Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Expansive Thinking

Brave men and ESPN buddies Bill TPA and The Common Man, the high-quality dudes behind The Platoon Advantage as well as weekend Getting Blankards, recently undertook a daunting but interesting exercise. In their infinite wisdom, they went ahead and added two big league teams for the 2012 season. Not content to simply realign the leagues, the decided to fill the rosters of the new teams. 25 players per team aren't going to come out of thin air so...expansion draft time!

The guys asked us to protect 15 players ahead of the first round, then pull three exposed players back. Another round of picks then another three get protected. Read the introductory post, the first round of picks and the second/third rounds.

As this is a 'real team', contracts count as does age, I suppose (read the rules here). The Jays have so few albratross contracts so I didn't have much to worry about on that front. I simply tried to protect as much talent as possible.

With no further ado, here is my list with some general commentary following.
  1. Jose Bautista
  2. Ricky Romero
  3. Brandon Morrow
  4. Travis Snider
  5. Brett Lawrie
  6. Yunel Escobar
  7. Kyle Drabek
  8. Marc Rzepcyznski
  9. Adam Lind
  10. Zach Stewart
  11. J.P. Arencibia
  12. Anthony Gose
  13. Rajai Davis
  14. Henderson Alverez
  15. Travis D'Arnaud
With the 21st pick in the first round, the Portland Webfoots select Brett Cecil of the Toronto Blue Jays. And the crowd booed Toronto's inept GM lustily.

Time for round two! My protected players:
  1. Carlos Villanueva
  2. Aaron Hill
  3. Deck McGuire
And with the first selection of the second round, the Portland Webfoots select Eric Thames of the Toronto Blue Jays. And I feel shame. To the third and final round!
  1. Adeiny Hechavarria
  2. Carlos Perez
  3. Jake Marisnick
Finally, with the sixth pick of the third round, the Brooklyn Hipsters select Brad Mills. Whatever.

And that's it. I fear protecting Rajai Davis was a mistake. In light of his play (both recent and historical) and two players I lost, I regret it. Leaving Davis exposed while protecting Cecil and then exposing Hill while protecting Thames probably helps me sleep at night.

On the other hand, I feel like Thames-type players are exactly the kind to move in an expansion draft. Maybe he could be the Webfoots' Al Woods? Sucks to see him go but players like him are not too hard to find. Hopefully, he proves me wrong.

In the end, not bad. Too mid-rotation lefties and a decent-if-defensively challenged power bat lost. The pitching depth makes the first two losses easier to swallow, the outfield competition and Bautista contract make Thames a little easier to take.

What are your thoughts? Always a good exercise to help realize other fans don't value your prospects quite like you do.

Make sure you click over and check out the full rosters, it's good stuff. Awesomely Keith Law compares the rosters and breaks down their merits. Once you finish taking in their entire project, come back here and tear a strip off yours truly in the comments.

Sad image of a happy guy courtesy of Reuters via Daylife.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Carlos Villanueva Recognition Coalition

A little over a week ago I wondered out loud if there was an appreciation-cult or meme following for off-season afterthought turned serviceable rotation patch Carlos Villanueva. The complete lack of response means I took it upon myself to do some(1) digging to help us all learn a little more about him. 

The first question people usually ask me when I'm suddenly standing in front of them is "Who are you and where did you come from?" and the answer you would get here is Carlos Villanueva and he came from Milwaukee for a player who shares the same name as my son, to be named later. Where is Carlos Villanueva now? After a wave of youth washed away he's found himself right in the middle of the Jays rotation as his MLB service clock is going to be hitting the 5 year mark at the end of this season, making him eligible for arbitration after making $1.45M this season. 

You might know Villanueva from his playing a very similar 'tweener' role with the Brewers while rocking a consistent chinstrap, the type of facial hair that I have to assume was some sort of locker room requirement for that team. A flipthrough his photostream says that he showed up to camp with designs on a similar look but succumbed to the power of the mustache-dominated goatee and rode it to a starting gig. A recent regression to the mean shave-down means we're due for a full beard or bust in the coming weeks. This is a big decision for Villanueva in my eyes. The full beard can either end up as Bautista BeardmodeBeastmode or Jesse Litsch Disasterface. He's not going to be able to pull off Ricky Romero smooth, and you'd want to distance yourself from a chinstrap as long as Edwin Encarnacion has one, so may I humbly suggest an ode to Travis Snider(2) with the solo mustache that Carlos is clearly so capable of pulling off. Mustaches are huge for launching memes. 

Now that we know who he is, let's move to what Carlos Villanueva is. He's already having the best fWAR (0.8) season of his career and he's got 3 wins(3) in 6 starts(4), thanks to a 1.18WHIP, 3.33 K/BB, and keeping opposing hitters to an 89 OPS+. He's a flyball pitcher (40.1 career FB%) that has been doing an extremely... um... out of character job of keeping the ball in the ballpark. His career HR/FB is 12.9% and thus far for the Jays it sits at 6.1%. The rest of the numbers are fairly in line with his career averages except for infield pop-ups, which has jumped from 9.2% to 18.4% as a starter in 2011. 

How's he doing it? First of all he's missing a lot of bats. A 14.7 swing-miss% as a starter is up from his career average of 10.8. He seems to be a totally different pitcher depending on the handedness of the batter as actually gets groundballs the majority of the time against lefties. Since we've deduced that home runs and swinging strikes are the key factors here, let's  take a look at them on a pitch f/x strike zone! 

(Click for Larger View) 

His slider has been his most effective pitch in terms of swings and misses. It was swung at and missed from both sides of the plate at more than 25% rate, but both it and his fastball (25.9 & 33.3 LD%) have accounted almost all of the line drives he's given up. He uses the curve heavily against lefties and that turns into a lot of ground balls. The change-up has also been good, anything really to keep him from having to throw a fastball when the hitter knows a fastball is coming. Unfortunately I don't have the individual pitch outcome info available throughout anything beyond 2011 for Villanueva available to me but I have to assume from the Pitch Values of -6.1, -4.7, -9.9, and -7.2 from the last 4 years that his fastball is the one that will be leaving the park if his HR/FB% creeps back to the double digits. 

If you're following along with your handy journalism school 5 W's, you'll know the final question is "Why Carlos Villanueva?" and the answer to that is because Kyle Drabek literally cannot throw a strike to save his professional life right now; Because Jo Jo Freaking Reyes can't be the #3 guy; Because Zach Stewart and Brad Mills and Brett Cecil and any of the other names haven't paid as many big league dues as Villanueva; Because as long as he's keeping the ball in the park he's been a pretty steady arm; Because he could grow a mustache and might if we all ask him to by using every social media power at our disposal; and (maybe most importantly) because he's not Jesse Litsch(5).

I'm not asking for effusive praise or outlandish Chuck Norris like facts, just a grouping of people recognizing Carlos Villanueva for the contributions he has been making. The Villanueva Recognition Coalition(6). Look at the mountains we moved with Bautista Appreciation Society. This could be the beginning of something special. 



1- The least amount possible for me, which is like 3 hours. Oh, and don't mind these I'm just auditioning for Grantland. 
2- Free Travis Snider. Just kidding I'm not actually doing footnotes now. Or auditioning for Grantland. (one of those two things is a lie)
3- I only wrote this so Drew would have to read about pitching wins on his own site and get mad for a second. 
4- Sample Size! I know! Also, every 'career' number used in this paragraph is through the scope of his starts, not his relief appearances. 
5- I swear to God, Drew does not force me to take shots at Jesse Litsch whenever I can. 
6- Still taking suggestions on a better name. #VRC 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Aaron Cibia is the Mayor of Split City

You know what's awesome? Being wrong. The value of being dead wrong is two-fold for someone as ironically detached as myself:
  1. When you're constantly negative, being wrong means things actually went well!
  2. Something something learning.
Astute readers may remember me expressing concern with J.P. Arencibia's offensive potential. Quite clearly, I was wrong. Which is great, because it means JPA is having a fine season. Third among rookies in home runs and not a single pitcher died under his watch. Way to go JPA!

All was well until the calender turned to June. This month, Aaron Cibia's gone in the tank some. Tired? Maybe, but he's 25 and it's only June. Maybe the league figured something out about the studly catcher. Like, maybe, I dunno, he can't hit a slider?

Arencibia currently sports some pretty gaudy left/right splits. His exposure to left-handed pitching is pretty minimal but he's smacking it around with extreme prejudice. 5 of his 10 home runs came from southpaws in 1/3 the PAs.

His OPS is nearly double versus lefties, his ISO 200 points higher. The numbers are eye-popping but, we must remember, the sample is small and neither side is an accurate representation of his true talent level. (As a weird aside, he displayed large reverse splits in the his final year at AAA. Can't predict baseball!)

Wait, hold on. What if these splits are indicative of a pattern, of a hole in his swing or the league figuring him out? Arencibia's wOBA by month tells a tale (.369, .341, .211). You know what else tells a similar tale? The percentage of sliders he sees from right handed pitchers, also by month.

Arencibia, percentage of sliders (from RHP) faced by month
  • April 11%
  • May 18%
  • June 31%
Which would be fine if, well...

Whiff rate versus slider (from RHP) by month
  • April 18%
  • May 27%
  • June 52%
Having watched Joe Carter and Vernon Wells play baseball for much of my natural life, I'm pretty confident I know how right-handers are pitching JPA these days. For the sake of showing our work, let's take a look at all his swinging strikes versus righties this year.

Sliders and slider-shaped items down and away with fastballs up in the zone? You don't say!

While J.P. Arencibia is far from the first right-handed batter to struggle with the slider down and away, it is now his duty to make an adjustment. Arencibia's young enough that there is plenty of learning and/or development time before we throw up our hands and declare him a one-trick pony. God only knows the last thing this team needs is another platoon player.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Jays Jumbo Gumbo #2

I was going to write a game story from my couch but then I watched the game and well, would you even want to read about it? JAYS JUMBO GUMBO IT IS!

In the youtube era the fan made mixtape is a rite of passage for every 6th man in the NBA. Mixtapes of ballplayers are a little harder to come by, but Jose Bautista's got one. The pitcher reactions made me smirk an evil smirk.

This hot mess was a Sunshine Girl in 1991. Neat.

“Henke got up on stage and said this is for Llyod Moseby and Jesse Barfield and George Bell and all the guys who fought the war and weren't able to get their rewards.”

- Lloyd Moseby, reflecting on not being apart of the '92 or '93 World Series winning Blue Jays.

This interview with John Farrell's youngest son Luke smelt a lot like an SNL skit to me but apparently it's not. The interviewer does go from happily lobbing Luke softball questions about pitching in double headers and playing in the Cape Cod league to softly dropping "and you had a tumour in the base of your skull..." so you can see my confusion. Seems like a really nice kid.

"Jose, I see something in you. This is your chance."

- Cito Gaston in the long awaited Posnanski feature on Bautista.

I promise next time I'll come back with something of substance.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Adam Lind is Moderately Unstoppable

If I asked who had the second highest June wOBA in baseball, would you answer Adam Lind? You just might and, strangely, you would be right on the money!

Lind's June slash goes a little like .429/.500/.976, good for a .604 wOBA. Which is insane, even though two weeks means not so much and his .423 BABIP and 43% HR/FB means more than not so much.


It is fun to watch. Adam Lind is Adam Lind again. Right? Maybe.

Long-time readers know me to be bullish on Lind because of his power to all fields. Then it went away. Then he was awful. Now he's back! Did he bring his all fields power with him?

Below is a strike zone plot (from the catcher's perspective. Left-handed Lind stands on the right side of the image) of all Lind's home runs in 2011. Two pitches on the inside part of the plate; the big tot he smashed off Kevin Gregg just this week and his Opening Day blast off Carl Pavano.

Other stuff: the bigger the dot, the harder the pitch. Ye olde legend lays out the colour scheme. Let's take a look.

Nice mix of offspeed and fastballs, though the bulk of them are right over the middle of the plate. But hey, what is wrong with that? A wise(?) man once said "pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered." Which means...I'm not sure. I think it means take what you're given and do your worst with it. Right? Sure, whatever.

Anyway, I'm busting out an old trick - using the horizontal pitch postion from pitch f/x and the home run direction from Hit Tracker Online. Fun times!

Welcome back, Adam Lind. I almost forgot about that crazy home run off the left field foul pole in New York. Let's relieve it through the magic of embedded video!

No doubt all Jays fans are glad to have The Real Adam Lind back in the fold. To say the results this season are "encouraging" would be "redundant." He's great and it's great. Not in-play averages off-the-charts like he is right now, but it's fun to watch while it happens.

Reuters image courtesy of Daylife, pitch f/x stuffs from Joe Lefkowitz.

Fresno, California: June 7th, 2011

(Picture of Thomas Neal watching the celebration on June 7th, 2011, seconds before he left the stadium)

*article contains links corroborating the tale below*

Thomas Neal stood in left field on a hot June night, sweat dripping down his forehead, wondering how he had made it through the game thus far. His hometown girl Veronica had kept him up all night with calls and texts saying she "knew what Fresno girls were like." She was aware of how much Neal needed his sleepy nappy time but she kept texting throughout the night anyway, looking for comfort.

Thomas, a San Francisco Giants prospect from Inglewood, California, was tired, so tired. During warm up he was sure he had seen a couple of Special Ops agents in the crowd and wondered if Captain John MacTavish was coming to see him. He realized almost as soon as the thought popped in his head that the lack of sleep had made him delusional.

He slapped himself in the face to keep alert and looked at the scoreboard to check what the situation in the game was. His team, the Fresno Grizzlies, were up 12 to 1 over the Las Vegas 51s in the top of the 8th. There were two outs but Vegas had a man on 1st and 2nd with Adam Loewen coming to the plate. "Please don't hit it to me," Neal begged. It wasn't the sleep deprivation he thought might get in the way of him playing adequate defense, it was the fact that his left arm had been completely numb for over 6 hours.

In his last time up to the plate he had thrown his bat into the stands on three straight pitches. This prompted Grizzlies Manager, Steve Decker, to lovingly yell from the dugout, "the fuck is wrong with you, motherfucker?" Neal took off his glove and stared at his left hand, he was confident now that it would need to be amputated after the game. Just then he heard the crack of the bat. Neal looked up but couldn't spot the ball. He ran back, his eyes darting back and forth looking up in the sky. He was in a full out sprint now, he could feel the left field wall getting closer.


The ball hit the wall in the right field gap almost 200 feet away from where Thomas was running. "Thank god" he thought as he wiped the sweat off his brow. He started to walk back to his position as Adam Loewen cruised into 2nd base.

But as Loewen touched 2nd his Las Vegas teammates came barreling out of the dugout, cheering with their arms raised. The batboys of the 51s were chasing after them, throwing confetti in the air. Neal turned and looked at the scoreboard in utter confusion, had the 51s won the game? No, it was still only the 8th inning and the Grizzlies were up by 9 runs! Neal looked to the left of the crowd of players surrounding Loewen and saw a man in beige khakis and a black sweater come bounding over the fence on the first base side. It was the Blue Jays General Manager Alex Anthopoulos and he was galloping towards 2nd base with his arm raised and his index finger pointed to the heavens.

Thomas felt sick. He had no idea what was happening. He looked up and saw a helicopter was trying to land on the field! He ran to the left field stands to get out of the way and watched a red faced Paul Beeston hop out of the helicopter as soon as it touched the ground. Beeston walked confidently over to Adam Loewen, who was now being applauded by the umpires, and shook his hand. "Congratulations son," Neal overheard Beeston say, "you've done it."

Thomas Neal hoped over the rail, walked up the stairs and out of the stadium as the Fresno crowd watched the celebration on the field with smiles on their faces. Later that day Neal would have his left arm amputated at the elbow and retire from baseball.

On that day, with that at bat, Adam Loewen reached 1,000 official at bats in the Blue Jays minor league system. Yes, as Alex Anthopoulos said, and his mentor J.P. Riccardi before him, when Loewen reached 1,000 at bats the Blue Jays would know what they had in this pitcher turned outfielder.

So do they have something in Adam Loewen that is worth a call up to the big leagues? Sure, why not?

This year Loewen has a solid .370 On Base Percentage and is Slugging a-PCL-helped .561 with 11 home runs and 23 doubles. He is walking less than last year and his strikeouts remain about the same but he's hitting for more power.

More importantly though, it's what the Jays have at the big league level that makes Adam Loewen worth a try.

Corey Patterson and Raja Davis... boooooring. How about we skip their hitting stats and I try and really depress you? In 2010 Raja Davis stole 50 bases and was caught stealing 11 times. This year he is 32 stolen bases away from reaching 50 but only 3 (!) put outs away from reaching the 11 times he was caught stealing. Patterson is 35 SBs from his personal best and also 3 (!) good throws away from his caught stealing high. Why? Maybe Escobar keeps missing hit and run signs. Or maybe they're both at the age where superstar athletes need to develop a jump shot to stay in the NBA. God knows.

Either way I'd rather Adam Loewen, the only young male from Surrey that didn't try and burn my beautiful city to the ground, get some major league at bats than the Jays continue to tread water with Patterson and Davis. I already know what they can do!

Yes, me wanting to see Loewen is based mostly on the fact we're not sure what he's capable of at the major league level so I let my imagination run and it shows me the most ~amazing things~. And yes you could use this same superficial argument for Thames and Cooper* and Lawrie. Go ahead and do it. It's fun.

But Adam Loewen passed the 1,000 at bat mark and I thought you should know.

*Cooper is hitting .393 in Vegas right now. I know batting average isn't a great stat but a guy hitting close to .400 still makes me tingly.

Dave Burrows is the West Coast contributor to GROF. He is able to bring a different angle to the site because he can stay up later. Follow him on twitter.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Money Well Saved

(Editor's note: the bulk of this post was written before Rzepczynski walked Vlad Guerrero. All bets are now off.)

After my monocle came back from the cleaners, I impatiently waited for my pool boy to finish detailing my ornate encyclopedia collection. With my other houseman on a errand run (fetching foie-gras taco fixins) I took a break from shooting toonies with my Desert Eagle to read a Grantlands article from start to finish. Despite needing a shave halfway through, it was quite interesting.

This article was about the Moneyball revolution and what constitutes the new inefficiency. Building a bullpen on the cheap is key in this, as most of the people reading this site already know.

I later "saw" Scott Downs pitching for the Angels in an early-morning highlight pack (his name came up as my staff pantomimed each clip for my amusement, as per our morning routine). Heading over the Downs' Fangraphs page, I saw Scott Downs is doing Scott Downs-shaped things once again.

Downs currently owns a 65% ground ball rate, 3.25 FIP and strikeout to walk ratio of 2.2. Pretty good, yes? Interesting that Marc Rzepczynski's numbers are better across the board.

Rzep's 65.3%, 3.65 FIP, and 2.17 K/BB are pretay, pretay good. His swinging strike rate nearly doubles his former teammate. His numbers look even better when your consider 50% of his walks came in 2 outings and he's really a starter taking lumps as a reliever for the first time.

His numbers look worse when you play the arbitrary endpoints game and realize his June has been as bad as his May was good. But, do his credit, he works for free!

So few teams require high-priced relief talent to get them over the proverbial hump. Getting such talent below market price is hardly "the new Moneyball"; it just makes sense to keep costs low for roles which are easily filled without paying a premium.

As good as Scott Downs was (and is), wading into the free agent market to acquire a player like Downs just isn't smart. Which explains precisely why the Angels went ahead and did it. A middling team (sorry) like the Jays is fine with young player like Rzepczynski providing very similar service at a discounted price.

Image and life inspiration courtesy of Birds with Arms.. They are the wind beneath ourwings, amirite?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Drabek down, Stewart up

Is it okay if I officially have doubts about Kyle Drabek now?

I haven't had much to say about Drabek's start to the season. Sure, he's been God-awful. But who cares? This is a growth year so let him grow, I thought. Can't find the strikezone? It's the same size in Vegas. Dominating quad-A bats? Couldn't it instill as much doubt as struggling at the big league level? As far as this move goes, I don't have too much of an opinion either way. Let him stay up and struggle wouldn't bother me just as sending him down does little to aggravate me.

Let me rewind for a second. I used the word "dominating" in reference to Kyle Drabek which isn't really fair. A name used — with more and more regularity — as a comp for Drabek is Clay Buchholz. And that terrifies me.

The Big Sell Job after the Halladay was with Drabek as a near top of the rotation guy. Maybe not a Number One Starter but an elite arm. Does that describe Buchholz? He doesn't inspire a great deal of confidence in me, aside from his ability to woo D List celebrities.

The more I think about it, the more I think the comparison flatters Drabek. Buchholz posted reasonable huge minor league numbers, never striking out fewer than 10 per nine innings on his ascent to the big leagues.

Consider Buchholz's numbers in his first full season with the Red Sox (as a 24 year old.) 8.53 K/9, 4.86 BB/9 1.30 HR/9, 47.7% GB, 14.7% HR/FB. 6.75 ERA, 4.82 FIP facing 357 batters.

Kyle Drabek as a 24 year old: 5.94 K/P, 6.44 BB/9, 1.11 HR/9, 44.8% GB, 12.3% HR/FB, 5.70 ERA, 5.44 FIP facing 335 batters.

Put another way...awful.

Buchholz went down for two months, came back, then started the following year in AAA. When he finally made it back to the big leagues, he dropped two strikeouts per nine from his repertoire but also shaved a walk. His best season was, not coincidentally, the year his HR/FB sat uncharacteristically low for most of the season.

Drabek doesn't really have the strikeouts to spare at this point. Not in the big leagues (when he nibbles and pouts) but not on his minor league resume either.

I can't pretend to know what kind of pitcher Kyle Drabek might be when he "figures it out" but as far as comps go, I'm a little worried. The areas of the Fangraphs leaderboard that Clay Buchholz hangs don't exactly teem with front of the rotation studs.

What kind of future can Drabek provide? I'm a little lost, to be honest. Feel free to let fly with your most optimistic and/or bitterly pessimistic guesses for the future. I'm all ears.

Friday, June 10, 2011

John Farrell's New High Leverage Toy

Life in the bullpen is nothing if not liquid. Guys falter, guys step up, there is always somebody ready to take over your role the moment your fail. Especially in a 'pen without a bonafied head honcho.

As such, a guy demoted to Triple A as recently as April is suddenly an important high-leverage reliever for these Blue Jays. Casey Janssen, lovable labrum surgery recovery case, part-time lesbian, and key back of the rotation guy. Who knew?

I certainly didn't. Janssen thrives on his control, painting the corners of the strikezone with aplomb. His 6.1% 2011 swinging strike rate represents a career low and a below-average number, yet here he is, striking out 7 per nine innings, including 13 Ks out of the 44 right-handed batters faced.

Take a look at the average leverage of Janssen's outings, on a steady increase as the season progresses.

As much stick as we all give Farrell, it's encouraging to see him lean on a well-performing relief arm. I understand Casey Janssen's charms but he isn't exactly "my" kind of pitcher.

I still stand by my pre-season assessment of the bullpen - the holdover arms will fare just as well - if not better - than the free agent draft pick fodder bullpen options brought in this winter. Janssen wasn't a guy I had in mind, but he certainly deserves credit for his alligator blood.

Reuters image courtesy of Daylife, leverage stats etc. from Fangraphs.

I Knew I Loved Shawn Green for a Reason

An except of Shawn Green's new (batshit crazy) book on Zen and baseball or some such crap. (courtesy of Amazon.)
By mid-May of ’97, Cito finally won out over the front office regarding my playing time. Suddenly, my career prospects were slipping away as I was forced to sit day after day in the dugout watching all the games from the so-called best seat in the house.

After weeks of frustration, I met with general manager Gord Ash and asked him to trade me so I could play somewhere, anywhere. A week or two passed, and every day new trade rumors with my name attached floated around the league until at last Cito had to address it.

It was midafternoon at the Toronto SkyDome, four hours before a night game against the Yankees. I’d put on my uniform and was walking past Cito’s open office door when he called, “Hey, Green, come in here and have a seat. I want to talk to you.”

My heart thumped as I approached my boss’s desk and sat down.

“Look, Shawn, don’t think that I don’t like you, ’cause I do,” Cito said. “I think you have a lot of potential, but …” He stopped, considering, maybe searching out a rationale for benching me. “You need to improve your defense. No manager is going to chance it with you the way you play in the field.”

I began to squirm in my seat. My first couple of years I’d played scared in right field because, each time I erred, I couldn’t help focusing on the irritation on Cito’s face. Still, my defense was improving (within two years I’d win the league’s Gold Glove Award, though obviously I didn’t possess this evidence for the defense at the time).

“Also, Shawn, you need to learn how to pull the ball to hit more home runs because you don’t run well enough to steal bases,” Cito continued.

“How do you know I can’t steal bases if you never give me the green light to try?” I snapped. “And as for pulling the ball, I know how to turn on the inside pitch.”

For a left-handed-batter, pulling the ball means connecting with the pitch early and hitting to right field, increasing the chance of a home run. There was nothing I liked more than pulling the ball with power, but I knew that limiting myself to being a dead-pull hitter would reduce my productivity.

Cito wasn’t having it. “You can go on your way, Shawn. The meeting’s over.”
Bless you, Shawn Green. Bless your precious heart.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Jays Jumbo Gumbo

Sorry, not very many words available today, Grantland's using them all.

Adam Lind hit a grand slam last night but Ian from the Blue Jay Hunter focused in on the real story; why did Nathan Adlock point up as if the homer was just a lazy pop up? The question I want answered is whether in the history of baseball, a center fielder has ever looked back to the pitcher to figure out where the ball is... and then made the catch. Seems like a pretty pointless exercise to me.

2011 MLB draft? Go see The Boss Man's mistress for that. I prefer to look at what's going on with the Jays prospects getting close to playing with the big club. You'll be saddened to see that the style of clothing Adeiny Hechavarria has decided to wear, now that he is living in North America, glitters in the sunlight.

Speaking of prospects, Jays 1B prospect, K.C. Hobson, has hit 1 home run in 186 at bats this season in Lansing. Thankfully it was caught on video! Enjoy!

Are you aware there's a Blue Jays remix of Black and Yellow? "From ToronTO, we use to have Carlos DelgaDO." Amazing.

“It’s cool, you know,
hitting homers.
It’s nice.”
- Adam Lind, poet.

And finally, what would a Jays Jumbo Gumbo be without a video reminding you that your Toronto Blue Jays won championships in 1992 and 1993. Here we have Buck Martinez, working for TSN, interviewing beer soaked Blue Jays players after winning the 1992 ALCS. Dave Winfield! Robbie Alomar! JIMMY KEY!

(pic of Adam Lind popping out to the center field bleachers via daylife)

Dave Burrows is the West Coast contributor to GROF. He is able to bring a different angle to the site because he can stay up later. Follow him on twitter.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


So I'm a pretty huge Marc Rzepczynski apologist. Call me whatever you want, I'm just a sucker for left-handedness and general effectiveness. Totally enamoured with the high level of usage he's been given this season, I was predictably impressed that he only walked one batter throughout 11 appearances in the entire month of May.

For your consideration, you can imagine how I felt after THIS happened last night with a runner on and 2 outs in bottom of the 7th of a 1-run game.

That's uh... not great.

If you're good at counting, you'll notice that there are 12 green blips up there, correlating to 3 consecutive walks. The Blue Jays lost this game. Sure you could argue that he got squeezed on a couple pitches but there are two walks worth of balls nowhere near the zone. If you need me I'll be ignoring this information and going back to my regularly scheduled blind praise of the man they call Eye Chart. Some nights a guy just doesn't have it and can't get a break to save the lack of 'stuff'. Right??? Right?? Right.


{Follow Archi on twitter here}
{Photo Courtesy Art Of The Wire}
{Pitch F/X Courtesy Joe Lefkowitz}

Monday, June 6, 2011

Defensive Alignment

Nestled north of the border and shrouded in relative obscurity there has always been something fun about cheering for one of the teams on the short list for "Most Forgotten About In Baseball". Passionate but polite and gleefully reinforcing the Canadian stereotype of being laid back and easy-going, the Jays fanbase isn't generally known for being quick to anger unless you speak ill of one of a small handful of players.

It's not a long list but here's a quick primer about how to get a Jays fan to get on the defensive and quick.

Player #1 - John McDonald

How to start the riot: Mention any offensive statistic in existence 

Responses you can expect: "There's more to baseball than hitting! He's the best defensive infielder in the world! He's got a huge heart! Stop being a dick!" 

Explanation: We all love John McDonald. We really really do. He's got so much scrappy hustle and heart™ that we ran David Eckstein out of town for stealing JMcD's gimmick. If you're going to take someone to task for wearing a "McDonald 6" jersey get ready for a lecture about the finer points of glovework and a story or two about what a great guy he is. As my friend Sarah has been quoted saying: "If you don't love John McDonald, Fuck You."

Player #2 - Kyle Drabek

How to start the riot: Bring up the fact his WHIP is nearly 1.70 or that he's on pace to set a record for his inability to throw strikes at an MLB level. Or hey maybe mention that he was a part of the Roy Halladay trade. We can never hear about that enough.

Responses you can expect: "He's 24! He's got killer 'stuff'! He'll work it out! It'll be fine! Shut up! Stop talking about Roy Halladay or I'm going to punch you." 

Explanation: Please stop talking about Roy Halladay. We know Drabek was involved in that trade, Drabek knows he was involved in that trade, EVERYONE knows he was involved in that trade. We're doing our best to be reasonable about the expectations on this kid but damn, sometimes seeing him pitch is intoxicating. Intoxicating in that it starts off loud and fun but then the next thing you know you're throwing up and swearing to never drink again. Whether the opinion is to keep him with the big club and let him work through the motions, or to send him down to continue eating AA alive, the important thing to remember is to not let the Jays fan you're pestering know that you don't believe in his "stuff". His stuff is great. His stuff is unhittiable. His stuff cannot be contained or defined. His stuff is very rarely thrown for strikes.  

Player #3 - Travis Snider  

How To Start The Riot: Show video of him swinging at 2-strike off-speed pitches in the dirt. Say the name Mike Stanton. Mention that you think his progress might have been haltered by being brought up through the system way too quickly and that he benefited from playing in the hitter friendly PCL. Say that he's not ready for the MLB level. Prove that meats clash.  

Responses You Can Expect: "One handed home runs! Opposite field bombs! Mike Stanton is a gigantic freak aberration! Improved fielding! He was smashing AAA pitching when they brought him up! Baseball players slump! Meats Don't Clash!" 

Explanation: One day we all woke up on the internet and caring about baseball prospects became the most important thing you can do as a 'real' fan of your team. With this precedent set Jays fans turned to the only player in the whole system that we'd been told to care about by Keith Law. I hate to get all factual with you here, but as a card-carrying Sniderville native I have to tell you that it is a complete 100% inevitability that Travis Snider will one day hit 35 home runs per year and lead the Jays to several AL East titles. Snider is the inspiration for this entire post, as I was watching last week's live Getting Streamed On vlogcast from the guys at Getting Blanked and the level of snark that emanated from someone doubting Travis' ability was hilariously palpable. It should be noted that this is the camp I find myself in as well. I won't stand for you doubting Travis Snider in my presence. Travis Snider is going to be fine. We're going to be fine. Everything is fine. Stop worrying. 

Player #4 - Jose Bautista 

How To Start The Riot: PED's. Brady Anderson. Unsustainable performance. Due for a reality check. He's not Barry Bonds.  

Responses To Expect: "He changed his swing and stance! He didn't find the singular magic PED that turns you into Babe Ruth! He's finally gotten a chance to get regular playing time!"  

Explanation: Y'all jealous as hell. 


There you have it. A quick and painless plan to make any Jays fan get their back up against the wall. Feel free to let me know if I missed anyone that gets you totally defensive or, if you'd like, prove my point on any number of these by getting really defensive in the comments about how you don't get defensive at all about any of them.

{Follow Archi on twitter here}
{Photo courtesy Bojuka Self Defense Canada}

In Case You Forgot

Do your duty. Vote for Jose. There are no guarantees in this world. Red Sox fans may decide they don't hate Carl Crawford. Ichiro! may renounce his Japanese heritage and declare himself a Chinese National just for the additional voting sway.

So get out, vote Jose. Do it often. It is your duty.

Photo of my lawnish area between the sidewalk and the street courtesy of me and, possibly, the cover of Bad Religion's Suffer.

On Adam Lind's Swing

(The G in GROF also stands for Graph)

You’ll be forgiven if you’ve forgotten who am I. I’ve been off the grid for the last while fighting through a scary bout of possibly permanent dehydration. But I had to let someone know how much I enjoyed watching Adam Lind swing a baseball bat again.

This has been a tough season for me to watch. Sure Jose Baustista has allowed us to hold our heads high on the streets, and in the baseball blogosphere, as Blue Jay fans. And Jo-Jo Reye’s first win in however long was goddamn adorable. But when Travis Snider was sent down to AAA after not even hitting triple digits in plate appearances it was like a kick in the stomach to my enjoyment of this season.

For the past two years I have been telling my Vancouver homies (and myself!) over and over that it’s fine that the Jays are going to be just ok for the next few seasons. “They’re going to see what they have with some of these young kids and make a push in 2012” I said in my gnarly west coast accent. Then the greatest, and most rosey, of all Blue Jays prospects wasn’t given a chance to figure things out. What do we have in Travis Snider? Well, we did see he can play defense on a Major League level. That’s something I guess.

Then today, for the first time in a almost a month, I watched Adam Lind swing a bat. And it was beautiful. Bautista’s swing is great, no doubt. But it’s vicious and violent and full of hate. Lind’s swing makes you grin. It’s a swing you bring home to meet your mom.

I missed it. And not because he went 4 for 4 with a couple of what I like to call Buck Martinez mumble-yells (“That ball is hit.. and..hmmmgrrrffftt... outta here!”)

When you watch your favourite team tread water for a 162 games season after season sometimes you need reminders of why you watch baseball. Adam Lind’s swing was that for me yesterday.

And I feel good about Blue Jays baseball again. Though I don’t know how much longer I can wait for Travis Snider to be called out of exile.... #freeTravisSnider

Dave Burrows is the West Coast contributor to GROF. He is able to bring a different angle to the site because he can stay up later. Follow him on twitter.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Getting with the Times

Just as the insular dinosaurs at MLBAM deigned to allow the lowly plebes embed (old) videos on off-message websites such as this, Ghostrunner on First is opening things up a little.

Below you'll find the first post from new contributor Archi Zuber, proud owner of a sweet (nick)name and my complete trust. Archi's going to write about...whatever Archi wants to write about. Hardly a stats nerd, Archi addresses a much needed increase in both quality content and levity around these parts. Please greet Archi with some blogger lifeblood: comments. Flood his posts with praise and feedback or whatever, just make him feel welcome

Just don't expect a regular schedule of posts from either of us because c'mon man, is this your first day here? I have a few other irons in the fire but rest assured, Ghostrunner on First is determined to become the most irreverent and self-satisfied place on the internet - and we wouldn't have it any other way.

As such, Ichiro! Welcome to GROF Archi and welcome to the extremely early 21st century, MLBAM!

Damn It Feels Good

Is it just me or is it suddenly really cool to be a Blue Jays fan? From hipsters to hoodlums I swear I've seen Jays paraphernalia adapted to every possible self aware staple of style adorned by the wildly diverse cast of characters that make up this city. White haired old men in dirty and tattered snap-back hats from the glory days, pretty boy swag in full effect and a variety of colours, good-looking women in loose fitting baseball shirts with blue sleeves, and an army of dudes with glasses wearing the recently revived blue and white throwback have turned the various forms of the Toronto Blue Jays logo as the unifying symbol of the city itself. 

I know, I know, Toronto is the hockey capital of the world (and centre of the universe), but on most nights you're just as likely to get heckled if you're wearing a Mikhail Grabovski jersey as you are to start a Go Leafs Go chant on the subway. The startlingly large amount of people who have the rooting interest for "Anyone but the Leafs" prevents those lovable losers from being the logo. Leafs Nation is undoubtedly massive, but a lot of the strongholds are scattered throughout the province. The city itself is home to hordes of fans from the different teams across the country with a whole new/old team on the way to Winnipeg, ready to grab some attention. Loving the Leafs will undoubtedly make you some friends, but you'll also have to deal with barbs from your friends who may be Habs fans, or Canucks fans, or fans of any other team that has had even a marginal amount of success in the last decade. The sheer amount of hatred and disappointment generated by the franchise has opened the city's floodgates on liberated fandom within its walls.  

And the Raptors... I mean... Is it even possible to wear a throwback Raptors jersey without it being ironic? Which player that was good enough to warrant a jersey purchase left on terms that makes wearing it now look not ridiculous? Alvin Williams? Damon Stoudamire? Morris Peterson? Jalen Rose? Beyond that, smack talk will seep from a curiously high amount of people you know that are Lakers fans, or Celtics fans, or fans of organized basketball played at a high level. Also I see far too many people wearing Andrea Bargnani jerseys over their high collared dress shirts and dress pants for them to put up a dog in this fight. (Also: The frequency of Jermaine O'Neal jerseys appearing on the subway is hilarious) 

Torontonians, check your various forms of social media on game day. People are snapping pictures of themselves in the stands, spreading eyewitness accounts of Jose Bautista, and talking about turning cheap seats into a pre-drinking event at a suddenly dizzying rate. It's everywhere. And the persecution is non-existent. I have worked with dozens and dozens of sports crazed lunatics in newsrooms across this city over the last 5 years and haven't taken Jays related flack once. Sure, there's always negative talk (Gotta boo at least one guy per year out of town, right?) but the negativity is born of frustration, and the frustration comes because the people are passionately invested in the fortune of the team. People that live and breathe to talk shit about teams and athletes from literally every sport you can imagine hold a soft spot inside their hearts for the Blue Jays in this city. They're our team.

So why the love fest and trendiness? Maybe it's the influx of youthful and handsome talent that makes up Hustle & Heart 2.0. Maybe it's the power of the One Man Gang. Or maybe it's because the all important '20-to-30 Somethings' that are the key-holders of cool all share the memory of when they were bright eyed and impressionable and dreams actually came true. The World Series Championships were unanimously cool to elementary school kids in 1992 and those elementary school kids have grown up and are wearing their childhood memories on their sleeves. Wearing a throwback Jays shirt has become akin to wearing one with the Batman logo, or one with vintage Pearl Jam tour dates. It says "I remember when I was young enough to enjoy this without fully understanding it or worrying about what it said about me." 

With a generation of children implanted with the memory of baseball glory in Toronto, it's only inevitable that the 20 to 30 somethings will begin to procreate and bring their own offspring to the park. Living proof that nothing catches the imagination of the next generation like watching the players achieve the wild heights that are the default level for a child's expectation. It is vital for 34 year-old Jays GM Alex "One Of Us" Anthopolous to build this team to make a serious run at a championship in the coming decade to solidify a Jose Bautista throwback as haute couture in 2034 and create something for this generation of kids to be unironically nostalgic about in the just-distant-enough-to-be-cool-again future. 

{Photo courtesy Hipster Animals}

One Man Gang

It started innocently enough. The Tao, in his infinite wisdom, referred to Jose Bautista as the One Man Gang in a recent post. As it is awesome, I grabbed it with two hands and shook it violently over my head for all to see. It is almost too perfect, though some dissenters expressed reservations over the 80's wrestler association.

Just because one guy on the internet doesn't jib with dead wrestler references (literally one. Al Gore created the internet with oblique shoutouts to Koko B. Ware in mind, I believe.) doesn't mean the nickname isn't nails. But then another guy took exception to the One Man Gang moniker, claiming it was inaccurate due to the Jays high volume of runs scored.

While not qualified to address this poor guy's fun allergy, I can speak to the One Man Gangishness of Jose Bautista's assault on reason. With charts!

When attempting to measure production in these terms, I went with wRAA - weighted runs above average. It's basically wOBA converted into a counting stat based on playing time. For example, Adam Lind rates highly in terms of wOBA but hasn't played enough to produce too much.

The first image you see below is the top 10 offenses in baseball (not including last night's results) by wRAA compared with their highest volume producer. The results, well, they speak for themselves. One Man Gang!

Let's summarize: Jose Bautista has actually created more offense than the Jays as a whole. His teammates actually bring the team's overall production down. Of the top ten offenses in baseball, only the Brewers get such intense production from one player, the awesome Ryan Braun.

But wait, doesn't Prince Fielder also play in Milwaukee? Is he terrible this year and I just haven't heard? Nope, Prince is in a walk year and currently rocking a .395 wOBA so that ain't right. What the Hell?

With that in mind, I went ahead and looked at each team in baseball's top two producers. What is the greatest differential between the best guy and the next best guy for every team in baseball? SPOILER ALERT: ONE! MAN! GANG!

Again I say it: ONE MAN GANG! Only Matt Joyce is even in the same neighbourhood of one man gangery. Jose Bautista is so, so much better than his teammates it makes my head shake.

Which isn't to say the contributions of Yunel Escobar aren't greatly appreciated as they certainly are. Yunel himself outpaces many team's leading producer in both wRAA and SWAG. But those teams aren't gangs. They're more like your ultimate frisbee team - just a bunch of tossers standing around in a park.

When a single player drags his team — a team that turns to Juan Rivera to hit cleanup and Rajai Davis to lead off — into the top 5 in baseball, he certainly gets to wear the One Man Gang tag. With pride, one would think.

Reuters image courtesy of Daylife, wRAA data from Fangraphs.