Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Some things to keep in mind


It’s not a good thing when pitchers intentionally try to hit batters with pitches.  Throwing inside is part of the game; throwing at somebody is dangerous, classless, and if intentional, illegal.  It’s not ‘part of the game’ any more than fistfights are part of a hockey game.  It’s a tradition that has nothing to do with the rules of the game, and still exists because nobody is motivated to do anything about it.

“Unwritten rules” aren’t written, in order that players can make them up or modify them as the need arises.

Nobody ever went on the disabled list because a batter they faced admired a home run, or a pitcher they faced did a fist pump after a strikeout.  To my knowledge, nobody’s baseball career has ever ended due to a terminally bruised ego.

In short, attempting to injure a player because your feelings are hurt is an entirely disproportional response to a temporary emotional distress.

With all those things in mind, how do you de-escalate the animosity between the Jays and the Orioles?  Both teams feel like they’ve been wronged, and neither team is backing down.  Of course, with Bautista out*, it is possible that the feud will be put on hold.  Nonetheless, the right approach would be for the league office to send a message to the clubs, to the effect that suspensions will be handed out if more attempts to take retribution are made.  Or failing that, the right approach would be for both teams to let the matter drop and get satisfaction from winning the next game.

Should Aaron Sanchez throw at Adam Jones, or Ryan Flaherty?  I’d argue no.  The Jays won the game, and J-Bau won the battle with Jason Garcia, the pitcher who threw behind him.  If Sanchez throws at an Oriole, it’s bound to result in someone on the Jays getting thrown at, or an ejection for Sanchez.  

But if someone on the O’s throws at Donaldson, or Reyes or EE or whoever, should Sanchez hit an Oriole batter?  In the immortal words of Pat Tabler, “Shit, you have to”.  By no means do I think the Blue Jays should escalate the situation, but if the Orioles decide to throw at Jays batters due to their feelings being hurt, and the pitcher doing the throwing isn’t immediately ejected, there has to be some kind of retaliation.  Hitting batters is wrong, but I’d rather see an Oriole get plunked than let the Orioles think they can continue to throw at Blue Jay batters and get away with it, or for Jay hitters to start wondering if their pitchers have their collective backs.

Dumb?  Sure.  So are fistfights.  But if a guy walks up to you and slugs you in the face, you hit him back.  Right?


Shit, you have to.



* - Ironically, Bautista is out after aggravating a strained shoulder while attempting to throw out a runner at first, an “in-your-face, Orioles!” move that backfired.  

Monday, 20 April 2015

The Cavalry

No, J.A. Happ won't be riding up to save us.


The first 2 weeks of the 2015 season haven’t been really pretty for the Jays starting rotation.  Dickey has been plagued with walks, Sanchez has had control issues generally, Norris apparently has “dead arm” and Hutchison has had a little of everything (walks, HR, velocity) go wrong.  Only Mark Buehrle has been his consistent self – 2 starts, 12 innings, 3 walks, 5 K’s, 3.75 ERA.

For all the walks, the results for Rah Dickey have been decent – 1.19 WHIP, 3.26 ERA.  It’s the young guns who have struggled, when it comes down to it.  So, pretty simple question:  If for whatever reason, Norris or Sanchez (or even Hutchison, who has 2 option years left) needs to be sent down, who are the candidates to ride to the rotation’s rescue?


Marco Estrada:  Marco Estrada is the obvious option, because he’s had some success as a starter fairly recently.  Estrada made 18 starts last year, 21 in 2013 and 23 in 2012.  The 2012-13 results were decent, while last year’s results weren’t.  You’ve likely heard all this about Estrada before – he’s a fly-ball pitcher who got burned by the home run last season, and flyball pitchers tend to struggle at the Skydome.  Nonetheless, if someone gets sent down, Estrada is presumably the first man in.

Liam Hendriks:  Hendriks’ 2015 line is 6 innings, 2 hits, 9 K’s, 1 walk, ERA of 0.00.  Small sample size, of course, but what can’t be disputed is that Hendriks was hitting 96 mph out of the bullpen, which does not sound at all like what we experienced from him last year.  It’s pretty much accepted that when a starter transitions to the bullpen, he can add 2-4 mph to his fastball by being able to throw max effort without worrying about pacing himself for 100 pitches.  In other words, Hendriks isn’t likely to be throwing that kind of heat if he’s added to the rotation.  On top of that, Liam Hendriks has been a starter his whole MLB career until now, and never cracked the 5.00 ERA barrier.  I’d be inclined to keep him in the ‘pen – he looks like he could be useful there, or at least be a serviceable long man. 

Jeff Francis:  Francis spent much of his career in Colorado, so his career ERA is perhaps deceptive.  Nonetheless, he hasn’t been a full-time starter since 2012 and he hasn’t been terribly effective as a reliever since then, either.  My guess is that he remains a lefthanded long man out of the pen so long as he continues to pitch well, and then gets cut loose.  He’s also out of options, which will make it harder to keep him if someone like Delabar plays his way back onto the active roster.

Chad Jenkins:  Would seem to be a plausible option, but he's had a lousy 2 starts in Buffalo this year (7.2 innings, 5.87 ERA).  Jenkins hasn't been used as anything but a spot starter in the past, either.  More likely, he'd be called up to pitch out of the 'pen if Estrada or Hendriks got the call to start.

Johan Santana:  Santana hasn’t even pitched in a minor-league game yet as he recovers from shoulder issues, so cool your jets.

Randy Wolf:  Wolf was last a regular in the bigs in 2012, and he wasn’t very good then.  He’s also 38, and while he was quite useful from 2007-2011, that was a long time ago.  The track record since 2012 is mixed:  His minor-league ERA in 2014 was over 4.50, but when he threw 25 innings for the Marlins last year he managed a 4.38 FIP and 3.85 xFIP… which isn’t terrible, even if the actual result (5.26 ERA) was.  So far this year, he’s thrown 10 innings for the Bison, giving up 12 hits and 6 walks.  Ugh.  Still, he’s probably the second guy to get the call after Estrada.


Felix Doubront:  Has not pitched yet this year in the minors, so… he’s not going to be helping the Jays just yet, either.

Jeff Hoffman:  Has not thrown a professional pitch yet.  So... not yet.  Maybe if the team needs him after the all-star break, but even then, just as a reliever.



In short:  If Sanchez or Norris gets sent down in the next couple of weeks, get ready for some fireworks in the Dome when the Marco Estrada show starts.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

April 17, 2015: Impressions from the Ballpark

The 'ol reverse jinx.  Worked this time.

Friday night's game was my first of the season.  As usual, here's what I found to be different at the Skydome from last year.

As you've probably heard, MLB has mandated that metal detectors be installed at stadium gates this year.  From my sample size of one entrance, it doesn't seem to be working out well.  I walked up, took out my keys/phone and put them in the plastic tray.  Shoes? No. Belt? No. Coins?  Nope.  In that regard, it's better than air travel (setting the bar extremely low here).  However, once I had done that, I stood on the outside for about 2 minutes while the stadium attendant and 2 other attendants watched a 4th attendant quiz a guy with dreadlocks, presumably about what was in his pocketses*.  The attendant who searched my friend (two lines over) didn't know what could or could not be carried in.  This wasn't a big deal on a night when 20,000 fans showed, but it could create a bottleneck on busy nights.

It was a beautiful night - clear, not windy, mid-teens C.  Of course, the roof was closed, because it needs to be tested, blah, blah... whatever.  Someday I'm going to check to see how well the Jays draw with the roof open versus with it closed.  I suspect they draw better with it open, all other things being equal, and increased attendance might be the only thing that motivates Rogers to streamline the roof-testing process.

The concession experience was largely unchanged from last year, in the 500s at least.  Beer and food prices look the same as they did in 2014, which is a nice change and (somewhat) eases the pain of the ticket price increase we saw last offseason.  Food and beverage options look the same, too, other than a meatball hoagie option that I didn't recognize from last year.  The jerk chicken nachos are back, but I didn't partake this time around.

We had slightly better seats than last year, 5th row in the 500s between 3B and home plate.   Wonderful perspective on right-field fair/foul calls, at least.

The crowd, as noted, was just over 21,000.  Not especially impressive for a Friday night, but it's still April. 

The game itself could be called a number of things.  Frustrating, for sure.  A see-saw battle?  Yes, it qualifies.  A shootout?  Sure.  Drew Hutchison started for the Jays, and got himself into trouble with walks, immediately.  The wildness settled down after a couple of innings, after which the frustrating part started - it felt like every groundball, slow as they are on the new turf, managed to find a hole.  New shortstop Ryan Goins botched an attempt to short-hop a chopper and had a couple of other grounders go just outside his reach.  Goins can't hit, so it's frustrating when he doesn't noticeably demonstrate his glove skills.

Meanwhile, the Jays were hitting liners that ended up in gloves, and grounders that were adroitly handled by the Barves' infield.  More baserunners would have been nice, because the Jays somehow managed to hit 5 home runs (4 solo, 1 2-run) and only score 7 in the game.

Positives to take away?  Well, hours earlier, I had speculated that Encarnacion and Martin were struggling at the plate, and the two of them combined to go 4-for-8 with a walk, double, and 2 HR.  Donaldson also hit his first 2 HR for the Jays, and Devon Travis didn't skip a beat after being bumped up in the batting order, going 2-for-5 as the leadoff hitter.  After the first inning, Hutchison was more unlucky than ineffective - lots of seeing-eye grounders - and he did strike out 6 batters, which is a good sign.  Roberto Osuna continued to pitch to a 0.00 ERA, although he did give up a double that cashed a runner that Hutchison was responsible for.

The bad?  Brett Cecil gave up the go-ahead HR, a single, and the insurance HR that made it 8-5.  Ryan Goins looked bad with the bat - he did get down a bunt in the 8th that moved runners to 2nd and 3rd, but it was frighteningly close to being caught by Callaspo.  Yes, Travis handled leadoff well, but not having Reyes means that Goins will be playing a lot.  If Reyes hits the DL, will we see a Munenori Kawasaki callup?



* Hint:  Probably not the One Ring.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Gut vs. Brain



Ah, the gut vs. brain battle.  I go through this every year.

My brain tells me that only 10 games have been played.  Batting averages, walk rates, ERAs and WHIPs take months to stabilize.  It’s really, really early.

But my gut – yes, the internal organ that told people that George W Bush would be a good president, and to hold off on buying a home in Toronto in 2006 until prices come down – sees things differently.  Russell Martin is batting .043!  He sucks!

And maybe he does.  Sometimes a bad start is just bad luck, and sometimes, it’s a sign of problems that need to be corrected, or worse, a sign of a decline in ability.  We won’t know for sure which is which until it’s too late June or July, probably.

Nonetheless, and with full knowledge that there are no credible sample sizes to base evaluations of players on, I present here the good and the bad for 7 standout Blue Jays at the 10 game mark, and… whether you should give in to that gut feeling and panic.

Kevin Pillar:
Glass half full:  Leads the AL in Defensive runs saved.  Pillar has seen an impressive reduction in his K rate (to 15.4%), which presumably has helped generate a .282 average without BABIP luck.
Glass half empty:  0.0% walk rate is hurting his value.  That nice .282 BA is a much-less-nice .282 OBP, and it’s hard to see him playing much against righthanded pitching when Saunders is healthy.

Verdict:  Still a platoon OF at best, but he’s got value as a defensive replacement in LF (also, to keep Saunders' newly healed knee off the turf) and he should definitely play for Pompey (or even Saunders, sometimes) against LHP.

Russell Martin:
Glass half full:  Has caught 36% of basestealers and is already getting credit for his defense.  OBP of .250 is as good or better than that of Pompey, Encarnacion, and Navarro, and not far off that of new fan-fave Kevin Pillar (.282).  Batting average has been destroyed by a stupidly bad .071 BABIP (Martin’s career BABIP is .288).
Glass half empty:  11 strikeouts in 32 plate appearances can’t be blamed on BABIP, and his actual batted ball breakdown (64% groundballs, just 7% line drives) suggests that he’s not been unlucky, he’s been making lousy contact.

Verdict:  There are guys who have been unlucky, but Martin, aside from drawing some walks, has been hard to watch at the plate. 

Devon Travis:
Glass half full:  He’s playing solid defense, turning double plays, hitting for average, and hitting for power.
Glass half empty:  There’s a little BABIP luck at work (.385 BABIP isn’t supported by the 18% LD rate, and the 18% HR/FB rate will come down)

Verdict:  Looks like the real deal… so far.  Nobody can hit .343 without a little BABIP luck, after all.

Roberto Osuna:
Glass half full:  Lots and lots of strikeouts and not many walks.
Glass half empty:  BABIP allowed of .111 isn’t supported by 22% LD rate and just 22% groundball rate.  That leaves a 56% flyball rate, which is a lot of potential home runs that haven’t been going out.

Verdict:  If the K rate drops, the flyballs will be more of an issue.  Watch out for those fly balls dropping in for hits, or going out for home runs.

Drew Hutchison: 
Glass half full: His line drive/groundball/flyball ratios match what we saw last year, and he’s been unlucky with strand rate (just 64%) and HR/FB rate (20%)
Glass half empty:  K rate is down, walk rate is a little down but not enough to offset the K rate.  Where are all the strikeouts with the new slider we heard about all winter?

Verdict:  A little unlucky, but since his return from injury at the start of last year, Hutchison has been a flyball pitcher.  Without the Ks, he may struggle even when the HR/FB rate normalizes.

Jose Bautista:
Glass half full:  Walk rate is up, and even though he has just 5 hits, 3 are for extra bases.  He’s hammering line drives at a 26% rate and flyballs at 52%, so he’s making the kind of contact that leads to success.  And, lest we forget, he’s Jose freakin’ Bautista. 
Glass half empty:  BABIP is probably just bad luck, but that 24% K rate he currently sports is 50% worse than normal.

Verdict:  Did I mention he’s Jose freakin’ Bautista?  If he stays healthy he’s going to be among the league leaders in HR and oWAR.  Relax.

Edwin Encarnacion:
Glass half full:   Umm… he’s Edwin effing Encarnacion?  Doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it?
Glass half empty:  Lousy BABIP is lousy because EE is making lousy contact:  Just 12.5% line drives, 53% ground balls (too many) and of the few fly balls he does hit, more than a quarter of them are infield flies.  Walk rate is way down and K rate is slightly up.

Verdict:  Something’s not quite right.  Maybe missing time in the spring has messed up EE’s timing, maybe his back is sore.  Neither the process nor the results look good so far, but Encarnacion also had a crummy April last year and then destroyed May.  Fingers crossed.



Tuesday, 14 April 2015

A confession


I can’t stand watching R.A. Dickey pitch.

I’m not saying he’s a bad pitcher, and I’m not blaming him for Monday night’s loss.  Dickey has been worth 2.0 and 2.5 bWAR for the past 2 seasons, which makes him a solid average player, the second-most valuable starter on both the 2013 and 2014 Jays.  And there’s no question that 2 ER through 6 innings is a pretty solid performance.

I’m just saying that it’s excruciating, for me, to watch him pitch.  Even if he’s pitching well, which happens fairly often.

I’ve been trying to rationalize this feeling for over a year, now.  Part of it may be due to how Dickey has struggled at times in the early season – in particular, in 2013, when expectations were so high – and how that soured me on him early.  But more than anything else, I think it comes down to one thing: that unpredictable knuckleball.  I was going to say “walks”, too, but Dickey surprisingly doesn’t walk all that many batters.  Walks per 9 was 2.84 in 2013 and 3.09 last year – not stellar, but not awful either.  It’s not the number of the walks that bother me, it’s the way they tend to come in bunches… and for that, I blame the knuckleball.

Finally, last night, I think I found what might be the answer.  Dickey’s wOBA allowed is higher when men are on base or in scoring position, and in particular his walk rate (and strikeout rate) worsens with men on base.  Struggles with men on base plagued Brandon Morrow when he was with the Jays, but I didn't find Morrow as excruciating to watch as Dickey is.  As best as I can explain it, the unpredictability of the knuckleball can cause a game, or an at-bat, to go off the rails at any time.  Monday night’s game was a perfect example – the first inning was clean, the second had a walk and HBP, the 3rd had (with 2 outs) a single, a walk and a balk, and the 4th went single-single-out-out-walk-walk-walk.  And the 5th and 6th innings were both clean.  Too often, it feels like Dickey is cruising along, and then suddenly the pitches go everywhere but the strike zone… and just as suddenly, he’s cruising again.  The same thing applies within an at-bat:  You’d expect a 2-0 pitch to be something close to a strike, but too often, it feels like that 2-0 pitch is in the dirt, or so far outside the zone as to not even tempt the batter to swing.

Am I being irrational?  Maybe.  I can’t find a stat that tracks how often a 2-0 pitch is followed by a ball, or how often a pitcher issues multiple walks in an inning.  I know that Dickey does do a lot of things well – he gets a lot of infield flies, for example, and tends not to give up many hard-hit balls.  His BABIP allowed and line drive rate allowed are both better than league average.  And he definitely gives the club a lot of decent innings.  He's valuable.


But despite all that, I dread watching him go 2-0 or 3-1 on a leadoff batter, because that often seems to herald more wildness in the next inning or two.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Week 1 thoughts

(No, I am not doing those weekly check-ins, again.  Those turned into a regurgitation of weekly statistics in sample sizes that were meaningless.  But... that's not to say I won't occasionally take a snapshot of my impressions for posterity, either.)


Games like the loss to NY on Wednesday are going to happen, and there are two takeaways to be had - one, yes, games like that will happen, but they're much more unsettling when they happen in Game 2 as opposed to, say, Game 47 when you know what to expect from your relievers, and two, sometimes playing the percentages doesn't work out, but that doesn't mean you should do things differently the next time.

The Jays are third in the AL in runs scored/game, which sounds about right, and 7th in runs allowed, which unfortunately also sounds about right.

Small sample size, obviously, but the 'ole eye test says that the Jays look a lot better defensively than they did last year.  Timely double plays, great defense in the OF, and only 2 errors are the highlights of the week.  Smoak has been playing 1B late in games, and I look forward to seeing Goins as a defensive replacement at SS later on.

The guys who aren't hitting much yet (Martin, Pompey, Donaldson, Bautista) are drawing walks, at least.  I'm going to call that a good sign.

Sanchez and Norris have done nothing to change my expectations of them:  One of them will struggle badly.  Not trying to be negative, but baseball is hard, and starting games at the major-league level at age 22-23 is all about having learning experiences.

Lastly, a 4-2 record on a road trip against division rivals - including last season's division winner - is not a bad outcome at all.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Stuff


Some thoughts that don't merit their own posts.

TV:

Remember Sportsnet One?  Remember the nagging fear that Rogers would start showing Jays games only on the“Premium” Sportsnet One channel, as opposed to the regional channels that are part of entry-level cable packages?  Well, the TV schedule is out, and this year there are 33 games available only on Sportsnet One.  This number is actually down from the 36 games that were on SN1 the last time I checked, in 2011.  So that’s good, I suppose, and it’s also good that Rogers is doing a free preview of SN1 for April.  That doesn’t, of course, help those fans who aren’t Rogers customers.

Much as I’d like to hate on Rogers for this, there’s a good reason for all those games being on SN1:  Hockey (Well, a reason, if not a good reason).  Rogers spent eleventy bajillion dollars on NHL rights, and during the hockey playoffs, hockey is going to be on the Sportsnet regional channels, whether we like it or not (we don’t), with the Jays pushed to SN1.  But from June 1 until the end of the baseball season, just 3 Jays games will be on SN1.  And that, at least, is good news. 

For April and May, though – better get yourself acquainted with livestreaming games, if you have basic cable.

Porcello extension:

If you missed it, the Red Sux handed one of their new pitchers, ex-Tiger Rick Porcello, a 4 year, $82MM contact extension which will kick in next year.  When I first saw the news, I just about did a spit take:  I’ve always thought that 20MM/yr contacts went to elite pitchers, like the Prices and Scherzers and Bumgarners of MLB.  Not to the likes of Rick Porcello, who owns a career 4.30 ERA (98 ERA+, slightly worse than league average for his career).  Porcello has been a fulltime starter since 2009 and last year was the first time he cracked 190 innings, and the first time his ERA was below 4.30 since his rookie year.  He owns a career strikeout rate of 5.5 per 9 innings (5.7 last year).

And then again… even though the on-field results haven’t been outstanding, Porcello’s FIP and xFIP have been consistently in the low 4’s and 3’s since 2011.  And he’s just 26, and he hasn't missed significant time to injury in 5 years.   So, I can sort of see that the Red Sox might be thinking that he’s been a bit unlucky, and that his FIP suggests that he's a better pitcher than his ERA would suggest, and that he's a groundballer who doesn't walk anybody, coming into his prime years.

Still, though... no big strikeout totals, middling track record, not a big innings-eater, and he gets $20MM AAV.  Health and youth are expensive these days.

Blue Jays Plus: 


In better news, congratulations to Blue Jays Plus on being named to ESPN’s Sweetspot network of fan blogs.  I haven’t picked on ESPN for a while, but that doesn't mean the place couldn't stand some improvement, and I’m confident that the staff at BJP will raise the level of discourse there.  If you haven’t checked out the Blue Jays Plus site, you should – it’s loaded with analysis, prospect info, and general commentary, and they just launched a database with gifs for each Jays pitcher’s offerings and each hitter’s home runs.  It’s the sort of site I would have if I was less lazy, better at analysis, more creative, and knew how to make gifs.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Who the hell is.... Colt Hynes?


Lots of new faces on the Jays this year, but the one nobody seems to know much about is Colt Hynes.

We know Miguel Castro throws smoke.  We know Josh Donaldson was a near-MVP the last 2 years and Russell Martin is a game-calling and pitch-framing wizard.  We know Devon Travis was a Fangraphs darling for his hitting skills.  And hey, did you know that Dan Norris lived in a van this past offseason?  Whaaaaaaaaaaat?

So here are some questions (and answers) about Hynes:

Q1.  What pitches does he throw?
A:  Colt Hynes is a lefthanded relief pitcher.  He’s not a hard thrower (fastball hits 90 mph, but not much more), and features a slider, curve, and changeup to go with the fastball.  We don’t have a ton of pitch f/x data to go on, but when in the majors, Hynes threw a more or less equal mix of fastballs and sliders, with an occasional changeup.

Q2.  So, what’s his likely role?
A:  LOOGY.  He’s never really started much, even in the minors, and was absolutely horrid against righthanded batters in the tiny MLB sample size we have to look at.

Q3.  Does he have options?
A:  Yes, Hynes has 2 options remaining.  So there is a chance he might be the one sent down when the club brings up Michael Saunders or Ryan Goins, simply because he doesn’t have to pass through waivers like Steve Tolleson and Liam Hendriks do.  Beyond having options, he’ll obviously need to pitch well to stay with the team, and if someone else winds up with the closer job instead of Cecil, he may become superfluous as a third lefthander in the bullpen.

Q4.  Strengths and weaknesses?
A:  Hynes has been a professional since 2007, so he’s old (29) and what we see now is probably the finished product.  For the last 3 seasons, Hynes has had a very low walk rate in the minors.  That didn’t carry into the majors during his brief 2013 stint with San Diego, but again, small sample size.  Oddly, batters have hit for a high average on balls in play against Hynes.  Hard to say that a pattern that has lasted several seasons is all bad luck, so perhaps Hynes’s pitches are unusually ‘hittable’?  Anyway, something to keep in mind.


Disappointingly, Hynes has been given the jersey number 49, when (Hynes) 57 was available. (Colt) 45 would have worked too, but Dalton Pompey has that one.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Opening Day, April 6 2015: Impressions (from intermittent check-ins on MLB.com Gamecast)

So, 5 was a ball, and 3 was a strike.  Either Gamecast is broken, or the umpire is.


Watching a baseball game live is far superior to watching on TV, which is better than watching online.  That said, there are a few things you pick up online that aren't as apparent as when you watch a game as-it-happens (as opposed to checking in every 30 minutes and piecing together the action from statistics and highlights later).  Here are 5 things I noticed today.

1.  Drew Hutchison gave up a lot of well-hit balls, and it shows in the stats:  4 groundouts, 11 flyouts, just 3 strikeouts.  The result was good, but perhaps a little misleading.  Fly balls (anywhere, but especially in Yankee Stadium) will hurt you eventually.

2.  Today, at least, there were no easy outs in the Blue Jays' lineup.  In particular, the bottom of the order (Kevin Pillar and the two rookies, Dalton Pompey and Devon "Big Booty" Travis) saw 58 pitches over 12 plate appearances (3 hits, 3 walks).  Coincidence, or a sign of a more disciplined approach?

3.  The boxscore says that Yankee Stadium was sold out... but a lot of those fans were disguised as empty seats, as far as I could tell.

4.  I have no satisfactory explanation of why Justin Smoak did not start and play 1st base.  Smoak is a switch hitter who hits righthanded pitching better, a home run hitter who would be staring at the inviting short porch in right field all game.  Instead, Dioner Navarro starts against the righty Tanaka and bats lefthanded, his weaker side.  Plus, Smoak would give Encarnacion a day off from fielding.  Are the Jays still trying to showcase Navarro?

5.  Didi Gregorius's inexplicable attempt to steal third when down 5 runs in the eighth made me immediately think "that's something Brett Lawrie would have done".  Nice to see players on someone else's team making that kind of gaffe, for a change.  Also, time to start up the "St. Derek would never have done that" commentary.  Sorry Didi, but I think you're destined to be a rebound relationship in NY.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

The season preview (aka the pitching riddle)

I don't even know why I am wearing a golf glove, let alone how well the Blue Jays will do!

I'd like to say that I'm predicting the Jays to win 90 games, but I'm not.  And not calling for 80 wins, either.  Frankly, it's really hard to say how many games the Jays will win this season, because for fully 1/4 of the team, there's no track record of how they will perform.  In particular, the pitching staff could be pretty good, and it could be pretty horrible.

Anyway, I write a Blue Jays blog, and it's the time of year when sportswriters and bloggers write season previews... so here goes.  We'll start with the easy part.

HITTING:

The offense should be pretty good, as in, better than last year's offense.  Yes, the team lost some good performers in Adam Lind and Melky Cabrera, and some power and potential in Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus.   The problem with those guys wasn't their ability, it was their durability.  Great players don't win games when they're not able to stay on the field.  

Brett Lawrie played in 177 games out of 324, the last 2 seasons.  Adam Lind played in 238 of 324 in the same timeframe.  Cabrera played 227, and Rasmus, 222.  Put it all together, and those 4 players missed about 1/3 of the schedule in 2013-14.  These were years in which the team was expected to contend, and having key hitters out for extended periods of time didn't help.

What will help is the health records of the incoming players.  Josh Donaldson has hardly missed a game over the last 2 seasons.  Yes, Josh Donaldson is a better player than Brett Lawrie, but the real key is that Donaldson is a much better player than Jayson Nix, Steve Tolleson, Juan Francisco, Mune Kawasaki, and all the other warm bodies who filled in while Lawrie was missing almost half of the last 2 seasons.   Justin Smoak might not be a better hitter than Adam Lind, but we're not comparing him with Lind, necessarily.  We're comparing him with a composite made up of 2/3 of Lind and 1/3 of Dan Johnson/Juan Francisco/Mark DeRosa/etc.  And though it's more than likely that Saunders and Pompey won't hit as well as Cabrera and Rasmus, they'll likely be as good or better than the 4th and 5th outfielders of the last 2 seasons (the jury is still out on Saunders' durability, though).

Beyond that?  It looks like we'll be getting 57 games of Russell Martin instead of 57 games of Josh T-Hole and his .276 wOBA (Thole got 57 games and 150 PA last year??  Sounds like he was a lot more than Dickey's personal catcher).  That alone will be a huge shot in the arm for the offense, and  Martin should also take about 50-60 games away from Dioner Navarro, which will be a lesser, but still significant, improvement.  

Jose Reyes, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion, when healthy, have been very consistent over the last 3 years.  At ages 32, 34 and 31, I expect (and hope for) them to perform similarly in 2015.

Will Devon Travis play well at 2B or will he flounder?  Well, I alluded at the start of this post to how there is no track record on the fresh-from-A-ball rookies, so I really can't say.  But the thing with 2B and the Blue Jays is that the bar has been set so low, that even a struggling Travis wouldn't be much worse than what we have seen in 2013-4.  This is a situation that almost literally can only get better.  A good year from Travis (and Izturis, when he returns) is gravy.

I headed this section "hitting", but I'll note here that Saunders is a better LF than Cabrera, Donaldson is as good or better than Lawrie at 3B, Smoak is better than either of Lind or Encarnacion at 1B, and Russell Martin is a better defender and better pitch-framer than either of Navarro and T-Hole.  These improvements will hopefully save the pitching staff a couple of dozen runs or more over the season.

Verdict:  The Jays were 4th in the AL in runs scored last year, and should be better in 2015.  Team defense should be noticeably better as well.


PITCHING:

This is tougher to guess at, thanks to Marcus Stroman wrecking his knee and the ripple effect it caused.  With Stroman out, Sanchez goes to the rotation as a near-rookie and Miguel Castro and Roberto Osuna make the bullpen as legit rookies.  Throw in Dan Norris as the other new starter and Colt Hynes in the bullpen and you have 5 pitchers who could be anything from Stroman-great to Santos-awful.  40% of the pitching staff, basically.

We know, or can reasonably expect, that Rah Dickey and Mark Buehrle will put up between 2 and 3.5 WAR each in 2015, because they've both been doing that for a while (throw out Dickey's 2012 campaign, although a repeat of that would be nice).  We can dream on Drew Hutchison's finish last season and wonder whether his new slider will lead to a major improvement in 2015, but the best guess is somewhere between 1.5 WAR (that he put up in 2014) and perhaps 2.5 or 3 WAR.  Norris and Sanchez?  Who knows?

Last year was the first time in 5 years that Jay Happ was worth more than 1 WAR (he was 1.4 in 2014).  Brandon Morrow was only once a 2+ WAR player in his career, and most of us expected that Dustin McGowan would break our hearts.  If both Sanchez and Norris could put up Jay Happ numbers in 2015, that would be a wonderful outcome.  And Jay Happ isn't even very good!  The problem with Sanchez and Norris is that 1.5 WAR is at the upper end of expectations, and the possible results are all over the place.  It's not impossible that Dan Norris could be Stroman 2.0, but it's more likely that he puts up Happ-like numbers or even winds up back in AAA by June, and we see Randy Wolf or Felix Doubront up here in his place.  I'm even less sure about Aaron Sanchez.  Could be great, could be awful, probably will be about 0.5-1.0 WAR.


I think I might have more confidence in the 2015 bullpen than in the 2015 rotation, and this is due to one thing only:  regression to the mean.  Last year, 4 key members of the bullpen (Loup, Delabar, Janssen, and Santos) underperformed, relative to their recent career norms, and only one (Redmond) outperformed.  Janssen and Santos are gone, Delabar is a phone call away in Buffalo, and Loup is still on the team.  We can expect Loup to be a bit better, and if he makes it back here, Delabar should be better too.  It's hard to believe any of the new relievers (Estrada, Hynes, Castro and Osuna) could be worse than Sergio Santos was in 2014, and the bar set by Casey Janssen in 2014 (4.14 FIP, 5.5 strikeouts per 9 innings) is not terribly high.  It's not as if Dustin McGowan was awe-inspiring, either.  In a nutshell, I expect Estrada/Hynes/Castro/Osuna to be better than McGowan/Santos/Janssen/Delabar were last year, and if any of them struggle, there are fallback options in the form of Bo Schultz, Matt West, and the hopefully improved 2015 version of Delabar.

Verdict:  The starting pitching will likely be a bit worse than in was last year - even if Hutchison takes a step forward, Dickey and Buehrle are both a year older, and it's not reasonable to expect Norris and Sanchez to be better than Stroman and Happ were in 2015.  That said, there is a lot of upside (and downside) in this year's rotation.  The bullpen should be improved, and it'll need to be.


You want me to throw out a number?  Fine - I'm going to say the Jays win 88 games this year.  Will that get them a playoff spot?  Fingers crossed.

Monday, 30 March 2015

...in which our hero doth protest too much.

“I’m a happy guy, damnit… what do I have to say to convince you f****** of that?”

So I read this today.   And I have to say… yes, yes, we get it, Papi.  Please shut up already.

In the story, David Ortiz expounds in his own words on his favourite subject:  David Ortiz, and how David Ortiz has been done wrong.

Please.

Ortiz starts out with an anecdote about being woken up at his offseason home in the Dominican Republic for a PED test.  He insists, to the testers, that his blood is clean.  He’s been tested “More than 80 (times)” since 2004.  He implies that the random testing isn’t random, because he gets tested so much.

You know, like Jose Bautista does.  And Miguel Cabrera, and Albert Pujols, and every other power hitter in the league.  And Olympic athletes and athletes in other pro sports.

But that’s ok.  “Clean it up”, Ortiz says.  “I love it.”  (Except, don’t test me so much.  Because I’m clean.  Promise!)

The weird thing about this story is all the contradictions in it.  Ortiz is in favour of testing, except when it happens to him, and it happens to him too damn much and that’s wrong because he’d never knowingly take anything.  Another contradiction revolves around fun.  Ortiz is having fun.  “It’s just who I am.  I’m here to bring joy to the game.”  Except that he’s not having fun.  He’s complaining about how you need (legal) supplements to play 180 games, about how nobody cares if you are going through issues in your personal life.  And about being questioned about taking steroids.

You know, like Jose Bautista and Miguel Cabrera get questioned about taking steroids.

David Ortiz says he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.  He’s won three World Series (Eric Hinske has just two, so suck on it, Eric!).  But, but… what if a bunch of writers say he can’t get in to the Hall of Fame?

It might happen.  But I feel a lot more sympathy for guys like Mike Piazza, who should have won an MVP the year Caminiti won (on steroids), and Carlos Delgado, who should have won the 2003 MVP over a cheating A-Roid.  I feel worse for guys like Jeff Bagwell, who was a much, MUCH better player than Ortiz is, but has been kept out of the Hall of Fame because of the same kind of PED suspicions that have dogged Ortiz (to say nothing of feeling bad for Edgar Martinez.  If any no-glove DH deserves to be in the HoF, Martinez does – and there was never a hint of PEDs around Edgar).

In short:  David Ortiz is complaining about something that hasn’t happened to him yet.  

David Ortiz has made about $130,000,000 playing baseball, and he’s mad that sportswriters ask him questions about PEDs.  Sportswriters did a lot of things wrong in the early stages of the steroid era, like pretending they didn’t know that home run kings McGwire, Sosa, and Bonds were juicing.  MLB’s leadership failed then, too. And lots of players turned a blind eye to what was happening around him.  In fact, David Ortiz played 6 years with Manny Ramirez and as far as we know, never said anything about Manny’s steroid use.  Lots of blame to go around for the way things are now.  And “now”, getting asked PED questions are part of the job of playing baseball.

You know what’s really unfair?  That if David Ortiz doesn’t make the Hall of Fame, he’s going to blame the writers who vote for the HoF for believing in the steroid allegations, instead of blaming himself for not being a Hall of Fame calibre player



Friday, 27 March 2015

Damned if you do...



In years past, the Jays would go to great lengths to stash out-of-options players on the back of the 25-man roster, to the (possible?  eventual?) detriment of the team’s performance.  Guys like Jeremy Jeffress, Moises Sierra, and Esmil Rogers.  And at the same time, it felt like they were slow-playing their best prospects (Lawrie, Stroman) by keeping them in the minors to maximize their years of team control.

Things sure seem to have changed, don’t they?

The final roster isn’t set, but it looks a lot like we will be seeing all of Devon Travis, Dalton Pompey, Daniel Norris, Aaron Sanchez, Miguel Castro and Roberto Osuna on the team.  Castro, Osuna and Travis are rookies, and the others have anywhere from a month to three months of major-league experience.  And on the flipside, we won’t be seeing Steve Delabar (optioned), Chad Jenkins (optioned) and Kyle Drabek (out of options, claimed by Chicago) on the opening day roster.  It's possible that Steve Tolleson may be lost on waivers, too, unless the club goes north without Ryan Goins, or brings Tolleson to Toronto as a "4th outfielder" until Saunders is healthy.

Is this a better approach?  Not inherently.  There is value in keeping "assets" (as Anthopoulos would call them) under control, whether that means keeping a possibly-useful-to-someone-else-when-he-learns-to-throw-strikes Jeremy Jeffress on the team, or keeping a prospect on the farm until mid-May.  Particularly if there isn't any urgent reason to do otherwise.  And while it sure looks like Travis, Norris, and Castro are ready to contribute in the majors, it's also arguable that as good as Travis and Osuna have looked this spring, they could use some time against better than A-ball competition before they head straight from the low minors to the bigs.  The talent is there, but it's anyone's guess as to whether the rookies will be able to adapt once their big-league opponents have scouted them and have their weaknesses on tape.

So why the change in approach?  Maybe it's an acknowledgment that the team has been too conservative in its handling of prospects in the past.  Maybe it's belated recognition that the core of this team is aging and the 2015 Jays need to take the players with the highest ceilings north with them if they plan to compete.  Maybe it's a domino effect from Stroman's injury.  And maybe - as some would say - it's AA's last throw of the dice.  There may not be a "next year" for AA and Gibbons if 2015 goes badly, so why save assets for the future?

I will say this:  Nobody was under any illusion that Moises Sierra or Esmil Rogers would be impact players in 2013-14.  They had ceilings of bit players, at best.  Castro, Travis, and the other 2015 youngsters aren't like that - they could be impact players, a power arm in relief and a credible hitter at second base.  So if nothing else, the apparent change in approach by Jays management has considerable upside - to go with considerable risk if the prospects flounder.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Catching knuckles

Strike, or passed ball?  Beats me.

The Jays really need to move Dioner Navarro.

I know the arguments for keeping him.  He’s a better bat than Josh “T-Hole” Thole.  He could play almost every day if Russ Martin got hurt.  He can DH some (but not really, with a career wOBA of .304, worse than all of Dayan Viciedo, Valencia, and Smoak).  The team doesn’t want to give him away for nothing.

I get all that.  So let’s say the Jays keep Navarro, and Thole gets through waivers to Buffalo (these are a kind of revocable waivers, so he’ll likely pass through – teams seldom claim guys that they know can be pulled back by the club attempting the waiver).  Rah Dickey gets to throw to Russell Martin, and Navarro is the backup.  What’s bad about that?

Well, for starters, Martin’s going to need somewhere between 30 and 50 games off from catching.  If Martin catches all of Dickey’s starts (and he will, if his backup is Navarro), then Martin also will catch somewhere between 100/130 and 80/130 of everyone else’s starts.  Yes, you could have Navarro catch Buehrle (they seemed to work well together last year), but doesn’t it make sense to have an elite pitch-framer catching a finesse pitcher like Buehrle?  And doesn’t it also make sense that Martin catch the youngsters (Hutchison, Sanchez, and likely Norris), considering the rave reviews he gets for game calling and managing young pitchers?

The other point is that there is no guarantee that Dickey and Martin will work well together when the real games start.  Sure, the reviews look good now, and both guys are saying all the right things.  What else could they say?  Maybe stuff like this, this and this?  Every time I read about Dickey and Martin this spring, it seems like I’m reading about Martin adopting new stances, the odd missed pitch, and both guys talking each other up.  Eeerily like 2013, and not really reassuring

Alternatively – if you keep Thole, you keep a guy that Dickey is comfortable with and give 32 starts to him.  Dickey has had most of his best performances throwing to T-Hole, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  Martin can have 110-130 starts with the other pitchers and Thole can catch up to 20 more.  That means Martin will do most of his work where he’s most needed – with the young pitchers and the guy (Buehrle, as opposed to Dickey) who benefits more from pitch framing.

And the other thing is, T-Hole is the only guy in the system who has knuckleball experience, and he must pass through revocable waivers to be sent down to Buffalo.  As I said, it’s likely that he gets through – but if someone claims him, what do the Jays do?  Go with three catchers, when it’s possible the team may want to hide an out of options pitcher (Kyle Drabek) in the bullpen?   That doesn’t leave much of a any bench.  Let Thole go?  That might have worked when Mike Nickeas (who has caught Dickey’s knuckler) was stashed in the minors, but Nickeas is now retired, leaving the Jays without a safety net if Martin gets hurt.

If Rah Dickey wasn't on the team, I'd say the team should keep Navarro as a passable backup to Martin and not worry about whether Navarro would be happier as the #1 catcher elsewhere.  But that's not the situation the team is in.  The way things are now, it makes more sense to have pitchers throwing to catchers they are confident in, and whose catching skills complement those of the pitcher they are receiving from.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Head to Head: Battles for 2B, 4th and 5th starter, bullpen


So, we’re about 2 weeks from the season opener.  Who has the edge for 2B and relief?  And who will be the 4th and 5th starters?  Well, since you asked... (stats as of Mar 19)

2B:
Devon Travis has played a lot and looked fairly good doing so – he sports a .300/.344/.367 batting line, over 32 PA.  Defence passes the eye test.  Sooner or later, he'll be here.
Ryan Goins has been even better, .346/.393/.462.  With his defensive rep, you could knock 100 points off each of those numbers and he’d make the team.
Steve Tolleson has been .250/.318/.450.  He’s out of options, but I don’t see the team keeping him around when the season starts.  Back to Buffalo, if he can sneak through waivers.
Maicer Izturis has a nasty .067/.222/.133 line over 18PA... and a guaranteed contract.
Munenori Kawasaki has a .364/.533/.545 batting line over just 14 PA.  As usual, I think he’s the fallback option.
Ramon Santiago looked better than any of them, but is out for 10 weeks.

If the Jays weren’t already committed to paying Izturis $3MM, I think the job would go to Travis.  As it is, I think it’s still Izturis if he hits at all over the next 2 weeks.  Goins would back up both SS and 2B.  The problem with bringing up Travis (or Tolleson or Santiago or Kawasaki) to start at 2B is that you’d be stuck with Izturis as a backup infielder and he’s not good enough to back up SS or 3B.  That, or carry 2 backup middle infielders… which won’t work if the team needs to find roster spots for one or both of Navarro and Thole, Valencia, and a 4th outfielder.

Rotation:
After Dickey, Buehrle and Hutchison, the contenders look like this:

Marco Estrada has a horrible 9.39 ERA for the spring, but 7 of the 8 ER he has surrendered came in a 2/3 inning appearance vs Tampa that I had the misfortune to watch.  Throw that out and he looks much better.  And throw out his good performance the last time out, and he looks much worse *shrug*

Aaron Sanchez has an ERA of 4.70 over 7.2 innings.  Does this teach us anything?  Probably not, but with Stroman out, it’s pretty much down to 2 of him, Norris, and Estrada for the rotation. 

Daniel Norris hasn’t had dramatically different results than Sanchez has, but his 9 Ks over 7 innings looks better than Sanchez’s 4 over 7 2/3.  Ridiculously small sample size, but I’m of the opinion that the 5th starter job was his to lose when spring training started.  So, book it: Norris will make the rotation.

Right now, I think it’s Norris and Sanchez to the rotation, with Estrada available as a replacement if one of them gets lit up repeatedly and sent back to the minors.  There’s also the possibility of Johan Santana breaking into this group in future, but that’s not to be counted on. 

Bullpen:
Aaron Loup and Brett Cecil will be here.  So will Steve Delabar and Todd Redmond… probably.  Both Delabar and Redmond have done nothing to hurt their chances of making the roster.  That leaves 3 spots.  One of those spots will go to Marco Estrada, and if Estrada somehow makes the rotation, it’ll go to Sanchez.  Miguel Castro has been very impressive this spring, and I can’t see how the club can avoid bringing him up when the season starts.  That leaves one spot remaining.

I had thought that Chad Jenkins would be a cinch to make the team, but he’s struggled badly to this point in the spring, and he has an option left.  So, no.  Kyle Drabek doesn’t have an option, and he’s been ok… but not really impressive.  I guess the team could bring him up over Jenkins.  Better options would be Colt Hynes or Bo Schultz, and late-addition Randy Wolf may make a run at a spot.  I’d add Roberto Osuna to the list of possibles, but it seems a lot to ask 4 rookies or near-rookies (Sanchez, Norris, Castro, and Osuna) to make the pitching staff out of spring training.

Jeff Francis, Liam Hendriks, and Scott Copeland have blotted their copybooks, I think.

So right now – I’d say Cecil-Loup-Delabar-Castro-Estrada-Redmond and give the last spot to Drabek (or someone else, if that someone has an impressive 2 weeks ahead of him).  If Drabek gets shelled, the team will likely cut him loose to whoever is willing to take him.


Wednesday, 18 March 2015

The 9 most devastating injuries in Blue Jay history

Right after it had sunk in that the Jays had lost Marcus Stroman for the season, I started to dwell on some of the less obvious (but still depressing) ramifications.  The Jays lose a year of Stroman when he's cheap.  The club loses one of its best pitchers for a year when their window to contend may be down to 2 years.  Other young pitchers may get rushed to the majors, starting their arbitration clocks early and possibly hurting their development.  Et cetera.  We won't know the full impact of Stroman's injury until we have the benefit of hindsight, and even then, we can only guess what he might have done in a healthy 2015.

What we do have, when feeling morbid, is the benefit of hindsight when it comes to other injuries.  These all hurt, but some really hurt.  Stroman's injury would make this a list of 10 - your guess is as good as mine as to where it will end up falling in terms of impact to the team.

So let's take a trip down bad memory lane, shall we?

9. BJ Ryan, 2007:

The dreaded "inverted L"

Ryan blew 4 saves in all of 2006.  He and his replacements combined to blow 8 saves in 2007… and the team finished 13 games back of the playoffs.  OK, the onfield significance may not have been that great, but Ryan’s injury marked the start of J.P. Ricciardi’s (“it’s not a lie if we know the truth”) downfall.  And then again, that might not have been a bad thing, either.

8. Morrow/Drabek/Hutchison, 2012:


This was 3 injuries, but they happened so fast that it felt like one big, crushing injury inflicted over the course of 7 days. Yes, the 2012 team wasn’t going anywhere in all likelihood, but losing 3 starters in a week was devastating, in case you had forgotten.  Throw in Ricky Romero’s falling apart, and the entire (fairly promising) 2014 rotation had to be replaced. 

7. Duane Ward, 1994:


Duane Ward was a beast for the 1991-93 Jays – putting up 9 WAR of value from the bullpen, saving 88 games as a setup man and closer and being a workhorse in general.  Unfortunately, pitching workhorses tend to break down eventually, and that’s what Ward did.  Bicep tendinitis cost him all of 1994 and after an ugly comeback attempt in 1995, Ward retired.  The mid-90s Jays teams weren’t great, but it didn’t help that a team that had relied on a Ward/Henke combination for so long now had to suffer through a list of closers comprising Darren Hall, Tony Castillo, Mike Timlin, Kelvim Escobar and Randy Myers.

6. Edwin Encarnacion, 2014:


The Jays were 47-42, 1 game out of first place on July 5 when Encarnacion got hurt.  He returned on August 15, by which time the Jays were 7.5 games back, and basically buried.  Having a healthy EE (who was among the league’s offensive leaders when he was injured) might not have prevented the Jays slide, but it probably would have kept the team closer to the wild card spot, which they missed by 5 games at the end of the season.

5. Jose Reyes, 2013: 


So, so much went wrong in 2013, but the lasting image of the club's misfortunes is of Reyes sliding awkwardly into second base 10 games into the season and being helped off the field in tears.

Reyes would go on to miss about 3 months.  And while his absence did lead to us all getting to know Munenori Kawasaki, his injury did sort of suck all the enthusiasm out of the season before April was even over.

4.  AJ Burnett, 2006: 

Would be a better picture if AJ's whole face was in shadow.

Burnett missed a dozen starts in May-June 2006.  It’s hard to say who those starts would have gone to, but one would think a healthy Burnett would have displaced Josh Towers from the rotation.  While Burnett was out, Towers went 1-9 over a dozen starts, with a 9.11 ERA.

(Wait… Towers, with a 9.11 ERA?  Whoahhhhhhhh.)

3. Jimmy Key, 1988:


This one might be forgotten by many, but Key missed 10 starts early in the year, and those starts went to Todd Stottlemyre who was 2-6 with an ERA over 5 over those games.  The Jays finished 2 games out of the AL East in 1988.  Would Key have been 2 games better than Stottlemyre over 10 starts?  Almost certainly.
  
2. Chris Carpenter, 2002:

Damnitdamnitdamnit...

Before there was the Lansing Three (Syndergaard/Nicolino/Sanchez), there was Carpenter-Escobar-Halladay in 1999, a trio of 22-to-24 year old pitchers who were expected to be the core of the rotation for years.  Kelvim Escobar had a few good years with the Angels after bouncing between the rotation and the bullpen in Toronto, and Halladay, you know about.  Chris Carpenter had a few rocky years in Toronto (49-50 record, ERA+ of 98, which is slightly below league average) before blowing out his shoulder, and the Jays cut him.

Would the Jays have cut ties with Carpenter if he hadn’t wrecked his arm in 2002?  I doubt it, but that’s just guessing.  Carpenter had a ton of talent, but he had been inconsistent and injury prone with the Jays.  In any case, the Jays let him go, the Cardinals picked him up, and Carpenter finished top-3 in Cy Young voting 3 times in his 6 healthy seasons with St Louis.  How would the 2006 Jays (see Burnett, #4 above) have looked with Carpenter on the team?  Better, to say the least. 

1. Tony Fernandez, 1987:

Those of you under age 35 probably don’t remember this.  And that’s probably a good thing.

On September 24, 1987, the Blue Jays were neck and neck with the Detroit Tigers for the AL East lead, the Jays up ½ game to start the day.  And then this happened:

  Image from Bluejayhunter.com 

Bill Madlock of the Detroit Tigers took out Tony Fernandez of the Jays on a double play ball.  Fernandez fell hard, his elbow breaking when it hit the cutout frame around second base.  Fernandez was a 5 WAR player for the Jays and batted either first or 3rd in the batting order, setting the table for hitters like Bell, McGriff, Barfield and Whitt.  The Blue Jays were averaging 5.3 runs per game up to that point; with Fernandez out, they scored just 3.2 runs per game over their last 9 games, going 2-7 in that stretch and losing the division to Detroit.  Add in that Madlock was out of the baseline when he hit Fernandez (meaning it was an illegal play) and the memory of that play still hurts.