Archive for Blue Jays

Just What Happened to Casey Janssen?

Like it or not, this is the time of the year that we write about players like Casey Janssen. There aren’t a whole lot of alternatives. Janssen himself just signed on with the Nationals, to some degree replacing Tyler Clippard at the cost of $5 million guaranteed with a second-year mutual option. The Nationals aren’t expecting Janssen to be as good as Clippard. The Nationals shouldn’t expect Janssen to be as good as Clippard. There’s a reason why Janssen came relatively inexpensively. The year he’s coming off — it was a decidedly unusual year.

There’s a ready-made excuse: Janssen took a quick trip during the All-Star break, and he returned from said trip with food poisoning that cost him a told amount of weight and an untold amount of energy. We’ve all probably experienced food poisoning at some point, and though we’ve experienced varying degrees of severity, it makes sense that it takes a while to get back to feeling 100%. And Janssen didn’t have to get back to feeling 100% as a normal person; he had to get back to feeling good enough to succeed as a pitcher in the major leagues. Janssen’s first half was better than his second half. We don’t know how much the illness damaged Janssen’s statistics.

But the food poisoning might explain only part of the picture. He was fine early on, and he was fine toward the end. Physically, I mean. Yet the numbers are strange, given Janssen’s record. It’s easy to focus on the strikeouts. It’s not just the strikeouts.

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Marcus Stroman Discovered Roy Halladay’s Sinker

You’ve heard it all before. Regress to the mean. Don’t make too much of a small sample. Don’t believe in the predictive power of second-half statistics, if they look particularly different from the first-half statistics. You know all the ways you are and aren’t supposed to interpret a player’s numbers. But you also know the key to exceptions, which many try to exploit: when a player makes a legitimate change, his prior numbers become less useful. A change, I mean, to his approach, or his mechanics. The White Sox don’t care too much about Zach Duke‘s history, because he recently changed his delivery. The Tigers don’t care too much about J.D. Martinez‘s history, because he recently changed his swing. Marcus Stroman was never bad, but he, too, made a change. It’s real easy to spot on the following image, from Brooks Baseball:


That’s Stroman’s big-league 2014, broken down by month. There’s no arguing the major trend: over time, Stroman threw more two-seamers, or sinkers, and far fewer four-seamers. It’s a dramatic shift, and it’s a dramatic shift in the middle of a year. Stroman became something he hadn’t been before.

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The Blue Jays’ Version of Wade Davis

Often times there is a fine line between framing a piece of information as analysis and framing it as a “fun fact.” If I were to point out, for example, that Clayton Kershaw’s ages 24-26 seasons rank 12th all time in WAR and that names like Cy Young, Pedro Martinez, Johan Santana, and Roy Halladay are in the same range, you could construe that as analysis. I am putting a player’s performance in historical context and implying that he’s on his way to a plaque in Cooperstown.

I could even point out that Tim Lincecum appears slightly below Kershaw on the list to warn the reader that this information about Kershaw is not a guarantee about his future. All of that is useful analytical information.

If, on the other hand, I pointed out that control-pitchers Adam Wainwright and Rick Porcello were in the top 12 in intentional walks in 2014, I’m just calling attention to something that is interesting rather than particularly useful. If we’re being precise, there’s probably no such thing as meaningless data, but there’s a big gap between something like comparing Kershaw’s same age seasons to others in history and calling out a tidbit of information that we might find noteworthy.

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The Best Pitches of 2014 (By Whiffs)

There are many different ways to describe the quality of a pitch. We have movement numbers on this site. There are ground-ball rates. There are whiff rates. There are metrics that use a combination of ground-ball and whiff rates. And metrics that use balls in play. There’s a whole spectrum from process to results, and you can focus on any one part of that spectrum if you like.

But there’s something that’s so appealing about the whiff. It’s a result, but it’s an undeniable one. There is no human being trying to decide if the ball went straight or if it went up in the air or if the ball went down. It’s just: did the batter swing and miss? So, as a result, it seems unassailable.

Of course, there are some decisions you still have to make if you want to judge pitches by whiff rates. How many of the pitch does the pitcher have to have thrown to be considered? Gonzalez Germen had a higher whiff rate on his changeup (30.7%) this year than Cole Hamels (23.7%). Cole Hamels threw seven times as many changeups (708 to 101).

So, in judging this year’s best pitches, let’s declare a top pitch among starters and a top pitch among relievers. That’s only fair, considering the difference in number of pitches thrown between the two. It’s way harder to get people to keep missing a pitch they’ve seen seven times as often. And, in order to avoid avoiding R.A. Dickey the R. A. Dickey Knuckler award, we’ll leave knucklers off the list, and include knuckle curves in among the curves.

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The International Bonus Pools Don’t Matter

International baseball has been in the news often lately with the ongoing saga of Yoan Moncada (he’s in America now), the signing of Yasmany Tomas and yesterday’s news that Cuba-U.S. relations could be getting much better.  In recent news, at the yearly international scouting directors’ meeting at the Winter Meetings last week, sources tell me there was no talk about the recent controversial rule change and no talk about an international draft, as expected.

So much has been happening lately that you may have temporarily forgotten about last summer, when the Yankees obliterated the international amateur spending record (and recently added another prospect). If the early rumors and innuendo are any indication, the rest of baseball isn’t going to let the Yankees have the last word.

I already mentioned the Cubs as one of multiple teams expected to spend well past their bonus pool starting on July 2nd, 2015.  I had heard rumors of other clubs planning to get in the act when I wrote that, but the group keeps growing with each call I make, so I decided to survey the industry and see where we stand.  After surveying about a dozen international sources, here are the dozen clubs that scouts either are sure, pretty sure or at least very suspicious will be spending past their bonus pool, ranked in order of likelihood:

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The Biggest Remaining Lineup Needs

The Winter Meetings revelry has passed. We’re still waiting on a few big trades to finally ‘consummate,’ but the list of free agents is less attractive by day. Before you turn down a chance at glory with the guys left waiting for a team, it’s probably a good idea to look at how badly you need them. This is not dating advice, but it sort of feels like it.

To that end, I’ve taking our depth charts and calculated a quick stat for ‘neediness.’ By averaging team WAR over 13 roster spots — the portion of the 25-man roster usually used for offense — and then looking at the difference between that average WAR and each position WAR, I’ve found a way to show where the biggest remaining lineup holes are.

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Looking for Value in the Non-Tenders

The list of non-tenders is out. Time to dream!

It’s actually a very tough place to shop, even if there are a few names that seem attractive this year. Only about one in twelve non-tenders manages to put up a win of value the year after they were let loose. Generally, teams know best which players to keep, and which to jettison.

You’re not going to get 12 non-tenders in your camp in any given year, but there is a way to improve your odds. It’s simple, really: pick up a player that was actually above replacement the year before. If you do that, you double your chance of picking up a productive major leaguer. So let’s look at this year’s market through that lens first.

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Mariners Get Depth, Blue Jays Get Better

There’s a current story, that Ken Rosenthal has reported and written about. Bryce Harper and the Nationals are butting heads, trying to figure out the specifics of Harper’s arbitration eligibility. At stake are several millions of dollars, now and down the road, and it seems like a situation that could cause there to be bitterness between the player and the team. But, probably, the business side will be separated from the baseball side, and they’ll go on to get along fine. People thought there might be an issue with Mike Trout, too, when the Angels renewed his contract that one time near the league minimum. It seemed like the wrong thing to do to a superstar, and then later on Trout signed maybe the most team-friendly contract extension ever. Sometimes there are feelings, and often those feelings pass.

And then, sometimes, they don’t. At the end of the year, Mariners officials made some pointed remarks about Michael Saunders‘ preparedness and durability. They were unusually specific, and they hadn’t bothered to talk to Saunders first, and so Saunders’ side shot back. There was a rift, and while there was a chance things could be patched over, it seemed likely that the Mariners would send Saunders away so he could try to thrive somewhere else. Jerry Crasnick had reported that Saunders was being shopped at the GM meetings, and, at last, Saunders has been traded, from a team that didn’t value him to a team that could badly use him.

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The Thing About Josh Donaldson’s Defense

As you by now are well aware, Josh Donaldson was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays over the weekend in a blockbuster deal that sent Brett Lawrie back to Oakland. The Blue Jays gave up Lawrie and a few prospects to immediately get better, because Josh Donaldson is a guy that immediately makes any team better. Over the last two years, only Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen have a higher WAR than Donaldson, and Donaldson’s been three wins better than the next-best third baseman. Donaldson can hit, he runs pretty well for a third baseman, and he’s good with the glove. Add those up and you’ve got a hell of a player.

But there’s something to that last point — that he’s good with the glove — that’s been on my mind for awhile. It’s something I was going to write about when the Gold Glove winners were announced, but then Donaldson didn’t win, so I saved it for another day. Now that Donaldson is back in the news, today is that day.
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Franklin Barreto: The Key to the Josh Donaldson Trade

I’ll try to complete the FanGraphs analysis of the Josh Donaldson deal, with Dave covering the A’s perspective of the deal and Drew Fairservice covering it from the Jays perspective while I’ll jump in with the prospect end of things. Those two prior pieces do a good job analyzing the various angles of this deal, with the main question being what the next few moves are for Oakland, since they seem far from done shuffling their roster.

Dave’s piece made the points that the gap between Donaldson and Brett Lawrie may be smaller than 2013-2014 would lead you to believe, so if one of the prospects end up as a star or a piece that can be used in another deal, it could swing the balance of the deal toward Oakland.  There’s an expectation that Lawrie won’t match Donaldson’s production, hence the three minor leaguers included. While Lawrie will be the player watched most closely in 2015 from this deal, one exec I talked to last night said Franklin Barreto is the key to the deal, so let’s start with him.

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Toronto Keeps Upgrading, Adds Josh Donaldson

After the 2011 season, it seemed improbable that the Blue Jays would ever trade Brett Lawrie. He was the native son who exploded onto the scene, bounding his way into the hearts of baseball fans from Victoria to Corner Brook. Always a great hitter in the minor leagues, Lawrie hit .293/.373/.580 with 9 home runs in a 40-game big league tease that set completely unrealistic expectations .

Three injury-ravaged and underwhelming seasons later, Lawrie and three prospects are gone and Josh Donaldson is the new starting third baseman in Toronto as the Blue Jays try to accomplish one goal: reach the playoffs for the first time in a generation. No passport or sentiment will stand in their way as they try to end a long streak without playoff baseball.

Adding Donaldson is a significant upgrade for the Jays, as any team would expect when they pick up one of the premier players in baseball. Conservatively, switching out Donaldson for Lawrie is about a two win upgrade on talent alone. Lawrie’s spotty injury history and inability to translate his minor league offense at the big league level suggest it might be an even bigger gulf.

With two top-ten MVP finishes and 53 total home runs in the last two years, the Jays get a star – a star moving from an offensive sinkhole to a very friendly space for right-handed power hitters. Donaldson is an older player, heading into arbitration for the first time (he’s a Super Two) as well as his age-29 season. Unlike the A’s side of the deal, the four years of control that come with Toronto’s new third baseman is purely secondary to his ability to help them win in 2015.

The Jays wanted an upgrade and, according to Alex Anthopoulos, it was the inclusion of Lawrie in the talks that brought this deal to life. They sell low on Lawrie, who always hit before struggling (mightily at times) at the big league level. He’s as talented a player as there is, one Oakland hopes they can reshape into a more well-rounded big leaguer.

His talent is undeniable, Lawrie is perhaps the defensive equal of Donaldson at third base, and like Oakland’s Fielding Bible Award winner, Lawrie is a former catcher. Perhaps Oakland can get the countless moving parts of his swing in order and awaken the one tool that brought him to the big leagues at 21.

Toronto also gives up a very promising international free agent in Franklin Barreto, a shortstop at 18 with his stock on the rise, fast-rising pitcher in Kendall Graveman, and slightly stalled prospect in Sean Nolin. In terms of bulk control years, the Jays give up a lot. But that future surplus value finishes a distant second to the chance the Jays are building the best team in their division.

Some might look at the Jays rotation and wonder if they have the talent to win a championship. To that I say: look around. The state of the game swung so heavily in favor of pitchers, adding Donaldson’s bat to the likes of Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista — to say nothing of Russell Martin — suggests the Jays believe the road to the postseason is paved with extra base hits.

Like the Red Sox, the Jays seem focused on piling more offense on top of their already-deep pool of sluggers. In Donaldson the Blue Jays add another home run threat who actually strikes out at a below-league average rate. As the league heads in one direction, it appears Toronto is headed in another.

It is easy to search for additional meaning in this trade and the Blue Jays interest in Josh Donaldson. Simply put, they targeted a great player they thought could help their team win a division title and more. They added a player who saved more than 30 runs with his glove since 2012 while putting up a 125 wRC+. His 14 WAR over the last two years trails only Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen. Rather than hope their third baseman realized his potential, Toronto acquired one of the best in the game.

It also signals Toronto is serious about overhauling their clubhouse culture, though there is no better cure for a divided clubhouse than a whole pile of wins. Any team that boasts Reyes-Martin-Bautista-Encarnacion-Donaldson at the top of their batting order figures to give pitchers fits, though another left-handed bat in that mix (Reyes switch hits, the rest are all righties) must be a priority.

There is still work to do in Toronto, as huge questions loom in left field as well as second base. Their presumed starting center fielder is 43 big league plate appearances into his career (barely 200 PA above A-ball for Dalton Pompey, another Canadian.) They might not be done yet, but adding an elite ballplayer for the second time in two weeks is a nice way to head into the Winter Meetings.

Deals like this are how teams climb from the 80-85 win treadmill to the 90-win tier of World Series favorites. As they did with Russell Martin, the Blue Jays looked at a decent (and affordable) spot on their roster and thought they could improve it. They gave up a chunk of their identity and whole lot of prospect capital to do it, but it looks like these aren’t your older brother’s Toronto Blue Jays – though I’ve said that before.

Let’s Find a New Team for Yoenis Cespedes

The Boston Red Sox, as you might have heard, currently have an outfield glut. There is ten pounds of outfield meat in their five pound bag. Something has to give, and that something is likely Yoenis Cespedes.

When the Sox acquired Cespedes from Oakland in the Jon Lester trade, it felt more like a rental than a long-term investment in the player. Cespedes’ unique contract allows him to become a free agent at the end of the 2015 season, so Boston put themselves in an enviable position. They received an established big leaguer in exchange for their walk-year ace and got an up-close and personal look at a potential big free agent bat.

Whether or not a look under Cespedes’ hood informed their decision to sign both Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, that’s the route they went down. Now Cespedes is trade bait, the precious “right-handed power” commodity in a marketplace clambering for those skills. He’s headed into his age-29 season, he’s owed $10.5 million this year, and there’s going to be a line around the block to bid for his services. Where might he land?

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On The Blue Jays And Going For It In The AL East

I’m sure I’ve said this before, but one of my favorite tools on our site would have to be the Depth Charts, which combine Steamer projections and human-curated depth charts to output expected WAR totals.

What I’ve done today — last night, really, which I’m clarifying only in the event of some huge late-night signing that would invalidate all of this — is to sort that by division and graph it out. When you do that, you get this:


A few things stand out there, things like “should we just give the NL East to Washington now or must we wait until next year” and “just think about what the Phillies are going to look like after they trade Cole Hamels, Marlon Byrd, and whomever else.” If the Mariners look too high, well, Jeff already delved into that. If the Yankees look too low, well, name their infield or a single reliably healthy starting pitcher.

Obviously, what we’re looking at is a snapshot of things they way they are right this second, and that’s not how they’ll look when the season kicks off. To use just one example: No, I don’t imagine we’ll be looking at the Dodgers and Rockies as being nearly equal teams in April, because at the moment, the Dodgers have almost literally no shortstop and just three-plus starting pitchers.

You get the idea, though. A lot’s going to change, but in order for teams to effectively make those decisions, they have to adequately understand where they are right now. That’s what might stand out the most about this chart, actually, at least to me — just look at the American League East. Read the rest of this entry »

Blue Jays Commit to Playoff Race, Sign Russell Martin

This past year, as a regular for the Pirates, Russell Martin was worth 5.3 WAR, according to our data. Here’s the list of Blue Jays catchers who’ve had five-win seasons:


The year before, also with the Pirates, Martin was worth 4.1 WAR. Here’s the list of Blue Jays catchers who’ve had four-win seasons:


Looking ahead, over almost 500 trips to the plate, Steamer projects Martin to be worth 3.8 WAR. Here’s the list of Blue Jays catchers who’ve had 3.8-win seasons:


It’s a bit of a dreary history. Ernie Whitt was worth 3.6 wins in 1983. Pat Borders was worth 3.5 in 1990. Whitt was worth 3.4 in 1987. And then that’s it for even three-win seasons. The Blue Jays have never employed a star-level catcher. Now they have one in Russell Martin, who they plucked away from the National League for $82 million over five years. It’s not a sure-fire bargain — no long-term contract to an aging catcher can ever look like a bargain — but with the splash, the Blue Jays have moved up in the AL East, committing to a run toward a tournament the franchise hasn’t seen since 1993.

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Blue Jays and Tigers Make Minor Trade That Might Matter

If you like big trades with flashy names, this isn’t the post for you, because this one is dedicated to the Tigers swapping second base prospect Devon Travis to the Blue Jays for center field kinda prospect Anthony Gose. Neither Travis nor Gose looks likely to turn into any kind of star, but this trade is still interesting — to me at least — because both look like potentially useful pieces that help fill a need for their new teams.

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What does Brandon Morrow Offer?

A quick look over a list of free agent pitchers produces many different types of arms. Top-end near-aces, mid-rotation stalwarts, backend veterans, and high-ceiling lottery tickets. Brandon Morrow is an intriguing lottery ticket for any team willing to take the plunge. Long on promise but short on results, Morrow is the kind of electric arm that front offices simply cannot resist.

At some point, however, potential and stuff lose some of their magnetism. When a guy’s only thrown 90 odd innings over two years, you start to wonder if maybe he isn’t worth the risk?

The thing about Brandon Morrow, of course, is this has always been the knock on the hard-throwing right hander. Remember, this was a pre-arb pitcher traded to Toronto for reliever Brandon League and a minor league outfielder still yet to surpass double-A.

Like so many other power arms, Morrow flashed brilliance and looked the part of a top-of-the-rotation ace at times. Other times, he lacked command, floundered through laborious starts and struggled to stay healthy.

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Adam Lind and Baseball’s Worst Position

The baseball offseason arrived all of a sudden. As the Giants were parading around the streets of San Francisco, I was on my computer writing about the Cubs ditching Rick Renteria to hire Joe Maddon. And then Saturday brought the offseason’s first meaningful trade — Adam Lind to the Brewers, and Marco Estrada to the Blue Jays. I’m going to be completely honest with you. I was excited at first, thinking more of the players in the deal than I wound up doing following further examination. I think I was just excited to have the offseason really get underway, to fill the baseball void. But still, this is a trade, with players you’ve presumably heard of, and it was swung to serve a purpose, so it’s worthy of our consideration. What the heck else do we have to consider?

We’ll get to the Blue Jays’ side of things. We’ll get into more detail. But we can start by acknowledging the obvious, that being the Brewers’ motivation to get a deal done. Lind is slated to be the Brewers’ regular first baseman. Here are the least productive positions in baseball, by our numbers, over the past two seasons combined:

  • Red Sox, third base, -2.2 WAR
  • Astros, first base, -2.2 WAR
  • Yankees, shortstop, -2.7 WAR
  • Yankees, designated hitter, -4.3 WAR
  • Brewers, first base, -4.6 WAR

I don’t know, either, but it happened. Over two years, Brewers first basemen combined to be worth almost an impossible five wins below replacement. The situation was better in 2014 than it was in 2013, but it’s also better to have your arm cut off than it is to have your arm cut off, successfully reattached, and then cut off again. For the Brewers, first base was a disaster, a disaster without any reasonable internal solution, so the front office acted quickly to address one of baseball’s very greatest needs.

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The Fascinating Free Agency of Melky Cabrera

Melky Cabrera‘s season ended on Friday with a broken finger. Normally, “team headed for 22nd straight year out of the playoffs loses second-best outfielder for the final three weeks” isn’t much of a story, but this situation is a little different. Cabrera is about to be a free agent in what looks to be a terrible market for offense, is only entering his age-30 season in 2015, and has had three pretty good seasons in the last four years. He’s been essentially the same hitter as Anthony Rendon has this year. That’s a pretty good resume to take into free agency, and understandably, talk is already focusing on where he’ll be playing next season.

Also understandably, that discussion has mostly centered around the considerable baggage that Cabrera brings with him, notably his 2012 PED suspension and the associated “let’s build a fake website” weirdness that came with it. Buster Olney devoted a column to it earlier this week, interviewing at least one player who complained that the system is set up in such a way that a rule-breaker can still find himself collecting a huge free agent payday. That player suggested that two-time offenders be restricted to one-year contracts in the future, which seems to me to be a thing that will never, ever happen.

Whether the feelings of that unnamed player are correct or not — you can probably guess my feelings on the subject — is kind of beside the point, because the fact is that Cabrera will go into free agency without any official restrictions, just unofficial reservations. While there’s some real reasons to question about him going forward, he’s also about to enter a market that is almost totally devoid of outfield offensive talent. Cabrera’s going to get paid, and it’s going to make a lot of people unhappy.

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Called Up: Pederson, Franco, Pompey, Norris & Finnegan

Check out some recent versions of this series with Dilson Herrera, Jorge Soler and Rusney Castillo (though he’s still in the minors). I made the cutoff for a write-up a 50 Future Value, meaning a projected peak role of 8th/9th inning reliever, #4 starter or low-end everyday player. Take a look at recent prospect lists for the Rangers or Rockies to get a better idea of the distinction between 45 and 50 FV. The last of the 50 FV prospects is generally around the 150th best prospect in the game.

Joc Pederson, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Hit: 45/55, Game Power: 45/55, Raw Power: 60/60, Run: 55/50, Field: 50/50+, Throw: 50/50+

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Colby Rasmus, Enigma

The Toronto Blue Jays season is a two-part story. What began as a pleasant surprise quickly descended into a lucid, waking nightmare. Two Blue Jays’ outfielders heading into free agency embody each of those characteristics. While Melky Cabrera is putting together a brilliant platform season before heading to free-agency, Colby Rasmus seems to have spent all the good will he earned with his strong 2013 campaign.

Rasmus, as you probably know, was terrific last year. He hit 23 home runs and posted nearly 5 WAR in just 120 games. He looked every bit the future star the Blue Jays thought they had when they acquired him at the 2011 trade deadline. Unfortunately for Rasmus, his 2014 looks much more like his forgettable seasons in the woods following his 2010 breakout as a 23-year-old in St. Louis.

The soft-spoken Jays center fielder has long been a magnet for criticism and scrutiny, due in no small part to his frank father/coach/mentor and to the personality clashes with his former manager and Hall-of-Famer, Tony La Russa. On the field, Rasmus is a devoted tinkerer at the plate and the author of wildly divergent periods of production.

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