- 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;
Friday, November 30, 2012
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
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
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.
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 Baseball-Reference.com, 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 JaysProspects.com. 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
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.
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 Baseball-Reference.com. 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.
Friday, June 15, 2012
I mean, it's not like polio.
Thursday, June 14, 2012
After Stephen Strasburg stymied Toronto's offense yesterday to cap off a forgettable series with the Nationals, the Jays have, for the first time this season, sojourned to the realm of the damned that is the sub-.500 club.
Well, maybe that metaphor is a little dramatic. The sub-.500 club is more like a party hosted by (and for) the socially inept kids, but the Jays were forced to attend because their mom insisted.
Painful memories aside, this increasingly beleaguered ballclub has encountered a number of difficulties in recent days. Over the past week, we've had two pitchers -- including burgeoning ace Brandon Morrow -- sustain injuries on the mound that precipitated early departures from their respective outings.
We've also seen a widely anticipated regression from nearly everyone in the lineup that isn't named Jose Bautista. Kelly Johnson has recorded just one extra-base hit since May 28. Yunel Escobar's efforts to raise his OPS above .700 remain unsuccessful. David Cooper doesn't have a hit in five games.
And Vlad abandoned us. You see where I'm going with this.
But in these trying times, we always have Brett Lawrie. Over just 102 career games, Lawrie has managed to attain a persona that transcends performance, an image that can be largely attributed to the indefatigable tire-pumping efforts of the Canadian sports media. His successes are lauded without restraint, while his shortcomings are tolerated with a kind of obligatory acquiescence.
So to get you through this rough patch, I've recorded a humorous little ditty about #13 that may contain just trace amounts of satire. Enjoy.
Thursday, May 31, 2012
And I'm not sure I blame them.
I mean, look at this team. They're young. They're brash. They're Canadian, kinda.
Jose Bautista seethes with entitled contempt every time he takes a borderline pitch that doesn't go his way. Brett Lawrie has the temerity to run out -- or, more accurately, gallop out -- routine ground balls. Yunel Escobar plays the game with an air of casual indifference. Same goes for Colby Rasmus.
Based on purely superficial observation, this is not a particularly likeable group.
This increasingly ubiquitous distaste for the Blue Jays seemed to culminate last year when ESPN released a story -- propelled by the testimony of four anonymous major leaguers -- that accused the Jays of stealing opposing teams' signs, a nefarious scheme made possible by the efforts of a deviant known only as the Man in White.
Of course, none of the accusers could produce anything amounting to definitive evidence, and the story was essentially a smear piece with a credible masthead.
But the initial outrage that pervaded the Jays community soon subsided, and the story quickly morphed into a running gag that was lampooned by everyone from local sportscasters to the Toronto bullpen.
So when Baltimore starter Jason Hammel reignited the flames lit by that article after a poor outing against the Bluebirds on Wednesday night -- 6.2 IP, 4 ER, 9 H, 2 BB -- on one hand, it affirmed this notion that the Jays aren't well liked, and, on the other hand, reeked of a desperate attempt by a mediocre pitcher to deflect attention away from himself as his hot start continues to dissipate.
At the crux of Hammel's accusations was Toronto's aggressiveness on breaking pitches. The disgruntled hurler insisted that "you can't take swings like that, not knowing they're coming."
But what's curious is that it wasn't the off-speed stuff that tickled the Jays' fancy tonight. All four homeruns surrendered by Hammel came on fastballs.
How 'bout that, Tonto?
Below are the Pitch F/X strikezone plots for the quartet of dingers Hammel served up tonight.
As you can see in this first table, it was an elevated fastball, middle-in, that Edwin Encarnacion smacked over the left-field fence in the second inning.
An inning later, Rajai Davis took Hammel yard, also on an inside fastball. Hmmm...
Are we noticing a pattern yet? Anyone? Lawrie? Bueller?
And finally, the straw that broke the Hammel's back. In all fairness, this fastball that Colby Rasmus yanked out of the ballpark was not middle-in. It was just middle.
So, Jason Hammel, it's safe to say that your accusations are as transparent as your fastballs are ineffective. I appreciate that this Toronto bunch can rub you the wrong way. Hell, if I rooted for any other team, I'd probably hate them, too. But to invoke this completely ludicrous rumour, knowing full well the gravity of those accusations, is simply unfair. It's unprofessional. It's juvenile. And it's probably part of the reason why your teamed has earned a moniker as unflattering as the Baltimore OrioLOLes.
Don't hate the player. Hate the game.
Friday, May 25, 2012
More than a quarter of the way through the season, I think it's safe to say that I was wrong.
Eric Thames has not panned out. Unequivocally. Among qualified hitters, his -0.5 wins above replacement rating tops but a scant six other players -- interestingly enough, the slugger formerly known as Albert Pujols happens to be among that abysmal half-dozen. Given how Thames has performed this season, the statistic is actually a misnomer.
Admittedly, I have a strong prejudice against Eric Thames. Some people have insisted it's irrational, and, at times, I've agreed. But as the season has rolled on, my anti-Thames bias has become increasingly empirical and decidedly less...well, biased. Allow me to demonstrate:
- With a 25.9 K%, his propensity for the strikeout trails only Kelly Johnson for the team lead (not including Jeff Mathis on account of at-bat scarcity and the fact that he's Jeff Mathis).
- His tendency to chase balls outside the zone (35% O-Swing) is second only to J.P Arencibia (38%) among everyday players.
- His isolated power (.126) is third-worst among everyday players.
- His .326 BABIP is almost certainly unsustainable -- league average BABIP is .267.
- His defense. Oy. As flawed as defensive metrics are, a -34.2 UZR/150 makes it virtually impossible to say anything remotely positive about his ability with the leather.
"Even if you don't agree with the decision, it's definitely the fair one. Thames did nothing to lose his job. The body of work isn't exactly extensive, but in 82 games last year, Thames accomplished that which has continually eluded Snider throughout his career: he came to work every day and, for the most, performed as expected. By the time October came around, Thames had a .262 average to go along with 12 homeruns and an isolated slugging percentage 70 points higher than Snider."
I stand by my assertion that it was the right decision, because, at the time, it was. I suppose you could label it imprudent, opting to forego Take #5 at developing Travis Snider into a bona fide major leaguer in favour of a player whose ceiling is pretty unanimously considered to be lower.
But while a moderate regression was to be expected for Thames, his performance this season has been so poor --- consistently, and on both sides of the ball -- that the slack earned through his respectable 2011 has been effectively exhausted.
Manager John Farrell had said that he needed to see at least 100 plate appearances before making any drastic decisions with respect to personnel. Right on cue, after posting a laughable .186/.273/.314 line through 132 trips to the dish, the Blue Jays sent Adam Lind to Las Vegas last week. There was also some speculation -- and, depending on who you ask, erroneous reportage -- that he was placed on outright waivers.
As of 4:20 a.m on May 25, Eric Thames has had 147 plate appearances in 2012. The organization has demonstrated a willingness to send struggling players down. Rajai Davis has enjoyed a recent surge in playing time. Essentially, the confluence of a number of factors seem to suggest that the writing is on the wall, or, at the very least, that the can of spray paint is in hand.
Whether or not Travis Snider (.333/.411/.604 in 26 games with Las Vegas) is worthy of a promotion is a topic for another day, but it's becoming increasingly apparent that the only thing big league about Eric Thames is the facial hair. And perhaps the musculature.
Monday, April 23, 2012
That's kind of how I feel about the Jays' success in Kansas City.
Sure it feels good to assert your dominance over a team that's clearly inferior, but the results fail to provide an accurate sense of your true abilities. Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to belittle a four-game sweep -- it's not easy to beat any team on four consecutive nights, especially on the road -- but considering how Kansas City has played over the season's first fortnight, you have to think this sweep is more a testament to their uniform ineptitude than anything else.
But that caveat aside, it's hard to find too much to complain about when you notch four Ws in as many nights. Sure, Sergio Santos went down, Adam Lind continues to struggle, and interim closer Francisco Cordero didn't inspire a whole lot of confidence in his first save appearance, but we did get a nice, longish look at Drew Hutchison.
Though his "signature command" eluded him for virtually his entire outing on Saturday, the 21-year-old did enough in his major league debut to get the win. Having said that, his erratic performance was somewhat surprising given his reputation as a strike-thrower. The former 15th-round pick walked three in just 5.1 innings, a far cry from the guy who averaged 2.2 BB/9 and 4.32 SO/BB for his minor-league career.
However, Hutchison demonstrated poise beyond his years in the face of adversity, showing no emotion after surrendering homeruns to both Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer, respectively. Considering he'd only made six starts above the High-A level heading into Saturday, Hutch fared reasonably well in his debut; I'll attribute his tenuous command to jitters. But what really stuck out for me was his resemblance to another young Blue Jays hurler, Henderson Alvarez.
Incidentally, there appear to be a number of overt parallels between Hutchison and Henderson, not including that nominal one. Over ten starts in 2011, Alvarez threw his fastball 71.8% of the time; while he averaged over 93 mph with his heater, he missed bats just a scant 6.4% of the time, presumably due to his lack of a third pitch. Like Alvarez, Hutchison favours the fastball, and threw it almost 80% of the time in his debut. He also has a propensity to pitch to contact, missing bats on just 5.1% of his pitches on Saturday. And, perhaps most importantly, like Alvarez, Hutch has yet to develop a respectable third pitch.
Given their similarities with respect to age, makeup, repertoire, and...uh, team, it'll be fun to watch their mutual development, especially if we can somehow foist the nickname "Starsky" upon Alvarez.
And speaking of developments that are fun to watch, how about Colby Rasmus? I'd like to think our taciturn centrefielder won over some skeptics this series, hitting .357 with two homers and four RBIs. Needless to say, the Alabama Slammer is hot -- over his last 10 games, Rasmus is 13/37 (.351), and has reached base safely in all but one contest. And as exciting as those numbers are, they elicit even more giddiness when viewed in the context of his overall maturation as a hitter.
Below is Rasmus's spray chart from April 1-23, 2011. While his start to 2011 was, admittedly, stronger than that of 2012, last year he drove the ball almost exclusively to right-field.
Now, if you look at this year's spray chart, you'll notice there's no such concentration of green dots. This right-field bias appears to be gone, as his hits are distributed rather equitably throughout the ballpark so far this season.
Small sample size notwithstanding, he's hitting line drives with unprecedented frequency (26.1% of the time), and a tempered leg kick has him hitting the ball to all fields. Both of those things augur well for him, myself, and my loyal band of unabashed Rasmus boosters.
On the other side of the ball, the Blue Jays defense turned nine double plays (and one triple play) in Kansas City, and now lead the majors with an average of 1.44 twin-killings per game. Of course, this couldn't have been possible without the selfless efforts of Royals catcher Brayan Pena.
Defense is often an area of the game that gets overlooked, but the Blue Jays have done a fine job making plays behind their young rotation this year. And Kelly Johnson's backhand-glove-flip-extravaganza in the rubber match of the series was one of the more adroit displays of defensive prowess in recent memory.
While the sweep may have inflated the team's sense of self-worth, aplomb is a good thing. Onwards to Maryland. Complacency, be damned.
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
I asked Mike if he thought John Farrell or hitting coach Dwayne Murphy might be reluctant to approach Colby Rasmus about perhaps adjusting his hitting philosophy with respect to hacking at the first pitch. Wilner assured me that neither Farrell nor Murph would have any hesitation in addressing such an issue with Rasmus, but also insisted that such a discussion is not necessary at the moment.
I don't necessarily disagree. In fact, being notorious for offering at the first pitch myself, it'd be supremely hypocritical of me to chastise someone else for doing it. And of course, the differences between the MLB and the Canadian Intercollegiate Baseball Association are negligible.
That said, Rasmus has swung at the first offering in 49% (19/39) of his plate appearances so far this season. When he has managed to put the ball in play on the first pitch, he's 0-for-8. While he does, for the most part, swing predominantly at strikes -- 16/19 first pitches he's hacked at have been in the strike zone, according to Pitch F/X -- he's also demonstrated a tendency to swing a tad indiscriminately, not taking into account the kind of pitch being thrown; 7/19 first-pitch swings have been at breaking balls or off-speed pitches.
Here are the Pitch F/X charts for your analytical pleasure.
Now, his relatively minute .200 BABIP suggests that he's been extremely unlucky at the dish thus far, and his propensity for hitting the ball the other way, especially with power, is very encouraging, so make whatever inferences you want*.
*I'll be at the game tonight; if Rasmus does anything remotely positive on a first pitch, I rescind your right to make negative inferences.
Saturday, April 14, 2012
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Thursday, April 5, 2012
How can anyone adequately articulate the whirlwind -- nay, the tornado -- of emotion that was Opening Day?
I’ll be the first to admit that any attempt would prove futile.
From Ricky Romero’s deplorable second inning to J.P Arencibia’s decisive, 16th-inning homerun, from Chris Perez’s remarkable 9th-inning implosion to Luis Perez’s four masterful innings of relief, the experience -- which spanned more than five hours -- was simply too emotionally jarring, too incomprehensibly transcendent to describe with the tools at my disposal.
And yet, in a way, I’m tempted to succumb to the notion that the indefatigable resilience that the Blue Jays demonstrated for 16 consecutive innings today is, to some extent, a brilliant --albeit extreme -- representation of the character this team possesses.
Allow me to demonstrate:
- After a disastrous, 43-pitch, four-run second inning, Ricky Romero buckled down and didn’t surrender a hit for the rest of the day. But perhaps more importantly, Romero sublimated the impulse to implode emotionally and demonstratively. As Buck Martinez alluded to, this newfound maturity will be an integral component in his role as team ace.
- Despite looking utterly helpless in his first three plate appearance, Kelly Johnson seriously manned-up in his fourth at-bat, ripping a single to centrefield off Chris Perez. He would come around to score in what would prove to be a three-run, game-tying, ninth-inning rally of epic proportions.
- The Bullpen. Need I say more? Eleven innings. No runs. Just balls. By which I mean cojones, not, you know, errant pitches. Maybe Alex Anthopoulos was on to something when he went out and invested all that money to fortify the team’s relief corps.
- Yes, Colby Rasmus went 0/7 today, but he did manage to sting two balls -- including an opposite-field shot that fell just shy of the warning track -- and made an absolutely sensational grab in centre-field.
- Jose Bautista.
I can’t even think of a clever way to wrap this post up. Too emotionally drained.
Fortunately, we have an off-day tomorrow.
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
The vitriol that's been spewed towards Colby Rasmus by an overwhelming number of Blue Jays fans this offseason is nothing if not perplexing.
I say this because I’m certain many of these fans quick to brand Rasmus as a prospect that never materialized also belong to the pro-Travis Snider camp. Of course, there are subtle variations in their respective pedigrees, but fundamentally, they’re astonishing similar.
Both players were drafted out of high school in first round -- Rasmus in 2005; Snider in 2006. Both players excelled in the minor leagues -- Rasmus posted an OPS of .852 in 417 minor league contests; Snider sits at .901 over 439 games. And though it’s a purely superficial observation, both players possess a kind of abrasive haughtiness that’s tolerable so long as the production is there.
And yet the dichotomy in sentiment towards the two couldn’t be more dramatic. Travis is the golden-boy who’s simply a victim of developmental mismanagement while Rasmus is the uncoachable rogue with a bad attitude and equally unsavory reputation that St. Louis was happy to dispose of.
Rasmus’ attitude has to be the source of the antipathy because no reasonable person could actually dismiss a 25-year-old with his pedigree after only a scant 140 plate appearances in a Toronto uniform. And unlike Snider, Rasmus has enjoyed more than a modicum of success at the big league level. In his age-23 season, Rasmus posted a .276/.361/.498 line, along with 23 homeruns, 66 RBIs, and 12 stolen bases. His 132 OPS+ that season ranked 13th in the National League.
Yes, his brief stint with Toronto at the end of 2011 was discouraging, but bear in mind that he was struggling with a wrist injury for much of that time, not to mention the task of acclimating himself to a new country, new clubhouse, new teammates, and a new organizational philosophy. And frankly, I surmise that it was difficult for Rasmus to endear himself so quickly to a new team considering the reputation that continually precedes him.
Looking deeper into Rasmus’ 2011 struggles, it seems as though his lack of success was, at least partially, due to some rotten luck. His BABIP (batting average on balls in play) was .267 for the season, more than 30 points below the putative league average. Upon arriving in Toronto, his BABIP dropped to a microscopic .217, indicating that he was even less fortunate north of the border. Of course, his lofty .354 BABIP from 2010 is likely not a sustainable figure, but it’s reasonable to believe that his true ability lies somewhere in between the two extremes. And while the production left something to be desired in 2011, he did manage to cut his strikeout rate down to 22.1% from 27.7% the year before.
Earlier this offseason, Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus polled a group of eight major-league general managers as to whether they’d rather have Rasmus or Cuban-defector-turned-Oakland-Athletic Yoenis Cespedes as their team’s centrefielder. Six of the eight GMs picked Cespedes. Among those who preferred the Cuban, at least two of them cited Rasmus’ character issues in their reasoning.
“I don't like the swing, and there's something about the J.D. Drew way he goes about things," one AL scouting executive said.
“I just don't buy the whole 'Tony La Russa turned this guy into a bad player' thing," said another American league front office member.
While coachability and attitude are certainly relevant attributes, the list of successful, even superstar-caliber athletes whose personalities are little less than abhorrent is an extremely extensive document.
Furthermore, the beautiful thing about computerized projections is that they don’t care about character flaws, perceived or legitimate. They don’t care if you don’t run out ground balls. They don’t care if you’re taciturn with the media. Incidentally, PECOTA predicts that Rasmus will enjoy a modest bounce-back in 2012, with a .252/.321/.442 line, along with 20 homers and 70 RBIs.
And for those insisting that Rasmus’ abysmal numbers this spring in any way portend the inevitability of an equally disappointing regular season, to you I say, it’s Spring Training.
Go look up Gabe Gross.
So for those Snider enthusiasts who are also calling for Rasmus’ conspicuously unkempt head, please note the inherent hypocrisy. You can’t reasonably support one and condemn the other. Otherwise, you’re just as inconsistent as they are.