Well here’s something that probably should turn into a regular feature, but never quite seems to — but that I’ll make to look like one anyway in order to keep from having it seem too terribly out of place: a collection of thoughts on what went on over the weekend (delayed because yesterday Dirk Hayhurst decided to write something rather interesting that involved the Jays)…
After 13 games, the 2014 Jays are 7-6. The 2013 version of the club was 6-7 at this point, but I don’t think you’d find anybody who wouldn’t say that what we’re witnessing now has certainly has felt completely different than the small difference in record would suggest.
Much of that is down to the fact that the pitching has been more than good enough to dream of big things on, as long as they stay healthy, and the defence has looked much better so far this season, particularly at second base, behind the plate, and in left field. That they’ve actually got some offensive production out of two of those positions hasn’t hurt either.
Also big, however, and somewhat overlooked, is the fact that the bullpen has started the year rolling. In 2013, Darren Oliver and Sergio Santos gave up runs in a tight game-two loss against Cleveland, then Oliver and Esmil Rogers let the Clevelands back into a what would eventually be a 10-8 win the next day. A day later it was Rogers and Jeremy Jeffress handing a victory to Boston in John Farrell’s return.
This year it has been an entirely different story — Todd Redmond’s loss in Saturday’s extra inning loss in Baltimore, and the questionable (yet also justifiable) bullpen usage that led to it, not withstanding – and the club seems to be winning games the way that they’re actually supposed to. As opposed to, y’know, relying on Maicer Izturis to hit crucial home runs, which the 2013 version of the Jays did three times in their first five weeks, including one that tied up the eventual game-two loss, one that plated the third run in a 4-3 victory over Chicago that brought the club’s record to 6-7, and an early May shot in the bottom of the ninth of a tie game in Tampa that brought the Jays’ record up to 13-21. Ugh.
I think what speaks most to why the feeling around this club is different now than a year ago, though, is this little tidbit (stolen from a commenter): the 2013 Jays were at or above .500 for seven days, from a victory on June 21st to a loss on June 28th, and hit .500 twice more in the following three games. That’s a grand total of nine times being at or above .500 at the conclusion of a game for the entire season. The 2014 Jays, after two weeks, have already been at or above .500 at the conclusion of a game ten times — and given that their record is currently 7-6, whether they win or lose tonight, that number is about to move to eleven.
So… yeah, that sure as shit feels better. And with the Twins on the schedule, it doesn’t exactly feel like the party is about to end just yet, does it?
There isn’t much to say about Mark Buehrle’s solid outing in Sunday’s laugher or the excellent performance of Drew Hutchison on Saturday night, except to say that one hopes they keep on keeping on. Dustin McGowan’s big day on Friday, though, warrants mention, but maybe not the kind of mention that you’re expecting…
McGowan kept the Orioles off the board over 6.1 innings and 97 pitches, allowing just five hits and walking one. A great line, however, there are actually some troubling aspects of McGowan’s start to the season, and not ones that can simply be tied back to his first start. Obviously it’s a little too soon to be reading much into anything, but here’s what warrants monitoring, in my view:
For one, despite all the talk we hear about his tremendous stuff, McGowan hasn’t been generating a lot of swing-and-miss, and especially didn’t do so on Friday. Of the 58 strikes he threw, only 6 were of the swinging variety, with 15 being called by the umpire, and the remaining 37 coming off of contact. Those aren’t crazy numbers, per se — on Saturday, Drew Hutchison had 11 swinging, 12 looking, and 30 strikes on contact — but maybe let’s see McGowan do a bit better in this regard before we declare him right again.
For two, McGowan has been giving up way too many fly balls, and generating way too few hits on the ground. He’s generated ground balls just 28.6 percent of the time, and 48.6% of the hits off him so far have been fly balls — well off his career marks of 46.9% GB and 34.5% FB. It would be easy to shrug these numbers off if not for the fact that, contrary to what you might expect given his disastrous home opener against the Yankees, these actually numbers went in the wrong direction in his start over the weekend.
Yes, it’s early, and just a nine inning sample, but the numbers are an indication that he’s having trouble keeping the ball down — a look at the plots of where he’s been pitching to so far in 2014 compared to his career (via Brooks) underlines this — and that doesn’t exactly bode well for someone looking to survive in the home run havens of the AL East.
The result sure looked great on Friday, but right now, if McGowan had pitched enough innings to be among the 100 pitcher on the “Qualified” leaderboards at FanGraphs, his flyball rate would be in the bottom ten (just a shade better than R.A. Dickey), his ground ball rate would be second last, and his swinging strike rate would also be bottom ten. These numbers don’t mean everything – shit, Yu Darvish’s rates look almost exactly the same (albeit with a swinging strike rate of 7.9% to McGowan’s 5.6) — but they’re definitely worth keeping an eye on.
Then again, it’s not like McGowan has fully completed his transformation into a starter just yet, either — watch for an upcoming post! — and it was definitely great to see him get the results, and to get his first win in the big leagues since June of 2008 — a game in which Jose Bautista drove in a pair of runs… for the Pirates!
Buck On Kevin Seitzer
Some of you may already be sick of hearing Buck Martinez’s voice — though I’m not, at least not when he’s talking about crabs — but he had what I thought was an interesting segment on Prime Time Sports back on Thursday, in which he discussed hitting coaches, and in particular, had some interesting comments about Kevin Seitzer:
From what I have seen — and mind you, we’ve only worked with him since February — but he reminds you a bit of [Yankees hitting coach] Kevin Long, how he prepares his hitters. He gives them a plan. He doesn’t say, “Well, look for the fastball,” he says “This guy is going to do this to you.” Tonight they know that Keuchel is going to throw that big curveball, and if it’s not above the belt, it’s going to be a ball — don’t swing at it. He also told them he’s going to throw the cutter inside, so you’ve got to make sure — he’s going to try to get you out inside with that cutter, you have to decide whether you’re going to try to hit it inside, or lay off of it and take it, thinking that it’s a ball, and look for something on the outer half.
. . .
You know what, I think he’s more theory than mechanics. I think he’s more a philosopher than he is a mechanic. I think he’s a guy that’s going to give you a game plan — “and this is why you should look for this.” And I told him tonight, I said, “Now you’re starting to get the ‘Oh yeah, I see what you’re talking about!’ ‘OK, I put that into use and it’s working.’ You’ve got to have some positive feedback before these guys are really going to jump in with both feet.
. . .
He’s made some dramatic changes mechanically, but now we’re at the point where it’s not so much mechanics as it is preparation and game planning.
Buck also mentioned speaking about coaching with Jose Bautista, who told him that he likes to have feedback and isn’t just a finished product. “And you can see that he’s reaped the benefits of Kevin Seitzer,” Martinez added. “Opposite field double last night was because he was looking for the ball away.”
If you remember it from way back on Wednesday, it was a great opposite field double. I don’t really want to get into ascribing too much of any sort of magic to coaches, but the game planning stuff is certainly tangible. Plus, as much as the game has been taken in new and different ways with the data that is now available, and a much as a hitter can be trained to do different things and informed by all kinds of things they hadn’t been in past eras, there are many long strands that run through the art of hitting, and the conversation was pretty interesting if only for that kind of stuff, which touched on Buck’s relationship with Charlie Lau, as well.
The Murky World Of Media Rights
I fully admit that I’m a layman when it comes to a lot of the business aspects of what the Jays do and where they stand within Rogers’ corporate structure, so when I write about it — as I did last week — it’s not easy. I’m never quite sure that I’m getting it right, and in fact, I did miss something quite interesting about the whole media rights issue, which is that there is a revenue sharing aspect of it.
I ended up speaking to a person in the game about this subject, and here’s what I was told:
I was listening to your last podcast when you were talking about media rights and the low value the Jays from their media rights. There’s a weird revenue sharing reason for teams to have a controlling stake in their TV partner rather than taking a larger media rights valuation each year. Media money is subject to 34% revenue sharing whereas an ownership stake is not subject to revenue sharing. It’s why the Yankees for years just owned their network and took little in media rights. You mentioned San Diego, Baltimore and Cleveland during your podcast too. San Diego has I believe a 16% ownership stake in the Fox network which is not subject to revenue sharing. Baltimore controls MASN and when the Nationals moved to Washington part of the agreement with Peter Angelos was that the Nationals only would receive 27% or something low like that from media rights. The commissioner has to resolve that some time as the Nationals clearly feel they are getting ripped off.
Media values are a weird game as the Dodgers tried to get away from paying revenue sharing in their last deal as well.
In other words, there’s murk within the murk. I’m not sure how much — if at all — that changes anything about what I wrote, or my feelings about the relationship between Rogers and the Jays, but it’s certainly another important part of the background.
Geoff Baker touched on something similar in his latest for the Seattle Times, in which he argues that the Mariners’ payroll could be higher than it is, and tries to unpack some of this tricky valuation stuff from their perspective. Interesting stuff, and not even slathered in misplaced smugness!