Archive for Blue Jays

Aaron Sanchez and the Trevor Rosenthal Experiment

On Thursday night, preseason consensus top-50 prospect Aaron Sanchez made his first appearance of the season out of the bullpen for the Buffalo Bisons, the Triple-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays.

Sanchez’s move to the pen is notable for several reasons, even though he already had 14 relief appearances on his minor league resume (though some of those were from a tandem-starter experiment at Single-A in 2012).

But first, a note on how he performed: poorly. One inning is a woefully small sample to be judging anything from, but Sanchez was touched for two runs on three singles, taking the loss after allowing Pawtucket to break a 1-1 tie in the sixth. It wasn’t all that bad – three singles out of four balls in play is a little fluky – and one of those hits was from an MLB veteran in Shane Victorino, though the pitch was a mistake on Sanchez’ part (right over the plate and a shade above the knees). Still, he caught a lot of the plate on one of the other singles, and his final out was a well-hit liner to short.
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How Trading for David Price Changes the Odds

Something I assume the Rays understand: From here on out, they project to be perhaps the best team in the American League East. Something else I assume the Rays understand: They’ve dug themselves into too deep a hole, so this year the playoffs presumably aren’t in the cards. And that’s why we’re probably going to see the Rays trade David Price within the next couple weeks. He can help them only so much in 2014, he’ll be difficult for them to afford in 2015 and pieces received in return could replenish what’s become an emptier system than usual. This is how the Rays do the Rays. Price’s status is no kind of secret.

Given how good Price is — and given how many teams consider themselves to be in the playoff hunt — the lefty has a number of potential suitors. Price is the premier impact player available, so no one out there can shift the balance like he can. He might be worth 2 WAR in the final two-and-a-half months; then there’s the playoff bonus, to say nothing of 2015. It’s pretty easy to plug in numbers and see how Price could improve any rotation. But how do those improvements translate to changes in the odds?

Another way of asking the same question: Who might stand to benefit the most — in 2014 — from acquiring a guy like David Price?

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The AL East War Of Attrition

They say all games are created equally, and that each outing in a long season is just one of 162 games. That’s certainly true, from a mathematical perspective – 90 wins is 90 wins, regardless of how a team gets there.

From a practical perspective, however, not all games are equal. While the primacy effect may make it seem like it’s the games late in the season, within a tight race, that “matter more,” the argument can be made that it’s the games earlier in the year that can shape a team’s endpoint the most. In particular, success in the games ahead of the July 31 trade deadline, when looked at together, is paramount.

The American League East is a great example of this. With five teams projected to perform similarly before the season, the spread in the division so far is perhaps wider than most anticipated, with 9.5 games separating first and last. The team quality evaluation hasn’t changed all that much, however, with each team projected to win between 35 and 37 games (.480-.521) the rest of the way. The teams who have performed well early are in the driver’s seat for a playoff push, even though they don’t necessarily project as better than the others the rest of the way.

This is important not just for building an edge within the division – it’s made three teams buyers and two teams sellers ahead of the deadline.
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Jose Bautista’s Counter-Shift

One of the remaining great unknowns is finding a reasonable way to evaluate the performances of coaches. With managers, we have only so much of the picture. It’s the same with hitting coaches and pitching coaches, and while sometimes we can credit a pitching coach for helping a guy learn a new pitch or smooth out his mechanics, hitting coaches are even more of a mystery. It would appear that teams haven’t even figured out who is and isn’t a worthwhile hitting coach, yet while their overall value isn’t known, one thing we can do is focus on individual cases. A team’s hitting coach won’t have the same effect on every hitter. In Toronto, one hitting coach has had a significant effect on one hitter.

Before the year, the Blue Jays added Kevin Seitzer, and one of Seitzer’s messages was stressing the importance of using the whole field. Seitzer came into a situation featuring Jose Bautista, who blossomed into a star by becoming an extreme pull power hitter. This season, Bautista has performed at a level well above what he did the previous two seasons. He’s back to what he was at his peak, yet he’s gotten there by following a different sort of path.

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Intent, Execution, and Edwin Encarnacion

Thursday afternoon, I wrote something up regarding Edwin Encarnacion‘s power-hitting hot streak. Within a few hours of publishing, Encarnacion hit another home run, and within an hour or so of that home run, Encarnacion hit another home run. Twice, he went deep against Royals ace James Shields, and though the Blue Jays ultimately lost the contest, Encarnacion further demonstrated that he’s one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball. His April slump isn’t forgotten — I’m referring to it right here — but now it’s the sort of thing we can all laugh about. All of us who are not pitchers.

One of Encarnacion’s homers on Thursday came against a fastball, and the other came against a cut fastball. The homers themselves looked like ordinary Edwin Encarnacion homers, as he launched both of them high and out to left. But what caught my attention was something else going on. Something involving Shields and Salvador Perez. The thing we always observe is what a pitch actually is. The thing we don’t always observe is what a pitch was supposed to be.

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“I Wish We Could Get Guys Like That”

Weird things about baseball fascinate me. One of those things is the concept of discarded players. Every once in awhile, you’ll see a player doing well and think to yourself, “Hey, wasn’t he on our team at one point?” David Carpenter is one such player. Watching him face the Red Sox this week, I couldn’t help but think that it would be sure nice if the Sox had him right now instead of Craig Breslow. Sure, the world will keep on spinning, and Carpenter wouldn’t make or break the 2014 Red Sox, but every little bit counts, and the Red Sox gave him away for free after just five weeks on the roster. In situations like these, we often jokingly say (or at least I do), “Hey, I wish we could get guys like that!”

I don’t mean to pick on the Red Sox, because every team does this. If you scan rosters, you’ll find one such player on just about every roster. And originally, my intention was to run down that list and look at them all individually. But then I got a look at this trade. On July 31, 2010, the Atlanta Braves traded Gregor Blanco, Jesse Chavez and Tim Collins to the Kansas City Royals for Rick Ankiel and Kyle Farnsworth. Take a look:

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Edwin Encarnacion is Hunting

One of the coolest stories taking place right now is the emergence of George Springer in Houston. Springer is among the more interesting prospects in recent years, and after a bit of a rough introduction to the majors, Springer’s caught fire. He homered again Wednesday, and over the course of the last month, Springer’s gone deep nine times, ahead of Yasiel Puig, Giancarlo Stanton, and Troy Tulowitzki. Springer’s been one of the best power hitters in the world, and over that month, he’s also hit 40% fewer home runs than Edwin Encarnacion.

Encarnacion stands at 15 dingers in 30 days, and over those 30 days, that’s more home runs than have been hit by both the Cardinals and the Royals as whole teams. Previous to the hot streak, Encarnacion had gone deep just once, prompting people to worry that something was wrong. If something was wrong, it was resolved in a damned hurry, and now Encarnacion is among the Blue Jays who have led the team into a playoff position. It’s interesting to examine some of Encarnacion’s recent trends. It’s interesting, too, to compare those against larger ones.

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The Old Mark Buehrle’s New Trick

Dave observed the other day on Twitter that, over the past calendar year, Mark Buehrle has been one of the better and more valuable starting pitchers in baseball. A lot of that has had to do with home-run suppression, and if you read FanGraphs often, you know how we generally feel about home-run suppression, but the larger point is that, after getting off to a rough start in Toronto, Buehrle turned things around and continues to get batters out to this day. His strikeouts right now are basically the same as ever, and every game batters against Buehrle return to their dugouts shaking their heads. He is what he has been, allowing him to feel ageless.

Consider everything about Buehrle and you might assume that he’s pitching like he always has. Why mess with what’s been working? Buehrle’s always been a little bit deceptive and a little bit finesse, and it’s not like you very often see a pitcher in his mid-30s make an approach adjustment. But if you dig beneath the 2014 Mark Buehrle surface, you notice something you can’t un-notice. Of his 31 strikeouts, 20 have been called. This is unusual, and this has an explanation.

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A One-Start Comp for Masahiro Tanaka

The first batter Masahiro Tanaka ever faced in a regular-season game in the majors hit a home run. On Tanaka’s third-ever pitch, Melky Cabrera blasted Tanaka’s signature splitter, and just that quickly was the fairy tale smashed. There would be no season-opening whiff or shutout, and Tanaka might’ve figured the home run would stick with him for the length of his career. And that much is true, in that the game was documented, and Cabrera’s homer is something people will always be able to look up. But no one thinks of Yu Darvish and remembers that his career began with a four-pitch walk of Chone Figgins. No one thinks of Daisuke Matsuzaka and remembers that his career began with a single by David DeJesus. No one thinks of Stephen Strasburg and remembers that his career began with a 2-and-0 line drive by Andrew McCutchen. People will remember Tanaka for however Tanaka performs overall, and, one start in, it seems there’s an awful lot to like.

Which should surprise absolutely no one. Tanaka isn’t just a rookie — he’s a rookie recently given a nine-figure contract. Against the Jays, he threw two-thirds of his pitches for strikes. He kept the ball on the ground, outside of the dinger, and he didn’t issue a single walk while he struck the hitter out eight times. It was, granted, a Jays lineup without Jose Reyes, but it was a Jays lineup with everybody else, and Tanaka needed very little time to settle in and find a dominant groove. And along the way, he happened to pitch a lot like another front-of-the-rotation American League arm.

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Melky Cabrera And The Wonder Of Clean Health

As we start the second week of April, it’s that fun time of year where individual stats really and truly don’t mean anything yet — unless you think that Charlie Blackmon is a true-talent .542/.560/.792 player, in which case, seek help immediately — and yet we are baseball writers on a baseball site, so we still need to digest what’s happening and try to put some meaning to it. As Jeff said the other day, the games still matter, even if the slash lines don’t, really.

So in looking at some of the absurd early season hitting lines, it’s less about what is “best” and more about what is interesting. It’s great that Mike Trout and Chase Utley and Freddie Freeman have killer early lines, because they’re great players. It’s fun to see that Emilio Bonifacio and Dee Gordon and Yangervis Solarte have great early lines, because it’s fun to see BABIP above .500 and to see how skewed tiny samples can make all of this. None of this fundamentally changes our understanding of what those players are.

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Mark Buehrle’s Perfect Imperfect Game

The fastest pitch Mark Buehrle threw Wednesday was just shy of 84 miles per hour. For Buehrle, in early April, that’s not out of the ordinary, and he’s long been a guy who’s managed to make it work in the low- to mid-80s. What was a little more out of the ordinary was everything else. Armed with his usual stuff, Buehrle struck out 11 of 30 Tampa Bay batters. He was a fastball away from completing a shutout, and Buehrle himself was taken by surprise by what he was able to do.

Only one other time in his extraordinary career has Buehrle’s strikeout total reached double digits. He whiffed a dozen Mariners all the way back in April 2005, in a game that lasted all of 99 minutes. So, this was Buehrle’s second-highest strikeout total ever. Yet he generated just a dozen swings and misses. That’s a high number, but not as high as the strikeouts would suggest. In 28 career starts, Buehrle has missed more than 12 bats. In another 14, he’s missed exactly 12 bats. Buehrle was unusually unhittable without being unusually unhittable, and the reason for that is the very reason for Buehrle’s continued success in the bigs.

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So How Many Starters Does a Team Need, Then?

Watching the Braves rotation grab appendages has been tough this spring. Kris Medlen has ligament damage in his elbow, Brandon Beachy has biceps soreness, and Mike Minor survived a scarred urethra only to encounter shoulder soreness. None of the three is a lock to make the opening day rotation. And this is a team that brought two veteran free agents in for depth and had extra youth at the back end of their rotation. They might be fine without Ervin Santana, but yet that team does inspire a question. How many major-league ready starting pitchers should a competitive team field in a given year?

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What Can Toronto Do To Fix That Second Base Problem?

Look at our depth charts, please. Go ahead, look! If you sort by position, ascending from worst to best, you’ll see a few spots that are projected to be just awful, by which I mean, “1 WAR or less.” That’s close enough to zero WAR that we can safely describe them as “replacement-level,” and that’s not a situation any contender wants to be in. Of course, many of those spots — Marlins shortstop, Brewers first base, etc. — don’t belong to likely contenders, which I will completely arbitrarily define as having playoff odds of at least 30 percent on our Cool Standings page.

That still leaves a few potential contenders with a big problem, but none more so than second base in Toronto, where the Blue Jays are apparently actually planning to give Ryan Goins a crack at second base, if for no other reason than that Maicer Izturis was atrocious last year. Between Goins, Izturis, Munenori Kawasaki, Chris Getz, and Steve Tolleson, the Jays keystone crew ranks dead last in our second base projections, and no, newcomer Brett Morel‘s attempt to move from third isn’t changing that needle.

If anything, that combined projection of 0.4 WAR seems possibly high, because it partially depends on Izturis being somewhat less miserable than he was last season. If Goins can even manage to be replacement-level, that will be something, because he’s coming off a Triple-A debut in which he hit just .257/.311/.369, followed by a .252/.264/.345 line (and a 1.7% walk rate!) in 121 plate appearances after the Jays after Izturis injured his ankle and Emilio Bonifacio was traded. The Fans, Steamer, and Oliver all think he’ll put up a wRC+ in the 60-69 range, which is of course terrible, no matter how good the glove is, and for a team that still has a chance to contend, that’s just not going to work. Read the rest of this entry »


Jason Heyward and Another File-to-Trial Benefit

Jason Heyward was supposed to be going to court in a few weeks. His agents had filed a salary number for arbitration, and his team was a file-to-trial team — once a player has filed an arbitration number with a file-to-trial team, it’s supposed to mean that they are headed to court to debate their respective cases in front of an arbitrator. We thought about this situation when they filed, and it seemed that were reasons on both sides for the public fight over $300 thousand — the team wanted to discuss more reasonable numbers quicker and needed the threat of trial, while the agents in this case were aggressive and didn’t mind the consequences, apparently.

But today, look in the news, and there’s an announcement — the Braves and Heyward have agreed to a two-year $13.3 million deal. This seems to go against the file-to-trial policy, at first. Until you look around the game and realize that two other file-to-trial teams, the Rays and the Blue Jays, have also made deals like this after filing numbers. Now it looks like there was one last benefit to the file-to-trial policy that we didn’t get to: leverage in negotiations for a multi-year deal.

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2014 ZiPS Projections – Toronto Blue Jays

After having typically appeared in the entirely venerable pages of Baseball Think Factory, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections were released at FanGraphs last year. The exercise continues this offseason. Below are the projections for the Toronto Blue Jays. Szymborski can be found at ESPN and on Twitter at @DSzymborski.

Other Projections: Arizona / Atlanta / Baltimore / Boston / Chicago AL / Cincinnati / Cleveland / Colorado / Detroit / Kansas City / Los Angeles NL / Miami / Milwaukee / Minnesota / New York AL / New York NL / Philadelphia / Pittsburgh / San Diego / Seattle / St. Louis / Tampa Bay.

Batters
From their top-five position players (Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Lawrie, Colby Rasmus, and Jose Reyes) the Blue Jays are projected to extract 16.4 wins, according to ZiPS. A convenient number, that, for the sake of constructing an Intriguing Narrative, on account of it’s precisely the number of wins produced by all Toronto field players in 2013. If the club can manage to surround their five best hitters with not-worse-than-replacement-level players, the reasoning goes, then they’ll be at least as valuable as last year.

General manager Alex Anthopoulos et al. do appear to have taken steps towards this end. J.P. Arencibia and Emilio Bonifacio, for example, were among the club’s most grievous offenders last year, combining for a negative win. And while, owing to regression, neither would likely be expected to perform so badly in 2014, neither will have the chance, it appears, as they’re now employed by Texas and Kansas City, respectively. Second base remains an issue, however: ZiPS projects Ryan Goins* and Maicer Izturis for a collective 0.5 WAR in over 900 plate appearances.

*Note: the author accidentally credited Goins with a 2 WAR in the depth chart he tweeted yesterday (Wednesday) afternoon. Apologies.

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The Braves, Jason Heyward, File-to-Trial & Arbitration

The Braves are going to arbitration with Jason Heyward over $300 thousand dollars. It’s a wonderful sentence, full of so many words that could set you off in a million different directions. And so I followed those strings, talking to as many people involved in arbitration as I could. Many of those directions did lead me to denigrations of arbitration, and of the file-to-trial arbitration policy that the Braves employ. There’s another side to that sort of analysis though. Arbitration is not horrid. File-to-trial policies have their use. This is not all the Braves’ fault.

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The Worst Position on a Contending Team

The best position on a contending team is center field for the Angels. This is because that’s where Mike Trout is. There’s no single greater roster advantage in baseball right now than possessing Mike Trout. So, writing about the worst of something might seem needlessly negative, or bitterly critical, but there’s no sense in writing about the best of this, because everybody already knows. Already, we struggle with not writing every single FanGraphs article about Mike Trout. This is indirectly about Trout, in that it’s about positions that project to be the anti-Trout.

The long and short of it is that I wanted to know which position projects to be the worst out of teams looking to contend in the season ahead. It’s impossible to do perfectly, but there’s a lot at our disposal. We’ve got staff-generated team-by-team depth charts, and corresponding Steamer projections. We’ve got projections on a team level, allowing us to identify teams with legitimate hopes. If nothing else, this should get us in the ballpark, as we search for areas of considerable need. The worst position on a contender is a position that probably ought to be addressed, soon.

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Roy Halladay, Deserving Hall of Famer, to Retire.

Roy Halladay is calling it a career, having been prematurely pushed out of the game by a shoulder that simply would no longer cooperate. According to Jon Heyman, the Blue Jays will officially sign Halladay to a one day contract and announce his retirement this afternoon, so that he can finish his career with the organization where he made his mark as one of the game’s best pitchers. And make no mistake; Halladay is one of the best hurlers of his generation, and he belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Halladay doesn’t have the legacy numbers that usually go with Hall of Fame induction. He will finish with 203 career wins and just 2,749 innings, putting him at the very low end of acceptable totals for induction among starting pitchers in those two categories. But, thankfully for Halladay, baseball is moving away from evaluating pitchers by career win totals, and his run of dominance makes him deserving of a place in Cooperstown.

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Steamer Projects: Toronto Blue Jays Prospects

Earlier today, polite and Canadian and polite Marc Hulet published his 2014 organizational prospect list for the Toronto Blue Jays.

It goes without saying that, in composing such a list, Hulet has considered the overall future value those prospects might be expected to provide either to the Jays or whatever other organizations to which they might someday belong.

What this brief post concerns isn’t overall future value, at all, but rather such value as the prospects from Hulet’s list might provide were they to play, more or less, a full major-league season in 2014.

Other prospect projections: Arizona / Chicago AL / Miami / Seattle.

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Blue Jays Make Small Addition, Big Upgrade

J.P. Arencibia was the kind of bad that finds you. A year ago, the Blue Jays looked like competitor darlings, primarily because of a host of additions. Arencibia was hardly one of the guys to watch, and then before long it became apparent the Blue Jays were hardly one of the teams to watch. It didn’t take long for me to concentrate my viewing elsewhere, but still, I kept hearing about Arencibia’s death spiral. You didn’t have to follow the Blue Jays to be aware of Arencibia’s inability to get on base, and his final line was something borderline legendary. Arencibia hurt me, without my having watched. I weep for those who did.

Now Arencibia’s time in Toronto is just about up. From the free-agent market, the Jays have snagged Dioner Navarro for two years and $8 million. With Josh Thole as the backup, the Jays will now either trade Arencibia or non-tender him, leaving him a free agent. Unsurprisingly, league interest is reportedly limited. Teams won’t fall all over themselves to get a guy whose most recent OBP was lower than Pedro Alvarez‘s most recent batting average. From here, it’s unclear where Arencibia’s career is going to go.

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