Same Old Billy

The last time we saw Brian “Billy” Tallet in a Jays uniform was September 30, 2010 in Minnesota.  The lanky lefty retired two straight batters then was pulled.  The time before that?  September 27th.  The results?  Completely different yet utterly famliar. 1.1 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 1 HR. 

At the end of the 2010 season he was gone, let go by the Jays to chase his dreams in another organization.

That organization happened to be the St. Louis Cardinals, a team that had a player named Colby Rasmus patrolling CF, a player that the Blue Jays were very, very interested in acquiring.  As he often does, Alex Anthopoulos eventually got his man from the Cardinals.

But call it collateral damage – he also had to bring back Tallet.

An injured Tallet…

“It won’t matter,” many said.  “Tallet is hurt and won’t even play for the Jays.”

“It’s fine,” said others.  “The Jays are going with youth.  They’ll either DFA Tallet or send him to Vegas.”

“Don’t worry,” said a minority.  “He’ll just be a fill-in lefty in the pen for the last month and a half.  He won’t impact games.”

Well…

Wrong.

Last night, August 30th, 2011, Brian “Billy” Tallet made his first appearance since being re-acquired. 

Matt Wieters –  WALK

Mark Reynolds – WALK

Robert Andino – FOUL TWO STRIKE BUNT (K)

Jake Fox – RBI SINGLE

Ryan Adams – RBI SINGLE

A 5 – 4 Toronto lead became a 6 – 5 Toronto loss in a matter of minutes.

Thanks Billy.

Welcome back.

It’s like you never left.

 

 

 

 

Three Things From Week Twenty-Two

2011 was a disaster from start to premature finish for Travis Snider

That was ugly. 

The 22nd week of the MLB season is over, and it couldn’t end quickly enough for Toronto.  Six games, all at home, and for the most part, all disastrous.  The Jays dropped five of six to the Royals and the Rays, pushing both their overall record and their home record below the .500 mark.  Whatever faint hope the club had of competing for a postseason spot this year is now all but gone.  The focus on 2012 has begun.

But, disappointing as that is, it can also be seen as a good thing.  Now is an exciting time to be a fan as Alex Anthopoulos can evaluate the young talent on the roster and make an assessment for what is required next year.  Call it audition season.

Besides, after the 12-0 drubbing suffered on Sunday, things can only get better from here.

Here are three things from week 22:

Week 22: August 22 – August 28

 Record: 1 – 5

1. Wall = Hit

At this time of year, when many other teams are kicking it into high gear to chase for the playoffs, it feels like the opposite is happening in Toronto.  The young Jays look like they have hit the wall and run out of gas.  How else to describe a week where they looked so futile in all aspects of the game? 

In losing five of six games to Kansas City and Tampa Bay the Jays were awful on offense, defense, and on the mound.  They scored only 20 runs in the six games, and managed only 40 hits.  Toronto’s batters struck out a whopping 65 times in six games, including 18 times on Sunday alone.  Defensively they weren’t much better, booting the ball around for five errors.  And the pitchers were plain awful too.  After allowing 18 runs in three games to the Royals, they were destroyed for 24 runs in three games by the Rays.  Not good.  At all.

Everybody is scuffling right now.  Brandon Morrow looks beat (0-2 with a 9.90 ERA in his past two starts).  Adam Lind is lost at the plate (.143 average last week, .181 average in August with a tiny .485 OPS).  Colby Rasmus is on the DL.  Even the great Jose Bautista is struggling – he struck out 11 times last week alone.

Things are so bad that even the manager is out, as John Farrell continues to recover from a bout of pneumonia.

Tough times in the city.

2. Opportunity Lost

It was documented several times on this very site, that beginning on August 5th, Toronto began a 19 game stretch against largely beatable opponents.  With a great run against lesser opponents such as Baltimore, Seattle, Oakland, and Kansas City the Jays had a real chance to gain several games on the division leaders.  While it likely wouldn’t have been enough to claim the Wild Card, it would have been more than enough to generate September excitement in a city that is desperate for some.

But Toronto suffered the fate that so many non-contenders suffer – they failed to beat the teams they should.  With many dreaming of a 15-4 or 16-3 stretch, the Jays went only 10-9 against the also-rans of the AL, and in the process became an also-ran themselves for the rest of 2011. 

For a team that is in an almost impossible division with Boston, New York, and Tampa, it is essential that the Jays take full advantage of soft spots in their schedule.  Teams that win championships don’t necessarily dominate other elite teams, but almost always destroy the weak sisters of their divisions.  Until Toronto can do that on a consistent basis they’ll always be a year away.

But you have to learn sometime.  Let’s hope the learning starts now…

3. Tough End to a Tough Year

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.  This was supposed to be the breakout year that everybody was expecting and hoping for.  This was supposed to be the year when he stepped into a role as offensive juggernaut beside Jose Bautista, and prepared to lead the Jays in the future.  2011 was supposed to be all about Travis Snider.

Instead, it has been an absolute disaster.  Travis had two separate stints with the Jays this year, with each ending in a demotion to the minors.  From Opening Day to April 28th, Snider hit .184 with a .540 OPS and only one home run.  In his second stint he was better (.260 AVG, .682 OPS, 2 HR) but not good enough to stay ahead of the Brett Lawrie express.  With all signs pointing to a September recall, Snider instead is done for the season, diagnosed with tendinitis in his right wrist last week.  The injury will force him out for 4-6 weeks, forcing him to wait until 2012 to prove he belongs.

An avid tweeter, Snider appears to have even turned off his Twitter account.  His last tweet was on August 25th, a cryptic message stating:

I will not break. I promise you that. I will miss you all and can’t say how thankful I am for your support on this journey. #keepthefaith
 
I still consider Snider an integral part in the 2012 Blue Jays.  Here’s hoping for a quick and full recovery.

Third Time’s A Charm! The Third Ever 500 Level Fan “Male”Bag

To show that I am a man of my word, I have changed the name of 500 Level Fan’s reader mailbag from mail to male.  Please refer to the second ever mailbag (here) for clarification.

So, with that said…welcome to the third ever 500 Level Fan reader Male Bag.  The inbox has begun to bulge with questions, meaning it’s time to make the fans happy and give them what they want.

All four of them…

Let’s start with first time question-poser, the alpha male himself @TweetsByRules:

Q: What are your thoughts on the Kelly Johnson trade?

A: I like it, because to me it is basically risk-free.  I have heard many people criticize the deal, with comments like “Johnson is only hitting .209”, or “Johnson’s OBP is only .287”,or “I love Johnny Mac”.  Yes friends – all of those things are true.  I do love Johnny Mac.  I will miss him.  But let’s be honest: he wasn’t going to help the Jays win the World Series this year.  And yes, Kelly Johnson is having an off year. But he is only one year removed from a .284 / .370 / .496 / .865 slash line, with 26 HR.  Those numbers are pretty good.

The deal basically boils down to this:

Best case scenario, Johnson reverts back to his 2010 form and crushes the ball in Toronto.  He likes the team and the city, and decides to re-sign here next year at what should be a fairly decent price seeing how much he has struggled.  AA really likes this guy, and AA is rarely wrong.

Worst case scenario, Johnson still performs at a sub-par level, and we are left with a guy who has similar stats to Aaron Hill.

Who we would been left with anyways.

Besides, it sounds like both Hill and Johnny may return next year anyways….

Which leads us to this question from a man who loves to tip over golf carts and lick red hot chili flakes, Mr. @altrendy

Q: If (as is widely rumoured) Aaron Hill and/or Johnny Mac end up re-signing with the Jays in 2012, what was the point of the Kelly Johnson trade?

A: Yes, good question.  You’d likely have to ask Anthopoulos this one.  But, you asked me, so here is my opinion on the issue.  As said before, AA likes Kelly Johnson.  He tried to sign him in 2009 but lost out to Arizona.  I’ve heard his name floated in rumours associated with the Jays for a while. So I guess the point of the trade is that he finally got his man.  From the sounds of the farewell press conference, both Hill and Johnny do seem open to re-signing with Toronto.  I would bet that Johnny will be back, as a bench player-slash-coach.  As far as Hill, well…Johnson has a month and a bit to show us what he’s got.

More from Trendos!

Q: Was the call-up of Lawrie a good thing for Colby Rasmus (timing-wise)?

A: Interesting.  Rasmus was definitely hyped in St. Louis, and then underperformed.  When AA acquired him in July, suddenly he was being hyped all over again.  Some called him the future saviour of the Jays.  The blogger-sphere gushed about him.  The Jays were widely regarded as having heavily won the deal.  Then Rasmus arrived and promptly went 0 for 12 in his first three games.  In his first seven games with the Jays he was scuffling along with a .167 AVG, .460 OPS, 0 HR, 3 RBI, and 7 K. 

But before fans had time to start irrationally hating on Rasmus, up came Brett Lawrie to take away all the hype and all the spotlight.  Since Lawrie’s arrival, Rasmus has been better (.241 AVG, .728 OPS, 3 HR, 9 RBI) – not fantastic, but better.  So I think that yes, it was a good thing for Colby Rasmus that Lawrie was called up when he was.

Q: With the season nearing its conclusion, how many HR will Jose Bautista end up with?

A: The million dollar question Trendos…

The Jays have played 130 games and Bautista has 37 home runs.  Going purely statistical, Bau has hit 0.28 HR a game, meaning in the last 32 games of the season it stands to reason he will hit 9 more and finish with 46. 

But I don’t want to be statistical with Bautista.  He can go for stretches were he goes cold, and then stretches where he gets hot.  He hasn’t been red hot for a while.  I think he will get red hot again, for two reasons: 1) in the last 32 games, Toronto plays 7 against Tampa, 6 against the Yankees, and 6 against Boston – rival teams.  I thinks he gets jacked up to play those guys.  2) When Bautista gets mad, he explodes (ask Luke Hochevar).  With the season winding down, there will be a lot of MVP debate.  Most will choose Adrian Gonzalez, Dustin Pedroia, Curtis Granderson, or Justin Verlander because they are in the playoffs.  This will make Bautista mad.

Jose finishes with 51 bombs.

Next, we hear from the Fireball-guzzling @dsharpdavis:

Q: What is a trait you’ve learned from a Jay that you’ve applied to your everyday life?  (i.e. Rauch’s use of physical threats to achieve goals).

A: I definitely don’t use the Rauch very often.  I don’t think I’d get much with my bulk.  But I think I can say I have applied the following three items to everyday life:

1 – the Bautista angry stare.  When I get mad, I quite enjoy staring down people.  It works great for road rage.  And in beer league softball.

2 – the Romero bench punch.  When I’m frustrated or something doesn’t go my way, I often pull a Romero and punch something, just like the pitcher does when is pulled from a game.  The best thing to punch is the cubicle wall at work, especially in the presence of senior management.  They like that.

3 – the Fernandez golden smile.  I try to be more and more like Tony every day.

Honourable Mention – I am a man who doesn’t swear or curse.  But if I did, I would definitely apply the Rios to my everyday life.  “Who gives a f**k!”

Finally, we move on to a man from the West, a man who loves the bud as much as the next guy, and man who has the biggest man crush on Alex Rodriguez in the history of Earth – @TheCraiger:

Q: Based on his current pace, where will A-Rod finish up relative to the games all-time greats (Ruth, Williams, Mays, Bonds, Ripken, Berra, etc..)?  First ballot Hall of Famer?  Home Run King?  What effect will steroid era and his participation in it have on his hall of fame chances?

 A: Oh Sauny, you and your A-Rod infatuation!  But it is actually a good question.  Until I really checked into the numbers, I didn’t realize just how good of a player A-Rod has been for his career.

In terms of Baseball Reference WAR, A-Rod is currently ranked 15th of all time for offensive players with a 107.2 WAR.  The top-5 are Babe Ruth (164.6), Ty Cobb (156.0), Barry Bonds (151.4), Willie Mays (136.2), and Hank Aaron (130.1).  Yes A-Rod is slowing down, and yes he is aging (currently 35 years old), but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he plays another five seasons and puts up a WAR of 5-ish each year.  That would propel him past Hank Aaron into 5th.

In terms of home runs, Rodriguez has 626, 6th all time, and only 136 behind Bonds for first.  Again, he will need to play for five more season and average 28 HR a year to break the record – but that is entirely possible if he stays healthy (and out of the poker rooms…).  He’s only finished a season with fewer than 30 HR once in the last 15, though this year due to injury he only has 13.  I think he can do it.

The last parts of the question are tough to answer, and a lot will depend on what happens to Bonds and Clemens in the upcoming years.  A-Rod was a steroid user – that is a confirmed fact.  But he came out and amitted it (albeit with much prodding from Selena Roberts), which – like it or not – will give him bonus points with voters.  To see Bonds and Clemens still denying the fact that they used steroids to this day, even though mounds and mounds of solid evidence say otherwise, is disgusting and embarrassing.  So to see how voters treat them will give us more insight on what to expect with A-Rod. 

But if you want my thoughts?  Here they are:

1. Where will he finish among the greats?  Among them.

2. First ballot hall of famer?  Yes.

3. Home run king?  Yes.

That’s it!  Keep the questions coming for next time!

 

Bye Bye Johnny (and Aaron)

Wow – did not see that one coming. AA strikes again with the acquisition of Kelly Johnson this afternoon from Arizona. Johnson was a target of the Jays on a few different occasions, so his pick-up isn’t the shocking part.

What’s shocking is who is gone.

Aaron Hill was seemingly on his way out of Toronto for a while now. With the Jays holding club options for the next few seasons and with Hill in the middle of another dire season the writing was on the wall. So to see him leave town in a swap of second baseman isn’t too surprising.

To see Johnny Mac leave is another story.

Johnny was the field general for the Jays, a master of defense and a fan favourite. He produced likely the greatest moment of all of 2010 with his Father’s Day HR just days after the death of his dad, and he also produced one of the top moments of 2011 with an extra inning walk-off blast to beat Tampa Bay.

But that isn’t why I’ll miss Johnny.

John McDonald was not my favourite player on the Blue Jays because of his bat. In seven seasons here he produced a .243 batting average and a .617 OPS. He hit only 17 home runs.

No, John McDonald was my favourite player on the Blue Jays because of his glove, because of the effortless way he played the field. Everytime he was introduced

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either as a starter or as a late game defensive replacement, you knew you were likely to witness something spectacular.

A ground ball deep in the hole? No problem, Johnny’s got it. A flare pop-up? No worries, here’s Johnny. The range he showed both to his left and to his right, the way he would slide foot-first while throwing to first at the same time? I’ve never seen anything like that before. And the best part about Johnny was that he wasn’t slowing down with age. Now 36, his range hasn’t declined, and his offensive skills are actually looking better.

For those who read this blog often, you know that my favourite baseball player of all time is Tony Fernandez. I was awed and wowed by his defense as I grew up as a kid, and spent my days in youth baseball trying to emulate his underhand flip throw to first. It was only natural that my favourite player tranform from Tony to Johnny.

I’ll miss Johnny. I’ll miss watching him from the upper deck. I’ll miss cheering for him to go 5 for 5 in a game – something I’ve been dying to see for six years now.

But at the same time, I’m excited. He and Aaron are joining a first place ball club in Arizona, a team that is clinging to a one game lead over the Giants. Neither player has ever been close to the playoffs before. In 1999 Johnny played for an Indians team that made the postseason, but he was a 24 year old rookie who didn’t make the playoff roster. He’s never been anywhere near the playoffs since. If anybody deserves a shot at October baseball is McDonald.

So good luck Johnny. Good luck Aaron. Here’s wishing you playoff success and a return trip to Toronto for the 2012 season, complete with knowledge of what it takes to play on a winning team.

You will both be missed.

Johnny most of all.

Three Things From Week Twenty-One

Luis Perez was outstanding on Sunday (from daylife.com)

 

Wow – where has the time gone?  After last week’s seven game West coast road trip, the Jays have now completed 21 weeks of the 2011 season.  With hope for the playoffs virtually extinguished, chatter has turned from making a postseason push, to who comes up in September, and where will Bautista finish in MVP voting.  It seems like just yesterday that 2011 was kicking off.  Brutal.

But there are still games to be played, and for the Blue Jays, there are still plenty of questions to be answered.  All of the roster turnover we have witnessed in recent weeks is all aimed at bringing a championship back to Toronto, hopefully as soon as 2012.  The rest of this season can be seen as an audition for next year – play well and a spot on the roster could be yours.

Here are three things from week 21:

Week 21: August 15 – August 21

 Record: 4 – 3

1. Offense Dries Up In Oakland

The offense was rolling.  In a span of six games (two vs. LAA, three vs. SEA, and one vs. OAK) Toronto plated 46 runs en route to five victories.  But then something happened.  Maybe they celebrated too hard after Ricky Romero’s CG 3-hit shutout on Thursday.  Maybe they all got food poisoning.  Maybe every member of the Jays offense became extremely depressed knowing they still had three more games to play in one of the most decrepit and unfriendly stadiums in all of professional sports.

Whatever the case, the bats that were scorching earlier suddenly turned ice cold.  Rich Harden, Gio Gonzalez, and Guillermo Moscoso completely befuddled Toronto hitters on the weekend, helping the A’s take two of the final three games of the four game set.  If it wasn’t for an outstanding pitching performance by Luis Perez and Casey Janssen, Oakland would have taken all three.

The Jays scored a measly two runs over the weekend, and managed a grand total of 11 hits.  11 hits!  They were shutout for the fifth time this season on Saturday night and looked to be on their way to another shutout on Sunday before Bautista saved the day.  Struggling in Oakland is nothing new to this team .  In 2010 Toronto made one trip to the Coliseum, and scored only 9 runs on 20 hits in three games.

The good news?  They left Oakland and took out their frustrations on their next opponent, a 16-2 win over Boston.

Look out KC – you’ve got some angry hitters coming at you tomorrow.

2. Roster Moves Galore!

Don’t recognize a large amount of this team from last week?  I don’t blame you.  Alex Anthopoulos was busy last week shuffling players here, there, and everywhere.

On Monday, Rajai Davis was placed on the 15-day DL, with Mike McCoy making yet another return to Toronto.  On Tuesday, Jon Rauch was placed on the 15-day DL and Trever Miller was designated for assignment.  Two lefties – Wil Ledezma and Rommie Lewis – were recalled from AAA Vegas to take their roster spots.  Then on Thursday, lefty Brad Mills was shipped back to Vegas, and iin a somewhat surprising move, Joel Carreno was brought up from AA New Hampshire.

But that’s not all!  On Saturday, journeyman pitcher Kyle Davies, fresh off a 1-9, 6.75 ERA stint with the Royals, was signed and sent to Las Vegas in what might be another attempt at a reclamation project by AA. 

On top of those moves, Toronto is now dealing with an injury to Adam Lind after he was hit on the wrist by a pitch on Saturday.  Though x-rays were negative, he still missed Sunday’s game, which happened to be the day after Jose Bautista missed Saturday’s game with a sore neck, and a few days after Aaron Hill was given a multi-game rest.  On top of that, de facto closer Frankie Francisco was scratched on Sunday due a sore shoulder issue. 

With all of these moves going on, it’s easy to forget that in just 9 days the rosters will expand, meaning one thing.

Get ready for even more moves!

3. Successful Auditions?

Toronto’s pitching staff has never been more wide open.  The triple I’s (injuries, ineffectiveness, and inconsistency) has thrown the rotation and the bullpen into a state of flux, meaning jobs are up for grabs – not just for the rest of this season, but potentially for 2012 as well.  Romero, Morrow, and Cecil seem pretty entrenched as starters, but poor play by Mills and Drabek, injuries to Litsch and Villanueva, and trades of Stewart and Rzepczynski have left the 4th and 5th slots wide open.  Henderson Alvarez seems to be managing well in his audition, and if Sunday means anything it looks like the 5th starter slot could be solved as well.

Luis Perez was brilliant yesterday, taking a perfect game into the sixth.  He finished with a line of 6 IP, 1 H, 2 BB, and 4 K, picking up his first win as a starter.  He also threw 80 pitches, and while he tired rapidly in the 6th, he showed enough stamina and endurance to suggest that he will be able to handle a regular turn.

Similarly, Casey Janssen might have won himself a more trustworthy bullpen role.  With Dotel traded, and Rauch and Francisco unavailable, Janssen pitched three scoreless innings in relief, striking out five.  He allowed only one walk and no hits, earning his second save of the season.  Might it be in the realm of possibility to see Janssen as a potential closer for the rest of the year?

Ricky Romero – Top 5 in the AL?

Romero dominated Oakland last night (from daylife.com)

 

After picking up his fifth straight win with a three-hit complete game shutout over Oakland last night, a legitimate question was asked:

Is Ricky Romero one of the top-5 starters in the American League?

It’s a fair question.  Ricky is 12-9 with a 2.73 ERA and 1.11 WHIP on the season, with 147 strikeouts.  He is also on fire as of late.  Check out the numbers in his past five starts: 5-0, 40.1 IP, 14 hits, 4 ER, 0.89 ERA, 0.37 WHIP, .107 Opponents Batting Average Against, 30 strikeouts.  That is dominating stuff.

But in a league that features starters such as Justin Verlander, CC Sabathia, Jered Weaver, Josh Beckett, James Shields, David Price, Dan Haren, Felix Hernandez, and Jon Lester, does Romero crack that list?

According to the Baseball Reference WAR statistic, the answer is yes.  So far in 2011 Romero has a WAR of 5.1, putting him 4th among AL starters (and 8th among ALL AL players).  Only Verlander (7.0), Weaver (6.1), and Beckett (5.3) are ahead of him.  He looks good in other stats as well: 4th in ERA, T4th in Wins, and T2nd in Complete Games.

To me that last stat is where Romero shines.  In the humble opinion of this writer, a top pitcher in the league must be a horse.  A starter who goes 6 or 7 innings each time out can be effective, but not dominant.  A true, dominating starting pitcher must both want to and be able to finish what he started.  For Romero, this is even more important because he doesn’t have a Mariano Rivera, or a Jose Valverde, or a Jonathan Papelbom to hand the ball to.  He has to grind for nine innings and protect his win.

And he does.

Not only is he tied for second with four complete games (James Shields is way ahead with nine), he is also ninth in innings pitched with 175.  He has pitched those innings in 25 starts – two fewer than Verlander and Sabathia (1-2 on the IP list), and one fewer than Weaver, Hernandez, Haren, Ervin Santana, and Price (all also ahead of him).  He also hates to give up the ball.  We all remember many occasions when John Farrell comes out in the 8th or 9th to get Romero, only to be greeted with a scowl, and the dugout to be greeted with a glove toss and a few minutes of curse-filled rants.

Desire? Check.  Ability? Check.

But allow me for just one minute to play devil’s advocate, to do my best to be objective.  Is Ricky Romero one of the top-5 starters in the AL?  Not with what these numbers have to say:

a) 63

b) 11.42

The first number represents walks.  Romero’s 63 walks is the fifth most allowed in the American League, a number that is too high.   Translate that into a BB/9 number and you get 3.24, a figure substantially higher than Verlander (1.86), Haren (1.28), Weaver (2.01), and Sabathia (2.14). 

The second number is Romero’s 2011 ERA vs. Boston.  In two starts against the Red Sox, Ricky is 0-2 with 11 runs allowed in 8.2 IP.   Small sample size?  Maybe – but in his career he isn’t much better.  11 career starts, only 52.1 IP, with 47 runs allowed for an 8.08 ERA.  He has also tossed 35 walks en route to a 2-6 lifetime record vs. the BoSox.  Of course, Boston plays in the AL East, and is one of the main hurdles that Jays need to overcome in order to make it back to the postseason.

But here is an encouraging sign – the walks are coming down.  In his past five starts his BB/9 is a more respectable 2.45 (11 walks in 40.1 IP).  The number is even better in his past three starts: 1.50 (4 walks in 24 innings). 

Another encouraging sign?  The Jays still have six games left against Boston.  Odds are that Rickywill start at least one of them.  With the kind of roll he’s on now, and with the team behind him full of confidence, he will not get rocked again.

And Devil’s Advocate be damned – in my AL, Ricky Romero is in the top-5.

Any day of the week.

Three Things From Week Twenty

After the twentieth week of the 2011 season came and went, one thing is obvious – we should look into changing Toronto’s name from the Jays to the Lawries.

Seriously – Brett Lawrie stole all the hype last week, first making his home debut, then destroying the Oakland and LA pitching staffs. Attendance increased, excitement increased, and Toronto’s hope for future success increased as well. With Lawrie firmly entrenched in the lineup and showing no signs of slowing down, Jays fans are excited about the possibility of October baseball as early as 2012.

And with a road trip beginning against the bottom feeders of the AL West, maybe there is outside hope for October baseball this season. I’d put nothing past Lawrie now.

Here are three things from week 20:

Week 20: August 8 – August 14

Record: 3 – 3

1. Youth Movement

The Jays were already a young team coming into this season. With a core full of players just entering their prime (Arencibia, Romero, Snider, Drabek, Morrow, etc.) things were looking up.

Well, in the past few weeks, the Jays have grown even younger – and the kids are alright.

Colby Rasmus was acquired from St. Louis. The 24 year old has struggled a bit in his move to the AL East, but after going 0 for his 13 he now has hits in 8 of his past 10 games, and has brought his OPS up from .000 to .602, all while making some incredible plays in CF.

Brett Lawrie arrived next, and what else can you say about the 21 year old? 9 games, 2

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HR, 7 RBI, .355 average, 1.104 OPS says it all. Though his defense at 3B has been up and down, he has made some outstanding plays and looks a lot better than I expected.

Then last week came the latest youngster – 21 year old Henderson Alvarez, who made his big league debut against the A’s on Wednesday. Though it wasn’t the cleanest debut, Alvarez did pitch into the 6th inning struck out 4 and looked stronger as the game went on. He is set to make his second start tonight in Seattle.

With all the young guys around, I bet Johnny Mac must feel like an OLD 36.

2. Dave Collins – Your Record is Safe

When the Jays acquired Rajai Davis in the offseason, 500 Level Fan predicted that he would break Toronto’s single season record for stolen bases of 60 set by Dave Collins in 1984. I was wrong.

Rajai has put together a nice total of steals (34) but injuries and his inability to get on base at a consistent clip robbed him of any chance he may have had. He missed 19 days in April with an ankle injury, and when he came back he stole every chance he got. Unfortunately that wasn’t very often.

For the season, Davis’ OBP is a paltry .273. Such a low on-base percentage saw Rajai pushed to 8th or 9th in the order on many nights, instead of leadoff where a guy with his wheels would normally thrive. Think about it this way: Davis reached base 91 times (76 hits, 15 walks), and he attempted 45 stolen bases. That mean he attempted to steal about 50% of his times on base. Just upping his OBP to a more respectable .330 clip would have added at least 10-20 steals to his total.

Now with Rajai shelved once again with a torn hamstring, one is left to wonder if he will even play again this season. Oh, what could have been.

3. Jessie Litsch – Relief Pitcher Extraordinaire

Has there even been a more under-the-radar bullpen MVP than Litsch? He returned to the big leagues on July 30th, put in a relief role by Farrell partly because the Jays have a good amount of starters with the inclusion of Mills and Alavarez, and partly to try and stabilize Toronto’s Achilles Heel.

Whether or not the experiment might be permanent remains to be seen, but one thing is for certain – it seems to be working.

Since his recall Litsch has appeared in five games and faced 29 batters. The numbers? 8.2 IP, 2 ER, 3 H, 2 BB, 13 K, 2.08 ERA, and a WHIP of 0.57. This is Jessie Litsch we’re talking about. The man is not known for his strikeout ability. As a starter his K/9 was 7.0 and his K/BB ratio was 2.00. As a reliever? A crazy high 13.48 K/9 and 6.50 K/BB.

He might not have the intimidation factor of a successful closer, but at this point, should we not be giving him a shot?

Blast From the Past – Damaso Garcia

If you’re a Blue Jays fan, and if you’re reading this I’m assuming you are, then second base has likely been on your mind the past several weeks.

First, there was the Robbie Alomar festivities.  The greatest second baseman in Blue Jays history, and also one of the greatest second baseman in the history of the game, was celebrated in back-to-back weeks.  Inducted into Cooperstown on July 24, he had his number retired by the Jays the following week. 

That was the good.

But the bad is when all of the festivities came to an end and fans realized that the days of a dominating second baseman are long gone.  We are now left with Aaron Hill.  To say that is shocking considering his breakout 2009 season.  An All-Star with 36 HR and 108 RBI, it looked like Hill was set to be the second coming of Alomar.  But he was bad last year, and somehow, believe it or not, he is even worse this year.

A .228 average.  A .591 OPS.  5 HR.  51 strikeouts and a ridiculous amount of pop-ups.  It has reached the point where his inclusion on the 2012 roster is in question.

But with all of this second base talk, from the good, to the bad, to the ugly, it is important to remember that while Alomar might be Jays greatest second baseman he wasn’t the first.  No, years before Robbie suited up for Blue Birds, Damaso Garcia was holding down 2B, and holding it down extremely well.

Garcia was acquired in 1979 from the Yankees and took over the Jays starting job in 1980.  

His .278 average, 50 run, 13 SB, 0.6 WAR season was good enough for 4th place in the Rookie of the Year voting, and also good enough to prove to Toronto that he was the real deal.  After a shortened 1981 season, Garcia came into his own in 1982 and took off.

He hit .310, stole 54 bases, had a .737 OPS, won a Silver Slugger award and finished 26th in MVP voting.  His 4.4 WAR was the highest by a Blue Jay hitter – by far (second best belonged to Buck Martinez at 1.5).  He made back-to-back All-Star teams in ’84 and ’85, helping the Jays reach the playoffs for the first time, where he hit four doubles in the seven game loss to Kansas City.

After the ’86 season the Jays traded Garcia to Atlanta, ending his seven year reign as Toronto’s second baseman.  His final career stats with the Jays were solid:

.288 average, .690 OPS, 32 HR, 194 SB, 5.9 WAR

Sadly – or awesomely depending on your point of view – Garcia is best remembered as the dude who lit his Jays uniform on fire.  It happened in 1986 after he went 0 for 4 in a game against Oakland.  Instead of taking extra batting practice, or switching bats, or changing his pre-game routine to break out of a slump, Damaso decided to burn his uniform in the clubhouse.  Insane.  Yet, hilarious.

He is also fondly remembered for a getting in a fist fight with teammate Cliff Johnson later that season.

But…

He was a great second baseman on the field.

And I’d take him over Aaron Hill (wacky off-field persona and all)in a heartbeat.

500 Level Botched Ejection of the Game

A blurry view of the botched ejection

The game sucked. There – I said it. The Jays, amidst all of the excitement of Brett Lawrie’s home debut, put up a clunker against a team that they absolutely have to beat to prove they are on the way to contender-ville. The 4 – 1 loss to Oakland was disappointing.

Also disappointing was the action in the stands on a warm Tuesday night. Fans were happy to see Lawrie, angry with the performance on the field, but downright well behaved and polite – not what we have come to expect, especially in the glorious confines of the upper deck.

So no, there was no 500 Level Fan of the Game to hand out from last night. Instead, may I present the first ever 500 Level Botch of the Game.

Apologies for the blurry photo, but I had to act fast once the botch went down.

Everybody who has been to the Rogers Centre knows all about the “security” at the

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game. In the photo, the “officer” is wearing a baby blue golf shirt, equipped with an ear piece and walkie talkie, presumably to look more professional and intimidating. The “security” is wearing the white shirt. Generally, these people spend an entire ball game on the prowl for smuggled-in liquor. They have eagle eyes for spotting a mickey of vodka, an airplane mickey of rye, or a flask full of Jagermeister. Anybody who is over the age of 19 and orders a Coke from the concession stands is an instant suspect, likely to take a few sips of pop and then fill the cup with booze.

Also known as the fun police, these guys give the evil eye to anybody who might look suspicious. And last night, they saw an opportunity and pounced.

It was late in the game, the eighth inning, and the Jays were doing nothing on the field. After seeing the baby blue “officer” (let’s call him Biff) scowling around our section for most of the game, we were caught off guard a bit when he hurriedly ran to the section beside us, took off down the exit ramp, and returned with an actual police officer, and the “security” goon.

What had he seen, you ask? Was it the beginnings of a fight? A person chugging an open bottle of alcohol? A drunk vomiting?

No, no, and no.

Instead there was a young lady, in her 20’s, drinking a Coke out of a plastic, Rogers Centre purchased cup. Obviously, because everybody over 19 is a ruthless alcoholic intent on drinking illegally, they had to pull her into the aisle and rip the cup out of her hands. What followed was the most absurd thing I have ever seen. All three of them – Biff, “security”, and the policeman – took turns sniffing the drink. Theyhad their noses deep inside the cup, trying to detect even the faintest odour of booze.

Predictably, and hilariously, they smelled nothing. Red-faced, they let the girl go back to her seat, but offered her nothing in return – no apology, and no free drink, making her finish her pop after they breathed all over it. They left, embarrassed, to a chorus of boo’s.

Priceless.

So there you go – a 500 Level Botched Ejection.

On a side note:

Dear Rogers Centre,

Please do us all a favour and bring back the old draft beer. The bottom filling cups are a terrible, terrible idea. They invite spills, and they leak all the time.

Yours truly,

500 Level Fan

Henderson Alvarez: Uber Prospect or Surprise Call Up?

Every so often 500 Level Fan is given a treat – a guest post written by a man who knows his Blue Jays prospects. 

So with the somewhat shocking news that Henderson Alvarez was promoted to the big leagues with a Friday start on the horizon, who better to discuss the move than 500 Level Fan correspondent – the man, the myth, the legend – Mr. David “Willie Canate Fan” Yarwood himself?

Was it a good move?  A bad one?  A surprising one?  Why Alvarez instead of Drabek?  Why start him instead of moving Litsch back to the rotation? 

Read on…

Henderson Alvarez called up!

Coming into the season, Alvarez was known as a young, hard throwing RHP with some success in the lower minors, but an uncertain future.  Reports had Alvarez throwing a solid low to mid 90s fastball and a plus change.  Despite that impressive repertoire, Alvarez has posted relatively low K numbers, 6.5K/9IP in just over 400IP in his pro career.  For comparison, in about the same number of minor league innings, Jesse Litsch has posted a K/9 of 7.6.

John Sickels at minorleagueball.com rated Alvarez the #20 prospect in the Jays organization on his pre-season list, saying that while Alvarez throws hard, he needed to have a good year to remain in the prospect picture.  

Baseball Prospectus listed Alvarez #16 on their top 20, saying: “Scouts love his stuff, yet wonder why the results rarely match.”

Alvarez did not make Baseball America’s top 10 for Toronto, but he was rated as having the organization’s best changeup (high praise in an organization that emphasizes the change.)

After two starts at high A Dunedin, Alvarez was promoted to AA New Hampshire where he has amassed the following numbers: 8W, 4L, 2.86 ERA, 88IP, 81H, 7HR, 17BB, 66K, 1.60 GO/AO.  The most impressive stats may be the very low walk rate (1.7BB/9IP, very impressive, especially for a young power pitcher) and the low HR allowed (0.7/9IP).  Alvarez is also a ground ball machine which helps to explain the difficulty hitters have taking him deep.  His HR/9 for his minor league career is only 0.5.  Two years ago in Lansing, he got some attention for allowing only 1 HR in 124 IP. 

Alvarez’s stock started to rise with his promotion to New Hampshire where he started to string together good starts.  In mid-June, Alvarez reportedly hit 101mph on the radar gun.  In an indication that Alvarez was beginning to attract attention among prospect watchers, Keith Law ranked Alvarez the #39 prospect in baseball on his midseason top-50. 

In a recent interview with battersbox, New Hampshire pitching coach Pete Walker was asked about Alvarez’s failure to put up impressive K numbers you might expect from a pitcher with his arsenal.  Walker said that Alvarez: “has refined his mechanics and he is attacking the strike zone.  He has a tremendous fastball and he is using his fastball predominantly and I think once he gets more command and control of his breaking stuff you will see the punch outs go up.  He has a very good change-up and it’s very unusual for a guy with kind of stuff not to have the strikeouts but I really do think it’s coming and I think his sinker is so devastating he gets a lot of guys to look bad and mishit balls but once he establishes that breaking ball better the strikeouts will go up.”

Walker’s prediction seems to have come true, and in his last 7 starts, Alvarez has 37K and only 5BB in 39.2IP: a K rate of 8.4 per 9IP. 

Alvarez is in many ways the model pitcher for the Jays organization.  A power arm, groundball machine who does not walk batters and throws a terrific changeup.  His curveball is still a work in progress, and that is perhaps the only thing holding him back from elite-prospect status.  Without a solid-average curve, Alvarez is still probably a major leaguer.  However, a lack of a solid third pitch will keep Alvarez a bit short against RH hitters.  Refining his curve may be the difference between a career as a late game reliever and a front-end starter. 

With that in mind, the obvious question is why did the Jays call Alvarez up to the majors right now?  Maybe it means that the Jays see themselves as contenders in 2012 and want to see if Alvarez can be a piece of the puzzle. After a successful trade deadline, management’s goal may be to clear the decks of players that will not be part of the picture next year and bring up any players within the organization most likely to get the team over the top. 

Perhaps Alvarez is being showcased as part of a package for a star player this offseason.  Alvarez’s value has to go up just by virtue of getting called up to the big leagues. Let a few potential trade partners see what Alvarez has and then… welcome to Toronto, Hanley Ramirez?

Richard Griffin speculated on Friday that Alvarez could be groomed as the Jays’ closer of the future.  If the Jays re-sign Frank Francisco to close next season, Frankie could experience déjà vu watching Alvarez push him out of 9th inning role, much like Nefatli Feliz did last year in Texas. 

Regardless of what the reason is for the call-up right now, I think it makes sense.  With a player like Brett Lawrie, the Jays could afford to be somewhat patient, expecting that however good he is now, he’ll probably be even better in his mid to late 20s.  Lawrie looked ready for the majors in spring training, but by sending him to AAA for 4 months, the Jays bought themselves an extra year of cheap service. But pitchers experience a much higher rate of attrition due to injury.  It may make sense to bring them to the majors as soon as they are ready, rather than wasting any healthy-arm-years in the minors. 

And notwithstanding the beatings absorbed earlier this year by Kyle Drabek, pitching prospects normally don’t need to be handled as delicately as hitters.  With only a few exceptions, hitters seem to develop best through exposure to incremental improvements in the quality of competition over the course of a several years and a few thousand PA.  Pitchers need to develop endurance, repeatable mechanics and command.  Once those skills are mastered, if their stuff is nasty, they belong in the big leagues.

Welcome Henderson Alvarez. Drew Hutchison, you’re next.