Saturday, 8 March 2014
...the Jays have apparently signed Ervin Santana, the worst bet (in my estimation) among the then-available free agent pitchers.
Before I go any further: This isn't automatically a bad thing. No, Santana isn't an ace; in fact, on this Jays team, he isn't even a #2 or #3 starter. But the drop-off in talent between Mark Buehrle (the #3 starter) and the candidates for the #4 and #5 starter spots is huge. And if nothing else, Santana's performance floor is a lot higher than that of Happ/Redmond/Rogers/Hutchison/etc., and his ceiling might be higher than that of any of those pitchers, too. After all, Santana was a 3 WAR pitcher last year, and has a 6 WAR season to his credit, a few years ago. Yes, it's unlikely that 6 WAR Ervin Santana ever resurfaces, but it's not likely that Hutchison or Stroman put up better than 3 WAR this season, either.
And there are other points besides his being better than last year's AAA retread rotation filler to support a Santana signing. He's been mostly healthy for the last 4 seasons, posting 30 starts each year. He adds useful depth to a team that has had terrible luck with injuries. And he's likely going to be signed for a 1-year deal, meaning (a) if he's terrible, the Jays aren't on the hook for years of salary, a la Ricky Romero, (b) he'll be motivated to perform well to make big bucks as a free agent next offseason, and (c) if he does play well, the Jays can make a qualifying offer and get a first round pick if he signs somewhere else in 2015.
That's assuming everything goes well. As much as there are reasons to support this signing, a lot could go wrong:
Santana could pitch really badly, especially considering he's been a homer-prone pitcher his whole career, and will now make half his starts in the hitter-friendly Skydome.
Yes, Santana has been healthy for the last 4 years, but he now apparently has elbow problems that have been concerning to potential suitors. If Santana's elbow explodes, the Jays will have blown $14MM and a second round draft pick for nothing.
The scheme to turn a second-round pick this year into a first-round pick in 2015 (qualifying offer followed by Santana signing elsewhere) sounds good, but you might remember how, last offseason, we all felt pretty confident that even if the Jays didn't re-sign Josh Johnson, they'd make him a QO and get a draft pick when someone else signed him. That didn't happen, despite Josh Johnson being a vastly better pitcher than Ervin Santana (and 2 years younger). If Santana is awful or injured, forget about the draft pick.
Lastly, and as I wrote about last week, the Jays have a lot of pitchers without options who they were going to struggle to find spots for on the 25-man roster. With Santana on board, the Jays will have a harder time squeezing Happ, Redmond, Jeffress, McGowan and Rogers into the pitching staff. And if these guys don't make the opening day roster (and can't be hidden on the DL), they may well be lost on waivers.
Soooo... there you have it. The Jays would make themselves better, but not a lot better, by signing Ervin Santana. And despite it being a 1-year deal, there'd be a decent chance that this signing blows up in their faces. Cross your fingers, everyone.
One last consideration: If the Jays can sign Stephen Drew to a 1 year deal, he would only cost them a 3rd round pick (and money, of course), if the second rounder has been forfeited for Santana. Drew is a much bigger upgrade on Goins than Santana is on Hutchison et al. So do it, AA.
Monday, 3 March 2014
"The ship is sinking!"
Take a look at these lists.
Players with option(s) remaining*:
Options with optional waiver*:
Players with no options remaining*:
The Jays have a lot of good-or-could-be-good players to fit on their 25-man roster before the start of the season, and a lack of places to put them. And no, this isn’t one of the situations in which the ‘nice problems to have’ cliché can get trotted out by the manager or GM. As things stand, the Jays will be faced with a conundrum before April: Put what might not be their best players on the 25-man roster, or risk losing potentially useful players on waivers.
If the Jays want to avoid losing any players to waivers, their bench will look like this (assuming Goins is the starting 2B): Izturis, Sierra, Kratz or Thole (with Navarro as the starting C), and possibly a 4th player (Gose?). A 3 man bench would be tough to swallow because none of those players can play CF, and only Izturis can pinch-run effectively. For that reason, I expect to see Anthony Gose (and not Munenori Kawasaki) make the team, leaving them with a 7-man bullpen.
And that bullpen is an even bigger puzzle. To avoid potentially losing players on waivers, the ‘pen would have to consist of: Janssen,
Cecil, Jeffress, McGowan, and ,
plus 1 or 2 others. You’ll notice Steve Delabar and Aaron Loup, two of
the Jays’ best relievers from 2013, aren’t on this list. Neither is Neil
Wagner. You could bring one of those three up, or two if you’re willing
to go with a 3-man bench offensively. Would I be happier with McGowan and
Jeffress in Rogers ?
I sure would, but they can’t be sent there without possibly losing them. Buffalo and other, more consistent players in the bullpen
In this model, the 4th and 5th starters would be Happ and Redmond. Hutchison or Drabek (or Stroman) might be better for one of those spots, but to bringing one of them north for the regular season would risk the loss of Happ or Redmond (unless they wind up in the bullpen, thereby putting someone else on the bubble).
So to recap: You can pick 2 of
Hutchison, Gose, Delabar, Stroman, Loup, Wagner, and Drabek for the 2013 team. Any more
than that, and you risk losing 1 or more of Happ, Redmond, Jeffress, McGowan,
Rogers, Sierra, and Izturis. Or other, presumably even less expendable
Personally, I don't think we will see any waiver losses this spring. As has been said many times, Alex Anthopoulos doesn't like giving up assets for nothing. More cynically, if the Jays were serious about putting the best possible team on the field in 2014, someone better than Ryan Goins would have been acquired to play second base by now.
* - Players with an option can be sent to the minor leagues automatically without risk. Players with an “option with optional waiver” can be claimed by another team when sent down to the minors (the ‘waiver claim’), but the original team can then pull the player back to avoid losing him. In practice, players with this status are almost never claimed, so for the purposes of this exercise, we can treat them as if they have options. Players without options can’t be sent down to the minors without exposing them to being irrevocably claimed by another team. So if the player is at all useful, he's likely gone.
Hat tip to BluebirdBanter for the list of players with and without options.
Monday, 24 February 2014
The Blue Jays didn’t add a free agent pitcher this offseason, and it now appears that any improvement to the rotation will come from within. Fine, already. Enough with the endless speculation on how crappy Ervin Santana might be; on to the guys who could actually be Jays next season.
As I see it, there are 4 candidates for the job of 5th starter. I’m discounting Marcus Stroman, who would be in this discussion were it not for the likelihood of the Jays not wanting to start his service clock just yet. And I’m excluding Dustin McGowan (too fragile), Jeremy Jeffress (too wild), Chad Jenkins (too limited) and Tomo Ohka (too old) from my candidates list as well, although some of these guys (Stroman and McGowan, in particular) will get probably be talked about as being considered for the job. And notably, McGowan and Jeffress are out of options, which may lead to the team trying to find a way to slot them into the 25-man roster somewhere. Those considerations aside, the contenders are:
Drew Hutchison: Hutchison is 23, and tops this list for 2 reasons: His decent showing back in 2012 before arm surgery, and his impressive work in the Arizona Fall League. That’s not much to go on, is it? Well, no… but what he has going for him is youth and the fact that he has performed well in the past. Small sample size, yes, but Hutchison strikes out a fair number of batters, doesn’t walk many, and gets groundballs (1.49 per flyball) at a decent rate. He was a bit unlucky with HR/FB in 2012, but again, sample size. If he has a good spring, he should make the journey north with the team.
28, and a guy who until last year, looked to be a career minor leaguer – triple-A filler. Then he came up with the Jays and was actually
pretty effective. He struck out almost a batter per inning, while walking
fewer than 3 per 9 innings. He didn’t go deep into games (14 starts, 69
innings) but he pitched to a 4.32 ERA (4.40 FIP, 4.16 xFIP), which was better
than any of the Jays’ other 2013 fill-ins. Trouble is, he’s 28, and
doesn’t possess outstanding stuff. Apparently he hides his fastball well, which is great and all, but when hitters figure out that trick, it’s just another 90
mph fastball. Redmond
Kyle Drabek: Kyle Drabek is 26. 26, and coming off his second Tommy John surgery. Once considered the centerpiece of the group that came back for Roy Halladay, he’s now no longer a prospect. Drabek has been plagued with wildness (walks) for his entire career, and the “stuff” that made him a top prospect may not be the same after his latest surgery. If he pitches well this spring, he’ll be in the mix, but don't hold your breath.
And somewhere, Ervin Santana is saying, "How do you like me now?"
Friday, 21 February 2014
A HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH....
By all appearances, the Jays aren’t going to make any more significant additions to their roster before the season starts (I’ll be charitable and call the Navarro acquisition “significant”). Does this signal a change in the team’s long-term strategy? Or as some are asking, do they even have a long-term strategy?
On taking the GM job with the Jays, Alex Anthopoulos made it clear that he planned to rebuild the team’s minor league system, with a renewed emphasis on scouting and the draft. And for three years, he did just that. The Jays went from having one of the worst minor league systems to one of the best, with AA adding draft picks anywhere he could by astute
use of the compensatory draft pick system that was then in place in MLB.
The Jays were active in signing Latin American prospects and aggressive in
their pursuit of high-upside talent in the draft. Those were all good
things, and a lot of people, myself included, bought into the slow-and-sure
approach to building a contender out of talented players that the Jays would
draft and develop.
What the Jays didn’t do much of, during the early part of AA’s watch, was take on big risk or big dollars on the major-league roster. The Jays didn’t outbid
Chapman. They didn’t outbid Cincinnati
for Yu Darvish. They didn’t threaten to break the bank in pursuit of any
free agents. Alex Anthopoulos has a price for everyone, beyond which,
apparently, he will not go. And again, that was fine, if the approach was
to build a contender out of talented draftees. Call it the Texas
model, but with deeper pockets. Tampa Bay
And then last (2012-13) offseason, Anthopoulos abruptly changed course. The Jays apparently abandoned the build-from-within approach and traded away a slew of highly-touted prospects for some highly-regarded (and expensive) players and signed a discounted free agent in Melky Cabrera, with the aim of taking advantage of a perceived weakness in the AL East. Obviously, things didn’t go as planned last year, but after 2013 happened, the logical next move would be for the Jays to continue to add players in an attempt to contend. Otherwise, they’d have traded away a lot of future talent with nothing to show for it. Confoundingly, the Jays didn’t add players this past offseason, and now the team that was expected to contend last year is now a year older and missing some pieces (Davis, DeRosa, Oliver, Johnson) who either contributed or were expected to contribute to winning in 2013.
And the thing is, when a team is already north of $130MM in salaries with a fast-closing window in which to contend, it can’t afford to stop at what it Alex Anthopoulos considers the intrinsic value of a particular free agent, the price beyond which he will not go. If
is offering Ubaldo Jiminez $13MM a year for 4 years and the Jays feel Jimenez
was worth $9MM for 3… the Jays need to bite the bullet and pay the man.
Jimenez might not be great, but he was one of the few available players who would make the 2014 team better. And if the
2014 team isn’t better than the 2013' one, that’s $130MM and several top prospects wasted, for
want of a mere $4MM/yr. Baltimore
For many years, I have tagged blogposts with “Free Agency is a scam”. And frankly, it usually is. Most big-name free agents are approaching or past age 30 and looking for a long term deal. A long term deal would carry a 30-year old well past his prime producing years. On top of that, free agents don’t cost a reasonable price, they cost just over what the second-highest bidder will pay. Given the scarcity of top players, there’s usually a lot of competition for the best free agents, meaning that the winning bidder is forced to pay more than the player is actually worth (see: Pujols, Albert, and Hamilton, Josh). In short: when you sign a big-name free agent, you’re usually doing so in the hope that he will perform well in the first couple years of his contract, and resigned to the idea that the player will be providing little value (at great expense) by the end of the deal.
So why do (presumably rational) teams sign free agents? Because they’re in this to win, and when you’re trying to win, there are no half measures. Which brings me back to the Jays, and what their strategy is supposed to be.
The 2013-14 offseason looked to be tailored for the Jays to make a move. They had a protected pick in the draft, meaning the pick they lost for signing a FA would be relatively painless (losing a second-round pick is a lot more palatable than losing a first-round pick). They had about $20MM coming off the payroll with the departures of Johnson/Davis/DeRosa. They had a roster with an expiry date 2 years away, when virtually every impact player besides Reyes becomes a free agent. They had a surplus of relievers to trade, and a semblance of depth in CF to trade from, too. But for whatever reason – salary constraints, trades that were scuppered by injury reports or no-trade clauses, or a lack of agreement on the value of free agents, nothing happened this offseason.
If the Jays had been willing to spend, Jimenez was available. Kendrys Morales is still available (which would make a trade of Lind feasible). Stephen Drew is still available. None of those players are as good as Jose Reyes or RA Dickey, but they’re better than what the team has now, and they’d make the team better in 2014.
Fans are unhappy, and the sports media are down on the team – there are plenty of predictions for another 5th place finish. Yes, both groups might be wrong about the 2014 Jays, the way they were wrong about the 2013 team. Maybe AA is right; maybe Drew Hutchison will step forward and add as much value as Jimenez would, at a fraction of the cost. Maybe JA “Jah” Happ’s late-season mechanics change will pay off in 2014. Maybe this is the year when the Jays’ 7th and 8th starters won’t be called on to start 20 games. All of that could happen, I guess. But… if there was ever a year that the Jays could have been players on the FA market, this was the year, when they had needs, money, and an advantage (protected pick) that other teams didn’t have. If the Jays can’t find value in the FA market this year, I’m not sure how they ever will. And again if they’re not going to go all-out for the playoffs now, what was the point of dealing D’Arnaud, Syndergaard, Marisnick and Nicolino?
Wednesday, 5 February 2014
We’re coming down to the final days before spring training, and the Jays still haven’t landed a free agent pitcher. The top options remaining are:
AJ Burnett: Those who lost track of Burnett after he opted out of his Blue Jay contract and was subsequently run out of
might be shocked to learn that AJ
Burnett has been a pretty good pitcher since then. Burnett has made 31
and 30 starts the last 2 years (and they were the fewest starts he made since
he had 25 starts in 2007 with the Jays), with 3.51 and 3.30 ERAs and excellent
peripherals. Burnett still strikes out a lot of batters (8.0/9 innings in
2012, 9.4 in 2013) and induces ground balls at a high rate (56%), two things
that make him pretty well suited to the homer-prone Skydome. Burnett’s
been worth 7.0 fWAR over the past 2 seasons, tops on this list, and at age 37,
he wouldn’t be expecting a long deal with all the attendant risks attached for
the team offering such a deal (he also doesn’t come with a qualifying offer
attached, meaning that he can be signed without forfeiting a draft pick). New York
On the other hand, Burnett is 37, and at some point, he’s going to lose some zip on his fastball and/or break down physically. It may be a mistake to make too much out of the way he left town (and the way he was booed on his return) when pondering whether Burnett would sign with the Jays, but it still seems likely that if Burnett signs anywhere, it will be with Baltimore, or some other team close to
where he makes his offseason home. Despite the caveats about his age and
the (un)likelihood of him wanting to play here, Burnett is the best candidate
to be added to the 2014 rotation. There’s no Roy Halladay on the team for
him to play second fiddle to, and Burnett might be a good fit on a team with 3
(Dickey, Buehrle, Morrow) pitchers of comparable track record and/or ability, rather
than having to be the #2 guy behind St. Roy. Baltimore
Ubaldo Jimenez: You may remember Jimenez from his great 2010 season, in which he threw 221 innings, racking up a 2.88 ERA (with a 3.10 FIP and 3.60 xFIP, both exceptional numbers) and 214 strikeouts. Unfortunately for Ubaldo, he followed up that great year with off-years in 2011 and 2012, years in which he was healthy but couldn’t crack either of 190 innings or a 4.50 ERA. 2013 was a bit of a bounce-back season, in which he made 32 starts (but only pitched 182 innings) and managed 9.56 strikeouts per 9 innings and a 3.30 ERA (3.43 FIP, 3.62 xFIP). Jimenez, like Burnett, has a knack for striking batters out and he keeps fly balls in the park, skills which will play well in
On the other hand, Jimenez doesn’t have a great track record. Yes, he had that 2010 season, but that was 3 years ago. 2013 was nice, but really, he was only effective for the last 4 months of the season – April and May were pretty horrid. That makes him a bit of a gamble, but considering that he’s just 30 and has been healthy his whole career, he’s a better fit for the 2014 Jays than the ones that follow. He’ll cost the Jays a draft pick (2nd round or lower, considering the Jays’ first-rounders are protected) if he signs here.
Bronson Arroyo: The poor man’s Mark Buehrle. A righthander (yeah, Buehrle throws from the left… it’s still a good comparison) who doesn’t throw hard and makes a lot of starts. Arroyo has thrown at least 200 innings every year since 2005, except 2011 (he threw 199 innings then). Doesn’t strike out many, doesn’t walk many. The last 5 years, his ERAs have been 3.84, 3.88, 5.07, 3.74, and 3.79. His results have been remarkably consistent.
On the other hand… he’s 37 this year, and has benefited from low BABIPs for quite a while, which may not be sustainable. He’s been worth a total of 5 fWAR over the last 5 seasons, in large part due to poor peripherals. He gives up lots of home runs (1.46 per 9 innings, 7th in the majors since 2010) and doesn’t strike anybody out. So why does he belong on this list? Because he'll be cheap, he won't cost a draft pick to sign (no qualifying offer) and he'll likely stay healthy. The Jays need some of that stability. He's also a better bet than...
Ervin Santana: I admit it: I'm uncomfortable with Ervin Santana.
Santana is 31, and a very inconsistent 31. He's had 1 great season, 2 pretty good seasons, and 2 seasons with an ERA over 5, in the last 5 years. He's posted ERAs lower than his FIP for the last 4 years - FIP is a better predictor of future performance than ERA, so it feels like he hasn't been as good as his ERA suggests. Santana also gives up a lot of home runs (1.26 per 9 innings, 16th in the majors since 2010) and, like Bronson Arroyo, has benefited from low BABIPs allowed, which can't be counted on. Both players have, in other words, a lot of the same flaws.
On the other hand, Santana does strike out a lot more batters than Arroyo, though not nearly as many as Jimenez and Burnett do, He's also younger - which, oddly, counts against him in this assessment. Santana's almost certainly going to be more expensive than Arroyo, and is probably be in a position to demand a 3 year contract instead of, perhaps, 2 years or 1+option. If I'm the Jays, I'd rather commit for the shorter term. And finally, Santana comes with draft pick compensation attached, so if the Jays sign him, they forfeit their 2nd-round pick.
At the end of the day, any of these pitchers would fit well in the 2014 rotation, considering that the rotation now consists of Dickey, Morrow, Buehrle, Happ, and TBD. Jimenez and Burnett could be #2 or #3 starter material, Santana's an expensive 3 or 4, and Arroyo and Happ could play "who's the better pretend hipster" to see who's #4 and who's #5. Just because Arroyo and Santana aren't great, doesn't mean they wouldn't be better than Hutchison, Drabek, Stroman or whoever else would have to be penciled into the #5 rotation spot if the season started tomorrow. It'd be more helpful, of course, to sign a pitcher who's actually good, as opposed to one who's better than a AAA emergency starter.
Monday, 3 February 2014
This will be me, if the Jays give Adam Lind 200 AB against lefthanders next year.
Lost in all the current talk about the Jays’ pressing need to find a starting pitcher (and, ideally, a second baseman) before the season starts, is the question of who will platoon with Adam Lind in 2014. Lind looked pretty good last year, partly on his own merits and partly because John Gibbons kept him away from lefthanded pitching, which has almost always been Lind’s Achilles heel.
When Lind sat against lefties last year, the at-bats went mostly to Rajai Davis and Mark DeRosa. As we know, DeRosa’s retired, and Davis is a Detroit Tiger. Somebody has to be found to take their place as Lind’s platoon buddy(ies), as letting Adam Lind play full time isn’t an option anymore. (I hope.)
Here are the candidates, as I would suggest them:
Moises Sierra: Sierra's a candidate due to his having a career OPS of .804 against lefthanded pitching. Yes, it’s only over 98 PA in the majors, but Sierra is a cheap, already on-hand solution to the problem, which makes him the frontrunner for the job. He’s also out of options, meaning that the Jays need to find someplace for him on the 2014 roster, or risk losing him, something Alex Anthopoulos has proven to be loathe to do. The Jays have reportedly been getting Sierra some work at 1st base, but he’s likely better suited to be half of a DH platoon. As a plus (??), Sierra can play some (bad) outfield, in a pinch.
Jeff Baker: Who’s Jeff Baker, you ask? He’s a utility infielder (listed as a 2B-1B-DH) who can hit lefthanded pitching and is passable defensively. He can even play some 3B and outfield... technically speaking. If the Jays want a more seasoned alternative to Sierra who kills LHP (1.073 OPS last year, .875 career), he’s the guy.
Kendrys Morales: A longshot, admittedly, but a big improvement over what the Jays had in 2013 and over what the likely options are for 2014. If the Jays signed him, he’d probably replace Lind, altogether. Will be more expensive than the others (and would cost a draft pick), but on the other hand, he’d make Lind into a useful trade commodity and free up a roster spot. While he isn’t a great defender at 1B, he hits fairly well against LHP and quite well against RHP. Unlikely to happen, but if some kind of trade came up that involved Lind, he’d become almost a necessity.
There were other candidates as well - guys like Mark Reynolds and Ty Wigginton, who are horribly flawed as everyday players but passable as the RH half of a platoon. They're signed now, and it's likely that Baker and Morales will sign before long, too. Even if they stop being available, though, the model solutions remain the same:
(2) a cheap free agent utility player
(3) replace Lind altogether.
Wednesday, 29 January 2014
The Yankees have thrown a lot of money at free agents this winter. An Ellsbury here, a McCann there, a Tanaka and a Beltran, and voila, the Evils have added about $80MM/yr to their payroll. Yes, they’re going to be without Cano, Rivera, Granderson, Pettite, and, of course, A-Rod next year, but they’ve reloaded. Tanaka was the best pitcher on the free agent market, and the Yankers got him.
The Yankees threw money at Masahiro Tanaka because they can, and because that’s how they do things. The same could be said for the Dodgers, if they had landed the Japanese ace... and for the Angels or Red Sox. The Jays have the same kind of money (if not, perhaps, the same revenue streams) as those clubs, but because that’s not how they do things, signing Tanaka to a deal could have been problematic. The Jays’ 2 best offensive players (Bautista and Encarnacion) are signed to below-market deals, both in terms of dollars and years. They signed their putative top pitcher (Dickey) to a below-market deal. If they were to throw a 7 year deal at a free agent, an unproven free agent like Tanaka, how would that look to guys like Jose, EE, and Rah? Would it rankle them, considering that the “5-year (formerly 3-year) policy” could be viewed in retrospect as a negotiating ploy?
Maybe, possibly. I don’t know. These players are adults, and they ought to know that baseball is a business, and that contracts you offer to players you have under your control for another year don’t have to be as juicy as the contracts you offer to players who have the option to immediately sign somewhere else for more immediate money. And then again, there’s a reason why management doesn’t like going to arbitration with players. 20something athletes often have big egos and may be sensitive to criticism (hello, JPA!) and perceptions of being underpaid.
In a similar vein, there’s the precedent issue. The Jays refused to budge past a certain dollar threshold on past draftees James Paxton and Tyler Beede, reasoning that if they overpaid for them, they’d be overpaying for all top draftees in future. Similarly (I guess), if you go to 7 years on Tanaka, you can’t plausibly refuse to give a 7 year deal to, say, Brett Lawrie, 2 years from now. The 5 year limit/rule/policy/guideline on contract length goes out the window. The Jays lost out on Paxton and maybe Tanaka due to their ‘policy’. On the other hand, they broke their former 3-year policy on pitcher contracts to extend Romero, and look how that turned out.
The Jays are in a difficult position because they weren’t really one player (or two, or three) away from competing last season. The Evils won 85 games last year, which is striking distance from a playoff berth. The Jays won 74 games, and while that surprised almost everyone, I think there is some question whether the 2013 Jays were a good team that had some bad luck, or a mediocre team that played to its level. If it’s the latter, throwing money at Tanaka, or Jiminez, or Cano or Stephen Drew or anyone else isn’t going to help. All that will do is add salary during a rebuilding process.
The fans want the Jays to get better, and I believe that team management wants them to get better. But as we saw last year, getting a bunch of high-profile players doesn't guarantee success. And right now, I get the feeling that Anthopoulos is leery of trading more prospects in an attempt to bolster the team, because to do so would be to sell out the club's future in an attempt to turn what might be a 75-win team into a 90-win team. That's a longshot, and smart gamblers don't put all their markers on a longshot.
So, I'll say it again: The Jays will succeed or fail in 2013 depending on how the players they already have perform, and not on what some hypothetical additions do. Dickey, Morrow, Bautista, Encarnacion, Reyes, Lawrie and Rasmus are better, or have the potential to be better, than anything the team will find on the trade market or free agent market. If that group of players stays healthy and meets or exceeds expectations, the club will be in contention, even with Todd Redmond and Ryan Goins as starters.
Thursday, 16 January 2014
Stuff that I wasn't motivated enough to write complete posts about. I'm saving my energies for a Rasmus extension, or for pages of handwringing about the 2014 rotation when it turns out to be the 2013 rotation minus Josh Johnson.
7 years, $215MM, or just over $30MM/yr. Too much?
Believe it or not, no. Kershaw is 25 years old, and this contract will take him to age 32. That pretty much covers all of his projected peak years, and none of the years in which Kershaw could be expected to seriously regress. This is in contrast to, say, the Pujols or Votto contracts, which take both players through their age-40 seasons. Unless they’re Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens (more on them later), you can expect baseball players to start to decline from about age 30, and to really decline from age 33-35 on. The Pujols contract already looks bad, and it’s got, what, another 8 years to run? And as good as Joey Votto is now, expecting him to be a middle-of-the-order bat in his age 36-42 seasons is unrealistic.
Yeah, but $30MM/yr? Well, if you believe a win above replacement (WAR) costs about $5MM on the open market, this deal values Kershaw as a 6 WAR player – which he has been, on average, for the past 3 seasons. And besides, that $5MM/WAR price tag is probably obsolete. It’s closer to $7MM/WAR, given the salary increases we’ve seen and the massive amount of TV money that has been injected into the system. I mean, when you get right down to it, it may well be that Votto and Pujols will be worth $20MM/yr 8 years from now, because top players may be making $40MM/yr in 2021, up from the $20-25MM they were making when the Pujols and Votto deals were signed. So, here's some cold comfort for Jays fans – Jose Reyes may not age well, but his contract looks like it will.
The Hall of Fame:
Here I am, writing about the Hall of Fame again. Three players will be inducted this year – good for them. And three thousand more arguments will be started around the vote totals for guys like Morris, Bagwell, Bonds, Clemens, and Lee Smith. Good for them, I guess?
The problem with the Hall of Fame is that nobody agrees on who it’s for. For some, it’s the Hall of Guys Who Were Thought Of As Being Really Good Back Then, If Not Now (Jim Rice, Andre Dawson, Morris). For others, it’s the Hall of Guys Who I’m Really Really Sure Didn’t Do Things We Don’t Approve Of Now (so, not Clemens, Bonds, Bagwell, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa). The interpretations are endless, because the criteria for getting into the Hall of Fame are pretty nebulous, once you get past the requirement to play 10 years. By its name, “Fame”ous players should get in, but even that is open to interpretation.
The Hall of Fame voter roll includes writers who are progressive and writers who are traditional, writers who carry grudges, writers who are single-issue voters, and writers who use their vote as a soapbox. It includes misinformed and well informed writers. And it includes writers who make up their own criteria (some players are HoFers, but not ‘first ballot’ HoFers) because, what's stopping them?
With all that in mind… how can anyone possibly take the Hall of Fame seriously?
Pizza Nova in, Pizza Pizza out:
Pizza Nova>Pizza Pizza, so this is good news. I definitely won't miss trying to convince Pizza Pizza franchisees to actually honour their company's promise to give out free slices when the Jays strike out 7 players on a Friday night.
Beyond that, it's a smart move by the Jays to replace one Canadian vendor with another, because if they had gone to, say, Domino’s or Pizza Hut, outraged letters would have been written. Not by me… but by someone, I’m sure. Maybe.
Sunday, 5 January 2014
Some weeks ago, I wrote a post that speculated on whether certain underachieving Blue Jays could bounce back in 2014. The flipside of that post - a review of which overachievers should be expected to slump in 2014 - follows. Yeah, it did take me long enough, didn't it?
In a perfect world, nobody on the Jays would regress from 2013, and the guys who struggled last year would improve, and Toronto would go on to win the World Series in 2014. In the real world, regression is inevitable to some extent, but it’s an especially important consideration when it comes to Colby Rasmus. Rasmus is in his final year of arbitration, and can be a free agent after 2014, IF the Jays don’t sign him to an extension. Market price for center fielders who can hit has gotten scary (see: Ellsbury, Jacoby), so the Jays want to be very, very sure that the 2013 performance they got from Rasmus is sustainable. Large sums of money will be riding on that assessment.
I asked myself whether Colby Rasmus’s resurgence was for real here, and here, and probably in some other places, too. My view from August is unchanged: Rasmus is a candidate to regress a bit, when his BABIP drops back to the league-average range, but he won’t decline all the way to 2011-12 levels. .750-.800 OPS is a reasonable expectation for 2014
After 3 years of being worse than useless (-0.9 fWAR from 2010 to 2012), Lind was relevant again. He was mostly healthy (played 143 games, his most since 2010) and hit .288/.357/.497 for a .368 wOBA and 1.8 fWAR. Adam Lind was worth almost $10MM (by WAR) and only cost $5MM! What happened?
Well, it’s tempting to credit Lind’s season to his hot streak in May and June, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Yes, Lind went on a tear in those months, to the tune of a .426 and .418 wOBA, but he also had a .442 wOBA in September, and his only subpar month was July (.275 wOBA). It was, to be fair, a pretty solid season all the way through. Credit can be given to things like BABIP (.324, which might be a little unsustainably high due to Lind’s slowness), and HR rate per flyball (19.2%, above his career 15.5% rate, but possibly sustainable, considering he did the same thing in 2009). But what really made Lind’s season was platoon splits. Lind had just 100 PA against lefty pitching, and put up an ugly .253 wOBA against them. That’s actually worse than the career .265 he’s managed against lefties. On the other hand, Adam had 421 PA against righties and clobbered them to the tune of a .396 wOBA, better than his .364 career line against righthanders. “Adam Lind can’t hit lefties” is something that’s been fairly obvious for a little while now, but this was the first year the Jays really acted on that knowledge. Lind had 4.2 PA against righties for every 1 PA against lefties, and that’s how it should be. Compare that ratio to 2012 (2.7:1), 2011 (2.3:1), and 2010 (3.2:1). It’s important to note that Adam Lind was never terrible against righties in 2010-12; he had a .357 wOBA in 2010, .330 in 2011, and .343 in 2012. Those are decent wOBAs! What made 2013 really different is that the Jays mostly kept Lind away from lefties and therefore, his usually-gawdawful numbers against LHF didn’t overwhelm his production against RHP and skew his batting line lower.
In other words, I expect Adam Lind to be pretty good in 2014… IF he stays healthy, and IF he stays away from same-handed pitchers. For the former caveat, I can just shrug; he’s a Blue Jay, and Blue Jay players always get hurt. For the latter, the problem is that the Jays don’t have an obvious platoon partner for Lind the way they did in 2013, with Rajai “Socks” Davis and Mark “Calm Down, Brett” DeRosa now gone. I’d like to think that the Jays can find a RH platoon mate for Lind between now and April (all they need is a guy who can do better than a .265 wOBA), but if they don’t, the danger is that Adam Lind will go back to batting regularly against lefthanded pitching. If that happens, expect the unwelcome return of 2011 Lind.
Casey Janssen has been Mister Reliable for the last three years. ERA in the low-to-mid 2’s, lots of strikeouts, not many walks, 50-60 innings. Janssen was installed as closer in mid-2012 and he’s been very effective in that role. So he’s the last person who we should expect to regress, right?
Right. Janssen had a brief hiccup in July and August last year (.285 and .341 wOBAs allowed) but came back to have a solid September. Yes, he’s 33 this year, but he doesn’t have a ton of mileage on his arm (just 447 innings in the majors for his career), and he’s now 5 years removed from missing an entire season (2008) after labrum surgery. Janssen won’t be great forever, obviously, and he has been a little lucky with BABIP the last couple of years (.240 and .254). Even so, there’s no reason to expect him to regress badly next year, and Janssen should be a reliable member of the bullpen next year (or of someone else’s bullpen, considering the surplus of relievers the Jays have).
Brett Cecil’s 2013 came pretty much out of nowhere, and there are some red flags attached when using 2013 to predict future performance. To begin with, Cecil’s always had a problem with surrendering home runs – he gave up 1.64, 1.60, and 1.61 home runs per 9 innings in 2009, 2011, and 2012 (an eerily consistent rate). In his other ‘good’ year (2010), Cecil gave up 0.94 HR/9. Last year? 0.59 HR/9. Throw in a high strand rate (Cecil stranded a career-best 77% of baserunners) and low BABIP allowed (.267, matching his 2010 number but far below his career .296 number) and it starts to look like a lot of things broke right for Cecil in 2013, and that those same things can’t be expected to all go his way in 2014. After all, look at Cecil’s 2nd half numbers from 2013 (much worse than his pre-All Star numbers) and note the BABIP and HR rates from the same period; they’re much closer to his career numbers than his overall 2014 numbers were.
However, there is some reason for optimism. Brett Cecil was always a guy who survived by keeping the ball down in the zone and by getting ground balls, and he did that very well in 2013, including the bad second half. His strikeout rate also went up, perhaps due to the extra velocity he developed by training with weighted baseballs. And as lucky as he was in the first half of 2013, he was probably a bit unlucky in the second half. One other thing stands out: Cecil put up a wOBA allowed against LH batters of .205, versus .322 against RH batters in 2013. For his career, Cecil’s allowed a .273 wOBA against lefties, and .364 against righthanders. I’d be inclined to expect Cecil to decline in 2014 (Steamer has his ERA about ½ run higher in 2014), but he’ll still have value as a situational lefty. But as a general-purpose setup man? Maybe not.
Thursday, 2 January 2014
Erm… not exactly.
At the start of last year, as you doubtless recall, we were in the middle of a pretty eventful offseason for the Blue Jays. There were huge upgrades on the pitching front; Dickey, Buehrle and Johnson were expected to be much better than Romero, Alvarez, and Laffey/Villanueva. There was a big upgrade at shortstop – in fact, why bother recapping? You know what happened, and you know that the big upgrades didn’t turn out to be as big or impactful as expected.
So this offseason is a contrast. There’s been almost nothing to write about, in terms of team transactions. Yes, getting Dioner Navarro to replace Arencibia was big news, but Navarro isn’t likely to be a whole lot better than Arencibia was, even if he is almost sure to be significantly less irritating. And getting Erik Kratz (and a controllable pitcher, Rob Rasmussen) for Brad Lincoln was a tidy little move, but not exactly front page material.
(For fun, here’s a comparison of Arencibia, Navarro, and Kratz. Ho hum.)
Catcher defense rating, 2013 (of 101): Arencibia 98th, Navarro 89th, Kratz 23rd
Defense, career (fielding and positional adjustment (from Fangraphs) per 100 games, higher is better): Arencibia 1.8, Navarro 5.2, Kratz 10.1
Batting line, 2013: Arencibia – 497 PA, 21 HR, .227 OBP, .259 wOBA; Navarro – 266 PA, 13 HR, .365 OBP, .374 wOBA; Kratz – 218 PA, 9 HR, .280 OBP, .286 wOBA
Batting line, career: Arencibia – 1392 PA, 64 HR, .258 OBP, .288 wOBA; Navarro 2505 PA, 54 HR, .313 OBP, .301 wOBA; Kratz – 417 PA, 18 HR, .281 OBP, .294 wOBA
Is there speculation out there? Sure, but the speculation isn’t any fun - at least not for me. I don’t really like the idea of the Jays trading away one or both of their best pitching prospects (Sanchez and Stroman) for a mid-rotation guy like Samardzija, and I don’t really like the idea of the Jays throwing a ton of money at a free agent pitcher (one of Jimenez/Garza/Santana) who, on paper, probably isn’t any better than Dickey and Johnson looked, post-2012. I hope the Jays are in on Masahiro Tanaka, but I’m pretty much resigned to the idea of the Yankees getting him.
(Much like how I am resigned to Arencibia likely getting his OPS up to .750 with the Rangers. Because that’s how things have gone for the Jays, lately)
So, what’s left to write about? Munenori Kawasaki will again be with
as insurance in
case of a Reyes injury. Ryan Goins is the default second baseman
(gulp). And I’m desperately hoping for Drew Hutchison to be healthy and
effective in 2014… because it’s starting to feel like the Jays may not make a
big trade or big free agent acquisition before the 2014 season starts. Buffalo
I’m also starting to get around to thinking that this might not be such a bad thing, particularly on the pitching front. Ever since the season ended, the line from the Jays, and from the media, has been to the effect that the Jays want and need to acquire a starter. Problem is, there just isn’t a solid #1 or #2 starter out there at any kind of reasonable price. And Alex Anthopoulos’s job security is a lot more precarious than it was a year ago, which leads me to worry about the possibility of AA really mortgaging the future in a desperate attempt to win now and save his job. Yes, the so-called contention window will only be open for a couple more years, but unless the 2014 is reasonably healthy and players like Morrow and Dickey play better, they won’t contend, no matter who is brought in over the rest of the offseason. And if 2014 turns out to be injury-filled like 2012 and 2013 were, I’d rather that Jays management blow the whole thing up – yes, trading J-Bau and Edwin and Dickey and anyone else over 30 – and start over, as opposed to selling out the future in favour of an increasingly-futile attempt to make the playoffs in 2014-15.
Tuesday, 10 December 2013
Yeah, that does look painful.
Now I know why newspapers keep prewritten obituaries on file. If MissingBJ was a bigger operation, one of our crack operatives* would have seen the tweets about Roy Halladay’s retirement and queued up the post we had prepared for St. Roy’s retirement day.
Of course, no such prewritten post exists. So, anyway, here I am, a day late and with nothing prepared. Feels like I'm back in school.
Roy Halladay retired yesterday, after signing a 1-day contract with Toronto so as to retire a Blue Jay. The adjective ‘classy’ gets applied to Halladay a lot, although to be fair, the ‘classiness’ bar is so low that any awareness by a pro athlete of the impression he’s creating could be considered classy. At any rate, kudos to Halladay for (a) remembering and acknowledging that the Jays were the team who developed him and stuck with him through his early-career struggles, and (b) recognizing that there is a large segment of Toronto fans that pine for him and for whom the gesture of ‘retiring as a Blue Jay’ would be significant. That helps make up for the fact that Halladay basically demanded a trade out of
following the 2009 season (no, I haven’t forgotten that). Toronto
Beyond that? Halladay had a great career, but if someone as fitness-focused as he is doesn’t think his body can pitch anymore, it’s definitely time to go. I remember writing that pitchers tend to fall off a cliff performance wise around age 35 and using that as justification for the Jays trading him, but even having written that, I’m shocked by how abruptly his arm and back problems ended Halladay’s career. Roy Halladay finishes with 65 or 67 career WAR (depending whether you prefer Fangraphs-WAR or baseball-reference-WAR) which should put him into consideration for the Hall of Fame. Yes, the win totals aren’t impressive, and a lot of Hall voters still go by things like that, but Halladay’s ERA, WHIP, and walk and strikeout rates (especially the ratio between those last 2) are top notch. Consider also that Halladay finished with a .659 winning percentage (.661 with
on teams that, to be charitable, weren’t always competitive (from 1999 to 2013,
Halladay played on 8 teams that were above .500 and 7 teams that were at or
below .500). Yeah, wins aren’t a great measure of a pitcher’s ability,
but if you’re old school enough to count wins, you should be old school enough
to count winning percentage, too. Halladay’s is 17th all-time,
ahead of guys like Clemens and Koufax. Toronto
Considering that I started this blog the year after Roy Halladay went to Philly, I wrote about him fairly often. A lot of those posts were a reaction to the following that Roy Halladay garnered during his years with the Jays (as with the post I linked to above), but the skepticism I directed towards Roy Halladay (the legend) is entirely separate from my view of Roy Halladay (the player). Halladay was either the best or second-best pitcher in team history, and when I tried to break it down here, it was too close to call between Halladay and Dave Stieb.
In the end, I’m sad to be posting about the end of Roy Halladay’s career (yes, even if it also means the end of having to refute the completely unrealistic “bring back Halladay” arguments that surface every offseason).
Enjoy your retirement, Doc.
* Rob Ford jokes became passé - or redundant - a couple of weeks ago.
Thursday, 5 December 2013
The Jays traded Brad Lincoln to the Phillies this week, for a minor-league pitcher named Rob Rasmussen and Erik Kratz, a catcher. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s better than nothing – which is what they would have gotten for
if he didn’t make
the big club’s roster next spring. Lincoln
is out of options and about 9th on the current depth chart for
relievers. Sure, in a perfect world the Jays would be able to package up
2 or 3 of their surplus relievers and get a starting pitcher or a second baseman, but
relievers – even good ones – aren’t usually valuable enough to bring back an
everyday player or starting pitcher in trade. Lincoln
Anyway, Rasmussen is a 24 year old lefthander who played in AA (effectively) and AAA (ehhhhh... effectively, not so much) in 2013. He doesn’t strike out a ton of guys, and he walks a few too many… but he has 3 options remaining, so the Jays can use him as AAA relief help or insurance for the rotation for at least 3 years, unlike Lincoln. Not a ‘prospect’, but he might, in a best case scenario, turn into a back-of-the-rotation starter. Kratz, meanwhile, is an older (33) player who also has an option remaining. Kratz’s defensive stats look pretty good, and he has some pop in his bat (18 HR in 417 MLB plate appearances for his career). He’s righthanded, but hits righthanders well, and should provide some insurance if one of Thole or Navarro get hurt… and may have an outside chance at unseating Thole for the backup job.
So, I’m ok with this. If you’re upset that the Jays have effectively turned the Travis Snider Dream™ into Rasmussen and Kratz, consider that the Pirates came very close to nontendering Snider, the way the Jays did with Arencibia.
Yankees sign Ellsbury: 7 years, $153MM. Wow. $22MM a year, on average. I see this as a good news, bad news situation for the Jays. The good news is that I don’t think the Yankees have made a huge upgrade – yes, Ellsbury is a better player than Brett Gardner, but moving Brett Gardner to LF isn’t really a win, because Gardiner’s bat doesn’t really look good enough for LF. And Ellsbury isn’t going to replace the 115 HR that Curtis Granderson hit in 3+ seasons in NY. On top of that, Ellsbury isn’t the most durable player, and he’s already 30. He could be very good, but I don’t think he’ll be $22MM/yr worth of good, and certainly not over the full 7 years of this deal. The bad news for the Jays is that Colby Rasmus and his agent have probably revised their contract expectations higher as a result of the Ellsbury deal. Yes, Rasmus hasn’t been quite as good as Ellsbury, but he’s 3 years younger and doesn’t have Ellsbury’s injury record. I don’t think Rasmus will be getting 7/$140MM, but a salary in the $18MM/yr range for 4 or 5 years isn’t out of the question… IF Colby has a good 2014. The Jays are really in a quandary – do they extend Rasmus now and risk a regression next season, or do they wait and possibly see his price skyrocket? The ideal outcome for
might be a midseason extension like Encarnacion signed… but Colby will cost considerably
more than Edwin, I think. Toronto
The Rogers sports empire: Rogers shelled out 5-odd billion dollars for the right to broadcast the NHL. What does this mean for the Jays? Well, the downside for us as fans is that more NHL playoff games will be on Sportsnet, meaning that more Jays games might be pushed to Sportsnet One or some other pay channel. Will this mean less money for the Jays? I don't think so, considering that Rogers still has money to throw away on the awful Buffalo Bills, who appear to hate playing in Toronto* and can't sell out the Skydome even once a year.
* of course, they might just be saying that to try to make their justifiably-nervous fans in Buffalo feel better.
Monday, 2 December 2013
JP Arencibia has done a lot of community work in
. He’s great with kids, reportedly
popular with some segments of the female population, and until last year, was a
fun read on Twitter. Those are all good things, but they’re peripheral to
JPA's main responsibility, which is to play baseball well. And Arencibia
has yet to play baseball well for an entire season in Toronto . Toronto
Because of his bad play – and not because of his feud with
on-air personalities – JPA has likely played his last game in . The Blue Jays signed Dioner
Navarro this morning to a 2-year, $8MM deal. The Jays already have Josh
Thole signed for next season, and neither of Navarro or Arencibia can catch a
knuckler. And Arencibia would be due to make approximately $2.8MM in
arbitration this year; that’s too much for a backup catcher. Add it up,
and it’s hard to see how JPA can remain on the team. I’d like to think
that the Jays could trade him for something, but the deadline for arbitration
offers is tonight, and any potential trade partner would have to be prepared to
pay Arencibia $2.8MM. That makes him an even less attractive trade chip
than his onfield performance does. So, I expect Arencibia to be
non-tendered, at which point he can sign anywhere (including Toronto ) at a reduced rate. Toronto
So, what do the Jays have in Navarro? Well, to be realistic, not a whole lot more than they had in Arencibia. Navarro is 29 and has mostly been a backup through his career, save for a 3 year stretch (2007-9) in
Fangraphs considers him to be about JP’s equal defensively; baseball-reference
has Navarro a bit better, as does Getting Blanked’s catcher defensive ratings for 2013 (spoiler: neither of them rate highly). Arencibia graded out better
at framing pitches in 2013 than Navarro did. What I’m trying to tell you is
that Navarro isn’t a definitive upgrade defensively. Tampa Bay
As a batter, Navarro takes an entirely different approach than Arencibia does. Navarro strikes out at about half of JPA’s career rate (14% to 29%), walks a bit more (7.7% to 5.3%) and doesn’t have quite as much power; Arencibia has more career HR in just over half as many at-bats. Stats wise, Navarro has a career .251/.313/.371 line for a .301 wOBA, compared with .212/.258/.408 and .288 wOBA for JPA. Looks like a definite advantage for Navarro – except that when you throw out 2013, which was a career-best year for Navarro and a career-worst year for Arencibia, the wOBAs are a lot closer. So why make the change? Aren’t the Jays buying high on Navarro and selling low on Arencibia?
Maybe they are, but I think the explanation for the change of catchers can be spelled out in 3 letters: O, B, and P. Arencibia owns an awful .258 career OBP; he’s an out 3 out of 4 times he steps up to the plate. Navarro doesn’t have a great OBP for his career (.313), but over 450 plate appearances, Navarro figures to get on base 140 times to Arencibia’s 116. The Jays are a team loaded with power; they’ve struggled with getting runners on for the last few years. And when Arencibia doesn’t hit homers, he’s basically a free out.
On top of his OBP edge, Navarro’s last 3 seasons (admittedly, partial seasons) saw his isolated power go from .131 to .159 to .192, so it’s at least plausible that he’s capable of 15-20 HR seasons. If he can do that AND walk, the Jays will have a steal at $4MM/year.
Thursday, 28 November 2013
It’s almost December, and the Jays have done pretty much nothing to change their major-league roster, other than waving goodbye to Josh Johnson, Mark DeRosa and Darren Oliver (and probably Rajai Davis). Are we impatient yet? Of course we are, after all the fireworks last offseason that were expected to turn the Jays into contenders.
Anyway, while the Jays are expected to acquire help at some or all of second base, catcher, and starting pitcher, their existing players need to play better, too. Here’s a quick look at 4 guys who underachieved in 2013, and thoughts as to whether we should expect different outcomes from them in 2014.
There are some things I think we can take as constants with Arencibia, and some we can’t. It’s pretty clear, for example, that JPA is never going to walk much. He walked in about 6% of his plate appearances in the minors, and he’s walked in 5.3% of his PAs in the majors. His walk rate has dropped in each season since 2011. Similarly, Arencibia is going to strike out about 28% of the time; he’s been remarkably consistent that way. Arencibia is 27 now; it’s not likely he’s going to suddenly learn patience, or pitch recognition, or that his defense will get a whole lot better.
2013, however, was unusual in that Arencibia’s overall offensive contributions fell off so badly from what they were in 2011 and 2012. His wOBA went from .311 and .304 to .259; his ISO (Isolated power: Slugging percentage minus batting average) dropped to .171 after having been .200+ everywhere he’s played. Yes, his walk rate dropped, but it only went from 4.8% to 3.6% - that’s only material in the sense that the numbers are so small to begin with. Jose Bautista’s walk rate went from 14.8% to 13.1% from 2012 to 2013, and nobody, to my knowledge, sees that as a dramatic drop. And Arencibia’s strikeout rate was basically the same as it was in 2012, too. So what caused the big offensive dropoff?
Arencibia’s HR/FB rate has been 14-16% throughout his time in the majors. His Infield Fly Ball rate (i.e. popups) has been consistent as well. His groundball and flyball rates were essentially unchanged year-to-year, and JPA’s line drive rate (line drives are hits, more often than not) and Infield Hit Percentage (the percentage of ground balls that turn into hits) were actually up. What was down was BABIP (.231, versus .281 in 2012 and .255 in 2011). And, of course, he was awful in the second half of the season (A subpar .294 wOBA in the first half, and an unspeakably awful .193 in the second half). So, as far as I can tell, Arencibia did pretty much everything the same was in 2013 as he did in 2012 (except walking a bit less). Therefore, I tend to think he was a bit unlucky in 2013 – he’s a slow catcher, but a .231 BABIP is 4th-worst (out of 170 players with 450+ plate appearances) in 2013, and 32nd out of 32 catchers with 300 or more PA. Median BABIP of the catcher group is about .288.
Conclusion: Should bounce back, but unfortunately even a career-norm performance for JPA isn’t enough to justify his retention as the 2014 starting catcher.
Melky Cabrera had a dismal 2013 (.303 wOBA, against .387 in 2012 and .350 in 2011) but the underlying batting numbers mostly don’t reflect that. His K rate of 12.6% matches what he did with the Giants and Royals in 2011-12, as does the 6.2% walk rate. Cabrera’s line drive rate was 22.1%, a career high. Cabrera’s infield fly rate was better than his career norm, and his groundball/flyball rates are within a couple of percentage points of his career average rates. Two things stand out: the home run per flyball rate, which was just 3.2% (MLB average is 7.7%, and Cabrera’s career average is 7.0%), and his infield hit percentage, which was a career-worst 2.9% (career norm of 7.3%). If those numbers had been at Melky’s career averages in 2013, Melky would have had 4 more HR (we’ll assume that 2 doubles and 2 outs turned into HR), 2 fewer doubles, and 8 more hits… and his batting line would have been .302/.344/.412 as opposed to what it actually was, .279/.322/.360. An .762 OPS would have been acceptable, if not great. Oddly, Steamer predicts a .762 OPS from Cabrera in 2014. How likely is that to happen?
Around the time that the season ended, it was revealed that Cabrera had a benign tumor at the base of his spine, which was removed. It’d be easy to blame that tumor for Cabrera’s lousy play in 2013 and to assume he’ll be much better next year with a healthy back. His running last year was clearly that of a man in pain, so I can picture Melky running better and beating out more ground balls than he did in 2013 (and presumably he’ll cover more ground than he did defensively last year). That much, I’m reasonably confident of.
But the power? That’s tougher. Look, I know that taking PEDs doesn’t turn an average player into a slugger, but Cabrera’s HR/FB rate of 10.7% in 2012 and 9.8% in 2011, versus about 6% for the rest of his career, doesn’t help that argument. Intuitively, it seems that a stronger (through PEDs) player should be able to turn more fly balls into HRs. My guess is that some power will return if/when Cabrera’s back is healthy, but that he doesn’t make it all the way back to 7% HR/FB. I do believe a healthy Cabrera will be better in the field and on the bases, but I can’t see him being more than a 10HR/season player.
Conclusion: Partial bounceback, but 2012 Melky isn't walking through that door.
Nothing went right for Maicer Izturis in 2013. Izturis, for his career, was a pretty decent defender at 3 positions – 3B, 2B, and SS. Not Gold Glove caliber, but decent. 2013 pretty much ruined that reputation. Let’s focus on 2B, because Izturis will hopefully see minimal time at SS and 3B, with Reyes and Lawrie in those spots.
UZR/150, 2007-12: 3.1, -.05, 17.4, 4.3, -5.9, 32.3. UZR/150, 2013: -26.7
Fielding percentage, 2007-12: 1.000, .982, .993, .988, .984, 1.000. Fielding percentage, 2013: .975
And both Fangraphs and baseball-reference agree that Izturis’s range was down in 2013, too.
Izturis is 33, and I suppose it’s possible that he’s slowing down with age. It’s also possible that he struggled defensively on the Skydome's Astroturf, although I tend to be a bit dubious about that excuse. Yes, Astroturf plays faster, but that didn’t seem to impact Ryan Goins or Munenori Kawasaki. Still, I don’t tend to believe that a player could completely fall apart defensively at age 33. I expect better defense, if not great defense, from Izturis in 2013.
As for the bat: Well, Izturis is the owner of a career .312 wOBA, which isn’t too bad for a second baseman. Last year, his wOBA was .269, driven down by his .288 OBP (versus a career .331, which would have been just fine, thankyouverymuch). What went wrong? Well, like with Arencibia, Izturis was the victim of a lousy BABIP – just .249. And also like Arencibia, Izturis’s batted ball numbers weren’t much different from his career numbers. Line drive rate was a little better than normal, HR/FB rate was better than normal, infield hit rate was better than normal. Izturis’s ground ball rate was up, but he was getting more hits than normal on ground balls. Strikeout rate and walk rate were both down, but not dramatically so.
Conclusion: Should bounce back. Izturis has a career .291 BABIP; comparable batted ball numbers with more normal luck should mean better results in 2014.
Morrow gets criticized for his health (allegations of him being injury prone are debunked here at Jays Journal and here at DJF, but the real issue is the ugly trend that seems to be developing:
In 2010, his first year with the Jays, Morrow struck out almost 11 batters per 9 innings while walking just over 4. He threw 146 innings before being shut down, and while his ERA was just 4.49, his FIP (3.16) and xFIP (3.48) were quite good.
In 2011, Morrow struck out about 10.5 batters per 9 while decreasing his walk rate to 3.5 per 9. He threw 179 innings, a career high, and made 30 starts. His ERA worsened to 4.79, but again, his FIP and xFIP (3.64 and 3.53) suggested that he was pitching better than his ERA would indicate.
2012 saw Morrow miss a third of the season with an oblique injury, and while his walk rate dropped again, to just under 3 per 9 innings, his strikeout rate fell again to 7.80. Despite fewer strikeouts, Morrow had a sparkling 2.96 ERA, even if his FIP and xFIP (3.65, 4.03) didn’t support the idea of him pitching better in 2012.
In 2013, Morrow only made 10 starts, and they were pretty bad ones. His strikeout rate fell again, to just under 7 per 9 innings, with the walk rate holding steady at 3 per 9. ERA was 5.63, and FIP and xFIP were just about as bad (5.42, 4.49).
Now, there are some other things to consider, beyond the declining K rate and worsening peripheral stats. Morrow has a career HR/9 rate of 1.01, but it was 0.87 in 2012. Batters hit just .252 when they put the ball in play against Morrow in 2012, and he stranded 77% of baserunners that year. Those things pretty much explain how Brandon Morrow had an ERA under 3 in 2012. In 2010, batters hit .342 on balls in play, and in 2011, Morrow stranded just 65% of barerunners (I think I wrote a post about that, way back then). Those numbers explain in part why his ERA looked so bad in 2010 and 2011.
Unfortunately, when you add it all up, the one constant is the declining strikeout rate. Brandon Morrow can be a really good pitcher, but if he’s not striking batters out, results like we saw in 2012 won’t happen again – absent another lucky convergence of low BABIP and low HR rate.
Conclusion: Not much bounce. Sure, Morrow will likely be better than he was in 2013 (how could he not?), but nowhere near close to his 2012 self.