On time for once, here we are! Happy Monday! It’s time for your weekly edition of the ol Griff Bag– aka my caustic hijacking of all the insanity that dribbled out of the brains of the readership of Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star. Taste it.
As always, I have not read any of Griffin’s answers.
If there’s a question you’d like me to answer, email it to email@example.com and maybe he’ll select it for a future mail bag. Fingers crossed!
What do you think about the Blue Jays signing Robinson Cano this offseason?
I know the style of contract he might receive this offseason isn’t usually what the Blue Jays look for on the market, but I think if it’s viewed as a long-term investment it could solve a lot of the problems currently facing the club. First off, the presence of a player like Cano is desperately needed on this ball club. Secondly, the price of signing Cano (rumoured to be upwards of $200 million) would be costly to the payroll the next couple seasons. However this should be a reasonable expense because, with other big contracts coming off the books after 2015, the cost of Cano wouldn’t be as big of a burden going forward into the later years of the contract. Last, but certainly not least, to sign Cano for the Jays is to steal him away from the Yankees.
But what do you think? Would it be wise for the Blue Jays the present a convincing offer to Robinson Cano this offseason?
Zak K., London, ON
The presence? Good lord. Yeah, Cano is a great player, and yes, the Jays need a second baseman, and it would be terrific to pry him away from the Yankees. But… uh… don’t you think you’re maybe being a little bit flippant about the $200-million investment you’re suggesting? Rogers’ pockets may be infinitely deep, but that doesn’t mean the Jays’ payroll is, and as great as any $100- or $200-million player would look on our fugly little carpet– y’know, unless he’s Josh Hamilton, or Albert Pujols, or… actually I might be worried about anybody over 30 (as Cano is)– it’s hard to see it making the kind of business sense you expect. That is, unless there’s some kind of commitment from Rogers to keep payroll a lot higher than it currently is.
That’s because, while the Jays do indeed have money coming off the books following 2015, there will still be players to pay– Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus may end up with healthy extensions, for example. Shit, there’s no reason to think that Brandon Morrow, Edwin Encarnacion, or even Jose Bautista, are necessarily on their last contracts here, given that they’ll be heading into their age 30, 33, and 35 seasons respectively when the decisions on picking up their option years arise.
In a perfect world, sure, go after Cano, why the hell not? But even if it were possible to land him– and, realistically, I’d say that’s very remote– I just don’t know. I mean, any kind of giant contract like that, I just don’t know. Beyond just the obvious ones, like Hamilton and Pujols, how’s Adrian Gonzalez doing? Or Matt Kemp? Or Prince Fielder? Even Justin Verlander may have slipped just enough, if he can’t bounce back, to make his new extension a seriously ugly deal. Of course, those guys are all helping their teams now, so maybe it’s worth it, but I would certainly fear that Rogers would have no qualms making a monster deal an albatross by clamping down on payroll elsewhere down the line.
Am I wrong in perceiving your apparent support for Melky Cabrera?
He’s a hard guy to like, given his dishonest history. Without drugs, he’s become a powerless hitter with a mediocre fielding ability. Along with Rajai (The Oven Mitt) Davis, the obscene J.P. Arencibia and a few others, he would seem to be a true case of addition by subtraction.
Selby Martin, Toronto
The concept is probably lost on someone who comes off as having his feet nearly as firmly planted in the modern age as C. Montgomery Burns, but there are these things called correlation and causation. One doesn’t necessarily imply the other, yet when it comes to Melky’s P.E.D. use, you go ahead and assume that it does, overlooking the freakin’ tumour discovered pressing on nerves in his lower spine. You, uh… you don’t think that might have had something to do with his struggles this year? No, no, better just be safe about it and be a complete fucking hopeless narrative-swallowing dick and assume Melky was magically transformed into an MVP-type player by drugs that other, lesser players took and still sucked.
Frankly, it’s probably better you not think too hard about it. Lord knows you’re not demonstrating a capacity to get beyond the most thunderously fucking dull-headed “grasp” of a particular viewpoint you hold. Like… addition by subtraction how??? Because you imagine it to be??? You can’t just say shit, base it on whatever dust gets kicked up by the braying mule that occupies your skull, and hope you’ve said it emphatically enough that people will just smile and go along with it as though you’re not doing the digital equivalent of chatting with the bartender in the Gold Room of the Overlook Hotel.
The new C.E.O is from Europe and may not have an idea what the Jays mean to the fans in this country. I don’t think I can handle another payroll cutback and promises of a rebuild.
Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated.
Yeah, a European would never be able to understand what sports teams mean to their fans.
Q. Good morning
How are you today? The sun is really trying hard to peak through the dreadful clouds this morning. I’m feeling good. I’m not going to complain about players, coaches or the manager today. But I’m going to complain about our baseball field at Rogers Centre. We need a baseball field to play baseball.
Even I know (I never played baseball in my life . . . grew up in India . . . came to Canada 40 years ago and I was 30 years old) everyone plays baseball on grass. I wonder how much this floor is contributing to the down time of our players including all stars like Jose Bautista, Jose Reyes, Encarnacion or even future stars like Adam Lind, Colby Rasmus and Brett Lawrie.
This concrete floor at SkyDome (Rogers Centre) has to go. Let us stop the limping of all our beloved Blue Jays. What do you think, Richard? When are we going to get a field of grass for our players to play? The management at Rogers should take immediate measure and do something about it.
Enough of limping Jays.
Thanks and have a wonderful day.
Tapan Chatterjee, Brampton
This is something we’ve covered a lot around here, and you’re absolutely right that grass is long overdue in the stadium that Rogers bought for a (relative) song, and it finally sounds like something is going to be done about it. There is, of course, the Argos problem, and the problem posed by the fact that Rogers gets all kinds of ancillary revenue from hosting other events in the building, but with the Jays being the prime tenants, the investment in the club being so massive, and their success being so integral to Rogers’ sports media platforms, it certainly does seem like the company has finally seen the light on this– and the fact that putting grass in may end up extending the life of the building by decades probably doesn’t hurt either.
As for the injury stuff, though, I don’t think there’s a direct link between the turf and most of those specific injuries. Reyes was hurt on a slide in Kansas City, Lawrie was hurt at the WBC, and Encarnacion was hurt on a swing, for example. But I know that the turf is in a bad state– that should be obvious to anyone who has noted visiting teams sometimes holding out their best players in order to keep them off the surface. Players will tell you that it’s harder on their bodies than real grass, even if we don’t necessarily see an abundance of turf-related injuries to point to. Plus, I’ve heard rumblings that this year it’s been trampled down more than usual, and because of that taken a turn for the worse. It also plays very fast, which poses a different set of problems– especially when *COUGH* the Jays have less-than-stellar defenders at certain infield positions.
The logistics will be difficult– it may take as long as five years, reportedly– but it’s so very badly in the best long-term interests of the franchise that they’ve recognized that they’ve got to do it. The wheels are in motion.
Q. Okay, Mariano Rivera is one of the greatest, but come on, Richard, today’s closers pitch one inning, maybe two if we’re lucky. I’m old enough to remember that when the Yankees had a lead in the late 70s, they would bring Goose Gossage out from the 7th inning onward to close out a game. Same thing with Sutter. Today’s relievers, even ones as great as Rivera, don’t do that any more. I would put Gossage, Sutter, Fingers and Eckersley all ahead of Rivera, as great as the Yankees’ closer has been.
And let’s not forget the great Mike Marshall, while we’re at it!
All the best,
You’re not wrong that the way late inning relievers are utilized has changed over the years, and that guys like Gossage indeed pitched more innings than a guy like Rivera. But that alone doesn’t elevate him and his ilk over Rivera. At least not for me.
From his age 33 season onward, which covered ten seasons (1985 to 1994, though he missed all of 1990), Gossage appeared in 372 games, logging 470.2 innings. Rivera’s numbers from age 33 onward cover eleven seasons (2003 to 2013, though he missed most of 2012), and he’s been in 603 games, pitching 701.2 innings, with an ERA a run-and-a-half lower, despite playing mostly in a more favourable offensive era. Maybe that speaks to just how overworked Gossage was earlier in his career (it’s the same story for Sutter)– and indeed, Goose’s peak eleven years featured almost exactly the same amount of innings as Rivera’s entire career, with a comparable ERA (2.44 for Gossage, 2.21 for Rivera)– but… it’s just different. And if we’re speaking of peak years, Rivera’s peak has pretty much been his entire career. He pitched 61 times in 1996, posting a 2.09 ERA, and as of Saturday has pitched 62 times this season, with an ERA of 2.21. He’s been remarkably consistent, and again, did so through one of the toughest eras for pitchers in the game’s history.
Plus, Rivera pitched more than 60 times in a year 15 times– for Gossage that number was five. In other words, it’s not as though he pitched exactly as often as Rivera, but just did so for more innings. Mariano has appeared in over 100 more games than Gossage did, and has played three fewer seasons. The innings advantage Gossage has, then, while impressive, is maybe not as impressive as it looks on first blush. And while racking up innings is a great way for pitcher to accumulate value, for Gossage the additional ones are still not, for me, enough to say his career was better than Rivera’s. Consider the ERA- stat that you’ll find on player pages at FanGraphs, which compares a pitcher’s ERA to league average: for his career, Gossage’s ERA- of 80 means he was 20% better than average. Sutter’s 75 means he was 25% better. Rivera’s ERA- is 49, or 51% better than average. Add in the consistency and you have a pitcher in Rivera with 56 wins above replacement per Baseball Reference, while Gossage sits at 42, and Sutter at 24.5.
They’re all great, but Rivera is in a class by himself among relievers in my book, even with the ultra-specialization.
I was so pleased to see your post in the Bullpen talking about Damaso Garcia in such a positive way. As a kid he was my favourite player and I will never forget going to Picture Day at the Ex a few times when unlike most of the players who seemed uncomfortable with it all, Damaso would always encourage me to come and stand next to him and he’d laugh and put his arm around me. What a pity the person taking the photo with my camera always chopped my head off. But he seemed like a genuinely nice guy and those memories always seemed at odds with the reputation he later developed although I guess the uniform burning in Oakland didn’t help.
It brought back memories of those doubleheaders when we had Picture Day, Autograph Day and Banner Day on the field between games. To me, those early 80’s were the real special times to be a Blue Jays fan. The World Series years were great, but watching a team of players grow under Bobby Cox into that special 1985 team was exciting and bonded us with the team. I will always remember scooping up dirt from home plate (complete with sunflower seeds — still got it!) after the clincher, Cito coming out of the dugout spraying us fans with champagne, and a sozzled Cliff Johnson signing autographs afterwards outside the stadium before squeezing into the tiniest compact car (Blue Jays logo on it — must have been free) and driving off. Tom Cheek was also talking to us looking sooooo happy. When Jim Sundberg hit that long fly ball off of Dave Stieb in Game 7, the crowd was so quiet you could hear a pin drop and that ‘clang’ of the ball hitting the fence was so palpable. To me, that signalled the end of the ‘magic’ period. Not that I didn’t enjoy the next 8 years, but it was just different.
But your piece got me thinking about another player, Luis Leal, who just seemed to slip off the radar. He, Jim Clancy and Dave Stieb were a great starting trio. I suppose he had an injury . . . and that got me thinking about pitch counts and innings! Were there just as many pitcher injuries back then as there are now? Is the extra velocity that pitchers seem to have these days one of the key factors that has changed how pitchers are handled or is just paranoia about losing an investment and an obsession with closers? Sorry for the ramble.
Rob Brander, Sydney, Australia
Great memories, Rob. I can’t answer about Leal, but I can try to formulate something about the number of injuries… though it’s not like I actually have an answer for that either. My hunch is, however, that pitchers probably aren’t getting hurt any more now than they used to be. Teams are certainly more cautious with their investments– which the fact that the investments are so much bigger has a lot to do with– plus I’d figure it’s probably more difficult to get by with less-than-optimal stuff these days, and crucially, there certainly have been major advancements in the ability to diagnose problems. I suspect that creates an environment now where players need to sit out and get themselves right more often than they would have in the past, which makes the injuries more visible to fans. Exacerbating that is the way that the media has changed, and the way that the torrent of digital information available has enabled fans to follow whole organizations much more deeply than they were thirty years ago.
That said, I wouldn’t necessarily be surprised if it turns out that modern pitchers are trying too hard to push their bodies beyond their limits, and that there are more injuries than ever before, but that’s not such an easy thing to figure out– certainly not as easy as the old timers who complain about the way pitchers are babied these days would have you believe.
I apologize in advance for again writing to you about the Jays No. 1 catcher, but if the team has any hope of showing improvement in 2014 after a dismal performance this year, they need a significant upgrade at this position. I’ve spoken before about J.P.’s defensive deficiencies (passed balls, errant throws, seemingly poor pitch selection, etc.), but today I want to focus on the offensive side. As of now, he is batting slightly below the infamous Mendoza Line of .200, has 140 strikeouts, only 18 base on balls, only 52 rbi’s, 20 home runs and an OBP of only .234. Watching J.P. hit, it appears that, regardless of the situation, he has only one thing in mind and that is hitting a home run.
In his first two seasons Arencibia showed us that he was passable at the plate as an everyday catcher in the big leagues, despite still being abysmal when it came to everything but hitting for power, and needing major work on his defence. In 2012 he took a step in the wrong direction in terms of both on-base, slugging, and ISO, but he battled injury and seemed to improve defensively a little bit. In his defence, and in defence of the front office, fans who are fed up with him– justified as they are– need to keep in mind that league-wide the position is pretty dreadful once you get past the top 10-15 guys. So a return to even just J.P.’s 2011 production– which, in the mind of the optimistic probably seemed conservative, given the promise shown in his massive final season in Triple-A– with the improvements on defence could have made for not a bad little catcher.
Consider that this year A.J. Pierzynski of the Rangers has posted a 96 wRC+, and the defensive WAR component on his FanGraphs page is 5.3, which has given him an fWAR of 1.7. Not great by any means, but definitely passable.
Now consider that Arencibia posted a 91 wRC+ in 2011, and that his defensive WAR component in 2012 was 5.2. High slugging, low on-base, meh defence, and you’ve got yourself a two-ish win player if he can keep himself on the field. Which is to say, it wasn’t entirely crazy that the Jays decided to stick with J.P. for this season, especially given the offensive upside it appeared he had when he improved his walk rate (to 8.3%) cut down on strikeouts (an unfathomable-now 18.5%) and went bananas with power (32 HR, .325 ISO) in his repeat year in Las Vegas.
It’s crazy to think of that stuff– Vegas-influenced as it was– considering where he is now. At least, until you start remembering some of his comments to the media over the course of this season, which have given the impression that he thinks everything is just peachy, and these silly stats– like his currently being tied for the third-lowest OBP among qualified hitters in a single season since nineteen-hundred– are just tossed off by people who don’t understand he’s a run producer and aren’t looking at his wicked-awesome RBI total.
We all know the story, and it certainly makes you wonder if his attitude is his biggest impediment. Fortunately for him, that can be changed, and he may well still be able to recapture some of the talent that he showed in the minors and that made him a first-round pick back in 2007. Frankly, we have no idea if, behind the scenes, he’s far more willing to make changes and do the work that’s needed than it maybe appears on the surface– though there is no doubt that he’s worked on his defensive game, even though there are still deficiencies in it, and it wouldn’t at all be unusual for him to be working on his swing and his approach in the batting cage, but not putting it into game action just yet.
In other words, we can really no more dismiss him as stubborn as we can dismiss him as talentless– he’s shown that he’s not necessarily either in the past. However, with the way this season has gone, you’re right, there just doesn’t seem to be a way that the Jays will be able to find out first hand if they can help him right the ship. And I think we can all probably agree that’s OK– a change of scenery and a kick in the pants would seem to maybe be the best course of action for the player at this point, and the Jays, with such a crucial season upcoming, certainly can’t be banking on such a gigantic question mark at such a vital position, either.
Arencibia goes to arbitration for the first time this year, and it is damn near impossible to find an appropriate comparable for his case. Very few three-full-year starting catchers entering their age 28 season have ever been as abysmally bad as he has. That should tell you something right there. It’s time to move on.
We know that injuries are a part of baseball and the Blue Jays have had, what it seems, more than their fair share of it over the last few years. With nearly half of their opening day roster now on the DL, many gone for the rest of the season I was wondering what if they were in fact in the running for a playoff spot right now how this would play out?
It seems to me that with EE and Joey Bats gone, without the heart of the order they better hope that their pitching was lights out, much like what San Francisco had a couple of years back – i.e. few hits (but several of them timely) but with outstanding pitching up and down the pitching staff along with some impressive fielding. I guess this is a roundabout way of saying that while sometimes boring, great pitching and defense will defeat great hitting almost every time. Perhaps a lesson for our GM? Also, two years in a row for Joey Bats on the extended DL late in the season; can we depend on him late in the season in a pennant race?
Dean Germano, Redding, CA
And if the hitters had been healthy and the pitchers hurt at the end of the last two years you’d be saying what?
The 1968 season has been called the “Year of the Pitcher.” Denny McLain won 31 games, Don Drysdale threw 6 consecutive shut outs, Bob Gibson posted a microscopic ERA of 1.12 and 17 MLB pitchers had ERA’s under 2.50. After the 1968 season MLB Owners decided to change (lower) the height of the pitchers mound from 15 to 10 inches (commencing in the ‘69 season) . . . this was done for the purpose of helping out the hitters.
After watching hitters have the upper hand for the past 15 years or so . . . I propose it is time to consider raising the pitchers mound back to 15 inches in order to help out the pitchers. When I look at the state of pitching today, 20 game winners are few and far between and complete games are becoming a thing of the past. Currently 14 pitchers have ERA’s under 3.00 (four of these have ERA’s of 2.50 or lower) and 11 pitchers have pitched more than 200 innings and only 7 pitchers have more than 200 strike outs.There are always multiple reasons why things change, since 1969 baseball has expanded by 10 teams — every time 2 new teams join the league that’s 20 to 24 pitchers who were not good enough to make the majors the previous season who are now in the big leagues. I agree with the quote “that there are a lot of pitchers in the major leagues . . . but there are not a lot of major league pitchers”.
Steroids have certainly helped the hitters; although it is hard to quantify by how much (I base this statement on how more hitters have been caught using PEDs then pitchers have). Raising the mound would help out the pitchers, especially if the Umpires started to call the high strike again. I think the domino effect could be as follows… Starters would be able to throw more strikes and start pitching more than then the 5 to 6 innings that they do now and the dreaded self imposed 100 pitch count could (hopefully) fade away. Longer outings by Starters would reduce the number of middle relief pitching changes and speed up the pace of game and teams could go back to carrying 10 pitchers and have deeper benches.
I would like to think that if given the opportunity to do so, today’s starting pitchers would like to pitch deeper and control the outcome of games like the starters in the past used to. Complete games would increase, 20 game winning seasons would be more obtainable and ERA’s would start to come down below 4.00.
For me baseball is all about pitching, I’d rather watch a 2-1 pitchers duel than an 8-7 slug fest.
I would appreciate hearing your thoughts on this.
Fred Vance, Calgary
A lot of this stuff I don’t really follow, to be honest. I’m not sure why pitch counts would go up just because the mound is higher. I don’t think you’d see that many more complete games, and worrying about 20 win seasons is, of course, silly, because they don’t really mean anything about the pitcher himself.
Since 1994 the four worst seasons for hitters, in terms of wOBA, in descending order are: 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. The league average wOBA this year is exactly the same as it was in 1981– not exactly the most notable offensive era in baseball’s history, was it?
The pitchers are doing fine.