Posts Tagged 'disappointing 2013 season'

Mission ’13: Toronto, Ryan Goins and a Culture of Desperation

The Jays have found a new player to love. Earlier this season, Jose Reyes was hurt sliding into second base. That in itself isn’t surprising. What was surprising was how well Munenori Kawasaki played for an extended period of time. He didn’t provide the value that a healthy Jose Reyes provides, but he did provide positive value. Aside from that, Munenori is really, really likable. Jays’ fans needed his likability: it was a shot in the arm. So, it was win-win with Munenori. Then, of course, mini-Mune was born in Toronto…

When he was sent down in a series of roster-related moves, we were apoplectic. How could you send down Mune when he was better than at least 2 other players on the 25-man roster? Easy, said Alex Anthopoulos: he has options. Now that injuries are a factor, he’s back. But he’s not playing, and people aren’t saying much. Why? There’s a new kid in town, that’s why.

Ryan Goins was playing shortstop down in Buffalo when the call came; after more than 500 games in the minors since 2009 Goins was getting a shot. Emilio Bonifacio, bad and then traded, and Maicer Izturis, bad and then hurt, didn’t play inspiring ball. Mark DeRosa wasn’t really signed to play 2B. Then the Jays, for good or for ill, tried moving Brett Lawrie to 2B. Munenori also played 2B after Reyes came back and Mune was re-called from AAA. Some played well, some played poorly, but the overall result of the revolving door was a defensive weak spot. Goins had the opportunity to grab it by the neck and throttle it.

That’s exactly what Goins did. What’s been especially impressive during his brief call-up has been his defense: in 16 games his 5.5 Fld jumps off that stat sheet at us. Offensively he’s done well with 16 hits (3 2B) in 60 PA, as he rides the crest of a modest BABIP wave (.327). In a manner reminiscent of goaltender James Reimer’s first taste of the big time, Toronto has embraced Ryan Goins. And why not, I ask? A young player (Goins will turn 26 in February) who wasn’t really even on the radar has burst on the scene and turned a negative into a positive and, coincidentally or not, the team has played better. We liked Mune, but he’s 32 so his potential contributions are sort of cloudy. We love this kid if for no other reason than the (much) greater potential he offers.

But that’s the problem, isn’t it. We love our stars in Toronto and we’ve had our fair share of them, but we LOVE the ‘little guy’, the ‘underdog’, the ‘overachiever’ out of proportion to their contribution and impact. Years of being treated to John McDonald has contributed to this attitude, I think, and Ryan Goins fits the mold.

Goins has come to Toronto and played well: his 0.4 fWAR ranks 9th on the team, behind Mune’s 0.7 fWAR. His triple slash is .271/.283/.322: a quick interpretation tells us that he’s hitting the ball okay, but not for power and he’s not getting on base by other means. That tells us pretty much all we need to know at this point, as he has 3 2B and 1 BB. It’s a small sample size and it’s now fallen below what he’s done in the minors so far.

But there are 2 things that nag at me about Ryan Goins, 2 things that give me a slightly-irrational impression that he might be better than merely ‘okay’ in the big leagues. The first thing is his defense. As mentioned, he’s a transplanted shortstop playing second base and he’s playing it very well (5.5 Fld). His range and arm have been terrific, as he’s made plays not made since before Orlando Hudson used ‘JP Ricciardi’ and ‘pimp’ in the same sentence.

The 2 most important contributions that a player can make are offense and defense, in that order. Defense is, of course, a more important consideration up the middle so we need to take that into account. In the middle infield, I don’t need the second coming of Joe Morgan or, more appropriately, Roberto Alomar. What I want is for a 2B to do at least one of those things—offense or defense—very well, to the point of excelling. Goins is unlikely to contribute much offensively but if he can continue to play defense at this level, or somewhere close to it, then he might be a keeper.

The second irrational thing is his minor league record. Much has been made of his minor league record. And when I say ‘much has been made’, what I mean is that his career minor league triple slash line has been offered. That’s it. Goins wasn’t a well-known prospect and we lack anything substantial upon which to form opinions that help us to make sense of this kid who’s burst onto the scene. I’m not sure offering his triple slash will cut it so when I looked at his MiLB career, I thought I noticed a trend or two. Here’s a brief summary:

  • There’s nothing spectacular about his MiLB career (except, perhaps, a full season K-rate of 12.6% at AA in 2012);
  • Several things are notable:
    • he’s had modestly high K totals on occasion (rising to 20.9% in a full season); and
    • he’s a slasher with line drive power (consistently 20+ doubles in full seasons);
  • disregarding rehab stints, he’s progressed steadily through the minors:
    • 46 games at 3 levels in ’09 (R, A-, A);
    • 124 games at 2 levels in ’10 (A, A+);
    • 101 games at 1 level in ’11 (A+);
    • 136 games at 1 level in ’12 (AA); and
    • 128 games and counting at 2 levels in ’13 (AAA; MLB).

Here we are at the major league level, watching a player that arrived with little or no fanfare, but it’s the adjustments he made to each level that give me pause. When he was sent up to the next level mid-season, he regressed a little: his strikeouts increased, his walks decreased, there was a slight power outage, etc. None of these regressions were dramatic, but they’re noticeable.

However, if he stayed at that level until the next season, his output surged beyond the previous lower level almost across the board. This happened in 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 before he was promoted to AA in 2012 and AAA in 2013. His numbers in AA New Hampshire were career bests, while his numbers this year in AAA Buffalo were consistent with the rest of his career. There is a tentative conclusion that we can draw from this: Ryan Goins adjusts well and quickly to new challenges. Will that continue in MLB? It remains to be seen. One thing is certain, though: his defense plays at the major league level.

Toronto fans are starved for a winner, but when you’re starving even McDonald’s food will do. Unfortunately it creates more problems than it solves. We’ve latched onto Munenori Kawasaki and Ryan Goins this season, a season that’s been very disappointing. Kawasaki and Goins aren’t the answer. Can they contribute meaningfully in the future? Yes, but it’s likely to come in a smaller role. You can’t have holes in the offensive line up and hope to succeed in the AL East. If Goins plays well enough defensively to earn a starting role, then (serious) upgrades are needed elsewhere. Goins’ play at 2B can solidify the defense up the middle, and if he adjusts and hits well it’s a bonus. Otherwise, this has just been a very good and very welcome cup of coffee sort of like Munenori Kawasaki was when Reyes was injured.

Wes Kepstro


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