Friday, 27 November 2015

The Happ Came Back

Credit for the ad to the marvellous @JAHappster

JA ("Jay", or if you prefer, "Jah") Happ has returned to the Blue Jays on a 3-year deal for $36MM.

I'm a little unsure of how I feel about this deal.  On the one hand, I had postulated that Happ would be looking at at least a 3-year deal for $14MM a season, so I feel somewhat pleased that my guess was close, and relieved that the Jays didn't overpay for Happ.  Happ was a 3-WAR pitcher last season, and even though much of that value was accumulated over the final third of the season (in Pittsburgh), $12MM is not a lot to spend for a 3 fWAR player.  Happ stayed healthy last season, made 30+ starts for the first time in his career, and posted a fairly impressive 7.9 : 2.4 strikeout:walk ratio.

And, bonus: If you were among the pessimists that were convinced that Mark Shapiro was going to bring the Jays budget down, then this is good news:  The team has committed $62 million to Happ and Estrada over the next 2 seasons.  Even if you don't think Happ is a superstar (and to be fair, he isn't), he provides the team with another mid-rotation arm that should keep the Jays competitive in 2016.  Stroman-Estrada-Happ-Dickey-someone else (Hutch, Chavez, mystery pitcher) is a pretty solid rotation.

On the other hand, it's getting progressively harder to talk myself into the idea that the Jays will be players for any really big names over this offseason.  I did my best to argue for a David Price signing, but I can't really see the team coughing up $25-30MM annually on top of the $24MM or so they have already committed to Estrada and Happ.  So, likely no Price, or Greinke, or any other top-tier free agent.  Depending on how likely you thought it was that the Jays would spend $200MM on anyone, this may be a disappointment to you.

And the other thing, let's not forget, is that last year was the first time Happ cracked the 170 inning barrier, or the 2 WAR barrier.  Happ was beset with injuries during the early part of his Jays career, but he was healthy in 2014 and managed just 1 WAR based on a 4.27 FIP and 158 innings.  Happ often struggled to pitch into the 6th inning and beyond during his last stint in Toronto, and even during his hot (11 starts, 1.85 ERA, 2.19 FIP) stretch in Pittsburgh, Happ made just one start that saw him get batters out after the end of the 6th inning.  His game high for innings over the season was 7.1.  Considering the question marks the Jays have in middle relief (i.e. there isn't anyone, right now), that's not a good sign.

Could Happ be as good in Toronto as he was in Pittsburgh?  There's no way to say, but if nothing else, he should be pitching in front of a better defense (Tulo/Goins/Travis instead of Reyes/Kawasaki/Goins, Pillar instead of Rasmus) than he did in 2014.  And the Jays do have a great offense, which means average pitching (or worse - Drew Hutchison, anyone?) can be all that's needed.  This isn't a bad move.  It's just not a great move.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

The David Price question: Yea or Nay?

“Come on down, David Price!  Your new salary is all the numbers on this wheel added together, followed by 6 zeroes.”

So – here we are.  I thought, for a while there, that there would be no question that the Jays would be involved in the bidding for David Price.  As good of a pitcher as he is, he’s probably going to cost close to $30MM a year for about 7 seasons.  The Jays have never come close to inking anyone to a $200MM deal, and they’ve never gone past 5 years in a free agent deal.  However, the rumour mill has heated up, so now is as good a time as any to look at the pros and cons of bringing back David Price.


David Price is 30.   Arguably, he’s at or near his peak now, and is not yet on the downside of his career.  So, it’s reasonable to hope that he’s got 3-4 more good seasons in him, which makes him a better bet for a long term deal than a lot of other long term deals out there (Pujols, Fielder, Votto).  I took a look on Fangraphs to see how many 4+ WAR seasons 33-37 year old pitchers have put up since 2000, and there’s 52 of them! So it’s not impossible that Price performs well through the life of this deal.

Price, over the last 2 years, has put up his best 2 years for strikeout rate, his #2 and #3 years for walk rate, his #1 and #3 years for innings pitched, his #1 and #2 years for FIP (2.78 each), his #1 and #3 years for xFIP (2.78 and 3.24), and 12.5 combined fWAR.

David Price might be worth $30MM/yr.  No, really.  Last year, Fangraphs estimated the market value of 1 WAR to be about $6MM.  Over the last 4 seasons, Price has been worth an average of 5.5 WAR.  If (and that’s a big IF) you think he can sustain that value, $30MM might even be an underpay.  Yes, it may be an overpay in future, but it’s all but certain that by, say, 2017, 1 WAR will cost over $7MM on the open market, or more.  Price won’t be as good in 5 years as he is now, but inflation will make that $30MM deal seem less scary than it is now.

David Price doesn’t cost a draft pick to sign (he has no qualifying offer attached to him).  Moreover, the Jays aren’t losing the opportunity to get a compensatory pick if someone else signs Price.  This isn’t an insignificant thing – if you consider what WAR costs on the open market and what value the average first round pick produces, giving up a first round pick could cost a team $10-30MM in lost player value.  This is something that should be considered whenever a team signs a player with draft pick compensation attached to him.

The Jays have roughly $120MM committed to salaries so far in 2016.  Adding Price would push that to $150MM, but considering that the team, by all accounts, made a ton of money from August-October last year and is selling lots of season tickets at higher prices for 2016, this payroll level should be doable.   The cost of additional players (relievers, etc) could be offset by trading or nontendering Ben Revere, Josh Thole, Justin Smoak, and/or Michael Saunders.   


The money.  Obviously.  Yes, the Jays can probably afford another $30MM this season without blowing past the budget they had last year.  However, in 2017, the following players will be free agents:  Bautista, Encarnacion, Dickey, Cecil.  Figure JB and EE to be due about $8MM in raises, each, Cecil to be due another $5MM, Dickey to be let go (-12MM), Donaldson to get an additional $8MM, Martin $5MM, Estrada $3MM... even with those spitballed numbers, that’s another $25MM in 2017, if you want to bring everyone but Dickey back.  I can’t see the Jays going to $175MM, so if you sign Price, you probably have to let one or more of JB, EE, and Cecil go.  Consider also that if the Jays have a poor 2016, revenues may drop back to 2014 levels.

David Price is a pitcher.  Pitchers break.  Hitters tend to peak before pitchers do, and they tend to start to decline a bit sooner, too.  But with pitchers, there’s always the risk of some catastrophic injury, moreso than with position players.  Take a look at that list of pitchers from Fangraphs again; Halladay broke at age 34.  Cliff Lee broke at 35.  John Smoltz broke at 33.  Pedro broke at 34.  Committing to a pitcher through his age-37 year is risky, almost as risky as committing 7 years to Vernon Wells turned out to be.

Opportunity cost.  If you bring David Price back, you have a rotation of Price-Stroman-Dickey-Estrada-Hutchison/Chavez.  There won’t be money for a major relief upgrade, so Sanchez and Osuna will have their transition to starting delayed at least one more year.  There also won’t be money for a trade deadline acquisition, in all likelihood.

What do I think?  I’d love to see David Price back in a Blue Jays uniform in 2016, even if a part of me would be terrified by the thought of Price suffering an arm injury or sudden decline before 2019.  I’d argue “it’s not my money”, but it kind of is… I’m paying more for my flex pack this year, and I’m sure I’ll be paying more at the concessions, too.  And if I'm going to be watching the team for the foreseeable future, I don’t want the Jays to be locked into $100MM/yr worth of Tulo, Price, Martin and Donaldson from 2018-9, with $20MM of scrubs filling out the roster around them.  I worry about all that stuff, but I also think that it doesn’t make sense for the Jays to trade a dozen pitching prospects to make a single playoff run.  At this point, there should be no half measures.  If Price is signable for 7/$200, the Jays should do it.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Jesse's back in town

This week, Carly Simon revealed that her song "Jesse" was actually about Jesse Litsch and not Jesse Chavez, as was previously thought.

So the Jays made a transaction today, trading righthanded reliever Liam Hendriks to Oakland for righthanded starter (or maybe reliever) Jesse Chavez.

You might remember Jesse Chavez from the lost 2012 season, when he was one of a gaggle of near-replacement level pitchers the Jays used after losing half their pitching staff (Morrow, Hutchison, Perez, Drabek) to injury.  You might remember that he was horrible (8.44 ERA and a bajillion home runs) and are now saying "what the hell??!"  Well, it's not all that bad.  Chavez has been pretty okay since 2013, when he threw 57 innings of 3.01 FIP relief for Oakland.  In 2014 and 2015 he actually made 47 starts for the Athletics and was worth 3.6 fWAR over the 2 seasons.  Point being, he's not David Price, but he's not garbage, either.  I can see him battling with Hutch for the 5th rotation spot, with the loser going to the bullpen.  And that's pretty much where Marco Estrada was before last season, if you want to be an optimist.

The downside with Chavez is that this is his last year of arbitration (he made $2.2MM in 2015, and figures to get a raise before hitting free agency in 2017) while Hendriks is under team control for 4 more years and obviously makes a lot less.  Still, Hendriks projects to be worth 0.7 fWAR as a reliever next season, and last year was the only year Liam was worth more than 1 WAR.  Chavez, on the other hand, is estimated by Steamer to pitch 174 innings and be worth 2.2 WAR next year.  Chavez is almost certainly more valuable an asset, just because decent starters are harder to find than decent relievers.  Chavez appears to have the ability to both start and relieve, but Hendriks doesn't seem to have the stuff to be a starter.

I like this move, provided that this is one of several moving parts.  Jesse Chavez should not be the centrepiece of the rotation rebuild that was necessary with Buehrle and Price leaving, and with Hendriks gone, the bullpen needs a to replace his 64 innings of very good (albeit, low-leverage) relief.  So... what's next?

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Starting pitching: Are there any diamonds in the rough?

Starting pitchers are said to be in abundance in this free agent season.  This is good news for the Jays, who could stand to add another SP or two, even with Marco Estrada back for 2 seasons.

With names like Price, Cueto, Greinke, Zimmermann and Samardzija available, the immediate thought is to sign one of those guys.  I wouldn’t object to that, but there’s a good chance that some or most of those names will be beyond the Blue Jays’ available means, to say nothing of being a bad risk to bet a 5+ year contract on.  On top of those names, there’s Wei-Yin Chen, Yovani Gallardo, Hisashi Iwakuma, Ian Kennedy and John Lackey, all of whom (along with Greinke, Zimmermann and Samardzija) have qualifying offers attached to them.  And they’ll likely be expensive, too.  So let’s put all those names aside for a few days and talk about the other FA pitchers who might be worth getting, without spending 9 figures and/or a 1st-round draft pick.

Perusing MLBTraderumors’ free agent tracker, there’s a lot of names to sort through, although some can be easily dismissed:

Arroyo                                        will be 39 next year and continually struggles with HR
Beachy                                       riddled with injuries since 2011, just 38 innings in the majors since 2012.
Billingsley                                   even older than Beachy with the same injury history
Blanton                                       has made himself into an intriguing relief option, but not a SP anymore
Cahill                                          another former star wracked with injuries and walk rate issues
Capuano                                     38, and not a starter anymore                
Detwiler                                      another guy who isn’t really a starter anymore
Gee                                            gets groundballs, but struggled since 2013
Guthrie                                        37 year old innings-eater had bad 2015 after 3 marginal years                 
Harang                                        turning 38; has been very up and down lately                             
R. Hernandez                              replacement level only since 2010.  I liked him better as Fausto.             
Hill                                              surprisingly effective over 4 starts last year, but no track record at age 36
Jackson                                      pitched as a reliever last year after 2 bad seasons as a starter
J. Johnson                                  having Tommy John surgery
Kendrick                                     another innings-eater, but terrible in 2014-5
C. Lee                                         38 and missed all of 2015
C. Lewis                                      37, potential to be back-end starter only
Lincecum                                     sadly, he’s not the player he was
Lohse                                          38 year old innings eater, converted to BP late last year             
Marcum                                       I loved the guy, but he’s been broken since 2012.                                  
Masterson                                    terrible since 2013
Morrow                                        had shoulder surgery (again) in August.
Noesi                                          never anything more than replacement level
B. Norris                                      serviceable prior to 2015, but awful this past year                      
O’Sullivan                                    the very definition of replacement level, -2 WAR over 6 seasons
A.Simon                                      has turned into a barely-adequate innings eater                                      
Stauffer                                       more reliever than starter, and not good in 2015
Stults                                          36 and 2 years removed from his only good season
Vogelsong                                    he’s 39 now?  Pass.
J Williams                                    part time starter and just replacement level
Wolf                                            40 now and just AAA depth material

The 8 names without comments above are the ones I’d like to see the Jays consider for the top half of the rotation.  That said, I don’t have any real objection to the Jays taking a flyer for a couple million dollars or so on a Masterson or Rich Hill type… but not to fill a spot in the top 3 of the rotation.  What I’m hoping for is for the Jays to sign someone at least as good as Mark Buehrle was, without paying $100,000,000 or giving up a draft pick.  And so as I see it, the candidates are (in approximate order of desirability)…

Scott Kazmir:  Kazmir is 3 years into his comeback (he missed just about all of 2011 and 2012) and while he’s not the player he was at ages 21-23 with Tampa, he’s been very good and is just 32 next year.  Kazmir was so good that he’d probably have attracted a QO if he hadn’t been exempted from getting a QO due to being traded.  As a result, competition may be heavy for his services.  Kazmir strikes out almost 8 batters per 9 innings, walks fewer than 3 per 9, and isn’t inordinately prone to homers.  He made $11MM last year; figure him to make at least $16MM or so for 4 or 5 years.

Bartolo Colon:  Bartolo Colon is 42, and he’s still pretty good!  Of course, being 42, he won’t be good forever… but if nothing else, he won’t be expecting a 6-year deal the way most 3-WAR pitchers do.  Colon’s been good for 190+ innings for the last 3 years and while his K rate is just so-so, he doesn’t walk anyone.  I’m talking a BB rate (1.11 per 9) that would make Roy Halladay jealous.  Colon made $10MM this past season, but I can’t see him getting much of a raise from that, and certainly not more than 2 seasons.

J.A. Happ:  Happ had career bests in starts, innings, FIP, and walk rate.  In other words, he was pretty good, and he had a very strong finish after being traded to the Pirates late in 2015.  Happ experienced a velocity jump in 2014 and he’s only thrown harder since then.  I go back and forth on whether Happ would he have gotten a QO if not for the trade, but considering that he’s lefthanded and has been more consistent than Estrada, he should be looking to at least double the $7MM he made last season, for a term of at least 3 years. 

Doug Fister:   Hey, remember when Alex Anthopoulos was lamenting not getting the opportunity to make a trade bid for Fister?  Right now, that looks like a lucky escape.  Fister has suffered a slow decline in velocity the last 2 seasons, culminating in a demotion to the bullpen late in 2015.  However, Fister has traditionally done two things well:  He doesn’t walk batters, and he gets ground balls.  Those skills should play pretty well at the Rogers Centre and with the Jays’ infield defense.   Assuming he is healthy (there was an issue with elbow tightness early last season), he might be a buy-low opportunity.  Fister made $11MM last year, but I can’t see him getting that kind of money this offseason.

Mat Latos:  Latos was the next big thing in pitching from 2010-13.  He was young, he threw 95… everyone wanted him.  Then he got hurt, and was less effective, and there were rumours that he wasn’t a great clubhouse guy, and he struggled in 2015 again, and got traded and then released.  Like a lot of names on this list, Latos is not the pitcher that he was – the velocity can still be there, but it’s been less consistent – but like Fister, he could be a buy-low candidate.  Even in his struggles, Latos had good strikeout and walk rates, and he’s just 27 still.  Latos made $9.4MM in 2015.

Mike Leake:  Leake’s kind of underwhelming, in a lot of ways.  He’s been good for 190+ innings for the last 4 years, and he gets ground balls (which is seldom a bad thing).  But he’s a bit homer-prone, he isn’t a big strikeout guy, and I get the feeling that what you see with Leake is is as good as Leake is going to get.  Leake made $9.8 MM last year.

Mike Pelfrey:  If you’re thinking about Mike Pelfrey, you might as well just spend a bit more and get Mike Leake.  Pelfrey is like Leake, but worse – a couple of years older, a bit fewer strikeouts, a little more walks, and fewer innings.  On the plus side, he’s less homer-prone than Leake.   Pelfrey also was injured for most of 2014, but bounced back with a 2-fWAR 2015.  Pefrey made $5.5MM last year.

Chris Young:  You may remember Young from the postseason, Game 6 vs KC – he’s the 6’10” BABIP king who consistently outperforms his FIP.  Young surrenders a lot of fly balls, but not many of them leave the park, and because most non-homer flyballs are outs, he does quite well in keeping opposing batting averages down.  Fangraphs WAR doesn’t believe that to be a sustainable skill, so fWAR hates him, but by bWAR (driven by innings and runs allowed), he was worth 2.5 WAR last year and 2.0 WAR in 2014.  That said, he’s 37 next year, and frankly, I’m not sure what Young does is sustainable, either.  At any rate, Marco Estrada is very similar to Young this way, and I'm not sure doubling down on flyball pitchers in the Skydome is very wise.  Young made the major-league minimum (or so) in 2015.

I'm not going to say how much any of the above players will cost.  Kazmir and Fister may cost almost $100MM; Young, Pelfrey and Colon will probably be cheaper.  I'm terrible at guessing salaries, and Fangraphs hasn't posted their crowdsourced salary guesses yet either.  What I will say is this:  You can never have too much pitching, and even if you're ok with the idea of going with a Stroman-Estrada-Dickey-Hutchison-Sanchez (or Osuna) rotation, the Jays need to have some more pitching depth in case of injury, Hutch/Sanchez blowing up, or both of those things.  And with Boyd, Hoffman, and Norris gone, depth has to come from outside, not from within.

Friday, 13 November 2015

2 more years of Estrada

I know I feel safer with Polo Erik on board for 2016.

Today, the Jays announced that they had signed Marco Estrada to a contract extension (query: if his 2015 contract had expired, how is it an extension?) of two years, $26MM.   And on the whole, that's not a bad thing.

Sure, you can point out Estrada's declining strikeout rate over the last 4 seasons (from 9.3 to 8.3 to 7.6 and finally to 6.5 per 9 innings, in 2015), the walk rate that's gone up slightly over the same period, the completely unsustainable .216 BABIP last season, and the fact that Estrada put up a career-best 8.7% HR/FB ratio in 2015.   You could... but please don't, because I'm scaring myself by just pointing those stats out.  Those stats paint a pretty ugly picture, unless you believe that Estrada figured something out last year.  Something that R.A. Dickey and Chris Young and other soft-tossers have figured out, namely, how to induce weak contact.  Estrada's percentage of hard-hit balls allowed dropped to just 27.2% last year, and that may well account for the extremely low BABIP.  Blue Jays Plus has a very thorough analysis of what Estrada was doing differently in 2015, and assuming that he can continue to execute the way he did last season, there's reason to believe Estrada can be just as successful in 2016.

And if he can't?  Well, Estrada has been about a 1.5-2 WAR pitcher for most of his career, by both bWAR and fWAR.  bWAR, driven by runs allowed per 9 innings, loved Marco to the tune of 3.6 WAR last season, and has him worth 1.5 and 1.6 WAR in 2012 and 2013.  fWAR, driven more by strikeouts and walks, still had Estrada worth 1.8 WAR in 2015, to go with 1.8 in 2013 and 3.3 in 2012.  In other words, even if Estrada isn't quite as good as he was in 2015, he's probably still going to be worth about what they Jays are paying him, if you assume 1 WAR=about $6.5MM on the open market.  And if he's flat-out terrible, the Jays are only on the hook for 2 seasons.  If they had gone out and gotten, say, Ian Kennedy, instead, they'd probably be assuming the same kind of risk, but for 4 or 5 seasons.

And now that Estrada is on the roster for 2015, let's go out and assume some real pitcher risk!  Who's up for 5-7 years of Jordan Zimmerman's declining velocity... anyone?  Or how about Kennedy himself?  After all, the other thing the Estrada signing tells us is that there's some money to spend, at least.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Nothing happening

Why haven’t I written anything lately?  Because there hasn’t been much to write about.

Sure, there’s lots of stuff being said and written.  Stuff about Alex Anthopoulos’s departure and the motivations behind it.  Stuff about the 2016 payroll and how it’s going down from 2015, or up from 2015.  And I haven’t commented on those stories because we just don’t know.  We can speculate all we want about why AA left – I fell into that trap a couple of weeks ago.  People don’t like uncertainty – that’s why humans invent gods and traffic codes – and consequently, there’s an urge among all of us to come up with a rationale for why what happened, happened, and to predict what the Jays will be like in 2016.  Sorry, can’t be done.  We won’t know what kind of team Mark Shapiro is going to field until he has a few transactions under his belt, and we won’t know about 2016 payroll until then, either. 

So, what is there to talk about?  Well, the Jays made a Qualifying Offer to Marco Estrada, and not to Mark Buehrle.  And they exercised options on Dickey, Encarnacion, and Bautista (and not on Maicer Izturis).  That’s all we’ve got.

Mark Buehrle:  I went back and forth on whether it would make sense to give a QO to Buehrle (reminder:  A Qualifying Offer is a $15.8MM contract offer for 1 year, which can be extended to prospective free agents on a particular team.  A player can accept the 1 year offer, or he can decline the offer.  If he declines and signs with someone else, his original team is entitled to a compensatory draft pick).  When you look at Mark Buehrle’s 2015, it’s a lot like his 2014 and 2013 were.  Innings were (infamously) below 200, but within 5 innings of the 2013 and 2014 totals. Velocity is similar.  BABIP is similar.  Buehrle’s K rate is declining, but so is his walk rate.  FIP and xFIP don’t like Buehrle much due to the lack of strikeouts, but 200-ish innings of 3.98 ERA isn’t bad at all.  Yes, Buehrle had a crappy second half in 2015… but it almost matches (in terms of ERA, innings and wOBA) the crappy second half in 2014.  Taking all that into account, you could argue that Buehrle isn’t that much more likely to regress in 2016 than he was last year.  The Jays need innings in 2016, and it wouldn’t be the worst thing if Buehrle accepted a QO at $15-odd MM and pitched another year here.  But on the other hand, maybe the Jays feel the $15MM could be spent on a longer-term deal for another player.  Or maybe they don’t have the money to spend.  Or maybe Buehrle retires anyway and the QO/not QO question is moot.  OK – I’ll stop with the speculation.  The Jays need to find at least 1 more starter (2 if Estrada leaves) and Buehrle was an option.  Now, he may not be.  In any case, not hanging a QO on him will improve his market if Buehrle decides to play another year – I doubt he would have many suitors if his price included a first-round draft pick.

Marco Estrada:  Estrada made just under $4MM last season.  The Jays gave him a QO, which is essentially offering to quadruple his salary.  Again, I am of two minds when it comes to the wisdom of extending a QO here.   On the one hand, Estrada was very good as a starter in 2015, and finished the year (well, the postseason) as arguably the team’s second-best starter after Stroman.  With Price and Buehrle likely gone, the club needs pitching, and a potential 1-year deal at $15.8MM (if Estrada accepts the QO) is relatively low risk.  If he declines, the team can still sign him to a longer deal at a lower AAV, and if he walks, there’s a draft pick at least.  But on the other hand… Estrada finished 2015 with a career-low HR rate, and even though he’s always held hitters to a below-normal BABIP, the .212 BABIP allowed in 2015 seems entirely unsustainable.  On top of that, Estrada attributes much of his success to Dioner Navarro, who is a free agent and may not be back.  Giving $16MM to a guy coming off career-best, unsustainable numbers and who is losing his personal catcher might be a bit risky.  One thing the QO to Estrada does suggest is that the club isn’t in full cost-cutting mode, or they wouldn’t have risked the $16MM in the first place (or on the flipside, that Shapiro is very confident Estrada will decline the offer).

Bringing back Dickey ($12MM), Encarnacion ($10MM) and Bautista ($14MM) was never really in doubt.  EE and J-Bau would get somewhere between 50% and 100% more money on the open market; they’re bargains.  Dickey’s a 2-WAR pitcher and as such, $12MM is a reasonable price for 1 year… and the Jays need pitchers.

Compared with last offseason, this year is pretty straightforward.  The Jays need 2 more starters to go with Stroman, Dickey, and Hutchison.  They also need at least 1 reliever, or more if one of Sanchez or Osuna makes the starting rotation.  Compare that to last year, when the Jays needed starters, relievers, a second baseman, a catcher, and a left fielder.  It’ll be nice, for a change, to not be scouring MLBTradeRumors looking for non-terrible middle infielders to play 2B or back up notorious spousal abuser Jose Reyes.  Just pitching, please.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

AA goes; does the momentum go with him?

Probably apropos of something:  It occurred to me today that when it comes sports franchises, having a corporate owner is like having a schizophrenic with short-term memory loss running your team.  Whenever there is a leadership change at Rogers, there are repercussions for the Jays, and what was the plan one year is out the window the next.  There was money to spend in 2013, but not in 2014.  There was money again this year, but not as much as we were told.  If a media type is running the show, he or she may be sympathetic to the Jays… but the next leader may not be.  And of course, there’s the wild card, “Bumblef*ck Eddie Rogers”, as he is affectionately (?) called by Jays fans, ready to commit tampering, make promises he can't live up to, and do whatever else goes through his little head.

Which brings us to where we are today.

Alex Anthopoulos declining his contract extension is pretty much the same as saying that he quit the team.  Quit the team that he built, the team in his home country, the team that he took within 2 games of the World Series.  There has to be some pretty serious friction between AA and new team president Mark Shapiro (it’s SHAP-EYE-ROW, by the way) for Anthopoulos to walk away from all that, AND a (reported) raise.  Of course, we don’t know what that friction is (or if it really exists), or if AA has an offer on the table from another team, or if Shapiro has another GM candidate lined up ready to walk into the office on November 1.  But based on what we know right now, this is a huge PR disaster for the Blue Jays and for Rogers.  For the casual fan, it evokes memories of John Farrell quitting the team, or feels like the organization is ungrateful to Anthopoulos.  For more serious fans, it leads to questions about the fallout of this move.  Will LaCava, Gibbons, and other key personnel quit or get fired?  Will the president and his new GM and staff be able to act quickly on free agents, contract options and trade proposals?  How will key players (Bautista, principally) respond?  How will prospective free agent acquisitions view this?

There are some other disquieting points floating around following the AA news.  It was reported (from an unnamed source, so take from that what you will) that Shapiro “scolded” AA and his team for dealing away so many prospects to get Price and Tulowitzki.  It’s also been said that Shapiro was an appealing hire for Rogers because of his commitment to building a team on a budget.  That last point suggests that, once again, we may see a salary freeze or payroll reductions for the Jays.  At a time when fans are anticipating a run at a free agent pitcher or two (if not Price, than maybe Estrada and a second tier guy) and potential extensions for Bautista and Encarnacion, this is discouraging news, suggesting that the window to contend may be closing at the end of 2016, if not sooner.  If true, it's even more maddening when you consider that the 2015 playoff run put an extra $40,000,000 or so into Rogers' coffers, money that fans would want reinvested in the team.

The rumoured “scolding” (which, again, is unconfirmed, denied by AA, and may be nothing) is worrisome on a couple of levels.  The first is that this suggests that Shapiro isn’t comfortable with making all-in moves, and that the new regime may be overly cautious in trading prospects for immediate help – even if that immediate help is urgently needed for a possible championship run.  The second is – how shall I say this? – that it suggests that Shapiro might be kind of an asshole.  It was always arguable whether trading for Price and Tulo would be worth the cost in prospects; win a World Series and it definitely would be, and missing the playoffs or losing in the wild-card game means it wasn’t worth it (IMO, anyway).  But who is Shapiro to come in and second-guess trades that were made under someone else’s authority?  Trades, it should be pointed out, that worked, that led to an amazing playoff run and tons of fan interest and enjoyment.  Shapiro (allegedly) scolded AA for trades that were successful.  What’s the point of that, other than trying to put AA in his place?

Okay, rant over.  The problem people are going to have with AA’s departure is that the team seemed to be going in the right direction, finally, after years and years of mediocrity, and with AA gone, we don’t know if Shapiro era is going to be a successful one.  Alex Anthopoulos was by no means a perfect GM; he made some great trades and acquisitions, and others that look bad in hindsight (the Marlins trade, Yan Gomes, Mike Napoli) and ones that looked dubious even without the benefit of hindsight (Dickey for Syndergaard and D’Arnaud, Mark DeRosa instead of Sam Dyson, Omar Vizquel instead of Luis Valbuena).  Shapiro may well turn out to be more successful than AA was, but we don’t know that and can’t know that for a couple of years at least.  A good start would be finding ways to fill the holes in the rotation and bullpen with better-than-average players.  Dumping salaries, or leaving existing weaknesses unresolved, on the other hand, will kill the good vibes from last season – and probably kill season ticket sales for 2016.  

Suddenly, it feels like 2009 again, and I don't like that feeling.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Roster questions - part 1 of several

Do you know who this man is? Hint:  He's either the Condor or the Colonel.

The nice thing about the coming offseason is that so many of the positions that were holes in the Jays’ lineup at this time last year now have multiple options to fill them.  Second base?  Either Travis or Goins.  Left field?  Saunders or Revere.  Centre field?  Pillar or Pompey.  Outside of backup catcher (Dioner Navarro), the entire 2015 position player roster figures to be back in 2016:

C: Martin
3B: Donaldson
SS: Tulowitzki
2B:  Travis or Goins
1B:  Colabello or Smoak
DH:  Encarnacion
RF:  Bautista
CF:  Pillar or Pompey
LF:  Revere or Saunders

Meanwhile, on the pitching side, it’s the opposite situation.  Buehrle, Price, Estrada, Lowe, and Hawkins are all free agents.  Hawkins and Buehrle are expected to retire, but assuming the others don’t come back, the pitching in 2016 looks like this:

SP:  Stroman
SP:  Dickey (Jays will likely exercise their option)
SP:  Hutchison

RP:  Osuna
RP:  Cecil
RP:  Sanchez
RP:  Hendriks
RP:  Loup

That’s a lot of holes to fill, while the offense has surplus players, potentially, in several positions.  Might there be potential trades to be made out of that surplus, or money to be saved?

Starting small, it seems that the Jays probably won’t need to have both of Justin Smoak and Chris Colabello around.  On the one hand, Smoak is better regarded defensively, can switch-hit, and and has a bit more of a track record as a hitter (an indifferent record, though it may be).  Smoak took a pay cut after being nontendered last offseason, but presumably would now be due for a raise from the $1MM he made this year, one more in line with the 2.6MM he made in 2014… and he’s a free agent after 2016.  Colabello, on the other hand, isn’t even arbitration eligible until 2017 and is under team control until 2019.  He hit much better than Smoak in 2015, but he also benefited from a sky-high .411 BABIP.  Let’s take a closer look at that.

Smoak and Colabello are similar as hitters in a lot of ways.  They strike out at similar rates.  They have comparable infield fly rates.  They have comparable rates for hard hit, medium hit, and weakly hit balls – Smoak was actually a bit better than Colabello in this regard.  Smoak also walked a bit more.  So what gave Cola his .411 BABIP to Smoak’s .254?  Probably a lot of that is luck, but I think that some of that is hit distribution.  Looking at their spray charts, Smoak is much more of a pull hitter than Cola is, which suggests that he is more vulnerable to being shifted against.  It's worth nothing that Smoak has been in the majors since 2010, and his career average BABIP is .259.  His best is .278.  League average is about .300.  That makes it harder to see Smoak's .254 BABIP as being 'just' bad luck last year.

Conclusion?  If you can only keep 1 of Smoak and Cola, I’d keep Colabello.  He’s cheaper, has a similar skill set, and while his defense may not be quite as good, he certainly seemed good enough to play first base.  Smoak looks like a potential nontender candidate as opposed to an asset anyone would covet highly, but regardless, I think the Jays could spend $2MM in 2016 in a more productive way.

Revere versus Saunders is a bit more tricky.  Saunders is arbitration eligible (his final year), but considering that he missed almost all of 2015, he’s not going to be getting much of a raise from the $2.9MM he made last year.  Revere, meanwhile, made $4.1MM last year and will be getting a raise, probably to the $6-7MM range.  However, Revere isn’t a free agent until 2018, a year later than Saunders.

My inclination here is to trade Revere and keep Saunders.  Obviously, money is a factor in that inclination – going with Saunders will save $3-4MM.  But on top of that, Saunders is probably a better offensive player than Revere is, and a better defender in LF (advanced metrics hate Revere’s defense in LF).  The caveat for that statement is “when healthy”, and Saunders is playing on a knee without a meniscus now.  Still, in the worst case (Saunders gets hurt again), the Jays still have Dalton Pompey to play in his place, and they played half of last season with fill-ins (Carrera, Valencia, Colabello) in LF and got by, in any case.

Speaking of Dalton Pompey, where does he play next year?  His bat isn't really good enough to play over the long term in LF, but Kevin Pillar seems to have claimed CF pretty convincingly.  Well, pretty convincingly to some, perhaps, but not to me.  Before you get out the pitchforks and the tar and feathers, let me say that I like how Kevin Pillar developed this year.  Pillar still doesn’t walk enough (4.5% of plate appearances this year, 4.2% career) but he did cut his strikeout rate from 23% to 13.5%, from 2014-15.  For a guy who has just average power, good speed, and no walks, this was a crucial improvement.  Pillar was a 4.3 fWAR player this year and isn’t even arbitration eligible until 2018, so he’s super cheap, too.  However (you knew that was coming), this does seem like a great time to sell high on Kevin Pillar.  Kevin Pillar had a fantastic season this year… defensively.  Will he continue to make plays the way he did in 2015?  Hard to say, but this much is for sure:  Centerfield defensive performance isn’t exactly consistent from year to year.  Mike Trout was a fantastic defensive OF in 2011-2012, but subpar the last 3 years.  Michael Bourn was great in 2010 and 2012, but just OK since then. Colby Rasmus was great in 2013 and awful in 2012 and 2014.  Et cetera.  Pillar takes good routes defensively, but his throwing is just so-so, and a lot of his value is driven by the 14 Defensive Runs Saved he put up.  The spectacular catches drove Pillar's DRS count, and you can't expect opportunities for highlight reel catches to keep presenting themselves (just ask Mike Trout about that).  Finally, the Jays have a replacement CF (Pompey) on hand, with Anthony Alford a couple more years away.  With the year he just had, Pillar may be a better trade chip than any of Revere, Smoak, Colabello or Goins.  If you can get a starting pitcher, or part of one, for Pillar, I think you have to at least consider making the trade, although that would also make keeping both of Saunders and Revere a near-certainty.

I keep hearing people talking about ways to get Ryan Goins into the lineup on an everyday basis.  And I say to those people:  Ryan Goins is a bad hitter, and at age 28, this is probably as good as it gets.  The Ryan Goins bandwagon gets a lot of its momentum from Goins' August, in which he hit .314 and walked in 18% of his plate appearances.  Trouble is, that .314 average can be traced to a .385 BABIP, and the 18% walk rate in August immediately dipped to 9% in Sept/Oct.  That said, Ryan Goins is a fine defensive replacement and an enviable asset to have available if and when Troy Tulowitzki or Devon Travis gets hurt.  Devon Travis, incidentally, had pretty decent defensive numbers at 2B, so it's not a slam dunk that Goins is a better fielder than he is.  There should be little question that Travis is a better hitter than Goins... but I still hear people scheming about Travis backing up Goins, or trading Tulo and making Goins the everyday shortstop*.  Goins replacing Reyes was a bad idea; Goins replacing Tulo is just crazy.  Just stop, all of you.  

Coming up (at some point):  Who's getting nontendered and who's getting qualifying offered, on the pitching side.

* This type of thing was often seen when John ".264 wOBA" McDonald played here, too.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Post mortem

You could say that the narratives won.  All year, the Jays had underperformed in the standings relative to their run differential and Base Runs, due to their record in 1-run games.  All year, their generally good bullpen struggled in 'clutch' situations.  True to form, the Jays lost ALCS Game 6 by 1 run, and arguably because the bullpen let them down.

You could also say that the ALCS went entirely off-script.  The Blue Jays had by far the most potent offense in the AL, and were the best team in the majors at situational hitting - hitting with runners on base, advancing runners, and scoring runners from third base with less than 2 out.  And by series end, the Jays were hitting .204 and .208 for the postseason with runners on base and runners in scoring position.  Despite some big and memorable hits over the 11 games of the postseason, the Jays lost game 6, most directly, because they couldn't get runners in from 3B when they needed to most.

Objectively (as much as I can be), it was a great series, and a great postseason, despite how it turned out.  The Jays got the likely league MVP to the plate with a chance to take the lead in the 9th inning of game 6.  Their best player - one of the best Jays ever, Jose Bautista - rose to the occasion with the season on the line.   And regardless, we will always have the crazy, emotional game 5 of the ALDS to look back on.  A World Series appearance would have been better, but lots of good teams (Cardinals, Cubs, and Pirates come to mind) won't be there either.  Great teams don't always win championships when they have to play 3 short series in a row to get there; much can go wrong over 5 to 7 games, obviously.

I have a bunch of mixed feelings about the playoff experience.  At some point, we're going to have to decide whether a trip to the ALCS was worth dealing half of the Jays' minor league roster.  But the journey was fun, and the Jays have, at least, gotten a measure of respect back following the debacle of 2013.  Sure, the Jays didn't win the World Series, but half of baseball hasn't won a title since the Jays won in 1993, and the long, embarrassing playoff drought is finally over.  And I guess the $1600 refund for my World Series seats will be a bit of a consolation, too.

What will I take away from this postseason?  The joy in watching the Jays win Game 5 of the ALCS at home, the only playoff win I witnessed in person (the Jays were 1-3 in games I was at).  The realization that I really don't want the US broadcasters to pay attention to the Jays, because the Fox team (at least) was awful.  The painful lesson that I should have bought my Flex pack before Dec 5, in order to get better postseason seats.  The reminder that Marcus Stroman can be a special player, and that Ryan Goins still can't hit.

So, thanks for the ride, Blue Jays.  In particular, if I don't see you again, thanks for the ride to Mark Buehrle, Marco Estrada, Dioner Navarro, David Price, Mark Lowe, LaTroy Hawkins, and whoever else I'm forgetting (Cliffwin Barnnington?).  See you next spring, Blue Jays... with some new faces, I expect.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Impressions from Wednesday and thoughts for Friday (and Saturday, if necessary)

Wednesday’s game was a lot of fun – a hell of a lot more fun than Tuesday’s was, obviously.  For one game, the Jays did everything well:  They played good defense, they hit with runners on base, they showed patience at the plate, and they got great pitching.  Tulowitzki continued to hit well after a long dry spell through the ALDS, and Marco Estrada was obviously brilliant.  For me, it was the first Jays win I have witnessed in person this season, after 3 losses in ALDS Games 1 and 2 and Game 4 of the ALCS.  So… the jinx is broken, right?

I have complete confidence in Marco Estrada for Game 1 of the World Series.  Now the Jays just need to get there.

Barring a Cueto-esque performance by Yordano Ventura, the Jays will need better pitching from David Price in game 6 to keep the season going.  How likely is it that Price performs well?  Well, If you look at the underlying numbers, David Price in the 2015 postseason has been very similar to David Price in the 2015 regular season, with one glaring exception:  strand rate, or Left on Base percentage (LOB%).  It’s sitting at 44%, which suggests that when Price has been in trouble in the postseason this year, he hasn’t been able to pitch out of it.  Price hasn’t had that kind of issue in the regular season, so it may just be statistical noise – obviously a 16 inning sample size is nothing.  So, unless something odd is involved – the Royals stealing signs with runners on base, say – I don’t see why Price can’t be effective tonight.  His K rate, walk rate, BABIP, groundball rate and home run rate are not far off his regular season numbers, and of course, he’s facing tougher opponents in the postseason.

Aaron Loup is back, and the bullpen is rested (except, perhaps, for Liam Hendriks), so the Jays have all their relief options available tonight.  Of course, that amounts to Osuna, Sanchez, Lowe, and Loup (versus lefthanders), because Hawkins and Tepera have been terrible.  I suppose Hendriks could pitch in an emergency, but it’s more likely we see Dickey in relief than, say, Stroman.

Offensively, Ben Revere hasn’t hit much this series, or in the postseason in general.  Bluebird Banter has a poll up asking whether the Jays should move Tulowitzki to leadoff and Revere to somewhere around 9th.  My thinking here is that if this was the regular season, you should make the swap (Tulo has a better OBP, and getting on base is the #1 job for a leadoff hitter), but I don’t know how disconcerting it would be to the players to make the change now, in the (latest) biggest game of the season.  The Jays are hitting .233 as a team in the postseason, and while they have decent OBP and power numbers, more hits would be welcome, especially with men on base.  It’s also pretty important to jump on Ventura early; I doubt the Royals will make the same mistake they made in Game 5 (leaving their starter in too long) a second time.  Their bullpen is deeper than the Jays’ pen, and they’re rested, too.

Win tonight, and the Jays get to face an up-and down Cueto on Saturday.  If Cueto pitches like he did in ALDS Game 5, it could be quite a duel between him and Stroman.  If he pitches badly – something that has happened a lot since the Royals traded for him – I really like the Jays’ chances.

So, let's win tonight.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

October 20, 2015: Impressions from the house of horrors

Well, that sucked.

I was going to write about what went wrong, but it's probably easier to just write about the few things that went right.   Liam Hendriks went right - 4.1 innings of 1-hitter that sustained hope in this game, for a few innings.  And I guess that Kevin Pillar and Josh Donaldson made some nice defensive plays.  But otherwise... it was all bad.

Bad RA Dickey made an appearance - 4 hits, 2 walks, 2 HR, a hit batter and a passed ball in less than 2 innings.  The Jays' bullpen was already short on rested, reliable arms, so Dickey getting knocked out early in the middle game of 3 consecutive was about the worst thing that could have happened, short of injuries.

LaTroy Hawkins gave up 2 hits and a walk and retired nobody, with the Jays still within 3.  Hawkins since Sept 1:  6.2 IP, 14 hits, 11 ER.  I don't know if the forearm soreness that was bothering Hawkins in mid-Sept is still an issue, but he's been absolutely awful in the playoffs.

Ryan Tepera had one job:  Eat the last 3 innings so the Jays wouldn't have to use another reliever in a lost cause.  Instead, he went 1.2 innings with 5 hits and 2 walks and Mark Lowe is likely unavailable for tomorrow.  Tepera didn't have to be great, he just needed to be not-awful.  Unfortunately, he wasn't even that.

The Jays were 1-6 with runners in scoring position.  They were 0-7 in Game 1, 3-16 in Game 2, and a decent 5-11 in Game 3, for an overall average for the ALCS of .225.  Toronto hit .286 with RISP in the regular season, but have come up empty, for the most part, in the postseason (.228).

And really, as badly as Dickey, Hawkins and Tepera pitched, this series deficit can be largely blamed on the offense.  The Jays have scored 5 runs in their 3 losses.  Volquez was great in Game 1, but you'd have to expect the best offense in baseball to put up more runs on the likes of Yordano Ventura (8 hits and 2 walks in 5.1 innings, but just 3 runs) and Chris Young (3 hits, 2 walks and 2 runs in 4.2 innings).

Can the Jays come back?  Sure, the same way they could and did come back and win the ALDS: win 3 straight, including 2 on the road.  On paper, they absolutely should be able to hit Edinson Volquez tomorrow and Yordano Ventura Friday, if they get that far.  And they clearly were able to hit Johnny Cueto, of course.  But again, the margin for error is now nil, and if Estrada needs to be relieved in the 5th or earlier tomorrow, I frankly don't see how the team will have the arms to make it through 9 innings, short of using Dickey on 0 days rest (or maybe Stroman, and use Dickey in a possible Game 7?).

Anyway.  That game sucked.  On the plus side, the atmosphere was still great, right up to the 7th inning when the game got out of hand.  But on the downside, beer service in the 500s took forever, largely due to how long it takes to pour a 20-oz beer into a 22-oz cup without spilling it.  Maybe invest in some bigger cups??  The roof was closed because despite it being a warm October afternoon, there was a tiny bit of drizzle for a few minutes before the game.  MLB has apparently decided to treat its players like they are made of sugar, in the postseason.

Oh, and a replay review finally went the Jays' way, but it was so patently obvious that even the MLB review crew couldn't miss it.

No, you're bitter.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

That was an ALDS

Those showboating kids are going to get their next diploma right in the neck.
I’ve been sick as a dog for the last few days, in the process having to cancel Thanksgiving dinner, miss work, and generally feel sorry for myself.  I didn’t have to miss Game 5, though, because I never had tickets in the first place.  Watched it from the couch in a Tylenol haze.

What.  A.  Game.  The highs were high, and the lows were crushing.  There were heroes (Bautista, Goins, Pillar) and could-have-been goats (Martin, Gibbons, Sanchez).  There was abominable fan behaviour and adorable fan behaviour.  There was great defense and terrible defense.  There was terrible umpiring.

Before I continue, spare a moment of sympathy, please, for the Texas fans and what they must be going through.  The Rangers lost yesterday’s game in one of the most painful ways imaginable.  If the Jays had lost a deciding game by misplaying 4 defensive chances in 5, I would be a wreck.  A lot of you would be too, I’d bet.  The Texas Rangers have, in the last 6 years, lost 2 World Series (the second loss coming in the seventh game after a being a strike away from winning the series in Game 6), lost season-ending sudden-death games in each of 2012 and 2013, and now have lost the 2015 ALDS after leading the series 2-0 and leading the deciding game 2-0 early and 3-2 in the 7th inning.  That’s a Redsuxian stretch of brutal finishes.

And for a little while, it looked like the Jays would be on the wrong end of a brutal finish.  Look, I have no issue with the rule that says a ball deflected accidentally when being thrown back to the pitcher is a live ball.  What I have issue with is the umpire calling time, and then allowing the run to score.  If the umpire calls time, it’s a dead ball.  Period.  That’s the way it works in baseball and in every other sport I can think of.  There are many, many occasions when a batter calls time and gets time out granted by the umpire when the pitcher is in mid-pitch, and the pitch doesn’t count; dead ball.  I’m sorry that the umpire called time by mistake, but if watching the last week of baseball has taught me anything, it’s that umpires make mistakes and teams just have to live with that, and not get awarded free runs.  Except this time, apparently. 

Luckily for all concerned (well… not luckily for Texas, of course) the game didn’t come down to that bad call.  What it came down to was Texas forgetting how to play defense for a half inning.  Non-horrible defense means that Bautista doesn’t bat with runners on… and his home run, if it happens at all, ties the game rather than giving the Jays a 3-run lead.  Jose Bautista came up huge when it mattered, but there should have been 5 outs in that inning when he walked to the plate.

And then the firestorm happened – the bat flip heard ‘round the world, as it were.  Bautista was angry and frustrated about the umpiring misstep in the top of the inning, apparently.  Nobody could reasonably expect him not to be emotional after his home run.  Sam Dyson was angry, apparently, about having made a bad pitch to Bautista after having made a relatively good pitch to Donaldson that resulted in a run scoring due to ongoing defensive ineptitude on the part of Dyson’s teammates.   Nobody could expect Dyson to be gracious, in the moment, and the people who agree with him that Bautista needs to ‘tone it down’ are on the wrong side of baseball history.  The game has changed, and anyone who thinks that the way to respond to change is with beanballs is a sociopath.   

God damn it Mary, RESPECT THE GAME!

Oh, and as for the notion that players don’t flip bats in Texas?  Okayyyy.  Nice bat toss, Colby.

So the Jays go to the ALCS, and face the Royals.  Texas was probably the hottest team in the AL outside of Toronto when the season ended, so I have some optimism that this series might be less gruelling than the Texas one was.  The Royals have a lineup full of LH bats just like Texas does, which makes matchups difficult with Brett Cecil done for the season.  And they have Johnny Cueto, who was amazing yesterday.  But beyond Cueto, the Royals don’t have a Jay-killer like Texas’s Yovani Gallardo.  They have a great bullpen, but it's missing their closer.  They have a good offense, but the Rangers were probably better; certainly they were over the second half of the season.  So if the Jays can just avoid the offensive and defensive malaise that cost them games 1 and 2 of the ALDS, they should have a good shot at beating KC, homefield or no.

Ah, homefield.  I second-guessed John Gibbons' decision to concede the last 2 games in Baltimore, and now we have the worst-case scenario:  those 2 losses cost the Jays a home game in the upcoming series.  Aside from the on-field advantage of having homefield advantage, I'm sure somebody at Rogers has noted the potential loss of $6MM+ in ticket revenue from that extra game.  Hopefully the Jays win in 5 or 6 and it's a non issue.  And besides, to this point, second-guessing Gibby has been a loser's game... because the decisions he's made have worked out.  Price in relief?  Worked.  Sanchez vs lefties in game 5?  Worked.  Pull Dickey when he's an out away from a W?  Worked.  The Jays traded 50 WAR of Jeff Kent for 1 WAR of David Cone in 1992... and it worked.  Flags fly forever, and success makes geniuses of managers.

Finally... I hope Aaron Loup's family member is ok, but I'm not all that sure that he's as crucial in this series as he would have been against Texas.  Out of the 3 big lefties on the Royals (Gordon, Moustakas, Hosmer), only Hosmer is appreciably worse vs LHP than he is against RHP.  So there doesn't seem to be as many potential LOOGY situations in this series, thank goodness.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Disappointment, relief, and impressions from Games 1-3

I was fortunate enough to be at games 1 and 2 of the ALDS.  In seats higher than I have sat since the early 1990s... but at the games, nonetheless.  I'm not sure what else can be said about those games that hasn't already been said, and my impressions probably mirror a lot of yours.  The umpiring in game 2 looked awful from 80 metres away, and it was.  The Jays looked a bit off kilter, and maybe they were.

If nothing else, games 1 and 2 did an excellent job of reinforcing narratives.  David Price can't win in the postseason?  Check.  Too many off days (scheduled and manager-gifted) before a series causes a team to lose its edge?  Check.  MLB will do everything in its power to keep the Jays out of prime games in prime time?  Check.  All of those are probably wrong. Who worries about pitcher wins anymore, anyway?  Price pitched decently in 2011 and 2014 and has averaged 2.17 runs of support in his postseason starts, but hey, that narrative looks great to the casual viewer.  As for the umpiring conspiracy, I look to Hanlon's Razor:  "Never attribute to malice what can adequately be explained by stupidity".  It's remotely possible that the Jays are being targeted by MLB umpires, but it's far more likely that Vic Carapazza is just a shitty umpire.  You'd think that MLB would just use good umpires in the postseason, but... stupidity intervened.

The Jays lost games 1 and 2 because they stopped doing things they did well all year.  They stopped being patient at the plate (3 walks in the 2 games after leading the majors for the season).  Their middle of the order bats didn't hit (5 for 38 with 4 walks on Thu/Fri).  They played great defense all year, and kicked the ball around in the first 2 innings Friday.  They hit lefties all year, but Jake Diekman (admittedly, a very good reliever) shut them down.  On the other hand, they won game 3 with good defense, by being patient again, and waiting for a middle of the order bat getting a big hit.  The Jays hit well with runners in scoring position all year; and if they start doing that again too (instead of hitting into 4 freakin' double plays!), all will be well.

Impressions from the 2 games I was at?  Well, there were some happy surprises, in the way the experience worked.  The line to get in was no worse than the late-regular season lines were.  The concession prices didn't get jacked up.  There was little or no attempt to start the wave, and there were beer vendors even in the upper aeries of the 500 level (in game 1, anyway).  The crowd was loud and boisterous, even with the team struggling; yes, the party atmosphere started to fade after the 4th hour on Friday, but that's understandable.  All in all... fairly well done, Rogers.

So, Blue Jays... let's go out there and knock Derek Holland's lefthanded, homer-prone pitches all over Arlington (or as I like to call it, "The Scarborough of Dallas") and come home for a game 5, ok?  OK.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Quick and dirty

Guesses.  Because it's fun.  And for short series like these, it's best to go with the gut feeling.

Wild Cards:

Yankees – Keuchel on the road and on short rest, and a game the Yankees can go to the bullpen in the 5th?  Tough draw for the ‘Stros.

Cubs – Gerrit Cole is good, but Jake Arrieta is better.


Blue Jays in 4 – Rangers don’t have enough pitching past Hamels and Gallardo, and the Jays have too much… everything.

Royals in 4 – Yordano Ventura has been great lately, and Zobrist-Cain-Hosmer-Morales is a sneaky-good middle of the order.  Alcides Escobar leads off to maintain Ned Yost’s moron credentials.

Cubs in 5 – Yes, even if they can only pitch Arrieta once, they also have Jon Lester.  And St Louis’s vaunted depth doesn’t help much in a best-of-5.

Dodgers in 5 – Sucks to be the Mets; they have the best young rotation in baseball and get Greinke/Kershaw, the only pair of pitchers better than their top 2, 3 times in 5 games.


Blue Jays in 5 – “We punted home-field advantage so we could clinch this one at Skydome”

Dodgers in 6 – Just a gut feeling.  Dodgers are rolling now, and something bad always happens to the Cubs about now.


Jays in 7 – Hey, who am I to fight the general consensus?  OK, how about this, instead:  Kershaw and Greinke are awesome, but in this series, Alex Wood and Brett Anderson will start at least 3 times.  They're lefthanded and terrible.  And the Jays have a ton of offense and better pitching past the top 2 starters and closer.