When the 2012 season opened for the Blue Jays in Dunedin, Florida; the only true “position battle” was for left field – waged between high-ceiling prospect Travis Snider and the incumbent Eric Thames. Thames was favoured in the role because he had played ~50 games there to end the season and been serviceable offensively, while showing poor defensive skills. As a result, it was made known that Travis Snider would have to essentially blow Thames out of the water to win the job. In the end, they had similar decent springs (spring stats are meaningless for a number of reasons, the investigation of which is worthy of a post in and of itself) and as a result, Thames won the job while Snider was shipped out to AAA Las Vegas.
In the month of April, Thames hit a strong .308/.361/.446 with a .345 wOBA and 118 wRC+, he had a passable 16.1 K% although his defense left much to be desired. Meanwhile, Snider hit .400/.477/.693 in 19 April games with essentially no home/road split. Unfortunately, Snider injured his wrist on April 26, ending his month.
This could not have come at a worse time for the Blue Jays as Eric Thames began to struggle in May. Badly. In May, Thames hit .193/.227/.301, with a .231 wOBA and 39 wRC+. Thames suffered a 73-point BABIP regression, but the major cause of Thames downfall was a sharp increase in strikeouts. In the month of May, Thames struck out in 31.6% of his plate appearances, the fourth-most in baseball for a qualified hitter over that span. As the month progressed, it became increasingly clear that Thames was simply over-matched in the Major Leagues. However, there was an apparent problem – Snider played seven games in the middle of May, looked awful (.095/.192/.286) then was shut down again with more wrist trouble on May 17, yet to play as of this writing.
After losing 14-3 to the Texas Rangers on Friday May 25 in a game where Brandon Morrow pitched merely two-thirds of an inning and losing 8-7 to Texas in 13 innings the following day, the bullpen was extremely taxed and roster moves were made, as detailed in prior posts, to construct an eight-man bullpen. Further complications arose when Kelly Johnson and Yunel Escobar suffered hamstring and groin injuries, respectively, in the Texas series that necessitated the recall of an extra infielder. At this point, the Blue Jays made an odd response to their situation – Thames was demoted to AAA and utility player Mike McCoy was recalled.
The oddity of the response stems from the upcoming schedule. The Blue Jays have today off after completing a three-game home sweep against Baltimore, play the Red Sox over the weekend and have Monday off before travelling to Chicago. Despite the lull in the schedule, manager John Farrell has indicated that the rotation will continue on full turns. This means that Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow will make their next starts on six days rest, while the back of the rotation will make each of their next two starts on five days rest. This is hardly a situation that necessitates carrying an eight-man bullpen and a three-man bench of a catcher, an infielder and an infielder who is hurting. There is no outfield help on the bench at this point and McCoy is the only true viable option, period. The other downside to the current roster is that the team’s best pinch-runner (who doesn’t hit RHP very well at 78 wRC+ career), Rajai Davis, is now in the everyday lineup with Snider hurt. It would have made much more sense to demote one of Jesse Chavez or Aaron Laffey, neither of whom are likely to pitch; and either stick with Thames until Snider is ready or bench him in favour of Davis, leaving a left-handed bat and OF available.
Recalling an infielder was a necessity but the manner in which it was done, not only seems illogical, but hurts the team in its’ current state.
UPDATE: Aaron Laffey was sent back to Las Vegas after tonight’s game. Prior to Friday’s game the Blue Jays will make a corresponding roster move, they announced. Adam Lind, who has hit .343/.442/.657/.467/183 in 43 plate appearances in Triple-A is a possible recall candidate, as is Vladimir Guerrero; although Alex Anthopoulos indicated he would see time in both AA and AAA to adjust to velocity and off-speed pitches, respectively.
UPDATE: A third candidate for recall is SS Adeiny Hechavarria. It has been thought that he is not ready offensively (.316/.358/.458/.367/118, but inflated by the league and park) and that he would not be brought up only on a long-term basis. However recent comments by Alex Anthopoulos that a visa issue had been resolved, thereby allowing Hechavarria to travel to Canada, coupled with the fact that he did not play tonight for Las Vegas are potential indicators that it could indeed by Hechavarria on his way to Toronto.
The Blue Jays made a series of roster moves today; placing Ben Francisco on the 15-Day DL with a hamstring strain (some have reported it as a tear), sending LHP Evan Crawford to AAA Las Vegas, calling up 1B David Cooper and moving Dustin McGowan to the 60-Day DL to open up a 40-man roster spot for right-handed reliever Ryota Igarashi. Cooper figures to spend most of his time on the bench with the Jays, spelling both Edwin Encarnacion and Yan Gomes at first base and designated hitter. However, it is Igarashi who is the more intriguing of the two call-ups, both for his previous results and the potential value he can provide.
Ryota Igarashi, initially of the New York Mets, posted walk rates of 8.2, 7.7 and 4.0 percent in his three Triple-A seasons, the last coming with the Blue Jays affiliate in 2012. The problem for Igarashi is that he completely loses the strike zone at the major league level. He has walked 14.2% of the batters he has faced in the Majors, contributing to a 1.71 WHIP. Given his Minor League walk rates, I fail to see how Igarashi’s control becomes such an issue in the Major Leagues.
Igarashi features a low-90s fastball, a curve and a high-80s splitter and has been effective against right-handers in his career. He has noticeably more issues with throwing strikes to lefties (55.5%) as opposed to righties at 60.2%. Igarashi’s success against left-handed batters has been limited by his inability to pitch inside to them. With erratic command of the curve, hitters are able to sit on a fastball and wait for a pitch to drive.
Against righties, however, Igarashi has no such problems. He spreads the ball around the strike zone with ease and is able to generate swings and misses with his splitter. Keeping this in mind, Igarashi won’t be a great reliever for the Jays, but deployed as a ROOGY, he could serve admirably, while allowing Frasor and Cordero to take longer appearances.
The Jays’ bullpen was supposed to be a strength of the club, but for much of the year it has been in flux. Sergio Santos has been injured, roles have shifted and other than Janssen and Oliver, the relievers have been erratic. Darren Oliver remains strong as a Jays LOOGY and having Ryota Igarashi as his piggyback right-handed complement may not be so bad after all.
UPDATE: Igarashi gave up two runs in one inning during Friday’s game and faced two batters, retiring neither, on Saturday. That’s One inning plus two batters (ten faced), five hits, two walks, four runs (all earned) and two strikeouts. Looking at the depleted bullpen and his hideous performance, he is a safe bet to head back o Vegas in time for Sunday’s game. Oops.
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!
When the Blue Jays traded longtime ace Roy “Doc” Halladay to the Philadelphia Phillies, they gave a crystal clear signal to the rest of the league. We are rebuilding, but we want a core to form a perennial contender, they said. The trade netted the Jays outfielder Michael Taylor (who was subsequently flipped to the Oakland Athletics for Brett Wallace), and Travis D’Arnaud, a catcher who looked able to provide stability to the position in a few years, which has been a major problem in the organization’s past. However, neither of these men were considered key components of the deal. The centrepiece of the deal – the part that made the trade click – was a right-handed pitcher named Kyle Drabek.
Kyle Drabek was considered by many to be the best pitching prospect in the Phillies’ organization. He comes from strong pedigree, being the son of 1990 NL Cy Young Award winner Doug Drabek and while hdoesn’t project to be quite as talented as his father, he is a valuable pitcher in his own right. Many scouts predict that he will be a #2 starter on a contending team if he can stay healthy (Tommy John surgery, missed 2008) and in view of his age, he could become even more.
Drabek is healthy now and pitching in Double-A for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, the Jays’ affiliate. However on the Fourth of July 2010, Drabek had a performance that had to make fans wonder, “Will he be in New Hampshire very long?” Drabek threw the first nine-inning no-hitter in Fisher Cats history (a seven-inning no-hitter was accomplished by a Fisher Cat several years ago), blanking the New Britain Rock Cats 5-0 while striking out three and walking two. He recorded another 13 outs on the ground and only allowed three line drives. A few more groundballs would have been nice, but overall the outing was extremely solid for Drabek, easily the best of his career.
However, the dominance did not end there. Five days later he went into Binghamton and shutout the Mets over six innings, fanning five and walking one. This extended Drabek’s scoreless streak to 19 1/3 IP. His record improved to 9-8 while his ERA fell to 3.03.
The only thing keeping Drabek in AA right now is Las Vegas’ nature as a severe hitter’s park. a few more starts like this though, and Drabek will force the Jays’ hand, with an eye on a rotation spot in mid-2011.
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.
One of the few pleasant surprises for the Jays in 2009 was the emergence of their young pitching. Injuries and departures opened up spots for many young arms in the system and they delivered admirably – only great performances from our kids saved us from being a last place team. While efforts from Scott Richmond, Marc Rzepczynski, and Brett Cecil were certainly commendable, perhaps no other rookie pitcher performed as well for us as a certain Ricky Romero.
Ricky Romero was drafted in 2005 in the first round by former Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi. He was taken prior to Troy Tulowitzki, who has developed into star with the Colorado Rockies. Tulowitzki’s stardom caused controversy when it was suggested that Ricciardi made a poor draft choice, especially because Russ Adams – the apparent shortstop of the future – was a failure defensively and lost his ability to hit well, forcing him back to the minor leagues. In 2007, while Tulowitzki was having a 24 home run season in Colorado, Romero was toiling away in the minor leagues and looking more like a bust every single day.
Then 2009 came. Romero struggled with his command early in Spring Training and appeared to be on a direct road to AAA Las Vegas. However after some training sessions with former pitching coach Brad Arnsberg, he righted the ship and made the big club after only one AAA start. He started with a flourish, winning two of his first three starts to the tune of a 1.71 ERA. Unfortunately, he was placed on the disabled list shortly after that start with an oblique strain he suffered sneezing while he was dancing to rap music. He lost his first two starts back, in late May, but proceeded to post seven straight quality starts (5-1) through the middle of July.
On July 17, Ricky Romero hit a wall.
He got hammered for five earned runs in Boston in under five innings, and was never as effective after that. At times he pitched serviceably over the remaineder of the season, but the Ricky Romero who looked like a legitimate #2 starter was gone. He went a pedestrian 6-5 the rest of the way with an ERA of 5.40 over 86.2 innings. Yuck. He made a few good starts, but otherwise looked exhauseted as hius velocity dropped and his command deserted him entirely. Up until the wall he was a fron runner for Rookie of the Year. In the balloting at the end of the season, he did not receive a single vote. He pitched about 30 more innings than any other season in his professional career and the fact that they were major league innings made them that much more stressful. Romero simply ran out of gas. Which brings us to a very important question. Which Romero is the real deal? The #2 starter or the Quad-A swingman?
This question becomes even more critical when one considers that Roy Halladay may well be leaving the Jays giving Romero the role of de facto ace of the staff. If Romero can keep his strong form throughout the yaer, the Jays won’t be spectacular in 2010, but okay. If not, the Jays are about to have a problem. A major problem.