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


3 Responses to “Mission ’13: It’s Time for Level Heads and Sober Assessment”

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