Thursday, 18 September 2014

Nihilism and baseball management analysis.

So, John Gibbons’ job may be in jeopardy.  And I’m not sure how I’m supposed to feel about that.

I have a hard time blaming John Gibbons for how this season has turned out.  The Jays are 6 games out of a playoff berth with 11 to go; I don’t want to get into a post mortem just yet, but a lot of what has happened this year has been out of his control.  The Jays went into this season without a credible second baseman; key players (Encarnacion, Lawrie, Lind, Morrow) were hurt for long periods of time; other key players (Rasmus, Janssen, Delabar) regressed significantly.  Gibbons, objectively speaking, couldn’t have prevented any of these things, just as he isn’t the cause of Melky Cabrera’s good health and Marcus Stroman’s breakout season.

There’s a school of thought, to which I generally subscribe, that a baseball manager (or coach) doesn’t have a meaningful impact on a team’s fortunes.  Managers don’t draw up and call plays the way football coaches do; they set lineups and make occasional substitutions, and let the players play.  Gibbons, by most accounts, is pretty good at setting lineups; he understands the value of platoons and pitcher matchups and is creative enough to think a bit outside the box when needed (e.g. moving Bautista to the #2 spot in the lineup).  There have been some odd decisions lately (benching Rasmus, playing Pillar against RHP, throwing Norris and Graveman into high-leverage relief situations), but it’s impossible to say whether those decisions were 100% Gibbons’ call, or whether some of those moves were directives from the GM’s office.

To that last point, I’m starting to think that the non-statements from Alex Anthopoulos are doing more harm than good, but that’s a topic for another post.  What I’m getting at here is that Gibbons hasn’t done anything particularly badly, and he seems to do a few things well.  On that basis, he doesn’t deserve to be fired.  But if you believe that managers and coaches don’t have a major impact on a team’s performance, then why not fire him?  Fire Gibby, keep Gibby – it doesn’t matter, right?

Well, I’m wavering on that a bit.  On one side, the sabermetricians – a group I usually count myself among – will point to the lack of evidence that a manager or coach can significantly elevate a team’s performance.  But on the other hand, look at the 2012 Red Sox – it’s hard not to believe that Bobby Valentine had a significant, negative impact on that team’s fortunes.  John Farrell wasn’t, and isn’t, a great manager, but he looked great after the Valentine fiasco.  And closer to home, look at Colby Rasmus’s comments about Chad Mottola.  Maybe batting coaches don’t really matter, but it sure as hell sounds like Colby Rasmus was a better, more effective hitter under Mottola’s tutelage than under Kevin Seitzer’s.  Or maybe Colby just thought he was better – placebo effect, perhaps.  In any case, the difference between 2014 Rasmus and 2013 Rasmus is dramatic.

The Jays could fire John Gibbons, and they could win 95 games next year after doing so.  Maybe because of the new manager, maybe because their young pitchers turn into Carpenter/Halladay/Escobar v. 2.0, and maybe everyone stays healthy for a change.  Or they could fire Gibbons and win 75 games next year, if players continue to get hurt at league-average rates and Gose/Stroman/Sanchez et al can’t build on this year’s successes.  Same goes for keeping him.

With that in mind, what it will likely come down to is the perception of Gibbons’ “leadership”.  With the sweep in Baltimore, the Jays dropped into a tie for second with the Yankees.  If the club struggles to a 3rd-place finish and doesn’t crack the .500 mark, I suspect he goes.  If the Jays play well through their remaining games (4 in NY where they struggle, and then 7 at home against stronger opponents) and end up with 84-86 wins, I think he’ll stay.

Dumb reasoning?  Maybe, but it gives us, and the team, a reason to pay attention for the next 2 weeks.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Interesting article on Russell Martin...

….and his impending free agency, on ESPN.  Should the Jays be a suitor?

It seems a bit ungrateful to be talking about getting a replacement for Dioner (“Dinner”) (“Reboot”) Navarro.  After all, Navarro has produced a .327 wOBA this year, 11th among catchers with more than 300 PA.  With runners in scoring position, Navarro’s wOBA goes up to .391.  Navarro’s defense has been so-so, but he’s been pretty clutch for the team and scores extremely well on the crucial not being JP Arencibia Index.   Fangraphs has him being worth 2.3 WAR, making Navarro an absolute steal at $3MM.

All of that is true, but it’s also true that Navarro remains a pretty lousy pitch-framer - he’s 29th out of 32 pitchers in the sample.  So it’s at least possible that Navarro is costing the team as many runs with his poor framing as he produces with the bat.  Throw in the fact that this is Navarro’s best offensive season since 2008, and regression starts to be a concern.

Meanwhile, Russell Martin does a lot of things better than Navarro.  He (anecdotally) frames pitches well.  He walks more.  Catcher defense is a hard thing to quantify, but Martin has graded out better than Navarro in every full season they have each played, and it isn’t close.  Martin has a career wOBA of .334, which is better than what Navarro has produced this season, and Martin’s worst season for wOBA (.306) is virtually the same as Navarro’s career wOBA.

Going into the last offseason, the Jays had holes in the rotation, at second base, and catcher.  The rotation holes seem to be more or less adequately filled, and a material upgrade there will cost lots of money.  Second base, obviously, is still a problem.  Catcher looks better this year, but Navarro’s skills as a receiver are questionable, as noted.

And the thing is, upgrading at catcher to Russell Martin might not break the bank.  It’s pretty much a given that if the Jays want an elite starting pitcher – a Lester or Price type – it’s going to cost $20MM+ per season, for 5 or 6 years.  A second baseman won’t be easy to find, given that the best free agent options out there are guys the Jays already had (Bonifacio) or passed on at the trade deadline (Headley).  But ESPN’s analysis of Martin as a free agent suggests that he’ll be looking at 3 or 4 years, at $10-12MM/yr.  That’s doable, especially if you consider that the Jays would likely be able to trade away Navarro and his $5MM salary away.  Despite his failings, it’s not as if Navarro has no value; the team might even be able to get something useful back for him, or perhaps include Navarro as part of a bigger trade.

On top of all that, I don’t think it’s likely that the Pirates will make a qualifying offer to Martin – in the first case, $15MM is probably too much for him, and in the second, they’re the chronically cheap Pirates.  

I don’t know if the Jays could sign Martin – there will be some high-profile teams in need of catching help, this offseason – but the Jays should be looking to get better wherever they can.  Catcher is one of the few positions which could be improved without a prohibitive cost in dollars, compensatory draft picks lost, or prospects.  Something to think about, anyway.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled breathless coverage of the Toronto Blue Jays’ quest to be playing meaningful games in the second half of September.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Sept 9, 2014 - Impressions from the Ballpark!

Mr. Aptronym warms up.

An open roof and the remote possibility that the game outcome might not be completely meaningless to the home club, made the atmosphere at last night’s Jays-Cubs game surprisingly electric.  Yes, even despite the sub-20,000 crowd.  Here are some thoughts from last night’s 9-2 win:

It’s becoming apparent to me that if you want to catch a Blue Jays game in good seats, you should go to StubHub and look for late-season, midweek games against run-of-the-mill opponents.  I went with 2 friends last night, and we found 3 seats on StubHub directly behind the Jays’ bullpen, row 2, for less than face value.  Could have had 3 just right of the 1B dugout, row 17, for somewhere in the $35 range, too.  Are the sellers season ticket holders trying to unload games they don’t want, perhaps?  Anyway, the seats were a nice change of perspective – the picture above of Buehrle warming up was taken 10 minutes before gametime, from my seat.

What I wasn’t impressed with, while sitting in s. 137, was the overzealous work of the ushers.  If you’re like me, when you find yourself with a person or group in the seat next to you on one side and empty seats on the other, you move over a seat so that everyone has a bit more elbow room (remember the seats are 15” wide).  However, our usher objected to this reasonable behaviour, and she spent the first 3 innings shooing people back into the seats she thought they belonged in (I am pretty sure that the seat to the left of us was empty – we had bought 3 seats, after all).  I recall in the past week seeing reference to a U.S. ballpark that actually invites people to sit in empty seats; meanwhile, here’s the Skydome enforcing seating rules on a night when the park was 2/3 empty.  Way to find new ways to annoy your customers, Rogers.

I was also unimpressed (again) with the layout of the concessions in the 100 level.  The number of food options is terrific, but when you have to walk halfway around the lower bowl to find a booth selling a ‘staple’ (soft pretzel, pizza), something’s gone wrong.  I also miss the “wall of beer” stations from the 500 level – one of my friends at the game was inexplicably drinking Labatt 50, which was only available at one location.  On top of that, I didn’t see even one food vendor enter our section despite it being fairly full.  Considering how much profit the stadium must make on the incredibly overpriced food and drink they offer, this is just inexplicable.

As for the game itself:  Mark Buehrle did Mark Buehrle things, scattering 10 hits over 7 innings, walking nobody, and surrendering just 2 ER.  Buehrle didn’t seem to be getting much help from his defense – Danny Valencia showed no sign of being ready for either a full-time role or a Le Petit Orange nickname, after being late on a grounder to 3B and when covering 3B on a steal in the first inning and failing to make an out after fielding a grounder to 3B in the second.  Valencia did redeem himself a bit by recording 2 outs on consecutive hard liners in the 4th, but… please come back healthy in 2015, Brett Lawrie.

It was a novelty to hear Aaron Sanchez warm up before pitching the 8th – the thwap of his warmup pitches was noticeably louder than Buehrle’s.  It’s nice to be able to go from a lefty starter throwing 85 to a righty reliever throwing 97… except if you’re the Cubs.

Did I say the atmosphere was electric?  Well, yeah.  After scuffling and looking basically befuddled against Jake Arrieta for 6 innings, the Jays finally got into the Cubs’ bullpen, trailing 2-1 in the 7th.  The 9-2 final score is deceptive; I can tell you that for an hour and a half, this looked like one of those games where the Jays wouldn’t be able to get anything going offensively and would end up losing 3-1 or 2-1.  So, when Bautista came up with the bases loaded and 2 outs in the 7th, still trailing 2-1, it felt like the game would come down to that one at-bat.  People stood up and cheered when the count got to 3-2, and the ensuing J-Bau double off the base of the LF wall made a satisfying thump.  After that, the Cubs did Cub things, misplaying a Lind liner into a triple in the 8th and adding a couple more misplays en route to giving up 5 runs and turning the game into a laugher.

Jose Reyes better have a sore shoulder, because his defense at SS is in desperate need of excuses.

Colby Rasmus was benched at the start of September.  Since then he has 3 hits and a walk in 7 PA, including 2 home runs, for an OPS of a billion 2.071.  *drops mic*

Did you know that Cubs LF Chris Coghlan is married to a woman who was an unsuccessful contestant on The Bachelor?  I didn’t, but thanks to some effective hecklers in my section, I do now.  Well played, guys.

Lastly – and I could probably write this after every warm-weather game – the TTC was absolute garbage on the way home.  I have a routine (when it’s not raining – if it rains I cab it) after games: Walk up to Queen, catch the 501 east to the Beaches.  As it happens, I watched 3 westbound cars go by the other way before the first eastbound one arrived.  Typical.  When the eastbound car did arrive, the driver announced that he would be stopping at Greenwood, but not to worry as there was a car right behind that would continue east.  Except, of course, the car behind it was short-turning, too, and a car going all the way to the end of the Queen line didn’t arrive for a good 10 minutes more.  Result: It took a little over an hour to get from Queen and University to Queen and Woodbine (a bit under 7 km) by streetcar.  About the same time as a brisk walk.  It’s pretty damn hard to argue that anyone at the TTC should be making more than minimum wage, with service levels like that.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Colby Rasmus: Class act

Jet flyin, stylin' and profilin'

Let’s make one thing clear:  A platoon of Anthony Gose and Kevin Pillar in CF does not now, and perhaps never will, perform better than Colby Rasmus does.  Rasmus is having an off year, but his .318 wOBA and 99 wRC+ are much better than Gose’s .290 and 80 and Pillar’s .255 and 55.  

However, it is also true that the Toronto Blue Jays might be a better team with Gose and Pillar sharing CF in 2015, and team management deploying the ~$9MM savings in salary to pursue a decent second baseman… or a catcher… or… well, any of the needs the Jays figure to have in the offseason (new closer?).  That kind of thinking makes sense to me (assuming, of course, that Rogers doesn’t slash payroll and pocket the savings on Rasmus’s salary) for next season.  Yes, Gose has far less power than Rasmus, and even his career-best .332 OBP this year is lower than the .338 OBP Rasmus had last year or the .361 OBP in 2010.  But hitting aside, Gose’s defense is starting to look noticeably better than that of Rasmus, and Gose is much more of a base-stealing threat.  Hitting is more important than defense and steals, but I can see how Gose could be an adequate-to-good centerfielder next year (even without hitting much), while being substantially cheaper than Rasmus.

But for 2014, Rasmus and his salary are part of the team, and it doesn’t make sense to not play him.  You can’t even argue that you’re going with a hot bat in Gose, who has a .245 wOBA in August and September while Rasmus is at .317 for the same period.  So it’s pretty clear that Rasmus is on the outs with the team.  The Blue Jay Hunter has a nice piece here that covers some of the reasons why the Jays might have soured on Rasmus – many of which are issues around Rasmus’s demeanour.

And to me, that’s an unlikely story.  If Rasmus has a bad attitude, it hasn’t shown up following his benching.  The Jays may have had enough of Colby and he may have had enough of them, and maybe the GM’s office thinks the team is better with him on the bench, though I can’t see why.   What we aren’t hearing, though, is complaining by Rasmus.  The Star spoke with Rasmus before last night’s game, and Colby admitted that he hasn’t been playing well, and that it makes sense for the team to play Gose and Pillar, who likely will be a part of the 2015 Jays.

No rancour, no bitterness.  I suppose I shouldn’t be that surprised by this, considering how low-key a person Colby Rasmus seems to be.  Still, consider this:  Rasmus has been benched in favour of (arguably) inferior players, at a time when the games still mean something and the Jays are nominally still in the playoff race.  On top of that, Rasmus is a free agent after the season, and being benched isn’t likely to help his market value.  Consider how the team famously tried to boost John Buck’s free-agent value at the expense of JP Arencibia’s development a few years ago, and Rasmus’s benching in the midst of a playoff race seems like a spiteful move by the front office.

Class move by Rasmus to not say anything negative about the team and the decision (publicly, at least).  The Jays will go with Gose/Pillar, and Rasmus will land somewhere else.  He won’t get an Ellsbury or Adam Jones-sized deal, but he’ll do ok, moneywise.  And Jays fans will once again (see:  Morrow, Brandon) be left wondering why all that talent never translated into sustained onfield success.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Three things

I go away for a week, and the Jays run off a 4-4 stretch, making up no ground on the divisional and wild card leaders while crossing another 8 games off the schedule.  Time’s ticking, guys. 

Anyway, some stuff happened this week:

1.  Derek Jeter’s goodbye:  I can’t help but see these “farewell tours” (which, to this point, only Yankee players have been part of) as an unsettling mix of player narcissism and sheep-like fawning (do sheep fawn, or do they lamb?) by MLB clubs.  Did Roy Halladay do a farewell tour?  Did Frank Thomas and Omar Vizquel get feted this way in their final seasons?  No, no, and no.  It makes no sense to shower expensive gifts (even crappy ones) on people with 9-figure net worths.  And it doesn’t sit well with me that MLB seems to be confirming that there is, in fact, favoritism in baseball, with the Yankees being the favoured club.

Plus, there was the missed opportunity to give Jeter a gift basket.

2.  The Jays have put up some impressive attendance numbers since the all-star break.  You may recall that in April and May, attendance was way down from 2013… probably because the team did nothing to improve itself in the offseason and fans rewarded that behaviour with fewer ticket purchases.  But at the end of May, the team was in first place, and was right in contention at the break, and people started buying tickets.  Lots of tickets.  After drawing 23,808 per game over April and May, the Jays have averaged 37,041 fans in the 22 home games since the all-star break, and overall, they’re less than 1000 fans/game behind last year’s attendance figures.  Lesson?  If Rogers puts money into the club and produces a winner, they’ll be rewarded at the box office.

This offseason, we’ll see if those who control the budget are paying attention.

3.  John Mayberry Jr. was acquired for Gustavo Pierre over the weekend.  The line on Fangraphs says it all:

RotoWire News: Mayberry (wrist) was traded to the Blue Jays on Sunday in exchange for minor league outfielder Gustavo Pierre, John Lott of the National Post reports. (8/31/2014)

That’s right.  Outfielder.  Pierre was drafted as a shortstop, couldn’t stick there, and was moved to third… and now, to the outfield.  I remember being impressed by Pierre a few spring trainings back, and he’s still “just” 22, having joined the organization when he was 17 or so.  However, he makes far too many errors, walks far too little, shows no power, and hasn’t been able to stick at Double-A despite 6 seasons in the Jays’ system.  I can’t imagine why Philadelphia wanted him.

Mayberry, on the other hand, might come in handy.  I was a little surprised when the Jays let Nolan Reimold go, thinking that Reimold might have stuck with the Jays as the righthanded half of a platoon with Lind.  Mayberry is a similar kind of player – for his career against LHP (about 500 PA), he has a .856 OPS and .356 wOBA.  That’ll play… even if his defense in the outfield leaves a lot to be desired.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

A confession

I can’t stand watching RA Dickey pitch.

I’ve felt this way since early last season – that is, pretty much since he became a Blue Jay – and lately, I've been trying to decide if my dislike is rational.  I’ve never met him (nor have I read his autobiography), but by most accounts, RA Dickey is a good guy – he’s thoughtful and articulate, and has been the face of the Blue Jays while raising awareness of human trafficking and child sexual abuse (he is a survivor of the latter).  Hard to dislike the guy based on all that.

Of course, it’s pretty clear now that the RA Dickey the Jays received in trade from the Mets is not the 2012 Cy Young award winner, but he’s pretty close to what he was in 2010-11:  A 2 or 2.5-WAR pitcher.  His K rate is up from 2010-11, but so are his walk and HR rates.  FIP and xFIP are up from what they were in the NL, but that’s somewhat to be expected.  The RA Dickey we see now is a #3 starter, and not the Cy Young winning pitcher with FIP and xFIP in the low 3’s that he was in ’12.  Did the club overpay for him by dealing D’Arnaud and Syndergaard?  Yeah, probably… and that rankles.  But I don’t think that’s what bothers me about Dickey.  After all, the Mets and Blue Jays made that trade, not Dickey – the Mets sold high on him, and good for them.  RA Dickey wants to be the guy he was in 2012 as much or more than we as fans want that, and it’s not really his fault that he’s not as good a pitcher as the club made him out to be (this is pretty much the same reasoning that absolves Vernon Wells of blame for his $120MM contract).

What bothers me is his actual pitching.  And when actually watching him pitch, I think it comes down to three issues:

1.  The knuckleball is uncontrollable, meaning that in counts where one would want to throw a strike (1-0, 2-0, 2-1) it appears that Dickey can’t get one over.  Even during the flight of the ball from the mound to the plate, it’s frustrating to see a pitch that looks good, dive or juke at the last second into a not-good location.
2.  Dickey seems to have a knack for giving up runs right after the Jays score runs.  Apocryphally, that's a letdown for teammates, and is definitely a letdown for fans.
3.  Dickey struggles after the 5th inning (or in the 3rd time through the batting order), meaning lots of late opposing rallies and/or extra work for a bullpen with the 4th-worst ERA in the AL.

Are these criticisms fair, or are they just perceptions on my part? Let's look at all 3, to see if I'm being irrational.

Let’s start with the last complaint – the struggles in mid and later innings.  Dickey has a 2.50 ERA in innings 1-4 in 2014 (a total of 108 IP).  From innings 5-9, the ERA jumps to 6.86 (covering 61 2/3 IP).  Interestingly, in 2013 Dickey was so-so in innings 1-3 (4.41 ERA), good in innings 3-6 (3.65 ERA) and bad in innings 7-9 (5.62 ERA).  Ace or not, you’d like your starters to be effective past the 4th inning.  Dickey hasn’t been that in 2014.  FAIR.

The uncontrollable knuckleball is harder to quantify – I haven’t been able to find any stats that show how often Dickey throws a ball on a 2-0 count, or 2-1.  However, Fangraphs shows that in 140 at-bats where Dickey went to a 3-ball count, he issued 61 walks.  Dickey’s also gone 2-0 to batters in 106 PA, and issued 33 walks after going 2-0.  I can’t get find anything more specific, but it sure looks like there’s something to my sense that Dickey can’t get throw a strike when he needs one.  PROBABLY FAIR.

One of the things that old-school baseball types like to say is that a good starting pitcher will shut down the opposition in the inning after a rally by his team.  The effect a failure to do this has on teammates is anecdotal, but it bothers me when I see runs given up right after a Jays rally.  And it feels like Dickey has done this a lot:

May 3, vs Pirates – staked to a 5-0 lead in the top of the 4th, Dickey gives up 2 in bottom half.  Bullpen ultimately lost the game 8-6.
May 13, vs Cleveland – staked to a 5-1 lead in the bottom of the 6th, Dickey fails to get an out in the 6th and gives up 3 runs.
May 18, vs Rangers – Jays take a 1-0 lead in the top of the 4th; Dickey allows 2 runs in the bottom of the 4th.
May 29, vs Royals – Jays take a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the 1st; Dickey gives up a run in the top of the 2nd.  After the Jays pull ahead 4-2 in the 4th, Dickey gives up 3 runs in the top of the 5th.  The Jays would go on to lose the game following Jose Reyes’ throwing error with 2 out in the 9th.
June 4, vs Tigers – Jays go ahead 1-0 in the first and Dickey allows the Tigers to tie it in the bottom half of the inning.
June 27, vs White Sox – Jays score 2 runs in the bottom of the 6th to tie the game 2-2, and Dickey faces 3 batters in the top of the 7th before departing – all scored.
July 3, vs A’s – Jays score 1 in the top of the 2nd, and Dickey allows 2 in the bottom half.
August 2 vs Astros – Jays score 1 in the top of the 2nd, and Dickey allows 2 in the bottom half.
August 8, vs Tigers – Jays score 3 in the bottom of the 2nd to take a 4-0 lead, and Dickey allows 2 in the top of the 3rd.
August 20, vs Brewers – down 2-0 in the top of the 5th, the Jays tie the score before Dickey allows a run in the bottom of the 5th.  In the 6th, the Jays score 5 runs to take a 7-3 lead, but Dickey gives up 2 in the bottom of the 6th to let the Brewers back in it.

There’s almost certainly some confirmation bias in that stretch of games, and objectively speaking, it doesn’t matter when runs are given up – they all count the same when the game is over.  I’m not about to go out and see how many times Buehrle or Happ or anyone else gives up runs right after the Jays score, as a benchmark.   The bottom line is that in 27 starts this season, Dickey has given up runs 12 times in the half inning that followed an inning that the Jays scored runs in.  In 7 of those 12 situations, the runs Dickey allowed either tied the score or gave the opposition the lead.  That's not enough of a sample to base a trend on, and probably isn't much worse than the league average.  UNFAIR PERCEPTION.

So... I feel somewhat vindicated.  The very nature of the knuckleball makes it hard for me to watch, and there's some evidence that Dickey can't command it when he needs to.  Dickey definitely falls apart in the middle innings of games, and that's hard to watch too.  Does he hand runs to opponents every time the Jays score?  Probably not.  So I'll try to cut the guy some slack, and remind myself in 2016 to think of Dickey not as a maddening #1 starter, but a #4 (behind Stroman, Hutchison, and Sanchez or Norris) that most teams would be glad to have.

Monday, 18 August 2014

The end?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Pessimism, meet reality

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 11 August 2014

So this is weird...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Sunday, 10 August 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 4 August 2014

Rotation iterations

This may be all the rotation help the Jays get.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what to do about this?

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Quest for 90

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Valencia in, Rasmus's son out

No, not that Rasmus’s son.

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 28 July 2014

Crunch time

Nolan Reimold:  Lefty-mashing saviour de jour.

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

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

Upcoming games:

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Impressions from Front Street

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

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

Analysis of Food Options on the way to the Game

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


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

Loose Moose

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

Lone Star

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

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

Canyon Creek

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

Simcoe Place Food Court

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

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

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

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

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

Hot dog truck (this one)

Hot dog truck (that one)

Hot dog truck (the other one)

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

Ice cream truck

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

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

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

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