Tuesday, February 28, 2012

MLB 12 The Show Preview


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Image courtesy of Gamerant
Technically, baseball fans will have to wait until March 28th to get their very first taste of official Major League Baseball in Japan. But for those impatient souls such as myself, that's just way too long to wait.

Luckily, there's a way to get your baseball fix before then, and that's through this year's edition of MLB The Show. The #1 rated sports game is back on the PS3 next Tuesday March 6th, and this time around we have a Blue Jays cover athlete, Jose Bautista.

I was fortunate enough to speak with Matt Levitan, Director or Marketing and Public Relations for Playstation Canada about MLB 12 The Show. He gave me some insight as to what we can expect from this year's game.

Matt is a self-proclaimed gamer and Blue Jays fan himself, and perhaps it was his love for the Blue Jays that was instrumental in getting Jose Bautista on the cover of MLB 12 The Show.

Image courtesy of Playstation.com
On behalf of Blue Jays fans, I have to say that we are ecstatic to see Jose Bautista on the cover of MLB 12 The Show. How did you come to the decision to have Jose on the Canadian edition of the game?
Because Jose is such a great endorsement figure for other brands that he works with, and he’s such an easy guy to work with, I thought "let’s see if we can get him on the cover".

So I pitched it to our US counterparts and asked “would we be able to do a Canadian specific cover” and they said “yeah, absolutely”. It was really about wanting to do something exciting for the fans this year.

We just haven’t had any luck getting any players for a Canadian team on any of the covers of our sports games for a while … it’s been a struggle, but I’m glad to see we broke through and got it this year.

Overall, I think everyone feels a sense of pride and nationalism as a result of having a player who plays on a Canadian team on the cover.
MLB 11 The Show was the first edition of the game to feature pure analog controls ... has there been any tweaks this year when it comes to hitting or pitching?
We do have some new control schemes this year. They have what’s called “zone analog batting”, which is a little bit easier for players to perfect their swing.

You have a sense of using the dual analog sticks to swing through the strike zone the way you see fit. And it’s more realistic in terms of where and how you swing with the way you use the sticks.

There’s also pulse pitching controls, which gives you a little bit more control over the plate in terms of where you position your pitches and the movement of the pitches. So there are some new controls this season which should add to the realism.


For me personally, my bread and butter with MLB The Show is "Road to the Show". There's just something so gratifying about watching your player make it to the bigs. Are there any new features to "Road to the Show" that gamers can look forward to for the 2012 edition of MLB The Show?
The biggest part of Road to the Show that’s new is you have the ability to transfer and save your game between the PS3 and Vita versions of the game. So you can take your season, franchise or Road to the Show mode to go with you anywhere.

You have the ability to play a few games at home, save it to a cloud, load up your PS Vita, and play it on the road. So all the stats apply to your PS3 version at home.

That’s the biggest change to Road to the Show; that it’s in your pocket if you have a Vita, and it gives you the full MLB experience wherever you are.
I think the commentary is something that most people don't necessarily think about when they're in the game, but it definitely adds something to the gaming experience. I've heard there's a new "True Broadcast Presentation" feature on MLB 12 The Show, what's that all about?
As good as the play-by-play and colour commentary has always been, the commentary now isn’t just limited to player introductions and general commentary.

A lot of the comments now are specific to situations, and they tell you about that particular runner, his speed, and his likelihood to steal.

It really gives you more specific information about the players that are on the field or in that particular play as opposed to something like “a single will bring this runner in and tie the game”.


Baseball is just one of those sports where there are hundreds of variables, so I can imagine that must be painstaking to try to recreate that in a video game environment. What has changed this year in terms of ball physics in how the baseball moves and reacts?
Without a doubt, the hardest thing is ball physics. And we’re starting to see that more in our baseball game too; balls that go off a bag, or go a player’s glove or take bad hops. So we’re actually starting to see more advanced physics.

I think a lot of that has to do with the power of the PS3. At times, it can frustrate players, but that’s the game – that’s the realism factor.

That’s very true of the new zone batting analog feature. A lot of times before if you fouled a ball off, there was just a mathematical equation based on your timing whether you hit the ball foul or fair.

Now, a lot of it has to do with where the position of the bat is in the zone, which determines where the ball goes. So now it’s not so much are you early or are you late on your swing, but where is the bat in position to the strike zone compared to where the ball is.
Online play has always been a staple in MLB The Show. Are there any new additions or features to online play for this year?
We have a new Diamond Dynasty mode which is multiplayer. You can build a custom team, collect and trade different players, you can activate and trade your dynasty cards similar to NHL or Madden.

You can also play four-player simultaneous Home Run Derby as well, at home and online. Sometimes you don’t want a whole 45-minute baseball game, sometimes you just want to get together with some buddies and play a Home Run Derby. So that will fulfill your baseball needs for a shorter more bite-sized gameplay experience.
Lastly, let's say for some crazy reason I've never played MLB The Show before ... why should I go out and buy this game?
It’s without a doubt the most realistic baseball experience you can play anywhere. It gives you all the teams, all the players, all the stadiums, and the graphics are beyond belief.

This year we have a competitive advantage with our Vita version. A 162 game season might seem daunting to a lot of people. But if you commute every day and you just want to play a little bit of baseball on the way, you can play that knock off that 162 game season a lot easier without simulating games.

And that way, you can always be playing it and transfer those saves back and forth to your PS3. That’s probably the thing I’m most excited about; the ability to take my teams with me wherever I go.
Thanks again to Matt Levitan for chatting with me about MLB 12 The Show. The game will be released for both the PS3 and Vita next Tuesday March 6th, so get your thumbs ready!

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Blue Jays Comparable Depth Chart


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Depth Chart courtesy of BlueJays.com
I often wonder if I overvalue certain Blue Jays players just because they play for my favourite team. Am I guilty of viewing them in a special light simply due to the fact that they are Blue Jays? The answer is unequivocally, yes.

This situation most often comes about when potential trade scenarios rear their head. "There's no way they'd ever trade Travis Snider for Player X" and yet some want to ship Adam Lind off to Cincinnati in hopes that would bring Joey Votto back.

Rather than view the entire roster through rose coloured glasses, I was curious to see what the Blue Jays depth chart look like if we replaced them with comparable players around the league.

By using Baseball Reference's Similarity Scores, one can get a sense of what the Blue Jays roster could potentially be if they were replaced with other players with similar statistics.

Please note that I only used Similarity Scores from active Major League players when comparing them to the Blue Jays starters. The results are pretty interesting to say the least:



First off, let's begin with the starting rotation. Ricky Romero is most similar to former Cy Young runner-up David Price ... not too shabby. But after Romero, the level of quality tails off in the comparison department.

Derek Holland compared to Brett Cecil is a promising sign, as most are projecting Holland to have a solid year with the Texas Rangers. With Dustin McGowan's injury-riddled past, I can definitely see his similarities to Bergesen and Hill. Overall, not bad for a fifth starter.

The position player comparables are a little more tricky, however. There weren't any active players with Similarity Scores close to J.P. Arencibia, Brett Lawrie and Eric Thames simply because they haven't played enough games.

There are a few anomalies in Jose Bautista and Travis Snider due to their very unorthodox path through the Major Leagues. So fret not when Josh Willingham is measured as the most similar to Jose Bautista.

The rest of the position player comps shake down pretty accurately. The middle infield comparison of Rickie Weeks and Asdrubal Cabrera is very intriguing. I'd be very happy to have Weeks and Cabrera as the starting middle infielders on my fantasy team, just as I would Escobar and Johnson.

There is one set of Similarity Scores that actually involves two players who are already on the Blue Jays roster: Colby Rasmus and Ben Francisco.

Factoring in this information, I can begin to see why some people think Rasmus has been a bust. But keep in mind Francisco is five years older than Rasmus and he has over a season's worth more of experience.

Also at this point in his career, Ben Francisco will have to battle simply to be the fifth outfielder on this squad. On the other hand, it's expected that Colby will hopefully blossom into an elite centre fielder.

Lastly, it's the giant elephant in the room: Adam Lind. The AL East is a hotbed for elite first basemen, so stacking up Lind next to the likes of Adrian Gonzalez and Mark Teixeira might seem like an unfair comparison.

Okay, maybe if we widen the range a little bit, Lind's peripherals might look a tad bit little better. I'm afraid not.

Over the past two seasons, Adam Lind ranks dead last in on base percentage among qualified first baseman. A .291 OBP through the 2010 and 2011 seasons. Lind's evil twin Jason Kubel sported a slightly better on base at .321.

Just for fun, I took a look at Adam Lind and Jason Kubel's WARGraphs, and the results are were expectedly similar, but I didn't think they'd be this similar. This might just be the catalyst for another blog post in itself.


Source: FanGraphs -- Jason Kubel, Adam Lind

The Blue Jays will pay Adam Lind $17 million dollars total over the next three seasons. Compare that with the $22.5 million the Diamondbacks will potentially have to pay Jason Kubel (pending they pick up his 2014 option), and that's a little reassuring ... at least from a financial standpoint.

This comparable depth chart isn't to say that all the players are an eye for an eye. Clearly there are some that are way off the mark, and others which are frighteningly similar to the Blue Jays.

So the next time you want to take stock in a particular Blue Jay player, perhaps take a look around the league first. Maybe when they're measured up against another similar player, your perception of them might just be better ... or worse than before.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Hottest Ticket in Town: the Blue Jays Home Opener


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Image courtesy of Peaceful Pixel
For a team that was heavily scrutinized for failing to make a big splash in the free agent market, they certainly know how to sell tickets to their Home Opener.

The Blue Jays may not have signed a flashy big name free agent this off-season, and yet interest in the club is higher than it has been in years. Subsequently, trying to find a seat to the Home Opener has suddenly become the hottest ticket in town.

This coming off the heels of news that the Blue Jays Home Opener sold out in a mere 90 minutes after single game tickets went on sale. One might wonder how 48,000 tickets could go that quickly, but truth be told there was only around 6,000 tickets or so available once 10am hit last Friday.

In speaking with my Blue Jays ticket rep, he informed me last Wednesday that there were already 42,500 sold for the Home Opener. And even as early as February 8th, there were 30,000 tickets sold. So it only seemed like it was only a matter of time before the Home Opener sold out.

With the bevvy of pre-sales prior to the official single game ticket sale date, there really weren't all that many tickets available anyway. Most of them had been snatched up by season ticket holders, flex pack holders, and 20-game ticket purchasers.

Just for a frame of reference, last year's Home Opener didn't officially sell out until March 23rd. This year, all the tickets were gone on February 17th; a mere 90 minutes after they went on sale.

In the past, one could probably very easily find a ticket to the Home Opener in the days leading up to the first game of the season at the Rogers Centre. Now, you might have to spend upwards of $118 dollars on StubHub just to get yourself a 500 level ticket to the Home Opener.

What can this sudden surge of interest be attributed to? While other teams like the Los Angeles Angels are boasting increased ticket sales to the signing of free agents like Albert Pujols, the Blue Jays don't quite have that same luxury.

For a team that has been criticized for not being more active in the free agent market this off-season, the Blue Jays have definitely been able to cultivate a flurry of interest with their fans.

Sure, one could take the cynical outlook and focus on the inevitable attendance drop-off following the Home Opener. There's no question that the dome will probably only have half the amount of fans on April 10th compared to April 9th, but I think the Home Opener sellout is a very good sign of things to come.

The club may have had a bit of difficulty managing fan expectations this off-season, but one thing the Blue Jays did very well is they managed to get folks talking about the team.

The new uniform unveiling in November, combined with being linked to numerous free agents has helped the team remain at the forefront of people's minds. Those are just a few ways the Jays have been newsmakers in what can seem like an extremely length off-season.

The second consecutive year of the Blue Jays Winter Tour helped create some top of mind awareness during the cold winter months. A very active roster of Blue Jays player Twitter accounts was another way the club was able to remain interactive with fans.

A great deal of the press the Blue Jays received may have been negative this winter, but in a city where you have to battle with three other professional sports teams, I guess any publicity is good publicity.

It's a definitely a great sign when people are talking about the Blue Jays in the middle of February.

Toronto is arguably a hockey town, but if things keep progressing the way they have been these past few years, it won't be long before baseball is the talk of the town once again.

Thanks to Peaceful Pixel for the picture from the 2011 Blue Jays Home Opener

Friday, February 17, 2012

Casey Janssen as Scott Downs Version 2.0


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Image courtesy of Daylife via Getty Images
They may be two completely different pitchers on two totally teams, but they are two relievers who are more alike than you might think. And both of them have suited up for the Toronto Blue Jays: Casey Janssen and Scott Downs.

Sure, Downs has a very deliberate delivery to the plate. Not to mention, he's a lefty. Casey Janssen on the other hand, is a right-hander ... and as you can see from the photo above, has an extremely extended delivery to the plate.

So how can these two seemingly different relievers be so similar? It doesn't really have so much to with the pitchers themselves as it does there contracts.

After it was announced earlier this week that Janssen was inked to a two-year extension, I couldn't help but notice the parallels between Casey Janssen and Scott Downs' contract extensions.

One may have been inked by Alex Anthopoulos and the other by J.P. Ricciardi, but for two different GM's in two different regimes, you have to admit the deals are remarkably similar.

Both deals bought out the final years of arbitration, and the total amount is nearly identical: Janssen's $9 million total compared to Downs' $10 million total.

But wait, there's more! Take the splits from Scott Downs 2007 season and compare them with the lefty/right splits from Casey Janssen's 2011 season and they're nearly identical as well.

At this point, I'll fully admit I'm just cherry picking stats that are similar, but it's fun to see just how close their career years really are:

Scott Downs 2007 Splits

Split G PA AB H HR BA TB
vs RHB as LHP 55 113 101 24 2 .238 33
vs LHB as LHP 74 126 110 23 1 .209 28
Casey Janssen 2011 Splits

Split G PA AB H HR BA TB
vs RHB as RHP 50 104 95 23 2 .242 34
vs LHB as RHP 54 119 111 24 0 .216 30
Casey may not be at the top of the bullpen depth chart going into Spring Training this season, but I believe this contract extension all but ensures he'll be the setup man to Sergio Santos is 2013 and possibly 2014 as well. Not unlike how Scott Downs set up B.J. Ryan in 2007 and 2008.

Looking ahead to 2013, Casey Janssen and Sergio Santos are the only guarantees for the Blue Jays bullpen. This is, unless Alex Anthopoulos deems them as valuable trade commodities, but I can't really see that happening, considering he just acquired Santos and just extended Janssen.

So again, it brings us back to that Scott Downs/B.J. Ryan tandem from 2008. At a combined $14.25 million, Downs & Ryan may not have been a bargain when it came to the back end of a bullpen, but they were certainly very effective.

Looking ahead, the duo of Casey Janssen and Sergio Santos will make a mere $6.65 million combined next season. Taking inflation into account and the upward trend of baseball contracts, that's incredible value for a closer and setup man.

I think Casey Janssen is more than likely going to have to battle with Francisco Cordero for the setup man role this season, though. John Farrell might be more inclined to hand those reins to Cordero as the veteran, but it won't be long before Janssen is handed the ball for the 8th inning.

Considering that Francisco Cordero's contract is only for one season with no option for 2013, that screams to me that AA is hoping he can flip Cordero at the trade deadline.

It seems like teams in contention are always looking to upgrade their bullpen (ie: the 2011 Texas Rangers), so I wouldn't be surprised at all to see the Blue Jays move Francisco Cordeo. And that would subsequently open the door back up for Casey Janssen as the Blue Jays setup man.

There's no question late relief used to be a huge concern for the Blue Jays. However, it once again appears to be something that John Farrell won't have to worry too much about at least in the foreseeable future.

And if Casey Janssen does in fact pan out to be the second coming of Scott Downs, then that's quite alright with me.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My Break-Up and Make-Up with Baseball


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Where my love for baseball began.
As you can probably tell by this blog, baseball is one of my true passions. It's something I couldn't imagine my life without. Baseball is a sport that I loved dearly as a child, and as an adult I have grown to understand and appreciate the subtleties of the game.

But things haven't quite always been this way. I'm a little ashamed to say I haven't always been a loyal fan. There's a dark part of my past when I didn't even follow the Toronto Blue Jays ... let alone baseball.

So I figured there's no better time than Valentine's Day to tell the story of my break-up and make-up with baseball.

Of course, it all started with Little League Baseball. It was (and still is) a rite of passage for many young Canadians, as baseball used to be the preeminent summer past time across the country.

Although my dreams of becoming a Major Leaguer never came to fruition, I loved playing ball as a kid. The grassroots level is where I truly discovered my passion for playing the game and it lead to my fascination with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Much like snap bracelets, Hypercolor shirts and Pogs, being a Blue Jays fan simply was the cool thing to do at the time. My parents really didn't facilitate my curiosity about the Blue Jays, but rather it was my parents' friends and their kids who nudged be towards the team.

They were the ones who took me to my very first Blue Jays game on October 3rd, 1992. The day was pretty significant because it was the game the Blue Jays clinched the AL East with a 3-1 win over the Detroit Tigers.

The game ended with a cavalcade of fireworks, and at the time I had no clue the Jays clinched the division. I just assumed they celebrated every win that way.

Not surprisingly, my interest in baseball and the Blue Jays was at its peak during the 1992 and 1993 seasons, but then something came along that derailed my interest in the sport entirely: the strike.

Apparently I wasn't the only one who fell out of love with baseball. According to numbers provided by Little League Canada, enrollment in Little League Baseball dropped 11.1 percent following the 1994 MLB strike. Numbers declined from 78,827 players in 1994 to 70,027 in 1995.

Consider myself part of that 11.1 percent who failed to pick up a bat, ball or glove after 1994. To that point, I had spent 3-4 years in little league baseball and loved every minute of it. But when the time came to sign up again in 1995, there weren't even enough kids to assemble a team.

Unfortunately, that was the day when a part of my passion for baseball flickered out. It was as if the rug had been pulled out from underneath me. Not only could I not play baseball, I couldn't even watch it. As a young impressionable mind, there was no quicker way to kill my interest in the game than that deadly combination.

As my love for the Toronto Blue Jays dwindled, I subsequently took an interest in the NFL and the San Francisco 49'ers. The combination of Steve Young and Jerry Rice garnered my interest during the mid-90's, taking the place of my former beloved Blue Jays.

However, like most couples that are destined to be together forever ... there was a reconciliation. My make-up with baseball began in 1998. Similar to many fans that were on the outs with the sport, it was the home run chase of '98 that brought me back in.

It was a magical time in baseball; Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa single-handedly reinvigorated a game that had lost most of its lustre in the middle of the decade. The prospect of seeing McGwire or Sosa go yard at any given moment brought baseball back to the forefront.

Image courtesy of SI Vault
The steroid era of baseball did not come without consequences, but at the time it sure was fun to watch. Like most fans, I turned a blind eye to the realities of performance enhancing drugs and just lived in the moment.

Judgment day would eventually come for McGwire and Sosa, but at the time they were heralded as heroes for the game of baseball. Donning Greek God garb, Sports Illustrated deemed the sluggers as 1998 Sportsmen of the Year.

What happened in baseball during the late nineties and early 2000's may have been questionable, however it certainly brought baseball back into the fold once again. Baseball and I weren't back together again, but it was back on my radar.

For the next five or six years, the Blue Jays were always in the back of my mind, but never at the forefront. I checked in every so often when they were trying to hold onto the Wild Card or when a significant trade took place.

Then for some reason or another, I was looking for an excuse to wear my 1992 Blue Jays jersey to school (which incidentally, didn't fit me when my mom bought it for me originally in 1994, but finally did fit in 2005.)

I instrumented a "Blue Jays Day" at school that day, but I was the lone participant. Nonetheless, it re-stoked the fires of passion for baseball. I followed the Blue Jays throughout the 2005 season, not religiously, but checked in on them every so often.

It was the 2005 off-season that really got me excited about the Blue Jays once again. The club signed A.J. Burnett, B.J. Ryan, Bengie Molina, and traded to get Troy Glaus and Lyle Overbay. Even though I wasn't extremely familiar with this incarnation with the Blue Jays, I recognized this spending meant Toronto wanted to win again.

Ever since that turning point in 2005, my Blue Jays fandom has been rekindled and has been growing progressively each year. It's funny to think the catalyst that helped me fall back in love with the Blue Jays was a silly "Blue Jays Day".

Looking back, I regret missing those years from 1995-2004. I missed the meteoric rise of Carlos Delgado, Roy Halladay, and even Roger Clemens' award-winning (albeit allegedly drug-enhanced) tenure as a Toronto Blue Jay.

There's no question the 1994 MLB strike took down a lot of casualties. In fact, I know some folks who used to be diehard baseball fans and still haven't forgiven baseball for what happened. The majority of them being Montreal Expos fans, and frankly I don't blame them for still being upset.

Luckily, my break-up and make-up with baseball has a happy ending. We are reunited once again, and after a nine year hiatus, my fondness for baseball and the Toronto Blue Jays truly came full circle.

It's the Blue Jays I have to thank for bridging the gap between my childhood and adulthood. And to think ... the catalyst for this reunion was a jersey that was too big for me as a child, but now fits me perfectly as an adult.

I guess you could say baseball symbolizes my childhood. It reminds me of a time when I had an unadulterated love for the game ... when times where simpler and when baseball overshadowed everything. Thus, baseball will always hold a special place in my heart.

Maybe that's why I gravitated back towards the sport and the team I used to love so much as a kid. Because like many of us, I was simply trying to recapture part of that magical feeling of being a child once again.

For what it's worth, it really doesn't matter how or why you're a fan of the Toronto Blue Jays, or baseball in general. Maybe you have an affinity for the Blue Jays because of their sharp new uniforms. Maybe it's because your dad loved the Blue Jays, and he passed that affinity for the team on to you.

All that really matters is you're a fan and you have a love for the game. And as my little story goes to show you, a love for the game is one that never dies.

Thanks to Little League Canada for the Little League enrollment statistics.

Friday, February 10, 2012

New Meats Don't Clash T-Shirts Now On Sale


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After a few design prototypes, I'm proud to announce the brand new Meats Don't Clash shirts are now available in the BJH T-Shirt Shop.

That's not to say the old Meat's Don't Clash shirts weren't great, but just like venturing into the world of unusual meats, sometimes it's good to branch out and try something new.

There are plenty of men's and women's shirts available, from your basic plain white tee, to coloured t-shirts, and even the classic baseball shirt.

The Meats Don't Clash shirt is paired best with an aged prime rib steak with a red wine au jus, but your run of the mill burger will do just fine. Check out the new Meats Don't Clash shirts today in the BJH T-Shirt Shop.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Battle in Left Field: Snider vs. Thames


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Image courtesy of Daylife via Reuters Pictures
There may be 60 feet of turf to cover at the Rogers Centre, but there's only room enough for one left fielder on the Blue Jays roster. Two men will go in, but only one will emerge in the battle for left field.

There are many story lines going into Blue Jays Spring Training, but none more compelling than the left field showdown. Will it be Travis "Meat Sweats" Snider or Eric "Chocolate Thunder" Thames who wins the spot?

Were this scenario to play out a few years ago, there might be enough room for both Travis and Eric to coexist on the roster. However, due to Snider's stunted development and Thames' fast track to the majors, here we are at an impasse.

It's a veritable logjam with a total of seven possible players who could potentially patrol the outfield. But there are only so many spots on the roster for the three outfield positions. And with two of them already spoken for, the most hotly contested battle will be in the left corner.

There really is a lot on the line here, as I believe Travis Snider will be the one playing for his life. And I don't think there's enough room for both corner outfielders on the roster. It will likely be either one or the other: Travis Snider or Eric Thames.

So who is the favourite? As Alex Anthopoulos said back in January, Snider is the more complete player but Eric Thames has a leg up on him going into Spring Training. AA also reiterated that if Travis doesn't hit, he won't be with the club this year.

Thames did tail off in the second half quite a bit, but he has a much larger and recent Major League sample size to work with compared to Snider's. In a "what have you done for me lately" world, that's where Eric Thames has the huge edge over Travis Snider.

The window for Snider to play his way onto the Opening Day roster is very short. He'll have to make a big impact in Spring Training if he wants to have a fighting chance at the starting left fielder's job. And if Travis Snider doesn't get the bat going during Spring Training, then he could very well start the year off in Las Vegas.

The other deciding factor at play here is Travis Snider only has one more option left to use. If the Blue Jays send Snider down to Las Vegas to start the season, that will burn his last option and he'll have to make the club out of Spring Training next season or he'll be at risk of being exposed to waivers.

Purely from a business standpoint, it makes the most sense to keep Snider on the roster. Using up that last option on a player with just over two years of service time puts the Blue Jays in a compromising position moving forward.

Ironically, if the Blue Jays send Travis down to AAA to start the season, they'll be commiting to keeping him on the big league roster in 2013 and beyond. Either that, or there's the risk of another team claiming him off waivers.

The alternative is Travis Snider breaks camp and stays on the 25-man roster the entire year. Then the club that last option year on Snider in their back pocket just in case. It's an out that could be worth its weight in gold.

Unlike the enigma that is Travis Snider, for the most part what you see is what you get with Eric Thames. He's going to strike out a lot, he's not going to take very many walks, but he will get a hold of a pitch every so often and remind us of his home run power.

I know it sounds like I'm completely writing off Thames after just one season, but here's the problem; unless he's the starting left fielder, I don't think Thames will find those everyday at bats he needs to improve here with the Blue Jays.

That being said, I would love for Eric Thames to prove me wrong. If he can put those brand new 20 inch pythons to work and lock down the left fielder's job, then all the power to him.

One of the things Thames has going for him is he has lots of room for improvement. He could be better defensively, and one way to do that is to learn the ropes day-in and day-out at the position.

Eric Thames bounced around between DH and the corner outfield positions last season, so some semblance of consistency at the position would probably help.

If I had to bet on a horse right now, I'd put my money on Travis Snider over Eric Thames in a short Spring Training stint. But we all know the baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint.

In order to hold down that job the entire year, these guys will need to have consistent results. Because if they don't, I'm sure the front office won't hesitate to make the call down to Las Vegas and get the other man on the red eye to Toronto.

I definitely don't envy John Farrell and the coaching staff because they have a tough decision ahead of them. Eventually, they'll have to pick one or the other between Travis Snider and Eric Thames.

Were the decision up to me, my head says Thames, but my heart says Snider. Now may the best man win.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Blue Jays and Managing Fan Expectations


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Game Day Preparation
Image courtesy of dscphoto
At its core, baseball is a game. It's a beloved past time; something people play and watch for fun. On the other hand, it's also a business.

The MLB owners are focused on their bottom line, but occasionally I think they forget that fans are customers too. And when the customers are unhappy, it's not good for business.

Since word of mouth travels extremely fast, bad publicity can spread like wildfire. Depending on who you talk to, there are some unhappy Blue Jays fans out there that believe this off-season as a complete failure.

While the level of success is debatable, there's no question that managing fan expectations is something that the Blue Jays struggled with a great deal this off-season.

In my time following this team, I have never seen things get that far out of hand. I think the majority of that has to do with a "no comment" policy self-imposed by Alex Anthopoulos. While its purpose is to protect the players, this time it ended up doing more harm than good.

The "no comment" policy really came back to bite Alex as the rumour mongers were able to expose that weakness and let speculation run rampant. And there was no better example of rumours gone wild than the whole Yu Darvish situation.

When the fans were led to believe the Blue Jays were the favourites all along to land Yu Darvish, I can completely understand why they were so upset when it was revealed the Texas Rangers won the bid.

I tried to keep calm during the whole Yu Darvish bidding process, but I'll fully admit I was victim to the hype machine as well. After all those weeks of hearing how the Blue Jays would make a hard push for Darvish, it was a little disappointing to hear they lost out on the Japanese phenom.

The problem arises when the hype machine gets the fan base so wound up and excited at the prospect of signing these big name free agents. And then when it doesn’t happen, it seems like a complete and utter failure for the Blue Jays.

While Alex’s cone of silence is meant to protect the players and the team, it also inherently contributes to the madness. Not that he needs to reveal the entire inner workings within the organization, but he shouldn’t be afraid to step in and extinguish any rumours that have reached a critical mass.

There are other instances where Alex Anthopoulos' refusal to comment or acknowledge some things also got out of hand. When it was rumoured the Red Sox were interested in bringing John Farrell back to manage, that was another example where not commenting almost made things worse.

After a few whirlwind days, Alex finally acknowledged the whole situation by amending the team policy about operations employees making lateral moves. My suspicion is that happened because things got so out of hand, other front office members had to step in and do something to remedy the situation.

Viewing things purely from a fan standpoint, I can see why this off-season might feel like a failure for the Toronto Blue Jays. While teams around them got better by signing the best players on the market, Toronto added a few free agents like Darren Oliver and Francisco Cordero.

As all the big names like Jonathan Papelbon, Jose Reyes, Albert Pujols and others signed huge contracts for other teams, it may have appeared as though the Blue Jays just sat idly as all the best free agents went elsewhere.

But you know what? Alex Anthopoulos never professed the Blue Jays were going to make a big splash in the free agent market this off-season. He said they were instead going to go the trade route, and that he did - making six trades in total since last October.

The club has adhered to its policy of avoiding contracts over five years, and that immediately eliminated the most highly sought free agents off the Blue Jays radar. So it should have come as no surprise when Toronto stuck to their guns and didn’t sign any of them.

Were it up to me, I'd sign Prince Fielder to a gigantic contract in a heartbeat. But it's easy for me to say because it's not my money. If Alex Anthopoulos were to do the same, he'd have to justify that spending to the brass at Rogers because it's not his cash either.

I'm certain he wouldn't have to explain it once either, he'd have to rationalize those dollars every subsequent year of that contact. I can't imagine it would be very easy to sway the higher ups that it's a wise idea to pay Prince Fielder $24 million dollars at age 36. Even for the Silent Assassin, that would be an incredibly tough sell.

If AA truly felt they were a mere one or two pieces away from becoming a contender, don't you think they would've signed those players? If all it took was Prince Fielder and Yu Darvish to launch the Blue Jays into immediate contention, then I believe they would have made those moves already.

After all, having the Blue Jays back in the postseason is only good for business. The organization isn't penny-pinching and merely looking to turn a profit with a mediocre product on the field. They want to make money, and bar none the best way to bring in the most cash is to create a winning atmosphere.

It seems like there's a clear divide out there with fans when it comes to the Blue Jays parent company ... that you're either with them or you're against them. Either you're a Rogers apologist or you're a cynical skeptic. I'm not so sure the issue is as simple as black or white.

Admittedly, I find myself immersed in a shade of grey. While one hand I trust what Alex Anthopoulos has planned, on the other I get frustrated about promises of $120 million dollar payrolls and Paul Beeston's claims the team will be in the playoffs 2-3 times in the next five years.

I still don't have a grasp on what the term "payroll parameters" even means, and it irritates me when ownership says the team will boost payroll, but only once attendance figures go up first.

When I say I trust in the AA vision, it's not entirely blind faith; it's more so that I trust that he's going about things the right way. Even though some will gladly point out it's been nearly 20 years since the Blue Jays have made the postseason, that's not this current regime's responsibility.

Alex has been on the job a few years, and by now and he must have a clear picture of where he wants to go with this team. Now that the minor league system has re-established itself as one of the best in baseball, it's a great foundation for the future.

The funny thing is whether the Blue Jays are a fifth place team or first place team, I'll be a fan no matter what. Clearly it's much more exciting if Toronto is home to a first place team, but the diehard fans will be there regardless of where the Jays sit in the standings.

Where it will make a difference is with the casual to moderate Blue Jays fan. And that's not to say they're any less of a fan than anybody else. Interestingly enough, it's actually those fans that wield the most power and control the future of the fan base.

Unfortunately, that fan segment was also the one that was likely most affected by what happened with the Jays this off-season. If all they hear from the media is about how the Blue Jays didn't sign so-and-so, then that makes it look like the organization just cares about the bottom line and not the fans.

There was something that one gentleman said at the State of the Franchise last week that really struck a chord with me. He said "I'll be a Blue Jays fan until the day I die" ... and maybe it was the fact he reminded me our time here on earth is limited, but I truly admired his commitment and faith to the team.

That gentleman believes in the Toronto Blue Jays no matter what, and he always will ... whether they are a 100 loss team like they were in the late 70's, or a perennial contender like the Blue Jays were in the late 80's and early 90's. There are fans like that man who will support the Blue Jays through and through, whether they make the playoffs or not.

No matter if you're a season ticket holder, you head to the ballpark for the odd game, or whether you watch the team from afar on television, we're all fans here. We all want the same thing, and that's to see the Blue Jays win.

Basically what I'm saying is we should just let Alex Anthopoulos and Paul Beeston do their jobs. There's no sense in second-guessing their every move; looking at every acquisition in a vacuum isn't the way to measure this regime's success.

Regardless of your level of interest in the club, all I ask is that you try to see the forest through the trees. Trust the guys that are paid to do what they do, because they do in fact have the fan's best interest at heart.

If we continue to hold up our bargain of supporting the Blue Jays year after year, then the powers that be will hopefully hold up their end of the bargain and bring a championship back to Toronto.

Just like the gentleman at the State of the Franchise who professed his devotion to this team, I'll be a Blue Jays fan until I die. Before I kick the bucket though, it sure would be great to see another World Series banner hanging at the Rogers Centre.

Thanks again to dscphoto for the image. Make sure to check out his Flickr photostream, he has a knack for capturing the beauty of an empty stadium.

Update: Here's a screencap of a conversation @1BJW and I had a few weeks back about managing fan expectations. Basically this entire post summarized in about 1500 words less. His parts in green, mine in grey.


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