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.
I have been away from home the past week, travelling in Alberta and then restarting at university, all while dealing with illness. However, I still had time to follow the Jays news. The Jays upgrded their bullpen, by signing LHPs Darren Oliver and Aaron Laffey while trading for Jason Frasor. This allows Alex Anthopoulos to continue to improve the club in other areas, knowing that there is a solid bridge from the starters to the end of the game.
Frasor, 34, came back to the Jays after a two-month stint with the White Sox. Prior to that time, Frasor had been with the Jays since 2004 and appeared in 455 games, a franchise record. Frasor closed for partial season in 2004 aand 2009, but mostly served as a reliable right-handed reliever in the seventh and/or eighth innings. Frasor should settle nicely into the seventh inning for teh Jays behind Casey Janssen in the eighth and Sergio Santos in the ninth.
Oliver, 41, was signed for a year at $3.5 million with an undisclosed one-year option from the back-to-back American League champion Texas Rangers. Oliver, active since 1993, has also pitched for the Angels and is possibly most known for being the winning pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals in the game Mark McGwire hit homerun #70 in 1998. Oliver will serve as the primary left-handed specialist (LOOGY), filling a role formerly held by Marc Rzepczynski, who was sent to the Cardinals in the Colby Rasmus deal.
Laffey spent time with the Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees in 2011, logging 53.1 innings in relief with a 5.06 K/9 and 3.54 BB/9. He hasn’t shown much velocity (87 MPH fastball for his career), or command (3.59 BB/9) and despite the Jays seemingly interested in trying him as a starter, according to Laffey, he projects more as a long man, or depth arm for AAA Las Vegas.
These additions should complete the Jays bullpen, consisting of the seven-man corps of: Santos, Janssen, Frasor, Oliver, Litsch, Carlos Villanueva and one of Luis Perez, or Joel Carreno.
The offseason is far from over and the team could still use some improvements (see my last post), but a major piece of the Jays puzzle to contention has been filled.
I will be back in a few days, but for now: cheers!
When I found out that Brett Cecil was being summoned to The Show in order to start in place of Brian Tallet on Friday (April 23), I was excited. I initially assumed that it was simply a spot start due to soreness. Imagine my joy then when I came to the realization that Tallet was being placed on the 15-Day Disabled List. This was in all likelihood to not just be a spot start, but three chances for Brett Cecil to showcase his skill against the potent Rays and Red Sox and offensively meager Cleveland Indians. He pitched well in Las Vegas, a member of the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League (2 GS, 11 IP, 11 K, 2 BB) and was deserving of a chance to start in the Majors.
Brian Tallet, on the other hand, is awful. Horrendously awful. His entrance music from 2009, “Gimmie Shelter” by the Rolling Stones, was the most appropriate entrance music I have ever heard. Tallet needs shelter; shelter from constantly getting shelled. He won’t overpower anybody and his spotty command jsut provides the ultimate catalyst for disaster. Granted, he has shaved a full BB/9 off his numbers from last year, but when his K:BB is 2:1 (6 K/9, 3 BB/9), he finds himself working out of the stretch and playing with fire for the majority of most of his short (5.89 IP per) starts. The Blue Jays are a team that is in a transitional phase, 1 A.D. (After Doc). They are not expected to contend right away, but they do have a glut of young talented arms that could become integral parts of the Jays’ mound future.
This brings us back to Cecil, a Maryland product selected 38th overall in 2007 (one pick after Brett Wallace, whom we acquired in the Halladay trade). Projected as a #2 starter on a contending team, he features a four pitch repertoire: low 90s fastball, mid 80s slider, high 70s-low 80s curve and a low 80s change. He has consistently struck out approximately a batter per innning in the minor leagues, while keeping his walk rate in the 3 BB/9 range. He mixes his pitches well, and kept the hitters guessing all night (8 K). The four runs allowed in six and two-thirds did not do him justice as two came on a pair of the few mistakes he made all night, a pair of homers. Outside of these blips, he was dominant against the team with the best record in the Majors.
Tallet is a valuable veteran on a young team, but Cecil is a promising young star. If Cecil pitches well the next two times out, and Tallet struggles in his return, Gaston and the gang will be forced to think.
That said – Carpe Diem Brett. Seize the day.