Archive for August, 2012

Blue Jays Prospect Report – August 31, 2012

The minor league season is winding down and the daily Jays prospect report will be dormant for a while but expect a full minor league recap and top prospect rundown in the off-season.

Hitters:

MAJ (RF) Moises Sierra, 1-3, .284, BB (3)
AA (CF) Jake Marisnick, 2-4, 1 RBI, .223, CS (4)
HiA (LF) Marcus Knecht, 1-3, .212, BB (3)
SS (2B) Christian Lopes, 1-3, 1 RBI, .333, BB (1)

Pitchers:

AAA (RP) Juan Abreu, 1.2 ip, 1 h, 0 er, 0 bb – 3 k, 6.80; great baseball name
LoA (SP) Aaron Sanchez, 4 ip, 8 h, 3 er, 1 bb – 5 k, 2.49; tiring?

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Colby Rasmus: high rank, low rank, or just rank

The deal with the St. Louis Cardinals that brought Colby Rasmus and others to Toronto was touted at the time as a very good trade for the Jays. As such it added to Alex Anthopoulos’s growing mystique. Rasmus had a reputation as a very talented CF, but he also had a reputation as a trouble maker. No less an authority than Tony LaRussa had labelled Rasmus as such.

The trade was need-based. The outfield defense was mediocre at best and there was also a lack of continuity among players, with sub-standard fielders rotating in and out of the three positions. AA wanted a good defender to solidify the OF and contribute offensively. The Jays had been spoiled by Vernon Wells who, despite a terrible contract, was a good all-round outfielder. A spike in  production led to a wise trade with the Angels, and just like that Vernon was gone. This move, hailed by many as shrewd because of its improbability, brought OF Juan Rivera, who had a reputation as a loafer and poor outfielder. Add to him Corey Patterson, Jose Bautista, Rajai Davis, Eric Thames, Travis Snider, and others, and the need was obvious. His reputation for targeting ‘problem’ players like Yunel Escobar growing, AA acquired Rasmus (and relievers/salary) for a relatively low price (several relievers; a starter who never pitched for TOR; a 4th OF; and cash). The skinny was that if Rasmus could ‘hit his stride’ in Toronto, the deal would be a major win for both teams.

His rookie season was good enough to place him eighth in ROY voting, but in 2010 Rasmus displayed some of the offensive potential that made baseball folks drool. Without going into great detail, Rasmus’s OPS+ was 32% above league average, his ISO was .222, his BABIP was .354, and his wOBA was .366. Not bad for a 23-year old still cutting his teeth. Defensively he was good enough to relegate John Jay to RF. Then trouble found him. In 2011, Rasmus didn’t hit very well, his father became involved, and the Cardinals were playing poorly. Veteran manager Tony LaRussa pointed his finger at Colby Rasmus. The Cards were getting offense from the corners (Matt Holliday; Lance Berkman), had two other young OF (John Jay; Allen Craig) to fill the void, but needed pitching badly. The solution was fairly simple.

Early returns on the deal were lopsided. The Cards won the World Series, seemingly vindicating LaRussa in the process and the pitchers Toronto traded contributed to the win. Meanwhile TOR scuffled with an inconsistent staff and ‘pen, Colby never really got on track in TOR and they finished fourth in the AL East again. Maybe LaRussa was right and, despite being only 25, maybe Rasmus had already peaked.

More than a year later, what do we think of the deal now? LaRussa went out on top and Pujols skipped town for an Olympic-sized pool full of cash, but the Cards are contending. Craig and Jay continue to play well. Marc Rzepczynski is an effective LOOGY. Edwin Jackson and Octavio Dotel are pitching well elsewhere. The relievers TOR acquired were ineffective and are gone, leaving Colby Rasmus as the Jays’ only return from the trade. Was it worth it?

The short answer is ‘yes and no’. Rasmus has helped solidify the defense. Colby and Jose make two-thirds of a good OF and Rasmus has enough range to help Rajai Davis, the incumbent LF. That said, some defensive metrics suggest Colby Rasmus is a middle-of-the-pack defender. His six errors are tied for the second most in MLB among CF. Correspondingly his .977 Fld% ranks 18th in MLB among qualified CF.  As of this article his UZR is 2.4, which is well below his career mark but better than his last two seasons. The Jays’ OF defense was bad before he arrived. It’s better now, but not much.

Offensively he’s struggled. After hitting in the bottom third of the order, Rasmus was moved to the #2 spot on May 26. The next month (until June 25) has been his only good, prolonged stretch offensively as a Blue Jay. Tantalizingly, that 26-game stretch saw his OPS rise from .670 to .829. Many thought Colby Rasmus had arrived. But that’s only part of the picture. His offensive explosion in May/June has given way to the Colby Rasmus of the first seven weeks of ’12 and the last 2+ months of ’11.. On May 26, his slash line was .215/.290/.380, but by June 25, it improved to .268/.327/.502. The differences are substantial. BA isn’t a useful indicator, but the contrast is illuminating: during that month he hit .322; during the rest of his time as a Blue Jay he’s hit .199. One good month offensively; the rest of the time, he’s been sub-Mendoza. Punctuating this is the answer to a trivia question: from the end of July until the end of August, Colby Rasmus appeared in 20 straight losses by the Blue Jays. The question is, ‘is the picture unfinished, or is what we see what we get?’

Several things work in his favour: he just turned 26, he has a nagging injury, and he was injured at about the same time last year. Because of these, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. There are other factors, as well. Bautista and Lawrie have been hurt, leaving Rasmus and Encarnacion virtually unprotected in the line-up. There has been no publicized acrimony with management of any level, and he seems to be a good teammate.

That said, Colby is up to his old tricks in August: 14 hits (.187 AVG), 4 xbh (1 DBL; 3 HR), 5 BB, 31 K, dropping his slash line to .231/.295/.428. Let’s put his struggles into franchise perspective. Colby Rasmus presently has a wRC+ of 92. His career mark is much higher (129), but his present level is consistent with the bulk of his career. There have been five players to play at least 350 games in CF for the Jays: Rick Bosetti, Jose Cruz, Jr., Lloyd Moseby, Vernon Wells, and Devon White (Colby’s played 152). Colby’s wRC+ of 92 ranks not only as 8% below league average in 2012 (and last among AL CF), but it’s only the 25th best total in that group. How long will it  continue? I don’t know, but I expect  September to be an important month for Colby and the Jays, though the losses are expected to climb.

Wes Kepstro

Blue Jays Prospect Report – August 30, 2012

So the injury ravaged Jays end up taking a series from the Bronx Bombers, in New York?

Hitters:

MAJ (3B) Adeiny Hechavarria, 1-4, .216
AAA (CF) Anthony Gose, 1-3, .290, BB (49); sure to be recalled in Sept
AA (CF) Jake Marisnick, 1-5, .218
HiA (LF) Marcus Knecht, 1-2, .211, 2b (32), BB (49)

Drooling at the Prospects: Do the Jays Need to Replace Jose Bautista?

*EDITOR’S NOTE* Please welcome the newest contributor Wes Kepstro to the AL Eastbound team.  I’m excited to add such a dedicated Blue Jays (and baseball) fan and he brings a unique combination of advanced statistical analysis and a flair for writing.  Welcome aboard Wes!

In my previous article I extolled the virtues of the Jays RF, Jose Bautista, and talked a little bit about how his injury will effect the team.  But there are other angles to consider.  On this Jays squad he’s the best player, and with a farm that’s shallow in the upper levels he’s irreplaceable.  Or is he?  He’d achieved 3.2 fWAR by the time of his injury, so projecting a season total of 5.5 fWAR is reasonable.  He’d be costly, but not impossible to replace.  The Cardinals are in the race again, despite losing Albert Pujols and his 5.1 fWAR from last season.  Given his defensive shortcomings, his age, and his wrist injury, the Jays may need to replace him, but Jose Bautista is replaceable.

There are at least two problems facing the Jays and their fans if he doesn’t return at 100%.  First, the present-day Jays are what it looks like to have Jose on the DL.  They won one series in August, owing in large part to the fact that they couldn’t score runs.  On one hand this reflects well on the Jays.  Oftentimes, rebuilding teams drop like a stone in the standings: one needs only to look at the Houston Astros over the last couple of seasons for satisfactory evidence.  The Jays haven’t, and Jose Bautista has been a key reason why they haven’t.  He isn’t solely responsible for their relative success, of course, but he’s the best player on a mediocre team.  Hats off to Alex Anthopoulos and staff for recognizing his talent and signing him to a good deal for the next few years.  On the other hand it betrays a lack of depth.  If he doesn’t come back healthy, the Jays can expect a serious setback in the rebuilding process.

The second problem they face if he doesn’t return at full strength is replacing him with a player of similar value.  The Jays have incurred the wrath of some  fans by failing to acquire the pitching that everyone and their brother knows they need.  Injuries and trades using valuable chips (Doc for prospects; Marcum for Lawrie; etc.) have left the Jays short on quality ML pitching.  That, and a focus on improving other areas, have left the Jays with their rotation to address.  Whether Henderson Alvarez, Kyle Drabek, and Kyle Hutchison have developed as expected is a non-issue now.  Drabek and Hutch are out until next August at the earliest, halting their development and leaving holes in the rotation at the same time.  This brings us to the crux of the issue.  Alex Anthopoulos has filled a number of holes (OF defense; C; 1B; 2B; 3B; SS; the ‘pen; etc.) since he took over as GM, and he’s left the starting rotation until last.  Some of those holes have been filled admirably; some less so.  At the risk of sounding alarmist, the next problem may be replacing Jose Bautista at the same time as addressing the rotation.

Earlier this season, the Diamondbacks lost patience with their struggling star CF, Justin Upton.  Barely halfway into a season following one when he received strong MVP consideration, Upton was on the block.  Rumours spread and pretty soon, 23-year old Justin Upton was on everyone’s wish list.  I dreamed of an outfield patrolled by Jose Bautista, Colby Rasmus, and Justin Upton.  Is an off-season deal for a player like Upton reasonable?  Well, yielding prospects for a player like Justin Upton means those prospects aren’t available when a deal needs to be made for a pitcher or two.  What about free agency?  It’s less likely, with budget constraints and Alex Anthopoulos’s stated preference for using the farm and trade routes to build the team.  Given these realities, a player of the calibre of Justin Upton is less likely regardless of how enticing such a move would be.

Potentially, those are two issues that Toronto faces.  Jose Bautista is replaceable; the Jays have chosen not to replace him at this point.  Now they need to consider replacing him at the same time that they need to acquire starting pitchers to help this rebuilding squad move forward.  At this point, I’m going to take the Jays’ brass at their collective word and believe that: they want to build a winner, and the resources will be there when they’re needed.  That said, these two considerations–fortifying the rotation and finding another outfielder–have me drooling at the prospects in front of the Jays.

Wes Kepstro

“What Do I Do Now?”: Musings On The Loss Of Jose Bautista

*Editor’s Note: This piece is a featured guest appearance from “Wes Kepstro” with a few thoughts on the loss of Joey Bats. 

Enjoy!

I remember watching Spanky, Alfalfa, Buckwheat, and the rest of ‘Our Gang’ years ago.  A friend of mine and I got a kick out of the old-time kids’ show, repeating lines to one another and laughing hysterically the whole time.  In this particular episode the Gang was in another impossible jam and the camera focused on Buckwheat, who shrugged his shoulders and with eyes as big as plates, and palms turned upwards, asked “what do I do now?”  That one got a lot of mileage with us.

As Jose Bautista goes under the knife for recurring wrist problems, the Jays have their own impossible jam.  How is so valuable a player replaced?  The tangibles are splashed all over baseball websites; the intangibles are familiar to Jays’ brass, teammates, and fans.  He’s the potent bat in the third slot, whose specialties include walks and home runs.  He’s the leader on the field, in the clubhouse, and he mentors young players.  But the young players have been called up to replace him instead of learn from him.  No more potent bat, and no more leading by example.  At least, not in the way we hope.  Now, by the process of elimination, his only leadership will be verbal.

Mercifully, it’s rare to have such a solid example of the value of Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in a season.  It’s not just a theoretical value: it’s taken a very practical turn.  Typically, the player in view when WAR is used is a solid AAA or better (i.e. ‘AAAA’) player.  The Jays, partly driven by necessity, have used prospects to replace Jose Bautista.

The past three years have seen the debut of ‘The Jose Bautista Show’.  He emerged from obscurity in a way that set the baseball world abuzz, especially Blue Jays fans.  His production has kept Jays’ fans mindful of franchise icons George Bell, Fred McGriff, Carlos Delgado, and others.  His Triple Crown stats are impressive (124 HR, 292 RBI, .271 BA), but nothing that you wouldn’t find in a typical three-year stretch from a player like Adam Dunn.  In that time he’s accumulated 18.3 fWAR, which includes a slow finish in ’11 and a slow start in ’12.  His ISO has been .357, .306, and .286.  Most Jays’ fans are aware that he finished fourth (’10), and third (’11) in MVP voting, won Silver Sluggers both seasons, and has been selected to represent the Jays on the American League All Star team each of those three seasons.

His impact isn’t limited to offense; he’s also been solid defensively.  This is what sets him apart from players like Adam Dunn.  It’s a facet to his game that makes replacing him so difficult.  However, with 11 errors and declining range, he’s not great defensively.  His UZR (-4.3, -8.6, and 0.5 the last three seasons) is unimpressive, suggesting that if he has any positive defensive value, it lies elsewhere.  First he’s versatile, meaning that, while his defense at 1B/3B (28.0 innings total) or 3B (602.0 innings), isn’t remarkable, his bat remains in the line-up.  Second, his strong arm in RF is a difference-maker.  His 36 assists offer the obvious (outs; fewer base runners), as well as the not-so-obvious (a reputation; fewer extra bases taken).  It’s not great defense but it needs to be replaced because at the tail end of a frustrating season, Jose will be recovering and recuperating from wrist surgery.  As Buckwheat asked, “What do I do now?”  Enter Anthony Gose and Moises Sierra, two promising young players in the Jays’ system.

In limited time, these two players with no previous MLB experience have underwhelmed.  Anthony Gose has been pretty solid in the field, but overmatched at the plate.  Sierra has looked shaky in the field, but has been solid at the plate.  To be fair (and reasonable), neither player was expected to step in and deliver Bautista-esque numbers.  This makes it a solid example of the practical side of WAR.  In very limited action, Gose and Sierra have produced -0.2 WAR each.  This means that their production could be replaced with relative ease by another player from the farm, a waiver-wire pick up, etc.  The question for the Jays, in the midst of an injury-plagued season, is ‘who gets the call?’

Not surprisingly, then, since his injury on July 16 the Jays have faltered badly.  This isn’t happening in a vacuum, though.  Other Jays have missed time since July 16, notably: JP Arencibia and Brett Lawrie.  Others have seen time on the DL, or missed several games (e.g. Yunel Escobar).  But Jose’s the best of the bunch, making him the most significant loss.  They were 45-45 when he was injured; they’re 57-71 now.  There’s no simple one-to-one correspondence, of course, but in the 37 games (including his brief return) the Jays are 12-26 with losing streaks of five, six, and seven games.

How is so valuable a player replaced?  He isn’t.  And in a season when the Jays were unlikely to contend, it’s not crucial to replace him with a player of similar value.  This is amplified by the several other injuries that have occurred.  Replacing Bautista with a player like Justin Upton doesn’t preclude the necessity to replace Arencibia, Lawrie, and all the others who have been injured.  It’s been a struggle for the Jays to win without Bautista, but the page needs to be turned.  No longer is WAR the key interpretive metric: now it’s simply an opportunity for young players like Sierra and Gose to get their feet wet.  The most important question now is, ‘when will Jose Bautista be back?’  The second is related to it: ‘will he be the same player?’

Blue Jays Top Pick Marcus Stroman Suspended 50 Games For Banned Substance

As per Yahoo! Sports.

As if hearing the news that superstar Jose Bautista has to go under the knife.  On Tuesday, Major League Baseball announced that Toronto draft pick Marcus Stroman will be suspended for 50 games after testing positive for the banned substance Methylhexaneamine. Stroman was selected 22nd overall in 2012 and was playing with the double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats of the Eastern League.

The right-hander spoke to the media regarding the ban (via The Vancouver Sun):

“Despite taking precautions to avoid violating the minor league testing program, I unknowingly ingested a banned stimulant that was in an over-the-counter supplement,” said Stroman in a statement. “Nonetheless, I accept full responsibility and I want to apologize to the Toronto Blue Jays organization, my family, my teammates, and the Blue Jays fans everywhere.

Stroman was 2-0 with a 3.38 ERA and eight strikeouts in eight relief appearances for the Fisher Cats.  I guess we won’t be seeing him for a September cameo when major league rosters expand.  Hopefully this is a one-time incident and not indicative of past behaviour or a reason for his success thus far in his short baseball career in college and the pros.

Jose Bautista To Have Season Ending Surgery On Left Wrist

File this under ‘gimme a break’.

Toronto Blue Jays star slugger Jose Bautista will undergo season ending left wrist surgery.   In a season filled with terrible injuries and misfortune this might rank as the worst news of the season.  The wrist is always a tricky area of injury for a baseball player and with a swing that generates as much torque as Bautista’s one can only hope this doesn’t have a lasting negative affect on his production.

Bautista spoke to the media on Tuesday (via Sportsnet):

“We followed the course of action that was recommended at each time during the recovery after the original injury. The only way I could have played again this year without having surgery was to do what we did. I tried, there’s just too much instability in that tendon. It got to the point where risking injuring to the tendon was not worth it. That’s why we’re opting to do it now, that way I have plenty of time to be ready for spring training and the season.

We always used pain as an indicator of how far I should push it. What I have now is the same injury I had and the same damage to the anatomy of the area from the original injury, nothing got worse. Using pain as an indication is how far I knew to push it. It got to the point I felt so much instability in the tendon that I knew if I kept playing, or had to do something extraordinary, it was not going to be good for my tendon, I’d probably jeopardize it at that point. There’s no need to do that.”

Here is hoping Joey Bats comes back as strong as ever.


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