Does Cito Gaston Work for Boston?

Manager Cito Gaston’s surprise return to the fold in 2008 breathed new life into a floundering organization. The Toronto Blue Jays’ skipper, though, may be at fault for the club’s mid-season demise in the standings.

On May 19, the Jays club was 2.5 games ahead of Boston and 3.5 games ahead of New York in the American League East standings. Now, on the last day of June, the club is in fourth place and seven games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox. How did this happen?

As of June 20, the Jays club had played 78 games (41-37). Five regulars had played 76 games or more: Aaron Hill, Marco Scutaro, Adam Lind, Vernon Wells, and Alex Rios. Two of those players (Rios and Wells) have been terrible this season and were also left in the No. 3 and 4 holes in the lineup until mid-June.

Two other players are obviously being over-worked by the manager. Hill appeared in just 55 games last year due to a concussion. Despite the time off, the manager has failed to ease the second baseman back into regular play. Scutaro, the club’s undisputed spark plug in the first two months, had never really been a full-time player until last year when he appeared in 145 games. At 33, he’s no spring chicken.

As for Lind, he’s survived remarkably well as the youngest player of the five at 25 years of age and he’s also spent just 26 games in the field. His 50 other appearances have come as the club’s designated hitter.

These five players are obviously playing a lot… so let’s look at the monthly splits and let the stats do the talking for a minute.

Adam Lind
April: .315/.400/.533
May: .264/.333/.453
June: .354/.431/.544

Vernon Wells
April: .283/.345/.465
May: .252/.300/.361
June: .210/.259/.350

Alex Rios
April: .248/.304/.366
May: .302/.359/.509
June: .232/.291/.379

Aaron Hill
April: .365/.412/.567
May: .307/.331/.480
June: .234/.278/.477

Marco Scutaro
April: .281/.421/.506
May: .322/.397/.421
June: .235/.325/.333

As you can see above, four of the five players are down significantly in June. I’m sure management has seen the numbers, but the powers that be are now between a rock and a hard place. The regulars need rest badly, but how do you take them out of the lineup now that the playoffs are (not so) slowly slipping away? The main focus on the Jays this season has been the injuries to the pitching staff and the club’s reliance on young, unproven hurlers. But those pitchers have not been the club’s downfall, whatsoever. The team’s ERA/FIP for the past three months: 4.34/4.37 in April, 4.23/4.35 in May, and 4.22/3.91 in June.

As a side note, I’d also like to point out the disappointing use of veteran back-up infielder John McDonald. The fifth-year Jay has been used in just 28 games this season with just 26 at-bats. That is the most embarrassing use of any player in the Majors this season… and yes, he’s spent the entire season on the roster and has been healthy the entire time. Twenty-six at-bats. That, ladies and gentlemen, is not the way to use you bench… Or treat your veteran players. You know, the ones you’d have to turn to if your starting shortstop or second baseman suddenly got hurt…




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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospect analysis. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.


34 Responses to “Does Cito Gaston Work for Boston?”

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  1. NadavT says:

    Wells has been legitimately terrible this season, but Rios has actually been performing at a league-average pace. That’s still much worse than his expected performance, but I wouldn’t call it “terrible.”

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  2. Andy S says:

    You’re quick to draw the conclusion that since the players are overworked, they’re suffering. While that might be the case, I’d be very surprised if it was the cause of these enormous drop-offs.

    Vernon Wells and Alex Rios I have no explanation for. They haven’t shown a drop-off, but it’s possible their continued play could have stifled their recovery into familiar numbers territory.

    But what did you really expect from Aaron Hill and Marco Scutaro? Their numbers were ridiculous and way out of line with career stats. Can we really say that Cito Gaston is hurting them that much? While playing every day can’t really be great for them, I’m calling simple regression on this one and moving on.

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  3. Andy S says:

    Also, Angel Berroa has been/was used even more embarrassingly than McDonald.

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  4. mike says:

    I agree with Andy S. There is no way you can atrribute a handful of players being “overworked” as the reason the Jays have fallen off.

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  5. Todd says:

    Whether or not the performance declines are due to overwork, the general premise that Gaston has done a poor job of utilizing his bench and resting his regulars, slump or no slump, seems to hold water.

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  6. Andy S says:

    Oh yes, I agree with that, but causation is being derived here from correlation too quickly.

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  7. mattymatty says:

    Instead of signing Rios and Wells to those horrible contracts, imagine if Ricciardi had let them both walk and the Jays had that money and draft picks to play with. Or, alternately, what if Ricciardi had just taken all of it out of the bank in small bills and set it on fire? Would the Jays be any worse of than they are now?

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  8. Kyle Boddy says:

    Vernon Wells is terrible and horribly overrated. I don’t see how this is Cito’s fault. He’s always been bad.

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    • Torgen says:

      Vernon Wells has only had 2 years with a wOBA+ under 100: 2007 and this year. In 2007 he was playing through a shoulder cyst. The main similarities between his 2007 and 2009 are low BABIP and low HR/BIA. His LD% is lower this year than 2007, but it’s the same as his 2008 LD% when his BABIP and HR/BIA were much better (and more line with his career numbers). Maybe he’s dumb for playing though an injury instead of going on the DL and letting it heal (twice?), but he’s not terrible. Not spectacular, but not terrible.

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      • Nick says:

        His WAR totals over the past 3 years (including this year):

        0.8
        1.2
        -1.3

        His last good season was in 06, when he was very productive with a 5.8 WAR mark. However, since then he has been a below average player in 07 and 08, and one of the worst players in baseball this year. Injuries or not, it’s hard to make a case for him not being terrible.

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      • Torgen says:

        Rios was already a better fielder than Wells when Wells signed his extension, so it’s not really news that Wells has to move to a corner. (Maybe it is to Wells.) And in fairness, he missed two non-consecutive months of 2008 with two unrelated injuries, which hurt his ability to accumulate wins.

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  9. Mike Ketchen says:

    But Harold Reynolds said on MLB network this “on base stuff” is over rated and “grip it and Rip it” will work, thats what “Cito brings” and I mean he is an “expert” lol I love it.

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    • Choo says:

      Reynolds speaks to a sect of baseball fans we are not a part of. I have no problem with that. Of course, they will all go to hell on judgement day, but that’s their problem.

      And there are no words to describe just how bad Vernon Wells’s defense is right now. He makes Brad Hawpe look like Roberto Clemente.

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  10. Mike Ketchen says:

    The one thing that I can not understand is how JP lets this happen. I am not calling him a good GM but I mean for christ sakes he did work with Beane. He does not have to agree with everything, but this is the simply ignorant.

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  11. Evan says:

    It’s no surprise that Cito doesn’t use his bench. He never has. He gave an interview in (I think) 1994 where he said “I don’t like to use the extra guys very much; there’s a reason they’re called extra guys.”

    Cito doesn’t think the bench has a purpose beyond injury replacements.

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  12. Davidceisen says:

    Scutaro is not a good offensive player, so him being down is hardly surprising. I would hardly say that Rios is significantly down, either. His OPS in April was .670 and his OPS in June is .670. May is the outlier so far.

    Wells is struggling, but he probably is now a league average player.

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  13. Well, we must confess that if we’d been clever, we would have arranged a couple victories over the Red Sox this year, but we didn’t realize you’d be on the case so quickly. Yes, Cito Gaston does in fact also draw a secret paycheck from the Boston Red Sox, good work. John McDonald has 26 at bats in 28 games because he posted an OPS+ of 40 last year. FORTY. He’s also 34, so I think we saw the best of his peak power years.

    More, Cito’s been incomprehensible loyal to his bench, to the point where he had been refusing to pull Millar and Bautista (for Overbay and Snider, when he was up) out of the game when the opposing team inserted right-handed relief pitchers.

    The bullpen imploded, the bats cooled off and ownership refuses to pay for a legitimate DH. Oh yeah, and every single starter from last year went onto the DL except Burnett, who went to NY. While the team is constructed well enough to be the 5th or 6th best team in baseball, that’s also good enough for just fourth place in the AL East.

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    • Torgen says:

      The team didn’t need to pay for a legitimate DH. Adam Lind was and is doing fine in that role. The problem is their starting LF is on the minor league DL with a back injury.

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  14. Bob says:

    What a terrible attempt at ‘analysis’. So you’ve got two guys (Wells and Rios) who everyone knows are overrated playing about as poorly as everyone expected. You’ve got a young up-and-coming guy (Lind) who has played pretty well all season, also to the surprise of no one. Then you’ve got two other veterans (Scutaro and Hill) who played WAY over their career in April and May, and now that they’ve regressed closer to where everyone expected in June we’re supposed to blame the manager for not playing them less?

    What are we supposed to think would be happening if Gaston had rested those guys more? That somehow Hill and Scutaro would have continued playing at levels most considered unsustainable anyway, or that Wells and Rios somehow would be less terrible? And Lind would be…. I don’t even know what you were trying to imply there. I don’t see how anyone can argue that the version of the Jays offense we’re seeing right now (you know, bad, like they’ve been the past few years) is not a truer level of performance than the first two months of the year.

    This is the kind of stuff that’s supposed to make people think you’re smarter than everyone else? Color me unimpressed.

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  15. B says:

    Maybe those players are not very good….

    I could be crazy though.

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  16. joe says:

    Cito is a nice pickup for the nostalgia, but his managerial style is a full decade behind what you need for todays game. I appreciate that you like your players to hit themselves out of a slump, but why are you letting wells do it at the #3 slot? Isnt the 3rd slot where you put your best hitter, the one who can get that hit to drive in the 1 and 2? That’s not all; there are just so many flaws in his managing that it was a surprise the Jays even made it this far.

    -Insisting on platooning your .900 OPS 1st baseman with a 38 year old washup who is only there for the veteran presence.

    -Overusing a promising bullpen arm (Carlson) to the point where he is no longer effective, and then continue to overuse him.

    -Allowing the broken BJ Ryan to close games while Lincecum ‘lite’ Jason Frasor and an under-control Brandon League sit on the bench. This team could have 3-4 more wins if the Jays just ate his contract.

    -Skipping over Richmond’s starts while Reliever-turned-starter Brian Tallet’s arm is about to fall off. If anyone should be getting extra days rest it should be him, he has already eclipsed his career high in innings and we’re still waiting for the allstar game.

    -The aforementioned stubbornness involving the batting order.

    Cito Gaston does not know how to use a bullpen, does not understand when a platoon is necessary, and each passing day he looks more and more like a stubborn old man who doesnt know why he’s yelling at the kids across his street. Cito, you’ve done your part, now either get with the times or step aside.

    I do wish he would use JMac more often, his defense is still solid as ever despite almost never playing, and he is NOT a horrible hitter if he is used properly. Bunt some singles, slap hit, whatever, just dont try to power the ball, because you simply dont have that ability.

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    • Torgen says:

      Overbay’s OPS is only .900 because he’s not facing lefties at all this year, and BJ Ryan hasn’t been asked to close a game since he came off the DL.

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      • joe says:

        Overbay could always hit lefties well enough to not warrant a platoon. Maybe he wouldnt have a .900 OPS if he faced them regularly, but .750+ would still be pretty good, too good to warrant a platoon. His splits only look ugly in ’08 and ’09 because of the hand injury and unfamiliarity, respectively. Otherwise, he was pretty good against them.

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      • Torgen says:

        That’s a pretty unprovable assumption. Anwyays, the problem with the Overbay platoon is Millar, not the platoon. Dopirak’s MLE numbers against LHP would be a .950 OPS. I don’t know why they haven’t at least moved him to AAA.

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  17. VidaB says:

    Banning greenies is killing the Jays. Sigh.

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  18. Mark says:

    I don’t buy the argument they’re tired. Look at Hill’s slugging in June vs May – nearly identical, but with a 70 point drop in BA. Rios isn’t much worse in June than he was in April, and Wells has been awful all year. Lind has been DHed like you said so there’s no way in hell he’s tired. Scutaro is still showing some pretty good patience, despite the awful BA. Who really expected the career 270 hitter to have a 300 + BA? Even if he hits 270, he’s still gonna post a 370 OBP and play phenomenal D @ SS which is still pretty impressive.

    I don’t buy the complaints about not using McDonald either. Is he supposed to bench his 380-400 OBP SS who plays tremendous defense for his 500 OPS SS? Is he supposed to take Hill out of the game? Their two best players are doing a tremendous job – it would hurt them more to bench them for McDonald.

    There are some things I’d complain about that Cito does – not replacing Millar often enough on defense in the later innings with Overbay, being unable to realize Bautista is his best bench bat vs LHP, keeping his SP in too long – but keeping J-Mac on the bench and leaving his best two players in (Hill/Scutaro) isn’t one of them.

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  19. Mark says:

    Right, but then you go from:

    DH – Lind
    LF – Adams/Bautista
    2B – Hill
    SS – Scutaro

    to:

    LF – Lind
    2B McDonald
    SS Scutaro
    DH – Hill

    It’s pretty obvious that the first lineup is better offensively and defensively. It’s a pretty significant drop off in production to just say “DH Hill” so that McDonald can play 2B. You trade the 700-750 OPS bat in Bautista/Adams for the 500 OPS bat in McDonald.

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  20. Jeremy S says:

    Is there any tangible evidence to say that giving position time players time off every now and then affects their play for the worse? or is this just something that intuition tells us? im not sure that getting the day game after the night game off really is all its cracked up to be. this may be another one of those old baseball truisms that turns out to not have any evidence based validity.

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