Archive for March, 2014

Break from Baseball – Sultans of Swing

The Sultans of Swing, our Toronto Blue Jays are on the verge of another baseball season.  Here is a quick break from baseball for a sweet cover – fittingly given the composition of our roster with a Cajun flair!

Riding with the Wind, ’14: Gunning for League Average

This likely isn’t the first time you’ve read about Ryan Goins.  It isn’t the first time that I’ve written about him, either.  Given his relative lack of familiarity before his call-up last season, a lot of virtual ink is being spilled about him now.  He was unnoticed in the minors because of his offense, which is, of course, why we’re all interested in him now.

Can a team that dreams about contending carry such a black hole on offense?  Of course it can.  Can their dreams be realized?  Of course they can.  But will they?  That remains to be seen.  Ryan Goins is terrible offensively, there’s no two ways about it.  He has no power, he doesn’t walk, he strikes out too often, and, while that means there’s lots of room for improvement, there’s little chance that’ll happen, right?  Maybe, maybe not.

I’m on record as saying that over the course of his career his “output surged beyond the previous lower level almost across the board”.  He does a workman-like job, gets promoted, struggles briefly, and then improves upon his previous level.  I believe this betrays his mindset: it seems as if he’s out to prove people wrong.  I don’t know what kind of things are said to him, but he ain’t a big guy (5′ 10″, 185lbs.) for a pro ball player and, since bigger/stronger/faster prospects are generally favoured, we can make an educated guess.

He also isn’t a little guy who hits for unexpected power (Joe Morgan; Jimmy Wynn, who had one of the best nicknames ever–the ‘Toy Cannon’; etc.), or steals a lot of bases, or bunts well, or anything.  But there’s something tangible–his defense–and something intangible–his desire to prove himself, maybe?–that makes me think he can play at the ML.  But I could be DEAD WRONG.

We need some context, don’t we?  The following table shows how well the average ML 2B fared offensively in 2013.  We also included the averages from the two leagues.

2013 BB% K% AVE OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
MLB 7.3 16.6 .257 .316 .376 .305 91
AL 7.6 16.2 .260 .320 .377 .308 91
NL 7.0 16.9 .254 .313 .375 .303 90

*Table info courtesy of www.fangraphs.com.

The average 2B in MLB was a below-average offensive contributor which, given the nature and importance of the position, is acceptable to most teams.  After all, not everyone has or can afford a Robinson Cano on the right side of the infield.

Fair enough but where does that leave us?  Well, since there isn’t a lot of data from Ryan Goins’ major league career, we can look for comparisons and contrasts in the careers of others to give us a little bit of perspective.

Ryan Goins isn’t the only middle infielder in baseball history to struggle offensively.  As a matter of fact, it’s almost cliché that middle infielders don’t contribute much with the bat.  Players such as Cano, Roberto Alomar, Jeff Kent, and Joe Morgan are the exception rather than the rule.  Defense is crucial at shortstop and second base.

Knowing this, we took a look at some of the more well-known middle infielders who struggled to produce positively with the bat.  The following table shows how some of these defensively adept/offensively inept middle infielders fared in their first ML season.  Ryan Goins’ 2013 effort in AAA Buffalo is included for perspective.

  BB% K% AVE OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Goins, AAA 2013 6.9 20.3 .257 .311 .369 .311 90
Mazeroski, PIT 1956 6.5 8.7 .243 .293 .318 .278 67
Belanger, BAL 1968 7.5 21.5 .208 .272 .248 .243 61
Bowa, PHI 1970 3.6 8.3 .250 .277 .303 .262 56
Smith, SDP 1978 7.0 6.4 .258 .311 .312 .288 84
Vizquel, SEA 1989 6.5 9.3 .220 .273 .261 .249 51

*Table info courtesy of www.fangraphs.com.

Here are some remarks from this info and from the broader statistical picture not included in the table:

  • There’s only one 2B in the bunch—Mazeroski—but Goins fits well into both categories, being a converted shortstop;
  • There’s obviously a big leap from AAA to MLB, one that so many players never make, but this offers some context for Goins’ offensive output;
  • Not surprisingly, Ozzie Smith is the class of the field but even his numbers aren’t very impressive, though he played in Jack Murphy Stadium as a rookie;
  • Larry Bowa and Omar Vizquel contributed very little offensively to their teams (PHI and SEA, respectively);
  • Mark Belanger is the only one who debuted with a good team;
  • The group combined to give only 10 seasons of 100 wRC+ (or greater): Ozzie Smith was responsible for seven of those seasons, and Omar Vizuel was responsible for two of them;
  • Ozzie Smith’s first season of 100 wRC+ came in his 8th season in MLB;
  • Ryan Goins’ AAA season is strikingly similar to the 2013 ML average for 2B;
  • Ryan Goins’ AAA season also fits in very well with the debuts of these other middle infielders who were strong defensively/weak offensively.

Can we expect Ryan Goins to reproduce his AAA season from 2013?  I don’t think so.  He’s working diligently with Kevin Seitzer, but it will probably be a longer process than most people are patient enough to bear.  What we’re likely to see is something along the lines of what Larry Bowa and Omar Vizquel gave to their teams.

There is one major difference that needs to be taken into account, though.  The difference is that the Blue Jays’ offense is much more capable of carrying Ryan Goins in 2014 than PHI was of carrying Bowa in 1970 or SEA was of carrying Vizquel in 1989.  The Phillies won 94 games in 1964 and bottomed out at 59 wins in 1972 (Steve Carlton’s 12.5 bWAR season).  Bowa’s rookie season occurred in the midst of that downward trend.  Vizquel’s 1989 Mariners had never enjoyed a winning season since joining MLB with TOR in 1977.

The real problem is whether the Blue Jays’ sketchy starting rotation can afford a black hole in the offense.  His defense will be a boon to the rotation.  However, it’s possible that Toronto gives up runs by the basketful in 2014, though this is arguably the best rotation supported by the greatest depth since Roy Halladay was the ace.

There are so many significant questions about the rotation—injuries, experience, consistency—that it would be foolhardy to expect them to resemble a championship staff.  This consideration, in concert with a run-rich home park (The Rog) in a division skewed heavily toward offensive production, may sound the death knell for the confidence they’ve placed in Ryan Goins.  After all, Stephen Drew is still out there.

I think his skills play at the ML level but, again, I could be dead wrong about this.  The more pertinent question, I think, is ‘if the Jays stumble out of the gate, will Ryan Goins be an early casualty?’ He’s 26 and may never mature offensively, but he may line up very well with the likes of Mazeroski (20), Belanger (24), Bowa (24), and Vizquel (22) over his career.  We dare not hope for him to be as good defensively as he was in his very brief debut, do we?  That’s Ozzie Smith territory and it’s sacred.  And we dare not hope that he’ll continue to improve offensively as the Wizard did, right?  Right…

Wes Kepstro

Blue Jays 2014 Prediction Quiz

Oh boy, last year was ugly and I recapped how pathetic our predictions proved to be for the 2013 Blue Jays quiz, check it out if you want a good laugh.  It’s that time again and here is a fresh set of ten questions pertaining to the 2014 Toronto Blue Jays season.

I want to see more participation in the comments section, copy and paste the template I placed below in the comments and join in on the fun.  It takes two seconds and we can laugh at your predictions as well as our own next year!

1) Blue Jays win total has been set by the bookies at 80.5.  Over / under?

AL Eastbound – I am going to take the under here.  I think the Blue Jays are a .500 team at best in the AL East this season given schedule and uncertainties surrounding the roster.  In fact, I see big time downside if things don’t go exactly how we need them.  Like top 5 draft pick downside.  I also think there is the possibility of big time upside if the Jays stay healthy and Brandon Morrow and Drew Hutchison both pitch to their max.  Maybe I am too negative but I stick to the Jays being a 75-80 win ball club in a tough division.

Wes Kepstro – I’m an optimist: over.  I’m also a realist: not much over.  As usual, it hinges on health.

2) Who will hit more HRs in 2014 – Jose Bautista or Edwin Encarnacion?

ALE – I think Jose Bautista actually has a bit of a bounce back season and I think he barely edges EE in the HR department this year.  Both should presumably mash however.  So, Joey Bats for me.

WK – Even:  they’ll each launch 36,

3) Who has a higher fWAR in 2014 – Brett Lawrie or Colby Rasmus?

ALE – I am going with Brett Lawrie here as in 107 games he managed a 1.3 WAR despite horrendous offensive numbers overall (.314 wOBA, 94 wRC+).  With a little health and some offensive upside I think he could have a solid bounce back year.  This is a wildcard selection as Rasmus was worth 4.8 wins last year in 118 games – pretty impressive.

WK – Lawrie, because he begins to put it together and Rasmus comes back a little.

4) Which Blue Jays position player will post the highest fWAR in 2014?

ALE – If I think Bautista is going to out-homer EE than I have to go with Jose Bautista for the highest fWAR on the 2014 Blue Jays.  If he is truly healthy I feel he has a chance at a monster season.  This might be a golden chance to get a good haul on the trade market if he does.

WK – Jose Bautista.  WAR loves him and he has something to prove.

5) Which Blue Jays pitcher will post the highest fWAR in 2014?

ALE – I can’t believe I am going to say this but like  last year I will select Brandon Morrow.  If he is on his game and healthy he racks up strikeouts and keeps the ball in the yard.  I will go with my 2013 prediction and roll with Morrow again in 2014.

WK – I’m with you: Brandon Morrow.

6) Will John Gibbons be fired by the Blue Jays during the 2014 season?

ALE – I think Gibby makes it through the season and is let go at the end of the season.  If Alex Anthopoulos is still at the helm he will ensure Gibbons is treated with as much dignity as possible on the way out.

WK – It depends on the players.  If they perform, they’ll excel meaning he’s safe.

7) Will the Blue Jays trade OF Jose Bautista during the 2014 season?

ALE – I think the safe answer is obviously no but I am going to go with yes.  If Joey Bats starts hot and shows he can stay healthy I think Alex Anthopoulos pulls the trigger on a monster trade to recoup some of the lost value of the RA Dickey, JA Happ and Jose Reyes deals.

WK – No.  He and his contract are far too valuable, even if they hit their mulligan into the pond.

8) Who will win the AL East Division in 2014?

ALE – Tampa Bay Rays.  Most will predict Boston but I think they take a step back on the mound.  Tampa will battle Boston all season and edge them out on the last day of the season.

WK – I like the Rays, too.  They’re talented, well-coached, and hungry.

9) Who posts a higher fWAR in 2014 – Drew Hutchison or Ervin Santana?

ALE – I have to go with Hutch here and I think he provides some solid value if he can maintain solid health for 150-170 IPs.  He is a key to any potential ‘upside’ to the 2014 Blue Jays season.  I think Erv. Santana has a rockier season and pitches closer to his peripherals and declining K-rate.

WK – No brainer.  A healthy Hutch out-performs a healthy Santana.

10) Who will win the World Series in 2014?

ALE – St. Louis Cardinals.  They always find a way and will have an added boost of Oscar Taveras late in the season which should help an already deep club.

WK – Somebody.  I hate to say it because I also cheer for the Giants, but I’ll pick the Dodgers.  If they don’t win it, someone else will.  There’s no repeat of 1994, and I suck at this.  Emoji

Bonus question: Who will be better the M’s, the Yankees or the Orioles?

ALE – I’ll take the Yankees.  Pineda is coming back, they added some pretty good free agent talent at key positions.

WK – Seattle.  Their weak OF and suddenly-weaker division puts themahead of the NYY age/rotation/IF, and I expect Chris Davis/Adam Jones to step back, and Ubaldo to get roughed up at OPaCY/in the ALE.

 

Riding With the Wind, ’14: Ready to Go

It’s been interesting since the end of the 2013 season, with fewer moves than expected, rampant speculation, rumours, intrigue, disappointment, and, finally, resigned acceptance.  Without further ado, here’s the 2014 Toronto Blue Jays’ Opening Day 25-man roster with some brief comments:

Starters

RA Dickey; Mark Buehrle; Brandon Morrow; Drew Hutchison; Dustin McGowan

  • There are 2 surprises in Hutch and McG, but they’re good surprises–they both have significant injury concerns but they both pitched very well in Spring Training;
  • Brandon Morrow will once again be a key to the success/failure of the Toronto Blue Jays this season.

Relievers

Casey Janssen; Sergio Santos; Steve Delabar; Brett Cecil; Aaron Loup; Jeremy Jeffress; Todd Redmond; Esmil Rogers

  • This is the strength of the 2014 Toronto Blue Jays, just as it was in 2013;
  • Redmond and Rogers competed for the 5th spot in the rotation, but pitched poorly enough in ST to be relegated to the ‘pen as long relievers/spot starters;
  • this, while somewhat disappointing, gives the Jays admirable depth behind Morrow/Hutch/McG;
  • JA Happ was perhaps the biggest disappointment of ST as he was virtually handed the 4th spot in the rotation;
  • Happ’s back flare-up saved the Jays from having to cut a player who was out of options (Redmond; McG; Rogers; Jeffress), or service time issues (Happ);
  • with the speight of recent pitching-related injuries in MLB, the Jays didn’t need another Ervin Santana type of fiasco by losing a quality arm.

Catchers

Dioner Navarro; Josh Thole

  • Dioner Navarro is a significant upgrade over JP Arencibia in every facet of the game;
  • Thole beating out Erik Kratz was a surprise, as Kratz commended himself with a good ST, however, Thole does have years of experience catching RA Dickey;

Outfielders

Jose Bautista; Colby Rasmus; Melky Cabrera; Moises Sierra

  • Anthony Gose played his way to AAA Buffalo–he may never hit at the big league level;
  • Sierra isn’t ideal as a 4th OF, but he has improved and he’s out of options;
  • Sierra will also see time at DH and possibly 1B against LHP;
  • There are several questions here, and most of them relate to health: if these guys can stay healthy, they can be formidable and productive;
  • the one question that isn’t directly related to health is this: who is the back up CF?  Can a tumour-free Melky spell Rasmus every now and then…?

Infielders

Edwin Encarnacion; Ryan Goins; Jose Reyes; Brett Lawrie; Maicer Izturis

  • Ryan Goins may not hit his weight, and he only weighs 185 lbs.–his defense will need to be Wizard-esque to carry his bat if he doesn’t figure it out pretty soon (Mazeroski-esque is better since he was a 2B, but you get it, right?);
  • Adam Lind will slot in at 1B as well, as might Moises Sierra;
  • Edwin, Reyes and Lawrie NEED to stay healthy: Reyes has a slight hamstring issue and Edwin was plunked by the Yankees (no Granderson payback, I’m sure), but all reports indicate that they’re both okay;

Designated Hitter

Adam Lind

  • chronic back issues and an inability to hit LHP are the questions here;
  • however, both of those issues, while disconcerting, are answerable with the roster as constructed: Sierra and Encarnacion figure to see time at DH, plus possibilities like DH-ing Bautista and getting Sierra to patrol RF are also reasonable game-to-game scenarios.

The Bench will be comprised of Josh Thole, Moises Sierra, and Maicer Izturis and, as you can see, it’s a weakness.  Bounce-back years from Thole and Izturis will help considerably, as would one more player (such as uber-versatile-recent-pick-up-but-more-recently-cut Matt Tuiasosopo).  The problem is that the rotation has health concerns (Morrow; Hutch; McGowan), so the ‘pen needs to be fortified.  The ‘pen has guys who fill the role of swingman or long man, but several of them are out of options (Redmond; Rogers; Jeffress).  This stars ‘n’ scrubs roster was constructed with the related factors of health, depth and options playing vital roles.

This season won’t be like 2013.  Not only does it lack the hype and correspondingly high expectations; it lacks answers to some significant questions leftover from 2013.  The only way we’ll get those answers is by letting them play out over time.  The first several weeks of the season will be very telling for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Opening Day is exciting enough, as the season still has yet to unfold.  This one will be very special as Dustin McGowan is scheduled to start for the Blue Jays against Masahiro Tanaka of the New York Yankees.  Wouldn’t it be nice if the Jays play well this year, and we can sit back in November and say ‘that game set the tone for the whole season’?  Here’s to hoping…

Don’t let the lunatic fringe get you down if the Jays stumble out of the gate.  It could be worse: you could be watching darts.  Enjoy it for what it is.  Go Jays go!

Wes Kepstro

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dustin McGowan – The Next Chris Carpenter?

The Toronto Blue Jays today announced that Dustin McGowan would be in the starting rotation to begin the 2014 season.  It was not completely unexpected given the state of the current rotation and what McGowan had shown during 2013 in the bullpen and over a few innings in spring training this year.  However this is certainly rolling the dice and Alex Anthopoulos is taking a chance on a starting pitcher with good stuff but a hideous track record of poor health.

What can we expect from a pitcher who hasn’t started more than 19 games in one big league season since 2008?

Let us have a look at his last two seasons as a full-time starting pitcher with the Blue Jays:

  IP      ERA   xFIP   K/9   BB/9   HR/9   K/BB   GB%  
D. McGowan – 2007 169.2 4.08 3.79 7.64 3.24 0.74 2.36 53.0
D. McGowan – 2008 111.1 4.37 4.27 6.87 3.07 0.73 2.24 41.4
Pitcher X 124.2 2.96 4.03 7.80 2.96 0.87 2.63 41.1

Pitcher X has similar numbers overall when compared to Dustin McGowan’s numbers when he was last trying to establish himself as a big league starting pitcher.  Pitcher X is none other than Brandon Morrow’s 2012 season.

McGowan was touching 94.7 MPH on his heater in 2007/2008 and that is the exact level he was hitting last season out of the bullpen.  I would expect his velocity to dip a little bit making the full transition to the starting rotation nearly six years removed from being a full-time starter.

If Dustin McGowan can split the difference of 2007/2008 and provide 150+ innings as a starting pitcher that would certainly be a bonus.  I can’t say I had any expectation McGowan would even return to the big leagues let alone be counted upon every five days.

I think the best case scenario is Dustin McGowan remains healthy all season and helps fans get over the sting of watching former Blue Jays SP Chris Carpenter reinvigorate his career with the St. Louis Cardinals.  The worst case scenario is we have to watch McGowan end his career for good.  All things considered I think this is a risk worth taking.

Padres SP Josh Johnson To Miss Four Weeks

As per MLBTR:

The Padres will shut starting pitcher Josh Johnson down for 10 days to two weeks with a strained flexor, Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune tweets. Johnson will be out for at least four weeks. It must be a frustrating injury for Johnson, who only started 16 games last season. While the injury doesn’t appear to threaten a huge portion of the season, the Padres can feel grateful for an option they built into Johnson’s contract — if Johnson starts fewer than seven games this season, the Padres get a $4MM option on his services for 2015.

QUICK REACTION: I was one of a few that thought it best to just roll the dice and bring JJ back for another go around in the Blue Jays rotation.  This is already a tough start for the oft-injured right handed starting pitcher.

AL East Prospect Report – March 17, 2014

Hitters:

BAL MAJ Alvarez, Dariel RF 1 1 1 1 .667 HR (1)
BAL MAJ Schoop, Jonathan SS 4 0 1 0 .400
BAL MAJ Urrutia, Henry RF 4 0 1 0 .310

BOS MAJ Bradley, Jackie CF 3 0 1 0 .182
BOS MAJ Coyle, Sean 2B 1 0 1 1 1.000
BOS MAJ Marrero, Deven SS 3 1 1 1 .333

NYY MAJ Flores, Ramon LF 3 2 2 1 .269
NYY MAJ Sanchez, Gary PH-DH 1 1 1 2 .364 HR (2)
NYY MAJ Williams, Mason CF 2 0 1 1 .174

Pitchers:

BOS MAJ Britton, Drake 1.2 6 5 5 2 1 8.22
BOS MAJ Webster, Allen 4 3 3 2 3 3 5.25

NYY MAJ Betances, Dellin 1 1 1 1 1 1 1.00
NYY MAJ Greene, Shane 2 1 1 1 0 4 3.60
NYY MAJ Tanaka, Masahiro 4.1 3 1 1 2 6 1.93

TOR MAJ Sanchez, Aaron 4 5 0 0 1 3 0.00


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