Thursday, July 28, 2011

Saint Anthopoulos' School for Wicked Boys

We all know you have to give to get. It is never easy to give, no matter the return. Except today.

What We Lost

The biggest piece the Jays parted with is Marc Rzepczynski. Whacked out of their gourds as the Cardinals might be, I remain confident they'll do the right thing and return Rzep to the rotation; where he will quickly turn himself into Jaime Garcia's Polish Brother.

Ghostrunner on First is pretty much Ground Zero for Rzepczynski love - losing him hurts differently than the other GROF pet projects. I'm bummed he's gone but tempered heavily by, you know, all the bonerz.

The Cardinals did improve their bullpen for this season, which is the basis under which they generally operate. Appease The Genius and win now. Say what you want, they're aren't exactly wasting the peaks of Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday waiting for a "troubled youth" to figure it out.

Jason Frasor hurts to lose but only in the most sentimental way possible. It is nice (and fitting) he set the appearances record recently and is now gone. It's the nature of the battle he fought so well for so long.

He got his eulogy and we all noticed how fond we are of Frasor and how thankless his role. His job is an easy one to fill right up until it comes to actually doing so.

Zach Stewart will likely appear in a number of big league baseball games. Either as a starter or reliever, he will get there. Some really like him while others suggest he's 25 and playing at Double-A. I cannot pretend to know too much either way so I'll just say neither fate will surprise me.

Trading Dotel and Patterson is a testament to patience, and how much of it smart people have while dummies like us bray for blood all too easily. Two true pros who will go about their highly specialized business in the most businesslike manner imaginable.

Dotel is like a La Russa wet dream, when you think about it. Patterson is a nightmare for Cardinals fans, a La Russa fever dream of too clever by a half in-game ego stroking. Corey Patterson will single-handedly strip the Cardinals of the "best fans in baseball" moniker, just you watch.

What We Gained

Hope. By the truckload.

An unshakable belief in a general manager we already believed in implicitly.

Colby Rasmus, a hopefully not very sick but good to have around again like an old shoe Brian Tallet, proto-LOOGY Trevor Miller, other things shaped like Mark Teahan. Colby Rasmus. Colby Rasmus. And somehow, even more swagger.

As much as AA likes to crow about the value of good people and good citizens, he's clearly drawn to (and sees fit to compile) swagger. Swagger puts some baseball people off, which is fine. Most people I know, in real life and on the internet, are not some baseball people. We like swagger because guys with swagger can often play.

Throw a bunch of swagging ballplayers who aren't quite living up to expectation together and you have, at the very least, potential. Imbue these malcontents with the freedom to let their freak flags fly, with some gentle pillow talk about how much belief there is in them, and you just might have something more.

Throw a few option-heavy contracts their way and you have a carrot-on-a-stick to go with the chip on their shoulder - you have fuel for their hate game. That fuel might just burn hot and move the whole ship along at high speed.

What it all means

Phase One of The Plan is now over. 2012 is now Next Year. It is, in a word, fucking on.

Not only is getting a cost-controlled, 24 year-old centerfielder with a 4 WAR season already under his belt a great move for the club moving forward, it is also the kind of move that reverberates. Moving from a replacement level-ish stopgap to a guy with legit 6 Win upside right now, not 4 years down the road means the club requires one fewer piece to compete. One piece (Prince Fielder?) makes them not a good team but a competing team. A "better than the Rays" team. A "shit down the throats of the AL Central" team. A "buy your tickets now" team.

It is happening, people. Maybe Prince Fielder is a bad example but, then again, maybe he isn't? This coming offseason starts the whole "marginal win value" debate anew. That is a debate that can be an awful lot of fun.

Then again, why go out and throw money at a player when another GM will grow tired of some underperforming asset. Whomever will stand by ready to scoop up that unwanted trash? The Toronto Blue Misfits want your problem children - they're starting a movement.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Rosterbation: Engage

The Corey Patterson Outfield Experiment of Hilarity may just have hit its nadir on Saturday night. After Patterson replaced Thames in right field for "defense", he spun and twirled and turned a possible inning-ending fly ball into a walkoff hit. It was ugly and Jays fans (myself included) took to Twitter with our knives out.

There isn't a lot of love for Patterson among the Jays fans, most of whom are ready for just about anything and anyone else to take those at bats. The calls for Adam Loewen puzzle me, however.

Adam Loewen is a cute story but calling him up now or any time before September 1st makes very little sense. For my money, Eric Thames is the fringiest player in need of a serious look for as long as possible. With the Brett Lawrie call-up all but a certainty on August 1st, bring up Adam Loewen would only clog up the works.

As a guy without options and a very limited skillset, I can't bringing up Loewen and having him rot on the bench as a positive move for him or the team.

When I say "limited skillset", I am making an assumption based on very little. A career pitcher suddenly reborn as a plus outfielder seems unlikely, doesn't it? He continues to show an improved approach at the plate but a .920 OPS at Las Vegas is only worth so much, especially when you consider Chris Woodward's .860 OPS in 330 PAs in the very same ballpark.

Other than offering him a cookie for waiting in the minors like a good soldier, bringing up Loewen is a waste. Bring up Lawrie (NOW!) and play him every day at third. Snider starts in center against righties with Thames in left and Bautista in right.

You need as much information on Eric Thames as possible. Bring Loewen up in September and give him some run when other guys need rest. But get as much of the core you want to see in the future and let them play. Sorry Adam, it's all in the game.

Corey Patterson image courtesy of Killer Movie Reviews, which is weird.

Friday, July 22, 2011

This is Going Swimmingly

The Kid Stays in the Middle of the Picture
There isn't a better description of the "Travis Snider to Centerfield" experiment better than the way Stoeten of Drunk Jays Fans presents it - if a commenter or Jays Talk caller suggested it, I would trip over myself trying to shoot it down. What? Snider in center??? THAT'S CRAZY TALK!

Yet here we are. The husky kid some worried might only be DH down the road started two of the last three games in centerfield. And the results, they aren't terrible!

The ball stung right at you is really tough to judge. Snider does well to take a decent route and add the stylish "lunge-dive" at the end for style. Like all good centerfielders do.

Snider's arm and positioning drew raves all season in left after his work with Jose Bautista, will it hold up in CF?

Not the strongest throw of all time but he got rid of it quickly and right on the money. I like the way he just powered off his back leg, not much of a crow hop to eat up valuable seconds.

While this catch stretches my "highlight" credulity a little, it does demonstrate Snider taking a very direct route to a fly ball hit over his head.

Drawing any sweeping conclusions from this tiny sample is folly, but with my eyes I can say he doesn't look out of place in center. Obviously more innings present more challenges but, for now, this experiment deserves to continue. I cannot say I object to Farrell moving Snider to left and bringing in a move experienced guy as a late-inning defensive replacement when the situation allows.

Because the bat, the bat plays anywhere. It plays quite deliciously in centerfield, that much I know.

Update: - According to Total Zone fielding stats, Snider is 6 for 6 on balls in his zone as a CFer with one out of zone play. +/- ranks him as a +2 in a totally-not-worthless 21 inning sample. USA! USA! USA!

AP Photo courtesy of Daylife. Video finally prized from the cold, dead hands of MLBAM.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Cameron on Bautista

From Dave Cameron's top 50 trade value series, in which the Head Nerd in Charge ranks Jose Bautista the second-most valuable trade commodity in baseball, behind only Evan "Paid in Foodstamps and a Lifetime Supply of Orange Juice" Longoria. (emphasis mine):
At just $14 million per year for each of the next four years, he’s producing at a best-player-in-baseball level while getting paid a little less than Jason Bay or Adam Dunn. The Blue Jays saved themselves at least $100 million with the extension they gave Bautista last winter, which now looks like one of the best decisions any GM has ever made.
Ummm, wow. It is crazy to see it there in black and whitegreen. Jose Bautista is ours and you can't have him, even if you're offering Troy Tulowitzki.

Some awesome stuff from Fangraphs commenters, who kept their #6org jokes at bay long enough to make a little bit of sense. Take this hot shot of comment gold from SC2GG:
Considering the number of high value deals this particular GM has made, someone in the business is due for a prettttty good raise, I’d think. Imagine the employee review meeting that AA is going to get:
“What have you accomplished this year?”

“Well, aside from giving the entire country a sense of excitement about baseball that hasn’t existed for 15 yrs, rebuilding the farm system from nearly last to in the top 5, across the board I also saved the team and the company more than $200 million which is more than you paid for the whole team only a few years ago."
Wow, it really makes you think that things in Blue Jays Land might just be okay, doesn't it?

I made a concerted effort to stay neutral and/or non-committal on the Jose Bautista contract. As much fun to have him prove me definitely wrong in every way, I don't think betting against Jose Bautista is a very good idea at all. He proved people much smarter than me wrong last year before proving the laws of physics nearly irrelevant. It is officially time to just enjoy the ride. As if we aren't already.

Reuters image courtesy of Daylife. Make sure you read the entire top 50 series, it is great stuff.

Where are we on Eric Thames?

As part of my heartfelt desire to remain open-minded, I'm forcing myself to be confused with Eric Thames. What kind of a hitter is he? Can he stick at the big league level? He is the smileyest player since Torii Hunter?

Eric Thames numbers look pretty good, so far. A .948 OPS since his recall with 8 doubles and 4 home runs. The BABIP is still high .375 and the walks are still low with only two versus 18 strikeouts.

Over the weekend he bashed Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon before CC Sabathia made him look rather shameful. CC represents an incredibly tough matchup for the young lefy but then Phil Hughes sat him down three times yesterday.

The Sabathia troubles I get, the struggles against righties that worry me. How are right handed hitters getting him out?

(In case you aren't familiar with these charts, remember they're from the catcher's perspective. Thames is a left-handed batter so he stands on the right side of the image.)

Fastballs up in the zone, sliders and curveballs on his back foot and some change ups over the outside corner. Nothing too unexpected but the holes in his swing are as advertised.

I get a fair amount of flack for not believing in Eric Thames implicitly and, sadly, I can't get 100% behind him yet. Hopefully the team keeps playing him every day so we can all make a more informed decision at the end of the year - good, bad or indifferent.

Pitch F/X from Joe Lefkowitz, Getty Images photo from Daylife.

Friday, July 15, 2011

DFAja Vu

  • Dana Eveland, 2010: 44.2 innings pitched, 4.23 K/9, 5.25 FIP, 0.1 WAR.
  • Jo-Jo Reyes, 2011: 105.2 innings pitched, 5.20 K/9, 4.54 FIP, 0.7 WAR.
I think it's important to realize Jo-Jo Reyes isn't the worst pitcher in the world. He's simply a bad pitcher. Lots of teams employ bad pitchers on a regular basis.

Luckily, our Toronto Blue Jays have zero need to continue employing a bad pitcher of this stature. There are other, less-bad pitchers ready to step back into the fold. Bad pitchers who might not throw with their left hands like Jo-Jo but bad pitchers who are younger and gingerer and not nearly as soul-destroying as Jo-Jo "Pitch to the Score" Reyes.

Is Litsch ready? It won't be long yet. When I somewhat trollingly asked if Litsch was better than a single member of the Jays pitching staff, I didn't take Reyes ugly numbers into proper perspective.

Reyes has two strikeouts in 17 innings in July, which is insane. Though he only conspired to walk 6 in that span, his line drive rate is 27%, much higher than his rate for the entire year. In short - he's getting rocked.

Though the allure of flipping him for something — anything — is obvious. I simply fail to understand the value of continuing to trot him out as if he's a worthwhile American League starter. Does AA really think the Dodgers are going to trade with him again?

Getty Images photo courtesy of Daylife.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Tracking Aaron Cibia

J.P. Arencibia is tough to figure out. I've come to quite like him this year, his power is as legit as advertised. I was weirdly down on Aaron Cibia this spring but he's doing a fine job as a rookie catcher - playing every day for the first time at the big league level.

Looking at his tendencies a few weeks ago I found he has trouble with right-handed pitching. This obvious deficiency still didn't sour me, even though his numbers are slightly terrible.

It is true - Arencibia's putting up some rather unsightly offensive numbers (.222/.287/.427 for a .311 wOBA). The home runs are not only nice, they're his only saving grace. If I were an unfair man, I'd point out JPA's crazy Vegas stats and suggest anyone wondering why David Cooper isn't on the next flight back to Toronto do the same.

Luckily, I'm all about fairness. Fairness and balance. Which is why I'm prepared to make boatloads of excuses for Aaron Cibia, but with handy charts to make it seem like I'm not groping for a reason to defend him. Below you see a rolling 10-day wOBA of the Jays catcher's first half. You may recognize this goofy chart from Getting Blanked last week and Travis Snider this winter.

What this rolling weighted on-base average (calculated with 2010 linear weights, for which I apologize but can't do much about) shows is a rather distinct drop off when Arencibia took his first (of many) pitches to the hands. Catching's hard, y'all!

Again, each bar indicates a 10 game chunk of Arencibia's season. The orange line is his wOBA as I calculated it (.303) while the black lines indicate one standard deviation above and below that figure.

The magenta section is the first to include the games after taking foul balls off his thumb and knuckles. The red section is the first to include only games after that injury. The green section indicates games after the incident captured above, when he took a pitch thrown by Jonathon Papelbon to his gnarled fist.

Thoughts? Tools of ignorance, indeed. The beating taken behind the plate is nearly inhuman. Arencibia is a good hitter (for a catcher) and was likely to slow down slightly after a decent start but it seems like his slide began immediately after his hands started looking like an old dock worker's.

One source of concern that might not be injury related: when he went into the tank in June, JPA took his patience with him. Monthly walk rates of 8.4%, 8.5%, 4.1% scare me some. He did, however, manage 4 walks in 8 games in July (compared to just three in June.)

On the whole, I am pleased with Aaron Cibia as an everyday catcher. He's good...enough. But he's young and homegrown and soon to be pushed by Travis D'Arnaud (listen here as Keith Law suggests D'Arnaud is the better prospect). Competition is good because catchers are rare. Other than the bumps and bruises, JPA seems healthy enough to maintain his value until D'Arnaud (or Carlos Perez?) comes for his job.

Reuters image courtesy of Daylife

Saturday, July 9, 2011

And All Was Right With the World

Bullpen implosions and blown calls can sure suck the life out of a season, especially when the season is deemed lost from the very start.

Call me pollyanna if you must, but watching Travis Snider smash balls all around the greater Cleveland area fills me with more hope and join than the crushing losses do dread.

The power, the balls driven to the deepest parts of ball parks - it is exciting. Very, very exciting. He took two bad pitches and did bad, bad things to them. But damn if he didn't look good doing it. The swing on his home run was a true delight and example of why nerds like me get so worked up when people declare Travis Snider a bust.

Changes to his batting stance, hand position and positive mental outlook have Snider looking like Snider. Should everything go to plan he could amass a good 300 plate appearances in the second half. Not what "we" had in mind this spring but better than nothing. I begrudgingly admit 300 PAs with a decent approach and mechanically sound swing is better than 650 hacks taken in the wilderness.

Why yes, I do enjoy the delicious taste of Kool-Aid. Why do you ask?

Reuters image courtesy of Daylife.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Covetous Eyes

As you may have heard, the Los Angeles Angels of Fiduciary Restraint called up one of the finest prospects in baseball, Mike Trout. Mike Trout is an outfielder and exemplary human being. He is also younger than this.

With Vernon Wells in LOLeft and Torii Hunter in right, the Angels have lots of money tied up in two outfielders in dire need of plate appearances to justify their contracts. Trout must play because calling up a 19-year-old from Double-A only to sit him on the bench too ludicrous for even the Angels to consider.

As such, the not great but certainly not awful Peter Bourjos is just sort of...hanging out. Perhaps there is a team — a team without a proper center fielder on the immediate horizon ‐ who might dash in and steal him away. Can you think of a such a team?

Bourjos might be proto-Anthony Gose. Is he an improvement over Rajai Davis? I think so. A better fielder and, this year, better hitter. Under team control for another decade or so, he won't come cheap.

Just a thought. Bourjos is crazy exciting and fun to watch. If Tony Reagins even takes AA's call, it could be a nice preview of the player Anthony Gose may one day become.

Image courtesy of Halo Hangout.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Teeny Tiny Doses of Context

Coming into tonight, the Jays bullpen ranked 10th in baseball for xFIP with the ninth most shutdowns, the eighth fewest meltdowns, the ninth best strikeout to walk ratio and the eighth best shutdown-to-meltdown ratio. They haven't been that bad, at all.

None of which means a damn thing when Frank Francisco cannot record a single out and poor Luiz Perez is left to face the Zombie Pronk while Rzepcynski eats cold cuts and cubes of cheese in the clubhouse.

I defended you, Frank Francisco! And you stabbed me in the back. You're officially dead to me. I would start a "Rzepczynski for Closer" movement but I don't think his poor left arm survives the season in that role.

The answer is obvious. The answer isn't pretty. The answer is the Sausage King of the Bullpen. Again.

I'm already working on a buddy film about Jason Frasor and John McDonald touring the continent, stealing jobs from overpaid and underperforming scumbags. It will be great, like Up in the Air but the opposite. Clooney as Johnny Mac? Sold.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Warning: Shark-man Spotted Near Boston Harbour

Do not approach this half man, half blue shark abomination as it is unpredicable and capable of inhuman acts of violence. Report to local authorities who will, God willing, designate the proper security forces for the assignment.

Harpoon tap to fearless Mike Wells (@wells83), who braved the inky depths for the screencap.

Why We Watch

The blown call during last night's game got a lot of deserved attention. Something that seems so obviously to fix yet baseball drags its collective feet. On Twitter, I took a bunch of heat for coming out (going out of my way?) to say blown calls don't really bother me. When Encarnacion was called out at the plate, I was disappointed that the rally fizzled and we all missed a chance to see Papelbon suffer.

When the gifs and images showing EE in fact did "tag" the plate with his right leg1, my reaction didn't really change. I simply cannot muster too much ire for blown calls and human error.

I freely admit I don't watch baseball the same way now as I did years ago. It doesn't have as much to do with my job as it does the way baseball re-introduced itself to my life.

Life in its very early twenties took me away from baseball in terms of following closely and obsessively. Work life brought me back. The day-to-day, the constant presence from April to September. Then I found the blogosphere and it was over. An opportunity to learn and think and debate and laugh and do all kinds of things adult working life goes out of its way to discourage. And here we are today.

The destination matters but so does the journey. The outcome of any given game of the 162 games a year I watch (give or take many) means a little less. It's all about the moments, the things I remember and take away that separate a random game against the Red Sox in July from the other 60 games against the Red Sox in the last five years.

Do you think you'll remember the score of Roy Halladay's return to Toronto? Do you think you'll remember — without straining — who started for the Jays or the inconsistent strike zone in five years?

I'm pretty damn sure you'll remember Jose Bautista hitting that home run.

It's a moment like that which makes two decades of 80-win seasons easy to take. Christ, being a sports fan isn't hard, nor is it tortuous. It's amazing. That Jays fans have this incredible pool of talented and funny people to bounce ideas off and debate with is something I wouldn't trade for anything.

Again: forgive me for not griping about the blown call or Fenway's bandbox dimensions or rush hour traffic or the weather. Some of these things will be taken care of in time, until then I leave my panties unbunched.

If that makes me dispassionate or affected, so be it. I certainly don't feel dispassionate when things within control of the Jays like personnel decisions, lineup construction and mancrush acquisitions drive me up the wall or keep me awake at night. The (error-based) outcome of one game of one hundred and sixty-two in a rebuilding season? It won't have the same impact. Sorry.

1 - EE touching home plate with his right leg seems a wholly coincidental action to me, caused by spinning off Tek's blocking leg. The ump clearly anticipated the play and focused more on EE's left leg, where the tag eventually came. Not saying it's right, just trying to understand how or why this ump blew this call.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The DFA All Stars - And Then There was One

I cannot pretend the exodus of scumbags was unexpected, though I didn't think it would all happen so quickly. Jayson Nix? Whatever. People get turfed from Cleveland for a reason. Juan Rivera kind of, well, shocked me.

It isn't that Rivera's been good, it's more than he hasn't been awful. What makes Rivera expendable but saves Corey Patterson? Patterson was much, much worse in June (more than 200 points of OPS and 80 wOBA points behind Rivera) with a fielding advantage based more on perception than reality. But with Snider and Thames getting full time at bats, there just isn't room for Juan. Again, not sure why this move happens right now, ahead of the All Star break but who cares? Travis Snider!

As I mentioned in live streams or on a podcast or somewhere, I came around on the Eric Thames idea (more on that in a minute) with Thames DHing, Snider and Bautista in the OF and EE playing third until Brett Lawrie steals his job like a good Canadian.

AA and friends have very different plans, as evidenced by the move of Bautista back to third and the potential move of Snider to centerfield(!). Anybody who watches the Cardinals play knows that Colby Rasmus is no center fielder, so putting a bat first player in center isn't exactly groundbreaking. If Snider can make the great strides in center that he made in left, there's no reason to suggest he can't play a passable centerfield1.

This is it, though. We wanted a revolution and it is nearly complete. Eric Thames is playing every day, much to my surprise. He's a lot of fun to watch, especially when you ignore the total lack of walks (zero since his recall) and super-inflated in-play average.

While crediting hitting in front of Bautista for an increase in "pitches" to hit would be the easy/Tablarian thing to do, it is also dead wrong. Over the past 14 days, Eric Thames has the highest swing rate (a hair under 60%) and second lowest percentage of in-zone pitches (41%, just ahead of Adam "hey did you realize he's struggling badly" Lind.)

Which isn't to suggest the league will "figure out" Eric Thames and he'll fall into a life of quad-A sadness, as he does things not everyone can do. Taking Cliff Lee deep? That counts plenty. I'll be happy to admit I was wrong on Eric Thames when some of these numbers stabilize and teams get second and third looks at him. It's kind of the way it works.

As for our friend Edwin...I think we can graduate him from DFA candidate to guy holding onto a job for until the end of the year. Lots of starts at DH and maybe a couple at first. Snider in center? Sure, except when Brandon Morrow pitches.

All I know for sure is the return of Travis Snider gets me as excited as his demotion got me down. As for as blind spots go, Travis Snider is approaching irrational in my eyes. I still believe he's a big part of the team's future, for better or worse.

1 - There are many, many reasons to suggest he can't become a passable centerfield. Most notably: centerfield is very difficult to play, thus the existence of Rajai Davis. That's another story for another day.

Reuters image courtesy of Daylife.