The 2011 Toronto Blue Jays season is at its end, and while I’m pretty sure nobody is quite yet ready to relive all the… uh… magical ups and downs we’ve been through together, I’ve been re-reading The Vice Guide to Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll and am full-on ready to rip off one their guide formats. Besides, what the fuck else are we going to talk about around here for the next month? The playoffs? Now that’s depressing.
So here we go, the definitively non-definitive DJF guide to the 2011 Jays season. See you on the other side…
Alex Anthopoulos will murder you
The silent motherfucking assassin. By unloading the Vernon Wells contract, Alex Anthopoulos pretty much had as great an off-season as humanly possible, and he continued his pillage of MLB into the season, inking Yunel Escobar to a contract extension that made JJ Hardy’s look like it was devised by the Baltimore Orioles, and turning a bunch of spare parts into Colby Rasmus– one of the best young players in baseball, regardless of what the local media will moronically tell you after 130-odd plate appearances. Any guide to what the Jays did in 2011 has to start with this cold-blooded wizard of a General Manager… especially if it’s an alphabetical one.
Bautista’s contract pays off
I can’t imagine what kind of fucking assholes would have argued that Jose Bautista’s 2010 did not provide anywhere close to a sufficient amount of data to justify handing him a giant contract last winter, but thank fuck the Blue Jays didn’t listen to them. All Bautista did as an encore was lead the Majors in home runs, OPS and slugging, he put up the highest on-base of any AL player since the roidy heyday of 2002, and led the American League in rWAR. For all that, his new contract averages $13-million a season– or $8-million less than what Vernon Wells will make each of the next three years.
Before 2011 most Jays fans– if they remembered him at all– would have best known Chad Mottola for his years with the Syracuse SkyChiefs from 2005 to 2007. His returned to our consciousness this year as the hitting coach in Las Vegas. Mottola raised eyebrows with the performance of his 51s hitters, who led the triple-A Pacific Coast League in on-base percentage, and for his “call up” in September. When manager John Farrell spoke openly to the media late in the season about the need for his hitters to go deeper into counts, and to make opposing pitchers work harder, it didn’t take a rocket surgeon to start wondering if Mottola might be in line for a bigger role in the organization.
Drabek loses control
Kyle Drabek entered the season as the Jays’ best pitching prospect– if not their best prospect– and the centrepiece of the Roy Halladay deal. He allowed just one hit and struck out seven in his season debut and sported a 1.93 ERA after three outings, but after that it all went fucking downhill. By the time he was demoted in mid-June he’d completely forgotten how to throw strikes, and his summer in the hitter’s wet dream that is the PCL appeared to provide little in the way of help. He exits 2011 as perhaps the least promising of the three pieces ultimately acquired for Halladay. The stuff appears to still be there, but until he remembers how to command it, what the hell is it going to matter?
E5′s adventures in fielding
Edwin Encarnacion wasn’t a great third baseman in 2010, but with just 18 errors (I know, not the best measure) over 841 innings, he wasn’t exactly unplayably effing terrible either. But that didn’t stop the Jays from assuring fans when they brought him back that he was to be a DH and insurance at first base for Adam Lind. Yet, for some reason, at the end of spring training, they pulled a complete reversal, moving Jose Bautista to his preferred position in right field, and anointing Edwin the clubs third baseman. It… um…. it didn’t go so well. In fact, it was kinda like a goddamn canyon-sized nuclear holocaust of a disasterfuck. And not only did Encarnacion make eight errors and put up a ghastly -6.8 UZR over the 273 innings he played at third in 2011, he took his defensive fucking awfulness with him to the plate, and looked like absolutely one of the worst players in the game. After he was moved off the position for good on July 24th he snapped out of his funk, hitting .289/.375/.507/.882 the rest of the way.
Frank Francisco’s tale of two seasons
When the Jays traded Vernon Wells last winter they ended up with Mike Napoli, and not knowing he was about to embark on one of the greatest offensive seasons for a catcher in baseball history, the club decided to flip him to Texas for reliever Frank Francisco. The big right-hander was hurt for most of the spring, and at the start of the season it showed more plainly than Eric Hinske’s bitch tits. Francisco entered the All-Star break with a 5.92 ERA, an .880 OPS against, and a bulls-eye on his back from every mouth-breathing Wilner caller in the GTA. He had even lost his job to the somehow-even-shittier Jon fucking Rauch. But then a funny thing happened: he absolutely destroyed the second half of 2011, looking every bit the elite late-inning reliever the Jays thought they were getting in putting up a 1.37 ERA and a .543 OPS against. Even at the cost of a draft pick, the fucker might be worth bringing back.
Gillick and Alomar enter the Hall of Fame
There were only like twenty seven ceremonies for it over the course of the season, so I’m not entirely sure that you’ve heard, but it turns out Robbie Alomar and Pat Gillick were both elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame this summer. The architect of the Jays’ 1992 and 1993 World Series champions– not to mention a bunch of great Jays teams before that, as well as outstanding teams with the Orioles, Mariners and Phillies– and the most talented player in franchise history were enshrined on a sunny day in late July in Cooperstown (perfect for inadvertently stealing a jersey!). Alomar was honoured again a week later by the Jays, who retired his number 12 prior to a kick-ass 7-3 win over Texas.
Hill and McDonald depart
I’m not entirely sure why, but the Jays broke many a heart early this September when they shipped lovable utility player John McDonald and two-year underachiever Aaron Hill to the Arizona Diamondbacks for second baseman Kelly Johnson. Or… well… OK, I kinda get the heartbreak when it comes to the folk hero McDonald, whose Father’s Day 2010 home run, mere weeks after his father’s passing, and defensive wizardry endeared him to Jays fans like no other benchwarmer in at least generation. But Hill? The one-time up-and-comer who’d struggled im-fucking-mensely for so long? That heartbreak made almost as little sense as why anyone was listening to the pissing and moaning of “fans” who hadn’t paid attention for two years in the first place.
Largely reported as a footnote, the Blue Jays were exceptionally active on the international free agent market this summer, picking up seven players from Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Mexico in late August– including 16-year-old Robert Osuna, who was already pitching against men in the Mexican league, and was, along with fellow signing Wuilmer Becerra, among Baseball America’s Top 40 international prospects. Add in early-July signing Dawel Lugo– who received a reported $1.3-million bonus, almost as much as sandwich round draft pick Kevin Comer– and it was quite the impressive haul for the Jays, who continue to stock their farm system with high-end talent.
The learning curve was steep for Jays manager John Farrell in his rookie season behind the bench. The players say they love him and he’s by all accounts an intelligent man, self-reflexive, and a natural leader. But while he certainly improved as the season went on– and after Alex Anthopoulos took away his opportunities to have Octavio Dotel face fucking left-handers, and to let Corey Patterson run wild, sending the pair to St. Louis in the Colby Rasmus deal– there are still far too many bunts and too many strange permutations of the lineup in his repertoire to call him anything but a work in progress.
K. Nelson, Amy
Along with co-author Peter Keating, ESPN’s Amy Nelson ham-fistedly attempted in an early August feature to assert that the Jays were cheats, based on some stories from White Sox relievers about a signalling “man in white” in the Rogers Centre outfield and a molehill of statistical “evidence.” The pair ended up chickenshitting out with a third-rate barely high school-calibre final paragraph that admitted they couldn’t tie together the strands of what they were seeing and being told, concluding only that “every pitch to a Blue Jay in Toronto is worth watching.” Their statistical evidence, of course, wasn’t just inconclusive, it was monumentally fucking laughable– a fact that quickly became somewhat overlooked as Nelson was singled out made the target of a great deal of misogynist commentary from across the internet, including some that I, regrettably, re-printed here.
After an absolutely putrid 2010– where he OPS’d an unbelievably awful .341 against left-handers, and just .712 overall– Adam Lind started 2011 on fire. He slumped slightly in mid-April before surging like a fucking freight train again into the first week of May, when his season derailed thanks to a back injury. A month on the shelf did wonders and he looked great in his return… for a little while. His OPS was at 1.017 on June 18th, but as the rigors of his first season at first base began taking their toll on his body– especially his wonky back– Lind slumped again, and over the 79 games following that high point, he OPS’d a godawful .576. Yeesh.
When Jason Frasor was traded to Chicago as part of the Rasmus deal, Dustin McGowan became the longest tenured Toronto Blue Jay, but you’d hardly have known it. At the time it had been over three years since he’d actually last thrown a pitch for the club. But after multiple surgeries and years of rehabbing, McGowan remarkably returned to the majors in 2011, ending his year as a member of the Jays’ rotation, starting four times to varying degrees of success. And not only was his comeback remarkable in its own right, he flashed enough of his old “stuff“– which ex-catcher Sal Fasano, now manager of the Jays’ double-A affiliate in New Hampshire, called the best he’d seen in his life– to set the minds of Jays fans spinning for what he might be able to offer if he can stay healthy going forward, and manages to shake off the rust.
No-hit by Verlander
In what would be an early indicator of the incredible season he was embarking on, Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers came to Rogers Centre on May 7th, and before a crowd of 23,435 no-hit the Jays. It’s never easy to see your team so thoroughly dominated, but you had to hand it to Verlander, who was just spectacular, maintaining his high-90s heat through to the ninth inning, and accomplishing the feat in just 108 pitches. All that separated him from a perfect game was a JP Arencibia walk (no, really) in the bottom of the eighth. A double play quickly followed, and Verlander ended up facing just 27 batters in the best-pitched game at Rogers Centre since Brandon Morrow’s 17 strikeout August 2010 masterpiece.
Overbay, Rios, Wells, Gonzalez, and Hill
Some of the worst regulars in baseball during the 2011 season had very familiar names to Jays fans. Five ex-Jays spent a great deal of time plumbing the depths of FanGraphs’ WAR leaderboard, with Lyle Overbay, Alex Rios, Vernon Wells, Alex Gonzalez and Aaron Hill somehow all getting regular playing time, while combining to produce less than one Win Above Replacement. And most of that value came from Aaron Hill’s season-ending post-trade swoon, where his 1.6 WAR over 33 games in the desert offset the -0.8 wins he provided during his time as a Jay. Amazingly, Hill and Overbay are in the playoffs with the Diamondbacks, while Gonzalez’s Braves held the NL Wildcard until the last day of the season, and Wells’ Angels were in the race into September. Still… good riddance to them all. And since I’m not going to mention him elsewhere in this guide, you can throw Jo-Jo Reyes and that whole experiment in out-of-options shitballers in there too.
Patterson of centrefield
Thanks to some early-season hot streaks forcing his bat into the lineup, and a lack of other viable options, Corey Patterson played 30 games in centrefield for the Toronto Blue Jays this season, and anybody who watched him there would surely agree, it was 30 too many. While he may be fleet-footed– and I really do mean may, because I tend to think he’s actually kinda not– his slow jumps, shitty arm, bad routes to balls and straight-up miscues made routine plays sometimes so tough to watch that we were actually pining to see the fullback-like build of Travis Snider patrolling centre– and for a handful of games in July, prior to the Rasmus deal, the Jays actually tried it. Hey, but I guess if Patterson’s good enough for Tony LaRussa, who am I to judge? At least he’s the Genius’s problem now.
Quest for a double-play
Despite the record, the ERA, and the string of fugly starts from mid-August to mid-September, according to what he refers to as “nerd stats,” Brandon Morrow had a pretty good year– better than Ricky Romero’s, if you can believe it, according to FanGraphs’ FIP-driven version of WAR. However, his FIP really only looks so nice because the stat assumes that pitchers can’t control what happens to a batted ball once it’s in play– a sound principle most of the time, but one that’s kinda undone by something like a pitcher having a historically fucking difficult time inducing double plays, as Morrow did in 2011. It took him 29 starts and the introduction of a cutter before he managed his first and only one of the year, September 23rd at Tampa Bay– a span of 170 innings. If the Jays are to succeed, he’ll have to do a lot better– and he’s certainly capable, as he’s shown in flashes during his two seasons in Toronto.
Rauch, Jon fucking
If there was ever any doubt that Alex Anthopoulos was trying to game MLB’s free agent compensation system, it was put to rest last winter when the Jays traded cash to the Rockies for Miguel Olivo just to procure a draft pick. That move worked out swimmingly, but not every attempt Anthopoulos makes at getting an extra draft pick is going to, as Jays fans found out the hard way in 2011 by having to suffer through the vomitous performances of Kevin Gregg 2.0, Jon Rauch– aka Jon fucking Rauch. Mercifully put out of his misery with a season-ending trip to the DL thanks to a combination of appendicitis and knee trouble known in these parts as right arm shittiness, Rauch blew five of his 16 save opportunities, contributed a negative WPA in 15 of his 53 appearances, and finished the season below replacement level, with a -0.6 WAR according to FanGraphs. Ugh.
Seeing Mike McCoy pitch
On Saturday, June 11th, the Jays were blown out by the Boston Red Sox, 16-4, with Brandon Morrow getting torched for 9 runs over 4.1 innnings. It was an ugly day at the Rogers Centre, but the few fans who stuck around to the bitter end were at least treated to a rare sight, when the Jays’ super-utility man, Mike McCoy– Mikey Mick!– came out to pitch the ninth inning. With a “fast”ball that averaged just 76.1 mph and a 62 mph curve, McCoy somewhat impressively retired the three batters he faced on just twelve pitches, popping up Carl Crawford before Marco Scutaro flied out to left and JD Drew grounded out to McCoy’s replacement at second base, Jayson Nix. I’d take him over Rauch any day.
What guide to the Jays’ 2011 season would be complete without a mention of Travis Snider? The dicked-around mega-prospect was again supposed to have the everyday left field job for good or for ill, and again was demoted after a criminally-low number of plate appearances– albeit a criminally-low number of plate appearances in which he was fucking terrible. And this happened not once but twice during the season. Still just 23, Snider has plenty of career left in which to find the swing that made scouts once salivate over him, but next spring he’ll be entering yet another season as a giant question mark– no thanks to the Jays’ treatment of him over the last few years (i.e. the dicking around).
Unsigned first-rounder Tyler Beede
A lot was made– especially by the hysterical fuck brigade that likes to moronically pounce on any hint of tightfistedness– of the Jays’ inability to sign 2011 first round pick, Tyler Beede, who rather hilariously valued a Vanderbilt education more than the $2.5-million he was being offered by the club. But believe it or not, the Jays’ draft was still ultimately a major success. The club gets an extra first rounder next year as compensation for failing to sign Beede, and they did sign second-rounder Dan Norris– likely a brighter talent anyway, who dropped because his price scared teams off. They also added a host of other high-end talents that other teams avoided due to signability concerns– or, in the case of steal-of-a-potential-closer John Stilson, injury concerns. The digital ink spilled in outrage over Beede was, in a word, slightly re-fucking-diculous.
When Alex Anthopoulos answered questions in French during his introductory press conference two years ago, you could tell right away that the Jays had finally started to remember that the whole of Canada is a potential market for them. A big step toward creating a more national brand for the club was taken in 2011, as the single-A Vancouver Canadians began their first year as a Jays affiliate. And with record-breaking attendance at Nat Bailey Stadium, their first Northwest League championship, and a spectacular season from 2010 second-rounder Justin Nicolino– who was eventually promoted– there is no doubt that the experiment in Vancouver was an unqualified success.
Where’s Brett Lawrie?
The question of the summer was finally, finally and thunderously answered on August 5th, when Brett Lawrie– the Canadian third baseman acquired from Milwaukee last winter for Shaun Marcum, who had torched triple-A all season– made his debut at Camden Yards in Baltimore, hitting an RBI single in his first at-bat, and homering the next night. It was off and running from there, as Lawrie put up a .953 OPS over the season’s final two months, before a broken finger did what American Leauge pitching couldn’t, shutting him down prematurely in late September. His OPS, could he have kept it up for a full year, would have been bettered by only seven hitters in majors, all of whom will receive MVP votes. Unreal.
X is hard, so I’ll go with this bastardized spelling of “extra innings,” in which the Jays were incredibly fantastic during the 2011 season. That’s especially true– in fact, entirely true– when they were at home, as they went 13-4 in extra inning games overall, but a remarkable 11-0 at the Rogers Centre. That 11-0 record includes an Edwin Encarnacion walk-off homer in the final home game of the season, and a pair of fourteen inning wins that were somehow both among my too few trips to the former SkyDome this season: an impossible Corey Patterson walk-off home run against the White Sox in May, and Rajai Davis bunting his way on, stealing second, then third, then coming home on a John McDonald sac fly to finally, mercifully beat Seattle in July.
Next to Albert Pujols’s birth certificate, the thing baseball fans will probably be hearing about most this winter is the posting fee for Yu Darvish, the spellbinding pitcher for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters– and if the mid-season trip Alex Anthopoulos made to see the Japanese ace is any indication, the Blue Jays are going to be in that conversation a lot. Not only have they already been identified as frontrunners by ESPN’s Buster Olney, both Anthopoulos and manager John Farrell have indicated that they’d like to add a front-line pitcher to the club’s rotation. Might the flashy, but incredibly expensive and frighteningly untested Darvish be that piece?
Zaun the air!
After catching a couple spring training games for the San Diego Padres, ex-Jay Gregg Zaun decided that his heart wasn’t in it and that it was time for him to retire from baseball. He was quickly picked up by Rogers Sportsnet, who he’d worked with for a number of years as a between-innings analyst during the playoffs, and provided us with a season of something all too rare for Rogers: refreshingly unvarnished, interesting commentary. Zaun also spent time in the radio booth, filling in for Alan Ashby the few times “Buns” moved to the TV side to give viewers a fleeting taste of what quality broadcasting actually sounds like. Perhaps more shuffling is still in the cards– one can certainly hope.