Posts for Thought

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.

The Mark DeRosa Signing, Michael Bourn Rumours, and Other Jays Tidbits

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Photo Courtesy of Barbara Moore via Flickr

Photo Courtesy of Barbara Moore via Flickr

Since the Blue Jays acquired R.A. Dickey from the Mets in late December, there hasn’t been a whole lot of Blue Jays news. This has been a stark contrast to last year’s offseason where even at this time, the Jays were linked to such players as Prince Fielder and Matt Garza. The obvious reason behind the lack of recent Jays news and rumours is the fact that, for the most part, the Jays as a team, are set. They have a full lineup, a stacked rotation, and a bullpen overflowing with additional relievers. Up until recently the only position that the Blue Jays needed to fill was that of the 25th man on the roster.

That position was filled earlier this week with the signing of Mark DeRosa to a guaranteed 1-year $750,000 contract with an option for an additional year at the same price. DeRosa, strictly as a player, fits a need within this Blue Jays team. He plays a number of positions (1B, 2B, 3B, LF, RF) and he’s been well above average vs. LHP in the past. This skill was present in 2010 wherein DeRosa posted a 138 wRC+ versus lefties (in a small sample size) and 2009 wherein DeRosa played a full season and posted a 141 wRC+ vs. LHP. On the other hand, there’s been a significant amount of time since then and the time in between has been filled with a number of injuries as well as poor performance. Though pure performance is not the only thing that DeRosa provides.

As Drew Fairservice of Getting Blanked quite excellently noted in his write-up of the transaction, “Mark DeRosa is the mascot to the stars.”

DeRosa’s meaning to the 2013 Jays will likely be no different than what Omar Vizquel meant to the 2012 Jays, he’s a veteran presence. He is reportedly a ‘great clubhouse guy’ and one that can ‘mentor the younger the players’. Whose to say what that’s really worth, but it would be hard to argue that DeRosa’s character and on field performance don’t at least have the potential to create the 1/15th of a win above replacement required to justify his contract.

With that said, DeRosa is the 25th man to a seemingly complete Blue Jays roster, but despite that, early last week, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe had this to say about the ongoing Michael Bourn free agency mystery.

6. Michael Bourn, CF, free agent — The Rafael Soriano signing by the Nationals is a reminder to never underestimate the market Scott Boras can create for a client. Bourn seemed like a good fit in Seattle before the Mariners acquired Morse, and the Phillies, who could use another outfielder, remain an obvious choice. The Mets are not out of the picture if the price and length of commitment come down. Could the Blue Jays be a long shot? They have Colby Rasmus, but he could be traded. The Yankees?

Considering that Anthopoulos has stated on a number of occasions that the Blue Jays roster for 2013 is all but set and that there is purportedly some financial parameters, the rumour doesn’t make a whole lot of initial sense. However, thinking about the Jays in relation to the teams around them, talent-wise, the rumour begins to hold some worth.

Right now the Blue Jays are a very good team, they’re likely the best team in the AL East. The problem is that there’s a number of other very good teams in the AL East, namely the Yankees and Rays. As saddening as it is, it isn’t too hard to picture a situation in 2013 wherein the Blue Jays finish 3rd in the division. The Jays are still banking on 600 plate appearances from a number of injury-prone players and solid seasons from breakout stars like Edwin Encarnacion and Melky Cabrera.

By signing Michael Bourn the Jays would put themselves on a level above the two aforementioned teams. Bourn would represent somewhere between a 2-4 win upgrade over current centre fielder Colby Rasmus and might push this team past the 95 win mark.

Of course, there’s the little issue of getting Bourn to agree to a reasonable contract. Many have speculated that Bourn might take a ‘pillow contract’ or in other words a 1-year contract. This is such that he can go back on the free agent market next offseason.

If this ‘pillow contract’ is really what Bourn is looking for, there’s a case to be made to sign him.

For one thing, Bourn makes the Jays better in 2013 and gives them an even better shot at a World Series. For another, because the Blue Jays have a protected 1st round draft pick, by signing Bourn they would have the potential to ostensibly transfer their 2nd round pick this year into a 1st round compensation pick in the 2014 draft.

The Blue Jays have the 42nd pick in the 2013 draft. They would lose that pick if they signed Michael Bourn. However, it is fair to assume that Bourn would warrant a qualifying offer after 2013 considering that he hasn’t produced an fWAR below 4.0 since 2008. If he is then signed by another team without a protected pick in the 2013/2014 offseason the Blue Jays would get a compensation pick in the 31-34 range. They would also get an additional $250,000+ added to their draft budget based on 2012 slot values. Not to mention that the 2014 draft is also (so far) looking like a draft with more depth than the 2013 draft.

Though if Bourn is signed, Colby Rasmus becomes a player without a place on this roster. Any trade involving him, would likely be selling low, but keeping him on the roster would be a waste. It’d leave the Jays in a tough position.

This is why, in the end, attempting to sign Bourn could easily become a logistical nightmare. It’s highly unlikely that the Blue Jays sign him, but Bourn is an interesting free agent case given the situation he’s in and the protected pick that the Jays have. If the Jays don’t sign Bourn, who will? Mariners? Mets? Rangers? No one seems to be biting, but then again no one seemed to be biting on Rafael Soriano either. So whose really to say what will happen.

With that said, I leave you with a Sporcle Quiz that I whipped up about players that the Blue Jays have acquired this offseason. It includes all players acquired between October 29th and today (January 28th). This includes any player who was signed, traded for, or picked up on waivers. The date that the player was acquired is listed. To view the quiz in it’s Sporcle form click here, or click read more to view the embedded version.

(more…)

Addressing the DH Situation and Pondering What To Do With the Rest of the Roster

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Photo Courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr

Photo Courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr

It’s January 6th and the offseason is just over halfway done, but the Blue Jays have largely accomplished more than anyone could have ever imagined…perhaps including Alex Anthopoulos. Through the Maicer Izturis signing, the blockbuster trade with the Marlins, the Melky Cabrera signing, and the R.A. Dickey trade the Blue Jays have added a total of 21 Wins Above Replacement by 2012 FanGraphs standards. During this process the Jays have filled a majority of the holes that they had prior to the offseason by finding a left fielder, a second baseman, and multiple top of the rotation starters.

Blue Jays Depth Chart Dec 30th

Blue Jays Depth Chart as of January 6th via BlueJays.com

As you can see on the depth chart above, the Blue Jays roster is pretty full. After accounting for starters at every position, a backup catcher, a backup infielder, a 4th outfielder, and a 7 man bullpen it leaves 1 spot left on the 25-man roster. Throughout the offseason, fans have sought to fill that spot with a 1B/DH platoon partner for Adam Lind, looking to such options as the now signed Johnny Gomes and Mark Reynolds as well as acquired and relinquished 1B/DH/OF Russ Canzler. The first two options are now gone and Canzler was simply inadequete compared the the Blue Jays’ in house option, Rajai Davis.

The same can be said for a majority of the rest of the free agent market. Of the FA options left only Mike Napoli, Delmon Young, and Aubrey Huff have higher wRC+’s than Rajai Davis vs. LHP over the past three years and only a few others have come close to Davis’ production versus lefties. The difference between Huff and Davis is marginal and while Mike Napoli and Delmon Young represent upgrades they will either take a large commitment in Napoli’s case or pinhole the Jays into a sole DH platoon.

In theory it would make sense to simply supply a better right handed half of a DH platoon for Adam Lind, but the present versatility on the Blue Jays roster could provide a situation with similar results.

As is, in Rajai Davis and Emilio Bonifacio, the Jays have two players who can collectively play LF, CF, RF, 3B, SS, and 2B while also being more than adequate against LHP for the positions that they play. As well, in terms of position players presently on the Blue Jays projected 25-man roster, there is quite a few players who one might call injury risks…players like Jose Bautista, Jose Reyes, and even young gun Brett Lawrie. Using their present versatility the Jays could give each of those players, among others, some games at DH when the Jays are going up against a left handed starter and put one of Davis or Bonifiacio in their place in the field.

The proposed positional breakdown would look something like this.

vs. RHP
C – J.P. Arencibia
1B – Adam Lind
2B – Maicer Izturis
SS – Jose Reyes
3B – Brett Lawrie
LF – Melky Cabrera
CF – Colby Rasmus
RF – Jose Bautista
DH – Edwin Encarnacion

vs. LHP
C – J.P. Arencibia
1B – Edwin Encarnacion
2B – Maicer Izturis
SS – Jose Reyes/Emilio Bonifacio
3B – Brett Lawrie/Emilio Bonifacio
LF – Melky Cabrera
CF – Colby Rasmus
RF – Jose Bautista/Rajai Davis
DH – Rajai Davis/Jose Reyes/Brett Lawrie/Jose Bautista

Of course there would still be a number of games where Rajai Davis is pencilled in as the DH and whose to say whether Reyes, Bautista or Lawrie would be ok with being delegated to DH, but when you consider that the other FA options are either costly, not significantly better, or not very good at all the present situation doesn’t seem all that bad.

With that said, it still leaves the question of what to do with the 25th spot on the roster and at this point it seems most likely that it will go to someone currently on the 40 man roster (David Cooper, Ryan Goins, Moises Sierra, Aaron Loup, etc.), but of the available options, none of them is particularly intriguing considering the present roster construction. Instead what would probably be ideal is someone who can play 3B better than Bonifacio and maybe even fill in at 1B vs. LHP from time to time…of course this would ideally be done without breaking the bank and probably in the fashion of a player willing to accept a minor league deal.

Beyond that there isn’t too much left for this Toronto team to do. The Jays are set with players at all 8 positions on the diamond and their starting rotation is more than filled out. At this point there could still be value in upgrading certain positions like C, RP, and even CF…depending on how much money the Jays have left to spend. However, as is, with the current team, the Jays likely have their best shot at the playoffs since the glory years in 1992 and 1993.

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