Toronto Baseball Guys
Sunday, June 27, 2010
  Shot of Brandy?...No Shot at Brandy!
Wouldn’t it have been neat if…the third game of the Phillies-Jays series got rained out, leading to a make up date on a mutual off day. And wouldn’t it have been nice if Bud Selig and MLB decided that the game could take place in Toronto since G20 protesters wouldn’t still be in the process of being scraped off the asphalt, Gay Pride revelers wouldn’t threaten to keep players up all night, the pollution index would be low enough, and the SkyCentre wouldn’t be too bland. This way we could have caught a glimpse of Roy…but that’s just wishful thinking. I know that Halladay is a phenomenal pitcher and was a great company man during his time here, but I’m still allowed to feel as stung as Arthur did, when Yick left him for the cool kids on the basketball team in the early episodes of Degrassi Junior High.

Speaking of Roy, I was reading Richard Griffin’s interview with Roy’s wife Brandy in the Star this weekend. In the accompanying article Griffin spoke very positively of the interaction and described how much the Halladay’s loved Toronto. The comments section in Griffin’s blog echoed the same sentiment as him, and suggested that Roy and Brandy were perfect and right and victims in the whole trade scenario. Call me a cynic but I’m not so sure that I agree. Obviously Mr. Griffin was appreciative of the fact that someone with the surname Halladay was willing to speak with him, so he needed to be respectful. Since no Halladay, or significant member of the MLB will ever speak to me, I’ll try to be a little more candid. If only I could have participated in the interview…

Brandy Halladay: “…When J.P. was still with them, he had come to us and said what about this extension, blah, blah, blah. He was under a lot of pressure to get us to sign this extension. And they offered us money. They offered us a lot of money. Like we said, it's not about the money, it's about putting ourselves in the position to attain the goals we set for ourselves…”

TBG Mark: Wow you guys are real heroes for accepting the meager sum of $60 million over four years to play a child’s game. That would probably have you living at the poverty line if you needed to commute to The Moon to get to work.

BH: “We never went to them and said we want a trade. They came to us every time.”

TBGM: That’s interesting, I suppose that your refusal to sign a contract extension with the team and indication that you would not return after becoming a free agent didn’t force the Jays to make a move to get something out of their most valuable asset.

BH: “For us, that first trade deadline, there were so many times that we did reminisce, that whole month because we thought for sure this was getting done. We thought we were gone and that was hard for us. We were thinking this might be my last food drive. This might be the last this or the last that. It was really hard. When I left before that All-Star Game, knowing I wasn't coming back. It was really hard. At that time people knew that the Blue Jays were shopping us around. J.P. had told us that they were going to do it quietly.”

TBGM: Oh, I see, you worked on the Food Drive, that’s interesting I wouldn’t have known that. Perhaps it would have occurred to me after you mentioned it seven times during the interview.

BH: “In July it seemed to me to be a repetition of the way that Carlos Delgado was handled and Kelvim Escobar and a few guys where the Jays said 'We have an offer out there. If said player gives us a home team discount we'd love to have him back.' But to me it was unfair with Carlos, it was unfair with Roy.”

TBGM: I’m confused, I thought money didn’t matter, what would be the problem with the home team discount?

Richard Griffin: “Was there a noticeable change when Alex took over in terms of getting it behind closed doors again and just having it private?”

BH: “I don't think that there was a change. I think J.P. took a lot of heat for things he shouldn't have taken heat for. That's just my opinion from behind the doors. I think his hands were tied a lot. I think he did the best for us that he could. There wasn't a noticeable change in the way things were handled. It was just another change. You look back. How many GMs have we gone through. We've gone through owners. We've gone through so many managers. I've seen that office change over and over and over. So it was just kind of here we go again. We're starting over again. Alex is smart. He's a smart guy. My fear was that this was the only shot we had to do this right and I was scared that with him being new that maybe it wasn't going to get done or maybe the right deals weren't going to come forward because he was new. Just that fear of starting over again.”

TBGM: First off, I’m not sure that I can trust anyone who actually supports JP. Secondly, why was there a fear that “This was the only shot we had to do this right…”? If you loved Toronto so much, what would have been the problem with playing out the final year of the legally binding contract you signed?

BH: “Yeah, this is it. It's not fair to anybody and we didn't want it to happen that way. But at the same time what are your options, you know. We don't run the show. We just try to comply with it.”

TBGM: Actually Brandy, you do run the show. If you’d been willing to sign a contract extension, then there never would have been any trade talk. Besides, didn’t you have a no trade clause?

What was with the constant use of “we” in this interview. Did you both have the nasty repertoire of pitches, pinpoint control and insatiable appetite to win? If so, maybe we should have had both of you in the rotation.

Here’s the deal. Roy Halladay was not going to resign with the Jays because they weren’t going to compete in the immediate future. It’s perfectly reasonable for him to want a chance to play in the playoffs. I do not fault him for that desire, but I certainly hold him responsible for it. He absolutely left our team and our city and it is undeniable that he was partially responsible for the move. This doesn’t take away from his performance on the mound and doesn’t mean that he’s not a good guy. But he chose to leave and for that I feel scorned.

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Saturday, June 19, 2010
  That’s What I’m Talking ‘bout Willis!
Take a seat Weiner Jays, this return engagement of the Winner Jays is a welcome sight. Rather than getting pasted all over the field, the Jays are doing what it takes to win. The starters are keeping the run totals down, the defence has been steady and stellar the last couple of nights, and the opposition pitchers are being reminded of the fact that when 9 guys swing for the fences over 27 outs, some of them will eventually connect.

Question 1: What’s more demoralizing to a pitcher than loading the bases?
Answer 1: Cruising through the game until giving up a lead changing home run. Screw OBP! What does it mean to a team that last drove in a runner from third with less than two outs around the time John Olerud switched to the batting helmet with just a single ear flap. Did you see all the fancy batting averages the Giants are sporting? Who cares? Gaints’ pitchers have some of the lowest run support totals in baseball.

Question 2: What builds more confidence and team morale: a 10-1 victory in which hits are piled up against a bottom of the barrel relief pitcher working mop up duty OR a 3-2 win with runs scored in the last at bat?
Answer 2: The close win to be sure. Have the Jays even won a game that wasn’t in doubt in the late innings?

Here are some positive thoughts about the recent struggles of the Jays:
-The team that learns to lose together will have a much greater appreciation for their 2011 pennant race, 2012 playoff appearance and 2013 World Series championship.
-Brandon Morrow has been dominant, but his era remains in the fives (well 4.97 now, but who’s counting). His odd disastrous start has bloated his numbers enough to keep opposing teams from worrying about seriously scouting him. Rather than prepping for the game, they’re spending the night before a Morrow start hanging out with Hedo Turkoglu on a “flu day”. Hopefully Jesse Litsch can use the same system to parlay that Mile High Dud into more outings like he had today (7 IP 0 ER) against the Giants. Hey can we hack into the league office and make all the Jays’ stats look crappy. It’s a great plan, and we won’t even have to worry about touching up Hill’s and Lind’s numbers.
-Cito’s approach: Last year, as the bats cooled, Cito would speak to the media after each game and comment on how the opposing pitcher with the era in the sixes suddenly found his groove. It was like a 90210 fan claiming that the university years were actually good, but only seemed bad since they paled in comparison to Saved By the Bell’s version of post high school episodes. This year, Gaston has admitted that the Jays are struggling at the plate and has insisted on some extra BP. Kudos to Cito for getting his head out of the sand.
-I'm not going to question Alex Anthopoulos since, unlike the previous GM, he's neither dishonest, rude nor self centred but the move to pick up Nick Green in place of Mike McCoy doesn't jive with me. I don't know who Nick Green is, but I do know that he's 31 and never had a season OPS higher than 700. So what's the point of demoting a younger and incredibly plucky Mike McCoy who's speed defense and versatility are a little hard to match. Oops, I stand corrected, this AA guy's an absolute genius.


Sunday, June 13, 2010
  I Hate Interleague Play
The title say is it all: "I HATE INTERLEAGUE PLAY". It's not just that the Jays suck at it. It's not just that the last many seasons have had their "ok back to reality- we suck" moment during interleague play, it is just so meaningless to do it. Other than the Sox-Cubs, Mets-Yankees, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim-Los Angeles Dodgers of Los Angels, Rangers-Astros (slight stretch), Rays-Marlins (big stretch) there is no reason for doing it. Part of the allure of that thing we do every October, the World Series, is that there has been no contact. It is like the perfectly orchestrated pro-wrestling feud; you are salivating for that mathcup, the protagonist and antagonist have been close to coming to blows, but you have never seen them face off until the big event. Does anybody really care about Jays-Colorado, Jays-Arizona, or what about the classic Rays-Pirates? Not me! Weren't all of us Jays fans thrilled when Roger Clemons gassed running the bases, when Scott Downs hurt his toe bunting or running or doing some other non-AL activity. I am sure there are more atrocities that I don't remember or never knew. Hate it, Hate it, Hate it. Mark my words - you will look back on another promising start to a season and say "You know it all went sour when we got swept by Colorado." - did I mention I hate it. HATE IT!!
Saturday, June 12, 2010
  Oops They're Doing it Again...
...They played with our hearts...

Ok, losses are piling up, the bullpen has been making us yearn for even the current version of BJ Ryan, the starters are getting hit around, and the bats have cooled faster than an Elizabeth Taylor marriage. Rather than focus on the obvious negative, I’d like to take some positive from the events of the last couple of weeks.

Tallet gets shelled: This is really ideal for the immediate success of the Jays. Tallet does have some reasonable results as a starter, but he’s much more valuable as a part of the bullpen. He can function as a lefty specialist, a short guy, long guy, spot starter and probably even has the psychological mettle required to close if it comes to that. This move allows the not quite ready for prime time Rommie Lewis to go back to the minors and allows the team to begin the audition for the fifth starter of the future…cue Jesse Litsch, Brad Mills and Marc R among others.

Adam Lind might be finding his stroke: The lopsided losses in Tampa allowed Lind to bat in meaningless situations. This allowed him to work on his approach without feeling the pressure to perform. He’s begun taking the ball hard to the opposite field, while stinging it a bit to the pull field.

David Purcey has logged some innings: Purcey’s got some nasty stuff, and has the ability to grow some facial hair, both of which make him closer material. The blowout losses have forced Cito to call Purcey’s number allowing him to get acclimated to a major league bullpen. Let’s see if we can move him into later game situations of games that are actually on the line.

In watching the Devil Ray disasters, the cameras peeled away from Dick Vitale just long enough for me to see Dustin McGowan sitting on the bench with the big club. I’d kind of given up on him/assumed his nasty stuff was just a figment of my imagination. Hope springs eternal in my feeble mind, so I’m happy and that’s all that matters.

Turning point in the rebuilding process: Ubaldo Jimenez –who I hear knows a thing or two about pitching- intentionally walked Lyle Overbay on Friday night. Suddenly the smooth swinging first baseman’s trade stock is through the roof –of his modest Seattle bungalow-. I’m thinking draft pick or power bullpen arm like the ones in Chicago that strike out every Jay batter they face, you know, the guys before mashing closer Bobby Jenks.

Can we get off Cito’s back please
Rays’ manager Joe Maddon lets BJ Upton try to steal third with a smoking hot Evan Longoria at the plate, he’s letting his catcher lead off, and he calls for his clean up hitter to bunt. These are all unconventional moves for which he is lauded as an original and creative thinker. We’re calling for Cito’s head on a platter when he uses the wrong kind of sunflower seeds. Just leave him alone and let him steer the ship. The only useful impact that a manager has is his effect on clubhouse morale. Cito’s thin skin won’t deal well with the constant attacks and morale will suffer.

Curious Question:
I know nobody reads me, so it’s kind of waste of time to ask this question, but I’ll do it anyway.
In Friday night’s game, the Jays were losing 4-3 with the bases loaded, when starting pitcher Ricky Romero was lifted for pinch hitter Jeremy Reed. If Reed’s line drive had found a hole, and the Jays had taken and held onto the lead, who would have been credited with the win?
Starter Romero? I don’t think so, he left the game with the Jays losing.
Reliever Frasor? But he would have entered the game with the Jays already in the lead. Would it be like one of those situations where the starting pitcher leaves with a lead but fails to complete the minimum five innings required for the win? I’m sure that I’d know the answer to this question if I watched more NL ball…but the Expos are gone, and I have no need to see Jays castoffs torch the league…Carpenter and Werth that’s you!
Wednesday, June 09, 2010
  "Perfect" Game Perspective
Kudos to Bud Selig for quickly rejecting the notion of overturning the final out of Armando Galarraga's perfect game that wasn't. That's a Pandora's Box that must remain forever closed, however bad it may sting. Until the 1985 Cardinals get a do-over on game 6, they don't want to hear anyone whining about missing a perfect game.

As to more instant replay in the game, baseball is neither as fast moving as hockey, nor as clock dependent as basketball, so I'm going to have to go purist here and say it's really not necessary. Sure, it hurts when your team gets hosed on a call, as it has for 125 years, but it happens pretty rarely. How many times have you come out of your seat on a close call, only to have the umpire proven right on the replay?

Rarer still are the blown calls that actually change the outcome of a game. For guys who go to work and have their every move recorded and their every mistake scrutinized and countlessly replayed, the umpires remain remarkably accurate.

We do live in the the era of technology and "get it right," but to take that to its ultimate end, on-field umpires would no longer be required. Just set up the right number of cameras, including one in dead centre field, and have balls, strikes and outs posted on the Jumbotron.

Every call would be correct and, with no umpires to argue with, the games might even speed up. They'd also become terribly anti-septic. Baseball without umpires just wouldn't be as much fun. Who would Lou Pinella throw bases at? Home run replay is replay enough.

Jim Joyce deserves tremendous credit for the best "man-up" mea culpa in recent years. How refreshing was it to hear a public apology without the words "sex addiction" involved? Can anyone doubt that Joyce thought he made the right call, or that he wanted to make the right call? He didn't disappear into therapy or rehab, he was back on the field the next day, and his should become the blueprint for all future apologies.

As for Mr. Galarraga, the loss of the perfect game in such a manner is heart-breaking in ways that even Dave Stieb never imagined. That said, what did he really lose? You can argue notoriety, except that he gained far more notoriety than the two pitchers who DID throw perfect games. At the end of the day, he threw a one-hit shutout, gained the sympathy of an entire continent and received a new car for his troubles. I humbly submit that people have had worse days at work.
Sunday, June 06, 2010
  Rising From the Ashes
I’ve commented before that this is a team, it’s not 24 guys chewing sunflower seeds waiting for Delgado’s next bomb. They’ve got each other’s backs as exhibited by their support of Lyle Overbay vs. the Media, and more recently in the case of Kevin Gregg vs. the strike zone.

In past years the Jays have had some strong periods of play, but these were more like fad diets, eventually they’d cool and fall further behind than they were before the hot stretch. The beginning of the end would always start with an unsettling loss. Often caused by something like an offence that had been averaging a boat load of runs suddenly cooling down, wasting a tidy one or two run performance from the starter, consider the Tallet vs. Yankees and Halladay vs. Braves games in 2009.

But this year’s been different. I’m not saying that this season won’t end in heart break, I’m not saying that the losses won’t begin pilling up tomorrow, but on more than one occasion this season, I’ve thrown in the proverbial towel only to see this plucky team bounce back with a win.
Monday April 5: Rangers 5 vs. Jays 4: Jason Frasor blows Shaun Marcum’s outstanding performance. Momentum is a huge deal, and this wasn’t a way to build it.
Monday April 12: ChiSox 8 at Jays 7: Jason Frasor blows the save, leaving Brian Tallet with a no-decision. This team can’t afford to waste starts of Brian Tallet that leave them in a position to win.
April 16-18: Angels sweep Jays, reminding us what it feels like to face a good team.
April 24-29: Jays lose five straight to Devil Rays and BoSox, indicating that we’re so bad, that even our supposed strength –the bullpen- isn’t that strong. I guess it’s all relative.
May 10-11: Lose the first two games to Boston in performances by Morrow and Eveland that made it look like the strike zone is harder to find than the way out of one of those repeating Dragon’s Layers in Super Mario Bros.
Thursday May 20: Kevin Gregg blows a 3-1 run lead in Seattle, but at least he provides Griffey Jr. with a nice retirement gift.
June 1-2: The Devil Rays lend weight to the theory that relievers are starters who couldn’t cut it.

Even with each of these tough loses the Jays currently stand nine games above 0.500, and their resolve seems stronger than ever –See 14 inning win vs. Yankees-. They’re like a phoneix, rising from the ashes, but they’re better than a phoenix, because they keep doing it…that’s it, they’re like some sort of cat phoenix, rising from the ashes nine times. There’s just something special about this team, I don’t know if it’s luck, frustration at stars like Halladay and Rolen begging their way out of town, or a response to the fact that Alex Anthopoulos is a much better human being than JP Ricciardi, but for some reason this team has gelled…Major League style, consider the bullpen as Charlie Sheen and the Rays as that Clew Haywood guy that kept burning the “Wild Thing”. I can hardly wait for the one game playoff at the end of the season.

Other Thoughts:
Someone get Dave Stieb out of retirement…newly acquired Dewayne Wise will take it from there.
Speaking of Perfect Games: Thanks for the corvette but you know what I’d really like…A Perfect Game! Why did GM give Armando “Little Cat” Galarraga a free car? He’s a professional baseball player, I think he can afford his own ride.
Props for Jim Joyce: We’re all human and none of us are perfect, the umpire reminded us of this during the game on Wednesday. However, the honesty and humility with which Joyce admitted his error left me more impressed with him, than I would have been if he’d nailed that call.
In Defence of Jim Joyce: I know it should have been an out, but the ball really did seem to jiggle around in Galarraga’s mit, making the call a little less clear for an umpire who’s listening for the catch while watching for a foot hitting the bag in real time.
1.21 GW of fury: This just in…I don’t think Cito owns a Delorean and if he does, I truly doubt it’s outfitted with a flux capacitor, so we shouldn’t expect him to know the future. Obviously he’s made some debatable moves, but he’s got this team overachieving in large part due to a healthy clubhouse atmosphere that he’s been overseeing.

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Tuesday, June 01, 2010
  Save Wags the Jays Into a Loss
As this entry is being written, the Blue Jays haven't yet put the finishing touches on a devastating loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. Up 5-3, the home side coughed up a 4-spot in the 9th, as Kevin Gregg walked the population of Mississauga.

Let's not blame Gregg, let's blame absolutely reprehensible bullpen management. Granted, it's completely orthodox bullpen management - that doesn't make it any less idiotic.

To get to the 9th inning, up 5-3, the Jays burned through a total of five pitchers.

Consider the reasons to replace a starting pitcher:

1) He's no longer effective.
2) He's obviously fatigued or has a high pitch count.
3) He's injured.
4) He's being lifted for a pinch hitter.

We're talking American League here, so number 4 is moot, and injuries are relatively rare, so you basically pull a starter if he's tired or getting hit around. Not so for a reliever, for whom we can add three more reasons:

1) You're left-handed and the next batter isn't.
2) You're right-handed and the next batter isn't.
3) You're not our "closer".

The Jays fell victim to all of these tonight. Consider the 8th inning, Shawn Camp had retired all three batters he'd faced, on a total of six pitches. With two outs and no one on, let's bring in Scott Downs, because, hey, the next batter's left-handed. So on comes Downs to battle the promising, but-not-to-be-mistaken-for-Ted-Williams Reid Brignac.

For the record:

Brignac vs RHP: 800 OPS
Brignac vs LHP: 1.010 OPS (just 11 ABs)
Camp vs LHB: 712 OPS
Downs vs LHB: .620 OPS

Does anyone think the extra 92 points of OPS are worth burning a fresh, effective reliever? Worst case scenario, Brignac hits a homer and you still have a lead. But here comes Downs, and he retires Brignac on just 5 pitches. So now the two-run lead is in the hands of Downs, but Downs falls victim to reliever laws 1) and 3), because right-handed B.J. Upton is set to lead off the 9th, and far more importantly, Scott Downs is NOT the "closer".

To the first point, Scott Downs vs RHB: .605 OPS, but it's the second point that turns baseball managers into complete idiots, and that's the unwritten rule that says the closer gets all the saves. And so the Jays burn through two pitchers, who retired all four hitters they faced on a grand total of 11 pitches, to get to the pitcher who gets all the saves, because, hey, it's a save situation.

Every time a manager pulls a pitcher who has pitched effectively in favour of a "match-up," he's rolling the dice that the next guy will also be effective. It's about the only time in all of sport that a player who is succeeding is taken out of the game. In this case, the Jays went back to the well after finding two effective relievers, until getting to Gregg, who ended up throwing 40 pitches... 14 for strikes.

It's a maddening waste of resources. There was no need to pull Camp in the first place - the odds were very much in his favour of completing the Hurculean task of retiring Reid Brignac. If you'd like to start the ninth with Gregg vs Upton, that's defensible, and then you can still call on Downs once Gregg displays all the control of an incontinent 93-year-old at a prune eating contest. But, no, all the Jays had was Rommie Lewis at the back of the pen once the lead had evaporated.

Make no mistake, managing like this is safe. Your closer is your guy, and it's an easy choice to put him out there. At the post game press conference, just confirm that you believe in him and move on to the next game. If you don't put him on the mound, that invites more challenging questions like, "Don't you believe in Gregg anymore?" "Is he unable to pitch in back-to-back games?" and the like. Never mind that those should be easy to answer with a simple, "Why would I pull xxxx, when he was getting people out?" That is, after all, the point of the game - not to manage so that your bullpen stats end up with one player having all the saves.

Now the Jays head into tomorrow's game with Gregg almost certainly unavailable, and the series tied 1-1. A more creative approach could easily have a rested Gregg poised to close out a sweep.
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