Trade Deadline Primer – What Will Anthopoulos Do?

Upper Deck Insight 30 July 2014 | 0 Comments

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.

Halfway Home: Revisiting My 2014 Predictions

Around the Majors 15 July 2014 | 0 Comments

Crystal Ball

The 2014 MLB mid-season lull is in full effect.  The Blue Jays are off until Friday night, meaning we have four days of dead air ahead of us.  (No, the home run derby doesn’t count).  To help fill the empty space, today I will take a look at just how bad my 2014 predictions look so far. 

American League Predictions

East 2014 AL East

Thoughts: What can you say really.  Boston and Tampa Bay have been the biggest flops in baseball and the Jays have surprised everybody.  However, Tampa is starting to surge, and with the AL East actually being baseball’s weakest division (how weird does that sound), a crazy Rays comeback might not be out of the cards just yet.

Central 2014 AL Central

Thoughts: Absolutely, 100%, nailed it so far!  I expect the Tigers to maintain the lead the rest of the way, and the biggest battle to be between the Royals and Indians for second – and potentially a Wild Card spot. 

West 2014 AL West

Thoughts: If it wasn’t for Texas it would be two clean sweeps in a row.  Nothing has gone right for the Rangers this year and they might very well suffer the dubious distinction of finishing behind the Houston Astros.  Oakland, LA, and Seattle are making a serious case to have three playoff teams come out of the West.  

Wildcards

I predicted the A’s and Red Sox.  Oakland looks like a sure bet for the postseason, but maybe as the AL West champ.  The Red Sox look horrendous – and I couldn’t be happier!  Currently the Angels and Mariners lead the way. 

Stat Leaders 

2014 AL Stat Leaders

Thoughts:  Hey – I got Felix Hernandez for ERA leader right!  Unfortunately that’s about the only thing I’m even close on.  To be fair, Prince Fielder’s injury hampered that pick, and I’m not sure anybody could have predicted Justin Verlander’s regression.  I have a funny feeling that I might also nail the Mike Trout prediction by the end of the year. 

Awards & Miscellany

MVP – Mike Trout, LAA

- I think you’d have to consider him the favourite right now.

Cy Young – Justin Verlander, DET

- He has really fallen hard this year.  Probably not even in the top-10 right now.  This is currently King Felix’s award to lose.

Rookie – Jose Abreu, CHI

- He currently leads the majors with 29 HR, so he is the odds on favourite to win this award.

Manager – Brad Ausmus, DET

- This award is wide open right now.  Ausmus is right in the mix, along with Bob Melvin of Oakland and Lloyd McClendon of Seattle.  But a big second half could put a number of other guys in the mix (including John Gibbons).

Bounceback Player – Albert Pujols, LAA

- With 20 HR already, he has already eclipsed his 2013 total.  I’ll stick by him.

Most Disappointing Player – Carlos Beltran, NYY

- .216 average and .671 OPS and looking older by the day.  I think I nailed this one!

First Major Player Traded – Colby Rasmus, TOR

- Not yet…

National League Predictions

East 2014 NL East

Thoughts: If not for the Phillies I would have fully nailed this division.  As it stands, Philadelphia is awful, and it looks like the race for first is going to go right down to the wire.  Miami looked like a contender early on, but have since faded.

Central 2014 NL Central

Thoughts: At least I got the Cubs right.  Milwaukee has outperformed expectations to this point, but are currently really struggling and might drop back to fourth in a week or two.  I had high hopes for the Pirates, and they appear to have turned a corner, but still have a lot of work to do to reach a playoff spot.

West  2014 NL West

Thoughts: So far so good at the top, but I was way off on Arizona, and I expected much, much less from San Diego – though the bottom three are so tightly packed that anything can happen.  

Wildcards

I predicted San Francisco and Pittsburgh, and currently the Giants and Braves hold down the spots.  But the Pirates are only 3 games back, so still very much alive.

Stat Leaders 

2014 NL Stat Leaders

Thoughts: A much better performance here than in the AL.  My picks of Kimbrel, Kershaw, and Goldschmidt were all pretty good, and Marte is in the top-5 for steals.  Injuries derailed my picks of Gonzalez and Fernandez, but both were playing pretty well before they went down, so that makes me feel a bit better.

Awards

MVP - Bryce Harper, WAS

- Not looking too good right now as he has battled injuries this year.  This award is probably wide open right now.

Cy Young – Clayton Kershaw, LAD

- Looks like it will boil down to him or Adam Wainwright.  Both deserve it.

Rookie – Archie Bradley, ARI

- Yet to play a big league game. 

Manager – Matt Williams, WAS

- Very much in the running.

Bounceback Player – Justin Morneau, COL

- With a .312 average, .846 OPS, and 13 HR this one looks good!

Most Disappointing Player – Ryan Howard, PHI

- Second in the NL in strikeouts, batting .220 with a -0.5 WAR.  He is certainly in the running.

First Major Player Traded – Cliff Lee, PHI

- Still might go, but Jeff Samardzija beat him to it.

Three Things From Week Fifteen

Weekly Things 14 July 2014 | 0 Comments

Bautista14

Ugh.

The All-Star break couldn’t come soon enough.

Here are three things from week 15:

Week 15: July 7 – July 13

Record: 2 – 4

1. Houses of Horrors

Yankee Stadium.  Tropicana Field.  The West Coast.  Where are three places the Blue Jays hate playing?

Toronto’s failure to win in Tampa Bay has been well documented, and the club blew yet another golden chance to end a long run of futility in Florida.  After winning Friday night the Jays were given a gift when David Price was scratched from his Saturday afternoon start.  Surely this would be the long awaited series victory at the Trop!  But no – a bullpen implosion (yet again) cost the Jays the win, and they limped out of Tampa with their tails between their legs after being shutout yesterday.

But there is something just as bad about the West Coast for Blue Jay fans.  The team never seems to play well in California (or Seattle), and this past week was no exception.  After being dismantled by the A’s in Oakland, the Jays headed to Angels Stadium and promptly lost 2 of 3 to the Angels, including a very winnable game where – you guessed it – the bullpen gave it away. 

So the Jays ended the first half of the season with a 2-8 road trip, but good news awaits.  The teams opens the second half Friday night with a seven game homestand against the reeling Rangers and Red Sox.  The ship has to be righted now, or else it may never will. 

2. Injuries, Injuries, and More Injuries!

First Brett Lawrie.  Then Edwin Encarnacion.  Now Adam Lind and Nolan Reimold.  Toronto’s disabled list is seemingly growing by the day.  And that list doesn’t even include Jose Bautista (playing with a sore hamstring), Jose Reyes (sore shoulder), Colby Rasmus (wrist), and Munenori Kawasaki (hamstring).

It’s hard enough to win in this league when a team is fully healthy, but it is downright impossible when players are dropping like flies.  Toronto simply doesn’t have the depth – either on the bench or at the minor league level – to deal with a barrage of injuries.  Which means there are two options.  The first is for Alex Anthopoulos to get on the phone and fix this team.  Make some trades for healthy bodies who can help the lineup immediately.  It’s pretty clear that guys like Anthony Gose, Kevin Pilar, and Brad Glenn don’t have what it takes to hit in the big leagues. 

The second option is to embrace some non-traditional healing practices and start using them during the All-Star break.  I’m talking about ointments, teas, rubs, grains, anything that can heal a broken bone or a tender muscle.  Get Lawrie to start ingesting coconut oil, and Edwin to start drinking weird smoothies.

That might be our only hope.

3. Dickey Gettin’ His Groove Back

Times have been tough lately.  The Blue Jays have been losing games like crazy and are threatening to throw away all the good they did in May.  But maybe, just maybe, not everything is going wrong. 

In his past three starts, it certainly appears that R.A. Dickey has turned his season around.  He has pitched extremely well in losses to Oakland and Tampa Bay, and a victory over the Angels: 21 IP, 15 hits allowed, 4 ER, 7 BB, 16 K, 1.71 ERA, 1.05 WHIP. 

Remember that last season Dickey had a tremendous second half.  If the last three starts indicate the beginning of another second half surge, perhaps the Jays aren’t as dead as we all thought they were.

The Gashouse Gang – Songs on a Pink Couch

500 Level Fun 11 July 2014 | 0 Comments

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Every now and then 500 Level Fan is lucky enough to be given an exclusive look at new and exciting baseball related items, anything from books to speaking engagements.

Today I am excited and privileged to present the latest instalment of the wildly successful “Songs on a Pink Couch” series by renowned musician Darrin Davis.

The song – “The Gashouse Gang” – was partially co-written by yours truly and will appear on Mr. Davis’ upcoming album “Almost Home” (to be released later in 2014).  The album is based on the life of Davis’ grandfather Fred, who grew up on the farmlands of Ontario in the 1930′s.  ”The Gashouse Gang” is about Fred’s love of the game of baseball and is based on the great St. Louis Cardinals team of 1934, featuring Dizzy and Daffy Dean.

Part of what I love (and everybody loves) about baseball is its tradition.  The game has changed tremendously since the 1930′s, yet at the same time it hasn’t changed at all.  Each player in the modern game draws comparisons to those of yesteryear and many of the terms used in the ’30′s are still spoken today.

For that reason, I thought I’d present a short glossary of the terms used in “The Gashouse Gang”.

Ebbets Field – The home of the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1913 – 1957, with some of the craziest field dimensions of all time (297 feet down the right field line and 484 (!!!) feet to centre)

Red Barber – Radio broadcaster for the Cincinnati Reds, Brooklyn Dodgers, and New York Yankees across four decades (1934 – 1966)

Spartan wireless – Ontario manufactured tube radio popular for listening to baseball broadcasts in the 1930′s

Lou Gehrig – Nicknamed the “Iron Horse”, Gehrig was a star for the Yankees from 1923 – 1939, playing in a major league record 2,130 consecutive games, a record that stood until 1995.

Lefty Gomez – Star pitcher for the New York Yankees (and later the Washington Senators) from 1930 – 1943.  He won five World Series titles with the  Yankees.

Murderers Row – Nickname for the first six batters of what many believe to be the greatest baseball team of all time, the 1927 Yankees, featuring Earle Combs, Mark Koenig, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bob Meusel, and Tony Lazzeri (soon to be replaced by the June version of the 2014 Blue Jays – Kawasaki, Cabrera, Francisco, Tolleson, Kratz, and Lind.)

Dizzy, Daffy and the Gashouse Gang – The Gashouse Gang was a nickname given to the 1934 St. Louis Cardinals, the World Series Champions featuring All-Star pitching brothers Paul “Daffy” Dean and Jay “Dizzy” Dean.  The team was referred to as the gashouse gang due to their propensity to wear unwashed, dirty, and smelly uniforms on the field, and their generally shabby appearance.

Pine Tar – A sticky material produced from the carbonization of pine wood and used by baseball players to improve the grip on bat handles.

Diamond Thirst – A term coined by lifelong baseball minor league players to describe why they can never leave the game (Kevin Costner’s line referring to this was actually cut from Bull Durham – true story)

Ty Cobb – Considered by many to be the greatest player in the history of the game.  Considered by all to be the most vile, rude, racist, and miserable man to ever play.  Was known to sharpen the spikes of his cleats to cause maximum bodily harm to infielders as he slid into second or third base.  Once beat up an armless, heckling fan with a shoe.

Enjoy the tune – and be sure to purchase the album to hear 500 Level Fan’s vocal debut!

 

To pre-order a copy of “Almost Home” by Darrin Davis, please click here.

To subscribe to the weekly “Songs on a Pink Couch” video series, please click here.

Also check on the Darrin Davis Band on Facebook.

 

 

Can This Season Be Salvaged?

Upper Deck Insight 10 July 2014 | 1 Comment

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Oh for the merry old days of May, when life was good, summer was coming, and the Jays were kings.

Those were the days when our band of ballplayers could do no wrong.  Edwin Encarnacion was hitting every pitch out of the ballpark.  Jose Bautista was reaching base three times a game.  Juan Francisco was useful.  Even Liam Hendricks was winning.

Those days feel like so long ago. 

It’s funny that back then the main question on the lips of fans was ”will we have home field advantage in the playoffs?”

Now the main question has reverted to “can this season, that once looked so promising, be salvaged?”

On the surface, the answer is likely no.  Coming into the season the Blue Jays five best hitters were Bautista, Encarnacion, Reyes, Lind, and Lawrie.  Right now three of them are on the DL for at least the rest of July, and the other two are playing hurt.  The rotation is wildly inconsistent and the bullpen has been pretty consistently terrible.  Toronto’s most reliable hitter over the past few weeks has been Munenori Kawasaki.

That is not a good thing.

But there is still hope, and here’s why:

1. They will make a trade.  I mean, they have to make a trade don’t they?  There are superstars out there who could be had in a blockbuster deal, guys like David Price or Troy Tulowitzki or Chase Utley or Starlin Castro or Cliff Lee.  But there are also useful major league players who wouldn’t cost as much.  Sure the impact wouldn’t be as dramatic, but a guy like Daniel Murphy would be an upgrade to the roster.  Even a player like Gordon Beckham – seemingly down and out for years – would be a better addition to the lineup than Ryan Goins.  There is no way that Alex Anthopoulos can sit by and idly watch the team that he worked so hard to improve last year, finally succeed, only to crumble in front of his eyes.  There is just no way – is there?

2. There’s no denying that the Blue Jays have been one of the worst teams in baseball over the past three weeks.  But as of right now they are still 3 games over .500 and only 2.5 games out of first place in the AL East.  That alone is why this season can still be saved.  The AL East is not only down in 2014 – it is historically down.  The way things are going now, there is a good chance that 85 wins may take the division.

Seriously – Baltimore is hot now but has run up-and-down all year long.  Boston looks lost.  Tampa Bay is making a move, but dug themselves such a huge hole that they are still miles below .500.  And the Yankees are extremely banged up, with 4/5 of their rotation out (Pineda, Sabathia, Nova, Tanaka), and Beltran and McCann looking like busts. 

The division is winnable.  The players will get healthy.  And I still believe that a trade is on the way.

We can still do this.

500 Level Fan’s 2014 All-Stars and No-Stars

Around the Majors 8 July 2014 | 0 Comments

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The 2014 MLB All-Star rosters were announced Sunday night, and the Blue Jays had three players named to the AL squad.  Sadly, due to Edwin Encarnacion’s quad injury, only two will be traveling to Minnesota, but the selection of Jose Bautista and Mark Buehrle were both very well deserved.

But how about the rest of the teams?  That’s where I come in.  Today 500 Level Fan will unveil the fifth annual 500 Level Fan All-Star teams.  These are players that would be in the All-Star Game if I had my way.  And just for fun, I’ll also be announcing the fourth 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 2014:

Catcher

All-Stars: - Salvador Perez (Kansas City, AL) and Jonathan Lucroy (Milwaukee, NL)

- Both Derek Norris of the A’s and Devin Mesoraco of the Reds have better numbers than Perez and Lucroy, but have only just over half the number of at-bats.  So while they have been very impressive, Perez and Lucroy have been equally impressive across a much larger sample size.  Lucroy in particular has been one of the biggest surprises in baseball, with a .326 average, .907 OPS, and 4.4 WAR. 

No-Stars – Jose Molina (Tampa Bay, AL) and Travis d’Arnaud (New York, NL)

- With a -1.4 WAR and a .191 slugging percentage over 136 AB, Molina has actually been worse than J.P. Arencibia was for the Rangers.  d’Arnaud’s time will come, but it clearly isn’t happening this year: .286 OBP, -0.8 WAR, 1 demotion to the minor leagues.

First Base

All-Stars: - Edwin Encarnacion (Toronto, AL) and Paul Goldschmidt (Arizona, NL)

- Before going down with an injury on Friday, Edwin was having a season to remember with 26 HR, 70 RBI, and a .959 OPS.  If not for the DL stint 40-50 HR was a real possibility.  Goldschmidt is proving that last year was no fluke, with a 1B best .960 OPS and 4.1 WAR on a last place Arizona club.

No-Stars – Nick Swisher (Cleveland, AL) and Ryan Howard (Philadelphia, NL)

- Nothing has gone right for Swisher this season, evidenced by his league worst -0.7 WAR and sub-.200 average.  But at least Cleveland isn’t paying him Ryan Howard’s salary.  Howard’s 14 HR are nice, but the .231 average, -0.2 WAR, and 107 strikeouts are not.

Second Base

All-Stars - Jose Altuve (Houston, AL) and Chase Utley (Philadelphia, NL)

- A lot of great options in the AL this season, but none have been better than Houston’s diminutive 2B.  Altuve leads the AL in hitting, has a solid .813 OPS, has nearly as many walks (22) as strikeouts (26), and has swiped 39 bases.  Utley has turned back the clock in Philly to the tune of a .791 OPS and 2.8 WAR.

No-Stars – Eric Sogard (Oakland, AL) and Jedd Gyorko (San Diego, NL)

- Sogard had a nice year in 2013 but has been poor in 2014, and is currently sporting a miniscule .224 slugging percentage.  Gyorko was a breakout star last year, and the Padres expected big things after signing him to a nice extension.  But he has been both injured and awful: .162 average, -1.4 WAR.

Third Base

All-Stars: - Josh Donaldson (Oakland, AL) and Todd Frazier (Cincinnati, NL)

- In a spot normally reserved for Adrian Beltre, it has been Donaldson having the banner year in the AL West.  His 19 HR and 63 RBI are tops among all third baseman, and his defense has been fantastic.  Frazier is having a huge breakout year for the Reds with 17 HR and an .849 OPS, almost single-handedly keeping Cincy afloat in the NL Central.

No-Stars – Mike Moustakas (Kansas City, AL) and Mike Olt (Chicago, NL)

- Royals fans keep waiting for Moustakas to take the next step, but he only seems to be going backwards.  Currently sits under the Mendoza line and has already been sent back to the minors once.  Olt was a prized slugger acquired in the Garza trade last year, and hasn’t disappointed power-wise with 11 HR.  But he has struck out in almost 40% of his plate appearances and is hitting a major league-worst .147.

Shortstop

All-Stars: - Alexei Ramirez (Chicago, AL) and Troy Tulowitzki (Colorado, NL)

- Yes Jeter is starting, but Ramirez should be.  His numbers are outstanding: 8 HR, 41 RBI, 14 SB, .723 OPS, 2.3 WAR.  Tulowitzki has slowed down a bit after his meteoric start, but still leads all SS in just about every offensive category: 18 HR, 47 RBI, .349 average, 1.044 OPS, 5.4 WAR.

No-Stars – Xander Bogaerts (Boston, AL) and Everth Cabrera (San Diego, NL)

- Boston’s rookie has shown flashes of brilliance, but also prolonged stretches of awful-ness.  He has struck out 84 times with a mere .675 OPS.  Cabrera is coming off the Biogenesis scandal, and it seems to have impacted his legs.  Known for his speed, he has only swiped 13 bases while being caught 7 times – a ratio that won’t bail out his .546 OPS.

Outfield

All-Stars: - Jose Bautista (Toronto, AL), Michael Brantley (Cleveland, AL), Mike Trout (LA Angels, AL), and Andrew McCutchen (Pittsburgh, NL), Giancarlo Stanton (Miami, NL), Carlos Gomez (Milwaukee, NL)

- Bautista and Trout have become staples in this category, and both might be having their best all-around seasons yet.  Brantley has been terrific for the Indians, with a .323 average, .898 OPS, and a perfect 10-for-10 in stolen bases.  In the NL, McCutchen, Stanton, and Gomez are just getting better and better.  The trio have combined for 47 HR, 35 SB, and 12.0 WAR.

No-Stars – Robbie Grossman (Houston, AL) and Domonic Brown (Philadelphia, NL)

- Grossman proved to be a very useful player in 2013 but has been mostly useless this year.  In over 130 plate appearances the Astros OF has managed just 7 extra base hits, a .158 average, and a .536 OPS.  Things have been ugly for Brown this year as he tries to follow up last year’s breakout campaign: only 5 HR and a major league-worst -1.7 WAR. 

Starting Pitcher

All-Stars: - Felix Hernandez (Seattle, AL) and Adam Wainwright (St. Louis, NL)

- Somehow King Felix is getting even better, and this year he finally is getting run support.  He has a 10-2 record to go along with a sparkling 0.89 WHIP, 2.11 ERA, and 145 strikeouts in 136.1 IP.  Johnny Cueto and Clayton Kershaw have both been fantastic in the NL, but Wainwright has been just a bit better.  He leads baseball with a 4.7 WAR and a 1.79 ERA.

No-Stars -  Clay Buchholz (Boston, AL) and Edwin Jackson (Chicago, NL)

- Not much has gone right for the defending champs, not the least of which has been the performance of one of their supposed “aces”.  Buchholz has been horrendous in 2014 with a 6.11 ERA in 13 starts.  I think it’s clear that despite having great stuff, Edwin Jackson will never figure it out.  He continues to defy logic by never missing a start, yet never pitching well.  This year’s numbers: 1.52 WHIP, 5.05 ERA, 45 walks.

Non-Closing Reliever

All-Stars: - Dellin Betances (New York, AL) and Jonathan Broxton (Cincinnati, NL)

- Betances has been a revelation out of the Yankee bullpen, with an astounding 79 strikeouts in 52.1 innings, to go along with a nasty 0.75 WHIP.  Broxton has reinvented himself in Cincinnati as Chapman’s setup man, and has been dominant: 0.76 WHIP, 0.62 ERA in 29 IP.

No-Stars – Alexi Ogando (Texas, AL) and Brian Wilson (Los Angeles, NL)

- Ogando was once a rising star in the Rangers rotation and bullpen, but has been a major disappointment in 2014, allowing nearly two baserunners per inning.  The bearded one has flopped so far as a Dodger (though to be fair he has been better lately): 1.88 WHIP, 5.64 ERA. 

Closer

All-Stars: - Greg Holland (Kansas City, AL) and Huston Street (San Diego, NL)

- Holland is picking up right where he left off a year ago with a 50:10 strikeout-to-walk ratio, 1.04 WHIP, 1.93 ERA and 23 saves.  Francisco Rodriguez and Craig Kimbrel have received more attention than Huston Street, but Street has been nearly perfect for the Padres: 23/24 in saves, 0.78 WHIP, 1.13 ERA, and only 7 walks allowed.

No-Stars – Ernesto Frieri (Los Angeles, AL and Pittsburgh, NL)

- So bad, he counts for both leagues after a midseason trade.  Frieri has allowed a mind-boggling 27 runs in only 33.1 innings, for an ERA of 7.29.  How he managed to save 11 games is beyond me.