Melky Plays!

melkylineup

What’s that? Good injury news for the Blue Jays?

No, it won’t put more runs on the board last night, meaning the Jays still wasted an excellent performance from J.A. Happ, but what seemed like an extra-dispiriting loss is now just a little bit more… uh… spiriting: as you can see above, Melky Cabrera is back in the lineup tonight for the Jays.

Halle-effing-lujah.

In case you missed it, or were stunned into total amnesia by the fact that Anthony Gose went yard, Melky got himself an ugly welt on his elbow last night, after taking a pitch to it in his first at-bat of the game. He stayed in to run the bases, and as DH wasn’t needed again until the third, when Nolan Reimold took his place.

In the aftermath of the game the Jays were non-committal, as usual, about the injury, leading to a whole lot of consternation — though, given their track record of late, even their saying he’d be fine would have led to consternation, I’m sure. But it’s all in the past now: Melky is back in left field and hitting second in the lineup tonight as the Jays host Anibal Sanchez and the Tigers. They needed that.

Read the rest of this entry »

happhomewhite

What a game last night, and what a performance from Drew Hutchison. Let’s do something like that again, shall we?

Um… minus the hangover, perhaps.

Scuttlebutt

John Lott tweets that Alex Anthopoulos says Edwin Encarnacion was running hard today, and is much better.

Shi Davidi adds that AA left open the door for Edwin to return in time for next week’s series in Seattle. That’ll play.

And… yeah, that’s all I’ve got.

Next game(s): Tomorrow, 7:07 PM ET vs. Detroit

For those of you who’ll be out and about, be sure to follow all the action on your phone with theScore app.

And now, the lineups… 

Toronto Blue Jays

SS Jose Reyes (S)
DH Melky Cabrera (S)
RF Jose Bautista (R)
C Dioner Navarro (S)
1B Juan Francisco (L)
3B Danny Valencia (R)
CF Colby Rasmus (L)
2B Ryan Goins (L)
LF Anthony Gose (L)

LHP J.A. Happ

Baltimore Orioles

RF Nick Markakis (L)
3B Manny Machado (R)
CF Adam Jones (R)
DH Delmon Young (R)
LF Nelson Cruz (R)
SS J.J. Hardy (R)
1B Chris Davis (L)
C Caleb Joseph (R)
2B Jonathan Schoop (R)

RHP Miguel Gonzalez

lawrieface

There are about seven weeks left in the season, and according to a statement to reporters today from Alex Anthopoulos, Brett Lawrie could miss as many as six of them. And that’s assuming the prognosis includes time for a rehab assignment, which it almost certainly doesn’t.

In other words, it’s not impossible that we’ve seen the last of Brett Lawrie in a Blue Jays uniform this season.

That’s getting ahead of ourselves a bit, though. What the GM said, according to a tweet from Barry Davis, is that the left oblique strain that has landed the oft-injured infielder on the Disabled List yet again will require a recovery time of “three to six weeks.”

While I generally roll my eyes — or worse — at the tinfoil hat wearing individuals who want to see a conspiracy in everything the Jays say about their players’ injuries, here they’re giving us a timeline that admits it may be tough for Lawrie to get back in time to finish the season. It may not! He may end up close to the three week side of things, but I think fans can be forgiven if they’re skeptical.

Other Injury Updates

In the tweet about the injury timeline, Davis notes that Anthopoulos says this latest oblique injury for Lawrie is unrelated to the previous ones he’s had. Which… great? I guess?

Another tweet from Davis says that Edwin Encarnacion has been running and may start rehab games on the weekend (yay!), and that Adam Lind went 2-for-3 today in his rehab assignment, and is on track to return when the club goes to Seattle early next week.

Encarnacion will return at the end of next week “at the latest,” says Anthopoulos, according to a tweet from Brendan Kennedy.

gibberssour

Gibbons, come on, man, you can’t leave the desk like that!

Welp. Let’s try this again.

Games like this are what we’re all emotionally involved in this for, so let’s enjoy the piss out of it. And let’s maybe enjoy a win, goddamn it!

Scuttlebutt

Brett Lawrie, as you see, is not in tonight’s lineup for the Jays. Mike Wilner tweets that the MRI results are not in yet, and that John Gibbons says he’s hoping it’s not something that will land Lawrie on the DL, but that he’s been wrong before.

Megan Robinson adds that Lawrie says he feels a bit better today than he did last night.

In better news, John Lott tweets that Adam Lind will begin his rehab assignment tomorrow with the GCL Jays. John Gibbons says he hopes the number of rehab games Lind will need is “not many.”

Wilner notes, however, that David Price goes on Sunday against the Jays (note: yeesh), so there might be more sense bringing him back in Seattle next week if he’s not going to be ready for Friday. Could help off the bench, though…

Lastly, if you’re not on the Twitter machine, you may have missed some outstanding news today, which is that our dear friend Drew has joined FanGraphs. Congrats to him and to FanGraphs. Outstandingness all around.

As for some of the changes that have taken place at theScore, and other places like Sports On Earth, I obviously can’t really say anything, but if you’re interested, Parkes gave some food for thought on this week’s Canadaland podcast. I should note, though, I completely disagree with some of what Parkes says at the end about the value of sportswriting. I think that when it’s done well it’s a terrific way to introduce big and interesting and important ideas, and to have a conversation about them with a lot of people who wouldn’t necessarily encounter or be receptive to them otherwise. That probably sounds a bit snobbish, and there’s all sorts more to it than that, obviously, but as one example, the way that so many have been exposed to new ways of thinking about gender issues, LGBT equality issues, etc. through the prism of sports? That’s pretty powerful stuff, to me. Even in terms of articulating arguments for critical thinking, raising sociological questions or critiques of unquestioned power structures or ones about the nature of human behaviour — maybe I’m just kidding myself, but I think that has value. Even if the outcomes of the games are trivial, I don’t think the conversation is entirely trivial. That said, while, as you might expect, I’m not particularly thrilled that that kind of writing appears to be losing ground as a commodity to the Upworthy- and Buzzfeed-ification of content, I entirely agree with Parkes when he says he completely understands what’s happening from a business perspective too. Art and commerce, have they ever been at odds before?

Hey, and while we’re all here and addressing people who may have missed stuff on Twitter, I might as well mention that earlier this week the CBC made a dumb list of the “best” Canadian songs, so I wrote mean things about music you like.

Next game(s): Tomorrow, 7:07 PM ET vs. Baltimore

For those of you who’ll be out and about, be sure to follow all the action on your phone with theScore app.

And now, the lineups… 

Toronto Blue Jays

SS Jose Reyes (S)
LF Melky Cabrera (S)
RF Jose Bautista (R)
DH Nolan Reimold (R)
C Dioner Navarro (S)
1B Danny Valencia (R)
CF Colby Rasmus (L)
3B Munenori Kawasaki (L)
2B Ryan Goins (L)

RHP Drew Hutchison

Baltimore Orioles

RF Nick Markakis (L)
3B Manny Machado (R)
CF Adam Jones (R)
LF Nelson Cruz (R)
1B Chris Davis (L)
SS J.J. Hardy (R)
LF David Lough (L)
2B Ryan Flaherty (L)
C Nick Hundley (R)

LHP Bruce Chen (Actually it’s more likely country troubadour Wei-Yin Chennings)

Who Is Kendall Graveman?

graveman

S- S- S- St- Stoeten doesn’t believe in me?? Wunnhmpf…

Jays fans who always keep one eye on the minors — for non-prospects even, apparently! — sure have had one interesting case to look at in recent weeks: Kendall Graveman.

Superficially, there sure is a lot to like. After starting the year in Lansing, Graveman has moved up three levels, pitching in Dunedin, New Hampshire, and just now having arrived in Buffalo, and the results have looked pretty spectacular. Across all levels he has an ERA of 1.87 and a WHIP of 1.05. He’s held opponents to a .232/.274/.273 line.

In the last week Jays Journal has looked at his quick ascent, wondering what the rush is, and whether a cynical Alex Anthopoulos might be trying to make it appear to potential trade partners that he has more high-level prospects than he really does — which… I like this theory. Baseball Hot Corner, on the other hand, profiled him as an under-the-radar pitcher who could make some noise, which included some of my objections — not particularly subtle as they were over Twitter.

I don’t think it’s particularly clear either way what he is or will be. It never is with prospects, but I think it’s especially so in this case, since not a whole lot of evaluators writing on the web make the effort to check out guys in the low minors who were drafted in the 36th round as college juniors, then the eighth round as no-leverage seniors who accept $5,000 bonuses when the slot value for their pick is $150,000 — which is precisely Graveman’s story.

That story also makes him, at age 23, quite old to be considered a prospect in the Midwest League, where he made his first four starts of the year, posting an ERA of 0.34. In the Florida State League at Dunedin, where he made 16 starts and posted a 2.23 ERA, he was a shade below a league average for pitchers that’s inflated by rehab assignment and org. guys who still haven’t figured it out. In other words, what some — me, for example — might call the “real” prospects are guys like Dan Norris, pitching at age 21, or Roberto Osuna at 19.

On the other hand, Graveman has acquitted himself nicely in his starts above A-ball — all two of them — combining for 12 innings of 2.25 ERA, giving up eight hits, three earned, and two walks. And he was the top drafted pitcher on the 2013 Mississippi State team that went to the College World Series — which has to count for something… probably… right?

And we do have a pair of public sector eyes that have seen Graveman as a pro — Marc Hulet of FanGraphs, just over a year ago — and he actually saw the seeds of this coming (while in the same piece offering praise for Dalton Pompey!):

Graveman, 22, faced off against the 17-year-old Urias on Aug. 22. I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw out of the Jays prospect. He showed a smooth, easy delivery and worked quickly. He also, perhaps more importantly, threw strikes. I saw him use three pitches: a fringe-average fastball, an inconsistent breaking ball and a solid changeup. The breaking ball was actually better than advertised and showed a nice 12-to-6 break at times from his three-quarter release point.

He could be a fast mover for the Jays and likely has the ceiling of a No. 4/5 starter or middle reliever.

See, now that sounds a whole lot more reasonable than dreams of sparkling ERAs continuing on forever! Especially since some of the underlying numbers don’t exactly scream someone who “could have an outside look of making the Jays next year,” as MLB Hot Corner’s Daniel Levitt wrote. From the excellent MLB Farm we see that his groundball rate on balls in play has been very good (60%), but his line drive rate of less than 10% isn’t exactly sustainable, nor is the one home run he’s given up on 104 flyballs. And it’s not like he’s showing a whole lot of swing-and-miss, even though he’s been advanced for the levels he’s pitched at — he was less than strikeout per nine at Lansing, and at Dunedin and beyond his K/9 rate has been below six.

If he can throw strikes and keep the ball on the ground, it’s not impossible for a pitcher to be able to have some kind of success at the highest level, I suppose, even with a fringe-average fastball. And I certainly haven’t seen him myself, or read enough about his stuff, his mechanics, his repertoire, or any of that to know whether or not anything has changed to give us more reason to believe the good and discount the bad. It’s possible. It would be great if it had. It’s just… I wouldn’t be so fast to swallow all that — certainly not as fast as the Jays have been with moving Graveman up the ladder.

melkyhighfive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

chart (6)

Woof.

Didn’t even get to see Adam Dunn pitch in this one or nothing!

Still, though, Buehrle is right:

On to tomorrow!