Sometimes it feels like all the other GM’s are just bad AI in Alex Anthopolous’ video game. You know, the kind where you can eventually acquire Albert Pujols via trade if you lump together enough C-level prospects and filler major-leaguers. Didn’t like that deal? Ok, here’s another fourth outfielder and a free-agent I signed a month ago. No? Ok, I’ll throw in my entire A- team and some junk easily available on the waiver wire (also reminicient of 99% of the trade offers one tends to recieve while playing fantasy baseball).
Not that J.A. Happ is some kind of rotation saviour, but he’s a real, living, breathing, major-league lefty with some upside, whereas Wojciechowski and Musgrove are pitchers that many years and hopefully not too many surgeries down the road you hope develop into something like J.A. Happ. It’s like the Santos deal all over again! Errrr…forget I said that.
Anyway, as at least some of you know, I am a big believer in using K rates (or K/BB ratios if you’re getting fancy/accurate about things) to evaluate pitchers. They are much more indicative of a pitcher’s true ability and much less affected by luck or other factors than anything that involves runs/hits. I also like using graphs because trends pop out that might otherwise be obscured in year-by-year accumulations.
So here’s a graph of Happ’s K’s/start since 2009 that I was looking at a couple of weeks ago, thinking ‘gee, I wouldn’t mind if they picked this guy up while he’s struggling’:
I know this is not highly scientific, but other than his 2009 September collapse (he was having a great year and then opponents hit .344/.976 off him the rest of the way), that looks to me very much like a pitcher that has been getting steadily deadlier. If I were Bruce Walton, I’d be excited about getting to work on him. His walk rate has been improving as well, and his fastball MPH is the highest it has ever been (90.33, up half a tick from 2009). It’s all the contact and HR that has the Astros giving up on him.
One thing I would consider is ditching Happ’s Curveball. Back in 2009, he was essentially a slider/changeup guy, and only threw 100 curveballs all year (4.5%). This year and last it has become his primary secondary offering (what a vile phrase) — he has already thrown 226 (13.7%), and while he gets more swing-and-misses on them than any of his other off-speed stuff, they only result in a strike 28% of the time, compared to 52% for his fastball, 38% for his slider, and 32% for his change.
Errr…wait. That probably explains the increase in K’s, too. He has fallen in love with his curve because guys don’t make contact with it, but he’s falling behind in counts and not getting the easy outs he was with his slider. So it makes sense that hits and HR would be up, too. Now do I rewrite this whole post so it looks like I knew that all this time, or just bail out now and put it in the title? Hmmmmm.
I know last night’s thrashing of the Reds felt really good, but philosophy? Confidence? Cito? Seriously?? Just as Jason Marquis one-hitting the Jays through 7 innings does not mean he’s found the Cy Young that has been trapped inside him waiting to get out all this time, the Jays beating up on a guy who came into the game with a 5.55 ERA (that was actually rather generous considering his 1.58 WHIP and homer and a half per game) does not mean, well…anything.
This should not have to be said. Or at least there should be some sort of parity between the “wow, those pitches were on a tee” and “the Jays look really aggressive!” commentary. Check out the gushing recap- mention of Arroyo giving up 10 runs in 1.0 inning? NONE. Cito angle? ALL.
True, the Jays have flopped against worse pitchers this year, but Arroyo was heroically bad last night:
Every. Single. Pitch. Was thigh high. 7 hits came on pitches 2 inches from deal center. And when he did venture to the outside of the plate, he made sure to give it to both righties and and lefties down and in. Rios’s home run was supposed to be about a foot higher, but it ended up high and tight, where we already knew Alex is hitting .444 this season. Arroyo’s fastball was dead straight and his curve was hilarious, saucering in or not even close.
Anyway – that was a long-deserved treat, but I was more excited about Burnett looking good than the Jays having a late batting practice and then scoring 4 runs the rest of the game against the mop up guys that the Reds threw out there. Let’s see how they do tonight (errr…tomorrow) against the best pitcher in the majors before planning the parade route…
Stairs openly trashed Denbo. The new coaches are barely holding back when they say they “don’t like what they see” and make comments about the Jays “mental approach” being messed up. Independent scouting confirms that they just weren’t swinging the bat, ever. But baseball is a funny game- immediately after being fired by the Jays a mere three months into his contract, some other team is willing to give Denbo another chance. Oh, wait…lordy. It’s us. Here’s hoping Travis Snider is 100% uncoachable.
Richard Griffin is still hilarious- Cito for GM! The Southpaw read the thoughts still forming in my mind (as usual) yesterday. The best GM’s aren’t the smartest? Huh? He should be GM because he can’t handle the grind of filling out the lineup card every day? Huh?? Putting a guy who has been out of baseball for a decade in charge of your entire organization is the way for the team to regain respect? HUH???
The Drunk Jays Fans are suitably incredulous in their recap of the whole J.P./Dunn thing that refuses to die. Apparently someone got J.P.’s phone number and the best they could think to do with it was to call up and apologize, then keep it a secret?! Worst. Prank. Ever.
The Red Sox were apparently interested in Reed Johnson if they Jays had not resigned him.
I’m not one to advocate sabotaging the Jays to spite other AL East teams (see DJF re: the O’s refusing to even discuss Bedard with the Jays), but seeing Reed coming into town with the evil empire would have been like that time I dumped my ex that I grew up with and she immediately hooked up with the bully who beat me up every day for my lunch money. If Reed had returned to his 2006 form it would have been like that time she lost 25 pounds, had extensive cosmetic surgery, and took up pole dancing for his birthday. If they had won the World Series again with him as a starting outfielder it would have been like that time I finally lost it, strangled them both with my bare hands, and set his parent’s house on fire in the middle of the night. Too personal? Too personal.
The Legend of Zaurro
It’s gathering as much dust as the rest of us this offseason, but you have to at least admire the production values of Gregg Zaun’s home page. Poke around and there’s a fan club and his workout regimen. I’m guessing this was an investment made sometime after his media career began to blosson but before he was busted by the Mitchell report.
This Just in: Broken Hands May Affect Bat Speed
Yesterday was Lyle Overbay’s 31st birthday. Quite rightly, him feeling pretty good is sending the Blogosphere into paroxysms of excitement. The theory behind Moneyball (the real one, not the bizarro version hacks like to piss on) is to find players that have underrated skill sets. Is that not the definition of Lyle? The only reason we’re paying him relatively nothing for the next three years is that defense and doubles fly under the radar.
Other than having four freaking pins in his hand, two things that didn’t help Lyle any were umps giving pitches half a foot off the plate as strikes, and a propensity to swing at changeups below the knees. I forgot Josh Kalk has already done all this, but here’s a look at the pitches Overbay did not put in play last year.
It looks worse than it was because all lefties get screwed on the outside part of the plate, but seriously- some of those pitches are halfway to the dugout.
Another interesting tidbit (although over a SMALLISH SAMPLE SIZE of 240 and 150 balls in play respectively) is that on pitches under 92 mph (your average fastball), Lyle’s BABIP was .290. For anything over that, it was .236. (See the comments for the numbers for the rest of the league). He also managed to put fewer of them in play. Ouch. That’s hurting.
A quick request from Mr. Roman who, after watching Travis Hafner way behind pitches in the ALCS, (striking out an ALCS record 12 times, capped off by going down on three straight heaters to Papelbon in the 7th game with two on) wondered if Boston was feeding him high fastballs, possibly taking advantage of him trying to go the other way off the Green Monster. Here are the fastballs that Hafner saw, and what he did with them (this includes cutters and two seamers- anything above 90 that didn’t break more than half a foot).
As you can see, Boston made a concerted effort to pitch him up and away. He took a lot of pitches right on the outside edge, fouled off a few right down the middle, and couldn’t catch up to anything at the letters. Kind of surprising for a batter who mashed those pitches all year. I wonder if the Red Sox, who have notoriously good advance scouts (check out Schilling gushing about them on his Blog) picked up something, or if his bat speed was just down at the end of a long season so they kept pounding him.
It’s kind of hard to see graphically, but between the first three games in the series (when Hafner went 3-11 with two BB and a HR) and the last four (when he went 1-19 with 11 K’s) the Sox changed from going low and away in the strike zone to challenging him with high heat. Hafner didn’t swing at the low and away pitches (that’s all those called strikes), but he went for the high stuff and couldn’t do anything with it. Here are his fastballs split between early and late in the series:
Two years ago, Russ Adams was ending what looked like the first of many seasons as our starting SS and leadoff man. It wasn’t a great season, but our team wasn’t so hot that year either. And compared to the black hole that we’ve had there for years, a guy who could hit .260 with a little pop, a lot of walks and a few stolen bases was positively intoxicating.
His defence was lacking, but the team was so sure he would continue to improve that they took the other SS we drafted in the first round and stashed him at second, even though Aaron Hill has a much better arm. Now that’s confidence!
Then he pulled a Knoblauch on us.
And couldn’t even hit any more.
Three months into last season the Jays had seen enough and he lost not only his spot with the club, but his position. This was no short term demotion to iron out some kinks, or to “find himself”. He was knocking the cover off the ball in AAA, but they didn’t even treat him like a prospect any more, and just kept him on the bench for most of the season gathering rust.
Then they signed Ray Olmedo, John McDonald, Jason Smith and Royce Clayton to make sure they had shored up the middle infield with mediocre players just to remove any chance that he could get another shot due to injuries. There were a few positive articles on him and Jerry Howarth shot his mouth off about him coming back in 2008, but all that J.P. would concede was that he could earn his way back to the club (i.e. BE BETTER).
At the all-star break this year, reported when Hill was(n’t really) injured that Russ would be recalled, but now that Royce has been given the axe, it’s Olmedo who is going to fill in around the infield and maybe play some SS as well.
Anyway, now that I’ve got you all hyped about the walking epic tragedy that is the career of Mr. Adams, go on over to Flying Through the Farm/The Jays Nest and read an absolutely superb, in depth analysis of his stats in AAA this year. God, they do good work over there.
I probably would have done more of this if I wasn’t completely statistically gassed by the time the fact that Josh Johnson even HAD a curveball rolled around. But as pointed out in the comment, any excitement over a new pitch has to be tempered by the fact that it won’t be a novelty for long. Only time will really tell, but here’s a look at the evolution of JJ’s new pitch as the year progressed:
1a) Movement – Side-to-side (pfx)
Pfx is where the ball ended up along the horizontal plane compared to where it would have without spin, in inches. Clearly, there is a lot of variation from one pitch to the next but also a downward trend, which means the pitch moved less from right to left as the season went on. Also, there was less spread, which is most likely a sign of increased consistency from JJ. His first 200 curveballs had a standard deviation of 1.93, and his last 230 were at 1.79 (to try to get at what that means in baseball terms would be stupid).
Also, see that patch right over the 200 mark where every single curve is below 4? That corresponds to July 4-18, 3 starts where JJ got shelled in an otherwise excellent stretch.
1b) Movement — Up-down (pfz)
I took the liberty of splitting these pitches up by start to address the elephant in the room — right in the middle of those three crappy starts mentioned above, Josh Johnson’s curveball dropped an extra half foot for one start (immediately after the All-star game, incidentally). Then for the rest of the season, the ‘drop’ on his curve steadily decreased. Experimenting with a new grip? Broken nail? Craft your own narrative…
1c) Movement — Bend (break_length)
Looks like an increasing amount of ‘bend’ early in the season, then a shaky patch around the all-star break, and a downward trend at the end of the season. The single start highlighted in red is his August 25 start, which was his one other blowup of the year after the break. For some reason leading into that start his curveball started to flatten out, and then was atrocious as the Dodgers pounded him for 10 hits and six runs through three innings.
I’m not trying to imply that it was all due to his curveball, but I find it really cool that there are usually completely obvious reasons for a sucky start rather than all the hocus-pocus about ‘not being sharp’, or ‘leaving a few pitches up’ we hear. I mean, of COURSE he’s not going to spill the beans on national TV after the game, but you know JJ was thinking ‘what the heck is wrong with my curveball, we gotta get on that’ after that game. Someday, every pitcher will get post-game reports like this, as umpires do (did?) with QUESTEC.
2a) Results — Miss %
What I did here was plot for every swing whether the result was a hit or miss, and then run a rolling average (series=15). So apparently the league started to make more contact against JJ’s curve after a certain point
2b) Results — Hits
Same thing, with hits/balls put in play. Sample size is starting to become an issue, but that’s a very clear spike in the middle of the season.
2c) Results — In Zone %
2d) Results — Chase out of zone
Just including these to be complete…nothing really pops out as conclusive for me.
- Johnson tightened up his Curve into more of a pure 12-6 as the season went on.
- He was getting more and more drop on it until the all-star break, when something went horribly wrong. From then on, that trend reversed.
- It was getting more and more ‘loopy’ until late in the season, when again, after a terrible start, things started moving in the opposite direction.
- The league was more and more able to make contact with his curve as the season went on.
- This lead to more and more hits coming against it until the midway mark, at which point, yep, things reversed dramatically.
Lumping all this together, I would say that Johnson was working on making his curve more and more nasty as the league was catching up to it, and then somewhere around the mid-way point (possibly spurred on by it falling apart) wisely switched his focus to making it more controllable so he could place it more effectively. But that might be just because I know that’s what happens to every rookie pitcher and it makes sense that it would for a veteran with a new toy…
3ai) Random — average # of Strikes in count when throwing curveball
Just a cute, not-particularly-scientific way of seeing if he was throwing it more often later in the count, i.e. a punchout pitch, as the year went on. Yep. With one crazy stretch where he gave up on it. Doing the same thing for this slider suggests that he went back to using his slider later in the count after the break:
3aii) SLIDER — average # of Strikes in count when throwing slider
Annnnnd I’ll just bury at the very bottom of another long post a semi-apology to Bot Elliott after he clarified the Johnson #3 comment during in his online chat with: “Right now they have a lot of No. 3s or maybe Morrow is a No. 2 and Johnson could be if his shoulder allows him to add missing MPH”. That is without a doubt the most informed reason for saying that, although I still think it’s quite the bombshell to drop without any context or attempt to back it up.
Update: Ok, I take that back. Random comments from mystery men at the winter meetings is just not compelling journalism. YOU’RE IN THE HALL OF FAME, BOB. Have an opinion! Say something! Don’t just pass on this scuttlebutt like it’s this incredible inside information but you just…can’t…give up your source. Putting together that Lawrie runs and Gibby is a red light did not exactly require Deepthroat in the parkinglot, y’know?
It’s a real shame the Jays lost Brian Butterfield along with John Farrell; his ability to turn above-average infielders into elite ones will certainly be missed. Would he have made a good manager, though, and was it worth it to give him the reins to keep his infield coaching skills around? I was never as enamoured with his in-game strategy and it could have been another Farrellesque invocation of the Peter Principle — where a team is forced to promote a guy from being a very good coach to being not a particularly good manager.
But relaxxxxx. Now there’s a Hale behind the bench. We’re in the best hands there are. Here’s former player Lou Merloni gushing about his time spend under Demarlo. And Peter Gammons preemptively calling this a ‘coup’. Obviously I’m a little too close to the situation for my comments to carry much weight (we won the three-legged race together at the last reunion), so you’ll just have to trust me when I say that our conversation as we were unlacing our shared limb and accepting the trophy went something like this:
“So how did you acquire such a sterling reputation around baseball for studying opponent’s tendencies anyway, Demarlo?”
“Well son, it all comes down to rigorous statistical analysis of advanced pitch tracking data.”
“Hey, that’s kind of my thing, too! It must run in our shared DNA.”
“No kidding! Well, I’ll give you a call if I ever end up in Toronto needing a right-hand man who is a pitch f/x expert willing to work long hours for peanuts to make the next Moneyballesque statistical revolution happen in his home town.”
“Haha, not like that’ll ever happen, but I’m taking you up on your offer if it does!”
I’m going to have to cut off the memory playback there because at this point apparently my giant dog, Falcor, flew both of us away from the Blue Meanies and onto Lollipop Island where we watched Joe Carter hit back-to-back home runs to win the 2013 world series. But other than that last bit, I’m pretty sure that’s exactly how it went down*.
*If you think this is a stupid post, imagine the photoshop job that I decided wasn’t worth it.
At first it seemed odd that notorious dickhead and abrasive personality Shea Hillenbrand would be so gracious and contrite when asked to comment on the re-signing of John Gibbons as the Blue Jays manager, but after some cutting-edge journalistic work we at the Mockingbird have managed to uncover both sides of the AP interview quoted in part by the Star. Here now, in its entirety for the first time, is the complete and unedited interview with Shea Hillenbrand:
ASSOCIATED PRESS: Hello, Shea? This is the Associated Press calling. As you may or may not know, John Gibbons has recently been re-hired as manager of the Blue Jays. Just wondering if you had any comment on that?
SHEA: “That’s awesome. He’s a great guy.”
AP: What? No, I said JOHN GIBBONS. Former manager of yours. The guy who stopped playing you halfway through the season, challenged you to a fight during the ensuing fallout, and then refused to stay on as manager if you remained on the team. Do you have anything to say about him or what happened between the two of you?
SHEA: “I think he handled the situation that we had very professionally and I didn’t handle it professionally at all.”
AP: Wow, really? Gotta say I’m a little surprised. Did NOT think you were going to say that. Ok, well so much for that story…hey, how are all your wacky animals? Do you still have the rabbits and the lemur and the miniature horses and all those fucking tortoises? Did you ever get the Zebra and Buffalo you wanted? Ha ha ha. I mean, you run a petting zoo now, right?
SHEA: “All I know is that during my time with him he was a really good manager and I think he did a really good job with what he had.”
AP: Yeah, yeah, you already said that. Big of you. I was talking about…wait. Something’s wrong. Are you in trouble, Shea? Is he there? Don’t say anything…just use his first name in a sentence if you can’t talk to me right now./p>
SHEA: “I think John’s going to be a great addition to that ball club and he’s a great guy.”
AP: OH god. I’ll send for help. You just hang tight, Shea. I knew this wasn’t over.
Boy, getting to know the business side of baseball sure takes a lot of the fun out of being a fan. Big trades used to be like opening presents on Christmas day: a consequence-free deluge of sparkly new toys to marvel at and get ready to have fun with. These days the wrapping is barely off the latest backup catcher and I can’t help but run to Cot’s Contracts and figure out exactly what we’re paying for all this.
But that’s what it all comes down to when you’re faced with management that sees the on-the-field product in strict terms of return on short-term investment. It may not be “our money” — but the fact is that if Rogers doesn’t spend it wisely, the lack of immediate on-field results and ensuing attendance increase will cause them to doubt that fielding a premium-quality team is really worth it, and WHAM! We’re back watching another slightly-better-than-average club for the next two decades or so.
The last time Rogers was almost goaded into spending dough on the rotation, the team ended up with a bait-and-switch boondoggle — Wells instead of Lilly and Meche — that sent the Jays back into a rebuilding phase overnight. So how does the latest round of acquisitions rank in terms of bang-for-buck, as compared to the dreaded free-agent market we always hear we are so wise to avoid? Wait…didn’t most of these guys get signed to these exact same contracts on said dreaded free-agent market last year?!?
Exhibit A: Mark Buehrle (3 years, 48 mil = 16 mil/per)
Exactly one offseason ago, the Marlins signed Buehrle to a 4-year pact that averaged out to 14.5 million a season over four years. Back then, pundits chuckled at how much the team was overpaying out of a misguided attempt to buy a winner for the new stadium because while Buehrle is ridiculously durable, he is also just a tick above average at this point in his career (even after his rather astute late-career move to the NL).
Anyway, since the original deal was overly generous AND back-loaded, the Marlins have managed to wiggle off the hook and dump their mistake on us (hey, that’s AA’s signature move!) after paying just 6 mil for one season along with Buehrle’s 4-million signing bonus. Even granting a lower-than average risk of decline in his mid-thirties because he’s a slow-tossing lefty, 16 million a season is way, way, too much to pay for a guy who is a minor upgrade on Henderson Alvarez, ten years older, and on the wrong side of his career slope. That’s ok though, I’m sure we’ll be compensated for doing the Marlins such a big favour later in the trade…
Exhibit B: Jose Reyes (6 years, 114 million = 19 mil/per OR the almost certain option of 5 years, 99 million, or 19.8 mil/year)
Have the Blue Jays ever traded for such a major contract? At almost 20 million dollars a year in salary (unless you think Reyes is going to be worth paying 22 million dollars at age 36) this is the big-name investment in the team everyone has been waiting for. And again, the Jays take on a slightly worse version of the deal that was widely reviled when the Marlins gave it to Reyes last season, when he was coming off a crazy contract year that to nobody’s surprise he in no way lived up to, regressing instead to his gradually-declining career numbers.
Reyes is an upgrade, but not a lineup-changing one that it makes sense to throw top dollar at. His glove drifted from not good to really bad last season, and other than 40 steals, Escobar had better production in 2009/2011. As well, turning 30 is a very scary time for speedy middle infielders. If people are going to scoff at the idea of Prince Fielder’s body holding up until he’s 36, I’ve got binders full of dynamic middle infielders wearing down in a hurry in their early 30′s. Imagine having made a major five-year investment in Jimmy Rollins at 30. Or Roberto Alomar at…errrr…33. “Young player” tools do not decline gracefully, and Reyes is on his way down what could be a very slippery slope.
Not that the team doesn’t get a lot more palatable. Reyes is a legit leadoff man who will be fun to watch when he’s healthy (triple=most exciting play in baseball), and Escobar was a lazy, underperforming, dickwad. But if coming into this offseason, AA had announced that Reyes had somehow become available and that he was planning on offering him a five-year, 100-million-dollar contract in order to beef up the offence, it would have been deemed an incredible waste of money at what clearly should not be the Jays’ #1 priority (especially when it leaves us with a backup player staring at second). But frame it as a trade, and wooooooooo! We rooked those guys by getting something for nothing!!! Unless you believe/it is true that free agents just won’t sign in Toronto of their own free will under any conditions, it just doesn’t make sense to get excited about trading quality prospects for players that the team could have been right there bidding on the previous season at a better price/year with no players given up in return.
So that’s two parts of this deal that sees the Jays taking on the Marlins’ mistakes and paying more than market value for these players, which means we’re going to get it alllll back in the super-sweet third part of the deal in exchange for all the prospects we threw into the deal, right?
Exhibit C: Josh Johnson (1 year = 13.75 Million/per)
Crap. Not so much. Johnson is the top of the rotation arm that the Jays actually need, and the one that they were willing to take on the other two bloated contracts for. His deal is also the only one of the bunch worth giving something up for, as it would almost certainly take more than 13.75 million to replace Josh Johnson on the free agent market next year. But not that much more.
Anibal Sanchez is essentially the same age and quality of pitcher (heck, he had a slightly better year than Johnson and his velocity isn’t down post-surgery — see my pitch f/x post on Johnson coming soon), and he’s asking for 15 million for six years, or 1.25 million more per season over five additional years. That means for the right to pay a similar pitcher in his prime 1.25 million dollars less, and to have him under contract for just one year instead of six, the Blue Jays took on two contracts that were bad when they were freely available last year and have since gotten worse, and gave up Alvarez, Hechavarria, Marisnick and Nicolino. How exactly is this better than blundering around in free agency again?
Exhibit D: John Buck (1 Year, 6 million)
It seems petty to mention it when there are 100-million dollar contracts flying around, but this is another part of this “trade” that is less of a “trade” and more of a “we’ll save you some money”. Since he left Toronto, Buck has completely fallen off the rails and doesn’t even have the defensive prowess of Mathis to compensate for hitting around the Mendoza line. So the Jays take on four million dollars for a clear downgrade at catcher, which is widely reported thusly: “also acquired in the deal is catcher John Buck, who hit .281 with 20 HR during his last stint with the Jays”…
I don’t mean to be a total grinch. This will make for much better baseball in Toronto next season. But this trade is being over-celebrated because the media looks at it like fantasy baseball, our guys for their guys — in which case it’s highway robbery. The truth is, under baseball’s current economic system, the only time a team ‘wins’ this kind of payroll dumping transaction is when in exchange for prospects they get players on the cheap, which is clearly not the case here. While it looks terrible for the Marlins in terms of talent lost and the direction of the franchise, these were such bad contracts when signed that it is isn’t a huge haul of talent for the roughly 50 million bucks a season the Jays are absorbing, either. Considering that the two top pitchers out there are asking for 15 and 25 million dollars a season respectively and it’s hard to imagine having to spend more than 30 million on the rotation, anyway, without the need to pay Reyes like a superstar and give up some good young players.
If all this happened because Rogers is opening the floodgates and finally making a big, sustained push for the playoffs and the hearts of fans, then great. For rather a lot of money and prospect value the team has managed to improve at a very thin position, leaving room for even more investment in left field. But if this was Anthopoulos’ one chance to get big results from the long-awaited cash infusion, then he didn’t get the value that he needed in order to make the making the postseason next season more than a faint hope — which could mean this round of rebuilding the Blue Jays just jumped the shark.
Giant pat on own back time: you can follow this link or just scroll down a little to where I said this about J.A. Happ upon his arrival in Toronto.
“One thing I would consider is ditching Happ’s Curveball…”
Apparently Bruce Walton and the Blue Jays agreed, because when Happ went to the bullpen for a couple of starts he did not use his curveball once, and after returning to the rotation dialed the use of it way, way, back. In his last start before breaking his right foot, Happ threw just 3 curveballs while striking out 9 batters.
|Month||Happ’s Curveball %|
In his short time has a starter with the Jays, ditching the curve lead to a slightly better walk rate for Happ and crazy strikeout numbers (39 in 33 1/3 innings), although starts against Baltimore, Tampa and even Detroit padded those totals, as they lead the majors in whiffing against lefty sliders. Still, other than one shaky start against the Yankees, Happ looked promising during his transition to the AL East and has the potential to eat some quality innings next year — especially if Bruce Walton continues to read this blog and tweak his repertoire according to latest pitch f/x numbers, ha!
As part of this Blog’s charter, I have to keep up a 1:1 ratio of nerd tables to rants cussing out the Sun/Richard Griffin/Rogers, so…just in case you missed Henderson Alvarez recovering from what looked like a early trip to the showers after three runs in the first to absolutely mow down the Yankees the rest of the way (which you almost certainly did since Rogers sucks and only ever shows afternoon games on SN-1), the difference between him throwing batting practice and dominating the Yankees like he has never dominated a team before is apparently about a two-inch change in his release point. Here’s how it changed during his Jekkyl-and-Hyde start:
|When||Four-Seamer X (inches)||Four-Seamer Y||Two-Seamer X||Two-Seamer Y|
|Rest Of Game||-23.9||73.1||-22.5||73.0|
That may not seem like a lot, but releasing the ball two inches closer to the body and three inches lower is a pretty serious change at this level. Good on whoever spotted the problem and him for making the mid-game adjustment to his mechanics. It looks like that made his 4-seamer accurate and his 2-seamer dart out of the zone for a swing-and-miss pitch (as he has essentially abandoned his slider again and only threw 8 all game).
Hmmm…actually, his arm slot adjustment may have been a more gradual thing than all that. Here is what happened to Alvarez’s horizontal release point on his four-seamer through the game. Essentially, this is how far away his body he is releasing his heater (with lower being further away…ugly, I know). See it start to slip again towards the end of the game as he tires? Someday there will be a pitch f/x nerd in every dugout so managers don’t have to rely on their bleary eyes or the word of their starter to tell if a guy is out of gas and starting to unravel…
Now the same thing done for his 2-seamer. That one crazy spike was, as you might expect, a total slip that ended up floating in at 90 mph a foot off the plate. Might have been an attempt at a change, even. Anyway, it looks like a key for Alvarez is to stop himself from ‘flying open’, stay ‘compact through his delivery’, ‘on top of the ball’, and all that Jazz…
In the first inning of the Cubs-Astros game today, Anthony Rizzo struck out on two fastballs from J.A. Happ on the corner that I’ll bet he was muttering about on the way back to the dugout…”that was the same @#$@#$@#$ pitch!”
Well, not quite. They were both almost exactly the same height. According to pitch f/x, one of them was 2.021 feet above the ground, and the other 2.098 (one inch apart) both above the bottom of Rizzo’s strike zone. But the first pitch was -0.835 feet outside, and the second -0.815. In other words, the first pitch was 10.02 inches outside, and the zone is 10 inches (from the centre of the plate to the centre of the ball), so it was 1/50th of an inch off the plate. Laz Diaz correctly identified it as a ball. The next was in almost the exact same location but 9.78 inches outside — more than a fifth of an inch over the plate. Laz correctly rung Rizzo up.
I know even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes, but credit where credit is due and that is a pretty unbelievable sequence when you think about how fine an adjustment that is for the pitcher to make and the umpire to identify, even if one or both of them got lucky.
Incidentally, the Jays should really stop showing up the umps. Encarnacion threw up his hands in the air in disbelief on a high curve that was pretty much right down the middle of the plate, at the belt today. Arencibia was giving the ump a lecture on a high curve that was high, yeah, but also a strike. Lawrie was out last night (and Zaun showed his disgust back in the booth, it was awesome) and he made the safe sign and said “I was safe” 67 times in 14 seconds. I know it must be hard sometimes, but it really doesn’t help…
From the very start, I thought it was pretty silly to believe that the Jays were going to — or really trying to — compete for a wildcard spot this year. But now that the injury bug has hit (and come on…how unlikely was it when you’re relying on a 3 through 5 that have never thrown anywhere close to 200 innings in their life?), Toronto fans are being presented with — and swallowing hook line and sinker — a false choice about what can be done:
a) Hack and slash the cream of the farm system for a one-year rental.
b) Do nothing.
Rogers is so beholden to the short-term bottom line, so committed to not investing one red cent until the team is in the World Series, that this blinkered viewpoint has spread over to the commentators, fans, and media. Tough break, but that’s just the way it is, they parrot. Time to throw your hands in the air and run Jamie effing Moyer out there (as a “classy distraction” — BARF), who at this point is nothing more than a feel-good story that the current trash of the league, the Rockies and Orioles, has realized has zero actual baseball value at this point.
I call B.S. There’s a c). It’s called building a fan base. It’s called generating a little goodwill. It’s seeing the big picture of what you’re trying to do here, and ‘wasting’ a little cash to show your fans some respect. It’s what real teams do, and are rewarded for in spades in the long run.
Here’s how it works: you find some team that really has a good reason to have given up for the next few years and has a contract for a veteran starter that they want to get rid of. And you take it on. It is not good value. It might be really, really, terrible value. But you only have to ship some joke of a prospect to get some rotation filler. The team almost certainly still misses the playoffs. But it doesn’t get ugly. I mean, offering up a AAA rotation ugly.
It’s only a ‘waste’ if you don’t consider any of the intangibles. Maybe you get a vet to help tutor the kids. Maybe you get the kind of decent middle-of-rotation guy you’re going to need in a couple of years anyway that you trade-and-sign. Maybe you just get a little hope for the second half and some draft picks when he walks. Maybe the team actually sticks around in the hunt for a while and the Dome isn’t a ghost town in September.
I’m not saying it’s ‘time to get desperate’ and just spend willy-nilly, but taking on payroll is not even being thrown around as an option — as if putting some of the mythical 120 million dollars that we keep hearing is coming ‘just around the bend’ towards fielding a product worth watching on the field once every five days is going to throw the team into a financial tailspin.
Going from comically over-the-top “IT’S OUR TIME” swagger to waving the white flag in the first half with a winning team, hot bats, fan-interest and a reachable wildcard, all because a bunch of injuries that were waiting to happen happened is a joke. It’s not AA’s fault — the guy is an absolute genius to do what he’s done with such little financial support. It’s not the team’s fault. It’s not the trainer’s fault. It is the fault of a passive, uninterested, thinking-small group who makes the financial decisions at the very top. But hey, as Toronto fans we’re used to that — right? Far too used, I say.
For reasons best left to another blog, I have been watching tons of non-Jay games on mlb.tv this year, which has unfortunately made me completely unable to tolerate Buck and Tabler doing their thing. I used to think that it was just because every announcer would wear on you after 162-games, but I can now report with some assurance that the Jays have two of the most clueless, boring, and completely charmless announcers on the planet.
I mean, yeah…there are a few real dum-dums out there, but most of them are the type of dudes that you could see chatting with while watching a game over a beer. They banter, they make fun of each other. They tell the occasional anecdote, bring up a stat or two, but are all pretty chill.
Buck acts like you’re a four-year-old who has never seen a game of baseball before, and spouts off his sketchy baseball opinions like they were written in 50-foot-high flaming letters on the side of a mountain, delivered by god. He can spot what’s wrong with someone’s after one hack, and he’s got a PHD is psychology. It’s all rather rich for someone who was a lousy hitter and a worse manager.
Tabler latches onto the first thought he has and pursues it like a rabid terrier, piling on more and more vague aphorisms to support his point even as you can hear him losing his certainty like Artax sinking into the swamp. If it becomes clear that was he is saying did not actually happen or could not possibly be true, he just drops it and hopes nobody notices. My personal peeve though, is that if there is a runner on first, whichever team is at bat should be stealing 100% of the time (unless the player on first is so slow that the team can only hit-and-run). Pat seems truly incredulous, as if the managers are not doing their job when this does not in fact happen — regardless of the game situation.
Anyway, enough venting…here’s a clip of a squeeze play by Toronto featuring Tab’s classic over-the-top-sureness about how aggressiveness is not a strong card, but the only card that you should ever play at all times for any reason. Note that the runner was safe at home by inches.
Tabler on feed 1: “It’s a great play because, if you get the ball down, and you execute this play, there’s no way that the defence can defend it.”
Ashby on feed 2: “I have to say I don’t like that play at all…if the Marlins execute with a good throw to the plate, Edwin’s out.”
(Edit: Sorry, forgot the link. The funny part is the two quotes come right after each other in the mash-up clip).
Look, I don’t care — I’m not a fan of this play at this time, but there are about a million interesting things that could be said about the pros and cons of it, the game situation, small-ball in general. Who needs this blinkers-on rah-rah nonsense disguised as analysis?
Hope is high in Toronto, Blue Jays fans. The Red Sox are looking beatable after a late-season collapse, and the Jays are just getting better and better as they emerge from their rebuilding phase with a strong core and rumors of cash to spend. They have one of the best outfielders in the league. They have a highly-touted rookie (albeit with some questions about his glove at his current position) who stormed through the minors and absolutely mashed in September when he was called up last year.
They have an ace who is undeniably one of top pitchers in the league, in his prime, under control for a while. Behind him comes a fireballer with huge potential who is dominant at times and could be a Cy Young if he puts it all together. Their bullpen is anchored down by a high-strikeout closer. Really, it looks like all this team needs to make a decent run is some starting pitching depth and a slugging DH, and to do that, upper management is apparently willing to put the payroll up to 100 million (it now sits just above 70) at some point in the next few years.
The PR machine is pumping vaguely but incredibly optimistic, “our time is soon” propaganda and implying that they are willing to do what it takes to get to the top. The rest of the league is saying nice things about the team in the way that you do a former rival who is no longer living on the streets but hasn’t quite pulled it together enough to cause you any trouble. It is a time of less shame. Not pride, but less shame. Look out AL East, here we come!
But wait – I don’t mean now. I’m talking about 2006! Does this all seem a little familiar? Back then, all that was true too, and the Blue Jays had just finished with 87 wins (compared to 81 last year), ahead of the Red Sox for the first time in 1.4 million years, who had gone 9-21 in August (the Bosox went 7-20 in September last season, apparently the worst streak of all time that has ever happened in this game ever). And yet, the World Series was won by the Red Sox and the Yankees twice in the next three years, and the Jays continued to drone on slightly above .500. Not a single sniff of the playoffs, let alone a chance to collapse down the playoff run, and back into rebuilding and a new GM.
So let’s call a spade a spade — this offseason has been a massive disappointment. Patience? Ha. Anthopoulos pulling off more of his wheeling and dealing magic does not change the fact that he needs a lot more money to seriously compete with the Yankees and Red Sox, or even the potential second wildcard with, for one, the Nuclear Arms Race going on between the Angels and the Rangers in the American League West. I don’t care if you can make insane contracts go away or acquire former hot prospects for nothing, you can’t wheel and deal your way past teams with almost three times the payroll, even if you have had movies made about how smart you are (*cough* Beane *cough*). And the powers that be still don’t believe that this is the year, or next year might be the year, or that it is profitable in the long-term to invest in elite players at anything other than super bargain value in order to build a fanbase. As a fan, that SUCKS.
But hey, at least they didn’t go halfway too soon and then cut all new acquisitions off in a huff when it didn’t work out. At least AA didn’t believe his own hype and sign some brutal contracts in a desperation move when the reasonable deals he wanted didn’t work out. Really, AA is stalling, and that’s not so bad — there are a bunch of players who need to bust out or be bussed out (sorry), and with a young team, why would he not wait to take his one and only shot at playing with a real team? But as a fan, the only real question is when and for how much are the pockets going to be opened? Obviously they’re willing to go up in terms of payroll, but are we talking enough to have a chance at squeezing into the wildcard, or a serious attempt at re-creating a big-money profitable team that could compete for years in the AL East? Tune in next year…