Monday, 18 August 2014

The end?


Pennant races remind me a bit of elections, in that they both generate an apparently irresistible impulse in some people to “call” the race before it’s over.  As far as I can tell, many of those making the early call hold themselves out as “experts” who expect to be able to pat themselves on the back when their early prediction turns out to be correct.  Sure, if it’s not correct, an incorrect prediction is embarrassing when documented, but these experts tend to conveniently forget their predictions when they’re proven to be incorrect.

As I type this, the Toronto Blue Jays sit in 3rd place in the AL East, half a game behind the Yankers and 7 ½ behind Baltimore.  They’re 4 games back of the wild card, with 2 teams between them and the last playoff berth.  With 37 games to go, the Jays have a tough task ahead of them to make the playoffs, no question.

But are they “out”?  No, not any more than they were “in” at the beginning of June.  Sure, ESPN and sites like the somewhat-defunct coolstandings.com will tell you that the Jays have a 7% chance of making the playoffs now, but their playoff chances were in the 80% range in June.  And the same sources told us that the Red Sox would win the AL East in September 2011.  Statistical projections, as far as I can tell, are based largely on extrapolations.  If the Jays play at their current pace, they’ll obviously miss the playoffs… but if they play the way they did in May, or June of last year, they’ll have a good chance of getting in.  This is a streaky club; the .700 win percentage in May was sandwiched between a .462 April and a .444 June.  Meanwhile, Seattle had a lousy July, while Detroit’s record has worsened with every month of the season.  Four games can be made up by having a 6-1 week while your opponent loses 2 series.

Let’s put it this way:  ESPN says that Oakland has a 98.8% chance of making the playoffs.  If you believe that, email me – I’ll happily put up a dollar against them, if you’ll give me the 82-1 odds ESPN has them at.

Or, if you prefer… what were the odds of the Leafs missing the playoffs with a month left in the season this past spring?  Ooops.


So, the Jays probably won’t make the playoffs… but they might.  There will be plenty of time for blame and second-guessing after the season, so save your post-mortems for when the season is actually post and mort.  None of the “experts” know the Jays are going to miss the playoffs – right now, they’re just guessing.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Pessimism, meet reality


The Jays are now 6.5 games behind the Orioles in the race for the AL East, and the math is starting to look a bit scary:  If the O’s play .500 ball from here on out, they’ll finish with 90 wins.  If they continue on their current pace, they’ll have 93 wins by season’s end.  The Jays are currently on pace for 84 wins.  To get to 90, they need to finish 27-14.  To get to 93 wins, it’d take an incredible 30-11 finish.  The Jays do have 2 advantages:  They don’t have any teams between them and the Orioles, meaning that they don’t have to leapfrog anyone else or pray for slumps by 2 or more teams (like the Reds and Cardinals do in the NL).  And they have 6 games left with Baltimore; winning 4 or more of those would be very helpful.

That said, the Blue Jays need to string together some wins, and fast, or the Orioles will disappear over the horizon.  Upcoming games look like this:
Jays:  1@Seattle, 3@White Sox, 2@Milwaukee, 3 Tampa Bay
Orioles: 1 Yankees, 3@Cleveland, 3@White Sox, 3@Cubs

That schedule favours Baltimore, on paper.  It’s still early for things to be getting late, but I think it’s fair to say that if the Jays lose any more ground over the next 10 days, the division race is over – barring some Red Sox-esque collapse by Baltimore in September.  Could happen, sure, but that can’t be counted on.

Meanwhile, the Jays are 2 games behind Seattle and Detroit for the last wild card spot.  We’d all prefer that the Jays win the division, but the wild card is eminently attainable.  A loss tonight in Seattle, however, would make that a lot harder – being 3 games back of 2 teams might be almost as hard to overcome as being 5 back of one team, at this point in the season.


So, it’s all well and good to talk about how the Jays have hung tough while Lawrie, Lind, and Encarnacion were all out, but even having “hung tough”, the club is pretty much up against it, now – and Lawrie probably won’t be back in time to be any help.  So let’s hope that EE can play like it’s May, when he gets back Friday.

Monday, 11 August 2014

So this is weird...



I’m one of those odd people who look at their cable TV/internet/phone bill every month before paying it.  Call me crazy, but I’m coughing up north of $2000/yr on these services, so I’d like to be sure that I’m not being dinged with some hidden fee that I might be able to avoid.

Last month, I noticed that my bill had gone up by about $60.  Sure enough, I had negotiated a 1-year discount on my Rogers services last year, and that discount had now lapsed, accounting for the sudden increase on my bill.  Naturally, I called Rogers to see whether I could get the same discount again for another year.

I won’t bore you with all the details of how my call was routed – if you have dealt with Rogers (and Bell is probably the same), you can probably guess that I was routed to sales, and then to ‘inside sales’, and then to ‘loyalty’ in order to negotiate my fees (interesting fact: I could not be routed to ‘retention’, which apparently gives the best discounts, because I’m not the primary holder on the account – Mrs. Roberto is).  Naturally, the discount I had last year is no longer available, so I threatened to switch to Bell, and back and forth we went.

Eventually, we settled on a discount – close to what I had last year, within a couple of bucks monthly, anyway.  And I thought we were done.

But then, out of the blue, the Rogers rep mentioned that I showed up on his system as a Toronto Blue Jays Flex Pack holder.  That was a new line – I didn’t think that ticket information was tracked at the cable/phone/internet group, but whatever.  He asked me if I was enjoying the baseball season, and I complained about the lack of deadline moves, and the lack of spending in the offseason.

And that’s when it got weird.  “Listen,” he said, “We have a special promotion going on now involving the Blue Jays, if you are interested.”

“What’s that?” I asked, naturally a bit intrigued.  Falling right into the trap.

“Well,” (and his voice dropped to a conspiratorial hush) “you’re saving $60 by bundling your services with Rogers.  By being a Toronto Blue Jays Flex Pack holder, you’re entitled to the Jays Bundle:  Get 2 500-level tickets to any non-premium* game between now and the end of the season in exchange for deferring your $60 bundling discount to 2018… uh, 2028, I mean.”

I was momentarily outraged.  “But… those seats are practically free!  They’re barely worth the $1.25 that you used to charge the Toronto Star Season Pass holders for them.”

“Yes, sir” the agent replied smoothly.  “But those tickets are part of the incentive to this special promotion for Blue Jays fans who want to support the team.  By voluntarily deferring your bundling discount, we at Rogers will take that money and apply half of it to re-signing Melky Cabrera after this season.  If 100,000 subscribers defer a $60 discount monthly, and half of that is applied to Cabrera’s 2015 contract… that’s a 2 year, $36,000,000 contract offer that might not otherwise be made.”

This time, my outrage lasted longer than a moment.  “You’re a multibillion-dollar corporation!” I shouted down the line.  “Aren’t you the least bit ashamed to be passing the hat around to get players signed?”
“Well, sir, aren’t you ashamed to not be supporting your team?  RA Dickey, Edwin Encarnacion, and Jose Bautista offered to defer millions to get a mediocre Ervin Santana last offseason.  Millions, sir.  For a player nowhere near as good as Melky Cabrera.  You sound like a loyal fan – don’t you love your team more than do a bunch of players who’ll basically go to whoever pays them the most?  Which won’t be Rogers, incidentally, unless you and other fans give the Jays your *cough* financial *cough* support.”

I said I’d think about it, and hung up.

************* 

* - i.e. No weekends, holidays, Yankees or Red Sox

Note:  Everything after the fourth paragraph might have been something I dreamed after falling asleep while waiting on hold for someone to pick up my call.


Sunday, 10 August 2014

9 things I thought about during today's 19 inning win

I apologize for using this meme, but there were no actual pictures of today's walkoff to steal use.

Why 9 things, and not 19?  Because I didn't watch the whole thing - so you get a thought per inning I was actually paying attention.

9.   What's up with Casey Janssen?  Granted, small sample size (8.1 innings), but he's been scary-bad since the All-Star break:  9.72 ERA, 10.93 FIP, 6.15 xFIP.  And the components are even worse, if that's possible - 3 strikeouts in those 8.1 innings, groundball rate of just 20%, .498 wOBA allowed, and BABIP allowed of just .267, meaning that he hasn't been victimized by batted ball luck.  Six months ago, I was thinking that the Jays might let Janssen leave as a FA after this season and have one of Santos or Delabar close in 2015.  Two months ago, I figured the Jays had to bring Janssen back, as we saw the heirs apparent to the closer role fell apart.  And now... if something is wrong with Janssen, I don't know what the fall-back is.  Cecil or Loup, I guess.

8.  What's wrong with Mark Buehrle?  His ERA for July and August - yes, small sample size again - is on the wrong side of 6.  The HR/FB ratio is up, like we expected it to be from the historic lows it was at this spring, but his walk rate is up too, which is alarming for a guy who makes his living with pitch placement.  If there's some saving grace to Buehrle's 2nd half, his struggles are partially due to a .397 BABIP allowed.

7.  Of 25 Mondays during the MLB schedule, the Jays have 12 of them off.  Would that tomorrow was one of them.

6.  If the Jays need to make room for fresh arms out of the 'pen, who gets sent down?  Jenkins, obviously, but I hope the team wouldn't burn one of Sanchez's options to bring in someone who could pitch tomorrow.

5.  Bet Brad Ausmus (Tigers manager) would have liked to have replacements today for Anibel Sanchez and Joakim Soria, who were put on the D/L before the game without offsetting players being called up.

4.  Skydome needs a rule to deal with beer sales in extra-innings games.  Alcohol sales are cut off after the 7th inning, which is a problem when the game goes an extra 2, 3, or 4 hours past that.  Maybe allow 1 beer per person for 1 inning, every 4 innings after the 7th?

3.  5 Jays were intentionally walked today.  Is that a record for a team in 1 game, excluding games Barry Bonds played in?

2.  Melky Cabrera walked 5 times and was on base 8 times.  That's gotta be a record, too.

1.  When this ends, I'm not going to be happy the Jays won.  I'm going to be relieved that they didn't lose.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Rotation iterations

This may be all the rotation help the Jays get.

The Blue Jays didn't do a lot at the trade deadline, but they did something significant in the days and weeks prior to it:  They found a righthanded OF/DH (Nolan Reimold) and a righthanded infielder (Danny Valencia) to help address the team's chronic struggles against lefthanded pitching.

The Jays also had a need for relief help, and like just about everyone else, they would have welcomed a top-tier arm for the rotation.  They didn't get either of those things, and apparently will a) count on Aaron Sanchez to boost the bullpen, something he's done admirably to this point, and b) rely on the existing 5 starters to carry the team through September (and hopefully, into the playoffs).

There's a problem with this approach, though:  The Jays are coming up on what might be inning limits on Sanchez, Drew Hutchison, and Marcus Stroman.  To wit:

Hutchison has pitched 122 innings in 2014.  His career high is 150 (set in 2011).  He's on pace for about 180, coming off Tommy John surgery.

Stroman has pitched 113 innings in 2014.  His career high is 123, set last year.  He's on pace for about 167 innings.

When Aaron Sanchez was called up, it was said that the club expected to get about 30 innings from him.  Generally speaking, baseball teams try to avoid increasing a pitcher's innings count by more than about 30, year-to-year.  Sanchez was called up on July 22, with about 10 weeks left in the season.  And in less than 2 weeks, he's already 1/4 of the way through the 30 innings he's supposed to be good for.

In short:  the way the Jays are going, they may not be able to make a playoff run with Hutch and Stroman, because they'll be at or beyond their innings 'caps' by mid September.  And they may shut down Sanchez in September, too (as well they should; the health of a pitcher with front-of-the-rotation potential shouldn't be jeopardized by having him throw too many relief innings).

So, what to do about this?

For Sanchez, I expect the team to keep using him until they can't anymore, and cross their fingers that one of Steve Delabar, Sergio Santos, or Neil Wagner is able to step in by September.  And by September, the team will be able to call up an essentially unlimited number of relievers, so everyone's workload should be somewhat lighter then.  Presumably.

Keeping Hutchison and Stroman in the rotation is more crucial, just because Stroman in particular has pitched so well, and because there aren't any credible replacements for them sitting in Triple-A (unless you want to roll the dice with Dan Norris).  If we assume that the team would want both of Hutch and Stroman limited to about 40 more innings, that means 6-8 more starts for each of them.  And right now, the way the rotation is set up, Hutch figures to start 10 more games before the end of the season, and 9 for Stroman, assuming that the 5-man rotation stays unchanged.  And even if you skip them when you can due to off days, you're still looking at 8 starts for each of them - which might get you through September, but not into the playoffs.

So as I see it, the Jays will need a 6th starter if they intend to be playing ball deep into October.  And that's the awful dilemma - if you pitch Dickey/Buehrle/Happ on normal (4 days) rest each time out, they'd pitch 33 of the Jays' last 49 starts, leaving 16 for other starters.  That means 5 or 6 starts for each of Hutch, Stroman, and our unknown 6th starter.  If that 6th starter is, say, Todd Redmond or Sean Nolin or Kyle Drabek, those could be 5 or 6 bad starts.  In a playoff race.

It's an awful dilemma, but the resolution of the dilemma may be instructive.  Do you set up your rotation to make the playoffs, or set up your rotation to win in the playoffs, once there?  I'd like to see the Jays do the latter, but my money is on them doing the former.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Quest for 90


As of 6:00 pm Wednesday, the Jays were exactly 2/3 of the way through their season.  

Currently, they’re on pace to win 87 games.  .600 ball the rest of the season gets the Jays to 90 wins.  Which win total is more likely?

The Blue Jays have 28 home games left, and 26 road games.  For the season, the Jays have played .566 ball at home, and .509 on the road.  Slight advantage to the Jays there.

Remaining opponents:
Baltimore:  9 games (6 home, 3 road)  .562 winning percentage
Tampa:   9 games (6 home, 3 road)  .491 winning percentage
Boston:  7 games (3 home, 4 road)  .449 winning percentage
Yankees:  7 games (3 home, 4 road)  .519 winning percentage
Seattle: 7 games (4 home, 3 road)  .519 winning percentage

Houston: 4 games (4 road)  .402 winning percentage
Detroit: 3 games (3 home)  .553 winning percentage
White Sox: 3 games (3 road)  .486 winning percentage
Cubs: 3 games (3 home)  .419 winning percentage
Milwaukee: 2 games (2 road)  .550 winning percentage

That’s an overall winning percentage of .499 for the opponents in the Jays' remaining games.   To this point, Jay opponents have had a .508 winning percentage.  Add in the fact that the Jays play 6 of their 9 games with Baltimore (and 6 of 9 with Tampa) at home, and the schedule starts to look favourable.  And that’s a good thing, because it’s also looking more and more like it’ll take 90 wins to be assured of a playoff berth.


Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Valencia in, Rasmus's son out

No, not that Rasmus’s son.

As alluded to briefly in last night’s post, and covered pretty thoroughly by others since then, the Jays acquired Danny Valencia for Erik Kratz and Liam Hendriks, and sent Rob Rasmussen to AAA to make room for Valencia on the big-league roster.

Valencia is not a big name acquisition – he’s no Chase Utley, Adrian Beltre, or even Chase Headley.  However, he hits lefthanded pitching very well (.381 wOBA vs LHP for 498 PA over his career), and can play 3B and a bit of second.  My guess is that when Lawrie returns, Lawrie will play 2B against RHP with Francisco at 3B, with Lawrie at 3B and either Valencia or Tolleson at 2nd against LHP.  In the meantime, Valencia and Francisco will probably platoon at 3B.  With Reimold available to platoon with Lind, and Tolleson already on the team, the Jays have gone a long way towards addressing their chronic struggles against lefty pitching.

As for what they gave up – well, Hendriks was AAA depth who showed some pretty ugly peripherals over his 3 starts in Toronto.  Losing Hendriks will hurt the Buffalo Bisons, but he’s probably the 7th or 8th–best option for the Jays’ rotation.  I’m a bit sorry to lose Kratz, who showed some ability to frame pitches in Toronto, but if nothing else, losing Kratz eliminates the temptation for the team to carry 3 catchers, which was really frustrating to see.  None of Kratz, Navarro or Thole had been outstanding with the bat this year, but Kratz was the worst of the bunch.  Worst case scenario, the Jays bring up AJ Jimenez if one of Navarro or Thole get hurt – or more likely, they go fishing for a replacement-level catcher on the waiver wire.  And that’s basically what Kratz is.

Rasmussen goes to Buffalo, leaving the team with 6 relievers, but as he had pitched 2 innings yesterday, he probably wasn’t going to be used today or tomorrow, anyway.  As of right now, the Jays have Reimold, Gose, Goins and Tolleson on the bench (if you consider the infield starters to be Francisco-Reyes-Kawasaki-Johnson).  One of these guys (probably Kawasaki) will be replaced by a reliever in a few days.  When Lind, Lawrie, and Encarnacion get back, I expect that Johnson, Gose, and Goins will head out.  Reimold, Valencia, and Francisco don’t have options – but even if they did, I think they’re a good mix for the bench – 2 righties for platoon purposes, and a power lefthanded bat.  However, if Reyes' shoulder or back acts up, they might keep Goins and Kawasaki for defensive purposes.


In any case, I have a nagging feeling that that we won’t see all of the injured Jays back until the 3rd week of August, which would mean only 10 days or so before rosters expand, eliminating the need to juggle bench players.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Crunch time

Nolan Reimold:  Lefty-mashing saviour de jour.


The Jays have done pretty much all we could hope for or expect since the all-star break:  Won 2 of 3 from Texas (the loss against Darvish), won 3 of 4 from a then-hot Boston team, and then won 2 of 3 from the Yankers in New York (and as I write this, they lead the Sux by a dozen runs in Boston).  All this was done without 2 of the team’s best hitters and its best defender, and crucially, the team didn’t lose anyone else to injury in those games.

Frustratingly, that 10-game stretch only moved the Jays 1 game closer to the division lead, as Baltimore went 6-4 through Oakland, California, and Seattle, beating the Mariners twice in extra innings.  It would have been nice if the O’s had struggled against the 2 best teams in baseball and the pretty-good Mariners… but even if the Jays didn’t make up much ground on Baltimore, they did move into the second wild-card spot, now a game up on NY and 1.5 up on Seattle.

Upcoming games:

Toronto:            3 at Boston, 4 at Houston, then home to face Baltimore
Baltimore:         3 at home to California and 3 at home to Seattle, then a makeup game in Washington before flying to Toronto
New York:         3 at Texas (Darvish in game 1), 3 at Boston
Seattle:             3 at Cleveland, 3 at Baltimore

Looks to me like Toronto has the easiest schedule, followed by New York and then Seattle.  Baltimore may be in tough against CAL and SEA; the O’s have played better on the road than at home this year, and Seattle has done well on the road.  One would hope the Jays could make some hay in Houston while Seattle and Baltimore beat each other up, and the Red Sux hopefully take out some frustration on the Yankers.

Other pieces of potential good news:  Nolan Reimold is back with the team, which gives the team another badly-needed option against lefthanded pitching.  The latest word on Adam Lind is that he could be back this week.  And Brett Lawrie seems to be on track to return next week.  On the bad side, Edwin Encarnacion has had a “setback” in his rehab, meaning he probably won’t be back until the Oriole series, or later.

So with all that in the back of our minds, let’s turn to the trade deadline.  Before the all-star break, I was wondering if the Jays would be buyers or sellers.  With 3 games to go before Thursday’s deadline, it seems like a pretty safe bet that the team won’t be selling, but will they be buying?  The team definitely still has needs – relief pitching, in particular – that could be filled, but it looks less and less likely that a major deal will happen.  A lot of assets are off the market (Headley, Samardzija, Soria) and some of the biggest trade chips the Jays have are now filling crucial roles with the team.  The club can’t deal either of Stroman or Hutchison without creating another roster hole, and it seems like Sanchez will be counted on to supply innings in relief.  That leaves Norris and Pompey as high-value trade fodder, and they’re probably not enough to get a useful, controllable asset.  Oh, I guess Danny Valencia is somewhat useful, but he's a fill-in (for Lawrie and maybe at 2nd base, although the Tolleson/Kawasaki platoon has been performing well offensively) as opposed to being an impact player. The club is rumoured to be interested in OF Chris Donorfia, but has Nolan Reimold already.  And I suppose they could use a reliever.  But I can’t see the team adding a starting pitcher or a big-time bat.  One, they don’t want to spend the money; two, they don’t want to spend prospects, and three, the club isn’t in a position to go “all-in”.  They’re in 2nd place, on pace to win 85 games.  I’d hate to see them bet the minor-league farm on this season when a playoff spot is by no means a sure thing.  In other words, expect the trade deadline to be a quiet one for Anthopoulos and the Jays



On last, important thing, and something I don't write about often.  Four Blue Jays visited Sick Kids’ hospital in Toronto this past Wednesday.  That’s something the club and players do on a regular basis, but it’s different when they’re visiting someone you know.  Thanks, guys... and get well soon, Symone.


Saturday, 19 July 2014

Impressions from Front Street



I was at last night's ballgame, but I wasn't going to make this an "Impressions from the Ballpark" post.  In brief: it was a frustrating game, a night where the Blue Jays came within 1 K of a team (batting, i.e. the bad kind) strikeout record.  A night in which Rah Dickey was mostly good, but bad when it counted, and the offense was the equal of the Texas offense (each team had 10 baserunners and 1 HR) except when it counted.  A night in which we all came prepared to (justifiably) boo the crap out of JP Strikethreebia  Arensuckula Arencibia while simultaneously dreading an improbable all too familiar turn of events in which JPA ends up the hero of the game.  Which, naturally, happened.

There was a great crowd for the game - 38,000, which seems about right for a comfortable, clear Friday night in July, except that it was against the Rangers and not, say, the Yankees or Red Sox.  As usual for Skydome, the upshot of the large crowd was an interminable wait for food and drink at the concession booths.  And the wave.  But the lineup at the food booths was worse, to the point where I didn't eat at the game, and which nicely segues to the long-promised.


Analysis of Food Options on the way to the Game

I walk to the game from Yonge & Front, usually (Union Station), and I expect a lot of you do, too.  There are certainly lots of other food options if you are willing to wander a little bit - tons of pubs (C’est What, Flatiron & Firkin, Jersey Giant), diners (Frans) and restaurants (Hot House, O&B, Spring Rolls) along Front to about Jarvis, for example.  I’m just going to focus on the spots that are actually on the way.

Chipotles



Location:  Front & University, S side
Scouting report:  Inconsistent lineups, but you usually can find a place to sit somewhere.  5 burrito options, plus burrito bowls if you’re going gluten free.  Fast food in the $10 range.  Get the chips and salsa.  Not licensed.


Loose Moose


Location:  Front between Simcoe and University, N side
Scouting report:  Licensed, pub-style place.  It’s in the basement and therefore has no patio, a significant minus.

Lone Star



Location:  Front W of Simcoe, N side
Scouting report:  Tex Mex pub food.  Another place where you’d better get there early in order to get a seat, patio or otherwise.


Jack Astors
Location:  University just N of Front, W side
Scouting report:  If you want a patio seat in nice weather or an indoor seat in bad weather, get there before 5.  Nice ambiance, licensed (duh).

Canyon Creek


Location: Front St N side, between University and Simcoe
Scouting report:  Nice steak & ribs place… think of an upscale Keg (even considering that the Keg has gotten itself some attitude lately).  More of a place to have dinner than to grab a bite on the way to the game… but if you want a “real” dinner before the game, this is the best option on Front, IMO.


Simcoe Place Food Court


Location:  Next to CBC building at Front & John, entrance on the N side of Front.

Scouting report:  Downtown food courts exist just to serve the office lunch crowd, and for that reason, you may not have a lot of luck on a weekend, or on a weekday after 5.  I'm including this one because (a) it's on the way to Skydome, and (b) it has a pretty good shwarma place.  There's a Thai place, a Subway, and a couple of other places that are open at 5:30 PM, and many others that are already closed.  

Pizza Rustica
Location: Blue Jays Way just N of Front
Scouting report:  Stone oven pizzas and Italian food just N of Front on Blue Jays Way.  Used to be pretty good, but I haven't been in a while.  If you're in a hurry, the Pizza Pizza across the street is faster, but on the other hand, it's Pizza Pizza.

Gretzky’s Oasis (patio)
Location: Blue Jays Way N of Front
Scouting Report:  Rooftop patios are A-OK in my book.  I find that this one’s more of a “young-and-after-work” crowd than a baseball crowd.  Don’t expect a table on a busy night, and you may have a hard time getting food up there, too.  Never tried to order anything non-liquid.

St Louis
Location: S side of Bremner opposite Skydome
Scouting report:  Wings and ribs joint.  Used to be great… now, with franchises popping up everywhere, it’s just okay.  On a game day, forget about getting seated and fed unless you’re there 2 hours before gametime on a weekday, 1.5 hours (or more) on a weekend.
  
Steam Whistle
Location:  Bremner and Rees… the big round building
Scouting report:  You can’t eat here, but you can get a sample of Steam Whistle Pilsner for your $10 entry fee.  Reservations recommended Monday-Thursday, not accepted Fri-Sun,  Last tour is at 5PM, first one (on weekends) is at noon.

Hot dog truck (this one)


Hot dog truck (that one)




Hot dog truck (the other one)


Location:  Front St S side, outside the Convention Centre
Scouting Report:  They're all pretty much the same, frankly, but not as good as the hot dog carts.  But if you want fries and other options to go with your sausage or hot dog, you can get them at the trucks, not the carts.

Ice cream truck



Scouting report:  Ice cream truck sells ice cream. 
Sabermetric report:  It’s served at -4 C and has a half-life in 25C weather of 11 minutes.  12 minutes, if you get the chocolate dip. 

Hot dog carts
Location:  Various.  Usually located on the on the overpass from Front S to Gate 2,on the concourse outside the Renaissance driveway off Blue Jays Way, along Front towards Blue Jay Way, Front & John, etc, etc. 

Sabermetric report:  I haven’t tried all of these, but be aware that the ones on the overpass and on the west side of the stadium have been known to jack up their prices on game days.  Default price for a hot dog in Toronto is $3, and a sausage, $4.  Yeah, paying $5 for a brat on a bun isn’t exorbitant compared to what the vultures in the Skydome charge, but it’s still a ripoff by real-world price standards.  As for which one is the best, I tend to be partial to the cheaper one on the SE corner of Front and Blue Jays Way, and the one on the SW corner of Front and John.




There are other places to go to, but if you aren't already familiar with the options, I hope this can be a starting point.  And rest assured, every one of these places is better and usually cheaper than eating in the Skydome, even if Rogers/Aramark did bring back the jerk chicken nachos this year.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Colby and Melky: Is it inevitable that they're gone?


There’s been a fair bit of talk – at Drunk Jays Fans and Bluebird Banter, notably - about the likelihood of the Blue Jays being able to bring back either of free-agents-to-be Colby Rasmus and Melky Cabrera next season, due to their being expensive.

We all know strongly suspect that Rogers is cheap, and that might mean that they won’t pursue either player, because they want to cut costs.  But assuming the club isn’t in cost-cutting mode, and just wants to stay the salary course, how tight will the dollars be next year?

The Jays’ biggest commitments in 2015 are to 6 players:  Reyes, Buehrle, Bautista, Dickey, Encarnacion and Lind.  The club is paying those 6 guys $76MM in 2014, and will need to pay them $84.5MM in 2015, an increase of $8.5MM.   That’s pretty much a fixed expense (Adam Lind’s 7.5MM next year is an option, but it would cost the team $1MM to buy him out, so I’m considering it a foregone conclusion that the team will re-up the righty-mashing Lind at the reasonable cost of $7.5MM).

There are some other options that may or may not be picked up.  If Happ returns, he gets a $1.5MM raise, to 6.7MM.  If the team buys him out, they free up $5.2MM they were paying him this year.  Brandon Morrow has a $10MM option for 2015 with a 1MM buyout.  If the team cuts him loose, they save $7MM over what they were paying him in 2014.  Sergio Santos has a $6MM option with a $750K buyout.  If the Jays keep him, that’s a $2.25MM raise; if they decline, that’s a $3MM saving.  And Dustin McGowan has a $4MM option next year with a $500K buyout – if he stays, he costs $2.5MM more than he did in 2014, and if he goes, the Jays save $1MM.

And there are non-core players with guaranteed money tied to them: Dioner Navarro, $5MM (2MM more than 2014), Maicer Izturis, $3MM, Ricky Romero, $7.5MM.  2015 is the last year that the Jays will be financing Romero’slifestyle.  Romero's a sunk cost, but Navarro and Izturis could conceivably be traded, freeing up some salary room.

So, if you assume that Happ’s and McGowan’s options get picked up, and that Morrow and Santos’s options are declined, the Jays only owe the players named above $4.5MM more than they did in 2014.  Just 4.5MM!

Naturally, there will be other raises – Lawrie, Hutchison, Cecil, Reimold, Thole, Francisco and Kratz are all in arbitration and figure to get salary increases, but I can’t see the total amount of those increases surpassing $10MM.  And on top of having to consider whether to bring back Rasmus and/or Cabrera, the team has to make a decision on Casey Janssen, who will be a free agent, too.  Rasmus, Cabrera, and Janssen are making a combined $19MM in 2014.

If the team brings none of the free agents back, they’ll actually project to have a payroll $3.5MM lower than they did in 2014.  I know, I know – if none of Rasmus/Cabrera/Janssen come back, the team will need to find replacements which will certainly push the payroll back above where it was in 2014. 

But still – if the team wants to take a hard line on payroll, re-sign only Janssen (they’re thin in the bullpen from the right side) and roll the dice with some combination of Gose/Reimold/Pillar in the 2 non-Bautista outfield spots, they’d be coming back with basically the same payroll as 2014.  And I guess they could do that.  One would hope, though, that the bean counters at Rogers would recognize that (a) salaries in pro sports will always rise, so keeping payroll constant is actually cutting payroll, relative to the league, (b) not spending in salaries will cost them in gate revenues, and (c) you can’t build a successful club by turning the money tap on and off on a 4 year cycle.   Bottom line is, the club’s commitments for 2015 payroll aren’t drastically higher than 2014’s commitments.  If, as we've been told ad infinitum, “the money (was) there” in 2014, it ought to be there in 2015, too.


Monday, 14 July 2014

Whew

It was more fun when the Jays were falling all over themselves and winning.

It’s called the All-Star Break, and for the Blue Jays, the key part is break.  This team badly needs a breather.

A lot has gone wrong in recent weeks for the Blue Jays, and as has been the case for what seems like years on end, the biggest issue has been injuries.  The Jays are without their best lefthanded (Lind) and righthanded (Encarnacion, arguably) hitters, as well as their best defender (Lawrie).  And of the guys still on the field, Reyes has a bad shoulder (accounting for a bunch of throwing errors, apparently), and both Rasmus and Bautista have been unable to field a position at times.  The club picked up (for free!) a much needed righthanded bat in Nolan Reimold, who promptly got hurt and is day-to-day.  The rotation has been decent, but the Jays have more unreliable relievers in the ‘pen than reliable ones.

In other words, it’s business as usual.  So what do we have to look forward to?

Well, for one thing, Lawrie and Encarnacion could to be back in 2-3 weeks or so.  The Jays have been forced to put out some especially putrid lineups against lefthanding pitching of late; not having to play Juan Francisco against LHP would be nice.

When Nolan Reimold is healthy, the Jays look to finally have the righthanded half of a platoon with Francisco (or when he returns, Lind).

And most importantly, the Jays will come out of the break to play what should be the easy part of their schedule.  To this point, the Jays’ opponents have had a .508 winning percentage; that’s the 3rd toughest schedule in MLB.  Baltimore’s opponents have played to a .496 winning percentage; that’s 20th in MLB.  Before July ends, the Jays will play 3 games at home to Texas (.400 winning percentage), 4 at home to Boston (.453), 3 at the Yankers (.500), 3 at Boston, and 1 at Houston (.417).  Meanwhile, the Orioles, who the Jays are 4 back of, embark on a 10 game road trip through Oakland (.621), Anaheim (.606) and Seattle (.537), and then come home to play Anaheim again.  So, yeah, the Jays could absolutely make up that entire 4-game deficit over the next 13-14 games.  


If they don’t… well, let’s cross that trade deadline bridge when we get a bit closer to it.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Cold comfort?

Keep those hamstrings warm, Colby.

The Blue Jays are not playing well, and on top of that, they’re in the middle of a road trip against teams that are playing well.  Anaheim is on an 8-2 run, as are the Devil Rays, and Oakland is the best team in the majors.  It sucks, but stretches like this will happen.  When the Jays were having a hot May, they caught Tampa and Boston in ice-cold stretches.  The tables are now turned. 

Prior to embarking on this road trip, the Jays had a 5-4 homestand in which they took two of two from the Brewers (best team in the NL) and two of three from the division rival Yankers.  Yes, losing 3 of 4 to the White Sox was disheartening, but the team wasn’t (and still isn’t) getting blown out.  The last 11 games have been played against high-scoring teams and the Jays have allowed no more than 5 runs in any of them, and either one or zero runs three times.

So what am I saying?  I’m saying that the pitching has been solid, and that the team will hit again.  Marcus Stroman has made 7 starts with an ERA of 2.08 and FIP and xFIPs in the low threes.  He looks like the real deal.  Mark Buehrle has an ERA under 3 for June/July.  JA Happ has been a little unlucky as a starter; his FIP and xFIP are in the low 4s, which would be perfectly acceptable for a 5th starter.  Rah Dickey is… well, he’s maddening, but not awful, and Drew Hutchison has probably been the Jays’ second-beat starter, with ERA, FIP and xFIP all under 4.

Provided that the pitching doesn’t fall apart – and it’s held up pretty well, thus far – there is hope for better days.  The Jays return from the all-star break to play a 3-game series at home versus the bad Texas Rangers, and then 4 more at home against the slumping Red Sox.  They then go on the road for 3 at New York, 3 at Boston, and 4 at the last-place Houston Astros.  The Jays badly need to break free of their Yankee Stadium jinx, but otherwise, these are all winnable games.  Particularly with EE (and maybe Lawrie) being back for some or all of those games.


So, better days are ahead, I think.  Right now, I’d be happy if the Jays could win 2 of the next 5 (in Anaheim and Tampa) and get a little bit of a breather over the all-star weekend.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Sooo...


Blue Jays starters have a 3.79 ERA, good for 5th in the AL.   And in the last 30 days, the offense has a wOBA of .298, which is basically like having a team of 9 Derek Jeters... circa 2014.

So… do the Jays need hitting more than pitching, right now?  YES.  And the good news is, it’ll come cheaper than Jeff Samarmalade or David Price did and would.

The last week saw the Jays add Cole Gillespie and Nolan Reimold to the roster – for free!  Both of them are right-handed outfielders, but of the two, I’d give the edge to Reimold:  He’s younger, has no discernable platoon split, and he’s familiar with the AL East.  Gillespie has a platoon split, but it’s a reverse split, and the Jays already have a lot of players (Lind, Francisco, and Rasmus) who can’t hit lefthanded pitching.  And with Encarnacion out for another 2 weeks at least, the team desperately needs someone who can hit a lefthander.

The other obvious need, which has been an obvious need for almost the whole season (even during the heyday of the Lawrie-Francisco-Tolleson 3B/2B shuffle) is second base.  And there are plenty of options – Chase Headley, Aaron Hill, Luis Valbuena, Gordon Beckham, and others, all of which look better (going forward) than the team’s current options (Muni Kawasaki and Steve Tolleson).  Better they may be, but will they be worth doing?

Let's start with the familiar.  Aaron Hill is now 32, and is having a poor season defensively and offensively.  He’s also owed a ton; about half of his $11MM salary for 2014 and $24MM more for the next 2 seasons.  Pass.

Gordon Beckham has a OBP of .302 (not far off his career OBP of .312), no power, so-so defense, and he isn't a baserunning threat.  To this point, he's not even an upgrade on Tolleson... so, no.

You might recall my making a case for Luis Valbuena back in 2012.  And in retrospect, keeping him would have been a pretty good idea; he can play some defense, his offensive stats have been trending upwards, and he's under control for 2 more years and cheap, cheap, cheap ($1.4MM this year).  Downside?  He's a lefthanded batter with a mild platoon split, and the Jays would ideally want someone who can hit lefty pitching.  We're getting warmer, though.

Chase Headley is actually a third baseman, but the thinking is that he would play 3B and Lawrie (when healthy) would move to second.  Headley is a very good defender and has been an elite hitter, but has struggled this year with a back injury.  He also makes $10MM and is a free agent after this season, and is a switch-hitter who does better against RHP.  And... he wouldn't solve the 2B problem, he'd just push Francisco to the bench and 2B would continue to be undermanned until Lawrie's return... AND he has a back problem and would be playing on the Skydome concrete turf.  So... perhaps not.

Martin Prado?  Like Hill, he's an expensive Diamondback who is owed a lot of money.  And he's a third baseman.

Brandon Phillips is also expensive and pretty overrated offensively.  However, he does hit lefthanders well, over his career (.348 wOBA).

Chase Utley hits everything and plays good defense.  He's owed $25MM for this year and next, but also has 3 vesting options at $15MM each, making him a pretty big financial commitment.  Nonetheless, bidding will be competitive if he hits the market.  Ben Zobrist also fits this description.

At the end of the day, I think that if the Jays do make a trade, it will be for an inexpensive option - which means Valbuena.  If the team can land him without giving up one or more of Sanchez/Nolin/Norris/Pompey, I'd be on board.  I can't see the Jays taking on the dollars that would go with most of the others.  Beckham would be cheap, but he's not an upgrade.

In other words, a 2B upgrade may not be in the works.  Can we go back to looking at pitching?  AJ Burnett would still fit nicely in the Jays' rotation.


Thursday, 3 July 2014

The madness of bunting

Image from Second Guesser, a lovely iPhone baseball app that you can't apparently get in Canada, via Pitchershiteighth.com.
And if I could make the image bigger, I would.

I'm not among those who'd like to see John Gibbons pilloried for his supposed failings as a manager.  There are a lot of reasons for this - I like how he uses platoons, I think he makes decent decisions with bullpen use (usually), and I don't think he can be held responsible for how his players perform (that much is true of any manager).  And it's also because I don't like sacrifice bunts, and the Jays under Gibbons don't bunt much (23rd in MLB in bunt attempts last year, and 23rd this year as well).

Gibbons and the rest of the Blue Jays coaches let me down yesterday afternoon, though, twice attempting a sacrifice bunt with none out and runners on 1st and 2nd base, and twice getting unwanted results (a double play once, and the lead runner out at 3rd, the other time).  I'd like to talk a little bit about that - I feel capable of doing so, considering that EE bailed the Jays out and despite the lousy bunt strategy and bunt execution, the Jays won today, anyway.

To be clear:  I don't like sacrifice bunts.  The reason I don't like them is encapsulated pretty well in the image above:  when you sacrifice, you give up an out in order to move the runner or runners up a base, except that research (notably by Tom Tango, in The Book) tells us that sacrificing an out to move up a baserunner usually leads to fewer runs being scored.

Bunting for hits is a whole different animal.  Over the last 2 years, Anthony "ToGo" Gose has 7 bunt hits on 14 bunt attempts.  A .500 batting average is, of course, fantastic.  Most batters are out 70% of the time they put wood on ball, and bunting for hits can be a very effective tactic.

And to be fair, sacrifice bunts can be a good idea in a couple of situations:  Where they catch the opponent unprepared in a close game, and where the team that is bunting only needs 1 run (like the home team in extra innings).  Sacrificing usually means fewer runs scored, but it can slightly raise the probability of getting one run.

So with that in mind, let's look at what the Jays did yesterday in the 7th and 9th innings.

The score was tied 4-4 in the 7th, and the Jays had runners on 1st and 2nd (Bautista and Cabrera) with none out.  With Lind due up, the Brewers made a pitching change to have a lefthander (Zach Duke) face Lind.  One of the things I like about John Gibbons is how he makes no pretense of Adam Lind and his awful career .261 wOBA against lefthanders being an everyday player.  So - in comes Darin Mastroianni to bat for Lind against Duke.  And Joey Pat Darin immediately squares to bunt.

I have four problems with this.  First, it's the 7th inning.  The Brewers will have 2 more chances to score, so playing for 1 run doesn't seem like a great idea.  Getting the first 2 runners on is how big innings get started, and the Jays have Encarnacion, Navarro and Rasmus up after Mastroianni.  Why play for 1 run, with those bats coming up?  Second, the go-ahead run was already in scoring position.  A single would give the Jays the lead, and there were 3 opportunities to get that go-ahead RBI, versus just 2 if the bunt had succeeded.  Third, this was not a 'surprise' situation - everyone could see Mastroianni planned to bunt.  And finally, it just seems odd to burn a pinch-hitter just to give himself up with a sacrifice bunt.  I'll concede that one, though, considering the state of the Jays' right-handed bench options.

Anyway.  The Brewers see Darin squaring to bunt and put on the "wheel play".  In short, the third baseman and first baseman charge to field a bunt, while the SS and second baseman move to cover 3rd and 1st base, respectively.  Meaning that a ground ball that gets by the pitcher is essentially an RBI single.  I'll give credit to Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler, the Jays' announce team, for recognizing this immediately and pointing out that Mastroianni should swing away.

Mastroianni doesn't; he bunts, and it's a poor one, which the catcher scoops up and throws to 3B to get Cabrera, and back to 1B to retire Mastroianni.  2 out, and a runner (Bautista) on second, and after an intentional walk to Encarnacion, Navarro strikes out to end the inning.  Should Mastroianni have taken the initiative to hit away, or at least, to not show bunt early?  That's a tough thing to ask a young bench player to do, but somebody - the third base coach, the manager, the bench coach - should have signalled him not to bunt if the Brewers were running the wheel play.

So, fast forward to the 9th inning.  Score's still tied, 4-4.  The Jays again have 2 on (Reyes and Cabrera) with none out.  Gose is up, having pinch-run for Bautista after the double play in the 7th.  Now, the Jays only need 1 run, but the winning run is already on second.  Gose squares to bunt, and again, the Brewers run the wheel play.  And again, the Jays leave the bunt on, Gose bunts into the defense, and the lead runner is erased at 3B.

It was bad enough that the Jays bunted their lead runner into a nonproductive out(s) once, but doing it twice is pretty much inexcusable.  Particularly with Gose, who, due to his speed, is a low double-play risk.  I know Gibbons was already ejected at that point, but somebody - Gibbons via cellphone, or another coach - should have known better than to try a failed tactic a second time.

As I said, all concerned (Gibbons, coaches, and Mastroianni and Gose, who didn't help matters by laying down two weak bunt attempts) are pretty fortunate that Encarnacion hit his walk-off HR 2 batters later.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Belated Impressions From The Ballpark, June 24


How could Tuesday night have been better?  If it had been A-Roid throwing away a bunt to cost the Yankees the game.  Or, y'know, if the Jays hadn't needed a 9th inning rally to win.

I was at Tuesday's game, which the Jays were fated to lose due to the absence of their best hitter (Bautista) and best infield defender (Lawrie) from the lineup.  Except that they had a fighting chance to win the game, with their best pitcher (Buehrle, of the 10 wins and 2.42 ERA) on the mound.  Although come to think of it, Buehrle is 1-10 lifetime against the NYYers with an ERA above 5.  With all that in mind, it's no wonder so many things went wrong that night.

To begin with, there was the "free" shirt that the first 15,000 entrants to the Dome received.  It was a nice enough shirt, with a big red maple leaf and the words "Blue Jays" on it... except for the not-unobtrusive "Honda" logo on the right sleeve.  This is a pet peeve of mine:  It's not a free shirt, it's advertising.  Honda coughs up perhaps $50,000 wholesale for the 15,000 shirts, and gets their name mentioned before and during the game in return.  The advertising value of even several thousand ordinary people walking around wearing a Honda logo has to be almost nil, so why ruin a perfectly good shirt with the ad?

It was pouring rain outside, which makes me grateful for the existence of the Skydome and its roof, and never having to endure a rainout.  But, Rogers... would it kill you to air condition the place?  Or at least circulate the air a bit?  Bad as the Skydome is with the roof closed, it's worse when it's humid inside.

On the plus side?  The concession lines were bearable where I was (in the 500s), despite a crowd of around 35,000.  Rogers still has no craft beers available at the Dome, but there's a pretty broad selection at what I call the "Wall of Beer" concessions - 15+ brands at least.  So that's something.

Other impressions?  Derek Jeter is showing his age.  I don't just mean the triple-clutch on the grounder by Encarnacion, or the botched rundown of the next batter, Rasmus.  What was really telling for me was seeing Jeter field a ball in the hole (admittedly, the hole is not very deep for Jeter these days) and just hold it.  Holding the ball instead of attempting an impossible play can be a smart move, except that in this case, Adam Lind was the batter.  Adam Lind was pinch-run for with a pitcher in Cincinnati.  Adam Lind has been limping around with a badly bruised foot for a week.  And even when healthy, Adam Lind is one of the slower Blue Jays.  It's an indictment of Jeter's defensive skills that he didn't even attempt a throw on that play.

And while we're on the subject of shortstops, I am sorry to say that I hold my breath when Reyes has to make a throw to 1st base.  I'm not saying Reyes is a defensive liability - if anything, his range factor and zone rating this year are as good or better than his career numbers, sample size be damned.  It's just... I'll breathe easier after a couple weeks go by with no throws in the dirt.

In terms of overall ambiance, I didn't notice as much cheering for the Yankees as I usually do when at a Jays-Yankers matchup.  Whether this is because fewer NYY fans were at the game than usual, or because those NY fans that were there were more reticent, or because Jays fans were more boisterous (i.e. louder), I have no idea.  But it was a nice change.

Dustin McGowan was due for a blowup, and that happened, and the Jays were due to pull out an ugly win versus the Yankees, and that happened too.  So, all's well that ends well, I guess.  See you next time.