Posts Tagged ‘Blue Jays’
A quick post-mortem (literally) on Dickey’s start last night…remember from last post how sitting consistently around 79 mph was one of the keys to his Cy? Here’s a graph of his velocity (all types of pitches) from one of his stellar starts – a 12K one-hitter against the Rays as an example of how he’s throwing when at his best. Except for fastballs and at the very end of the game, Dickey threw over 80% of his knucklers in the 78-80 mph range back then:
And now here’s the same thing for him last night:
Not so much. It’s hard to tell, but it almost looks like he’s gone back to the ‘slower’ version of his knuckler that he for the most part ditched last season. Dickey also threw more fastballs than usual, including two that left the yard off the bat of Will Middlebrooks. The first time, Dickey seemed frustrated after allowing 4 consecutive hits to start the game, and put it on a tee for him on the first pitch — perfectly down the middle, straight as a board, letter high, 84 mph. Surprise value kinda goes out the window when you throw a meatball like that.
The second time, Dickey fell behind 3-0 on knuckleballs and then threw three fastballs in a row: 1) Called strike, 2) swinging strike 3) giant bomb on exactly the same pitch as in the first inning. I kind of get it if Dickey wasn’t feeling the knuckleball anyway, but seems like an odd call. Middlebrooks, again, was not so surprised.
Incidentally, I was in the first row behind the VIP section for that debacle (the best seat I have ever had and most likely ever will) and Dickey’s knuckle looked awesome as he warmed up between innings. He threw a half-dozen wicked darters for strikes that made me gasp, but once the cameras were on seemed to have trouble finding the plate with anything other than the slower, tumbling variety.
At first I was excited to learn that Romero is using pitch f/x information to diagnose his 2012 woes, but that passed quickly to outrage at the fact that it was provided in the form of printouts from Brooksbaseball by Brandon freaking Morrow. It continues to flabbergast me that teams show basically no interest in applying modern technology and analysis to get the most out of their multi-million-dollar investments on the field.
Romero is obviously open to and interesting in using this type of information, and the pitch f/x system takes an incredibly detailed picture of every pitch he throws. Yet, it takes a combination of internet hobbyists and a fellow pitcher taking the initiative for such stunningly useful and freely-available information to make its way to Romero, so he can be “amazed” by it. Le sigh. With apologies to Archimedes: give me a laptop and a place to stand in the dugout, and I will change your WAR!
Because yeah…in my not-so-humble opinion, Morrow botched the analysis (although obviously a standing ovation for him doing anything at all). When you look at more of Romero’s career than just the last two seasons, there is just no way to come to the conclusion that the key to Romero’s struggles is a lack of sinkers. He threw considerably more sinkers to RHB in 2012 (19.3%) than he did in 2010 (14%), and almost as many (16.1 compared to 17.5) to LHB. It was a mix that worked for him fine two (and three) years ago, not something that changed before the debacle that was Romero’s 2012 season.
***Note*** It’s up for debate/kind of arbitrary where your pitch-classifying algorithm draws the line between fastball and 2-seamer/sinker, as there is overlap in terms of movement as well as velocity. The way I split them, it’s a much more modest overall drop than Brooks’ numbers in terms of 2-seamers anyway, from 25% to 18% between 2012 and 2011. Here are a couple of graphs of pitch f/x ‘movement’ to give you an idea of the blurring between the two offerings, and because my contract stipulates I have to include at least one (x,y) chart per article:
The real reason for there appearing to be a sudden drop is that Romero’s sinker use soared in 2011, most likely to compensate for his AWOL changeup. As I argued at some statistical length a while back, everything else about Romero’s repetoire pales in comparison to the fact that his change now moves like a completely different pitch, with almost 6 (!!) inches more drop than average. But, with that transformation it has turned from being his primary offspeed pitch (and a great one at that) to hittable trash that he is quite rightly completely unwilling to throw to lefties.
Unless Ricky is trying to redefine himself as a true sinkerballer, the 26% of 2-seamers he threw in 2011 is very high, not some kind of career norm that he needs to return to in order to find his old levels of success. The one good thing about Romero’s sinker comments was that he seemed to be willing to throw it for strikes and let it be put in play. The percentage of Romero’s 2-seamers that were located in the zone fell to an ludicrous 34% last season, so concentrating on pounding the zone with it in spring training can’t hurt. Romero certainly should be getting more strikes and grounders by throwing it to contact instead of as a chase pitch — but he’ll never be the Ricky of old without his changeup.
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.
Here is a poem I wrote about the heartbreak and suffering of following the Jays through mediocrity and indifferent upper management throughout the decades, as they have their moments and are briefly hyped, but then inevitably fade down the stretch to superior teams time and time again. It finishes with a personal account of my painful processing of the latest moves and a return to the understanding that every trade has a silver lining. I hope you like it.
Everything’s the way it is
It’s got to be the way it is
Everything’s the way it is
It’s got to be the way it is
I need a heartache, but it won’t be long
Till I get to where it’s coming on
A little fame and I know it’s true
You can feel it and it’s coming for you
No matter how hard I’ve tried to stay
I feel you ṗulling further away
Feel like it’s a trivial game
You get in order but you stay the same
You look good when you shaking my way
But let me think of something awful to say
I step back take a total view
I take some little, baby it’s hard to do
But I’ll call, I’ll try to change
It’s better than to stay the same.
So much for bragging about AA’s trading proficiency. Unless there’s more to this trade than initially reported, Travis Snider for Brad Lincoln straight up really hurts. Lincoln is a guy who has been languishing as a AAAA prospect until this year — after some good work as a long man for the Pirates, they decided to try him out as a starter, but it didn’t work. I was watching one of his starts and he looked great the first time through the lineup but then got shelled later in the appearance. It’s probably because he doesn’t have a third pitch:
|Brad Lincoln 2012 Pitch Breakdown|
|Pitch Type||Four-Seam Fastball (93 mph)||Curve||Curve||Changeup|
Lincoln’s fastball has averaged 93 this year, but it’s a combination of just under 94 during his time in the pen and just over 92 during his starts. Overall, his fastball is a tick above average while his Curve is better:
|Brad Lincoln Vs League|
|Fastball Strike %||Fastball Miss %||Curve Strike %||Curve Strike %|
Still…27-year old middle relievers who have only looked good for their last 40 innings in the ‘pen are easy to replace and not worth much. 24-year-olds with Snider’s pop and potential simply do not exist (although the Jays clearly haven’t thought so for some time). This also seems to signal that the Jays envision either Rasmus or Gose as a corner outfielder in the long-term, which is just as troubling.
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.
1) AAA is bunk.
Why do we even have all these stupid minor-league levels, anyway? Name me ONE hot Jays prospect not named Rios, Lind, or Snider that had any problems adapting to the majors after fast-tracking through AAA. Preparing for the major leagues via a carefully-planned and long-established series of steadily-increasing levels of difficulty is the worst idea Branch Rickey came up with other than the batting helmet.
2) 3B is easy.
From what I remember watching Scott Rolen, it’s the simplest position ever. The ball flies into your glove so fast you barely even have to move your feet. Lawrie should be able to adapt almost instantly as there’s no real difference between third and second other than the throw across the diamond, the speed of the ball, the angle off the bat, charging bunts, the hops, the dives, instincts and skills required. I flipped Lawrie across the diamond in my copy of MLB: The Show and in his first game he was laying out on shots ripped into the hot corner like he’d been doing it all his life. And that game isn’t just realistic — it’s ultra realistic.
3) The Jays are in contention.
BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH….ok, sorry. I’m really sorry. Tried to keep a straight face for that one, I really did. Alan Ashby is going to have to step in here for a second while I catch my breath and get rid of the giggles. Hee hee…in contention. Whoooooooo. Boy.
Ok, I’m good.
4) You can tell just about everything about a player’s level of readiness from 25 spring at-bats.
Some pitchers aren’t throwing anything but fastballs at this point of spring – and during the major-league season, there are more fastballs thrown than any other pitch. So it’s a truer test, really. Also, 25 at-bats is a small enough sample size that there’s not a lot of noise. I mean, has anyone ever had this Gross a spring training, only to have the hype fade almost instantly?
5) Scouts are stupid.
Raw talent? Needs some more time? Questionable hands? You morons. I have HIGH DEF on my TV, and I’m pretty sure I can tell when a swing is ready for the bigs. I haven’t actually seen him make any plays in the field yet, but they sounded all-star caliber over the radio. I don’t need some loser ex-player who has nothing better to do than follow baseball players around night and day, creeping around minor-league parks to see them first-hand so he can use his vast “experience” and extensive baseball “knowledge” to tell me what’s what.
6) Kid needs to be taken down a notch.
Lawrie comes with a certain cocky attitude, which is really the sort of thing you want to beat out of a player by putting them in over their head as soon as possible. There could be a long-term attitude benefit in crushing him mentally this year, and his kind of faux-bravado personality would almost certainly respond to failure and demotion well. An added bonus would be if Lawrie hit so poorly for the first month the team was forced to choose between “giving up” on him by sending him back to the minors, or platooning him with Encarnacion for a while. Part-time play is so frustrating and difficult that it teaches a player how much they want to avoid it at all costs. Which makes them try harder. Which makes them play better. Works every time.
7) Get that clock running!
Everyone knows that players typically have their best seasons in “contract” years, i.e. right before they hit the free agent market. The Jays need Lawrie at their best when they are ready to compete; can they really wait six whole years to get the best out of him? Best to get Lawrie’s clock running as soon as possible — he will be hitting his power years in 2016 and with a little financial motivation could slam the door hard on his way out of town.
8. The Jays don’t need contractual control anyway.
On the other hand, the Jays don’t have to let Lawrie walk when that time comes. Rogers has a gabillion dollars, and since they’re a publicly-traded company I’m pretty sure AA is free to spend as much of shareholder’s money as he wants (since most of them are from Toronto). Anyway…there’s no need to worry about being thrifty or careful in managing control of potential future stars, since the Jays can always keep them around. Again and again, management has shown a willingness to commit to signing home-grown players no matter the cost to long-term extensions in order to keep them in Toronto until it’s time to give them away to teams that can actually afford those contracts.
9) He’s done with the minors.
Players always know best when they’re ready. Especially super-young, comically-confident ones. Nobody knows better than Brett Lawrie if he’s ready for the majors. Except his coaches. And I’d give it to the professional evaluators, too. Ok, probably some other players with way more experience of what it’s really like. Maybe some really good stats guys. Ok, there are many, many, people who know better than Brett Lawrie if he’s ready for the majors. But that’s beyond the point. He’s a pure athlete.
10) Zero downside.
It’s not like there is anything to lose by rushing a young prospect. Offhand, I can’t think of a single third-base prospect who had his development completely retarded to the point of almost ruining his career by a team that threw him into the majors way too early, causing him to bounce around for years as a washout journeyman before finally getting the time and training he needed to break out long after his original team had given up on him and traded him for nothing. (Bautista came up as an outfielder, smartass).
And hey, if the Jays hurt his development by getting greedy in a meaningless season for a slight upgrade at a position we’re paying 2.5 million to fill already, who cares? They have plenty of other hot prospects, or can always just trade another front-line starter for one. Lawrie is expendable.