An August Nightmare

Upper Deck Insight 13 August 2014 | 0 Comments

August

To me, August has always been a bit of a sad month.  It is still the heart of the summer, but the days are slowly growing shorter, and September is right around the corner.  I have never been able to enjoy August as much as I should.

And neither, apparently, have the Blue Jays.

After beating Houston on July 31 the Jays were 10 games above .500, held a 3 game lead over Seattle for the second Wild Card spot, and sat only 1.5 games behind the Orioles for first place in the AL East.  They were also red hot, and with Lawrie, Lind, and Encarnacion getting set to return, about to get healthy.  Everything was looking great.

And then the calendar flipped to August.  In 11 games this month the Toronto Blue Jays have fallen off a cliff.  The team has gone 3-8 and been outscored by 28 runs.  They have dropped a full five games in the standings, falling 6.5 back of Baltimore in the East and 2 back of Detroit and Seattle in the Wild Card chase.

The reinforcements that we all expected back in late July / early August never arrived.  Lawrie returned for three innings before being hurt again.  Lind just returned last night, and Edwin isn’t expected back until the weekend.

So what is to blame?  Sadly, everything.

The bats have gone silent.  In August, Jays hitters are performing worse than in any other month, posting a .239 AVG, .302 OBP, .319 SLG, and .621 OPS.  The team has only hit 5 HR in 11 games, and has struck out over 2.5 times for each walk – by far the worst ratio of any month.

The pitching hasn’t been much better.  Starters have gone 1-6 with a 4.52 ERA, and relievers have gone 2-2 with a 4.34 ERA and 0 saves.  There have been great performances to be sure, but it seems like for every great start (Stroman vs. Detroit or Happ vs. Baltimore) there is a dud (Buehrle twice).  For every lights out relief performance (Jenkins et al in the 19 inning game) there is a collapse (Janssen last Friday).

Most worrisome is that the lack of depth is finally catching up with the team.  Fans worried that with Lind, Lawrie, and EE out, the Jays lineup behind the top-3 in the order was weak.  According to August OPS numbers, weak may be an understatement:

Melky Cabrera – .919

Jose Bautista – .892

Jose Reyes – .796

Colby Rasmus – .716

Dioner Navarro – .602

Anthony Gose – .568

Munenori Kawasaki - .468

Those numbers simply aren’t good enough.

What’s interesting (and troubling), is that this August swoon is starting to become an annual event.  In 2010 the Blue Jays went 15-13 in August, marking the last time the team won more than they lost in the month.  In 2011 Toronto went 13-15 in August, the second worst winning percentage of any month that season.  2012 was an absolute disaster with a 9-19 record – the worst by far.  Last year the Jays slumped to a 12-17 mark, 2nd worst of the season.

In a way, the 2011-2013 August records can be explained.  In baseball, August has long been described as the dog days of summer, and generally marks a point in the schedule when games seem to drag on and on – especially for teams that are long out of contention.  With very little to play for, motivation drops, as does performance. 

But this year the Jays actually are in contention.  Games matter.  At bats matter.  They simply aren’t playing out the string as both the players and fans have become accustomed to in recent years.

Like a carrot on a stick, the franchise’s first postseason birth since 1993 is within reach.

As long as we can get through August…

Three Things From Week Nineteen

Weekly Things 11 August 2014 | 0 Comments

Walkoff

photo from mlb.com

 

All’s well that ends well. 

That, in a nutshell, can summarize the week that was in Toronto.  Two thrilling comeback wins over the Tigers ended the homestand with great drama and sent the Jays on the road with happy thoughts, momentum, and confidence.

Of course, while those wins were obviously very, very important in the standings, the biggest value provided was to mask the major disappointment from earlier in the week, when the team missed a golden chance to gain ground on the division leading Orioles, then blew a game in the 9th inning on Friday.

But at the end of the week, the team only lost a single game in the standings and now heads west full of confidence.

As I said – all’s well that ends well!

Here are three things from week 19:

Week 19: August 4 – August 10

Record: 3 – 3

1. Falling Apart

On June 1, after a 4-0 win over the Royals, Mark Buehrle was 10-1 with a 2.10 ERA.  He led the American League in many pitching categories and was on pace for a career year.  In his next five starts he still pitched very well (3.44 ERA, 1.26 WHIP) but was victimized by poor run support and went 0-4.  But since then, things have been going steadily downhill for the Jays lefty to the point that many are starting to question whether he is more of a liability than an asset, and those questions grew louder after his performance last week.

In a very important week for the club, Buehrle made two starts against division leaders.  On Tuesday against Baltimore he was hit hard, lasting only four innings and allowing 4 runs on 10 hits with 3 walks.  On Sunday against Detroit he was just as bad, only giving the Jays 3.1 IP while surrendering 5 runs (2 earned) on 9 hits.  A Jose Reyes in the first led to three unearned runs, and Buehrle was unable to recover.

In total, since that win over the Royals, Buehrle is now 1-7 with a 4.76 ERA and 1.68 WHIP in 12 starts.  He looks nothing like the fast moving workhorse who was dominating the league when the season was young.  In a rotation with an erratic knuckleballer and two very young kids, Toronto needs Buehrle to settle down in order to stay close down the stretch. 

2. What a Series!

Let’s put aside for a second any love we have for the home team and act as pure neutral observers.  If you were going to introduce regular season baseball to a first-time viewer, you’d be hard pressed to find a better series than the Detroit vs. Toronto set from this weekend.  It was a three game series featuring two contending teams in August, two old division rivals who still can’t stand each other, sellout crowds, outstanding performances, and incredible drama.  What more could you ask for?

Friday night saw a terrific pitching performance by R.A. Dickey (2 runs on 5 hits in 6 innings), and what looked to be a certain Blue Jays win thwarted in the ninth when Casey Janssen allowed back-to-back home runs for the first time since 2010.  Saturday saw an even better pitching performance by both Marcus Stroman (9 IP, 2 ER, 4 H, 4 K) and Max Scherzer (8 IP, 1 ER, 4 H, 11 K), and culminated in the Jays snapping a 51-game losing streak when trailing after 8 innings.  A Navarro RBI single in the ninth tied it before a Nolan Reimold game-winning double in the tenth won it for the home team.

And then came Sunday….

3.  What a Game!!!

It started out badly – very badly.  A Reyes first inning error opened the door for three Tiger runs.  Buehrle couldn’t stop the bleeding.  The Blue Jays could barely touch David Price.  It was 5-0 Detroit heading to the bottom of the sixth and fans were heading for the exits. 

But this is baseball.  This is a game where things can change on a moment’s notice.  This is a game where a team is never truly out of it.  There is no clock.  Your opponent has to record 27 outs to win the game, so as long as your team has at least one of those outs remaining, anything can happen.  With two outs and nobody on in the 6th inning the Blue Jays still had 10 outs to work with when good things starting happening.

A Valencia liner was deflected for a double, and was followed up by a Navarro homer.  5-2.

In the seventh, the Jays turned three singles and a walk into two more runs.  5-4.

In the ninth, a strike-em out throw-em out double play was overturned by the magic of video review, allowing Gose to remain on second base, where he was driven in by the first inning goat Jose Reyes.  5-5.

And so the game continued.  It kept going, and going, and going, and going.  Ryan Goins and Nick Castellanos played rock, paper, scissors from opposing dugouts.  Colby Rasmus made not one but two incredible catches to save the Jays.  Juan Francisco blew golden chance after golden chance to save the Tigers.  Chad Jenkins pitched the game of his career – 6 IP, 7 H, 1 BB, 4 K - as the final pitcher out of the bullpen.  Melky Cabrera reached based eight times (8!!!!) to keep Toronto believing.  And finally, long after it began, the game ended.  Jose Bautista, after going 0 for 7 with 9 LOB, knocked in Kawasaki in the 19th inning for the win.

19 innings.  6 hours and 37 minutes.  By both inning and time it was the longest game in franchise history.  And when it ended, the Jays were exhausted but happy – so happy they could kiss each other.

kiss

162 Angry Words

They Said It 6 August 2014 | 0 Comments

AngryBeardedGuy

500 Level Fan,

Brett Lawrie is injured again, I hope no one is surprised.  This has to be pinned squarely on the coaching staff, or as I like to say the coaching ‘stiffs’.  As I’ve suggested for over one and a half years now, the coach staff Gibby has in place are a bunch of shmucks.  These stiffs couldn’t condition a special needs athlete preparing for a 2 minutes rhythmic gymnastics routine in the special Olympics.  Last year the injuries in the bullpen were no fluke.  The pitchers are athletes that need world class training and conditioning, which the Jays cannot offer at this time.  Earlier last month, it wasn’t until Adam Lind’s mom suggested an x-ray that they realized his foot was broken.  Now, Brett Lawrie is out with a stiff back, three innings after returning from a broken finger?

Ditch the stiffs, and bring in world class trainers, or the Jays will have no hope to get into the playoffs.

 

Angry Craiger.

More Than A Game?

Upper Deck Insight 6 August 2014 | 0 Comments

Disappointment

A baseball season is a marathon.  It stretches from the end of March to the end of September, 162 regular season games stretched over 180-odd days.  For each team, every season is unique, but every season is also similar in that it contains peaks and valleys, ups and downs, hot streaks and cold streaks.

Because of the marathon-like nature of an MLB season, it’s hard to jump to any conclusions about one game.  Unlike football, where one game represents a good chunk of the schedule, in baseball a single game represents only 0.6% of a full season.  On it’s own, it is relatively meaningless.

Except, of course, when it isn’t.

Last night’s game at the Rogers Centre was quite possibly the most meaningful Blue Jays game in over a decade.  For the first time in a long, long time, the Jays find themselves in a battle for first place, and with the Orioles in town a playoff-like atmosphere had descended over the city.  Sweep the O’s and Toronto would be just one game back, with all kinds of momentum on their side.  The implications were huge.

Faced with that challenge, the team should have been pumped up, adrenaline flowing like a waterfall.  Playing in front of a raucous crowd of over 36,000 fans should have provided a huge advantage. 

It didn’t.

The Blue Jays came out flat.  Mark Buehrle was hit hard and the offence was once again stagnant.  The way that Baltimore was pounding the ball it very easily could have been four or five nothing after two innings.  When the runs finally started crossing the plate, it was not surprising.  The Jays also shot themselves in the foot, squandering chance after chance until the deficit was simply too large to overcome. 

So how much can you really tell about a team from one game?  In last night’s case, the answer is a lot. 

There were many fears about this team as the stretch run neared, and last night’s game can almost be seen as a microcosm of everything we were afraid of.

Consider a few:

Q: Can Mark Buehrle really be depended on to come up big when needed, or were his early season numbers a fluke?

A: 4 IP, 10 H, 3 BB, 4 ER, 2 HR in his most important start of the season

Q: Is the bullpen too erratic for a contender?

A: Sanchez, Cecil, McGowan, Loup, and Jenkins allowed 5 ER and 5 walks, with McGowan looking particularly ineffective

Q: Is Brett Lawrie simply unlucky, or has he become injury prone?

A: Making his return after a long absence with a broken finger, he played three innings with one at-bat before leaving with back tightness

Q: Is the offence too dependable on the home run?

A: 3 runs scored, 2 on home runs.  The inability to come up with key base hits led to 10 runners left on base.

Q: Are there too many all-or-nothing one dimensional players?

A: Juan Francisco – 0 for 4, 3 K.  Colby Rasmus – 1 for 4, 2 run HR, 2 K.  Anthony Gose – 0 fior 2, 2 K

Q: Will a team that hasn’t been in the heat of a pennant race for so long be able to hold up when the games get tougher?

A: Doesn’t look like it

The above represents a person reading far too much into a single game.  But the problem is that the Blue Jays could have appeased many of those fears with a good start last night, and they didn’t.  Toronto’s fans are notoriously fickle, and it wasn’t suprising (though definitely inappropriate) to hear some restless boo’s.

But as I stated at the beginning of this piece: baseball is a marathon.  The beauty of this game is that, unlike in football, there is a chance to redeem yourself right away.

After all, there’s another game tonight.

Three Things From Week Eighteen

Weekly Things 5 August 2014 | 0 Comments

Bautista14

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Charles Dickens wrote that about the French Revolution, but I’m going to steal it and apply to the Blue Jays performance last week.

First came glory – a sweep of the Red Sox in Fenway!  A win in the series opener in Houston!  Six straight wins!  Only a game and a half back of first!

Then came the gut punch.  Three straight losses to the woeful Astros.  Three straight games where the team looked lethargic, disinterested, and sluggish.  A disappointing end to a highly promising week.

But hey – we still hold a playoff spot, and a first place showdown with Baltimore awaits!

Here are three things from week 18:

Week 18: July 28 – August 3

Record: 4 – 3

1. The Dreaded Trap Series

If the Toronto Blue Jays are serious contenders, they should not be losing series to the Houston Astros at this time of year, especially not when they can sniff first place.  That performance in Minute Maid Park was futile and pathetic. 

But let’s be honest – the schedule makers did not do Toronto any favours with this series.  The Jays played 10 straight games against bitter division rivals Boston and New York, and then follow that up with 9 straight games against division leader Baltimore, AL Central leaders Detroit, and one of their closest pursuers in the Wild Card race Seattle.  Sandwiched in between that slate of 19 highly intense, incredibly meaningful, super dramatic, and playoff worthy games?  A four-game set against the Astros. 

Yes the Jays need to keep the pedal to the metal and maintain focus.  No they shouldn’t have been caught looking ahead at the first place showdown with the O’s, and some potential playoff preview games with Detroit and Seattle.  You have to take care of the business in front of you first.  But this Houston series had all the makings of a trap series.  Even Pat Tabler said so during the Boston series in Fenway. 

So while losing is never justifiable, I think every Jays fan out there at least mildly expected something like this to happen.  Let’s just hope the team can put it behind them quickly.  The Orioles await. 

2. All Quiet on the Deadline Front

As expected by most, but as a disappointment to many, last Thursday’s trade deadline came and went without a single move by Alex Anthopoulos and the Blue Jays.  Fans and players alike watched in amazement as the Tigers (David Price), the A’s (Jon Lester), the Yankees (Stephen Drew, Martin Prado), the Orioles (Andrew Miller), and the Mariners (Austin Jackson) all made moves to strengthen themselves ahead of the stretch run.

The result of AA’s silence was a backlash of fury and venom from fans, writers, and even some players through the media, including Jose Bautista and Casey Janssen.

Bautista – “Of course it’s a little disappointing that we somehow weren’t able to get anything done, but everybody around us that’s in contention somehow figured it out.”

Janssen – “For us not to do anything, most of us had some ideas that we were going to improve this club a little bit.  It’s unfortunate that we didn’t.”

No team ever likes to see their star players lash out, and truth be told I believe those comments were made in the spur of the moment of a frenzied Thursday.  Letting a few days pass, and armed with the realization that Toronto will be “acquiriing” Adam Lind, Brett Lawrie, and Edwin Encarnacion in the upcoming weeks, the Jays still look pretty good. 

But was staying quiet the right move?  I think so, and Andrew Stoeten from Drunk Jays Fans thinks so.  We’ll find out for sure in October.

3.  Suck It Farrell!

Winning is great.  It always is.  But beating the Boston Red Sox is always better – especially beating the Boston Red Sox in Boston.  The Blue Jays absolutely destroyed the Red Sox last week, sweeping them in three straight games by a combined score of 24 – 4, including a complete beatdown on Monday night (14 – 1).

Not only did the sweep help propel the Blue Jays up the standings, it also – for all intents and purposes – ended the Red Sox season.  Boston was hanging around the fringes of the AL East race for several weeks, but the three-game sweep dropped them deep into the basement, and triggered a huge selloff that saw them deal Jon Lester, John Lackey, Andrew Miller, and Stephen Drew. 

It’s not much, but seeing the Jays bury Boston gives us fans a little bit of revenge on Farrell.

Trade Deadline Primer – What Will Anthopoulos Do?

Upper Deck Insight 30 July 2014 | 1 Comment

Lester

The MLB non-waiver trade deadline arrives on Thursday, and for the first time in what feels like forever, the Toronto Blue Jays are in playoff contention. 

Normally at this time of year, teams in playoff contention are considered buyers.  But the 2014 Toronto Blue Jays are not a normal team.  There are strange circumstances surrounding the Jays this year, painting all decisions with a grey brush instead of in black and white. 

Consider: 

- Will Rogers allow the team to spend money to add payroll? 

- Are they willing to trade top prospects so soon after gutting the farm system in late 2012?

- Can they even compete for top players with teams like the Yankees, Dodgers, Tigers, and A’s?

- Will the impending returns of Lawrie, Morrow, Encarnacion, and Lind be enough?  Will those be seen by fans as akin to mid-season acquisitions?

Believe it or not, this is Alex Anthopoulos’ fifth (!!!) trade deadline as the GM of the club, and this one brings by far the most pressure.  The team is winning and is geting oh-so-close to reaching the playoffs for the first time since 1993.  If there ever is a time to go for it, it has to be now, no?  At least that is what most fans are thinking.  If he stands pat and the team falters late to miss the playoffs, people will call for his head.

So what should he do?  More importantly, what will he do?

Before we can answer those questions, it might be worthwhile to take a look back at what he has done in the past.

History

AA has made nine trades in July since he took over as Blue Jays GM.  Though none would be considered blockbusters, I would consider seven to be fairly impactful and I’d have a hard time saying that he lost any of them (the two minor deals included picking up Mike Jacobs for a PTBNL in 2010 and dealing Juan Rivera to LA for futures in 2011):

2010 – Acquired Jo-Jo Reyes and Yunel Escobar for Alex Gonzalez, Tim Collins, and Tyler Pastornicky; acquired Anthony Gose for Brett Wallace

2011 – two trades that eventually netted Colby Rasmus from St. Louis, mainly for Edwin Jackson (acquired for Jason Frasor) and Marc Rzepczynski

2012 – 10-player deal with Houston to acquire J.A. Happ; Brad Lincoln for Travis Snider; Steve Delabar for Eric Thames

Escobar was a very useful SS for a few seasons, and Rasmus and Happ remain on the major league roster.  Delabar made the All-Star team last year and is currently in Buffalo working himself out.  Lincoln didn’t do much, but he later became Erik Kratz who then became Danny Valencia.  The key is that the Jays didn’t give up anybody of consequence.  Only Pastornicky and Snider remain with the teams that acquired them, and both have been disappointing.

 ****

So what does that tell us?  To me it says two things:

1 – Anthopoulos is not in the business of making in-season blockbusters.

2 – He will only acquire a player if he sees long-term benefit from that player.  In other words – no rentals.

If you think about it, the biggest trades Anthopolous has made have all come in the winter.  Think of the Roy Halladay, Brandon Morrow, Brett Lawrie, Vernon Wells, John Farrell, Jose Reyes, and R.A. Dickey trades.  Wheeling and dealing outside of the pressures of a pennant race seems to be where AA is most comfortable. 

So what Anthopoulos will or should do, and what fans want him to do are likely two very different things. 

Fans want a blockbuster.  They want Price or Lester or Zobrist or Tulowitzki.  They want a marquee player that will push Toronto over the top and into the playoffs.

But what should he do?  I realize that the Toronto Blue Jays have not reached the postseason for a long, long time.  Getting back to the playoffs is a priority, especially now that they are seemingly within reach.  But different sets of players present different sets of circumstances.  For example, while any fan would love Jon Lester or David Price to anchor their rotation, is it worth giving up elite prospects (say two or three of Hutchison, Stroman, Sanchez, Norris, etc) for 2-3 months of starts?  For a player like Tulowitzki, maybe.  In that case, the prospect haul would be leaving the division and the league.  But for Lester or Price, that means having to play against those guys for the next 5+ seasons, and having to beat them in order to make the playoffs.  No thanks.  Especially because Lester and Price won’t be sticking around.

And there’s the rub.  If Jon Lester was acquired and agreed to a 5-year extension, then suddenly circumstances are different.  But for a multitude of reasons (bad recent history, different country, increasingly stingy ownership, artificial turf) Toronto is no longer a free agent destination.  If David Price arrives and leads the Jays to the ALCS, no matter how much love the fans shower upon him, he will still end up signing with the Yankees or the Mets or the Dodgers or the Braves or the Nationals or the…..

So what should Anthopoulos do?  If it were up to me, nothing.  In the next few weeks the Jays will be acquiring three key players from the injured list – Encarnacion, Lawrie, Lind.  They might be getting a hard-throwing reliever in September (Brandon Morrow).  That right there might be enough to reach the promised land. 

But what will he do?  I don’t know.  There is a very real possibility that it is playoffs or bust for Anthopoulos.  If a man is fighting for his job he is more inclined to strive for short-term gain over long-term benefit.  For that reason I can see him sacrificing some of his top young pitchers for Lester, putting all his eggs in the 2014 basket and hoping for the best.

I just hope his final decision is the right one.

Three Things From Week Seventeen

Weekly Things 28 July 2014 | 1 Comment

stroman

It’s over! 

After two long years, the Blue Jays streak of futility in Yankee Stadium has been put to bed.  The team won Saturday and Sunday to end a 17-game losing streak in New York, moving them back into second place in the East.

More importantly is this: as of right now, July 28, 2014, the Toronto Blue Jays are a playoff team, holding down the second Wild Card.

After losing Lawrie, Lind, and Encarnacion, and putting out a lineup full of waiver pickups and minor leaguers, for the Jays to be able to say that is truly impressive.  It’s only a matter of time until the troops come back, meaning the team is only a few days or weeks away from reaching full strength.

Meaning we just may yet see some meaningful games in September.  

Here are three things from week 17:

Week 17: July 21 – July 27

Record: 5 – 2

1. Absolutely Huge

August 29, 2012.  That was the last time the Toronto Blue Jays won a game in Yankee Stadium.  The last place Jays, led by John Farrell, beat the first place Yankees 8 – 5 behind a 4-hit, 5-RBI game by Yunel Escobar.  Since then, Toronto has experienced nothing but misery in New York, and it didn’t look like this trip would be much different.  16 straight losses became 17 on Friday night, after Mark Buehrle squandered an early 3 – 0 lead and the Jays lost 6 – 4.

But something happened on Saturday, something that many fans might not have expected.  An injury ravaged team, paced by a pitcher who was absolutely crushed in his previous start, showed some resolve and finally won a game in Yankee Stadium.  Dan Johnson played the hero with 4 RBI, and Drew Hutchison redeemed himself with 6.2 strong innings.  Not to be outdone, the Jays won again on Sunday.  Despite blowing three leads, Bautista and Navarro came up big in the 9th to bring home the victory.

At the end of the day, this will go down as a series victory for the Jays, but this represents so much more than a series win.  This is the exorcising of demons, this is the proof and the belief that this team can win, and this is the type of confidence builder that propels teams on to bigger and better things.  The Blue Jays now find themselves alone in second, holding down a Wild Card spot, and only 3 games back of Baltimore.  They now face seven straight games against weak teams (Boston, Houston) before a showdown with the Orioles in Toronto. 

If the team keeps up this hot streak, we can point to this win in Yankee Stadium as the catalyst.

2. The Kids Are Shining

What a week for the rookies. 

On Monday the Blue Jays were humiliated at home by the Red Sox 14 – 1, and responded by calling up top pitching prospect Aaron Sanchez.  They didn’t waste any time using him either, bringing Sanchez in for his major league debut on Wednesday night.  And the team didn’t simply hand him an easy assignment, asking him to pitch the 7th and 8th innings against the heart of the Red Sox order with a one-run lead.  All the kid did was go 6-up, 6-down with two strikeouts, preserving the lead and earning a hold.  He was at it again yesterday, earning his first major league win despite finally allowing his first hit and first run.  All-in-all, a very solid first week.

But solid will not describe the week that Marcus Stroman had.  The other Jays rookie was spectacular.  Facing Boston on Thursday afternoon, Stroman was tossing a no-hitter through six innings, completely dominating Red Sox hitters.  A soft single by Shane Victorino ended the no-no bid but didn’t take the shine off the outing: 7 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 K.  It was one of the best starts all year by a Toronto pitcher and gave the team a series win.

We can’t expect performances like those each time out, but one thing we can say with certainty: the future looks bright, and so does the present.

3.  The Reawakening

Last week in this column I detailed the recent struggles of Jose Bautista.  Since the injury to Encarnacion the slugger had fallen on hard times, and he needed to turn things around for the team to have any chance at the playoffs.

Well, consider Joey Bats to be reawakened.  In seven games last week Bautista was key in leading the team to a 5-2 record.  He went 9 for 24, with a .375 average, .500 OBP, 1.375 OPS, 3 HR, 7 RBI, and 3 2B.  He almost single-handedly willed the Jays to a win yesterday by coming up with a huge stolen base in the ninth subsequently scoring on Dioner Navarro’s single. 

There’s no surprise that Bautista’s success and the team’s success are directly correlated.  Hopefully he keeps it up in the weeks ahead.

Revisiting the Happ Deal

Upper Deck Insight 23 July 2014 | 0 Comments

happ

Needing a win in the worst way after a demoralizing and destructive 14-1 blowout against Boston, the Jays turned to J.A. Happ last night for a quasi-season saver.  For a team that is above .500 and only a few games out of a playoff spot it’s hard to call any game in July a must-win, but that is what last night’s game felt like.  Lucky for all of us, Happ delivered a gem and the Jays picked up a much needed victory.

Unfortunately the words “Happ” and “Gem” are very rarely spoken in the same sentence. 

It’s been nearly two years to the day since the Blue Jays acquired Happ in a massive 10-player deal on July 20, 2012.  In his tenure with the team he has been described in many ways, but the most fitting word for him has to be “erratic”.  Happ has been healthy and he has been injured.  He has pitched out of the bullpen and he has pitched as a starter.  He has been incredibly dominant and he has been abysmally terrible. 

Take a three start stretch from June 15 – June 26 as an example:

June 15 at Baltimore – 6 IP, 1 ER, 7 H, 0 BB, 6 K

June 21 at Cincinnati – 4 IP, 7 ER, 7 H, 4 BB, 5 K

June 26 vs Chicago – 7.2 IP, 0 ER, 4 H, 2 BB, 8 K

He is as up and down as a toilet seat, and that doesn’t just describe this year, but the past two calendar years since the trade.  

So how have the other parts of that trade held up since July of 2012?  Let’s find out.

 Jays acquire: J.A. Happ, Brandon Lyon, David Carpenter

Happ: Since being acquired he has gone 16-14, 4.58 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 191 K: 96 BB, 91 ERA+

Lyon: Pitched well for the Jays in the two months he was here, 4-0, 2.88 ERA, 28 K.  Now out of the majors.

Carpenter: Was pretty awful in the 3 games he appeared in, and was dealt to Boston with John Farrell.  Now in Atlanta where he has developed into a very effective reliever with the Braves.

Astros acquire: Francisco Cordero, Ben Francisco, Joe Musgrove, David Rollins, Asher Wojciechowski, Kevin Comer, Carlos Perez

Cordero and Francisco: Basically salary dumps by the Jays.  Neither did much in Houston or has done much since.

Musgrove: 21 year old has put up a 3.53 ERA this season in A- level ball.

Rollins: 24 years old, demoted from AAA to AA to begin this season, where he has a 3.45 ERA and 1.15 WHIP

Wojciechowski: 25 year old was considered the key piece of the deal.  Currently 0-2 with a 7.14 ERA in AAA after starting the season on the DL.  Pitched decently well in AAA last year.

Comer: 21 years old.  Many Jays fans were upset when he was included later in the deal.  Currently in A, with a 4.50 ERA and 1.48 WHIP

Perez: 23 year old catcher, currently in AAA with a .254 average and .701 OPS

Verdict

First off, let’s call a spade and spade and remove Lyon, Carpenter, Francisco, and Cordero from the equation.  This trade was really about the five minor leaguers for J.A. Happ as far as I’m concerned.  There was no question that none of those four veterans would be back in Toronto or Houston.

As mentioned earlier in this post, Happ has been anything but consistent, a trait that has to be considered the most frustrating aspect of a pitcher.  But it’s the flashes of brilliance, like May 25 against Oakland, June 26 against Chicago, and last night against Boston that keep the Jays somewhat invested in him.  As a fifth starter I guess that’s all you can really expect.

So the real question becomes did Toronto give up too much for a fifth starter? 

By no means do I consider myself a minor league prospect expert, so this should be taken lightly, but to this point I would be inclined to say no, Toronto did not give up too much.  Only Wojciechowski is on Houston’s 40-man roster, meaning Perez, despite his AAA status, isn’t realistically near the big leagues.  Plus, with the development of many of Houston’s other young pitchers (Keuchel, Cosart, McHugh) and with his injury and rough season thus far, it might not be a stretch to say that Woj has dropped down the depth chart.

The three other pitching prospects are still buried in the low levels of the minors, so it’s impossible to say when (or if) they will ever progress.  But seeing Rollins demoted from AAA to AA and Musgrove and Comer both struggling in single-A can’t be a good sign.  Yes both of them are still only 21 and have a lot of time to develop, but for context consider that Marcus Stroman (23) and Aaron Sanchez (21) are both with the Blue Jays now, and Daniel Norris (21) is in AA.

So at this point in time, I am giving a slight edge to Toronto.  If Happ can toss a few more outings like he did last night, that edge might open wider.

Three Things From Week Sixteen

Weekly Things 21 July 2014 | 0 Comments

colbyjuly31

Promising.

If there’s one word to describe the beginning of the second half for the Jays it would be promising.  Sure they were shut down by Yu Darvish on Friday night, but they responded with two straight wins, scoring 13 runs in the process.

Of course, there is always a caveat.  In this case there are two.  The first is that the Rangers are one of the worst teams in baseball and have been decimated by injuries.  The second is that the Jays actually lost ground to New York, Tampa Bay, and Boston, and are now almost closer to last than they are to first.

But hey – a series win is a series win.  Now it’s time to go out and sweep Farrell and the Red Sox.

Here are three things from week 16:

Week 16: July 14 – July 20

Record: 2 – 1

1. Colby vs. Colby

Colby Lewis used to be a good pitcher for the Texas Rangers.  From 2010 – 2012 he pitched over 500 innings with a sub 4.00 ERA, and made it to two World Series.  But he missed all of 2013 and has been absolutely terrible thus far in 2014: 6.37 ERA and a 1.84 WHIP in 89 IP.  So maybe he was just frustrated on Saturday, because I can’t truly believe that he would be that stupid.

With the Jays up by two in the fifth, Colby Rasmus came to the plate with two out and the bases empty.  The Rangers were playing an extreme pull shift against Rasmus, so he decided to simply bunt to the wide open left side of the infield and trot to first.  If your opponents are going to give you a hit, why not take it?

Except that’s not how Lewis saw it (via mlb.com and Big League Stew):

“I told [Rasmus] I didnt’ appreciate it.  You’re up by two runs with two outs and you lay down a bunt.  I don’t think that’s the way the game should be played.  I felt like you have a situation where there is two outs, you’re up two runs, you have gotten a hit earlier in the game off me, we are playing the shift, and he laid down a bunt basically simply for average.  He didn’t steal within the first two pitches to put himself in scoring position.  That tells me he is solely looking out for himself, and looking out for batting average.  And I didn’t appreciate it.”

First of all – what?  As many other writers have pointed out, there are so many things wrong with that statement.  For one, the “unwritten rules of baseball” shouldn’t apply here.  I can see if Toronto was up 10-0 in the 8th inning that Rasmus would be better off not bunting.  But with a 2-0 lead in the 5th, when your team has been struggling for weeks to score runs?  No, not at all.  In fact, what Rasmus did was just the opposite of what Lewis thought – it was good, smart baseball.

For what it’s worth, Ramsus refused to be drawn into a war of words, simply saying he was trying to help his team win.

As for Lewis?  He’s an idiot.

2. Mune Up…

It’s no secret that the Blue Jays are struggling mightily to score runs right now.  Injuries to Lawrie, Lind, and Encarnacion have placed three of the team’s top-5 hitters on the shelf, and have forced the rest of the roster to step up.  What is not surprising is that the lineup has not been able to do so on a consistent basis.

However, what is surprising is that one man HAS been able to step up.  No, it’s not Bautista, or Reyes, or Rasmus.  It’s not Navarro or Kratz or Cabrera.  That man is none other than Munenori Kawasaki.  Since being recalled on  June 17 to replace Lawrie, the normally light-hitting Kawasaki has been hitting the ball a ton.  Sure he still doesn’t have a lot of power, but a .300 average and .351 OBP have rewarded him with a bump up to the #2 spot in the batting order.

What’s more is that Mune has been getting even better.  Going into tonight’s action he is riding a 8 game hit streak in which he has hit .382 with a .824 OPS.  Those are numbers one would expect from Melky not Mune.    If only the rest of the team would follow suit.

3. …Bau Down

Things have been almost the exact opposite for Jose Bautista.  Toronto’s slugger and leader has fallen on hard times since Edwin’s injury.  Whether he’s trying too hard to carry the offence, or whether opposing pitcher’s have decided to not give him anything to hit (or likely a combo of both) Bautista is really struggling.

Since Encarnacion went down, Jose is 9 for 45 with only 2 extra base hits (both doubles), 3 RBI, and 12 strikeouts.  He is slugging a mere .244 and sports a .514 OPS.  He hasn’t hit a home run since July 2nd, and his season OPS has plummeted from .964 to .903.

It’s hard enough for the Jays to win games without EE in the lineup.  It’s downright impossible when Bautista is struggling too.

Fun With Mid-Season WAR

Around the Majors 16 July 2014 | 0 Comments

Today is officially the worst day on the baseball calendar.  There is literally nothing happening today – no games, no home run derby, no All-Star events.  Absolutely nothing.

So why not take advantage of this quiet time to have some fun looking at mid-season WARs!  I did this at the beginning of the season when sample sizes were incredibly small.  Now, with over half the season in the books, we should be getting a clearer indication of who has been good and who has been bad.

And who has been downright awful.

Player WAR

 mid year WAR best

 The above tables show the best players in baseball in terms of WAR. For total WAR (which combines offense and defense to provide a full view of a player), most of the names in the top-10 are guys you’d expect: Troy Tulowitzki, Mike Trout, Stanton, McCutchen, Goldschmidt.  Josh Donaldson is proving that last year was no fluke, and guys like Seager, Lucroy and Brantley have blossomed.  Jason  Heyward is a bit of surprise.  Jose Bautista is the top Blue Jay, ranking 18th in the majors.

Offensively, there are no real surprises, aside from perhaps Brantley.  Two Jays rank in the top-10 which is great to see.  Likewise, there are no real surprises on the defensive side of the ball either, as baseball’s top defenders are well recognized.  The biggest disappointment has to be that Ryan Goins is still considered Toronto’s top defensive player, despite not playing in the big leagues for months.

 mid year WAR worst

 

This where things get interesting.  In terms of baseball’s worst total WAR, a few of those names jump right off the screen, namely Raul Ibanez, Matt Kemp, Domonic Brown, Jedd Gyorko, and Alfonso Soriano.  These are former All-Stars, former near-MVP’s, and guys who were still extremely useful to their teams as recently as 2013.  We knew they were having down years in 2014, but this has to be considered a heavy disappointment.  It’s also interesting to see that Brad Glenn put up a -0.4 WAR with Toronto in such limited playing time.  That’s rough.

Two other points to make.  1 – how bad of a fielder does Matt Kemp have to be to put up a -2.4 WAR?  That is abysmal, and much, much worse than Castellanos.  2 – I think Jays fans will agree that Melky Cabrera is MILES ahead of last year in terms of his defense – yet he is still ranked 1,042nd in the majors.  Imagine how his dWAR would have looked if he played a full season last year?  Yikes.

Pitcher WAR

 mid year WAR pitcher

 

You can’t argue the top-2 in terms of WAR.  Adam Wainwright and Felix Hernandez were the starting pitchers of last night’s All-Star game.  But how about Toronto’s Mark Buehrle slotting in at #3 in all of baseball, tied with the great Clayton Kershaw?  Very impressive.  The two biggest surprises for me are Jake Arrieta and Jason Hammel, one current and one former Cub.  Was not expecting that kind of performance from those two.

On the worst WAR list, it is no surprise to see Ernesto Frieri.  The former Angels closer was just horrendous early in 2014.  It also seems as if Edwin Jackson is on this list every year.  How he keeps finding pitching jobs is beyond me.  Finally, poor Sergio Santos ranks 595th in major league baseball.  It might be time to cut ties with him before he sinks any lower.