Toronto Baseball Guys
Monday, April 25, 2011
  Snider: Good Bunt Still a Bad Call
Saturday afternoon, having finally sent Rays' ace David Price to the showers, Travis Snider dropped down a terrific bunt off Kyle Farnsworth and appeared to beat the throw to first base, thus loading the bases with none out. The first base umpire saw differently, however. That still left the Jays with the tying run in scoring position and one out, the desired result for a sacrifice bunt.

Problem is, Snider never should have been bunting in the first place.

Down by one run, the play is defensible, but still questionable - you have just three outs to go, why give one up? With a 2-run deficit, a bunt in that spot would be inexcusable if you DIDN'T know the particulars of the game. Once you take them into account, it gets worse.

With 2-on and none out, the scheduled hitters are Travis Snider, John McDonald and Mike McCoy. They are to face the flame-throwing Kyle Farnsworth. Snider is the lone lefty of the bunch, and finally gets to face a right-hander after battling Price all game. He's also clearly the best hitter of the lot, current struggles notwithstanding. Snider is the most likely to deliver an extra base hit, which is precisely what's required to overcome a 2-run deficit in the ninth inning. He's also the most likely to turn around a fastball at escape velocity and win the game outright.

From the Rays' perspective, an inning that began with David Price looking good to complete the game is spiralling out of control, with 4 consecutive runners reaching base and even the still-animated corpse of Juan Rivera collecting a hit.

Maybe Farnsworth gets jittery and starts walking the world - sadly, we'll never know, because Snider dropped down the bunt on the very first pitch he saw. Even if Snider beats out the bunt (officially), you're leaving the inning in the hands of two light-hitting right-handed batters.

I yield to no one in my admiration of John McDonald - and yes, he does seem to be enjoying a late-in-life power spike - but fuzzy images of his walk-off homer the day before aside, he's a .330 lifetime slugger. In 10 minor league seasons, Mike McCoy sports a .367 lifetime slugging percentage. Indeed, neither was able to get the ball out of the infield.

Late in a close game, outs are the most important resource a team has - giving one up for 90 feet on the basepaths is simply too expensive.
Sunday, April 24, 2011
  Beware of the Beard

Is it just me, or is everyone else thinking we should post up one of those ragged chain link fences around the SkyCentre, complete with “Beware of Dog Bautista ” signs posted every 10 metres. Hell, I’d like to change that Michael Snow sculpture of “The Audience” into a bunch of Bautista heads. While we’re at it, can we have Bautista Beard give aways to the first 10 000 fans. What about Bautista tribute night, -uh season- where every Jays player wears the number 19 on jersey?
Due to injury, and general crappiness, the Jays’ offence might be one of the worst in baseball, but as a Jays fan you can actually be okay with watching 8 throw away at bats, knowing that it’s all a set up for the beard to take his hacks. This guy isn’t necessarily the greatest batter in Jays history, I mean we’ve seen Delgado, Olerud, good Wells, Alomar and for a brief time Molitor, but I’m not sure that anyone has ever struck more fear in opposing pitchers than Jose Bautista. The book on him is simple…if you throw it off the plate it’s a ball –unless the umpire screws up- and if you throw it over the plate, get out the tape measure. Seriously, I’m pretty sure that his only singles this season actually hit the outfield wall but bounced back so quickly that he couldn't get to second base in time. I’m not sure this guy’s human-has MLB started testing for non-humanness? I hope not, it might cost us our number three hole hitter.

On another note, I’d like to say that I hate the Devil Rays. Not in the way that I hate the Yankees and Hitler, more like the way the Corey Haim would have hated Charlie Sheen toward the end of Lucas. I mean he was nice, smart, popular, captain of the football team, and somehow still managed to induce pity after breaking up with Courtney Thorne Smith so that he could steal Lucas’ girl –what happened to that red head, I think I loved her-. But seriously, everything the Jays want to be or claim to be, the Devils seem to do better. Consider the following comparisons:
Challenging the Yankees and Red Sox in the AL East: TB
Awesome Young Starting Rotation: TB, they’re young and aweseomer –why did spell check have a problem with that? I mean, I like our rotation, but I’m pretty sure our ace has the ceiling of a good number three starter –this is where you get angry and prove me wrong Ricky-. We can hope that Drabek reaches potential, and Morrow keeps pitching like yesterday. But the Rays pitchers are more established. Mind you, we are younger. Including Jesse Litsch the average age of our starters is 25…but they’re getting lit up. My son’s four--can he pitch for the Blue Jays too?
Scrappy Offence: TB, these guys are incredibly efficient. They keep scoring runs even with mendozian batting averages. Last year the Jays were 9th in MLB in runs scored while just 24th in batting average. That’s incredibly efficient, but the Rays managed to be 3rd in runs scores and 27th in batting average.
Hard-Nosed Defence: On Saturday, Sam Fuld’s diving catch on Travis Snider’s two out liner into left centre saved two runs, while Ben Zobrist’s turn at second led to a double play that saved at least one run while snuffing out a rally. If Corey Patterson is so fast, why has he hit into two runs saving double plays started by the third baseman within the last week? While this was happening during Jays at bats, Yunel Escobar chose to save his knees rather than try the turn at second base on two consecutive ground balls to second base. That ended up costing the Jays a run, a run that could have been more easily clawed back with John McDonald batting in the ninth with a man on third, one out and the Jays down by one. It’s Hustle and Heart Yunel, Hustle and Heart.
Great Uniform Colours: Tampa has switched to a sublime double blue combination (dark and baby). This is a city who’s sports teams are supposed to like ice cream treats. Suddenly they look like the flippin’ Argos, who, regardless of what you think of Canadian Football, look fantastic. I remember a time when we cheered for an MLB team that sported the double blue. What did we call that team…perennial playoff participants, back to back world series champs, best organization in baseball, or was it just the “Blue Jays”. I’ve heard rumblings that the Jays are looking to refresh their image with a new logo and uniform overall. It seems like we’ve got it half right. As much as I loved the original Jays logo, the current J-Bird logo has absolutely grown on me. It’s a vicious looking bird that kids can still relate to…it’s kind of like an artist's representation of Jose Bautista in bird form! Why don’t we keep the logo, ditch the T, and replace all of the black on the Jays’ uniforms with dark blue -I’m thinking Tampa or Cleveland, but would be willing to go as dark as Sox, Yanks-. I've replaced the blue with black in the image above so you could get a feel for it.

Mull it over Jays. I’ve got some Cadbury Cream Eggs to eat.

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Thursday, April 21, 2011
  Is This the Bottom?

Ok, so Brett Cecil has been sent down to Las Vegas to try to work out why an arm that sliced through the AL East in 2010, would now have trouble getting Corey Patterson to swing and miss on a pitch. He’s the second casualty of the atomic bomb landing on the Jays’ rotation this week, while the cockroach of the bunch somehow manages to walk out of yet another mushroom cloud unscathed. Jo Jo, it looks like “no more options” makes for quite an impenetrable shell. Suddenly the key strength of the team both for the present, and going forward is beginning to look like a liability. “Commissioner” Farrell we need help, pick up the red phone, and shine the sloppy silhouette of an unshaven, portly former staff ace into the sky. These boys need to start pitching like men.

In asking what’s gone wrong with the not-so-golden Brett we can point to the drop in velocity from 93 mph to 87 mph, and the general lack of control. It would make sense that without these tools, Cecil would lose confidence in himself and become even easier to hit than his reduced “stuff” would already make it.

What’s caused the lower velocity? After writing his next blank cheque, Greg Zaun will astutely tell us that there’s been a minor change in Cecil’s windup that now has his hand turned out when it used to be turned in. That might be the case, I really have no idea about throwing mechanics, but I’d rather look at a more obvious change in the appearance of his delivery…the big honking tattoo on his throwing arm (see picture above).

Don’t get me started on “getting inked up”. I think that in a few rare cases, tattoos have religious and cultural significance and I have no problem with that. However, in the last few years getting a tattoo has seriously challenged unprotected teenage sex as the dumbest thing youth do. Mangling your body with needles and permanent dye for the purposes of aesthetic enhancement seems a bit counter-productive, especially when the message conveyed, has at best, temporary significance.

I have no idea what the tattoo on Brett Cecil’s arm says, or what it means, but I do know that pitching requires power and precision, and I wonder if an arm would function in the same way before getting pricked, prodded and stained, as it would after. The bad news here, is that the tattoo is permanent, so there’s nothing that Brett can do to get rid of it. Let’s hope that recovery from getting “tatted” takes time and will automatically resolve itself without Cecil having to "Halladay" his game in single A.

Even if the tattoo isn’t physically affecting the arm, it does suggest that Cecil’s mind wasn’t focussed on the right things during the off season and is certainly a great indication that there was at least one night of way too much drinking during Brett’s winter. Whatever the issue, let’s hope this gets worked out. If all else fails, you might want to try dropping the goggles and facial hair, it seemed to work in ‘10.

Failing rotation aside, I left last night’s game worried that I’m going to jump ship on this season sooner rather than later. The reason behind this is the return of the Jay’s fabled popgun offence. Last year, the Jays bats struck fear in the hearts of AL pitchers who knew that any pitch in any at bat ran the risk of leaving the yard. The threat of the long ball meant that the Jays bats were never far from getting them back in the game. In 2010 the Jays overall rank in OBP was 26th while their overall rank in runs scored was 9th in the 30 team league. Rather than wasting time working the count and getting guys on base, they waited for their pitch and swung their guts out. I’m not going to claim to understand any of these newfangled stats, but I’m pretty sure that runs scored is the clearest indicator of an offence’s effectiveness. Last year, the Jays offence was effective. This year, the Jays OBP has soared to 15th, while runs scored has dropped to 13th and is plummeting. It seems like they’re scoring just one run per game. I’m sick of watching our starters give up the winning run by the end of the second inning.

Let’s hope Encarnacion maintains the recent hot streak, Lind’s line drives start missing gloves, Snider’s wrist finally heals, Rajai goes Mookie on our butts, JP’s allowed off the bench, and Juan stays on it, Hill stops sucking, and Lawrie’s as good as we all have convinced ourselves he’ll be. If not, we’re in for a long summer…well, at least we can enjoy the weather.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011
  See Jim, Everything does Even Out

Wow, the Jays just had their tail feathers handed to them by the Red Sox over the weekend. That’s shocking! Who could have ever envisioned a 2-10 team littered with perennial all stars eventually getting it right? I’m not sure how much more surprise my fragile psyche can handle right now, so please think twice before letting me know that:
a.) JP Ricciardi just congratulated himself in front of the media
b.) Rance Mulliniks came through in the clutch
c.) the Leafs missed the playoffs
d.) Juan Rivera doesn’t seem to care

Yeah, that was an awful trip, but these things balance themselves out over the course a season. Fortunately, Travis Snider won’t keep OPSing 0.495, but unfortunately Yunel Escobar won’t manage to maintain this 0.976 clip either. A lot happens over 162 games, and eventually the Jays will find themselves in their rightful position as a 75 win team.

The “even out” is one of the best parts about baseball, sometimes it’s driven by luck, sometimes it’s energy level, and sometimes it’s just fate. Mind you, my favourite instances of balance are those that are umpire induced. Umpires are human, they do their best to make the correct call in a split second with 50 players, 30, 000 fans and a nation wide television audience breathing down their necks. Most of the time the umps get it right, and when they don’t they fix it.

The Jays have already experienced two prime examples this season:
a.) In the 14 inning game against the Angels, the Jays lost an inning after having a run negated when Yunel Escobar was ruled by third base umpire Bob Davidson, to have interfered with Angels third baseman Alberto Callaspo. By all Jays’ based accounts it sounds like this was the wrong call. I have no opinion on the play since I never saw it. I chose to stop watching for two reasons:
i.) I can’t physically stay up late enough to see an extra innings night game taking place on the West Coast. Seriously, why can’t we just get rid of the West Coast teams? What’s the point of them? “Commissioner Bud” you’ve got three options: begin contracting all teams outside of the Eastern time zone, force all teams to play their games so they begin at 7 pm EST, or just call Lex Luther and have him extend his plan to redefine the pacific coast line.
ii.) I also stopped watching because I knew it was going to get ugly. In the third inning of that game, Jose Bautista was credited with throwing out Torii Hunter at third base. This was a blown call in the Jays’ favour, and it was only a matter of time before Davidson made up for it. Why’d you have to wait another 10 innings Bob?

b.) The second example came from Friday’s game in Boston where Adam Lind bounced a ball off the top of the right field wall in the foot wide space between the foul pole and the line painted on the wall beneath the foul pole. Maybe I’m just a simple caveman blogger, but why aren’t the line and the pole in line with each other? There was absolutely no way to make a correct call here. The line and the pole contradict each other for all instances of balls falling between them. Any ball outside the foul pole is foul, and any ball inside the foul line is fair. The umpires went under cover to review the play and decided that, rather than put their lives at risk, they should go with the option that would satisfy the home crowd. So they turned Lind’s homer into a foul ball. In the bottom half of the inning first base umpire Paul Nauert called Carl Crawford out even though all replay angles showed that he was safe. Red Sox manager Terry Francona flew out of the dugout enraged at the call, but calmly returned the to the dugout after hearing a brief statement from the Nauert. Why didn’t Francona argue the blatantly incorrect call? He understands the “even out”.

Whether it’s hitting batters, pitchers getting shown up, or umps blowing calls, baseball has a natural system of checks and balances. Having said that, I am curious to see how baseball ends up ruling on the issue of voting known PED users into Cooperstown. In extrapolating from the case of Mark McGwire, it seems like baseball might move towards keeping the “users” out. That seems like an awfully short sighted idea:

Each time details of positive tests surface, we are shocked, the player suggests the test is wrong, and if they ever finally admit to it, they claim that it was a one-time mistake. These tests don’t catch everything, especially if the timing is off, and especially if the league doesn’t have a testing policy. Players will point to their never having been caught before as evidence that they were clean at all other times. Players that have never been caught insist that they were always clean. I’m pretty sure that the majority of MLB players’ pants are on fire when it comes to discussion on this topic.

The truth seems to be that there are way more cheaters out there than we know of. I suspect that an injection needle was as much a part of the standard MLB uniform as stirrups and jock straps. Yet HOF voters seem intent on trying to punish just the poor suckers who were caught, while letting the just-as-dirty-Carl-Lewis’ of the league ride their high horses right through the front doors of Cooperstown

There was no official policy on PEDs, there was no testing program and there is certainly no public knowledge of exactly who “used” and who didn’t. Let them in based on their stats, the only delays on admission should be levied on those who lied to the media, and insisted that they never used. For each time a player looked a fan, official or member of the media straight in the eye and insisted they never used PEDs, the player should be penalized with an extra year’s delay before entering the hall. Rocket Roger look on the bright side, maybe now you'll be able to celebrate your induction with your great-grandchildren.
Monday, April 11, 2011
  If Everything Evens Out...
...which is an oft-repeated nugget of popular baseball wisdom - that bad breaks will all even out over the course of a season - then the Blue Jays can look forward to winning a game they have no business winning thanks to some lousy officiating.

That should counteract the blown interference call that cost them the 14-inning marathon Saturday night, and restore balance to the universe. The incident was instructive, as Angels 3B Alberto Callaspo proved that if you react to a slow grounder like a deer in headlights, umpires will sometimes rule in your favour.

Aside from that ugliness, and the Blue Jays stranding the population of Sudbury, Saturday's game did offer a refreshing take on bullpen usage, as John Farrell
outmanaged his more seasoned counterpart and still had a reliever in his bullpen in the 14th inning, while Mike Scioscia had already called on starter Dan Haren.

This is in stark contrast to Cito Gaston's penchant for gobbling relievers like potato chips - leading to heroic 3-inning stints by Jesse Carlson, and starters having to warm up once Carlson's arm fell off. Gaston was a little bit "match-up happy," and would burn through 2 or three relievers in a single inning of a close game - apparently with nary a though that the game might go into extra innings. Watching Farrell leave his charges in the game for multiple innings was very encouraging.

Still don't know what happened to 93-94 MPH Brett Cecil, but if can't recover those missing 4-5 MPHs, he could be in for a long season.
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