Was Getting David Price the Right Move?

Upper Deck Insight 31 July 2015 | 0 Comments

price

Um…yeah!

Hell yeah!

Was the price high?  Maybe, but it could have been worse.  Plus, I honestly think that people overrate Daniel Norris because of his quirky lifestyle (you know, the van, the beard, the samurai sword), and Matt Boyd may be scarred for life after being shelled in his second career start.

By locking up Bautista and Encarnacion for only the rest of this year and next year, but bringing Donaldson and Martin and Tulowitzki – all in their prime – and with Buehrle likely in his final year, the time to win is now.

They weren’t going to win with Felix Doubront in the rotation.  They weren’t going to win with Brett Cecil as the setup man.  Now with Price at the top of the rotation, with Sanchez and Hawkins in the bullpen, this team is much, much, much better today than they were yesterday.

Get ready Toronto.  Excitement is coming.

Blockbuster!

Upper Deck Insight 28 July 2015 | 0 Comments

tulo

I was not expecting that.

Already loaded with the best offense in the game, the Toronto Blue Jays went into stealth mode last night and added perennial-MVP candidate Troy Tulowitzki from the Colorado Rockies along with LaTroy Hawkins, in exchange for Jose Reyes, Miguel Castro, Jeff Hoffman, and Jesus Tinoco.

As always seems to be the case with Alex Anthopoulos, the deal came out of nowhere.  While Tulowitzki’s name had been in the rumour mill for years, the Blue Jays were never mentioned as a potential landing spot, especially with Reyes already entrenched at short.  Surprise surprise!

But sadly, as is always the case with Toronto sports fans, the trade is already being slammed by many.  “Castro can throw 100 MPH!”  “Hoffman was an amazing prospect!”  “Tulo’s numbers are down!”

And, of course the big one: “But we needed a pitcher!!!!”

Here are seven reasons why you can ignore those rants and feel good that this trade was a good one.

1. Read this article on Fangraphs.  It explains in good detail why upgrading the offense might actually be more beneficial than upgrading the pitching, even on a slugging team like the Jays.

2.  The Blue Jays haven’t reached the playoffs in 22 years.  They are built to win now.  It has already been proven that Castro cannot help this year’s club, and Hoffman is still in AA, so at best he might reach the majors in 2016.  That doesn’t help now.

3.  By any defensive measure (errors, fielding percentage, DRS, UZR, the old-fashioned eye test), Tulowitzki is much, much, much better than Reyes.  This in itself will improve the pitching by turning more balls in play into outs.

4. Even if things don’t work out this year, Tulowitzki is signed until 2020.  Even though Hoffman and Castro are gone, the Jays still have a projected top-4 of Stroman, Norris, Sanchez, and Hutchison, who should each continue to get better while Tulo is still here.

5. There are still over three full days until the trade deadline.  There are more moves to come.  Never judge an unfinished product.

6. Yes the Jays still need pitching, but don’t forget that they acquired pitching in this deal.  Just because Hawkins is 42-years old doesn’t mean he’s dead and finished.  He has a 3.63 ERA and 1.16 WHIP this year, better numbers than half of the Jays bullpen.  In addition, dating back to mid-June Hawkins has a 0.68 ERA and 0.60 WHIP in 13.1 IP, with 11 strikeouts and only 1 walk.  In other words, he still has a lot to offer and improves the ‘pen.

7. The teams and stories aren’t 100% comparable, but they are very similar so let’s go back in time.  In 1993 the Toronto Blue Jays were the defending World Series champions, and brought back a very powerful lineup.  The top of the order was the best in baseball (WAMCO – White, Alomar, Molitor, Carter, and Olerud), Ed Sprague was making a name for himself as a solid hitting 3B, and the Jays brought back a rejuvenated Tony Fernandez in mid-June.  They were stacked.

Unfortunately, they weren’t stacked on the mound.  Despite signing veteran Dave Stewart to pitch alongside returning 20-game winner Jack Morris, and three promising youngsters in Guzman, Hentgen, and Stottlemyre, Toronto’s rotation was awful.  Seriously bad.  By July 31, six pitchers had made at least 10 starts, and only Pat Hentgen had an ERA below 4.00:

1993 pitchers

Jack Morris and Al Leiter were awful, and Dave Stewart was struggling badly.  To put those numbers in context, at the end of July 1993, the American League average ERA was 4.58 and average WHIP was 1.42, meaning only Hentgen was pitching at an above average clip.

On July 31 the Toronto Blue Jays had the fourth best run differential in the AL (+50) mainly thanks to the third best offense (546 runs scored).  The 496 runs allowed was 6th worst in the league.  The Jays were still very good – at 60-45 they were tied with the Yankees for first – but with serious pitching issues, their staying power at the top was questionable.  Remember, this was before the Wild Card existed, so a team had to win its division to make October.  The Yankees had a rotation anchored by three above average pitchers (Jimmy Key, Jim Abbott, and Scott Kamieniecki) and the Red Sox were lurking just 1.5 games back with Roger Clemens, Danny Darwin, Frank Viola, and Aaron Sele all posting better than average ERA’s.

In short, the Jays had a stacked offense and terrible pitching, and at the trade deadline needed to make a move for a pitcher.  Sounds a lot like 2015, right?

So with fans and critics alike screaming at him to pull the trigger on a high powered starter, what did Pat Gillick do?  He picked up Rickey Henderson, one of the greatest offensive threats in baseball!  He upgraded an already dynamite offense, and although Henderson didn’t perform at his usual superstar level, the move ignited the Jays to a 35-22 finish and a second straight championship.

Alex Anthopoulos has seemingly followed the exact same blueprint as Gillick with the acquisition of Tulowitzki.  He made an already amazing lineup better, and the seeds are planted for the franchise’s first playoff birth since that ’93 team.

Is there a chance that a pitcher is added before Friday?  Sure.  But the Jays have won in the past with a terrible rotation, so there is certainly a chance that they can do it again.

Things are getting real.

The Week That Was: Week 16

Weekly Things 27 July 2015 | 0 Comments

russellmartin

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 16.

Week 16: July 20 – July 26

Record: 3 – 3

Season-to-date: 50 – 50

AL East: 2nd, 6.5 GB of New York

Wild Card: 3 GB of 2nd Wild Card (Minnesota)

1. A Successful Trip?

In the last five seasons the Blue Jays have gone 7-11 in Oakland, and 6-11 in Seattle, so fans feared the worst as they headed out West for six games this past week.  Things looked even more dire as they were lined up against Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, and Felix Hernandez, three of the AL’s ERA leaders.  With those challenges against them, a 3-3 road trip should be viewed as a success, but for some reason it doesn’t feel that way.  On Wednesday night they blew a glorious chance to take the lead in the ninth inning before losing on a video review in the tenth.  Then yesterday our old friend Aaron Loup once again couldn’t hold onto a 2-run lead late, as the Jays lost in 10 innings.  At this stage of the season Toronto needs to be better than just .500, especially with the Yankees refusing to lose.  So even though many were expecting a 1-5 jaunt out west, three wins feels almost like a hollow victory.

2. Benny Hill on the Bases

Kevin Pillar has been a bright spot for Toronto this year, with a solid bat and an outstanding glove.  But the guy seems to commit an awful lot of baserunning mistakes.  What happened yesterday might not be 100% his fault, but he was in the middle of a debacle once again.  There are simply no words for this other than pathetic:

 

3. Two Gone….

It’s no secret that the Toronto Blue Jays need pitching help.  Mark Buehrle has been outstanding, R.A. Dickey is quietly turning things around (3.32 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in his last 10 starts), and Estrada has been very solid.  But the fifth starter slot has been inconsistent, and Drew Hutchison needs to be sent down to Buffalo for the rest of the season and work on getting things back in order for 2016.  All of which makes an acquisition of a pitcher at the trade deadline not a nice-to-have, but an absolute must.  With Scott Kazmir going to Houston and Johnny Cueto to Kansas City, not only are two of the biggest available arms gone, they are both now on teams ahead of the Jays in the AL.  I’m not necessarily saying they should have ponied up for one of those guys (especially if Stroman was the ask), but they need to pony up for somebody or else risk facing the wrath of fans and players alike.  The deadline is this Friday: it’s your move Alex.

Player of the Week

Russell Martin, C

Tore the cover off the ball out West: 8 for 18, 6 R, 2 2B, 2 HR, 6 RBI, .444 / .476 / .889 / 1.365

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 53 – 49, 2nd place

AA – New Hampshire: 50 – 48, 4th place

A+ – Dunedin: First Half (complete): 32 – 38, 5th place; Second Half: 11-18, 5th place

A – Lansing: First Half (complete): 42 – 28 , 1st place; Second Half: 16-15, T-2nd place

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: 16-22, 4th place

The Look Ahead

The start of a 9-game homestand.  The time to make a move is now.

July 28-29 vs. Philadelphia

July 30 – August 2 vs. Kansas City

Jimmy vs. Timmy: What Should the Jays Do at the Deadline?

Upper Deck Insight 23 July 2015 | 1 Comment

boxing-gloves

The MLB trade deadline is just over a week away, and while no big names have been moved yet, rumours are flying like crazy.  As it stands right now, only three teams are more than ten games out of a playoff spot (Miami, Philadelphia, and Colorado), and a host of teams are still trying to decide if they are still viable contenders or not (here’s looking at you San Diego, Detroit, Tampa Bay, Chicago White Sox, Seattle, and on and on and on….).

All of this chaos means that the list of available players is both growing and shrinking by the day.  Is Jeff Samardzija really available?  What about David Price, Yoenis Cespedes, Johnny Cueto, and Justin Upton?  All of those guys are game changers, who carry with them the ability to vault a team into the postseason.

All of which brings us to the Blue Jays.  Right now they sit exactly at .500, 48-48, 5.5 games back of the East leading Yankees, and 3 games behind the Twins for the second Wild Card.  They are close – closer than the Kansas City Royals were on this date last year – but not close enough for many.  They are also, as presently constructed, a weaker team than any of the true heavyweights, including the Royals, Nationals, Cardinals, and Dodgers.  But as we know about baseball and its postseason structure, the best team rarely wins the World Series, meaning all you have to do is get in and anything can happen.

So how do the Jays get in?  Do they need a small move that can put them over the top without getting rid of top prospects (i.e. Mookie Wilson in ’89) or do they go for broke, raid the cupboard and bring in an All-Star (i.e. Cone in ’92 or Henderson in ’93)?  There really isn’t a right answer, unless you are a truly passionate supporter of one path over the other.  Luckily for all of you, 500 Level Fan was able to sit down with somebody from each side of the fence to hear their arguments.  Jimmy is all-in in 2015: he wants Anthopoulos to go for it by making a huge splash at the deadline.  Timmy thinks the team can sneak in as-is, with only a slight upgrade, one that won’t cost an arm and a leg.  Needless to say, they disagree:

500 Level Fan: Jimmy – you told me you want the Jays to win and the only way they can do that is by making big moves.  Why do you say that?

Jimmy: Look, I’m 27 years old.  I was 5 when Joe Carter hit the home run in 1993, so to me that doesn’t count as Toronto winning in my lifetime.  I want a World Series win where I can get drunk and go crazy on Yonge Street, not one where I’m bed at 8 pm.  As they are right now, this team isn’t good enough, and picking up a guy like Mat Latos or Matt Garza doesn’t make us good enough.  With the offense that we have, we should have close to 60 wins, but the pitching sucks.  We need an ace.  We need a Cueto, or Hamels, or Price.

Timmy: Yeah, that would be nice, but come on man – how can they get those guys?  Hamels already said he’s not coming, and we’d have to give up a ton to get Cueto or Price.

Jimmy: I don’t care.  I say do it.

Timmy: Even if it means Castro, Pompey, Hoffman, Pentecost and one of Stroman or Sanchez?

Jimmy: Yeah.  Who cares?

Timmy: You’re crazy!  You give up that package for Price or Cueto, and you get one shot this year, cause those guys ain’t re-signing in Toronto.  And the playoffs are a crapshoot anyways, so there’s no guarantee.

Jimmy: You’re right, but look at it this way: you add Cueto to this team, or Price to this team, or both even, and everybody else in the rotation shifts down a spot.  Suddenly guys who shouldn’t be up here, like Boyd or Doubront, are gone and Estrada is your #5 starter.  With the way he’s been going, that’s a pretty good #5.  In my mind, that adds a bunch of extra wins and gets us to the playoffs.

Timmy: But like I said, the playoffs are a crapshoot.  No guarantee you get past the Wild Card round or LDS.

Jimmy: Listen to yourself.  Like you just said, the playoffs are a crapshoot. There’s no guarantee you don’t get all the way to the World Series.  Once you’re in, you’re in.  Getting there is the hard part.

Timmy:  So you’d rather this team give up all those prospects now and watch them develop into All Stars elsewhere?

Jimmy:  Hey bud – how does Travis d’Arnaud look right now?  How about Syndergaard?  Oh – how good do Marisnick and Nicolino look?

Timmy: They’ve all been decent up to now, I’d say.

Jimmy: Exactly!  They’ve all been decent!  And we made those trades in what, 2012?  So in 3 years, all those guys are just decent.

Timmy: So what’s your point?

Jimmy: My point is that in three years from now, we aren’t going to have Mark Buehrle going out there like a boss.  We’re not going to have a core of guys at an elite level the way that EE, Bautista, Reyes, Martin, and Donaldson are now.  By the time guys like Pompey and Hoffman and Castro and maybe even Sanchez develop to where they are elite, you now have holes at SS. 3B, RF, and C.

Timmy (shaking his head): So let me get this straight: you say trade everybody in the minors for 2 months of David Price?

Jimmy: Why not?  It worked before in ’92.  How many people do you hear complaining that the Jays traded away potential Hall of Famer Jeff Kent?  Nobody, because WE WON THE FRICKIN’ WORLD SERIES BY DOING IT!

Timmy: So in your mind, you’d give away everybody to win this year, even if that means years of misery ahead?

Jimmy: Absolutely.  What would you do?

Timmy: I don’t like having no hope.  Sure I would love to win a World Series this year.  I’d go ballistic.  I’d probably run naked down Queen Street.  But if winning this year meant losing 90 games next year, and then 100+ in 2017 and 2018, I don’t think I’d want it.

Jimmy:  Why not?  Flags fly forever man!  So what would you do next week then to get to the playoffs?

Timmy:  David Price would be great.  So would Johnny Cueto.  So would Hamels, or Papelbon, or Kazmir.  But so would a guy like Mike Fiers, or a guy like Latos, or Tyson Ross, or even Mike Leake.  They wouldn’t cost as much (certainly not a Stroman/Sanchez type, or even Pompey maybe), and would still be good enough to bump Doubront out and a few guys down.  That could be enough to get us into the playoffs without the cost of the future.

Jimmy: So you’re telling me that Mike Leake will help us gain 5 games in the standings in two months?  Mike freakin’ Leake?  And you’re OK with that gamble???!!??!!

Timmy:  Sure.  Yes I am.

Jimmy:  Well, you’re wrong, and here’s why you’re wrong.  First of all, you’re wasting one of the greatest offenses baseball has seen in decades.  Second of all, by doing that you are turning the Blue Jays into the Leafs.  Well, actually, they already pretty much are the Leafs.

Timmy:  What?

Jimmy: The Leafs were the worst kind of team for a decade.  Just bad enough to miss the playoffs, but too good to get an amazing draft pick. Just think if they would have laid off guys like Lindros and Raycroft and Allison.  Maybe they don’t finish 17th overall every year and miss the playoffs by 2 points, and instead they finish 28th or 29th or 30th overall, and get a chance to draft  Crosby, Malkin, Ovechkin, Hall, or Stamkos.  Which, in hindsight, is what the Jays should have done a bunch of years ago.  Instead of trying to compete in an impossible division with Boston and New York, just blow it up, and maybe get the chance to draft Strasburg, or Price, or Harper, instead of always getting that 18th-25th overall pick.

Timmy:  You’re an idiot.  That plan might work in hockey, but not baseball.

Jimmy: Why?

Timmy: You’re telling me that the Jays should gut their farm system for a huge ace, which means that the next few years will be really bad, but that’s OK because they will get good draft picks and become a contender again?  Have you seen the baseball draft?  It’s impossible!

Jimmy: Fair, but have you seen Kansas City and Houston?  They sucked for years, and suddenly are now elite teams by – wait for it – stockpiling high draft picks.  So the upside is you can win the World Series this year and then maybe rebuild if it even comes to that.  The downside is that you give the fans a huge amount of hope in the last two months, build a ton of excitement, and fall just short.  I’d much prefer either of those then another “ho-hum, let’s add Danny Valencia” trade deadline.

Timmy:  Again – you’re an idiot.

At this point a few fingers were given, and Jimmy and Timmy walked away.

Gotta love Toronto sports fans!

So who’s side are you on: Jimmy or Timmy?

The Week That Was: Week 15

Weekly Things 20 July 2015 | 0 Comments

panam

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 15.

Week 15: July 13 – July 19

Record: 2 – 1

Season-to-date: 47 – 47

AL East: 4th, 4.5 GB of New York

Wild Card: 4 GB of 2nd Wild Card (Houston)

1. Good Start

The second half began on Friday night, and right away the Jays were given a tough draw – having to face rival Tampa Bay at home.  The pitching matchups couldn’t have fallen any worse for Toronto.  Friday and Saturday saw their two most underperforming pitchers on the hill, and Sunday was a date with Chris Archer, a man who has absolutely dominated them this season.  But Drew Hutchison kept up his bizarre home/road splits by allowing only two runs in six innings on Friday, and R.A. Dickey was even better on Saturday (6 IP, 1 ER, 4 H), though a bullpen collapse prevented him from finally getting his fourth win of the season.  Then on Sunday, Chris Archer continued to befuddle Toronto, but a Colabello two run bomb was enough as Marco Estrada outdueled Archer to give the Jays the series win.  While huge, multi-game winning streaks are nice and can transform the standings in a hurry, the Blue Jays don’t necessarily need another 11-gamer to make it to October.  By taking the rest of the season one series at a time, they have a chance to win the division without a huge streak.  Winning each series the rest of the way will give the team 90-92 wins, which should be more than enough.  With that in mind, although the sweep would have been nice, the series win is a great start to the second half.

2. Sanchez Returns in Relief

An announcement was made by GM Alex Anthopoulos on the weekend that Aaron Sanchez will return to the team as a reliever when he is activated from the DL.  The decision is a little baffling and actually brings with it more questions than answers.  Where will he slot in the bullpen, with Osuna looking entrenched as the closer?  Who takes over the fifth starter role?  Doubront?  Norris?  Somebody else?  Does this mean that a potential trade for Papbelon or K-Rod is off the table?  Does this also mean that a potential trade for a starter has become the key focus?  The only thing we do know is that Sanchez dominated in relief last season, and struggled as a starter this year.  In 2014 he put up a 1.09 ERA and 0.70 WHIP in 33 IP, while in 2015 he had a 3.55 ERA and 1.44 WHIP.  But his 5.13 FIP indicates that he was getting lucky more often than not by pitching out of jams, and the 37 walks he surrendered tells the same story.  In a bullpen that has seen Aaron Loup struggle all year long (he blew another save on Saturday), and nobody but Osuna put together long stretches of dominance, Sanchez represents an immediate upgrade if – and it’s a big if – he can rediscover his 2014 form.

3. Canada Wins Gold

OK, it’s technically not a Blue Jays update, but Jeff Francis and Andrew Albers did play for the Jays this year, so Canada’s Gold Medal win still applies.  In an amazing ballgame in Ajax yesterday, Canada outlasted the USA 7-6 in 10 innings to take gold in the Pan Am games,  The two teams played to a tense 4-4 draw through 9, and then all hell broke loose in the 10th.  Bizarre international rules that stipulate teams can start from anywhere in the batting order with runners and 1st and 2nd in extra innings saw five runs come around to score.  Canada scored the winning runs on a botched pickoff play, with Pete Orr scoring the winning run.  A bizarre final play in a an amazing final game.  Well done Canada!

Player of the Week

Marco Estrada, SP

He continues to dominate the Rays: 8 IP, W, 5 K, 3 H, 0 BB

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 47 – 48, 3rd place

AA – New Hampshire: 48 – 43, 4th place

A+ – Dunedin: First Half (complete): 32 – 38, 5th place; Second Half: 11-13, 4th place

A – Lansing: First Half (complete): 42 – 28 , 1st place; Second Half: 10-14, 6th place

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: 12-19, 4th place

The Look Ahead

The most dreaded time of the year: the West Coast road trip…

July 21-23 at Oakland

July 24-26 at Seattle

Halfway Home: Revisiting My 2015 Predictions

Around the Majors 16 July 2015 | 0 Comments

Crystal Ball

The 2015 MLB mid-season lull is in full effect.  The Blue Jays are off until Friday night, meaning we still have one more night of dead air ahead of us.  To help fill the empty space, today I will take a look at just how bad my 2015 predictions look so far.

American League Predictions

East 2015 AL East

Thoughts: This is the tightest division in baseball.  Only 6.5 games separate first and last, so anything can still happen.  I don’t think Boston will finish in second anymore, but I still have faith the Jays will figure things out, go on a second half surge and win the division.  It’s also not out of the question that the Rays sag to the basement.

Central 2015 AL Central

Thoughts: Hmmm…I guess I was a bit off here!  I didn’t like KC’s staying power and I thought the Twins were at least a year away.  Looks like I might have been wrong on both.  I still think there is a chance that Detroit and Cleveland have huge second halves, but I can’t see anybody overtaking the Royals at this point.

West 2015 AL West

Thoughts: Most people were fooled by the Mariners, so I don’t feel too bad here.  Pretty much everybody not named Felix is struggling in Seattle, and I just can’t see a division title in the cards this year.  Actually, the more I look at it I was also way off on Houston, Texas, and Oakland.  Let’s just move on…

Wildcards

I predicted the Indians and Angels.  LA looks to be a good bet to either take the division or a WC spot, so not a bad choice.  Cleveland is currently 5.5 out, so still within striking distance of Minnesota and Houston.

Stat Leaders

2015 AL Stat Leaders

Thoughts:  Of all the years I have been making these predictions, this is so far my best year yet at picking the league leaders.  At the halfway point I have nailed Altuve for SB, and my picks for the RBI, W, K, and Save leaders are all in the top-10, with Hernandez barely missing for ERA.  Jose Abreu hasn’t gone deep as much as I thought, but he’s not too far off the lead.  I badly whiffed on Cano though.  Badly.

Awards & Miscellany

MVP – Robinson Cano, SEA

– Told you I whiffed badly on Cano…

Cy Young – Felix Hernandez, SEA

– He is still in the conversation, but the clubhouse leader has to be one of Chris Sale, Sonny Gray, or Dallas Keuchel

Rookie – Daniel Norris, TOR

– I had faith, but I think it would be a surprise to even see him back in Toronto this year.  His teammate Devon Travis does have a chance, though it might be tough to hold off Carlos Correa.

Manager – John Gibbons, TOR

– If the Jays win the East, I think Gibbons deserves it.  It would mean he has navigated successfully through a pitching nightmare.

Bounceback Player – Jason Kipnis, CLE

– An All-Star birth and tied for second in the AL with a 4.8 WAR.  I think I nailed this one.

Most Disappointing Player – Pablo Sandoval, BOS

– 7 HR, .691 OPS, terrible defensive play, a -0.3 WAR, and one benching for using Instagram during a game.  I might have got this one right too.

First Major Player Traded – Chris Davis, BAL

– Josh Hamilton was dealt in April, so no.

National League Predictions

East 2015 NL East

Thoughts: Not bad at all.  Washington and Philadelphia are looking good for the top and bottom.  I thought a little too highly of the Marlins, however, as you’ll soon find out.

Central 2015 NL Central

Thoughts: For some reason, each and every year I love the Brewers and pick them to finish higher than they do.  After a red hot start, the Cardinals massive Central lead is down to only a couple of games over the Pirates.  I still might get that right.

West  2015 NL West

Thoughts: This is my best performance.  I wasn’t sold on the Padres, and hated the Rockies.  So far so good in the West.

Wildcards

I predicted St. Louis and Miami.  I would think one of St. Louis and Pittsburgh will win the Central and the other will get a WC spot.  Miami?  Not a chance.

Stat Leaders

2015 NL Stat Leaders

Thoughts: Fantastic!  At the halfway point I have fully nailed four categories, and all eight picks are currently in the top-10.  Stanton’s injury might make it tough for him to take the HR crown, but I look pretty good everywhere else.

Awards

MVP - Andrew McCutchen, PIT

– It’s currently Bryce Harper’s award to lose, but McCutchen has to be at least in the top-3 right now.

Cy Young – Clayton Kershaw, LAD

– Zack Greinke and Max Scherzer have a pretty good lead right now, but never count out Kershaw.

Rookie – Gregory Polanco, PIT

– No way.  Joc Pederson and Kris Bryant will battle to the wire.

Manager – Clint Hurdle, PIT

– Very much in the running.

Bounceback Player – Joey Votto, CIN

– Currently sits 17th in the NL with a 2.8 WAR, after slugging 15 HR with a .876 OPS in the first half.  Pretty good pick.

Most Disappointing Player – Nick Markakis, ATL

– He’s put up a 1.1 WAR, with a .293 average, but his power numbers are way down: 0 HR at the break.  Still, others have been worse (hello Matt Kemp).

First Major Player Traded – Chase Utley, PHI

– Mark Trumbo went from Arizona to Seattle, so no – but he might still be moved.

500 Level Fan’s 2015 All-Stars and No-Stars

Around the Majors 15 July 2015 | 0 Comments

allstar

The 2015 MLB All-Star game has come and gone, with Russell Martin and Josh Donaldson teaming up with Mike Trout and co. to help the AL secure home field advantage in the World Series.  Even though the game is over, it’s never too late to unveil my All-Star teams.  And just for fun, I’ll also be announcing the fifth annual 500 Level Fan No-Star teams, a list of players who are really, truly, and brutally awful.

So sit back and enjoy 500 Level Fan’s All-Star and No-Stars for 2015:

Catcher

All-Stars: – Stephen Vogt (Oakland, AL) and Buster Posey (San Francisco, NL)

– Vogt has seemingly come out of nowhere to lead AL catchers with a .287 AVG, .872 OPS, 3.3 WAR, and 14 HR.  Posey is the exact opposite, continuing to provide the Giants with amazing production year after year.  So far, with 14 HR and a 4.2 WAR, 2015 might be his best year yet.

No-Stars – Mike Zunino (Seattle, AL) and Carlos Ruiz (Philadelphia, NL)

– There are AL catchers with a lower WAR than Zunino’s 0.4, but it’s hard to overlook 100 strikeouts to only 17 walks with a .515 OPS in 250 AB.  Brutal.  Things are falling apart in Philly, and Ruiz’s -0.4 WAR is definitely not helping.

First Base

All-Stars: – Miguel Cabrera (Detroit, AL) and Paul Goldschmidt (Arizona, NL)

– Two of the best hitters in the game are picking up right where they left off last year.  Miggy’s injury is a shame as he was enjoying one of the best starts of his illustrious career (.350 AVG, 1.034 OPS), while Goldy is already nearly in the 20/20 club…in July.

No-Stars – Mike Napoli (Boston, AL) and Ryan Howard (Philadelphia, NL)

– Nothing has gone right for Napoli as he is lingering under the Mendoza line, but even less has gone right for Howard.  This is the second year in a row he has been named a No-Star, and this year his -0.8 WAR and untradeable contract make him one of the least valuable players in the league.

Second Base

All-Stars – Brian Dozier (Minnesota, AL) and Dee Gordon (Miami, NL)

– Kipnis has a better WAR and slightly higher rate stats, but I like Dozier’s AL best 67 runs, not to mention his 19 HR and 50 RBI.  You could make an argument for a bunch of NL guys (Joe Panik, Kolten Wong, DJ LeMahieu), but Gordon has maintained a high average and relatively high slugging percentage while adding 33 steals.

No-Stars – Stephen Drew (New York, AL) and Chase Utley (Philadelphia, NL)

– It’s been a tough fall from grace for former All-Star Drew, now languishing in the Bronx with a -0.4 WAR.  Utley gives the Phillies yet another member on the No-Star squad.  He has been having one of the worst seasons in the entire league, with a miniscule .275 SLG and .532 OPS.

Third Base

All-Stars: – Josh Donaldson (Toronto, AL) and Nolan Arenado (Colorado, NL)

– You can make a case for Machado as well, but Donaldson edges him in R, HR, and RBI, with OPS, WAR, and defensive metrics basically a wash.  Plus he’s a Jay – what do you expect?  Nolan Arenado’s bat has caught up with his glove in a big way, as he has posted 24 HR, 70 RBI, and a huge .926 OPS.

No-Stars – Lonnie Chisenhall (Cleveland, AL) and Casey McGehee (San Francisco, NL)

– It’s been a huge step back for Chisenhall in Cleveland, evidenced by his struggles to stay above the Mendoza line with very little power.  McGehee was brought into replace Pablo Sandoval, but after hitting only 2 HR with a sub .605 OPS he finds himself back in Miami after being DFA’d by SF.

Shortstop

All-Stars: – Carlos Correa (Houston, AL) and Jhonny Peralta (St. Louis, NL)

– He only has 134 AB, but Correa has made the most of them with a .820 OPS.  His 1.6 WAR is near the top for all SS, despite having less than half the at bats as everybody else.  Peralta has been magnificent for the first place Cardinals, leading all NL SS with 13 HR.

No-Stars – Alexei Ramirez (Chicago, AL) and Ian Desmond (Washington, NL)

– A huge ugh for these two.  Ramirez is supplementing his .541 OPS with a glove that is 15 runs below average, while Desmond is balancing his .589 OPS with an NL leading 20 errors.

Outfield

All-Stars: – Mike Trout (LA Angels, AL), J.D. Martinez (Detroit, AL), Lorenzo Cain (Kansas City, AL), and Bryce Harper (Washington, NL), Giancarlo Stanton (Miami, NL), Andrew McCutchen (Pittsburgh, NL)

– Just another MVP caliber season for Trout, while Martinez and Cain and proving that their breakouts in 2014 were no fluke.  Speaking of breakouts, looks like Bryce Harper is finally living up to the hype, with a massive 6.2 WAR.  McCutchen and Stanton continue to destroy opposing pitching, with Giancarlo’s 27 HR still leading the league despite missing time with a broken hand.

No-Stars – Mark Trumbo (Seattle, AL) and Andrew Lambo (Pittsburgh, NL)

– Acquired to improve Seattle’s lackluster offense, Trumbo has instead become part of the problem, with a .559 OPS.  Is it bad to put a guy with only 25 AB on the No-Star team?  Maybe.  But what a sample of 25 AB it was for Lambo: 1 for 25, .040 AVG, .191 OPS, -0.6 WAR.  Yikes.

Starting Pitcher

All-Stars: – Chris Sale (Chicago, AL) and Max Scherzer (Washington, NL)

– As always, a number of deserving candidates in both leagues, but nobody can quite touch Sale and Scherzer.  Sale edges out Sonny Gray and Dallas Keuchel with a league leading 157 K and 0.95 WHIP.  Meanwhile Scherzer gets the nod over Zack Greinke even with a higher ERA due his 150 K and miniscule 0.78 WHIP.  Oh, and the no-hitter helps too.

No-Stars – Rick Porcello (Boston, AL) and Kyle Lohse (Milwaukee, NL)

– 100.2 IP, 119 hits allowed, and a 5.90 ERA.  Yikes Rick Porcello.  But believe it or not, Lohse has actually been even worse: 108 IP, 128 hits allowed, 6.27 ERA.

Non-Closing Reliever

All-Stars: – Dellin Betances (New York, AL) and Carter Capps (Miami, NL)

– Apologies to Wade Davis, who is also deserving, but Betances has thrown eight more innings and posted a 1.53 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, and a whopping 77 K (14.74 K/9)!!!  Carter who?  He might not remain a mystery long if this production keeps up: 25.1 IP, 48 K to 6 BB, 1.42 ERA, and a 0.79 WHIP.

No-Stars – Tom Gorzelanny (Detroit, AL) and Dustin McGowan (Philadelphia, NL)

– The poor Tigers can’t buy a break in the bullpen.  Gorzelanny has been terrible this year, with 17 ER and 15 BB in only 24 IP.  Former Jay McGowan gives the Phillies yet another member of the No-Star squad, with 26 H and 16 BB allowed in only 20 IP.

Closer

All-Stars: – Glen Perkins (Minnesota, AL) and Mark Melancon (Pittsburgh, NL)

– Perkins leads all AL closers in saves (28), and ERA (1.28) and is second in WHIP (0.83) for the surprising Twins.  Melancon has been lights out for the Pirates with 29 saves and a 1.47 ERA, with only 8 walks allowed in 43 IP.

No-Stars – Fernando Rodney (Seattle, AL) and Steve Cishek (Miami, NL)

– After a dominant 2014, Rodney has been anything but in 2015, with 4 blown saves, a 5.50 ERA, and only 28 K to 17 BB.  Cishek didn’t last as the Marlins closer for long, not after blowing 4 of 7 save attempts with a 5.92 ERA.

The Week That Was: Week 14

Weekly Things 14 July 2015 | 0 Comments

Reyes

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 14.

Week 14: July 6 – July 12

Record: 2 – 5

Season-to-date: 45 – 46

AL East: 4th, 4.5 GB of New York

Wild Card: 4 GB of 2nd Wild Card (Houston)

1. Giving It All Back

The Jays turned their season around in early June with that amazing 11-game winning streak.  They were winning games in every way imaginable and it was fun to watch.  But I have long preached the importance of sustaining success after a winning streak.  Good teams are the ones that continue to play good baseball at the end of a streak; bad teams are the ones that go right back to the bad tendencies that plagued them before the streak.  Sadly, that is what has happened to the Blue Jays.  Sloppy defense has returned.  Bad starting pitching has returned.  Woeful performances out of the bullpen have returned.  Terrible situational hitting has also returned, with players failing to drive in a runner at third with less than two outs time after time after time.  All told, the Blue Jays have gone 11-16 since the winning streak ended.  They have given back all the ground they made up, given back all the momentum they acquired, and even given back a lot of the hope and good will they had built with the fanbase.  The season is by no means over, but I think the All-Star break came at exactly the right time for this squad.  Even more than fresh legs, they require fresh minds for the second half.

2. Up and Down Reyes

It was a rough week for Jose Reyes.  His much maligned fielding resurfaced in a big way, as the shortstop made four errors in the week, directly leading to a couple of losses.  He now has committed 10 errors in 60 games, a full season pace of 27 errors, which would be by far a career high.  His dWAR is currently -0.5, and his defensive runs saved metric is a poor -8.  At the same time however, it was also a great week for Jose Reyes.  He recorded at least one hit in all six games he played, posting a .370 average with four stolen bases.  His season average is now up to .283 and his OPS to .703.  He has also stolen 14 bases and only been caught once.  It seems clear that Reyes is no longer the MVP calibre force he was as a Met, but as shown by his solid hitting he is still a high quality player.  Fans who are screaming for his release need to remember that.  But perhaps we might see Ryan Goins as a late inning defensive replacement a little more often in the second half.

3. A Full Season Summarized By One Game

That would be Sunday’s 11-10 loss in Kansas City.  As has happened more often than not, the starting pitching was awful.  Felix Doubront surrendered six runs in the first inning and once again the Jays were facing a huge deficit.  But as they have done several times before, not only did the offense bail them out, it did so in a huge way.  An 8-run sixth inning was enough to give the Jays the lead, and hopefully propel them into the break on a positive note.  But, sadly, as has also happened so often this season, the bullpen collapsed again.  Steve Delabar and Aaron Loup (with a little help from Reyes) gave KC the lead right back in the 6th, and then Bo Schultz surrendered a HR in the 8th to seal the deal.  It was a heartbreaker – a game that the Jays had no business winning but should have won anyways.  In regular times, this game would be remembered as a one-off, a wild rollercoaster of a loss.  But this year, games like this keep happening over and over.  As it stands, it is a microcosm of the season as a whole.

Player of the Week

Jose Reyes, SS

Tough week in the field, but great at the dish: 10 for 27, 4 R, 4 RBI, 1 2B, 4 SB, .370 / .393 / .407 / .800

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 45 – 46, 3rd place

AA – New Hampshire: 45 – 42, 4th place

A+ – Dunedin: First Half (complete): 32 – 38, 5th place; Second Half: 8-11, 4th place

A – Lansing: First Half (complete): 42 – 28 , 1st place; Second Half: 9-10, 6th place

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: 8-18, 4th place

The Look Ahead

They return from the break with a set at home against the pesky Rays.

July 17-19 vs. Tampa Bay

Drew Hutchison Makes No Sense

Upper Deck Insight 10 July 2015 | 0 Comments

Drew Hutch

Many things in life don’t make sense, and the same is true in baseball.  Why does the best team rarely win the World Series?  How is Clayton Kershaw not already on the All-Star team?  For that matter, why does the All-Star game still decide home field advantage in the World Series?

But one thing in baseball makes the least sense of all.  There is one player who defies all logic: Drew Hutchison.

Hutchison was picked by many to be a breakout stud this year, an under-the-radar Cy Young candidate who would be a rock in an otherwise shaky looking Toronto rotation.  Then we was pegged to start Opening Day and pitched very well in Yankee Stadium, and more people started buying in.

However, very little has gone right since then, and without a doubt the most frustrating thing has been how erratic he has been.  Very little (if anything) makes sense about the season he has put together thus far.

How can he be so good at home yet so bad on the road?  How can he be dominant one start and terrible the next?  Hell, how can he be dominant in one inning and terrible the next?

Seriously, both literally and figuratively, nothing about Hutchison makes sense.  Look at these numbers and try to figure things out.

First here are his Home / Road splits:

Hutch - 2015 H R

Obviously, as has been well documented, Hutchison is terrible on the road.  His 8.81 road ERA is the worst in the American League (by far), as his 1.98 WHIP.  Much of that can be attributed to just horrendous luck, as evidenced by his astronomical .426 BABIP.  But look at that bottom number.  According to Fangraphs, 30.7% of batted balls against Hutchison on the road are classified as hard hit balls.  At home, 32.2% are hard hit, yet his BABIP is substantially lower.  So batters hit balls harder against Drew in Toronto, yet get on base less.  Confusing.

Next, look at his AL rankings:

Hutch - 2015 stats

He is a top-10 pitcher in Wins and Winning percentage, but horrendous everywhere else.  There are 48 pitchers who qualify for the ERA title in the AL, and Hutch ranks 45th in ERA, 46th in WHIP, 43rd in Batting Average against, and 43rd in OPS against.  However, once again that incredibly high BABIP (.343, highest in the league) is to blame.  According to FIP (fielding independent pitching) Hutchison is a top-20 pitcher.  In fact, the difference between his FIP and his ERA is the greatest in the entire AL.  So how do you explain this?  Once again looking at his hard hit %, those numbers seem to make sense.  At 31.4%, he is the 11th hardest hit pitcher in the league.  For context, guys like Colby Lewis and Nate Karns are hit harder, while pitchers like Dallas Keuchel, Sonny Gray, Chris Sale, and Felix Hernandez give up the fewest hard hit balls.  But Hutchison also ranks 3rd in soft hit %, right in line with Keuchel, Sale, and Chris Archer.  The numbers say he is as bad as Lewis but also as effective as Sale.  Weird.

Hutch - 2015 v 2014

Hutch - ERA by inning

Comparing his performance to last season shows just how erratic Hutchison has been this year.  In 2015 he is giving up fewer hard hit balls and more soft hit balls, a sign of a better pitcher, yet his overall numbers are way down.  Then take a look at his ERA by inning: it is like a roller coaster and much wilder than last year.  He is getting hammered the 3rd time through the lineup, which explains why he can’t get through 6 innings.

The bottom line is this: according to the underlying numbers Drew Hutchison should be a top-20 pitcher this season, but unfortunate luck on balls in play is preventing that from happening – especially on the road.  Logic says that his BABIP should regress to the mean by season’s end, and once that happens his overall numbers should improve dramatically.

But as shown above, logic doesn’t seem to mean anything when it comes to Hutchison.

Nothing about him makes sense.

The Week That Was: Week 13

Weekly Things 6 July 2015 | 0 Comments

Buehrle Start

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 13.

Week 13: June 29 – July 5

Record: 2 – 5

Season-to-date: 43 – 41

AL East: T-3rd, 2 GB of New York

Wild Card: 1 GB of 2nd Wild Card (Baltimore/Minnesota)

1. SP Nightmare

It has been written about, spoken about, and complained about ad nauseam so far this year, but unfortunately it has to be said again: Toronto’s starting pitching is bad.  Really, really bad.  Sure there have been flashes of brilliance (see Estrada, Marco), but more often than not fans are left completely underwhelmed.  Last week was a perfect example.  Blue Jay starters lasted a total of only 30.2 IP in seven starts, an average of 4.2 IP per start.  In those innings they managed to surrender 25 earned runs, 45 hits, and 13 walks, for an ERA of 7.34 and a WHIP of 1.89.  The rotation posted 5 losses and only once was able to pitch into the 7th inning.  The nadir of the week came on Thursday when Matt Boyd surrendered 7 runs while failing to record an out, but the performances by Estrada on Tuesday, Hutchison on Friday, and Dickey on Saturday weren’t a whole lot better.  Hutchison has been particularly disturbing as many pundits had him labeled as a potential breakout candidate this year, and the Blue Jays were going to rely on him heavily after the Stroman injury.  But he has not delivered, as despite his 8-2 record he sits 45th out of 49 qualified pitchers in the AL with a 5.23 ERA and a -0.4 WAR.  Toronto’s Pythagorean record (based on run differential) is 50-34, meaning they are badly underperforming.  The starting pitching is the biggest reason why.

2. Big, Bad Buehrle

As mentioned above, Toronto’s starting pitchers posted five losses last week and only made it to the seventh inning once.  That one start belonged to Mark Buehrle who continues to somehow evade father time and ride his 84 MPH fastball to outstanding results.  Buehrle completely befuddled Boston on Canada Day, allowing only a single run on four hits while striking out seven and walking zero.  But his current hot stretch goes back much, much longer.  After hitting rock bottom in a May 1 start against Cleveland, Buehrle has been not only Toronto’s best, but one of the American League’s best pitchers.  In 11 starts since that May game, Buehrle has gone 6-2 with a 2.53 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, and most importantly 78.1 IP.  He has pitched 7 or more innings in 8 of those 11 starts, and has posted a Bill James Game Score of 50 or better in all 11 (including four straight over 60).  He now sits 15th in the AL with a 1.8 WAR, and 21st with 3.64 ERA.  With all the talk about the offense, Mark Buehrle is quietly becoming one of Toronto’s most valuable players.

3. Josh Donaldson, All Star

He has been the best player on the Toronto Blue Jays all season long.  He ranks in the top-10 in the AL in HR (19), RBI (56), R (62), and SLG (.527).  He combines that offensive talent with an amazing glove at 3B.  He sits 6th in all of MLB with a 4.3 WAR.  In short, Josh Donaldson has been everything the Jays wanted and more since being acquired last winter.  Yesterday he was officially recognized by the league and the fans by being named a starter for the American League in next week’s All-Star game in Cincinnati.  And he didn’t simply receive the most votes of any third baseman in the AL either.  No, Donaldson received the most votes for any player, ever.  His 14,090,188 votes set a an all-time record, eclipsing Josh Hamilton’s total from a few years back.  There’s a very good chance that Josh will have company.  The remainder of the rosters will be announced tonight, and it would be a shocker to not see both Jose Bautista and Russell Martin named to the AL squad.  A well deserved honour.

Player of the Week

Devon Travis, 2B

Not a bad way to return from the DL: 11 for 22, 4 R, 4 RBI, 2 2B, .500 / .500 / .591 / 1.091

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 41 – 43, 3rd place

AA – New Hampshire: 40 – 40, 5th place

A+ – Dunedin: First Half (complete): 32 – 38, 5th place; Second Half: 4-6, T-4th place

A – Lansing: First Half (complete): 42 – 28 , 1st place; Second Half: 6-5, T-3rd place

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: 8-10, T-3rd place

The Look Ahead

The Jays wrap up the first half with seven more on the road.

July 6-9 at Chicago White Sox

July 10-12 at Kansas City

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