Kyle Matte


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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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In this guest post from Kyle Matte we get a look at the amazingness that is Edwin Encarnacion, and his remarkable transformation into one of the best hitters in the game. Follow Kyle on Twitter at @KyleMatte.

Back in July of 2009, the Toronto Blue Jays franchise was in a state of turmoil. Not only was the organization looking down the barrel of their first losing season since 2005, but the face of the roster – Roy Halladay – had made it known he was not interested in re-signing north of the border at the conclusion of his contract, which was set to expire following the 2010 season. It put then-General Manager J.P. Ricciardi in the unenviable position of attempting to trade one of the few true aces in baseball, and with a rotation that included Ricky Romero, Brian Tallet, and Scott Richmond, it was more than just a metaphorical white flag he’d be waving on competitive baseball for the foreseeable future.

To the surprise of no one, the market’s interest in Roy Halladay proved strong. While the Phillies were arguably the favorites all along, both teams in Los Angeles as well as the Texas Rangers reportedly got involved, causing a massive tide of attention from the national media. But come four-o’clock, Roy Halladay was still property of the Toronto Blue Jays. The big name who wasn’t? Scott Rolen. The Greatest Blue Jays of All Time was in the midst of a ferociously impressive season; 3.9 rWAR in just 88 games thanks to a .320/.376/.476 batting line and his usual spectacular defense, so when initial reports of the return began to surface, the airing of grievances began.

3:40 PM EDT: SI’s Jon Heyman says Rolen to the Reds… if he waives his NTC. But for what??? If it in any way Encarnacion I puke and disown this team immediately.

3:55 PM EDT: Puke! “The deal awaits only Rolen’s approval, which he is expected to give; he has a full no-trade clause. In return, the Jays will get third baseman Edwin Encarnacion and a minor leaguer,” says Fox. It better be a damn good minor leaguer.

That’s an excerpt from Drunk Jays Fans’ founder and Editor Andrew Stoeten’s trade deadline live blog. While hindsight is always a bitch, it’s hard to find fault with his immediate reaction. At the time of the trade, Encarnacion was struggling through an injury-marred season, and the 26 year old’s .209/.333/.374 slash line and negative 0.7 rWAR hardly inspired a whole lot of confidence moving forward. Even with solid-average offensive numbers for a corner infielder in the previous three years, park factors and his glorious defensive deficiencies significantly held back his overall value, limiting him to just 2.9 rWAR in the over 400 games since his rookie campaign. Cruel as it may be, there was merit behind his E5 moniker.

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In this guest post from Kyle Matte, we’re treated to an historical review of the Jays’ top prospects, with the hope of divining some meaning from the fact that Aaron Sanchez now holds that spot. You can view some of the data Kyle discusses here in this Google Document. Follow Kyle on Twitter at @KyleMatte.

Baseball America has been around for a very long time, having been founded by Canadian Allan Simpson way back in 1980. In 1983, it was purchased by the owner of the Durham Bulls minor league franchise, and moved to Durham, North Carolina. It was then, in 1983, that the publication began their organizational top ten prospect reports. While I don’t necessarily agree with their rankings or their methodology of the rankings itself (they rely greatly upon team sources for the organizational reports, whereas other publications, like Baseball Prospectus, primarily utilize sources from outside the organization, as well as their own eyes, to avoid bias), it speaks volumes that they have been churning out content every year since. It affords us a rare opportunity to have over thirty years of organizational prospect rankings to reflect on, and I’ve taken advantage of this information in an attempt to uncover what exactly it means to be the Toronto Blue Jays number one prospect, as Aaron Sanchez was named for 2014 this past December.

What has our overall success rate been with #1 prospects? What level of Major League production did those players generate over their careers? How have we fared with pitchers versus hitters? I was able to answer all of these questions and more, and before the end I’ll offer a glimpse into the career Aaron Sanchez might have, if he develops like the average number one Blue Jays prospect.

As mentioned above, the first Blue Jays organizational report was released in anticipation of the 1983 season, so that will be the starting point for this exercise. For an end point, I settled on 2009. It’s not arbitrary – as the rankings are released prior to the season, ending the analysis in 2009 would supply us with five years of data from which to analyze that final number one prospect. If you wished to stretch the list to 2010 to include Zach Stewart who is most assuredly a bust, I could see your justification, but I felt five years was the bare minimum from which to fairly judge a professional career.

These parameters offer us 27 years of top ten rankings, on which 18 different names appear at the top. Five prospects rank number one twice, while two players repeat at the top thrice (and man, did they ever have different careers). The split is skewed heavily towards positional players, as of the 18, only 3 are pitchers, interestingly, all of whom are right handed. The Blue Jays have never had a left-handed pitcher rank number one.

I investigated a variety of factors in hopes of best encapsulating a professional career within one line of a spreadsheet. I looked at the year in which they played their first full MLB season (a designation loosely based around a minimum of 300 plate appearances for hitters, 100 innings pitched for starting pitchers, and 30 innings pitched for relievers, though exceptions were made), how many years after their number one ranking they achieved that first full season – which I termed the “lag” – and how old they were in that season. Using the value figures calculated by Fangraphs, I inspected the WAR they created in their first, second, and third full MLB seasons separately, as well as cumulatively. In addition to their career WAR, I also designated each player’s peak years – where I felt they performed at their highest level – and looked at how much value they produced over that specified time period. Finally, using the first year of the peak window and their first full MLB season, I was able to determine how many seasons of development at the Major League level it took for the prospect to begin playing at their best.

Because of the inclusion of players whose careers are still on-going, some of the averaged numbers, namely the career WAR, are being artificially held down. For this reason, when it comes to projecting the completely hypothetical career for Aaron Sanchez in the latter half of this article, I’ll only use the WAR for players who have officially retired (and Vernon Wells, because, come on Vernon, it’s over).

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In this guest post from Kyle Matte, we’re treated to some actual Pitch F/X data on Aaron Sanchez, whose arsenal of pitches, it turns out, looks as sparkly among the raw numbers as it does in our fantasies. Follow Kyle on Twitter at @KyleMatte.

The Blue Jays minor league system has been an area of much debate this winter – not so much to laud its merits, but as a calculation of ammunition should the organization be unable to improve the major league rotation with money and money alone. That’s the ideal outcome, of course; to sign a player like Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana, and augment the present without hindering the future. Plans B, C, and D are being formulated on Twitter, blogs, and in the various comments sections, however, with fans putting together packages of minor league prospects that they believe could entice a team such as the Rays or Indians to part with a pitcher like David Price or Justin Masterson. I’ve succumb to this line of thinking more than once, and given the near-ready status of Marcus Stroman, it has instead been right hander Aaron Sanchez at the front of my hypothetical.

That ends now. We’ve all read the glowing reports on Sanchez’ right arm, such as Jason Parks’ Baseball Prospectus Top 10 Blue Jays Prospect List, in which he ranked second with the statement “7 FB; 6+ potential CB; 6 potential CH” next to his name and picture. That sounds really awesome, and if you’ve seen the video of Sanchez from the Arizona Fall League, it looks really awesome, too. What those numbers necessarily mean can be difficult to grasp, particularly for those of us without a scout school education, as there are different variables and characteristics that go into each of those grades. Thankfully for us, three of Sanchez’ AFL appearances came in parks with the PitchFX system in place, and has published the data for a closer inspection.

Note: a small sample size alert is in full effect, as only 146 pitches (67 fastballs, 23 sinkers, 28 curveballs, and 28 changeups) were recorded.

In order to gain a better idea of what Sanchez’ 7 fastball, 6+ potential curveball, and 6 potential changeup look like – and in another sense, just how good they might be if he could ever learn to consistently harness and locate them, I utilized Sanchez’ PitchFX data, applied a 5% error to the horizontal and vertical movement measurements, and compared the values to customized pitching leaderboards from the 2013 season on FanGraphs. Which major league right hander does Sanchez’ fastball have the most in common with? Who else throws a curveball with a similar shape at this velocity? What about his changeup? I was able to find answers for all of these questions, and the outcomes were staggering.

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