Thursday, March 31, 2011

The BJH Guide to the Blue Jays Home Opener

By
Image courtesy of Daylife via Getty Images
There is no bigger day for drunken baseball debauchery in the city of Toronto than the Blue Jays Home Opener. It's like Christmas for baseball fans; where we all finally get to open the gift we've been waiting 6 long months to unwrap.

In preparation for the biggest baseball day of the year, there are certain things fans must keep in mind when heading to the Rogers Centre this Friday.

Believe it or not, there are some unwritten rules to help you have a better Home Opener experience. The Opening Day Guide that the Drunk Jays Fans put together a few years ago is still an excellent primer, but I thought I would take my own little twist on it.

Transportation
Image courtesy of The Star
Unless you have the patience of a Tibetan monk, avoid driving to the game at all costs. If you're like me and coming in from out of town, you're best off either taking the Go Train or the subway.

The downside of taking the Go Train is the trains only travel every 60 minutes at night, so depending on when the game actually ends, you could be waiting up to an hour for the next train home.

Lately, I've been parking at Yorkdale Mall and taking the subway down to the Rogers Centre. Depending on traffic on the 401, you could hit some gridlock before you even get to the mall, so plan for traffic accordingly.

If you're on the east end of town and taking the subway, rather than getting off with the droves of Blue Jays fans at Union Station, get off at the St. Andrew Station and walk west on King Street, then take John down to the Rogers Centre.

I can't say for certain if that's actually any faster than getting off at Union Station and just taking the Skywalk to the Rogers Centre, but it's definitely a lot less claustrophobic getting off at the St. Andrew Station.

Taking this route also gives you the opportunity to grab some street meat on the way if you need a quick bite before you go into the dome.

Getting Past the Gatekeeper
Image courtesy of Flickr user PinkMoose
If you haven't already lost your marbles in transit to the Rogers Centre, then you should collect your bearings and head for the closest gate.

I'm sure you know by now that the gate number on your ticket is merely a suggestion. You are not required to enter at Gate 5 for example, it's just the closest gate to your seat.

However, droves of fans tend to congregate around the gates closet to Bremner (which includes Gates 5-9), so you might want to avoid that area.

I usually just come in through Game 2 which is at the northeast corner of the dome. It may be a bit of a hike depending on where your seat is located, but I'd rather trek through the Rogers Centre where I can grab a drink or stop for a bathroom break as opposed to waiting outside the dome.

For those who are feeling a little adventuresome and are trying to sneak liquor into the game, do so at your own discretion. You may get patted down by security on the way in and you may not, but I'm assuming the busier gates will probably let more people through untouched just to ease the congestion. 

Pre and Post Game Bars
Image courtesy of FreePhotoOfTheDay.com
As with any event, the closer you are to the epicentre of the action, the busier things are going to be. This means your bars in the immediate vicinity like St. Louis Bar & Grill, Hoops, the Loose Moose and Wayne Gretzky's will fill up very quickly.

And just forget about getting into Real Sports altogether because it's probably not even going to happen.

If you're looking for a bar or pub where you can actually sit down and have a few pints, I'd suggest heading north a few blocks or two and try the Elephant and Castle at King & Simcoe.

One word of caution when looking for pubs north of the Rogers Centre; I remember once we went to Fionn MacCool's on University after the game, only to discover that bars in the financial district close at 11pm.

I don't know if that applies for Friday nights as well, but there's nothing worse than just settling into a pitcher only to find out you have to vacate the bar in 20 minutes.

To be honest, I'm not all that familiar with the "hole in the wall" bars in downtown Toronto, so definitely get out there and check out whichever pub you can find. Or just defer to the experts on pre and post game bars, the Drunk Jays Fans.

Food and Drink
Image courtesy of The Baseball Collector
Most folks will probably have had a few pops by the time they enter the Rogers Centre, and rightfully so if they're looking to keep that buzz going throughout the evening.

I find the lines to get beer on Opening Day are absolutely ridiculous, so if you don't mind missing a few innings just to get some suds, then have at it. To me though, it's just not worth it to shell out $11 bucks for a beer.

You might get lucky and one of the beer vendors could make their way over to your section, but they usually get bombarded in one particular area and might not even make their way up to your row with enough beers.

Not to sound too brash, but if your primary reason for going to the Blue Jays Home Opener is to get loaded, then you should probably just go to a bar.

With food, it's generally the same rule; you're going to be waiting a long time to grab a $5 dollar hot dog or any other overpriced provisions from the food stands. If you can tie yourself over until after the game, by all means do so.

The Name of the Game: Have Fun! 

When it all boils down to it, most of the people at the Rogers Centre will be there for the same reason - to watch some baseball and to have a good time. And after being cooped up for six months without baseball, people are bound to get a little crazy.

So be patent on Friday, as things will obviously take a little longer at the Home Opener than they would on a normal game. Anticipate lines to get into the Rogers Centre, lines at the concession stands, the washrooms, and probably to get into bars afterwards.

It will no doubt be a great experience on Friday what will all the pre-game ceremonies to honour Roberto Alomar, Pat Gillick, and Jose Bautista.

And then of course there's the game, which regardless of the score, it will just be great to finally have the Blue Jays back in town. Have a Happy Home Opener, Blue Jays Fans!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

We No Speak Encarnacion (The Edwin Encarnacion Song)

By


2011 could be a very big year for Edwin Encarnacion; one in which he may emerge as the next star from the shadows, much like Jose Bautista did in 2010.

Of course, every up and coming superstar needs their own customized song, so I present to you "We No Speak Encarnacion (The Edwin Encarnacion Song)".

I believe it was Jordan Bastian who associated EE with the infamous Encarnacion clip from Nacho Libre, so I had to work that infamous classic line from the movie into this song.

And you can't talk about Edwin Encarnacion without Buck Martinez' interesting pronunciation of his last name, so Buck also makes an auto-tuned appearance in this video as well as Jack Black.

Just in case you really enjoy "We No Speak Encarnacion", you can even download the song for free. Hopefully by season's end, we'll all be speaking a little more Encarnacion!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Juan Flew Over the Blue Jays Nest

By
Image courtesy of Daylife via Getty Images
He was third wheel the Vernon Wells trade; the often forgotten man included in the deal from Los Angeles to Toronto.

Considering how fast and furious that trade was, it never really seemed like he was going to spend much time in a Blue Jays uniform. In fact, I bet there are some who are surprised he hasn't been traded already; myself included.

Nothing against Juan Rivera the player, but it felt like he was "just passing through"; destined to be dealt by the trade deadline or walk a free agent by the end of the season.

Some may have rather Juan Rivera just flew right over the Blue Jays nest and landed on another team. All those things considered, he could end up flying under the radar and become a very valuable member of this team in 2011.

Last week I noticed something on the Blue Jays Facebook page that said according to Bloomberg Sports, Juan Rivera was the best sleeper pick on the Blue Jays roster.

Bloomberg projects Rivera to hit 18 home runs and score 54 runs this year. Just to compare, I decided to take a look at how others like Marcel, Bill James and Rotochamp are projecting Juan Rivera for this season:

Projector AB R HR RBI SB AVG OBP SLG
Marcel 444 56 17 63 2 .259 .311 .426
Bill James 381 46 15 55 1 .257 .313 .430
Rotochamp 433 57 17 57 1 .275 .330 .439
Bloomberg 54 18

These numbers aren't too bad for somebody the Blue Jays didn't anticipate having on the roster prior to the Vernon Wells trade. And by all accounts, Juan Rivera has a great outfield arm as well and can still contribute defensively.

If these projections are on par, a .310 on base percentage is actually pretty decent for your number eight hitter. Save for maybe Brett Gardner, I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a better bottom of the lineup hitter in the AL East than Juan Rivera.

A solid first half could make Juan Rivera a very attractive commodity at the trade deadline. Or if he plays out the year with the Blue Jays, then I'm sure Alex Anthopoulos would be very pleased to net a draft pick if Rivera can attain Type B status.

There's no question that Rivera is only here for the short term, but the ripple effects of his play could be felt long term if the Blue Jays can pull off another Yunel Escobar-esque trade with the right team at the trade deadline.

Prior to Spring Training, it felt as though Juan Rivera was like the old dog people were weary of taking home. Well, this old dog may still have some tricks left in him yet.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Baseball is Still Alive and Well in Toronto

By
Image from Opening Day 2008 courtesy of Chris Creamer's Sports Logos
If someone came up to me and said that Toronto isn't a baseball town, I'd tell them to open their eyes and see that baseball is still alive and well. In fact, I think there's about 50,000 people who would say the very same thing.

This of course is coming off the heels of the announcement that the Blue Jays Home Opener this Friday is officially sold out. Home Openers have sold out before, but they haven't sold out this quickly in recent memory.

I think this is significant news considering the Blue Jays haven't sold out a Home Opener in quite a while, and according to Senior VP of Business Operations Steve Brooks they haven't sold out this early since the early to late nineties.

You definitely could tell there was going to be a big crowd when there were only single tickets remaining for Opening Day at the beginning of the month. Frankly, I was a little surprised to see tickets sell that fast.

So what can we attribute this sudden surge in ticket sales to? I believe it truly signals a renewed sense of optimism for the Toronto Blue Jays. Despite the worry last season about the drop in attendance at the Rogers Centre, things seem to be on the upswing.

Even though they're coming off a surprising 85 win season, last year's win total is irrelevant. It's all about the bigger picture that Alex Anthopoulos and the Blue Jays are working towards and that's building a winning team.

Another possibility for the renewed interest in the team may even stem from the excitement generated by one particular player; the one most recently locked up to a 5-year/$65 million dollar contract.

I don't want to say Jose Bautista is single-handedly going to people to the ballpark, but I think it helps when you have last year's home run champion on the team, and he'll be sticking around for the next five years.

After all, the Blue Jays are having a Jose Bautista Bobblehead Day just a few days after Opening Day,  so that has to stand for something. And I wouldn't be surprised to see the attendance for that game north of 30,000 people as well.

The news of the Blue Jays Home Opener sell out has to be encouraging for the organization, even if there's a huge decline in attendance the following afternoon.

The past two years, the drop-off from the Home Opener to the next game has been 55 percent in 2010 and 65 percent in 2009. The last time the Blue Jays had a Home Opener on a Friday night, attendance only dipped 30 percent to the next game.

I don't think the attendance drop-off will be quite as significant as previous years though because the rest of the series takes place over the weekend, which usually draws fairly well.

In the grand scheme of things, the Blue Jays Home Opener is just one game out of 82 played this season at home. It doesn't dictate how the attendance for the rest of the season will play out, but it's definitely a step in the right direction.

No matter what the organization does, ultimately it's a winning product that will keep the fans coming back. While there's a core of fans that are extremely loyal to the Toronto Blue Jays, there's no substitute to bring the masses to the dome than a team that's a contender year in and year out.

If things keep progressing the way they are, I don't think it'll be very long before the Blue Jays start selling out games other than the Home Opener.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Mighty Morphin' Starting Rotation

By
Go, go starting rotation!

Out of all the possible combinations of the Blue Jays starting five to begin the year, who could have imagined it would end up being Ricky Romero, Kyle Drabek, Brett Cecil, Jesse Litsch and Jo-Jo Reyes?

It just goes to show you how unforeseen circumstances like Brandon Morrow's injury can change things. Out of all the candidates, Morrow's trip to the DL opened the door the most for Kyle Drabek and Jo-Jo Reyes.

I figured the Blue Jays would at least give Reyes a shot at cracking the roster since he's out of options, but I never anticipated it would be as a starting pitcher. It was assumed that he would break camp as a reliever since Jo-Jo never really had much success in the big leagues as a starter.

Jo-Jo Reyes might just be the next Dana Eveland, or even the next Ted Lilly. Maybe as the Tao of Stieb suggests, it really could be the Summer of Jo-Jo. And if that falls through, there's always the Summer of George!

At first, the revamped starting rotation confused me a little bit, but then I realized it's merely to split up the left-handers. The way it's currently set up is lefty-righty-lefty-rigthy-lefty. There also might be a dosey-do at the end.

Fret not friends, because the order of which they start doesn't really reflect the ranking of pitchers. Brian Tallet was penciled in as the number two starter last year after all, so that just goes to show you how much weight that argument carries.

If Brandon Morrow only misses one start as Bruce Walton indicated, then he should be ready to make the trip to Los Angeles for the series opener against the Angels on April 8th. If Morrow slots back in at the number two spot, that either moves Drabek to the end of the line or back to the minors.

That seems like the best route to take at this point; Kyle Drabek is essentially holding Brandon Morrow's spot warm until he returns. In the meantime, if any other starters go down then Drabek will be there to fill the gap.

However, there's no sense in keeping him in the rotation if there are five other guys that are healthy and doing their jobs. Unless Jo-Jo Reyes or Jesse Litsch pitch themselves off the team, the Blue Jays should try to limit Drabek's service time as much as possible.

Over the course of the season, I have no doubts that the starting rotation will continue to morph and will take many different shapes. Just so long as the end game is an effective pitching staff, that's all that really matters.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Uncertain Road Ahead for Aaron Hill

By
It's been a rough go for Aaron Hill these past few years as he's taken his bumps and bruises both literally and figuratively with the Toronto Blue Jays.

A concussion in 2008 sidelined Hill indefinitely and his immediate future with the club was put in question. He returned in 2009 and had an unprecedented season; arguably one of the best offensive campaigns by a Blue Jays second baseman.

Last season is where it all seemingly came apart; despite a 26 home run season, nothing seemed to click for Hill at the plate. A batting average just above the Mendoza Line was a cause for concern for most of the 2010 campaign.

Granted, every baseball player's career has its highs and lows, but it feels like it's been more lows than highs these past few seasons with Aaron Hill. Unfortunately, Hill's timing to have an off-year couldn't be worse.

Over the comings days and months the Blue Jays have a very important decision to make about Aaron Hill; do they exercise his club options, or do they let him walk a free agent after 2012?

The clock is ticking as the team has until April 1st to exercise all three club options for 2012/2013/2014 or they can pass and only activate the options for 2012/2013 or just pick up the 2012 option.

One person who has always had a very strong opinion on Aaron Hill has been Peter DeMarco. I'm sure you've seem him commenting around the blogosphere, and considering the thoroughness of his comments, I figured it was only a matter of time before he started his own blog "Some Thoughts On Baseball".

After Hill's breakout 2009 season, some may have scoffed at Peter's suggestion back then to trade him, but now it's looking more and more like it was the right decision to sell high on Hill.

I asked Peter what he thought the Blue Jays should do with Aaron Hill. He begins with Richard Griffin's explanation of Aaron Hill's contract specifics:
“Hill is entering the final season of a four-year guaranteed deal that he signed just prior to ‘08. The unique nature of the contract — signed before it was really necessary in terms of service years — lies in the imaginative option packages that were built in by then-assistant GM Alex Anthopoulos. The three option years for 2012-14 are for $8 million in each of the first two years and $10 million for the final year. 

Basically, the Jays by April 1 must pick up the three option years. If they choose not to, it’s not over. They will have another chance to pick up two years, 2012-13, at $16 million. That decision must be made within five days of the end of the ‘11 World Series or else Hill enters the free-agent pool with next year’s class. All the advantages are now siding with the Jays.”
Peter: Just to clarify, my opinion regarding trading Hill after the 2009 season had more to do with the value of Aaron Hill and the state of the Jays at that point in time.

I felt that the Blue Jays should at the very least explore what they could get in return for Aaron Hill because his value was most likely at an all time high, as he had a very team friendly contract, he was coming off an incredible season and he was in the “prime years” of his career.

Additionally the Blue Jays had just traded Roy Halladay and I figured it would most likely be a few years before the team would be a serious competitor for a division title, so why not try to acquire more young talent to build a core around?

Here is a reference to one of my Aaron Hill debates after the 2009 season.

Now that Hill is coming off a very poor season and his contract no longer looks so friendly, my opinion of what to do with Hill has dramatically changed. I don’t believe you could get equal value in return in a trade of Hill and therefore the team is better off keeping him and hoping for the best.

I also don’t believe that the Blue Jays should pick up his three year contract option as there is just too much risk associated with Hill at this point to guarantee another three contract years, especially one of them at $10 million. Some of this risk includes:
  • Health – Hill missed 24 games last season due to hamstring and hand injuries and some think he may have even been playing injured for most of the year. He has also missed almost all of this spring due to a quad injury.
  • Last Season – Aaron Hill is coming of a season in which he posted a .271 OBP, OPS of .665 and offensive WAR of 0.4, for all intents and purposes he wasn’t much better than replacement level second base talent.
  • As much as Hill’s BABIP of .196 in 2010 suggested he was one of the all-time unluckiest players in baseball, his approach at the plate had also changed as his line drive % dropped from a career 21% to 13% in 2010. He also started hitting fly balls at an increased rate leading some to suggest he’s trying to hit home runs.
I actually expect (possibly hope) Aaron Hill to rebound in 2011 and put up decent numbers somewhere in between his 2009 and 2010 seasons, say an .320 OBP/.450 SLG/.770 OPS.

Therefore if this happens, he stays somewhat healthy and his defence doesn’t fall off the map, I would recommend picking up his $16 million 2 year option. However, I say this under the assumption that Hill would play 2B over those two additional seasons, if he moves to 3B, I like him a lot less.

Ian: I'm with Peter on this one, there's almost no chance the Blue Jays pick up all three of Aaron Hill's club options. With so many talented young players in the farm system, it just doesn't make sense to hang onto Hill at the apex of his contract at $10 million dollars a season.

Whether the Blue Jays pick up the two year option hinges on what kind of a year Aaron Hill has in 2011. If he can just focus on making contact rather than hitting home runs, maybe his batting average can return to somewhere around his career average of .270.

If Adeiny Hechavarria were ready for the big leagues at the end of the season, the Blue Jays could explore bringing him in right away, but I don't think things have advanced to that point quite yet. Hech likely needs another season or two of seasoning in the minor leagues.

That only buys Aaron Hill a few more years in a Blue Jays uniform at best. The road ahead is very unsure for Aaron Hill, and we don't know where it will end ... but I highly doubt it will end up with the Toronto Blue Jays past 2012. 

Thanks to Peter for his contributions, be sure to check out his blog
Some Thoughts On Baseball.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Dr. James Andrews Kiss of Death

By
Image courtesy of Fast Company
For pitchers who have sustained an injury, it's basically the equivalent of visiting the Grim Reaper. There's no question he's one of the best at what he does, but a visit to Dr. James Andrews is never a good sign.

Frank Francisco will be the latest member of the Blue Jays to be checked out by Andrews later this week, and it just adds to the list of injuries sustained this spring by players on the roster.

Even though Francisco's MRI came back negative this past Friday, there's such a negative stigma associated with Dr. James Andrews that I can't help but think the worst.

And frankly when it comes to visiting Andrews, the news hasn't been very kind to the Blue Jays these past few years. Just think back to Jesse Litsch, Shaun Marcum, Dustin McGowan, and B.J. Ryan among others.

It's the proverbial kiss of death and almost always a precursor for major surgery, and most commonly results in Tommy John surgery.

If that's the case for Frank Francisco, you can basically forget seeing him in a Blue Jays uniform in 2011. It's a shame because Alex Anthopoulos had to give up a prime player in Mike Napoli to bring in Francisco.

I realize I'm speaking like things are already over before they have even begun, but it's not a promising start to the season when so many of the relievers like Frank Francisco and Octavio Dotel will already be on the shelf come Opening Day.

Essentially, I'm treating Frank Francisco's injury as if it's a worst case scenario. Thankfully there are plenty of relievers who can step in and take his place if need be. In retrospect, Alex Anthopoulos' moves to acquire a surplus of right-handed relievers may have been a sound strategy after all.

And to Dr. James Andrews, you're a magnificent doctor and have allowed pitchers to enjoy long and fruitful careers after sustaining major injuries. You give them a second chance at glory where in previous eras those pitchers may not have.

However, I hope no member of the Blue Jays roster ever gets mentioned in the same sentence as "Dr. James Andrews" ever again.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Lessons from the BJH Fantasy Baseball Auction Draft

By
For those of you who happen to be drudging through countless fantasy baseball articles in preparation of your fantasy draft, I'm sure you're just as on edge as General Managers going into the War Room on actual draft day.

We had the BJH Fantasy Baseball League draft a few days ago and unlike previous years, this time we took a departure from the conventional snake draft and opted to go for the auction draft.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect considering I've never partaken in an auction draft before, but here is some food for though which you to use if you're also entering an auction draft for the first time.

Time Is On Your Side

All I can say is ... get comfortable. For our 20 team league, I had my roster filled at about the 3 hour mark. For others, the draft lasted about 3.5 hours. In total, each team had 18 players which meant 360 players in total were drafted, so you can understand why it took damn so long.

Your average league of around 8-10 teams will take considerably less time, but be prepared to stick it out for the long haul.

Obviously, the number one drawback is the duration of the draft, but another side affect of choosing an auction draft over a snake draft is you have to be relatively attentive the entire time.

Unlike a snake draft where you can pick your player and be pretty certain you don't have to pick again for a while and maybe go make a sandwich and come back, the auction draft constantly keeps you involved because any player can be nominated at any time.

While I enjoyed the variation, I think I would have preferred if Yahoo just went through the list of players methodically. That way, there would be no time spent on selecting a player for nomination.

The downside of that option is you'd have to wait until the absolute end to get those players at the bottom of the list.

Hometown Inflation

So much for the "hometown discount"; 22 Blue Jays were drafted in total at an average price of $13.09 per player. Here's a full breakdown of how much each member of the Blue Jays roster fetched for:

Jose Bautista $45 Jon Rauch $10
Travis Snider $38 Frank Francisco $8
Ricky Romero $26 Jesse Litsch $6
Adam Lind $23 Brett Cecil $6
Brandon Morrow $23 Jason Frasor $4
Aaron Hill $20 Jose Molina $3
Rajai Davis $15 Brett Lawrie $3
Yunel Escobar $15 Shawn Camp $2
J.P. Arencibia $14 Octavio Dotel $2
Kyle Drabek $11 David Purcey $2
Edwin Encarnacion $11 Scott Podsednik $1

Personally, I think the most overvalued in this group is Travis Snider at $38 dollars. He could very well have a breakout year that warrants spending that kind of money, but I wouldn't bet on it.

I picked three of the Blue Jays with Encarnacion, Davis, and Litsch. Granted, I overpaid for steals with Davis and probably shelled out way too much for Encarnacion, but I'm confident he could put up 30+ home runs if he stays healthy this year.

Don't Put All Your Eggs In One Basket

Hanley Ramirez $73 Adrian Gonzalez $60
Albert Pujols $72 Joey Votto $60
Troy Tulowitzki $67 Evan Longoria $59
Carl Craword $65 Josh Hamilton $59
Carlos Gonzalez $61 Miguel Cabrera $59
Prince Fielder $61 Ryan Braun $59
Robinson Cano $60 David Wright $59
Roy Halladay $60 Alex Rodriguez $56

The list above is of the 16 most expensive players that were auctioned off in our league. It's safe to say that most of these guys warrant "face of the franchise" kind of money, but there are a couple that I'm not convinced were worth the cash.

If I'm going to spend up a quarter of my entire budget on one player, I want to make sure they're a proven commodity. That's why the price on Pujols, Crawford, Halladay, Longoria, and Cabrera seems pretty appropriate.

However, I would be very weary paying franchise player-type money to guys who may have just had one-off years like Robinson Cano, Carlos Gonzalez and Joey Votto. These players may have set a new precedent in 2010, but I'd rather bank on somebody who's had more than one standout season.

Cheap Pitching May Win Championships

The San Francisco Giants proved that pitching wins championships, and the strategy of a relatively low cost starting rotation in real life would translate very well into the fantasy baseball world.

My starting four rotation of Carl Pavano, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Fausto Carmona and Jesse Litsch cost a grand total of $27 dollars. Unfortunately, I have a feeling that will come back and bite me considering three of them have had major injury problems in the past.

But it just goes to show you that great pitchers can be taken on the cheap close to the end of your fantasy auction draft. That includes relief pitchers as well, so don't overpay for saves early in the draft.

Auction Wars

At times during the draft, I was reminded of an episode of Auction Hunters or Storage Wars where managers were constantly one-upping each other to players.

Some strategists insist on not engaging in a bidding war, but I say if there's someone you have your eyes on, then by all means go for it. Don't be willing to spend your entire budget on a particular player, but don't be discouraged if your initial value of that player gets thrown out the window.

The key is to be a chameleon; adapt to your surroundings and adjust accordingly to your auction draft. Otherwise, you could be left in the late rounds with a wad of cash and nowhere to spend it.

The BJH Roster

Alex Rios 33 Edwin Encarnacion 11
Carl Crawford 65 Russell Martin 1
Dan Uggla 43 Scott Rolen 7
Rajai Davis 15 Tommy Hunter 7
Daisuke Matsuzaka 5 Juan Uribe 10
Chipper Jones 7 Kevin Gregg 5
Jesse Litsch 6 Carl Pavano 6
Carlos Pena 16 Fausto Carmona 3
David Ortiz 14 Brandon Lyon 4

Here's a look at my team; overall I'm fairly comfortable with it but despite all these precautions I'm preaching, I definitely wasn't immune to mistakes and admittedly made some glaring errors during the draft. 

Firstly, what has two thumbs and drafts three third baseman? THIS GUY! Obviously my head wasn't on straight when I selected Scott Rolen, in addition to Edwin Encarnacion and Chipper Jones.

Oh well, if you combine Rolen's defense, EE's power and Chipper's southern charm, then you have an above average third baseman. 

In retrospect, $65 was likely a ridiculous price to pay for Carl Crawford. But at that point, most of the other studs were off the board and I needed a bonafide star on my team. Also, after sitting idle for the first 60 minutes of the draft, I had to make a move.

Dan Uggla was another questionable pick at $43 dollars, but I find it hard to argue with four straight 30+ home run seasons. Inherently, I probably just jinxed myself and Dan Uggla will go on the DL the first week of the season.

While there some players on that list I'm very proud of aquiring, the most prized possession on that list could have been the best bargain out there; Russell Martin for just $1 dollar.

And who says it's just a bunch of crap at the dollar store?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

MLB 11 The Show Review

By
Due to lack of baseball action or just shear boredom, once in a blue moon I'll occasionally bust out a video game review post (see the half-assed Bases Loaded review).

Since there's ample time between now and Opening Day, I'm sure a lot of my free time will be spent playing MLB 11 The Show.

For some odd reason, I get a new baseball game every other year. First it was MLB 2K7, then MLB 09 The Show, and now MLB 11 The Show. So the 2009 version is my last jumping off point as I've never played the 2010 version of The Show.

Hitting

The Show took a big leap forward by adding analog pitching to their arsenal and I have to say I quite enjoy it. It feels much smoother than controlling a plate coverage indicator and just pressing contact swing or power swing.

Also, it feels much more like an "actual" swing. Since you also control the stride (or backswing), timing the pitches is paramount. If you don't have a smooth transition between your stride and your swing, there won't be as much power. It's tough to master at first, but once you do get the timing down, it adds another layer to the game.

If you're expecting to walk into the The Show and start tearing the cover off the ball, you'll be brought down to earth very quickly. This game preaches patience, working the count against opposing pitchers and waiting for your pitch.

Pitching

New this year to The Show is analog pitching. It allows another dimension to the game play and makes the pitching a little less tedious compared to the metered pitching. However, I find there is much more room for error with the analog pitching.

It's not to difficult to time your release point, put the location is a different story. And pitches that are off-centre I found very difficult to get the location down. Analog pitching could use some work and fine tuning, but it's definitely a step in the right direction.

You can choose from three different pitching settings: analog, meter or classic. Analog and meter are explained above, and classic is actually the toughest to master because there are no meters to gauge your speed. You just have to watch the pitcher himself to determine where to release the ball. 

Fielding and Baserunning

The Show not only introduced analog hitting and pitching to the game, but basically took it across the board and incorporated analog controlled fielding and baserunning as well.

The fielding is simple enough, just flick the stick towards the base you want to throw towards. You also have a throw indicator which shows you how strong or soft a throw your fielder will deliver.

Under-throw the ball and your teammate will either be pulled off the bag or will have to scoop the ball out of the dirt. Other-throw and the ball will sail over their head. Once you get a little practice and get a feel for how hard to throw the ball, it becomes second nature.

In regular fielding game play, the controls are pretty easy to figure out, but once you try from the fielder's perspective in Road To The Show, things get a little bit tricky. Basically, all the fielding controls are then reversed.

As I was playing shortstop, it took me a while to ingrain into my mind that pulling the stick backwards meant throwing to second base, and pushing the stick to the left meant throwing to first base.

When it comes to analog baserunning, I am not really a fan of the controls ... and here's why; when you're on base, it's very easy to mistakenly flick the stick in the wrong direction and get picked off. Personally, I'd rather have it on one of the four dedicated buttons so it's not as easy to make that mistake.

Also, multiple times I found after I legged out an infield single, my runner would bolt off towards second base for some reason or another. Once again, laying off the stick will prevent that, but a simple tap of the stick can inadvertently send your runner towards the next base.

Road to the Show

Road to the Show is definitely one of the selling points of MLB 11 The Show; it's back once again and more thorough than ever. Personally, I'm just through my first season as a shortstop in the Blue Jays organization.

Whether you decide to be a pitcher or a hitter, right from the get-go you can basically determine what kind of player your guy is going to be. From a position player's perspective, you can choose from power, defensive and contact points.

As games progress, you accumulate training points for good at bats, scoring runs, fielding assists, turning double plays, and a multitude of other things. These points are used to boost your player's attributes.

I've read that some folks have had to play as many as four seasons in the minors before getting called up to The Show. I guess it all depends on which position you choose; if you try to break in as a closer when there's already an established closer on the team, it makes your journey to the show that much more difficult.

One qualm I have with the Road to the Show mode is the lack of direction from your manager when it comes to hitting and running. Occasionally, if you are unsuccessful in stealing a base, then your manager will chastise you for being too aggressive.

However, your manager never actually calls for a stolen base in the first base, so it's up to you to proceed cautiously when trying to swipe bags.

The same goes for bunting; I have yet to encounter a situation where my manager called for me to lay down a bunt, yet the ability is there and sometimes you have to increase your bunting points to meet requirements.

Jose Bautista's Beard (or lack thereof)

This isn't a huge selling point on the game, but I thought it was interesting how the game developers decided to model Jose Bautista. He has his perpetual five o'clock shadow, but no full-out beard.

Brian Wilson on the other hand, looks like Grizzly Adams.

Other Game Modes

In addition to Road to the Show, there are several other game modes such as Exhibition Play, Franchise Mode, Season, and Home Run Derby. To be honest, I haven't really dabbled much with these games modes because Road to the Show is taking up most of my playing time.

I guess if you're a baseball sim fanatic, Franchise Mode would be perfect for you. There are so many options when it comes to customizing your team that it's enough to make your head spin. You can even use your money to upgrade the concession stands at the ballpark.

Overall

The Show gets high marks for presentation and realism; the pictures above alone are proof of the attention to detail in the character models.

The analog controls are a welcome addition to the series, but there are still a few kinks in the game play that will hopefully be ironed out in future versions of The Show.

Having never played MLB 2K11 (or 2K10 for that matter), I really can't say for certain whether MLB 11 The Show is the preeminent baseball game on Playstation 3.

But when it comes to MLB on the PS3, I can't imagine things get much better than this game.

Overall Rating for MLB 11 The Show: 8.5 out of 10 
Related: check out Mop Up Duty's review of MLB 11 The Show

Monday, March 14, 2011

All Aboard the Brett Lawrie Express

By
Image courtesy of Daylife via Reuters Pictures
He can hit, he can field, he can throw ... but can he crack the Blue Jays roster?
That's one of the big questions as Brett Lawrie is turning heads at a breakneck pace.

We're in the midst of the Cinderella phase while Lawrie continues to hit around .400 in Spring Training, but let's be honest ... he could bat 1.000 and he's still not going to make the roster.

It's no knock against his talent, it's just not Brett Lawrie's time quite yet.

I can't say for certain, but I think if you asked Brett Lawrie point blank, he'd say he's ready for the show. I'm not denying that he isn't, the problem is this isn't the time for Brett Lawrie to hone his craft at the major league level.

That's what the Pacific Coast League is for; it's the equivalent of the Sarlacc Pit for young pitchers, but it's a breeding grounds for swing-happy hitters. I say let Lawrie rake down in Las Vegas for a year, and then reevaluate the situation.

And if Lawrie regresses, then he can spend some more time in Las Vegas. Heck, if it worked for J.P. Arencibia then it could work for Brett Lawrie too.

Barring some freak injury to Jose Bautista, Brett Lawrie should spent the better part of 2011 in Las Vegas. And speaking of Bautista, now that the Blue Jays have a third baseman for the next five years, I wonder if the Jays might transition Lawrie back to second base.

Prior to locking up Bautista long-term, the third base position was one glaring hole in "the plan". But now that it's filled, what does that mean for Brett Lawrie? This is just my estimation, but I think he moves back to second base.

Aaron Hill still has yet to take a swing in an official Spring Training game, and that could have the Blue Jays concerned, considering they still have to decide prior to Opening Day if they want to exercise all three club options (2012, 2013 and 2014) on Hill.

If they believe Aaron Hill is no longer a viable option past 2012, then maybe Brett Lawrie could revert back to second base and fill the shoes as the every day starting second baseman.

I'm not claiming to be a professional on player development, but handing a young prospect a spot on the roster after one great spring is risky business. Even if he's earned it, there's nothing wrong with making him wait.

For an up and coming player who is just chomping at the bit to get some big league playing time, spending even more time in the minors might seem like a death sentence. However, in this case it's just what the doctor ordered.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ballpark Beer: The Overpriced Liquid That Binds Us

By
Image courtesy of Flickr user anukul
There's nothing better on earth than enjoying an ice cold beer at the ballpark and watching your favourite team. Absolutely nothing.

Okay, maybe the birth of your first child rivals that feeling, but can you get drunk off it?

Baseball and beer go hand in hand like Charlie Sheen and narcotics, and it got me thinking about the beer situation for us Blue Jays fans at the Rogers Centre.

Rob Iracane at Big League Stew sifted through the best suds around the majors and came up with the 10 Best Beers at Big League Ballparks. I have to say, I was a little disenchanted about the beer selections at the Rogers Centre when reading about all these tasty microbrews.

The lineup of beers available to Blue Jays fans pales in comparison to their counterparts around the major leagues. Last time I checked, the only beers available at the Rogers Centre are your regular run of the mill domestics: Budweiser, Bud Light, Bud Light Lime, and Keith's.

There's an easy way to remedy the beer situation at the Rogers Centre; bring in those homegrown microbrews that not only the locals will enjoy, but that visitors from out of town can experiment with.

Image courtesy of TheDieLine.com
The natural decision would be to serve a pilsner such as Steam Whistle at the Rogers Centre. After all, the brewery is right across the street. Just wheel the kegs across Bremner and pass the transportation costs onto the customers. Everybody wins!

Image courtesy of Yelp.ca
Another option that was championed on Twitter was bringing in beer from another critically acclaimed local brewery, the Mill Street Brewery.

They're another fine choice and unlike Steam Whistle, Mill Street has a bevvy of draught beers to choose from. Mill Street has 10 different draught beers at their disposal, and they're also within stumbling distance of the dome.

From what I understand, there's a pretty decent selection of bottled beer in The Roundhouse at the Rogers Centre, but as far as I'm concerned ... it's draught beer or bust when you're at a baseball game. 

My beef is not only about the lack of selection of beers at the Rogers Centre, but the method in which it is delivered as well.

Up until late last season, customers who purchased tall cans weren't even allowed to drink the beer out of the cans themselves. Vendors had to pour them into plastic cups, which made getting a beer take even longer.

I'm not exactly sure what the reasoning was behind not handing over cans in the first place. Heaven forbid a game go awry and fans start trying to cut themselves with aluminum cans to reprieve themselves from the pain.

If you've ever been to a Home Opener or even just a weekend game, you'll agree that the wait times at the beer stands are absolutely ridiculous. In some cases, you're waiting in line multiple innings just to get your hands on an ice cold beer.

That's where something like the Bottoms Up Draft Beer Dispenser would be ideal because most of time spent in line is waiting for the beer to be poured. This machine can chug out 56 pints in one minute. Two hands, no waiting.



I realize the cost to install these machines would be residual and would eventually be passed down on to the customer. However, I don't mind paying a few bucks more if I can get a beer and be back in my seat in between innings.

The Bottoms Up Beer Dispenser has already been rolled out at Fenway Park, and most recently it made it's entry into Canada during the Labatt Brier in London. Perhaps this will open the door for larger venues in Canada to test it out.

This may just be me trying to romanticize an experience at the Rogers Centre, but I think the key to making the food and beverage renowned around the league is to have some sort of signature item.

Food is a different story altogether, but having a signature beer available at the Blue Jays games will not only will it benefit that particular brewer, but the stadium as well. It gives the Rogers Centre more of a personality rather than it's reputation which is synonymous with the cold, concrete exterior of the building.

Bottom line, if I'm going to be paying 11 dollars for a tall can of beer at a Blue Jays game, I think there should be a better selection at our disposal than just the usual domestics.  And please let me have it in a timely fashion so I can get back to the game.

Is that too much to ask?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Observations from the First Televised Game of the Year

By
We're just over a week deep into the Grapefruit League schedule, but for some reason it doesn't seem real until you can hear the crack of the bat and see the corresponding play on television.

Overall, it was great to enjoy a lazy Sunday with some Blue Jays baseball on TV and I don't know how we managed five months without it.

Anyway, not like the Blue Jays 5-0 win over the Pirates was the preamble to a celebration down Yonge Street, but here are some random observations from yesterday's game:

Looks like Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler are shirt twins once again this season. The image at the top of this post wasn't lifted from yesterday's game, but from a road trip last year where they donned the same blue shirts.

One noticeable difference this time around that Archi noticed was that "Buck Martinez was made of fried chicken". I was immediately reminded of the episode of Seinfeld when Newman pictures Kramer as a delicious turkey.

Speaking of interesting looks, I'm still getting accustomed to those canary yellow Pittsburgh Pirates BP jerseys. They're so yellow that at any given moment, a member of their roster could very well burst out into "Peanut Butter Jelly Time".

We saw this a lot during the playoffs last year, but the Blue Jays broadcast sprinkled a few in-game interviews with players in the dugout. I hope it's something that's carried over into the regular season because it's very cool to get into the mindset of the players during the game.

One such interview was with Jose Bautista, and one of the most interesting things he said was that in addition to showing Brett Lawrie the ropes at third base, that Bautista is also picking up some pointers from Lawrie.

McKechnie Field is considered to be the Fenway Park of Spring Training facilities, and judging by the way some fly balls were carrying, it could also be considered the pre-humidor era Coors Field. It appeared as though balls in foul territory were really carrying long.

Then of course there was that tricky play where a pop up in foul territory floated into the infield and bounced just in front of Brett Lawrie. I'm sure the wind had something to do with it, but that was one of the weirdest plays I've ever seen.

I'm not sure of the outfielders that play in McKechnie Field get hazard play for having to deal with all those seagulls, but they certainly should. At times during the broadcast, it looked like we were watching a game take place at the city dump because of all the seagulls.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A Thing For Eric Thames

By
Image courtesy of Daylife via Getty Images
Earlier this week, the Tao spoke of springtime mancrushes. Yes, it's that time of year when we get to see the new crop of prospects put on a show, and subsequently someone always catches my eye.

This spring, it just so happens to be Eric Thames.

So what do we know about Eric Thames? Well, if he had an eHarmony profile, I'm certain he'd list his interests as yoga, studying Jose Bautista's swing on Youtube, and coiffing a spectacular fu manchu.

I'll be honest, the first thing I learned about Eric Thames was his epic moustache. That alone was enough to score some bonus points ... but his performance thus far in Dunedin is what's really making him one prospect to keep our eyes on.

It's still very early on, but Thames already has four hits: a single, double, triple, and home run. I guess you could call that the veritable Spring Training five game cycle. Not too shabby with five games under his belt so far.

Richard Griffin had a great piece on Thames earlier this week chronicling his journey through the minor leagues. If not for the myriad of injuries, Thames could have been a member of the team that originally selected him; the New York Yankees.

Let's keep in mind this is someone that was drafted 219th overall in the 2008 draft. Eric Thames hasn't had the benefit of being a highly-touted prospect. Instead, he's had to make a name for himself from the ground up.

Not many experts have Eric Thames pegged as one of the Blue Jays best up and comers. In fact, he's not even on Baseball America's Top 10 Blue Jays prospects. Jays Journal has Thames listed as the 15th best prospect in the organization, and Bluebird Banter has him as 12th.

However, that's the great thing about unheralded players that make their way up through the ranks seemingly out of nowhere. Expectations weren't astronomical for Eric Thames out of the gate, which makes it a very pleasant surprise to see where he has progressed.

Considering how well he performed last year in New Hampshire, just imagine what kind of damage Eric Thames could do in Las Vegas. The hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League would be very kind to Thames ... if he can stay healthy.

He's definitely flying under the radar at the moment, but Eric Thames will only be able to remain incognito for so long. If there's suddenly an injury to one of the outfielders or a trade is made later this season, you can be sure Thames will be ready for the call.

And if you need to find him, I'm sure he'll be in some variation of downward facing dog.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Scott Richmond: The Viable Long Relief Option

By
Image courtesy of Daylife via Reuters Pictures
Standing at 6 feet and 5 inches, he literally is one of the longest men on the roster. Although he once enjoyed success as a starting pitcher, maybe he could be reincarnated as a long relief man.

I'm talking about Scott Richmond; yes the Scott Richmond we all fell in love with after his amazing start to the 2009 season. It's been a rough go since then, but Scotty isn't done yet ... not by a long shot.

Last June, I explored where Scott Richmond could fit in on the crowded roster. As Spring Training continues and the starting rotation begins to take shape, I'm thinking more and more that having him as a relief pitcher is a viable option.

It's no secret that Scott's career splits against right-handed hitters are great (.214 AVG), but versus left-handers it's a different story (.312 AVG). This wouldn't necessarily mean Richmond would be used as as ROOGY, but he could definitely fill the role that Brian Tallet used to occupy.

While the injuries continue to pile up in Spring Training, it's apparent the Blue Jays may need to dip a little further into the talent pool than anticipated when assembling the 25 man roster. Scott Richmond would be a perfect candidate not only as a long man, but as an emergency spot starter as well.

As it currently stands, Kyle Drabek, Jesse Litsch and Marc Rzepczynski are all favourites to win the final two starting spots up for grabs. However, plans can change very suddenly when injuries come into play.

All it takes is a chicken breast cutting incident or a line drive off the finger to change the entire plans of the starting rotation. Just ask Brett Cecil or Marc Rzepczynski who can attest to those freak accidents first hand.

Even if there isn't room for Scott Richmond in the starting rotation, he could always break camp as a reliever. If the Jo-Jo Reyes experiment doesn't pan out, I'd say Richmond is one of the next in line to make the cut.

Plus, if Scott Richmond continues to pitch as effectively as he did in his Grapefruit League debut on Saturday, the Blue Jays will have a very tough time making an argument to leave him off the roster, whether it's as a starter or a reliever.

When the dust settles, perhaps the door has closed for Richmond to return to the Blue Jays starting rotation, but a window has definitely opened for him to belong in the bullpen.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...