jaysgroup

This doesn’t mean anything. Let’s get that out of the way up front.

Today we’re going to take a look at the sixteen Blue Jays position players who had at least 100 plate appearances in 2014 and the winning percentage for the club in games that they started. It’s an interesting exercise, I think, even if we obviously can’t reduce what we’re seeing to silly “this is a ‘winning’ player” and “this is a ‘losing’ player” labels. Much of the variance is a function of when a player happened to be in the lineup. For example, many of us probably remember that last year Munenori Kawasaki was present for much of the club’s hot run that brought them back to the .500 mark by the All-Star break, but that wouldn’t make any of us think that he’s really a better option than Jose Reyes. Or, at least, it wouldn’t make any of us who wasn’t completely insane think that.

Still though, it’s a little bit interesting to take a look at this, even if, save for a few exceptions, the list looks quite a bit like you’d probably expect it to. It’s mostly just novel, but maybe it reinforces some things we might want to think about as the club heads into the off-season. Aaaaand I’ve already gone to the trouble of checking each guy’s game log page at Baseball Reference and pulling out the numbers, so… fuck it, we’re doing it regardless.

Here’s the list, in order:

Pillar 19-12 (.613)
Gose 44-30 (.595)
Lawrie 39-31 (.557)
Goins 30-24 (.556)
Lind 43-35 (.551)
Navarro 64-57 (.529)
Encarnacion 66-61 (.520)
Bautista 80-74 (.519)
Cabrera 71-67 (.514)
Reyes 73-69 (.514)
Valencia 20-19 (.513)
— Blue Jays — 83-79 (.512)
Francisco 40-42 (.488)
Tolleson 18-19 (.486)
Rasmus 40-48 (.455)
Kawasaki 30-39 (.435)
Thole 17-24 (.415)

So… what do we think? Here are some stray thoughts:

- The guys who played the most games have winning percentages pretty close to where the team was at overall, though they’re all a shade higher, presumably because those guys are good, and the team loses something when they’re not in the lineup.

- The wide variation between Dioner Navarro and Josh Thole is kind of interesting, almost making one think that there could be value in not pissing away a spot in the lineup for your knuckleballer’s personal catcher.

- Adam Lind is an outstanding left-handed bat and a big part of the reason the Jays were so much stronger against right-handed pitching than they were lefties. That, and the fact that he started almost exclusively against right-handers, shows up here pretty clearly. If only they’d filled the obvious need for a right-handed Adam Lind type before late August, eh? Not that they could have rostered one all year with all those spots being taken up by guys in other platoons, but still!

- It’s curious to see Pillar and Gose so high up the list, but they were both playing regularly during the two best stretches of the year — May and early September. Almost all the other games, until Pompey blew up (see what I did there?), were started in centre by Rasmus, who had an abysmal season. So… that kinda hurt the club in those ones. But we must also remember that Colby also didn’t have the privilege of playing as often with pre-pumpkin Juan Francisco, and was there through the worst of the worst — a huge stretch of the second half with Encarnacion, Lind, and Lawrie out.

- Speaking of Lawrie, when he was healthy he played great defence, hit same-sided pitching well (113 wRC+ against RHP), and really allowed John Gibbons to best utilize the other players at his disposal. How much of that went into the club’s winning percentage with Lawrie as a starter being so high, it’s impossible to say. There are clearly other factors at play. But he’s kinda important. Though I wouldn’t draw the same conclusion about Ryan Goins, even though the club’s record in their games is similar — which is pretty much exactly why this is a pointless exercise.

- That said, maaaaaybe Goins’ great defence and inability to hit really is better than Munenori Kawasaki’s so-so defence and slight ability to hit. Great at-bats, though. Great at-bats.

- This isn’t maybe spoken to so much in the numbers we see above, but just in general, having one Danny Valencia, or one Steve Tolleson, or one Juan Francisco, or one Munenori Kawasaki probably isn’t the worst thing in the world. Having four of them? Yeesh.

- Further to the above point, this team needs more guys who can hit same-sided pitching. The wRC+ of the Jays’ left-handed hitters against left-handed pitching was atrocious. Here are their leaders (minimum 30 PA in the split): Rasmus (92), Kawasaki (84), Thole (70), Gose (28), Francisco (10), Goins (-3), Lind (-36). League average for lefties on lefties is 83.

- In general, the team seemed to do better when good players were playing and worse when less good players were playing. Weird that.

bautistaeh

Bluebird Banter has already got this one covered, and there’s a very good chance you’ve seen it already by this point, I’m sure, so I don’t want to bother saying too much about it all, but holy awesome, this Twitter exchange between Jose Bautista and Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun entirely made my night last night.

Hilarious.

Especially since Simmons’ point is, of course, moronic, reductive, douchey, attention-seeking, and genuinely bizarre — I mean, I don’t think the intent of Bautista’s mild griping after the trade deadline was that every team must always make trades before July 31st. His point was kind of specifically about his own team, and Simmons pretending otherwise is pretty much an example of the worst kind of internet troll straw man garbage.

Which… do we expect better? I certainly don’t. (A piece from back in May at Pension Plan Puppets, in which we’re given the wholly apt line, “Steve Simmons isn’t a proponent of context because context ruins narrative,” lays out pretty well why one might not).

I dunno… I just thought sort of thought this was pretty much the best thing ever. Let’s maybe stop giving this buffoon awards, eh?

Update!

Well this just keeps getting better…

Amazing.

The lack of capitalization should have maybe been a tip-off, Steve.

Update The Second!

This thing just keeps on going, as Steve Simmons showed up on the Brian Hayes Show this afternoon on TSN 1050 in Toronto to talk about the incident, coming off as oblivious to what trolling is as he is to the fact that the Royals added Erik Kratz (113 wRC+ in 31 plate appearances as Salvador Perez’s understudy) and Liam Hendriks (19.1 innings over three starts and three relief appearances, pitching to a 2.20 FIP) less than the week before the deadline in a trade for Danny Valencia with the team he covers for a living. Though he did say that he was contacted by some people from the Blue Jays this morning and told that Bautista doesn’t tweet for himself, which is where the clarification came from. Listen at your own risk.

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!

Tonight:
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.

Southern Miss v Central Florida

Well here’s a bit of good news for Jays fans on the day, with the Royals set to host the A’s in the Wild Card play-in game, that they officially assume the title of longest playoff drought in baseball: the team is getting Anthony Alford full time.

From Ole Miss 24-7:

Ole Miss safety Anthony Alford has left the Ole Miss football team to focus on his professional baseball career.

The departure was announced by Ole Miss on Tuesday.

Alford, a sophomore, had played in every game for Ole Miss this season as a reserve safety and punt returner. He was credited with six tackles and two punt returns for eight yards.

The Jackson (MS) Clarion-Ledger adds that “Alford took snaps at quarterback during training camp and was a potential change-of-pace option, but did not see the field on offense.”

In a way it’s a shame for Alford, whose football adventure took him from being a two-sport star in high school, to quarterback as a freshman at Southern Miss, to a disastrous season there, the firing of the school’s head coach, a weapons charge (later dropped), then a transfer, and a redshirt year, which finally led him to being a member of Ole Miss’s defence and special teams unit. It says a lot about the belief that he has in his own abilities and his love for the gridiron, and I don’t know if it’s fair of us to say what’s the right or wrong decision for his life. But he certainly has done himself a favour, financially and in terms of his development in the sport where he has a genuine chance to develop into something really special at the highest level.

He “had first round ability,” tweeted Keith Law this afternoon, once the news had broken, and the only reason that he slid to the Jays in the third round in 2012 was that he had such a strong commitment to playing football that other teams were scared off. In order to get him into the organization, the Jays paid him $750,000 and structured their deal with him to allow him to put football first.

Baseball hasn’t even been a close second. Over the three seasons since he turned pro on the diamond he’s accumulated just 110 plate appearances — 60 this year between Bluefield and Lansing, and 50 over the previous two seasons for the club’s Gulf Coast League affiliate. That lost development time is going to be a tough hurdle for him to overcome, but obviously the Jays feel the talent is still there. In fact, back in early August, Alford told reporters that Alex Anthopoulos paid him a visit at the end of his baseball season this year, and “put some deals on the table and made it difficult for me.”

One of those deals was for five years, but surely would have required he put his focus to baseball full-time. Alford, who turned 20 in July, wasn’t ready for that then, but evidently has seen what an opportunity he has been passing up, and changed his tune from when he said at the time that “Football was my first love and even if I made $100 million dollars down the road in baseball, I’d still regret not giving football a shot.”

I wrote this then about the small sample we’d seen of his baseball talents this year:

In Bluefield this year, Alford made just 35 plate appearances, striking out in 37.1% of those, but posting a .343 on-base, despite just a .207 batting average, thanks to five walks he took during that span. Up a level at Lansing he was even better, in an even smaller sample of 25 plate appearances. For the Lugnuts he posted a 126 wRC+ as a 19-year-old in a league where the average hitter is 2.5 years older. He did so not by walking, but with eight hits in those 25 PA, including a double, a home run, and four stolen bases (with no caught stealings) to boot.

His biggest issue is, of course, reps — something Marc Hulet made clear when writing about him at FanGraphs this summer. Surely he’ll soon be bound for winter ball of some sort (I suspect the Arizona Fall League is too advanced to throw him into), with the object being to make up for as much lost development time as possible.

It’s still going to take a while before we know whether all that lost time can be made up for and Alford can capitalize on all the natural talent he possesses, but today, more than two years removed from when he was selected, the Jays are finally getting a real injection of talent into their system. It’s great news. He’ll be one to watch in 2015.

melky-jose

The season is over, and as sad as this is, for Jays fans that kind of means that the fun is really about to begin. Except… well… fun isn’t maybe always the word for it. To wit: the latest from Shi Davidi at Sportsnet, in which he speaks to Jose Bautista about what the future holds for the Blue Jays — and how, at least according to some of Jose’s casual phrasing, that future likely doesn’t include Melky Cabrera.

And by “likely doesn’t” I mean… well…

The talent is still here. Luckily for us the core of this team will be intact next year except for Melky and Colby and Casey.

. . .

With some salary being gone with Melky, Janssen and Colby, that frees up $20-something million in free agency that can translate into some good additions if he chooses to go that way. If not, there are always trades.

Those do not sound like the words of a man who believes that Melky Cabrera is going to be a part of this team next season. And that is… really dispiriting. Not that we shouldn’t have known, by virtue of the fact that the Jays weren’t able to come to a mid-season extension with Cabrera, that he’s probably not as likely to be back as we want to believe, it’s just… boy, does it ever make the off-season more difficult if the Jays have to go searching for a new left fielder. And does it ever make 2015 seem less exciting to think of them not even doing that, and Kevin Pillar getting the gig by virtue of 81 September plate appearances — even if they’re actually somewhat impressive, nearly replicating Melky’s 125 wRC+ on the season, by virtue of a BABIP-y .289/.333/.447 line that’s led to Pillar putting up a wRC+ of 119 since his recall.

The improved defence could help offset the difference, I suppose, it’s just… gambling on a guy like Pillar sustaining the level of his best ever month in MLB seems a little preposterous for a team that at least wants to pretend it’s serious about winning.

And if it’s not Pillar, then who?

For his part, Alex Anthpoulos isn’t saying anything particularly interesting about the matter. He spoke about the season on the Fan 590′s Brady and Walker this morning, and had this to say about the Melky situation:

I’ve never come out and been specific about contract offers. Janssen, I think, came out a few days ago and mentioned that we had brief discussions at the All-Star break — we made them a proposal, they rejected it and gave us back a counter and we were really far apart. So we just said, look, let’s go back to the off-season. I never would have divulged that, but that’s fine, he felt comfortable doing it. With respect to Melky, just based on past years and some deals that have gotten done — I wouldn’t say what we’ve done, but I it’s safe to say that anyone who’s a good player who we want to retain at some point we have the conversation, and some times both sides agree that they need to see what’s out there. We can’t come to a number, and sometimes you need to have that third party to tell you what someone’s worth. But I think the important part is he wants to be back, we’d like to have him back, and we expect to get started — to have talks some point in the month of October and certainly November.

Certainly November.

So… there’s that.

And now there’s more!

Update

John Lott of the National Post has a piece up on Bautista’s end-of-season comments, and what he’s quoted as saying about Melky in that one sounds even worse. To me, at least.

“I have to assume that,” he said when asked if he assumed Cabrera wouldn’t be coming back. “When you have the chance to re-sign one of the top free agents and you don’t take advantage of that opportunity, the chances of him coming back to you are pretty slim.”

He’s probably not wrong — in fact, most of the piece makes clear that Bautista is pretty on the ball when it comes to where this team is at — but that quote doesn’t exactly sound like someone who is pleased about it.

And why would he be?

J.A. Happster For The Win!

happsterbackground

Hilarious stuff from the Blue Jays’ official Twitter account this afternoon (since deleted), as they mistakenly — and awesomely — tagged @JAHappster in their game recap tweet.

We can see the unfortunately deleted tweet in this screen shot from @BaseballHer:

happstertweet

This is “hilarious” and “unfortunate,” of course, because @JAHappster is “Hipster J.A. Happ,” the note perfect, laugh out loud parody account that poses the question: what if J.A. Happ was stereotypical a Queen West hipster?

And, of course…

I fucking love it.

eebautistasunset

That’s right. I’m not going to let the fact that these are the final two games of the season change my pattern of lazily mailing in a weekend Game Threat. We’ll get all wistful on Monday or something.