Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Series Breakdown: Rays vs. Blue Jays

The Blue Jays welcome the Tampa Bay Rays into town this evening for a three game set at the Rogers Centre. The Jays look to bounce back from a less than impressive series against the OriLOLes, though it seems as if they righted the ship in their 9-2 win on Sunday. The Rays have not gotten of to a good start either at this point; despite sweeping the Yankees in the season opener, the Rays have lost four of their last five. They just managed to squeak out of Boston on Patriots Day with a 1-0 win.

So far it appears there won't be any significant changes to the lineup for the series, although as mentioned elsewhere, the Jays have optioned Aaron Laffey back to AAA Las Vegas and have decided to keep righty Evan Crawford instead. For those who are unaware of Crawford, while he may not be near the top of most prospect lists for the Jays, our fearless leader seems to be quite high on him:
“I didn’t know he had a slider the way he did, his curve ball is outstanding, he just pitched last night and was up to 94– he doesn’t sit there, but this is a guy who has a chance to be a long-term piece for us and a real impact guy,”
Here's another quote to whet your appetite:
“Above-average breaking stuff. Fastball’s got some power to it. He put himself in the mix with a very strong spring training.” - John Farrell, Blue Jays Manager
The reality is though, there has not been much written about Evan Crawford. He isn't one of the hyped prospects with the Jays, but that in itself makes this team slightly more exciting. If guys like Crawford can come in to camp and impress the organization enough to bring him up this early, it not only gives the team a chance to see him pitch in the Majors, it also provides more time and opportunity for some of the high-ceiling prospects to develop and not be rushed up too soon (See: Travis Snider).

And now the pitching match-ups:

Tampa Bay Rays (5-5) vs. Toronto Blue Jays (5-4)

Tuesday, April 17 - 7:07 PM ET - Rogers Centre
Jeff Niemann, RHP (0-1, 5.40 ERA) vs. Ricky Romero, LHP (1-0, 3.38 ERA)

Niemann was shaky in his last start against the Tigers. He gave up three runs on four hits while walking two and striking out six in taking his first loss of the season on Thursday in Detroit. The gentle giant (6'9) is 4-3 with a 5.23 ERA in 11 career starts against the Blue Jays. 

Romero bounced back nicely in his last start after his ugly season debut against the Indians. Ricky went 8 1/3 innings of one run ball to earn his first victory of the season. Romero lifetime against the Rays has posted a 3.18 ERA over 10 starts.

Wednesday, April 18 - 7:07 PM ET - Rogers Centre
David Price, LHP (1-1, 4.82 ERA) vs. Brandon Morrow, RHP (0-0, 2.57 ERA) 

Price struggled immensely, though the stat line isn't that ugly, in his first loss of the season at the hands of the Red Sox. Hee allowed three earned runs on four hits and three walks and was chased from the game after working just three innings. He has a 9-2 record with a 2.06 ERA in 12 career starts against Toronto.

Morrow wasn't nearly as sharp in his second start of the year although he managed to walk away with a no-decision. He gave up four runs against the OrioLoLes. That said he has pitched well early on this year, he has held opposing hitters to a .152 average over 14 innings this season. And not to be forgotten, Morrow has had a tendency to dominate the Rays in the past - his 17K performance can attest to that. 

Thursday, April 19 - 7:07 PM ET - Rogers Centre
Jeremy Hellickson, RHP (1-0, 3.29 ERA) vs. Henderson Alvarez, RHP (0-0, 2.77 ERA)

The reigning AL Rookie of the Year struggled with his command against the Sox in his last start. He earned a no-decision, walking three and giving up three long balls over five innings. In two starts at the Rogers Centre, Hellickson is 1-0 with a 4.25 ERA.

Alvarez has continued where he left off last season, throwing his 8th quality start in his last 12 games. Unfortunately, the Jays have not been able to provide much in the way of offensive support for the young right hander, Alvarez picked up his second no-decision of the season.The 21-year-old has only faced the Rays once, giving up four runs on three home runs over six innings.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Gone with the Lind

According to Google auto search, Adam Lind is a jerk, a douche, married, engaged.

Basing your judgement of a player based on what Google tries auto-searching for you is not a good idea. It is, however, educational. Actually, its pretty funny. See if you type "Adam Lind is" in to Google, and happen to check the screen before you hit enter, you will learn that Adam Lind is also the 'baby daddy' of one of the misfit children on MTV's show Teen Mom. Actually, if you scroll down, you will find more references to that 'Adam Lind,' than the former Silver Slugger winning Adam Lind. This is perhaps the most joy the name Adam Lind has provided in some time.

Last week, MLBtraderumors.com put together an excellent piece regarding the Jays first basemen, it's definitely worth a read. But it brings to light a very interesting dilemma, is this year the make or break year for Lind. Contractually, it isn't really; following his breakout 2009 season, the Jays rewarded Lind with a contract extension. The contact, which at the time was heralded for being incredibly brilliant and team friendly, guaranteed Lind $18MM from 2010-2013; it also featured club options for 2014 ($7MM), 2015 ($7.5MM) and 2016 ($8MM). So as a technicality, this isn't the make or break year for Adam Lind's career. It is, however, the make or break year for Lind as a Blue Jay, or at least lets hope so.

While most fans have positive views of Lind, nobody seems to be able to make a case for him that consists of any other rationale than his 2009 season. In 2009, Lind posted his only above replacement season as a Major Leaguer. Lind posted a .305/.370/.562 slash line with 33 home runs and 114 RBIs. Unfortunately, to say it's only been down hill from there would be an understatement. In 2009, Lind was good for 3.7 Wins above Replacement. To put that in context, in his other 6 seasons with the Jays (2006-2008, 2010-2012) he as been only good for 0.5 Wins. Since 2009 alone, he has posted negative 0.3 Wins. 

If the Blue Jays intend to contend for a playoff spot in the near future, the Jays cannot succeed with such a lack of production from first base. It is by no means a requirement that you trot out an all-star first basemen to be a playoff team, but it helps. 

Jose Bautista
Blue Jays
Miguel Cabrera
Ryan Braun
Matt Kemp
Prince Fielder
Adrian Gonzalez
Red Sox
David Ortiz
Red Sox
Joey Votto
Lance Berkman
Jacoby Ellsbury
Red Sox
Curtis Granderson
Matt Holliday
Carlos Beltran
- - -
Troy Tulowitzki
Michael Morse
Jose Reyes
Albert Pujols
Justin Upton
Carlos Gonzalez
Paul Konerko
White Sox

The chart above lists the top 20 players in the MLB based on weighted on base average (wOBA). Of the 20 that made the cut, nine of them are first baseman or designated hitters. To put last season in perspective, Adam Lind ranked 110th out of 146 eligible position players. 

If there is a position that the Jays lack in terms of organizational depth, first base is certainly near the top. Drew over at DJF made it quite clear that there is not, and never will be, any love for David Cooper. But the reality is, that with the exception of a few home runs, Adam Lind has not been that much better. According to Baseball America, not one of the top 10 prospects in the organization play first base. Perhaps even scarier is this: their projected lineup for 2015 includes Adam Lind at first, and I can all but guarantee that is not because of a projected resurgence. 

This is where the whole thing begins to effect the Blue Jays moving forward though. Of those first basemen listed above, Cabrera, Fielder, Gonzalez, Votto and Pujols are all signed to 7+ year contracts, or in Jays speak, 5+ year contracts. Given the Jays team policy to not negotiate a deal beyond 5 years in length, the cause for concern, especially considering the BA prospect projection, grows substantially. 

Again, to say this is a make or break year for Adam Lind isn't quite it true, but it's unquestionably his last shot with the Jays. There is no chance that Alex Anthopoulos will continue to settle for below replacement value from the most valuable offensive position in baseball.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Series Breakdown: Orioles vs. Blue Jays

Starting tonight, the Baltimore Oreo's swing into town to take on our Toronto Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre. The Jays are coming off a series win against the Boston Red Sox, whereas the OrioLOLes come to town having been swept by the New York Yankees. The O's opened the season reeling off three straight wins against the Twins to sweep the series, but fell back to earth against the Yanks.

The Blue Jays will be without closer Sergio Santos as he has returned home for the birth of his first child. As per MLB rules, any player placed on the paternity list must sit out at least one game and a maximum of three. With a hat tip to Gregor Chisolm, it appears that Santos will return to Toronto Saturday, although its unclear at this point whether it will be time for the game.John Farrell will be forced to call on Casey Janssen or Francisco Cordero in a save opportunity Friday and possibly Saturday.

The matchups for the series are as follows:

Baltimore Orioles (3-3) vs Toronto Blue Jays (4-2)

Friday, April 13, 2012 - 7:07 PM ET
Tommy Hunter, RHP (1-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Brandon Morrow, RHP (0-0, 0.00 ERA)

Both Hunter and Morrow were solid in their respective season debuts. Hunter allowed six hits over seven innings against the Twins, giving up two unearned runs while fanning three and waling one. Hunter has struggled so far in his career against the Jays; in six starts he's 1-3 with a 6.75 ERA, Jays have hit .286 off of him for his career.

Morrow also went seven innings, giving up two unearned runs on just one hit. In his career against the Orioles, Morrow is 2-2 in five starts with a 4.46 ERA; though he has held Orioles hitter to a paltry .229 batting average.

Saturday, April 14, 2012 - 4:07 PM ET
Jason Hammel, RHP (1-0, 1.13 ERA)  vs. Henderson Alvarez (0-0, 1.50 ERA)

Hammel was impressive, I suppose, in his season debut with the Orioles, taking a no hitter into the eighth inning against the Twins on Sunday. I'm not sure how difficult it is to pitch to the Twins these days, but nonetheless he allowed a run on two hits and picked up the win. Hammel has five starts in his career against the Jays with a 3-0 record and a 4.35 ERA.

Alvarez was stellar in his season debut with the Jays as he pitched the home opener against the Red Sox. Despite Sergio Santos' collapse in the ninth inning, Alvarez continued to impress in his short tenure with the Jays. He posted his seventh quality start in 11 starts since being called up last season, wow. Alvarez was stellar against the Orioles in his two starts last season, in two starts he has thrown 15 innings, winning one of the two games, surrendering only 3 runs and 12 hits while sriking out 9.

Sunday, April 15, 2012 - 1:07 PM ET
Brian Matusz, LHP (0-1, 9.00 ERA) vs Kyle Drabek (1-0, 1.69 ERA)

Sunday's game will feature two young starting pitchers who have in many ways followed the same career paths thus far. Brian Matusz is a very talented young lefty for the Orioles but has struggled thus far in is his Major League career. Matusz lasted just four innings in his season debut against the Yankees giving up four runs on six hits while walking three. To say the Jays have had Matusz's number early in his career would be an understatement. In three career starts against the Jays, he has pitched only 5.1 innings and has surrendered 11 earned runs, the Jays have hit a whopping .519 against him.

Drabek on the other hand had a great start to the season against the Red Sox, piching five and a third innings giving up a lone run. Kyle has just one career start against the Orioles in his career, picking up the loss over seven innings of three run ball.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Defence Wins Championships

Defensive metrics are not perfect, but among advanced statistics in baseball, sabermetric stats such as Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Saved have come along way in evaluating the actual defensive performance of players. Lookout Landing has done a terrific job breaking down advanced defensive metrics in their post Sabermetrics 101 - Fielding.

With that out of the way, the Blue Jays outfield defence for last three seasons ranks 2nd last in the MLB, and worst in the American League. According to Fangraphs, the Toronto Blue Jays outfield defence between 2009-2011 based on the UZR/150 defensive metric, was -7.1 over the three year span; only the Colorado Rockies had a worse rating over the last three seasons. If we look at Defensive Runs Saved by the Jays outfield over that same span of time, the Jays rank 4th worst in the MLB and second worst in the AL, posting a mind bending -51 runs.

It's clear to see that the Jays outfield defence has not been good for a while. The outfield, however, is only as bad as the sum of its parts combined. So if we are to look to see how this team will improve moving forward, we have to look at where it has faltered in the past.

Blue Jays Outfielders between 2009 and 2011

Needless to say, the Jays outfield defence isn't exactly the gold standard. According to UZR and UZR/150, the two best outfielders for the Jays in the past three seasons have been DeWayne Wise and Mike McCoy. Awesome. Not too surprisingly, the Jays defensive metrics as a team over this span have been pulled down substantially to the fact we trotted out Adam Lind, Vernon Wells and Fred Lewis far too often in the Cito days. Each one of them have posted negatives in almost every single defensive metric in their time in the outfield.

Luckily, moving forward, our fearless leader here on this blog has rid the Jays of both Fred Lewis and Vernon Wells, while conveniently shifting the atrocious defence of Adam Lind in left field to a far more manageable position at first base. That unfortunately only eliminates three of the six worst defenders on the list above.

Let's start with the positive. Jose Bautista is a very interesting player defensively metrically speaking. His range by all accounts, is not good. Using RngR which is the metric that judges the number of runs saved above or below the league average that a player is able to get to, Jose is a -22.9. But what gets interesting, and incredibly important for a right fielder more so than centre or left, his the ratings on his arm. Both metrics rARM (which is used for Defensive Runs Saved) and ARM (used for Ultimate Zone Rating) ranks Jose's arm as having saved 19 and 13.1 runs respectively. Thus while Jose's UZR is a less than impressive -9.6, his DRS of 2 runs over the past three seasons suggests he is roughly an average right fielder.

And on to the negative. Rajai Davis and Eric Thames. Since neither Davis or Thames have logged a significant amount of innings in the OF with the Jays over the past three years, it's best to look at UZR/150 as it compares their defensive performance over a 150 game span. Davis' UZR/150 is rated at a loss of 12.8  runs, Thames is even worse averaging a loss of 15.9 runs per 150 games played. Essentially as a platoon as they appear to be so far this season, we are looking at an average loss of 14.5 runs from the left field position.

In centre, although early in the season, it's safe to say that it's not the position we should be worried about. So far Colby Rasmus has looked to be everything we expected from him, at least defensively speaking. In his short sample size last year according to UZR/150, he was good for saving the team approximately 4 runs. Since the data is available for Rasmus when he played in St. Louis, let's hope he plays a lot more like the 13.6 runs saved player rather than the -10 he was in 2010.

Defensive AbilityUZR
Gold Glove Caliber+15
Above Average+5
Average 0
Below Average-5

Just to put defensive metrics in perspective, the above chart is Fangraphs rough estimation of what a UZR rating reflects in terms of caliber. Eric Thames and Rajai Davis are considered awful defenders by UZR ratings, hard to disagree. Jose Bautista is somewhere between average and below average. And depending which Colby Rasmus shows up, he is either between poor and awful, or great and gold glove caliber; I'm hoping the latter is the one we continue to see this season.

The Blue Jays can settle with having an average defensive right fielder, especially if their center fielder is great. The center fielder if talented enough can compensate for a weak fielder to his right or left, but it requires a truly gifted fielder to compensate for both. Colby Rasmus will help patrol the alleys this season, which should help Bautista defensively. But that still leaves the glaring weakness of the awful defence from the Jays two current left fielding options.

Free Travis. It's early in the season and it's not fair to say Eric Thames has been given a fair chance quite yet (although I'd argue he should have never had the chance in the first place). But, looking at the defensive metrics for the last three seasons, and taking the words of Alex Anthopoulos at face value, he considered it a must for both the team as a whole, and for the pitching staff, to improve the outfield defence this season. It seems evident that as long as a platoon of 'awful' left fielders are in the lineup, this is still going to be a weakness for the Jays. While right and center field already appear vastly improved so far this season, Thames has looked 'awful' already. Given that Snider has been one of the best defensive outfielders for the Jays over the past three seasons (that of which he has played), here's hoping the Jays recognize that not only is it better long term to have Snider develop at the plate at the Major League level, he would provide a substantial boost defensively to a statistically 'awful' left field platoon.

We're Going Streaking!

Further to Stoeten at DJF's post regarding premeditating streaking witnessed at the Rogers Centre Tuesday night, late last night courtesy of October's Very Own, Drizzy tweeted his thoughts. The tweet is located below.

It appears that the culprit is twitter user @yannis_c, known by his full name as Yannis Carayannopolous, who uploaded the video that Drake tweeted about below, which has since been removed. According to @yannis_c twitter feed, he claims the video will be re-uploaded later today. The video Drake tweeted was posted by Yannis on his Youtube channel

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Sober Musings from the Nose Bleeds

Over on the newly redesigned (and relocated) Drunk Jays Fans, Andrew Stoeten mused over the past two days about the well thought out one beer limit for the 500 level at yesterdays home opener. Despite the fact I paid the equivalent of baseline seats, I had the distinct pleasure of sitting three rows shy of the retractable roof. It's not a stretch to say that from that far up, you at least get to see the whole view of the game.

Matt just posted earlier tonight, his thoughts on the cliche turnout of Jays fans during the opening series. I can't say I disagree with a word he wrote. The attendance records over the past decade make it pretty clear that the home opener is nothing more of a spectacle. Game two continues to be just another baseball game.

While many of the fans that went to last night's home opener will in fact be at tonight's game, I can't help but weigh in on my thoughts from the opener and why I think attendance drops off so drastically so consistently.

1. The One Beer Limit and the Discouragement of Happiness

I know it's just one rule, that applies to one game only, but to me it is indicative of the mindset of those in the Blue Jays organization to set such rules. One of the longest standing complaints about Jays games is the lack of atmosphere or fan experience. Rules like this one don't do much to dispel such a notion. Having sat up in the 500's for most games I've gone to in my life, including last nights, I could have told you from the get go that this rule wouldn't do anything to deter the inevitable violence that breaks out in the upper decks. I don't think it takes a rocket science to figure out why.

The guys who get into these fights (I should preface this by saying I did watch a girl try to throw a beer at last nights game, only to have gravity work wonders on the cup and flip the beer back in her own face) are already drunk. It's pretty simple economics. If you only bought a $14 ticket, you aren't going to the game with the mindset of getting drunk off $10.75 beers, you're already drunk, you've spent the last two hours after work (if you had a job in the first place) at one of the fine local establishments surrounding the Dome drinking. A 1 beer limit per visit isn't going to prevent drunken antics if you're already smashed. From my count I witnessed at least 4 brawls break out in the upper deck last night, and that doesn't include the two innings I missed when I left my seat to go purchase my lone overpriced Budweiser.

I've lost count of the number of times I have seen things at Jays games that make me scratch my head at what the goal is of staff and security. I'll never forget the time where ushers kicked out a 12 year old boy, dressed head to toe in home made Jays gear, face paint, and signs, because his chanting and heckling were annoying a couple of patrons who spent more time on there cell phones than they did watching the game. The same place that fired the beloved "ICE COLD BEER" guy. Simply put, I think the Jays organization needs to rethink the rules and instill a little bit more fan freedom.

2. Beer

Yes, the first two thoughts about the atmosphere at the Rogers Centre have to do with alcohol. Shoot me, I'm a mid twenties male.

Having been lucky enough to travel to some of what I would consider the more likable stadiums in the MLB, I have seen what works and doesn't work. This isn't about the price of beer. I can't say I'd do anything different if I owned the team. But there is a lot that could be done to make you feel like less of a criminal when purchasing a beer at the ball game. I've already gone over my thoughts on one-off rules to mitigate drinking-related violence. One of the things I noticed last night, other than the line-ups that make our publicly funded health care system look like a drive-through, is the inherent stupidity of the ID checking system.

When I went to Wrigley last summer, I watched the most common sense practice of checking IDs. When entering through the gates, or scattered throughout the concourses, if you were of age to buy beer you could show your ID to Wrigley staff and they would issue you a wristband indicating that you were 21 or older. Thus when you went back to buy a beer throughout the game, you flashed your wristband, ordered your beer, handed over your cash and back to your seat you went. It seemed like common sense. I think personally it as a lot more to do with the demands of a fan base who go an hour early to every game and refuse to miss more than a play to get a beer than anything else, but I digress.

If there's one complaint I have ever felt about the Dome, it's that the atmosphere is least conducive to fans who are, well, actual fans of baseball. I thought they were heading in the right direction with the Budweiser quick pour stations installed last year, but it will take a lot more progressive ideas (or common sense) to improve.

3. The Roof

There's an old saying, you fish where the fish are. Baseball is a summer sport. Baseball fans like to sit in the sun, eat a hot dog, drink a beer (third times the charm) and enjoy a couple hours of ball. For me, I have never understood why the Blue Jays mentality for marketing as been to alienate actual baseball fans as much as humanly possible in an effort to reach out to new fans. Case and Point 1 - the dome. No part of me ever wants to have to sit in the rain if I don't have to watch a game, but that's the beauty of a retractable roof. If it's raining, you close the roof. To me that is the only time, shy of snow, that the roof should be closed. If you want to sit in an air conditioned arena to watch sports, baseball is not for you. Go catch a Leafs, Raptors or Rock game.

Last night's game was no exception. To me it was completely inexcusable that the Dome wasn't open. I always hear the argument that if it's cold out, if we open the roof, fans might be cold. Bring a jacket, we live in Canada. Moving on...

4. For another day,

I could go on for ages about the lack of 'atmosphere' at Jays games, but I think I've touched enough to spark some discussion. What do you think, what bothers you about the Dome and is there anything you enjoy?


Game 2 always speaks volumes at the Rogers Centre.

The home opener to the average sports fan in Toronto is a spectacle. When you pack fifty thousand people together, mix it with Budweiser, and a sharp set of new swag, Torontonians tend to believe they know what it is to be a sports fan.

Unfortunately, tonight shows why we aren’t, true baseball fans.

You disagree? What's that you say? “Hey, we won back to back World Series.” Is that right?

Death, taxes, the Blue Jays opening series attendance dropping from 50,000 for the opener to less than 25,000 for each of the other two games. These may possibly be the three guarantees in life.

Last year, the opening day attendance was 47,984; the attendance for game two fell to 27,194. In 2010 the opening day attendance was 50,299; Game two fell to 22,890. In 2009 the same story can be told, 48,027 at the opener, 16,790 for game two.

Patience is a virtue; however the proof is in the pudding. When it comes to living and breathing baseball like our divisional rival fans, we finish a distant third. That aforementioned stat is not the case in Boston or New York. We like to talk the talk, but we flat out suck at walking. One day later, 25,000 people vanish, back to their couches and twitter accounts to play armchair quarterback (coach/manager, you get my point) only to be seen again when we face the teams that walk the walk.

We have and were very well capable of watching baseball in this city. Believe it, its true.
Paul Beeston was grilled last year for basically calling out the fans. And bless his heart because I believe that Mr.Beeston had it right, the shitty part is it’s sort of frowned upon to ruin the corporate image of the owners by calling out your consumer, but that topic is for another day.

I digress. The maddening part about Game 2 is it’s the Red Sox, a premium game that most fans will attend mid season, eat my words I will, but tonight is just like any other Game 2. Instead of the typical Upper Deck card pose our players take on the banners above gate 9, next year my vote is for more of an Uncle Sam attitude, maybe Brett Lawrie pointing at us with a quote reading "we want you."

As for tonight I’ll be there, will you?