Thursday, 20 November 2014

Pipe dreams

Rob Ford jokes are already passe.  Sorry.

So... rumours are swirling around our Toronto Blue Jays.  Some exciting, some troubling.

According to Bob McCown via (if you haven't figured out that Drunk Jays Fans is now Stoeten's eponymous site, that's the scoop.  Go check it out), the top brass at Rogers are looking to repair the company's reputation by not being liars   having a consistent approach to the team budget  building a winner out of the Jays.

Meanwhile, there are other rumours (from Jeff Blair via The Blue Jay Hunter) that suggest that Rah Dickey might not be the best teammate out there.  Considering that there were rumours about Rasmus's aloofness, and Adam Lind seemed to complain a lot, and those two are both gone or as good as gone... Dickey might be on the outs as well.  It's a little disturbing to think that the guy the Jays built their 2012 renaissance around (and who they traded two top-50 prospects for) might be persona non grata, only 2 years later.

But nevermind that - it's daydreaming time, and there might be money to spend!  Put those two points together, and let's look at some deals that would have seemed impossible 2 weeks ago.

1.  Jon Lester to Blue Jays. 


No, seriously, it could kind of work.

Two weeks ago, "Bahaha" would have been the end of this post.  But if there is anything to Bob McCown's image-burnishing rumour, maybe the Jays could be in on Jon Lester and other expensive free agents.  Which would be pretty exciting, to say the least.

Jon Lester has a lot of things going for him.  He's pitched in the AL East, obviously.  He's been durable - 30+ starts for 7 seasons.  He's been effective - 33 fWAR in those same 7 seasons.  And while his strikeout rate was on a slow decline prior to a resurgence last season, his walk rate has been dropping as well.  The downside for Lester is his age, and the years he wants.  He'll be 31 next season, and is apparently looking for a 6-year deal, at around $20MM/season (the Red Sox reportedly offered him 5/$100MM to come back, already).

So how could this work for the Jays?  Well, they'd have to count on Lester being effective into his mid-30s, the way they're counting on Russell Martin to do the same, and the way Mark Buehrle has.   Yes, it's a lot of money, but not that much if you can subtract Dickey's salary after signing Lester.

Trade Dickey?  Sure.  Dickey and Lester have carried similar workloads over the past 4 years, so Lester could effectively replace Dickey's innings.  Lester also looks like a fairly significant upgrade to Dickey, by fWAR.  And if you trade Dickey, you free up about $12MM for the next 2 years (assuming Dickey's 2016 option gets picked up) and you also free up a roster spot that won't have to go to Josh Thole.  And finally, Dickey has some trade value attached to him - at $12MM/yr, he's a relative bargain for a pitcher who is capable of throwing 200+ above-average innings, and he could bring something half-decent back in trade.  So, yeah, swapping Dickey out for Lester could be a big upgrade, at a net salary increase of only $8MM or so (until we get to 2017, but let's pretend not to think about that).

2.  Pablo Sandoval to Blue Jays.

No, no, no. 

I think Sandoval is a pretty fun player to watch, but he's another guy looking for 5 years and close to 20MM/yr.  And consider this:

Sandoval, 2011-2014:  13.4 fWAR,  .383/.338/.331/.323 wOBAs
Chase Headley, 2011-2014: 17.9 fWAR, .340/.378/.330/.316 wOBAs... and better defense.

Yes, Headley is 30, and Sandoval is 28.  Headley is an injury risk, but I'd argue that when playing on Astroturf, the 5'11, 250-lb Sandoval is too.  So if Sandoval wants 5 years, offer 3 years and the same AAV to Headley.  I bet he signs. 

And for that matter, if you sign Jed Lowrie or Stephen Drew, both of who are expected to go for 3yrs/30MM or so, you can keep Brett Lawrie at his preferred position (and his best defensive position).  Best case for everyone?  The Panda goes back to San Francisco.

3.  Hanley Ramirez to Blue Jays.

Same objections as Sandoval, really, with the added negative of having to ask him to move off shortstop (or ask Reyes to move, which could be just as big of an issue).  12.3 fWAR and .317/.328/.442 (small sample)/.362 wOBAs over the last 4 years.  Better bat than either Sandoval or Headley, but a suspect glove, and more injury prone than either one.  Seriously, just get one of Lowrie/Drew/Headley.

4.       Andrew Miller to Blue Jays.

Well, the performance of relief pitchers is supposed to be volatile (therefore making them risky investments) and the Jays made a point over the last few years of acquiring cheap bullpen arms (Delabar, Santos)… who didn’t work out.  And now the Jays, having said goodbye to Casey Janssen and Dustin McGowan, may have come full circle and are apparently in the market to overpay for a reliever.

The first rumour I saw was Francisco Rodriguez to the Blue Jays.  Kinda makes sense on the surface - the man once known as K-Rod is a so-called "proven closer", coming off a 44-save season in Milwaukee.  Trouble is, his peripherals are lousy:  declining strikeout rate, tons of home runs (1.85 per 9 innings), an unsustainably low BABIP (.216) and unsustainably high strand rate (93%).  In short, Rodriguez's stats scream "Regression candidate!"  So, overpaying for that closer seems like a bad idea.

Andrew Miller, on the other hand, has been pretty awesome.  Since being made a full-time reliever in 2012, he's posted huge K rates, unpleasantly high walk rates that he seemed to get under control in 2014, and ERAs that aren't luck driven.  He doesn't have significant splits between righties and lefties.  He's the best free agent reliever out there who isn't David Robertson.  MLBTradeRumors guesses that Miller will get a 4-year, 32MM deal.  That's closer money - no, it might actually be starter money.  Miller has been worth 3.5 fWAR over the last 4 year (including the 2.3 fWAR he produced last year).  4yrs/$32MM is an overpay at that performance level.  In fact, Miller's 4 best years for his career only add up to 5.2 fWAR.   Sure, he was great last year, but there's a good chance that he winds up a 1 WAR/yr kind of guy.  If that happens, the only way to justify it is with a lot of saves.

So that's 4 dreams, 3 of them bad.  But at the end of the day... it's not my money.  So go ahead and try to buy our love, Rogers.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Why Russell Martin is a great pickup for the Jays

No, Snider ain't coming back.  But this is definitely an upgrade on Adam Lind....'s beard.

Well first and foremost, this is big news.  The Jays spent money on a free agent!  The club raised ticket prices last month, and the cynic in me wondered if they'd do that without making meaningful changes this offseason.  This move makes the double-digit price increase a little more palatable.  And it's a welcome change to see the team competing for a top free agent, and actually winning*. 

But aside from being a possible signal of a much-needed philosophical change in the Jays' front office, why is this a great move?

Because Russell Martin is, hands down, the most complete position player available on the free agent market.

I can hear some of you saying "Wait - catcher wasn't a problem last year, Dioner Navarro was pretty good".  But as I said a while back, I think it's more that Dioner Navarro only looked great when compared with JP Arencibia.  Navarro had a .315 wOBA last year, which was a lot better than JPA's .259 in 2013.  Navarro also plays better defense than JPA. 

No question, Navarro provided value last year - he got on base at a decent clip, provided a little pop (12 HR) and wasn't awful defensively.  Martin, however, does all of these things better than Navarro (and better than JPA did, of course).  Martin's career wOBA is .334.  He walks at a 12% clip, helping to produce a career OBP of .341 (for perspective, Martin's career-worst OBP is .311.  Navarro's career average is .313, and he was at just .317 last year).  Martin grades out better defensively than Navarro - in fact, he grades out as elite.  But what many people can't see is the pitch-framing advantage Martin brings:

Martin's framing was worth 1.4 wins last season.  Navarro's was worth -1.4.  That's almost 3 wins based on framing alone.

So what else does Martin do for the Jays? Well, at 5.3 WAR (which doesn't include framing, incidentally), he outclasses Navarro, but Navarro's 2.0 WAR wasn't awful.  So Navarro could become meaningful trade bait, perhaps for part of a second baseman or LF.  Or instead, the Jays could keep Navarro after dealing Dickey (the best trade bait among the starters) which would allow the club to ditch Dickey's catcher, Thole.  If flexibility is the Jays' goal this offseason, finding a way to get the subpar Thole off the team should be a priority.

On the downside, signing Martin probably ends the Jays' pursuit of Melky Cabrera.  But considering that Martin is a better player than Cabrera (Cabrera 9.9 WAR since 2011; Martin 14.1 WAR over the same time frame), it's still an upgrade, overall.  The Jays lose a draft pick by signing Martin, but would gain one if Cabrera signs elsewhere.

And frankly, a platoon of Andy Dirks (.328 career wOBA against RHP) and Mayberry (.391 career wOBA against LHP) in left field could work out to be not far off the .354 wOBA Melky gave us in 2014.  Make no mistake, this is a significant win for the Jays.

* assuming, of course, that this deal actually gets confirmed.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

ToGo goes from T.O.

There'll be some new asses getting bumped in 2015.

Or, if you prefer a less wordy title, “Gose Goes”.

This move took me by surprise, when it really shouldn’t have.  The Jays have 3 young centerfielders.  One of them (Pompey) played well in his MLB debut in September.  One of them (Pompey again) is a switch hitter without an ugly platoon split.  And another one – whoops, no, it’s Pompey again – has been talked up by his manager and GM as a possible opening-day starter in 2015.  So it makes sense that one of the other two (Anthony Gose and Kevin Pillar) would be trade bait.

Meanwhile, the Jays have a dearth of upper-minors 2B prospects.  Devon Travis is a 2B prospect that some (i.e. Fangraphs) think could be a league average hitter.  League average hitting is great for second base, so the Jays may have something here.

In losing Gose, the Jays give up a player with a reputation for above average defense and baserunning and below-average hitting.  There is, perhaps, some room for debate on the first 2 points – advanced stats didn’t really like Gose’s D or baserunning in 2013 – but the sample size being what it is, we’ll assume the Tigers are getting a plus baserunner and fielder.  As for hitting – well, it was encouraging to see Gose’s walk rate at 9.1% this year, and he walked at a 9% rate in 2012.  Except for one season (2012 in AAA Vegas, a hitter’s league) Gose has never been more than a .250-.260 hitter in the minors or majors, so his OBP will likely be walk-driven in future.  But even at 9% BB%, Gose’s OBP last year was just .311, and it was .303 in 2012.  Gose is 24 now and has spent the last 3 seasons in either AAA or the majors, making me think that what we see now is who Gose is, as a hitter:  A no-power guy who struggles to make contact, striking out a lot (20% or more in every season) and not walking enough to make up for that.

With Gose gone, the outfield picture looks like Bautista in RF (for sure), Pompey in CF (his job to lose, anyway), Cabrera (or a free agent replacement) in LF, and John Mayberry as 4th outfielder.  I don't know about you, but I had almost forgotten about Mayberry, a righthanded bat who can (sort of) play all 3 outfield positions and has no options left.  Given that the Jays won't want to lose Mayberry (who is a formidable hitter against LH pitching), Gose would likely have started 2015 in Buffalo.  Now, it'll be Kevin Pillar in Buffalo as the 5th outfielder, and I don't think there is a vast difference between him and Gose, overall.  Pillar walks and strikes out less than Gose, has a bit more power, and is above average defensively and as a baserunner (though not at Gose's level in either case).  Bottom line - you don't need both Gose and Pillar as depth pieces.

Meanwhile, Devon Travis played AA last year as a 23 year old with a slash line of .298/.358/.460.  To this point (3 minor league seasons), he's hit for average with decent power (29 HR and 50 doubles over 1124 PA) without relying overmuch on batted ball luck.  He walks about as much as Gose does, but with fewer strikeouts.  Minor-league defensive stats are hard to evaluate, but I haven't seen anything especially good or bad written about his fielding.  Fangraphs loves Travis, projecting him for 2.3 WAR at the major league level in 2015.  That would be very, very nice, but even if that's optimistic, Travis should compete for a job in spring training with Goins and Izturis... if the Jays don't find a second baseman elsewhere.

And that's the thing. The Jays have 5 holes that need fixing this offseason - second base, left field, center field, bullpen, and catcher (I see catcher as a hole, anyway).  Getting free agent fixes for all those holes would cost $60MM annually, and knowing the Jays as we do, spending $60MM is probably not in the cards.  Pompey is penciled in at CF, and if the Jays could somehow land Russell Martin, 2 relievers, and either Melky or Nori Aoki for LF, I'd be ok with Goins, Travis, and Izturis competing for 2B.  Even if Travis isn't ready to start the season, there's a chance he'd be able to take over 2B by midsummer, or in 2016.

And in the land of payroll parameters where there isn't money to fix everything, that's better what we had last year.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Lind for Estrada

No, your choice of pictures is predictable.

Marco Estrada for Adam Lind only makes sense as part of a larger picture.  The dissatisfaction among Jays fans with this trade stems from either a failure to see that, or from an entirely justifiable suspicion that there will be no larger picture.

The “larger picture” hopefully looks like this: Lind gets dealt to free up 2 roster spots (because he needs a platoon mate), to open up the DH position to a rotation of position players who need occasional days off from fielding, and to save about $3MM.  With those roster spots and that $3MM (plus several more $MM), the Jays add a kickass second baseman or third baseman and a talented bat or bats off the bench.  Meanwhile, Marco Estrada provides 60 innings of effective relief as a righthanded setup man and maybe makes a spot start or two.

If the Blue Jays were run like the Giants, Cardinals, or Red Sox, that would be how the story would go.  But they’re run by Rogers, stuck in payroll parameter-land, which accounts for the justifiable suspicions I mentioned before.  If Andy Dirks and Justin Smoak are the bench bats and Maicer Izturis is the second baseman, then the Lind trade looks like nothing more than an attempt to cut salary at the expense of competitiveness.  And if Estrada winds up with a rotation spot due to Buehrle (for example) being traded, you’re just adding injury to insult.

I thought about this trade a lot, and what it says about the expectations of fans who (like me) expected a better return for Adam Lind.  The prevailing assessment of Adam Lind (expressed clearly on Drunk Jays Fans) is that he is an elite hitter against righty pitching… and, frankly, he is.  But on the other hand, he can’t hit lefthanders, he doesn’t run or field well, and has chronic back issues which have forced him to miss significant time in both 2012 and 2014.  As great a hitter as Lind can be, he’s not much good if he can’t make it to the plate.  We may be guilty of the classic error of overvaluing our own players/prospects, when it comes to Lind.

And yes, at the end of the day, the Jays do have a real need to rotate players through the DH spot, as opposed to reserving that spot for whoever of Lind or Encarnacion isn’t playing first base.  Figure 20-30 DH starts for each of Bautista, Cabrera, and Reyes, and there’s no need for two fulltime 1B/DH’s.  Caveat:  It should not be forgotten that when those guys are playing DH, the Jays will need decent bench bats (i.e. not Ryan Goins and Kevin Pillar) to replace them in the field.  Otherwise, you’ve effectively replaced Lind’s bat with some replacement-level hitters in different positions.

I don’t like writing cynical stuff on here, but the fact that the Jays would have nontendered Lind – let him go for nothing, basically – is pretty disheartening.  Lind was worth 1.6 and 1.8 WAR the last 2 seasons.  Are the Jays’ payroll parameters so tight that they would consider let a valuable asset (their 11th-best player last year, by WAR) go for nothing?  It appears that the answer is yes.  And if the team decides that Marco Estrada is either too expensive or doesn’t fit their plans, they could easily cut him loose, too, without having to pay a buyout fee… thereby saving the entire $7.5MM it would have cost to keep Lind.  If I were a betting man, my money would be on that outcome - a non-tender for Estrada.

If that $7.5MM (or $2.5MM, or whatever it turns out to be) saved goes into a badly needed fix at 2B (or the bullpen… or C… or LF), all well and good.  But right now, it’s hard to credibly make that argument in light of how last offseason, and July’s trade deadline, went.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Lind vs. Smoak

So as you probably noticed, the Jays made a waiver pickup this week, obtaining 1B Justin Smoak, former Mariner and former Rangers top prospect.

You may have also noticed some speculation about Adam Lind being on the trading block.   Could Smoak be a viable (cheaper) replacement for Lind?

To be fair, there are some interesting things about Smoak.  He's a switch hitter with far less of a platoon split then Lind.  He's not a great defender, but better than Lind.  And he walks more than Lind, as well.

Unfortunately, all of those positives are outweighed by a pretty major negative:  Adam Lind is one of the top hitters in all of MLB against right handed pitching, while Smoak is pretty much replacement level at the plate.  Bringing in Justin Smoak as a one-for-one replacement for Lind would be a huge downgrade.

It might not be that simple, though.  If the Jays can trade Lind for help somewhere else (like 2B or LF) it might not be a net loss.  If you swap Lind for a second baseman of equivalent value, then Smoak just has to play better than last year's second basemen for this to be a positive move for the Jays.  And as not-great as Smoak has been, that isn't a Herculean task.

The other point to consider is that the Jays might not need to replace Lind, per se. The club might intend to give Jose Reyes 30 starts at DH and to rotate players like Bautista and Cabrera (if he returns) through the DH spot as well, to give them a break from the wear and of everyday fielding.  If that's the plan, and with Encarnacion's bat being in the lineup daily, Smoak might not see 600 plate appearances.   More likely, he'd come to bat 300-400 times.

Finally, there is some reason to hope that Justin Smoak might be able to hit better than he has up to now.  Smoak would be coming to a much better hitting environment if he came to Toronto, compared with the pitcher's park he played in in Seattle.  Smoak is more of a fly ball hitter than Lind - curiously, Adam Lind has a career BABIP over .300 despite being a slow man who hits ground balls 43% of the time.  Smoak, meanwhile, has a career BABIP of just .260, which is the 14th-worst in MLB since 2010.  There aren't any obvious reasons for the BABIP gap between the two - they're both slow 1st basemen with similar line drive rates, and one would think that Lind would struggle with BABIP due to the slowness/ground balls combination.  What I'm getting at is that Smoak might be due to improve a bit, just due to plain old regression to the mean.  Perhaps he can be another reclamation project for the Jays?

I'd be willing to roll the dice on Smoak, IF the holes at 2B and LF get filled via a trade of Lind.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Can the Royals or Orioles be emulated?

In a word, no.  In more words... probably no.

The heartening thing, if there is one, about this MLB playoff year is that the Orioles and Royals found success despite recent histories of embarrassing failure and ineptitude.  In the midst of the angst over whether Jays management lied to the players about money being available, the question of whether Melky Cabrera can be resigned, and whether it’s possible to find a middle infielder and rebuild the bullpen without spending money or prospects, this is good news.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a really easy-to-follow narrative for either team that the Jays could emulate.

How did Baltimore get good enough to win 96 games and reach the ALCS?  Three years ago, we were making “OriLOLs” jokes, mocking them for getting turned down by GM interviewee Tony LaCava, and marveling that Peter Angelos might be a worse owner than Rogers is.  So what worked for them?

Well, you can’t really say that Baltimore has built from a base of prospects.  Nick Markakis, Matt Wieters, Dylan Bundy, Brian Matusz, Zach Britton, Manny Machado, and Kevin Gausman were drafted, while Wei-Yin Chin and Jonathan Schoop were international or minor-league free agents.  Machado and Markakis were worth 2.5 fWAR each; Chin, Gausman and Britton were 2.6, 2.1, and 1.1 fWAR.  Meanwhile, the Orioles top 4 hitters – Jones, Peace, Cruz and Hardy – were worth an average of 4+ fWAR each and all came in as free agents or via trade.  David Lough (1.9 fWAR) and Delmon Young (0.9) came in via trade, and Bud Norris, Chris Tillman, and Miguel Gonzalez (not to mention Ubaldo Jiminez), 3/5 of the O’s rotation, came in via trade or free agency.  And outside of closer Britton, the Orioles’ top relievers (Miller, O’Day, Hunter, Webb) came from outside the organization.

What went well for the O’s on the field?  Well, for one thing, their pitchers considerably outperformed their FIPs and xFIPs.  The Orioles had the 3rd-best team ERA in 2014, but were 5th-worst in FIP and xFIP.  To put that in perspective:

Orioles FIP/xFIP:                       3.96/3.92
Blue Jays FIP/xFIP                    3.97/3.99

In other words, the Blue Jays and Orioles pitching staffs performed pretty much at the same level, if you leave out the ‘random’ stuff like BABIP allowed (Orioles 3rd-best in AL at .280, trailing only the Mariners and A’s who play in notorious pitchers’ parks) and LOB% (strand rate, a league-best 77%).  As it turns out, the Jays didn’t do well at the ‘random stuff’, and finished with a 4.09 team ERA, 12th in the AL

Of course, “FIP” stands for fielding-independent pitching, and the Orioles also finished first in the AL with 50 fielding runs above average, and 2nd in the AL in Fangraph’s defensive rankings.  In other words, not only were the Orioles pitchers’ outperforming their fielding-independent stats (I’m not sure how you could teach that), but they also benefited from having an elite defense.

So to sum up:  for the Jays to follow the same narrative as the Orioles, they need to get better defensively (which might be possible with full seasons of Lawrie and Gose/Pompey in the field, and a new 2B or 3B who can field) and… their pitchers need to be luckier.  Riiiight, we'll get right on that.

Anyway, on to the Royals.  Kansas City won just 89 games this year, but snuck into the playoffs anyway.  Like the Orioles, the Royals have a long history of futility, winning 86 games in 2013 but losing 90+ in 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2007, 2006, 2005, and 2004.  But the silver lining behind a decade of losing is a long parade of top prospects, which later turn into young, talented major leaguers.  Right?

Well, so you would think.  Take a look at these rankings:

Org rankings from Baseball Prospectus (top prospects in parentheses)

2009   Royals:  16th (Moustakas, Hosmer)   Jays 10th  (Snider, Arencibia)
2010   Royals: 10th  (Moustakas, Hosmer)   Jays 22nd (Wallace, Drabek, Chad Jenkins)
2011   Royals: 1st  (Moustakas, Hosmer)  Jays 5th
2012   Royals:  5th (Myers, Starling, Odorizzi)  Jays 2nd (D’Arnaud, Marisnick, Norris)
2013   Royals:  7th (Zimmer, Mondesi)  Jays 13th (Sanchez, Tirado)
2014   Royals:  7th (Ventura, Binford)  Jays 13th (Stroman, Castro)

What happened for the Royals this year?  Did one-time hot prospects Moustakas and Hosmer finally blossom?  No, not really (1.1 fWAR combined, this season).  The Royals’ great players this year were Alex Gordon (failed 3B turned all-star LF), Lorenzo Cain (obtained in trade for Zack Greinke), Alcides Escobar (ditto), Salvador Perez (unheralded amateur free agent), Jarrod Dyson (drafted), James Shields (trade), Wade Davis (trade), Yordano Ventura (amateur free agent), Jason Vargas (free agent), Greg Holland (drafted) and Danny Duffy (drafted).

There are some eerie parallels between the 2014 Royals and 2014 Jays:
Failed hitting prospects – check (Moustakas and Hosmer/Snider and Arencibia)
Failed 3B turns into a star in another position – check (Gordon/Encarnacion)
Young pitchers making an impact – check (Ventura, Holland, Duffy/Stroman, hopefully Sanchez, Hutchison)
Veteran pitchers gained from prospect-depleting trades – check (Shields and Davis/Dickey and Buehrle)
All-glove OF gained in trade for former ace – check (Cain/Gose(kind of))

It’s encouraging to see that the top prospects the Royals dealt for Shields/Davis weren’t wasted.  And Ventura and Stroman are nice comparison points.  And I’m surprised the narrativists haven’t seized on the fact the Royals prospect system peaked in 2011, a year before the Jays’ system peaked.  But those parallels aside, it’s tough to see how the Jays could copy the Royals.  The Jays have drafted well and have an enviable set of prospects, as did the Royals, but the top prospects Kansas City had are not, for the most part, the key to their current success.  Kansas City’s team is made up of a mix of draftees, young talent that veterans were traded for, veterans that young talent was traded for, and a judicious amount of free agents… like pretty much most other teams are.  They didn’t get especially lucky with BABIP or strand rates.  They stole a lot of bases, something the Jays might not be able to manage regardless of who plays 2B or CF next year.  And outside of sticking Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris in the bullpen fulltime in 2015, there’s not a lot the Jays could do to look more like the 2014 Royals.

In other words, the Jays can’t expect to stumble into a successful season without putting more effort into fixing the team’s obvious shortcomings.  And as the Orioles and Royals show, that won’t be accomplished with prospects alone.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Is there distrust between the Blue Jays' players and team management?

Hell if I know.  And frankly, that should be everyone’s answer to this question.

As fans, we are bound to speculate about what players are thinking, whether this player or that player is an a****** to play with, whether there is dissention in the clubhouse.  That’s part of being a fan; speculating and obsessing about our team.  Bloggers and sportswriters do the same thing, because we’re fans too, or because we know (other) fans like to talk about this stuff.

But the thing is, we – from Shi Davidi on down – aren’t privy  to the discussions players have amongst themselves, or with management, or to what they’re thinking, except for what they choose to tell us.  And so, we speculate.  Were Casey Janssen and Jose Bautista disappointed with how the trade deadline turned out for the Jays?  Yeah, probably, if we go by what they said publicly.

And frankly, those of us who have been fans for the long haul – who have lived through the apathy of InterBrew and the Roger Clemens experiment, who saw Carlos Delgado walk away without a fight from management, who remember “It’s not a lie if we know the truth”, and who have lived through multiple “5-year plans” and the wild fluctuations in payroll since 2006 – are probably pretty distrustful of team management, ourselves.  We’ve got a lot of reason to distrust them!  It’s probably natural to attribute the same feelings to those who actually work for the organization and deal with management close-up.

And there is an undeniable tendency, among Blue Jays fans, to have a sense of insecurity about the team.  There are a lot of reasons why the team has trouble when competing for players – the undesirable playing surface, the whole living-in-a-foreign-country thing, the vagaries of the Canadian dollar, and the two decades of mediocrity we’ve lived through. And so we tend to blow crap like “the team doesn’t trust AA/Beeston/Rogers” out of proportion, because even though money is the principal factor in an athlete's decision where to play, the Jays don’t need any more reasons – even little ones – for baseball players to shun Toronto.

You know how you resolve the whole “distrust of management” thing?  Go out and get a solid 2B or 3B, or an upgrade at C, re-sign Melky, and pick up a big arm for the rotation (or a couple of those for the bullpen).

Do YOU trust Beeston and AA to get that done?

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Pet peeve:

When people who disdain sabermetrics in favour of “traditional” stats, make up other stats that are untested and unknown to anyone else, with far less analysis behind them than either sabermetric or traditional stats have... and then proceed to base an argument on these made-up stats.

Case in point:  This latest little attempt at reading tea leaves by Richard Griffin.  The stuff about playoff teams having catchers as managers – well, yeah, there are a lot of managers who used to be catchers.  I guess that catchers have a more strategic view of the game than, say, second basemen or long relievers, and that strategic bent might lead to a career as a manager or coach, when their playing days are over.  But the irritating thing is, Griffin doesn’t say that.  There’s no causative argument (that catchers tend to be good strategizers and thus good managers).  It’s pure correlation.  On that basis, the Jays should incorporate red and pinstripes into their next uniform design because hey, the Cardinals and Yankees have won more World Series titles than anyone else.

Oh, and Griffin favourite Clarence “Cito” Gaston was an outfielder, Bobby Cox was a 3rd baseman, and Tony La Russa, Earl Weaver, and Sparky Anderson were all second basemen.  Just saying.

But that little logical leap pales in comparison with what comes next:  The notion that successful teams should change closers frequently.  The obvious rebuttal is “Mariano Rivera”.  But forget the obvious rebuttal.  Consider, instead, that the Jays tried, three times in the past 3 years, to give the closer job to someone other than Casey Janssen, with no success.  In 2012, the job was handed to Sergio Santos, who got hurt.  Then it was handed to Francisco Cordero, who was awful.  Then it went to Janssen.  In 2014, Santos got the job again, and blew it, again.  So it’s not as if the Jays haven’t tried other options… Janssen just keeps being the better option, against the odds.  And on top of that, Griffin is the guy who advocated trading for Heath Bell and lobbied hard for acquiring “proven closers” like Francisco Cordero.  How can you go from demanding a proven closer to insisting that a new closer every year is a good idea, and keep a straight face?

I recognize that people change their minds, but where is the acknowledgment that what Griffin has been saying for years (get a proven closer) is no longer how he sees things?


Wednesday, 1 October 2014

If Melky goes...

So, Jose Bautista seems to think Melky Cabrera is as good as gone.

Let’s say he’s right, and the Jays don’t re-sign Melky Cabrera.  For starters, they would collect a compensatory draft pick – Cabrera is getting a qualifying offer, and if he takes it, the Jays should be very happy to have him back for 1yr/$15MM.  But if he does go, who plays left field?

Well, it’s not Dalton Pompey.  Dalton Pompey in left field means that Anthony Gose is in centre, and much as I like the idea of their defense on an everyday basis, playing an unproven bat (Pompey) and a flat-out bad one (Gose) on an everyday basis would be crippling.  Dalton or ToGo in CF, sure.  Both of them at once?  Not unless the club is punting the season and trading everyone else.

So, unless something bizarre happens (like the Jays bringing back Rasmus or getting a veteran CF instead of a LF in the offseason), the Jays will want, or need, a free agent outfielder.  Luckily, there are quite a few free agent candidates available:

Nelson Cruz.  You know what’s weird?  2014 was an outlier season for Cruz, but it wasn’t that much of an outlier.  Nelson Cruz led MLB in home runs this year, but his .370 wOBA wasn’t that far off his career .356 wOBA.  Cruz also put up a .404 wOBA in 2010, followed by 3 years in which he wOBA’d .353, .335, and .359.  The defense is awful, but the man can hit.  Question is, will the Orioles bring him back?  He’ll certainly get a qualifying offer.

Alex Rios (13.5MM option).  Rios could have his option picked up by the Rangers – believe it or not, that option year is the last vestige of the contract Rios signed with the Jays before being waived by the club.  He isn’t the defender he once was, but is still likely better than Melky in that regard.  Had an off year in 2014 (.309 wOBA, 0.2 WAR) but was a 4.2 and 3.1 WAR player in 2012 and 2013.

Nick Markakis (17.5MM option).  Markakis is a step down from Rios; his defense isn’t quite as good and he’s been about a 2 WAR player since 2008.  Still, he is just 31 and I can’t see the Orioles picking up that expensive option.

Jonny Gomes:  Part time player, but before last season he had put up 3 years of .319, .376, and .338, wOBA.  And he’d come cheaper than Cruz/Rios/Markakis, for sure.

Torii Hunter:  I’m leery of the whole idea of “veteran presents” (sic) that guys like Hunter are supposed to bring to teams.  And he’ll be 40, and may just retire rather than play on Astroturf again.  And his defense is nothing close to what it once was.  But he can still hit (.356/.346/.335 wOBA the last 3 years), probably won’t cost a ton, and won’t expect a deal longer than 2 years, probably.  So he’s an option, at least.

Chris Young and Jason Kubel don’t bear thinking about.  So let's stop here.

So, yes, I’d like Melky back, but there isn’t the dearth of free agent options for LF as there is at, say, 2B or C.  And I suppose if the Jays upgrade at C or 2B/3B, a lesser player in LF would be acceptable.

Not replacing Melky and not upgrading at 2B/3B and C is not acceptable, of course.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

End-of-season thoughts: The management.


I was going to make this an “Impressions from the Ballpark” post, but as the season is over, I figured those impressions are moot now, anyway.  In a nutshell, I was at Friday’s game, and the main takeaways are:  Dalton Pompey is impressive, the Jays won, the Skydome in late September is a much more enjoyable experience with the roof open, and don’t get the footlong hotdog that they cook on a griddle.  Assuming they even offer that abomination next year.

The Jays, as you probably noticed, didn’t make the playoffs, and although they weren’t definitively out of the race until mid-September, there will be a call for somebody to be scapegoated.  The first choice in these situations is always the manager, but I think the case for firing John Gibbons is pretty weak.  Gibbons took a team that the experts picked to win 78 games or so and led (if managers even do that) them to an 83-win season.  Gibbons doesn’t pick the players he has to work with; along with Ervin Santana and a real second baseman, I’m sure he would have liked to have a healthy Encarnacion, Lind and Cabrera for a full year, and competent versions of Morrow, Santos, and Delabar.  There were nice surprises, like Melky Cabrera’s bounce-back season and the emergence of Hutchison, Stroman and Sanchez, but as usually seems to be the case, the nice surprises were more than offset by the negatives.

Beyond that?  Gibbons managed the players he had fairly well.  Adam Lind was kept away from lefties, as he should be.  The best OBP guys batted at the top of the order, as they should.  Despite most of the RH relievers falling apart over the season, the bullpen finished 6th in saves and 6th in save percentage, so something had to be going right there. 

Should the Jays sack Alex Anthopoulos?  Man, I don’t know.  

Anthopoulos gets into trouble by being too much of the opposite to his predecessor, the blabbermouth JP Ricciardi.  Ricciardi talked too much – to the detriment of his relationships with players and his ability to get trades done (Brian Sabean reportedly backed away from a Rios-for-Lincecum deal when the Giants’ fanbase got word of it and expressed outrage).  Ricciardi made statements and got into trouble; Anthopoulos says nothing (or the same non-statements over and over) and gets excoriated for it.  Jays fans have sat through several offseasons (2012 excepted) of inaction.  Thanks to AA’s refusal to address rumours, those offseasons have been incredibly frustrating for fans, because AA would and did have us believing that the club was right in there for Ervin Santana.  And Masahiro Tanaka.  And Yu Darvish.  And, and, and…

Point being, it would be nice to find a happy medium between JPR’s loose lips and Anthopoulos’s leave-everything-open-but-nothing-happens approach.  But that won’t get AA fired, of course.  What might get him fired, in a vacuum, is his having built 80% of a championship team and stopped there.  The Jays have all-star caliber players at SS, RF, DH and 1B.  They have guys who would be solid contributors on playoff teams at LF (for now), 3B, and C, and went into last season with a 5 WAR centrefielder.  They have several solid starters and 3 or 4 good relievers.  But they also have gaping holes at 2B and on the bench, and had a desperate need last offseason for a top-line starter.  And AA didn't address those needs.  Instead, the Jays gave 17 starts to Brandon Morrow, Dustin McGowan, and Liam Hendriks, and the team went 7-10 in those starts.  And they got a .634 OPS from their second basemen.  I suppose it’s somewhat excusable to be caught off guard when things go unexpectedly wrong (e.g. Brandon Morrow, although arguably injury and underperformance should be expected from Morrow), but it’s not OK to know you have a major hole in your team and address it by crossing your fingers and hoping for a miracle (i.e. hoping Ryan Goins would be competent with the bat, in the face of overwhelming evidence he wouldn’t be).

Thing is, Anthopoulos isn’t operating in a vacuum.  He’s operating as a Rogers employee, which allows him the benefit of the doubt for a lot of the failings he appears to have.  Alex Anthopoulos tells us there is money to spend, but doesn’t spend it.  Is that because he’s not liking players at a certain price (as he says), or because Rogers has shut off the money tap and doesn’t want him to alienate fans by admitting it?  AA says he will be looking at free agents this offseason, and in the next breath tells us that he won’t be offering any contracts longer than 5 years (meaning, he won’t be looking at any elite free agent).  Is the 5-year rule a product of prudent player valuation methods, or a way to justify never spending any money? 

We don’t know, and we can’t know.  And the thing is, if you sack Anthopoulos, you probably sack Gibbons and a lot of the coaches too, as the new GM puts his or her stamp on things.  So, I figure he stays.

Can we fire Rogers as team owner? That'd work. 

Monday, 22 September 2014

Nothing to see here...

There are a number of plausible explanations for the Jays having gone 2-8 over the 10 games prior to tonight's laugher.  Those were ten ‘must-win’ games; a stretch of games in which a relatively plausible 6-4 run would have put the club 2 ½ back of the wild card, and in position to bury Seattle and catch one of KC or Oakland if they faltered.  Obviously, none of that is going to happen, now.

The 2014 Jays were – or are, if you prefer – a streaky club.  They’ve had winning streaks of 9,6,6,5,5, and 4 games, and losing streaks of 6,5,5,4, and 4 games.  That 6-game losing streak came at the worst possible moment.

Baltimore is (gasp!) a good team, and the Jays never win in NY (7-30 since 2011).

The Jays repeatedly ran out lineups that featured three stars (Reyes, Bautista, Encarnacion), a journeyman having a good year (Navarro) and 5 guys (Gose, Pillar, Valencia, Goins, Kawasaki) who would bat 8th or 9th on a good team.

That last one is probably the big one.  The Jays were fortunate to have Juan Francisco play well in place of Adam Lind early in the year, and available to play 3B while Lawrie filled the hole at 2B.  They were unfortunate that he didn’t play well in June and August (July was actually fairly good for Juan).  Beyond Francisco, the Jays had zero depth at the plate once Lawrie/Cabrera/Rasmus were unavailable, and it showed.

To be fair, there is some reason for optimism next year, mainly on the pitching front.  Having a full season of Marcus Stroman will help.  Drew Hutchison building on his successful return from surgery will help.  Having more of Aaron Sanchez and Dan Norris should help.  Having less volatile replacements for Brandon Morrow and Sergio Santos could help… and redeploying their salaries could help even more.

Having 23 year old pitchers get better, not worse, is a must.

Offensively?  Well, Rasmus is almost certainly gone, and Cabrera might be.  Dalton Pompey could help a bit, but probably not soon.  There’ll be a big hole in the outfield to go with the big hole in the infield, and the Jays have to do something to fix those gaps.  Gose-Goins-Navarro should not be an option next year, despite Navarro’s deceptively good year with the bat.

Until then?  See if the Jays can catch the Yankees, finish ahead of Tampa, win more than 81 games, and save Gibby’s job.  I guess.

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.