Archive for August, 2013

Mission ’13: The Skinny About Pitcher Ramon Rodrigo Pelfrey-Moyer

It’s been a rough season for the Jays. I don’t know how often I’ve written that, but I’ve thought it an awful lot more than I’ve written it. Lately there have been some bright spots, though. They won a series against the New York Yankees. Ryan Goins has impressed in his recent call-up. Edwin Encarnacion and Mark Buehrle both continue to plug away like the veteran pros that they are. But mostly it’s been a dismal campaign for the Jays.

You probably know that the Jays have used a lot of starters. Injuries and ineffectiveness have been the main reasons for this. I counted 8 pitchers who made ‘unplanned’ starts this year and lately I wondered how well or poorly these guys have fared. Why do I do this? It’s like asking “Why do I keep hitting myself with a hammer?” Because it feels so good when I stop.

The 8 pitchers who have filled in are: Todd Redmond; Esmil Rogers; Chien-ming Wang; Ramon Ortiz; Chad Jenkins; Ricky Romero; Aaron Laffey; and Sean Nolin. Several caveats should be made immediately. Redmond, Rogers and Ortiz were intended to be long relief. Jenkins and Nolin are young guys: we won’t criticize them. Romero is trying to rediscover past success, unsuccessfully thus far. Wang and Laffey were/are no more than emergency filler. Not one of them was intended to fill the role that they have, especially for extended periods of time.

GS

IP

H

R

ER

2B/3B

HR

BB

SO

ERA

fWAR

T. Redmond

9

44.2

42

23

22

16

7

17

53

4.43

0.7

E. Rogers

15

80.0

99

50

47

31

14

24

61

5.29

0.3

C. Jenkins

3

15.0

18

7

6

8

1

4

6

3.60

0.2

C-m. Wang

6

27.0

40

24

23

8

5

9

14

7.67

-0.1

R. Romero

2

4.1

7

6

6

0

1

5

4

12.46

-0.1

A. Laffey

1

2.2

2

2

2

0

0

5

0

6.75

-0.1

S. Nolin

1

1.1

7

6

6

2

1

1

0

40.50

-0.1

R. Ortiz

4

16.1

21

10

10

6

3

8

3

5.51

-0.2

Totals

41

191.1

236

128

122

71

32

73

141

5.74

0.6

You might not be surprised to discover that it isn’t pretty. I wasn’t surprised either, hence the red fill in the “Totals” row. Todd Redmond and Chad (which is short for ”Chadwick”, and it’s his middle name) Jenkins have done pretty well. The other 6 have been terrible. It looked as if Esmil Rogers might be okay, but when I did a little FIP exercise after he pitched “well” against TEX during the win streak, I was disabused of that notion.

What did surprise me is that it adds up to about a full season (191.1 IP) of one low quality starter. Discovering that, I wanted to get a handle on what it meant. Individually, small sample size cautions apply but as a unit they’ve pitched the equivalent of a full season. So I asked myself, “Over the last 10 seasons or so, have any Major League starters had seasons that resembled what the Jays’ fill-ins have done this year?” The answer, I was somewhat dismayed to learn, is “Yes.” I mean, really: do ML teams use bad pitchers on purpose? “Yes.”

I chose 4 pitchers from the past decade whose efforts the Blue Jays’ fillers have resembled. The following is a lazy man’s chart comparing selected stats just to give us an idea of what this looks like historically (the pitchers were chosen on the basis of a few broad similarities):

Season

Team

W/L

IP

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

ERA

fWAR

Team W/L

Rodrigo Lopez

2010

ARI

7-16

200.0

5.22

2.52

1.67

5.00

0.6

65-97

Mike Pelphrey

2011

NYM

7-13

193.1

4.89

3.03

0.98

4.70

0.6

77-85

Jamie Moyer

2004

SEA

7-12

199.0

5.65

2.67

1.94

5.20

0.2

63-99

Ramon Ortiz

2006

WAS

11-16

190.2

4.91

3.02

1.46

5.57

-0.1

71-91

The Jays

2013

TOR

7-13

191.1

6.63

3.43

1.51

5.74

0.6

???

I know that Pitcher W/L are less than meaningful but it was just too good to resist, given the similarities. I was also thrilled to discover that a pitcher season that closely resembles this years’ Jays fill-ins belonged to none other than Ramon Ortiz. You can’t make this stuff up.

This chart confirms that teams will indeed employ subpar pitchers for extended periods, not only for full seasons but for multiple seasons. These aren’t the only bad seasons over the last decade—there were many more—but we had to stop the madness somewhere (the principle of selectivity is an under-appreciated grace in our lives). Alas, injuries play a role, as does money, poor management, bad seasons, and a host of other factors.

Looking also at the team W/L records, several things seem at least superficially relevant. First, bad teams use bad pitchers. Second, bad teams are bad for a variety of reasons. Third, the 2011 New York Mets are the one team that, like the Jays, coulda/woulda/shoulda been better. It’s my guess that their record, 77-85, will be closest to where the Blue Jays land when the dust settles on the 2013 season.

No one is to blame for the performance of these pitchers. Sure, Brandon Morrow and Josh Johnson are injury prone, but I doubt that they want to get hurt. This also shouldn’t be laid at the feet of John Gibbons or Alex Anthopoulos: sometimes you find a Bartolo Colon, while other times Ramon Ortiz is exactly what you get. There’s a reason why they’re available, but they have reasonable potential to pitch decent innings over the short haul. The problem is that 191.1 IP isn’t a ‘short haul’: it’s a full seasons worth of innings.

Nolin was an emergency starter who is still very young and full of potential. As such, he’s fundamentally different from the other players on the list. Otherwise, the guys with the best chance of fighting for a job next season are Todd Redmond and Chad Jenkins. They’ve pitched well enough on a regular basis to earn a shot at long relief, and they’ve also shown that they can stretch it out when the Jays need a spot start. That said, they’re not crucial to success. Jenkins is only 25 so he may have more to offer but, realistically, they offer reasonable depth.

When your depth is used as extensively as the Jays’ has been, and when it most closely resembles bad seasons by Rodrigo Lopez, Mike Pelphrey, Jamie Moyer, and Ramon Ortiz, there are problems. Are the problems systemic? Well, on the one hand the Jays decided to use utility players on a full-time basis this season. The results betray how foolish that decision was. There are good reasons why utility players are utility players.

The pitching situation, on the other hand, isn’t like that. The incredible number of games lost to injuries have, at times, forced Alex Anthopoulos and crew to scramble just to have a starting pitcher. Whether that starter was major league calibre or not is almost irrelevant. If the Jays experience positive variation, rather than the negative variation of 2012-2013, I expect that the pitching could improve on that basis alone. Positive variation isn’t enough—more needs to be done—but it’s a start.

Wes Kepstro

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AL East Prospect Report – August 29, 2013

Hitters:

BAL LoA Boss, Torsten 2B, 3-3, .240, HR (7), BB (48)
BAL LoA Lorenzo, Gregory CF, 3-5, .240, 2B (17)

BOS AA Cecchini, Garin 3B, 1-4, .291, 3B (3), BB (47)
BOS AA Marrero, Deven SS, 2-3, .237, BB (7), SB (4)
BOS HiA Swihart, Blake C, 2-3, .294, 2B (27)
BOS SS Margot, Manuel CF, 1-4, .294, 2B (8)

NYY AA Flores, Ramon DH, 3-6, .252, 3B (5)
NYY AA Sanchez, Gary C, 2-6, .250
NYY AAA Murphy, J.R. C, 3-4, .270, 2 2B (19), HR (5)

TB AAA Beckham, Tim SS, 4-6, .283, 2B (25), HR (4)
TB LoA Leonard, Patrick 1B, 2-4, .225
TB R Jackson, Bralin CF, 2-5, .220, 2B (4), 3B (3)
TB SS Young, Ty DH, 2-6, .210

TOR R Dean, Matt 1B, 2-4, .335, 3B (3), SB (8)
TOR SS Lugo, Dawel SS, 2-6, .273, HR (1)

Pitchers:

BAL AA Wright, Mike 2.1 4 2 2 2 2 3.26
BAL HiA Berry, Tim 5.2 3 1 1 3 3 3.82

NYY AA Kahnle, Tommy 2 1 0 0 2 3 2.58

TB LoA Ames, Jeff 5 3 1 1 2 4 2.98
TB MAJ Archer, Chris 7 5 1 1 0 5 2.81

TOR HiA Ybarra, Tyler 1 2 1 1 1 2 1.99
TOR R DeJong, Chase 5 4 1 0 1 5 3.05

AL East Prospect Report – August 28, 2013

Hitters:

BAL AAA Schoop, Jonathan 2B, 2-5, .256, HR (9)
BAL AAA Urrutia, Henry RF, 2-6, .351

NYY AAA Murphy, J.R. C, 2-3, .264, BB (22)
NYY LoA Bichette, Dante 3B, 2-4, .213, BB (43)
NYY LoA Bird, Greg 1B, 1-5, .290, HR (20)
NYY R Austin, Tyler RF, 2-3, .667

TB AA Casali, Curt C, 3-3, .381, 2 BB (16)
TB AAA Beckham, Tim SS, 3-5, .277, 2B (24), BB (40), 2 SB (17)

TOR MAJ Pillar, Kevin LF, 1-3, .171, 2B (1)
TOR R Dean, Matt 1B, 2-4, .332, CS (5)

Pitchers:

BAL AA Wilson, Tyler 5.1 6 3 3 2 4 3.52
BAL AAA Belfiore, Mike 2.1 3 0 0 0 2 3.22
BAL AAA Johnson, Steve 4.1 5 2 2 3 5 4.54
BAL HiA Rutledge, Lex 2 5 3 3 0 2 9.28
BAL LoA Bridwell, Parker 6 6 2 2 2 3 4.67

BOS AA Owens, Henry 6.2 2 0 0 1 6 1.09
BOS MAJ Britton, Drake 2 0 0 0 0 1 3.31

NYY AA Turley, Nik 7.1 4 1 0 4 7 3.90
NYY AAA Betances, Dellin 3 1 0 0 1 4 2.73
NYY MAJ Warren, Adam 2 5 1 1 1 0 3.71

TOR AA Stroman, Marcus 3 7 5 4 3 1 3.47

AL East Prospect Report – August 26, 2013

Hitters:

BAL AAA Avery, Xavier CF, 1-3, .238, 2B (11), BB (31), SB (16)
BAL LoA Lorenzo, Gregory CF, 2-4, .236, 2B (16), SB (36)

BOS AA Shaw, Travis 1B, 2-4, .221, BB (76), CS (3)
BOS AAA Bradley, Jackie CF, 1-4, .272, 2B (24)
BOS AAA Brentz, Bryce RF, 1-3, .272, HR (17), BB (20)
BOS MAJ Bogaerts, Xander SS, 2-4, .333, 2B (1)
BOS SS Lin, Tzu-Wei SS, 2-5, .231
BOS SS Margot, Manuel CF, 4-4, .301, 2B (6), 3B (2), BB (18), CS (8)

NYY LoA Bird, Greg DH, 2-4, .292, 2B (35), BB (97)

TB AA Brett, Ryan 2B, 2-4, .238, HR (3)
TB AAA Beckham, Tim SS, 2-4, .275, CS (7)
TB HiA Hager, Jake SS, 2-6, .268
TB HiA Shaffer, Richie 3B, 4-6, .258, 2 2B (33)
TB HiA Vettleson, Drew RF, 4-6, .283, 2B (29)

TOR LoA Hawkins, Chris LF, 2-5, .225
TOR LoA Smith, Dwight CF, 3-6, .280, 2B (16)
TOR R Dean, Matt DH, 1-4, .325, 2B (14)
TOR R Nay, Mitch 3B, 2-4, .316
TOR SS Lugo, Dawel SS, 1-4, .244, 2B (3)

Pitchers:

BAL AA Jones, Devin 5.1 6 7 7 4 4 5.73
BAL AA Schrader, Clay 1.2 2 0 0 0 3 4.33
BAL AAA Gausman, Kevin 3 1 0 0 0 4 4.04
BAL HiA Davies, Zach 6 8 4 4 0 3 3.51
BAL MAJ McFarland, T.J. 2.1 3 2 2 0 2 4.79

BOS AAA Ranaudo, Anthony 3 8 5 5 2 1 3.42
BOS LoA Kukuk, Cody 3.2 4 2 0 3 7 4.43

TB AAA Montgomery, Mike 6 4 1 1 3 6 4.60

TOR AA McGuire, Deck 7 2 2 2 1 7 4.96
TOR LoA Norris, Daniel 4 3 1 1 1 4 4.20
TOR R Labourt, Jairo 4.2 7 2 2 1 2 1.92

Mission ’13: An Incredible Late Rally Falls Short

Watching the tail-end of the Jays’ comeback win over the Houston Astros today reminded me of a game from yesteryear. In today’s game, both teams loaded the bases in the 9th inning: the Jays capitalized; the ‘Stros didn’t. The result was a 2-1 squeaker for the Jays, as they salvaged a game against the worst team in baseball. Who cares, though: a win’s a win.

When the Jays loaded the bases in the top of the 9th against beleaguered closer Chia-Jen Lo, I watched Lo get more and more frustrated by his poor execution. His frustration was understandable: he couldn’t find the strike zone and was on the verge of blowing the lead. This is what reminded me of a game at Exhibition Stadium in 1986 when the Jays were hosting the New York Yankees.

The Jays scuffled in ’86 after winning their first division title in 1985. Changes had been made, of course, with the most notable being Bobby Cox jumping ship to manage the Atlanta Braves. He was replaced by Jimy Williams. Jimy’s Jays were under-performing as a team. Individuals were performing to expectations but, with a record of 33-33 when the Yankees came into town, the overall effort left much to be desired.

The Yankees have always been the glamour team of the AL East, and with players like Rickey Henderson, Dave Winfield, Doug Drabek and Don Mattingly, 1986 was no exception. The Bombers were powerful, fast, played some decent defense, and had a few very good pitchers. The Jays would be hard-pressed to repeat the success of 1985.

The series began with a Blue Jays win on Thursday, June 19. The Jays got to, and beat, one of the best closers of the decade, Dave Righetti, in the bottom of the 10th inning for a 10-9 win. This gave the Jays a modest streak of 6 wins in their past 8 games. Not bad considering they’d played Detroit and Milwaukee in their previous 2 series. At 34-33, the Jays were finally over the .500 mark, after hanging around 2-5 games under .500 for most of the season.

As with all intra-divisional match-ups, this one was important. The Jays were finally over .500 and the Bombers were in front of Toronto in the standings. Doug Drabek got the call for the Yankees while the late John Cerutti took the hill for the Jays. Given the ERAs on both teams and the offense that each could muster, it promised to be a high scoring series.

The Jays knocked Drabek around a little, scoring 4 ER in his 8+ IP. Cerutti gave up 8 hits and 3 walks in 6.2 IP, but was only tabbed for 3 R, all earned. Then the Jays’ ‘pen imploded. Jim Acker—one of my least favourite Jays of all time—pitched 2.1 innings and gave up 5 ER.

Heading into the bottom of the 9th inning, New York enjoyed a 6-run lead: things looked bleak for the Jays. Drabek faced DH Cliff Johnson and 1B Willie Upshaw in the bottom of the 9th but failed to retire either of them. Enter lefty closer Dave Righetti, one of the best in MLB.

Jimy Williams countered by pinch hitting Buck Martinez for Ernie Whitt. Jimy was an unimaginative platoon manager. Whenever he could, he would send the appropriate-handed batter to the plate without hesitating. It was both a significant weakness and a significant strength of his managerial style. Not surprisingly, Buck struck out. Toronto wasn’t finished, though, as singles by Damaso Garcia and Tony Fernandez plated Johnson and Upshaw. Drabek’s night was done, as he was responsible for the 2 runs. Make the score 8-4 New York.

Jimy then pinch hit Garth Iorg for Rance Mulliniks, sending the RHB Iorg to face the LHP Righetti. Iorg was a contact hitter with good patience; he worked Righetti for a walk to load the bases with 1 out. Lloyd Moseby came to the plate with 1 out and a 4-run deficit staring him right in the eye. ‘Shaker’ was a good hitter and had all kinds of speed, so almost any kind of contact would plate a run as long as he didn’t hit it right at someone. The problem was that ‘Shaker’ didn’t make any contact at all, striking out for the second out of the bottom of the 9th inning.

This set the stage for the marquee match up of the game. It was power versus power as George Bell and Dave Righetti squared off, with Bell improbably representing the game’s tying run. Bell crushed a pitch over the wall and The Ex went crazy as Bell tied the game at 8-8 against Righetti.

Then the second-most memorable event of the night occurred. It’s the one that has stuck with me over the years. No one’s happy when they fail. Professional athletes aren’t excluded from this. Dave Righetti’s father, Leo, was an infield prospect in the Yankees system in the 1940s and 1950s, but never made ‘the show’. This was a source of keen disappointment and frustration for the elder Righetti. Also, Dave’s older brother Steve was signed to a pro contract at the same time that Dave was but he never made the majors either. The family’s honour fell to Dave, who’d wanted to play in pinstripes since he could remember.

Leo’s failure had a profound impact on him, and he drove his boys hard. Very hard. He drove them so hard sometimes that Dave was almost broken emotionally. Then when his brother scrubbed out, Dave took it hard: Steve was his big brother, and Dave always considered him to be the better player.

Dave was called up in 1979, pitched 3 games, then was sent down again. He didn’t re-appear until 1981 but was such an effective starter that he was named Rookie of the Year. He gave up 1 home run in 105.1 IP in his rookie campaign, while posting an ERA slightly over 2.00. He was a good starter for the next couple of years, and his high point was throwing a no-hitter against the Red Sox on Independence Day, 1983. But the Yankees needed a closer. Dave was reluctant, fearing it would hurt his career and his income, but did what the team asked. He took to it a like a duck to water.

When 1986 rolled around he was a well-established closer with a good fastball and slider, and a good reputation. The Jays had roughed him up a little in game 1 of the series, and hung a loss on the Yankees, and George Bell hit a grand slam to tie the game with 2 out in the bottom of the 9th inning. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. All the frustration boiled over and when the umpire tossed him a new ball, Righetti turned and fired it 300 feet over the right field wall and into the dark of night. It’s one of my favourite non-playoff sporting moments of all time. Then he was relieved by Brian Fisher.

Fisher struck out Jesse Barfield—notice that the Yankee pitchers combined to strike out the side while giving up 6 runs—but the damage was done. The game was tied 8-8 and, for the second night in a row, they were going into extra innings.

The Yankees scored a pair in the top of the 10th (how’s that for resilience) and Fisher pitched a scoreless bottom of the frame. The Yankees won the game 10-8.

The Yankees also won the Saturday matinee 4-2 in 10 innings, meaning the first 3 games of the series were decided in extras.  As a testimony to his fortitude, Righetti appeared in his 3rd straight game against the Jays.  This time he was successful, as he would be for most of the rest of the year. The Jays crushed the Yanks on Sunday, 15-1. The Jays scored 35 runs in 4 games, but only managed a split against a divisional rival ahead of them in the standings. The Yanks, for their part, scored 24 to earn a split on the road.

It’s funny what comes to mind in any given situation, isn’t it? Today’s game bore very little resemblance to the game against the Yankees 27+ years ago, but the bases loaded situation with a visibly-frustrated pitcher on the mound was enough to trigger the memory. Upon sporadic reflection over the years the loss was irrelevant to me. Righetti throwing the ball over the fence was something I’d never seen before and haven’t seen since. (Byun-Hyung Kim threw a ball over the fence in Yankee Stadium in 2002 in very different circumstances.)

At any rate, I hope you enjoyed a glimpse into the Blue Jays’ past as we wrestle with the present and look toward the future. I trust we can find another story or two as the Jays play out the string.

Wes Kepstro

I gladly acknowledge that records from http://www.baseball-reference.com and files from Sports Illustrated were used to write this piece.  (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1136957/4/index.htm)

Mission ’13: It’s Time for Level Heads and Sober Assessment

Ironically, I’m writing largely because I read Andrew Stoeten’s very good piece about player development over at his blog (Drunk Jays Fans). Don’t worry about it too much if you can’t figure out what the irony is.

Recently (Friday) Mr. Stoeten responded to Mr. Farrell of the Boston Red Sox for the comments made by the latter regarding the Blue Jays and player development. I think Mr. Stoeten’s argument was well-reasoned and well-handled.

Not only did I appreciate the direction and tone of his argument, but it helped me to get out of my self-serving morass of idiocy. I maintain the position that I held in my recent response to whether Alex Anthopoulos gets a pass regarding this season; it’s just not peppered with as much disappointment or frustration.

Last night the Houston Astros hammered the Toronto Blue Jays like a railway spike. It was ugly from the get-go and I actually removed myself physically from the projectiles that were temptingly close to hand. They pitched well, hit the ball with surprising authority, and with a couple of exceptions, played well and were managed well. The Jays didn’t and weren’t.

In case you missed it, the Houston Astros are the worst team in Major League Baseball. They traded or otherwise disposed of most of their major league-calibre talent with an exception or two (Jose Altuve), and trimmed their payroll to a recently-unheard-of level. The Jays did the exact opposite. They added to their payroll by acquiring what was generally believed to be a high level of talent. To wit: the Jays were pre-season favourites to do something positive, whether contend for the division, the AL, or the World Series title. They’ve done none of the above, but the point is that it wasn’t the Toronto Blue Jays’ brass or the Toronto media selling us a ‘bill of goods’.

People outside of, independent of, and presumably immune from the Blue Jays’ immediate influence, thought the Jays were all that. Las Vegas-based ‘financial concerns’, www.fangraphs.com, media outlets, and many others thought the Jays had made good moves at a good time and they prognosticated accordingly.

The word ‘prognosticate’ is the anglicized form of a loan word from the Greek language. It’s a compound word consisting of ‘pro’, meaning ‘before, in advance of’ and ‘gnosis’, meaning ‘to know, have knowledge’. The concept is a familiar one to many of us: we make best guesses based on the knowledge we’ve gathered before actual events take place. Las Vegas owes its very existence to this concept.

At a personal level, we prognosticate often. We decide to send the kids to private school or buy a house or a car based on our foreknowledge of certain levels of income or living situations. Prognostication involves more than foreknowledge, though. Prognostication implies that a course of action is taken as a result of foreknowledge. So you enroll the kids, buy the car, or buy the house. It works out frequently, but sometimes you get sick, hurt, fired, transferred, or someone dies…

Life can be ugly at times, and it can bring out the worst in us. Isn’t this is the basis for all the “Fire Anthopoulos!” and “Fire Gibbons!” and “Fire Beeston!” and “It’s time to change the culture!” nonsense? We’re pouring out our collective frustration at feeling ‘taken in’ by those who made promises to us. Interestingly, I’ve found that the Jays were supposed to be a release and relief from other unsavoury circumstances in my life. That they haven’t been has merely intensified my frustration.

I don’t know why the Jays have played so poorly around their 11-game win streak (27-36 before; 19-36 since) and, frankly, I’m wary of those who think they do. I have enough baseball experience and knowledge to draw some very tentative conclusions but that’s it. This season defies all one-size-fits-all solutions or explanations.

We’ve heard many of the facile explanations from the self-styled experts, haven’t we? Maybe Gibby’s a bad manager or AA’s a bad GM, or it’s because they picked up too many one-year wonders from last place teams (that’s actually two arguments combined into one), or it’s because they have too many bad players or too many injuries. Perhaps, some say, it’s a Perfect Storm of Bad Things, which some call ‘Luck’ or ‘Fate’ or ‘Mojo’ or ‘Something Else’. Mm-hmm. Good for them. They’re among the people I don’t listen to because when they open their mouths, skubala (Greek for ‘animal feces’ or ‘manure’) escapes. When I listen to them, I come away feeling as if I’ve lost something irreplaceable. Like gray cells.

No, the Toronto Blue Jays of 2013 defy simplistic explanations, the category in which all of the above arguments need to be placed. No one could have predicted so many bad seasons by so many previously-productive players. Honest-to-goodness baseball concepts like switching leagues, age, decline, small sample sizes, regression, and outliers also leave us feeling somewhat dissatisfied. It’s like trying to satisfy a deep hunger by going to McDonald’s. No one is going to add up their team WAR and say, “Aha! Now we understand!” That’s not what Andrew Stoeten did because that’s the way it works, and he knows it. There is no good explanation.

I’m going to follow these Jays to the bitter end of the 2013 season. It’s sort of like people who take pictures of themselves when they’re 427 lbs, then follow a rigid diet/exercise regimen. When they take another picture after reaching their goal of 155 lbs., the pictures offer two extremely valuable things: contrast and perspective.

Wes Kepstro

Mission ’13: Did Anthopoulos Boot a Routine Grounder in a Tight Game? A Response to Giving Him a ‘Pass’

Alex Anthopoulos does not get a pass from me. I’m not part of the radical fringe that screams for his head or whines game-in and game-out, but he’s responsible for this mess. I wouldn’t be upset if he was fired, I just don’t think it will happen. A results-based assessment recognizes that they’ve declined every year that he’s been at the helm. 2013 may be slightly better than 2012, but they had to double the payroll to do it.

I, too, think John Gibbons has done okay, given the teams’ indifferent/poor play and the overall circumstances (‘new’ manager; lots of new players). The problem is that someone needs to be held accountable and, since John Gibbons is AA’s man, the finger points at AA.

He rebuilt the farm quickly, then used it as currency to assemble a contender at the ML level. I like that strategy. As a matter of fact, it’s encouraging: it didn’t take long to restock a long-neglected aspect of the organization.

The problem is that the talent he assembled hasn’t contended. This problem is magnified by 2 other factors: an emptied farm; and different rules for draft pick acquisition. No longer can they sign the Miguel Olivos of the world for the purpose of acquiring a supplementary round draft pick when he signs elsewhere. Rebuilding the farm is more difficult now.

A Brief Review

I believe Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Mark DeRosa have lived up to advance billing. Reyes was injured for 60+ games, but that’s not surprising. When he’s played, he’s played pretty well. His defense isn’t great, but his offense has been good (.347 wOBA; 117 wRC+).

Buehrle had a rough start but has pitched as expected for some time now. He owns a 4.14 FIP and 4.17 xFIP for his career; this year they’re 4.18 and 4.19, respectively. He’s also on pace for 200+ IP.

Mark DeRosa’s real value has been on the bench: he’s a leader and he’s intelligent. On top of that, they’re getting unexpectedly good offensive production from him (7 HR, .328 wOBA, 104 wRC+). Offensively he’s playing slightly above the level of an average major leaguer, which is excellent for a utility player. It means the Jays don’t lose anything on offense when he starts occasionally or pinch hits.

Here’s the sordid side of the off season tale:

  • Maicer Izturis is the worst player in Major League Baseball;
  • ‘Ace’ RA Dickey presently has a FIP north of 4.75, which is 4th or 5th starter territory;
  • Melky Cabrera came injured, and has been one of the worst outfielders in baseball;
  • Emilio Bonifacio played so poorly in TOR that he’s already been dealt;
  • Josh Johnson is Ricky Romero 2.0. He may go down as the worst acquisition that the Toronto Blue Jays have ever made (at least Mike Sirotka didn’t play fast and loose with our hopes by subjecting us to AAA quality pitching);
  • Josh Thole catches Dickey, but he can’t hit and he’s not much better behind the plate than JPA; and
  • Mike Nickeas gave them veteran depth at catcher for AAA Buffalo.

Several other trades have produced a mixed bag of results, which is normal. Steve Delabar was a great pick-up, especially since Eric Thames did nothing with SEA and has since moved. Dumping Vernon Wells’ huge contract was a boon, as well. Other acquisitions (Brandon Morrow, Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch, Brad Lincoln, Francisco Cordero, Sergio Santos, Kelly Johnson, etc.) haven’t worked out very well.

What Can They Do?

I’d like to see Bautista dealt. It’s nearing the last opportunity to get a good return for him. His defense has been shoddy in the 2nd half—missed cut offs, misplayed balls, poor throws, etc.–and his offense is nothing like it was a couple of years ago. Trading him, plus some expiring contracts (Oliver, Rajai, etc.) may give them some wriggle room. The expiring contracts are (over) balanced by some arbitration cases (Rasmus, etc.) that loom.

The glaring weaknesses are: the rotation, left field, 2B, C and team consistency. The rotation needs 2 upper level pitchers but so does every other team in MLB except the Tigers. Where are the Jays going to find those pitchers? I don’t know. Someone may want to dump salary (LAA? TEX?), opening previously-closed doors, but I haven’t heard any rumours.

The free agent market, which AA is generally loath to use, isn’t very promising either. Perhaps they can re-sign Josh Johnson and get Tim Lincecum for serious bargains in the hopes that they’ll rebound from their poor performances. One problem is that dumpster diving hasn’t really worked very well for the Jays, partly because it’s a strategy they overuse.

I’d love to see them make a play for Cano, but that’s a pipe dream. Not only are the NYY and LAD likely to get into a bidding war but Jay-Z’s his new agent, and Jay-Z wants to make a splash. AA said he’s looking to go for a defense-first 2B. I don’t know who fits the bill here.

I’m not interested in Ellsbury: more injury-prone players are unnecessary. No, the next 100 games or so are make-or-break for Anthony Gose, AA’s ‘golden boy’. He pouted when he was demoted earlier in the season and has played poorly ever since (regardless of where he’s played). He’s yet another speed merchant that hasn’t performed because he doesn’t fit the Jays’ in-game strategy: they’re boppers, not bunters.

I don’t expect another year like this from Rasmus (Matt Klaassen wrote a good piece about him at http://www.fangraphs.com). I like what CLE and, to a lesser extent, BOS did when they acquired good OF. The Jays need a good all-round, reliable OF to play with Rasmus. They also need Colby to repeat his success this year…

Team consistency is likely going to be an issue again. The Jays have too many players who aren’t good enough to be consistent. Jose Bautista is a good player but a terrible leader. Leaders don’t argue, whine, or make as many misplays as he does. He’s also pretty inconsistent, and the team takes its cues from him. Adam Lind’s not consistent enough to play everyday. Then there are all the utility-level players (Rajai, Izturis, DeRosa, Thole, JPA, Kawasaki). These guys are a petrie dish for inconsistency, especially when they play full time.

Also if they don’t do something about their catching situation, they’re in trouble. They hitched their wagon to JPA, but he’s not a good catcher for reasons that have been flogged mercilessly. What other possibilities exist, though? How about Carlos Ruiz? Chooch is at the end of his tenure in Philly: he wants to stay, but they don’t seem interested. Another former ped abuser, nearing the end of his career, who isn’t wanted by his own team?

The Skinny

Adding it all up, the Jays need: 2 starters, a #1 catcher, a 2B, and an OF. Each one of these players needs to excel on offense or defense, preferably both. To acquire these needs, the Jays have: a bunch of underachieving MLers and a farm that’s been ransacked, but they’ve also ‘promised’ to maintain or increase payroll as necessary.

At this point my guess is we’ll see more of the same next year. There are too many needs and not enough talent or resources to fill all those needs, even if they trade roster players. They’d be selling low on almost everyone on the team. Also, do we seriously expect the ‘pen to be this good again?

Finally…

A key element of strong, contending teams is good homegrown talent. The Jays have Romero, McGowan, Lind, JPA, Lawrie, Pillar, and several ‘pen arms. Another element is good, astute trades that work out well. They haven’t been successful enough on the trade front for me to be confident that another round of trades will make a significant difference.

If Alex Anthopoulos is fired after the 2013 debacle, I won’t miss him. He’s not responsible for the poor play by good players, but he is responsible for the results. He assessed the talent, acquired the talent, but didn’t alter the talent. He’s given hope to the fan base, but it’s been a false hope.

In 2010, he promised 2 trips to the playoffs over the next 5 seasons. 2013 will be the 4th year of missing the playoffs under his direction, and the 19th straight overall. Pittsburgh and Kansas City have positioned themselves for the post-season, and Baltimore has leap-frogged the Jays in the AL East. Toronto is no longer the 4th-best team in their division: they’re the worst team 2 years running with only a fool’s hope of improvement. What more needs to be said? I used to sing his praises. Seeing as how I don’t think he’ll get canned, I won’t do that until anymore he gets some positive results. Why? I don’t trust him.

Wes Kepstro


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