Tale of the Tape: Toronto Blue Jays vs. Texas Rangers

Upper Deck Insight 7 October 2015 | 0 Comments


For the first time in 22 years the Toronto Blue Jays are in the Major League Baseball playoffs.  How good does that sound?

More importantly, for the first time in the history of this blog I am able to write a playoff preview that features Toronto!

The Jays take on the Texas Rangers in the ALDS, with game 1 set for 3:30 PM tomorrow afternoon. That means we are just over 24 hours away from the most fun yet intense and stressful stretch of baseball games in decades.

Before the games start, however, let’s measure up the Jays and Rangers.

Team Comparison

Rangers Jays

We all know about Toronto’s offense.  It was the best in baseball this year, and one of the best in the past decade.  But there is more than just home runs to this team.  They won five more games than the Rangers for a number of reasons.  They outscored them by 140 runs, but also allowed 63 fewer runs.  Their starter ERA was almost half a run lower, and the bullpen ERA was more than half a run lower.  Defensively the team was also much better than Texas, both by Defensive Runs Saved and Total Zone Rating.  About the only thing that Texas did better was steal bases, and one of their top base stealers (Leonys Martin) was sent to the minors in August.  In short, Toronto is better in basically every aspect of the game (which of course guarantees nothing in a short series).

Player Comparison

WAR Comp

Based on the team stats, it shouldn’t be any surprise that on a player-by-player basis the Jays also outshine the Rangers.  According to the above WAR chart, Toronto has a sizable advantage at Catcher, 3B, CF, RF, and DH.  It should also be pointed out that the WAR figures for Tulowitzki and Revere only capture their time spent in Toronto.  If you include Tulo’s Colorado numbers he jumps to a 2.9, and Revere jumps to a 2.6 when including his numbers on the Phillies.  Texas might have a slight edge on the bench, but that mainly comes down to the poor WAR of Carrera who likely (hopefully) won’t see much (if any) action.

The Rangers have several big names, but most of them are also real wild cards.  Adrian Beltre has been on fire as of late, but Josh Hamilton only started 6 games in September/October and Prince Fielder posted a below average .742 OPS in the second half.  Mike Napoli has the ability to hit 3 HR in a game, but also to go 0-for-5 with 5 strikeouts.

Head to Head

Toronto won the season series 4 -2, outscoring the Rangers 34-21.

June 26 – 28 in Toronto:

W 12 – 2, L 4 – 0, W 3 – 2

August 25 – 27 in Texas

W 6 – 5, W 12 – 4, L 4 – 1

Texas’ top performers vs. Toronto:

Rougned Odor – 8-for-14, .571 average, 1.777 OPS, 2 HR

Delino Deshields – 4-for-10, .400 average, 1.238 OPS, 3 R

Elvis Andrus – 9-for-22, .409 average, 1.004 OPS, 2 SB

Yovani Gallardo – 2-0, 13.2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 6 K

Toronto’s top performers vs. Texas:

Edwin Encarnacion – 7-for-24, .292 average, 1.153 OPS, 4 HR, 11 RBI

Chris Colabello – 3-for-10, .300 average, 1.064 OPS, 3 R

Ben Revere – 5-for-12, .417 average, 1 SB

David Price – 1-0, 6 IP, 3.00 ERA, 8 K

Roberto Osuna – 2.1 IP, 2 saves, 0.00 ERA, 0.86 WHIP

What Have You Done For Me Lately?


A lot, actually.  After the All-Star break the Texas Rangers were the third best team in all of baseball with a .622 winning percentage.  The only teams ahead of them?  The Chicago Cubs and the Toronto Blue Jays.  So many people are talking about the NL Wild Card game, about how it pits two of the best teams in all of baseball – and for good reason.  But the Toronto / Texas ALDS pits two of the hottest teams in all of baseball against each other.  On the morning of July 29th both the Jays and the Rangers were under .500, and each were 8 games back in their respective divisions.  Then a few shrewd trades (Price, Tulo, Revere, Hamels, Dyson) re-ignited the teams, sent them on a tear, and the rest is history.

But I give Toronto a bit of an advantage, and here’s why.  Because of a brutal bullpen collapse last Saturday, the Rangers had to fight tooth and nail to the final day of the season to wrap up the AL West, while the Jays clinched last Wednesday.  Toronto was able to rest starters, get healthy, and set up their rotation, while the Rangers played full lineups and had to burn Cole Hamels on Sunday.

Oh Hello Again!

The Rangers have just one former Blue Jay on their roster, reliever Sam Dyson.  Dyson was drafted in the 4th round of the 2010 draft by Toronto and spent 2012 in the Jays system.  He pitched 0.2 IP for the big club, allowing 3 ER before being selected by the Marlins on waivers.  Texas acquired him at the trade deadline for Cody Ege and Tomas Telis and he has been a revelation for the Rangers in the bullpen.  In 31.1 IP Dyson has a 1.15 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 30 strikeouts to 4 walks, a .212 batting average against, and a staggering 3.15 ground ball to fly ball ratio.

The Verdict

Both teams are hot.  Both team can hit.  Both teams have true (and newly acquired) aces.  But the Jays are just a bit hotter, can hit a bit better, and have the better ace.  Plus they have an edge on D, in relief, and in overall team depth.  Plus they can’t make the playoffs for the first time in 22 years and lose in the first round.  Can they?  Jays in four.

The Week That Was: Week 26

Weekly Things 5 October 2015 | 0 Comments

AL East

Every Monday during the 2015 season, 500 Level Fan will take a look back at the week that was, giving readers a snapshot of all things Blue Jays, including three top stories and the Blue Jay player of the week.

This is what happened in week 26.

Week 26: September 28 – October 4

Record: 3 – 4

Season-to-date: 93 – 69

AL East: 1st, 6 ahead of New York

Wild Card: N/A

  1. AL East Champs!

Even though we all knew it was coming and it was only a matter of time, nothing could diminish the excitement of last Wednesday when the Toronto Blue Jays officially clinched the AL East title for the sixth time in franchise history.  Not even the rain that forced a Wednesday doubleheader and postponed the real celebration until after the second game.  And not even the awkward way the game ended, with LaTroy Hawkins striking out the last Oriole hitter in the ninth yet nobody in the stadium realizing it was even a strikeout.  When the final out was recorded, that loud sound you heard was an entire city and an entire country cheering at once and letting out 22 of years of frustration.  The Jays couldn’t have clinched it in a better way either, absolutely bludgeoning the Orioles 15-2 and winning in the same blowout style they have won with all year long.  The after party was one for the ages, giving us such gems as Josh Donaldson’s “1 beer, 2 beers, 3 beers, 4 beers!” and Kawasaki’s “I’m drunk” interview.  It feels really good to be back on top.

  1. So Close….Twice

Both Mark Buehrle and Edwin Encarnacion fell agonizingly short of personal milestones yesterday, ending the regular season on a bit of a down note.  First Edwin: despite going deep both Friday and Saturday he fell one HR short of 40, preventing the Jays from becoming the fourth team in MLB history to feature three 40 HR players.  Edwin finished the year with 39, Bautista with 40, and Donaldson with 41.  Buehrle on the other hand, entered Friday’s game just 8.2 innings away from reaching 200 for the 15th straight year.  He pitched well but not well enough, going 6.2 innings to reach 198.  In an effort to get him to the magical mark, John Gibbons brought him back to start Sunday on one day rest, in hopes he could get through the second inning.  However, shoddy defense, a tight strike zone, and ineffectiveness prevented him from even finishing the first.  Buehrle finishes 2015 with 198.2 IP – close, but no cigar.

  1. Another Pillar Catch of the Year

Wow.  Just….wow.

Player of the Week

Marcus Stroman, SP

The guy is just amazing: 1-0, 8 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 8 K, 1.67 ERA., 0.88 WHIP

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: missed playoffs

AA – New Hampshire: missed playoffs

A+ – Dunedin: missed playoffs

A – Lansing: Semi-Finals vs. West Michigan, lost series 2-1

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: missed playoffs

The Look Ahead

Playoffs Baby!!!

Game 1 vs. Texas on Thursday

Game 2 vs. Texas on Friday

Game 3 at Texas on Sunday

Playoff Positioning? Who Cares Man!

Upper Deck Insight 2 October 2015 | 0 Comments


Question: did the Blue Jays just clinch the AL East title for the first time in 22 years?

I thought they did, but you’d never know that judging from many of the fans on social media.  Just one day after celebrating for the first time in two decades, fans were lambasting John Gibbons and Blue Jays management on Twitter for the lineup they put on the field against Baltimore yesterday afternoon.  Yes the lineup was sub-par and looked more like a Buffalo Bisons squad, but that’s what clinching the division does – it allows the manager to rest his stars.

“But there is home field advantage to play for!” the irate fans shouted.  “We have to stay ahead of the Royals!”

Would staying ahead of Kansas City and securing home field advantage for the entire postseason be nice?  Absolutely.  But I agree with Shi Davidi who wrote an article on Sportsnet.ca defending the decision to rest players.  I’d rather Toronto finish second in the AL with a healthy team, then have them finish first with a few injuries.  The conditions in Baltimore yesterday were horrific, and (no offense to them) if somebody was going to slip on the wet grass and get hurt I’d rather it be Matt Hague or Ezequiel Carrera than Josh Donaldson or Jose Bautista.

Besides, even with the two losses the Jays are still in the drivers seat for first.  The only way that Toronto can lose home field and have it come back to haunt them is if all of the following come true:

1. Kansas City wins more games against Minnesota this weekend than Toronto does against Tampa Bay.

2. Both Toronto and Kansas City win their ALDS series.

3. The ALCS goes the full seven games.

Possible?  Definitely.  Likely?  Who knows.  Definitely not worth banking on.

Even more absurd is the notion that the Jays should be going for it based on who they might play in the playoffs.  There is nothing worse than trying to look ahead and plan your own path to the championship.  Teams that do that inevitably slip up and fail against so-called “weaker opponents”.  How many times in the NBA or NHL have we seen teams finish 6th or 7th instead of 5th because they wanted to face the team in 2nd or 3rd instead of the team in 4th?  It rarely works.

Besides, there are pros and cons about all of Toronto’s potential ALDS opponents.  Take a look:

New York Yankees


– Jays finished 13-6 against them in the regular season

– They have an old roster that is fading down the stretch (McCann, Headley, Gardner, Ellsbury, and A-Rod are all hitting lower than .235 in September)

– They have a thin rotation that won’t be able to throw Masahiro Tanaka early in the series due to him pitching in the Wild Card game.


– Tanaka owns the Blue Jays, and even though he would pitch the Wild Card game, due to the number of off days in the postseason he can still potentially pitch twice in the ALDS.

– They have a very strong bullpen, especially Betances and Miller.

– They are the Yankees, and one expects a little playoff magic.

Texas Rangers


– Jays took of 4 of 6 meetings, outscoring them 34-21

– Aside from Cole Hamels the rotation is fairly thin (and Hamels hasn’t really impressed all that much since being acquired: 3.86 era, 1.27 whip)


– Very powerful offense with Beltre, Fielder, Odor, Choo, and Hamilton

– Despite the weaker rotation, Yovani Gallardo went 2-0 against Toronto this year, with a 0.00 ERA in 13.2 IP

Houston Astros


– They are fading a bit down the stretch and look ripe for the picking

– They are a very inexperienced team with a ton of rookies


– Have a true ace in Dallas Keuchel, and although he would pitch the WC game, he could also potentially pitch twice

– Jays always seem to struggle against Houston, especially in Houston where they have lost seven consecutive games

– Astros are the second best HR hitting team in baseball

LA Angels


– Probably the most hittable bullpen of the four potential opponents, especially with Huston Street less than 100%

– 646 runs scored is tied for the third lowest in the entire American League

– They don’t have a true ace like Hamels, Keuchel, Tanaka, or Price.


– Mike Trout and Albert Pujols – enough said

There are positives and negatives about any team the Jays might face, and the main thing to remember is that all of them are good.  They all made the playoffs right?

But here are a few more numbers that are worth remembering (and are far more important): .792, 877, 3.27, 3.32.

Those represent Toronto’s winning percentage since Troy Tulowitzki’s first game (best in baseball), the number of runs scored by the Jays (best in baseball by a mile), Toronto’s bullpen ERA since the All-Star break (2nd best in the AL), and Toronto’s rotation ERA since the break (best in the AL).

In short, it shouldn’t matter who the Jays play.

They can beat ‘em all.

Bring On the Party

Upper Deck Insight 30 September 2015 | 0 Comments

85 clinch

Saturday October 5, 1985 was one of the greatest days in the history of the Toronto Blue Jays franchise.  Doyle Alexander threw a complete game 5-hitter; and Ernie Whitt, Willie Upshaw, and Lloyd Moseby homered.  The Blue Jays beat the Yankees 5-1 at Exhibition Stadium to clinch the AL East for the first time.

I was six years old.

My memories of that day are virtually non-existent, but I do have a hazy recollection of George Bell sinking to his knees, high-fiving a charging Tony Fernandez, while the stands emptied and fans charged the field.

Over the next eight years, as I grew up and got older, the Jays provided a number of lasting memories.  I remember Tom Henke striking out Larry Sheets on September 30, 1989 to clinch the East for the second time.  I remember December 5, 1990 when I heard the news that my two favourite players had been traded to San Diego for Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar.  I remember October 2, 1991 when the Jays walked off the Angels to win the East again.  And of course, we all remember the ’92 and ’93 World Series wins.

But when Joe Carter hit his famous winner off of Mitch Williams I was still just a kid, 14-years old and watching the game with my best friend and my parents, probably drinking Kool-Aid and eating Doritos.  I wasn’t at a bar.  I wasn’t downtown Toronto.  I didn’t hit up Yonge street and party for hours.  I wasn’t even old enough to have a celebratory champagne or a beer.

I wasn’t concerned though.  The 1994 team had most of the core players returning, and from ’83-’93 the Blue Jays were the best team in baseball.  They captured five division titles, two World Series, and were an astounding 225 games over .500.  The good times were bound to keep rolling, and with me reaching highschool and then university I would be right along for the ride.

Of course, that isn’t what happened.  When I hit my real formative years from 16-20, the Blue Jays were reduced to an afterthought, sometimes fielding winning teams but never in contention.  For over 20 years I watched as other cities celebrated the end of playoff droughts and paraded World Series trophies.  New York, Boston, Chicago, Miami, San Francisco, and St. Louis all won championships.  Teams that had been terrible for so long like Detroit, Kansas City, Cleveland, and Tampa Bay all qualified for postseason baseball.  And there were our Jays, happily bumbling along on the outside of relevance.

Sure there were exciting times, and franchise re-boots that brought hope.  We had the Roger Clemens era, the Roy Halladay era, the A.J. Burnett/B.J. Ryan era, and then the Jose Reyes era.  Each of them renewed thoughts of playoff baseball, both in the city, and in myself.  Each of them failed.

But now, finally, after one of the most incredible second halves in recent memory, the Toronto Blue Jays are on the verge of clinching the AL East.  After the Yankees lost to Boston again last night, Toronto’s magic number is 1.  With a doubleheader scheduled for today in Baltimore, surely the end is here.  Surely it will happen today.

I’ve been asked a few times by people in the last few weeks how I am going to react when it happens.  After all, I’ve been a fan, a season pass holder, and now a blogger through so many hard and lean years.  I’ve invested so much of myself into this team.

The truth is, I don’t know.  I didn’t celebrate or get excited on Saturday when the club officially clinched a Wild Card birth, mainly because I don’t truly consider the one game play-in a true postseason spot.  Sure it was nice to see, but the division has always been the carrot on the stick.  In July they were dead and buried, in August they took off, and in September they dodged several Yankee bullets to stay ahead.  Now the end is near and the title is inevitable, and I am a mixture of exhilaration, joy, and nervousness.

This is a new team, and a great team, but it’s hard not to think about the players who devoted themselves to this city in the past and never got over the hump.  I think about Vernon Wells, Carlos Delgado, and Roy Halladay.  I think about Aaron Hill, Adam Lind, Lyle Overbay, Jason Frasor, Casey Janssen, and even guys who were here before them like Shawn Green, and Shannon Stewart.  All of those guys spent years and years trying to break the playoff drought and couldn’t do it.

But most of all, as pathetic and eye-rolling as it might sound, I’ll probably think of myself as that 6-year old kid jumping up and down when they won for the first time.  Then I’ll see guys like Stroman and Sanchez, letting out their inner 6-year old boy and jumping around like crazy, basking in the joy of the moment.

And then I’ll probably do the same.

The Week That Was: Week 25

Weekly Things 28 September 2015 | 0 Comments


Every Monday during the 2015 season, 500 Level Fan will take a look back at the week that was, giving readers a snapshot of all things Blue Jays, including three top stories and the Blue Jay player of the week.

This is what happened in week 25.

Week 25: September 21 – 27

Record: 5 – 1

Season-to-date: 90 – 65

AL East: 1st, 4 ahead of New York

Wild Card: N/A

  1. Clinch!

Finally, after 22 long years, the Toronto Blue Jays are back in the playoffs!  The Jays officially clinched a postseason birth after Saturday’s 10-8 win over the Rays, ending the longest drought in North American professional sports.  After promising that the celebration would be muted (after all, it’s the AL East we want, not the Wild Card), the players erupted for a massive celebration in the club house, and who can blame them.  Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion were two of the longest serving MLB players without a playoff game on their resumes.  Dickey and Hawkins and Buehrle are veteran guys who might not get another opportunity.  When you have a chance to celebrate, take it!  And the best part is, with a magic number of 4 to claim the AL East, there could very well be more celebrating to come.

  1. An Absolute Classic

The stars aren’t quite aligned just yet, but things appear to be falling in place for a potential Toronto – New York ALDS showdown.  If Toronto finishes ahead of KC and the Yankees win the Wild Card game (both clearly not givens), the two long time rivals would square off in the playoffs for the first time ever.  And after what happened in Toronto last week, it would have the makings of a classic.  The Yankees arrived at the Rogers Centre for a Monday night game with the division very much in the balance.  The Jays held a 2.5 game lead and knew that a New York sweep would drop them to second.  The Yankees were very much aware that it was there last chance to gain ground head-to-head.  The two clubs delivered one of the most intense and pressure-packed three game series in years.  Monday night saw David Price deliver a gem, Brett Cecil put out a fire in the 8th and the Jays come away with a 4-2 win.  Tuesday night saw Dioner Navarro deliver a game tying bomb in the 9th, only to see the Yanks take it in extras.  Then on Wednesday, a 1-0 Jays lead was quadrupled by Russell Martin’s biggest home run as a Blue Jay, in perhaps the best moment of the entire season.  Three incredible games in three incredible days.  As a fan, you can’t ask for anything more than that.

  1. The Week of the Homer

The Toronto Blue Jays are a power hitting ball club.  Their 222 home runs are the most in all of baseball, and they have been swatting balls out of the park all season long.  But this past week produced quite possibly three of the most iconic home runs of the season.  Tuesday night’s blast by Navarro tied the game in the 9th inning and came against one of the nastiest closers in baseball.  Wednesday’s three-run blast by Martin for intents and purposes ended New York’s chances at claiming the division.  And yesterday’s walkoff blast by Josh Donaldson was the perfect ending to the home schedule, and set off an absolutely wild scene on the field and in the stands.  With more home playoff games to come, perhaps we’ll see a few more iconic blasts in October, hopefully one to match Joe Carter’s bomb from 1993.

Player of the Week

Kevin Pillar, CF

A massive week from a guy who has cemented himself as a key cog in the lineup: 11-for-21, 3 BB, 4 R, 6 RBI, 5 2B, 2 HR, .524 / .583 / 1.048 / 1.631

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: missed playoffs

AA – New Hampshire: missed playoffs

A+ – Dunedin: missed playoffs

A – Lansing: Semi-Finals vs. West Michigan, lost series 2-1

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: missed playoffs

The Look Ahead

The season wraps up with seven on the road.

September 28 – October 1 at Baltimore

October 2-4 at Tampa Bay

Silver Linings

Upper Deck Insight 23 September 2015 | 0 Comments


The Jays dropped a tough one to the Yanks last night, trimming the division lead to 2.5 games with only 11 games remaining.  But for all of you who are disappointed, down, pessimistic, and even fearful of a collapse, you’ve come to the right place.

Here are ten silver linings about last night, this series, and the rest of the season:

1. It sure looked like John Gibbons was playing this series to take two of three.  I have no inside scoop, and can’t see inside the head of the skipper, but looking at how he managed last night’s game you could almost sense the fact that after the Jays took Monday’s opener he was saving things up for Wednesday.  Just look at what happened:

– Despite the game being extremely tight and going into extras, he kept not one or two, but arguably all of his best relievers firmly on the bullpen bench – Hawkins, Cecil, Sanchez, and Osuna. Yes they pitched on Monday, but you’d think one or two would have been available.

– In very high leverage situations, he turned to….Drew Hutchison?  Aaron Loup?  Steve Delabar?  Ryan Tepera?  Again, it was almost like he was saving his bullets for tonight.

– Kawasaki started.  Enough said.

2. Despite that, the Jays almost won.

3. While Gibbons was carefully preserving his bullpen, Joe Girardi emptied his, using his top three relievers in Justin Wilson, Dellin Betances, and Andrew Miller.  Wilson and Betances might be available tonight, but Miller pitched two full innings, meaning he is almost certainly out tonight.

4. Aside from Wilson, neither of the other two were very effective.  Betances and Miller combined to allow a single, a double, two home runs, and four walks.  They are vulnerable after all.

5. The Jays go with Marcus Stroman in the finale tonight, making his third start after two outstanding appearances.

6. The Yankees give the ball to Ivan Nova, replacing the injured Masahiro Tanaka.  Nova is 6-8 with a 5.11 ERA this season, and recently lost his rotation spot.  For his career he is 5-4 with a 5.54 ERA against Toronto, including a sparkling 1-2 record, 8.36 ERA, in three starts against them in 2015.

7. The Blue Jays have an off day on Thursday, which is huge in order to give the bullpen a rest, and to allow a scuffling Josh Donaldson to clear his head a bit.

8. The Yankees, on the other hand, had their final off day last Thursday, and end the season with 17 games in 17 days.  For an older team with a patchwork rotation that is a tough finish.

9. Toronto ends the season with six games against the Rays and four against the Orioles, teams that have given them a few problems this year.  But Baltimore is 22-26 since August 1, and Tampa Bay is 22-25.  Meanwhile New York finishes with four against the White Sox, four against the Red Sox, and three against Baltimore.  Boston, at 26-20, has been one of the best teams in baseball since August 1, and are seemingly scoring at will.  Advantage Jays.

10. Relax.  We’re still in first!

The Week That Was: Week 24

Weekly Things 21 September 2015 | 0 Comments


Every Monday during the 2015 season, 500 Level Fan will take a look back at the week that was, giving readers a snapshot of all things Blue Jays, including three top stories and the Blue Jay player of the week.

This is what happened in week 24.

Week 21: September 14 – 20

Record: 3 – 3

Season-to-date: 85 – 64

AL East: 1st, 2.5 ahead of New York

Wild Card: N/A

  1. Sloppy, Sloppy, Sloppy

After playing such great fundamental baseball for so long, the Jays were probably due for a dud or two.  And if you want to look on the bright side, I guess you can say it’s better that the duds came against the Red Sox and not the Yankees (or in the playoffs).  But make no mistake: this weekend series was a bit of a disaster.  On Saturday the as-of-late sure-handed bullpen imploded in the ninth inning, surrendering five runs to turn a 4-2 lead into a 7-4 deficit.  Then on Sunday the airtight defense that we have grown accustomed to fell apart.  Jays defenders committed three errors and missed several other plays that eventually proved costly in a 4-3 defeat.  The mistakes were further magnified with the Yankees winning both of their weekend games against the Mets, trimming Toronto’s lead to a less comfortable 2.5 games.  With the Yankees in town tonight for the final three head-to-head games this season, the Blue Jays need crisper defense and sharper relief work if they are to keep driving towards the AL East title.

  1. Estrada Keeps Rolling

Ho-hum – just another dominant outing from Marco Estrada.  The righty continued his outstanding 2015 season with a complete shut down of the Atlanta Braves on Thursday night, surrendering only 3 hits and 2 walks in 8 innings.  Estrada has been a revelation in the rotation this year, and it’s easy to forget that he wasn’t even a part of the starting five on Opening Day.  It wasn’t until Daniel Norris went down in late April that Estrada was given a chance to start, and he has made the most of his opportunity – especially lately.  Since the middle of June, a span of 17 starts, Estrada has compiled a 9-5 record, 2.53 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, and .184 batting average against, all while averaging over 6 innings per start.  There have been various times this season when Dickey, Buehrle, and Hutchison were all struggling, and Price and Stroman were not here yet when Marco Estrada was (somewhat shockingly) the glue that held the starting rotation together.  He has been one Toronto’s most important contributors.

  1. Donaldson and Bau and EE…Oh My!

What a trio.  With a home run on Wednesday in Atlanta Edwin Encarnacion reached the 100 RBI plateau, becoming the third member of the Blue Jays with 30 HR and 100 RBI this season!  They became the third set of Blue Jay teammates to accomplish the feat joining Jose Canseco, Carlos Delgado, and Shawn Green in 1998, and Delgado, Tony Batista, and Brad Fullmer in 2000.  What’s most impressive is that Donaldson, Bautista, and Encarnacion accomplished the feat in 2015, a season where run scoring is down across the board.  In 1998 there were 29 30 HR / 100 RBI players, and in 2000 there were 38 such players.  This year, with only two weeks left in the regular season, there are only 6: the Blue Jays and then Chris Davis, Nolan Arenado, and Yoenis Cespedes.  Realistically there might be a chance for 6-7 more to join the club, but that still is about a third of the total that reached those milestones in 2000.  All of which makes the season turned in by Toronto’s Super Three that much more impressive.

Player of the Week

Edwin Encarnacion, 1B/DH

Took a day to rest his finger, then destroyed baseballs again: 8-for-19, 3 BB, 5 R, 4 RBI, 2 HR, .421 / .500 / .737 / 1.237

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: missed playoffs

AA – New Hampshire: missed playoffs

A+ – Dunedin: missed playoffs

A – Lansing: Semi-Finals vs. West Michigan, lost series 2-1

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: missed playoffs

The Look Ahead

A HUGE AL East showdown.

September 21-23 vs. New York

September 25-27 vs. Tampa Bay

Appreciating Russell Martin

Upper Deck Insight 17 September 2015 | 0 Comments


Russell Martin had a huge game last night to help the Jays end a two game losing streak in Atlanta and to help him end a personal mini-slide.  He was just 4 for 25 in his previous 8 games, and many of his outs were made with the Jays threatening to score runs.  Because of that, I was starting to sense a slightly increased amount of irritation growing among Jays fans.

Yes Russell Martin can be a streaky hitter, with both amazing stretches and abysmal stretches flowing one after the other.  And yes he has a propensity to hit into a lot of double plays (20 of them, 5th most in the American League).

But let’s not forget that Russell Martin is a catcher, and catchers take a ton of punishment and abuse.  I think we all forget that sometimes when we see guys like Encarnacion and Donaldson go on offensive tears.

So I think it’s time that we take a step back and appreciate just how good Russell Martin has been this year, his first year as a Toronto Blue Jay.  Let the appreciation begin!

In order to really understand how good Martin has been this year, we need to compare him to his peers.  In the American League there have been five catchers who have been behind the plate for 900+ innings in 2015, so those will serve as his contemporaries.  Aside from Martin, we have Salvador Perez (KC), Brian McCann (NYY), Mike Zunino (SEA), and Kurt Suzuki (MIN).  We can exclude some of the other big-name catchers for a variety of reasons: because they platoon (Chris Iannetta, Jason Castro), because of injury (Yan Gomes), or because they aren’t full time catchers (Stephen Vogt because < 75% of his at-bats have come as a catcher).

There are two ways to measure a catcher’s value: through his defense and his offense.


Catcher ERA = ERA of pitchers while catcher is in the game

Runner Kills = Total baserunners thrown out by the catcher

DEF = Fangraphs Defensive Runs Above Average

dWAR = Baseball Reference’s defensive WAR

Extra Strikes per Game = a pitch framing statistic calculated by StatCorner.com that tells how many additional strike calls a catcher is responsible for due to his receiving skills

Catcher D

As evidenced by the above chart, Rusell Martin is pretty damn good defensively.  He ranks second (in our sample) in Catcher’s ERA at 3.92, second in Runner Kills with 36, and second in Extra Strikes per Game with 0.27.  He also leads all catchers with am 11.9 DEF and a massive 43.5% caught stealing percentage.  Based on the number of yellow boxes Salvador Perez might be the best defensive catcher in the AL, but Russell Martin is a very, very, very close second.


oWAR = Baseball Reference’s offensive WAR

wRC+ = weighted runs created, which measures a players value based on the outcome of each hit, rather than having all hits and times-on-base treated equally.  It is scaled so that 100 is average.

Catcher O


Once again, look at the chart and tell me that Russell Martin isn’t an elite offensive catcher.  He ranks second in OPS, first in OBP, second in HR, second in RBI, first in oWAR, and a slight second in wRC+.  Similar to the defensive stats, Martin might be a nose behind Brian McCann for the best offensive catcher, but the difference is almost negligible.

But here’s the kicker.  Russell might very well be the second best defensive catcher and the second best offensive catcher, but put everything together and he has to be the best all-around catcher in the American League.  Perez is outstanding defensively and can hit for power, but has a woeful OBP and a below average wRC+.  McCann is a great hitter but throws out runners at a significantly lower rate than Martin and doesn’t frame pitches very well.

To me it’s a no-brainer.  Russell Martin is the best in the business.

I think we all knew that already, but a refresher never hurts.

The Week That Was: Week 23

Weekly Things 14 September 2015 | 0 Comments


Every Monday during the 2015 season, 500 Level Fan will take a look back at the week that was, giving readers a snapshot of all things Blue Jays, including three top stories and the Blue Jay player of the week.

This is what happened in week 23.

Week 21: September 7 – 13

Record: 4 – 3

Season-to-date: 82 – 61

AL East: 1st, 3.5 ahead of New York

Wild Card: N/A

  1. A Massive Success

The Jays arrived in New York on Thursday for a huge four-game series against the Yankees.  This was on the heels of dropping two-of-three to the Red Sox, with both losses being blowouts.  In short, the Jays were still in first but were starting to struggle at a very inopportune time.  But any concerns about a losing streak or a fall from grace were quickly dashed.  Just nine pitches into the first game of the series the Jays had a quick 2-0 lead thanks to Josh Donaldson, and stretched it to 5-0 after the first inning.  They never looked back, crushing New York on Friday night and twice more on Saturday to come away with a 3-1 series victory.  There were many heroes over the weekend, each of whom played a huge part in the team’s success.  Donaldson, Encarnacion, and Martin went deep on Friday.  Cliff Pennington saved the first game on Saturday with his glove, then went deep in the second game.  Mark Lowe pitched in both ends of the doubleheader.  Marcus Stroman made his first start since last September and earned the win.  Even R.A. Dickey deserves a lot of credit for nearly going the distance in a losing effort yesterday, determined to save the bullpen after a lengthy Saturday.  The Jays arrived in NY with a 1.5 game lead and left 3.5 games up.  That has to be considered a massive success.

  1. Down Goes Tulo

It wasn’t all good news in New York.  Despite winning the series, the Jays lost Troy Tulowitzki for an extended period of time with a cracked shoulder blade, putting a damper on what should have been a great celebration.  When Tulo was acquired,  Blue Jays fans were very familiar with his checkered injury history, and we all knew that keeping him healthy might prove difficult.  But what makes this injury tough to swallow was that it was a fluke play that looked so innocent.  A back-pedalling Tulo collided with a charging Kevin Pillar in shallow CF, and despite the fact that neither was moving at a quick pace, the impact was enough to do some damage.  There’s no question that Tulowitzki is an integral part of this team, and an extended absence might be devastating.  But let’s also not forget that this is a different Jays team than in previous years, one that has enough depth and star players to withstand blows like this.  If all goes well, and if AA’s optimistic prognosis of 2-3 weeks holds true, it might turn out to be a blessing, as the team will be getting a well-rested Tulo back just in time for the playoffs.  Think positive.

  1. The Stro-Show

First we were told to not expect him back.  Then we were told to not expect much from him.  But when he finally made his long anticipated return to a major league mound on Saturday, Marcus Stroman blew both of those statements out of the water.  Stroman looked very, very good against the Yankees, almost dominating.  He threw 78 pitches in 5 innings, allowing only 4 hits and 3 runs.   He even took a no-hitter into the fifth inning.  And all of that came in the heat of the pennant race, in Yankee Stadium, in terrible weather.  Not bad for a season debut.  And the timing couldn’t be better, with both Buehrle and Hutchison struggling right now.  More of the same from Stroman would be a very welcome sight.

Player of the Week

Jose Bautista, RF

He’s heating up down the stretch: 9-for-27, 5 BB, 5 R, 7 RBI, 2 2B, 2 HR, .333 / .438 / .630 / 1.067

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: missed playoffs

AA – New Hampshire: missed playoffs

A+ – Dunedin: missed playoffs

A – Lansing: Semi-Finals vs. West Michigan, series tied 1-1

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: missed playoffs

The Look Ahead

A chance to pad the lead against some weak opponents.

September 15-17 at Atlanta

September 18-20 vs. Boston

Storylines Galore!

Upper Deck Insight 11 September 2015 | 0 Comments


Massive.  Enormous.  Gargantuan.  Gigantic.

Use any adjective you want, but whatever you choose will probably underestimate the importance of this weekend’s four-game series in Yankee Stadium.  For the first time in 20+ years the Toronto Blue Jays are playing meaningful baseball in September, and this weekend represents their stiffest test yet.

Though the players and managers of both teams are doing their best to downplay the series to the media (“it’s just another game”, “there are still 19 games left after this”, “all games are important”) there’s no denying that there is a little something extra at stake.  Last night’s rain out has only added to the anticipation and intensity.

Obviously the series itself and its impact on the postseason race is the most important storyline, but there are many other things to talk about.  Here are a few:

The Series

There’s no need to downplay it or sugar coat it: this is the most important series the Toronto Blue Jays have played since 1993.  A four game series in Yankee Stadium against the team that trails them by only a game-and-a-half in the standings.  Try to convince yourself that a game is a game, and there is still a lot of baseball to be played, but good luck believing it.  It is quite simply a huge moment for the franchise.
Anything less than a split will see the Yankees leapfrog the Jays into first place.  A split leaves the two teams exactly where they are but does the Jays a favour by taking four games off the schedule.  A series sweep by either team?  Well, that will deliver massive repercussions.  Aside from giving one team a huge momentum boost and crushing the spirit of the other, it will open up a gap in the standings.  A Yankee sweep would put them 2.5 games ahead, and with a slightly easier finishing schedule, they would have the advantage down the stretch.  A Blue Jay sweep would put them 5.5 games ahead, with only 19 games remaining (20 for New York).  A lead of that size means that the Jays could finish the season 10-9 and New York would have to go 15-5 to tie them for first.  That would be huge.
David Price vs. New York
David Price was acquired to be Toronto’s ace, and he has not disappointed.  However, if there is one chink in his armor it is his record against the Yankees.  For his career he is 11-7, but the 4.21 ERA against New York is his worst against any other team except Texas (with at least 20 IP).  This season he was absolutely crushed by the Yanks in April (10 hits, 3 walks, 8 runs in only 2.1 innings) as a member of the Tigers, and struggled against them in his last start as he allowed 11 hits in 7.1 IP.  He did, however, pitch very well in Yankee Stadium in his second start as  a Jay in a 6-0 Toronto win.  If they Jays are to get off to a great start in the series, Price has to deliver.
Stroman Returns
He was supposed to miss the entire season.  His injury was supposed to be a devastating blow to the team and the city.  Instead, Marcus Stroman returns tomorrow afternoon, just under six months after blowing out his knee to pitch for the first place Blue Jays.  Who’d of thunk it? His return comes at a crucial time.  Obviously the series is huge, but he returns to the mound at a time when the back-end of Toronto’s rotation is starting to crumble.  Mark Buehrle has pitched extremely well all year, but is showing signs of slowing down.  In his past four starts he has allowed 28 hits and 15 ER in 19.1 IP, for a 6.98 ERA.  Batters are hitting .364 against him with a huge .971 OPS.  He recently received a cortisone shot to try to help get him through the rest of the year.  Drew Hutchison, on the other hand, has been pretty poor all  year long.  Despite a nice stretch in August, Hutch has gone 0-2 with a 12.96 ERA and 1.300 OPS against in two September starts.  One of those was at home, where he had previously been untouchable.  With 23 games left, Toronto can’t afford to throw games away, and they also can’t afford to lean too heavily on Price / Estrada / Dickey.  Stroman’s return is absolutely enormous.
The Effin’ Yankees
Losing to the Yankees is always bad.  As a bitter division rival Jays fans like nothing more than seeing them fail.  But in the late ’90’s into the mid-2000’s losing to them was understandable.  They were loaded with stars in their prime, guys like Jeter, Williams, A-Rod, Teixeira, Rivera, Posada, Pettitte, Clemens, you name it.  They were a super team that put up video game numbers.  But these Yankees are not those Yankees.  Only one of their top-9 batters is under 30, and three of their top players are over 35 (A-Rod, Tex, Beltran).  They have a guy named Greg Bird.  In the rotation they have a pine-tar loving cheater (Pineda), an old man with a wonky knee who is hurt (Sabathia), a star pitching with half an elbow (Tanaka), and a guy recovering from Tommy John surgery who is struggling (Nova).  Their bullpen is loaded with no-name guys like Chasen Shreve, Justin Wilson, Nick Rumbelow, Branden Pinder, and Caleb Cotham.  Yet somehow, against all odds, they keep winning.  All of which, of course, makes us hate them even more.  In a year where many predicted a last place finish, the Bronx Bombers continue to prove that you can’t count them out.  Hopefully the Jays can prevent another obscure Yankee hero from emerging this weekend.

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