Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Extraordinary Circumstances of Brian Tallet

The sight of Brian Tallet last night was more than a little surreal. It was a bit like running into an ex, where you're left just a bit slack-jawed, thinking "oh,'"

We'd never figured we'd see him much of Tallet again. Certainly not in a Jays uniform. Even after the trade that brought him back to the fold, we thought it was a long shot that he'd get back into the playing shape. We figured he'd head off into the sunset, and work on whatever side projects he and his fellow members of Broken Social Scene have planned for the Winter.

(That's him, second from the left...right?)

But there he was, his lanky frame once again draped in the familiar number 56 uniform, taking the ball in a most unfamiliar situation - looking for his first career save in six tries. We likely don't need to enlighten you as to what ensued, but in case you're reading this twelve years from now in some internet archive, Tallet basically threw the ball anywhere but in the strike zone, giving up two walks, two hits and two runs while getting just one out.

It would be easy to bury Tallet - and people on Twitter and elsewhere were calling for him to be DFAed before his cleats even left the playing surface - but we'd be somewhat charitable towards him given the extraordinary circumstances. Tallet hadn't pitched a big league game in almost two months after dealing with serious kidney issues, but Jays interim manager Don Wakamatsu had few other options than to run him out after having his pen run ragged in the series against the Rays.

When Casey Janssen couldn't go back out after a clean ninth, Wakamatsu basically had a choice between lefty Rommie Lewis and Tallet to go out and face a lineup full of right-handed bats heading into extra innings. Given that it was Tallet's first game back, holding Lewis for any subsequent extra innings was probably the right choice, unpalatable though it may have seemed.

We're not saying that Tallet's is an arm that we want to many more times this season. But we'll cut him some slack before calling for his immediate release. It wasn't the ideal situation for anyone involved.

UPDATE, 3:52 PM: And now, he's gone again. If we hadn't watched last night's game, we'd barely believe that he was here at all. We probably would have told you that you were mistaken, and it was just someone who looked like him.

We feel terrible for Tallet.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Leaving Las Vegas? Not Likely

By chance last night, we noticed that Kyle Drabek would get the call to start the Las Vegas 51's game versus the Sacramento River Cats. Given the perpetual fixation on the future among Jays fans these days, we dialed up the game to see what the young pitcher had to offer should he merit a September call-up.

It took about 15 minutes to realize that Kyle Drabek probably isn't getting that call.

Drabek had an okay first inning, giving up a homer to Oakland farmhand Chris Carter. It seemed at some times as though he wasn't getting calls at the top of the zone, but we can't remember a pitcher who has excelled by living up there for any amount of time.

By the second frame, though, Drabek's delivery began to unravel, as he looked to be exerting a lot of extra effort throwing across his body. A soft single was followed by a walk, then a botched 3-6-1 double play in which Adeiny Hechavarria threw high and Drabek hit the ground after reaching to make the catch.

From there on, it was a scene from which you wanted to avert your eyes. Another soft single, then three consecutive walks with Drabek's delivery becoming increasingly erratic and almost random from pitch to pitch. He uncorked a wild pitch. His limbs flew about on each delivery like a shaken sock monkey.

The third inning started with a tough play to Hechavarria, who rushed a throw on what would be ruled a single. Once again, Drabek looked frazzled, loading the bases so that they could be cleared by Quadruple-A infielder Wes Timmins (who?) with one swing of the bat. Escaping the inning was modest achievement.

Drabek's final line: 3.0 IP, 8 hits, 9 runs (all earned), 4 BBs, 4 Ks, with a wild pitch and two homers. Frankly, Drabek was outpitched by teammate Jason Lane, a 1B/DH, who came in to toss two shutout innings with just one hit.

None of this is to write off Drabek. As we noted on our Twitter feed throughout the outing, he may be at the end of his physical rope at this point in the season. (Though that doesn't explain the track record of bad outings throughout his Triple-A assignment.)

In the end, we were left wondering if Drabek is just too gassed to maintain a consistent delivery, or if he's never developed that skill. Moreover, we'd be shocked if the Jays were to call on his services next week after the rosters expand, unless it were to get him more face time with the pitching coaches in Toronto.

Too Much Glove Love for Adeiny?
As mentioned above, Hechavarria did not overwhelm us in the way that he has others with his defense. (And believe us when we tell you that we were open to be wowed.) The allegedly slick-fielding Cuban made three bad throws and dropped an easy grounder, scuttling what should have been an easy double play.

Granted, this is our first opportunity to watch him on something other than YouTube clips, so you can apply a shiny, yellow "Small Sample Size" warning sticker on this observation. And we'd also note that his reactions off the bat look pretty great, which makes us think that he'll get to plenty of balls. We just hope he works on setting his feet a bit better on throws over his full season in Triple-A next year.

One last observation on Hechavarria: He plays bigger than his body. He may look small and wiry, but he's by no means a scrappy, slap-hitter. Imagine having Otis Nixon taking cuts like Edgar Martinez, and you might have something close to Adeiny.

Twisting Roads Through the Minors
We liked the cut of his jib, and we knew Manny Mayorson's name rang a bell for us, so we looked him up mid-game. Turns out, he's been with the Jays's system for most of the past 11 years, making his professional debut as a 17 year-old in 2000 with the now-defunct Medicine Hat Blue Jays. Among Mayorson's teammates that year was an 18 year-old Dustin McGowan, who scuffled to a 6.48 ERA and 2.04 WHIP.

Along the way, Mayorson made stops in Auburn, Charleston, Dunedin and New Hampshire in the Jays system, before spending a year and change in the Marlins' system. He returned to the Jays in 2009, and has played the past two seasons in Vegas. With the ability to play around the infield and OBPs of .362 and .370 over the past two Triple-A seasons, we wouldn't mind seeing Mayorson get a shot at cracking the big leagues to play the Mike McCoy role next year. (Maybe that's overly sentimental. Still.)

Also taking an odd path through the Jays system is backup catcher Luis Hurtado, who entered the game to give Ryan Budde a break. The 22 year-old Venezuelan has now caught for Low-A Vancouver and Lansing, High-A Dunedin as well as the Triple-A 51's, but has played a grand total of 12 games across all four levels. Where it gets weird though is that Hurtado played a total of just five games last year (at Low-A Auburn), and just 13 games across three levels the preceding year. Is Hurtado an emergency option who is brought out only when all other receivers are indisposed? There must be a story to this.

A Quick Thought on the Big Club
To bookend the post, we'd underscore Ricky Romero's grace under pressure tonight. Though he fell behind 2-0 after two batters, we loved how Romero continued to pitch aggressively and throw strikes while maintaining his composure.

Though his last few outings have not been as stellar as much of the past month, we've been impressed by Romero's ability to hang in through some tough innings and continue to pitch calmly and with purpose. While his emotions seem to get taken out on his cap and glove or on the dugout upholstery in between innings, his delivery remains solid and steady, even when he doesn't seem to have his best stuff.

The whole discussion of who is an "Ace" is a little tiresome, but we're definitely getting accustomed to having Romero's turn come up when the Blue Jays need a win. (Now if only he could do this against the Red Sox...)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Friday Tweet Bag - Your Tweeted Questions Answered with Aplomb

There's a heaping sackful of tweeted questions sent along by our devoted followers (and some people who just spammed us with tomfoolery), so let's get to answering them straightaway. We wouldn't want to induce boredom and dazed admiration of distant construction equipment in anyone...again.

Leading off, asks: If you had to overpay for one free agent, is it Prince, C.J. Wilson, or Jose Reyes? (Assuming Pujols is not an option.)

The key here is the word "overpay". We'd love to bring Wilson or Prince or Reyes into the fold, but the market for these scarce premium players means that teams will have to blow their minds out with longer terms and more money. Given everything that's going right with the way that the Jays are deliberately building from the foundation of the organization towards long-term and sustained success, we wouldn't want the broken down version of any of those players weighing down the team's flexibility seven or eight years down the road.

Having sucked all the fun out of your question, we'll say that as the days grow colder and the wind begins to offer reminders of the long, cold offseason ahead, we hear it whisper a name..."Prince"...

Onward, before the poetry gets too adolescent in here. The always dependable asks: Worried about Lind for next year. Is he good enough to play daily for a contending team, or maybe a platoon player?

Four weeks ago, we might not even have cast a second thought towards Prince Fielder, because the notion of paying him $20 million (or more) seven or eight years down the road seems like lunacy. But the more that one watches Adam Lind struggle, the more that we realize that the hot month that he had earlier this season is the aberration, and that he's likely not the long-term option at first. In his last 253 games with the Blue Jays over the past two seasons, Lind has an fWAR of -0.1, and an OPS of .728. (For the sake of reference: Lyle Overbay's numbers over the same two seasons are +0.5 and .715.)

It pains us to say this as someone who roots for him to succeed, but Adam Lind is not good enough to play daily for an AL East team with notions of contending. (Though we're reasonably sure that he'd rake for the D-Backs, if they still have a need next season.)

Smores! asks: Would you change up the hitting coach in the offseason, if you were in John Farrell's chair? The pitching coach?

If you were to dig back through our blog, you'd probably find a few "fire the hitting coach!" posts. "The hitters are too timid! They're not patient enough! They're failing at a rate of 70%...toss the bum that makes them strike out!"

These days, we're not even so sure of the extent to which the hitting coach or pitching coach really help. Maybe a lot, or maybe not much at all. But given that admitted lack of insight, we'd feel uncomfortable campaigning to hurl someone out the door. We'd certainly like to see the Jays work the count more often, because we have a notion sometimes that the hitters basically walk to the plate looking for a fastball they can pull. Is that strategy coming from Dwayne Murphy? Or is that the team that's been assembled? And why is it that the Jays' lineup is like a Snackables pack for left-handed junkballers?

Chad Mottola, the hitting coach of the Jays' Triple-A affiliate in Las Vegas, has earned rave reviews from the farmhands for his work on their swing mechanics. (He's apparently transformed Adeiny Hechevarria from Dave Concepcion to Alex Rodriguez overnight.) If there was a perceived need for change, the Jays have a decent candidate in the wings. But will it matter?

He is the eggman! asks: if the jays offer serious money to pujols or fielder do you think they would turn it down bec of T.O. Not being a great market?

Okay, we could start by accosting you for the lack of an avatar on Twitter...because,really? It's that hard to find a photo of yourself, or something funny or clever to represent you?

But on the other hand, we could just as well give you the gears over the substance of your question, because this constant poormouthing of Toronto drives us nuts. The city is essentially the third biggest media market in baseball, has TV ratings that are the envy of most other teams, and a base of corporate support in the community that provides the franchise with strong fundamentals, regardless of the vagaries of attendance or the team's fortunes.

(And, as Maury Brown from The Biz of Baseball reported yesterday, the Jays' attendance is up so far 11.5% over last season, with Yankees and Red Sox series remaining.)

People need to stop thinking that players don't want to play here. It's a false assumption. The truth is that when the Jays have wanted a top free agent and were willing to pay the market price for them (B.J. Ryan, A.J. Burnett, Frank Thomas), they got them. There's nothing wrong with the market, and frankly, there's a lot that's going right.

Briefly, more tweets from the tweeters!

asks: who has cooler sideburns, Cecil or Thames?

Thames, and it's not close. Cecil's facial hair and ridiculous fauxhawks have gotten way out of hand.

asks: WIll Kelly Johnson be wooed to re-sign with Jays by Bautista/Lawrie dance moves?

I'll be square with you, son. Kelly Johnson doesn't strike me as the kind of guy who gets wooed by dance moves. Unless J.P. Arencibia and Colby Rasmus were to engage in some celebratory boot-scoot-boogeying. Kickin' up mud!

asks: I was trying 2 decide which position player 2 buy a jersey 4 last night when Lawrie hit a homer...was that a sign?

The universe speaks to you so clearly, and you need me to translate for you? Of course it was! Also, since we're acting as your go-between, the universe is telling you to get a number 13 jersey with "Gordie Dougie" on the back.

asks: what is a greater need for next years jays: starting pitching or bats?

Pitching. It's always pitching. You can stumble your way into a halfway decent lineup, but the mechanics of the game dictate that you have to have someone go out and throw 100 pitches and keep you in the game night in and night out. Also, pitchers come and go and flame out quickly, so you always need more stockpiled.

asks: Crystall ball time: 5 years from now, who's most likely to still be with the Jays? Snider, Escobar, Lawrie, or Rasmus?

We've said it before. We're not a soothsayer. Or an empath, or a vampire or a faerie or were-panther. (Clearly, we're watching too much True Blood. Groan.) But the answer is Lawrie, because he's the youngest, and likely has the highest ceiling of the four.

asks: How good is Kenen Bailli and why can't I find an answer to that question anywhere?

We honestly had no idea what you meant until we looked it up. We're not about to make a judgment based on four games in the Florida State League, but he's 26 years old, so we're not about to put a ton of stock into his future.

And that's about all the time we have for this week. Hopefully, you're still awake. Our apologies to those whose questions we didn't get around to answering, but please keep sending those cards and letters, and we'll get around to them sooner or later.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

You Won't Have to Wait for Kelly Johnson

We mentioned to a friend the other night that a trade must be coming. It's just been way too quiet. And here it is.

That Aaron Hill would be shipped off after another in a series of underwhelming seasons is not a great surprise. We now have nearly two years worth of evidence that he's simply not the player that he once was, and at the age of 29, he was unlikely to recover those former glories.

Oddly, we'd been sketching out a post that observed some stats through 127 games, and had included this:

Aaron Hill Is Second Best at Second
It was completely within the realm of the possible that Aaron Hill would continue to struggle this year after a sub-par 2010. What we never would have imagined is a year that was worse. Hill's OBP is around the same as last year's (.271 in '10, .270 in '11 so far), but he's dropped 81 points of slugging. His fWAR sits at -0.5, which essentially puts him into a category where any minor-league callup would be an upgrade.

Speaking of which, Hill (429 plate appearances) trails John McDonald (182 PAs) this season in OBP, SLG, isolated power, and wOBA, and WAR. And if you need more context, you can roll in the 2010 numbers, and Hill still trails Johnny Mac in all of those categories.

With both Hill and McDonald gone, we turn our attention towards Kelly Johnson, whose own disappointing year (.209/.287/.412/.699) still sees him with a wOBA (.310) better than the two players for whom he was traded. Johnson posted an .865 OPS last year with 26 homers, and has posted positive UZR/150 numbers at second over the past two seasons. In terms of what gets pencilled into the lineup each day from here through the end of the season, the Jays came out ahead.

Johnson's name had long been the focus of alleged interest by the Jays, with a notion that he would possibly be at the top of their offseason shopping list when the time came to replace the incumbent Hill. Jumping the gun on this likely means that the Jays will be able to get a better look at Johnson in the proper context in the short term, with a view towards a deal heading into next season.

Add to this the fact that all three players are free agents, but that Johnson is the most likely to net a compensatory draft pick if he leaves, and you see how this deal works now and in the future.

There's more to write about this deal, and we'll double back tomorrow to consider the two veterans who now leave the organization (at least temporarily.) In interim, here's the thought that's been running through our mind so far: There's likely to be as many tears shed over John McDonald's departure as there are over Hill's, and we're not sure that we can entirely disagree with the thought.

If we were offered one or the other back for some unknown reason, we'd likely choose McDonald, and not because of any abiding affection for his gritty scrappiness. It would be because we think he might be the better player.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Loving Luis Perez and Other Weekend Reflections

Okay, hands up all those of you who had figured in March of this year that Luis Perez would pitch 50 innings with the Jays this year. No one? Okay...How many figured he might get a cup of coffee?

Well then. Who among you knew who the hell Luis Perez was coming into this season? (And if you're getting all like Horshack, straining to raise your arm until you throw out your shoulder, shouting "Ow ow ow...Mr. Kot-Tao! I knew who he was", then just stop. You didn't. You saw him on the 40-man roster and thought: "Who dat?")

Perez' start yesterday, impressive though it may have been, was far too small a snapshot for us to draw any real conclusions. But in a year in which the Jays have required 11 pitchers to take the ball at the start of the game, Perez has been a pleasantly surprising asset. He's shown himself to be a respectable arm who can throw hard and down in the zone and eat bullpen innings, and to get through 162 games, you need someone dependable to do just that.

One more question: Who figured that on August 22, Luis Perez would be rocking the same 0.3 WAR as Jason Frasor, Frank Francisco, and Shawn Camp? And that he would have produced more value than Jon Rauch, Octavio Dotel and Kyle Drabek combined?

Oh, of course you did, smarty pants.

Frankly, on Franky Frank
When Frank Francisco couldn't answer the call yesterday afternoon, we saw mostly joyous exaltations of Casey Janssen and jovial ribbing of the Jays sorta-not-really closer. And yet, it bears mentioning that Francisco's output since his terrible outing in Cleveland on July 7th has been pretty exemplary. Just one run allowed in 13.1 IPs with 11 strikeouts and one walk. Hitters posted a .204 OBP against him, and he hasn't allowed an inherited runner to score.

So before you make your comments about how it won't be a big loss to replace Franky with whatever random organizational arm we can scrounge up, think about how that tomato can is going to replace those numbers as opposed to a couple of disaster outings in the distant annals of the season.

Kyle Davies Is a Blue Jay
A number of you flipped this news to us on the weekend, and the weird thing is that when we'd heard that the Royals were giving him the heave-ho, we had this sneaking suspicion that the Jays would pick him up. We won't embarass ourself with some sort of rationalization of how he's an arm that might have something left and worth a flyer, because he's really been terrible since his not-awful 2008 season.

Then we reach for out standard "...but never know...", only to be reminded of how Jo-Jo Reyes' opponents have OPSed .910 against him since his rebirth as an Oriole.

And yet...He's an arm. You never know.

House of Grim
Is there any more depressing sight than watching your team struggle against the A's in Oakland? Watching as much of the games as we could (usually on some errand-induced delay), it was just a depressing vibe to see the Jays whiff and pop up into the expansive foul territory of the deserted Alameda County Mausoleum.

For whatever history that team has in that market, they've got to get out of that stadium and out of that town. The San José A's has a ring to it.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Whither Aaron Hill?

I hate that there's even a conversation about potential second basemen for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2012 and beyond.

It guts me, it really does.

A homegrown player signed to a team-friendly (ie: option laden) contract, it was but a few season ago that Hill authored "Silver Slugger" to his resume, adding to his growing reputation as an excellent defender. It was also but a few seasons ago that Hill was seen as a leader of the team, wistfully encouraging the youngsters in camp to take advantage of the opportunity given to them and start dreaming of a career as a Blue Jay.

And now what.

I'm not sure if Hill looks more lost at the dish or in the dugout, but in both cases... he's not the same guy. Gone is the line drive stroke that propelled 62 balls over fences in the seasons 2009-10. Never an OBP machine, Hill's line now resembles a mediocre batting average. Defensively, well.... if defense were all that mattered at the position, we'd probably be seeing a lot more of Johnny Mac.

The Jays need Hill to be more than Johnny Mac. With all due respect to the Prime Minister of Defence himself, of course.

Perhaps as noticeable as his struggles at the dish is Hill's presence in the dugout. Clearly I'm reading far, far too much into this kind of thing (but if I didn't.... I would never have anything to blog about)... but it's hard not to notice that with all the excitement around these New Jays, Hill fades into the background. He`s not dancing any jigs with Jose, nor does he share a secret handshake with Edwin.

That's hard for me to take, quite frankly. I wish I could be the kind of dude who looks at the numbers and says "Pffft. Aaron Hill? Send him out!" But I can't. Maybe it's the loyalist in me, I don't know. Hill has invested a lot in this organization; would you dare tell me he didn't leave guaranteed money on the table when he signed that extension? And that extension was signed in the days before all this excitement; the future direction was undefined, but all Aaron Hill knew was that he wanted to be a part of it.

So you'll excuse me if I'm not so quick to toss the incumbent second baseman out with the bathwater. I want him to succeed. As a Blue Jay.

Something tells me, though, he only has a few months left to make his case.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Old Voting Habits Die Hard

If you consider yourself a vaguely progressive baseball fan - and in spite of our alleged lack of knowledge about the sport and our tenuous grasp of OPS, we'd say we are - then there's a fair bit of satisfaction to be taken from the development of the discussion around the game. It's not to say that the entirety of the baseball world has shifted to a new view of the game, and there are some sticklers who will make the case for intangibles that only they seem able to quantify.

But generally, the old saws have less relevance. The best example of this likely being Felix Hernandez' 2010 Cy Young Award, which he won easily in the BBWAA vote, in spite of months of whingeing and worrying by the Nerditocracy over the reaction to his low pitcher-win totals. When we saw how overwhelming the support of Felix was in the writers' vote, we figured that it augured well for the future of the end-of-season award discussion.

(Actually, there's a contradictory argument that we could make in the case of the Cy Young, which is that the valiant battle of a great pitcher on a bad team has started to be an aspect of the narrative for the winner. Before Felix, Zach Greinke won for the dead last and awful 2009 Kansas City Royals, and Cliff Lee won for the .500-in-the-AL-Central Indians. The last AL Cy winner whose team made the playoffs was C.C. Sabathia in 2007, while the NL went four straight years of awarding non-playoff pitchers before that tall ginger dude with the Phillies won last year. But never mind this for now. Pretend we didn't go here.)

If voters seem to have figured out how to pick the best pitcher in recent years, the path to choosing the Most Valuable Player remains muddied in the axiomatic knowledge of old.

(A quick note on that term, because we use it often: When we say someone is using axiomatic knowledge, we mean that they are basically relying on wisdom which has been carried forth for years, but has not really been examined. So when our financial advisor is saying "It's a good time to buy low", it's because that's the homespun wisdom that was passed to him and to his predecessors for years. And yet, the "buy-low opportunities" are the same. Like the ones that come right before the worldwide debt implosion. But we digress yet again.)

The first and most basic question that writers and pundits seem to ask when talking about the MVP is: "Is his team in contention." They do this because of the notion that if the player were truly valuable or the most deserving of recognition, his team would be in contention. Being good enough to take your team on your shoulders and lug them into the post-season is the single most important determining factor in the selection of the MVP.

It's also rubbish. But what's concerning is how the notion seems to have maintained some currency among people who you would otherwise imagine to be a progressive baseball fan.

A great example of this is the recent "blog entry" (hate that term) by ESPN's Eric Karabell, the host of the Baseball Today podcast. While Eric is a numbers guy by trade (his initial expertise was in fantasy baseball), he quickly falls into this trope when listing out the top 10 choices for the AL and NL MVP races.

In discussing the NL race, this is why Karabell says he knocks back Troy Tulowitzki to third on his ballot:

"Sure, it’s not Troy Tulowitzki’s fault that the Colorado Rockies likely will miss the playoffs, but I can’t vote for him when there are so many other deserving candidates. "

Wait...what exactly? You're saying that he's had a great season, and his numbers bear out his value to his team, and yet others are more deserving because they happen to be playing on a team that is better situated to make the playoffs? With all of the metrics that we have at our disposal - and Karabell snorkels through these numbers daily - you're still saying that the most significant demonstration of individual value is the success of the player's team?

This is particularly loopy when it comes time to look at the AL MVP race. Karabell (and we don't mean to pick on him...he's only the exemplar of the thought process) lists José Bautista fifth on his fictional ballot because:

"...his team is certainly not looking like it will play meaningful October games."

So who jumps ahead of Bautista because of this apparently striking deficiency in his game? Three Red Sox and a Yankee. Players who play in stacked lineups with bats behind them and ahead of them, and who could probably get run over by a truck and still have their team in the race.

But is this not an individual award, and should it not be judged just as the Cy Young has? Why should their middling teams disqualify Bautista or Tulowitzki? Why is an individual award so hung up on the state of the team? Is it Tulo's fault that Jorge De La Rosa got hurt? Or that his team cashed out on the season in July? Is it Bautista's fault that he spent months with Corey Patterson hitting ahead of him and Juan Rivera's remains putrefying behind him?

This is absurd, but the axiom might have been understandable five years ago when we didn't have the immediate access to metrics that attempt to solve the very question of player value. But the bad days are over, and the bright light of reason has allegedly shone through in the form of these metrics, such as Fangraphs' Wins Above Replacement. And WAR clearly shows José Bautista at the top of the heap.

Not that WAR (or its predecessor, VORP) are necessarily the final point of analysis. You can probably dig in and find aspects of a player's performance that you'd prefer to emphasize. Still, the entire purpose of that sort of metric is to establish the relative value of players, and to look at it explicitly (as Karabell says he does) and then to make the decision to counterbalance that rational knowledge with some old, chaw-stained notion about what a real MVP should be is the height of incongruous and tortured logic.

There's a lot of writing about baseball. Sometimes, it's okay to let the numbers take precedence over the story you've become accustomed to telling.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Blue Jays Twitter Power Rankings - Second Half Edition!

It's been a while since we sorted the social media output of the fellas on the Jays' active roster, so we figured it was about time to reassess and re-rank the lot of them. Who's had a late season surge, and who's lapsed into late season doldrums? And more importantly: Who doesn't love Power Rankings? Noooo-body!

(Wow. Lastman's Bad Boy reference just fell out of nowhere there. I need coffee.)

1. J.P. Arencibia () - Followers: 40,017; Last Rank: 1
All hail the Jays' King of the Thumbs! Hangs onto the top spot through a combination of persistence (1,571 total tweets), and newsworthiness (his tweets provided go to quotes in the midst of the sign stealing story.) Creator of new and amusing hashtags (,, .) Provides frequent Family Feud and CMT Mornings updates. Authoritative source on all that is .

2. Brandon Morrow () - Followers: 23,339; Last Rank: 2
Made valiant run at the top spot with post-start tweet jamboree last night. Apologized to player he beaned in the game. Seems quietly funny. ("Jersey Shore time with ...the fist pumping should help me get loose for tomorrow!") Squints-tribute ringleader. Only Blue Jay currently following yours truly.

3. Ricky Romero () - Followers: 42,243; Last Rank: 4
Earnest tweeter. If there were an emoticon for towel-waving-rah-rah-let's-go-boys! (and there should be), he'd use it often. Frequent straight man to Arencibia's monkeyshines. Far too generous with shout-outs and RTs.

4. Mark Teahen () - Followers: 15,480; Last Rank: Unranked
New Jay now leads the team in career tweets with 1,810. Active and funny. ("Baseball from a ballgame is a souvenir forever but so are the shame & embarrassment that come with sprinting tackling & diving 2 retrieve it.") Answers a fair number of tweeted questions, and asks for local advice from followers. Set up account for his dog, but stole it back for himself. Vaguely Canadian.

5. José Bautista () - Followers: 113,265; Last Rank: 5
Bilingual tweeter. Has taken up the food-obsessed #FEASTMODE slack from the demoted Lunchbox. Good source for Jays travel news. Ringleader. Cajoled other Jays into the Twitterverse. Unremittingly positive. Él no necesita un hombre con una camisa blanca.

6. Brett Lawrie () - Followers: 31,994; Last Rank: 7
Wooo! Lots of emphatic exclamation! As pumped on his mobile device as he is in the dugout. Lots of strong high-fives for teammates. Presumably spikes his phone after particularly awesome tweet. Awful grammar and spelling.

7. Jesse Litsch () - Followers: 19,627; Last Rank: 8
Strong Twitter showing, though emo fits threatening to quit downgrade him at least one slot. Generally, leans towards the inspirational. Still has the problem with the run-on sentences sometimes never place for commas or a second sentence too much to say alright lets do this!

8. José Molina (@) - Followers: 7,566; Last Rank: Unranked
Probably much better than we realize, but is primarily in Spanish. Google Translate doesn't seem to do it justice. Loves his brother. A Twitter account to watch in the coming months.

9. Edwin Encarnacion () - Followers: 7,168; Last Rank: Unranked
Just getting started. Account is as quiet and reserved as the man himself.

Deactivated List - Brett Cecil: Sadly, Squints isn't sharing his thoughts anymore. Something about a virus.

In the Minors - Travis Snider (@): Will jump back towards the top of the list when he returns in September. Still enjoying meats.

On the Rise - Many Jays minor leaguers are frequent tweeters, and worth a follow, if only to realize how long their bus rides are. They include: Deck McGuire (), Chad Jenkins (@), Justin Jackson (@), Daniel Norris (@), Mike McDade (@), and Drew Hutchinson (), just to name a few.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tuesday TweetBag - You Tweet The Questions, We Blog The Answers

It's been way too long since we trolled for your questions, and to be honest, we kinda miss you all. Unfortunately, brewing up a TweetBag for a Friday afternoon in the Summer generally leads to the post landing with an echoing thud of indifference, as the rest of you are already blasting your way up the highway and out of town at that point. (Or maybe you've just snuck out to a patio for extended "strategic consultations"...)

Oh well, whatever, never mind...On with this edition!

gets straight to the point: Is there a silver lining to Beede not signing or should we have ourselves a good cry?

Here's the positive coming out of last night's draft signing deadline: The Jays signed 11 of their top 13 picks, in a year in which they were as aggressive as any in their approach to the draft. That's not half bad. And where they missed was with Beede, a guy who the Jays knew from the outset would be a tough sign. But because it was a protected pick, they get it back for the 2012 draft, so they can reload and take another shot.

Maybe the Jays come to regret not taking him, but considering that they appeared to be $1 million apart in their numbers, the Jays should feel no shame. Beede seemingly had a sense that the Jays were going to blow their brains out to make sure they kept him, and that $3.5 million seemed like a bit much. The Jays were right to walk away.

Onward ho! (was that a particularly good vintage for the Leafs?) asks: With the meteoric rise of Travis D'arnaud, is J.P. Arencibia's long term future with another team?

No doubt, d'Arnaud has had a nice year at Double-A New Hampshire (.326/.393/.558, with 31 doubles and 17 homers), and he'll be poised to move up next year. But as the Jays did with Arencibia, we assume that d'Arnaud will get a full year at Triple-A to fine tune his catching and game calling skills, and to have fun jacking balls hither and yon across the American Southwest in the PCL. That basically gives the Jays another full year to figure out what they have in JPA, what the catching market looks like, and where there are strengths and weaknesses with the rest of their roster. Come back and ask us a year from now, and we'll have a better answer.

And another thing! (and several others) asks: Is a Jay's AA farm team in Ottawa realistic and do you think it would be sustainable?

This is question springs up because of a piece from the Ottawa Citizen's Ken Gray, who notes that there are discussions about bringing a Double-A team to Ottawa for 2013 or 2014. We've generally poo-pooed such talk as merely that: Talk. But there are enough details here to warrant consideration of the possibility that maybe - just maybe - an affiliated team may return to the Capital City.

Would it work? If it is affiliated with the Jays, we think it would, as a whole new appreciation for prospects has developed amongst the average baseball fan over the past five years. We could see drawing in Jays fans from across Ontario to help supplement the Ottawa-faithful (who likely can't support a team by themselves.)

There are a few issues that would need to be resolved, including a fair bit of work to bring the former JetForm Park/Lynx Stadium back into game shape after it has been allowed to go to seed in recent years. The batters eye is tattered and torn, and the weeds have overtaken the area behind the outfield fence. Plus, the scoreboard will likely need to be replaced...and sports fans in Ottawa know how agonizing the wait for a scoreboard can be. In addition, parking issues at the Stadium will need to be resolved, given the large chunk of the lot that was sold off to developers. If there is a percentage of your fans who will be coming from away to see the future Jays, they'll need a place to park.

But we're getting WAY ahead of ourselves here. There's many a slip between a cup and a lip.

And there's more gold in them there TweetBag hills! asks: important do you think Thome's 600 dingers are to ending the stigma on power hitters in relation to steroids?

It's funny, because there is a large swath of players - who never tested positive for nothin' - whose achievements get lumped in with a bunch of "cheaters" (there's that word again), and who may have a hard time getting into the Hall. On the other hand, we can't help but wonder if there will be a pendulum swing in the other direction, where a number of sullied players - McGwire, Palmeiro, Bonds, Clemens - get in because a new generation of writers takes a less sanctimonious view of their workout regimes.

As for Thome: Our first instinct was to assume that his years as a DH would hurt his chances of getting in on the first ballot, but another look at his other career numbers (.403 OBP, .558 SLG over 21 seasons, and 31st all-time in Win Probability Added) along with his high Weighted Good Guy Likeability Smiling Factor leads us to believe that he'll get his call in the first year.

Will that open the door for home run hitters emerging from the steroid era? Maybe. Frank Thomas comes to mind as the guy who might benefit by drafting in behind Thome's slipstream. Unfortunately, former Jays Fred McGriff (493 HRs) and Carlos Delgado (473) are probably too far behind in that crucial career home run tally to benefit from this presumed openness to 90's/00's power hitters.

One more, because this one is fun! ask: why doesn't the rogers center provide fans with replays (close plays, a strike zone) its drives me crazy. No wonder fans stay hm

We get where you're coming from, because we've had that moment of seeing a close play on the field, and instinctively looking to the big screen in centrefield only to be met with a static image of the next batter. It's maddening. Of course, if you ask the fans of the 29 other teams, they'll offer up a similar frustration. We're not sure if it is codified somewhere, but there seems to be a general agreement between the teams and the league that they'll not run close plays on the scoreboard, and certainly won't show balls and strikes. Maybe, as has been suggested, this is done to spare the umpires from further scorn. As if there could be any more.

But we'd offer two thoughts on this to temper your disappointment: Firstly, we're not sure that getting the replays would actually contribute greatly to the fan experience at the park. While some might be able to look at a close call and with a genuine level of critical detachment, a larger percentage of fans will see what they want to see, which is whatever favours the home side. We're not sure that airing the replay does much more than inflame the crowd.

Secondly, we can see a time coming soon where passionate and technologically savvy fans such as yourself arrive at the game armed with their tablet of choice, and an MLB app that will allow them to track Pitch F/X data (and Hit F/X data?), as well as give them access to replays at their fingertips. WiFi at the ballpark might help to speed this along, though 30,000 fans with smartphones and tablets might quickly overload the system.

Speaking of overloaded, that's about all we can handle for this edition of the TweetBag, though we'll be back soon to answer more of your tweeted questions. Be sure to comment below to let us know if our statistical acumen passed muster.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Attention Sportsnet Viewers!

Hey kids! Have you found your way here through the links on's informative and incisive Q&A with handsome Blue Jays blogger, The Tao of Stieb? Well, if so, welcome. Have a look around, and feel free to share your comments in the appropriate receptacles.

If you've come to the Tao blog through bookmarks or RSS feeds (do people still do RSS?), then please visit the link above, and get to know your interweb posting pal that much better. And please come back often, as you'll find more sublime content (both mine, and that of regular contributors like Michael Grange and Shi Davidi) on Sportsnet's MLB page on a regular basis.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Now more than ever

So is this the kind of ballclub you can get behind or what?

Oh sure, there are still maddening stretches of inexplicably flat baseball these Blue Jays tend to fall into, but I'm willing to chalk that up to growing pains. For now. Because this is a talented roster that has nowhere to trend but up.


To these eyes, there is far more chance for even greater upside in this lineup than there is downside. And that's exciting. For the first time in a long time, these Jays have a roster stacked with talented youth who's best is yet to come (Lawrie, Arencibia, Rasmus, Thames? Sure, Thames), unquestioned superstars (Bautista, Escobar? Sure, Escobar)... and only a few question marks.

It's a roster perfectly built to growing together, and that is no coincidence. The goal of Alex Anthopoulos has always been to put together a team built for the long-term, with a stacked farm system ready to plug holes through promotion or for use in trades. That aspect is definitely in place.

So is the roster close? Now more than ever, I think that it is. Other than time and experience, perhaps the one thing the club really needed was a rallying cry......

Well then.

Look friends, it would be easy & convenient to rant on about the American media not wanting to attribute the successes of a player (Bautista) on the league's only Canadian-based team to hard work and talent. But this isn't about jingoistic baseball rhetoric. It's about the league and those covering it taking notice of an upstart team getting ready to challenge the big dogs of the AL East.

It sure seems, since the story "broke" concerning The Man in White (this whole thing is stupid!), that the Toronto line-up has, in response, got their collective backs up and are responding to the negative attention with a massive F-U.... and that's a good thing.

You think our best player is PED'd up? F-U. You think we're stealing signs? F-U. You think we celebrate inappropriately? F-U. Jerkball, baby. Jerkball.

Much like the Rays, the Jays are now on the scene. It's only a matter of time before the barking gets even louder, and once again.... that's a good thing.

Friday, August 12, 2011

A Story of Bold Venture

In which two bloggers (yours truly and Chris Jones, of Esquire, Grantland and his own blog, Son of Bold Venture) discuss “Signs of trouble in Toronto,” the ESPN: The Magazine story by Amy K. Nelson and Peter Keating about allegations that the Jays steal signs at the Rogers Centre.


This will be fun: a little journalism, a little baseball... Someday we'll be perfect? That day is today, my friend.

Why don't we start off by getting our biases out of the way up front?

I cash a monthly paycheck (paycheque) from ESPN for my work at Grantland. I also know Amy. I wouldn't say we're best friends, but we hung out as part of a larger group during the World Series in 2008—so much rain!—and I like her and respect her work very much. (I should also say here that I haven't spoken to her about this story, and I want to make it clear that the things I write here are my thoughts alone. In no way am I speaking on behalf of Amy or ESPN.)

I also grew up a hardcore Jays fan, commemorating their 1992 World Series win by losing my virginity that same night, an eventful evening I've documented many time before.

You, I presume, are a huge fan of the San Diego Padres. Is that correct?


You have no idea what a Padres fan I am. I still weep for the day we traded away Winfield.

Obviously, yes, I am a long-time, devoted Jays fan. So much so that I have spent countless hours over the past five seasons NOT drawing a paycheque in order to type away my almost daily thoughts on the team's progress (and regress). So there's that.

The second thing that probably needs to be said—and will likely serve as an open, inviting chin to an angry uppercut by the time we're done—is that I am an ANONYMOUS blogger. Some days, I wish someone would show up with a moderately sized cheque and say: "Leave your days of toil behind and come write your blather for us!" But I have a mortgage and a wife and other ways to make my daily wage, and while I'm passionate about this side gig I've created for myself, the day job and the blog aren't ready to co-exist quite yet.

A last quick note before we dig in: I've liked Amy K. Nelson's work enough to follow her on Twitter for some time, so nothing out of the past few days should be taken to be a personal attack on her. I know that some of my initial language about this article was heated, and if that helped to fuel the ugliness of the past two days, I sincerely apologize to her.

Now, let me propose a jumping off point to the discussion, since this was the first thing that struck me about the piece: The way it was branded—"An Outside the Lines/ESPN: The Magazine Investigation"—needs to be taken into consideration when evaluating the merits of the article. If this were a brief article airing some scuttlebutt on a random Wednesday, then I'm sure that it might have run and raised some ire amongst the fans, but not like this.

But this piece presented itself as enterprise journalism, and my complaint is that it was not entrepreneurial enough. And yet, it carries that seal of quality that comes from long history of the good pieces done by Outside the Lines, which lends the article the both credibility and importance.


I'll always thank the Padres for Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter. They're my second-favorite team for that reason alone.

You're right, Tao, that the Outside the Lines branding made this a bigger story. It was heavily promoted by ESPN online and with the in-studio interview with Amy. It wasn't a quick hit. Which I think is a good thing, but I see your point.

I'm going to take a guess at how this went down—and it's a guess. I repeat: ONLY A GUESS.

Earlier this season, as you no doubt know, the Yankees—specifically Joe Girardi—essentially accused the Jays of stealing signs. (Catcher Russell Martin did, too.) The Red Sox also change up their signs when they come to Toronto. These weren’t new stories, really.

I'm guessing that somewhere along the way, Amy, who's a dogged reporter, had decided to ask around about the Jays in major-league clubhouses. There's a line in the story about players not liking to discuss such things, which, for me, was a signal from Amy that this was a tough story to report and that she probably isn't all that happy about having only anonymous sources for confirmation.

That being said, two points:

1) Anonymous sources are a standard part of investigative journalism, from Deep Throat on down. No journalist likes to use them, but we use them, because many important stories wouldn't get told without them.

2) Amy had four individual sources corroborating a single incident, which is pretty different from quoting some dude in a bar somewhere. And those sources provided Amy with a very specific account of said curious happening.

Amy (and Peter, I should add)—again I'm guessing—then looked for statistical evidence to support the various accusations. (Even though I would say that those accusations alone are newsworthy.) They found it, most particularly, in the statistic about the home run differential between the Jays and visiting teams at Rogers Centre—the third highest in the last sixty years.

Then they wrote the story, and then shit went nuts.

I'm not going to tell you it's a perfect story. I would have liked to see more quotes from the Jays. I would have liked to see historic comparisons between the current Jays teams and earlier Jays teams and their performances at Rogers Centre. (It might have been cool to see how this bunch compares to the 1992 or 1993 teams, which were also accused of stealing signs, by the way.)

But I think it's a good story that deserved to be told.

I guess what I'd ask you, Tao, is this: Do you believe the man in white existed? Do you believe that part of the story?


I guess I'll revert to my usual position as the perpetual fence-sitter, and say that I'm 50/50 as to whether I believe such a man existed, and about the same as to whether it bothers me or not. I've tried not to read Jonah Keri's piece on Grantland about this, but a glance at it gave me the impression that he would actually applaud such skullduggery. (Which might be an indication that we need to go grab Jonah and bring him back to Canada so that he can return to being typically over-polite and apologetic. But I digress.)

As to your point on the merits of the piece, I've re-read the piece a number of times now, and I can see where there is something there. It's still pretty sketchy, and it reads more like a proposal than a finished investigation, but there's the start of something on which follow-up could be done. My problem was that it wasn't. Though I did note that line to which you refer, and I understand that getting sources to go on the record would be tough—still, investigative journalism by its very nature is tough and exhausting. It has to be.

Were calls made to former Jays players or coaches (Nick Leyva or Brad Arnsberg come to mind), even if to get a stick-to-the-code denial? Or moreover, did someone sit down and watch the video of the games in question? If the piece were to say: "We watched the games in question, but could not ascertain that there was someone in those seats motioning toward the hitter," then it throws a big bucket of cold water on this whole thing.

Which brings me to my second point: The reason why I take this article seriously is because it impugns the reputation of a team, its players, and most specifically, its most visible player, Jose Bautista. We may have (arguably) left behind the "steroid era," but accusations of cheating resonate loudly, and quickly become fact in the echo chamber of sports talk. It's pretty stunning how quickly the entirety of a player's career can get wiped out with an accusation of cheating. Did anyone PROVE that Mike Scott ever did anything untoward with the ball in the 1986 season? And yet, if you and I were hauling back on a couple of pints at the Elmdale Tavern, and his name came up, how soon before we launched into smart remarks at his expense over his cutting and doctoring the ball?

The point here is that to call out a player or a team as a "cheater" with everything that we've gone through over the past decade, and to diminish their achievements requires a greater effort on the part of the reporters, and more verifiable information making it to the page.

I appreciate that as a Jays fan, my personal standard of proof might be incredibly high. I'd have liked the reporters to have gotten closer to it before they told me there might not be a Santa Claus.


While Jonah's definitely been corrupted by his border crossing, I would say he does have a point, which this story also makes: Sign stealing isn't technically illegal.

But I totally, totally understand what you're saying about leveling the cheater accusation. It's a big deal, and that's why I think Amy and Peter went to the lengths that they did. I hear you when you say that you don't think they went far enough. I can't really say for sure whether they did or not, because I don't know exactly what sort of reporting they did.

The video evidence, by the way, I'm not that fussed about. The chances of seeing that guy in the right-field stands during at-bats are pretty slim, I would think.

And interviews with former Jays might not have proved all that revealing, given that baseball is a small fraternity of guys who would like to keep working in the game, and that this might be a relatively recent phenomenon.

Here's my thinking:

1) The man-in-white story is a pretty specific story. For a reporter, that story is a good get—lots of detail and corroboration, including Bautista's confirmation that the altercation happened. I'm bothered somewhat by the idea that Bautista would have been a relative non-entity in the spring of 2010, when this apparently occurred. I don't quite get that.

2) Whether the Jays are stealing signs or not, they certainly have developed a reputation for stealing signs. That might be wildfire gossip spreading, but generally speaking, if enough people are saying the same thing, it's worth investigating.

3) The statistics in this story aren't definitive, but they're pretty interesting. Is this Toronto team really one of the all-time home-run teams of the last sixty years? And is Rogers Centre really that great of a home park?

4) The go-to defense that the Jays have a pretty mediocre home record doesn't wash with me. Sign stealing would do nothing to help their crappy bullpen.

5) And last—and most important—in some strange way, I think this story is GREAT for the Jays. If you have opposing teams coming into Rogers Centre doing who knows what with their signs and looking for UFOs in the outfield, that can only distract them from the rhythm of the game at hand. If I were the Jays, I think I'd want every team to think I had their signs.

There's a great story about the German soccer keeper Jens Lehmann. During a 2006 penalty shootout against Argentina, he pulled a cheat sheet out of his sock before each kick. On the sheet, he'd written the penalty tendencies of most of the Argentine players. Shot after shot, he kept picking the right direction. Then up came Esteban Cambiasso. Lehmann looked at his sheet for a long time before he tucked it back in his sock. He saved a pretty poor penalty from a rattled Cambiasso: What does he know?

Cambiasso wasn't even on the sheet. Lehmann was just a master of the head game.

This sign stealing stuff is fantastic head gaming.


Indeed, if I heard that there was an MLB team that were not stealing signs, I'd be shocked and banish them to some scrub league... like the NL Central. But this "reputation" that the Jays have is hardly new, as I specifically remember Orlando Hudson wearing the T-Bird uniform, bouncing around on second, and having a pitcher walk off the mound shouting at him. But that was under a different manager, different GM, totally different coaching staff... So is it the city that brings this out in them? Of course not. But reputations linger in sports because our memories are tied to the laundry, as it were.

Where I think Toronto has started to develop a bit of a reputation is that they play in the same division as the Yankees and Red Sox, and with the ever-growing coterie of beat writers and national drop-ins, there's plenty of opportunity for those teams—who are under the greatest pressure and the biggest spotlight—to gripe about how they get beat on any given night. And, of course, they have.

Which brings me to a point that I think is important: Are the Red Sox and Yankees leveling the same accusations as the Mystery Team We Presume To Be the White Sox? I get that it is a specific story... But is it corroborated by the Yankees and Red Sox? I didn't see that on the page, but it's a vital point in taking this from "four teammates collectively rooted out one individual on one night" to "several anonymous sources on several teams say they saw this tactic in use." If you're trying to convince me, that goes a long way.

As for the stats: I just think that they were dealt with in too much isolation, and that inherently creates things that pop off the page. Players with good home splits were held up, but John Buck hit worse at home, and Edwin Encarnacion hit twice as many homers on the road as at home. Was he not seeing the signs? Were they not useful to him?

If you were to root around in the numbers of the all-time record home run season of the 1997 Mariners, I'm sure that you'd start to find all sorts of aberrational rates between them and their opponents. If you look at home run rates in a season of historical home run output, you'll find historical anomalies. But what of the fact that the Jays ranked in the bottom third of Major League Baseball in total hits? Is a stolen sign only redeemable for a round-tripper? Should the number of singles and doubles not have gone up as well if the Jays knew what was coming?

I know that there have been a lot of threads pulled from the data set, but if you are making a very specific accusation based on hearsay and a look at the numbers, you had better be prepared to have those numbers pulled every which way. The accusation was serious, and I think that the statistical analysis was cavalier in what they thought they could prove.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this whole saga for me was the reaction on the part of Peter when one of the interviewers on The Score used the term "cherry-pick" when discussing the stats: He got very terse and very angry and defensive, and defended his professional reputation vigorously. Wouldn't he expect the Blue Jays and their passionate fanbase—when being told that their professional reputation was being called into question—to respond with equal vigor?

I will definitely agree with you that there is something to this being a plus for the Jays, not only in terms of playing head games with their opponents, but in rallying their fans through the creation of a staunch "us versus the world" mentality. (I'd also note that we shouldn't discard the notion that the Red Sox and Yankees' accusations were based in their own attempts to get into the heads of their emerging rivals.)

One final thought on this from the point of view of a kid who grew up wanting to be a journalist (for Esquire no less... I see a body-switch comedy in our future!), got the degree and then lapsed into any number of other pursuits: I HATE that last paragraph of the piece, and you know what? I bet Amy isn't overly fond of having this piece close on that paragraph. It's a cop-out. It says: "We did the investigation, and we couldn't come up with enough to nail this down, but there's something there, and ain't that kinda interesting?" It's like something I would have done when I was a terrible, lazy 24-year-old J-school student. Which is why I'm... you know... an anonymous blogger.

I acknowledge your point that sometimes you have to proceed with circumstantial evidence. But I'll repeat myself here because I think it bears repeating: If your investigative piece ends with: "The evidence is circumstantial," then you haven't finished your investigation.


Tao, a wise man once told me that publishing is writing interrupted. What will be interesting for me, now, is to see where this story goes from here. It might just disappear into the ether of a long season. But I suspect that we’ll hear a lot more about the Jays, the art of sign stealing, and where they go from here.

Speaking of which, how about Brett Lawrie?


Brett Lawrie is just awesome. He merits his two nicknames—Gordie Dougie, for his quintessential Canadianosity, and Full Tilt, for how he seems to approach everything from running out ground balls to celebrating grand slams. Watching that moment unfold the other night, I couldn't help but smile like a big goofy kid. It reminded me of something important: Baseball is pretty fun.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Full Tilt Lawrie

It was just about the time that we managed to get our heart rate down to normal after a day of angrily watching the fall out from the most dubious of dubious non-stories.

And then, with the bases loaded, Brett Lawrie - FULL TILT! GORDIE DOUGIE! - steps to the plate and we're thinking: "If this dude hits a home run right here and right now, with everything that's going on...he's going to be a legend. This would be huge." And then...well, you all know what happened:

A towering shot that hung in the air just long enough to build anticipation to monumental levels, then landed just the other side of the wall.

Lawrie fist pump.

Crowd roars.

Lawrie nearly laps Aaron Hill on the basepaths.

Twitter feed blows up.

Lawrie nearly takes Brian Butterfield's hand off as he rounds third. (Shadows of things to come.)

Home plate high-fives-to-chest-bumps, and exaltations to fudge (FUDGE YEAH!).

Then, the most energetic dugout high-five line in Jays history.

Hard high fives are doled out from Lawrie towards anyone who dares congratulate him.

Grown men - athletes! - flinch and stagger back at the force of the celebratory exchange.

Helmet boogie.

"Woo! Woo! Woo!"

Spike the helmet.

Helmet hits Edwin Encarnacion in the chest.

Chest bump for Edwin Encarnacion, to make sure his chest is still okay.

Mad pacing through the dugout.

Teammates falling over laughing at the lunacy of the moment.

More pacing.

Swig of Powerade.

Powerade goes down the wrong hole.

Cough out Powerade.

Curtain call.


If we'd known that he'd be this fun to watch, we might have shoulder to shoulder with those of you asking when he was going to get the call months ago. And seriously: When was the last time that being a Jays fan was THIS MUCH FUN?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Today's Manure Pile - Pile On!

Hey folks. It's you anonymous blogging pal, the Tao. How's it goin'? We're okay. Well, mostly.

You know what's on our mind, and we're not even going to pay homage to that excretory fake investigative piece over on the Worldwide Leader's site. Except to say what we've been tweeting all day:

That it's shoddy.

That it's incomplete.

That it's shameful.

That it should never have been allowed to run.

That it provides no context.

That it uses four anonymous sources as its cornerstone.

That it cherry picks stats without showing the league-wide context.

That is plays to cynicism about any sports achievement, even as it demonstrates a complete lack of commitment to verify its own claims.

Amy K. Nelson know with whom she spoke to get this story. Which means she could probably precisely deduce the games to which her sources were referring. And she could (this being the Worldwide Leader, after all) find the video and sit down for a couple of hours and see if she could find even the blurriest, smudgiest, most fleeting image of the man to whom they refer.

(Hey, Outside the Lines found a blurry shot of an NHL official grabbing the Stanley Cup winning puck from the net. This isn't unprecedented work.)

That picture would probably go a long way to making her story seem less like the unfiltered accusations of a few MLBers with an axe to grind and an overly developed competitive streak. Without anything further, you have precisely what she copped to in the final paragraph of the piece.

As we tweeted in our initial reaction to the piece: "If your investigative piece ends with: "The evidence is circumstantial", then you haven't finished your investigation."


There's few things in this world finer than Dustin Parkes in a lather. I owe you a tasty beverage, sir.

Also, Jays blogger James Fireman (who alerted me to the story first) has what will probably be an unpopular take for Jays fans, but I respect his setting his allegiances aside to examine it.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Two Thoughts Brett Lawrie, and a Spare Thought for Henderson Alvarez

1. Brett Lawrie Looks Like He Belongs
We just stopped ourself here. We were going to talk about the apprehensions that some may have had about calling the kid from New Whereeverthehell, B.C., to the big leagues, when it came to us that we couldn't think of anyone (well, Dustin Parkes aside) who had any hesitation about bringing the lad up. So, never mind, really. Just to say that Lawrie looks as though he fits in, and doesn't seem trepidatious at all to be at this level.

2. Brett Lawrie Doesn't Look Like a Third Baseman
You know how people have said for years that Travis Snider looks like a fullback? Well, Brett Lawrie looks like a strong safety: Jacked up and ripped and wound tight. And that all seems to work fine when it comes to unleashing that sheer physicality in a swing or getting out of the box.

But playing the field (especially the infield) requires a level of relaxation, and the ability to remain physically loose. We're not sure that Lawrie has it in him to be either of those things (which is what y'all seem to love about him anyhow, so don't get upset.) When watching Lawrie transition from fielding a ball to throwing it, you can visually see the effort that he requires in order to quiet himself and get the ball across the diamond without throwing it into the second deck.

And here's the thing about Lawrie's impending fielding struggles: Fans are going to have all sorts of patience with these sorts of errors, because it will look like HE'S TRYING SO DAMN HARD TO MAKE THE PLAY. But an E5 is an E5, no matter how it comes to be.

3. Henderson Alvarez Is Finally Here
Okay, so maybe there are more people expressing their concern that the young Venezuelan hurler has made it to the big leagues before he's ready. But as for us: This is a long time coming. We remember the first time that we saw the strikeout-to-walk ratio that Alvarez posted in Low-A Lansing in 2009 - which finished at 92/19, but was even more brilliant early in the season - and we pondered how long we might have to wait to see that arm in the big leagues. We figured the end of 2012 would be the earliest that the occasion would come along. Now that it appears that he'll get his first kick at the rubber this week, we couldn't be more thrilled.

We're not entirely sure that this means that Alvarez will stick, though given the choice between sending him to Las Vegas next year to refine his game or bringing him directly to Toronto, we'd choose the latter. (Which speaks to the pressing need to get the hell out of the PCL, but that's another post for another day.)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Weekend update/scattered thoughts

I'm here there and everywhere this weekend, with minimal levels of attention span or time to commit to anything proper & decent....

Wait, the kid is Canadian? Whaaaat?
I could have sworn I heard the broadcast crew inform us that Brett Lawrie was Canadian.... but that can't be right. Can it? Why haven't I heard that before?

OK, OK. But seriously now. I'm going to be completely honest with you when I tell you that my excitement for the beginning of the Brett Lawrie era has absolutely nothing to do with his passport. I suppose for the casual fan, it's a nice background story and perhaps a reason to watch his debut and maybe follow the boxscores for a few weeks.

But if you're reading this, it's probably safe to assume you don't fit the "casual fan" label anymore than I do. Can I tell you what I love about Brett Lawrie in a Blue Jays uniform?

(preparing to be crucified in 3, 2, .......)

I love the fact that he plays hard. That's right. I said it. I just threw down the dreaded Reed Johnson defence. I, The Ack, enjoy watching guys play who steamroll down the baselines and don't much care what anyone else thinks of them if they happen to get a touch abrasive.

I mean, think about it. Why do we hate Pedroia so? Is it because he's mild mannered and respectful on the diamond? Of course not. It's because he plays the game with an edge.

Of course, there's an addendum to all of the nonsense above. All the hustle & heart (tm) in the world means nothing if the kid can't play. And it does indeed appear that Brett Lawrie can play a little baseball.

The Brett Lawrie era has begun. Long live Brett Lawrie.

.... but what of Lunchbox?
Jeff Blair makes me sad.

I don't need to read that, Jeff. I really don't.

A few quick "explanatory" comments in relation to my twitter feed....

i. I tweeted that in my opinion, I felt like the (mis)handling of Travis Snider has been the one big misstep so far by Alex Anthopoulos. Perhaps that was a little harsh (but c'mon man.... it was an emotional time), and I will be among the first to tell you that Snider looked lost in the batters box, fooled repeatedly by breaking balls and not squaring up fastballs. And maybe you've heard.... like no walks. Ever.

But the sudden about face - "we're at a point where roster decisions are based on performance" - seems both hypocritical and disingenuous. It wasn't but a few weeks ago that the front office boldly proclaimed that "they had to find out what they had in Snider" and he'd be given the rest of the season to show it. I can imagine Snider's confidence is borderline shattered knowing that he was given so little time to prove his Blue Jay mettle.

Where he goes from here.... I really don't know.

ii. I made reference to my disdain for the "cheering for laundry" analogy. Am I the only one who feels badly for Snider? Or do we all just live in a "HE MAKES MILLIONS OF DOLLARS TO PLAY A GAME AND IF HE CAN'T CUT IT, TOO BAD" world. Because that world sucks and you're rending your organ donor card useless, because clearly you have no heart. You are heartless. Without heart.

(yeah, I seem to have an emotional investment in Young Travis - so what?!)

Is it time to go internal with the closer?
Developmentally, I mean.

Look, I know that the best relievers are made from failed starters, and every effort must be exhausted in developing starting pitchers before shuttling them off to the 'pen.

But given the depth of the minor league system - specifically with pitching - doesn't it make a little sense to convert an Asher Wojciechowski or a Chad Jenkins (just examples for arguments sake) to the late innings now?

Because God help me, I can't take another season of the Jon Rauch Experience at the back end of the bullpen, nor can I stomach another BJ Ryan adventure (contract-wise) if that's the alternative. This "Plan B" strategy has been tough to watch here in 2011.

Then again, it did net us Colby Rasmus. So there's that.

Friday, August 5, 2011

A One-Sentence Post on...Impatience Rewarded

Funny about all of the reports that came out in the past 24 hours talking about "FINALLY!" and "AT LONG LAST!" and "THE WAIT IS OVER!" for the ascension of Brett Lawrie into the Major Leagues, when we're thinking "21 year-olds don't make it to this level in general, and Gordie Dougie's had less than a full season at Triple-A, and less than a full season in this system, so we've barely come to know this guy or what he might be able to do outside of the low gravity environs of the PCL, and there's nothing about this that makes us feel as though it was an exhaustive wait, but maybe we're not nearly impatient enough to really get what's going on...Gordie Dougie Gordie Dougie Gordie Dougie Gordie Dougie Gordie Dougie Gordie Dougie Gordie Dougie!"

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Big Hairy Deal About Henderson

John Farrell certainly knows how to set the Jays' twittarazzi a-spin. An off-handed comment of the possibility of bringing minor league wunderkind Henderson Alvarez to the big leagues has ignited harmonizing choruses of "that's awesome" and "it's too soon".

Alvarez is still just 21, but has moved somewhat quickly through the system and shown growth throughout each step up the ladder. After what appeared to be a possible step backwards in high-A Dunedin in 2009 and 2010, Alvarez lowered his ERA and WHIP in the jump to Double-A New Hampshire and maintained a K/9 rate in the sixes (6.1 at A+, 6.6 at AA). He's also touching 100 mph and sitting at 93-97 mph with his fastball, and no less an expert than ESPN's Keith Law describes his repetoire as "plus fastball/plus changeup/fringy curveball", which he says is "still a mid-rotation or better starter in the long term".

Our take is that Alvarez is still going to be throwing pitches even if he's not in the big leagues. So if he's passing the tests at each level (and we take it as a given that he's not going to Las Vegas because why in the name of all that's good would you send a pitching prospect there to get his brains smashed in), then maybe you give him a look and see what he can do with big league hitters.

The distinction that we'd draw about this potential callup is that the Jays shouldn't call up Henderson simply because they've run out of arms. If they need to see the season through to the end with Jesse Litsch as their fifth starter, then so be it. But if they feel as though Alvarez is potentially ready and they have an open slot (more on that in a moment), then let him pitch.

Felix Hernandez pitched in the big leagues at 19. Neftali Feliz was 21 and Michael Pineda was 22 when they got their first taste. There's no need to hold a player back simply because it seems prudent to do so.

(And yes, that's the Gordie Dougie argument as well. But we're not sure that he had proven himself ready - gaudy PCL stats aside - until a fair time into this season.)

Lost Del V?
Jays starter Carlos Villaneuva looked less than stellar last night, and he's been kicked around recently, leaving floaty junk up up up in the zone. Now comes the word that he's headed for an MRI on his shoulder, which at the very least means that there's a health concern and in the worst case scenario means he'll never pitch again.

(Hey, what part of "worst case" don't you understand?)

Villaneuva reached 97.2 innings pitched last night after tossing 52.2 in 2010. Even if the MRI comes back with mostly positive news, the notion that Villaneuva might need to be shut down for several weeks or the balance of the schedule shouldn't be met with shock or dismay. His shutdown date was likely to come soon, we'd imagine.

(And if we're thinking a bit more deviously: An MRI creates the rationale for a DL stint which opens a roster slot. Into which a young and upcoming pitcher may slide in nicely.)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Third Place, and Other Unlikely Delights

The Battle for Third Place Is On: Look, we like the story of the plucky St. Petersburg Manta Rays as much as the next Canadian baseball fan. We could write a book, were we not so committed to providing you content for free. Sorry, lost our train of thought...

Oh yes! The Rays have been a great story, and it has been interesting to observe how they turned their franchise from a perpetual doormat to one of the most respected franchises to win while playing to small crowds under a dome. But now, we're thinking: Why not us?

With last night's win, the Jays sit one-half game behind the Rays for third place in the AL East, and to recycle our tweeted joke from yesterday, there really ought to be a trophy for finishing the season in that position in that division. Because any band of poo-flinging simians can build a contender in the NL West, but to finish third in the AL East, that takes years of disciplined drafting and player development.

(Seriously, think about all of the ink that was wasted over the past month discussing the Indians, White Sox and Twins, and their pursuit of an AL Central title. The Jays are in the midst of a season in which the focus was not primarily on winning, and they are a better team than any of those three bands of jokers, not to mention the eventual division champion Tigers.)

The Jays have none games remaining against the Rays. Here's to getting your hate-on for the next seven weeks, to putting the Tampa side back in the AL East pack, and to the Blue Jays getting their propers from the pack of national baseball writers in the U.S..

RickRo's Ugly Masterpiece: Ricky Romero's reputation for spitting the bit against the AL East's powerhouses is only growing this year, and for a few breathless moments last night, we (and apparently most of those who we follow on Twitter) wondered if this wasn't that one disaster inning that had become a quasi-regular occurrence versus the Yankees and Red Sox.

We're not sure that we'd trip over our self to give Ricky full credit for extricating himself from the no-out, bases-loaded on zero hits conundrum of his own making. Certainly, it was an impressive feat to get the two strikeouts and a ground ball to keep the game scoreless. But the Rays lineup is a bit more forgiving than those of the Red Sox and Yankees, and setting down Tampa's 7-8-9 hitters in a precarious situation is a bit more mundane, and feels a bit less like a precedent.

The Return of Dusty Lambchops: Two things on John Farrell's statement that Dustin McGowan is set to be promoted to Double-A soon, and could be with the big club by September:

1) He's not going to be the closer. Stop suggesting it. The unpredictable workload (and the up-and-down-an-up-and-down in the bullpen) would be too hard on his body at this point. And preserving a fragile asset is the name of the game when it comes to Lambchops' future with the Jays.

2) It's a pretty exciting idea that McGowan could return to something resembling his form from his best days with the Jays. We'd love to see that power arm come back, and tear through the league like he did in that start against the Rockies a few years back. But let's cool down the expectations and let what's going to happen with him happen. We probably shouldn't be pencilling him into any prospective 2012 rotations just yet.