Baltimore and Toronto: Lucky or Good?

Upper Deck Insight 29 June 2016 | 0 Comments

blanche showalter

It is June 29th, and the Baltimore Orioles are separating themselves from the rest of the American League East.  After winning again in San Diego last night, Baltimore now sits 4.5 games up on Boston and 5.5 ahead of Toronto.  They have won 6 games in a row and show no signs of slowing down.

On the surface this Orioles team looks fearsome, a daunting challenge for the Jays to try and track down.  They have 123 home runs – the most in the majors.  They have the 3rd best team OPS in all of baseball at .807.  They have the 3rd best bullpen ERA in baseball.  They are also full of star players like Manny Machado, Chris Davis, and Adam Jones.

But is Baltimore really that good?  Or have they just been extraordinarily lucky with the timing of their schedule?  Granted, you still have to win the games put in front of you, but doesn’t it always seem that while the Blue Jays are playing teams in the middle of winning streaks the Orioles are battling teams that are hitting rock bottom?

I decided to expand on the post I wrote last week about Toronto’s rotten and unlucky timing, and apply it to the Orioles as well.  I wanted to see if the assumption made above was actually true.  Are the Baltimore Orioles benefiting as much from who they are playing as they are from how they are playing?

The answer is a resounding yes.

To prove it, I took a look at each and every series that both Baltimore and Toronto have played, and created a simple formula to compare the difficulty of their opponents.  The day that a series against a new opponent begins, I calculated the strength of that opponent based on the following:

– plus or minus 1 point for every game above or below .500 on the season

– plus or minus 1 point for every game above or below .500 in the past 5 games

– plus or minus 1 point for every game above or below .500 in the past 10 games

– plus or minus the opponent’s current streak

For example, if upon entering a series a team was 15-14 on the season, 3-2 in its past 5, 5-5 in its past 10, and riding a 3 game winning streak, they would earn a score of 5 (1 for the season record, 1 for the past 5 game record, 0 for the past 10 game record, and 3 for the winning streak).  The higher the score, the more difficult the opponent.  Simple.

Including the current matchups (Toronto visiting Colorado and Baltimore visiting San Diego) both the Jays and O’s have played 25 series in 2016.  The total sum of opponent difficulties?  Not even close:

Toronto +80

Baltimore -53

To summarize things, I classified each series into a Neutral, Hard, or Easy rating.  Any opponent with a negative double digit score was considered an easy opponent.  Anything in positive double digits was considered hard.  Anything in between was considered neutral.  The overall breakdown is heavily skewed in Baltimore’s favour:

strength

That’s right – the Blue Jays have played in almost twice as many “hard” series and three-and-a-half times fewer “easy” series.  A quick comparison of the details behind the hard and easy series will bring home the point more clearly:

Toronto – Hard Opponents

Jays Strength of opponent

Baltimore – Hard Opponents

Orioles opponent strength

As you can see, the June 17th series was played against each other so in reality the Jays have played six difficult series to Baltimore’s three.  As is also evident from the chart, timing is everything.  Whereas a series against Oakland right now might be seen as relatively easy given the A’s are 9 games under .500, back on April 22nd it definitely was not.  At that time Oakland was 9-7 on the season, 5-0 in the past 5, 6-4 in the past 10, and riding a 5-game winning streak.  Similarly, as demonstrated by the Yankees series on May 24th, a team doesn’t even need to be above .500 to be considered difficult.  Though New York was only 21-22, they were also riding a 5-game win streak and were 5-0 and 7-3 in their recent stretch.   Not easy at all.

The overall records in those games?

Toronto: 11 – 11

Baltimore: 8 – 6

Toronto – Easy Opponents

Jays easy opponents

Baltimore – Easy Opponents

Baltimore easy opponents

This where the comparison really gets interesting.  The Blue Jays have only played two series that could be considered easy.  Minnesota and Philadelphia are weak teams to begin with, and both were struggling mightily when they played the Jays.  But that’s been it for weak opponents.  Baltimore, on the other hand, has played a weak opponent seven times!  And not all of them have been bad teams.  They played the Yankees a few weeks before the Blue Jays did, only instead of New York being red hot they were ice cold: 8-15 and losers of 5-straight.  When Toronto played Oakland on April 22, the A’s were on fire.  Two weeks later the Orioles played an A’s team that had lost 4-straight and was 3-7 in its past 10.  They also were given a chance to play a Rays team and an Astros team that were in deep, deep slumps.

The overall records in these “easy” games?

Toronto: 6 – 2

Baltimore: 14 – 7

Overall, both teams are holding their own in games against difficult opponents and both teams are beating up on the weak teams.  The biggest difference is that the Jays have played 13 fewer games against chumps, and 8 more games against champs.

To further illustrate the differences in schedules, consider this:

– The combined record of Baltimore’s opponents at the time of each series is 461 – 480, 19 games under .500.  The combined record of Toronto’s opponents in 480 – 452, 28 games over .500.

– The Blue Jays have played against a first place team 8 times.  Baltimore?  Just 4.

– Baltimore, on the other hand, has played against a last place team 6 times.  Toronto?  Only once.

So the next time you take a look at the standings and see the Jays behind the Orioles, remember one thing: Baltimore isn’t exactly a powerhouse.  This exercise has determined that while they may be a good team, they are definitely not perfect – just a team that has fattened up its record against a bunch of also-rans.

For the Blue Jays, this means one thing:

The Orioles can be caught.

This season is nowhere near over.

The Week That Was: Week 12

Weekly Things 28 June 2016 | 0 Comments

mlbf_85006783_th_45

Every Monday during the 2016 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 20 – June 26

Record: 2 – 3

Season-to-date: 41 – 36

AL East: 3rd, 5 games behind Baltimore

Wild Card: 0.5 games ahead of Kansas City

  1. Return of the Funk

The Jays were on a great run through most of June, but over the past week and a half things have taken a downward turn.  Toronto finished a series in Baltimore with two straight losses, and then sputtered last week, alternating wins and losses against Arizona and Chicago.  When all was said and done, they finished the week having dropped five of the past seven games, falling five back of the Orioles.  There hasn’t been just one reason behind the slump either.  The hitting has been inconsistent, with the Jays unable to drive in runners in scoring position.  Double plays have been particularly crushing.  The starting pitching has been problematic, with Stroman continuing to struggle and Dickey surrendering home runs like crazy.  And injuries have crept up, with Bautista and Floyd hitting the DL and Donaldson battling some soreness.  Toronto is five games into a stretch of 30 games outside the AL East.  They need to start getting some wins before the rivals come back around.

  1. Travis on a Tear

Although the team as a whole has slipped a bit lately, the same can’t be said for Devon Travis.  He made his season debut on May 25 and struggled at first, as one would expect from a guy who missed all of Spring Training and the last half of 2015.  But he seems to have shaken off the rust now.  After an 0-1 performance on June 11 dropped his average to .145 and OPS to .423, Travis has taken off.  In his past 12 games he has gone 19 for 47 with 3 HR, 5 doubles, and 11 RBI, raising his season average and OPS to .265 and .717 respectively.  He has impressed John Gibbons so much that the skipper has moved him up to the top of the lineup, trusting him to set the table for Donaldson and Encarnacion.  With Bautista out injured and Tulowitzki just getting himself back in the lineup, the Jays can use some consistency up top.  Travis is giving them exactly that.

  1. One Crazy, Crazy Game

There’s really no other way to describe what happened on Saturday afternoon in Chicago than to call it crazy.  It’s not often that you see one team’s pitching staff battered as thoroughly as the Blue Jays yet come away with the victory.  The Chicago White Sox crushed seven (7!!!) home runs but came out on the wrong end of a 10-8 scoreline.  The game saw many wild and wacky moments, including a bizarre second inning that featured R.A. Dickey striking out the side yet also giving up back-to-back-to-back homers to Brett Lawrie, Dioner Navarro, and J.B. Shuck.  Lawrie’s home run will go down as an inside-the-park job after the ball bounced off the top of the fence but stayed in play – unbeknownst to Blue Jays outfielders who gave up on it after hearing the umpire signal HR.  For all the fireworks, it will go down as a wire-to-wire Toronto victory, but it certainly had the feeling of a game Toronto had no business winning.  Very, very bizarre.

Player of the Week

Troy Tulowitzki, SS

Off the DL and starting to hit again: 6 for 17, 3 R, 1 2B, 2 HR, 4 RBI, .353 / .421 / .765 / 1.186

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 43 – 34, 4th place, 2 GB

AA – New Hampshire: 32 – 42, 4th place, 20 GB

A+ – Dunedin: First Half: 33 – 36, 5th place; Second Half: 3 – 1, 2nd place, 1 GB

A – Lansing: First Half: 36 – 34, T-5th place; Second Half: 4 – 0, T1st place

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: 6 – 4, T-1st

The Look Ahead

Tulo returns to Colorado before the red-hot Indians visit Toronto on Canada Day.

June 27 – 29 at Colorado

June 30 – July 3 vs. Cleveland

Timing is Everything

Upper Deck Insight 23 June 2016 | 0 Comments

timing

Some things in baseball will never change.  Games played on grass will always be better than games played on turf.  The Rogers Centre will always be better when the roof is open.  Jonathan Papelbon will always be the worst.

And fans everywhere will always gripe about the unfairness of the schedule.

In the early 2000’s it was Jays fans who hated the unbalanced schedule, as Toronto was forced to play 38 games a year against the two biggest powerhouses in the game, while teams in other divisions could load up against teams like the 100-loss Tigers, or the awful Rangers.  This year I’m sure Pirates fans are unhappy about having to play 38 against the Cubs and Cardinals while the Mets – a team they are battling against for a Wild Card – plays 38 against Philadelphia and Atlanta.

But there is another part about the schedule that can also play havoc with teams records, and it has nothing to do with divisional play or interleague imbalance.  It is all about timing.

Everybody can agree that the Atlanta Braves are one of the worst (if not the worst) team in baseball this year, but don’t tell that to the Marlins this week, who opened up a two game series against a Braves team that had won 5-straight games.  They promptly made it 6-in-a-row by taking game 1.

Yes, even the worst teams in baseball can catch fire, just like the best teams can struggle.  The truly random aspect of when those things happen, however, can completely alter a team’s schedule.  A series that may have been penciled in as “easy” might not be so simple if the opponent is red hot.

The Blue Jays have played 23 series in 2016.  Not counting the first series of the year against Tampa Bay, when every team in baseball was tied for first, the Jays have played a first place team eight times:

– April 19th series vs. Baltimore

– April 25th series vs. Chicago White Sox

– May 2nd series vs. Texas

– May 9th series vs. San Francisco

– May 27th series vs. Boston

– June 3rd series vs. Boston

– June 9th series vs. Baltimore

– June 17th series vs. Baltimore

An additional four series have been played against second place teams.

Some other wonky stats that the Jays have faced include:

– Six times they have opened a series against a team riding a winning streak of 3 or more games

– Nine times they have opened a series against a team that had won 4 of its previous 5 games

– Five times they have opened a series against a team that had won 7 of its previous 10 games

– 15 times they have opened a series against a team with a .500 or better record

To me, that is a tough, tough road.  But it has been even tougher.  Even some of the series that could have potentially been seen as “easy” have come at bad times.  Toronto faced Oakland in late April when the A’s were on a five game winning streak.  They played the underachieving Yankees beginning May 24th when New York had won five straight.  The up and down  Tigers hosted Toronto at a time when they were definitely up, having won three straight and four of five.  And in the series that just concluded at the dome, the badly flopping Diamondbacks came in on a four game win streak and 7-3 in the past 10.

Only twice this year can the Jays say that they have played a team that was truly in the dumps: the series’ against Minnesota (L3, 2-8 in past 10) and Philadelphia (L4, 3-7 in past 10).

And it doesn’t get any better for the Blue Jays.  They head to Chicago to open up a 3-game set against the White Sox this weekend, and face a team that has self-destructed since the last time they met.  In late April, the Sox were 13-6 and in first place when they came to Toronto and swept the Jays.  However, Chicago is just 9-18 in its past 27 games, a mark that is one of the worst in baseball and has seen them plummet to 4th place.

But, keeping true to form, the Jays visit them at a time when they appear to be pulling out of their funk.  Entering this afternoon’s game, the White Sox have won three straight games against Boston, ensuring that they will be hot when Toronto comes to town.

Timing is everything in baseball, and unfortunately for the Blue Jays, they have been on the rotten end of a lot of it.

Knowing this, their 40-34 record looks a whole lot better.

The Week That Was: Week 11

Weekly Things 20 June 2016 | 0 Comments

Michael_Saunders

Every Monday during the 2016 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 13 – June 19

Record: 4 – 3

Season-to-date: 39 – 33

AL East: 3rd, 3 games behind Baltimore

Wild Card: 0.5 games behind Kansas City

  1. Down Goes Bau

Just when everything seemed to be going Toronto’s way, along came news that Jose Bautista was going on the DL.  In what looked like an innocent play, Bau hyperextended his left big toe after crashing into the outfield wall against Philadelphia and was placed on the 15-day DL the next day.  By most statistics Bautista is having a down year in 2016.  He only has 12 HR, a .230 batting average, and is striking out more than usual.  But there’s no denying the presence he brings to the Jays lineup.  He also is getting on base a ton, leading the AL in walks at the time of his injury.  It took almost two full months for the Jays to finally start clicking and it’s a shame that a key piece has gone down right when they hit their stride.  Let’s hope he’s not out for long.

  1. About Time

The Blue Jays entered 2016 with the most fearsome offense in the game, with expectations of bludgeoning opponents to death day in and day out.  Then they suddenly stopped hitting.  A team that was expected to put up 10-run games quite often had only reached double digits twice by June 10th.  Well, it seems like things are finally happening.  The Jays erupted for 10+ runs twice against Baltimore, before reaching that plateau three more times last week.  On Tuesday they destroyed the Phillies 11-3 then fully crushed them again on Thursday 13-2.  They followed that up by slaughtering the Orioles in Baltimore 13-3 on Friday night.  Toronto scored 52 runs in seven games, and that includes being shutout on Monday night.  It took over 60 games but it seems that the bats are finally catching up to the arms.

  1. Saunders Erupts

Quick – who leads the Jays in average, OBP, SLG, OPS, is tied for first in doubles, and is third in HR?  If you guessed Edwin, Jose, or Josh, you’re wrong.  The answer is Michael Saunders, the Canadian who was an afterthought entering 2016 and was almost dumped to the Reds in spring training.  Very quietly Saunders has put up a .309 / .385 / .596 / .980 slash line, hit 15 HR and 17 doubles.  He has done it by hitting in a variety of different spots in the batting order, and he has done it against right handers and left handers.  His 15 HR are only 4 back of his career high and we aren’t even in July yet.  He had the game of his life on Friday night, swatting 3 HR and driving in 8, and came within a few feet of hitting a fourth HR.  A case can be made for a bunch of Blue Jays to get the call for the AL All Star team (EE, Sanchez, Estrada), but Saunders might be the most deserving of all.

Player of the Week

Josh Donaldson, 3B

A huge week: 12 for 27, 11 R, 3 HR, 9 RBI, 4 2B, 1 SB, .444 / .545 / 1.000 / 1.545

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 37 – 33, 4th place, 7 GB

AA – New Hampshire: 29 – 39, 4th place, 19 GB

A+ – Dunedin: 30 – 36, 5th place, 11 GB

A – Lansing: 36 – 34, T-5th place, 5.5 GB

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: 2 – 1, T-1st

The Look Ahead

A short 5-game week.

June 21 – 22 vs. Arizona

June 24 – 26 at Chicago White Sox

The Week That Was: Week 10

Weekly Things 13 June 2016 | 0 Comments

EE Happy

Every Monday during the 2016 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 6 – June 12

Record: 4 – 3

Season-to-date: 35 – 30

AL East: 3rd, 2.5 games behind Boston/Baltimore

Wild Card: Tied with Seattle

  1. Somebody Woke Up…

There’s no denying that Edwin Encarnacion is a streaky hitter.  There are many examples of how up and down he can be, the most well known being in 2014 when he followed a .250 AVG / .747 OPS April with a 16 HR, 1.132 OPS May.  Well, it seems as though our good friend Edwin is once again on the upswing.  After a miserable early half of the week (0 for 17, 1 RBI after three games against Detroit and one full game plus four at bats against Baltimore) Edwin woke up in a big, big way.  In his fifth AB on Friday night he led off the 10th inning with a walk-off HR, giving the Jays a 4-3 victory, and then almost single-handedly won games on Saturday on Sunday.  On Saturday afternoon EE walked in the 1st, hit an RBI double in the 3rd, walked again in the 5th, belted a 3-run HR in the 6th, then hit a solo shot in the 8th.  Then on Sunday he hit an RBI single in the 1st, doubled in the 2nd, and walked in the 4th, before finally being retired in his final two plate appearances.  Overall he reached base safely in eight consecutive at bats.  The surge improved his season OPS from .755 on Friday morning to .817 on Sunday evening.

  1. Grilli Time

When the Jays acquired Jason Grilli a few weeks ago in attempt to shore up the bullpen, it was greeted with a shrug of the shoulders and a collective groan / chuckle from fans.  After all, the 39-year old was last a truly dominant reliever in 2013, he was coming off a torn Achilles and was sporting a 5.29 ERA thus far in 2016.  Maybe it’s because he is far enough removed from his injury, maybe the change in scenery has reinvigorated him, or maybe being reunited with Russell Martin has worked wonders on his confidence – whatever the case he looks very, very good as a Blue Jay.  Granted it is a very small sample size, but in 4.2 IP Grilli has a 1.93 ERA, 0.76 WHIP, 10 strikeouts, and a save.  He also has suddenly taken over the team lead in highly energetic fist pumps.  If he can keep up his effectiveness, it will be a huge win for the Blue Jays as Grilli provides something more important than strikeouts and saves – insurance and much needed rest for overworked closer Roberto Osuna.

  1. A Tale of Two Cities

Let’s play a quick game.  Let’s pretend that the only thing you knew about baseball was what you learned from others, either the local or national media, or by following social media sites.  From those sources, you would have learned two key stories about the AL East.  The first is that the defending champion Blue Jays are having a terrible season.  Troy Tulowitzki can’t hit and is hurt again.  Russell Martin looks awful.  Bautista, Donaldson, and Encarnacion are nothing compared to their 2015 selves.  The rotation has been good but there is an innings limit on Sanchez, and Stroman has regressed significantly.  The bullpen is bad, causing Osuna to carry much heavier a load than desired.  The second story is that the Red Sox made some big offseason acquisitions and look tremendous.  The offense is lighting the league on fire, with Betts, Bradley, Bogaerts, and Ortiz seemingly hitting at will.  The rotation hasn’t looked great, but David Price is coming around, and they have plenty of prospect capital to make a deal for a starter.  Seemingly nothing can go wrong in Boston.  Now, make a guess as to how big of a lead Boston has over Toronto.  Based solely on what is being published, an outsider would easily guess 10, 12, 15 games.  But take a look at the standings this morning.  After taking three of four from Baltimore, the Jays sit only 2.5 back of Boston.  And that is with most of Toronto’s roster struggling and most of Boston’s roster putting up career numbers.  Which horse would you rather be betting on?

Player of the Week

Edwin Encarnacion, DH

All of his damage came in 8 AB: 6 for 25, 7 R, 3 HR, 8 RBI, 1 SB, .240 / .375 / .680 / 1.055

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 33 – 30, T-4th place, 3.5 GB

AA – New Hampshire: 28 – 34, 4th place, 16 GB

A+ – Dunedin: 27 – 35, 5th place, 12.5 GB

A – Lansing: 31 – 30, 5th place, 5.5 GB

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: season not started

The Look Ahead

A quick break for interleague, and then straight back to the AL East…

June 13 – 14 vs. Philadelphia

June 15 – 16 at Philadelphia

June 17 – 19 at Baltimore

Hindsight: Looking Back at Past MLB Drafts

Upper Deck Insight 10 June 2016 | 0 Comments

hindsight

The opening rounds of the 2016 MLB draft took place last night and with the 21st overall pick the Blue Jays selected 6-foot-7 RHP Zdeno Chara TJ Zeuch out of Pittsburgh.  As we all know by now the MLB draft is the ultimate crapshoot with so many early round picks flaming out and many late round picks turning into bargains.  The real verdict on Zeuch won’t be in for several years.  But with the benefit of hindsight we can easily go back and re-grade past drafts.  So to continue a 500 Level Fan tradition, let’s do just that.  To keep it simple I am using Baseball Reference’s WAR stat to rank all players.  It’s not perfect but it’s a nice, convenient stat.  So let’s take a look back at the 2011, 2006, and 2001 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 – 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 June 10).

2011 Draft

It often takes several years for drafted players to reach the major leagues. Five years have passed since the ’11 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 2011 draft:

2011 Draft

Unlike the previous two years, where Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg were the top picks, there really wasn’t a consensus choice at the top.  Even so, the Pirates made a very nice choice in selecting Gerrit Cole.  He arrived in the big leagues in 2013 and emerged as a true ace last year with a 19-8 record, 2.60 ERA, and 202 strikeout season.  He made the All-Star team and finished 4th in Cy Young voting and 19th in MVP voting.  Anthony Rendon has been a solid, if inconsistent, player for Washington, and Francisco Lindor looks to be a star in the making.  The rest of the top-10 however?  The jury is still out.  The four B’s (Bundy, Bauer, Bradley, and Baez) are all on major league rosters but enjoying varying degrees of success.  Hultzen has put up good numbers in the minors but missed all of 2014 and is currently out for 2016 with injury.  Starling has yet to play above AA and is currently under the Mendoza line in the Texas League.  They are getting perilously close to being considered busts.

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

2011 Redux

There are a lot of terrific players on that list, including some later round talents that prove the fact that future MLB regulars exist after round one.  Jose Fernandez, Mookie Betts, George Springer, and Jackie Bradley all might be All-Stars in 2016.  Cody Allen has emerged as a solid closer for the Indians and of course Pillar is one of baseball’s best defensive outfielders (even if he steadfastly refuses to take walks!).

Blue Jay Focus

The 2011 draft was Toronto’s second under Alex Anthopoulos, and aside from Pillar will go down as a bit of a bust on the surface.  However many of the prospects were used in trades to acquire big league players so the story isn’t all bad.  Musgrove and Comer were sent to Houston in the Happ trade (who was in turn traded for Michael Saunders).  DeSclafani was sent to Miami in the huge Jose Reyes trade, and of course Daniel Norris was used in the package to acquire David Price last season.  Toronto failed to sign top choice Tyler Beede (now in the Giants system), and Aaron Nola who looks like a future star in Philadelphia (Nola chose to pursue a collegiate career before turning pro).

First Round Picks: Tyler Beede (21st overall), Jacob Anderson (35th overall), Joseph Musgrove (46th overall), Dwight Smith (53rd overall), Kevin Comer (57th overall) – none have made the major leagues

Total Number of Picks: 55

Number of Players to Reach the Majors: 6

– Daniel Norris – traded to Detroit for David Price in 2015, currently in AAA (74th overall), WAR of 0.5

– Anthony DeSclafani – traded to Miami in the Jose Reyes deal in 2012, currently with Cincinnati (199th), WAR of 1.0

– Andy Burns (349th) – WAR of 0.1

– Aaron Nola – did not sign, now with Philadelphia (679th), WAR of 3.6

– David Rollins – traded to Houston in the J.A. Happ deal in 2012, now in AAA in Seattle’s organization (739th), WAR of -0.6

– Kevin Pillar (979th) – WAR of 7.6

Total WAR = 12.2

2006 Draft

The 2006 draft produced a few All-Stars, including one of the greatest pitchers of all time, but was otherwise underwhelming.  In fact the career WAR of the top-10 players selected in 2011 has nearly caught up to those drafted in ’06.

Here are the top-10 picks of the 2006 draft:

2006 Draft

Pick number seven: the one that got away from KC, Colorado, Tampa, Pittsburgh, Seattle, and Detroit.  Clayton Kershaw has emerged into not only one of the best pitchers in baseball today, but as one of the best to ever play.  He has three Cy Young awards (and two other top-3 finishes), and currently leads baseball with a 1.46 ERA and an absolutely staggering K/BB ratio of 18.17 (109 K’s, 6 BB).  Evan Longoria is still playing at a high level for the Rays, Tim Lincecum won a few Cy Young awards and World Series with the Giants, and Andrew Miller has developed into a dynamite reliever in New York, but the rest of the first round is full of busts and disappointments.  Both Lincoln and Morrow had stops in Toronto that did little to shake that verdict.

With the magic of hindsight, here is a re-ranked version of the 2006 draft, based on career WAR:

2006 Redux

As you can see, underwhelming.  Add Max Scherzer to the list of studs, but that’s about it.  Chris Davis and Daniel Murphy have had great seasons, but there is little else to suggest that 2006 was a great draft.

Blue Jay Focus

The 2006 draft was completed under the guidance of J.P. Ricciardi, and to be blunt, it was terrible.  Everybody had such high hopes for Travis Snider, but he failed to deliver – in Toronto and elsewhere.  The rest of the picks?  Yikes.

First Round Pick: Travis Snider (14th overall) – Career WAR: 4.6

Total Number of Picks: 48

Number of Players to Reach the Majors: 5

– Travis Snider – now in the AAA with Kansas City (14th), WAR of 4.6

– Cole Figueroa – now with Pittsburgh (270th), WAR of -0.2

– Jonathan Diaz (360th) – WAR of -0.3

– Brad Mills – now in AAA with Seattle (660th), WAR of -1.5

– Graham Godfrey – out of baseball (1020th), WAR of -0.5

Total WAR = 2.1

2001 Draft

Similar to the 2006 draft, the 2001 draft featured a few borderline Hall-of-Famers and then a bunch of decent but not great players.

Here are the top-10 picks of the 2001 draft:

2001 Draft

A classic case of “what-if”.  Joe Mauer was a force for several years, even winning an MVP, but is clearly in his decline years.  But Mark Prior – he could have been huge.  He put up an absolutely incredible 2003 campaign (18-6, 2.43 ERA, 245 strikeouts), but overuse caused him to burn out early and he was out of baseball by 2006.  Gavin Floyd was always a solid pitcher – good but not great – and remains such as a member of Toronto’s bullpen.  The rest of the top-10?  Oh boy.  Three players put up negative career WARs, and three never even made the big leagues.  Do over?

Here is a re-ranked version of the 2001 draft, based on career WAR:

2001 Redux


David Wright was one of the best players in baseball until his health got in the way, and Haren, Youkilis, and Hardy all made All-Star teams, but the rest of the best from ’01 doesn’t exactly scream out “success”.

Blue Jay Focus

2001 was the final draft for Gord Ash and it left a lot to be desired.  Nobody developed into a star major leaguer, and only a few even contributed.

First Round Pick: Gabe Gross (15th overall) – Career WAR: 4.7

Total Number of Picks: 50

Number of Players to Reach the Majors: 7

– Gabe Gross – now out of baseball (15th), WAR of 4.7

– Brandon League – now out of baseball (59th), WAR of 2.6

– Tyrell Godwin – now out of baseball (91st), WAR of -0.1

– Mike Rouse – now out of baseball (151st), WAR of -0.5

– Jeff Fiorentino – now out of baseball (631st), WAR of 0.7

– Dave Gassner – now out of baseball (721st) – WAR of -0.2

– Sean Barker – now out of baseball (1370th) – WAR of 0.0

Total WAR = 7.2

The Big Five Blues

Upper Deck Insight 8 June 2016 | 0 Comments

damn-right-i-got-the-blues

Don’t worry everybody – it’s OK to be sad.

I think most people in Blue Jays nation are feeling down today after last night’s debacle in Detroit.  For the fourth or fifth time this season the Blue Jays managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in a 3-2 10 inning loss to the Tigers.

It was a waste of monumental proportions.  Obviously there was the wasted start by Aaron Sanchez, who threw the best game of his young career.  Through 8 innings he allowed just one hit and one walk while striking out 12.  It was the best he has ever looked in his Blue Jays career.

Then there was the wasted opportunities.  The Jays were gifted 9 (!) walks by Detroit pitching, were the recipient of a blooper reel error by Bobby Parnell, and put runners on second and third with nobody out in the 9th.  Yet for all of that they only managed to score two runs and left 11 men on base.

And that right there is why they lost the game.

For all armchair managers who were ripping into John Gibbons for leaving Sanchez in for the 9th, or for not ordering more sacrifice bunts, or for not intentionally walking Miguel Cabrera to get to Victor Martinez (who, as an aside, just happens to be the leading hitter in the AL), none of those had anything to do with losing.

It should have been at least 4-0, possibly 8-0, heading into the 9th.  But once again in 2016, the Blue Jays offense was dormant.

This certainly was not the plan coming into the season.  Expectations were of another huge offensive year, with runs piling up in record numbers.  But through 60 games Toronto is on pace to score 670 runs, a staggering 221 fewer than last year.  That is the equivalent of removing the 2015 version of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion from the lineup and replacing them with, well, nobody.

The offense has been bad.  Really bad.  As a team the Blue Jays are hitting .234 with a .716 OPS, down from .269 / .797 in 2015.  With runners in scoring position the average and OPS numbers are .219 / .679 as compared to .286 / .839.  With RISP and 2 out they sit at .219 / .669, down from .243 / .762.  In short, the Jays aren’t hitting, and they are leaving tons of runners on the basepaths.

So who is at fault for this?  Shockingly, you have to look no further than the Big Five.  All season previews started with Toronto’s hitting, led by five of the top sluggers in all of baseball: Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion, Troy Tulowitzki, and Russell Martin.  But a deeper dive into their numbers show a significant decline:

Big 5 - Overall

As a unit, the Big 5’s OPS is down nearly 100 points from their career averages, and 130 points from the past 3 years.  Martin and Tulo have been the main culprits, but EE is also way down, and Bautista and Donaldson are also struggling.

Big 5 - RISP

When looking at the numbers with Runners in Scoring Position, it is a similar tale.  Bautista seems to be producing in line with or above his career and recent numbers, but not the case for the rest of the bunch.  EE’s OPS is down over 240 points in 2016 as compared to his 2013-2015 production.  As a unit, the group OPS has fallen from .921 to .727, with a batting average down to the Mendoza line.  Tough to win games with numbers like that.

Big 5 - RISP 2 Out

 

Big 5 - Late and Close

Getting into some more clutch stats tells the same story.  In late and close situations the Big 5 is putting up a .633 OPS, miles away from what they have done in the past 3 years.  Same for batting with RISP and 2 outs.  Donaldson’s numbers in that category are particularly startling: an .071 average and .563 OPS, down from .307 and .853.

We are now 60 games into the 2016 regular season.  The excuse of “it’s early” no longer applies.  In fact, this is generally the time of year when analysts start to believe the old adage of “what you see is what you get”.  If players with no track record started the season on a tear and are still producing at a high clip, maybe it’s no longer reasonable to expect regression, just as it might not be reasonable to expect players producing well below career norms to rebound.

If that is the case, and Martin, Bautista, Encarnacion, Tulowitzki, and Donaldson are starting to decline, then it might be a long, long summer in Toronto.

I, for one, still believe in this group.  I still believe that this is just an extended slump that is unfortunately hitting all five guys at the same time.  One or two extended hot streaks are just around the corner and those numbers presented above will start to rectify themselves.

I just hope I’m not a hopeless dreamer.

The Week That Was: Week 9

Weekly Things 6 June 2016 | 0 Comments

estrada

Every Monday during the 2016 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: May 30 – June 5

Record: 5 – 1

Season-to-date: 31 – 27

AL East: 3rd, 2.5 games behind Boston/Baltimore

Wild Card: 1 game behind Seattle

  1. AL East Domination

On the morning of Tuesday May 24, Toronto was 22-25, last place in the AL East, and faced a daunting stretch of games: 12 straight against the Yankees and Red Sox.  Anything less than a .500 record could have been seen as devastating.  Six wins would have been treading water, seven would have been good, and eight would have been a great result, but the Jays went out and won nine games, a stretch that has definitely turned their season around.  They went 5-1 against New York and 4-2 against Boston, moving to four games over the .500 mark in the process.  The Jays looked a lot like the team we all expected them to be.  They started by sweeping the Yankees, holding them to a total of three runs in three games, before heading to Fenway Park and very nearly sweeping the Red Sox.  They now sit 19-16 in games against the division, having played by far more intra-division games than any other team.  With (presumably) easier games to come the Jays could be setup perfectly for a big run.

  1. Marco ACE-Strada

A few weeks ago in this column I wrote about how Marco Estrada is developing into the ace of the Toronto rotation.  Now, after his performance last week, I don’t think there is any question – he IS the ace of the staff.  He made two starts last week against New York and Boston and thoroughly dominated them.  On Monday he pitched 8 shutout innings against the Yankees, allowing only 3 hits and striking out 6.  Then yesterday he was masterful against Boston, taking a no-hitter into the 8th inning before allowing a solo HR to Chris Young.  Overall, he pitched 8 innings and allowed 2 runs on only 2 hits.  For the season Estrada now ranks 10th in all of baseball in WAR for pitchers (2.5), 7th in WHIP (0.978), 3rd in hits per 9 (5.304), and 2nd in batting average against (.167).  He is becoming almost automatic.

  1. Offensive MVP?

Quick – who leads the Blue Jays in Average, Slugging, and OPS?  If you guessed any of the usual suspects – Edwin, Bautista, Donaldson, Matin, Tulo – you’re wrong.  The correct answer, with a .289 average, .519 slugging, and .885 OPS, is Michael Saunders.  After surviving a chaotic spring in which he was almost traded to the Reds, Saunders has been thriving in 2016.  Aside from the slash rate he has hit 9 HR and 14 doubles, scored 28 runs, and driven in 19.  His 1.3 WAR is fourth on the team.  Health will always be a major concern for Saunders, but as long as he can stay on the field there’s no reason to believe that his production will dry up.  So far he is making Jays fans very happy.

Player of the Week

Marco Estrada, SP

He has become the ace: 16 IP, 2-0, 11 K : 6 BB, 5 H, 1.13 ERA, 0.69 WHIP

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 31 – 25, 2nd place, 0.5 GB

AA – New Hampshire: 26 – 30, 4th place, 12 GB

A+ – Dunedin: 26 – 31, 5th place, 10.5 GB

A – Lansing: 29 – 26, 5th place, 4.5 GB

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: season not started

The Look Ahead

A brief reprieve from the AL East…

June 6 – 8 at Detroit

June 9 – 12 vs. Baltimore

The Week That Was: Week 8

Weekly Things 1 June 2016 | 0 Comments

osuna

Every Monday during the 2016 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 8.

Week 8: May 23 – 29

Record: 4 – 2

Season-to-date: 26 – 26

AL East: 3rd, 5 games behind Boston

Wild Card: 3.5 games behind Seattle

  1. A Huge Week

The Jays took three of four from the Twins to end the previous week, but they were still reeling.  They were sitting two games under .500 and in dead last in the AL East, and had a very tough stretch of games ahead – 12 straight against the Yankees and Red Sox.  They then promptly lost the opener to New York 6-0 and looked the worst that they have all season.  But suddenly things turned around.  The bats came alive on Wednesday as they Jays battered Ivan Nova in an 8-4 win.  J.A. Happ continued his incredible season with a dominating performance in a 3-1 win on Thursday.  Then the team got a huge performance from Donaldson on Friday, and an improbable comeback on Saturday to steal the first two from Boston.  Toronto ended the week back at .500, up to third place in the division and right back in contention.  Things still aren’t clicking at full throttle just yet, but slowly all is starting to look better in Blue Jay land.  Late May / early June is when the season turned around in 2015, and it certainly looks like that might be happening again.

  1. Welcome Back Travis

After mustering a mere two hits off Nathan Eovaldi and a cast of Yankee relievers on Tuesday night, with Troy Tulowitzki placed on the 15-day DL and his natural replacement Ryan Goins hitting an MLB worst .148, the Blue Jays decided to end Devon Travis’ rehab stint a bit early.  They activated the second baseman in time for Wednesday’s game in New York, and if Travis had any rust he sure didn’t show it.  He went 1-for-4 with a run in his first game back, then delivered a huge RBI single off of Aroldis Chapman in the 9th inning in his second game.  He then went 4-for-14 with a run and two RBI against the Red Sox over the weekend, including hitting the game winning, walk-off single off Craig Kimbrel on Saturday afternoon.  His season average is now .273, nearly double that of Goins.  Travis likely won’t hit for a ton of power, but his contact and opposite field approach is just what the Blue Jays offense needed.

  1. Concern for Stroman?

Marcus Stroman was incredible in his first major league season, and was even better last year after his return from the knee injury that sidelined him for most of the regular season.  In his first eight starts this season he went 4-0 with a 3.54 ERA, looking every bit the ace that he so badly wants to become.  But then, seemingly out of nowhere, the wheels have come off a bit.  Stroman was absolutely crushed by Tampa Bay on May 17, allowing 7 ER and 13 hits in only 5.2 IP.  A strong rebound start in Minnesota followed, but he couldn’t keep it rolling on Saturday.  Back at home against the Red Sox, and staked to an early 3-0 lead, Stroman fell apart.  He allowed a home run, double, and a walk in the 4th, then three singles and two doubles in the fifth, before being pulled with one out in the sixth.  All in, he surrendered 7 earned runs on 11 hits in only 5.1 innings.  With the loss his ERA, which was 3.54 on May 11, now sits at 4.46.  Is this merely a blip, a couple of bad outings mixed into an otherwise excellent season?  Jays fans hope so.

Player of the Week

Roberto Osuna, RP

He is absolutely dominating: 3.2 IP, 2 Saves, 1 H, 1 BB, 4 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.54 WHIP, .083 batting average against

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 27 – 25, 4th place, 3 GB

AA – New Hampshire: 24 – 26, 4th place, 9 GB

A+ – Dunedin: 23 – 30, 5th place, 10.5 GB

A – Lansing: 26 – 24, 4th place, 5 GB

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: season not started

The Look Ahead

A mirror image of last week.

May 30 – June 1 vs. New York

June 3 – 5 at Boston

Fun With Early WAR

Upper Deck Insight 27 May 2016 | 0 Comments

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It’s hard to believe, but the 2016 regular season is already over 25% finished.  That means it’s time for an annual post here on 500 Level Fan where we take a few minutes to have fun with early season stats.

We are approaching late-May, so some teams are establishing themselves as legit (Cubs, Red Sox, Giants), and some look to be already playing for next year (poor, poor Minnesota).  But a large majority of teams have fans scratching their heads, wondering if down is up or if up is down.

The White Sox are in first and the Phillies are 5 games over .500.  Last year’s AL playoff teams are a combined two games under .500.  Perennial playoff entrants St. Louis and the Dodgers are only two games over the break-even mark.  Seems weird right?

But the one thing we keep hearing, the one universal caution about assessing performance at this time of year is this: it’s still relatively early.

But it’s never too early to have some fun with stats. Let’s take a look at some early season WAR stats and assess which players may have staying power (both good and bad).

Player WAR

mid year WAR best

The above tables show the best players in baseball in terms of WAR, and the leaderboard is a healthy mix of guys you would expect to see there and guys you wouldn’t.  Machado, Altuve, Trout, and Cano are perennial All-Stars, while Bogaerts and Springer are up-and-coming stars.  The biggest surprises have to be Adam Eaton ranked as the best player in all of baseball, and the fact that the two reigning MVP’s are nowhere to be found.  Josh Donaldson is the top Blue Jay with a 1.9 WAR, and Bryce Harper is one notch below him at 1.8.  I would expect to see them creep up the board as the season moves on.  In terms of oWAR and dWAR, seeing Michael Saunders as the top Jays is certainly a nice surprise, and seeing Kevin Pillar ranked T-3rd overall is what we have come to expect.

Most Likely to Stick in Top-10: Machado, Altuve, Trout, Springer, Bogaerts, Cano

Most Likely to Drop Out: Eaton, Piscotty, Perez

mid year WAR worst

Here is where things get a bit upsetting for Blue Jay fans: there is a lot of yellow on those lists.  Ryan Goins ranks as one of the worst players in all of baseball thus far, as well as the third worst hitter in the league.  Russell Martin and the pre-suspension version of Chris Colabello are right at the bottom in terms of offense.  Jose Bautista just misses the list of the worst ten fielders.  But there are other names on those lists that have to be troubling to fan bases across the game.  Prince Fielder, Kendrys Morales, and Carlos Gomez were huge parts of the 2015 success of Texas, KC, and Houston.  Adam Jones has been Baltimore’s rock for years.  All are awful right now.

Most Likely to Stick in Bottom-10: Aybar, Pierzynski, Goins

Most Likely to Climb Out: Fielder, Parra

Pitcher WAR

mid year WAR pitcher

That is a who’s-who of stud pitchers.  There are virtually no surprises on that list.  Kershaw, Arrieta, Sale, Salazar, Syndergaard, Strasburg: all are Cy Young candidates.  I am honestly surprised at the early season success of Cueto – I fully expected him to flame out in SF.  Rich Hill continues to be a very nice story and might make for a nice trade deadline acquisition for a contending team.  Is Chris Tillman finally putting it all together?  I doubt it….

In the worst list, there are two huge names that stand out.  The first is the so-called ace of the New York Mets rotation, Matt Harvey.  He was counted on to be one of baseball’s top pitchers and has not lived up to the bill yet.  The second is huge off-season acquisition Shelby Miller.  He has been an absolute bust for Arizona.  For Drew Storen to somehow not be in the bottom-10 is somewhat miraculous considering his awful start in Toronto.

Most Likely to Stick in Top-10 / Bottom-10: Kershaw, Arrieta, Sale, Syndergaard, Strasburg / Tolleson, Simon

Most Likely to Drop Out / Climb Out: Tillman, Chatwood / Harvey

As always, we’ll check back on these lists later in the season to see if things become “more normal”.

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