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

Always Look On The Bright Side!

Upper Deck Insight 3 July 2015 | 0 Comments

brightside

Oof.  That was a tough one.

After back-to-back series wins against Tampa Bay and Texas, the Jays welcomed the Worst Team in Professional Sports (AKA the Boston Red Sox) to Toronto for a four game series, looking to draw closer to first place and to drop Boston further in the cellar.

Instead, the WTIPS took three of four, to somehow cling to life this season.

It’s a disappointment, no doubt about it.  But it’s not the end of the world.  The Jays always struggle against Clay Buchholz, so Monday’s loss is understandable.  Marco Estrada was likely due for a bad outing after throwing so many pitches in past two starts, so we can forgive Tuesday.

And instead of being bummed out about last night’s clunker, I think we should be excited about it.  Everybody is due for a bad game once in a while, and it just so happened that most of the Blue Jays got their bad game out of the way last night at the same time.  This is a good thing.  Here’s why:

– Steve Delabar allowed 3 runs on 3 hits and a walk in 0.2 IP.  That is a terrible performance, but it is much better to have that happen in the 7th inning when down by four than in the 8th inning with a two run lead.  Right?  Right.

– Roberto Osuna allowed a rare run, but as with Delabar wouldn’t you rather he give up a run to make it 12-4 than to blow a one run lead in the 9th?  Thought so.

– Chris Colabello had a tough game, twice leaving the bases loaded and bungling several plays at 1B.  But again, he was due for some regression, so might as well get it out of the way in a laugher.

– The fifth starter (Matt Boyd) was absolutely shelled, and Jose Reyes went 0-for-6 and stranded 9 runners.  But wouldn’t you…uh…um…nevermind.  There’s no sugar coating those performances.

So pick your heads up Jays fans.  A bad game was coming at some point, and to have basically the entire team suck at the same time is a much better outcome than having one or two suck for several games straight.  That is how a team loses multiple games in a row.

Now it’s time to crush the Tigers.

The Week That Was: Week 12

Weekly Things 29 June 2015 | 0 Comments

Josh-Donaldson-dive-062415

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 12.

Week 12: June 22 – June 28

Record: 4 – 2

Season-to-date: 41 – 36

AL East: 4th, 1 GB of Baltimore/Tampa Bay

Wild Card: 0.5 GB of 2nd Wild Card (New York)

1. Huge Character Week

The Blue Jays have been red hot lately, with their 11-game winning streak producing some incredibly impressive baseball.  But for me, Toronto’s performance last week against Tampa Bay and Texas was even more impressive than their play during the win streak.  Despite losing two games, the Jays proved that they are a legitimate contender.  First, they won both series against good baseball teams, one a first place club and the other above .500.  Second, they won a series in Tampa Bay’s Tropicana Field, a place that has historically given Toronto fits.  Third, and most importantly, they won games without hitting.  Much has been made about the juggernaut offense, and for good reason, but much has also been made about the Blue Jays inability to win close games and games when that offense doesn’t produce.  Coming into the week, the Jays were 3-28 when scoring four or fewer runs, leading critics to say that they wouldn’t be able to win in the playoffs if they were to make it that far.  Well, the team responded with a 1-0 12-inning win on Wednesday and a gutty 3-2 win yesterday.  Obviously two wins won’t silence those critics (especially considering they lost two other games last week when scoring < 5 runs), but it is a start.  With the improvement in the rotation and the emergence of Osuna at the back end of the bullpen, we might start seeing Toronto win more of those types of games.

2. Nearly Perfect

On June 19th, Marco Estrada completely dominated the Orioles in Toronto, taking a no-hitter into the 8th inning.  It was the best start of his career, and Jays fans were hoping for something even half as good in his next start.  Well, we were treated to something even better.  On Wednesday afternoon in Tampa, Estrada was perfect through seven innings, retiring the 22 batters he faced.  He was aided by an absolutely terrific catch by Josh Donaldson, but mainly did it all himself.  After losing the perfecto on a weakly hit infield single to Logan Forsythe, Estrada retired four more batters to the finish the game with 8.2 IP, 2 H, 0 BB, and 10 K.  By Game Score (a Bill James metric) Estrada’s start earned a score of 90 making it the sixth best start of the season in all of baseball.  In his past two starts Marco has only surrendered 3 hits and 4 walks in 15.2 IP while striking out 16, and since being placed in the starting rotation he has a 3.90 ERA in 10 starts.  Five of his past six starts have been Quality Starts.  Out of nowhere, Marco Estrada is giving the Jays ace-like pitching at a time when they need it the most.

3. Our New Saviour?

The last time the Blue Jays had a truly dominant closer was probably way back in 2006, when B.J. Ryan posted 38 saves with a 1.37 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, and 10.7 K/9.  Jeremy Accardo, Kevin Gregg, Jason Frasor, and Casey Janssen put up some solid years afterwards, but none of them possessed the flame-throwing, hit-and-miss stuff that made you fully confident that they could nail down a save in a one run game.  I’m hesitant to call Roberto Osuna the Jays next real-deal closer (especially seeing what happened to Miguel Castro a few short months ago), but through two appearances as the team’s closer Osuna is instilling the kind of confidence in fans not seen in these parts since the days of Ryan, Ward, and Henke.  On Monday he was called upon for a two inning save, and responded by striking out five of the six hitters he faced.  Then yesterday he was brought in with two runners on base in a one-run game in the 8th, and responded by striking out Shin-Soo Choo before retiring the Rangers in the 9th.  Two save opportunities, two saves.  With a 2.02 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, and 42 K in 35.2 IP, Osuna is making a case to stick around as closer for a lot longer.

Player of the Week

Marco Estrada, SP

What a performance on Wednesday: 8.2 IP, 2 H, 0 BB, 10 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.23 WHIP

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 37 – 39, 4th place

AA – New Hampshire: 35 – 38, 5th place

A+ – Dunedin: First Half (complete): 32 – 38, 5th place; Second Half: 1-3, 6th place

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

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: 6-5, T-2nd place

The Look Ahead

The Red Sox hit Toronto for Canada Day, followed by a visit to long-time rivals Detroit.

June 29 – July 2 vs Boston

July 3-5 at Detroit

What’s the Deal With Colabello???

Upper Deck Insight 26 June 2015 | 0 Comments

chris_colabello_3584.jpg

What a wild ride it was on Wednesday afternoon.  Marco Estrada took a perfect game into the eighth inning.  Josh Donaldson made one of the greatest catches in the history of the franchise.  The Blue Jays squandered prime scoring chances again and again, and then the Rays immediately followed by squandering prime scoring chances of their own.

The game was finally won in the 12th inning on a solo blast by Chris Colabello, the man who is quickly turning into both a myth and a legend in Toronto.

Colabello was picked up on waivers from Minnesota on December 8th with little to no fanfare.  Part of that was because the move came three weeks after the Russell Martin signing, 10 days after the Donaldson trade, and 5 days after the Saunders trade, so it clearly underwhelmed in comparison.  But the other part was that Colabello was thought to be simply a player to add depth, either to the bench or to AAA Buffalo.

Nobody envisioned this type of outbreak, especially when he began the season in the minor leagues.  But on May 5th, Jonathan Diaz was sent back to the Bisons and Colabello was called up to join the Blue Jays.  He made his season debut that night in LF, and went 2-for-4 at the plate, with a double, a run scored, an an RBI.  The next day he went 4-for-4 with a double, 2 runs, and an RBI, and he simply hasn’t stopped hitting since.  In fact, he has registered a hit in 37 of his 44 games, including a season high 18 game hitting streak.

After Wednesday’s game in Tampa, Colabello’s numbers are unreal.  He sports a .343 / .383 / .512 / .894 slash line, with 6 HR, 27 RBI, 2 SB, and 11 2B.  He also has an offensive WAR of 1.6, good enough for 30th in the American League, and he’s compiled that in a fraction of the games of the 29 guys ahead of him.  In short, he has been outstanding.

But the biggest question on everybody’s mind is this: how long will it last?  There are two very convincing arguments that the good times will be winding down fairly soon for our hero.

BABIP

BABIP, or Batting Average on Balls In Play, measures how often a ball in play goes for a hit.  It is an attempt to measure how lucky a player is by removing walks, strikeouts, and home runs from the equation.  In general, the league average BABIP is right around .300, though for individual players it can be much higher depending on the type of player they are.  Speedy players can likely beat out more groundballs, and players who hit hard line drives are more likely to find holes than weaker hitters.  Currently Colabello’s BABIP is a whopping .445, the highest (by far) in the major leagues for players with at least 150 plate appearances, and miles above both the .298 league average and Colabello’s own career average of .285 (before 2015).  This suggests that he has been the recipient of a lot batting luck: ground balls finding holes, bloopers landing in between infielders and outfielders, and fly balls finding gaps more often than the average player.  Over the long haul, luck tends to even out.

Track Record

Nobody is going to confuse Colabello with Josh Donaldson, Albert Pujols, or Adrian Gonzalez, the players closest to him in OPS this season.  For his career prior to this season, Colabello put up an OPS of .649 and a batting average of .214.  and has never appeared in 60 games in a single MLB season.  There is no evidence in his career that suggests he can keep this pace up.

But before everybody gets all upset and down and yells at me for trying to ruin the good times, let’s all remember this: baseball is a funny game.  It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that Colabello can keep this type of production going.  Why do I say that?  Here are a few reasons:

Sample Size

Baseball, more than any other game, is all about sample size.  In a 162 game season, 44 games and 183 plate appearances are not exactly a huge sample size.  But here’s the thing: they aren’t exactly a small sample size either.  It’s  basically a third of the schedule.  Colabello has put up hot stretches in the past (in 2014 he had a .962 OPS through 20 games), but has never sustained a streak this long.  The fact that he started out hot, and has remained hot for this long, has to at least suggest that he has maybe, potentially, figured something out.  The fact that he is still hitting has to count for something.

Advanced Stats

We’ve already talked about Colabello’s BABIP, but a deeper look at some more advanced stats at least gives us hope that a potential regression might not be as bad as we think.  According to Fangraphs batted ball statistics, Colabello is hitting line drives at a 28.8% rate, significantly above his career mark of 13.7% coming into the season.  Line drive hitters are much more likely to be able to sustain a higher BABIP, which is a positive, as is the fact that his 28.8% rate would be good enough for 5th overall in baseball if he qualified.  In terms of hit location, he has been spraying the ball all over the field (31.2% pull, 27.2% opposite, 41.6% centre), meaning he isn’t at risk to be shifted against by opposing fielders.  Finally, Fangraphs classifies 30.4% of his balls in play as being hard hit (and 52.0% as medium hit).  A hard hit line drive clearly as a better chance of landing for a hit, and while 30.4% doesn’t land him near the top of the leaderboard (where Giancarlo Stanton is perched at 50%), it does put him in line with guys like Adrian Beltre, Adam Jones, Jason Kipnis, and Hanley Ramirez – pretty good company.

The Blue Jay Effect

Maybe, just maybe, there is something about Toronto that brings out the best in hitters.  Jose Bautista had a career .729 OPS before breaking out in 2010.  Edwin Encarnacion had a career .789 OPS before breaking out in 2012.  Maybe some of the Rogers Centre magic has rubbed off on Colabello, making him the latest reclamation project to wear a Blue Jay uniform.

There’s no telling what the future may bring.

But one thing should be clear: even if a slump is coming, Colabello has proven that he belongs.

The Week That Was: Week 11

Weekly Things 23 June 2015 | 0 Comments

bauisback

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 11.

Week 11: June 15 – June 21

Record: 3 – 4

Season-to-date: 37 – 34

AL East: 4th, 3 GB of Tampa Bay

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

1. Missed Opportunity

It had to end sometime, and it finally did last Monday, as an extra innings loss to the Mets brought Toronto’s record-tying winning streak to an end.  I’ve always believed that the sign of a good team is a solid, positive response at the end of a long streak, and that is exactly what the Blue Jays did.  After losing on Tuesday in New York, they ripped off three straight wins to start a brand new streak, and looked to have a chance to make it five in a row, and cause some further damage to Baltimore in the process.  But things didn’t quite work out that way, as the Jays missed some golden opportunities on Saturday and Sunday.  Saturday’s loss was the most egregious, with Toronto loading the bases with nobody out in the bottom of the 8th, only to come away empty handed.  Blown chances like that rarely go unpunished, and Baltimore punished the Jays with three in the 9th.  Sunday was a similar story.  After falling behind 7-0, the Jays roared back to take a 9-7 lead, only to watch again as Baltimore tied it then erupted for four in the 9th to win it.  All losses hurt, but under the circumstances, those two sting a little bit extra.

2. Bullpen Blues

The Blue Jays bullpen has been much maligned in 2015, earning a reputation as the worst in the game.  In reality, this is not the case, as the relief corps ranks middle of the pack in ERA despite being badly overworked due to poor starting pitching.  In addition, their AL leading 12 blown saves are a bit misleading as not all came while leading in the ninth inning.  But let’s be honest – the ‘pen leaves a lot to be desired, and nowhere was that more evident than this past week.  There were two blown saves (Monday and Sunday), and two ninth inning implosions, ruining what very well could have been a 6-1 week.  To be fair it’s not everybody – Delabar, Osuna, and Hendriks have been great.  The main culprits seem to be the lefties.  Cecil, Loup, and Coke combined to surrender 13 earned runs, 3 walks, and 10 hits in only 6.1 IP last week, good for an ERA of 18.47 and a WHIP of 2.05.  For the season, each have an ERA right around 5.00 (4.88 for Loup, 5.68 for Coke, and a ghastly 5.96 for Cecil).  The 2015 Blue Jays have one of the most prolific offenses in decades, but are being sabotaged by their own relievers.  It’s time for a change.

3. One Crazy Game

There’s no secret that the Blue Jays and Orioles don’t like each other.  The rivalry stems back a few years but has exploded this season.  The key cog in the feud is Jose Bautista, and Baltimore’s continuing persistence on hitting him.  Recall earlier this year when Bautista was thrown at twice by Oriole pitching, and responded with home runs on each occasion.  Well, he didn’t get a chance to go deep on Friday, as he was plunked in the bottom of the first inning.  Bautista and Adam Jones got into a shouting match, Gibbons was ejected after warnings were issued to both benches, and then things went haywire.  Trailing 5-0 in the 8th the Orioles came alive to make a game of it, before Roberto Osuna was ejected for hitting Adam Jones.  The ejection was ludicrous (it brought the tying run to the plate), and also dropped the Jays down to their third string manager.  The fireworks continued in the 9th when Cecil hit Chris Parmalee, but thankfully cooler heads prevailed.  (Oh yeah – lost in the shuffle was the fact that Marco Estrada took a no-hitter into the 8th in the best start of his career).  The Jays and Orioles won’t meet again until September.  Mark that on your calendars.

Player of the Week

Jose Bautista, RF

He has awoken. 8 for 20, 3 HR, 11 RBI, 4 R, 9 BB, .400 / .581 / .950 / 1.531.

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 34 – 37, 3rd place

AA – New Hampshire: 31 – 37, 5th place

A+ – Dunedin: 31 – 37, 5th place

A – Lansing: 42 – 28 , 1st place

The Look Ahead

The Jays visit their house of horrors before coming home to face the surprising Rangers.

June 22-24 at Tampa Bay

June 26-28 vs. Texas

The Beast Has Awoken

Upper Deck Insight 19 June 2015 | 0 Comments

AL EAST LOGO

The Toronto Blue Jays are one of the hottest teams in baseball.  Yesterday’s 7-1 thumping of the Mets completed a mini two-game sweep of the New Yorkers by a combined score of 15-1, a small bit of revenge for two straight one-run losses in NY on Monday and Tuesday.  The win improved the Jays record to 36-32, and an impressive 13-2 in their past 15.

Normally a prolonged stretch of red hot play like this will push a team up the standings, helping them gain a big chunk of ground.  But a funny thing is happening to the Blue Jays.  Somehow, after going on a franchise record tear, they are virtually no better off in the standings than they were before:

standings comparison

That’s right: despite going 13-3 in June so far, the Jays have only gained one position in the standings, and shaved a mere 1.5 games off their deficit behind first.

Why?

Because the AL East has awoken, that’s why.

It wasn’t long ago that the AL East was often referred to as the AL Beast.  The division featured an annual spending spree and arms race between two of the richest clubs in the game, with the Yankees and Red Sox dominating the division and the rest of baseball as a whole.  Then in 2008 the Rays became good, and the next thing you knew, the East was the most complete and difficult division in baseball.

But things were supposed to change this year.  The Yankees were supposed to be old and fragile.  The Rays were decimated by injury and roster turnover.  The Orioles lost some big players.  The Red Sox had a long way to go after losing over 90 games last year.  The Jays had serious question marks all over the roster.  As seen by the standings above, the downfall of the AL East was evident.  As at May 31, the division was a combined 14 games under .500, and the leaders barely had their heads above water.

There were two schools of thought to what was happening.  The first, as described above, was that the teams in the division just weren’t very good.  The second, however, was a much different story.  The first two months of the season featured a heavy intra-division schedule.  Of the 254 games played by AL East teams, 57.5% of them were played against AL East rivals.  Essentially, the teams within the division were beating each other up.  Unlike a division like the NL Central that featured an amazing team (St. Louis) and an awful team (the Brewers), the AL East is balanced, which meant records around the .500 mark were to be expected.

The best way to tell for sure if the AL East stinks or not is to look at the records of its teams against teams outside of the division.  This factors out the “East beats up on itself” dialogue, and should tell us the real story.

division standings may31

Judging by the above table, the critics were right: at the end of May, the AL East sucked.  Teams were 14 games under .500 against the AL Central, AL West, and during Interleague play, better than only the NL East, a division weighed down by the lowly Phillies.

division standings since

But lo and behold, look at that.  As soon as the calendar turned to June, the beast has awoken.  At 44-20, the AL East is winning almost 70% of its games against the rest of baseball, led by Tampa Bay’s 12-5 record and Toronto’s 10-3 mark.  Even the cellar dwelling Red Sox have gone 7-4 in June against non-AL East teams (and a tidy 0-6 against the East itself).

division standings june18

According to the current standings, the AL East is the second best division in baseball, behind the NL Central.  Two teams (the Rays and Yankees) currently reside in playoff positions, with Toronto and Baltimore within two games of the second Wild Card spot.

So perhaps those critics writing off the division spoke a little too early.  Yes each of the teams still have their flaws, but as we approach the halfway point of the season it appears they have learned to overcome them.

How else could the Jays go 13-2 with erratic pitching and only gain a game-and-a-half?

The Week That Was: Week 10

Weekly Things 16 June 2015 | 0 Comments

russellmartin

photo from Getty Images

 

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 10.

Week 10: June 8 – June 14

Record: 6 – 0

Season-to-date: 34 – 30

AL East: 3rd, 1 GB of New York/Tampa Bay

Wild Card: 1 GB of 2nd Wild Card (New York/Tampa Bay)

1. The Streak

With Sunday’s destruction of the Red Sox, the Jays winning streak reached 11 straight, tying a franchise record set three times previously, and launching the team from a last place tie in the East, right up near the top of the American League standings.  The Blue Jays have transformed from a team with a great run differential that was badly underperforming into an offensive juggernaut that can do no wrong, seemingly overnight.  (Well, technically “overnap” is the correct word, after news leaked about a team nap in between the two games of a doubleheader in Washington triggering the win that started the streak).  What has been most impressive about the winning streak is that it’s not just one or two players carrying the team.  Everybody has been a hero, from the usual suspects like Bautista, Donaldson, and Reyes, to the rest of the guys, including Pillar, Goins, and the previously maligned bullpen.  Is this streak going to last forever?  No.  Did the team win games that they had no business winning?  Absolutely.  But who cares – they’ve won 11 in a row!  Let’s enjoy it while it lasts!

2. The Greatest Game

“We just knew we were gonna come back and win that ballgame.”  That famous quote was spoken by Ernie Whitt in the 1989 Blue Jays video Sky High, after Toronto came back from a 10-0 deficit to beat the Red Sox in Fenway Park.  After falling behind 8-1 to Boston on Friday night, it was almost as if Ernie’s spirit invaded the Blue Jays dugout.  In one of the greatest comebacks I have ever seen, Toronto came all the way back and beat the Red Sox 13-10 to save the streak and further bury Boston in last.  What was different about Friday, though, was that the Jays didn’t simply comeback and edge Boston for the win.  It felt like they blew them out.  That was likely a product of the 7th inning, that saw the Jays batter Boston pitching into submission.  They scored nine runs before a single out was recorded, turning an 8-4 deficit into a 13-8 lead.  The sight of John Farrell looking on, bewildered and demoralized, just added icing to the cake.

3. Bottom of the Order Joy

Coming into this season, one of the knocks on the Jays was that they had perhaps the very best top-6 in baseball, coupled with perhaps one of the worst bottom-3’s in all of baseball.  Over the long haul that may or may not be true, but during the six games last week the bottom third of order looked like world beaters.  Seven different players occupied the 7 / 8 / 9 spots in the lineup during the Miami and Boston series, and they torched opposing pitching.  Pillar, Carrera, Kawasaki, Navarro, Goins, Smoak, and Valencia combined to post a .324 average with 3 HR, 5 2B, 1 3B, 14 R, 21 RBI, and 3 SB.  It was light hitting Ryan Goins who did most of the damage on Sunday, lighting up the Red Sox for a career high 5 RBI.  We know that production like that won’t last, but it’s nice to see the little guys take some pressure off the big guys.

Player of the Week

Russell Martin, C

Martin broke out of a mini-slump in a huge way, with a huge bases clearing triple on Friday, and the game winning HR in extra innings on Saturday.  His line for the week: 9 for 21, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 9 R, 3 BB, .429 / .500 / .857 / 1.357.

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 31 – 33, 4th place

AA – New Hampshire: 29 – 34, 5th place

A+ – Dunedin: 29 – 34, 4th place

A – Lansing: 37 – 27 , T-1st place

The Look Ahead

A home-and-home with the Mets before returning back to face the AL East

June 15-16 at New York Mets

June 17-18 vs. New York Mets

June 19-21 vs. Baltimore

The Streak and The Anus

Upper Deck Insight 12 June 2015 | 3 Comments

streaking

The Streak

It wasn’t very long ago (last Wednesday as a matter of fact), when yours truly made a bold statement, declaring the come-from-behind 7-3 win over Max Scherzer and the Nationals a defining moment, and a season saving victory.

It also wasn’t very long ago (last Tuesday as a matter of fact), that yours truly issued a very prophetic Tweet:

navarro tweet

Now, I don’t want to call myself a genius, nor do I want to take full credit for Toronto’s turnaround, but let’s be honest for a second and put two and two together.  There’s a good chance that none of this happens without those magical words that I wrote.

Let’s talk a bit about the streak, starting with the facts:

– The Jays have picked up a game-and-a-half in the AL East, climbing to third place, just three games back of New York.  They have picked up four games in the Wild Card standings, and now sit just one back of the Rays.

– They have outscored their opponents 57-21

– On the offensive side of the ball, they have hit 14 homers, stolen 12 bases, and posted three wins when trailing in the sixth inning or later

– Starting pitchers have averaged just under 7 IP per start, and posted a 1.96 ERA

– Relievers have posted a 2.65 ERA

The streak has transformed the team from a last place club looking at a lost season back into a contender.

No matter how long the streak runs (here’s hoping it hits deep into double digits), the most important thing for the team is how they play after the streak comes to an end.  At 8-games and counting, the streak is approaching the all-time team record of 11-straight wins, accomplished three times in franchise history.  On each of those previous occasions, the team has gone flat immediately afterwards, giving back all momentum gained:

June 2 – 13, 1987 – after the 11th win the Jays were in first place, three games up.  They then lost two straight, four of five, and 15 of the next 21 games, to fall five games back of the AL East leader.

August 27-September 7, 1998 – after the 11th win the Jays sat five games back of the AL Wild Card spot.  They then lost two straight and 7 of 11 to fall out of contention.

June 11-24, 2013 – after the 11th win the Jays were two games over .500 and within 5 games of the AL East lead.  They then lost two straight, four of five, and 19 of the next 26 games to hit rock bottom.

Of those previous teams, it is the 2013 version that is strikingly similar to this team.  The Blue Jays were coming off a busy offseason that saw them emerge as favourites in the AL East, but struggled mightily with injury and underperforming players.  Sounds very familiar to 2015, but I think with players like Martin and Donaldson on the team, that history will not repeat itself.

The Anus

pap2

Look at that face.  It just screams “douche canoe”.

There is no secret that I am not, and never have been, a Jonathan Papelbon fan.  Everything from the way he pitches, to the stupid way he licks his lips, drives me nuts.  It’s the main reason I started referring to him as the Self Cleaning Anus.

With rumours flying that the Blue Jays and Phillies are engaging in “serious” talks about Papelbon, I can’t help but feel terrified about what would happen if he does indeed come to Toronto.  I would have to re-examine everything about my life!  It would shock my entire belief system!  I would have to re-learn what is right and wrong!

But as much as I loathe to admit it, there is no denying that even at 34 years of age, Papelbon remains an elite MLB pitcher.  In 24 IP this season he is sporting a 1.13 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, a 4.83 K/BB ratio, and is a perfect 12-for-12 in save opportunities.  Meanwhile, the Blue Jays ‘pen has a collective 3.70 ERA and an AL leading 10 blown saves.  Adding the Anus to the back of the bullpen would allow Brett Cecil to move back to a non-closer role (one that he is probably better suited for anyways), and could allow to Gibbons to rely a little bit less on Osuna.

Of course, the Jays would have to give something up to bring him in, and there is that pesky little thing called money that might get in the way.  Papelbon would be owed the remainder of his $13-million salary this year, and has a vesting option for 2016 that would see him owed an additional $13-million if he finishes 100 games in ’14 and ’15 combined (he is currently at 74).  That might be too rich for Rogers.

But if Anthopoulos, Beeston, and the rest of the Jays braintrust can find a way to fit the dollars into the budget and not deal away a top prospect, there is no denying that Papelbon would immensely help the team.

I can’t believe I’m about to say this: I’d never go out and buy his jersey, but seeing Papelbon in Toronto blue would be OK with me.

And if he were to help end the long playoff drought?

I might even consider to stop calling him The Anus.

The Week That Was: Week 9

Weekly Things 8 June 2015 | 0 Comments

cc walkoff

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 9.

Week 9: June 1 – June 7

Record: 5 – 1

Season-to-date: 28 – 30

AL East: 3rd, 4.5 GB of New York

Wild Card: 3 GB of 2nd Wild Card (Tampa Bay)

1. On a Roll!

It took a while, but the Blue Jays are finally hot!  After bottoming out with a flat and uninspiring 2-0 loss to Washington in the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader, Toronto has now won five straight games to close to within two games of .500 and three of the Wild Card leaders.  This current hot streak has seen the Jays win in a variety of ways.  There have been clutch comebacks, such as Tuesday’s fight back against Scherzer and the Nationals.  They have won with power, smoking 8 HR in the five games.  They have won with pitching, surrendering a total of only 13 runs, and having the starters average 7 innings per start.  And they have won via the walk-off, plating three runs in the bottom of the 9th yesterday to stun the Astros.  What was most impressive about the streak was the quality of competition, as both Washington and Houston were first place clubs when each series began.  With Reyes and Bautista starting to wake up, the rotation coming around, and Chris Colabello continuing to do his best DiMaggio impression, this streak may have some staying power.

2. Jose and Jose

Maybe the Blue Jays should aggravate Jerry Howarth more often.  Toronto’s radio voice oddly called out Jose Reyes last week, telling radio listeners that the SS was in decline and that the Jays would be better off starting Ryan Goins in his place.  The rant was a bit bizarre, especially considering Howarth’s normally calm and positive demeanour.  But the comments seemed to light a fire under Reyes.  In Toronto’s five game winning streak, Reyes has been on fire, posting a .409 average and 1.004 OPS, with a home run, 6 RBI and 5 SB.  Meanwhile, the other Jose has been rejuvenated since returning to right field, erasing all memories of his slow start.  During the winning streak he has one-upped Reyes, posting a .421 average and 1.594 OPS, swatting 4 HR and even stealing a couple of bases on his own.  Bautista now has an 11 game hitting streak dating back to May 26, and is looking more and more like the AL’s most feared slugger with each passing day.

3. Turning Back the Clock

Mark Buehrle got off to such a poor start this year that he had people questioning whether he still deserved a roster spot.  Through his first five starts he had a 6.75 ERA, and had surrendered 47 hits in only 28 innings.  It looked like father time was catching up to him.  But the last six starts have seen Buehrle turn things around in a big way, looking more like the All-Star pitcher he was in his younger days.  He has gone 4-2 in that stretch with a 2.84 ERA and only a .209 batting average against, dropping the number of hits allowed to a mere 0.74 per inning.  More impressively, he has tossed back-to-back complete games, including a CG shutout of the Nationals on Wednesday.  His scoreless inning streak sits at 17.  Now if only some of that old man magic can rub off on Dickey….

Player of the Week

Jose Bautista, RF

Reyes and Buehrle both deserve honourable mentions, but Bautista wins the award hands down: 9 for 23, 4 HR, 6 RBI, 9 R, 5 BB, 2 SB, .391 / .500 / .913 / 1.413.

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 28 – 29, 3rd place

AA – New Hampshire: 26 – 30, 5th place

A+ – Dunedin: 24 – 32, 6th place

A – Lansing: 33 – 24 , 1st place

The Look Ahead

Back to Fenway to crush the Red Sox!

June 8-10 vs. Miami

June 12-14 at Boston

In Hindsight: Looking Back at Past Drafts

Upper Deck Insight 5 June 2015 | 0 Comments

hindsight

With the 2015 MLB draft only a few days away (the first round kicks off on Monday) it’s time to continue a 500 Level Fan tradition and take a look back at some prior MLB drafts to see how well the Blue Jays – and the rest of MLB – fared.  We will do this using the greatest tool of all: hindsight.  As any fan knows, baseball is entirely different when it comes to drafting players.  There are so many minor league levels and such a large player pool to draw from, not to mention things like signability issues and slot bonuses. It’s not rare in baseball for the best available player to not go first overall, just as it’s not rare for players to take years to make the major leagues.  So let’s take a look back at the 2010, 2005, and 2000 MLB drafts (5, 10, and 15 years ago). Armed with hindsight, which is always 20/20, we can see how the draft order might have changed knowing how careers played out.

Note – I used Baseball Reference’s WAR stat to rank the players, and my re-ranked top-10 list doesn’t take into account things like signability issues, team needs, or draft strategy (i.e. high school vs. college). I simply re-ranked the drafted players based on career WAR (Note: Career WAR totals are as of May 28).

2010 Draft

As mentioned above, it often takes several years for drafted players to reach the major leagues. Five years have passed since the ’10 draft, and while many of the drafted players are still young, one would expect the top talents to have found their way to the big leagues by now.

Here are the top-10 picks of the 2010 draft:

2010 Draft

Even if Bryce Harper turned out to be a bust, I don’t think anybody could fault the Washington Nationals for picking him first overall.  He was one of the most hyped prospects in decades, landing on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a 16-year old kid.  To date he has not disappointed.  He won the Rookie of the Year award in 2012, and currently leads the league in R, HR, BB, OBP, SLG, OPS, and OPS+.  Manny Machado and Matt Harvey have also turned into stud players, but the rest of the top-10 leaves a lot to be desired.  Taillon reached AAA in 2013 before Tommy John surgery cost him the entire ’14 season.  Barret Loux has had health issues and has not pitched since 2013, and Karsten Whitson did not sign with the Padres, was re-drafted by Boston in 2014, and has not pitched above A ball.  Pomeranz, DeShields, and Choice have all been dealt to different organizations, and Colon is a bit player in KC.

This is what the the top-10 looks like with the magic of hindsight, based on career WAR:

2010 Redux

As you can see, five years after the 2010 draft, only a handful of true stars have emerged: Sale, Harper, Machado, and maybe Harvey.  Simmons is a solid player but the majority of his career WAR is from his defense, not his bat, and the rest of players look to be solid major leaguers, but not future All-Stars.  The one guy who could challenge that claim is 2014 ROY winner Jacob deGrom, who is off to a solid start this year (6-4, 2.41 ERA, 71 K in 71 IP) – not bad for the 272nd overall pick.

Blue Jay Focus

The 2010 draft was Toronto’s first under Alex Anthopoulos, and aside from the first pick, has turned out to be pretty good.  Aaron Sanchez is cemented in the 2015 rotation and has the potential to be one of the AL’s best.  Unfortunately, one of the other top players taken is now plying his trade with another team.  The biggest what-if moment came in the 18th round when the Jays selected current Chicago Cubs phenom Kris Bryant.  Bryant chose not to sign with Toronto in order to pursue a college career, and is now, of course, mashing for the Cubs.  If only….

First Round Pick: Deck McGuire (11th overall) – Career WAR: 0.0

Total Number of Picks: 56

Number of Players to Reach the Majors: 7

– Deck McGuire – now in AA in the Dodgers organization (11th), WAR of 0.0

– Aaron Sanchez (34th, supplemental first round pick), WAR of 1.8

– Noah Syndergaard – now with NY Mets (38th, supplemental first round pick), WAR of 0.0

– Asher Wojciechowski – now with Houston (41st), WAR of -0.3

– Sam Dyson – now with Miami (126th), WAR of 0.7

– Sean Nolin – now in AA with Oakland (186th), WAR of -0.4

– Dalton Pompey (486th), WAR of 0.4

– Kris Bryant – did not sign, now with Chi Cubs (546th), WAR of 1.4

Total WAR = 3.6

2005 Draft

The 2005 draft has been called the greatest draft of all time by many baseball experts.  Looking back at the ‘draft ten years later, you’ll see several superstar players still in their prime.  Unfortunately, none of those stars are in Toronto.

Here are the top-10 picks of the 2005 draft:

2005 Draft

Upton.  Gordon.  Zimmerman.  Braun.  Tulowitzki.  Those five have combined for 11 Silver Slugger awards, 7 Gold Gloves, 14 All-Star appearances, 1  Rookie of the Year award, 1 MVP, and 20 top-5 MVP finishes.  Not bad.  Even Maybin and Pelfrey have been solid big leaguers, and before labeling Ricky Romero a bust, Jays fans should remember that he made the All-Star team and finished 10th in Cy Young voting in 2011.  The only two true busts are Wade Townsend and Jeff Clement.  Townsend never rose above AA, left baseball in 2010 and is now a professional poker player.  Clement played 152 big league games for Seattle and Pittsburgh, before officially retiring in 2014.

With the magic of hindsight, here is a re-ranked version of the 2005 draft, based on career WAR:

2005 Redux

That right there shows why ’05 is considered one of the greatest drafts ever.  Aside from the top-10, you have Andrew McCutchen (the 2013 MVP), Jacoby Ellsbury, and Brett Gardner.  Buster Posey and Tim Lincecum, two key cogs of the recent Giants dynasty, were also both drafted in later rounds, but neither player signed.  Still – a very impressive overall draft.

Blue Jay Focus

The 2005 draft was completed under the guidance of J.P. Ricciardi, and to be blunt, it was terrible.  Aside from Romero, only two players that Ricciardi selected ever made the major leagues, and one of them (Brett Wallace – yes, that Brett Wallace) didn’t even sign with the team and re-entered the draft.

First Round Pick: Ricky Romero (6th overall) – Career WAR: 9.7

Total Number of Picks: 49

Number of Players to Reach the Majors: 3

– Ricky Romero – now in the minors with San Francisco (6th), WAR of 9.7

– Robert Ray – now out of baseball (206th), WAR of 0.1

– Brett Wallace – did not sign, now in AAA in San Diego (1253rd), WAR of -0.5

Total WAR = 9.3

2000 Draft

In stark contrast to the 2005 draft, we have the 2000 draft.  As a whole, the draft was OK, but when looking at only the top-10?  Yikes.

Here are the top-10 picks of the 2000 draft:

2000 Draft

One player – just one, single, solitary player – from the top-10 is still playing in the big leagues, but at least it’s a good one.  Adrian Gonzalez has been a superstar for a long time, but unfortunately for the Marlins, not for them.  Florida dealt him to the Rangers for Ugueth Urbina (who helped the Marlins win the World Series so it wasn’t a total bust), who then traded him to the Padres, who then dealt him to the Red Sox, who in turn traded him to the Dodgers.  Rocco Baldelli had a decent run with the Rays, but that’s about it for the ’00 top-10.  Half of the selections never even made the major leagues, and the other three that did put up numbers worse than replacement level.

Here is a re-ranked version of the 2000 draft, based on career WAR:

2000 Redux

That’s better.  After most of the top-10 whiffed on their picks, the rest of the draft produced some solid players.  There are World Series champions (Utley, Wainwright, Molina), Cy Young winners (Lee, Webb), and HR Kings (Bautista), not to mention Gonzalez and James Shields.  Ian Kinsler and current Jay Russell Martin were both selected in the later rounds, but neither signed and both went back in the draft.

Blue Jay Focus

Gord Ash was the man in charge of the Jays in 2000, and was responsible for putting together an absolutely awful draft.  Only Dustin McGowan made much of an impact, but injuries derailed his career before it even got started.  Ash used his first pick on Miguel Negron, a player who never made the majors and put up a career .687 OPS in the minor leagues.  Do over please!

First Round Pick: Miguel Negron (18th overall) – Career WAR: 0.0

Total Number of Picks: 52

Number of Players to Reach the Majors: 5

– Dustin McGowan – now in AAA with Philadelphia (33rd), WAR of 1.8

– Mike Smith – now out of baseball (148th), WAR of -0.5

– Rich Thompson – now out of baseball (178th), WAR of -0.5

– Vinnie Chulk – now out of baseball (358th), WAR of 1.4

– Cody Clark – did not sign, now out of baseball (1404th), WAR of -0.2

Total WAR = 2.0

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