Daydream bereaver?

With the arrival and early mashing of Blue Jays’ uber prospect Travis Snider, it’s hard not to wonder if he’s ready for the big time. Granted, we’re dealing with a miniscule sample size at the major league level and let’s not forget that the Jays had a late season call-up in Adam Lind in 2006 when the 22-year-old batted .367/.415/.600 in 16 games only to need a lot more seasoning.

Snider will be 21 next season and it’s not unheard of for players to be major league ready at that age. Historically, Hank Aaron (143 OPS+), Mickey Mantle (143 OPS+) and Joe Medwick (131 OPS+) were all elite offensive performers at that age. Heck, “The Mick’s” age 21 season could have been labeled a case of the sophomore jinx since he batted .311/.394/.530 (162 OPS+) at age 20 in his first full major league campaign.

Of course, that was then and this is now—are there any recent indications that Snider might be able to make the jump to productive major league hitter in 2009? In recent years, there have been players to make the jump at a young age:

Player                  MiLB                    Age 21
Miguel Cabrera .286/.346/.431 (1428 AB) .294/.366/.512 (603 AB) 
Andruw Jones   .303/.381/.548 (1251 AB) .271/.321/.515 (582 AB) 
Ruben Sierra   .261/.317/.410 (1398 AB) .263/.302/.470 (643 AB) 
Juan Gonzalez  .266/.314/.439 (2017 AB) .264/.321/.479 (545 AB) 
Travis Snider  .299/.375/.513 (1138 AB) .???/.???/.??? (??? AB) 

Two things we’ve learned—being a full-time above-average offensive contributor at age 21 doesn’t happen a lot (although this is far from a comprehensive list) and minor league totals don’t tell us much. Sierra, Juan-Gone and Cabrera’s track record didn’t give a lot of indication of what was to come. Snider has the fewest AB of the group but among the better numbers. One thing about the above group—if there is anything to it Snider is due to put on some serious weight either through barbells or Baskin-Robbins in the coming years.

Assuming continued success in September, I would give Snider a shot at a job in Spring Training but not put so much stock into it that it would prevent general manager J.P. Ricciardi from finding a power DH (one-year contract) and a platoon partner for Lyle Overbay.

Moving on…

There is much weeping and gnashing of teeth regarding the opting out of A.J. Burnett—I for one am not sweating it. Yeah, he’s been red-hot the last while, but it wasn’t too long ago that a lot of fans not only wanted him to go—they wanted Ricciardi to deal him. In the span of 12 days, Burnett had starts where he gave up 8 ER/4.1 IP to the Orioles and 8 ER/5 IP to the Brewers with a good-but-not-great outing against the Cubs (5 IP/2 ER) sandwiched between the two.

Since then, he’s had a 15-start stretch where he has averaged almost seven innings per start and is 10-3 with a 3.62 ERA, a K/9 of 9.79 and BB/9 of 2.82.

The thing is Burnett hasn’t turned the corner; he’s done this sort of thing almost every year:

2001, 14 consecutive starts:   7-5, 3.13 ERA.
2002, 16 consecutive starts:   8-5, 3.12 ERA. 
2004, 13 consecutive starts:   7-3, 3.29 ERA.
2005, 16 consecutive starts:   5-5, 3.18 ERA. 
2006, 11 consecutive starts:   8-3, 3.35 ERA.
2007, 14 consecutive starts:   5-4, 3.06 ERA.   
2008, 15 consecutive starts:  10-3, 3.62 ERA.   

In each case, he averaged about seven innings per start; what makes this year seem so much better (even though it’s not one of his better streaks) is that his record is 10-3. Make no mistake though, Burnett is on his almost annual tease, but it generally is followed by streaks of injury or ineffectiveness.

In 2008, Burnett has already thrown the third-most pitches in a single season of his career with 3,186—assuming five more starts of his average of 107 pitches per, he is going to finish with more than 3,700. In 2002, he tossed 3,261 pitches and that resulted in ligament transplant surgery. In the season before he came to Canada (which was also a contract drive), his right arm notched 3,278 pitches and he followed that up with two injury-plagued seasons in 2006 and 2007.

Any guesses what his 2009 workload is going to look like? How many innings do you think his age 32-36 seasons will contain? Yet, some team is probably going to pay him $15-plus million per annum to find out.

Is this a gamble Blue Jays’ fans wish to make?

This is just A.J. being A.J. and here is what history teaches us about him: (1) he can go on sustained runs of excellence, (2) between these runs there are periods of injury and ineffectiveness. You can refer to them as good A.J. bad A.J. and Ouch-J and where one goes, the others are not far behind. Don’t forget, before his 15-start streak, there were another 15 starts where bad A.J. was averaging about six innings per start, had an ERA of 5.42 and had a BB/9 of 4.53.

Can Ouch-J be far behind after this year’s workload?


The Incompleat Starting Pitcher
The end of the nine-inning start and how we got here.

Some props for the FAN 590’s Mike Wilner (Hi Mike! Sorry, I won‘t be able to make it on Sept. 21, but I’ll be listening as always) for a little perspective. Wilner pointed out that nobody really thought the season was over for the Jays back on July 8. Heck, had anybody been audacious enough to suggest the Blue Birds could play .620 ball, they would’ve been labeled stone-cold, bat[bleep] mad as a bloody march hare.

Guess what?

Since July 8, the Jays are 31-19 and playing .620 ball.

Unfortunately, both the Red Sox and Rays are 30-20 over their last 50 games as well. Pretty hard to make up ground under those circumstances.

Them’s the breaks.

Hopefully, by the time you’re reading this the Blue Jays will be eight games over .500 and have put together their first six-game winning streak since 2004 and Roy Halladay will have win No. 18 on the season with an outside shot at the Cy Young Award intact.

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