Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Unlucky: Part III

Cliche: Injuries are a part of baseball, and of all sports.

The Jays, like many teams, have been hard-hit by injuries in recent years.  However, just how hard-hit they’ve been is tough to assess.  Ask a Jays fan about bad injury luck and he or she will point to 2013.  Ask a Rangers fan, and they'll moan about 2014.  And so on.  There's obviously fan myopia at play here - when one person's team fails due to untimely injuries, that team is hard done by, but when other teams have a ton of injuries, the same fan will discount the impact of those injuries.  So, it’s easy to point to the Stroman injury this year, or the Encarnacion injury in 2014 or Reyes in 2013, and wonder if the Jays are unusually unlucky in this regard.   After, all, the Red Sox were ravaged by injuries in 2012, the Yankees were hit hard in 2013, and the Devil Rays seem to be going through the same thing in 2015.  So – are the Jays really injury-prone, or does it just seem that way to fans of the team?

Short answer:  Yes, they are more injury-prone than average.

Longer answer:  The Jays were 7th in days lost to the disabled list from 2010-2014 (5 seasons), behind the Padres, Dodgers, Rangers, Yankees, Athletics, and Red Sox (the Nationals, Mets, and Rockies rounded out the top 10).  That’s tough to overcome, particularly if you’re the Blue Jays or Padres and not the deep-pocketed Yanks, Sux, or Dodgers.  For example, when Curtis Granderson got hurt in 2013, the Yankees went out and traded for Alfonso Soriano and his $18,000,000/yr contract.  Most teams don’t have the salary flexibility to do that.

Who were the healthiest teams from 2010-14?  In order:  White Sox, Devil Rays, Royals, Tigers, Twins, Indians, Mariners, Giants, Cardinals, Cubs.  That group made the playoffs 17 times in those 5 seasons.  The 10 most-injured teams – including some of the biggest spending teams in the game – made the playoffs 13 times in the same period.

Want details?  Here’s the Jays’ DL numbers from 2010-2014:

2010:  15 stints, 950 days
League average: 15 and 767

2011: 20 stints,  908 days
League average: 17 and 827

2012: 18 stints, 1431 days (6th)
League average: 16 and 984

2013:  26 stints (2nd), 1478 days (4th)
League average: 17 and 969

2014: 18 stints (6th), 764 days (16th)
League average: 16 and 877

2012 and 2013 were especially bad for the Jays, but even 2010 and 2011 were worse than league average.  2014 was somewhat better than average, in terms of days lost to DL time, anyway, but those Jays were certainly nowhere near the healthiest team in the league.
Here’s 2015, so far:

Stroman  April 5-   (52 days)
Izturis   April 5-     (52)
Saunders  April 5-25  (26)
Navarro April 22-  (35)
Reyes April 28-May 25 (27)
Saunders May 10-  (17)
Travis May 22- (5)

7 stints, 214 days and the season is about 30% over.  And that’s not considering the fact that J-Bau has been playing injured, or factoring in the time spent on the bench by Reyes and Travis, hoping their injuries would heal without a DL trip.

Bottom line:  The Jays have had more injuries than the average team and more time spent on the disabled list than the average team.  Only in 2014 did the Jays suffer less DL time than average, and in no season from 2010-14 did the team have fewer DL stints than average.

Of course, there are injuries and injuries.  Not having Maicer Izturis isn’t as big a deal as not having Marcus Stroman or Jose Reyes.  When I was writing this post, I had intended (taking a cue from a commenter in the Fangraphs story), to take ZIPs or Steamer WAR projections for each season for the injured players, weight those projected WAR numbers by time lost, and see how much (projected) player value each team lost due to injury.  Unfortunately, those past WAR projections don't seem to be available online.  What I do have is the 2013 player values lost to injury (from the same Fangraphs post):

Yankees 10.4 wins
Blue Jays 9.4
Rangers 6.0
Dodgers 5.3
Braves 5.2
D’Backs 5.0
Angels 4.7
Red Sox 4.3
Brewers 4.3
Pirates 4.3
A’s 4.2
Padres 4.2
Cubs 4.1
Marlins 4.0
Phillies 3.9
Reds 3.5
White Sox 3.4
Mets 3.3
Rays 3.1
Rockies 3.1
Giants 3.0
Nationals 2.2
Cardinals 2.0
Royals 1.9
Tigers 1.8
Twins 1.7
Orioles 1.7
Astros 1.6
Indians 1.6
Mariners 1.0

(Playoff teams in bold)

What does that tell us?  Obviously, the Jays lost a lot of important players in 2013.  They finished last, 74-38, and the injuries (Reyes, Johnson, Morrow, etc) probably had something to do with that.  However, the Dodgers and Braves lost some key players as well and managed to make the playoffs, so these things can be overcome.  Nonetheless, it's interesting to see a value attached to players on the DL, and if I manage to dig up some WAR projections for the other years, I'll perform the same exercise with those numbers and post them.

So, now that we know the Jays lose more players, for more time, to injury than the average team does, what does this mean?  Frankly, I'm not sure what to conclude.  It's hard to believe that a team could be "just" unlucky with injuries for 5 (going on 6) seasons.  Can we blame the training and conditioning staff for not doing enough diagnostic/preventative work, or the scouting and GM for not recognizing physical flaws in the athletes they sign?  Is it turf related?  Is it all the time spent passing through customs?  I don't know, but I'd rather believe that the Jays are victims of bad luck - which, by definition, will gradually even out over time - as opposed to there being some unknown, systemic deficiencies in how the team is run which could potentially hinder them for years.

So, guys... let's be careful out there.

I got a lot of information for this post from the following places:

Monday, 25 May 2015

Statistical trivia

The Good:

The Jays have stolen 26 bases, tied for 7th in the AL, and have only been caught 4 times, for an 86.7% success rate, tops in the AL.  Jay catchers* have caught opposing baserunners 45% of the time (18 for 33), also best in the AL.  Interesting that runners keep trying to steal on Martin.

The Jays have walked 154 times, 3rd in the AL, but are the only team to not have a batter be intentionally walked.  

Despite all the games lost to injury in May (Bautista, Reyes, Travis, Saunders), the club is still second in the AL in runs scored for May, and 3rd in OPS. For April, they were first in runs and 4th in OPS.

The Jays have 3 complete games, which is the most in MLB.  Of course, Roy Halladay would typically have 3 all by himself in mid-May...

Edwin Encarnacion isn’t going to hit 16 home runs in May, but if you take out the homers, the .282/.394/.654, .441 wOBA and 1.047 OPS line that Edwin has so far in May is even better than the .281/.369/.763, .478 wOBA, 1.132 OPS line he put up in 2014.

The Bad:

Despite the pitching being somewhat better in May (4.43 ERA vs 4.78 in April) the Jays are 10-14 in May versus 11-12 in April.  Ah, those 1-run games.

Jays pitchers have walked 157 opposing batters, the most in the AL.

Kevin Pillar has slumped so badly in May that by any measure, he’s been a worse hitter than Ryan Goins:
Goins:  .248/.300/.347, .287 wOBA, .647 OPS
Pillar:    .225/.262/.312, .255 wOBA, .574 OPS
NOTE: Ryan Goins is still a bad hitter.

The Jays have the second-most blown saves in the AL (7) and the second-fewest save opportunities (13).   Castro has 2 blown saves, Osuna, Delabar, Hendriks, Cecil and Loup have one each.  Interestingly (for purposes of assessing the perception of ‘blown saves’) only one save was blown in the 9th inning… and the Jays wound up winning that game in the 10th.

The Jays have an average attendance of 25,939, which is better than 3 of the 5 teams leading the divisional and wild card races, and 9th in the AL.

*  - okay, it’s just Russell Martin, really.  Opposing base-stealers are 0-0 against Navarro, 2-0 against Thole, and 16-15 against Martin.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Unlucky: Part II

Timing is everything, as the saying goes.  If you have good pitching and good hitting, you’ll usually make the playoffs.  If you have one but not the other, you usually won’t. 

Let’s take a look at how AL playoff teams since 2002 ranked in pitching/defense and offense.  For this exercise, we’ll add up each playoff team’s ranking in runs scored and runs allowed for each playoff season.  For example, a team that finished 1st in runs allowed and 5th in runs scored would have a score of 6.  A team that was 8th in runs allowed and 3rd in runs scored would have a score of 11.  A completely average team, in a 15-team league, would have a score of 16 (8th in runs scored, 8th in runs allowed).

Here are the scores of the 55 playoff teams since 2002:
4 – 2 times
5 – 7 times
6 – 5 times
7 – 6 times
8 – 6 times
9 – 4 times
10 – 7 times
11 – 5 times
12 – 7 times
13 – once
14 – 2 times
15 – 2 times
16 – nil
17 – once

Obviously, the lower the number, the better the team and the more likely the team is to make the playoffs.  Only one team that was below-average in the combined runs scored/runs allowed metric (the frickin’ 2012 Orioles) managed to make the playoffs.  In fact, as the numbers above suggest, to make the playoffs, you need to be either pretty good at both offense and pitching/defense, or extremely good in one and at least average at the other.

The Jays have had years when they were good at pitching/defense, and they’ve had years when they were good at hitting.  They’ve just never done both at the same time.  Timing is everything, and the Jays have bad timing. Let's review the last 13 years of non-playoff baseball.

Runs for   Runs allowed             Total
2003                 2nd                    10th                   12         (Playoff teams 11, 9, 12, 7)

2003 was the year (well, one of the years) that Delgado should have won MVP and Vernon Wells hit .317 with 33 HR and a .900 OPS.  Despite Roy Halladay winning a Cy Young award, the pitching was mostly terrible (Cory Lidle, Mark Hendrickson, Doug Davis and Tanyon Sturtze had a lot to do with that).  But with that offense, and even modest pitching improvements, 2004 could have been a great year.

                        Runs for   Runs allowed             Total
2004                 12th                   7th                     19         (Playoff teams 11, 5, 9, 8)

Except that it wasn’t. The pitching improved to middle-of-the-pack by adding Ted Lilly and getting league-average numbers from Miguel Batista, even if Halladay missed half the season with a broken leg.  Unfortunately, Delgado was merely very good instead of being superhuman, Wells saw his OPS regress by 100 points, and Reed Johnson, Josh Phelps and Eric Hinske all regressed.  The result was an offense that was 3rd worst in the AL.  Let's skip ahead to 2007.

                        Runs for   Runs allowed             Total
2007                 10th                   2nd                    12         (Playoff teams 4, 8, 7, 10)

5 better-than average to great starters (Halladay-Burnett-McGowan-Marcum-Litsch) and 5 solid relievers (Accardo-Janssen-Downs-Wolfe-Tallet) helped the Jays become the 2nd stingiest team in the AL.  The offense was unproductive, though, due to Overbay and Glaus both missing time due to injury and Wells having an off year.

                        Runs for   Runs allowed             Total
2008                 11th                   1st                     12         (Playoff teams 11, 6, 15, 12)

Would you look at that – the pitching was even better in 2008!  In fact, the starters and bullpen each led the AL in ERA.  Halladay and Burnett were the big names, but Jesse Litsch (28 starts, 3.58 ERA) and Marcum (25, 3.39) came up big, too.  BJ Ryan returned from injury and was effective if not overpowering, closing after Downs/Carlson/Tallet who all had ERAs under 3.  All the offense had to do was be a bit better.  Instead, it was a bit worse.  Aaron Hill missed most of the season with a concussion, David Eckstein was not the answer at shortstop, and Scott Rolen, replacing Glaus, was hurt for a third of the season.

Clearly, however, the pitching was a strength to build around for a second year in a row.  All that remained was coming up with some bats, and in 2009, they did:

                        Runs for   Runs allowed             Total
2009                 6th                     11th                   17      (Playoff teams 6, 7, 10, 14)

2009 saw the team go from a below-average offense to an above-average one.  Aaron Hill and Adam Lind set career HR marks, Marco Scutaro got on base at a .379 clip at the top of the order, and Lyle Overbay bounced back from a couple of down years to post an .838 OPS.  And the pitching completely fell apart.  To be fair, the seeds were planted in 2008, when Dustin McGowan suffered the first of a long series of injuries.  AJ Burnett left town.  Shaun Marcum was hurt.  BJ Ryan’s career ended.  Litsch got hurt, Tallet proved he wasn’t a starter.  Only Halladay and a debuting Ricky Romero were somewhat bright spots.

So, fast forward to 2014.  2014, you know about.  Despite injuries to Encarnacion, Lawrie and Rasmus, the team finished 4th in runs scored. 

                        Runs for   Runs allowed             Total
2014                 4th                    9th                     13         (Playoff teams 7, 12, 5, 9, 13)

Hutchison and Happ were mediocre at best.  Dickey didn’t regain his Cy form.  Mark Beuhrle regressed badly after a hot start, and Casey Janssen struggled after some bad mamajuana in the Dominican.  Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez were bright spots, but they came along too late to save the season.

And so, here we are in 2015 (after games of May 22):

                        Runs for   Runs allowed             Total
2015                 1st                     15th                   16

The offense, inconsistent as it may be, leads the AL in runs.  The pitching is worse, across the board.  Marcus Stroman’s absence has had a negative, domino effect on the rotation and the bullpen, but Stroman aside, reliable figures like Dickey, Buehrle, and Loup have struggled, and struggled badly.

Is there room for improvement?  Of course.  You’d think that Dickey and Buehrle would improve, we’ve seen signs of improvement from Sanchez and Hutchison.  A returning Norris would allow one of Estrada or Sanchez to return to the bullpen, which could use a reliable arm or two.  And in 2016, the Jays will have Stroman back, Hutch, Norris, Osuna and Sanchez will be a year more experienced, and guys like Jeff Hoffman may be able to contribute.

Of course, by 2016 the offense will be a year older, too.  Let’s hope a major decline is not in the offing, as has been the pattern for the last decade and a half.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

May 20, 2015: Impressions from the ballpark!

Last night’s game had a bad vibe to it. 

To begin with, the roof was closed.  The evening was clear, with a temperature in the mid teens.  It’s late May.  Why is the roof closed?  It’s bad enough that the team plays on artificial turf; can we please play baseball outside, like every other team (Tampa doesn’t count) in the AL does?

The crowd was sparse.  16,000 or so.  It’s a Wednesday game in late May against a non-Yankee, non-Sux opponent, so I wasn’t expecting 35,000, but it appears that people aren’t going to come out and watch games on non-weekend, non-giveaway, non-holidays unless the team plays better.  Attendance is down about 4,000 from last year’s season average.

The crowd was sparse… and subdued.  Ovations were few and far between.  Maybe I’m reading too much into that, but I couldn’t help but feel that people were waiting for things to go wrong.  In a town where the Jays share space with the Leafs and Raptors, that sense of impending doom is understandable.

The game was played quickly – we were out the door about 9:40.  The new pace-of-play changes are having a noticeable effect, but beyond that, the pitchers were efficient through the first 3 innings.  There were lots of positive signs for Hutchison; although Hutch went to a lot of 3-ball counts, he struck out 5 and only walked 2 batters, leaving the game in the 7th inning with a 3-2 lead.

And then the bullpen happened.  There’s a dirty little secret about the Jays’ ‘pen, and it’s inherited runner efficiency.  The bullpen has an ERA of 3.85 now, which is not far off league average (they’re 12th in the AL in ERA, but the median team, Baltimore, is at 3.58).  That’s not awful, but what bullpen ERA doesn’t reflect is inherited runner efficiency – the percentage of runners that a relief pitcher ‘inherits’ from a previous pitcher when he comes into the game, and which subsequently score.  As a team, the Jays have ‘inherited’ 64 baserunners, and 26 of them have scored, or 41%.  That mark is worst in the AL - Baltimore is at 28% (13 of 46), as is Tampa (19 of 68).  Boston is 30% (16 of 53), New York is 34% (23 of 68).  The starters have been bad, but the bullpen hasn’t done them any favours, either.

Individually, Liam Hendriks (2 of 10), Roberto Osuna (4 of 13) and Marco Estrada (1 of 5) are the only relievers with a decent inherited runner strand rate.  Steve Delabar let both runners score, making Hutchison’s day look worse than it was, and costing the team the game. I can’t fault Hutch for walking Mike Trout, given that there were two out and a backup infielder on deck (instead of Albert Pujols, who had left the game).  Delabar needed to get an out, and instead, he wild-pitched the go-ahead runner into scoring position and then got beat by Marc Krauss, a 27 year old 1B with a career OPS of .603.  And that was that.

Other takeaways:

Ryan Goins still can’t hit.  Chris Colabello still can’t play RF.  These will hopefully become non-issues soon. 

Danny Valencia and Justin Smoak reminded us that they still exist and might be useful if/when the DH spot opens up again.

Jard (not a typo) Weaver has become a junkballer.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a 64mph non-eephus pitch before.

Donaldson/Bautista/Encarnacion/Martin were a combined 0-13 with 3 walks.  

So, some positive signs, but the calendar turns to June soon.  So far, the Jays have hung around the division due to everyone else being mediocre.  Someone, sooner or later, will get hot, and if it’s not the Jays, the mood could get ugly in the house that Ted built renamed after himself bought at a discount.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Unlucky: Part 1

The Jays led Tuesday's game 1-0 and 2-1 in the middle innings, and lost.  They led 3-1 on Thursday, 3-0 on Saturday and 2-1 on Sunday, and lost all 3 of those games, too.

Unfortunately, this is nothing new.  The Blue Jays have consistently blown leads more often than they overcome deficits, even relative to the team's overall record.  For example, last year the team was above .500 overall, but had just 34 comebacks against 42 blown leads.  For 2013, the team lost games that were comebacks/blown leads at a worse rate than their overall win percentage (.457).  It was the same story in 2012.  In fact, in 10 of the last 15 seasons, the club has blown more leads than they have won comebacks, relative to their overall win percentage... and at 13 blown leads versus 8 comebacks, they're doing it again in 2015.

Unfortunately, there's more.

Going back to 2000 - which is a lot further than makes sense, but I looked anyway - the club has also underperformed in 1-run games.  Over the last 15 years, the club has put up a .468 winning percentage in 1-run games, versus a .494 overall winning percentage.   Figure that about 1/3 of your games are decided by a run, and the team has lost between 1 and 2 extra games on average, per season, due to their struggles in 1-run games.

These struggles are also reflected in the so-called Pythagorean average - the winning percentage predicted by a team's total runs scored versus total runs allowed.  Over the last 15 years, the Jays have a .507 Pythagorean average, versus a .494 actual record.  They're not winning as many games as their offensive and defensive numbers suggest they should, and the difference amounts to 2 wins per season, on average.

What does this mean?  I wish I knew.  Some of it is due to the bullpen's (under)performance, but they can't shoulder all the blame - the 2013 'pen was third in the AL with a 3.37 ERA and the team was horrible in 1-run games that year.  And then again, the 2006 club did very well in 1-run games, the same year BJ Ryan had an excellent season as closer.  It's tempting to blame John Gibbons, but his 2006 and 2007 clubs were very good in 1-run games (and 2007 had Jeremy Accardo closing, remember).

The last 3 seasons (2012, 2013, 2014) have seen the Jays underperform their Pythagorean average, and underperform relative to their normal performance in 1-run games and in "comeback" games, in each season.  And they've got the same trifecta going in 2015.

Again, I wish I knew why.  The Jays have been mostly bad at holding leads and bad in tight games for the last 15 years with good bullpens and bad ones, and with 6 different managers (Fregosi gets a pass).  They've underperformed with teams made up of veterans, with teams loaded with rookies, and everything in between.

Blame the manager(s)?  Blame some mysterious conspiracy among umpires?  Can we start calling it a curse, even if the Jays never sold Babe Ruth to finance some Mirvish musical?  For whatever reason, the Jays have been unlucky - or dare I say, "un-clutch" in tight games, and they've been that way for a long time.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Some asides

Monday night game recap:

Colabello, Pillar, Carrera, Goins:  7 for 13 with a walk and 3 doubles
Everyone else: 1 for 20 with a walk and 13 strikeouts.

Kind of kills any argument about the team being better when Reyes and Saunders are healthy and Bautista is back in right field, doesn’t it?  Colabello and Carrera won’t continue to hit a combined 1.000, but they aren’t hurting the team now.  Goins, on the other hand, now has a wOBA of .251, which is 270th of 303 players with more than 50 PA… and reviews of his defense have been mixed (although UZR doesn’t like him this year, DRS does).  Reyes can’t get back soon enough.


Bautista’s shoulder doesn’t seem to be getting better.  I like Andrew Stoeten’s thought - that the Jays are waiting for Reyes to return to the team, and will then DL J-Bau when the team is playing in a NL park (where he wouldn’t play anyway).  That would be pretty smart, especially coming from a team that has botched the use of the DL a few times this season already.

But what if it doesn’t get better anytime soon?  The outfield was already looking worse than last year when spring training started, and has only declined with Pompey struggling and Saunders being hobbled.  If Bautista can hit but can’t field, you force a Colabello/Carrera type to play every day in RF, force Encarnacion and his bad back to play 1B, push Smoak to the bench, and eliminate the planned rotation of DH time among Reyes/EE/Valencia.  In other words, this could be a big problem.


People say that the Blue Jays’ defense is noticeably better in 2015 than in recent years.  It’s too early to make definitive judgements based on UZR, but those stats don’t seem to support the eye test.  The Jays are 19th in Fangraphs’ team defensive ratings, which are based on UZR. 

They are, however, second in the majors in defensive runs saved, with 27.  Broken down by player:
Pillar                 10
Goins               4
Pompey            4
Buehrle             2
Martin               2
Valencia            2

Everyone else is at 1, 0, or -1.

Notably, Donaldson is at 0, with a .922 fielding percentage which is worrisome.  Yes, fielding percentage isn’t everything, but Donaldson’s range doesn’t look great, either.  4 of his 7 errors are throwing errors, and over a full season, that extrapolates to 35-40 errors.

Russell Martin?  How do you like 1 error in 223 chances and a 46% caught stealing rate?  Yeah, I like that too.  The only blemish is 4 passed balls.


Bill Simmons is leaving being fired by ESPN.

Like him or hate him, Simmons was probably the best-known personality on ESPN’s website.  Simmons’ columns were must-reads for me back in 2001-4, after I noticed that ESPN wasn’t just a TV channel.

I can’t say I’m a fan of his anymore, for a few reasons.  Plenty of people (for example, or almost anything else on Deadspin) have criticized him for keeping up his pretense of being a regular sports fan despite actually being a celebrity making millions of dollars a year (on top of being a “shitty writer”). 

I won’t argue the latter point, which is a matter of taste, but the first point definitely fits.  Simmons stopped appealing to me for a few reasons.  He stopped writing stories to focus on stuff (podcasts, basketball books, writing for Jimmy Kimmel) I didn’t care about.  His constant references to going to huge sporting events and hobnobbing with famous athletes grated when delivered in the tone of an Everyman. 

But most of all, Simmons stopped being someone fans could relate to because of the success:  his own, and that of the Boston teams he cheers for.

Seriously – the Boston/Simmons success run feels almost Faustian.  Since 2001, the Patriots have won 4 Super Bowls, the Red Sux have won 3 World Series, the Bruins and Celtics have each won a championship, and Bill Simmons went from being a somewhat popular blogger to being a multimillionaire media entity.  Sports fans can relate to seeing their teams lose – most of us root for teams that will win championships once a generation or so – and we can relate to other fans who watch big games on TV and criticize the players and teams.  Few fans can relate to an entitled, hypocritical fan of winning teams who’s a VIP at top sporting events and on a first name basis with the players he cheers for.

So, call it the end of an era, albeit one that should have ended on October 20, 2004.

Friday, 8 May 2015


In retrospect, a contract extension for Colby Rasmus would have been as ill-advised as the hair extensions shown above.  What about new contracts for Encarnacion and Bautista?

Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion are both free agents after the 2016 season, assuming the Jays exercise their options on each player after this season, which seems likely.  Alex Anthopoulos and the players themselves have hinted (referenced here, here, here, and here) that contract extensions for both will be discussed, probably in the next offseason.

Is this a good idea?  Maybe – if these are short extensions.  Baseball players tend to decline sharply after age 36.  Jose Bautista will be 36 when the 2017 season starts, and Encarnacion will be 34.  Bautista has averaged over 5 fWAR over the past 5 seasons, and Encarnacion has been worth almost 4 fWAR/season for the last 3 years.  We can assume that if both guys continue to perform at these levels, the asking price would be close to, or above, $20MM/yr.  Question is, can we expect the kind of performance from these players to justify $20MM/yr over a 4 or 5 year extension?  History says no.  To wit:

There have been 36 seasons of 3+ WAR by hitters 36 and over, since 2000:

Barry Bonds - 4
Edgar Martinez – 2
Moises Alou – 2
Rafael Palmeiro – 2
Jeff Kent – 2
Steve Finley – 2
Kenny Lofton  - 2 (ok, the second one was 2.9 WAR)
Alfonso Soriano – 2
Omar Vizquel – 2
20 others – 1 each
Below 3 WAR – 109 player seasons
3 WAR, to me, is the cutoff between a star and a regular.  If you give Bautista a 4-year extension, say, there’s a good chance he’ll be just ordinary for 2 or 3 of those seasons.  It gets worse as the player ages, as there have been just 28 seasons of 1+ WAR by hitters 38 and older, since 2000:

Vizquel - 3
Bonds – 2
Martinez – 2
Finley – 2
Lofton – 2
Craig Biggio – 2 (and a 0.9 season)
Ichiro – 2
Frank Thomas – 2
11 others – 1 each
Below 1 WAR – 19 player seasons

Yikes.  If you sign J-Bau for 4 more years, there’s not much chance he’ll be even a decent regular for the last 2 seasons of the deal.

Let’s look at it another way.  Here’s the top WAR totals from age 36 and up, since 2000:

Bonds – 54.3 WAR
Larry “Chipper” Jones – 16.3 WAR (5 seasons)
Alou – 16 WAR (6 seasons)
Martinez – 14.3 (5 seasons)
Kent 12.7 (5 seasons)
Lofton 12.0 (5 seasons)
Palmeiro 11.4
Vizquel 10.8 (9 (!!!!!) seasons)
21 players between 5 and 10 WAR
23 players between 2 and 5 WAR
20 players less than 2 WAR

Let’s ignore Bonds and Palmeiro, who were cheating.  Let’s also ignore Vizquel, who had a totally different skill set and whose last 5 seasons added up to less than 0 WAR.  That leaves 26 seasons of 71.3 WAR, or 2.7 WAR per player-season.  And that’s for the 5 BEST age 36+ players; there are lots of big names who did next to nothing after they turned 36, for example:

Fred McGriff – 4 seasons, 5.7 total WAR
Frank Thomas – 5 seasons, 6.9 WAR
Gary Sheffield – 5 seasons, 5.7 WAR
Jim Edmonds – 4 seasons, 5.0 WAR

Now let’s put aside comparables and consider the positions and health profiles for each player.  Encarnacion has been plagued by back problems forcing him to DH more, and missed a month and a half last year due to injury.  Bautista missed significant time in 2012 and 2013, and is currently unable to field his position due to injury.  Both guys will likely need a lot of time at DH due to injury, age, or decline in fielding ability… and there’s only one DH position.  And Jose Reyes is still on the team and needs DH time, too.  Encarnacion is not considered a good fielder, which will lessen his value, and Bautista is an average defender (great arm, not-great range) at a non-premium position.  In other words, neither player will accrue value due to positional adjustments the way L. Jones and Kent did.  It’ll be all about the bat… and as we have seen, batting skill declines sharply with age, and it’s harder and harder for older players to stay healthy for a full season.

A 2 year extension for J-Bau?  Sure.  I’d even sweeten it with an option for a third year.  More than that, though, and there’s a good chance you are just setting money on fire.  A deal longer than 2-3 years for Encarnacion is probably just as risky – EE is younger, but his health isn’t any better, and he already profiles as a nearly full-time DH.

What would the team look like without Bautista and Encarnacion?  It doesn't bear thinking about, right now.  But in 2017, the team will still have Reyes, Donaldson and Martin, and one would hope that some or all of Pompey, Pillar, and Travis would be offensive threats as well.  More than that, though, the team's young pitchers - Stroman, Hutchison, Sanchez, Norris, Osuna, Hoffman, Castro, and others - will be hitting their peak performance years (or some of them will be).  The 2017 Jays will be pitching-strong, not hitting-strong, and won't need offense to win games the way they do now.  And if I'm wrong... well, if the pitching flames out, it's time for a rebuild, and it makes even less sense to resign J-Bau and EE if the Jays are building for the future (again).

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

The ex-Jay report

What time is it? 

It’s time to check in on ex-Jays and either breathe a sigh of relief that (insert I-always-said-he-was-useless player’s name here) is gone, or rain curses down on the idiot front office for trading/cutting/not resigning (insert improbably successful player’s name here).

THAT’s what time it is.

(all stats are for prior to the games of May 5)

JA Happ                                   2-1, 3.51 ERA over 33.1 innings (5 starts)  Walks are way down, and strikeouts are down, too.  In retrospect, it would be nice to have Happ and his 3.79 FIP here, knowing as we do now that Stroman would be hurt, Mike Saunders would damage his knee, and the entire rotation would struggle.  Even if all that didn’t happen, it wouldn’t be a bad thing if Happ was throwing to a sub-3 ERA here and Aaron Sanchez was working on his control in Buffalo.

Brandon Morrow                        2-0, 2.73 ERA over 33 innings (5 starts).  Also someone it would be nice to have.  Until he breaks.  Hopefully for Morrow, he doesn’t.  FIP of 3.56 isn’t bad, and oddly, it isn’t far off what Morrow produced for the Jays over the same innings in 2014.  The difference?  Walks are way down (strikeouts down a bit, too) and BABIP allowed is a bit more normal.

Dustin McGowan                       1-1, 3.95 ERA over 13.2 innings (1 start, 8 relief appearances).  Doesn’t seem bad, but McGowan is walking too many batters (12 so far) and the FIP is 5.40… which is pretty much what I imagined from Dustin, unfortunately.

Casey Janssen                          On the DL with shoulder issues, he’s supposed to start rehab on Thursday.

Sergio Santos                           0-0, 3.00 ERA over 3 innings (4 relief appearances).  Was in the minors until April 24.

Kyle Drabek                              0-0, 5.06 ERA over 5.1 innings (3 relief appearances).  Where’s the :shrug: icon?

Kendall Graveman                     1-2, 8.27 ERA over 16.1 innings (4 starts).  Graveman has been walking too many, and giving up too many HR.
Brett Lawrie                               .260/.292/.360 line.  3% walks and 29% strikeouts is Arencibiaesque.  He hasn’t been hurt yet, though.  Yet.

The Jays have Josh Donaldson who is slashing .314/.387/.552 and has already produced 1.2 fWAR, instead of Graveman, Lawrie, Sean Nolin (hasn’t pitched in a game yet this year) and Franklin Barreto (in A ball).  I’m good, no matter what Franklin Barreto does.

Melky Cabrera                           .287/.330/.310 line.  The first 2 numbers are decent, but there’s been no power at all – 2 doubles and 0 HR to this point.  Shades of 2013; I hope Melky’s health is okay.  At this point, Dalton Pompey has been better than Cabrera, and never mind Kevin Pillar.

Adam Lind                                .326/.398/.570 line.  Pretty nice start, comparable to what he did with the Jays in 2014, and he’s even had decent results against LHP, in a ridiculously small sample (16 PA).

Colby Rasmus                          .257/.329/.544 line.  Pow, suck on that, Blue Jays.  Still strikes out too much, though (40%) which you’d think will eventually cost ‘ol Colbylocks.

Anthony Gose                           .302/.333/.444 line.  Obviously an impressive start, but the ludicrously unsustainable .462 BABIP has a lot to do with that.  Gose has also walking at a 4.5% clip and striking out 34.8% of the time, which is… Lawrieesque?  Arencibiaesque?

And as you might have noticed, the Jays have Devon Travis, who is at .315/.388/.609 and 1.2 fWAR without the kind of red flags that are attached to Gose’s offensive numbers.

Juan Francisco                          He’s big… in Japan.  Heck, he’s big, period.

And here are some ex-ex-Jays who you might be interested in.

Josh Johnson                           Will pitch in minor leagues in May as he continues to rehab his elbow.  Didn’t pitch at all last year.

Esmil Rogers                            1-1, 2.60 ERA over 17.1 innings (8 relief appearances).  Nifty ERA may be the product of a low BABIP (.233) and high strand rate (87.8%), and he’s giving up too many fly balls.  FIP is 4.46.

Carlos Villanueva                       3-1, 0.71 ERA in 12.2 innings (7 relief appearances).  The .103 BABIP and 93% strand rate have helped the ERA a lot (FIP is 3.68).  Otherwise, the K, BB, and GB% are very much like what he did for the Jays in 2012.

Rajai Davis                               .283/.387/.396 over 62 PA.  In a part time role, Davis has managed to walk 8 times in those 62 PA, which is well above his career rate and driving much of his value.  Has 6 SB (of course).

Emilio Bonifacio                        .118/.167/.118 over 18 PA.  After being kind of useful in 2014 (2.1 fWAR), he’s been unused and not good in 2015.

Travis Snider                             .281/.369/.404 line, which is a little (.385) BABIP driven.  Nonetheless, as a hitter, he’s made great strides since we saw him regularly in 2012.  Defense has been a bit of an (unpleasant) adventure at times.              

Yan Gomes                               Out since April 12 with a knee injury and expected to miss between 6-8 weeks.  Was just 3 for 20 before the injury… but that doesn’t make up for the 8 WAR Gomes has put up since 2013 (argh).  Thank goodness the Jays now have Russell Martin (1.2 fWAR, .237/.372/.500) and negative eighty-two million dollars.

Yunel Escobar                          .311/.361/.411.  That sounds like the Escobar the Jays had in 2011.   Defense seems to be slipping a bit.

Jeff Mathis                               Hitless in 6 PA this year.

Moises Sierra, JP Arencibia, Nolan Reimold, and Aaron Laffey haven’t played in the majors this year.  

Monday, 4 May 2015

Roster shuffled.

So, over the last few days, the following (net) transactions happened:

To the minors:
Daniel Norris, P
Dalton Pompey, OF
Miguel Castro, P

To the Jays:
Ezequiel Carrera, OF
Steve Delabar, P
Chad Jenkins, P

Within the same timeframe, pitchers Andrew Albers and Scott Copeland were brought up and sent down again, to provide relief for the bullpen.

I speculated a few weeks ago that 2 of the Jays’ rookies would be successes, 2 would be so-so, and 2 would struggle and get sent down.  So I feel smart and sad now, I guess.   Devon Travis has been fantastic and Roberto Osuna has been mostly good.  Aaron Sanchez has struggled with control but has been lately getting okay results (22 innings in last 4 starts, 4.09 ERA).  The others, in the view of team management, need to work on some things in the minors.

In a perfect world, Norris and Travis would have been the two successful rookies.  In case you missed it, Maicer Izturis was put on the 60-day DL this weekend, and were it not for Travis, second base would belong to some unholy Diaz-Goins-Tolleson trinity.  The silver lining to Pompey’s struggles is the success (relatively speaking) of Kevin Pillar.  Nobody thought Pillar would be making highlight reel defensive plays and producing a .315 wOBA.   We would have been happy with that from Pompey; we’ll take that from Pillar instead, thanks.  Sending down Castro is disappointing, but at least there are other relievers in the system who could fill in and have the potential to be good.  The same resources aren’t available at 2B, and the Jays have been very fortunate to have Travis play the way he has.

The Jays don’t have extensive starting pitching resources, either, and that’s why so much was riding on Dan Norris’s success.  Norris actually had one of the best starts of the season for the Jays on April 25 – 7 innings, 5 hits, 1 ER, 3BB, 7K.  Other than that game, though, Norris was walking too many batters, not getting enough grounders, pitching too deep in counts and not striking anyone out.  The club will try Marco (Polo Erik) Estrada in his stead, and if Estrada has proven to be homer-prone as a starter, Norris and his 30% GB rate was homer-prone waiting to happen.

So what happens next?  Ideally, Steve Delabar has learned to keep the walks under control in the last 5 weeks (???) and provides some consistency in the bullpen, maybe even a reliable 8th-inning relief arm.  I’m sure the Jays would like Norris to be like Marcus Stroman, who came back after less than 3 weeks in the minors and excelled for the rest of the year.  That’s an overly optimistic outcome, but presumably the thought process is to give Norris 4-5 starts in Buffalo and if the results are better, recall him to Toronto after that.  For now, there’s less urgency for Castro and Pompey – so long as Pillar keeps hitting (and his splits have weirdly flipped this year – small sample size, I guess) he can hold down CF, and while an effective Castro would be nice to have back, he’s just 1 of 7 relievers.

So at the end of the day, I don’t think these transactions are terribly impactful or that they should be construed too negatively.  It would be nice to have Norris pitching well, and for Castro to be throwing strikes with movement in the bullpen, but at the end of the day, the real problem (starting pitching and its 5.70 ERA) wasn’t going to be fixed with these moves.

Friday, 1 May 2015


Richard Griffin thinks the Jays are worse than they were at this time last year.  He thinks this, despite the team being 11-12 in 2015, versus 12-15 in 2014.

Obviously, Griffin is looking beyond the record, and there are a number of ways you can determine “how good” a team is beyond looking at their won-lost record.  You could look at runs scored vs runs against, for example (the Jays are +7 in that category).  You could look at strength of schedule (Jays have had the 9th hardest SOS in MLB to this point) and weight the actual standings with that.  And you could look at WAR and a whole bunch of other things.

Griffin does none of that.  Instead, he cherry-picks a stat and runs with it:

The key statistic, all you need to know about how badly the Jays are playing — how lucky they are to be this close to the rest of the AL East, huddled in mediocrity — is this won-lost comparison to last April. The Jays are 2-11 when scoring five runs or less this season. They have had to bludgeon opponents in order to win. Last year at the end of April the Jays were 7-12 when scoring five or fewer runs. Common sense tells you that entering last May the Jays were far closer to being good.

All we need to know?  Common sense?  Come on.  Appeal to authority arguments are so “old media.”

Looking at it another way, last year the Jays scored 5 or fewer runs in 19 out of 27 games (70% of them) and while the team was 7-12 in those games, it was 5-3 in games it scored more than 5 runs.  And in 2015, the club has scored 5 or fewer runs in 13 out of 23 games (56% of the games), but is 9-1 in games when it scores 5 runs.

Why isn’t Griffin asking why last year’s team was so lousy that it only won 62% of the games it scored 5 runs in, versus this year’s team winning 90% of those games?  Why isn’t he pointing out how much more prolific this season’s offense has been?  Aren’t those that arguments just as valid as pointing to the record in games when the team scores fewer than 5 runs?

Last year’s Jays team was allowing 4.74 runs per game at the end of April.  This year’s Jays team is allowing 5.00 runs per game.  That’s a difference of about 4.5 runs, total, for the 23 games played.  4.5 runs is one bad start.  It’s Todd Redmond’s last outing.  It’s ridiculous to say that the Jays’ pitching is worse than it was this time last year based on 4.5 runs.

What’s different from last year?  Well, last April, Sergio Santos blew two saves.  Brett Cecil was off to a rocky start.  Brandon Morrow and Dustin McGowan were terrible in the rotation.  Wait, sorry… that’s the stuff that’s the same as this year:  Miguel Castro has blown two saves, Brett Cecil is off to a rocky start, and Hutchison and Sanchez have been terrible in the rotation.   You know what’s different from last year, pitching-wise?  Last year, Mark Buehrle had a 2.16 ERA over 33 innings.  This year, it’s 4.94 over 23 innings.  This year’s bullpen actually has a better ERA than last years’ April ‘pen did.

Yes, to be fair, last year’s team had Marcus Stroman to look forward to, and it’s unlikely that this year’s team will get the same kind of boost from anyone currently in the minors.  But it’s also true that the club will get a boost when Encarnacion (.610 OPS), Reyes (.556 OPS), Saunders (.388) and Bautista (yes, that .767 OPS is pretty low for him) get going.

Doom and gloom sells papers (or wherever people read the Star), I guess.