Keith Law of ESPN.com has been all over the Jays this week, and not necessarily in a good way. Actually, almost exclusively in a less-than-positive way, though not unfairly so. The thing is, though, he isn’t just exclusively picking at the low-hanging fruit like we’ve sort of been doing around here. He’s really poking a needle around a bunch of inflated hopes that fans have on the good side of this club. So if you’re not ready for bad news, or are just going to scream incoherently about bias, maybe just take this post off, thanks.
For those of you willing to indulge the dark side, though, follow me…
Notes From Dunedin
Back on Sunday afternoon at ESPN.com (Insider only) Law posted his notes from the Jays and Twins game he took in at Dunedin over the weekend, and while much of what he writes is about the Twins and their outstanding collection of up-and-coming talent. But as we all know, up-and-coming talent doesn’t always translate to the big league level — not immediately, and sometimes not ever. This is illustrated by the pair of comments Law zeroes in on after talking in relatively positive terms about Drew Hutchison: Kyle Drabek and Brett Lawrie.
Drabek, he says, was “ showing average to below-average stuff across the board,” and “used mostly cutters and two-seamers rather than the four-seamer, hitting 85-89 mph on the cutter, 87-89 on the two-seamer, commanding neither pitch and not getting enough life on the latter one.”
That’s not even the dagger, as he later adds that Drabek is “approaching two years since the surgery, so more of his stuff would be back by now if it is ever going to come back.” Ugh.
And Brett Lawrie? Double ugh.
He concedes that it may just have been an off-day, but Lawrie was “was on top of everything today, hitting almost every pitch where he made contact, fair or foul, into the ground. He may be over-rotating, considering that at the point of contact his hips are turned so much that that portion of his anatomy is facing the pitcher (it looks like more than a 90-degree turn from where his hips started). It may be that he’s trying so hard to keep his hands inside the ball that he’s not getting the bat around the ball enough when it’s out over the plate, a pitch he should be able to drive. ”
He cites Lawrie’s ugly slash stats over the last two years, which I argued back in June were so clouded by injury as to maybe not be that meaningful (which seemed to be validated in August by his second-half turnaround, just… uh… don’t pay attention to what happened in September). But the real kicker is this: if he doesn’t figure this whole swing thing out, KLaw says, “he doesn’t walk or play enough defense to be an everyday solution if he’s not hitting for a high average.”
The eye test certainly doesn’t say that about his defence, and I’m sure the blood is rising in a lot of Jays fans after reading a thing like that — I suggested that he was elite defensively at his position in the post linked above, for example — but a couple things need to be remembered here. For one, the defence at third does have to be very good for a guy to be a regular as the kind of hitter Lawrie was last year — walk rate below 7%, 11 HR in 442 PA, 94 wRC+, .257/.315/.397 slash line. We’re not talking about shortstop here.
For two, the defensive metrics have certainly trended in the wrong direction for him, though I’d still say the overall picture, coupled with the eye test, suggests he’s pretty damn alright. Good enough to run out there expecting below .260 batting averages given the power and walk rate? Not in an ideal world maybe, but it sort of depends where you set the bar. The Blue Jays, for example, have shown through their love affair with Ryan Goins that there’s is set awfully low.
We can at least agree with Law on that:
— keithlaw (@keithlaw) March 10, 2014
And actually, he’s not as down on Lawrie as all that makes it seem, either. To wit…
Back on Monday Keith went on the radio with Macko and Cauz (though it sure sounds like Mike Hogan) on TSN 1050 (audio here), having just visited the Blue Jays’ camp in Dunedin. Some highlights interspersed with my own commentary:
On Brett Lawrie:
The best case scenario is he should rake! This was always known as a hitter first, he’s got bat speed, he’s got really strong wrists and forearms to be able to drive the ball to all fields, he’s probably got 15 to 20 HR power easily, he’s an above average runner. This guy should be somebody who’s hitting in the .280 to .300 range, maybe a little better — with some pop, maybe with some baserunning value, and I’d say solid-average to slightly above average defence at third.
“It’s a tough challenge for a hitting coach to diagnose a guy and fix a guy without really knowing what the problem is,” he added, saying that in the above piece he’d thrown some ideas out as to why all the contact Lawrie was making was poor, but he really didn’t know.
Anyway, it’s hardly panic time yet on Brett Lawrie. I’d bet on him taking a step forward this year, rather than taking a step back. Bad contact is definitely a thing you’d like to see go away with him, but let’s also keep in mind that we’ve seen clear changes to his batting stance and the amount of pre-pitch movement he makes, so you definitely would like to think that this he remains a work in progress, which gives him a lot of leeway.
On Drew Hutchison:
He looked OK. Velocity wasn’t all the way back to where it was prior to the surgery, but he was 91 – 93, had a real good changeup, he had a little bit of trouble with the slider — he ended up hanging one to Byron Buxton of the Twins who ended up hitting it 420 feet out to left-centre. The biggest thing — your number one concern with any guy coming back from Tommy John surgery is, inside of 18 months or so all the velocity should be back. Usually it’s back at about twelve months — what you get at that 12 to 15 month mark is probably what you’re going to have going forward. It’s not impossible, but it’s rare for guys to continue to add velocity beyond that distance from the surgery. So I think Hutchison probably is going to end up sitting with an average/slightly above average fastball. If he’s got the good changeup that he can really locate — which, he was fine in terms of command and control the day I saw him — then he certainly is viable to them this year as a fifth starter, which I think is what’s open to him at this point.
He adds that Stroman is the better long-term prospect, but that he’d start the season with Hutchison at this point, if forced to choose between the two. That would be because of concerns about Stroman’s innings cap.
Also worth noting is the fact that Law uses his own radar gun, so that’s why you might not be seeing the same numbers in his analysis as you would off the stadium gun, where we’ve been hearing things about Hutchison hitting 96 (which he may well do, I suppose, he just evidently isn’t sitting all that close to there).
They shouldn’t be beaten very often on just money. Look, you’re going to lose to the Dodgers if it’s money, you’re going to lose to the Yankees if it’s money — that’s probably true of the Red Sox. That’s about it. This is not a small market team — certainly not by market size, and not by the revenue of the team or the corporate parent. They should be able to outspend, and now there’s an actual business logic to outspending. The marginal value of having Ervin Santana for one season is pretty high, and if it’s only, say $15- or $16-million — I understand that sounds like a lot of money, but in the current pay scale of baseball, that for an above average starter who is capable of carrying 200 to 220 innings? That’s about what it should cost.
“There’s no point to just going for 80 to 85 wins. In for a penny, in for a pound, and at this point they should be in for a pound.”
Future Power Rankings And KLawchat
I’ve rolled these two items into one because… well, mostly because we don’t wait for updates to ESPN’s Future Power Rankings with breathless anticipation like we used to. That was supposed to just mean that Jays are more a “win-now” club, but… well… we all know how that’s going.
In the previous report, Jim Bowden wrote that “the Jays’ rotation was supposed to be a strength, but it turned out to be a major weakness.” He added that “AA needs to figure out how to rebuild the staff.” Hey, I know, how about by doing shit-all!
In the new one, Law gives a prospect who’s facing a make-or-break year, and chooses D.J. Davis, who so far has “struck out too much and his plus speed hasn’t translated into any kind of baserunning value.” He says a bad 2014 won’t be fatal to his chances of becoming a big league regular, because he wasn’t supposed to be a fast mover, but… y’know. Not looking great for Gose 2.0. Hey, but at least he wasn’t selected immediately before Corey Seager and Michael Wacha. GAH!!!
Ugh. Let’s just move on to the chat, which took place today at ESPN.com. Here are your Jays-related tidbits.
Marcus (Toronto, ON)
What do the Jays do now? Not that Ervin made them world-beaters, but after pushing their chips all in last year, how can they go into the season with a rotation of Dickey, Morrow, Buehrle, Hutchison and someone like Todd Redmond or JA Happ when there’s a legitimate upgrade out there for a one-year deal?
I’m disappointed that they didn’t sign any of the FA starters. Garza I understand because of the medicals, but they needed to acquire a quality starter this offseason and didn’t do so. Even adding Stroman and a healthy Hutchison isn’t an adequate replacement for what someone like Santana or Ubaldo would have provided for them.
BUT WHAT DO THEY DO???????? Cross their fingers to avoid the coming freight train of mediocrity, I guess.
Tony Fontana (North)
You wrote the other day Brett Lawries bat needs improvement whick I 100% agree, but you said his defense isn’t good enough on its own? I think he is one of the best defensive 3B in the majors why do you think he isn’t?
His defense isn’t going to carry him if he doesn’t hit. Somehow Jays fans have become convinced he’s Brooks Robinson or Adrian Beltre over there. He’s not, not per the eye test, and the metrics over the last two years don’t say he is either. He has to hit.
I can’t possibly imagine where fans might have come up with such an idea. I’d ask one of the Jays’ broadcasters but it’s hard to make out what they’re saying them sometimes since they’re always trying to speak with Lawrie’s balls in their mouth.
Had a chance to see Aarron Sanchez yet this spring training? Any evidence the Jays are going to lengthen out his stride at all?
Missed him by a day. Toronto folks said it was better, but not all the way back to where it used to be.
Wait, was… was that good news? Holy shit!
Lastly… we have this:
Bob Loblaw ((Toronto))
Word out of Jays camp is that “something has clicked” for Romero in his last two starts. I read your scouting report from last week, so I’m skeptical. Any chance Ricky can put it together and make the Jays rotation?
Klaw (1:06 PM)
He was horrible when I saw him. Those reports sound like BS to me. Stuff was bad, command was nonexistent.
This is something that probably can’t be said enough. It was only through the TV that I saw it, but Romero’s good inning over the weekend looked a lot like results not reflecting the process, to me. Didn’t think it looked like he knew where the ball was going, but I guess it seemed to work. His outing this week (was it yesterday?) I didn’t catch much of, so I won’t comment on, but I really have a hard time seeing him entering the conversation.
With Happ injured, Stroman not ready, and Rogers/Redmond being Rogers/Redmond… the Jays don’t even have 5 starters.
— BVH (@BVHJays) March 13, 2014
@BVHJays Silhouette appears shrouded in smoke… begins to step forward into the life … dirt beard, wears his glove on his right hand …
— Andrew Stoeten (@AndrewStoeten) March 13, 2014
@BVHJays The wind whispers… Romero.
— Andrew Stoeten (@AndrewStoeten) March 13, 2014
— Andrew Stoeten (@AndrewStoeten) March 13, 2014
So… there’s that.