Archive for the ‘Playoffs?’ Category


It’s playoff time! And naturally that means the Jays are no longer in it. But that doesn’t mean things around here are going to stop, and just like last year, to get you set up for each (non-weekend) night’s playoff action, and to give you a space to talk about the game, I’m going to be taking a hopefully-quick look around at some splits and stats and whatever else stands out on a Jays player’s 2014 season, because… what the hell else is there to do for the next month? Or the next week. Or just today– or however long I actually continue to follow through on this exercise. Tonight: J.A. Happ.

5:30 PM ET – Detroit @ Baltimore – Max Scherzer (6.0 rWAR) vs. Chris Tillman (2.4 rWAR)
8:00 PM ET – Kansas City @ Anaheim – Jason Vargas (2.4 rWAR) vs. Jered Weaver (3.0 rWAR)

In the overall, J.A. Happ didn’t have as good a 2014 as you probably think. Looking at the numbers, he certainly didn’t have as good a year as I believed — 1.3 fWAR, 1.4 rWAR, 4.22 ERA, 4.27 FIP, average HR/FB rate, almost three walks per nine innings, a K/9 that exactly matches his career mark of 7.58.

He really doesn’t even necessarily have long, stellar stretches to admire if we play the arbitrary endpoint game, either. For example, the end of his season was certainly better than the beginning, but his numbers after the All-Star break aren’t that different. The ERA is a tasty 3.56, yes, and the xFIP a handsome 3.65, but the FIP is 4.26, the strikeout rate is about the same (7.61), and though the walks were an impressively un-Happian 2.00 per nine, he was also getting some good fortune with respect to batted ball luck (.266 BABIP) and strand rate (77.8%).

Yet, 2014 felt like a real step in the right direction, odd as that may seem to be when you’re talking about a pitcher who turns 32 later this month.

Was it just the increased ability to limit walks? Not necessarily just that, but I think that’s one visible part of an entire reshaping of Happ as a pitcher that took place this season. One that we ought to hope he can sustain, as he’s in line to make just $6.7-million next season — provided the Jays don’t trade him, which could also be an intriguing possibility given their depth and the genuine value he built in 2014.

Part of what makes his year feel so much better than the aggregate numbers maybe look, I think, is our perception. I was at Brighthouse Field in Clearwater when Happ made his disastrous first appearance of the spring, and while he wasn’t quite as bad as his line that day made it look, it was pretty damn bad. And saying that the rest of his spring was equally vomitous is an understatement. I noted on March 25th that his Grapefruit League ERA at the time was a “cock-mangling 20.57.” That’s one of the reasons the club swallowed hard and started the season with Dustin McGowan in the rotation, with Happ taking a turn in Dunedin, then Buffalo before getting called up to join the big club’s bullpen.

He was awful, and I remember the lonely feeling of defending him to the frothing masses who found his atrocious spring bringing to mind the worst of the worst potential outcomes. (I… uh… I also remember the lonely feeling of saying it was dumb to call Brandon Morrow injury prone *COUGH*, so let’s not let me get feeling too smug about my predictive abilities here).

After a couple of relief appearances in April, it was revealed on May 1st that Happ would be getting a spot start in Philadelphia on the 5th, ostensibly as a way to get some extra rest in for the ailing McGowan (who, though the details weren’t public yet, was having trouble recovering from his starts) and the very green Drew Hutchison, who had been thrown into the fire with just 35.1 post-Tommy John innings on his arm. It was only a day later, however, that Brandon Morrow made his final start of the year, and Happ’s spot start turned into his becoming a fully-fledged member of the rotation, for better or worse.

Somehow, it was for better.

Much of it — maybe all of it — comes down to newfound velocity. Happ’s fastball sat at 92.7 in 2014, which was a 1.6 mph increase over the previous year (which was itself a career high), and a nonsensical improvement for a guy who made one start for the Phillies as a 24-year-old call-up in 2007, and sat at 87.7.

That velocity gain allowed him to change his pitch usage, too. He threw fastballs 72% of the time in 2014, which is a major change from 2010, when he moved from the Phillies to the Astros in-season, and his rate was just 58.9%. It was a big jump from what we’ve seen in his Blue Jays career, too, where he’d thrown it about 65% of the time. The increased usage came at the expense of his slider (used 6.3% of the time, compared to 10.9% in 2013, and 13.8% in 2012), and his changeup (9.5% in 2014 compared to 15.7% the year previous).

Meanwhile, he also built on steadily-made gains in terms of the percentage of pitches he threw for strikes — something it’s obviously easier to feel comfortable doing when you’re touching 94 and 95 than when your fastball sits at 87.7, or even, as it did in his first full year in the league, 88.9. Much of Happ’s plate discipline data doesn’t look terribly different in 2014 than it had in the years previous, though according to the Pitch F/X he threw strikes 52% of the time this season — a number that has steadily gone up since he bottomed out in 2009 with a 45.9% rate.

Velocity, it seems, is a good thing. Velocity and consistency might go a long, long way for Happ. He gave up four or more earned runs in ten of the 26 starts that he made in 2014, but he also gave up two or fewer in 12 of them. He didn’t have a lot of outings where he got his head handed to him, just a healthy number in which he was just kind of OK. And when you add that to all those good ones, for a back-of-the-rotation guy making $5.2-million this year and less than $7-million next, that’s really, really nice.

Who’dve thunk it? J.A. Happ is damn valuable. All it seems to have taken was a velocity spike at age 31. More pitchers should try that!


It’s playoff time! And naturally that means the Jays are no longer in it. But that doesn’t mean things around here are going to stop, and just like last year, to get you set up for each (non-weekend) night’s playoff action, I’m going to be taking a hopefully-quick look around at some splits and stats and whatever else stands out on a Jays player’s 2014 season, because… what the hell else is there to do for the next month? Or the next week. Or just today– or however long I actually continue to follow through on this exercise. Tonight: Jose Bautista.

8:00 PM ET – San Francisco @ Pittsburgh – Madison Bumgarner (4.0 rWAR) vs. Edinson Volquez (2.5 rWAR)

Jose Bautista seems like the appropriate guy to start off our Playoff Post(-Mortem) series with, and not just because he was in the news today, or because he’s awesome and this will be a real easy one to crank out. But he is all those things. What he’s maybe not is what you’ve heard a lot of the local media talk about lately: coming off the best season of his career.

That stuff comes down to intangibles, it seems, and there’s no doubt that he’s impressed in that regard this year.

The infamous agitation with umpires was kept to a minimum, fully manifesting itself only in a late-August ejection (which, as I wrote at the time, put him among the ranks of “fellow non-leaders Dustin Pedroia, Miguel Cabrera, Troy Tulowitzki, Albert Pujols, Carlos Gomez, Matt Holliday, Jason Kipnis, David Wright, and Russell Martin in getting tossed from a game this year”). And Bautista showed a much greater willingness to try to beat the shift, with 22.8% of his hits going to the opposite field, as opposed to 12.8% and 12.5% in the previous two seasons, according to the batted ball data at FanGraphs.

I’ve heard it suggested that this means Bautista was putting the team first and not playing for his own statistics, which is funny, because that’s exactly what Colby Lewis thought Colby Rasmus was doing by laying down a bunt to beat the shift in a July game against the Texas Rangers. Whatever narrative works for you, I guess, but it’s not like you can see anything in Bautista’s numbers that any of his own statistics were sacrificed: his statistics are still awesome!

His 6.3 fWAR is nearly identical to the 6.5 mark he put up in his breakout, 54 home run 2010 season, and the differences between the two seasons are probably about what you’d expect: he’s lost quite a bit of power (from 54 HR to 35, and .357 ISO to .239), but made up for it by walking more (15.5% to 14.6%), striking out less (a career best 14.3% to 17%), and hitting far more singles (96 to 56).

He was helped by UZR, which liked him more in 2014 than in 2010, but hurt by DRS, which is used by Baseball Reference’s version of WAR. In fact, according to BR, he was about a win worse than in his breakout campaign — a “mere” 6.0 WAR, compared to 6.9.

No, it wasn’t quite his monstrous 2011 year — a .427 on-base with a .610 SLG, 43 homers, a .302 average, 7.7 WAR by FanGraphs and 8.1 by BR, and the highest Win Probability Added (7.86) of any player over the last five seasons — which is, of course, the correct answer to the question about his best season, but it was really, really, really good.

Jose is just about absolutely as good as it gets, and a major key that needs to be mentioned is that for the first time since 2011 he was healthy. Impressively for all three of the seasons he’s had since his breakout in which he’s played at least 120 games, he’s been a six win player by both versions of WAR.

He earns just $14-million per year from the Jays. He is the 59th highest paid player in baseball.

That there are fans and commentators out there who dream up reasons for this organization to get rid of him based on completely invented garbage about what they want to believe he does or doesn’t do behind closed doors, and who believe that there exists a universe in which this Blue Jays team is better without him than with him, is absolutely fucking ludicrous.

It’s playoff time! And naturally that means the Jays are no longer in it. But that doesn’t mean things around here are going to stop, and just like last year, to get you set up for each (non-weekend) night’s playoff action, I’m going to be taking a hopefully-quick look around at some splits and stats and whatever else stands out on a Jays player’s 2014 season, because… what the hell else is there to do for the next month? Or the next week. Or just today– or however long I actually continue to follow through on this exercise. Tonight: a post-mortem of post-mortem day! The mother of all post-mortems!

8:00 PM ET – Oakland @ Kansas City – Jon Lester (4.6 rWAR) vs. James Shields (3.3 rWAR)

Part One: Anthopoulos Speaks!

Alex Anthopoulos had himself a wide-ranging press conference on Sunday, which you can see in its entirety above by way of Sportsnet.

As you’d expect, he mostly said things that you’d… uh… expect. He dodged questions about payroll with his usual tactic at this time of year — they’ve looked into spending big money on prime free agents, but the G.M. himself doesn’t know what his budget will be yet, supposedly — and declined opportunities to throw anyone under the bus who may still be useful to him.

We’ve all seen the dance before.

But that doesn’t mean that there weren’t some interesting, eyebrow-raising comments, either. Here are my highlights…

- Asked about his needing to massage agents and players because of what the perception around the league of the Blue Jays might be, we got this mildly agitated pearl: “The perception out there is that we’ve got a roster full of really talented players, that Toronto is an unbelievable place to play, that we’re close, and that we have a healthy payroll and great commitment from ownership. So it’s a great perception. And I can’t say that was there ten years ago.” Uh-huh.

- “Very,” is what he said in response to a question about his confidence in his ability to have the funds to sign a “Type-A” free agent, like a Max Scherzer, if he wanted to. Uh-huh. However, he “can adamantly say” that his club’s marquee P.R. scheme — “the policy,” i.e. their refusal to sign players to deals longer than five years — is still very much in place. It’s still very much a load, too. In an uncapped league like MLB you can offer just as much total money in a five year deal as you can in a longer one, which means the only reason the Jays don’t make competitive offers to the most expensive of free agents is money, not term. Hey, but at least we can take comfort in the fact that even though they claim they won’t sign guys to those sorts of deals they will trade away assets for them! And pay the full freight of the deal. Aaaand miss out on the equation-altering windfall of a first year of the deal to boot! Smrt.

- On the Melky Cabrera front, Anthopoulos said the right things, naturally. The player “has clearly expressed” that the Jays are his first choice, and the Jays want him back. Anthopoulos also said that he figures he’d know by now if the club’s five-year policy was going to an impediment to a deal. Personally, I want to believe the situation is this: Anthopoulos has a price he wants to bring him back at, and thinks that the qualifying offer and P.E.D. and health history will suppress his market enough to make it viable. Cabrera and his agent are asking for an amount more in line with an optimistic view of how the market will play out. That assumes the team is actually serious about trying to retain him, and who knows. I mean, it doesn’t exactly move a lot of season tickets for 2015 if they come out and plead poor already, right?

- Anthopoulos dodged the question about moving Jose Reyes off of shortstop by pointing out how banged up he was this season, and how difficult it is to get him to relent to being taken out of the lineup. He admits that they need to to better as an organization with respect to keeping him healthy, and are hoping to do so more in the future. Frankly, I worry that it looked too much at times like Reyes was playing timid — too afraid to get hurt — than it was simply that he was sore, but that’s unfair speculation to lay from here. What’s not unfair is to point out how Anthopoulos, mere minutes before, had been speaking about how he thinks that in the aggregate a team is better to have a lesser player with durability than a better player who may only see the field 70 or 80 per cent of the time. Durability is going to be taken into consideration more than it has in the past, he says, with respect to position players in particular. Alright! Only took five years!

- Also on the Reyes front, Alex conceded that he doesn’t think they had a backup shortstop this year. That would be more true if Ryan Goins hadn’t spent so much time in the majors, since he ought to have at least been starting those games in which he appeared. But we all know how that goes. The way the first question was dodged, and the fact that they claim to have so much trouble getting Reyes out of the lineup suggests that getting him to move positions is something of a non-starter. He made 89% of the plate appearances taken by a Jays shortstop in 2014.

- ”I don’t think we have depth to the point that it’s a goal to move that,” Anthopoulos says of his starting pitching. Bargaining posture or his actual position, it’s hard to say. Depends what he think of the likes of Sean Nolin or Kendall Graveman as legitimate rotation guys, I guess. But it’s hard to see how this club gets better enough without moving at least someone from the rotation depth chart, which right now looks like this: 1. Dickey, 2. Buehrle, 3. Stroman, 4. Hutchison, 5. Happ, 6. Sanchez, 7. Norris, 8. Nolin, 9. Graveman. Surely they could remove someone like Happ and bump everyone below him up, filling in at the bottom of the depth chart with a cheap free agent type like Liam Hendriks while losing not too much in the way of big league rotation value and gaining a lot more by upgrading in the field. Right? Or maybe it’s a young, controllable guy like Nolin who has the value — he was reportedly asked for, along with Pillar and Francisco, for two months of Chase Headley this summer. So… maybe?

- Speaking of Hutchison, Anthopoulos said that, while this year was obviously great and impressive, he thinks he can be much better than a 4.48 ERA guy, too. Which… yeah… sure, I agree. But I’d still really like Anthopoulos to stop talking in stats like that. At one point he was talking about where the club was at relative to the AL in terms of runs scored and OPS, which isn’t awful, but which also doesn’t take into account the difference between run environments of the parks where the Jays play the majority of their games. Maybe that’s why he chooses to quote stats that don’t provide enough context, but maybe that’s why his teams never seem to be as good as he believes, either. That can’t be right though… right?

-  The other thing Anthopoulos said — reiterating comments from interviews we saw last week — was that he expects to be turnover on his roster, and that he’s excited about it. I tweeted earlier this evening that the Jays left-handed batters had the worst OPS against left-handed pitching in the American League by 24 points. There were nine teams with an OPS over .650 in the split, while the Jays sat at a paltry .524. Now, some of that was probably down to the the fact that they used so many platoons, and if they had a lead they’d occasionally keep a lesser hitter in the game for defensive purposes rather than make a substitution to gain the platoon advantage, but the fact of the matter is, they relied on too many one-dimensional players this year. Guys with some value, but too many no-hit, all-bat defenders (Goins, Gose), and too many weak-defending platoon hitters (Francisco, Tolleson, Valencia). However, it might be turnover of a different kind that the Jays seek, which leads us into Part Two…

Part Two: Gibbers On Prime Time Sports

John Gibbons made an appearance on Prime Time Sports on the Fan 590 on Monday, and he too got into the post-mortem game — but not before Gregg Zaun set the tone in a previous segment, dinosaurishly complaining about inmates running the asylum, young players not knowing their place in the locker room, and veteran players not reining in the younger players and showing them how to act like a professional.

Zaun singled out Brett Lawrie as a guy he’d look to move this winter — presumably not caring about the fact that the Jays would be selling low on a potentially very valuable asset — and suggested that J.P. Arencibia was another guy he looked at as a problem. And what’s weird is, when asked about the mood in the room, John Gibbons didn’t exactly jump to defend his club the way that Alex Anthopoulos did when asked the day before about the perception of his franchise around the league *COUGH*.

“I’ll put it this way,” Gibbons told Bob McCown and Stephen Brunt. “I wouldn’t say it’s a real tight-knit group, and we could probably use a little more of that. I think we need to bring in some fresh faces, that’s for sure. We tried this the last couple years — it hasn’t worked. So some new blood, I think, would definitely help. And I’ll leave it at that.”

Now, I don’t think for a second that the Jays could have tight-knitted their way into turning some losses into wins this season, but it’s interesting that this is what we’re hearing. Maybe it’s just in lieu of singling out a member of the coaching staff to be this year’s scapegoat — you know you’re going to have to rearrange some roster pieces, so you make finding harmony in the room the main plank of your off-season P.R. work — but it’s not like there aren’t things to be curious about when it comes to this club on such matters. We’ve heard about issues between Colby Rasmus and some of the club’s Latin American players after he took out free-agent-to-be Omar Infante with a hard slide to break up a double play. We know that the cerebral R.A. Dickey can maybe be aloof. We see Instagram pictures from someone like Marcus Stroman that always show some teammates spending time together off the field, and never others. We saw Kevin Pillar exiled to Buffalo after showing too much attitude in the dugout after being pinch hit for. We see Melky Cabrera sitting on the bench after being shut down in late September, but no sign of Brett Lawrie — who legitimately may be better off not sitting on a hard bench given the nature of his injury, to be fair — who, by the sounds of it, recuperates at home in Arizona rather than in Florida near the team’s facilities.

Does any of that mean anything? Probably not a whole lot — and certainly not according to Gibbons, who ultimately walked back the comment a little.

“We have our issues just like every team,” he said, “but it’s a good bunch. I don’t think that’s a major issue. I think the issue we had was that we just weren’t good enough when it comes down to it after 162 games.”

Ultimately, I have to agree. And no, Dave Perkins, it’s not because of their laziness with the fundamentals, or some such nonsense, either.

“I don’t think that was our problem at all, to be honest with you,” Gibbons said when confronted with that silly old media saw. “In actuality, we probably do it more than probably some of the teams out there,” he said of practicing the fundamental aspects of the game. “So we’ve got no complaint about that, and nobody resists that — if we needed something done, and we asked somebody to do something, they wouldn’t hesitate.”

When it came down to it, “we weren’t throwing our strongest team out there in August,” Gibbons explains. And when the September call-ups came, and the lineup started to look different, Anthony Gose and Kevin Pillar took over from Colby Rasmus because they “wanted to take a look at these guys to see if we could recapture some of that magic” from earlier in the season. “It wasn’t an easy decision,” he said of benching Rasmus. “Hopefully he moves on and he goes to a place where he really enjoys playing and he gets it going again. Because he’s a good guy.”

Speaking of September call-ups, and of the centrefield position, Gibbons liked what he saw out of Dalton Pompey — particularly because of the pitching that he faced, most of which wasn’t of the roster filler variety. “I tell you what, he played like a veteran out there that had been here a few years,” Gibbons gushed. “He gave us great at-bats all September, he’s got a good swing from either side of the plate, he plays good defence, and he’s a good baserunner. So he might be just what the doctor ordered at the right time.”

When was the last time you heard something like that about Gose or Pillar? Anthopoulos remarked about the quality of Pillar’s at-bats, too — something he said was the key to his success all the way up, even if they were sometimes belied by the results. Funny, it’s almost like the hit tool is by far the most important one, and that you can be toolsy as you want, you’re going to have a hard time making it without the ability to hit. His bat will decide, Anthopoulos said earlier of Gose, whether he’s an everyday guy, or a guy you hide at the bottom of the lineup because of defence, or if he’s a fourth outfield. Fortunately, it feels like with Pompey in the fold, those questions don’t really matter so much anymore.

Back to Gibbons, there is, of course, the question of whether he’s still in the fold. It certainly seems that way, and he appears to think so too: “I figure if I wasn’t coming back they might have said something to me yesterday,” he quipped.

So… there’s that.


Have at it…


Don Mattingly was nearly fired in the middle of this season. John Farrell showed precisely zero magic while leading his un-bearded charges in Toronto for two years. Jim Leyland and Mike Matheny are two of the most absurdly old-school managers, tactically, in the game. Yet these are the managers who… er… managed to get their teams into baseball’s final four this season. It sort of flies in the face of all kinds of things, doesn’t it? Turns out magic is bullshit. Pulling teams to victory by strength of will is bullshit. Winning before the gift of Yasiel Puig is bullshit. Tactical perfection is bullshit.

It’s all kind of bullshit, isn’t it? And yet, through the sheer force of lazy metaphor, baseball managers are “generals” who “take” a team to the playoffs, or “take” the previous year’s version of a team to some kind of new strata of achievement.

Dumb, huh?

Of course, it’s not entirely bullshit. Those of us interested in data and the scientific method and tangible understanding and the quantification of as many aspects of the game as possible– i.e. those of us who’d rather think like those in the game’s front offices, as opposed to those willing to accept laughable spoon-fed legacy narratives– often get accused of not believing in things that can’t be quantified, but that’s hardly the case. Yes, the endgame of many advanced statistical pursuits is assigning appropriate value to something, and that does tend to marginalize some of the more abstract, or superstitious, notions about how the game works, but that doesn’t mean anybody thinks we’ve boiled down a manager’s potential impact to its bare essence. On the other hand, though– on the side of those who need to open their bloody minds to their thorough, hilarious lack of understanding of how it can all possibly work– when assessing a manager’s impact, in addition to questioning that which we know we don’t know, we all probably need to think a little bit more about what we think we do know.

Sorry to get all Dick Cheney Donald Rumsfeld on you there. What I mean is, not only is it important to ask questions about the absurdities–  like about Farrell’s sudden gain of managerial magic, or how it’s possible that tactically inept managers can manage to “lead” their teams so deeply into the postseason– but some of things that we take too easily for granted.

Read the rest of this entry »


Jacoby Ellsbury, who starts tonight in centre for the damn Red Sox as the World Series begins, came to the plate 636 times in the regular season this year, and led the Majors in stolen bases with 52 of them. The man with the second-most steals in the American League? Rajai Davis, who came to the plate just 360 times. In fact, had it not been for Eric Young of the Mets swiping two bases on the final day of the season, Davis would have been second in all of baseball in steals.

That’s pretty seriously impressive, as is the fact that he also ranked second in baseball– again behind Ellsbury– in FanGraphs’ base running component of WAR, which combines their Ultimate Base Running metric with Weighted Stolen Base Runs, and that he was caught just six times in stealing his 45 bases, for a success rate over 88%.

Imagine what that would look like over the course of a full season’s worth of at-bats, right?

Pretty ugly, actually. Or… the base running stuff would still be elite, but everything else? Yeesh. Yes, if Davis gets his wish this winter some team is going to find out that… hoo boy… is he ever a platoon player.

Read the rest of this entry »


Have at it…