Posts Tagged ‘Toronto Blue Jays’
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.
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…
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!
Ok, I lied about the photoshopped Bautista. I do have some more numbers, though. They’re kinda fun. According to Hit Tracker, Bautista lead the league in:
“Just Enough” home runs – Means the ball cleared the fence by less than 10 vertical feet, OR that it landed less than one fence height past the fence. These are the ones that barely made it over the fence.
With 13. But of course, he also lead the league in the real ones by a considerable margin. So what percent of Bautista’s home runs were cheapies? Here he is compared to the top 10 in the AL:
|Name||Just enough %|
|Jose Bautista||24 %|
Looking good, Jose! If Bautista was a fluke, it’s because he was running into balls, not because they were creeping over the fence.
And just for curiosity’s sake, here’s the same list with no-doubters, defined as
“No Doubt” home run – Means the ball cleared the fence by at least 20 vertical feet AND landed at least 50 feet past the fence. These are the really deep blasts.:
|Name||No Doubter %|
|Jose Bautista||35 %|
Also comforting…I still hate this contract!
If you watched every pitch of the game tonight, I both applaud and shake my head sadly at your dedication, as David Purcey looked absolutely horrible, alternating between not being able to find the plate with a map and giving up monster bombs to Jose Freaking Guillen and one of the worst offences in the league.
Captain obvious brings us the breaking news that Purcey didn’t have his fastball control, but it was more than that – he didn’t even try to throw his slider, tossing a mere 7 compared to the 43 he threw against (random example) the Indians. And his Big Curve is pretty much a show me pitch these days too – 21 of Purcey’s first 22 pitches were fastballs, and he threw 16 straight fastballs in the third. That’s not going to cut it in the bigs.
But wait — he did compensate somewhat by mixing in a changeup, a pitch that he’s only thrown twice to date in 2009. Except sadly, it’s more of a “slowball”, really, because it has zero drop or movement to it (there’s actually one more that should be labelled a change but that confuses pitch f/x). Of the 6 that he threw on the night, two of them were hit for the aformentioned monster bombs by Jose Guillen. It might be time to cut off Barajas’ ring finger so he can’t call for it any more…
Incidentally, if you’ve been following Purcey’s career, you know that both his hot-and-cold outings last year and brilliant spring followed by a 7+ ERA through five starts are par for the course. That’s what you get with good stuff and zero command, and what we’re signed up for a lot of with all the children in the rotation this year. Although Casey Janssen pitched in AA today, and went 4 scoreless, allowing 2 hits and walking 2. If they’re stretching him out to start, Purcey might not be around for too long with Litsch and Romero coming back in mid-May.
So the lip service from both the Blue Jays and A.J. Burnett is finally over and the Jays’ biggest free agent splash of the last decade has duly shuffled over to the Evil Empire just over halfway through his contract, for a boatload more money and time than the Jays were ever seriously considering. Well those grapes were sour anyway! Here is a rundown of the top 5 most statistically similar pitchers to Burnett according to Baseball-Reference through this point in his career, and where their careers went for the next five years from the age of 32 on.
Please note: this is purely meant for Toronto fans suffering through a cold, barren offseason and is in no way an attempt to be particularly scientific or predictive.
1. Pete Harnish
Coming off a career year, Pete put in another quality season at 32, logging 198 innings with an ERA of 3.68. His strikeout rate dropped, bu he won a career-high 16 games. Then his career totally went to hell – he only pitched another 166 innings over two seasons and logged a 5.09 ERA. Pete would tell you it was because he quit chewing tobacco and became clinically depressed, but we know better. He hit his expiry date.
2. Stan Williams
Stan was sent to the bullpen after a lousy April at the age of 32. He bounced back and forth and wound up salvaging a 3.94 ERA on the year, but would only start only one more game in his career after that. He had one year as a lights-out reliever (1.99 ERA), but was again mediocre at 34 and retired 3 games into the next season.
3, Juan Guzman
As I am sure you all remember, Juan’s career was already pretty seriously in the tank at this point. Except for a bizarre AL-leading ERA of 2.93 at 29, he hadn’t done anything since winning two world series in his first three years with the Jays so they dumped him to Baltimore. He managed to pull it together for one full season of 200 innings with a 3.74 ERA and then his career was toast (he was picked up the next season by the Rays, gave up 8 runs in his first 1 2/3 innings, and never pitched again).
4. Erik Hanson
Another familiar face! His velocity was already shot in his first year with the Jays (at 31), which sent his ERA up by about a run. By 32 his ligaments were well and truly spaghettified. After averaging 190.4 innings over the previous 7 seasons, he threw just 15 innings at the age of thirty-two, 49 the next season, and then done.
5. Kirk McCaskill
Similar to Stan Williams, McCaskill went from a really good starter at 31 to bullpen fodder at 32 after a lousy start to the season. And it prolonged his career a few more years as well – but he didn’t get that one more good year to show for it, posting a 5.05 ERA over three seasons in middle relief until retiring at age 35.
The next 5 aren’t much better than that horror show, but you get the idea. Except for a few high-profile automatons pitching into their 40’s lately, power pitchers in their 30’s aren’t really such a great investment. Of course this isn’t such an issue for the Yankees, who just want the cream of the free agent crop right now and can afford to swallow some major busts down the road. But I don’t need some stat dork to tell me that paying A.J. Burnett 16.5 million dollars to pitch when he’s 36 is going to be a farce.
And I’m actually kind of glad Nuke stuck around in the AL East, too – the Yanks would have gotten someone comparable like Derek Lowe anyway, and now we get front-row seats once A.J’s heater starts to lose a few mph and he trots out the old chestnut about how he’s going to start “pitching” instead of “throwing”, promises to bring his changeup out once in a blue moon, and maybe even mixes in his legendary cut fastball as the Bronx Zoo goes positively mental on him.
At this point, who really cares about the result- but didn’t Tuesday’s game against Baltimore feel like a real baseball game? You know, the kind that other teams play on Elysian fields that feature comebacks, multiple lead changes, home runs, a little sweat under the collar in the 9th, etc…Even if B.J. had succeeding in coughing it up in the ninth, last night was so much more palatable than the normal fare of watching the Jays go down by one run in the 3rd inning and then total 4 hits (and 3 double plays) over the rest of the game.
A tip of the hat to Ari, who cast some doubt on the ump’s strike zone today. Here’s are the calls that Baltimore pitchers were getting from the home plate ump Jim Joyce over the game (to learn how to decode these charts, click here):
News flash: when a team loads up the lineup with righties above all else (Eckstein DH?!? HELPPPPPP MEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!), and a lefty pitcher can’t get a call against them on the outside of the plate to save his life, it’s going to be a looooooong night. Like 9 hits and 6 runs before 5 innings are up long. Olson didn’t stand a chance, no matter how hard the Jays tried to help him out the first few innings.
Marcum wasn’t as affected by the weird, shifted zone as much (partly due to being a RHP). His problem was that he didn’t throw any freaking breaking pitches. Seriously. He threw 4 curves, a bunch of cutters, and from what I can tell (comparing his classic gold standard of every kind of pitch movement to last night) not a single slider all night. On the one hand, I feel comforted because that wasn’t really Marcum getting bombed repeatedly by the Orioles last night. On the other, was he not entirely ready to come back from the DL or what the hell?! Marcum with half of his palette is nothing, with tonight a case in point.
Anyway, here are the calls that the Jays’ pitchers got. Still incredibly generous inside to righties/outside to lefties, but without the missed strikes on the right side of the plate:
One final charty tidbit is a look at Adam Lind’s heroic 4-5 night. A glass half-empty type might try to cut his performance down by pointing out that he just laid off some ridiculously unhittable pitches out of the strike zone and was gifted some hanging meatballs (that HR of Castillo was probably the juciest pitch of this millenium). Or you could say that he didn’t do anything dumb, and hammered almost every pitch he was given to hit – which is what good hitters do, and what the Jays haven’t, this season.
Despite batting 8th last night and 7th tonight (gotta get more at-bats for Scoot!), Lind has hit .346 with 5 home runs (the most of any Jay is 9) since being called up a month ago. Those fans who (according to J.P.) “want him on the team because they haven’t seen him and therefore he’s the next big thing and fans always want the next big thing” (J.P.) are strutting around and acting pretty @#!!@ smug these days…
You know you’ve made the big time when you start getting taken down by blogs. I feel like making an acceptance speech or something, because the Southpaw just called B.S. on me calling B.S on the myth of the Jays playing to the level of their opponents.
Now normally I would just take the high road by invoking Hitler to wipe the offending blog off the face of the earth, or rage into an indignant huff at how anyone could question my authority after so many, errr…months of experience, but I actually had some more to say on this but figured two posts on the subject had driven it sufficiently into the ground. Rebuttals are cool and edgy, though, no?
First, there’s a reason I didn’t generalize into teams above and below below .500 like you often hear. An overall average doesn’t show if the Jays have trouble against ALL good and bad teams, or are just extremely skewed against a select few. As I showed, it’s the latter. Here’s the Jays 2005-2007 record against +.500 teams:
When you see that, do you still think that the Jays have to find a way to beat up on the cellar dwellers, or that they have to find a way stop losing to @#$@#$ Texas constantly? Split things up by team and while the overall average might be low, there’s no trend across the entire group- and that’s what people are talking about.
You also end up lumping in disasters like 2005’s Kansas City (.346) with an average Texas (.488). Meanwhile, an almost identical Minnesota (.512) team gets the “winner” label. So it ignore very significant differences between some teams while creating others that aren’t there. A .500 team like the Jays could be doing just fine against legitimately bad teams but lose a bunch of coin flips to other .500 teams (and vice versa) and this kind of wide-brush analysis would not show the difference.
So with all due respect to my friend Jon, yes, it is a legitimate complaint to observe the Jays do not run up the win total against vulnerable teams, collectively, in the same way that the Yankees and Red Sox do.
This is 100% true- but also self-fulfilling. What if the Jays have not run up the wins against lousy teams as much as their rivals because they have simply not been as good a team, instead of the other way around? I mean, Tampa Bay has not run up the win total against sub .500 teams as well, but that is clearly not their problem. On its own, this doesn’t really mean anything. What would be significant is if while failing in this regard, the Jays do play against the good teams the way playoff teams do…
The interesting thing I found when it came to how the three teams played versus teams with winning records was this: over the three years in question the Jays have a slightly BETTER record against those teams than do the Red Sox. That is the case because in 2006, the Jays did MUCH better than the Red Sox against those teams. Collectively, on the three seasons, the Yankees were at .553, the Jays at .498, and the Red Sox at .479 against AL teams with winning records.
Also true- but does it really tell you anything about the Jays? Which number really looks out of place here?
|Team||Overall||Below .500||Above .500|
|Boston||0.569||0.620 (+51)||0.479 (-90)|
|New York||0.588||0.629 (+41)||0.553 (-35)|
|Toronto||0.514||0.537 (+23)||0.498 (-16)|
The world champions, one of the most dominant teams over the last three years, have a losing record against teams over .500, a huge difference from their overall record. Intuitively, that’s just bizarre, and logically it must be the exception to the rule- it’s hard to have too many great teams that can”t beat good teams. There is a flaw with just comparing the Jays to our rivals- the Red Sox aren’t the model for a playoff contender, they are a highly unusual exception.
So, again, as Jon rightly observes the Jays do not play great against winning teams. However, it can be fairly stated that they win enough of those games to be a contender IF they would rack up wins against the weaker sisters of the league.
At an unusually high rate, yes. But losing more than you win to + .500 teams is not enough to be a contender for most teams (and certainly not in the AL East). Boston has proved that it’s possible, but that doesn’t mean that this is what is holding the Jays back, which is how the (still a) myth goes.
Ok, I think it’s time to accept I might have a pitch f/x problem. While out and about, the very glimpse of SAVE – RYAN on the ticker of an ESPN channel evidently devoted 24/7 to Yankees/Sox highlights, and I started wondering out loud to La Senorita if B.J.’s velocity had completely returned. Fortunately, she responded that if I was just going to think about baseball all night, I may as well go back to the damn hotel right now. It’s good to have someone who understands what you do.
Anyway, here’s a quick look at what the Beej has at this point.
His fastball is at 88-89. Still about three mph short of the 91-92 he normally sits at.
Those circles are the movement his pitches normally have. Incidentally- did you ever think of Ryan as having a killer cutter? Because that kind of rising/cutting (as opposed to Jesse Litsch’s that looks more like a slider) pitch is exceedingly rare- in fact, I can’t think of anyone other than Mariano Rivera who throws a pitch that moves like that. It would explain how he can get righties out, by cutting it in on their hands (just look at Accardo to see how ineffective a slider is when sliding in towards the batter).
Other than that, his fastball is there, but all over the place. He overthrew his first pitch of the game (no doubt incredibly geeked up) and it sailed and was clubbed for a triple. Then he got a grounder on an incredibly weak-ass slider, a pop up on a cutter, and a line out that landed in the mitt of Alex Rios.
Beej has always been more of a control guy than a power closer, and here we see why. The first two outs he got with a man on third were on pitches that started as strikes and then dove in on the hands. Is there a better way to do it? The final pitch of the game was a bit of a meatball- I’m going to guess it was smashed right at Rios.
Anyway, this is way too much dissection of 10 pitches already, but it looks like B.J. is still finding his slider, but has enough of a fastball and cutter to saw bats off with his usual control. He’s not quite the guy he used to be, but then neither is Accardo…
This from the Onion: what I find funniest is this sarcasm at certain journalists mailing it in is in turn a rehash of what I used to write every week until it got old. Possibly yesterday. Still, nice to see a hometown boy getting some international recognition.
Toronto Columnist Writes Annual ‘Blue Jays Have A Chance’ Article
TORONTO—Following a flurry of offseason activity by his hometown Blue Jays, Toronto Star baseball columnist Richard Griffin has written his yearly mid-March article asserting that the Jays have a chance to contend in the AL East. “The acquisitions of Scott Rolen and David Eckstein just might get the Blue Jays over the hump and turn them from also-rans to world champions,” wrote Griffin in an excerpt that was lifted directly from his 2007 article but with the names Frank Thomas and John Thomson substituted out, which itself was copied from a 2006 article about A.J. Burnett and B.J. Ryan.”Though the Jays will be facing defending champion Red Sox and the $200 million New York Yankees a combined 37 times this season, and the Rays might be the most improved team in baseball, the Blue Jays are also very good.”The Star has yet to comment on whether or not a separate Griffin article predicting the Blue Jays to finish fourth was a misprint.
As Wilner wrote on his blog and told to primetime sports afterwards, this was a pretty wussy rainout of a home opener. Apparently the rain that was forecast never really came, and if you had your eyeballs pressed against the biggest flat screen waiting for the first pitch like me (and were instead scarred for life by about an hour and a half of Blue Jay players in full gear spouting the same boosterisms again and again), you noticed that it wasn’t really ever pouring. First last year we had games cancelled due to cold, and now this. What happened to opening the season in several inches of snow? Now that’s old time baseball.
Speaking of which, so is this…while trying to find a picture of that classic game, I blundered across these even more classic Jays ads via Torontoist:
And one final one blast from the past, it’s the Drunk Jays Fan’s Bogg’s head in cartoon form! Frankly, I’m surprised. I thought back in the day it was fully acceptable, if not a potential resume-builder to get behind the wheel and drive back to the suburbs as long as you were not legally blind. For the full story on what sounds like a great shuttle service for the time (or at least allows you to sober up until you get off the GO in the middle of Ajax), check out the original post at JB’s Warehouse and Curio Emporium.
In a rare showing of loyalty, the Blue Jays have decided that unlike last season Brian Tallet is a lock for a bullpen spot. That says something about Toronto’s relief corps: left handed relievers with with sub-4 ERA’s two years running usually don’t have to be told that. In fact, there are a lot of relatively large contracts being handed out to guys with not that much better of a track record or performance in 2007 (see: Scott Downs).
From the way he’s throwing, it’s clear that League has won a spot. He was touching 97-98 on the gun today, but more importantly his pitches are sinking so well. He didn’t strike anyone out today but induced 4 ground balls (one of them squeaked by Rolen), increasing his GO/FO ratio to an amazing 16-2. That means despite all the reclamation projects and minor league signings and a rule five pick, etc, etc, there is only spot still available for opening day and that’s if B.J. Ryan isn’t ready. Then John Parrish can sit out there and mop up instead of some combination of Frasor and Tallet riding the pine. Who cares!
Apparently Thigpen was “stunned and shaken” by his demotion last year and his time in the majors may have retarded his progress? Huh?! That and a bunch more confusing takes on what the plan is for Thigpen. Lecava says:
The next time he comes to the big leagues, it’s going to be because of his versatility. He can play third, first, catch, possibly even some left field, right field.
So Thigpen is a starting catcher in AAA year, but they really see his value as a 2010 fringe utility guy? Great. This brings up the very real question of who is going to be the Blue Jays’ starting catcher in 2009. So far the Jays may have depth but there doesn’t seem to be much serious expectation of anyone taking a full-time role. I figure that they see Jeroloman and Arencibia as the real tandem of the future while some combination of either Diaz and Thigpen can plug the gaps before being shuttled into the role of a “versatile” (read: bench) player.
- Doctor Kremcheck finally pulled the plug on Ryan pushing his schedule up once again. Can’t really call it ‘setback’ because Ryan didn’t feel anything or get a bad test result back- it’s just a doctor telling them that’s probably going to happen if they keep letting him speed back into action as fast as his raging give-me-the-ball mentality wants to. Ryan is still potentially on schedule to break camp with the team.
- What do you do when you land an exclusive, prime piece of fluff about Gregg Zaun’s recovery from errr…don’t say alcoholism, but “drinkerism” – but you haven’t been paying attention enough attention to the team to know that he was in the Mitchell report? Make it into a postmodern, self-reflective piece on the death of modern myths and idealism! Where have you gone, Joe Dimaggio…doo doo doo…
- Frank Thomas is gripping and ripping it in spring training, trying to hit bombs instead of working on the finer points of hitting. Interesting fact: while Frank was slumping through the first two months, his OBP was still pretty good: around .360 even when his average was around .225! Then his K rate shot through the roof right around the time his power returned and his average never looked back. He says he was being too passive in March- I’d say he was taking the super-selective-slugger thing too far in April and May as well. Let loose, Hurt! Either boom or bust before your vesting option kicks in, there’s no room for mediocrity…
- Remember Jordan De Jong? He’s one of the relievers that the Jays streamed through the 7th spot in the bullpen before Brian Wolfe pitched his face off and refused to be sent down. Well, according to some fancy minor-league stat crunching by Robert McQuown, he’s one of the top sleeper major-league relievers. Poor bastard, he’s totally buried in AAA behind a great bullpen and a bunch of cheap depth we picked up because marginal free agents were available in historic numbers.
- Speaking of Wolfe, apparently he needs to nibble around the plate to be successful even though he throws 95mph (and struck out 3 guys on 9 pitches early in spring training). I like MacLeod, he’s not full of it. But I think he’s in his own personal spring training finding form after 8 years of following that other sport with the big bouncy ball. Wolfe’s ERA was actually 2.98 last year, not 4.29, which makes his to make the team whole better. As long as he can keep being crafty. With his blazing heat.Perhaps he can also learn the “ devastating, 100 mph cut fastball” that Brandon League doesn’t throw. That nobody in the world is physically capable of throwing (cut fastballs move the opposite way as 2-seamers and are slower). I know, I know, it’s just spring training…he’ll be there when the games start to count.
- John McDonald is just too much of a class act. He takes his bait-and-switch return to being a backup with 1) the suggestion that the team treated him well by giving him financial security in the first place 2) that he’s not the only one being upgraded 3) that if his average (and OBP?!) wasn’t terrible it wouldn’t have happened, and finally 4) implying that he might have done the same thing in the Jays place that don’t even sound like the normal I’m-so-mad-but-I-have-to-say-this B.S. you normally hear. No wonder he brings tears (and possibly boners?) to the eyes of Drunks at nights.
- David Purcey has ADD. (Hat tip: The Southpaw)Arnsberg says Purcey must be the self-declared ace in Syracuse this year. “He shouldn’t go there thinking, ‘I’m going to be one of the five starters.’ He wants to be that guy that, 30 innings into a big-league season, if we have to make a phone call to get a starter up here, he should be that guy.”
All three of Gibbons, Ricciardi and Arnsberg have now tabbed him as a potential injury depth this year. He’s also slimmed down. Don’t be fooled by his final numbers- he was absolutely dominating AA for a month and a half last year before he got injured.
- And finally, some minor league info from Dick Scott. (And the shocking personal revelation that Travis Snider likes video games!!!)
During a conference call this morning (check out BDD for the complete details) J.P. Ricciardi said the team still sees Casey Janssen as a starter, and he has a good chance to crack the rotation in 2008 as long as the bullpen isn’t going to be a total disaster without him.
That explains why the Jays have been stocking up on mediocre reclamation-project relievers, even though the bullpen is stacked, and the two guys who were supposed to anchor it last year are on their way back. Based on J.P. having about 4 million left before signing David Eckstein and Rod Barajas, it seems the Jays are done with the free agent market and content to fill the 5th rotation spot from within with some combination of Jesse Litsch, Gustavo Chacin, and Janssen.
This is music to my ears. Janssen just screams starter:
- He throws four mediocre pitches. Relievers need to come in with runners on base and blow guys away. You need to be able to mix things up the second and third time through the order to be an effective starter. Remember what happened last year when Shaun Marcum started throwing his changeup that had been gathering dust in the ‘pen? In 2006, Casey’s numbers actually improved the second time through the order (284->259 BA).
- He doesn’t have the “bounce back” arm of a reliever. Last year he had a 8.44 ERA in 15 appearances when appearing for the second day in a row (this is grossly overstating the case- see comments). How is that even possible? Give this man some rest.
- He’s done it his entire career and feels comfortable there. If a guy can start, he should start. Except for closers pitching in high-leverage situations, if you can get 180 innings out of a guy instead of 80, that’s worth way more to the team, even though ERA’s go up by about 25% in the rotation.
- Our bullpen doesn’t need him. If one of Ryan/League returns to be a closer/setup guy ahead of him, he’ll be fighting for 7th inning scraps with Scott Downs. If they both make it back, he’s the 5th option and will be mopping up a good part of the time. What a waste- Wolfe/Frasor/Tallet are plenty good enough for semi-critical innings.
I know…he sucked in 2006 and then improved into the best setup men in the league last season. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But he didn’t suck in 2006. He was a phenom. Rushed unbelievably quickly through the minor leagues for a middle-range prospect, Casey was thrown to the wolves and after his first 8 starts had a 5-3 record (which should have been a lot better), a 3.07 ERA, and a 0.91 WHIP. Then he fell of the map because he was hiding a back problem from the team (they were so ticked he wasn’t called back up in September though he was perfectly healthy). There’s no magic bullpen dust that was sprinkled on him as long as you’re comparing one healthy Janssen to another.
That being said, here’s what’s going to happen if he wins the role. First, he’s not going to get as lucky as he did last year. There are two stats, BABIP and Strand Rate that are considered measurements of a pitcher’s fortune, and Casey was off the charts in both of them. I don’t care how plucky you think he is, or if you hate stats as much as Richard Griffin- no pitcher in the history of time strikes out as few guys as he does and has maintained an ERA of 2.35. A more realistic (but still very generous; Bill James puts him just above 4- but any projection is bound to be high because of his injury) is his ERC (an estimate of what his ERA should be based on his WHIP) of 3.10. Add that 25% to that and he could put up a 3.88 ERA as a starter.
Cue the mouth-breathers calling in on the radio to abuse J.P. for turning an all-star setup man into an “average starter”, even though an ERA of 4 is average for a #2 starter. But for the last man in the rotation, that is great. It’s better than Jesse Litsch will ever do again. It’s better than Gustavo Chacin and his 5% chance of becoming Rocky Biddle after Labrum surgery. It’s better than any of the free agents we could waste money on. And it seems to be what J.P. has in mind.
Ok, enough words. Time for a pretty picture. Here’s where’s Casey’s pitches went last year and why he is so effective. Command of the strike zone to spare:
Right handed batters just can’t hit that pitch low and away if it’s on a tee, and the hot spot low and two inches off the plate is money. He also almost completely away from down and in, which is where fastballs go to die and explains his low HR rate.
Now here’s the contact he induced:
Can’t say I’m so happy with that one, but you get the idea. Lots of grounders by pounding the strike zone away, away, away, and he very rarely gets hurt by leaving something down the middle or coming inside. continue to hit his spots like that.
So far using pitch f/x it’s been pretty easy to break down what is important for Dustin McGowan, Jesse Litsch, and A.J. Burnett to be effective. Compare a really good start to a really bad one and things pop out like how much a fastball is tailing, a curveball is curving, or a changeup is working.
The next thing I want to look at is what happened to Roy Halladay in May (other than the obvious- his appendix exploded). The Doctor was the best pitcher in the league in April, and from June 10th on had an excellent ERA of 3.32. But he pitched like a little-leaguer for three starts around the time that he went on the DL with acute appendicitis.
In the two starts before he had surgery, Halladay allowed 16 runs. He came back quickly from the DL and had one good start, but in his next one was absolutely shelled by Tampa Bay for 8 runs in 3 1/3 innings, the only time this season he did not go 5 innings. Roy said afterwards that it was a mechanical, not a physical problem, and he wasn’t getting on top of his pitches. Later it came out as Sal Fasano suggested a different grip (which Halladay later abandoned) that he was having trouble with his cutter. Let’s take a look at what was different in those three starts to make him so hittable.
First, here’s the pitch movement in a good start by the doctor, from April 13. He went 10 innings to beat the Indians, allowing only 6 hits and one run – an absolute classic from the Jays ace on top of his game. Remember, this is pitch movement as compared to some mythical perfectly straight pitch. Those red dots on the left are diving, moving fastballs. Compare it to the movement of another pitcher to get an idea of how much- the scale is in inches.
This is what the “new” Halladay looks like, ever since he remade himself from a power pitcher into a ground ball pitcher. He doesn’t throw a big 12-6 breaking ball, just a little breaking pitch that is more like a slider. But his fastball sinks and tails away to a ridiculous degree- over 6 inches even when compared to McGowan and Burnett’s 2-seamers. Can you imagine trying to hit a 93 mph pitch that sinks and tails that much? And now here’s his location. Everything is low and he cuts his fastball in on the hands of left-handed batters.
Ok, enough drooling at Cy Young stuff. Here’s Roy’s first rocky start in May where he allowed 12 hits and 9 runs against the Texas Rangers.
Doesn’t look that bad, does it? All his pitches are sinking even more. There isn’t the same sort of crisp definition between his two fastballs, but his velocity and breaking ball is fine. And as you’ll see in a second, for the most part his location was there as well.
So what was different? Well, this game actually came down to one inning, the third. After a strong start, the Rangers strung together 8 hits and 6 runs. Then the Doc recovered and the only other runs credited to him were when Josh Towers allowed a couple of inherited runners to score. In the next graph you can see the pitches from the third inning with yellow dots inside them, and the pitches that went for hits are marked with X’s:
(You may notice that the scale is a little different- for the second time I used pitch “break” instead of movement. It’s very similar except it takes into account the “loop” of a pitch, which makes it a little easier to define breaking pitches and changeups).
As you can see, almost all of those pitches that blurred the line between the Doc’s two fastballs came in the third inning, and most of the hits that inning came off those pitches. So it looks like the Doc’s cut fastball deserted him for half an inning. Here’s his location with the 3rd inning pitches and hits marked. All the pitches from that inning were missing just off the inside corner, or were cutters that didn’t cut how he wanted them, ended up right over the plate, and were smacked for hits.
If you can stand looking at another graph about this start, you can see here that the Doc was right about what went wrong- his release point slipped down for that one inning.
Right before his Appendix Exploded, Halladay had a rough outing against the Red Sox. 5 innings, 11 hits- and again he had problems in the third inning, allowing 6 runs off 7 hits. Again, the problem was with his cut fastball, except this time in that inning it was cutting more than usual. I assume that he couldn’t control it, because all the hits came off his sinking fastball that Boston was sitting on. Again, the yellow dots are his trouble inning and the X’s are Boston hits. The final nail in the coffin was off a slider low but right down the middle (the blue + on both graphs).
And now his location, which wasn’t so bad, really: He was just facing a good hitting team and not hitting his spots dead on like he usually does. Amazing what a couple of inches can do to a pitcher’s plan.
The last blemish before being strong for the rest of the season came on June 5. After 7 shutout innings in his first start back, he was lit up by Tampa bay. There’s no secret what happened this start- too many pitches left up. On all of the Doc’s other starts, there are next to no balls in the upper half of the plate. Here is his location for that start and where Tampa got their hits (check out the Greg Norton single on a ball that was apparently a foot off the plate away from him).
Release point was the culprit for those pitches. It’s a little hard to see, but I’ve tried to show what happened to Hallday’s release point throughout the game in the next diagram. In the first two innings it was very consistent and centered. In the third and fourth, it started varying wildly- up to 3 inches to each side, down and up. And the only times that Halladay was able to go back to his old release point? They were those high pitches that were hit hard by Tampa. I know Doc’s too much of a warrior to admit anything was wrong physically, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the result of him rushing back and just running out of strength after a few innings so he ends up guiding the ball.
So there you have it- Halladay’s bumpy patch was caused by two different issues. First he had some problems with his cut fastball coming and going (while going up against two of the best offenses in the league- not a good combination) that lead to big innings. Then after being on the DL, he couldn’t keep a consistent release point and that led to him being unable to keep the ball down. Thankfully it only took him a few starts to self-diagnose himself, and for the rest of the year 2007 was another fantastic season for the doctor.
I’m starting on requests for the pitch database now- first on the list is Alex Rios. One of the things that was overshadowed by the rest of the Blue Jays offensive nightmares this season was that Rios had a significant power drop-off in the second half, with no sign of a staph infection in sight. Although his slugging percentage only dropped 50 points, he hit 17 home runs before the all star break and only 7 afterwards. Was it the dreaded curse of the Home Run Derby, or did pitchers start approaching him differently? Let’s take a look at the pitches he made contact with this year, starting with the first half:
First I’m going to look at the balls he put in play, and then examine those that he watched either for balls or strikes separately. First, here’s what happened when Rios put the ball in play in the first half:
First thing to note is this is a pretty terrible sample size. Pitch f/x was still being installed in parks in the first half, so there is less data that the second half even though they played more games. Still, notice how Alex is waiting for his pitch. He can serve pitches low and away into the opposite field for singles, but lets most pitches low and inside go- which makes sense since he’s hitting .158 there. His power is mostly on anything left high in the strike zone. How did pitchers get him out? By getting him to hit pop ups on pitches at his eyes and grounders on balls away from him.
There’s a lot more data here, but look at how much more it’s spread through the strike zone. Of course this could be because he’s not getting into counts where pitchers have to groove one, but it certainly looks like he’s swinging at and making contact with “pitcher’s pitches”. He’s also flying out on pitches high and especially away in the strike zone, which he didn’t do at all in the first half. And his doubles and HR power is all middle-in, instead of up and over the plate. Maybe Brantley was right when he said he wasn’t moving enough since the Home Run Derby- that looks like someone trying to yank the ball over the fence.
Now let’s look at the pitches he didn’t swing at and what the umpire called them. I’ve split them into over 88 and below 88 mph as a crude division between breaking pitches and fastballs, to get an idea of if they were pitching him soft away and hard inside or anything like that. From the first half:
The first thing this tells me is I probably need to tweak my strike zone (based on John Walsh’s measurements of the actual strike zone) up a few inches, or that pitch f/x was set a little low. As you’ll see, it doesn’t look that bad for the second half, but almost all the pitches on the bottom fringe of the zone as I have it were called as balls. It’s also strange that pretty much nothing came in on the inside wall of the strike zone. I’ve checked the data several times though- there were almost no pitches a foot off the middle of the plate, and he swung at all of them.
In the second half, Rios had more low strikes and strikes on the bottom outside corner (or just plain off the plate) called. Maybe that’s why he had to become less selective. There is also a noticeable concentration of more pitches (both fastballs and offspeed pitches) belt high and away – the pitches that from the first set of graphs you can see Alex is grounding out on. In the second half he was getting more hits than grounders on pitches away, but they’re all singles.
The word must have gotten out to keep everything on the outside half of the plate and low to sap his power. Despite more data, there are fewer pitches being hit or taken at the top or just above the top of the zone. I am reminded of the last home run he hit, which was high and out of the strike zone- if you’re going to go up on Rios, go way up (I guess I should chart swing-and-misses next, but they’re pretty much exactly what you would expect from this data- away, away, away, more as the year goes on).
From looking at both diagrams, it also seems that pitchers were also having some success coming up and inside with soft stuff- a lot of called strikes and a not a lot of contact (except for the occasional home run on a mistake left a little too much of the plate). But the biggest difference in pitchers facing Alex Rios in the second half was they worked the outside half of the plate heavily- and started getting the calls.