Friday, April 22, 2011

You need to Walk before you can Run

It's amazing how well this cliche seems to describe the 2011 Blue Jays:

The pitching staff has combined to allow 83 walks (only 4 intentional) and are currently leading the league in BB/9 innings. This is really the central problem in both the bullpen and starting rotation. Either the pitchers are trying to be too fine, getting squeezed, or have some serious mechanical issues.

In reality, the likely case is that it is a combination of all three, and each game seems to be a different story.

The other half of the cliche applies to the other category that the Jays are leading the league in: Running. Who would have guessed that the Blue Jays would lead the league in stolen bases, and attempts three weeks into the season? Aaron Hill has already matched his career high in steals, and Travis Snider needs only one more to match his career best.

There is a lot of statistical arguments that dictate that the risk of stealing a base is not worth the reward, unless a player is over 80%. (See the comments section of my previous post for a full breakdown) but I would be willing to defend another position: Putting pressure on a pitcher loosens their focus, and can actually lead to better pitches for the hitter, or more walks/balks. Either way, there are more benefits to the running game than simply moving the runner into scoring position. If anyone can let me know where I can find pitch data, and pitcher reactions to certain situations, please let me know. It might take a while, but my hypothesis is that there would be more statistical merit to stealing bases than simple run expectancy.

So what's the net-net? The team is currently 2 games under .500, and has lost 40% of its opening day rotation. They've also lost 3 regular positional players (Escobar, Hill and Davis) so there is certainly an argument that injuries have led to some of these losses. Bautista has proven that he's for real, and Lind has re-emerged to offer him some protection. Encarnacion is taking well to the DH spot. Snider, so far has shown himself to be a slow starter, so I'll hold off any pronouncements about him until the end of May.

If the pitchers can start throwing strikes, and the hitters can get healthy, I still think this can, and will be a great team. Let's all remember that last year at this time, Brian Tallet was the #2 starter, and Brandon Morrow's ERA was over 7, so there is still a good chance that this team can improve.

I expect Cecil back in just over 2 weeks (Probably 3-4 starts) and I'm excited to see what Brad Mills and Brandon Morrow can do. I'm also looking forward to mid-late May, when Brett Lawrie comes to Toronto to get some coaching from Brian Butterfield.

Let's spread the message: Now is not the time to panic. Even if it was, you wouldn't catch me doing it.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Losing Sleep and Games

I am going to officially petition MLB and ask that all games be played during prime-time on the East Coast. I have a job to do, and staying up to watch the Jays play at ungodly hours is cramping my style.

West Coasters should support my idea, they would have baseball from 4-8pm, and still have time to watch TV shows afterwards. I think I'm on to something.

As for the games: Have you ever been more frustrated?

Let's review all of the Jays losses to this point in the season:

- a 4-3 loss to MIN, where the team had the bases loaded in the bottom of the 9th
- a 2-1 stymie-ing of the offence versus Trevor Cahill and the Oakland A's, where the A's only managed a win due to some wild pitching by Jason Frasor
- a torrid extra-innings affair in L.A. of A, where an inept umpire cost the Jays a chance to win.
- a loss that the offence really earned, by not being able to touch Jered Weaver.
- a bullpen meltdown that squandered a 6 run lead over 2 innings.
- a pitching gem by Romero that was wasted when the team couldn't cash in again. (Last Night)

A theme is REALLY emerging here. Overall, the starters have not been to blame for these losses. Admittedly, Brett Cecil hasn't been getting it done, but he's not hurting the team either. Reyes showed what he is capable of versus Weaver in LA, and Litsch wasn't great in Seattle, but he battled hard, and didn't allow any runs.

The bullpen was supposed to be dramatically improved this year for the Jays. I know it's much to early to say that it's not, but it certainly has cost the team some games already. I hope that later in the season, none of us fans revisit these losses with regret.

As frustrating as these losses are, there is a lot to take solace in. The offence is exciting, and fun to watch. Rajai Davis showed flashes of what kind of catalyst he can be when healthy. Lind has been hitting lefties. Escobar has been incredible, and managed to even avoid a concussion. The starting pitching has been good, and will get better soon with the addition of Brandon Morrow.

On that note: there seems to be a near constant debate on Twitter as to who Morrow should replace. Jo-Jo Reyes is out of options. Cecil is "established". Litsch is pitching at the level he was at before he hurt his elbow/hip. I feel the need to get preachy on this, so here goes:

Yes, teams should put the best 25-man roster on the field each night. But there is a business to the game that is well documented. Players are people, but on another, more cynical level, they are also assets to a team. Protecting these assets gives teams a cometitive advantage, and allows them to have sustained periods of success. As these assets accumulate value, they can be moved for other assets, similar to the stock market (Thanks Jonah Keri! Read his book, the Extra 2%)

The Jays will inevitably send down one of the 2 starting pitchers with options: Jesse Litsch or Brett Cecil. Cecil only needs to have one good start in the next week-and-a-half to remove his name from this conversation. Although the converse could also be true, and if he continues to struggle, he may find himself ironing things out in Las Vegas. Litsch on the other hand is doing all he can to stick, and he's definitely made a fan of me. But as much as I have come to like his newfound approach, I want him to stay with the team long-term, and so he may have to take a trip to Vegas.

There is also the potential for a trade. Alex Anthopoulos is already shopping David Purcey around the league (He was designated for assignment yesterday, the Jays have 9 more days to trade or waive him) and these discussions could lead to larger deals involving a starting pitcher. Reyes has never been a fan-favourite in Toronto, so fans seem eager to have him be included. I find that management seems to really like him. They targeted him specifically in last years' Escobar trade, and have spoke glowingly about him so far this year. I would be shocked if he doesn't get every opportunity to succeed in Toronto. Romero is going to be with this team for a very long time thatnks to a team-friendly contract extension, and Morrow is hurt. This leaves Cecil and Litsch as the candidates once again. I won't speculate, because I like both. Yet, they would both hold good value, and could be packaged with Purcey to a team that needs help.

Not that the Jays need any more prospects, but at this point it has to be about asset protection.

For another awesome segue, Kyle Drabek (prospects-to-Drabek. How 'bout them apples!) gets a chance this afternoon to be an ace. The kind of pitcher who can come out and put a stop to a losing streak, and get the team pointed in the right direction again. He's been good so far, and I for one am excited to see his continued devlopment.

Saturday, April 2, 2011


Even the most optimistic part of my brain couldn't have expected this. The Minnesota Twins were always going to be a good measuring stick to start the year. They were the 2010 AL Central champs, and have 2 of the better, and more consistent hitters in baseball (Mauer, Morneau)

The first 2 games have not even been close. Our beloved Jays have had their way with the usually scrappy Twins.

It all started in the bottom of the 1st on Friday night. Rajai Davis showed that he has bought into the "Hustle and Heart" mantra by running out an infield single. Nobody on last years' team is even close on that play, and he was safe by a step. Davis took it to the next level even before another pitch was thrown. Carl Pavano picked him off cleanly, but rather than a half-hearted slide, or simple jog down to second, Davis battled through a run-down (and tweaked an ankle) to get back into first. Before another Jay had a chance to swing a bat, Davis had fully planted himself between the ears of Pavano. Pavano quickly ate himself immediately afterwards, leaving a pitch over the plate to Escobar, walking Bautista on 5 pitches, and hitting Lind. By the time Pavano composed himself, it was already 4-0 Jays.

Moneyball followers will tell you that stealing bases goes against all the statistics. There is an excellent body of research that demonstrates this from a statistical point of view. But I highlight Davis' escapades in the first last night to show that statistics can't tell you what is going on inside the heads of players. There is a mental component to the game that never shows up in the box score. If Davis were picked off, or caught stealing, it would have been easy to point to the needless risk, and the lower probability of scoring a run. Instead, Davis sparked a huge rally, and basically sewed up a win in the first inning.

Moving to the rest of the game, it was a party for the next 7.5 innings. Bautista and Lind went back-to-back in the 5th. JP Arencibia continued to make good first impressions. Somebody needs to convince him that every game is his first of something! Everyone played well. It was a great way to generate some goodwill in the city, and hopefully draw some bigger crowds for the rest of the year.

And today's game was also exciting. John Farrell made a controversial decision to sit Snider, and overall didn't regret it. He also quickly re-inserted Travis after Liriano was pulled. This was also a very shrewd move. Farrell kept Snider in the dugout until the previous at-bat ended. This kept the Twins from warming up a Lefty to face Snider. Snider mashed the first pitch he faced into right field, and picked up 2 RBI for his efforts. not bad for his first swing since batting practice!

It would be easy to get caught up in this inertia, but it is worth remembering that it is a VERY long season. There are still 160 games left to play, but a good start is a good start. The Jays are playing the game on so many levels, and it bodes well for future success. I was really worried about my 89 win projection, but less so after seeing the new Jays style. They still have the long-ball threats, but the whole team has bought into a completely new mental game. It's really fun to watch.

Some other notes: Be sure to check out some new Jays blogs that I have found: Angry Birds Baseball (all links on the right side bar) is written by Ethan Rotberg, who designed my new logo. He's actually a writer, and I've read his first 2 posts, They're good. is a great way to follow some of the progress in the Jays' farm system. High Sock Mojo is well written, woman's perspective on the game (so is Hum and Chuck, but everyone reading this should have read Joanna's material by this point.)

If you are on Twitter, check me out @5thstarter. I am really enjoying the dialogue, especially during games. It's like watching the game, and sitting beside 20-30 of the most passionate fans of the team anywhere. Everyone that I follow is a huge fan, and really knowledgeable. I'd invite you to give it a try, and if you hate it, you can always delete your accout like Jose Bautista did. (Heyo!)

So, everyone strap in. It's going to be an amazing ride!