What a great way to imbue a young crew of starters with some late-season confidence.

The Mariners never walk (a Blue Jays-esque 7.8%!) so even struggling Marc Rzepcyznski might put together a decent outing. The M's are middle of the pack in terms of swinging strikes so we can't expect Drabukkah to become a Strasmas-esque Passover celebration. The Mariners are so popless that even tater tot enabler Shaun Marcum could face them and escape relatively unscathed (though he's too busy popping off to worry about the lack of people popping out.)

Though my great appreciation for all things Mariner is pure, this is a great chance for The Manager to cut the apron strings and let the kids out against a lackluster opponent. That said, the businessperson's special against King Felix seems like a great day for Aaron Ciba to pull up a slice of bench beside The Manager.

God only knows the amount of knowledge Clarence can share with his young charge, even if most of it is via osmosis.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Lind Stricken with Virulent Anti-Citocity Fever

It's Friday and that's a good thing. The season is drawing to a close so the time for reflection and analysis is almost upon us. I hope to delve deeper into this issue more this winter, but for now I'll settle for a little theft.

Like most things you read here, I took this idea from the amazing Baseball Analysts. Yesterday Jeremy Greenhouse created spray charts and contrasted them from year to year. So simple yet so effective.

I took it upon myself to look at Adam Lind, a player I praised and believed slump-proof thanks to his ability to hit to all fields with power. Turns out he stopped doing that and promptly dove into a season-long slump! Read it and weep:

gif animator

You'll notice the blue ellipse I added for effect. A total lack of hits to the left field power alley, a drastic reduction in opposite field home runs. Maybe teams got smarter by shading him to that alley, though he isn't even really making outs in those spots.

All in all, a thoroughly disappointing year for Lind, one I'm sure he can't wait to end. Expect a closer look during the long winter years, this will have to suffice as your nightmare fuel for the day.

Spray charts courtesy of Texas Leaguers, an amazing resource. Read Baseball Analysts every day.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Well That was Exhilarating

Maybe not quite exhilarating, but it was certainly something. Working quickly, Kyle Drabek at least made some friends in the press box. Though he was thoroughly "outpitched" by Brad Bergesen and got hit pretty hard (it seemed), there is a lot to be excited about when number 4 takes the hill.

Enough exposition; make with the colored dots, monkey! (click to enlarge)

Before I get started, I should note that these are the pitch f/x designations. During the broadcast (h/t Mop Up Duty) the pitch described below as a slider was outed as a cutter. You could then assume what I have labelled as a cutter is a four-seam fastball, making the final fastball a two-seamer. Let's just work with what we've got, yeah?

I'll be honest, I'm quite surprised the difference between the curve and "slider" is so pronounced. The curve is thrown hard and breaks dramatically, while the slutter breaks enough to confuse everybody (myself included.) The little-used change up is a "work in progress" as described by Bruce Walton.

If my willy nilly circles are to be believed, it looks like Drabek goes to his fastballs a lot. And so he should, if he's rushing two different-style fastballs up there at the same speed. Most Drabek scouting reports tout his "late life" and some of the chatter on Twitter confirmed this. The Pitch F/X algorithm didn't view the pitch as a two seam fastball but it takes time to get a grasp on pitchers.

How about a look at the strike zone? Swinging strikes make the grass grow.

Again, these are the automatically generated pitch types. What you can see is that Drabek does have the ability to throw that nasty curve for strikes. Always a good thing, especially when you're throwing a pitch nobody really has a hope against. The slutter gets tonnes of whiffs too. Never a bad thing, two bat missing pitches.

Good to see that the bulk of the offspeed stuff is down in the zone. Drabek did a great job getting the Orioles to keep the ball on the ground (11 grounders on the night) though they certainly found their share of holes (9 hits on 18 balls in play.)

Overall, a pretty successful nights work. Maybe the Orioles took advantage of the first-time starter wanting to get ahead by swinging early in the count, but the skills are clearly there. I don't think many of us could ask for much more.

Data via Brooks Baseball, image from TV Addict.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Gird Your Loins

Giving hope to the hopeless is risky business. Rest assured, they didn't get hopeless overnight. Many before attempted to bridge the gap, to put the fate of the franchise on their shoulders for the long drag towards the Promised Land.

When the hope grows so faint, the despair so deep that anything — literally anything — is enough to grab the hopes and dreams of a downtrodden fanbase. The knee-jerk reaction that Kyle Drabek was somehow traded straight-up for Roy Halladay makes an essential meaningless start against a woeful, cellar-dwelling opponent a quickie litmus test for the fate of the franchise.

Convenient and guarded as that statement may be, the emergence of Kyle Drabek means something to Jays fans whether we like it or not. The likelihood of him becoming a starter the quality of Brandon Morrow or Ricky Romero is even a long shot, let alone Roy Halladay. But guarded enthusiasm doesn't work for sports fans, especially in this moribund town.

Recent reviews of Drabek's development are more than a little encouraging, though a closer look at his double-A numbers reveal results not quite up to snuff with the likes of Brett Cecil. Can we draw many conclusions from this? No, I don't think so. But some might try to anyway.

Hopefully everyone can enjoy the first big league start of Kyle Drabek's career without attaching too much importance. God only knows the type of lineup card Clarence will fill out to support the young starter, though we can assume it won't be an airtight defensive ship.

One doesn't have to look much further than the home dugout to see what can happen to the best laid plans and the highest hopes for young starting pitching. Sometimes it doesn't come together as you'd like. I plan on enjoying the show and leaving it at that.

AP image courtesy of Daylife.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Bautista Appreciation

In spite of the spotty results, this weekend past was a pretty exciting one for Jays fans. Bautista bombs, massive (for naught) comebacks, walkoffs, and Shaun Marcum staying slightly ahead of the Danks Theory.

But the number one thing that caught my eye and kept my (non-Rocco) attention this weekend is what you see above: a 15 pitch battle between Jose Bautista and James Shields.

That Shields — the new Jeremy Guthrie rather than the poor man's Shaum Marcum1 — didn't give up more home runs to Jose Bautista is a small miracle. That this epic 15-pitch battle royale ended in a fly-out is mildly shocking, though it doesn't detract from the excellence of the performance by either man.

The Gameday image tells a story, but we need a little more detail. Below is my cleaned-up version, allowing us a better vantage point for each pitch. Please note I chopped the bottom 6 inches off the diagram. The low pitches weren't scraping the ground, in other words.

The first two things I notice are: James Shields nibbled like a champ and Jose Bautista has an incredible eye. The two pitches down below the zone are two-seam fastballs that net Shields all his ground balls. Sinking pitches which, if taken, pretty much set up the hitter for the four-seamer on the outside corner.

Shields threw the kitchen sink at Bautista, but the man kept fouling "pitcher's pitches" (the stuff in on his hands) until he just missed a pitch that caught more plate. 15 pitch at bats are rare, especially for a guy who Gets Cheated as rarely as Bautista.

15 is an interesting and telling number on its own as, in addition to the number of pitches in this particular battle, Jose Bautista's walk rate for the season is a sparkling 15%. That ranks second in baseball, ahead of Three True Outcome Tsar Carlos Pena and Mr. Universe Joey Votto. Rarefied company and portends of excellence, or at least stability, to come.

At some point last year I boastfully claimed that Jose Bautista's ability to draw a walk and not much else was of little value. A .352 ISO quickly put that to bed, but what does it mean for the future? Even if his ISO (ie. Power) takes a 100 point hit, he's still an excellent player. 6/7 Win player? I don't think so, but what we previous thought was his ceiling (25 home runs, .375 on base) can now, fairly, be considered a fair projection for his back to Earth season.

At least, we can hope so.

1 - Though I'm loathe to admit it, Jame Shields is much better than both those guys.

Image via Gameday, Pitch F/X goodies from Brooks Baseball

Friday, September 10, 2010

Re-thinking the Morrow Trade

Sure, you could point to his crazy strikeout rates (highest in baseball, no matter how you slice it) and think; "Man, the Jays totally fleeced the Mariners in the Morrow-for-League-and-Other-Guy trade. It isn't even close!" You'd be right, of course. A big, tall, stud with plus stuff and an ever-rising ceiling? And what a year for Morrow! He finally figured it out, Alex Anthopoulos is a genius!

No doubt that somebody already wrote that column, and somebody else might just write it again. Probably written by the kind of person who might have a say in the American League Cy Young award.

This is where things get tricky. Just as quickly as any sentient being recognizes Morrow's emergence and strong 2010 performance, they'll do an about-face and cast a vote for whomever has the most wins at the end of the year.

If this describes anyone you know, stop and think for a moment. Then run over and punch them in the face. Then quickly remind them of something: Brandon Morrow has only 10 wins this year. The man he was traded for, Brandon League, has 9.

Nine wins for League and he, unlike Morrow, is still pitching and might just pick up one or two more. As a middle reliever, League's held up his end of the equation for the sadsack M's. Fractionally worse FIP and xFIP numbers compared to last year, thanks in no small part to his returned-to-crazy ground ball rates (more than 60% GBs) and very low in-play average. The strikeouts went away but he's still pitched very well.

That said, it would require willful ignorance on a Coxian scale to believe the quality of Morrow's season and League's season are that close. Yet so many people, fans and Luddites alike, see the relative contributions of CC Sabathia and Felix Hernandez, Clay Buchholz and Francisco Liriano, as nothing more than their won-loss record.

Dumb and tired? Indeed. But seeing the two Brandons post nearly identical win totals lays bare just how pointless and misleading this team stat really is. Context isn't something you can turn on and off at will. Not all wins are created equal, yet they still pile up the same.

Image courtesy of the amazing Artificial Owl

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Study in Contrasts

This strapping young man is Mike Stanton. Mike Stanton is an outfielder for the Florida Marlins. He's a stud. Certifiable. We see him here at the tail end of a tater trot, something he's done 18 times this year, including three in three games earlier this week. Mike Stanton turns 21 in 2 months.

Mike Stanton started this season in double A, where he tuned up pitchers until early June. With an OPS over 1.100 and his arbitration clock officially stalled for one year, the Fish wisely called him up. And what did the Marlins do after calling up this can't miss stud? THEY PLAYED HIM EVERYDAY FOR THE REST OF THE YEAR.

Mike Stanton — after spending two full months of 2010 in the minor leagues — has amassed more than 300 plate appearances at the major league level this year. The first month of Stanton's big league career was rough, sporting a .635 OPS even when buoyed by a very high in-play average.

What did the Marlins do? Send him down? Scale back his playing time? Nope, they left him in to find his way. Which he did in a hurry, knocking out a .900 OPS in July. He came back to Earth in August but still produced well above league average offense. Now September is here and he's destroying baseballs and (I'm sure) more than a few dreams of virginal Cuban weddings.

Meanwhile, the Jays have certainly given Travis Snider his chances, though I don't think I'm alone in feeling he hasn't really had a job to lose. Travis Snider missed 6 weeks with a wrist injury before languishing (with a small L) in the minors for another two weeks. Either way, Travis Snider will get fewer at bats this year than Mike Stanton.

All the talk of "we don't know what we have in Travis Snider" and "I don't feel we know anymore about Snider than we knew two years ago" comes back, just as Alan Ashby said, to letting him go out and play. Every day. Against tough lefties and shitballing righties. The Marlins don't hide Stanton from tough NL right-handers (facing Halladay, Wainwright, Oswalt et al in his rookie year) yet Clarence insists on burying Snider in the order and against top pitchers.

This is a well-worn trope already but I can't shake it. I don't understand. It's easy and logical (and fun!) to blame The Manager but how can the front office allow the squandering of a valuable resource?

Can't we assume they believe one of two things: this doesn't impact his development or they've re-evaluated his ceiling? Maybe I'm grossly oversimplifying, but looking at his monthly splits, I see a guy who struggled out of the gate, then found his way, then got hurt. He came back, struggled, then started to come around. Until his playing time gets jerked around again.

Looking at their roster and track record, I'd say the Marlins know a thing or two about developing young players. Would it be crazy to follow their lead in this most-important situation?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Surprise! Wins are Useless

Tagging Out Evil, Fighting the Good FightIt was early last week when the good men of Infield Fly put up a poll, encouraging Jays fans to cast a vote for their favorite of the four main starting pitchers. Judging by the use of tags on this very website, you'd have to assume my answer would be Brett Cecil1.

It's true I am a big believer in what Brett Cecil can do, but I'm quietly becoming concerned with that he is doing. Yes, he's tied for the team lead with 12 big wins. Unfortunately, outside a superlative month of May, he hasn't pitched especially well at any point this year.

That isn't entirely true. Cecil's ground out an excellent number of innings, driving his WAR up to 2.4 for the year. But of the four starters, Cecil trails in most key component stats. I last wondered about the Cecil condition at the end of June, a month in which his strikeouts nose-dived and his fastball seemed flat. A bunch of home runs and a lousy strand rate shoved his ERA over 5 and his W-L to 2-3 for the month.

July saw Cecil pitch, well, worse. His strikeouts slunk lower while his walks nearly doubled. Much to Cecil's benefit/credit, he kept the ball in the ballpark and the gloves of his mates, riding a very low BABIP and a sky-high strand rate to a 1-0 record and a sparkling 2.23 ERA. Arbitrary end points as they might be, two consecutive bad months is two consecutive bad months.

Brett Cecil improved his won loss record in August (going 3-2) by pitching much better, nearly as well as his great month of May. The walks fell off sharply, allowing Cecil to weather the normalization of his home run rate, his BABIP, and his strand rate. His ground ball rate went up again and, while not nearly as high as in the minors, nearly reached the excellent 50% plateau.

Again, I don't mean to diminish the contributions of Brett Cecil. Outings like his start against the Rays, in which he lasted 8 long innings after giving up 5 early runs are invaluable and the reason innings pitched is included in all worthwhile counting stats. It speaks to the fluky nature of starting pitching, where an ill-timed home run can turn the context of an entire start completely around.

To me, it is another example of the triumph of process over result. Comparing Cecil's last two starts is a pretty stark reminder of the cruel nature of his profession. A little bad defense behind you, one poorly located pitch at the worst time and you've got a loss and 5 runs tallied against you. Some people might not care that you cruised for the next 5 (lower leveraged) innings, but dancing between the raindrops for 6 innings — like Cecil did against the Yankees — is a very dangerous game. But one is a win and one is a loss, only the optics say any differently.

What am I saying here? I'm a little worried about Cecil moving into next year. I worry he has a better chance of taking a step back rather than forward. I worry his new love for the change up might turn him into a fly-ball thrower, most unfortunately in a homer haven for right-handed hitters. Basically, I'm worried that the not-great months outnumber the good.

All the talk of the 4 great starters gets the blood moving but at least two of them still have much to prove. Let us learn from the very immediate past and remain guarded (just a little) in our optimism.

1 - The correct answer is Team Romero.

Splits courtesy of Baseball Reference and Fangraphs. Image courtesy of Reuters.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Bear Gets De-clawed

Despite the dizzying heights of September call-up time, I'm unplugging this weekend. Rather than lament Player X's playing time; I'm going to Vegas for a spousing ceremony with my old lady. She's a patient one, putting up with more baseball than the law allows. Not to mention endless keyboard clacking/iPhone devotion. Why not make an honest woman out of her?

As a result, it'll slow around here until next week. Sadly, the Area 51s are out of town. That means no opportunity for me to "scout" Brad Eamus or any other marginal prospects bench-warming utility fodder still left to dry on the end-of-season vine. Instead, I'll be post-oak bluffing sheet rock salesmen and donkeys in backwards hats. Stay real!