Last night Alex Anthopoulos made an appearance on Prime Time Sports, a daily (weekday) sports discussion show that is on the air during drive time in Canada’s largest media market (Toronto area) as well as simulcast on other radio stations on the FAN Radio Network and Sportsnet One on television. On the program he discussed Thursday’s game, in which Brandon Morrow was battered en route to a 7-3 loss, the health of Brett Lawrie, Ricky Romero and concern over the sluggish start, among other things. Anthopoulos’ comments (paraphrased) will be in italics, while my comments will not.
On Lawrie’s Injury:
Anthopoulos had not heard the report that Lawrie would be out for a month and indicated that he had not heard that, and that he had read a report on Lawrie from his staff just prior to joining the show. He mentioned that Lawrie had some stiffness initially that day, but after warming up was able to execute all of his baseball activities. Naturally, he would need to get into game and get “quite a few at-bats…it’s been a while since he has played.” Anthopoulos mentioned the upcoming series with the Yankees at home (April 19) as a return date that he had envisioned, with the following Monday in Baltimore the worst case scenario. Most importantly, he emphasized he hadn’t heard anything to change that.
On Ricky Romero:
Anthopoulos told the crew that Romero has been throwing live batting practice every five days as well as bullpen sessions, but has not gotten into games yet. He expects Romero to get into games within seven to ten days. Romero could have broken camp with the big club (I don’t see how given that fact that his command was repeatedly non-existent for extended sequences, and critical games aren’t really the place to undertake major adjustment projects), but the team wanted to make sure the changes were “cemented” before bringing him back. The issues have been both physical and mental in nature owing to the unknown causal relationship between success and confidence. However, he did indicate that the problems were primarily mechanical and that mechanical adjustments have been made. As for Ricky Romero’s return to the big leagues, he said that there is no timetable and that it would be up to what the coaching staff sees of his actual stuff and command, as box score results (especially in the low Minors) are essentially useless as a performance evaluation tool.
I cannot see him returning to the Majors in the near future, especially if Happ continues to pitch well. If Happ takes the fifth spot and runs with it, I could see him spending the year in the minor leagues and being a September call-up.
On the slow start and related fan reaction:
The Jays just need to put everything together in the sense of getting good hitting and pitching performances in the same game. Anthopoulos mentions that things will “balance out” which is layman’s terms for regression to the mean. A pity more fans fail to grasp this, but #mathishard
Anthopoulos admits that Rasmus has started slow in the past, but emphasizes the basic statistical principles of regression and sample size.
The part about Rasmus slow starts seemed to be a cliché tossed out by Anthopoulos in attempt to quell misguided hatred for Rasmus. I was disappointed to see that the numbers don’t bear out what Anthopoulos actually said. Rasmus’ career wRC+ is 98 and in his four Aprils he has posted marks of 87, 207, 144 and 83 (133 career). I am willing to give Anthopoulos a mulligan on this one though, as 2012 was Rasmus’ first April with the club, making it possible that the recency effect played at least a small part in the comments, and also that he likely didn’t have Fangraphs open in front of him during the segment (unlike me, who is writing this at 6 AM).
Anthopoulos again mentions regression and sample size (in simpler terms) with regard to Rasmus. This is a concept that he seems truly intent on driving home, which is good, because it is a simple yet fundamental set of concepts which remains hard to grasp for much of the population although there is no excuse for such difficulty.
A purely quirky note on Rasmus’ strikeouts is that Rasmus’ best season (2010. 4.0 fWAR) when he posted his highest strikeout rate of his career (27.7% vs. 23.2% career).
Anthopoulos mentions that Bonifacio’s nightmare three error day came the day after he made a game saving play up the middle (sample size again), although the comparison to Alomar was a bit much. Good to know that he think Bonifacio could play some outfield if needed. That serves as a critical component to his value. I wish he could play some short, but it sounds like his infield position will be restricted to second base. Still though, a utility guy that isn’t completely useless with the stick can be a surprisingly powerful weapon. That fact that he is a burner brings him to the level of awesomeness. Fans, this (not John McDonald, nor Mike McCoy), is a super-sub.
Anthopoulos also notes the blatantly obvious fact that having Lawrie back will provide a plus defensive fixture and tremendous amount of extra flexibility as one of Izturis or Bonifacio will join the bench. Hopefully that keeps DeRosa off the field, since, as @bluejaysbatboy pointed out, he has the range of a recycling box. Makes sense, I could see him moving if the wind blew hard enough.
Anthopoulos indicated they don’t know Dickey well enough (3 years, ~600 IP), but he was impressed with what he saw, particularly in the WBC start versus the Dominican Republic, facing a juggernaut (including Reyes & Edwin) that went 8-0 en route to the tournament title. Dickey cracked a nail in the first inning on Sunday and it led to him throwing more fastballs and changeups (Pitch distribution below courtesy of Brooks Baseball). While Anthopoulos said Dickey told him that this is a relatively common occurrence and that it was no excuse, I have to think you give Dickey at least somewhat of a break (no pun intended) because when you are throwing 83 mph “fastballs” as more than an occasional surprise, the odds of success aren’t exactly overwhelming.
The Jays will carry eight relievers until Lawrie returns. Anthopoulos was very pleased with the three innings the Blue Jays got from Dave Bush on Sunday (well, insomuch as they were pitched by him and not someone else) and said that eighth spot will be a revolving door. They will return to a seven man (normal size) bullpen when Lawrie comes back and those seven will be the guys. Viewing Cecil as the seventh man, Anthopoulos likes his work so far. Cecil could become a critical cog if the velocity stays where it is now and he could rack up plenty of strikeouts. However, given the sample size, I may temper my enthusiasm somewhat for the time being.
The Blue Jays signed Miguel Batista to a dirt cheap Minor League contract (remember him?) to be a long man and spot starter in Triple-A Buffalo. Yes, Minor League teams need bodies too.
Overall, I am very pleased with Anthopoulos’ rational comments on the state of the club and brilliant methods of diffusing panic. I’m glad to know they won’t rush Romero even if Happ struggles, as the Blue Jays may only have one shot to get him right. The eight man bullpen (and resulting three man bench including Henry Blanco, he of a career 65 wRC+) is idiotic, crippling the offense while the eighth man rots, especially after an off day. The only justification I can see for this iteration of the eight man bullpen is insurance against a rainout resulting in a starter being knocked out, because the forecast in Detroit is lousy. However, even that justification is tissue paper thin and flimsy.
Oh well, the rest of this is just wonderful and only 4.3% of the season is behind us, so let’s stop panicking and enjoy the ride. OK?
For those interested, the original segment is here.
Stats from Fangraphs unless indicated.
This Christmas has become something of a disappointment for Jays fans. For several days and especially for a few agonizing hours, there was hope that we would receive a great gift, the talents of Japanese ace Yu Darvish. Unfortunately, the Texas Rangers won the bidding for Darvish’s rights with a record bid of $51.7 million. We also hoped that a Prince would come to save us, but according to Alex Anthopoulos and Paul Beeston, fans can forget about that too. Something about not giving contracts in excess of five years to hitters and three years to pitchers. However, the team has several good pieces in, or not far from The Show and could surprise many people in the next two years. That said; here is my Christmas list of the top ten Blue Jays desires in 2012:
10: Production from Kelly Johnson
When Aaron Hill put forth another putrid season with the Jays for four-and-a-half months in 2011, it was clear that the Jays needed to make a change. Since hitting 36 homers in 2009, Hill has never been the same. Keep in mind, the 36-homer,, if extrapolated over a full season would have put him 4.1 fWAR season came AFTER his concussion, indicating that the concussion seems to have little impact on his performance drop, contrary to what some have suggested. Hill was packaged with John McDonald to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Kelly Johnson, who enjoyed a 128 wRC+, 5.9 WAR 2010, but was struggling in 2011 with an 87 wRC+ at the time of the swap. He went on to post a 114 wRC+ in 33 games with the Jays and 0.8 WAR after playing 113 games with Arizona for 1.1 WAR. Hill posted 104, 61, -0.8 with Toronto and 33, 134, 1.6 in the desert. All the best to him. Johnson ‘s 114 wRC+, if extrapolated over a whole season would have had him seventh in the Majors at his position, right between Dan Uggla and Brandon Phillips – decent company. Johnson is somewhat cost-controlled through his acceptance of arbitration and his solidification of a perennial weak point for the Jays could be a key factor in 2012 success.
9: Emergence of Colby Rasmus
Colby Rasmus came to the Jays at the trading deadline as part of a three-team deal with the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago White Sox. While the Jays did give up pitching prospect Zach Stewart and lefty killer Marc Rzepczynski, who each proved their worth at times with their new clubs (The Cardinals won the World Series thanks in no small part to the duo of Octavio Dotel and Rzepczynski who proved to be stellar antidotes for the Milwaukee Brewers duo of Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, respectively, along with neutralizing Nelson Cruz and Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers in the World Series) , if Rasmus blossoms into the star he was projected to be when he was drafted, the trade will end up going down as a heist. Rasmus struggled mightily in Toronto with a .517 OPS, .225 wOBA, 34 wRC+ and -0.5 WAR over 34 games, although he did have a hot streak in August that was interrupted by a wrist injury. He posted a .859 OPS, .366 wOBA, 129 wRC+ at age 23-24, so there is a lot to like, especially at a premium defensive position. A return to those numbers or beyond isn’t out of the question and could allow Anthony Gose to marinate properly in the minor leagues into a true five-tool player.
8: Stability in the ninth inning
The Jays bullpen blew 26 saves last year (part of that was due to the gutting in the Rasmus deal) and the duo of Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco struggled with save opportunities at times. Both left as free agents and AA wanted to find a dominating closer for the ninth inning. The price of free agent closers has been ridiculous (Jonathan Papelbon signed for 4 years/$58 million with Philadelphia) so he decided it would be best to go the trade route. He acquired right-hander Sergio Santos from the Chicago White Sox for pitching prospect Nestor Molina who put up a 2.45 FIP in 108.1 IP and a 0.47 FIP in 22 innings at Single- and Double-A respectively as a 22-year-old. Steep price it would seem, but as Kevin Goldstein put it: the numbers don’t match the stuff and the numbers tell a rosier story.
Santos, a converted shortstop and former Jay, recorded over 13 K/9 last year, closing some for Chicago. His number one pitch is a wipeout slider, generating memories of B.J. Ryan, although Santos will throw from the right side. If he can have a season somewhat close to Ryan’s 2006 in Toronto, Jays fans will be very happy and his club-friendly deal negotiated by Chicago could easily set him up for six years of reasonably priced service north of the border.
7: A full-time left fielder
When the Jays drafted Travis Snider in 2006 out of high school and brought him to the big leagues as a 20-year-old, the idea is that he would stick and go on to become one of the best young hitters in the league. However, things have gone according to plan. Snider has played parts of four seasons at the big league level, struggling in all of them to a degree. During this time, Eric Thames (drafted in 2007 (39, 1191)) shot to the majors, taking over when Snider struggled in left this year, posting 12 HR, .313 OBP and a .333 wOBA in 95 games. Now with two left fielders both performing poorly, although Snider is 23 and could be age-appropriately at Double-A, it is up to one of them to seize the job. Snider is younger and has much greater potential, while Thames has the greater recent results. This spring training will be a key time for the Blue Jays organization as they choose which player they want to travel forward with as their left fielder, while potentially trading the other.
6: Prospect Development
With the hiring of Alex Anthopoulos and trade of Roy Halladay in the winter of 2009, the Jays entered a temporary rebuild. However, this was different. AA did not want to just build a one year winner, but a team that could perennially contend. He started on his vision by almost doubling the size of the scouting department and acquiring Kyle Drabek, catcher Travis D’Arnaud from the Philadelphia Phillies and through a series of trades ultimately outfielder Anthony Gose by way of the Houston Astros. Drabek saw time in the Majors this season, struggled with his control and spent most of the year in Las Vegas, battling what seemed to be emotional problems with a newfound lack of success. D’Arnaud and Gose were part of the Eastern League Champion New Hampshire Fisher Cats at the Double-A level. Gose hit more home runs in 2011 (16) than in his three previous minor league seasons combined (9) thanks to some swing tweaks, but still stole 69/85 bases (81.2%) on the year. He also flashed a plus, plus arm in centre field and decent range. If Gose keeps on his upward development path, a Gose/Rasmus confrontation could be inevitable and interesting in a few years. D’Arnaud was named Eastern League MVP and Keith Law called him, “the real deal”. He tore some ligaments in his thumb playing in the World Cup of Baseball, but should be ready to go for Spring Training. Of course, the focus is on a speedy recovery.
5: Brett Lawrie Avoiding the Sophomore Slump
Brett Lawrie arrived in the Majors on August 5, as the most hyped Jays prospect in recent memory by a long shot. He had an RBI single in his first at-bat, homered the next day and hit a grand slam at home on August 10. He also had a walk-off homerun for the first 1-0 extra inning walk-off win in the bottom of the 11th inning against the Red Sox on September 5. Although he did not win Rookie of the Year, he led all American League rookies with 2.7 WAR (4th in MLB) despite only playing in 43 games totalling 171 plate appearances. As with any data sample, one must be cautious of the small sample size here. Expecting Lawrie to duplicate these numbers over a full season is clearly unrealistic, but if he can put together a 5.0 WAR season, he could become the Jays long awaited answer to a #5 hitter.
4: Brandon Morrow Gaining Efficiency
Brandon Morrow showed his electric potential this past year by leading the AL (2nd in MLB) in K/9 for qualified pitchers at 10.19. Unfortunately, this also came with a 3.46 BB/9, which capped his average outing length to just less than six innings per start. He allowed two earned runs or less in 14 starts, allowing one or zero in nine of them. However, in eight of them he allowed five or more earned runs, capping out at nine in a game against Boston. Eight of his starts lasted 5.0 IP or fewer, while he completed seven innings ten times. By cutting his walks, he can maximize efficiency and hopefully gain some consistency, as he has the stuff to challenge Romero for the role of team ace.
3: Ricky Romero Becoming Elite
Ricky Romero won a career-high 15 games, while finishing sixth in the AL with a 2.92 ERA, a number that has improved for him every season in the Majors. Unfortunately, this masks a less attractive 4.20 FIP and 3.80 xFIP. He needs to cut his walks (3.20 BB/9), increase his strikeouts (7.12 K/9) and elevate his strikeout to walk ratio to at least 3.00 as opposed to the 2.23 where it sits now. He seems to have figured out a solid gameplan against the Rays, but needs to find ways to be more efficient against the highly patient Red Sox and Yankees, who seem content to allow Romero to work himself into jams. Due to his best weapon being a changeup, left-handed hitters gave him much trouble to a FIP/xFIP line of 5.47/4.87 compared to 3.7/3.42 line against righties. Improvement of command, especially of his curveball and slider would help to straighten out his split. Beating the Red Sox and Yankees more frequently will be key for the Jays to climb in the East and Romero will have to be a big part of that, an answer to the big lefties: CC Sabathia and Jon Lester.
Jays used the DL 21 times for 19 players and lost 706 man-games. Jesse Carlson missed the entire season after a labrum tear, so discounting that, the Jays deal usage was 18 for 20 and 544 man-games. Still staggering. Bautista struggled with injuries in the second half and Adam Lind’s back broke a six-week hot streak and he wasn’t the same after that. Keeping the middle of our lineup healthy and our pitchers on the mound (Romero and Morrow each 30+ starts) will be key to our success in 2012, especially against aging New York and Boston rosters.
1: Fan Support
Paul Beeston made it simple: when more fans come, more money will be spent. If the fans are truly serious about wanting a winner, they need to come out support the good, exciting young team we have now and allow Alex Anthopoulos to gain permission to chase the final pieces.
Christmas Dream: Prince Fielder
We all saw Prince work in Milwaukee and putting him behind Bautista would make the best 3-4 combo in all of baseball.
Merry Christmas Blue Jays fans! See you in April!