Friday, October 29, 2010

Fun with Things That are Fun


Watching Ron Washington go out of his way to hand the Giants the second game of the World Series makes me think we wasted a lot of energy fretting the managerial search. Clearly Manger of the Year Ron Washington's main strategy for 2010 was "hand ball to Lee/Wilson, hope for the best." Pretty sound strategy, until they either lay a minor egg (it happens) or their finger splits in two like an extra from a bad alien invasion movie.

Despite some hostility towards Lee in the past, I can safely say he's one of the best pitchers in baseball. He has good stuff and throws strikes. Good things all around. The other day I found myself thinking about something. Mind the gap, peep the Player A/B gimmick:
  1. Player A's first two full seasons in the majors
    1. 33 starts, 179 innings, 8.09 K/9, 4.07 BB/9, 33.4% ground ball rate, 1.20 HR/9, 4.63 xFIP, 1.5 WAR
    2. 32 starts, 202 innings, 6.37 K/9, 2.32 BB/9, 35.6% ground ball rate, 0.98 HR/9, 4.26 xFIP, 4.0 WAR

  2. Player B's first two full seasons in the majors
    1. 29 starts, 178 innings, 7.13 K/9, 3.99 BB/9, 54.0% ground ball rate, 0.91 HR/9 4.09 xFIP, 2.8 WAR
    2. 32 starts, 210 innings, 7.46 K/9, 3.51 BB/9, 55.2% ground ball rate, 0.64 HR/9, 3.75 xFIP, 4.0 WAR
Give up? Player A is obviously Cliff Lee in his age 25 and 26 seasons, Player B is none other than our very own Ricky Romero (24/25 FWIW).

Can we expect Romero to follow Lee's rollercoaster path to major league dominance? Not likely. I don't know about must of y'all, but I don't think my heart could take Ricky Romero pitching in HIGH A BALL at any point in 2011. But that's what happened to Lee and look at him now.

But there is certainly hope that Romero can learn to master the strike zone like the unconscious Lee. Might the astute (no pressure) new regime add a cutter to Romero's 4 pitch mix, making him equally tough to touch? We can only hope.

Romero doesn't have the same gravity ball option to make him true death on left-handed hitters, but that doesn't mean he won't. If anything, adding a cutter as discussed above would yield even better results against same-handed batters. Without that big out pitch (other than his fabled "cut change") Romero might even be a Danks Theory candidate for all the overmanagers in the crowd.

This isn't any more reason for you to join "Team Romero" but it is important to note the kind of company he keeps. Making the leap from 4 Win pitcher to 8 is pretty massive, especially for a guy who breaks wild pitch records. When people talk about Romero's makeup — and they do, in glowing terms — Jays fans can feel pretty good about Ricky's willingness to do what he must to join that upper echelon of elite starters.

Image courtesy of Metkere.com via Boing Boing

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Two Interesting Tidbits


While this is hardly a "news and notes" site where I'm expected to comment on any passing piece of Blue Jays news, a couple worthwhile pieces slipped under my nose this week. Both are worthy of consideration and maybe even worth a blockquote or two.

Friend of GROF Patrick Sullivan of Baseball Analysts takes umbrage with Jon Heyman's curious use of the world "neophyte" when describing new Jays bench boss John Farrell. Sully1 rightfully points out Farrell's long and illustrious baseball resume in multiple facets of the game. Allow the man to drop some science:
I think Farrell's the perfect choice for the Jays, a team whose future hinges on its young pitching staff's continued improvement. Shaun Marcum, Ricky Romero, Brett Cecil, Brandon Morrow and Marc Rzepczynski will average 26 years old for the 2011 season. Kyle Drabek, Zach Stewart and Brad Mills aren't far behind. Farrell will be able to lean on all of his professional skills - his MLB player experience, player development expertise and pitching coach track record - to help strengthen Toronto's biggest asset, its young pitching.
Sullivan wonders if Heyman prefer the Jays select another retread off the pile, depositing a regressive old hand to work with a clearly progressive front office. Lazy general columnists like Damien Cox wondered aloud why the Jays hadn't pursued a big name for the managerial vacancy, likely bemoaning the need to "learn" stuff about the "new guy" he's never "met". Such is the burden for a star of stage and screen like Cox.

Meanwhile, at Baseball Prospectus, Jay Jaffe dons his Greek tunic and plays Jays GM for the day. Jaffe suggests doing us all a favor and DFAing Brian Tallet while letting all of Downs, Frasor, and Gregg walk in free agency. He notes that the Type A designation may drive down the price to bring them back, NSA.

Jaffe makes some great points when he reaches first base. Lyle Overbay isn't likely to return, but the glut of options at that position may bring down the asking prices and present a nice cheap pickup. Derrek Lee is a name grabs my attention. I've always liked his defense and patience. Expecting a three Win season from Lee isn't asking too much, especially if his price tag tumbles.

Some of the middle infield options leave much to be desired (O-Dog is short for 0 left in the tank, amirte?) but Jed Lowrie is an interesting case. He sort of went off like a cannon during the second half of 2010. Jaffe suggests the Red Sox might not have room for Lowrie with Dustin Pedroia and Marco Scutaro under contract. I think Theo is too smart to let a valuable cog slip for anything less than an interesting prospect. Spend money to make money, I suppose.

Important Late Addition!


The National Post's John Lott has a great piece with Brian Butterfield, the GROF-choice for manager whom Alex Anthopoulos somehow managed to retain. Again.

Butter looks towards 2011 working under his fourth different manager in Toronto, under two different general managers. That's absurd and unheard of, a true testament to Butter's contribution to the team and baseball in general. Congrats Butter, hopefully they backed a truck full of money to your door. We know you're not made of stone.

Image courtesy of Fanpop.com and my friend Julio, with whom I frequently rendezvous down by the school and/or yard.

1 - I can't recommend Patrick's new Red Sox blog Red Sox Beacon highly enough. Don't read it if you're worried about losing your pre-conceived notions of what Red Sox fans are really like.

Monday, October 25, 2010

I've Known a Lot of Girls Before, What's the Harm in Knowing One More?


Let me be the first one hundredth person to welcome new Jays manager John Farrell to the fold. May his reign of terror be brutal and sweeping, ridding the land of entitled waste.

I can't pretend that I have any insight into the managerial acumen of John Farrell, aside from the various quotes and notes culled from the greater Citosphere. The Tao awesomely linked (via Twitter) to a Farrell slurp piece from 2006, when the new Jays headman was set to join the Red Sox as pitching coach.

Let's re-purpose a "telling" quote from said MLB.com article. If you want to get a sense of Farrell's managerial approach, replace all instances of "pitcher" with "players." It's all about efficiency, really:
"I look forward to the challenge of building a relationship with individual pitchers and ultimately getting them to reach their fullest potential, which many have; obviously, their track record speaks for itself in many cases," Farrell said. "I think there's a core group of young arms that are in the transition stage and beginning to establish themselves at the big-league level."
The press conference scheduled for today gives the new field boss opportunity to spit more bland platitudes while paying lip service to the rigors of competing in the AL East.

In fact, ahead of today's grand unveiling, let's play the Managerial Press Conference Drinking Game! Any time one of these shopworn clich├ęs make an appearance, fire up an adult beverage. Note: take the rest of the day off.
  • We Know We're In Tough - in which the manager praises the divisional rivals without laying down for them.
  • Winning Culture: Expect to be told that second place isn't good enough. Expect The New Manager to disavow any knowledge of the Wild Card. "We're tying to win the division and ultimately the World Series."
  • I Didn't Come Here To... - I expect the good doctor Farrell to instruct us over and again that he didn't come here to pad his resume and happily accept third place moral victories.
  • We're Gonna Do Things a Little Differently - That's a guaran-damn-tee! It doesn't even matter what he's referring to, there's a great chance Farrell will swear up and down that things are going to run differently. Unless...
  • Not Here to Re-Invent the Wheel - Perhaps a backhanded compliment to the outgoing King, Farrell will praise the Jays prodigious power and acknowledge the achievements of last year's squad. This line of attack gives opportunity to praise Alex Anthopoulos and the scouting team not to mention spout out his own working knowledge of the Jays current roster.
If this all sounds a little cynical, you'll have to forgive me. Watching Ron Washington and Bruce Bochy lurch their way to the World Series only cements that much more deeply that the whole "managerial thing" is sort of a sham. It's the GM's world; The Manager, however iconoclastic, is just living in it.

Synergistic image courtesy of the AP and Daylife

Thursday, October 21, 2010

In a Silk Suit Trying Not to Sweat, Hittin' Somersaults Without the Net


Just as I foretold, the entire baseball world (outside of Bitterton, PA) is completely enamored with the San Francisco Giants. As they well should be, the Giants are amazing. From ballpark to blogosphere, they do it right. Except in the innumerable cases in which they don't.

The great and wonderful Tao got me thinking with a tweet last night, remarking that the Giants were in complete disarray just two seasons ago. This should, of course, provide hope for desperate souls wondering the Blue Jays wilderness waiting for their own blue and grey kitty adoption drive.

If you read me at Walkoff Walk, you know I'm slightly obsessed with the Giants. Having written about them so many times over the past two years, I can't say I'm anything other than flabbergasted they're one win from the World Series.

The Giants are having a magical season in which everything, every last required detail, goes right. It's an amazing thing to watch. That doesn't take away from the sheer volume of questionable moves made by their front office. Playoff Hero Cody Ross? A puzzling pickup who would have a nice warm seat on the bench if initial puzzling pickup Jose Guillen hadn't injured his right arm. Found money Pat Burrell? At home drinking Schlitz if free agent Mark DeRosa isn't nursing his rotten joints at home.

Which is to say nothing of the gift from heaven in the form of Tim Lincecum. Passed over by The Freak's hometown Mariners (in favor of Blue Jays stud Brandon Morrow - synergy!) basically saved Sabean's job.

Giants GM should be praised for getting a huge return on his tiny Aubrey Huff investment and getting something — anything — in return for Benjie Molina after re-signing the big catcher solely to milk Buster Posey's arbitration clock.

But this is still a team that hit every note this season, most importantly a little something called the historic collapse of the San Diego Padres. Again, I love the Giants and do not wish to diminish their accomplishment in any way. But if the team leading the AL East falls on its face, their are two other beasts (aka not the Rockies) waiting to slip into their place.

Which brings us back to the Jays and, incidentally, the Rays. The aforementioned Tao tweet provoked a response from author and general baller Jonah Keri. Jonah noted the same charge (team in disarray) applied to the Rays just three years ago. And look at them now! It is from this example, not the Giants Good Times Freak Out to the Promised Land, that we Jays fans must draw inspiration.

Because with AA at the helm and a solid pitching foundation in place, I feel a lot better about the Jays chances — the Jays process — than hoping a handful of beans turn to a golden beanstalk. Alex Anthopoulos's stewardship aims to put the Jays in a position to succeed year-in and year-out, not hoping for career years from Andres Torres and Sergio Romo.

Love the Giants, but they aren't playing the same game. Hope springs eternal but luck runs out. Building foundations out of sand and assorted cliches. Just keeping working.

Getty Images photo courtesy of Daylife.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Where Do I Sign?

When the latest managerial heresy leaked like Yankee tears when Cliff Lee takes the mound that the Jays interviewed Sandy Alomar Jr. not once, not twice, but thrice (later confirmed by the deposed king of Bremner Boulevard), my first thought was "wow, that is a great idea." Seriously!

The performances of the competing managers — other than Bruce Bochy, a fact very difficult to think let alone type &mdash, during this playoff season should go to great lengths to prove the relative worth of a manager.

That said, Sandy Alomar Jr. hits most of the (baseless) criteria I want in the Jays next manager1. Young, Spanish-speaking...and that's about it. That he Played In The Big Leagues surely helps in certain corners of the clubhouse but other than that, I just want him to stay out of his own way.

One concern for any prospect porn aficionado with a guy like Sandy Alomar is the Former Catcher Factor. Nothing frustrates more than seeing stud catcher of the future sit while gritty replacement-level "catch and throw guy" coaches up the young pitching staff. Is there value in that type of catcher? Of course, but young players can't learn those skills flicking sunflower seeds and blowing bubbles.

Giving somebody their first managerial job at the big league level is risky but hiring an iconoclastic name manager isn't without its pitfalls. Many of the names continue to surface like former catcher Tony Pena, owner of a giant face Clint Hurdle, and Timbit drunk Rob Thomson. None of them really hold my interest too tightly. I'm excited for a fresh start and I don't think I'm the only one.

1 - I shouldn't have to say this is my back-up choice. See photo.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Into the Void



Taking a quick look at this space — and others like it — one can quickly surmise that absolutely nothing is going in the Blue Jays world. During the opening playoff round it was easy to distract ourselves, but the intermidable break before the league championship series...

Frankly, I find myself going somewhat crazy. I got to thinking about Jose Bautista and Marc Rzepcyznski (AFLFTW!) and next thing I knew I was reminiscing about the final series against Minnesota. And guess what? IT SEEMS LIKE IT WAS THREE LIFETIMES AGO.

There is a better than average chance I was completely losing my shit yesterday. Idly flipping through pre-season basketball and what I'm lead to believe was "regular season hockey." I shook and quivered. It wasn't pretty.

The epic matchup of Tim Lincecum and Roy Halladay on Saturday would be an excellent way to sooth my pain, were I not attending a wedding and unable to watch. This, I believe, may just increase my pain to intolerable levels.

In the mean time, we must busy ourselves with post-season roundtables featuring me and other, more insightful people and the hardest working baseball blog in the business, Getting Blanked. Parkes does a yeoman's work while I just show up a couple times a week to bore everyone to tears.

Enjoy baseball this weekend, each game brings us closer to the end. I'm 100% unprepared, there's a great chance it ends in tears.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Hunt is On


If, in searching for a new person to manage your quasi-competitive baseball team, you came to realize your baseball team has a history of excellence in both run production and prevention. Would it change the way you search for this bench boss?

Would you look for another master motivator, someone able to coax more career-best performances out of young players and veteran fill-ins? Would you follow the mold of the previous field general, a strong but silent type with an eye for confidence swoons and enthusiastic home run cuts?

Or would you think to yourself "if I, the head of baseball operations, assembled a roster so adept at both creating and preventing runs that still managed to finish distantly behind the playoff clubs, maybe I should seek a different kind of manager." After all, if my team is able to hang with the best in the game yet cannot manage to win the games they shouldn't, or even get the most out of the available talent.

Do I go with an established field boss or a loyal lieutenant with experience in the ringer? Do I stay mum on the process and watch the leeches and opportunists throw their hats in the ring?

Either way, it's a pretty big decision to make. Or it isn't, at all. One of the those two things. Depends on your perspective.

Image courtesy of Michael John Grist

Thursday, October 7, 2010

False Dilemma Season


All I have to say is this:

If you can't divorce yourself, for one night, from the arbitrary decision to root for a specific baseball team with all your might, I feel genuinely sorry for you.

If you deem it pathetic that baseball fans, watchers, appreciators or notice-ers followed the best pitcher they've ever seen, the best to ever pull on the uniform, I feel sorry you too.

Look, I pretty much assume myself to be too cool for everything, but watching Roy Halladay pitch for the last ten years is not something I toss aside because he changed teams. This isn't Ted fucking Lilly or some other moderately competent pitcher checking into town for a few years and shuffling off. It isn't even Jason Frasor recording the final out for the 2012 World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates.

Roy Halladay is a transcendent pitcher whom we all bragged to American friends about enjoying for so many years. That doesn't just shut off because he switched teams.

Cheering for the Jays as we all do shouldn't preclude us from acknowledging some things as bigger than teams and running deeper than rooting interest. Baseball is fun, and watching Roy Halladay — no-hitter or otherwise — is a shitload of fun. I won't exclude myself from enjoying something truly great and special because his hat is now a different color. And I won't apologize for it either.

Should it have been in Toronto? Should he have stayed a Jay? Who cares. If you think any of these athletes owe you or the teams they play for a single thing, you're wrong. They entertain, we invest. Don't tell me something is bittersweet because it didn't happen in the stadium closest to your house.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Colour Me Encouraged


There will be plenty of time for me to pull out Arman's copy of Swank, grab my container of expired Crisco, dim the lights and rosterbate the night away; something interesting caught me eye this week.

It seems freezer-shaped franchise hope Travis Snider may just have turned himself into something of a fielder! Some of the numbers at seasons end are pretty...not terrible!

Snider leaders the team with just around 6 runs saved by UZR, also adding a sweet +6 on the Dewan +/- scale as a left fielder - with two more in right! While his arm (unsurprisingly) rates below-average, his range runs are a team high +8.

One season of numbers aren't worth much, especially if you're prone to extrapolate using UZR/1501 or skeptical of advanced defensive numbers on the whole. If you use the "plus or minus 5 runs" rule when applying UZR, Snider still grades out as either average or slightly above. Much higher than many thought when he made his debut in 2008 at Yankee Stadium, in bizarre-routed style.

Looking at his young career, Snider is on the happy side of par for his career in left field after about 1000 innings. That isn't quite a full years worth but it is certainly a start.

Snider's athleticism is quite the divisive topic, often saying more about the speaker/writer than the athlete himself. Not only does improved outfield defense help else assign him higher esoteric number values (WARZZZZ!!1) and help his team win ballgames, it shows a very important side of Snider: the one willing to work.

No high school kid can or should be expected to develop into a big league outfielder in just two years. The difference of surroundings along must take thousands of hours and repetitions to become second nature. If Snider is willing to put the work in (assuming he has improved - defensive numbers y'all!) and make himself a better baseball player in all facets of the game, those of us hoping to pin the fate of the franchise on him can rest a little easier.

1 - Just a tip, a personal thing really. UZR/150 works when your scale backwards, dividing to get such a number. Use this number to project (extrapolate!) at your own peril.

Image courtesy of Your Toronto Star

Monday, October 4, 2010

So That is, uh, That.


Please don't go baseball, I miss you already.

I want to go on the record thanking, of course, the Toronto Blue Jays for an incredibly entertaining and never-dull-for-a-moment season of futility excellent baseball. Thanks to Jose Bautista for proving me wrong in the worst way.

Most of all, I want to thank everyone who reads and comments here at Ghostrunner on First. It means a lot and I appreciate and live for each and every interaction.

If you're new around here, you should know we certainly don't fold this tent up and wait for spring. I'll spend most of the winter throwing all manner of crap against the wall in hopes of having just a little stick.

In addition to what you see here, I'm also now contributing to the The Score's Getting Blanked baseball blog. My first post went up Friday, thanks to the Giants for making me sweat it out until Sunday but saving me from a public shaming.

Walkoff Walk is still going strong and I'll pop up over there whenever I have the chance.

Other than that, keep your eyes peeled here for a pretty exciting announcement in the next few weeks. Good times ahoy!

Reuters photo courtesy of Daylife

Friday, October 1, 2010

It's Pretty Simple, Really


You face the Blue Jays, you get lumped up.

Judging by the way Travis Snider is swinging the bat, it will remain this way well beyond the immediate future. Travis Snider, you see, is an offensive powerhouse in the making.

Watch the video of his home run last night. Pretty standard swing, finish high and watch it fly. Fraosorly Twins reliever Jeff Manship (!) left his pitch up and over the plate and Snider sure didn't miss it.

Compare that shot with the bombs from the previous two games. First he took big CC Sabathia deep on a high, inside fastball, whipping the bat through the zone with extreme prejudice. That is no mean feat, taking the Big Man yard on a pitch Snider struggled with much of the year.

The next night Snider faced Javy Vazquez and put a much different swing on the ball. Travis Snider possesses an uncanny ability to stay back on the ball, to seemingly "drag" the bat through the zone before flicking his wrists with explosive power.

When I think about sweet left-handed swings, I think about guys like Lyle Overbay or even Adam Lind - languid swings that use the whole field but generally have the same, "you're a really good golfer" appearance.

Travis Snider's swing is different in that it seems to change, he is able to do the things listed above - almost "laying off" the bat like he was trying to hit a massive draw with his 7 iron - as well as muscle up and show off his "Light Tower Power."

I don't want to completely ignore my personal vendetta against September results when feting Travis Snider as arrived or anything like that. There is, however, some pretty compelling evidence that he thrives as a hitter when given the chance to do so every damn day.

Getting back to Snider's swing for a brief moment, last year I noted it reminded me of Victor Martinez's left handed swing. I think I have to revise that assessment a little. Watching these home run videos, one other name keeps popping into my head. Another sweet left-handed pass powered by preternatural forearms and donkey-strong hands.

Around here, we call him the King.