Mid-Season Review – Part Three: The Outfield

While not the official midway point through the season, the allstar break certainly serves as the unofficial midway point in the long, 162-game season that is major league baseball.  I thought it would be fitting to take advantage of the allstar break to prepare a report card of sorts and break down the different aspects of the Blue Jays organization.  This is part three of the series: The Outfield.

Going into Spring Training the outfield was locked in as Melky Cabrera – LF, Colby Rasmus – CF, and Jose Bautista – RF.  Rajai Davis was to be the club’s 4th outfielder and late game pinch runner and Emilio Bonifacio was to split time, as a true utility man does, between the INF and OF (although since Bonifacio is listed as an infielder on the roster, I’ll comment on him in Part Four of the series).  There were some chirps by fans that the club would be better served dropping Colby Rasmus and allow young-gun Anthony Gose to play CF full time.  Here’s a look how the outfield has played.

Anthony Gose (.304 AVG, .385 OBP, .391 SLG, 0 HR, 0 RBI) – Despite a minority group of fans that were wanting to see Gose supersede Rasmus in CF to start the season, anyone who knew what they were talking about agreed that having the 22-year-old start in triple-A would be good for his development.  In 56 games with the Blue Jays in 2012, Gose showed off his speed with 15 steals in 18 attempts, his arm with 2 assists, and his ability to track the ball off the bat with a 2.09 range factor in CF (think B.J. Upton).  However, he hit just .223 and struck out 59 times.  So why not have this young kid at least start the year in triple-A and try and get a more consistent approach at the plate?  When Davis hit the DL this season, Gose got the call up to be the 4th OF and late game pinch runner.  In 13 games he hit .304….but he didn’t have a single stolen base.  Why not?  Perhaps he’s grown gun shy.  In triple-A this season, Gose has only 11 steals in 21 attempts.  That’s a far cry from his 2011 numbers in double-A: 70 steals in 85 attempts.  Now with Rasmus performing well and the fans starting to realize why the Jays didn’t want to give up on him, and with Gose struggling in triple-A – he’s batting .225 in 284 at bats, Gose is beginning to look less and less like Carl Crawford and more and more like Joey Gathright.  I’m sure Gose will get a September call up, but it’s definitely telling that when Cabrera recently hit the DL, the Jays turned to Munenori Kawasaki – an infielder, and chose to play with only 3 OF on the 25-man roster.  Perhaps this is an off year for Gose who had gotten better every season in the minors up until 2013.  He now looks further away from making the team than he did in March.  I do, however, like the idea of a Gose/Davis platoon if any outfield hits the DL in the second half.

Rajai Davis (.288 AVG, .335 OBP, .380 SLG, 2 HR, 11 RBI) – Now that Davis is in his third season with the Jays, we all know what we are getting – a guy that frustrates you because he refuses to hit a cutoff man, and doesn’t get on base enough vs. right-handers, but also a guy that is one of the few real game changers in the MLB on the bases.  Davis already has 24 steals in 27 attempts despite spending time on the DL with an oblique strain.  But although he started batting well vs. righties this season, the numbers show he’s heading closer to his career averages.  His 2013 splits of .343 avg, .389 obp, .507 slg vs. lefties yet only a paltry .250 avg, .298 obp, .292 slg vs. righties make Davis the perfect platoon player.  If the Jays could find an outfielder who hit righties well , they would be set (think Reed Johnson/Frank Cattalanotto).  For a while, it looked like Rasmus might be that guy.  But this season he is showing much better vs. lefties than his career average and looks much more comfortable at the plate – and as a young player with tremendous power, the Jays are likely to want his bat in the line up.  Perhaps Gose one day becomes the platoon with Davis?  I wouldn’t mind seeing that.

Melky Cabrera (.278 AVG, .321 OBP, .362 SLG, 3 HR, 29 RBI) - The hot topic surrounding Cabrera is “will he be suspended for 100 games following the break?”  My thoughts?  Absolutely not.  He has already served his time.  Under the rules of the collective bargaining agreement, the league would have to have proof that Cabrera took PED’s after his previously served 50 game suspension.  I doubt even he is that stupid.  I think Cabrera will win any appeal should the league try and suspend him.  PED’s aside, Cabrera hasn’t been the guy the Jays were after – primarily because he’s been playing on sore legs all year – but when you look at the numbers, he’s been pretty good.  After a slow start in April – .241 avg, .291 obp, .287 slg, Cabrera really started to put things together in May – .319 avg, .361 obp, .460 slg.  Put it this way, Cabrera is on the DL but he is still second on the team in hits with 86.  Hopefully Cabrera can return after the break and perform to his capabilities.  When on, he is a great, pure hitter.

Colby Rasmus (.263 AVG, .332 OBP, .484 SLG, 16 HR, 48 RBI) – Since Rasmus joined the Jays, there have been a lot of Rasmus haters out there.  I’ve been defending him constantly and he is starting to prove me (and more importantly the organization) right.  Rasmus entered the break as hot as anyone on the team, hitting .375 so far in July.  The biggest reason?  He is starting to drive the ball the other way with authority.  Early in the year (and since he’s been a Blue Jay), when he makes contact Rasmus has either pulled the ball hard or hit it weakly the other way.  With his new found ability to drive the ball to the opposite gap, we could be looking at a young player who has just figured it out.  He is third on the team in home runs and RBIs, behind only Edwin Encarnacion and Bautista, and he’s playing a terrific CF with a range factor of 2.74 which is good enough for 4th best in the AL and 6th best in the MLB.  Rasmus’ weakness is obviously the K.  He strikes out about once every 3 at bats – far too much.  But he is starting to hit the other way, which should help.  And with RISP, he boasts a .348 AVG and a ridiculously good 1.072 OPS, so it’s not like his strikeouts are killing too many rallies.  Watching Rasmus the past couple weeks and watching him go with the pitch, I really think he’ll be an allstar in 2014.  All he needed to do was learn to drive the ball the other way.  He’s now doing it and if it continues, watch out.

Jose Bautista (.254 AVG, .351 OBP, .493 SLG, 20 HR, 55 RBI) - Most teams would kill for a RF with a cannon arm (7 assists – 2nd for all MLB RF) who has hit 20 homers and driven in 55 by the allstar break.  But Jays fans have been spoiled with Bautista the previous few seasons and for him, this is a down year so far.  Although his numbers are about what you would expect, he continues to chase pitches out of the zone and goes through prolonged slumps at the dish.  You can always tell when he’s in one because he’ll be seen arguing balls and strikes with the homeplate umpire.  I just wish he would lead by example.  And by that I mean, stop whining and play hard.  He and Encarnacion are a terrifying duo for opposing pitchers and if the Jays are going to get hot in the second half, you have to figure Bautista will be a big part of any success.  I hope he moves back to the 3 hole (or 4 or 5 hole), though.  Hitting him #2 doesn’t do it for me – never did (but we’ll save that discussion for Part Five of the series: Management).

The Jays need big things from Bautista, need Rasmus to continue to progress, and need Cabrera to come back strong from the DL if they want to have a shot at ripping off some serious wins.  And Davis, stretch your hammies.  You’ll be greenlighted for the rest of the year.

@IHRTBJs  

Mid-Season Review – Part Two: The Bullpen

While not the official midway point through the season, the allstar break certainly serves as the unofficial midway point in the long, 162-game season that is major league baseball.  I thought it would be fitting to take advantage of the allstar break to prepare a report card of sorts and break down the different aspects of the Blue Jays organization.  This is part two of the series: The Bullpen.

Coming into Spring Training, it was hard to find any holes in the Blue Jays roster.  But if you were forced to point to something, it probably would’ve been the bullpen.  Casey Janssen showed great consistency since taking over the closer role in 2012, but he isn’t a prototypical closer and he was coming off shoulder surgery.  Sergio Santos was thought to challenge Janssen for the closer spot, leaving Darren Oliver and Steve Delabar as solid late inning options.  Aaron Loup was thought to make the club, but had almost zero expectations since he was entering his first full season.  Brett Cecil was a question mark to even make the 25-man roster.  Esmil Rogers was to be a mulitple inning, mid-relief guy.  Dustin McGowan, please.  He would probably just get hurt again.  Juan Perez, Neil Wagner….who are they?

One of the lone bright spots at the break is the Jays’ bullpen.  The group has posted the best bullpen ERA in the AL over the first half (2.90), the most wins in the AL (21), all while pitching the most innings of any ‘pen in the MLB (334.2).  Let’s look at each member of the group who has contributed to the surprise success.

Juan Perez (19.2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 1-1 record, 0.76 WHIP, 21 K’s) – Perez came out of nowhere this season.  A 34-year-old career minor leaguer and with the Jays in search of a fresh arm to eat some innings due to the rotations early season struggles, Perez earned a call up when he pitched to a 0.86 ERA over 21 innings in triple-A.  It was thought Perez would be a sort-term inning eater and head back to Buffalo when the rotation turned things around and got healthy.  After posting a 0.00 ERA in 19.2 innings with the big club, Perez doesn’t look to be going anywhere soon – especially since sending him to the minors would expose him to waivers.  With a very affordable $380,000 contract, he would surely be claimed by any contending club looking to add bullpen depth.  The emergence of Perez (along with Loup and Cecil) give the Jays flexibility to trade veteran Darren Oliver to a contender before the July 31st deadline.  With his hurky-jerky motion, he sure is fun to watch.

Dustin McGowan (11.2 IP, 1.54 ERA, 0-0 record, 0.86 WHIP, 15 K’s) – McGowan is finely healthy (touch wood) in part due to the Jamie Evans throwing program which has strengthened his ever-ailing shoulder.  It’s only 11.2 innings, but McGowan’s stuff looks as good as it ever has and his maturity and determination really shine through when he is on the mound.  If he can stay healthy – and that’s still a big if – the patience the Jays have shown with his injury-riddled start to his career might just pay off.  And if he does stay healthy, a lot more pitchers might start subscribing to the Jamie Evans velocity program.

Steve Delabar (42.0 IP, 1.71 ERA, 5-1 record, 1.26 WHIP, 58 K’s) – Delabar, a feel-good story of a teacher turned MLB allstar and arguably the man that made Jamie Evans’ velocity program famous, has been everything the Jays were hoping when they acquired him from the Mariners last season for OF Eric Thames.  He still walks too many hitters (23 so far) but doesn’t allow the long ball (1 so far) and has the strikeout ability to make up it.  More than any other reliever in the Blue Jays bullpen, when they need a big strikeout, he is the guy to go to.

Brett Cecil (46.1 IP, 1.96 ERA, 3-0 record, 0.97 WHIP, 55 K’s) – After winning 15 games as a rookie starter in a tough AL East, the next couple season weren’t too kind to Cecil.  He struggled mightily as a starter, experienced an alarming drop in velocity, and looked like he was destined for a permanent home in the minors.  Yet, Cecil – despite his struggles – still managed to get lefty batters out at a very high rate.  So it’s no surprise the Jays gave him a shot to grab a spot in the bullpen since he is out of minor league options (you’ll remember I wrote about this months ago and actually discussed it with Alex Anthopoulos).  Am I surprised with Cecil’s success this season?  Not at all.  I’ve always thought he was more suited for the ‘pen – he was a closer in college.  Am I surprised by Cecil’s command and much improved velocity?  Absolutely.  Thank you Jamie Evans (are we noticing a trend here?)

Aaron Loup (46.1 IP, 1.94 ERA, 4-3 record, 0.97 WHIP, 33 K’s) – Where did this guy come from?  Last year, Loup was a surprise call up from double-A and he has never looked back.  This year, Loup experienced his first major league camp Spring Training invite.  It’s unbelievable.  Loup has shown the ability to pitch multiple innings, strand inherited runners, dig in for a strikeout, or get a double-play grounder.  The angle he creates with his 3/4 arm slot is nasty, but it’s his ability to throw consistent strikes with his delivery that impresses most.  Loup has only walked 6 batters.  When looking to induce contact, Loup is an option right up there with Janssen.

Sergio Santos (4.1 IP, 2.08 ERA, 0-1 record, 0.92 WHIP, 6 K’s) – After missing nearly all of last season to shoulder surgery, Santos couldn’t get through 5 innings this year before requiring elbow surgery.  The hard-throwing righty is now been prescribed the Jamie Evans training program and hopes it helps cure his oft-injured arm.  The Jays are hoping Santos can regain the form that saw him strikeout 92 in just 63.1 innings for the White Sox in 2011.  2014 will be very interesting for Santos – the Jays hold club options on him for 2015, ’16, and ’17.  He’ll need to stay healthy and pitch well if he hopes to cash in on the contract structure the Jays inherited from the White Sox.  Santos is scheduled to come back to the ‘pen late July.  So the question is, who does he replace?  With how well everyone in the bullpen is throwing, don’t be surprised if Santos has an “extended” rehab assignment.

Thad Weber (13.0 IP, 2.08 ERA, 0-1 record, 1.23 WHIP, 8 K’s) – Weber was used as a fresh arm to call up when the bullpen was gassed earlier this year.  Although he pitched well, his stuff isn’t as good as the guys currently in the ‘pen and doesn’t look to have a role with the Jays beyond triple-A depth.  Yet, with a 2.37 ERA in 49.1 innings for Buffalo, he certainly provides quality depth.

Casey Janssen (29.1 IP, 2.76 ERA, 2-0 record, 0.89 WHIP 26 K’s) – With so much doubt heading into the season about Janssen’s ability to maintain his role as the team’s closer, he has certainly stuck it to his critics.  He may not throw hard, but he has pinpoint control (only 7 walks) and gets the job done – 18 of 19 in save opportunities.  While Delabar and Santos might have more traditional closer-like arms, Janssen’s ability to attack and carve up the strike zone is unmatched by any member of the bullpen.  It should be noted that the only save he blew, the Jays went on to win in extras, so the Jays have not lost a game that he has attempted to save all season.  Janssen is also on the Jamie Evans throwing program after having a slower than expected recovery from offseason shoulder surgery.  He has been pitching through what he describes as “discomfort” most of the year, but he appears to have turned a corner in the past couple weeks.  He is the leader of the ‘pen and an example to the young pitchers on the team of how location is more important than velocity.

Neil Wagner (18.1 IP, 2.95 ERA, 2-3 record, 1.15 WHIP, 15 K’s) – Wagner is a 28-year-old rookie.  He’s always had the power arm, but lacked control prior to this season.  He has a lower-grade version of McGowan’s stuff without having the previous arm issues.  As well as he’s pitched, he has minor league options and could be the odd man out of the ‘pen when Melky Cabrera comes off the DL later this week.  Definitely a plus-depth arm to stash away in triple-A.  Oh…and after going 13 for 13 in save opportunities for Buffalo, you know he’s ready to handle sticky situations.

Darren Oliver (29.0 IP, 3.10 ERA, 3-1 record, 1.21 WHIP, 23 K’s) – It’s not often a reliever throws less than a hit per inning, limits walks, has a winning record, and a 3.10 ERA yet finds himself pitching in a lesser role than the previous season.  However, with the emergence of Cecil and Loup above Oliver on the depth chart, that’s exactly what happened.  With Perez nipping at Oliver’s heals for innings also, it really wouldn’t surprise me to see Oliver be traded prior to the July 31st deadline.  There isn’t a contending team out there that wouldn’t want him on the roster.  And while it’s doubtful the Jays would get much in return for the 20-year veteran who aims to retire after this season, it would open up room in a crowded bullpen and also allow Oliver to pursue a World Series title – something he hasn’t been able to capture in his 20 years of MLB service.

Esmil Rogers – he is started the year as a reliever, moved to the rotation as a stop gap due to injuries, and now hasn’t looked back.  See Part One in the Mid-Season Review series for notes on Rogers.

Brad Lincoln (21.2 IP, 4.15 ERA, 0-1 record, 1.48 WHIP, 19 K’s) – While Lincoln’s numbers are plenty good enough for many MLB bullpens, they just aren’t good enough for this one.  The return piece in the deal that saw the Jays give up on former number 1 draft pick, Travis Snider, hasn’t lived up to his own 1st round status.  Although he has pitched modestly well, albeit inconsistently with the Jays, with the rise of other arms in the system, he continues to slide down the depth chart.

Mickey Storey, Edgar Gonzalez, Justin Germano, Jeremy Jeffress, and Dave Bush – None of these guys threw more than 8 innings, had an ERA under 7.30, a WHIP under 1.75, or won a game.  All were inning eaters during the early season melt down in the rotation when the Jays were forced to go to the ‘pen after only 2 or 3 innings routinely.  None were a factor in the bullpen’s success and none look to be a factor in the foreseeable future.

So…can the Jays bullpen keep up its torrid pace in the second half?  Probably not.  Can they maintain their status as the top group in the AL (and arguably the MLB)? Most definitely.

@IHRTBJs

Mid-Season Review – Part One: The Starting Rotation

While not the official midway point through the season, the allstar break certainly serves as the unofficial midway point in the long, 162-game season that is major league baseball.  I thought it would be fitting to take advantage of the allstar break to prepare a report card of sorts and break down the different aspects of the Blue Jays organization.  This is part one of the series: The Starting Rotation.

Going into Spring Training, the rotation was much discussed as one of the strongest in baseball – on paper.  Leading the pack was last year’s NL Cy Young award winner, knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.  Dickey only seemed to get better in his first three seasons in the show as a knuckler and there was no reason to doubt the trend wouldn’t continue.  To follow Dickey, the Jays had Brandon Morrow – a hard throwing righty soaring with potential.  In 2012 he ended the season with a sub-3.00 ERA and was thought to be a dark horse for the AL Cy Young in 2013 if he was able to stay healthy and throw at least 200 innings.  Then we have the ever-consistent, Mark Buehrle.  With a decade of at least 10 wins and 200 innings, the Jays knew what they were getting.  The number 4 on the squad – likely a number 1 or 2 in most rotations – Josh Johnson.  And in a contract year.  Many felt Johnson might just end 2013 with the best numbers in this rotation – even with all the depth.  At number 5 to round things out, the Jays were going to turn to its opening day starter the previous two seasons – Ricky Romero.  Sure, the lefty struggled mightily for 3/4 of the 2012 season, but prior to that he had gotten better every year, pitched to a sub-3.00 ERA in 2011, and had great success in the AL East.  J.A. Happ was the insurance policy.  Happ?  An insurance policy?  He could be a number 4 on most teams!  The rotation was a lock to carry the load and limit the innings of a perceived weak bullpen.

Fast forward to present: The 6 starters above have a total of just 18 wins in the first 94 games.  The team has just 45 total wins (meaning 27 wins have come from pitchers outside the ‘group of 6′) and the team ERA ranks 10th of 15 in the AL at 4.22.  Take away the bullpen ERA, you ask?  The Jays starters has pitched to a whopping 5.07 ERA – 29th of 30 teams in the MLB.  Only the lowly Twins are worse.  So what the hell happened?  What went so horribly wrong?  Well, injuries for one thing.  The Jays have already used 13 different starters this year.  No team in the MLB has that sort of starting depth.  But also the guys that haven’t hit the DL haven’t pitched up to par.  Let’s take a look at each of the 13 starters for the team and evaluate.

R.A. Dickey (128.2 IP, 8-10 record, 4.69 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 93 K’s) – Dickey struggled out of the gate and has been inconsistent all year long.  He’s early struggles were blamed on a minor injury he was pitching through.  He had tightness in his back and neck which caused a drop in velocity and therefore a loss of control.  For instance, last season Dickey issued 54 walks.  This year he has already issued 47.  Because he lacked velocity, he was forced to abandon his vintage 78 – 82 mph knuckler and focus on a 68 – 71 mph variety (just a tad harder than Tim Wakefield threw).  The slower knuckler and lack of control mean two things – 1) when Dickey gets behind in the count, he turns to a low-80s fastball that pretty much looks like batting practice if a batter is ready for it, and 2) while a slower knuckler is harder to control because it has more break (which leads to hitters counts where hitters look for bp fastballs), when it does flatten out it’s much easier to crush.  Dickey gave up 24 homers last year.  This year? 20 already.  With the back and neck issues behind him, Dickey has been pitching better, albeit still inconsistent, of late.  In his last 10 starts, he has allowed 36 earned runs of which 31 came in 5 starts.  It seems like he has been awesome or awful with no middle ground.  I find it hard to believe that the 616.2 innings Dickey threw in the prior 3 seasons were a fluke.  With the minor injuries behind him and his velocity back, I look for him to have a solid second half and dominate with the best of them.

Mark Buehrle (116.0 IP, 5-6 record, 4.89 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 77 K’s) – Buehrle was absolutely awful in April and it has severely skewed his overall numbers.  Over his last 10 games, he has pitched to a respectable 3.63 ERA – this includes a 8 earned runs outing in his final start before the break.  Buehrle’s trouble this year has been avoiding the longball.  He’s actually on pace to give up close to his average in homers per season and HR/9, but this season it seems like he’s either giving up 3 per game or none at all.  Look for Buehrle’s home run numbers to even out a bit in the second half and for him to continue his decade long streak of at least 10 wins and 200 innings.

Esmil Rogers (71.2 IP, 3-4 record, 3.64 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 49 K’s) – While Rogers started the season in the bullpen and only came into the rotation due to injuries (his performance in the ‘pen certainly didn’t warrant a look as a starter), he looks very comfortable in the rotation with a new-found sinker.  His secondary stuff is probably below average, but he has the ability to throw his curveball for strikes which has been keeping hitters off balance.  When his sinker is on, he has looked nearly untouchable.  Where he can get into trouble is when he opens his front shoulder early in his delivery which causes his throwing arm to drag – which causes his sinker to flatten out.  If he can learn to more consistently repeat his delivery, he should have no problem maintain a rotation spot when both Happ and Morrow return from the DL.  His sinker is that good.

J.A. Happ (33.0 IP, 2-2 record, 4.91 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, 26 K’s) – Happ’s season has included a lengthy DL stint thanks to a frightening ball to the head and a sprained knee during his fall to the ground.  Prior to the injuries, Happ pitched 7 games and gave the Jays pretty much what you would expect.  When Happ attacks hitters and keeps his pitch count down, he is tough to beat.  His issue is when he gets behind and tries to nibble the corners of the plate too much.  When behind he either ends up throwing down the middle (which leads to hits) or pitching around certain batters (which leads to walks).  A 1.55 WHIP is too high for a starter hoping to have success and higher than his career 1.40 mark, but it was only 7 games and a small sample size.  I like Happ as a number 4 or 5 guy in a rotation and I’m happy that liner off his head didn’t result in a more serious injury.  Happ is scheduled to be back early August and, at the moment, looks to replace Todd Redmond in the rotation.

Brandon Morrow (54.1 IP, 2-3 record, 5.63 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, 42 K’s) – Morrow’s season has been a complete bust thus far and once again the high-potential righty finds himself on the DL.  After posting a career-best 2.96 ERA in 21 starts last season, Morrow – for some crazy reason – decided to change what he was doing and develop a cutter.  He started using it in Spring Training and made only 10 starts before hitting the DL with right forearm soreness.  This is one of the biggest “if it ain’t broke, then go out and change everything” moments that becomes a complete head scratcher for fans and scouts alike.  Morrow also almost completely abandoned his curveball, which was such a huge change-of-pace pitch for him a year ago and perfectly complimented his hard fastball and slider.  Fans can only hope that Morrow can finish his forgettable season strong – he’s due back mid-August from the DL barring any further setbacks.  Hopefully when Morrow returns, he’s read this paragraph, dropped the cutter, and focuses on the deadly fastball, slider, curveball combination that made him so great last season (when healthy).

Chad Jenkins (15.0 IP, 1-0 record, 3.60 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 6 K’s) – Jenkins did the job filling in the rotation for 3 starts after only throwing 5 innings in double-A prior to his call-up.  The sinker specialist is always going to give up hits, but he’s also likely to get double-play ground balls when he’s going well.  I know his 3 starts were just a very small sample size and I understand that he has struggled since his demotion to triple-A and the fact that he projects to be a longman/spot starter with his stuff, but for a rotation seeking to fill holes having cycled through its vast handful of pitchers already this year, it’s makes a fan wonder why Jenkins was ever sent down after only 3 starts in the first place.

Josh Johnson (66.1 IP, 1-5 record, 5.16 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, 67 K’s) – Arguably the biggest disappointment on the entire Jays roster this season, Johnson hasn’t lived up to the “ace contract-year” hype.  Call me crazy, but I’d be looking to extend Johnson on a one-year deal with a club option right now.  He’s too good of pitcher with too good of stuff to continue going this poorly.  His value is arguably at a career low in a free-agent year.  Johnson could be well served to sign a one year deal and try and improve his market value for 2015/16.  If the Jays really believe they have a window to compete through the 2015 season, they should be trying to buy low on Johnson now.  He has almost no trade value as a 2-month rental pitcher with the way he’s pitched this season.  For a guy who has thrown more strikeouts than had hits allowed in his career and boasts a career 3.29 ERA, the Jays should try and lock this down.  What’s one more year with a club option?  If he still stinks next season, the Jays can dump him for nothing at next year’s deadline – because they aren’t going to get anything for him this year and I think he’ll shine in the second half.

Ramon Ortiz (25.1 IP, 1-2 record, 6.04 ERA, 1.78 WHIP, 8 K’s) – Everyone loves a feel-good story and for 2 starts this season, the Jays had one with 40-year-old comeback pitcher, Ortiz.  Then reality set in.  There is a reason he has bounced between the MLB and triple-A for the last 5 seasons – he just isn’t that great anymore.  After 2 solid starts for the injury-ridden rotation, fans were calling it a great comeback.  Then fans were quickly reminded that pitchers rarely, if ever, get better beyond their late 30s.  Ortiz will always have a soft spot in my heart, though.  When he shredded his elbow and winced in pain on the mound before throwing his glove in the dirt in disgust and beginning to cry, it was the first time in my life I witnessed a player recognize that, due to injury, he had just thrown his last major-league pitch.  I’ll never forget that moment and the emotion I saw in his face.  He is a warrior.  Unfortunately, he’s not much of a pitcher at the MLB level anymore.

Todd Redmond (16.2 IP, 1-1 record, 4.32 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 14 K’s) – Redmond has pitched well in his 2 starts for the Jays (he also made 3 relief appearances).  His sub-1.00 WHIP is very impressive and his ability to reach back for a big strikeout when needed has helped him out of some jams.  But before anyone gets too excited, I’ll remind everyone that there is a reason Redmond was pitching in triple-A.  There is a reason that his triple-A ERA is above 5.00 this season.  There is a reason he has been a career minor leaguer.  Redmond just isn’t that great.  Although he has impressed in this very small sample size, the reality is that late-bloomers are rare and I highly doubt Redmond is one of them.  Hopefully he can continue to hold his own until Happ makes his return in early August.  If not, perhaps we give Jenkins or Chien-Ming Wang another go.

Chien-Ming Wang (24.0 IP, 1-1 record, 7.13 ERA, 1.83 WHIP, 11 K’s) – Wang, a fantastic low-risk signing by the Jays, pitched extremely well in his first 3 starts and extremely poorly in his last 2 before being demoted to triple-A.  The former Yankee allstar and multiple 19-game winner has had arm issues that derailed his career.  Through his first 3 games with the Jays, Wang pitched into the 7th inning each game to the tune of a 2.61 ERA.  Then in his next 2 starts he couldn’t get through the 2nd inning and allowed 13 earned runs in 3.1 innings – sending his ERA to 7.13.  Yet, I think the Jays were too quick to demote Wang.  Granted that Redmond has pitched well in his two starts, but I still feel Wang gives the team a better chance to win.  The 2 blowouts were vs. the Red Sox and the Tigers – 2 teams that have offences capable of sending any starter to the showers early.  Since his demotion, Wang is 1-1 with a 2.08 ERA in 13 innings.  I really like him as a back-of-the-rotation or depth pitcher.  It wouldn’t surprise me to see him back with the team at some point this season if there are further injuries to the rotation.

Aaron Laffey (2.2 IP, 0-0 record, 6.75 ERA, 2.63 WHIP, 0 K’s) – Last season, Laffey stepped into the injury-plaqued rotation and did a decent job.  This season the Jays picked him up off waivers hoping for more of the same.  After one start where Laffey issued 5 walks and couldn’t get out of the 3rd inning, the Jays demoted and subsequently released him.  Laffey hasn’t pitched another game in the majors since.  Why he wouldn’t accept his minor-league assignment with the Jays organization is a bit of a head scratcher.

Sean Nolin (1.1 IP, 0-1 record, 40.50 ERA, 6.00 WHIP, 0 K’s) – I really hate when a club calls up a young kid, he has a bad first start in his major-league debut when he’s full of nerves, and then he is immediately sent back to the minors.  That’s exactly what happened to Nolin and it’s a shame.  Although he got hit around in his debut, he showed good stuff and continued to throw strikes.  I would have liked to see him get at least 3 starts before sending him back down.  Especially with so many rotation holes due to injuries.  For what it’s worth, Nolin has gone 6-2 with a 2.09 ERA and more than a strikeout per inning in double-A this year – I think the kid is ready for the next step.

Ricky Romero (4.1 IP, 0-2 record, 12.46 ERA, 2.77 WHIP, 4 K’s) – Oh how the mighty have fallen…. Romero continues to work in triple-A after being called up too early by the Jays hoping he was ready to get back to the show.  After being the opening day starter the previous two seasons and slated to be the number 5 going into 2013, Romero was cut towards the end of Spring Training and was told to re-work his mechanics with the goal of gaining better command of the strike zone.  Fast forward and Romero a 2-3 record, a 5.56 ERA, and nearly a 1:1 BB/K ratio in triple-A.  With an un-tradeable contract and limited signs of finding his former self, Romero’s fall from grace is absolutely mind blogging.  The Jays are stuck with him so they might as well be patient and hope (and pray) that he can work through his control issues.  Oh… and he has since abandoned the new mechanics in favour of the old ones since the new ones did nothing for him.  I wish the best for Romero, but I’m not holding my breath.

So what does the rotation need to do to turn things around?  They need to get and stay healthy and pitch to potential.  That’s all.  Easier said then done?  Yes.  Possible for the second half? Very.

Hope you enjoyed part one in the mid-season series.  Stay tuned for more….

@IHRTBJs

 

Lawrie up, Kawasaki down

For those who missed it this weekend, the Blue Jays have brought up Brett Lawrie – as a 2B.  This move is a bit of a head scratcher to me.  I think Lawrie is certainly athletic enough to play 2B, but there is no viable, long-term replacement at 3B on the roster in my opinion.  The Jays plan to use Maicer Izturis and Mark DeRosa at the hot corner for now.  Is there something in the works to acquire a premier 3B before the trade deadline?

The Jays are saying they see SS Jose Reyes and Lawrie setting up as a long-term double-play team.  Yet even Reyes says that the transition for Lawrie probably would be easier if it had of happened in Spring Training either this year or next.  For the record, Reyes believes Lawrie is more than capable of playing 2B – he just thinks it would be an easier move if Lawrie had more reps.

Lawrie went 1 – 8 at the plate in his first two games back and didn’t commit an error with limited chances at 2B.

Again, this move is a bit bizarre to me but we’ll see how it plays out.

The odd-man-out is once again Munenori Kawasaki.  Kaswasaki was optioned to triple-A to make room for Lawrie.

The Jays are still carrying an 8-man bullpen but will likely go back to a traditional 7-man ‘pen when Melky Cabrera comes back from the DL shortly or immediately after the allstar break.  Barring any trades (think Darren Oliver), the Jays will likely send down Neil Wagner simply because everyone in the ‘pen is pitching so well and he is the guy with minor league options.

@IHRTBJs

Draft update

The official draft signing deadline came and went last Friday and first round pick (10th overall), Phil Bickford is not a Blue Jay.  Bickford, 17, has opted to pitch for Cal State Fullerton.  The Jays will get the 11th overall pick in the 2014 draft as compensation for not signing Bickford because they offered him more than 40% of the recommended slot value ($2.9 million).  The amount the Jays offered has not been disclosed.

The Jays did, however, sign 11th-round pick Jake Brentz and 30th-round pick Rowdy Tellez well over slot value (slot value for the 10th round and later is $100,000 across the board), using some of the savings left over after not signing Bickford.

Brentz, a lefty pitcher, signed for $700,000.  He ranked 80th in Baseball America’s top 500 draft prospects and throws an upper ’90s fastball.  Although it has been noted by scouts that his curveball needs a lot of work.

Tellez, a lefty power bat, is 6’5″, 230lbs.  He signed for $850,000 – a recorded setting amount under the new collective bargaining agreement.  Tellez ranked 59th in Baseball America’s top 500 draft prospects.  Although Tellez has spent his amateur career in the OF, scouts see him as a 1B.

Signing Bickford hurts, but with the rules under the CBA and the fact the Jays will get the 11th overall pick next year, it’s not all bad news.

@IHRTBJs

 

Injury Update – Morrow, Happ

Right-hander Brandon Morrow will take another step forward in his rehabilitation by throwing a side session on Friday, but it seems unlikely that he will be able to return before the middle of August.

Here’s a quick peak at where a couple of our starters sit with respects to their rehab assignments:

Brandon Morrow –  He hit the DL on May 28th with soreness in his right forearm and failed miserably during a rehab stint in June and had to shut things down for a while.  Morrow threw a side session earlier this week and was schedule to throw another one today.  He says he is throwing completely pain free now.  Morrow, 28, will have to pitch in a few rehab starts to build up his pitch count and the Jays have announced they are targeting a mid-August return (barring any setbacks).  Morrow thinks the forearm issues are related to his cutter – a pitch he developed in Spring Training and used frequently early this season.  It’s not uncommon for pitchers to develop forearm inflammation if they throw too many cutters.  The question I have is why is Morrow experimenting with a new pitch when he had an ERA under 3.00 last season?  If it ain’t broke……

J.A. Happ – The Jays would like Happ to get into his first rehab start this weekend.  Happ hasn’t pitched since being hit on the head by a line drive on May 7th.  His head injury healed rather quickly but he sprained his knee when he fell to the ground and it’s been nagging ever since.  Happ has been throwing bullpen sessions and participating in long toss with the aid of a knee brace, but he hasn’t been able to attempt to field his position so wasn’t pitching in game situations.  He recently started sprinting and appears he is ready to go.  Happ could be back late July if all goes well.

@IHRTBJs

 

Delabar makes Allstar team

Despite being 3 games under .500 and in dead last in the AL East, the Blue Jays will send 4 players to New York’s Citi Field for the 2013 allstar game next week.  Steve Delabar, 29, claimed the final vote roster spot and will join teammates Brett Cecil, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion in the AL team clubhouse.  This will be Delabar’s first allstar appearance.

For AL relievers this season, Delabar ranks 3rd in strikeouts with 57 and 5th in ERA, posting a stingy 1.74.  Delabar picked up his first career save in Wednesday in Toronto’s only win in its series vs. the Indians.

Hard to believe someone with his arm has only 1 career save and it took until this year to get it.  Happy to see another Blue Jay in the allstar game, but 4 players from a team with a losing record?  Really?

@IHRTBJs

 

 

 

 

Blue Jays 1st Round Pick Unlikely to sign

Yesterday, GM Alex Anthopoulos finally came out and said it – The Blue Jays don’t expect to sign their first round pick (10th overall), Phil Bickford.

Bickford’s recommended slot value is approximately $2.9 million.  The Jays have been able to save money by signing other draft picks under slot, so it doesn’t appear that money is the issue.  The media is speculating that the Jays might have discovered something when Bickford underwent a physical that now make them reluctant to sign Bickford for the dollars it will take to pry him away from attending Cal State Fullerton next year.  MLB teams do not have access to players medical records prior to the draft.

Bickford is a 17-year-old right-hander who finished his senior year in high school with a 1.72 ERA, while allowing 44 hits and recording 159 strikeouts in 99.1 innings.

The Jays have until this evening to sign Bickford.  If they don’t, which is the likely scenario, the Jays will receive a compensation pick in the 2014 draft if they offered a minimum 40% of slot value.  Anthopoulos has stated publicly that the Jays will indeed receive a compensation pick if Bickford chooses not to sign.

It’s discouraging that the Jays won’t land their top pick for the second time in three years (2011 – Tyler Beede).  But at least they will get a compensation pick and I suppose we should give them credit for aggressively pursuing the youngster heralded as having the best highschool arm in the draft.

@IHRTBJs

Injury Report – Morrow, Santos, Lawrie

Here’s a bit of insight into how a few of our boys are progressing with rehab:

Brandon Morrow – He threw 25 pitches during a side session on Tuesday and is scheduled to throw again on Friday.  Morrow has been on the DL since May 28 because of soreness in his right forearm.  At first, the Jays thought Morrow would only require the minimum 15 days off but it now looks like he won’t be able to rejoin the team until sometime in August (big surprise).  The Jays want Morrow, 28, to make at least 3 rehab starts and there is still no timetable of when he’ll make his first of the three.  After his session of Friday, we could hear more.  Stay tuned.

Sergio Santos –  He has been making appearances in single-A but has not been able to pitch on back-to-back days – something the Jays say is a must before he rejoins the team.  Arguably the biggest offseason acquisition two years ago, Santos has only pitched in 11 games for the Jays and has lost his closer role.  The surgery to remove bone spurs from his right elbow appears to have been successful and Santos is optimistic that he’ll be able to return shortly after the allstar break (although this is the same Santos that said he wouldn’t have to go on the DL – twice).

Brett Lawrie - He was promoted from double-A to triple-A and played for Buffalo last night going 2-4 with a homer, 3 RBI, and a stolen base.  During 3 games in double-A, Lawrie went 3 – 9 with four walks.  Interestingly, the Jays had Lawrie play 2B last night in triple-A, not his usually 3B.  To me, it seems unlikely that Lawrie will move to 2B unless the Jays acquire another player to play 3B.  It makes more sense to have current fill-in, Maicer Izturis, play 2B.  I suppose you could have Edwin Encarnacion play 3B and move Lawrie to 2B, but that leave Adam Lind at 1B with no power DH bat.  Perhaps this is just a move to see what Lawrie looks like for when the Jays play interleague and lose the DH.  In that case, it would make sense to get Lawrie some reps at 2B.  The 23-year-old is recovering from an ankle sprain and could rejoin the team at anytime.  The Jays simply want to make sure Lawrie’s timing at the plate is back and not rush him.  If he has another solid offensive performance in his next triple-A game, I imagine the Jays will immediately move him to the big club and cut Munenori Kawasaki.     

@IHRTBJs

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blue Jays Allstar Selections Deserving?

I know the allstar game is for fans, but I’m not a fan of fan voting.  Too many times it’s a popularity contest and the players that earn a spot are snubbed.  The allstar game is by far the best in the four major North American sports.  Football – after the Super Bowl with no blitzing.  Really?  Hockey – a sport that only catches my eye when the gloves drop isn’t about to thrill my in a gentlemen’s version of the game.  Basketball – not bad.  A great show.  But no defence.

Baseball’s allstar game – the best hitters vs. the best pitchers with World Series homefield advantage on the line.  Amazing.

That’s why the best players should make it.  Not the fans favourites.

The Blue Jays currently have 3 players representing the team at the allstar game: Jose Bautista (voted in by fans), Edwin Encarnacion (voted in by MLB players), and Brett Cecil (selected by AL manager Jim Leyland).  There is also a very good chance that Steve Delabar will claim that last spot on the AL roster with – you guessed it – another fan vote.

The question becomes, are these Jays deserving?

I have trouble thinking someone who isn’t batting at least .280 as deserving (if not .300 – we want to see the best, right?).  So is it a roster determined by the first half of 2013 or a roster determined by the best player by position?

Even though Bautista has been up and down (just like the Jays), he is still arguably the best RF in the AL.  So I can see why he makes the squad.  Bautista has been named to the allstar team in each of the past four seasons. He’s enjoying another productive year at the plate despite struggling at times during June.  The 32-year-old is tied for seventh in home runs (20), third in walks (47), 10th in OPS (.872) and 12th in slugging (.511).

Encarnacion has been the Jays MVP this season in my opinion and is deserving.  Encarnacion will appear at his first allstar game after being a surprise snub in 2012.  He ranks among the league leaders in virtually every major offensive category.  The 30-year-old finished Toronto’s game against Minnesota on Saturday afternoon ranked third in home runs (23), sixth in extra-base hits (38), seventh in runs (54) and ninth in OPS (.877).

Cecil – a middle reliever – really?  Yes REALLY.  I think it’s great that the teams are taking more middle relief guys.  Typically we see only starters and closers.  The middle relief role is extremely under appreciated and Cecil has been among the best in the business so far this year (if you’ve followed my blog from the start, you’ll remember I’ve been suggesting Cecil in this role all along and even discussed it with GM Alex Anthopoulos).  Cecil, 27, is a former starter who was converted into a reliever late last season. He experienced a drop in velocity a couple of years ago, but now consistently throws in the mid-90s while also possessing a devastating curveball that has proved lethal to his opponents.  He set a franchise record earlier this year by going through 40 at-bats without surrendering a hit. He also went through a span of 20 innings without allowing a run and has become one of the elite left-handed relievers in the league (you’re welcome, Anthopoulos).

So if we are including middle relievers, why not Steve Delabar.  Include him too.  Vote!  Delabar’s inclusion along with Cecil’s would be a testament to the job the Jays’ bullpen has done this season.   Since May 29, the Blue Jays’ relief corps leads the Majors in ERA (1.45), opponents’ average (.177) and WHIP (0.92).

But here’s the thing: I don’t have a problem with any of these 4 guys making the roster, but when you step back and look at it, well, it starts to irritate me.  Why should a team that is in last place in its division and under .500 take up 4 roster spots?  What does that say about the other 21 guys on the Jays bench?

If I’m a big fan of another AL team and I see 4 Jays on the roster, it would piss me off.  So while all 4 guys are deserving – they are among the elite for their respective positions – it puzzles me that the Jays are a) playing so poorly and b) sending 4 players to the allstar game.

If you’ve never watched the allstar game, make sure you do.  It’s the best in sports.

@IHRTBJs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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