Archive for the 'Jays Talk' Category

Blue Jays Could Risk Future By Not Addressing Present

The Toronto Blue Jays biggest trade deadline addition this season was….platoon infielder Danny Valencia.  Yeah, awesome.

In a wild trade deadline that saw names like David Price, Jon Lester and John Lackey move the Blue Jays stood pat and made no major acquisitions.  A lot of the time the deadline is in fact the worst time to make a move as the bidding is intense and the asking prices start to rise.  It can be very detrimental to the future of your franchise if you make the wrong move(s).

However this year the Blue Jays might have slightly risked their future by not addressing the present day roster.  Hear me out.

RA Dickey, Mark Buerhle and JA Happ.  That is who the Jays will be counting upon to a) attempt to make the playoffs and b) attempt to win a playoff series with.  Marcus Stroman is the future of the rotation but he has six maybe seven starts total remaining in his season before the Blue Jays brass has to seriously consider shutting down their shiny new toy.

Marcus Stroman’s highest inning count as a professional came last year when he threw 124 total innings.  He has over 109 innings thus far in 2014.  If the Blue Jays are willing to ratchet up his innings by 20% year-over-year Stroman would be able to throw around 148 innings this season.  That leaves 39 innings for the remainder of this season or around 6-7 starts.  That barely gets him to September.

Drew Hutchison is coming off Tommy John surgery and has shown enough promise this season that risking his future by pushing the innings down the stretch is just not an option in my opinion.  He has shown both flashes of brilliance and the inconsistencies of youth.

Drew Hutchison’s highest inning count as a professional came in 2011 when he threw 149 total innings.  He has over 119 innings thus far in 2014.  Considering he barely pitched last season and is coming off surgery I can’t see the Blue Jays going much over 150 total innings.  That leaves about 31 innings or about 5-6 starts.

If you are satisfied with JA Happ as a permanent member of the starting staff the Blue Jays will be without two of their best arms when the games will presumably mean the most, and that’s if the team is smart in terms of not abusing their top two young arms.

Perhaps Brandon Morrow has been secretly held back for this very reason and will be the saviour of the season but if I’m Alex Anthopoulos I’d be very concerned about my job security at seasons end.  This was not the year to come away empty handed in terms of a starting pitcher (or two) who can be relied upon to pitch meaningful innings in September (and beyond).

I hate to have such a negative, knee-jerk reaction but the fact of the matter is the Blue Jays have essentially decided to give this season away.  They didn’t add to a weakened bullpen, they didn’t add a desperately needed veteran pitcher and they didn’t help a quickly deteriorating public relations problem.

If the richest owner in the game of baseball couldn’t fork out another $10-12 million (prorated) to help the current roster while at the same time eliminating the temptation to push our top two arms to the breaking point shame on them.   This article doesn’t even begin to touch on what message this is sending your star players.  Specifically Jose Bautista who was none to happy with the recent inactivity at the deadline.

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Did Melky Cabrera Take Subtle Swipe at Teammate RA Dickey Via Twitter?

This was probably an innocent mistake but one Melky Cabrera favorite the following Tweet on Thursday, July 3, 2014:

This prompted a quick reply from an astute Blue Jays fan:

Read what you will into this.*

Even after his last start which was a complete game his stats for 2014 are less than stellar.  Through 112 IPs Dickey has a 4.10 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 4.68 FIP and 1.29 HR/9.  In 30.2 June IPs Dickey had an almost unfathomable 2.93 HR/9 as 28.6 of his fly balls left the yard.  There is a lot of talk on Twitter (always a reliable source of fandom) that Dickey needs to be taken out of the rotation.

Without a proper replacement there is absolutely no sense in taking out one of the few starting pitchers who can actually pitch 200+ innings.  I am worried that with a division on the line and an impatient fan base to please the Blue Jays are going to really push the envelope with our tender young arms Marcus Stroman and Drew Hutchison.  Stroman has barely reached the 100 inning mark as a professional and Hutchison is still fairly fresh of his Tommy John surgery and I am not sure how far he can be pushed.

RA Dickey is definitely here to stay.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing if he can live up to his ZIPS (rest of season) projections of 90 inning, 4.21 ERA and 1.29 WHIP.  Perhaps his last start will jump-start him into the second half of the season.  The Blue Jays are certainly counting on him.

*Today’s hack job brought to you by Jerry Springer.

Leaked MLB Trade Chat: Blue Jays Were Willing to Move Marcus Stroman For Bud Norris?

Have you ever wondered how active today’s general managers are in terms of discussing potential trades?  Have you wanted to know exactly how they communicate with one another and what they are discussing?  Well thanks to a Julian Assange like leak in the Astro’s front office you can now get a pretty solid look.

Dave Cameron posted this story on Fangraphs today and it is well worth a look for yourself if curious.  The Toronto Blue Jays were front and centre in discussions/negotiations and it appears the reputation of Alex Anthopoulos frequently ‘checking’ in on players and gauging value might be true.

Here are all of the details involving the Toronto Blue Jays.

1) Blue Jays were willing to part with at least Marcus Stroman for Bud Norris.

7/19/2013 “AA texted JL and asked what it would take for Norris.  AA said Aaron Sanchez is off the table but might be willing to talk about anyone else.”

7/29/2013 “AA texted JL and asked what a package around Stroman might look like.  JL said Stroman + Gose would be in consideration.”

Well consider this a bullet dodged.  The Astros were apparently asking for the moon for league average starting pitcher Bud Norris last season.  They asked the Orioles for Dylan Bundy and the Red Sox for Xander Bogaerts before finally settling on the much less exciting package of L.J. Hoes and Josh Hader from the Baltimore Orioles.

Bud Norris was awful for the Orioles last season in only 50.2 IPs (4.80 ERA, 1.68 WHIP) and though he has actually been pretty serviceable for them this year (87 IPs, 3.62 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 4.49 FIP) he is certainly not amazing.

If the Blue Jays valued any type of veteran starting pitcher that highly it seems quite likely they would be willing to give up nearly anything for Jeff Samardzija or David Price.  Hopefully they don’t jettison Marcus Stroman to the Chicago Cubs for Jason Hammel though I think it’s safe to assume Stroman’s value is a lot higher now than it was last summer.

I wonder if the Blue Jays brain trust had questions about Marcus Stroman’s attitude or worries about his potential as a starting pitcher around this time last year?   It seems the Jays were more than willing to add his name to trade discussions.

2) Blue Jays asked about the price of catcher Jason Castro – desperately wanting to upgrade over JP Arencibia in the off-season.

10/18/2013 “TOR reached out on Jason Castro.  They said their #1 priority this offseason is to upgrade over Arencibia.  They want to get a sense for what the price would be on Castro.”

Alex Anthopoulos is rumored to be extremely thorough and is an avid window shopper, asking about nearly any player in the league to gauge value and price.  No details were discussed surrounding price but you can believe Marcus Stroman + + + would have been required.  This type of inquiry is still fairly easy to wrap your head around JP Arencibia had one of the worst seasons in baseball and Jason Castro would have been a huge upgrade.

3) Blue Jays still viewed Brett Lawrie as a cornerstone heading into the 2014 season.

11/13/2013 “AA said Lawrie is untouchable.  Sounded like they might consider a smaller deal for Stroman but later in off-season.”

Even after a bit of a rough season (compared to expectations) the Blue Jays front office were not panicking.  They still feel Brett Lawrie is a potential leader of this ball club.  Prior to his injury I have been quite satisfied with the player he has become.  Stellar defense at two infield positions along with solid power shown at the plate make him fairly indispensable at this stage.  In 69 games he has hit 12 HRs to go with a respectable .419 SLG% and has amassed a solid 1.5 fWAR.

It goes without saying that I am certain the Blue Jays (and all other teams included in this report) are likely furious this type of data was leaked.  While it was anonymously uploaded by a rogue employee this type of thing shouldn’t happen.  You can also bet that teams will be looking into their own information and data security protocols quite closely as we speak.

The Astros have issued the following statement regarding the leaked notes:

“Last month, we were made aware that proprietary information held on Astros’ servers and in Astros’ applications had been illegally obtained. Upon learning of the security breach, we immediately notified MLB security who, in turn, notified the FBI. Since that time, we have been working closely with MLB security and the FBI to the determine the party, or parties, responsible. This information was illegally obtained and published, and we intend to prosecute those involved to the fullest extent.

“It is unfortunate and extremely disappointing that an outside source has illegally obtained confidential information. While it does appear that some of the content released was based on trade conversations, a portion of the material was embellished or completely fabricated.”

It certainly made for some interesting reading and was exciting enough to force this lazy blogger to actually write a new piece!

Jeff Samardzija Would Help Blue Jays, But Deal Cannot Include Drew Hutchison

With the Toronto Blue Jays playing some of their best baseball in years and currently leading the wide open AL East division speculation will once again heat up that the Jays are seeking help for their starting rotation.  The current rotation features RA Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Drew Hutchison, JA Happ and the recently called up Liam Hendricks who has taken the place of Dustin McGowan.

Dickey, Buehrle and Hutch have all performed admirably and perhaps above expectations thus far this season.  Happ has been strong recently but it is hard to envision and contending team showing complete faith in him given the rather weak track record in terms of major league success.  Hendricks was only recently called up and the fifth starter spot has been a sore spot all season.

This leads me to the point of this piece.  The Blue Jays will be looking for external help and all indications are they have at the very least kicked tires on acquiring Jeff Samardzija from the Chicago Cubs.  The man they call ‘Shark’ is having a career season in terms of ERA (1.46), WHIP (1.09) and ground ball rate (51.6%).

Samardzija, currently 29 years old is a very solid starting pitcher but if the rumored price of at least two of Drew Hutchison, Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman I think Alex Anthopoulos should tread carefully.  First off trading one of our best current starting pitchers just to add another makes zero sense and perhaps the Cubs are trying to set an early high price to see if a team blinks first.

Second this would be buying a pitcher at likely the peak of his value.  Thru 68 innings in 2014 Shark has seen his K-rate dip to a career low 7.15 K/9 and his BABIP is at a career low .264 (career .294 mark) which has certainly helped his overall stat line.  His current HR/FB rate is 3.9% – which is not sustainable compared to his 10.5% career rate.  His strand rate is also at a career high 82% compared to his career rate of 72%.

This has all added up to a career best ERA and WHIP.  Now he has taken a bit of a different approach this season as witness by his pitch selection.  In 2013 he utilized his four-seam (straight) fastball 25.1% while in 2014 that has dropped to 17.1%.  This season he has tried to use his two-seam (sinking) fastball much more (39.6%) more than last year (27.7%).  This has helped lead to a higher overall groundball rate but overall he has not missed as many bats at in years past.

His current swinging strike rate is 8.2% (10.1% for his career) as batters are making higher overall contact.  Yes some of that is likely by design but it is never a good thing for a pitcher to suddenly start missing less bats.  According to Pitch FX data his fastball has seen about a one mile per hour dip – nothing huge but at age 29 his velocity will continue to decline going forward.

Finally bring any pitcher into the AL East and there is bound to be a bit of a learning curve.  Yes it is not the division it once was but that is more due to the injury prone starting rotations and not the overall level of offense.  There is no guarantee Samardzija comes over to the AL East and the Rogers Centre and pitches like an ace – which is the type of production needed to justify the current asking price.

I hope the price comes down but with so many teams still gunning for the playoffs that seems doubtful.  Shark would be a great addition to our rotation and could go a long way to solidifying our starting rotation but that addition cannot come at any cost.  If the price for Jeff Samardzija (3.46 xFIP, 1.5 WAR in 68 IPs) begins with Drew Hutchison (3.56 xFIP, 1.5 WAR in 60 IPs) the price is already much too steep and the answer must be no.

Marcus Stroman Gets the Call – To Bullpen?

As per MLBTR:

The Blue Jays will call up right-handed pitching prospect Marcus Stroman, the team told reporters (including Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca) after tonight’s loss to the Pirates.  Stroman will pitch out of the bullpen for the Jays, at least at first, though he has pitched exclusively as a starter for the last two minor league seasons and there had been rumors that he was on pace to join the rotation.  A corresponding move will come tomorrow, as Stroman isn’t on Toronto’s 40-man roster.

Stroman, who just turned 23 years old on Thursday, was taken by the Jays with the 22nd overall pick of the 2012 amateur draft.  He began his pro career in ignominious fashion by serving a 50-game suspension for a PED violation, but returned to post a 3.30 ERA, 10.4 K/9 and 4.78 K/BB rate over 20 Double-A starts in 2013 and has been even better in five Triple-A starts this season — a 1.69 ERA, 12.2 K/9 and 5.14 K/BB rate over 26 2/3 IP.

QUICK TAKE: I am not surprised that Stroman gets the nod as the next pitcher heading to the big leagues but I guess I am a bit perplexed as to why he won’t be in the rotation.  I would much rather see Dustin McGowan head back to the pen where he is probably going to end up anyway and just add JA Happ and Marcus Stroman to the rotation.

There are pitchers who have begun as relievers in the big leagues and still transitioned to the rotation successfully but given the Blue Jays track record of struggling to develop solid starting pitchers I wouldn’t take that chance with one of our best prospects at this juncture in his career.

Does the bullpen need help?  Absolutely.  But I just don’t think this is the smartest move for the franchise.

Has Kevin Seitzer Improved Blue Jays Plate Discipline?

Well after another blown save and lackluster bullpen performance by the Toronto Blue Jays there record fell to 13-16 and are now three full games behind the first place Baltimore Orioles.  During the JP Ricciardi era it seemed that one year the Blue Jays bats would be unstoppable but the pitching didn’t keep up, or vice versa.

Perhaps a team on a shoestring budget (at that point) just has to put up with such things.  Last year it felt like we had wasted one of the best bullpens the team has ever had as the offense and starting pitching was just ok.  This season I wanted to have a look at the offense.  I hadn’t actually looked until writing this piece today but it felt like the Blue Jays under Kevin Seitzer had become a more patient team at the plate.

Let’s take a look shall we?

On the season the Blue Jays have scored an impressive 134 runs – ranking 7th in all of baseball.  They have hit 35 homeruns (4th) and .330 wOBA (6th).  As a team the Blue Jays swung at 45.4% of all pitches thrown and so far this year only 43.1% (the fourth lowest in the majors FYI).

Let’s take a look at individual batter numbers:

Swing% 2013    2014     Diff 
Jose Reyes 43.8% 47.4%  3.6
Melky Cabrera 47.6% 45.0%  2.6
Jose Bautista 39.2% 34.0% -5.2
Edwin Encarnacion 41.9% 43.5%  1.6
Dioner Navarro 46.3% 43.5% -2.8
Adam Lind 41.7% 34.6% -7.1
Colby Rasmus 45.0% 48.2%  3.2
Brett Lawrie 47.5% 51.5%  4.0
Ryan Goins 43.8% 41.1% -2.7

Sort of a mixed bag when looking player by player and you can plainly see that a majority of the overall lower swing rate comes from Jose Bautista and Adam Lind.  Saying that those are three of the more important cogs in the lineup and of course they will make up a good deal of overall plate appearances.

The Blue Jays have a few free swingers that aren’t likely to start changing now.  Brett Lawrie swinging as often as Melky Cabrera given the differences in contact skills might explain some of his early season batting average struggles.

While not conclusive down the entire lineup card as a team the Blue Jays are trying to work the count a little deeper and have swung at less pitches overall.  Ranking 4th overall in swing percentage is a good thing.  Ranking 1-3 are the Twins, Rays and Red Sox and all three are in the top ten in runs scored early on in 2014.

Getting the starting pitcher out of the game and facing pitchers like Todd Redmond in key run scoring opportunities can only help the team in the long run.  I hope this new approach continues as it makes the Blue Jays a tougher team to play against.

Obligatory & Early Edwin Encarnacion Is Struggling Piece

So it has been quite a slow start for the Blue Jays best overall hitter Edwin Encarnacion.  He has looked a little off to start the year and I wanted to see if there was anything that stood out in his stat set that might explain why?  April can be a difficult month to write about baseball given the small sample sizes that abound in the early going.

Thus far our beloved EE has amassed 83 plate appearances over the first 19 games so there is at least a reasonable level of data to analyze.  The first stat that obviously sticks out is the big donut in the homerun column.  Encarnacion has been one of the best power hitters in baseball over the last two seasons hitting 42 and 36 dingers respectively.

So far this season Encarnacion is slashing a pretty dismal 230/313/324 and considering he is returning from the occasional power sapping wrist surgery Blue Jays fans have the right to be a tad concerned.  Let’s compare some stats from the early going to his last two complete seasons to see some of the trends.

First some basic and counting stats:

EE AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ wOBA ISO
2012 .280 .384 .557 13.0% 14.6% 151 .396 .277
2013 .272 .370 .534 13.2% 10.0% 145 .388 .262
2014 .230 .313 .324 10.8% 22.9% 81 .291 .095

It doesn’t take a strong grasp of advanced statistics to see that Encarnacion is off to a rotten start.  His 2014 line looks more like Munenori Kawasaki than that of one of the most dangerous sluggers in the game.  Perhaps most concerning is that Encarnacion is striking out well above his career rate of 15.9% and over twice as much as his 2013 10.0% mark.

Let’s take a closer look at some batted ball data:

EE LD% GB% FB% IFFB% HR/FB BABIP
2012 17.6% 33.0% 49.5% 12.0% 18.7% .266
2013 21.6% 35.1% 43.3% 9.3% 17.6% .247
2014 18.2% 38.2% 43.6% 4.2% 0.0% .309

Overall there is nothing that stands out besides the unsustainably low homerun to fly-ball percentage.  I really expected to see his infield fly-ball percentage to be high-ish but clearly Edwin’s two biggest problems thus far are the fly-balls he is hitting currently aren’t leaving the yard and overall contact issues.

Let’s visit the latter claim to see if it holds true:

EE O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% Z-Contact% Contact% F-Strike% SwStrk%
2012 21.8% 59.8% 41.0% 87.0% 82.1% 55.4% 7.2%
2013 24.4% 60.5% 41.3% 89.4% 84.3% 59.9% 6.3%
2014 27.8% 60.0% 42.7% 87.8% 79.0% 67.5% 9.0%

So far this season Encarnacion is fishing a little more outside of the strike-zone according to Fangraphs pitch f/x data.  He is also making a career low overall contact rate and a near career worst swinging strike percentage.  Simply put he is swinging through a lot more pitches that in the past he has been able to ‘barrel’.

Based on the ‘eye test’ of watching his at-bats it isn’t hard to tell that he is definitely out of sync.  He appears less balanced, more easily frustrated and a touch late on pitches he can hit.  Hitters will always go through prolonged slumps and given the track record of success for Edwin Encarnacion one need not ring the alarm bells quite yet.


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