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.
Nothing bad to say about this move — amazingly, I’m a big John Gibbons fan. You really have to learn to appreciate his hammy Texas drawl and ‘awhh shucks’ manner as performance art; I am reminded of the two American surfer dudes in Alex Garland’s “The Beach” who are actually quantum physicists adopting the guise out of convenience because it’s what everyone expects of them. Underneath Gibby’s ‘old salt’ media persona is a modern manager who doesn’t make bullpen mistakes, doesn’t over-manage when things are going bad, and is tactically astute. What more can you ask? Not that it would have made a difference, but I thought it was pretty embarrassing when Jim Leyland was bringing the infield in early and conceding the lead late during the World Series.
Oh, yeah — Gibby also knows when to throw down.
As the most memorable event of his first stint as manager, you’ll see this video replayed a lot this week as evidence that Gibbons is the tough guy that the Jays’ lax clubhouse needs — but with the caveat that he might be a bit of a hothead who instills discipline in his players through physical violence (he also reportedly challenged Shea Hillenbrand to a fight during the “this ship is sinking” debacle, although who knows how serious a comment it was and c’mon…who didn’t want to slap Shea silly at some point?). Even at the time, few people read between the lines to understand that assaulting Ted Lilly on his way back to the clubhouse was actually a pretty reasonable course of action under the circumstances. Let’s go back for some context:
It was a sad time during a pretty good season: the Jays were in the hunt through the first half and then lost 9 out of 10 to start July against terrible Oakland and Seattle squads and the need-to-beat Yankees. 9 games back with a month to go, the playoffs were realistically out of reach, but there was a lot to be said for finishing strong with a young, improving team in anticipation of an even better 2007 (which was a complete, unmitigated disaster — but that’s another story).
Lilly had been struggling along with the Jays’ bats, which exploded for a eight-run lead against pesky Oakland through two innings. And then Lilly responded by taking the mound in the third and fucking around. There is no other way to put it: he walked Erik Chavez to start the inning on a ‘aren’t-I-clever’ 3-2 curveball nowhere near the plate; then later dropped down and threw the first sidearm pitch of his career, which made Bobby Kielty do a triple take before he hammered it 422 feet. Sadly pitch f/x wasn’t recording details back then, but I remember hearing that he threw a knuckleball he had always tinkered with in the ‘pen and wanted to try out in a game. It was one of the most unprofessional, selfish, idiotic performances I have ever seen on the mound. (Bengie Molina might agree by the way he is glaring at Lilly in the video before things even get started).
Of course, none of this was touched with a ten-foot pole after the fact, but it’s clear as day that when Gibby got out there he was more than just frustrated at a pitcher having a bad day. Lilly can be seen aggressively repeating “I’m trying to win the game”, which is only a response to something along the lines of “what the hell do you think you’re doing?”
And then, despite having allowed back to jacks and frittering away five out of the eight-run lead with two more on base and one out, Lilly had the gall not just to protest, but “say something he shouldn’t have said” to his manager on the mound. Again, I’ve never seen anything like it — guys are usually highly apologetic when they mutter under their breath and don’t make eye contact as they hand over the ball. Lilly looks at Gibbons with utter distain and then starts dressing him down on national TV.
I’ve always thought that Gibby understood the bigger picture — everyone knew that Lilly was on his way out of Toronto at the end of the year. He had mentally cashed out on the season and was acting like a primadonna despite not pitching like one, as if the team’s desperate need to re-sign him placed him above criticism. Faced with a ridiculous performance and then a intolerable undermining of his authority, Gibby decided to draw a line in the sand. Throwing a punch and risking injuring one of your stars would be insane. Eating one (yes, you can see his bloody nose if mlb.tv ever gets those games archived) shocked the hell out of everyone and showed how deadly serious he was beneath the southern charm.
Funny thing is it also set a fire under Lilly’s ass — he pitched like a man possessed in September and then completely predictably signed with the Cubs for less money that the Jays offered. Where he proceeded to do the second most unprofessional thing I have ever seen on a pitching mound the very next year as he imploded during a critical playoff start.
Update: Cathal Kelly also reports Gibbons once got into a legendary shouting match with Richard Griffin. I don’t care if he was dead wrong, the man is somewhere between action hero and modern saint.
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.
The backup infielder we got for John Farrell for a reliever who throws 96? Deal! I love this trade, but at the same time it highlights what made dumping Snider (no, I haven’t let it go) mediocre at best: while stockpiling hard throwing relievers and hoping you strike gold is a much better acquisition strategy than overpaying for closers, you just don’t have to pay very much on the open market for hard-throwing middle-reliever longshots. Esmil Rogers doesn’t have a lot less lightning-in-a-bottle potential than Brad Lincoln, his washed out-starter-with-one-stellar-run-as-a-reliever pedigree is the same, and the Jays picked him up for a spare part and a non-prospect, with the trade deadline nowhere in sight.
It also throws cold water (although with Izturis now signed, maybe AA is taking another swing at it) on what seemed like an increasingly obvious offseason move after acquiring an extra middle infielder in Mike Aviles– sending Yunel Escobar packing. Even before the eye black, this was a sticky situation for Alex Anthopoulos, as he’s right back in the over-a-barrel situation that he had Atlanta: facing heavy pressure to replace an unpopular player with serious attitude issues at a very thin position, when said player is at his all-time lowest value and will almost certainly rebound next season. The Braves’ front office must be enjoying all this FAR too much after enduring Alex Gonzalez at SS in 2011.
Anyway, here’s the pitch f/x lowdown on Rogers. Obviously he throws gas and has had trouble finding the plate, but you’re going to hear a lot of garbage, as usual, about the rest of his repertoire. First, THE DUDE DOES NOT THROW FOUR PITCHES. In fact , no matter what Fangraphs junky pitch algorithm says, he only sorta makes it to three. For starters, he threw 9 changeups all last year. That’s not a “show me” pitch, it’s a “tinkered with” and possibly an “oops, that one slipped” pitch. It was not good when he was a starter and is now basically extinct.
His fastball on the other hand averaged 95.8 mph out of the pen last season, which is . And then you really have to look at something that gives you the bigger picture of the movement on his stuff (I’m too lazy and BrooksBaseball’s new player cards are pretty sweet) to realize that his breaking balls are all very similar, to the point where you might just be seeing things in the clouds when you classifying them as different pitches :
If you’re a numbers rather than a graph person, check out the table at the top of the link above — Brooks’ pitch classifier identifies two distinct breaking pitches, but they are apparently the exact same except that his curveball is four miles an hour slower and drops four inches more than his slider. It also throws in a handful of (brown) cutters that are apparently two miles an hour harder and drop two inches less. None of this is very likely…of course everyone’s ‘stuff’ gets smushed together at the higher velocities, but the differences that are being picked out and given the neat labels of “curve” and “slider” are smaller from the variation in movement and velocity between one slider and the next. For all intents and purposes we’re looking at the same (erratic) pitch.
Now I don’t know — Rogers may actually have three different grips and have his catcher call them at different times, in different locations, etc, but the reality is they are at most minor variations on a theme, as opposed to what we really think of when counting pitches — things with fundamentally different movement and/or speed for a batter has to time and react to. Based on the little I know about the difference between throwing cutters/sliders and curveballs, I’m inclined to think of it as one hard biting pitch that he can throw slightly harder or softer depending on the situation so it ‘bites’ or ‘slurves’ more.
Yet another possibility is that these ‘curves’ are just hanging sliders. As C.C. Sabathia first pointed out, and I keep quoting because he was absolutely right in every way, sliders are more effective when they are thrown harder and “break” less (and even more so when they stop ‘sliding’ downwards and go more straight sideways, as they tend to do more and more through the year — like the reverse of Rivera or Halladay’s cutter) and are thrown harder. The slower, bendier, breaking pitches that Brooks’ identifies as a curve (my algorithm just calls them all sliders) are in the zone more often, chased out of the zone less often, and missed less frequently. Bad third pitch, or errant second one…does it matter?
|Rogers’ Breaking pitch(es?) in 2012 by Velocity|
|Mph||In Zone%||Swing %||Miss %|
|Under 82 mph||33||26||0% (7-for7)|
Anyway, the point is that this speaks to the ‘type’ of pitcher that Rogers is, and why, despite throwing very, very, hard and striking out a ton of batters, Rogers was moved to the bullpen and then traded by first Colorado and now the Indians for not much, despite seemingly having found command of his lightning-bolt stuff in the second half of last year. While he’s at a great age/development level and has tremendous stuff, with his 1-2 repertoire, he is purely a back of the bullpen flamethrower and not a potential Morrowesque conversion project, or even deep rotation depth. Really, his value all comes down to whether he can maintain what was an unusual amount of control over a small sample size last year, in which case he’s another Lincoln/Delabar/Santos in the Jays’ collection of Right-handed one-Inning Setup/striKeout guys (trying really hard to invent the term RISKGYS here).
Just a quick pillory of ‘shutdown innings’, a concept that is sadly making its viral way into Baseball’s consciousness despite having all the validity of ‘pitching to the score’, ‘clutch hitters’, and the rest of that baseball folklore that sounds plausible at first, but then less and less the more you learn and the more you use your brain. Let’s go to Richard Griffin for a sweeping introduction to the idea:
There are two sets of circumstances when you should step up if you’re a No. 1 starter. First is when your team scores runs for you. The shutdown inning is imperative to winning and to leading. Romero failed in those situations, miserably.
This is followed by a long stream of numbers, without any real explanation as to exactly why this is true. I mean sure, yeah, it sounds great to ‘keep the lead’, and ‘not let them back in it’, etc, etc — but obviously if the opposing team scores three runs in the first inning, nobody gives a crap if your starting pitcher allows runs in the second and then none the rest of the way or spreads them out over his remaining innings. What we’ve got here is really a ham-fisted attempt to statify a pitcher’s performance in high-leverage situations (those cases where the game is late and close and your team scores to go up by one), but there’s so much irrelevant data thrown into this method of collecting it that anything read out of such a “stat” is just a mirage.
Because the whole concept is wonky…just for fun, imagine there was a guy who for some freakish reason only allowed runs immediately after his team scored. So the worst example of this supposedly lead-killing, win-stealing phenomenon. Compared to other pitchers with the same ERA, this choke artist would actually have the lead much more often, since he would never give up a lead before the offence got going — and get more wins, since he would never give up leads when his offence went cold (i.e. he would pitch better in higher-leverage situations).
That’s a ridiculous example, but illustrative of the fact that there isn’t anything to the numbers or the logic behind ‘shutdown innings’ being an important factor to your overall effectiveness. Really, it’s a slightly-hidden form of the old momentum-and-emotions-heavily-influence-the-game theory — that somehow ‘giving the lead right back’ deflates your team to the point that they go up to the plate hating you as a pitcher and a person and fail at hitting out of spite and/or a sudden lack of confidence mystically tied to your performance in the last half-inning. Which is silly twaddle long disproven, if you want to get into it.
Incidentally, Griffin’s argument that “There is statistical evidence that even within his starts, Romero’s primary issues were mental, not physical” is garbage as well. Griffy makes the classic mistake of presenting inflated numbers (to support his preconceived notion) without anything to compare them to or any kind of idea of what a reasonable amount of deviation is. Taking into account that Romero’s ERA after May 23rd overall was 6.85, the fact that his ERA in a much-smaller sample size of ‘shutdown innings’ was 9.77 is not at all significant, let alone conclusive proof of a “mental block” caused by Joe Maddon. But at least those numbers come to a non-redundant point, unlike his “throwing more balls than strikes with two strikes leads to a higher ERA” followup…