Monday 12 October 2015

Defending the Price Thing

Associated Press

Pretty much anything that is different or against the grain is going to be picked at and criticized, whether it's baseball or not.  And that's doubly true when it has something to do with Toronto sports teams, it would appear.

John Gibbons hooked RA Dickey in the 5th inning after 78 pitches, and went with David Price, who had pitched Thursday on ELEVEN days rest, and wasn't totally sharp.  Here are my thoughts:

  • Price is your ace.  If he's not, and Stroman is, then Stroman should be starting game 5 anyway, and you'd like to have him do so on normal rest.  If you want to hang on to Price just in case things go south with Stroman in Game 5, then sure.  I can't imagine there's a shift in win equity by saving Price for relief in 5, versus using him in game 4 in a 6-run game, but if there is, it's small.
  • We don't know that Price isn't available in relief for game 5.  I'd guess that he is, for the record, because he's David Price, but I don't know, so I'm willing to not piss and moan about it.  Still, Price threw 90 pitches four days ago on 11 days rest, threw a bit last night, and then threw 50 more today.  I don't think it's unfathomable that he can't rest a day and then face Choo, Fielder and Moreland in a big spot, especially with no Brett Cecil.
  • Dickey was a little wild out there tonight, getting a bunch of 3-ball counts and having a reasonably elevated pitch-count.  More importantly, he was entering his 3rd time through the order, having just gotten Delino DeShields out.  He was at 78 pitches at this point, so it's not like he was primed to go 8 innings and Gibby was quick with the hook-- it was a must-win, and Dickey probably had it in him to get through 6, but that assumes that he doesn't have issues with the middle of the order coming up.
  • Choo had gone 2-for-2 against Dickey, as had Beltre, despite the fact that he can't run.  Next up would be Fielder and Moreland.  This inning didn't end up getting out of control, but that doesn't meant that it couldn't have.
  • Can you maybe go to Aaron Loup in a 6-run game with the lefties coming up?  Yeah, probably.  Or in the 8th, when it was Fielder and Moreland? Sure.  Except Loup wasn't there tonight.  He had to leave the team to attend to a personal matter of some sort, so Price was the only lefty available.  So he gets through Choo, Fielder and Moreland in the 5th and 6th, but then what happens if you take him out and the Rangers, in the 7th or 8th, rally and have men on base for one of those guys?  Roberto Osuna is the only person in the bullpen with anything nearing a halfway reliable sample of success against lefty hitters.  I'm not saying you can't go with Osuna in the 7th or 8th, but I think we all know that Gibby probably won't do that.
If Brett Cecil is still around, and maybe even if Aaron Loup is there, I think this game plays out a bit differently.  We probably see Loup or Cecil in the 5th, or we see Price come in and stay in through Odor's at-bat, rather than coming all the way back around, but no Cecil and no Loup left Gibby's hands pretty well tied.  This was a must-win game, and the best way to do that is to score more runs than the other team.  If you were paying attention, you'd know that the Astros blew a 4-run 8th inning lead right around the same time the Jays' game started this afternoon, and there's no real reason that the same thing couldn't theoretically happen in this one.

It was outside the box, and it didn't exactly work to perfection, but Dickey didn't quite have his A-game out there, and until someone else proves themselves to be a viable option against lefty hitting, I'm really not going to complain that David Price is pitching in games for the Toronto Blue Jays in the playoffs.

Tuesday 22 September 2015

Sanchez, and the Bullpen, of Late

So Brett Cecil just kinda went ahead and made this all about himself last night, saving the game and Aaron Sanchez in the 8th inning.  Aaron Sanchez went ahead and allowed the only two runners he faced to reach base, before Gibby moved to Cecil to face Brett Gardner, Alex Rodriguez and Brian McCann, all of whom he struck, relying mainly on the curveball.

The Jays twittersphere was pretty quick to shit on Sanchez, myself included, until Cecil just went ahead and stole the show, making us all forget about Sanchez' recent issues, at least for the time being.  Something's kinda sticking out to me here though.

Was Gibbons right to go to Cecil?  Yeah, absolutely.  Was he wrong not to go to Cecil sooner?  Yes, 100%.  If Cecil was unavailable, or they were trying to save him for the rest of the series, then sure, I see the point.  Aaron Loup might not be the right guy to go to to start the 8th if you're trying to avoid using Cecil, ditto Jeff Francis.  Is Hendriks, or Hawkins the guy to go to (Mark Lowe wasn't available) over Sanchez?

I don't really know the answer to that, but regardless, Cecil is really the only good lefty out of the pen at the moment, and he had pitched in consecutive games leading in to last night, and Sanchez is the "8th inning" guy, after all, so it was his turn, AND if Sanchez gets the first two outs, I doubt anybody second guesses the choice in the first place, nor would we have seen the Cecil light-show that totally takes the cake as best moment of the season so far.

The problem is that Sanchez has some pretty distinct struggles against left-handed hitting.  Even if this is just an eye-test thing (which it isn't!  I promise!), Sanchez is either nibbling or just straight up missing his spots against lefties.  He's probably doing it against righties too, but the heavy movement is down-and-in to righties, and moves towards the barrels of lefty bats.  I guess my main fear is that Sanchez just doesn't really have a great secondary pitch that he can throw to lefties and get them out.

That can be backed up with numbers!  Which is good, because that's how we do things around here.  Some important things to note:  Sanchez has excellent, fantastic, wonderful overall numbers as a reliever this season, to the tune of a .241 opponents' wOBA.  It's a small sample, and I don't know of a way to separate that further into handedness, which is really what we're looking for here, but I think we're still going to get the point across.

Just looking at basic splits, we see a bit of an ugly trend:

Between teams loading their lineups to gain a platoon advantage (in his starts) and pinch-hitting with lefties (relief), it's pretty normal to have a guy face more opposite-handed hitters than same-handed, so it's not like he's just getting thrown in there to get lefties out and failing at it, despite that being exactly what happened last night.  It's not any less alarming, though, that last night's game was still within reach, and it was Sanchez of all people that was chosen to come in, simply because it was the 8th inning and that's when he pitches.  Too many hits, too many walks, and not enough strikeouts against lefties to really merit being thrown in to the situation that he was thrown in to.

Do I have an alternative?  Especially if we assume that Cecil was only to be used in urgent spots for last night's game?  He needs to get a day off somewhere, and I'd be shocked if he was available for tonight's game.  Do you dare go to Aaron Loup or Francis?  Or Osuna in the 8th?  I probably don't.  Mark Lowe wasn't available, but he or Hawkins is probably my go-to to start the 8th, given the lineup and the location within.  I don't think any of the options are ideal, but Lowe has been rather excellent overall, and has a .299 opponent's wOBA vs. lefties this year, and Hawkins has practically no platoon split for his career (.294 vs. .290 wOBA).

So the issue isn't really about Sanchez being right or wrong for the 8th inning role, it's more about the role itself, and there not being a second viable lefty option out of the bullpen.  Lowe has been excellent, but that trade kind of surprised me.  Moving Sanchez to the bullpen certainly stabilized it, and the emergence of Hendriks as a pretty good reliever did the same.  Aaron Loup has had a pretty bad season, so all of a sudden, the only thing the Jays really needed on deadline day was another solid lefty option.

Don't get me wrong, I'm glad Lowe is here.  But I'd have much rather found some random lefty sidearm shitballer, though I'm sure there wasn't one out there or AA'd have gone and found one.  The result is the reliance on Brett Cecil to get out of every situation that arises where a lefty bat comes up in a high-leverage spot.  He's more than capable of doing that, and that's not the problem.  The problem is that more than one of those spots comes up in a game sometimes, and Aaron Sanchez probably isn't the next best option.

Saturday 11 April 2015

Thoughts, Through Four

John Lott/Nat. Post
As awesome as these two kids have been through the five innings or whatever that they've pitched, I still worry a bit about the pitching staff.  I don't have any doubts that Cecil is going to be OK, and he should stabilize the bullpen a bit once he's fully himself again (and reports of his fastball topping out at 88MPH the other night don't really worry me given his spring and the fact that it was 4 degrees in New York).  Aaron Loup is going to continue to be Aaron Loup, getting a mix of outs and walks.  After that, the bullpen kind of gives me the jibblies.

I'm hesitant to use a 4 game sample to determine what we have in Castro and Osuna, as dominant as they've been, and I think it's silly not to think that they're going to end up struggling a bit at some point once the rest of the league kind of figures them out or sees some video or scouting reports.  It seems like the Redmond/Estrada/Hendriks experience isn't one that's built to last, and it that's doubly true if the 8-man bullpen is only contingent on Michael Saunders being on the DL (which it isn't, necessarily... Tolleson could be cut and everything else can stay the same, in theory, but I'm guessing that's not it... likely Tolleson and Hendriks cuts, Saunders and Goins up).

I think I'd be a lot more comfortable still with another right-handed reliever in there.  Whether that's Steve Delabar, Rafael Soriano, Aaron Sanchez, Marco Estrada or someone else... don't really give a shit.  Ask me again in a few weeks and my tune may change if these two keep killing it out of the bullpen, but right now I'd love to see a 2010-Jason-Frasor-type that could come in in the 6th inning with guys on base and get a strikeout to kill a rally.  Maybe that is Castro or Osuna, though, and I'm just seeing their ages and thinking it's not good enough. (As an aside, if Castro is closing, moving Cecil to 8th inning duties, the need for Colt Hynes drastically diminishes)

I'm the same about the rotation.  I don't exactly think that there's even a shred of uncertainty in Dickey or Buerhle.  They're two shitballers that are going to stabilize everything and get six innings in more often than not.  And the way Hutchison looked opening day and in the second half of 2014, I'm not sure he isn't a guy that can be relied upon either... he's been a stud the last half-season, give or take, and he did throw 185 innings last season, striking out a batter per inning.

It's more Norris, Sanchez and the depth that worries me.  I totally reserve the right to change my tune about Sanchez, even after one start, and my point about him will be quick anyway.  It's simply that I'm not going to feel good about him as a starter until I do, and that won't happen until we see secondary pitches develop.  I just fear he's just going to fire smoke and get guys out for a few innings, and then break out the change or curve and get slaughtered.

Which kind of brings me to Norris.  His outing against the Yankees started amazingly, but he was in pretty big trouble the second time through the order.  Yankee hitters were 0-for-8 with a walk the first time through the order, but it looked like they made some pretty hefty adjustments the second time through.  Starting with Ellsbury's second AB with 2 out in the 3rd, things went:

Line drive single (fucked up by a CS to end the inning)
Line drive
Line drive (that happened to find Donaldson's glove and could have been a 2B just as easily)
strikeout (battle back from 3-0)
popout (end the inning)
single (Gregorius running error to give a free out, turning the lineup over)
foul out (end the inning)
Line out (albeit a weak one)

Norris was dominant once through the order, and looked like he was going to cruise through the game, but gave up a lot of solid contact starting the 2nd time through, and if it weren't for the Yankees having two TOOTBLANs over those 13 plate appearances, this may have ended up a little different.

There are obviously some circumstances around this start, which is why we don't worry TOO much about it.  It was Norris' first start of the year and maybe just getting through five was the goal, in which case, yeah, let's mix in the secondary stuff right away and see what we can figure out.  Second, it was cold out there, so we can certainly give the guy a break.  But the point remains, as good as Norris looked in the first three innings, he looked just as bad over the next 3.

Having said all of that, the offence and defence has looked pretty fucking sound so far to me.  Russell Martin hasn't lit it up offensively, and up until yesterday, neither had Jose Bautista, but the team still has 27 runs scored through 4 games.  Devon Travis, Justin Smoak, Jose Reyes and Josh Donaldson have each gotten on base at a rate of 35% or better, and Bud Norris got totally worked over in yesterday's game, which definitely does ease some of my concern about the pitching staff.

We know that Bautista and Martin will come around (Martin's plate appearances have been mostly good, and just don't really show up on a stat sheet), and a 12-9 win is still definitely as much a win as a 4-2 game.  Like I said, I'd love to see another pitcher come around, but to have that many concerns and still be kind of cheesed about being 3-1 to start the year... could be worse.

It really makes the Stroman injury sting.  With him in the fold, Sanchez can be in the pen or in the minors ready as depth.  It would have given the Jays that one extra piece that they can rely upon if something goes south.  Instead, that's Liam Hendriks or Jeff Francis or Felix Doubront or whomever.  And that's fine, I guess, in the sense that nobody's got a legitimate #3 waiting in the minors until someone gets hurt or sucks, and there are times for every team where piecing together a start or four needs to happen.  Fortunately the offence is there for times like that, should they arise.

Saturday 28 March 2015

But with a Whimper

So this is the way the world ends...

The last morsel of hope we have remaining has finally fluttered away, and it has done so with very few of us noticing, and probably fewer of us caring.  Kyle Drabek is no more than a glimmer in our eye, or a tickle in our loin.  The greatest era is over, and the honeymoon of that era has followed, lethargically.

One Harry Leroy Halladay, who all prospective Blue Jay talk has, and should surround, has long since re-signed and retired, but the eponymous trade is really only just making its' mark, as sad as that seems.  He was traded years and years ago, for a pile of prospects, none of whom really ever did anything, and he flourished, making the playoffs, throwing a no-hitter and a perfect game, and winning another Cy.  Of course, those are years that we can give a fuck about, since he wasn't a Blue Jay at the time.  He was traded, of course.

There was Travis d'Arnaud, the catcher, who was part of the R.A. Dickey trade that we will all maybe regret on AA's behalf.  He was certainly the eventual centerpiece, whether we knew it or not at the time.  Sure, he's flashed some bat at age 26, but there's still no sure thing, especially at catcher.  Not like Dickey's gone and 4-WARred for us though, and Syndergaard is probably better than Dickey right now, all things being considered.

There was also Michael Taylor.  He, of course, got flipped for Brett Wallace, who eventually got flipped for Anthony Gose, who eventually got flipped for Devon Travis.  Devon Travis should make the opening day roster at 2B.  That's OK, but it's also several degrees of Kevin Bacon away from what WE WERE LOOKING FOR IN 2009.  And it's certainly better than letting something leave through waivers or free agency.

And then there's Drabek.  The one who did leave through waivers or free agency.  The Travis Snider of pitchers, per se.  Prospect #14 per baseball prospectus, and #29 per MLB in 2011. A scalding hot prospect who never had it come together.  A guy who might have been the next ace if he didn't walk everybody, or get hurt, or a combination of the two.

And now he goes elsewhere, unceremoniously.  Like, so unceremoniously, that I don't remember reading that he was DFA'ed or removed from the 40-man or whatever.  It didn't make the news.  This guy was traded for Roy God Damn Halladay.  And he's been jettisoned so a 20-year old can make the team.

The Halladay deal is closed, and the era of the same name has come and gone long ago.  It still hurts. And it feels like it came and went with 118 K's, and 111 walks, and literally, a line drawn in the sand.  In a more literal sense, d'Arnaud got Dickey, and Taylor eventually got Travis.  Those things range somewhere from OK to good, at least at this very moment, because the ultimate goal of the Halladay trade was to help the team contend a few years after it.

We don't know that Travis doesn't go and kill it.  Nor do we know that d'Arnaud doesn't go kick ass the way we all expected him to.  And Drabek might find something in the Chicago system that allows him to throw the ball in the strike zone.  But there's a statute of limitations on this kind of thing, and I suppose it's time to say it now.  The Roy Halladay trade was a disaster.

Yeah, prospects will break your heart sometimes, and TINSTAAPP, and Tommy John's up the wazoo, I get it.  And it's not like AA's track record in trades is exactly anything less than stellar, to the point where we've pretty much forgotten about this deal, since there have been so many others in its' wake.  But sometimes you just look back and relive those glory days and don't know what to do with yourself anymore.

Saturday 14 March 2015

Getting Some Exercise

Or, you know, driving.

I have this thing that I do quite often.  I can't help it.  I wouldn't classify it as a bad habit or anything, and I can't imagine it annoys anybody or anything.  It's just a thing that I do, probably a bit weird.

I have Cot's bookmarked, and I go and read up on contracts like once a week.  Usually, I'm just picking a random team and reading contracts, often ones that I already know exactly what is written about them, thus learning nothing.  These things evolve, from time to time, though, as a player gets awesome or terrible all of a sudden.  My favorite is the Yankees' page, mostly because of the ARod, Teixeira, Sabathia, etc. deals that have all these goofy incentives and perks, though all of the contracts negotiated by Theo Epstein are usually hilarious: John Lackey's clause that stipulates that the team gets a club option for league minimum if he misses time with an elbow injury, or Carl Crawford's "if we trade you, you can't be traded to the Yankees" clause.

More than any other team though, obviously, I'm looking at the Jays' page.  Looking towards the future for payroll commitments, checking options, seeing who is arbitration eligible, free agency eligible or 0-3 at season's end, and so on.

Naturally, this morning, I was laying in bed with my computer on my stomach reading the Jays' page, and was looking at all the club options they have on their players.  There are options on the contracts of Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, RA Dickey, and Maicer Izturis for next season, at various values.

The Bautista and Edwin options are for $14MM and $10MM respectively, and, barring some hilarious misfortune like gigantism from consuming too much brain and nerve tonic, or falling down a bottomless pit, those two are getting their options exercised, even if they miss the season due to injury or go all Chris Davis on us.  The other two are kind of interesting though.

Maicer Izturis

We'll start with Izturis, I suppose, since he's the least interesting.  Despite being completely terrible in year one of his deal, and breaking his leg or something and missing 90+% of year two of his deal, Izturis has a totally reasonable option on his contract.  He'll make $3MM this season, which, on a value level, should get something like 0.5 WAR.  He's cheap, and there isn't exactly a bunch of competition trying to pry the 2B job away from him; Devon Travis seems to be the heir-apparent, but he's yet to see AAA, and after him, it's just a bunch of also-rans in Muni, Ryan Goins, and maybe Steve Tolleson against LHP.  He is a switch-hitter who can play a few infield positions, but certainly doesn't do any of those things spectacularly.  Still, we've seen guys, especially at premium(-ish) positions put up a WAR practically by accident.

If Izturis happens to have a halfway decent season (by which I mean "if he can get out of his own way defensively, sit his ass on the bench if and when Steve Tolleson plays against lefties, and put up even a win), then picking up his option seems pretty palatable.  The option is for $3MM, but comes with a $1MM buyout, so in essence, it's a $2MM decision that the Jays will be saddled with.  Perhaps, by that time, Devon Travis is ready, or Ryan Goins learns how to hit .200, or Chase Utley becomes a Blue Jay, rendering Izturis more or less useless, but a $2MM decision, these days, makes a pretty small, low-risk investment.

I'm guessing that this one gets declined, and that AA would take a do-over on this one if given the chance, but it wouldn't be a huge shock if the guy was worth a WAR and justified that option.

Ra Dickey

Dickey's deal is for $12MM in 2015, and has an option for '16 at the same cost, with a $1MM buyout.  $12MM, on the open market, should buy you about 2 WAR, which is right in line with Dickey's performance as a Blue Jay so far, depending on where you look (and you should be looking at B-Ref for him, and maybe all pitchers depending on your feelings about fip-WAR).  He was worth 2.0 rWAR in 2013 and 2.5 in 2014.  That suggests that he's an approximately league-average pitcher, solid but not spectacular.  Certainly not the Cy Young guy that he was in 2012, but wholly valuable nonetheless.

From a strict cost-per-win standpoint, the option is probably a wash, and the Jays would likely get more or less what they paid for.  There are a few other circumstances to look at though.

First, Dickey is 40 years old.  Sure, knuckleballers can throw till they're fucking 70 if they want to, and Dickey has said that he's planning on pitching for at least another few years, and there's not exactly a shitload of data out there that determines what the normal aging curve should resemble for a knuckler (though Breaking Blue tried shortly after the trade).  Tim Wakefield was useful in to his mid-40's, for example, and Phil Niekro was useful through 46.  But most baseball players peak at age 28 or so, and there are a few grey hairs in Dickey's beard.

Second, Dickey has thrown at least 200 innings four years in a row now, which is certainly a good thing to have around.  We don't know what's going to happen with Mark Buehrle after this year (he's a free agent), but I'd guess that he'll walk or retire or something that isn't pitch for the Toronto Blue Jays.  That's based off of nothing, of course, and he seems to like it in Toronto and is building a good rapport with the team's young pitchers, so who knows?  My point is that Dickey is a stabilizing force in the Jays' rotation, even if he isn't as good as he was a few years ago.  He's that guy who takes the ball every fifth day and throws 6-ish innings for you 34 times a year.  He doesn't have a Tommy John ligament, so that's not a worry, and he doesn't throw hard enough to do any damage to the rest of his arm.  As long as he doesn't take a comebacker to the face, or break a nail, there's not really a whole lot to worry about.

Third, Dan Norris seems to have taken a liking to him.  You'd like to keep that guy happy.

Fourth, if Dickey leaves, (and again, assuming Buehrle walks), Drew Hutchison is suddenly the dad of the rotation (not that that is a bad thing, but he's still 24, and you know how much AA likes his vets).  This could certainly change between now and then, if the Jays acquire someone between now and the start of 2016, but there doesn't seem to be any money there for 2015, and we all know how tough it is to get people to sign in Toronto, especially to pitch in the dome.

Fifth, his defense should improve a bit, with Donaldson playing at third and Smoak soaking up a few more errant throws at first.  Not that such a thing changes a ton about how well he pitches, but he certainly does seem to get his ass kicked a bit more from the stretch (.603 OPS with bases empty, .833 with men on in 2014), and if there's anybody in the league who induces weak contact, and thus needs a bit of defensive help, it's Dickey.

It seems as though AA likes guys that can throw innings, guys that can help with team chemistry, and guys who don't have a choice on whether or not they come to Toronto.  With an option, they don't need to pitch it to an agent, or compete with other teams, or worry about how much it's going to cost, or convince someone to pitch in a park that cedes all the homeruns-- this is a known entity, under control, and he's already here.

I would guess that Dickey gets his option exercised if he has a year that is anywhere close to what he had last year, and has it declined if he has a dumpster fire, so the real issue here is what happens if he's in the middle ground.  There is value in resting the bullpen, and it's not a complete impossibility that he gets better, either.  Niekro had a 4.6 WAR season at 45, Wakefield a 4.5 WAR season at 38.  3 WAR isn't completely absurd, especially if his whole schtick about still learning the pitch and adjusting to the various environments is to be believed.  One factor we need to consider is how well Hutchison, Norris and Sanchez perform this year, and if anybody in the minors (i.e. Osuna) develops.  Stroman should be good to go for opening day of 2016, there are plenty of options on the 2016 free agent market, and we could always see a trade, so it's not like there aren't other avenues to find pitching.

It sure would be a lot easier if Dickey went and kicked ass this season, though.

Tuesday 10 March 2015

Fixing this Mess

National Post
Well this is fucking horseshit.  No Stroman for 2015.  I'm sure you've seen this by now, so there's no point in writing about that.

It's obviously not over before it starts.  I mean, Stroman is one guy.  Sure, he's probably the best pitcher on the team, but his upside for the year is, what, 4 WAR?  5?  Yeah, those are all important wins, given the Jays' location on the win curve.  The difference between one Stroman and no Stromans is probably more starts to Aaron Sanchez or Dan Norris or Marco Estrada... whichever of those guys didn't get the 5th starter's job.  Maybe some Johan Santana in there, I guess.  Still, Steamer sees 3.4 WAR that the Jays are going to need to go and find for 2015 just to get back to where they were yesterday.

Obviously the problem there is that there aren't free agents available in mid-March.  Yeah, James Shields would have been fucking golden, even before this happened, but there's probably no money there, and Stroman getting hurt in, say, December, probably wouldn't have changed that.  Might have seen a Chris Young signing or something minor like that, but the real issue here isn't money; teams are pretty well set and ready to go in to the early part of the season with what they have in-house.

If that's the case, then the Jays are kind of locked in to doing that themselves.  Everybody just moves up a spot on the chart, more or less.  Dickey is now the obvious opening day starter, if he wasn't before, and Daniel Norris is probably even more of a lock to get a rotation spot unless he throws up all over himself and loses it over the rest of the spring.  Aaron Sanchez was getting stretched out (and will continue to do so) in order to give him a chance to win a spot, but I think a healthy Stroman and all other things being equal would have put him in the bullpen.  Not so certain now.

The likely rotation at this point, in no certain order, has Dickey and Buerhle as the horses, Hutchison and Norris as the young guns, and probably Sanchez getting every chance to fail rounding things out.  If he does fail, Marco Estrada is there, able to 2012-2013 Carlos Villanueva.

The real problem is that both Sanchez and Estrada were tentatively set to be bullpen pieces in a pen that wasn't exactly strong before the Stroman injury.  Now, we're incredibly likely to see one of those guys added to the rotation.  Worse yet, this assumes that Norris can hack it as a starter*, which is probably a bit aggressive to do when you consider that Norris is 21, had offseason surgery, and has pitched a total of 6.2 MLB innings, and 22.2 AAA innings.

*-- I don't think he goes to the bullpen if he doesn't get a rotation spot.  No real need to sit him in the pen as the third lefty, at 21, when he could easily be starting in AAA.  Putting him in the pen runs the risk of him not being stretched out when they need someone to come up.  The lack of rotation depth was a sore spot before, now it's a killer.

Everything might be great.  Norris might come in and kick ass.  Sanchez might win a job and perform admirably too.  Fuck, Johan Santana might light it up and force the team to make a choice!  Russell Martin is behind the plate, after all.  If that's the case, this doesn't really matter a whole lot.  But at the end of the day, we're talking about subtracting from a weakness to patch a hole.

Cole Hamels isn't fucking happening, so we can stop dreaming there.  But if Sanchez or Estrada is getting "taken", then this might be more of a bullpen issue than anything, and that's going to need a quick patch, stat.

It's pretty clear that we, as Jays fans, aren't allowed to have nice things.  21 years of no playoffs. Nobody wants to sign.  Vernon Wells.  Alex Rios.  Mike Sirotka.  Joey Hamilton.

But then 2013! Finally make a run at it!  Nah, Dickey puts up a 4.21 ERA after AA ships both d'Arnaud and Syndergaard.  Josh Johnson falls off the face of the planet.  Jose Reyes misses 70 games.  Starts from Ramon Ortiz.

But wait, most of the good parts of the team are still under contract.  Let's try again!  And hey!  It's working!  Leading the division by a lot!  Nah, let's collapse and not really come close down the stretch, powered by nobody coming in at the deadline.  Baltimore needs the rub just as bad, you guys go ahead and win the division going away.

Clearly, someone has to sell their soul to the devil, and it may as well be AA since his job is probably on the line this season.

I think it's time to trade for Jonathan Papelbon.  Rafael Soriano is still out there too.  Sure, he doesn't exactly project to come out smelling like roses, but neither did, say, Pat Neshek last year, and at least Soriano's done it before.  It's another piece.  It's someone.  A warm body, if you will.  And after today, there's bound to be one fewer in the bullpen.

Saturday 28 February 2015

Nobody Likes You

Image: National Post
Dioner Navarro, in 2014, was worth 2 WAR, per fangraphs, and 2.3 WAR per baseball-reference.  That's entirely reasonable, especially for a guy who sat on the bench every 5th day to make room for Josh Thole's ability to catch a butterfly.  Either story puts him comfortably in the top 30 catchers, by WAR, in baseball, which should suggest that he'd be a starter, right?  Especially on teams that don't have a guy in that top-30?  Stands to reason.

Another guy who stands even more firmly in that top-30, and, in fact, inside the uppermost echelon of catchers, is Russell Martin, who, if you need reminding, signed with the Blue Jays as a free agent back in mid-November, prompting Navarro to request a trade so that he can catch everyday, wherever he plays.

I guess the question needs to be asked, then: why is Dioner Navarro still a Blue Jay?

A couple of factors have Navarro snookered in to bench duty, at the moment.

Navarro, per Steamer, is projected to only provide 0.7 WAR this season, mostly due to the fact that he currently slots as a backup catcher, and possibly DH, for the Jays, though I'm sure the fact that he hadn't seen 400+ MLB PA's since 2009 has something to do with that as well.  Still, in a situation where he's given the #1 catcher's job, he's seeing more plate appearances than what's been projected.  The problem is that even if we aggressively project Navarro to be roughly what he was in 2014 (we'll call it 2.0 WAR just to be neat), there still aren't going to be a whole pile of buyers.

Let's turn our attention to Fangraphs' positional depth charts for catchers.  Scrolling down that list, we can immediately remove a whole pile of teams from the Navarro sweeps.  We can immediately discount teams like SF, CLE, KC and STL (and others) who have a couple of rocks behind their plates (I suppose Posey could play some 1B, but Andrew Susac would then play).  We can remove teams like CHC, LAD and MIN, who all have guys who are in the same relative zone from a projected WAR standpoint, and thus wouldn't be getting a clear upgrade in Navarro, making it useless to give up assets.

We can remove a team like PIT, who went from one of the best, in Russell Martin, to a bunch of unheralded guys (26th in cumulative projected WAR) who share some of the less tangible, less measurable defensive qualities that Martin has.  We can remove a team like Boston, who, even if they weren't the Jays' immediate competition for the division, and thus pretty unlikely to help each other, have youngster Christian Vazquez, as well as veteran Ryan Hanigan as a quality pair, and top prospect Blake Swihart waiting in the pipeline, just in case.

We can remove the Braves and Diamondbacks, who certainly have some ugly catching situations at the moment, but those are hardly their biggest problems, and improving by a win or two at catcher-- and giving up an asset for one year of a $5MM catcher while doing it-- isn't likely to save them from mediocrity.  We can probably remove the Marlins, given that they have Jarrod Saltalamacchia under contract and is certainly a bounceback candidate.

Simply, Navarro has been a trade candidate, if we don't believe everything we hear, for the entire offseason, save for the two weeks before Russell Martin signed.  We've seen a few moves for catchers this offseason-- the Cubs, Rays, Rockies, Padres, Pirates and Dodgers (and more) all acquired catchers this winter, and all happened after the Martin signing, so they all likely could have had Navarro if they wanted.

The only real teams that might make sense are the Tigers, if Alex Avila can't catch due to concussion issues, and maybe the White Sox, though they appear willing to have Geovany Soto and Tyler Flowers split time.  Throw in Milwaukee, I suppose, if they shift Lucroy to 1B when the "Adam Lind hitting against LHP" experiment goes sour.  If the A's decide that Steven Vogt is better used elsewhere, they may eventually end up interested, but it seems as though they're going with him and Phegley for now.

If a team decides that their current situation may not be good enough, the Jays will then need them to convince the other to give up something to take Navarro.  Of course, if there's only one team looking for him, there wouldn't be much leverage, especially when other, cheaper, marginally worse options are out there, such as Wilin Rosario.

I think the most likely situation for a Navarro trade is to find a team partway through the year that finds their catcher injured or terrible, and go from there.  Catching is tough on the body, and there always seems to be a star catcher out for an extended period come midseason, or someone like Saltalamacchia, who dropped off pretty dramatically last year relative to 2013.  The best way to move Navarro, at the moment, would be to bide time and wait for someone to lose their catcher.  Navarro, after all, has a reasonable contract, and, more importantly, has the unfortunate distinction of being the best catcher in baseball who is currently out of a starters' job despite being qualified to start.

Thursday 5 February 2015

On Batting Orders

I keep hearing Gibby say it, and I just don't really want to believe it, because it seems so horribly wrong to me.  I mean, let's not pretend that I'm not about to write a small essay about a batting order, in 2015, as if it's something that means a lot.  But still, come on.

What I'm talking about is Gibby's answer to one of the questions at tonight's State of the Franchise Address, where someone asked how they were going to take care of the "weak" bottom of the order.  Gibby, as he is wont to do, answered the question in a pretty awesome manner, saying, among other things, that the person asking the question was confused.

Gibby mentioned that the top half is strong-- so strong, in fact, that it makes the bottom half look weak by comparison, and that it would look totally reasonable were it not for the ridiculous pop starting things off.  That's probably a halfway reasonable thing to say, I suppose.  No team is stacked top-to-bottom without some riffraff or question marks hanging in there, and there are certainly some possibilities for platoon spots in there as well, which should at least mask some of those deficiencies.

Anyway, that's not really what I'm talking about here, we're just trying to put more words in there so it looks like I've got a great big point to make, when in reality, it's a minor issue.  Optimal lineup vs. least optimal lineup is the difference between about 2 wins a season, and there's no way that Gibby is going to run a lineup out there everyday without it being really, really close to optimal, to this point where we're probably looking at much less than a single win over 162 games.

That doesn't take away my right to build a mountain about this though, god dammit.

Gibbons seems to have the top of his order set and ready to go:

 and then the next series of names he mentioned before trailing off leads us to believe that there will be some combination of Navarro/Saunders, and then, I suppose, Smoak, Pompey, and whoever plays 2B on a given day.

My issue is with the 2-hole.  Mathematically, this is the most or second-most important slot in the batting order.  Bautista and Edwin are projected to be pretty similar hitters, and definitely the two best on the team (per Steamer's wOBA projections), but Bautista said at one point or another last year that he'd rather hit third (can't find a link here, but I'm fairly certain I didn't imagine that), and Gibby likes to have Edwin hit behind Bautista.  If Reyes is #1, Bautista #3 and Edwin #4, and those are all set in stone, then that's fine, I guess.  We'll work around it.

Sticking Martin in the 2 just kind of sticks in my craw though.  Josh Donaldson projects to be the third best hitter, by wOBA, at .360, on the roster, ranking ahead of Martin, ahead of Reyes, and ahead of Michael Saunders, among others.  Martin, on the other hand, projects for a .337 wOBA.  That's still plenty good, but if the only options are having those two players in the 2- or 5-holes, a 27-point wOBA difference in a spot in the order that comes to the plate significantly more often could make a world of difference.

The second issue I'm having revolves around the days that Martin doesn't play.  Martin has started between 106 and 118 games at Catcher each year since 2011, which is plenty durable, but is still only about 70% of all of his teams' regular season games.  That leaves something like 40 games that they've got to go move someone else from their homes and stick them in to the 2-spot.  Wouldn't it just be easier to have Donaldson there in the first place?

Heh, this probably isn't worth anywhere near as many words as I've devoted to it.  Josh Donaldson is ours now, and perhaps I'd just like to see more of him, squeezing in that extra couple dozen plate appearances per year.  That can't be a crime.

Tuesday 6 January 2015

Howard They Live with Themselves?

God.  Can't believe I'm writing this.

I read Mike Petriello's piece on Fangraphs last night, in which he lists a few new homes for Ryan Howard, with Toronto being one of them.  Now, Howard sucks, and is owed a shitload of money over the next two seasons, so we really don't have to worry a whole lot about this; the Phillies are going to trade Howard, and they're going to eat a big, big percentage of the $60MM that Howard is owed between now and the end of next season, and it's going to be a pretty small-time prospect going back the other way, whichever teams bites.

The big thing with Howard, per Petriello, is that he doesn't have a position to play, or at least doesn't have the ability to play one well.  Sure, he's a first baseman by virtue of the fact that he's played first base for Philadelphia for several years now, but he's also done a pretty horrific job of that, from a defensive standpoint.  So basically, he's a DH.  Which eliminates 14 of the 29 teams out there right off the bat.

He also points out that of the remaining 15 (i.e. AL) teams, most of them already have their own current situations at 1B/DH, with Baltimore, Tampa and Toronto being the exceptions (and those teams all have stuff going on, to the point where Howard may not even fit there).

Finally, he points out that Howard has been much better hitting the ball in the opposite direction, as opposed to pulling the ball, for the last few years.  There are some fancy charts and graphs in there, but all we really need to know is that Howard has done the bulk of whatever damage he's done over the last two seasons down the LF line.

OK then.  Let's talk about all that.

Within Petriello's piece, he links to a pretty dandy little study that ESPN did on park factors.  Within that link, we'll note that LF in the Skydome yields a HR on 1-in-5 flyballs, with a .307 isolated slugging, both the highest rates in baseball.  The Dome also has some slightly above average rates to both CF and RF, but nothing in that area.   Comparing that to Citizen's Bank in Philly, we see some pretty average park factors for left and centre fields, and some above average numbers for RF, which don't really affect Howard all that much since he doesn't really use that field.

Howard hits a slightly above-average number of fly balls and liners, and a slightly below average number of grounders, but they're not so terribly far away from league-average totals that we should even bother freaking out about it.  What we should at least look at, though, is Howard compared to Justin Smoak, who Howard would likely be fighting with for a spot were a trade to actually happen.

Here are Smoak's fly ball spray charts for the last two years, similar to what Petriello posted for Howard, though he didn't opt to leave line drives in for Howard's for whatever reason, and I totally would have, but meh.

 Now, I notice a few things here, and the numbers back that up.

  • There's a certain value to not popping the ball up in the infield, especially in foul ground, and Smoak does that, while Howard appears to not.  One of the above links suggests that the league average infield flyball rate hovers around 11% (which seems totally high to me without ever having looked this up before, but I dunno).  I'd guess that power hitters tend to pop more balls up in the air, but that's just me speculating.  Either way, Smoak is kicking around right at that 11.5% mark for his career, and somewhere around 9% for the last two seasons.  Howard, on the other hand, has a career rate of 1.7%, and is way, way lower than that over the last few years.  That's certainly not the be-all and end-all of hitting, but it's hard to tag up and score on a popup 7 feet from the plate.  Flyballs and grounders can at least turn in to hits some of the time, too.
  • Smoak didn't get a whole lot of plate appearances in the bigs this year, but his power clusters are pull-ey.  The Dome is better than Safeco to LF and CF, but is vastly worse (again, from a HR and ISO perspective) to RF.  Ole' pitcher-friendly Safeco is actually the third-best hitters park to right-field for both HR's and ISO (The Dome isn't too far away for ISO, but HR/FB% is about 5.5% away).
Now, if we look at some general stats, we'll realize that this isn't anything we shouldn't already know-- Howard has always been a better hitter than Smoak.  In Smoak's best year (2013), he managed a 111 wRC+, and he doesn't exactly have favorable platoon splits in either direction.  As bad as Howard's been for the last few years, a big chunk of that is his negative defensive value, his negative baserunning value, and the positional hit for being a 1B, he's been a better hitter than Smoak (though Steamer likes Smoak much more).  That's not to say that all that stuff goes away if he turns in to a DH in Toronto, nor does that take away from the upside that Smoak has inside, untapped.

Smoak is only 28 after all, and he hit .337/.422/.502 in AAA last year.  Sure, all that proves is that he can hit AAA pitching, something he's done very well over 750 or so plate appearances since 2009.  And he's already in the organization.  And he only costs $1MM.  And he's still under team control, arbitration eligible next year from a $1MM starting point.

I don't necessarily think it's likely, or a good idea for that matter, that the Jays acquire Howard.  But a guy at Fangraphs said it was possible.  And then I looked in to it.  And the numbers kind of fit.  I'd honestly prefer Smoak, for all of the reasons listed in the above paragraph, but dammit if the numbers and park factors don't make a reasonably compelling case, especially when you consider the projections for 2015, as they look right now, the Jays are within a reasonable reach of being the best team in the division, and they're obviously trying to go for it. 

Ultimately, there's more of a factor than just "should they do it?"given the whole $60MM over two years thing, and then 0.0 WAR over the past four years thing, there's a pretty good chance that a deal would go to shit.  But there's a fit.

Pretty fucking scary to me.