Archive for April, 2013

A Few Early Season Notes and Observations

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Courtesy of James G via Flickr

It feels like baseball has been back for quite a while now, yet in actuality it has only been a few weeks. This feeling comes as a result of the many twists and turns of this 2013 Blue Jays season. If you were to ask some JaysTalk callers they’d likely tell you that the Jays have gone from the worst team in the league to a World Series contender in mere days. Of course I say that in jest, but with the way this fan base has reacted to each and every win and loss it surely feels like that previous sentence is true. It’s been an odd season to say the least. It’s had everything from dominant pitching performances to blowout losses to everything in between. It hasn’t all been good, but it hasn’t all been bad either. If one thing is for sure it has certainly had it’s fair share of storylines to follow.

Replacing Jose Reyes
The acquisition of Jose Reyes was likely the most unexpected, but lauded acquisition of the offseason and for good reason. After a season of watching groundout after groundout after groundout from the now departed Yunel Escobar both the offence and general excitement surrounding Jose Reyes was sure to be a plus, and it had been…until Reyes injured himself last week.

Shortly after the injury we’d heard that Anthopoulos was looking for potential Jose Reyes replacements. Obviously a player of Reyes’ stature isn’t replaced so easily, but someone needed to fill that roster spot.

That someone became the GIF-able Munenori Kawasaki. As much I like and had liked Kawasaki I hardly thought he’d be a longterm replacement, but here we are. Of course Kawaski has hit to a 185 wRC+, which is unexpected, but not unprecedented for a 16 PA sample. There’s quite a bit of room for regression, but even then any offensive inadequacy that he holds is counter-acted in part by his general likeableness, so who really knows how long he’ll stay.

One interesting thing to note about Kawasaki is that while he isn’t the best of hitters he does go into a lot of deep counts and frequently makes the pitcher work to get him out. I asked Japanese baseball fan and Kawasaki connoisseur @yakyunightowl about this tendency and he had this to say.

I’ve observed that he has pretty good plate discipline & pitch recognition. Most Japanese players aren’t free swingers, but defend the zone.

So that’s encouraging.

Unexpectedly Expected Defensive Woes
Following the many acquisitions of the offseason, the defensive side of the game became one of the lesser talked about aspects of this 2013 Blue Jays team, but as I mentioned in the season preview…

Neither PECOTA nor ZiPS projects a Blue Jays regular not named Brett Lawrie to put up above average defensive numbers. There is no one Blue Jays fielder that is particularly awful, but there’s also not many with the potential for anything higher than average defence.

Having not had Brett Lawrie for the first 13 games of the season further amplified any previous expectation of defensive woes. If it wasn’t Mark DeRosa missing a preventable ground ball down the 3rd base line then it was Maicer Izturis making viewers cringe every time he’d picked up the ball. As a further result of that we saw the rather defensively limited Emilio Bonifacio regularly fielding at 2B. While it is nice to have an above average third baseman back at 3B, the defence is far from perfect…or really even adequate for that matter.

This problem is furthered by the fact that very few people recognize that this is not a good defensive ball club. When I put it out on Twitter a week ago that I was surprised that people were surprised this defence ranked so low in projections I was met with a lot of cynicism, but ultimately a few people changed their viewpoint.

As fans of this team we are continually told of the ‘great plays’ made by Jose Bautista and subsequently told of how great a guy like Jose Bautista is in RF. That’s just one example, but there is many others like it. As a baseball fan, unless one specifically watches for good routes in the outfield or something of that nature we fall into the trap of thinking that players who make highlight reel plays are good defenders, which simply isn’t always true.

The Waiver Wire Carousel
As MLBTR’s Steve Adams noted, Alex Anthopoulos has been the most active General Manager on the waiver wire since the start of the offseason late last October and by a rather large margin too. The same has been true this season. Of the 13 total waiver claims that have been made in major league baseball, Alex Anthopoulos has made three of those claims. The first such claim was Edgar Gonzalez who would go on pitch 3.1 innings as the last man in the bullpen before being subsequently DFA and being placed in AAA. The same was true for Mauro Gomez who was an interesting 1B/DH depth piece, but a depth piece nonetheless.

Neither of those two waiver claims were particularly interesting, but the third such claim was Casper Wells whom many could envision with a roster spot for the foreseeable future. This notion stemmed from Wells’ splits vs. LHP; in his career Casper Wells has hit lefties well above average (132 wRC+) in part due to his large uptick in walks. I hadn’t written a post about it at the time, but it wasn’t too hard to visualize a scenario wherein Casper Wells could move into a full time platoon with Colby Rasmus in CF, but clearly that didn’t happen.

Granted, it may have been slightly foolish to gesture that the Jays would platoon Rasmus, a player they had valued so highly, when a similar player, Adam Lind, took so long to even be considered in a platoon.

Even then Casper Wells could have been a valuable piece, if not in an outfield platoon then in a platoon with Adam Lind at DH. He’s a better hitting, better fielding, but less speedy Rajai Davis if you will. Perhaps there is something Anthopoulos sees that we do not, but it seemed odd that a player with Casper Wells’ skillset was even put on waivers for the first time, yet alone a second time.

The Potential Relevancy of Adam Lind
Speaking of Adam Lind, well he’s still a Toronto Blue Jay and a disappointing one at that…based on the result statistics at least. Through 15 games Lind has just a 66 wRC+, but as they most always do small sample size caveats do apply. In fact looking at the more raw data Adam Lind has been better than one might expect. In the 13 games he has gotten into Lind has posted a 9.8 BB% to go along with a very encouraging 7.3 K%. Furthermore he’s produced plate discipline numbers similar to those that were so encouraging before his demotion last season. It is just 13 games, which is a minuscule sample in the grand scheme of things, but walk rates, strikeout rates, and plate discipline statistics are among those that normalize more quickly.

On top of that, thus far this season, Adam Lind has yet to face a left-handed pitcher, starter or otherwise. In part this has been masked by the fact that the Blue Jays as a whole have only faced three left-handed starters. That meaning that this usage trend could easily be coincidence, but considering that John Gibbons is the manager my bet would be that this is purposeful usage.

What exactly does all this mean going forward? Well, assuming Lind is continually utilized as he has been so far we could very well see him excel in this lesser role. As many others have noted, Lind has been having better at-bats and has been getting unlucky on balls in play, but we still frequently see the remnants of the Lind that was (or still is?) in the continual at bats where we see him hit a first pitch ground ball. Perhaps those lesser ABs are reflective of some confirmation bias from myself, as I am one who has become rather frustrated with Lind after having started to believe in him last season. Or perhaps Lind still has much to learn. It’s probably a bit of both.

With all that said anything that has happened up to this point in the season can and will change very easily in the coming months. While it may feel like baseball has been back for a while now we have to continue to remind ourselves that it’s just 15 games. There’s still 5 months and 147 games left. What has happened so far could be irrelevant come May, but that’s just the way that baseball is.

Emilio Bonifacio is Fast: A GIF Compilation

Photo Courtesy of James G via Flickr

Photo Courtesy of james_in_to via Flickr

When the Blue Jays acquired Emilio Bonifacio in the Marlins Trade back in early November, we knew he was fast, but the question was, how fast?

In last night’s 10-8 win over the Cleveland [redacted]s, shortly after Colby Rasmus‘ home run, Emilio Bonifacio intended to show us just how fast he really is. He did a rather remarkable thing on the base paths, he turned what looked like a very routine ground ball up the middle, a single for most any player in baseball, into a double…and he did it without any hesitation.

The GIFs are after the jump.

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The Season Where it All Comes Together

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Photo via o.canada.com

Photo via o.canada.com

3 Years, 5 Months, 30 Days. That’s how long it’s been since Alex Anthopoulos was named Blue Jays General Manager back in October 2009.

This was Baseball America’s Projected 2013 Lineup that was published shortly after Anthopoulos’ inauguration as Jays GM as part of their 2010 Blue Jays Top 10 Prospect List.

Catcher: J.P. Arencibia
First Base: David Cooper
Second Base: Aaron Hill
Third Base: Kevin Ahrens
Shortstop: Justin Jackson
Left Field: Travis Snider
Centre Field: Vernon Wells
Right Field: Jake Marisnick
Designated Hitter: Adam Lind
No. 1 Starter: Roy Halladay
No. 2 Starter: Zach Stewart
No. 3 Starter: Chad Jenkins
No. 4 Starter: Henderson Alvarez
No. 5 Starter: Ricky Romero
Closer: Josh Roenicke

Just two of those players were on the Blue Jays Opening Day roster (Arencibia, Lind) and just six are still in the Blue Jays organization (Arencibia, Ahrens, Jackson, Lind, Jenkins, Romero). Of those who are on the projected roster, but no longer in the Blue Jays organization, seven were traded. While that is a significant percentage of the overall projected roster it also represents a larger concept within Anthopoulos’ organizational philosophy…trades.

Since Alex Anthopoulos took over the Blue Jays GM job in October 2009 the Blue Jays have made 44 trades. In that same timeframe there has been an approximate total of 392 trades across the MLB. Meaning the Blue Jays have made roughly 11% of all MLB trades since Anthopoulos began his reign as Blue Jays General Manager.

Anthopoulos said he and his staff considered keeping the prospects and trying to fill the club’s needs through free agency. But “the bird in the hand” rather than gambling on an uncertain market was ultimately more attractive. – ”

Blue Jays trade: Paul Beeston to Alex Anthopoulos: ‘Go after it’” The Star

 

This offseason we saw that trade-based philosophy come to fruition. Both the Marlins trade and the R.A. Dickey trade, could be described as unexpected, perhaps even to Alex Anthopoulos himself. Back in October when I previewed the Free-Agent Market for the Jays, I listed a few pitching targets, but none of them as high-profile as Josh Johnson or R.A. Dickey. A few weeks after that post, the Blue Jays signed Maicer Izturis to a 3 year contract, for the most part we seemed to be in agreeance that he was a solid pickup for a team lacking a 2B. We were pleasantly surprised with Maicer Izturis. Our expectations were lower coming into this offseason last, we had been spurned by the rumour mill in the offseason prior, hoping on such players as Yu Darvish and Prince Fielder.

To get anyone of consequence would have been a joy and a surprise, but getting four players of consequence has been shocking, but delightful. Even today, as we approach the second game of the Blue Jays regular season you’ll see tweets along the lines of, “Jose Reyes is a Blue Jays,” it’s still almost unfathomable.

Getting beyond the wonderment of the 2012/2013 Offseason, with great potential once again comes great expectations. Shortly after the R.A. Dickey trade the Blue Jays’ World Series odds were as high as 8-1 and currently stand at 10-1 per Vegas Insider. A similar sentiment seems to be felt within the Toronto Blue Jays fan base. A World Series berth is not necessarily expected, but a playoff berth is almost required.

A few weeks ago, prior to the Granderson and Teixeira injuries, if you’d asked me whether the Blue Jays would even make the playoffs I don’t think I’d have been able to give you a definitive answer. Even today, with the fallen Yankees, it’s not inconceivable to see the Blue Jays on the periphery of playoff contention come late September.

Despite their potential prowess in run production and starting pitching there’s a lack of certainty in the bullpen and poor defense that doesn’t look like it will get much better.

In the bullpen, Steve Delabar strikes out more than his fair share of batters, but is he going to be able to keep his home run rate down? Is Sergio Santos going to be able to stay off the DL? How is Casey Janssen going to perform coming off of shoulder surgery? Can Aaron Loup sustain the success he found at the end of last season? Can Jeremy Jeffress find the strikezone? The list goes on and on. Staying true to theme of the rest of the Blue Jays roster, there is the possibility for greatness, but the questionability to envision the bullpen going horribly wrong.

The opposite may be true with the Blue Jays’ current defence, it’s pretty putrid and we know for fact. Neither PECOTA nor ZiPS projects a Blue Jays regular not named Brett Lawrie to put up above average defensive numbers. There is no one Blue Jays fielder that is particularly awful, but there’s also not many with the potential for anything higher than below defence. One might make the case that the Blue Jays as they are constructed have modelled themselves such that they can combat some potential defensive woes, similar to the 2012 Tigers. They have set themselves up with a rather awful defensive force, but they also have a strikeout intensive pitching staff. By 2012 numbers, the Blue Jays have four starters with above average strikeout rates (Dickey, Morrow, Johnson, Happ). If they can keep fewer balls on the ground or in the air and more in the catcher’s glove, that should at least somewhat aid defensive run prevention.

With that said this Blue Jays roster definitely shouldn’t be met entirely with pessimism. By fWAR the Blue Jays’ Opening Day roster contained nine players who have had at least one 4.0 fWAR season in their respective careers (Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Colby Rasmus, Mark DeRosa). As well the current top 4 in the Blue Jays lineup (Reyes, Melky, Bautista, Encarnacion) could rival any in baseball, all four of them were among the top 5 in wRC+ at their respective positions.

The same can be said for the top of the rotation. R.A. Dickey was arguably the best pitcher in the National League last year and was awarded the NL Cy Young for his efforts. Brandon Morrow was near the top of the leader boards in both ERA and FIP prior to his season ending injury. Josh Johnson was a 3.4 fWAR pitcher in a season in which he was forced to tinker with his repertoire. Despite that, the questions once again surface. Is R.A. Dickey’s 2012 season sustainable, can either Brandon Morrow or Josh Johnson stay healthy? Who’s to say.

All of this results into a scenario where despite the many acquisitions and newfound depth, the Blue Jays have a large variance in their potential outcomes. PECOTA for example projects on the lower end of that variance at 84-78, while ZiPS projects on the higher end of that variance at 94-68.

As for me? I fall somewhere in between. I have worries about some of the offensive performances continuing from players such as Melky Cabrera and I’m also of the mindset that the Josh Johnson we have now is not at all the Josh Johnson of yesteryear. However I’m not as worried about injuries as some, they will happen, they can’t be predicted, but there is enough depth to combat them. If I was to put a number on it, I’d say the Jays finish 90-72 with the Rays right ahead at 91-71.

Is that a satisfying outcome? Does that count as “The Season Where it All Comes Together”? It’d be the first Blue Jays playoff berth in 20 years, but the expectations might be higher.

In the end, after all the predictions, the worries, the questions, the ambitions, the Blue Jays will undoubtedly be a fun, exciting, and very successful baseball team in 2013.

Jose Reyes is a Blue Jay.

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