Friday, March 29, 2013

Back To The Future: 1993 vs. 2013, Part 2

With Opening Day impending and expectations running wild, we're taking look at how the 2013 roster compares to the 1993 club, which, as some of you may know, won the World Series.  Check out Part 1 of the series here.  

Rickey Henderson vs. Melky Cabrera

At the 1993 trade deadline, the Blue Jays sent Steve Karsay and PTBNL Jose Herrera to Oakland in exchange for a quick lease on the greatest leadoff hitter in baseball history.  Things didn't exactly work out as planned.  In his brief stint with the club — Henderson appeared in just 56 games with the Blue Jays, postseason included —the 34-year-old never really found his groove, producing a .675 OPS (.356 OBP) and stealing 22 bases over his final 44 regular season games before struggling throughout the playoffs, too.  His performance in Toronto left something to be desired, but in the grand scheme of things, it's little more than small sample flatulence.  Furthermore, for the purpose of this exercise, we need to examine the entire year's worth of numbers, as Henderson's 2013 counterpart won't be expected to participate in just 44 games.  So despite his struggles in Toronto, 1993 was, on the whole, another successful year for Rickey, as he posted an aggregate .289/.432/.474 line while stealing 53 bases in 61 attempts (87%).  The left fielder -- who drew a walk off Mitch Williams to lead off the ninth inning of Game 6 -- worked a free pass in 19.7% of his plate appearances that year while also reaching the 20-homerun plateau for the first time since 1990.  Just to give a little bit of context, only four qualified players have enjoyed seasons with a better walk rate since my bar mitzvah (2004): Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Jack Cust, and Jose Bautista.

Many will look at Melky Cabrera's performance over the last two seasons -- .322/.360/.489, 8.2 wins above replacement -- and attribute it, 
unequivocally, to PEDs.  Because, y'know, players can't simply get better or whatever.  The Blue Jays were a little more thoughtful, exploiting a market inefficiency to lock up a player (on the cheap) that they believe is capable of at least approximating his numbers over the past couple seasons, despite the PED concern.  Regression is likely, if not certain for Cabrera, but I'm far more concerned about BABIP than PEDs.  Cabrera fashioned a .379 BABIP in 2012, an unsustainable figure (70 points above his career mark) that contributed heavily to his .346 batting average.  But even if you are concerned that the spike in Cabrera's isolated power over the past two seasons is PED-charged, bear in mind that he's moving from the extremely pitcher-friendly environment  of AT&T Park to the much more hitter-friendly Rogers Centre, a transition that could mitigate the concern that Melky's power will be zapped now that he's been caught.  Over the past three seasons, the Concrete Convertible has produced 119 HRs for every 100 homeruns, according to  That's gotta be encouraging.  Furthermore, Melky has great bat-to-ball skills, striking out in just 12.1% of his career plate appearances, and provides value on the basepaths.  He's averaged about 17 steals per season over the past two years.  I'm very optimistic about Melky's 2013 prospects, and it'll be nice to have some stability in left field after several years of flux, but we're comparing him to the "Greatest of All Time."  Sorry, Melkman.

Winner: Henderson.  

Roberto Alomar vs. Emilio Bonifacio

I mean no disrespect to Emilio Bonifacio — I believe his versatility and speed will prove immensely useful; there's even rumour of him platooning with Rasmus in centrefield -- but this is tantamount to comparing your first love to some girl you just met at the bar.  Alomar, whose Cooperstown plaque depicts him sporting a Blue Jays cap, enjoyed another superb season in 1993, producing a .398 wOBA to lead all second basemen.  While his numbers have have been slightly dwarfed by the ridiculous feats accomplished by his teammates, Alomar presence at the top of the lineup contributed significantly to their RBI totals.  In 1993, his age 25-season, Alomar posted a .408 OBP, walking 11.7% of the time and picking up 192 hits, sixth-most in baseball.  His 55 stolen bases represented the third most in baseball (tied with Luis Polonia), while he eclipsed single digits in homeruns for the first time in his career, knocking 17 round-trippers.  Each of his big-3 rate stats that year -- .326/.408/.492 -- would stand as personal bests as a Blue Jay.  Ultimately, Alomar was worth 5.7 wins above replacement in 1993, and that's with defensive metrics costing him nearly a full win.  He won the Gold Glove anyway, for the record, if you're into that sort of thing.  And even if you're not, Alomar's tenure in Toronto was magical, and 1993 was his magnum opus.

The acquisition of Emilio Bonifacio was largely overshadowed by the other Marlins included in November's uber-deal, a reality further compounded by the eventual arrival of R.A. Dickey. But, as stated above, I believe Bonifacio's presence on the 25-man will afford manager John Gibbons lots of flexibility when it comes to crafting his lineup and making tactical decisions late in games.  That said, he's a utility guy — a valuable one, to be sure — but a utility guy when it comes down to it.  As such, speed remains one of central attributes; he stole 30 bases in just 64 contests last year while producing 6.1 BsR, a counting-stat metric that translates skills on the basepaths (excluding stolen bases) into runs, with 0 representing league average.  The latter figure, good for 16th in baseball, is particularly impressive considering how few games Boni played last season. Nobody in the top 15 appeared in fewer than 100 games.  But outside of that, none of his abilities jump out at you.  With a career .329 OBP, a number derived from a high BABIP, I suppose he's a touch above-average when it comes to avoiding outs.  Of course, what that really means is hitting singles — his walk rate routinely hovers around league average and he has zero power; only five players with at least 250 PAs in 2012 produced a lower ISO than Boni's .057.  So yeah, versatility will make Bonifacio a defensive nomad in 2013, as he'll play all over the diamond while providing a nice late-inning option to pinch run.  There's really no point trying to contrive a comparison between his prospects for 2013 and Alomar's ridiculous 1993 campaign. 

Winner: Alomar

Duane Ward vs. Casey Janssen

When I was maybe 12 years old, I ran into Duane Ward at a Toronto Raptors game (I know, I know) and, after asking him for an autograph, commended him on his 43 saves in 1993.  An older, more corpulent Ward politely reminded me that he had, in fact, collected 45 saves that season.  Following the departure of Tom Henke, Ward assumed closing duties in 1993 and was just as dominant as his predecessor.  In what proved to be his last successful season in baseball — arm trouble ended his career prematurely; he was out of baseball at 31 — Ward converted 88% of his saves opportunities, leading all relievers with a ridiculous 12.18 K/9, a ratio that bespeaks the unparalleled nastiness of his slider, or so my father says.  His 2.13 ERA (2.10 FIP) ranked sixth among relievers, to go along with a 1.03 WHIP, a career best.  After all, it's kind of tough to allow baserunners when you strike out roughly 35% of the batters you face.  Incidentally, opposing hitters compiled a meagre .191 batting average off Wardo in 1993.  What else can I say? He was real good.

Janssen, our favourite drop-and-drive practitioner, found himself thrust into the closer role in 2012 after newly acquired Sergio Santos hit the DL just six games into the regular season.  Despite the absence of a true out pitch or stuff that really incites tumescence, Janssen thrived in the ninth inning, picking up 22 saves in 25 chances (88%, whaddayaknow?) and fashioning a sub-3.00 ERA for a second consecutive season.  2012 saw Janssen whittle his walk rate down to 1.55/9, a career best, while striking out 27.7% of opposing hitters, also a career benchmark.  Same goes for his 9.5% swinging strike rate.  That said, he did outperform his peripherals a little in 2012, with a half-run discrepancy between his ERA (2.54) and FIP (3.08), so a little regression this year isn't unreasonable.  Furthermore, recovery from offseason surgery has muddled his prospects of being ready for Opening Day, and with Santos looking to reclaim the closer role (and Steve Delabar a potential ninth-inning option, too), the odds of Janssen holding onto the job for the entirety of 2013 seems a little improbable — not that the Save really matters, or anything.  Regardless, it's likely that Janssen doesn't enjoy as much success in 2013, with his strikeout rates, walk rates, and left-on-base percentage regressing closer to his career marks.  Considering this confluence of factors, it seems unlikely he's as dominant as Wardo.

Winner: Ward

Following today's sweep by the 1993 club, the series score currently stands at 4-1 for Cito's gang.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Back To The Future: 1993 vs. 2013, Part 1

It seems like a natural impulse to want to liken the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays to the 1993 incarnation of the club, a roster highlighted by names firmly ensconced into Toronto's sports hagiography.  I mean, look at all the similarities.  They're good; Dominican players abound; The year ends in "3."  Okay, sure.  But beyond these superficial parallels, how much does this this year's club really smell like the last group of Jays to hoist the Commissioner's Trophy?

Yesterday, CBC Sports published a piece providing a position-by-position comparison of the two respective Jays club, contrasting the performance of the 1993 players with the 2012 numbers from each of Toronto's putative 2013 starters.  In this series, we'll take a look at how the two teams stack up, because why not?

Catcher: Pat Borders vs. J.P. Arencibia

I suspect that Pat Borders' MVP performance in the 1992 World Series leaves most Jays fans with little but saccharine memories of the backstop.  And that's ok.  But it does little to mitigate the fact that he was a below-replacement level player in 1993.  In his age-30 season, which proved to be his final year as an everyday player, Borders posted a .254/.285/.371 line, belting nine homeruns in 520 plate appearances.  Walking in just 3.8% of his PAs, Borders' .285 OBP in 1993 represented his third consecutive campaign in which he reached base less than 30% of the time.  His .290 wOBA ranked second-last among the nine catchers to qualify for the batting title -- he finished .001 points ahead of Cincinnati's Joe Oliver -- while recording the lowest isolated power among that group, at .117.  Borders also committed 13 errors behind the plate that year, a career-high, while throwing out just 33% of prospective base-stealers, a figure three percent below the league average that year.

As deficient as Arencibia is in so many facets of the game (see: on-base ability, defense, running), his prospects for 2013 still seem brighter than Borders' 1993 campaign.  Despite missing nearly a third of 2012 due to a fractured hand, Arencibia still managed to be worth 1.2 wins above replacement, hitting for the requisite power while making strides in his defensive game.  His .202 ISO (read: meal ticket) ranked seventh among the 25 catchers with at least 350 PAs in 2012 -- Josh Thole ranked dead last, by-the-by.  And if we cherry-pick a little with our endpoints, Arencibia compiled a .294/.324/.676 over his final 22 games before hitting the disabled list, pumping seven homeruns over that span -- do with that info what you will.  But even more encouraging is the progress Arencibia made in his defensive game.  2012 saw Arencibia post above-average numbers in both Defensive Runs Saved (3) and RPP (1.9), a metric that measures a catcher's ability to block piches in the dirt translated into runs, with 0 representing league average.  He's still going to strike out a ton (career 28.2 K%) a propensity that's going to hurt his ability to reach base, but with just moderate improvements in that area and continued defensive development, he could approximate a 2-win player in 2013.

Winner: Arencibia

First base: John Olerud vs. Adam Lind

In September, I wrote a piece examining Colby Rasmus' disastrous second-half to the 2012 season, wherein I contended that Johnny O "possessed arguably the sweetest lefty swing in the history of the Blue Jays."  Nobody on the Blue Jays' roster did anything in the last month of the season to change my mind.  Olerud's smooth swing was operating at full capacity in 1993, when he was the best hitter in baseball not named Barry Bonds.  Olerud, then 24 (24!), led the league with a .363 batting average while recording a ridiculous .473 on-base percentage, walking in 16.8% of his trips of the plate; a .375 BABIP -- good for fourth among qualified hitters -- didn't hurt.  And his gaudy batting average wasn't empty, either.  Olerud's .236 ISO placed him fifth among qualified first basemen, topped only by behemoths like Frank Thomas (hey, Frank Thomas!) and Rafy Palmeiro, Fred McGriff, and Mickey Tettleton.  The svelte infielder's 24 homeruns in 1993 represent a career high.  Hell, pretty much everything for Olerud in 1993 was a career high.  He was also worth 4 Fielding Runs Above Average and hit .291/.413/.424 against lefties.  Cream.

Oh, Adam Lind.  The much maligned (and deservedly maligned) first baseman/designated hitter has seen his strock drop mightily over the past three seasons.  By now, you're surely familiar with the narrative.  He won the 2009 Silver Slugger award and has been terrible since.  Over the past three season, Lind's struggles against lefthanded pitching have become increasingly pronounced, to the point where they're almost comical.  Since 2010, he has a .186/.226/.281 line against southpaws over 390 plate appearances.  His struggles culminated in a demotion to Triple A Las Vegas last year, and he did show some signs of life upon his return; over his final 59 games, he posted an OPS north of .800 while holding his own against the lefties.  But if we look at this through a sober lens, Lind hasn't been better than a replacement level player in two of the past thee years, and, at this point, a platoon (Rajai? DeRosa?) represents the more sensible scenario.  Lind's prospects of outperforming Olerud's 1993 are about as likely as Mike Trout leading the Angels' rotation in wins in 2013.  At this point, if Lind can prove a serviceable platoon partner at 1B/DH while continuing to mash righthanded pitching, I'd be satisfied.

Winner: Olerud. Olerud also comes in second.

The series will continue tomorrow with a look at left field and closer, and maybe some others if I'm not feeling lazy.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Today in People You Probably Aren’t Talking About: Shawn Green

It’s quite fitting that Shawn Green’s first year of Hall of Fame eligibility coincided with a veritable poop-storm of rancorous Twitterbrawling and controversy over performance-enhancing drugs that allowed his candidacy to go virtually unnoticed.  The svelte outfielder played the bulk of his career during the nadir of the steroid era, when men the size of tractor-trailers abounded in Major League Baseball.  So flying under the radar is kind of a recurring theme for him.

When the ballots were finally tallied and the results revealed -- spoiler: nobody with a pulse got the requisite 75% -- Green received precisely two votes from the 569 chartered members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.  And it makes sense.  By no stretch of the imagination does Green deserve to be enshrined in Cooperstown among the pantheon of baseball legends.  Like countless others, he was a really, really good player who wasn’t quite good enough for the Hall of Fame.  According to Jay Jaffe’s proprietary system, Green’s 30.4 JAWS ranks 60th all-time among right fielders, and well below the threshold of those already inducted at the position.

Since news of the collective snubbery broke, Twitter has erupted with throngs of people calling for election reform, lambasting anyone who didn’t vote for Craig Biggio,  and engaging in sanctimonious nose-thumbing (or is it thumb-nosing?).  But I’m above all that*.  Instead of participating in the virtual pissing-contest, I’m going to take advantage of an opportunity to craft a concise, sentimental tribute to Green, a player who had the misfortune of playing against a backdrop of steroids that effectively dwarfed his career numbers -- numbers that would elicit a heck of a lot of giddiness these days.

*Note: I am, in no way, above all that.

Disclaimer: I’m going to use arbitrary endpoints and pick the stats I like because, darn it, Shawn Green deserves some love from someone!
  • Over 15 major league seasons, Green -- the most accomplished Jewish batsmen since Hank Greenberg -- compiled 42.1 WARP, an impressive figure fueled by 328 homeruns and a .290 True Average.  
  • From 1999-2002, Green slugged 157 homeruns, which accounted for the eighth-most over that span.  When you consider that five of the seven players who precede him on that list (Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Rafael Palmeiro, and Jeff Bagwell) have all either tested positive, admitted to, or been heavily implicated for using performance-enhancing drugs, Green’s power numbers assume even more weight.   
  • Green is one of just 16 players to hit four homeruns in one game, accomplishing the feat on May 23, 2002 as his Los Angeles Dodgers trounced the Milwaukee Brewers 16-3.  Oh, he also added a single and a double to set the major league record for total bases in a game, with 19.
  • Green collected exactly 2,003 career base hits.  The movie Old School was released in 2003, and that’s a kick-ass movie.
  • In 1998, as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays, Green hit 35 homeruns and stole 35 bases, making him one of the 38 members of the illustrious 30-30 club.
  • From 1995-2005, Green was one of just ten players with at least 6,500 plate appearances who posted an on-base percentage above .350 and an isolated power greater than .200.  Other names on that list include: Alex Rodriguez, Jeff Bagwell, Chipper Jones, Manny Ramirez, Sammy Sosa, Gary Sheffield, Jeff Kent, Luis Gonzalez, and Rafael Palmeiro.
  • Over 53 career postseason plate appearances, Green had a .900 OPS.
  • Green was featured on the cover of MLB 2004, making him the last Los Angeles Dodger to grace a video game cover.  Suck it, Matt Kemp.
  • Over 1,951 career games, Green had just one stint on the disabled list, when he fractured the first metatarsal in his right foot back in 2007.  Wimp. 
Green will not appear on any subsequent Hall of Fame ballots as he did not receive the mandatory 5% in this year’s election.  In that case, I guess this serves as something of a eulogy to one of the steroid era’s more unheralded stars (at least, outside of Toronto). 

And while I don’t agree with Chris’s assessment, I applaud his ardor:

Friday, November 30, 2012

I Want Youk to Want Me

Patience was not a virtue exemplified by many Blue Jays hitters in 2012.  Consequently, the team's collective .309 OBP ranked 25th in baseball last season.

Only three of Toronto's regular starters -- Edwin Encarnacion (.384), Jose Bautista (.358), and Brett Lawrie (.324) -- registered on-base percentages above the arbitrary .315 mark.

And no player on the roster embodies Toronto's lacklustre plate approach better than Adam Lind; over the past three seasons, Lind has compiled an OBP of .296.  And as horrifying as that number is, it gets a whole lot worse when we isolate the splits.

Lind's struggles against left-handed pitching are well documented.  Since his astonishing 2009 campaign in which he slugged 35 homeruns with a .932 OPS en route to a Silver Slugger award, Lind has proven himself to be little more than a glorified platoon player.  In the three subsequent seasons -- and brace yourself because this is ugly -- he's posted a slash line of .186/.226/.281 against southpaws in 390 plate appearances.  In case the putrid stench of those numbers has incapacitated your mathematical faculties, that's good for a .507 OPS. 

Since 2010, Lind has struck out in 26.9% of his plate appearances against lefties, compared to 18.5% against righthanders.  And it goes on like this for a while: 
  • 7.4 BB% vs. RHP -- 4.1 BB% vs. LHP;
  • .340 wOBA vs. RHP -- .225 wOBA vs. LHP;
  • .212 ISO vs. RHP -- .096 ISO vs. LHP;
You get the picture.

If only there was a capable, disciplined, goateed right-handed bat available that could split time with Lind whenever a lefty toes the slab.  And a shaved head is preferable.

Given that broad description, the first candidate that comes to mind is Kevin Youkilis.

Blue Jays fans will surely remember Youk from his time with the Boston Red Sox.  In fact, throughout his nine-year career, Youkilis has played more games against the Blue Jays than any other team in baseball.  Over 111 tilts with the Blue Jays, Youkilis knocked 16 homeruns with a .372 OBP and .834 OPS.  While those figures pale slightly in comparison to his career totals -- .384 and .867, respectively -- they're not anything to sneeze at.

Renowned for his impeccable approach and plate discipline, the longtime Fenway favourite earned the moniker "The Greek God of Walks," and it's a nickname that's certainly deserved.  His .413 OBP in 2009 ranked sixth in the bigs, while his .411 mark in 2010 would've put him in a tie for fourth had injuries not prevented him from reaching the requisite 501 plate appearances.

As he's crept closer to his dotage, his numbers have taken a dip, but he still managed a .355 OBP with a  .347 wOBA over the past two seasons.  But since we're really only interested in him as a platoon player, his numbers against lefties are really what we're after.  To put it succinctly: they're good.

Over the past two seasons with the Red/White Sox, Youkilis has worked a tasty .407 OBP with a .935 OPS against lefties.  To get some perspective, Edwin Encarnacion's OPS last year was .941.  Youkilis' .386 OBP against southpaws last year was exactly 70 points higher than his clip against righties.  And of his 19 homeruns in 2012, eight of them came off lefthanders.  Bear in mind, of course, those eight bombs came over 120 at-bats, while his other 11 took him 318 ABs. 

Youkilis is no slouch with the glove, either.  Over his career, he's split time between the corner infield positions, but a platoon with Lind would see him get regular reps at first-base, a far less demanding position.  For his career, he's been worth 7.3 UZR/150 at first base.

Of course, convincing Youk to embrace a platoon role is a significant hurdle, but considering the way he's regressed over the past couple seasons, and his extensive injury history, he might be more receptive to the idea, especially if the Blue Jays are prepared to offer him two guaranteed years with a club option, for kicks.

And while some fans -- presumably the same ones who boo Derek Jeter for breathing -- might be reluctant to embrace a man who spent the prime of his career as a thorn in the side of Toronto pitchers, the notion of Adam Lind in an everyday role is far more objectionable.

And with that, let me conclude by saying, "Take that, Mel Gibson."

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happ-iness is a Warm Arm

In a sport of failure like baseball, success can be so transient that we form conceptions of certain players without considering the sample size or the circumstances.  These conceptions can be hard to shake.

This is probably the best way to describe my relationship with J.A. Happ.

When Happ was acquired last July in a 10-player swap with the Houston Astros, I kept deluding myself into thinking we'd acquired the 2008 iteration of the southpaw rather than the contemporary version.  Over the past three seasons, Happ, who was aggressively pursued by Alex Anthopoulos as he endeavoured to trade Roy Halladay, has in no way resembled the Philadelphia incarnation of himself -- the guy who worked a 3.05 ERA over 43 appearances (27 starts) for the Phillies between 2008 and 2009.

His career in Houston started off rather auspiciously -- he posted a 3.75 ERA in 13 starts for the Astros following a mid-season trade in 2010 -- but his hitability and homerun rates soared when 2011 came around, and Happ has yet to justify my lingering perception of him as a serviceable starter.

But despite the disastrous turn his career took in the Lone Star state, Happ took to vindicating me (and the handful of other J.A. enthusiasts) when he arrived north of the border last season.

In 10 starts for Toronto, Happ fashioned a 4.69 ERA that belied an impressive 2.80 FIP.  Though he threw just 40.1 inning as a Blue Jay, he accrued a greater fWAR (1.1) than Ricky Romero, Henderson Alvarez, and Carlos Villanueva, all of whom threw more than 125 innings.  And he did it all despite surrendering the highest BABIP (.315) of his career.

The sexy FIP suggests Happ was unlucky during his brief stint with Toronto, and his ERA was likely inflated by poor defense.  This is entirely plausible when we look at who surrounded him, including  Rajai Davis (-6.8 UZR) and the pylonic Kelly Johnson (-6.9 UZR).

In his first tour around the American League -- albeit, an abbreviated one -- Happ flashed swing-and-miss stuff with unprecedented regularity, at a clip of %12.2; while his sample was considerably smaller, that figure is more than three per cent higher than Brandon Morrow's in 2012.

Of course, there is something to be said for the fact that pitchers typically have an advantage over hitters in their first confrontation. Russell Carleton, now of Baseball Prospectus, was actually able to quantify the advantage, determining that "in the first meeting ... the pitcher had a 7 point advantage in OBP"  and "by the time of the second meeting, that advantage was almost entirely gone (down to 1.5 points)." So it's reasonable to presume that Happ encounters a little more adversity as AL teams become more familiar with his repertoire, but even still, he probably represents a better option than the low-tier arms available on the free agent market.

For the sake of this argument, we'll consider any free agent who made at least 20 starts in 2012 -- I doubt the Blue Jays opt for a true reclamation project to fill the final rotation spot -- and isn't one of the pitchers who will command a multi-year deal.  This excludes the likes of Zack Greinke, Brandon McCarthy, Dan Haren, Ryan Dempster, Anibal Sanchez, Shaun Marcum, Kyle Lohse, and Anibal Sanchez.  

So who's left to compete with Happ for the fifth rotation spot? In alphabetical order...

Erik Bedard (34) - Compiled an 5.01 ERA over 24 starts with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2012, with a FIP that didn't trail too far behind at 4.07.  Bedard hasn't made more than 24 starts in a season since 2007, and has had two shoulder surgeries in the past four years.  Oh yeah, and he's a Tommy John survivor. While he'd likely come cheap, when considering both performance and durability, he inspires about as much confidence as Eric Thames in left field.

Joe Blanton (32) - Despite an underwhelming fastball that sits around 89-90 mph, Blanton has a deep arsenal and good command, averaging 1.9 BB/9 since 2010.  But that's about it.  His propensity for surrendering homeruns isn't encouraging -- his 1.37 HR/9 in 2012 ranked 11th-worst among qualified pitchers -- nor is his 23.4% line-drive rate, ninth-worst in baseball.  But his DL history is merely a fraction of Bedard's; he stays healthy and guiled his way to 2.4 fWAR last season.  He could conceivably work out of the bullpen and serve as a contingency No. 5 should Happ falter.

Kevin Correia (32) - Just about the only thing Kevin Correia does well is induce ground balls; his 51.2 GB% in 2012 ranked eighth in the National League.  But look at his appalling strikeout numbers -- 4.6 K/9 over the past two seasons and a microscopic swing-and-miss rate -- and his good control, Correia seems like an older, more tired version of Henderson Alvarez. Since 2010, Correia has been worth 0.9 fWAR.  Yeesh.

Scott Feldman (29) - Feldman is coming off a rough 2012 in which he found himself parading back and forth from rotation to bullpen.  As a starter, he compiled a record of 5-11 with an 5.48 ERA and 1.44 WHIP over 21 outings.  But his 3.88 FIP and relatively high BABIP suggest he was a tad unlucky last season.  At only 29 years old, Feldman could be a decent option if the price is right.

Jeff Francis (32) - Since 2008, Francis had whittled an ERA below five in just one season.  That was back in 2011, his lone season not pitching half his games in the hitter's haven that is Coors Field.  Nevertheless, Francis has been worth 4.4 fWAR over the past two season, despite the mitigating impact of the Mile High altitude last year.  His HR/9 and BABIP will surely regress towards the mean outside of Colorado, and his low strikeout rates notwithstanding, Francis is an okay option for the No. 5 spot.

Francisco Liriano (29) - One of the more intriguing (read: exasperating) options on the free agent market, Liriano's stuff and pedigree have been lauded to death.  Unfortunately, there's been a massive disconnect between his reputation and his performance over the past two years.    His consistently high strikeouts rates are sexy -- 9.0 K/9 over the past three seasons -- but his command has been downright deplorable for the past two years, at 5.0 BB/9.  He can also usually be relied on for at least one DL stint per season.  Nevertheless, I'm a sucker for electric stuff, and his fastball-slider combination certainly fits that description.  I wouldn't mind giving him an audition, for the right price.

Derek Lowe (40) - 2012 marked the first season since 2002 that Lowe didn't make at least 32 starts.  There's a simple explanation for that: he's kinda bad.  His 1.1 fWAR last year marked the lowest score of his career, and his 3.47 K/9 is absolutely laughable.  And he's 40.  And, from what I've heard/read, kind of a jerk.  Pass.

Jason Marquis (34) - Yeah, he's a seasoned ground-ball specialist, but like Correia, that's about all he's got going for him.  His 1.62 HR/9 last year ranked sixth-worst among pitchers with at least 120 innings, and, when coupled with mediocre command (3.43 career BB/9), it makes for a dangerous combination.  Since 2010, he's only been better than the average replacement-level player once.

Kevin Millwood (38) - The well-traveled righty was worth 2.0 fWAR last season, but don't let that fool you.  Pitching in the cavernous Safeco Field, Millwood fashioned his lowest home-run rate since 2002, a factor which surely contributed to his rather surprising success.  He can induce ground balls pretty well, and he's got alright command, but there's literally not a single thing about Millwood that I can use a really positive adjective for.

Joe Saunders (32) - If you're a fan of poo-throwing lefties -- and, presumably, you are now that Mark Buehrle's a Blue Jay -- Saunders is the guy for you.  He'll eat innings and wow you with precisely nothing.  He doesn't really strike guys out, he throws a ton of strikes, and he'll give up his fair share of homeruns.  But he's made at least 28 starts every year since 2008 and has never had his ERA eclipse 4.60 over that span.  In fact, he's managed two years of a sub-3.70 ERA out of his last five.  He could work, but I suspect someone desperate will give him a multi-year deal.

Randy Wolf (36) - Break out the Duran Duran references.  Wolf is another soft-throwing southpaw who has made a career out of staying healthy and throwing strikes.  That being said, he's 36 years old and coming off the worst year of his career, in which he fashioned a 5.65 ERA over 30 appearances (26 starts).  I wouldn't touch his climbing homerun rates or 68 mph curveball with a ten-foot clown pole.

Chris Young (34) - A righty who throws like a lefty, Young's fastball has averaged under 85 mph for the past three seasons.  While his 2.82 BB/9 represents his lowest mark since 2005, his astronomic fly ball rate won't play well at the hitter-friendly Skydome.  Considering his age and injury history, Young doesn't really seem like a viable option.

Carlos Zambrano (32) - RAWR! CARLOS ZAMBRANO! MLB's preeminent emotional volcano has made a reputation based more on his Incredible Hulk-like implosions than performance.  Once a respectable cog in the Cubs rotation, Zambrano's taken a step backward the past couple seasons, and was relegated to the bullpen in 2012.  Since 2011, he's compiled an 4.66 ERA with an abysmal 1.47 WHIP.  Considering the way he's trending and his volatility, I'll pass.

Not included in this list: Dallas Braden, Freddy Garcia, Rich Harden (please, no), Roberto Hernandez, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Dustin Moseley, Roy Oswalt, Carl Pavano, Andy Pettitte, Jonathan Sanchez, Tim Stauffer, Carlos Villanueva, Chien-Ming Wang, Kip Wells, Randy Wells.

Look, some of these guys might have more success in 2013 than Happ, but I'm far too attached to my pre-enlightenment 2008-2009 conception of J.A. to give up on him now.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Day That Everything Changed

There I was lamenting another mundane Tuesday night.

And then the Blue Jays pulled off the biggest trade in the history of the franchise. 

With his credibility in a precarious state with the Toronto fan base, Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos silenced his critics by striking a deal with the Miami Marlins that'll see Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio, and John Buck come to Toronto in exchange for Yunel Escobar, Henderson Alvarez, and prospects Adeiny Hechavarria, Justin Nicolino, Jake Marisnick, and Anthony DeSclafani.

Sometimes it's hard to recognize truly seminal moments when they first occur.  I'm sure nobody anticipated how profound an impact the Mike Sirotka trade would have when it was first consummated.

Sometimes, however, it's not.  This is one of those moments.

In a move that makes the Alomar-Carter swap look virtually insignificant, the Blue Jays just executed a truly seismic deal that drastically changes the complexion of the franchise.  In one evening, Toronto added upwards of $150M to its payroll while parting with a veritable army of youthful assets, many of them highly esteemed prospects.  A number of pundits have suggested that this deal puts Toronto in a position to compete for a playoff spot in 2013.

Though the deal has yet to receive approval from Major League Baseball, we might as well dive right in and get the analytical juices flowing.  Here goes nothing.

What we got:

1. Josh Johnson - RHP; 28 years old; Career ERA: 3.15; Career W-L: 56-37

An ace-calibre pitcher, Johnson immediately becomes the best hurler in Toronto's previously beleaguered rotation.  Armed with a devastating slider and a fastball that sits around 93 mph, Johnson can blow you away with swing-and-miss stuff; his 9.2% swinging-strike rate in 2012 ranks above that of Zack Greinke, David Price, and Madison Bumgarner.  Though he's only made 68 starts since 2010 -- he's battled arm issues throughout his career --  Johnson can be dominant when healthy, and has a 2.87 ERA over that span, averaging 8.4 K/9 with an impressive 1.17 WHIP. 

2. Mark Buehrle - LHP; 33 years old; Career ERA: 3.82; Career W-L: 174-132

There really are no surprises with Buehrle.  He's going to make 30 starts.  He's going to throw 200 innings.  He's going to keep you in games with impeccable command (career 2.03 BB/9) and by mixing his pitches effectively.  And if he manages to sneak a fastball by you -- his heater averaged 85 mph in 2012-- you need to reevaluate your career choice.  Nevertheless, Buehrle remains one of baseball's most reliable workhorses, and the importance of his stabilizing presence in the rotation cannot be overstated.

3. Jose Reyes - SS; 29 years old; Career slash: .291/.342/.440, 92 homeruns, 410 stolen bases

A four-time all-star, Reyes remains one of the most exciting up-the-middle players in the game.  The 2011 NL batting champion represents Toronto's first legitimate leadoff hitter since Shannon Stewart.  While he doesn't walk as much you might hope (career 7.1 BB%) his exceptional speed and impressive bat-to-ball skills keeps his OBP (and BABIP) high.  He's a gamechanger on the basepaths, averaging 36 swipes a year since 2010.  His defensive metrics suggest his fielding abilities have regressed a touch in recent years, but, to the best of my knowledge, he's never written an kind of discriminatory slur across his eyeblack.

Addendum: One associate of mine dutifully noted that I omitted any reference to Reyes’ past injury troubles.  However, I feel as though rumours of his fragility have been somewhat exaggerated.  Since 2005, Reyes has played at least 126 games in all but one season.  

4. Emilio Bonifacio - UTIL; 27 years old; Career slash: .267/.329/.343, 110 stolen bases

A versatile speedster, Bonifacio can play a number of positions and is a pretty attractive candidate to hit in the nine-spot.  Since 2011, he's stolen 70 bases in just 216 games and has played at least 100 innings at six different positions, including 2B and LF.  Expect him to battle for playing time at 2B with newly acquired Maicer Izturis.

5. John Buck - 32 years old; Career slash: .235/.303/.405, 118 homeruns

I'm reluctant to write anything about Buck because the catching situation in Toronto is so uncertain right now.  But whatever.  You probably remember Buck from his lone campaign in Toronto, when he smashed 20 homeruns with an .802 OPS.  He's not that guy anymore.  He's an older catcher whose offensive abilities have deteriorated considerably.  He's fashioned a .667 OPS in his two seasons with the Marlins, posting a horrendous .192/.297/.347 slash line in 2012.  We had to take him to complete this deal.

What we gave up:

1. Yunel Escobar - SS; 30 years old; Career slash: .282/.353/.390, 53 homeruns, 26 stolen bases

His fate effectively sealed by the now infamous eye-black fiasco, Escobar alienated himself from the Toronto fans in 2012 -- and surely evoked the ire of Toronto management -- with his embarrassing gaffe and disappointing performance on the field.  A career .282 hitter, Escobar hit just .253 last season with an OBP of .300.  His .wOBA was an abysmal .284, and his walk rate plummeted to 5.8% (career 8.9%).  While nobody's ever passed up the opportunity to criticize Escobar's hustle, he still plays good defense at a premium position, and can be quite valuable offensively, his 2012 abberation notwithstanding.  He's only a year removed from a 4.2 fWAR season.

2. Henderson Alvarez - RHP; 22 years old; Career ERA: 4.52; Career W-L: 10-17

Alvarez really opened some eyes when he posted a 3.53 ERA over 10 starts in 2011.  Unfortunately, his development didn't move in the right direction in 2012, as he posted a 4.85 ERA with a 1.44 WHIP over 32 starts.  He lacks swing-and-miss stuff -- his 5.1% swinging-strike rate ranked last among qualified pitchers -- and was extremely susceptible to the homerun in 2012, averaging 1.39 HR/9.  That said, he's got a lively fastball (though it can flatten out at times) and good command, averaging 2.22 BB/9 over his 41 career starts.  If he can add another pitch to his repertoire, Alvarez could be a solid middle-of-the-rotation guy.  And, let's remember, he's only 22 years old.

3. Adeiny Hechavarria - SS; 23 years old; Career slash: .254/.280/.365 (41 games)

Listed as Toronto's eight-best prospect by Baseball America, Hechavarria is widely considered among the best defensive shortstop prospects in baseball, if not the best.  There's little doubt that he will be an outstanding defensive major league shortstop in the near future.  There is doubt, however, on the other side of the ball.  Never lauded for his hit tool, Hechavarria projects to be "a bottom of the order hitter with the potential to steal 15+ bases and notch 20+ doubles with a low average and low OBP," according to BaseballProspectNation.

4. Jeff Mathis - C; 29 years old; Career slash: .198/.256/.314, 34 homeruns

Ne'er there was a person who so prominently exemplified the principles of backup catching.  Mathis can't hit a lick -- his slash line speaks for itself -- but his catching abilities keep him in a job.  His blocking and receiving are both excellent -- 5.7 FRAA over his last 164 games -- and he can manage a staff.  On top of that, he threw out 41% of attempted base stealers in 2012, according to, more than 15% above the league average.

5. Jake Marisnick - OF; 21 years old; Career slash: N/A

This one could hurt.  Baseball America considers Marisnick Toronto's second best prospect, behind only Travis d'Arnaud.  According to Kevin Goldstein, formerly of Baseball Prospectus, Marisnick is "a big, majestic athlete with above-average speed, excellent hitting skills, and is just starting to tap into his power, which projects as plus. He's a good center fielder, and his arm is a weapon."  Marisnick put up impressive numbers with Low-A Lansing in 2011 -- 14 homeruns, .888 OPS in 118 games -- but struggled upon promotion in 2012.  There are rumblings that his swing has been tinkered with a number of times and that it still needs work; Marisnick's holes were exposed in 2012, when he hit just .233 in 55 games with New Hampshire.  Nevertheless, he still projects to be a future stud; Goldstein says he "could be a 20/20 center fielder, and that might be light."

6. Justin Nicolino - LHP; 20 years old; Career ERA: N/A; Career W-L: N/A

One-third of the pitching prospect triumvirate known as the "Lansing 3," Nicolino is universally considered to have the lowest ceiling among the three.  The Blue Jays' fifth best prospect according to Baseball America, Nicolino's "command/control give him a chance to develop into a No. 3 starter," says Fangraphs' Marc Hulet.  Nicolino averaged 8.61 K/9 with 1.52 BB/9 in 124.1 innings for Lansing in 2012, en route to a 2.46 ERA.  While it hurts to lose him, the Jays were fortunate not to part with Aaron Sanchez or Noah Syndergaard.

7.  Anthony DeSclafani - RHP; 22 years old; Career ERA: N/A; Career W-L: N/A

A former sixth-round pick, DeSclafani made his professional debut with Lansing in 2012, posting a 3.37 ERA and 1.83 BB/9.  Admittedly, I know very little about this guy, so I'll defer to, well, the man himself.  "I currently have four pitches a fastball, curveball, changeup, and slider. My fastball can range anywhere from 90 to 95 mph,” DeSclafani told Brian Crawford of He is not considered among the pantheon of top Jays prospects.

Well that took a lot out of me.  I'm going to go have a nap or something.


Monday, September 17, 2012

What's Wrong With Colby Rasmus?

Remember that final instalment of the Lord of the Rings film trilogy?  Viggo Mortensen and his ambiguous accent triumph over the armies of Mordor and Isengard while Frodo and Sam chuck that infernal ring into the fires of Mount Doom?  

And then the movie carried on for, like, another 35 minutes?

That's pretty much how I feel about the second half of Colby Rasmus's season.  It refuses to die.    

In 53 games since the all-star break, Rasmus has laboured his way to a slash line that would probably reduce Nick Punto to tears, hitting .185/.242/.295, with just five homeruns and nary a stolen base.  This precipitous fall has whittled Rasmus's WAR down to a measly 1.3, good enough for dead last among qualified centre fielders.

When he was acquired last July in a three-way deal with the Cardinals and White Sox, Rasmus quickly drew the ire of Toronto fans after hitting just .173 with three homeruns in his first 35 games as a Blue Jay, albeit while battling a wrist injury.  However, the taciturn Georgia native had effectively silenced all those naysayers with an impressive first half to 2012 in which he hit .259/.328/.494 with 18 homeruns, of which 11 came between June 5 and July 8, when he fashioned an OPS of .977.

But since the midsummer classic, Rasmus has been but a sad, sporadically-cornrowed vestige of his former self.  And in a season that's been derailed (or, more accurately, carpetbombed) by injury, Rasmus appeared to be one of the few bright spots in an increasingly beleaguered lineup.

Yes, he's been victimized by a relatively low BABIP (.266), and his numbers certainly belie the rate at which he makes hard contact -- his 20.1% line drive rate represents the highest mark of his career -- but the drop-off has simply been too great to attribute to rotten luck.

So allow me to proffer a handful of theories as to why Colby has looked suspiciously similar to Brendan Ryan since mid-July.

1. His plate discipline has eroded
Never lauded for his discipline at the plate, Colby's aggressiveness (or rather, recklessness) at the plate has reached unprecedented levels since the all-star break.  During the first half of the season, Rasmus would chase approximately one out of every four pitches (27%) he saw that was out of the strike zone, a marginal improvement over the league average of 30%.  Since the all-star break, though, he's either lost his discipline or his sense of the strike zone, as his chase percentage has jumped to 36.7%.  Consequently, his walk rate has dropped almost three clicks while his strikeout rate has ballooned by almost nine per cent.

I can live with the strikeouts.  Hell, he struck out in more than 27% of his plate appearances back in 2010, when he compiled 4.3 wins above replacement as a member of the Cardinals.  But in order for him to have consistent success, he'll have to improve his on-base abilities, especially considering that he's pretty much ensconced in the No. 2 spot in the lineup for the foreseeable future.  His .295 OBP on the season in frighteningly Lind-ian.

2. He's swinging and missing more 
We all know how partial Rasmus is to offering at the first pitch.  I even blogged about it a couple months ago, back when the sample sizes were far too small to say anything remotely conclusive.  His 34% first-pitch swing rate is eight per cent higher than the MLB average, according to  The problem is, whereas in the first half he could take a vicious hack at 0-0 and still put together a productive at-bat, his bloated whiff rate since the all-star break seems to have thrown a wrench into his approach -- his 30.3% swing-and-miss rate in the second half represents a jump of more than eight per cent since the halcyon days of April-July 8.

Of course, there's a symbiosis between articles 1 and 2.  He's swinging at pitches that aren't necessarily hittable (1), so he's swinging and missing more (2).  And because he remains undeterred in his partiality for offering at the first pitch, he's routinely behind in the count, which makes (1) more likely, and thus (2) inevitable.

3. He's gone from bad to worse against left-handed pitching
I never got to see John Olerud in his prime.  But from what I gather (and my father's testimony goes a long way in this regard), he possessed arguably the sweetest lefty swing in the history of the Blue Jays.  He hit .270 against lefties.

For many a left-handed hitter, southpaw pitching is fodder for nightmares.  Colby Rasmus is no exception.  And while he did enjoy moderate success against lefties in the first half of the year (.235/.327/.388), since the all-star break, he's become, for lack of a better word, anaphylactic.  In 63 plate appearances against southpaw pitching since July 13, Rasmus is hitting a microscopic .119/.175/.186 with no homeruns and just one walk.  He's also struck out in 21 of those 63 plate appearances.


If he didn't play centre field, people would likely be clamouring for a platoon.  While he'll probably never enjoy abundant success against southpaws, I'd be more than content if he could, in 2013, replicate the .715 OPS he posted before the all-star break.

Having said all that, I appreciate that it's tough to play for a team comprised predominantly of AAA-talent that's destined for the golf course come October.  And it's not unreasonable to think Rasmus's performance of late has been hampered by a groin injury that probably could've warranted a trip to the disabled list.  It's also salient to note that since Brett Lawrie's return from a month-long DL stint on September 7, Rasmus has been red-hot, hitting .323 with an OPS of .888.  But nevertheless, Rasmus's second-half decline has definitely raised some eyebrows, and that's coming from a card-carrying Rasmus Rooter.

Still two years away from free agency, Rasmus hasn't yet reached the proverbial crossroads of his career, but given the current state of this franchise, there's no doubt he regarded as a core piece.

Per Richard Griffin's column
“Yes, right now, for sure,” manager John Farrell said, when asked if Rasmus was key to the Jays’ future. “He’s got a chance to be an RBI guy. He’s got a chance to hit the ball out of the ballpark. When you look at his skills and his tools, he’s got as much talent as anybody in this league.

I feel like my feelings towards Rasmus may have come off as ambivalent.  This is my own fault.  I like him.  A lot.  I just need to see more consistency from him in 2013 before anointing him a cornerstore piece.

I can't think of a really clever way to cap this off.  Frankly, I'm still fuming over the fact that the Patriots lost on Sunday, thereby eliminating me from my survivor pool.

Damn Cardinals.