It’s not very much fun to be a Jays fan right now. The team that came into the year with such weighty expectations is now 3-6 with a mere 153 games remaining. In order to reach the crucial 95 win threshold, that means they can only lose 61 more times this season. R.A. Dickey and Josh Johnson only have 32 starts each in which to turn their seasons around. Only five-and-three-quarters months of the six month schedule remain.
Obviously things are dire.
But the early season is still such a time for hope that it seems awfully silly to focus so heavily on the negative just yet. There are lots of people who are probably pleased as pig in shit with the way that the season has started so far for the Jays. One that immediately comes to mind, for example, is Detroit-based, Toronto-lovin’ master baiter Jon Morosi of Fox Sports, who has surely already shit-eating-grinned his way through a number tweets designed to rile up the unwashed hoser masses.
If Toronto loses here, the Jays will be only one of two AL teams with at least 5 losses. The other is Houston.
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) April 9, 2013
On the Jays: It is rare for a World Series contender to tinker this much with waiver claims early in a season.
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) April 10, 2013
Morosi also began a column this week like this:
After seven games last season, the Miami Marlins were 2-5.
After seven games this season, the Toronto Blue Jays are 2-5.
Ominous as fuck, huh?
I wrote in yesterday’s Rain Delay Theatre post that, “of course, none of this means anything. But if people too dumb to know better than to not take Morosi seriously want to believe that it does, evidently he doesn’t care.”
I tried to keep some perspective on it, adding that “I hate it when fans suggest that any national writer who ever says anything bad about the Jays must have it in for them in some way– as if they would fucking care enough to bother. What does happen, though, is that they know where traffic comes from, and Morosi is especially adept at baiting the sizeable Jays fanbase online. Doesn’t mean he’s not kinda being a shitbag here, but I at least understand it.”
I guess that means I understood it, too, when today he was right back at it, tweeting seemingly harmless facts, the panicky implications of which– while techincally left to the reader– are slightly screamingly bloody obvious.
Josh Johnson so far: 50 pitches, 4 outs.
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) April 11, 2013
Josh Johnson’s fastball averaged 94.9 mph in 2010, according to FanGraphs. It was 88-89 today.
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) April 11, 2013
Granted, Morosi added a caveat about the weather, but to my mind the seed of panic had already been planted. And shit, maybe there’s something not entirely crazy and link-bait-y to it, as even Keith Law, who chatted today with readers at ESPN.com, ran with the notion that something possibly isn’t right with Johnson. “Throwing 88-89 isn’t likely due to conditions in Detroit, but maybe conditions in his arm,” he wrote.
Except… no. There doesn’t appear to be a whole lot of anything to be alarmed about here– which certainly doesn’t mean that there can’t be something wrong, it’s just that I don’t see why anyone would think that based on what’s in the public domain about today’s start.
From the BrooksBaseball.net, here’s the velocity chart for Johnson’s outing today:
It’s low, certainly, but definitely not the 88-89 that was being reported. That said, they have 23 pitches classified as changeups, and they averaged 88.8 (maxing out at 91.28), which is maybe a bit odd and may speak to a pitch classification problem. However, there are eleven four-seamers, and their average velocity reads 90.73, topping out at 92.34.
His previous start, on April 5th at Rogers Centre against the Red Sox, looked a bit different, it’s true. In that game he threw 57 four-seamers, averaging 93.66 and topping out at 95.65, compared to four pitches classified as changeups. The drop in velocity is a bit alarming, yes, but quite not as alarming as saying he was at 88-89, especially after pointing out that in 2010 he was at 94.9, since the year-long average itself is quite deceiving.
Back in the spring of 2011, Mike Fast, then writing for Baseball Prospectus, did some interesting research into the effect of cold weather on pitchers, explaining that “Fastball speed for an average major-league pitcher starts at its lowest point in early April, rises by about 1.0-1.5 mph to a peak in the month of July, and declines gradually thereafter.”
In fact, “fastball speed has a strong dependence on temperature, irrespective of the point in the season,” he found, adding that “if we approximate the relationship between temperature and fastball speed as linear, we find that average fastball speed increases by about one mph for every 37-degree [Fahrenheit] increase in game-time temperature.”
So, it would therefore seem entirely expected, given the temperature– which was 1.4 C at game time– and the time of year that Johnson wasn’t going to be bringing even the diminished heat that we saw him work with last season. He’s certainly a little off where you’d expect him to be given that qualifier, but not staggeringly so, as far as I’m concerned.
Looking at an extra little nugget of Pitch F/X data, we find that today’s brief outing was not entirely dissimilar to his final spring start, in Philadelphia. Back on March 30th at Citizen’s Bank Park, as the temperature hovered around 14 and 15 degrees Celcius, Johnson threw 13 pitches were classified as changeups, averaging 87.22, compared to twelve four-seamers, averaging 92.5.
Granted, that’s not a particularly good benchmark to come up short on for a guy who once pitched two straight years averaging close to 96, but it seems pretty reasonable for the new Johnson, and given the conditions today, anything resembling a call to panic– implied or otherwise– doesn’t, to me, seem justified.
At the very least, I think we need to give it another start before we even consider considering getting concerned. Chalk it up as another damn early-season dud, and let’s just move on already.