Blue Jays’ Hot Streak Saves Them From Painful Decisions

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The Blue Jays were facing a series of harsh choices if they’d continued down the road they were on. With GM Alex Anthopoulos having cast his lot by acquiring veterans with hefty contracts Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes and Josh Johnson; by trading for R.A. Dickey and giving him a long-term deal at age 38; for gutting the farm system; for rehiring the same manager the team had fired in John Gibbons, Anthopoulos’s job was clearly in jeopardy if the Blue Jays would up with 90+ losses. The new GM would’ve undertaken a new rebuilding/retooling project with a different strategy. The fans’ enthusiasm for the club would also have waned if they started over again following a failure of this magnitude.

They were never as bad as they were playing when they were eleven games under .500 on May 10th. Of course, the same holds true for this eleven game win streak. Accumulated not against terrible teams but against the Orioles, Rangers and Rockies, this hot streak has given them some wiggleroom not to do anything drastic in terms of clearing out players at the trading deadline, but instead adding players who can assist them for a playoff run.

When a team makes the series of bold maneuvers that the Blue Jays did this past winter and they immediately fall flat, there aren’t many options available. Their hands were essentially cuffed. It was either this team will get itself straight or they’re all done for in Toronto. That the team somehow reeled off this win streak is a rarity among teams who have pushed all their chips into the pot as the Blue Jays have and got off to a disastrous start, but it’s happening. Two months is generally not enough to come to the determination that the entire thing has to be torn down especially where there are proven players on the roster, but the frustration with so many years of mediocrity and the constant frenetic tweaking on the part of a GM who was a member of the mostly failed regime of former GM J.P. Ricciardi would have created a groundswell to do something else with someone else. The what and who are irrelevant, it would simply be a change for its own sake. And don’t think that firing Anthopoulos would’ve yielded a move to the next in line, the respected Tony LaCava. In that kind of situation, clubs generally move in an entirely new direction, presumably with an older, veteran GM who thinks in an old-school manner.

If it had gotten to July and the Blue Jays were sitting 10 games under .500 and 12 games out of playoff position, a “For Sale” sign at clearance prices could easily have been posted outside the Rogers Centre. As it stands now, they may not make a serious playoff run. They’re still only two games over .500 and the season hasn’t been saved nor have the moves haven’t been validated yet (ironically, they were also two games over .500 a year ago to this day and their current win streak has been due to unsung players like Adam Lind, Chien-Ming Wang and Munenori Kawasaki), but they’re able to make baseball moves to get better and try to win for 2013 rather than play out the string, get rid of money, placate the angry crowds and fickle circling media to start all over again.

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Javier Vazquez’s Comeback and Potential Suitors

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Javier Vazquez surprisingly retired after a solid season for the Marlins in 2011 in which he posted a 13-11 record; a 3.69 ERA; a hits/innings pitched ratio of 178/192 with 50 walks and 178 strikeouts. It must be added that he also had a dreadful start, pitching terribly until mid-June. For the entire second half, he was a different pitcher, one who was in demand as a free agent and chose to “retire” at age 35.

He can still pitch, just not as a Yankee, having failed there twice. I certainly wouldn’t bring him back to the Yankees, nor to Boston or Baltimore, but every other contending or would-be contending club is an option and Vazquez, while not saying he’s definitely returning, will pitch in the World Baseball Classic for Puerto Rico and has said he’s considering a comeback to MLB. For a $10 million payday, why not?

So which teams could use Vazquez and meet the criteria as contender?

Let’s take a look.

Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays don’t really need another starter, but I suppose they could trade Ricky Romero and attach Adam Lind to him to get Lind’s contract off the roster in exchange for a 1B/DH bat and install Vazquez into the spot, but I’d keep Vazquez away from the AL East.

Tampa Bay Rays

Vazquez isn’t coming back for an incentive-laden deal with a low base salary, which is essentially the only method in which the Rays invest in free agents as they did with Roberto Hernandez (née Fausto Carmona). Tampa would be a good spot in every aspect, but they can’t pay him.

Cleveland Indians

The Indians agreed to terms with Brett Myers yesterday and are using him as a starter. They’re clearly intent on trying to win within their means under new manager Terry Francona and Vazquez would fall into the veteran starting pitcher template. Francona’s gentle handling of his players would suit Vazquez.

Los Angeles Angels

Vazquez is better than Joe Blanton, Tommy Hanson and Jason Vargas, but again, teams didn’t know Vazquez was available. The Angels don’t have any room for him now.

Texas Rangers

His penchant for allowing home runs is a concern in Texas, but their infield defense would also help him greatly. They’re a contender, would prefer a pitcher on a short-term contract and have had success with pitchers like Colby Lewis who’ve left for Japan and came back to MLB making Vazquez’s departure and return a non-issue.

The Rangers are a definite possibility.

Washington Nationals

The Nationals are waiting out Adam LaRoche and his free agency tour. In a free agency family tree sort of situation, LaRoche might go to the Red Sox if their contract snag with Mike Napoli isn’t ironed out and the deal comes undone. If that’s the case, the Nats won’t be able to trade Mike Morse. If they can trade Morse, they can move him for a starting pitcher. Or they can sign Vazquez and worry about the other stuff later.

Vazquez spent the first six years of his career with the Nats organization when they were in Montreal. He’s a perfect fit back in the NL East where he had his best years and pitching for a legitimate World Series contender in Washington.

Atlanta Braves

The Braves have enough starting pitching, so much so that they traded Hanson to the Angels for Jordan Walden. But Brandon Beachy is returning from Tommy John surgery and Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado are kids, so there’s a spot for a veteran like Vazquez if they want him. Vazquez had the year of his life with the Braves in 2009, won 15 games (he should have won 22) and finished 4th in the NL Cy Young voting. It’s doubtful they’d do it, but it’s logical.

Philadelphia Phillies

Vazquez is better than John Lannan and Kyle Kendrick—the two pitchers at the back of the Phillies rotation and gigantic steps down from the top three of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels—but the home run ball would be an issue for Vazquez and the Phillies offense and defense aren’t what they once were to account for Vazquez’s faults. He’d surrender a ton of homers in Philadelphia. He’s probably ill-suited mentally to the fans of Philadelphia booing him if he pitches 6 no-hit innings and then gives up a run in the seventh with the team leading 10-1.

Milwaukee Brewers

They desperately need starting pitching and have money to spend, but I’m not sure they’re contenders even though they can hit.

Pittsburgh Pirates

They just spent a large portion of available funds on Francisco Liriano. But they might be able to swing Vazquez. They’re intriguing for Vazquez and vice versa. The Pirates are a NL Central club with a big ballpark and enough young talent to be taken seriously as a contender, so perhaps they can work something out with Vazquez if they clear some money elsewhere.

San Diego Padres

The Padres don’t have a ton of money to toss around nor status as a winter contender, but they could surprise in 2013 with their onrushing young talent. They also brought the fences in and lowered the walls at Petco Park, which would affect a homer-prone pitcher like Vazquez.

They could jump in on him in a surprise move.

Vazquez didn’t plan this very well if he wanted to start a bidding war. He realistically could’ve guaranteed himself $12 million if he’d made his services available at the conclusion of the 2012 season and seen the bidding go up with a 1-year deal plus an option with the requisite buyout. He could’ve made $15 million if he’d played it right.

All things considered, Vazquez and the Nationals are destined to wind up together. That’s if he decides to pitch; and if the Nats don’t trade Morse; and Yankees GM Brian Cashman doesn’t try to prove himself “right” by going after Vazquez again for the Yankees.

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August Waivers Rodeo—American League

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Claiming any of the following players will be hazardous to one’s payroll.

Let’s have a look at American League players who’ll get through waivers for one reason or another.

Mark Teixeira, 1B—New York Yankees

If Teixeira’s contract were due to expire in the near future, someone would claim him and the Yankees wouldn’t let him go. If he was claimed now, they still wouldn’t let him go, but they’d at least briefly consider it. He’s owed $22.5 million annually through 2016 when he’ll be 36. He’s going nowhere.

Alex Rodriguez, 3B—New York Yankees

Yeah. You claim A-Rod. You’ll have A-Rod at 37 with $104 million coming to him from 2013 through 2017.

Adrian Gonzalez, 1B—Boston Red Sox

His numbers are down, he’s owed $127 million through 2018 and he’s becoming the great player whose teams always miss the playoffs.

Carl Crawford, LF—Boston Red Sox

Yah. A-Rod has a better chance of being claimed.

Josh Beckett, RHP—Boston Red Sox

There would undoubtedly be factions in the Red Sox front office that would vote to let him go if he was claimed. Now he’s day-to-day with back spasms which, along with his poor pitching and not-so-charming personality, make him even more toxic with $31.5 million owed to him in 2013-2014. He also has 10 and 5 rights to block any deal but I think he’d love to get out of Boston by any means necessary.

Brandon Lyon, RHP—Toronto Blue Jays

He’s owed $5.5 million for 2012.

Adam Lind, 1B—Toronto Blue Jays

No one claimed him in June when the Blue Jays had to get him through waivers to send him to the minors earlier in the season; he’s hit better since he was recalled, but with $7 million guaranteed next season, he won’t be claimed especially since he’s not on the disabled list with a back injury.

Yunel Escobar, SS—Toronto Blue Jays

Add the Blue Jays to the Braves as teams that the talented Escobar has aggravated to the point that they want to be rid of him. His contract pays him $10 million in 2013-2014 and he has an option for 2015. He’ll get through and might be traded.

Alexei Ramirez, SS—Chicago White Sox

His hitting numbers have taken a nosedive and he’s owed $27.5 million through 2015.

Travis Hafner, DH—Cleveland Indians

He’s got a limited no-trade clause and presumably the team that claims him will be responsible for his $2.75 million buyout, but someone might claim him and hope that he can stay healthy for the last two months of the season (he’s sidelined with a sore back now) and perhaps provide some DH pop.

Casey Kotchman, 1B—Cleveland Indians

As a defensive replacement, there’d be a team to take him.

Joe Mauer, C—Minnesota Twins

He’s getting $23 million annually through 2018. If anyone claimed him, the Twins would pull him back; doubtful anyone will.

Justin Morneau, 1B—Minnesota Twins

With $14 million owed to him for 2013 and that he’s hit better recently, a team might claim him and the Twins would pull him back. If they trade him, it will be in the winter.

Carl Pavano, RHP—Minnesota Twins

No one’s claiming him, but if he proves himself healthy by the end of the month, he’ll be traded.

Jeremy Guthrie, RHP—Kansas City Royals

He’s a free agent at the end of the year and a contender (or a team that thinks they’re a contender—see the Red Sox of Boston or Blue Jays of Toronto) could use him for the stretch.

Jeff Francoeur, RF—Kansas City Royals

He’s owed $6.75 million for 2013. By the time his career is over, Frenchy might’ve played for 12-15 teams. That’s where his career is headed and it’s a major fall from being a Sports Illustrated coverboy and pegged a future megastar.

Bruce Chen, LHP—Kansas City Royals

He’s got a contract for $4.5 million for 2012, but eats innings and can be effective. He’ll get through and will be in decent demand via trade.

Roy Oswalt, RHP—Texas Rangers

Oswalt refused to pitch a third inning of relief on Sunday even though manager Ron Washington asked him to. He’s been mostly bad and is now causing a problem. For a small-town, “humble” guy, he’s doing a great impression of Terrell Owens. The Rangers will keep him around in case they need him, but no one will claim him.

Michael Young, INF/DH—Texas Rangers

As much as he’s respected, the final year of his contract on 2013 pays him $16 million and he’s been bad this season. If he’s claimed, the Rangers would be willing to let him go. He’s got 10 and 5 rights and won’t waive them.

Coco Crisp, OF—Oakland Athletics

The A’s have plenty of outfielders and Crisp is owed $8 million for 2013.

Vernon Wells, OF—Los Angeles Angels

His contract—$42 million for 2013-2014—is toxic.

Dan Haren, RHP—Los Angeles Angels

Haren has a $15.5 million club option and a $3.5 million buyout; he’s having back problems and has been mediocre all season.

Ervin Santana, RHP—Los Angeles Angels

He’s been bad, has a $13 million option that won’t be exercised and a $1 million buyout.

Chone Figgins, INF/OF—Seattle Mariners

Figgins has $8 million guaranteed next season and has batted under .200 in each of the past two seasons. You claim it, you got it.

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American League East—Buy, Sell or Stand Pat?

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You’ll see all the “rumors” floating around, published in newspapers and discussed on blogs, websites and shows. Most of them are fabrications, blown out of proportion or strategically placed factoids by owners, GMs, player agents, players, media members and anyone else with a stake in getting a story out there.

Starting with the American League East, here’s a realistic analysis of what teams should do at the upcoming trading deadline and which players might be available.

New York Yankees

Of course the Yankees are buyers, but what they’re buying and are willing to sell is still unknown. GM Brian Cashman has said he’s not going after any big name starting pitchers. Is that because they don’t want to trade prospects or because their prospects have lost luster throughout baseball?

The Yankees have crafted a case study in diminishing the value of their lauded minor leaguers. They managed to sell their one big asset—Jesus Montero—for a lemon in Michael Pineda and a bent “key” Jose Campos. (Still no updates on the condition of Campos’s elbow, by the way. Have they buried him somewhere?)

Manny Banuelos is also injured and Dellin Betances was demoted from Triple A to Double A because he couldn’t throw strikes.

Teams would take both, but not as the centerpiece for a notable veteran player. As part of a package? Absolutely.

They’d be foolish not to at least check in on Cole Hamels. They’re a more likely suitor for Ryan Dempster. I’d steer clear of Jason Vargas and Wandy Rodriguez (not good ideas for Yankee Stadium); Matt Garza is intriguing buy costly.

They need bullpen help with Grant Balfour, Rafael Betancourt, Brandon League and Joe Thatcher targets to consider.

If I were Cashman, I’d call Diamondbacks’ GM Kevin Towers (a former Cashman assistant) and tell him to hold off on trading Justin Upton in-season because the Yankees will want him over the winter to replace Nick Swisher.

Baltimore Orioles

They should stand pat making only negligible and cheap additions.

While it’s a great story that the Orioles are 45-40 and the doubters of some of the moves made by Dan Duquette have been proven wrong (Jason Hammel has been one of the great, under-the-radar pickups this season), they have to weigh the chances of a playoff spot vs surrendering too much to get mid-season help.

Manny Machado and Dylan Bundy are off the table in trades.

If they can get a starter and an outfielder simply by taking on salary and not giving up much to get them, they should do it. Carlos Quentin for the outfield and Joe Blanton to eat innings. Apart from that, they shouldn’t go crazy for a longshot.

Tampa Bay Rays

It doesn’t look like it’s going to happen for the Rays this year. They’re banking their hopes on Evan Longoria’s return—whenever that’s going to be. The starting pitching that was supposed to be an embarrassment of riches that the rest of baseball envied has fizzled. I expected B.J. Upton to have a massive statistical season in his contract year, but he’s continued being B.J. Upton: aggravating, inconsistent, lazy with flashes of brilliance.

Comebacks such as the one they pulled off last September don’t happen very often.

They should stand pat and listen to offers for Upton.

Boston Red Sox

Fan demand might force them to do something drastic and it’s not going to sell if Ben Cherington and Larry Lucchino pull the old Theo Epstein trick of being in on ginormous deals that never come to pass. The media and radio talk shows are going to want something significant done.

They need to ignore the pleas and stand pat.

This team, bottom line, isn’t very good. They’re dysfunctional in the clubhouse; there’s a leadership vacuum in the front office with multiple voices vying for influence; and their veterans haven’t performed. Trading prospects for a rental starting pitcher or even one that they’ll be able to keep in Garza makes no sense.

Toronto Blue Jays

There’s talk that they’re buyers. There’s talk that they’re sellers. There’s talk that they’re both.

GM Alex Anthopoulos is in on everything and they have the prospects to do something major. Desperate for starting pitching and holding out hope for a late-season playoff run, it’s something to consider when making a move on Garza or Wandy Rodriguez. They’re not far away from being a legitimate contender now and definitely in 2013 and beyond.

But they’ve been on that verge multiple times for the past 10 years and nothing’s happened.

I don’t get the impression that the Brewers are all-in on cleaning house and dealing Zack Greinke. In fact, I’m thinking that unless they totally come apart over the next three weeks, they won’t move him. They Blue Jays would probably be better off shifting focus toward a Randy Wolf or bringing Shaun Marcum back because they’re cheaper.

I’d try to get rid of Adam Lind now that he’s hitting again.

Edwin Encarnacion’s name popped up as being in play. He’s having his career year and still makes mental gaffes that can aggravate the most patient manager. If someone is willing give up a pitcher for him, then do it in a mutually advantageous deal. The Pirates have extra pitching and could use a bat, but I’d be concerned about messing with their current chemistry.

I’d buy or sell within reason with nothing too explosive.

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Somebody Wants You…Somewhere

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Let’s have a look at some players who have worn out their welcomes with their current organizations but could have some use for another club in the second half and possibly beyond.

Adam Lind, 1B—Toronto Blue Jays

Lind was recently recalled from the minors and is 8 for 23 since with 3 homers. 2 of the homers came in one game. He’s guaranteed $7 million so if the Blue Jays are going to get anything for him they’ll either have to eat most of the contract or take back another club’s problem player. He murdered the ball in Triple A after his demotion (.392/.448/.664 in 143 plate appearances with 8 homers); he’ll be 29 on July 17th; maybe he’s a change-of-scenery guy who’ll hit in another uniform.

Brian Matusz, LHP—Baltimore Orioles

His first-glance numbers are dreadful, but he’s a flyball pitcher who does the bulk of his pitching the AL East with the bandboxes of Camden Yards, Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park. Then he has the Blue Jays who swing for the fences in every at bat. Consequentially he gives up a lot of home runs. He walks too many, strikes out too few and has luck reminiscent of someone who’s gotten struck by lightning multiple times. His BAbip last season was .384; this year it’s .335. If he lobbed the ball over the plate he wouldn’t do much worse.

A team with a big park—the Twins, Padres, Dodgers—might want to take a look at Matusz and see if does any better with them.

Kurt Suzuki, C—Oakland Athletics

Time to give some credit to Billy Beane and Bob Melvin for keeping this team competitive and more. Beane ended up swindling the Red Sox by getting Josh Reddick and received a chunk of the farm systems of both the Diamondbacks and Nationals for Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez.

One of the prospects he got from the Nats, catcher Derek Norris, has already helped the A’s win a few games with his bat and glove. That makes the erstwhile everyday catcher Suzuki expendable. He’s due $6.45 million next season and while he hasn’t hit a home run this season, he’s got 15 homer power. He’s have a good year defensively throwing out 37% of the baserunners who’ve tried to steal.

Suzuki’s the type of player who’ll go to a new venue, start hitting and the media and fans will wonder why the A’s got rid of him.

John Lannan, LHP—Washington Nationals

Here’s a case study in burying a useful arm.

The Nats don’t need Lannan, but are paying him $5 million to pitch in Triple A and he’s pitching well. They don’t want to give him away, but they have no place for him on their big league roster. One would think that eventually a team desperate for pitching like the Blue Jays or Royals would give up something the Nats would want for Lannan.

The Blue Jays had Jamie Moyer pitching at Triple A! That’s how desperate they are after all their injuries. (They just released him.)

Gaby Sanchez, 1B—Miami Marlins

Sanchez had almost identical numbers in 2010-2011 with 19 homers and similar slash lines. He was so dreadful this season that he was sent down to Triple A in May, was recalled and still hasn’t hit. When the Marlins acquired Carlos Lee, Sanchez was sent back to the minors where he’ll stay unless he’s traded.

Sanchez is the type of player the Twins should take a chance on.

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The Blue Jays: New Management, Talented Players, Same Mediocre Results

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The Blue Jays have to start winning some games.

Going back to the J.P. Ricciardi years, they’ve been on the verge of something special only to have circumstances on and off the field sabotage them. During that time they were unfortunate enough to be trapped in a division with the Yankees and Red Sox when those clubs were at the height of their rivalry and powers. Then from 2008 onward, they not only had the Yankees and Red Sox to deal with, but the young and hungry Rays rose to prominence as well.

The Ricciardi Blue Jays teams are seen as a retrospective failure in the context of Moneyball because Ricciardi was widely quoted in the book and was the one GM who closely approximated the strategies therein. They also spent money to try and win and didn’t.

Objectively those Blue Jays teams—especially the 2003, 2006 and 2008 squads—would’ve made the playoffs had they been housed in a less imposing division. Sometimes it breaks that way.

Ricciardi was perceived negatively because of Moneyball blowback; due to his un-GM-like proclivity for speaking his mind rather than in the circles favored by the new age GMs; and that he had public dustups (most of his own doing) with media members, players and coaches on his team and others. He made mistakes; he wasn’t a bad GM.

When Ricciardi was fired after the 2009 season, his replacement Alex Anthopoulos immediately made his presence felt with aggressiveness; a less polarizing personality; and fearlessness. He knew the numbers and was also willing to take chances on talented players who might not light up a rotisserie league team, but could contribute to his club in other ways.

The first year of a new regime is generally a freebie but in 2010 as they moved past the days of Ricciardi and the traded Roy Halladay, they rode Jose Bautista’s shocking rise to 54 homers, a power-laden and homer-hungry lineup and a pretty good starting rotation to an 85-77 finish.

Anthopoulos began to put his stamp on the club following 2010 as he hired his own manager, John Farrell, to replace Cito Gaston. He traded for Brett Lawrie; amazingly found a taker for Vernon Wells’s contract while only paying $5 million to cover a portion of it; and signed Bautista to a contract extension.

The 2011 Blue Jays ended at .500. They were a team to watch for 2012.

The original idea was to watch them as they rose in the standings. Instead we’re watching them and wondering why they’re still at .500.

It’s June 14th and they’re sitting at 31-32, tied for last place in the AL East with the Red Sox.

Injuries have robbed them of closer Sergio Santos and starter Brandon Morrow. Kyle Drabek left his start on Wednesday with a popping sensation in his elbow. Adam Lind didn’t hit and was dispatched to the minors, unlikely to return. Colby Rasmus is playing identically to the player who was the rope in a tug-of-war between his former manager with the Cardinals Tony LaRussa and his dad Tony Rasmus. Manager Farrell allows his players to run the bases with abandon and steal bases at odd times.

Are these excuses or are they reasons?

The American League East has five teams that are either over .500 or within one game of .500. But earlier this season, the division was wide open with the Yankees pitching failing them and Mariano Rivera out for the season. The Red Sox were playing terribly and infighting. The Rays lost Evan Longoria for an extended period.

And the Blue Jays didn’t take advantage.

Again.

What should be most galling to the Blue Jays and their fans is that it was the Orioles—that perpetual doormat—that jumped to the top of the division with a stunning run of solid fundamental play and led by a far superior strategic manager to Farrell, the experienced Buck Showalter.

At what point does the Blue Jays’ building and rebuilding end and do expectations and demands replace the mantra of “patience”?

There was enough talent on the Blue Jays during the Ricciardi years that they could’ve made the playoffs 2-3 times with a little better luck and a less difficult division. Now they have as much if not more talent in a weaker division and they remain trapped in the vacancy of mediocrity.

When does it stop?

Eventually the Blue Jays have to get past the “we’re building” excuse and start winning some games; to become a legitimate contender when there’s an extra playoff spot to be won and they have the talent and the opening to win it.

Yet here they are at .500 and looking for that missing piece to put them over the top.

Over the top of what is unknown. Is it over the top of the “mountain” of .500? Or is it over the top of their divisional rivals to make some noise in the regular season as something other than a cool pick for the prognosticators who’ll repeat the process from November to February and fall back to what they are?

I don’t know.

And nor do they.

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The RBI Stat Is Not Worthless

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Because of advanced statistics, the relevance of the run batted in has been diminished to the point where some don’t even want to know how many RBI a player has because they see it as totally irrelevant.

In a sense, I understand their point. RBI are only as good as how many opportunities a player has; he has no control over how many runners are on base when he comes to the plate; no say in whether he has teammates in the lineup who get on base; and doesn’t write the lineup so he can dictate where he’s going to bat or who’s in front of him. Like runs scored, an RBI is accumulated whenever a player hits a home run.

This makes it easy to see the redundancy of the “stat” that Mike and the Mad Dog, Mike Francesa and Christopher Russo, used to use to assess players—their version of “runs created”—calculated by adding together home runs, RBI and runs scored.

It’s not a stat; it’s a simplistic number that meant absolutely nothing.

But there is a place for RBI in dissecting a specific player’s numbers; it’s especially valuable when it’s a player who’s expected to be the main offensive force in his lineup and his numbers don’t quite add up to what logic says they should be.

Jose Bautista is one such player.

How is it possible that a player like Bautista, with 39 homers and a .450 on base percentage only has 91 RBI and 95 runs scored?

Part of the reason, obviously, is that Bautista is playing for a team with a .318 cumulative on-base percentage.

In comparison, Adrian Gonzalez of the Red Sox (playing for one of the league leaders in on-base percentage at .348) has 16 fewer homers than Bautista, but 103 RBI and 92 runs scored.

There are other aspects to consider.

The Red Sox have stolen 94 bases and been caught stealing 33 times—11th in the league. The Blue Jays have stolen 113 bases and been caught 43 times. The Red Sox don’t steal bases capriciously just for the sake of them; the Blue Jays run the bases with abandon and it costs them baserunners; baserunners that might be on base in front of Bautista at some point.

For most of the season, Bautista had Yunel Escobar and Corey Patterson batting in front of him. Escobar gets on base; Patterson doesn’t.

Gonzalez has had Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia batting in front of him. Ellsbury with his .372 OBP and Pedroia at .396 provide greater opportunities for Gonzalez to drive in runs.

What of the lineup protection provided for each player?

Stat people diminish the concept of lineup protection, but despite so-called evidence that there’s no correlation between performance and the hitters batting behind a Gonzalez or Bautista, looking at the players who’ve batted behind each and you see Gonzalez has had David Ortiz and Kevin Youkilis alternating between batting fourth and fifth; Bautista has had Adam Lind and the likes of J.P. Arencibia; Aaron Hill; and Juan Rivera “protecting” him.

Their results with runners on base go as follows:

Bautista:

Split G PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB BAbip tOPS+ sOPS+
RISP 91 150 94 22 5 0 4 42 50 29 .234 .500 .415 .915 39 .281 76 153
120 291 242 74 8 2 26 26 48 48 .306 .423 .678 1.100 164 .286 100 207
Men On 118 261 194 61 14 0 13 64 61 44 .314 .479 .588 1.067 114 .343 99 190
1– 88 111 100 39 9 0 9 22 11 15 .390 .450 .750 1.200 75 .395 118 221
-2- 51 52 33 6 1 0 0 4 18 12 .182 .481 .212 .693 7 .286 40 94
–3 28 29 16 4 0 0 1 9 13 2 .250 .586 .438 1.024 7 .231 99 171
12- 29 33 23 4 2 0 2 10 9 11 .174 .424 .522 .946 12 .200 76 171
1-3 17 15 12 5 1 0 1 8 2 3 .417 .533 .750 1.283 9 .500 136 226
-23 16 15 6 3 1 0 0 9 8 0 .500 .733 .667 1.400 4 .429 168 260
123 6 6 4 0 0 0 0 2 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 .000 -100 -100
on 1st, lt 2 out 84 115 96 39 9 0 11 36 17 17 .406 .487 .844 1.331 81 .400 141 243
on 3rd, lt 2 out 34 38 23 9 0 0 1 22 12 1 .391 .553 .522 1.074 12 .333 105 160
on 3rd, 2 out 25 27 15 3 2 0 1 6 11 5 .200 .556 .533 1.089 8 .222 107 219
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/3/2011.


Gonzalez:

Split G PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB BAbip tOPS+ sOPS+
RISP 101 192 162 54 12 0 3 74 25 34 .333 .411 .463 .874 75 .392 86 139
129 295 268 88 20 1 15 15 24 47 .328 .390 .578 .968 155 .354 101 171
Men On 128 317 279 99 20 2 8 88 31 51 .355 .416 .527 .943 147 .404 98 156
1– 105 125 117 45 8 2 5 14 6 17 .385 .424 .615 1.039 72 .421 116 181
-2- 57 76 65 18 5 0 1 15 11 18 .277 .382 .400 .782 26 .370 67 117
–3 20 22 15 8 0 0 1 14 5 1 .533 .591 .733 1.324 11 .467 179 245
12- 38 44 42 16 3 0 1 19 2 6 .381 .409 .524 .933 22 .429 96 167
1-3 26 22 19 7 3 0 0 9 2 4 .368 .409 .526 .935 10 .438 96 140
-23 14 14 8 1 0 0 0 7 4 1 .125 .357 .125 .482 1 .111 11 24
123 14 14 13 4 1 0 0 10 1 4 .308 .357 .385 .742 5 .444 58 108
on 1st, lt 2 out 92 139 129 53 13 1 4 35 7 17 .411 .446 .620 1.066 80 .450 123 179
on 3rd, lt 2 out 35 41 30 14 4 0 1 30 6 4 .467 .488 .700 1.188 21 .433 148 178
on 3rd, 2 out 25 31 25 6 0 0 0 10 6 6 .240 .387 .240 .627 6 .316 39 84
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/3/2011.

This too can be taken out of context, but Bautista is batting under .200 with two runners on base; .250 with the bases loaded; and .390 with one runner on.

Gonzalez is batting .385 with one man on base and a ridiculous .533 with the bases loaded. Gonzalez has had almost 60 more plate appearances with runners on base than Bautista has.

Like most statistics, it’s easy to misinterpret the value depending on how it’s used. If RBI is taken as an end unto himself by saying, “wow, X has 20 more RBI than Y!” or “X should be the MVP because he had 135 RBI when Y had 101”, but it ignores other bits of information that could be just as or more important than an easy statistic to reference as validation for a successful season.

It’s only worthless if it’s taken wrongly; but that doesn’t make it entirely worthless when used as part of the big picture and is interpreted by one who knows baseball and doesn’t take reading a stat sheet to be expertise.

Because it’s not.

//

2012 Starts Now For The Blue Jays

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The Blue Jays can and will contend for a playoff spot in 2012 if they make smart personnel decisions this winter.

Here’s what they have to do:

Get a legitimate closer.

GM Alex Anthopoulos is notoriously close-to-the-vest in how he runs his team; there’s no ironclad “strategy” of using stats or scouting; he doesn’t betray his hand and acts stealthily and aggressively in making his moves.

He may or may not care what’s said about him, but he doesn’t allow it to interfere with what he does.

This past winter, Anthopoulos signed two former closers in Octavio Dotel and Jon Rauch; he also traded for Frank Francisco.

In the logistical sense, they were all interchangeable and were signed to short-term deals to preclude widespread complaining about not being the closer. But if the Blue Jays want to be taken seriously next season, they have to get someone better and more trustworthy than Rauch or Francisco. (Dotel was traded to the Cardinals at the end of July.)

The market will be flush with established closers via free agency and trade. Heath Bell, Francisco Rodriguez, Jonathan Papelbon (who worked with Blue Jays manager John Farrell with the Red Sox) and Ryan Madson are all free agents or potential free agents. Jonathan Broxton is a probable non-tender; and Joakim Soria is a trade candidate.

All are worthy of consideration and are better than Rauch/Francisco.

Find a veteran anchor for the starting rotation.

The Blue Jays let a future Cy Young Award winner get away.

No. I’m not talking about Roy Halladay. I’m talking about Chris Carpenter.

To be fair, when the Blue Jays non-tendered Carpenter under J.P. Ricciardi’s regime, Carpenter was injured and hadn’t been particularly effective; the talent that made him a 1st round draft choice wasn’t going to be fulfilled until he was streamlined—mentally, mechanically and physically—under Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan with the Cardinals. The Blue Jays wanted to bring him back for less money, but he smartly went to the Cardinals, rehabbed his injury for a year and became a star when he got healthy.

Carpenter has a $15 million option for 2012, but he’s a 10-and-5 player so he can veto any trade; for him to waive it, the trading team would presumably have to give him a contract extension.

The Cardinals are in major flux, but if they’re looking for salary relief and want to bolster a sagging farm system, they could exercise the option rather than pay Carpenter’s $1 million buyout and trade him. This would all have to be done within a rapid series of maneuvers to make it work.

Shedding that $15 million and trading him would give the Cardinals room to re-sign Albert Pujols; re-signing Pujols might be the key to LaRussa coming back for another year; Adam Wainwright will be back next season and they could bring back Joel Pineiro to fill Carpenter’s slot and hope reuniting with Duncan will return Pineiro to his Cardinals form.

The Blue Jays have prospects to trade.

Carpenter leading a rotation with Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow and Kyle Drabek would be superior to most of baseball if the younger pitchers fulfill their potential; Carpenter could teach them how.

Be flexible and think outside-the-box.

They don’t have the cash to go after Jose Reyes and they signed Yunel Escobar to a contract extension; but Brett Lawrie‘s ability to play third and second base allows the Blue Jays to go after a David Wright.

The recently acquired Kelly Johnson is a free agent, but if they offer him arbitration he’d probably take it. An infield of Adam Lind, Johnson, Escobar and Lawrie can mash—whether it’d be adequate defensively for the pitching staff would have to be determined.

The Mets probably aren’t going to trade Wright, but the Blue Jays have a lot of young pitching and outfield bats. Anthopoulos thinks outside-the-box and goes after players who “probably aren’t” getting traded. Sometimes the players who “probably aren’t” getting traded do get traded and extract a major chunk of a trading team’s farm system. (See Ubaldo Jimenez.)

Alter the strategy on the bases and with the lineup.

The Blue Jays run the bases with abandon. If they’re doing it at the bottom of the lineup to try and make something happen, it’s an arguable premise; doing it in front of a basher like Jose Bautista is a mistake.

Without doing any deep statistical research into the matter, there’s no excuse for Bautista to have 37 homers and only 83 RBI.

Before Corey Patterson was traded, he was batting in front of Bautista for much of the season; Patterson steals bases, but has a woeful on base percentage. Escobar also batted in front of Bautista and gets on base at a good clip. Since his arrival, Colby Rasmus has been batting second with Bautista third.

A better plan would be batting Bautista fourth and having Escobar lead off; Johnson would bat second; Lawrie third; and Rasmus and Lind behind Bautista.

The haphazard stolen bases also have to stop.

Temper expectations and idol worship.

There was recent talk of Anthopoulos being a “genius”.

Yah. Well. Billy Beane was a genius once too. So was Theo Epstein. So was Jack Zduriencik.

Are you getting my point?

Listening to sports talk radio on Friday, Jim Mora Jr. was being interviewed about the upcoming NFL season and he subtly hit back at the notion of Patriots coach Bill Belichick being a “genius” saying something to the tune of, “he’s a good football coach; a genius is someone who comes up with life-saving vaccines”.

He’s right.

The Blue Jays have been built the right way so far, but expectations and idolatry have doomed even the smartest people with the most coherent and logical plans.

They’re in a great position now to take the next step, but keeping from doing something stupid isn’t as easy as it sounds.

If they follow some incarnation of the plan I laid out (or something similar), they could be a playoff team in 2012.

If….

//

Teetering

Hot Stove

Barring anything miraculous in the positive or negative sense, there are teams that we pretty much know their collective fates.

The Red Sox and Phillies are at the top of the food chain; the Yankees, Braves and White Sox can expect to be good; the Royals are basing their entire future and present on the fact that everyone worships their packed farm system—they’ll see you in 2014, just you wait!!

The Mets know where they’re at; the Pirates are the Pirates.

But other clubs have pressing questions of the make-or-break variety; questions that could lead to their rise or fall, depending on the answers.

Here are those teams and things can go right…or wrong in 2011.

Toronto Blue Jays

They’ve done a lot of stuff, but I don’t necessarily know if they’ve gotten better from last season.

Stacked with young pitching, they’ve signed or acquired veteran relievers Octavio Dotel, Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco to augment young starters Brandon Morrow, Kyle Drabek, et al.

With the departures of Vernon Wells, John Buck and Lyle Overbay, they lost 71 homers and replaced them with nothing but hope. Hope that the atrocious seasons from Aaron Hill and Adam Lind were nothing more than blips; hope that Travis Snider will hit the way he did in the minors; hope that Edwin Encarnacion and Yunel Escobar won’t join forces to send new manager John Farrell to test the benefits of the Canadian health care system’s mental program; and hope that the young pitchers improve rather than stagnate or regress.

The Blue Jays could easily fall to 75 wins or rise to 90.

Minnesota Twins

The departures of Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, Jon Rauch and Brian Fuentes have gutted imperative parts of their bullpen. Joe Nathan is returning from Tommy John surgery and Matt Capps is still there for the late innings, but the foundation of their bullpen was based on the above names—names that are no longer there. The Twins won with competent, mediocre starting pitching and a deep, reliable bullpen.

They still have the mediocre starting pitching, but without the bullpen, they could have a problem.

Justin Morneau is a question mark returning from his concussion; Delmon Young had his career year in 2010; they’re replacing Orlando Hudson and J.J. Hardy with Alexi Casilla and, the biggest wild card, Japanese import Tsuyoshi Nishioka.

I don’t care what the scouting reports say about a player coming over from Japan, you never know what you’re getting until they play in North America. You could be getting Hideki Irabu; you could be getting Hideki Matsui. You don’t know.

If the Twins bullpen falters, that’s going to damage their starting pitching—starting pitching that isn’t all that great to begin with. With the new middle infield, they could take a drastic tumble. They’re also in a division with two good teams in the White Sox and Tigers.

Florida Marlins

The front office has had unreasonably high expectations in the past and it, along with the enabling of diva-like behavior from Hanley Ramirez, combined to cost Fredi Gonzalez his job as manager at mid-season, 2010.

They have an impressive array of talent, but there’s something…off about them. Wes Helms at third base? Chris Coghlan in center field? 3-years, $18 million for John Buck? Trading for relievers Edward Mujica and Ryan Webb when, in the past, the Marlins set the standard for building a bullpen the right way by finding cheap, discarded arms?

Javier Vazquez is a good pickup for the deep rotation as he joins Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez.

That division is a nightmare with the Phillies likely to disappear into the distance a month into the season and the Braves probably the second best team in the National League.

Manager Edwin Rodriguez is on a 1-year deal and the club has had an on-again, off-again flirtation with Bobby Valentine. Owner Jeffrey Loria wants a “name” manager to helm his club heading into the new ballpark in 2012 and Ozzie Guillen, another object of his desires, just had his contract option for 2012 exercised by the White Sox.

Rodriguez did a good job after taking over for Gonzalez, but he’s not box office.

Like a prospective romance that for a variety of reasons all parties insist is over, Valentine and the Marlins are still eyeing each other lustily. Unless the Marlins are right in the thick of the playoff race in June, don’t—do….not—be surprised to see Valentine managing the Marlins.

San Diego Padres

The starting pitching has been compromised with the departures of Jon Garland and Kevin Correia; they still have Clayton Richard and Mat Latos at the top, but after that?

I dunno…

Then they dealt away Mujica and Webb for Cameron Maybin who’s done nothing to justify his top prospect status as of yet—he’s not a prospect anymore, it’s either do it or don’t.

Who knows how the loss of Yorvit Torrealba—a terrific handler of pitchers—will affect the staff.

The offense is devastated by the trade of Adrian Gonzalez; they brought in Maybin, Jason Bartlett, Orlando Hudson, Brad Hawpe and Jorge Cantu.

Again, I dunno…

“I dunno” is not cutting it in a rough division.

The Padres could fall from 90 wins to 75 if their pitching doesn’t perform.