A Few Early Season Notes and Observations
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.