Kyle Matte


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In this guest post from Kyle Matte, he looks at the likelihood that Melky Cabrera will leave the Jays this winter via free agency, and offers the name of a fascinating, near-perfect replacement that few have whispering about. Follow Kyle on Twitter at @KyleMatte.

Within five days of the conclusion of the 2014 World Series, Melky Cabrera will receive and decline a Qualifying Offer from the Toronto Blue Jays. As arguably the top outfield option in a free agent market devoid of high-end talent, he’s going to get paid, and whether we like it or not, the overwhelming odds are that it’s going to be by a team located south of the border. While they’d never admit it publicly, it’s more than likely the front office has accepted this reality and is instead focusing their time and effort on something within their control: finding the replacement.

Doing so will be no easy task. While he has his flaws – namely well below average base running skills and range in the outfield – they are vastly outweighed by his strengths. Cabrera has an above average arm in left field, and while his range is poor, the balls he does get to and should catch, he catches. According to Inside Edge Fielding on Fangraphs, Melky was successful on 209/209 (100%) “routine” plays, 12/13 (92.3%) “likely” plays, and 8/12 (66.7%) “even” plays. By definition, those plays should be made 90-100%, 60-90%, and 40-60% of the time respectively, so he was above average across the board. On the other hand, he was just 1/72 on plays classified as “unlikely”, “remote”, or “impossible”, which emphasizes his limitations.

Steady and unspectacular or not, teams have never been interested in Cabrera for his glove or legs. Melky generates his value with two feet in the batter’s box.  Over his last three healthy years, the 30 year old has produced wRC+ marks of 118, 151, and 125 while hitting a combined .315. Prior to breaking his finger on September 5th, Cabrera had been one of the best table setters in the league, and a reliable force in a lineup that saw more than its fair share of ups and downs. With the reigns in center field likely being handed over to some amalgamation of the youthful trio of Anthony Gose, Kevin Pillar, and Dalton Pompey, it’s imperative that Alex Anthopoulos and friends find a reliable solution in left. With his club option expected to be declined, Nick Markakis might be the answer.

2015 Nick Markakis is not going to be 2008 Nick Markakis; that first needs to be understood and accepted. In 2008, Markakis set career highs in walk rate (14.2%), BABIP (.350), and ISO (.185), leading to an outstanding .306/.406/.491 slash line and 6.1 WAR. In each of the six years since he hasn’t eclipsed 2.5 WAR, but that’s perfectly fine. The Oriole has settled in as a non-All Star calibre starting corner outfielder with an above average bat and below average defense; not unlike the soon-to-be-departed Melky Cabrera.

In a lineup already featuring plenty of boppers, Markakis’ style would fit in damn near perfectly in the potentially vacated two-spot. Over nearly 6000 career plate appearances, Markakis has maintained a well above average .358 on base percentage thanks in no small part to an impressive 9.3% walk rate. While both are slightly inflated because of the aforementioned career year, the more recent numbers are still quite strong. In the five years from 2010 through 2014, Markakis has posted the following OBP’s: .370, .351, .363, .329, and .342. Even the low point in 2013 is above league average, and he’s well above league average in the other four. Markakis gets himself on base, and with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion hitting third and fourth respectively, getting on base is priority number one.

Once a big part of his game, Markakis has seen his power drop off precipitously over the last two seasons: in 1410 plate appearances, he hit just 76 extra base hits. Some of that can be attributed to right wrist and left thumb surgeries during the 2012 season, but the power was definitely trending downwards even before hand. While he’d be unlikely to start hitting twenty-plus home runs again, a move to the Rogers Centre would without a doubt help him in the power department. The table below shows park factors for the 2014 season, as calculated by ESPN:

Rogers Centre

Camden Yards

Home Runs









With park factors, numbers above 1.000 indicate the environment is beneficial to hitters, while numbers below 1.000 indicate the environment is an inhibiting factor. Not only is the Rogers Centre more power-friendly than Camden Yards across the board; the differences are incredible. The launching pad formerly known as the Sky Dome saw a home run rate 37.4% higher than Camden Yards, with 17.2% more doubles, and 69.7% more triples. While you can’t simply apply these increments to Markakis’ 2014 power numbers to picture what he could do in Toronto, I think it’s fair to say he could see a boon in power.

In addition to a reliable on-base rate and a potential boost in power, Markakis has a swing and approach that would make him an ideal fit behind Jose Reyes in the lineup. He’s exceptional at making contact, with 94.7% of his swings at pitches inside the zone resulting in contact, and 84.8% of swings outside the zone resulting in contact last season. The result is a consistently low strikeout rate, with his 11.8% mark in 2014 actually being his highest since 2010. Among Blue Jays last season, only Melky and Reyes struck out at a better rate. After watching the 2014 Blue Jays, his 3.5% swinging strike rate is almost unfathomable (as a comparison, Juan Francisco had a swinging strike rate of 15.2% — he whiffed over four times as often!). John Gibbons seems like a guy who greatly prefers the hit-and-run to straight steals, and with Markakis potentially hitting second, it would be a silky smooth transition from the Melk Man.

One of Cabrera’s greatest assets is his switch-hitting nature and ability to bust hard line drives to all fields regardless of the handedness of the pitcher he’s facing. Incredibly, Markakis can do all of that, too. His 19.6% line drive rate in 2014 was his worst since 2010, as he posted marks of 23.1%, 26.8% (!!), and 22.6% from 2011 through 2013, respectively.


The chart above, taken from Fangraphs, shows Markakis’ batted ball profile for the 2012, 2013, and 2014 seasons, against both left handed and right handed pitchers. When hitting the ball on the ground (green), Markakis uses the left and right sides equally, making him very difficult to use any kind of infield shift against. In terms of line drives (red), Markakis once again uses all fields extremely well, with left field appearing to come out slightly ahead. Finally, with fly balls (blue), Markakis has a similar distribution to his line drives, with all fields being well represented and left being slightly favored. As a comparison, below are the same profiles for switch hitter Melky Cabrera (right), and traditional left handed hitter Colby Rasmus (left).


Markakis’ profile is extremely similar to Cabrera’s and looks nothing like Rasmus’, who hits ground balls and line drives down the right field line almost exclusively. Despite batting left handed, because of his ability to go with the pitch and use all fields, teams have their hands tied and are forced to play their defenses straight up against Markakis.

He’s no world beater against lefties, but Markakis does more than enough to avoid the “platoon” label. For his career, he’s hit .288/.344/.398 against southpaws, good for a .329 wOBA and an even 100 wRC+. More recently, in 2014, Markakis had a 93 wRC+ against lefties, and in 2013, it was an 80 wRC+. While he continues to make solid contact, lefties have done a very good job of limiting his power, which is unsurprising given that as you can see on the chart above, his true power comes to his pull side. Still, this is a far cry from the Lind/Rasmus/Francisco-type lefties we’ve grown accustomed to, as that trio is literally unplayable against same side pitching. To fuel up some optimism, just three years back, in 2012, Markakis had a 139 wRC+ and .195 ISO against lefties.

In terms of UZR/150, Markakis has been a below average defender in right field in five of the last six seasons, with 2014 being the only year in which he graded positively. Still, he would represent a substantial upgrade over Cabrera, both statistically and in terms of the eye test. According to Inside Edge Fielding, while he was slightly worse than Melky at making the “even” and “likely” plays, he was significantly better at the challenging plays, turning 10/86 into outs (as a reminder, Cabrera was 1/72 on similar plays). With Jose Bautista entrenched in right field for the time being, Markakis would have to be amicable towards a shift to left field, a position he’s played for just 197.2 innings in his major league career. Without knowing him personally, it’s impossible to say whether or not that could be a roadblock.

This brings us to the finances; how much does Markakis want, how much is he actually worth, and can Toronto afford it? As mentioned at the start, Markakis has a 17.5 million dollar club option for 2015, which the Orioles are reportedly going to decline at the cost of a 2 million dollar buyout. This suggests that at least in the eyes of Baltimore, Markakis isn’t worth the net 15.5 million it would take to keep him around. The Qualifying Offer has been set at 15.3 million, so it seems doubtful they’d risk having him accept that, either. In his assessment of QO candidates earlier this month, Mike Petriello of FanGraphs agreed, and with Nelson Cruz also set to hit free agency, Baltimore’s attention and priorities likely lie elsewhere.

It’s still far too early to predict contracts given that we don’t know what the market will even look like with the option and offer decisions yet to come, but I think it’s fair to say that if the Blue Jays are or were ever serious about keeping Melky Cabrera around for a few more years, it’s probable they have the money for Markakis should he tickle their interest. I’ve been on board the “Bring Melky Back” bandwagon all year, but the more I think about Markakis, the more I think the organization as a whole could be better off with him and an extra first round draft pick. The fact they could potentially save on both term and annual salary in doing so might make the decision that much easier.


In this guest post from Kyle Matte, he looks at the stellar rookie season being put together by Marcus Stroman, and the potential for it to become an historic one (in Blue Jays terms, at least) if he’s able to keep up his current pace. Follow Kyle on Twitter at @KyleMatte.

Way back in February, I wrote an article for Drunk Jays Fans in which I looked at all of the Blue Jays number one prospects (according to Baseball America) dating back to 1983. Despite suggestions to the contrary in the comments section, it was not an attempt to predict the specific future of Aaron Sanchez, but instead to share as much information as possible from the historical record of this organization’s number one prospects that shows the steep learning curve at baseball’s highest level. The average number one prospect progressed on a slow, linear scale (roughly 1 WAR in year one, 2 WAR in year two, 3 WAR in year three), and given the lack of success developing top prospect pitchers, I wanted to stress patience with Aaron Sanchez, as it would be unfair to expect him to light the world ablaze immediately upon reaching Toronto.

Then Marcus Stroman happened. While not necessarily the Blue Jays unanimous number one prospect (many evaluators and prospectors were split between he and Sanchez), the pair was 1A and 1B in some regard. Everyone knows Stroman is having an excellent rookie season. What many don’t realize is the potentially historic nature of his inaugural year.

Marcus Stroman has made five relief appearances and thirteen starts, earning -0.1 WAR in the former and +2.2 WAR in the latter for a total of +2.1 WAR this season. He’s done this in just 86-and-a-third innings, no less. That production ranks second amongst Blue Jays pitchers behind only Mark Buehrle, who has earned 0.2 more WAR in his 63 additional innings.

As previously mentioned, when inspecting Stroman specifically as a starter, he has produced 2.2 wins in 13 starts – or roughly 0.17 WAR per start. After Wednesday’s game, the Blue Jays will have 40 remaining on their schedule, with Stroman tentatively scheduled to pitch eight of them. The club continues to give no indication that they intend to limit or shut down the right hander over the season’s final months, and should they remain in the thick of the playoff race, I suspect they’ll remain true to their word (or lack thereof). If Stroman continues to produce at a pace of 0.17 WAR per start, he’ll earn another 1.4 wins over the remainder of the season. Those 1.4 wins would raise his season total to 3.5 WAR, and place him in elite company amongst Blue Jays rookies.

Currently, the two best rookie seasons by pitchers belong to Mark Eichhorn and Gustavo Chacin, who produced 5.1 WAR (157 IP) and 3.3 WAR (203 IP) in 1986 and 2005 respectively. Should Stroman continue to play the way he has, he should surpass Chacin despite making significantly fewer starts and having far fewer innings in which to accumulate value. When expanding the criteria to include position players, Eric Hinske slides into the picture thanks to his excellent 4.6 WAR season in 2002. Really consider this for a moment: in the 38 years of Toronto Blue Jays baseball, Marcus Stroman is on pace to have the third best rookie season ever.

As a reminder, to attain this level of value, Stroman will need to continue pitching like one of the better pitchers in baseball while avoiding the dreaded shut down. Stroman has averaged 6.15 innings per start, and should he maintain that rate over his final eight starts, he’d finish the year with 135.2 innings in Toronto and 35.2 innings in Buffalo. That 171.1 inning total would be a significant increase upon his 2013 workload of 123.1 innings [plus however much he worked while suspended for 50 games -- AS], and one that may be too great for the organization to risk. Still, given all we know about Stroman’s ability and attitude, I wouldn’t put it past him.

Would it be enough to win the American League Rookie of the Year? In a word, no. Major League Baseball considers both Masahiro Tanaka and Jose Abreu to be “rookies” despite starring in the Japanese and Cuban professional leagues respectively for years, and the two are/were having exceptional seasons. Tanaka was in the early running for the Cy Young award before succumbing to an elbow injury, while Abreu has produced 4.0 WAR, leads the world in home runs with 31, and likely finds himself in the MVP discussion (or in the discussion for second place behind Mike Trout and his playoff-bound Angels, at least).

That meaningless award should be of no consequence to Blue Jays fans, however. After years of having our dreams fall by the wayside, it appears as though the club has finally developed the home-grown star we’ve always coveted from afar, and have lacked since Roy Halladay. And, most important of all, he’s all ours until through least 2020.


In this guest post from Kyle Matte, he looks at the value that Melky Cabrera has provided the Blue Jays this year, and whether it’s realistic, or reasonable, for the club to make him a Qualifying Offer after the season. Follow Kyle on Twitter at @KyleMatte.

Statistics as of the end of the day, July 28th.

Through four months, Melky Cabrera has been the rock in a Jays line-up packed with injury, inconsistency, and underwhelming performance. He’s appeared in 106 of 107 games for the second place Blue Jays, leading off for 16 while Jose Reyes missed the first half of April with a wonky hamstring, and hitting third for nine games with Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind on the disabled list with lower body injuries. Save for one late inning pinch-hit opportunity in the nine-hole, Melky has spent his remaining 80 games in the two-spot, providing a line drive pumping bridge between the speedy Reyes and the dynamic Dominican duo.

For fans who watched their fair share of the embarrassment that was the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays, this comes as a shock. Melky was a shell of his former self, at least in the 88 games he was able to get himself into, looking more like an old man nearing retirement – Raul Ibanez comes to mind – than a 28 year old coming off back-to-back outstanding seasons with the Royals and Giants. On August 2nd, he was placed on the disabled list with what the team called a left knee strain, and the left fielder wouldn’t play again that season. “Good riddance” was a sentiment shared by many, as Melky was looking like a total waste of the guaranteed 16 million dollars he’d received just nine months prior. A boisterous minority were happy to proclaim him nothing more than a product of performance enhancing drugs, and slammed the General Manager for giving a known cheat who in their view had become lazy and complacent so much money.

Words were swallowed and jaws hit the floor a month later when the team announced Cabrera had undergone surgery to have a benign tumor removed from his spinal cord. It was believed this tumor had been pressing against his nerves, causing pain and weakness in his lower half. To say Melky was a wild card entering the 2014 season would be a massive understatement – no one knew what to expect.

Through 474 plate appearances Melky has produced a .313/.362/.487 slash line, contributing to a .371 wOBA and 134 wRC+. Among qualified MLB left fielders, those figures rank 4th and 5th respectively; thoroughly impressive for a player who was well below average offensively last season. His strikeout rate (11.4%) is the lowest it’s been since 2009 despite an upward trend across baseball, while his walk rate (7.0%) is right about at his career mark of 7.2%. His overall approach has shown improvement, too. If maintained, Melky’s current 43.9% swing rate would be his lowest since 2009, and while fewer swings isn’t necessarily positive, the fact that the decline has come predominantly on pitches outside the zone, is. His current 28.6% O-swing rate would be his lowest since, again, 2009, and is between 4% and 8% lower than his rates over his previous three seasons. Melky has the ability to drive just about anything he can reach, but being more selective is always a good thing.

Melky’s 14 home runs in 2014 have averaged 103.9 miles per hour off the bat, with an average true distance of 393.6 feet (per ESPN). In 2012, his last healthy season, he averaged 104.4 miles per hour and 393.1 feet. In 2011, it was 105.0 mph and 406.9 feet. Furthermore, at 21.1%, his line drive rate has remained consistent with the marks he has established since his breakout 2011 season with the Royals.

In terms of bat speed, Cabrera’s still got it.

Things aren’t all chocolate and roses, however. Despite playing arguably the second easiest defensive position on the diamond, Melky remains a below average defender. His UZR/150 in 2014 currently sits at -10.1, and while that’s a significant improvement upon his dismal -14.8 last season, it’s still a far cry from his passable -2.3 UZR/150 in left field for the Giants in 2012 and his -9.8 UZR/150 in center field for the Royals in 2011. He’s passing the eye test a lot better – largely due to the fact, you know, that his legs actually work – but the numbers still don’t particularly like him out there. He ranks 17th in defensive figures among the 20 qualified left fielders, ahead of only Nelson Cruz, Shin-Soo Choo, and Matt Kemp.

With Cabrera’s contract set to expire after the World Series, it creates an interesting profile to project moving forward, both in terms of potential value on a Qualifying Offer and a long-term deal. The left fielder is currently on pace for 3.0 WAR by the ZIPS and Steamer projection systems, and given that both are forecasting a slight improvement in rest-of-season defense and a decline in rest-of-season offense, the figure seems fair.

Referring back to my pre-season article on Colby Rasmus and his impending Qualifying Offer (aside: boy, that “floor” of 2 WAR I assumed sure seems absurd now), we can gain a rough estimate for average annual salary based on cumulative three-year WAR. The total for Melky would be 4.5 (2012) – 0.9 (2013) + 3.0 (2014) = 6.6 WAR, which correlates to an annual salary of around 12.8 million. This equates to a 60% raise on Cabrera’s previous salary, and while some may ask whether the Blue Jays can afford it with their freshly tightened purse strings, the better question may be, can they afford not to?

I’ve been a strong supporter of Rasmus for years now, but with each passing game it’s looking more and more like his days in a Blue Jays uniform are numbered. His defense has been shaky – both visually and statistically – and outside of the occasional home run, his offensive contributions have been unacceptable. He’s proven to be more of a platoon bat that requires a shield from same-side pitching than a true full-time starter, and in a healthy lineup it would be hard to argue he deserves to be hitting any higher than seventh.

Rasmus is a nice piece possessing potential, but when that potential starts costing eight figures per year, it’s probably time to let someone else try to tap into it.

Rasmus’ likely departure makes retaining Melky Cabrera essential, as an outfield that has Kevin Pillar in left and Anthony Gose in center – both as regulars – is simply an impossible scenario to justify. Should Pillar manage to mend the bridges he appears to have burned within the organization’s hierarchy, he and Gose could prove to be a more than adequate platoon in centerfield in 2015. The pair would provide an excellent internal stop-gap, earning around a million dollars combined while keeping the seat warm for the rapidly ascending Dalton Pompey.

Returning to Cabrera; the first step in the process is the aforementioned Qualifying Offer. The value of the Offer is the average of the 125 highest salaries in baseball that year. In 2012 that was 13.3 million, and last winter, it was 14.1 million. If we assume a similar 6% increase, the figure is likely to fall around 14.9 million for free agents this offseason. Completely coincidentally, the combined 2014 salary of Cabrera and Rasmus totals 15 million. There have been some whispers that the Blue Jays would be unable to make a Qualifying Offer to any of their free agents in fear they might accept, but if you consider the salaries of the outfield in a vacuum, the organization could theoretically afford to make the Offer to one without seeing a net increase in payroll. Of course, this ignores the 6 million dollar raise awaiting Jose Reyes, but if Anthopoulos needs an angle with ownership, there’s a decent start here.

By making the Offer, Anthopoulos would lock the Blue Jays into one of three outcomes. The first: that Melky accepts. It would be an awfully large sum on paper, but the saying “There’s no such thing as a bad one year deal” exists for a reason. Last offseason, Dave Cameron of FanGraphs looked into the value of a win on the free agent market and came up with a rough estimate of 6.0 million per WAR, while also noting the 10% or so annual inflation across free agency over the past decade. That would place the going rate at 6.6 million per WAR this offseason. Should Melky sign the Qualifying Offer at 14.9 million, the outfielder would need to produce 2.3 WAR — a plateau he’s reached in 3 of the last 4 years — for the club to get “fair” market value.

Outcome number two would be that Melky declines the Qualifying Offer and signs elsewhere, guaranteeing the Blue Jays a compensatory draft pick at the end of the first round. This would allow the Blue Jays to sign a different free agent with attached compensation — like Nelson Cruz, James Shields, or even Jon Lester — without crippling their draft bonus pool, or, plug Cabrera’s void with a non-qualified free agent or trade acquisition and enter a second consecutive amateur draft with a pair of high picks.

The third possible outcome, and probably the most desirable for both Blue Jays fans and the organization, would be for Melky to decline the Qualifying Offer and find himself in a depressed market. Should Cabrera and his agent discover that the grass isn’t always greener — like so many Qualified free agents did nine months ago — Alex Anthopoulos and friends would find themselves in the highly enviable position of possessing a massive amount of leverage in the market. The Blue Jays would have the opportunity to float a multi-year deal to retain the services of Cabrera in his remaining prime years at a below market rate.

As an example, let’s envision a scenario in which after finding lukewarm interest in his services due to the draft pick noose, Melky Cabrera signs a 3 year deal worth a total of 38.4 million to return to Toronto — the 12.8 million dollar annual salary I had estimated. Taking the projected 6.6 million per win discussed earlier, Melky would only need to produce 5.8 WAR over the course of the deal for the club to get “fair” market value. There’s a very real possibility that he comes up short as his defense falters and his bat is unable to sustain the production; but alternatively, it’s not difficult to see Cabrera reaching and/or exceeding 5.8 WAR in three years with relative ease, and it’s increasingly rare for teams to find surplus value in free agency.

Regardless of which result comes to fruition, it’s increasingly clear that the Blue Jays need to make Melky Cabrera a Qualifying Offer if they can’t get him under contract even sooner. He’s proven invaluable to this organization during its somewhat surprising playoff push, and the front office is in a position to protect both the short and long term aspirations in one fell swoop. Don’t screw this one up, Jays.


In this guest post from Kyle Matte, he looks at how some of the peripherals suggest that the outstanding results the Jays have gotten from Dustin McGowan since he moved to the bullpen aren’t maybe as outstanding as they seem. Follow Kyle on Twitter at @KyleMatte.

Dustin McGowan has been a wildly enigmatic pitcher through the first three months of the 2014 season. He set the Grapefruit League ablaze en route to being named to a rotation that ranked 29th and 28th in ERA and FIP respectively last year, with the hope he could help steer it in a more positive direction. Despite his outstanding numbers in an admittedly small sample the decision wasn’t an easy one, and the organization publicly went back and forth regarding their plans for the right hander. McGowan was a stud out of the bullpen in 2013 and has a well-documented injury background, yet the alternatives proved so inept in March that there was no other reasonable choice for the club to make but to try him in the rotation.

He made his season debut against the New York Yankees on April 4th — his first in over thirty months — and it probably went as well as could be honestly imagined, given the rust; 4 runs allowed on 9 base runners while recording just 8 outs. The poor results were accepted by most, but what caused a stir amongst savvy fans were his swinging strikes – or the lack there of. Chops McGowan induced just three whiffs across his 72 pitches (4.2%), as the Yankees made contact with or fouled off pitch after pitch. It was suggested on the Twitter machine that Dustin may have been tipping his pitches, a rumor that was later substantiated by Pitching Coach Pete Walker.

The pitch-tipping story quickly became a thing of the past, but the elusive swinging strikes remained an ongoing battle for McGowan. Over the eight starts he would make through April and May, McGowan reached the 10% swinging strike rate plateau just three times, with his high water mark coming at 12.9% on April 23rd against the Baltimore Orioles. These struggles were a new thing for McGowan. While working as a reliever in 2013, he maintained an 11.5% swinging strike rate for the season. Among 273 relievers with at least 20 innings pitched (via Fangraphs)that rate ranked 76th – tied with Brett Cecil in the 72nd percentile; among very good company.

Manager John Gibbons seemed openly relieved when it was announced McGowan would be returning to the bullpen, where he had proven to be a valuable and reliable piece. High leverage relief pitchers enter games in the late innings, usually with a narrow lead, and often with runners on base. In terms of run expectancy, two of the best ways to get out of such scenarios with minimal damage is through strikeouts and groundballs, and Dustin had proved proficient at coaxing both. 22.8% of batters he faced walked back to the dugout with their head hung in shame, and 46.6% of balls put in play burned the hypothetical worms in the Rogers Centre turf. Those figures ranked 108th(60th percentile) and 102nd(63rd percentile) respectively among the 273 relievers with at least 20 innings pitched – neither elite, but both well above average.

Unfortunately, Dustin McGowan simply hasn’t been the same pitcher since his return to the pen. Sure, on the surface he’s been outstanding – just two earned runs allowed 16.2 innings pitched (1.08 ERA) through June 25th – but the underlying numbers suggest that unless he can rediscover his old self, a tidal wave of regression might be heading his way. His bullpen strikeout rate has sunk to just 18.6%, while his overall groundball rate is a Todd Redmond-esque 37.5%. McGowan’s success can almost entirely be tied to two completely unsustainable numbers; a .180 BABIP, and an 84.8% strand rate in his relief appearances. I know Toronto’s fielding is much improved, but there’s not a defense in existence that will turn 82.0% of balls in play into outs once the sample size starts to grow beyond a few handfuls of innings.

This leads to the obvious question: what happened? While we can further analyze particular aspects of the results – which I’ll do below – there’s a limitless deluge of possible reasons for the variance. It could be a change within McGowan, mentally or physically. Perhaps he’s still wearing his insulin pump on the mound which he didn’t last season, or maybe there’s been an immeasurable alteration in the kinetic motion of his delivery. There could be an adjustment on the side of the hitters, too. After years in baseball purgatory, McGowan has returned to a landscape where scouting reports are more advanced than ever before. It’s entirely possible teams have formulated a book on him, are significantly more aware of his tendencies, and are able to game plan to take away his strengths.

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In this guest post from Kyle Matte we look at which players the major mock drafts have linked the Jays to, how those players fit the patterns established by the drafts of the Anthopoulos era, and what to expect on Thursday night, as the Jays hold the ninth and eleventh picks in the MLB draft. Follow Kyle on Twitter at @KyleMatte, and stay tuned to DJF on Thursday night for our annual draft live blog!

In early May here at DJF, I looked back at the Toronto Blue Jays 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 drafts, attempting to identify a template or prototype for what this regime looks for in amateur pitchers and hitters. I won’t go into too much detail regarding the methodology (you can read all about it by checking out the article), but by combining scouting information and physical data from 80 notable prospects selected across the aforementioned drafts, a number of trends emerged for what Alex Anthopoulos and company covet most. By awarding points for meeting certain criteria, seven pitchers and five hitters widely considered to be in the top 60 overall emerged as the most suitable prospects – by my system, at least.

The regular seasons for both the high school and college ranks have reached their conclusions, though for many prospects, the baseball season carries on. College tournaments in the United States are well underway and will continue through June before culminating in the College World Series on June 25th, while high school prospects have been engaged in Showcase events that offer them one final opportunity to display their talent on a level playing field.

With that being said, barring serious injury, it’s unlikely that anything happening on the diamond over the last week or so has had a dramatic effect on any kind of ranking or perception by a front office. Teams have established their targets; most of what has been happening (and will continue to happen) leading up to Thursday night is extensive dialogue between organizations and player agents advisors. “We like your player. Slot for the ninth pick is 3 million. Will your client sign for 2.5?” The conversations are (likely) far more delicate and professional, but with the talent level established, signability becomes one of the biggest determining factors in the decision-making process. Unfortunately, outside of the occasional anonymous source, the general public is not privy to such exchanges, and furthermore, it’s probable that whatever number gets floated by advisors differs from team to team based upon client preference. The only way we might be able to gather the tone or flow of those conversations is through draft analysts and/or insiders who are presumably slotting players to teams in their mock drafts for a reason.

In this article, we’ll look at the most recent mock drafts published by Baseball America,, MLB Draft Insider, Perfect Game, ESPN, and to see who the experts are slotting to Toronto at 9 and 11. In most cases, these mocks will be their penultimate edition, as a final mock is usually released the morning or afternoon of the big day. We’ll conclude the article by looking at the twelve players I originally outlined to see where they presently stand in the eyes of the scouting community.

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In this guest post from Kyle Matte we look at data from past drafts and try to find trends that will help us identify the types of players the Blue Jays could target next month with their two very high picks. Follow Kyle on Twitter at @KyleMatte.

The 2014 MLB Draft begins with its first round on the night of June 5th, roughly one month from today. Unlike the other three major sports, baseball has its draft in the middle of its regular season, and not only that, but before the conclusion of the seasons being played by the amateur talent being acquired. In hockey, football, and basketball, the organizations have months to comb through game tape and interview potential selections in preparation. As such, a player’s most recent in-game performance carries less weight than the total package of data. Things are drastically different with baseball. A strong month or two in the spring can vault a prospect up draft boards — often termed “helium” —  while a very poor start to the season can severely damage the stock of a player, causing him to slide and lose hundreds of thousands in bonus money in the process. As a result of this unique situation, mock drafts are next to useless any earlier than just a few days before the actual draft takes place.

What we can do, however, is soak up as much information as possible from past drafts in an attempt to identify an archetype for what an organization looks for in amateur talent. There are thousands of draft-eligible prospects between United States post-secondary schools and high schools across the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico, so it’s impossible for any scouting department to get eyes on everyone. By identifying trends in the historical data, you can develop a more precise idea of what the scouts might be watching for, and therefore who an organization might be targeting.

This brings us to the Toronto Blue Jays, the only organization in baseball to possess two picks in the draft’s first round (compensatory round not withstanding). We’re not talking about the late first round either – the selections are ninth and eleventh overall in what is supposed to be a talent-rich group. It would be less than truthful to claim June 5th has the potential to be franchise-altering, as even with first round picks it seems like you’re flipping a coin as to whether or not they’ll amount to anything whatsoever, but needless to say it will be a big day for the front office as they continue to try and fill the void created by the trades of the winter of 2012.

In hopes of defining a “Blue Jay Way”, I immersed myself in as much information as possible from the 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 draft classes. Starting with a list that exceeded 150 names, I slowly trimmed the group to 80. The sample is all prospects drafted (not necessarily signed, mind you) by the Blue Jays who had a notable signing bonus and/or an extensive pre-draft scouting report from which to gauge talent level. I believe by narrowing the list in this way, we have a conglomerate that best defines the attributes that the Blue Jays most desire. As an example, while Tucker Donahue was a fourth round pick in 2012, the fact he signed for a pittance by bonus standards indicates it was his signability that the club sought, not his talent. He, and players like him, were removed from the data cluster to avoid skewing the archetype away from the relevant information: talent and tools.

Defining The “Blue Jay Way”

I’ve been closely following the draft for a number of years now, and when it’s the Blue Jays turn to select, analysts almost uniformly use some combination of the words “athlete”, “projectability”, and “upside” when put on the spot to make a prediction for the club. With this investigation I was able to not only determine the validity of those statements, but to take it a step further and start attaching some numbers, trends, and thresholds to what could loosely be classified as the “Blue Jay Way”. The end-game of this exercise is to then project those patterns onto the 2014 draft class in hopes of identifying who might sit atop Toronto’s draft board. But first, some background on the historical grouping of 80:

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In this guest post from Kyle Matte we get a look at what the future holds for Colby Rasmus, as he begins his final season before free agency, and whether the Jays can keep him. Follow Kyle on Twitter at @KyleMatte.

When Major League Baseball’s newest Collective Bargaining Agreement was under discussion, both sides acknowledged that the Type A/Type B free agent compensation system needed to be re-worked. It put numerous players in a position where their leverage was being artificially hauled down by a mechanism that offered them little to no benefit. The acceptance of arbitration would at best gain them a one-year deal, and because of the way salary escalation was handled, even the best players were looking at maybe a 20% raise on their previous year’s earnings. Always seeking the security of a long term deal, the offer was almost universally declined.

The two sides came up with the Qualifying Offer – a way to protect teams from losing elite free agents for nothing, while limiting the number of mid-tier free agents carrying draft pick compensation because of the hefty figure involved: a one year deal with a guaranteed salary equal to the average of the top 125 players in all of baseball. Part of that plan has certainly come to fruition. Heading into 2011, 83 free agents had draft pick compensation attached: 33 Type A, 50 Type B. In the two years since the Qualifying Offer was implemented, just 9 and 13 free agents have felt the draft pick noose hung around their neck. What likely wasn’t a part of the plan is that the non-elite free agents still being tagged are finding a market more unwelcoming than ever before, as front offices have proven increasingly protective of their draft picks and bonus money. Some fault must be placed on the agents for misreading the market their clients were jumping head-first into, but any system that prevents above average talent like Stephen Drew from finding legitimate, fair contracts is obviously flawed. Kendrys Morales: there are simply no words for your decision making process.

This system is relevant to Toronto, as come the end of the 2014 season, one of our own will be marching into free agency: Colby Rasmus. Mind you, we thought much the same last year, and we saw how that turned out with Josh Johnson. The situation with Rasmus is different, however, for two main reasons. The first is that he’s been healthy; his 458 plate appearances in 2013 were a career low, and he still had his most productive output. The second is that he’s a position player. Of the 22 players to receive qualifying offers, 16 have been of the non-pitcher persuasion. Teams have, perhaps wisely, been especially wary of spending big on free agent pitchers the last couple of years.

Beyond his health and non-pitcher status, Rasmus has a number of things working in his favor. Colby will be just 28 years old on Opening Day 2014, which would tie him with B.J. Upton as the youngest free agent to receive the Qualifying Offer. Additionally, he’s already displayed an elite-level peak. His 4.8 fWAR in 2013 places him in the company of Robinson Cano, Josh Hamilton, Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-SooChoo, Michael Bourn, Curtis Granderson, and Mike Napoli as players who exceeded 4.5 fWAR in any of the three seasons leading up to their free agency. Finally, Rasmus plays an up-the-middle position (catcher, second base, shortstop, center field). Seven signed players met that criteria, and the average contract from that group was an astounding 6 years and 113 million. That is not a prediction of what he will make, merely a guarantee that barring a meteorically catastrophic 2014 season, Colby Rasmus will receive a Qualifying Offer from the Toronto Blue Jays, and he will decline it.

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