Monday, May 25, 2015

Is Jose Bautista's Injury Worse Than We Think?


It's been nearly five weeks; five weeks since Bautista attempted to throw out Delmon Young at first base. Five weeks since Jose Bautista has played in the field. And for the past five weeks, the Blue Jays have been looking for answers.

Over a month after the initial diagnosis of a shoulder strain and Jose Bautista has yet to field his position in right field. Although he's been contributing offensively as the team's DH (.253/.387/.470 in 26 games), the club has sorely missed him in the outfield.

To onlookers, it might appear a little suspicious when a player is still able to hit and yet can't reportedly even pick up a baseball ... let alone throw it. One thing is for certain; Jose Bautista is not playing at 100%.

If given the choice, I think most would take Jose Bautista at 75% rather than not at all. But since he's been the predominant DH for the past five weeks, the team has been forced to come up with several alternatives on the diamond, most which have not panned out.

The absence of Jose Bautista in right field has created a huge domino effect. Since Bautista has been relegated to DH, that's forced Edwin Encarnacion to be the everyday first baseman, which in turn has left Justin Smoak on the bench.

And in the outfield, the Blue Jays defensive alignment of Valencia/Colabello/Pillar/Carrera has left a lot to be desired. So the Jays have learned their lesson the hard way; even having Bautista in the lineup has created several holes.

It's also kind of worrisome that Jose Bautista's symptoms really have not improved over the last five weeks. There hasn't been any timetable on his return to the field; mostly his status as an outfielder has been in limbo.

The latest update was that he received a cortisone shot on Sunday, but to me that really only seems like a band-aid solution for what may be a bigger problem at hand.

Do the Blue Jays know something we don't? Is Bautista's injury worse than we think?

If it were as simple as having Jose go on the disabled list and rehab his ailing shoulder, the Blue Jays surely would've done that by now. The club hasn't indicated Bautista suffered any structural damage to his shoulder, but having him hit surely hasn't aided in his recovery.

My fear is that Jose Bautista's injury is worse than a simple shoulder strain. And the reason he's still sticking around is either A.) Bautista himself is insistent on staying in the lineup and willing to do anything to contribute, or B.) the club knows more than what's been reported.

Losing a hitter the calibre of Jose Bautista would be detrimental to the Blue Jays season, and I can certainly see why they'd be hesitant to put him on the disabled list; whether it be for the minimum 15 days or even longer. But with Bautista playing hurt, it scares me that they may have done more harm than good.

Cortisone injections are not indicative of a player on the mend; they're given to athletes who are playing through a great deal of pain and need some much-needed relief. In the case of Jose Bautista, it only appears to be a temporary fix with four months left in the regular season.

It isn't as simple as patching up Jose Bautista up for the home stretch of the regular season. The Blue Jays need Bautista to be healthy and contribute both at the plate and in the field for the final two-thirds of the season.

In hindsight, it might have been better to shut down Jose Bautista and target a 4-6 week timetable for his return. However, for a team that had already lost so many of their key players to injury, one really can't fault the Jays for doing what they did.

Given the overall poor play of the American League East right now, this is an opportune juncture where the Blue Jays absolutely need to make a definitive decision on the status of Jose Bautista.

If Bautista were to hypothetically spend 4-6 weeks on the disabled list, having Jose Reyes and Devon Travis back might slightly negate losing contributions from their starting right fielder over the coming weeks.

For some strange reason, it almost seems easier to plan a lineup without Jose Bautista in it, rather than find a way to shoehorn guys like Chris Colabello and Ezequiel Carrera into lineup and around an ailing Jose Bautista.

I don't question Jose Bautista's toughness for a second. Even with a shoulder injury, he's still managed to crank out home runs and contribute better than league-average offense.

Surgery is obviously a last resort in this scenario, but the lack of progress in five weeks since Bautista's initial injury makes me wonder whether the club is just biding time. Unfortunately for a team looking to contend, time is not a liberty they can afford.

Image via Getty Images

Friday, May 22, 2015

Flashback Friday: Charlie O'Brien


A great catcher can make all the difference.

That's what the Toronto Blue Jays are finding with Russell Martin. And the 1996-1997 Toronto Blue Jays could also attest to the very same thing.

For this week's Flashback Friday, we take a look back at one of the most underrated catchers in Blue Jays Franchise history; none other than Charlie O'Brien.

This feature will mostly focus on O'Brien's history as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays, but through his recently published book, he's now known as "The Cy Young Catcher". O'Brien caught 13 Cy Young Award winners over the course of his 15 year career.

Four of those Cy Young Awards were consecutive; Greg Maddux in 1994 and 1995, then Pat Hentgen in 1996 and Roger Clemens in 1997. Through Baseball Prospectus, we know that Charlie O'Brien ranks among the Top 10 catchers in runs value (Russell Martin ranks fifth on that list).

In just two seasons with the Blue Jays, O'Brien managed to amass 3.9 WAR; good enough for seventh in Blue Jays franchise history for catchers. Charlie O'Brien still has the single highest DEF ranking for a Blue Jays catcher; in 1997 he posted 20.1 DEF.

Most of his overall worth came from O'Brien's spectacular defensive play. Much like Russell Martin, Charlie O'Brien was revered for his pitch framing and his ability to steal strikes.

So how did O'Brien hone his craft and gain a reputation as a strike-stealer around the league? Charlie provides explains in this great quote from Catching Maddux:
"I wouldn't move. I tried to sit there and be still. Some catchers are kind of herky-jerky and stab for the ball. Lunge their bodies. All of this jostling can make the umpire think that the pitcher is off target. That the catcher is reaching for the ball outside of the strike zone.

But, if the umpire doesn't perceive any movement, he may think that the pitcher hit his target. You improve your chances of him calling it a strike."
Charlie O'Brien was also tremendous at holding runners, as he nailed 55 of 120 would-be basestealers in two seasons with the Blue Jays, which translated to a 46% caught stealing percentage.

O'Brien may have been instrumental in Pat Hentgen's two best seasons. O'Brien served as Hentgen's personal catcher during the 1996 and 1997 campaigns. Coincidentally, Hentgen enjoyed two of the best seasons of his career, culminating with a Cy Young Award in 1996.

Aside from his stellar work behind the plate, Charlie O'Brien was famous for introducing the hockey mask style of helmets for catchers, which is still widely adopted today.

O'Brien had to overcome several hurdles in the design and implementation of the new mask, but close to season's end in 1996, he was using the new mask in official MLB games. Popular Mechanics chronicles the design of the mask.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

GIF: Russell Martin Jumps Into the Dugout Like Super Mario


In case you missed it earlier tonight, Russell Martin tried to make an interesting play by the Angels dugout. He used the railing in front of the bench to vault himself into the air and luckily handed safely. But maybe he was just trying to get to World 1-2?

Check out the Super-Mario inspired GIF or the original below.

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