Flashback Friday: The Sold Out Blue Jays/Expos Canada Day Game

Friday, June 29, 2012  |  by 

There's just something about baseball and national holidays that just go great together. Sure, Memorial Day and Fourth of July games are great, but what could be better than watching both of Canada's teams play on the anniversary of the birth of this great nation?

For this week's Flashback Friday, we take a look back to the sold out Canada Day game on July 1st 1997 between the Montreal Expos and the Toronto Blue Jays.

Both of Canada's baseball teams played to a sold out crowd of 50,436 fans at the Skydome that year. That was by far the single largest game for attendance at the Skydome that year, eclipsing the next closest game by over 6,000 fans on July 5th.

On Canada's birthday, it looked to be a marquee pitching matchup between Roger Clemens and Jeff Juden. Even though Clemens would go on to win the Cy Young that year, Jeff Juden bested Clemens that day.

Juden took a page right out of the book of Clemens and struck out 14 Blue Jays through 8.1 innings of work that day. Jeff Juden struck out every Blue Jay batter in the lineup at least once. In fact, Juden only gave up two hits the entire game; one being a solo home run by Shawn Green.

It wouldn't have been Canada Day without an appearance by a canuck as Paul Quantrill was the sole Canadian player on either roster to take the field that game. Quantrill recorded the final two outs for the Blue Jays in the top of the 9th.

Ultimately, an RBI double by David Segui and a solo home run from Rondell White were enough for the Montreal Expos to hold off the Toronto Blue Jays 2-1 at the Skydome on Canada Day 1997.

Some might remember that Canada Day game for the uniforms worn by the Blue Jays. Toronto rolled out the infamous red vest jerseys with the blue undershirts for Canada Day. Not quite the most flattering ensemble, but I'll give them credit for trying something different for Canada Day.

Image courtesy of Uni Watch
For those interested, the jersey Rogers Clemens wore for the Canada Day game was autographed and up for auction back in 2006, but there's no indication how much it went for.

It may be a little early, but Happy Canada Day everyone!

Jose Bautista's June Swoon

Thursday, June 28, 2012  |  by 

Image courtesy of Daylife via Reuters Pictures
In the wake of all the pitching injuries, it can be easy to dwell on the negative things surrounding the Toronto Blue Jays. The starting rotation may be in shambles, but there are a lot of things to be thankful for right now; namely Jose Bautista.

Joey Bats has been one of the few beacons of optimism on this roster, and what he's done in the month of June alone has been nothing short of amazing. Some might have thought Bautista's power had suddenly been zapped after he was the home run king the past two seasons.

Boy, were they wrong.

And just like that, the Bautista we all know and love is back. And now he's breaking franchise records in what I'd like to call Jose Bautista's "June Swoon". Here are just a few incredible stats from Bautista's standout month:

Home Runs in June 13 1st in MLB
SLG in June .756 1st in MLB
Walks in June191st in Major Leagues
RBI's in June261st in Major Leagues
Runs in June212nd in Major Leagues
On Base Streak24 GamesSnapped June 26th

On Tuesday, Jose Bautista had his 24 game on base streak snapped. Incredibly, Jose reached base in all but one of 24 games he played in the month of June. And during those 24 games, he was held hitless during just 5 contests.

Or how about this? Jose Bautista has just only one more strikeout (14) in the month of June than he does home runs (13). Compare that with Adam Dunn who has the second most home runs in the Majors with 24, he struck out 39 times while hitting 8 home runs in June.

Yesterday, Bautista set a new Blue Jays franchise record for home runs in a single month with 13. That broke the previous record set by Carlos Delgado in August of 1999 and Jose Cruz Jr. in August of 2001.

For having this incredible of a season, it's quite remarkable that Bautista's BABIP is this criminally low. At a measly .167 batting average on balls in play, Jose has had to resort to hitting bombs to avoid making an out.

Image courtesy of Texas Leaguers Baseball
Jose Bautista only hit 7 singles the entire month, but 13 home runs. How is this even possible? I guess Jose really doesn't trust hitting the ball on the ground, and he'd much rather go deep to ensure he collects a hit.

As you can see by his spray chart, Bautista has peppered his singles mostly through the middle, while the rest of his hits in June have gone deep for home runs. Talk about feast or famine at the plate.

Here are just a few more incredible facts during Jose Bautista's "June Swoon"; he's seen 37 sinkers from right handed pitchers this month, and not swung and missed on a single one. Jose has seen 36 fastballs from lefties, and not swung and missed on a single one.

The entire month of June, Jose Bautista's batted ball breakdown goes like this:

Fly Balls41.7 %
Ground Balls41.7 %
Line Drives16.7 %
Home Runs0.5 %

What really makes Jose Bautista's June standout is over the course of his career with the Blue Jays, he hasn't quite had a standout month like he is during June. And to think, there are still three games left in the month!

In his record-breaking 2010 season, Bautista never hit more than 12 home runs in a single month. In 2011, he never hit more than 11. Basically, Bautista has been the poster boy for consistency when it comes to power these last two plus seasons.

The starting rotation may be in survival mode right now, but so long as Jose Bautista keeps swinging a hot stick as he has in June, he'll easily compensate for all the pitching deficiencies. Let's just sit back and enjoy Jose Bautista's "June Swoon".

Free Travis Snider

Monday, June 25, 2012  |  by 

Image courtesy of Daylife via AP
Going into Spring Training, the battle for the everyday left fielder's job was billed as Travis Snider vs. Eric Thames. Then once Thames claimed the title, shortly thereafter he faltered and Rajai Davis stepped in to take the reins.

After all was said and done, who ever would've ever guessed Rajai Davis would be the one blocking Travis Snider from being called up by the Toronto Blue Jays?

According to Alex Anthopoulos, there is no room on the Blue Jays roster for Travis Snider right now with the recent surge of Rajai Davis. Apparently Snider wasn't even considered as an option, which is really disheartening.

Seriously, what does Travis Snider have to do to make his way onto the Blue Jays roster? Much like Bluebird Banter, I had an inkling last week that the time for Snider might be soon, and turns out we were totally off base.

I know I'm speaking about Travis Snider as if he's entitled to that starting left fielder's job, but the Blue Jays either need to give Snider a shot already, or just let him go. You can only dangle a carrot (or in this case, a steak) for so long in front of somebody before they lose interest.

I'm so sick and tired of the way this organization has jerked Travis around over the years, and frankly I'm surprised he's managed to remain so upbeat and have a positive outlook about the whole thing. I can't say I'd be the same way.

Being yo-yoed back and forth from the majors to the minor, having your swing retooled and suffering from injuries can't be good for the psyche of a young player like Travis Snider. He's now spent parts of four seasons at the Major League level with the Blue Jays, and still has yet to play a full season.

Sure, it's only been just over a week since Snider returned from a wrist injury, but what precisely are the Blue Jays waiting for to call him up? Because I'd think that a week's worth of games would be plenty of enough time to bring him up the club.

The one conspiracy theory out there is that Alex Anthopoulos is merely showcasing Rajai Davis as trade bait, and that it's a domino effect which will lead to Travis Snider playing in left field for the Blue Jays on an everyday basis.

To be honest, I just think that Rajai Davis is merely a fourth outfielder masquerading as a starting left fielder right now. He's had a hot June and is always a threat on the basepaths, but I'm afraid that's all he adds to the ball club.

There has to be some team out there who sees Rajai Davis' speed as an asset. I just look to the trade last year for Michael Bourn as a reference point, with Bourn obviously being a much superior hitter and fielder.

For a team that needs a corner outfielder or even a centre fielder to help push them over the hump, Rajai Davis could be a very viable option. And with that $3 million dollar club option for the 2013 season, he wouldn't merely be a rental either.

So unless Alex Anthopoulos doesn't want to show his hand and admit that the Blue Jays are in fact just trying to build the trade value for Rajai Davis, I can't understand why they are keeping Travis Snider in Las Vegas.

With Travis Snider, I almost feel emotionally invested in his journey. Like I mentioned earlier, he's spent portions of four season with the Blue Jays, and I just want to see him succeed and stay in the Major Leagues.

That doesn't necessarily mean Rajai Davis has to be traded to make room for Travis Snider on the roster, but Davis should really only be relegated to fourth outfielder duties and used as a pinch runner.

I feel like the offensive and defensive upside of Snider is just so much greater than what Davis can offer this team right now. Even if Rajai is having a great month at the plate, how long is that going to last?

Judging by the way he was punishing PCL pitching, Adam Lind's call up was inevitable. Travis Snider has done everything the club has asked him to, and yet he's still in exile down in Las Vegas.

If Travis can continue to stay healthy and perform at the level he has been, hopefully that will give the Blue Jays no choice but to call him up in the coming weeks. But until that day, we'll just wait until they finally free Travis.

Flashback Friday: Dave Stieb's Back to Back One-Hitters

Friday, June 22, 2012  |  by 

Image courtesy of Toronto Mike
Back in the day, no-hitters used to be rare occurrences. This year alone, pitchers have no-hit the competition six times.

As incredible as it is to put zeros across the board, there's one feat that happened this week that hadn't been accomplished in 24 years prior.

On the heels of R.A. Dickey's back to back one-hitters earlier this week, we take a look back at the last man to accomplish the very same feat.

For this week's Flashback Friday, we salute Dave Stieb for his consecutive complete game one-hitters during the 1988 season.

Of course, Dave Stieb was notorious for his tough luck starts during his tenure as a Blue Jay, and his consecutive one-hitters on September 24th and September 30th of 1988 was just further proof of that.

Most pitchers would be more than happy to toss back to back one-hitters, but if you asked Dave Stieb, he would probably trade two of those one-hitters in a heartbeat for a no-hitter.

What makes those two starts by Dave Stieb even more impressive is that he had no-hitters broken up with two outs and two strikes on the opposition. On both occasions, Stieb was just one strike away from throwing a no-hitter.

The first start was September 24th 1988; the Blue Jays were on the road in Cleveland, and Dave Stieb was coming off a complete game four-hitter against the Indians at home. Stieb spun a gem against the tribe once again, this time on their home turf.

Of all people, it was the Cleveland Indians number nine hitter Julio Franco that broke up Dave Stieb's no-hit bid. After giving up a single right up the middle, Stieb got the 27th out and secured his one-hitter against the Indians.

Stieb took the hill the very next Friday September 30th in Toronto and picked up exactly where he left off in Cleveland. Dave Stieb silenced the Baltimore Orioles all the way until the very end, until he had a 2-2 count on pinch hitter Jim Traber.

Once again, with two outs and one strike away from collecting a no-hitter, Stieb's no-hit bid was broken up in front of the crowd at the Skydome Exhibition Stadium. That's the kind of tough luck most people can't even fathom, and yet it was a reality for Dave Stieb. 

Perhaps the most incredible fact about Stieb's second straight one-hitter was that he only needed 90 pitches to get all 27 outs, so he averaged about 10 pitches per inning or just over 3 pitches per batter.

That kind of efficiency from a starting pitcher is Halladay-esque. But Stieb was a precursor to Doc, so I guess that means I should correct myself and say that kind of efficiency was Stieb-esque.

Much like Moby Dick eluded Captain Ahab, Dave Stieb did not bag his while whale during the 1986 season. But he did finally bag his first career no-hitter in 1990. Incredibly, Dave Stieb pitched three one-hit games during the 1988 season, and five during his entire career.

R.A. Dickey's consecutive one hitters might be impressive, but my allegiance will always lie with the man who did it 24 years before him: Dave Stieb.

Drabek & Hutchison: Doomed by the Inverted W?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012  |  by 

It would be a gross understatement to say lady luck has not been very kind to the Blue Jays starters this season. Three mainstays in the starting rotation went down in a matter of just four days; what kind of a freak occurrence was that?

Despite no real warning signs, could it be that Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison were destined for injury all along?

A few years back, I delved into the injury bug that was plaguing the Blue Jays starting rotation. Back in 2009 just as they are now, it seemed like the starters were dropping like flies. It turns put part of it had something to do with the "Inverted W".

If you've never heard of the "Inverted W" before, then I highly recommend checking out this piece by Chris O'Leary titled "Death to the Inverted W". That's essentially the shape the pitcher's arms make as they cock the baseball: an upside down W.

The Inverted W isn't necessarily a death sentence for pitchers, but the list of players who displayed the symptoms and gone on to have Tommy John surgery is staggering. There's Stephen Strasburg, Mark Prior, Shaun Marcum, and B.J. Ryan just to name a few.

And now the Blue Jays could possibly be adding two more names to that list: Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison. Drabek underwent Tommy John surgery on Tuesday, and it looks like he is one of the "Inverted W" offenders (or is actually in an "Inverted L"?)

It hasn't been confirmed that Drew Hutchison will need Tommy John for his sprained UCL, but the Blue Jays are getting a second opinion in Florida. Which coincidentally, is also where Dr. James Andrews resides ... unofficially known as the grim reaper for pitchers.

Again, we see that Hutchison is lifting his elbows above his shoulders to create that Inverted W.

Although it might seem like this is something that's only affecting the Blue Jays, they aren't the only team who has been victim to one of their young starting pitchers going down to an elbow injury. Just look at Brandon Beachy, who also suffered an elbow tear similar to Kyle Drabek.

Beachy displays the textbook case of the Inverted W, so it should come as no surprise that he'll also likely need Tommy John surgery as well.

So what's the big deal about the Inverted W? ESPN did a feature piece on Tommy John surgery earlier this year focused mostly on Stephen Strasburg, but broke down the side affects of the Inverted W quite thoroughly.
"To throw a baseball properly, a pitcher must get into the right position at the right time with the right succession of movements, like dominoes falling. Disruptions in this kinetic chain, as experts call it, cause problems at the weakest link, most often the elbow or shoulder.

If a pitcher's elbows come higher than his wrists and shoulders, with the ball pointing down, he's demonstrating an "inverted W" -- a sign that his sequence is off and he's fighting his own body. Such poor timing leads to arm lag, evident when the throwing elbow trails the shoulder once the shoulders square to home plate.

Strasburg exhibits both problems, forcing him and others like him to rely more on the arm's relatively small muscles instead of the more massive ones in the legs and torso. Throw after throw, the shoulder and elbow are under extra stress.

The higher the pitch's velocity and the worse the flaw, the more the arm suffers. And the more a pitcher throws, the worse it gets."
The whole kinesiology and biomechanics involved in a pitcher's windup and delivery is something that's rather complicated, but one wonders that if the Blue Jays coaching staff have noticed the Inverted W in Drabek, Hutchison or any other pitcher's delivery. if it's in fact something that can be fixed.

It seems like the Inverted W is the side affect of a timing issue with a pitcher's delivery. The elbows are being elevated, therefore there's more stress on those joints. And the reason for that seems to be because the pitcher is lagging in their delivery and has to overcompensate by getting more power from his arms rather than his legs.

I don't know if it's something that's an easy fix, especially for someone like Kyle Drabek who has spent years on end with the same delivery. The much more deep-rooted problem seems to be Drabek's timing, and his tendency to fall off the mound towards first base.

The strange thing about Kyle Drabek is there are some photos where he's clearly displaying the Inverted W or Inverted L, and then there are others where his delivery looks nothing of the sort.

Correcting the Inverted W might be more successful with Drew Hutchison because he's still relatively in the infancy of his pitching career compared to Kyle Drabek. Really though, these guys are just going to pitch they way they've always pitched.

The Blue Jays don't necessarily need to go back to the drawing board and completely overhaul Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison's delivery, but the Inverted W is definitely something that should be on their radar.

Images courtesy of Daylife via Getty Images and Reuters Pictures

Brett Lawrie's WAR Discrepancy

Tuesday, June 19, 2012  |  by 

Image courtesy of Daylife via Reuters Pictures
There was something interesting I discovered while perusing Baseball Reference the other day. Brett Lawrie, yes the Brett Lawrie, is ranked 2nd in all of baseball with a 3.8 WAR.

I was reminded of this anomaly after 500 Level Fan also noticed that Lawrie was near the top of the WAR leaders over on B-R. But here's the odd thing ... if you head over to FanGraphs, Brett Lawrie ranks 25th with a 2.3 WAR.

Considering that Baseball Reference and FanGraphs use slightly different formulas for wins above replacement, it's not all that surprising they they came up with varying results for Lawrie's WAR. But that 1.5 WAR discrepancy is a pretty big one.

If we're lead to believe Baseball Reference's take on WAR, Brett Lawrie is having a better season than Josh Hamilton, David Wright and Ryan Braun among many others. In fact, only Joey Votto (4.2 WAR) ranks higher than Lawrie.

Brett's having a great season by anybody's standards, but I don't think he's anywhere close to that echelon of Josh Hamilton or Ryan Braun this year ... not offensively, at least. WAR isn't perfect, but there's something fishy going on there.

Thanks to all the folks out on Twitter that let me know the main difference between Baseball Reference's WAR and FanGraphs WAR is Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) versus Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR).

Depending on how you look at it, here's the flaw in using DRS over UZR and vice versa; DRS takes the shift into account, while UZR does not.

The last instance I can remember was when the Blue Jays were in Chicago a few weeks ago. They had the shift on for Adam Dunn, and he hit right into it and Lawrie threw out Dunn at first base from right field. He would've been credited with a run saved, but nothing in the way of UZR points.

I personally think Defensive Runs Saved gives a better literal translation of what a defender contributes to a game, as opposed to Ultimate Zone Rating which just spits out an arbitrary number which tells more about a fielder's range.

In layman's terms, Baseball Reference's WAR weighs a little more heavily of defense. In fact, over 80% of Brett Lawrie's WAR is contributed to his glove and range, and not his bat (hat tip to @instreamsports). 

Truth be told, I really don't know whether Baseball Reference's WAR or FanGraphs WAR assessment of Brett Lawrie is more accurate. Lawrie does lead his position at DRS, but he also ranks up there in errors. Then again, he's had far more chances than anybody at his position with the most assists.

The odds are Brett Lawrie is going to get to baseballs and make outs that most other third baseman won't. His relentless and sometimes reckless style of play allows Lawrie to have a much larger body of work than his counterparts at the hot corner.

I gave it an old college try and attempted to figure out the calculations for Baseball Reference and FanGraphs WAR, but it was all just way too over my head. The main difference is DRS vs. UZR, which allows Baseball Reference's WAR to be a little more inflated for Lawrie than FanGraphs.

If you can provide any further insight into the issue, please feel free to share it in the comments below. Thanks!

Flashback Friday: Damaso Garcia Sets His Uniform on Fire

Friday, June 15, 2012  |  by 

Image courtesy of Morthas.com
Some guys take some extra batting practice to get out of a slump. Other guys resort to growing facial hair or donning an interesting undergarment to get out of their funk.

But there was one man who decided that burning his uniform might drastically change his luck at the plate. For this week's Flashback Friday, we take a look back at the infamous Damaso Garcia uniform burning incident.

The day in question was May 14th 1986; the Blue Jays were in dead last in the division, Dave Stieb was still searching for his first win in 7 starts, and Jimmy Key's ERA was 10.41. Needless to say, it was a rough time for the Blue Jays.

It was also a rough time for Damaso Garcia. After spending the previous four seasons as the Blue Jays leadoff hitter, new manager Jimy Williams decided to shake things up and bat Garcia 9th to start the 1986 season.

Garcia eventually worked his way back to the top of the Blue Jays order, but there was something else that would set him off in a pyromaniac rage.  Damaso went 0 for 4 on the game and question, and also committed an error in the 8th inning which lead to five runs being scored by the A's.

The game was tied 3-3 until Damaso Garcia booted a routine ground ball at second, which lead to the A's 9-4 win. And so, Damaso resorted to some drastic measures to exorcise his demons following the contest

Following the game, Damaso resorted to some drastic measures to exorcise his demons. Garcia took his Blue Jays uniform and cap into the showers in the visitor's clubhouse at the Coliseum, doused them in alcohol, and lit them on fire.

Here's Damaso's explanation for taking a match to his uniform:
"I was just frustrated with myself, frustrated with the way I've been playing. Some guys break bats, break up clubhouses. I just decided to go a little crazy and burn my uniform."
And apparently he wasn't the only one who went on a tirade, George Bell also demolished a plastic chair to get his frustrations out.

Needless to say, Blue Jays manager Jimy Williams was none too pleased with the actions of his second baseman and reprimanded him in front of the team. The issue Williams had was that Damaso was defacing the Blue Jays logo and essentially the entire organization by setting his uniform and cap ablaze

Garcia's teammate Tony Fernandez thought some folks might have taken Damaso's actions out of context:
"He did it out of frustration. I know Damo, Damo is a very proud man, Latin players are very proud, and sometimes you are so frustrated you don't know how to express that frustration and the best way for him to express that was by burning.

Basically he was saying to himself, 'I'm going bad with this uniform, I need a new uniform, I need to create something to break out of this problem.' He never thought that could create such a controversy." (courtesy of Sportsnet)
Heck, even Cito Gaston (the Blue Jays hitting coach at the time) chimed in on the issue:
"I don't know why he would do something like that. Maybe he was frustrated by losing."
Burning one's uniform is an extremely unorthodox slump busting method, but whatever reason, it actually worked.

Damaso Garcia strung together a 7-game hit streak, and collected 53 hits in his next 40 games with the Blue Jays. In fact, from May 16th onward, Garcia hit .296 with 101 hits the remainder of the '86 season.

Quite ironically, the Blue Jays released some fire safety baseball cards the previous year, and of course Damaso Garcia was one of the features players. Here's what the reverse of his card looked like.
Image courtesy of BlueJaysCards.com

Quotes courtesy of The Globe and Mail. Hat tip to @Minor_Leaguer.

Clash of the Titans: Bautista vs. Strasburg

Thursday, June 14, 2012  |  by 

I'm a sucker for a great pitcher/batter battle. I love to see the league's best hitters square off against the league's best hurlers. So you can tell that yesterday's Stephen Strasburg/Jose Bautista was right in my wheelhouse.

Back in 2009, it was the Roy Halladay vs. Albert Pujols matchup at the MLB All-Star Game that had me salivating. Last year, it was the clash between one former idol and a current idol when Roy Halladay pitched against Jose Bautista during the Canada Day series.

And we all remember what happened during that game.

Anyway, back to Strasburg vs Bautista - close to 42,000 fans were there to witness two of the best players in the game face off against each other, and presumably some were in the stands to actually see both guys.

Jose Bautista and Stephen Strasburg faced off, and in just his second at bat lifetime against the young phenom, Jose reminded Strasburg exactly why he's been the home run king the past two seasons.

I don't know whether it was Strasburg flexing his muscle, but apparently he wasn't very impressed by Jose Bautista's home run. MLB.com's Chris Toman chatted with Strasburg and he said something to the effect of "that home run wouldn't be a home run in any other ballpark".

While the Rogers Centre is among the Top 10 ballparks in the league for home runs right now, it isn't quite a home run haven like Coors Field. That being said, Stephen Strasburg attributed the home run by Bautista to park factors, rather than admitting he just got beat.

Strasburg might have thought that he got robbed on Bautista's high fly ball to left field, but the truth was that it traveled 345 feet according to ESPN's Home Run Tracker.

Using their field overlay tool, we can see if that home run would clear the fence at any other ballpark in the Major Leagues.

Image courtesy of ESPN Home Run Tracker
Low and beyond, the ball would've been a home run in Nationals Park (albeit just barely), so there goes that argument Mr. Strasburg.

Jose Bautista and Stephen Strasburg faced off three times yesterday and Jose went 1 for 2 with a home run and a walk. I can't wait to see what happens during the sequel at the All-Star Game in Kansas City.

Oh, Those Washington Nationals

Wednesday, June 13, 2012  |  by 

Image courtesy of Daylife via Reuters Pictures
Just like our friends the Tampa Bay Rays, I miss the days when the Washington Nationals used to be the perennial doormat of their division. After years of hoarding first round picks, the Nats are finally enjoying the fruits of their labour.

As I was liveblogging last night's Nationals/Blue Jays game, something became very evident to me; the Washington Nationals have put together a very good team.

Of all the teams in the Major Leagues playing over their heads right now (the Orioles, Dodgers, Pirates, for example), I think Washington is likely the most legitimate contender of the bunch. Their starting pitching is their crowning jewel, and their starting lineup isn't even firing on all cylinders yet.

The following are some of my disjointed thoughts from the game.

You Can't Stop Harper

When the Washington Nationals called up Bryce Harper a few weeks ago, it was one of necessity after Jayson Werth went on the disabled list. Now that Harper has played his way onto the team, I don't think there's any way he can play his way off of it.

Watching Bryce Harper play this well at just 19 years old really makes me re-evaluate how unproductive I was at that age. My idea of a feat of strength was somehow managing to drag myself to 8am class after $2 Corona night at Kokopelli's.

Brett Lawrie's Baserunning 101

Click image for Animated GIF
Either Brett Lawrie was auditioning for Riverdance, or he didn't quite pull of the stolen base quite the way he had hoped.

I can appreciate Brett Lawrie trying to make something happen on the basepaths, but this is just one of the numerous baserunning gaffes by Lawrie in recent memory. If Brett continues to run into outs, then John Farrell might have to put the red light up on Lawrie.

Then again, I keep forgetting that Brett Lawrie is basically still a rookie. In fact, I noticed that same aggressiveness in Bryce Harper on the basepaths that cost the Nationals an out last night, so maybe it's just an experience thing.

The Auspicious Alvarez

With the way Alvarez has been pitching as of late, he may have been overdue for a blowup sooner or later. However, I believe his repertoire could actually prove to be effective long term. In fact, Henderson Alvarez has kept the damage to a minimum for the most part.

It's very difficult to overlook the three home runs Alvarez surrendered, but aside from that he had an okay outing. Now if Henderson could just get that HR/9 somewhere around the 1 mark, he could really shine.

The one thing I really noticed last night during Henderson's starts was the movement on his pitches to left-handed hitters. This pitch has so much movement on it, that it looks like a whiffleball.

Click image for Animated GIF
It's just a shame that it missed just slightly off the plate and Jeff Mathis couldn't get a glove on it, because that was one nasty pitch.

Who Looked Worse?

There were some pretty ugly swings last night, but perhaps no two were worse than the strikeout swings by Ian Desmond and Rajai Davis. The Pitch F/X just goes to show how far those pitches were off the plate.

So who looked worse? Ian Desmond ...

Or Rajai Davis?

My vote goes to Rajai Davis, who seemingly swing at a pitch that was rolled up to the batter's box.

Get Lawrie a Seamstress, Stat

One of the side affects of playing the game full-tilt is that it will result in the occasional pair of split trousers. Or was this just Brett Lawrie's way of teasing his new underwear line - "Ripped" by Lawrie?

Why I Can't Stand Interleague Play

Monday, June 11, 2012  |  by 

Image courtesy of SportsLogos.net
There is nothing exciting about a sacrifice bunt. There is nothing exciting about double switches or watching pitchers running the bases. I said it two years ago, I said it last year, and I'll say it once again - I can't stand Interleague play.

Maybe a large part of it has to due with the Blue Jays less than favourable record against National League teams, but Interleague series simply just don't do it for me.

Interleague series were instituted by Bud Selig back in 1997, and he likely sees it as one of the crowning jewels of his regime as baseball's commissioner. To have American League teams play National League teams 18 times per season.

That's over one-tenth of a team's schedule spent playing teams they otherwise might not see in the next 4-5 years down the road. So rather than balance the MLB schedule, Bud Selig would rather have the Blue Jays play unnatural rivals like the New York Mets and the Florida Marlins.

I'm not saying I'm against Interleague play entirely; that little three game series in late May against the Mets was fine. But it's one thing for Interleague games to be a novelty, but it's another to make it complete overkill.

Here's a question for Blue Jays fans - would you rather see the Blue Jays play a series against the Florida Marlins? Or would you rather see them play the Detroit Tigers more than two series a season? The Tigers are a historical and regional rival of the Blue Jays, so it only makes sense to increase those games.

My friend Andrew decided to watch Friday's Braves/Jays game on the Peachtree TV feed just as a change of pace, and apparently the Braves commentators took the Blue Jays to task for not playing the game the "right way" ... as in the National League way.

Where the Braves traditionally play with nine players on the field, the Braves commentators remarked how the Blue Jays have the upper hand by playing with ten players.

If anything, I'd say the Blue Jays were the ones at the disadvantage this weekend with their pitchers having to swing the bat ... where they otherwise would sit in the dugout and focus on pitching.

Jon Morosi has advocated that in order to make Interleague games more interesting, the American League teams should adopt the National League rules when playing at home and vice verca. While that would change things up a little bit, it still leaves the fact that pitchers would be hitting.

Like I said off the top, there's nothing exciting about asking the pitcher in the number nine position in the lineup to lay down a bunt. Nor should it be exhilirating when one pitcher cuts up another. Because that's exactly what you'd expect to happen.

I think that's my big problem with Interleague play, and more specifically the National League rules games - it's the predictability of that style of baseball. There's not as much of an element of surprise in the senior circuit as there is the junior circuit.

As we saw on Sunday, Edwin Encarnacion was camped out in left field for the very first time in his Major League career. This was just of the textbook National League examples of camping a less than exemplary fielder on the outfield or first base just to work their bat into the lineup.

Not only that, but I recall John Farrell remarked back in Spring Training that Encarnacion might get some work in left field during these Interleague games in June. So Farrell had to plot out some defensive lineups two to three months before the games would even take place.

So for all these reasons, you can understand why this 15-game stretch for the Blue Jays is probably my least favourite portion of the schedule. Sure, there are games against the Phillies and Braves, but the last time these teams competed against each other with something on the line was 20 years ago.

Rather than force these Interleague "rivalries" down people's throats, I think this energy would be much more well spent in balancing the schedule. But I'm afraid that so long as Bud Selig is the commissioner, things won't be much different.

Don't Blame Cordero

Saturday, June 9, 2012  |  by 

Image courtesy of Daylife via Getty Images
I know how frustrated Blue Jays fans are at witnessing the opposing team win in walk-off fashion in back to back games. As Francisco Cordero was the losing pitcher on both occasions, it can be easy to point the finger and blame the pitcher of record for both losses.

This might not be a popular opinion around the blogosphere or Twitterverse today, but it's not Cordero's fault. Francisco Cordero was actually the least of the Blue Jays' worries last night in Atlanta.

There were many factors at play in the loss, and Cordero's appearance in the 10th was just the tipping point. Not only that, but J.P. Arencibia's bad throw to third base just put things right over the top.

I understand the rationale behind the frustration towards Cordero because fans want to hold the players accountable in losses. But it's much easier to vilify one particular player and harbour all their anger towards them as opposed to the collective team.

If people want to be upset, they should be upset that the Blue Jays were 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position. Or the fact that they left 9 men on base. In the past two games combined, the Blue Jays were 1 for 17 with runners in scoring position and left 19 men on base.

Looking at those statistics, it should come as no surprise that the Blue Jays lost the last two games. All that considered, it's rather impressive Toronto managed to actually keep it close and make it one-run losses.

The fact is that when you go 1 for 17 with runners in scoring position, there's an extremely small margin of error. When the Blue Jays were that stingy with the runs, they couldn't afford to make any pitching or defensive mistakes or miscues late in the game.

The Atlanta Braves went 0 for 12 themselves, and still somehow managed to win. It's because they capitalized on those errors made by the Blue Jays and that's how they won the game. The Blue Jays also received a few lucky bounces (the Rajai Davis call at second), but couldn't capitalize.

I'm not saying fans shouldn't be pissed off, because everyone has the right to be angry about those losses. Perhaps that anger is misplaced in Francisco Cordero, J.P. Arencibia, or even the first base umpire who called a balk on Chad Beck.

People are mad at those guys when they should really be upset at the starting lineup for only scoring with one runner in scoring position in 17 tries the past two games. Then again, it's easier to make one player a scapegoat instead of a collective of nine hitters.

Considering how up and down this season has been for Francisco Cordero, I find it somewhat surprising that I'm defending him here. Cordero has not been without his faults in 2012, which is why he's been an easy target for scrutiny.

Since Cordero and Arencibia were the last two people to touch the baseball, they're the last players that stick out in people's minds in a walk-off loss. However, they're the last two players who should've been scapegoats in that game.

Over the course of a 162 game season, teams will be on the receiving end of lucky breaks as well as tough bounces. The past two games, the Blue Jays suffered some tough bounces.

The best way to minimize those tough bounces and maximize those lucky breaks is quite simple ... score more runs.

Flashback Friday: The Upside Down Canadian Flag

Friday, June 8, 2012  |  by 

O Canada. Our home and native land. And apparently, it's also the home of the upside down maple leaf?

Depending on who you talk to, it was either a great disrespect or a simple mistake. Regardless of your stance, it still stands as one of the most memorable moments of the 1992 World Series.

For this Flashback Friday, we take a look back at the upside down Canadian flag from the 1992 World Series.

The date was October 18th 1992; the series remained in Atlanta going into Game 2 against the Braves, as they took the opener 3-1 on the back of a complete game four-hitter by Tom Glavine.

Spirits weren't exactly flying high for Toronto going into Game 2 at Turner Field, and their home flag wasn't flying properly either. Due to a bit of miscommunication, the Canadian flag was flown upside down.

During the signing of the national anthems, the U.S. Marine Corps flew both the U.S. and Canadian Flags, but due to a bit of a gaffe by the flag holder, the Canadian maple leaf was upside down.

Just to add insult to injury, Tom Cochrane stumbled through signing the Canadian national anthem as he messed up a few lines. All in all, not a good night for Canada.

The explanation of the upside down flag was that the Marine Corps only had the standard issue American and Marine Corps flags prepared to fly, and that the Canadian flag was provided by stadium officials mere moments before the marines were to go on the field.

Interestingly enough, an upside down flag is an international sign of distress, but it didn't seem to affect the Blue Jays as they won Game 2 of the World Series 5-4.

Image courtesy of Toronto Star Archives (hat tip to @Minor_Leaguer)
Just as this post proves, fans never forget mistakes like that. As the series turned to Toronto, vendors took to the streets selling t-shirts with upside down American flags.

In fact, it seemed as though it was an international concern as even George Bush had to do a bit of damage control. He assured Canadians that the United States would never do anything to hurt the national Flag of Canada.

Bush Sr. issued two official apologies, and as a sign of goodwill, a New York Marine unit paraded a Canadian flag into the Skydome, as the Royal Mounted Canadian Police carried in the American Flag.

Just to make sure that the Canadian flag was flow right side up for Game 3 of the World Series, baseball deputy commissioner Steve Greenberg received a fax of the Canadian flag with the word "TOP" across the top of the page.

These days, it's not uncommon for US television networks to skip the singing of the Canadian national anthem and go to commercial break. I think that's much more of a disservice to Canadians than a simple mistake like flying the flag upside down.

It may have been an honest mistake, but the upside down Canadian flag is one thing I'll always remember about the Blue Jays playing in Atlanta. And oh yeah ... winning a World Series.

Image courtesy of Getty Images

Does David Cooper Have a Future at First Base?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012  |  by 

Image courtesy of Fantasy CPR
It's incredible to think it's been nearly three weeks since the Blue Jays sent Adam Lind down to Triple A Las Vegas. I say incredible because it seems like the team has not missed him one bit. It's been business with usual, even with Adam Lind off the 40-man roster.

Part of that can be attributed to the lack of offense on Adam Lind's part, but part can also be linked to the recent resurgence of David Cooper.

As the Tao of Stieb would say, Cooper's about as exciting as a mayonnaise sandwich, but David Cooper certainly cuts the mustard as the Blue Jays first baseman ... for the time being.

I figured by now the ghost of Adam Lind would be haunting the Blue Jays roster, but honestly I've barely even noticed that Lind has been out of the lineup for the past 17 games. 

Most are quick to dismiss Cooper's PCL batting title from last season because ... well, it's the Pacific Coast League. The offensive statistics are inflated, but hitting at a .364 clip over the course of 120 games in a hitter's league is still pretty impressive in my books.

Going into this season, David Cooper's future was very uncertain in the organization. With Adam Lind locked in for several years, it seemed as though Cooper's destiny might be that of trade bait or he might become stuck in limbo as a quadruple A player.

But ever since the wheels came off with Adam Lind, that's opened the door of opportunity for David Cooper. And I have to say, I like what I've seen so far.

Not that Lind was the worst defensive first baseman out there, but I much prefer to see Cooper at first at his natural position. He really does remind me of John Olerud out there, and fields the position very well.

Having David Cooper at first base also takes the pressure off Edwin Encarnacion to step in as the first baseman. Sure, Eddie is okay in a pinch at first base, but I don't think he's a viable option as an everyday first baseman.

Offensively, Cooper doesn't quite have the pop that Adam Lind did, but I'm okay with that. David Cooper had 50 career home runs in the minor leagues, so power is not one of Cooper's strong suits. But racking up hits and getting on base have been his hallmarks in the minors.

For some reason, there's this stigma that in order to compete in the American League East, the Blue Jays need to have a slugging first baseman. Honestly, I think so long as the power is made up elsewhere in the lineup (say right field for example), then the Blue Jays don't need a slugger at first.

Just take a look around the rest of the division; the only first baseman in the AL East who has more than 10 home runs right now is Edwin Encarnacion.

Also, ask the Detroit Tigers  how they're feeling about the early returns from their $214 million dollar contract to Prince Fielder, and ask the Los Angeles Angels where they stand on their $240 million dollar contract to Albert Pujols.

That's not to say these players won't pick it up in the second half, but that's what the prototypical slugging first baseman are doing for their prospective teams. So having one of these players on the roster doesn't necessarily equate to success.

That's where it all comes back to John Olerud once again. He wasn't the typical big-bodied first baseman that hit 30+ home runs and drove in 100+ RBI's year after year. Johnny O was still an offensive threat, but a different kind of offensive threat.

If the closest comparison to David Cooper is John Olerud, then that's pretty promising. Of course, this is all very easy to say as Cooper has only 37 at bats this season, but the early results are very encouraging.

A few years ago, before he decided to sign with the Pittsburgh Pirates, I advocated that the Blue Jays should resign Lyle Overbay. Part of it was because it would be fiscally smart thing to do, but mostly because it would be better to sign the devil the Blue Jays knew rather than the devil they didn't.

And I think the same thing applies to the first base situation right now for Toronto. Over his tenure with the Blue Jays, we pretty much knew what to expect from Lyle Overbay. And I believe the same could be true for David Cooper.

When it comes to planning for the future at first base for the Blue Jays, better the devil you know than the devil you don't for over $200 million dollars and 7-10 years.

The Fans Are Coming Back to the Rogers Centre

Monday, June 4, 2012  |  by 

Image courtesy of Daylife via Getty Images
There was something very interesting I noticed during this past series against the Boston Red Sox. And it had absolutely nothing to do with with what happened on the field, it's what happened in the stands.

If you attended any of the three games this weekend I'm sure you noticed a heavier than normal crowd at the Rogers Centre as well. I say heavier than normal because these kinds of crowds are typical of marquee summer series, rather than a rain-filled weekend in early June.

Over the weekend, the Globe and Mail had a feature on how the Blue Jays are facing an uphill battle trying to draw new fans to an old ballpark (featuring the wonderful Meredith Rogers). The article suggests the Blue Jays are slowly turning the tide in attendance numbers, and that appears to be true.

Over the weekend, the Blue Jays drew 114,993 fans over the course of three games. That actually outnumbers the Blue Jays 2012 Home Opening series (100,109 fans) and even the last three Home Opening series at the Rogers Centre.

Those numbers are somewhat surprising considering it was a overall dreary weekend weather wise, and also because the Don Valley Parkway and Gardiner Expressway were closed on Sunday, which made it a headache to get to the dome for some commuters.

Frankly, it's apples to oranges as often times comparing attendance numbers straight up is an inexact science. It all depends on whether it's the Yankees/Red Sox, whether it's a long weekend, and even giveaways.

Nonetheless, here are what the attendance numbers have looked like over the past five years through the first 28 home games of the season.

To this date, 725,336 fans have passed through the turnstiles at the Rogers Centre since Opening Day. During that same time period last season, 556,009 fans turned out to see the Blue Jays in 2011. That's an incredible 23% increase in ticket sales year over year through the first 28 home games.

The Blue Jays have been benefit of a few high marquee opponents this early in the season. They did open the season against the Red Sox and just wrapped up a three game set against them, but aside from that, there really haven't been any other big draws that can be attributed to the opponent.

The New York Mets series that drew 103,541 fans was a bit of a perfect storm; it coincided with a holiday weekend, it was balmy weather that weekend, and there was also a bobblehead giveaway on the Sunday. Remove just one of those elements, and there's no way 100,000+ fans come out to see the Mets.

Even though the Blue Jays have been the benefit of some favourable matchups so far, I think this is a trend that's likely to continue. And I think the key demographic that's making a difference in attendance is definitely the younger crowd.

I'm definitely seeing a much young contingent at the ballpark these days, and not only are the fans getting younger and younger, but it seems like they're even more rabid for Blue Jays content than any other cross-section of fans.

When I say younger, I don't mean young children aged 5-10, I mean the 12-18 crowd. It seems like that demographic was virtually non-existent just a few years ago. And if these fans are going to take the path like many of us did, then they'll be fans for life.

Now with the integration of Twitter Tuesdays and other various social media, the Blue Jays are right up these young fan's alleys. The word is spreading like wildfire, and I think a lot of it had to do with the youthfulness of this team.

The fans truly feel like they can connect much more freely with players like Brett Lawrie, J.P. Arencibia, Colby Rasmus and Ricky Romero. As much as some people dislike the Twitter Tuesdays promotion, if it helps breed a new crop of Blue Jays fans, then I'm all for it.

All these things considered, it's finally "cool" to be a Blue Jays fan again. In previous years, Blue Jays devotees used to be in the minority in the city of Toronto and across Canada ... but not anymore. Even the TV numbers are up 19% compared to last season (via Blue Jays producer Doug Walton).

Ultimately though, it's not how many times Brett Lawrie tweets or the giveaway days that will drive more people to the Rogers Centre. We all know a consistent winning environment is the key to steadily building attendance numbers.

However, the early results from the 2012 attendance numbers are very encouraging. The Blue Jays have done almost everything right off the field to drive up attendance numbers, now they just need everything to go right on the field to bring in even more fans.

Flashback Friday: Duane Ward's 45 Save Season

Friday, June 1, 2012  |  by 

Image courtesy of Dunedin Blue Jays
The closer; it's the last line of defense. Their job is to take the ball with a lead, and get the final three outs.

For a very long time during the late 80's and early 90's, the ninth inning was something the Blue Jays never had to worry about. One man who was a big reason for that was none other than Duane Ward.

For this week's Flashback Friday, we take a look back at Duane Ward's 45 save season. The mark of 45 saves still stands as the most in Blue Jays franchise history. B.J. Ryan came close to Ward's mark with 38 saves in 2008, but nobody has broken 40 but Duane Ward.

1993 was a special year on all fronts for the Blue Jays, and it was also a year for opportunity for Duane Ward. After waiting in the wings for five seasons watching Tom Henke notch saves for the Blue Jays, 1993 was the year Duane Ward was finally anointed as Toronto's closer.

As Tom Henke departed for free agency after the 1992 season and signed with the Texas Rangers, Duane Ward made a seamless transition from setup man to closer and picked right up where the Terminator left off.

In a realm where it's not uncommon to see four saves blown over the course of a few weeks, Duane Ward only blew four saves all season long. In total, Ward was 45 for 51 in save opportunities during the 1993 season.

Not only was 1993 a career season in the way of saves for Duane Ward, but he also posted a career highs in WHIP at 1.033 and in K/9 with an average of 12.2 strikeouts per nine innings.

Duane Ward was the quintessential workhorse in the bullpen. 1993 was the fourth consecutive season in which Ward made 71 or more appearances, which is unheard of in today's realm of relief pitchers. However, Ward was used exclusively in the closer's role in 1993 as he tossed "only" 71.2 innings.

Prior to that year, Ward had a streak of five consecutive seasons with over 100 innings pitched. In fact, Ward's 636 total innings pitched from 1988-1993 was tops in the Major Leagues by any reliever, eclipsing his closest competition Mike Jackson by 110 innings.

Up until last season, Duane Ward also held the franchise record for most appearances with 452. However, that record was eclipsed last season by Jason Frasor who now holds the record for most appearances.

Perhaps racking up all those innings is what ultimately lead to Duane Ward's downfall. Ward was sidelined for the entire 1994 season with biceps tendinitis and retired shortly into the 1995 season after appearing in just four games with the Blue Jays.

It's a shame that Duane Ward only spent one season as the Blue Jays closer because there's no telling what kind of damage he could have done had he remained in that role for even a few more years.

Duane Ward may have been a closer for only one season, but it still remains the gold standard for a Blue Jays reliever in which all others are measured against. We haven't seen a season like that of Duane Ward's a while, and we might never again in a very long time.

Thanks to @GhostRunnrOn3rd for this week's Flashback Friday suggestion. If you have anything you'd like to see from the Blue Jays vault in a future Flashback Friday post, just let me know by emailing bluejayhunter@gmail.com.

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