Archive for the ‘Guest Post’ Category

colby

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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edwinST

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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t-birds1

(via, h/t to @theford)

Look familiar?

Yes, the Tumwater High School Baseball team, from Tumwater, Washington (about an hour south of Seattle), has taken the logo from those great Blue Jays teams of the early 2000s and made it their own. The Tumwater T-Birds might only be the 653rd best high school team in the nation, but they’ve easily become my favourite American high school baseball team.

And I don’t know about you, but if this 2014 Jays season falls apart in a hurry, I could see myself listening online to the local Tumwater radio station (KUOW 1340AM!) to see how the young men, wearing the most underrated Blue Jays logo, are doing. Rumour has it that Manager Jamie Weeks is coaching the boys up real nice in the fundamentals of the game and they could make a run at State. (follow Mr. Weeks on Twitter!)

Now, knowing the Blue Jays keen sense of public perception, they’ll probably sue the hell out of the Tumwater T-Birds. Shutting down, not only the baseball program, but the entire school of Tumwater. Parents, balking at the cost of shipping their kids to Olympia for schooling, will move their families out of Tumwater. Essentially turning the once vibrant baseball town into a shell of its former self.

OR, you know, the Jays could make up for the annoying begging that has been their twitter account pushing the #FaceOfMLB and do something fun like donate a bunch of the old Jays T-Bird gear to these kids. Which would ACTUALLY be doing something for a good cause.

The T-Birds Honda Home Opener is March 12th. State! State! State!

Thanks to Dave Burrows for the post. I repeat, this is a guest post.

sanchezST14

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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sanchezafl

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 BrooksBaseball.net 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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goinspillar

Chad Jenkins. Todd Redmond. Neil Wagner. Josh Thole. Ryan Goins. Munenori Kawasaki. Anthony Gose. Kevin Pillar. Moises Sierra.

No matter what you think of the individual players, the fact that all of those names currently occupy the same Major League Baseball active roster is astonishing. This wasn’t how it was drawn up. Not even close.

The Toronto Blue Jays have had to reach very deep on their depth chart this season. It’s been ugly at times, and the Buffalo Bisons likely don’t appreciate it in the midst of a playoff push in the International League. But it is what it is, and the Jays have been hammered with injuries throughout the year.

If it all feels oddly familiar, it should, because it’s not really a one-year blip. In fact, you could go so far as to call it a systemic issue since 2011.

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Marcus Stroman: 80-grade genetics

Blue Jays minor league field coordinator Doug Davis traverses the treacherous terrain of the Virginia mountainside en route to Saturday’s Appalachian League contest between the Bluefield Blue Jays and the Princeton Rays.  It’s a journey fraught with lousy cell phone reception, a reality that assumes heightened levels of annoyance when there’s an overzealous Jays fan — unconvincingly posing as a journalist —  on the phone.

Then again, any man who endures 790 career minor-league games for 14 plate appearances in the majors is, presumably, far more adept at handling adversity than the average person.  And so, when I propose a fairly comprehensive prospect round-up, Davis is more than happy to oblige.

Jonah Birenbaum: Marcus Stroman was obviously very polished coming out of Duke, and he’s been dominant in Double-A this year, with a 3.22 ERA with 103 Ks in just over 89 innings.  But scouts are sort of torn on him, with his build and the lack of downward plane that he generates with his fastball, is home run susceptibility going to prevent him from making it as a starter in the big leagues?

Doug Davis: I think that’s a question everybody has.  I think if you just ask a number of people, half of them are going to say he can start and half of them will say he can’t.  And I don’t know whether we’re going to find out until we actually give him the opportunity.  I feel like he can start.  I think he’s got enough pitches.  I think he’ll learn how to pitch with his fastball, even though his stature — you know, he’s not a tall guy — and he doesn’t create a lot of plane.  I think there’s other ways to get around that and I think he’ll learn how to do it.  He’s a very smart kid, and the pitches themselves — you know, he’s got the potential to have, really, all plus pitches — and because of that, with velocity, I still think he’s going to be able to start and utilize four different pitches.  That’s kind of where I’m at.  You know, he’s done great in Double-A; I think everybody’s seen the positives, and I think the negatives have surfaced, too, a little bit, but again, the guy hasn’t been pitching very long professionally, and I think we’ve got to give him time, got to give him the opportunity to gain more experience against better hitters.  Again, I think because of his makeup and his intelligence, he’s going to learn how to make adjustments and become a better pitcher.

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