Archive for February, 2012

Extra Wild Card in 2012: What it Does and Doesn’t Mean to the Blue Jays

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It was recently reported by Ken Rosenthal that an extra wild card team is all but done in being added for the 2012 MLB season. My initial reactions were something along the lines of oh my god and were not unlike the opening of that first present on Christmas morning as a child. You feel a sense of excitement and that rush of new things until you realize you just opened that present from Grandma with only socks inside, thanks Grandma. In this case it seems somewhat similar. On one hand you have the right to be pretty damn excited that your favourite team is one step closer to the playoffs, but on the other hand in the grand scheme of things does it really make that much of a difference.

Of course the adding of an extra wild card spot for 2012 is a fantastic addition to the Blue Jays playoff chances, but it seems like some are still forgetting about the other potentially unsurpassable bumps in the road. For one the Blue Jays play in the always tough AL East, but also in the incredibly difficult American League and are the Blue Jays really ready to take that next step, even with an extra wild card team.

In the East you always have the big three in the Yankees, the Red Sox, and the Rays. In the Central you have the now Fielderful Tigers. Last, but not least in the West you have the Rangers and the now playoff ready Angels.

In the old scenario it looked almost impossible for the Blue Jays to make the playoffs in 2012 without significant leaps and bounds taken by multiple players on the team because the Jays would have had to pass two of the beasts of the east.  Now in the new scenario it looks more likely that they will have make the playoffs but what you have to realize is that instead of having to overtake two of the beasts in the east, the Jays will have to overcome one, but also likely one of the Texas Rangers or Los Angeles Angels and they aren’t half bad either.

The Rangers, well they’re the Rangers, not only have they been the American League representative in the World Series for back to back years, but they also got arguably the best pitcher on the market outside of C.C. Sabathia in Yu Darvish. The Angels, usually an afterthought in wild card consideration, got not even arguably but instead thee best hitter on the market in Albert Pujols and then the second best free agent pitcher in C.J. Wilson. As well what many don’t seem to realize the Angels are the same team that finished only 5 games out of a wild card spot.

Looking further into it Replacement Level Yankees who run the CAIRO projection system ran a couple of projected standings using both their system as well as that of Tom Tango who runs the Marcel system. Using the CAIRO projection system they projected the Blue Jays 2012 record to be 78-84 and gave them a 4.1% chance of making the playoffs, which includes a 2.6% increase from the added second wild card spot. In another post using the Marcel projection system they projected the Jays record to be the exact same as 2011 at 81-81 and gave them a 16.7% chance of making the playoffs, which includes a pretty substantial 6.8% jump from the added wild card spot.

These two numbers may seem at the very least somewhat promising, but the two posts also include a couple playoff chance percentages for some of the competitors. CAIRO puts the playoff chances of the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays at anywhere from 64.4% for the Rays to a whopping 84.8% for the Yanks and Marcel similarly has the percentages at anywhere from 57.1% for the Rays to 76.0% for the Yankees. At the lowest point the next best team in the AL East, the Rays, still has a 3 times better chance to make the playoffs than your team and mine the Toronto Blue Jays.

To beat the next best team in the CAIRO projected wild card standings the Jays would have to somehow gain another 13 wins beyond CAIRO’s Blue Jays projections, which aren’t too pessimistic. Even to beat the next best team in the Marcel projected standings, which have the Blue Jays being much better in 2012 than the CAIRO system, the Jays would somehow need to muster up another 6 wins.

That number may not seem like a whole lot, but for the Jays to increase their win total by 6 wins that would have to mean something along the lines of Colby Rasmus returning to 2010 form and Travis Snider finally becoming what he could now realistically be. That is a lot to happen and even that’s no guarantee that the Jays would make the playoffs because anything could happen with the other three teams fighting for the two playoff spots.

In the end the reality is with a still improving team and an unbalanced schedule for the 2012 season it doesn’t seem like the added wild card spot will give the Jays the extra push they need. It may make you and I as fans feel better about the Blue Jays and it will surely sell some extra tickets. But unfortunately it isn’t as if the Jays only have to overcome one one great team instead of two, all that seems to have happened is that one less beast of the east has been transferred to having to beat one of the best in the west.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be excited for the 2012 season because the Jays will still have a very exciting team and a player with 80 grade watchability in Brett Lawrie. If anything it should just make you more excited for what is to come in 2013 and beyond when the Blue Jays sustained success really figures to begin. And if you’re really a believer be excited for 2012 and really think the Jays can make the playoffs don’t let me or any other blogger suppress that, because hey stranger things have happened.

Sources: Baseball Reference, Replacement Level Yankees, FOX Sports

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My Plea for Kyle Drabek

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Photo by sillygwailo licensed under Creative Commons

It has come to my attention through the poll on this site and what seems to be the general opinion of Jays fans that of the four troubling players listed Drabek is the least likely to have a comeback season and I ask why? It may seems so long ago, but it has only been one year since Kyle Drabek was the top prospect in the Blue Jays farm system and a shining star in the Blue Jays future plans. At that time Drabek ranked anywhere from No. 13 by Keith Law to No. 29 by Baseball America on their respective top prospect lists.

Heading in to Spring Training in 2011, Drabek was the next big thing, the possible first fruition of the trade that sent former Blue Jays Ace Roy Halladay to the Phillies, and the first tangible major league talent from Alex Anthopoulos’ regime as general manager. He was all but handed a rotation spot after the Jays traded Shaun Marcum to the Brewers and he seemed to be ready to take it.

Obviously we would later learn that Drabek would not turn in the best of seasons in 2011 and I don’t think I need to paint the entire picture of just how bad Drabek really was. All I have to say is that in almost a consensus opinion the simple stats, advanced stats, and Pitch F/X information all agree on one thing, Kyle Drabek sucked.

At this point in the blog post I usually point out what Drabek did wrong and how he can improve and all that, but in this case Drabek’s problem is pretty simple and the fact is that he just couldn’t throw strikes. Drabek was putting pitches galore outside the zone and in fact at the time of his demotion in June Drabek had walked more batters than he had struck out and was the not so proud owner of the league’s worst strikeout to walk ratio.

Proceeding his demotion to AAA Las Vegas in June things just got worse. Being sent to the band box that is Cashman Field and the very definition of a hitter’s league in the PCL obviously didn’t help, but even against a much worse level of competition Drabek did not perform as he was expected to. Because of a lack of AAA Pitch F/X data no one (unless they saw him) can really discern specifically whether he wasn’t throwing strikes there either, but what one does know is that in AAA he held a relatively similar strikeout to walk ratio and that is in no way a good thing.

In spite of all that has happened, Drabek’s failure in the majors and minors is not completely indicative of what he could do in 2012. In general it is true that numbers and statistics from previous years can be used as a predictor for future performance. The difference with Drabek is for one what he has done thus far is a smallish sample size and there is not enough previous data to rely on, for another as is often cited with another Blue Jay, Travis Snider, Drabek is only 23 and going in to his sophomore season in the MLB.

Courtesy of Shi Davidi on Twitter

Yes he may have strugggled in 2011 and yes that is not a good thing to see out of a rookie, but a quick read of Shi Davidi’s story on Drabek at Sportsnet.ca seems to suggest to us that it may have been partially a mechanical issue with Drabek in 2011 and oddly enough I find it plausible to believe.

I may just be drinking the Spring Training story Kool-Aid in which every player is in the best shape of their lives, but looking at some 2011 footage of Drabek he seemed to me to be a little inconsistent in his mechanics and this article seemingly confirms that thought. In no way am I claiming to be a scout here, but if what Shi Davidi tells us is true then it could have been a big reason as to why Drabek looked like Tim Tebow on the mound.

Now with the Jays coaching staff addressing the issue, call me crazy, but maybe instead of being pushed into irrelevance, could Drabek surprise this year? He still seems to have the stuff that in 2010 Keith Law said could make Drabek “a No. 2 or 3 starter”, but is lacking the command and third pitch that Law said he needed to improve on in 2011. The good thing is command can be taught and can be learned and it looks like it may come with further instruction, tweaking in pitch mechanics, and just more major league innings. The bad thing is it may not come this season.

With that said I’m not completely sure why I think Drabek will do well, but I do. He may no longer be the flavour of the month as that position seems to have been overtaken by Henderson Alvarez and Dustin McGowan, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be able to perform.  As well as I’m sure you already know because its been said 1000 times, but the pitcher that got the Blue Jays Kyle Drabek in the first place, Roy Halladay, similarly had command problems early in his career and look what he became. Not to say that Drabek will become Halladay though, because that simply doesn’t seem feasible, but don’t give up on Drabek just yet.

I know that usually the arguments on this blog are fairly statistically based, but for whatever reason with Drabek I feel different. I feel like he has the potential to be what the scouting reports say rather than the major league statistics, I feel like he can overcome the two pitchers ahead of him on the depth chart. Nonetheless if you don’t have the same feelings as I towards the great Drabek, then at least realize that Drabek has barely pitched for a season and we’ve already lost confidence in him? It isn’t like he got significantly injured or lost a lot of fastball velocity, the stuff seems to be there he just needs to harness it.

In the end there isn’t nearly enough statistical evidence to back up any opinion suggesting that Drabek’s potential is completely gone, so why not wait and see. To my dismay it seems like Drabek won’t get the call come Opening Day, but as happens with pitchers they get injured or pitch poorly and Drabek looks like he could be first on the list to replace, in other words the pitching version of Mike McCoy (Hopefully Drabek doesn’t acquire quite as many Air Miles). Finally if you refuse to believe in anything I’ve said at least remember this, last season you didn’t see any major prospect sites suggesting Drabek was a worse prospect than current Blue Jays Canadian phenom Brett Lawrie, just saying.

Breaking Down Adam Lind

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Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Adam Lind (26)
Courtesy of Keith Allison licensed under Creative Commons

If you have been on the site in the past couple of weeks you may have noticed the poll in the sidebar asking you fans which player you think will most likely have a bounce back season in 2012 with the options being Travis Snider, Adam Lind, Colby Rasmus, and Kyle Drabek. As well you also may know a couple of weeks ago I mused about Travis Snider and what the future may hold for such a peculiar player. To continue on in the list this week the post will go over Adam Lind and what the future may hold for him.

Before last year Adam Lind was the exact type of player both Blue Jays fans and fantasy baseball gurus alike expected to make a comeback performance. From a fantasy perspective that comeback performance was definitely prevalent with Lind having been among the leagues elite in terms of RBIs before his back injury that occurred in May, but on a hitting level did Lind really start the year strong?

His RBI total may make you think otherwise, but according to wRC+ Lind wasn’t even an above average hitter in April. Instead he hit to a 99 wRC+ (average is 100) and was even below the likes of Corey Patterson (Ugh). The RBI total was instead a result of the fact that the hitter in front of Lind at that point, Jose Bautista, was the best hitter in the league and was getting on base more than 50% of the time. If I was in Lind’s position, I bet even I could have gotten a few RBIs.

Once you look at the season as whole it really doesn’t become any more impressive. Yes, Lind did up his home run total to 26, but he also he also produced a sub .300 OBP and an fWAR that ranked 4th last among qualified first basemen. As you can plainly see those are not good numbers and they probably don’t warrant any praise. Instead all the 2011 season has done is make the 2009 season seem more of an outlier and the 2012 season that much more difficult to project.

For starters where does one lay the blame for the lack of production. Obviously Lind hasn’t gotten back to the 35 home runs he hit in 2009, nor has he reached his .305 batting average, but most importantly Lind hasn’t reached the .370 OBP and 8.9 BB% that he had in 2009. Since that wondrous year Lind hasn’t mustered enough to get within 75 points of that OBP and his best walk rate is just a little more than half of his 2009 numbers.

What is the reason for this? A change in approach? Maybe. Poor hitting skills? Another possibility, but most interestingly though is that when looking at some of the Pitch F/X plate discipline stats on Lind’s FanGraphs page one thing that stood out was Lind’s O-Swing%. Last year his O-Swing% had a small uptick to 35.9%, which is roughly a couple percent above his 2010 stats and quite a bit above his 2009 ones and that is precisely where the concern lies.

In comparison, in 2009 Lind’s O-Swing% was the lowest of his career and by a pretty wide margin. That year Lind managed to resist many outside pitches  and put up a 27.9 O-Swing%, a number that is more than 5% off his career average. For the pitches Lind did swing at outside the strike zone, he made contact with over 3/4 of them and put up a percentage that is again much better than his career average. Additionally in 2011 Lind posted the lowest Zone% of his career at 46.9%, essentially meaning pitchers are giving Lind more pitches outside the zone, but as shown with his O-Swing% he is still swinging at the pitches, that is never a good thing. The graphics below give you a better representation.

Pitches Lind swung at in 2009
Pitches Lind swung at in 201

The difference does not seem to be too large at first glance, but if you really look at the two graphics you can see the change between 2009 and 2011. In the 2009 graphic the pitches are more concentrated on the middle with fewer swings outside the zone, while on the other hand in the 2011 graphic the pitches swing at are less concentrated in the middle and more are outside the zone. More than anything you can see how Lind’s batting eye has changed be it a result of approach or regression, they both end the same.

Specifically one thing though that is noticeable in the statistics is Lind’s consistent decrease in pitches per plate appearance. In 2009 Lind saw an average of 4.03 pitches per plate appearance or P/PA. In 2010 that same number dropped to 3.81 and in 2011 it was a lowly 3.54, not a good trend. What I believe to be the reasoning behind the drop is a clear change in first pitch approach. Through some Pitch F/X calculations it was found that in 2009 Lind swung at 15.2% of first pitches, in 2010 that number almost doubled to 29.2% and in 2011 it remained for the most part unchanged at 28.2%.

In 2009 when Lind got more pitches thrown to him he was able to have more success because he could wait for the pitch he wanted, but in 2011 seeing less pitches did not afford him that luxury. More than anything what all of this alludes to is most likely one of two things, either Lind has been told to swing more at pitches he likes or he simply lacks the batting eye that he had in 2009. I’m willing to bet the its a combination of the two based on some of his contact rates and swing percentages, but whatever the case it will effect Lind going forward.

If Lind has the same batting eye and approach in 2012 that he has had the past two years you likely won’t see too much improvement. The batting average will presumably come up a little from where it was in 2011 because his BABIP suggests he was at the least somewhat unlucky, but beyond that I don’t know how you can expect more. Some people may tell you that Adam Lind was hindered by his back injury and that he will easily bounce back to form in 2012, but in 2010 Lind had little to no injury problems and still sucked and this year his best hitting month came the month after he got back from his injury.

In order for Lind to truly get back to his peak season he will have to more of what he did in 2009. That would include swinging at less pitches outside the zone, waiting for his pitch, regaining some opposite field power and much more. Those changes would presumably be able to propel Lind to great heights, but with the 2009 season being the only one in which Lind excelled at all three of those areas it isn’t looking good for 2012.

Despite the objective evidence I’m sure you will still see some believers, but I’m not one of them. I’m also not one to suggest the Jays should have signed Pujols or Fielder to replace Lind, but when a certain Torontonian *cough* Joey Votto *cough* comes on the trade market or to free agency I’d bet an improving Jays team takes a shot at him. Until then I’m guessing we will have to live with an underachieving bat at a prime offensive position, with our only hope the prospect of obtaining Votto and Farrell’s realization that Lind is not a #3 or #4 hitter.

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