Wednesday, February 27, 2013
"Playoffs or bust"; it may not be the official mantra of the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays, but after all the moves they've made this offseason, it may as well be.
Prior to the bevvy of trades and signings, back in September I wrote about my desire to see the Toronto Blue Jays back in the playoffs. After years of meddling in mediocrity, it seemed like the opportune time for the Blue Jays to do some damage.
And damage is what they did.
The conversations I've had with people this offseason have gone essentially the same way. The exchange always starts with speaking about how the Blue Jays made some big moves this winter, and how on paper they are poised to be a very good team.
But it always inevitably comes back to this question; what if the Blue Jays don't make the playoffs this year?
Any other year, it would merely be another notch in the Blue Jays 20 year playoff drought; the third longest in Major League baseball. The difference this year is the front office clearly is taking a more active attempt at ending that drought.
And that's all we can really as of Alex Anthopoulos and company, is that they at least try to put the best team on the field. In recent years, they may have been guilty of selling this team as a contender when really it wasn't, but that is not the case in 2013.
Now I hate to be a wet blanket, but the evil twin of hope ... is despair. And I would hate to see all this excitement about the Blue Jays simply fizzle out as the season dwindles down, much like it has in the past.
Drew noted over at Getting Blanked that hope is higher than it has ever been in Blue Jays Land, and rightfully so. But the offseason acquisitions signaled the start of an entirely new stratosphere of expectations.
In this regime, there have been countless shrewd moves; creative cost-cutting measures when it comes to salaries and stockpiling draft picks. Those are the types of things that are usually applauded, with one caveat; so long as they deliver results.
Up until now, Alex Anthopoulos has yet to deliver a contender at the big league level. But if there ever was a Blue Jays squad that looked like a legitimate threat in the AL East, this would be it.
There has always been optimism going into Opening Day, but not since 1993 has this team gone into the first game of the season as the team to beat.
There was always this mentality that if an inordinate amount of things break right for the Blue Jays, then they might have a chance. And yours truly has been guilty of buying into that mentality year after year.
If every member of the starting rotation stayed healthy and put up career bests, then they could be a decent team. If everybody in the starting lineup had a career year, there's a chance the Blue Jays could have a shot.
That's a lot of "ifs".
The prime example I can think of is Colby Rasmus. Last year, the Blue Jays relied heavily on the offensive contributions of Rasmus in the first half. Then for one reason or another, Rasmus completely fell off a cliff in the second half, and for a number of other reasons, so too did the Blue Jays.
Expectations for players like Colby Rasmus are not nearly as high this time around. The pressure has been alleviated, so all he needs to do is simply perform better this season than he did last year to help contribute.
Again, there's no doubting the Blue Jays have showed potential in the past few years, but not only did everything need to break right for them to have a shot, everything also needed to break wrong from the other teams in the division to give the Blue Jays a window for contention.
The way the roster is currently constructed, this team doesn't even need to perform at 100% in order to give themselves a chance to make the playoffs. There is at least some margin for error, when in previous years there wasn't.
I wasn't quite old enough to understand the gravity of what happened in 1992 and 1993, but I imagine this is the very same optimism that surrounded the Blue Jays in the late 80's and early 90's.
Year-in and year-out, the Blue Jays were legitimate contenders ... and it was almost a huge disappointment even if they did make the playoffs but failed to win the World Series.
Another possible shift with this current incarnation of the Toronto Blue Jays is it could mean the Blue Jays become buyers at the trade deadline instead of sellers.
If the Blue Jays are performing well and could benefit from some upgrades at the trade deadline, they won't hesitate to do like they did in 1992 and 1993 and acquire an impact player like David Cone or Rickey Henderson to help them down the stretch.
Because at this point, the Blue Jays have invested so much money into this roster, they may as well do everything in their power to secure a spot in the postseason. Even if that means parting with prospects or big league players.
For me personally, 2013 is somewhat of an odd culture change in that there has always been this sort of endearing underdog quality about the Blue Jays. The Red Sox and Yankees were always the beasts of the AL East, and that meant the road to the postseason always went through Boston and New York.
But with the advent of the Tampa Bay Rays as a surprise contender in 2007, that all changed. The entire dynamic of the division shifted and no longer was it just a two-team race in the American League East.
So it's kind of odd to see the Blue Jays, who used to be the weaker little brother of the AL East suddenly vault themselves to the top of the heap as the World Series favourite.
Will it be the end of the world if the Blue Jays don't make the playoffs this year? No, but for a fan base that has been through so much over the past 20 years, Blue Jays fans deserve a winner now more than ever.
The Blue Jays may falter in 2013, but unlike the past 19 years, it won't be the fault of the front office. As R.A. Dickey said, "if we don't win, it won't be because of him (Alex) or the team he put together, it will be because we didn't do it as a unit."
Now it's up to those 25 guys to hold up their end of the bargain and end the Blue Jays 20 year playoff drought.
Friday, February 22, 2013
|Courtesy of Zimbio|
For a man who has tallied 124 home runs over the past three years, repair is the last thing one would think Jose Bautista's swing needs. But after sustaining a season-ending wrist injury, perhaps it is time to look into the idiosyncrasies of his swing.
After fiddling around with his swing for years, Jose Bautista finally got into a groove in the latter part of the 2009 season after working with hitting coach Dwayne Murphy and Cito Gaston. They finally perfected a swing and stance that maximized the power out of Bautista's 190 pound six-foot frame.
Over the past few years, the idiosyncrasies of Jose Bautista's swing and stance have become second nature to most, but it was only upon closer inspection that I noticed a couple things which may or may not be a cause for concern.
The first thing that jumps out to me is the positioning of Jose Bautista's feet in the batter's box prior to his stride.
Occasionally batters will turn their plant foot in towards their body, but in this particular instance below, Bautista's foot is at a very large angle in ... nearly perpendicular to his body
I suppose his foot position is almost irrelevant because he ultimately ends up in the correct position following his stride. Batters have and inordinate amount of foot positions prior to swing, all that matters is they follow-through correctly.
The second thing is how Bautista's left foot (or his plant foot) nearly rolls over onto itself, as the torque from his right side nearly twists his ankle. Frankly, I think it's a miracle that Jose has never sustained an injury as a side effect of his ferocious swing.
kinesiologist, but I can't imagine twisting one's foot like that is a good thing. Anything I've ever read indicates it is paramount to keep your plant foot flat on the ground on the follow-through.
I suppose the next step in the evolution of Jose Bautista's follow-though can be illustrated best with Adrian Beltre's post-swing poses. If the momentum carried Bautista a little further, he would fall onto his knees much like Beltre does.
And lastly, the final thing I noticed about Jose Bautista's swing is what happens with his wrist during his follow-through. This is where we can begin to see the warning signs of Bautista's impending wrist injury.
Here's a side-by-side split on the differences between Jose Bautista's swing from early in 2012 and the exact swing in which he sustained his injury on at Yankee Stadium on July 17th:
Both arm angles themselves aren't all that different, but there's a stark contrast between the two when it comes to Jose's arm position at the apex of his swing. On Bautista's follow-through on the right, his bat is nearly touching the ground.
In the offseason, luckily we have the liberty of time to sit back and review things like these, and Jerry Howarth also seemed to notice this eccentricity with Jose Bautista's swing as well speaking on the Fan 590 last week:
"I was watching Jose's swing a lot in video here in the winter time, and what I noticed was, especially after his home runs but on a lot of his swings, after the follow-through, he would snap the bat back over his head with his left hand.Much like Jerry Howarth, the thing that concerns me the most isn't even Jose Bautista's foot position prior to his swing, or even that he rolls onto his ankle, it's what he does after his swing that is
You start to do that 25, 30, 50,100 times ... finally, your left wrist says 'enough, I can't do this anymore'. You can't snap that bat back over your head on the follow through.
I'd love to see him eliminate that, and I think that will help him a lot as far as his body and the sheath holding the tendon."
The scariest thing of all is Bautista doesn't just drop the bat on his follow-through, he snaps it back in what can only be described as a violent fashion.
Simply put, a wrist isn't supposed to bend that way. Multiply that by one-thousand swings like that every season, and you can see why it would take its toll on Jose's wrist.
After combing through numerous videos, I noticed that the one-handed follow-through is something that has become much more prevalent with Bautista's swing the past few years. That aspect itself isn't all that troublesome, it's the follow-through afterwards that could be causing the issue.
As the ever-wise Tao of Stieb noted back in January, this swing trait appeared very evident when MLB 13 The Show decided to let the fans vote on three potential covers featuring Jose Bautista. In two out of the three covers, Jose only has one hand on the bat during his follow-through.
I'll say this again about the Bautista cover vote for MLB 13:Two of the three covers show why his wrist is messed up. Scary.
— Tao of Stieb(@TaoofStieb) January 24, 2013
|Courtesy of Playstation Canada|
Baseball Prospectus noted that only four players have ever sustained a wrist injury as severe as Jose Bautista's that required the same type of surgery: Rickie Weeks, Nick Johnson, Sam Fuld and Blue Jays hopeful Mark DeRosa.
With exception of Rickie Weeks, each of those hitters experienced a significant power drop-off in their subsequent seasons following their wrist injuries. One hopes that like Weeks, Jose Bautista becomes the exception to the rule.
So are all these symptoms simply red herrings, or is there any merit in these idiosyncrasies of Jose Bautista's swing? Up until last July, I wouldn't dare question the methods of Joey Bats because he was crushing the baseball with authority. Until that point, everything Jose Bautista did was working.
However, now that he missed a large chunk of time due to an injury caused by his violent swing, now seems like the opportune time to tweak some of those flaws before they become a much bigger problem in the future.
Thanks to the benefit of hindsight, we can now see the beginnings of what may have been some problematic symptoms of Jose Bautista's swing.
It's true what the idiom says ... if it ain't broke, don't fix it. While Jose Bautista didn't break his wrist, a substantial injury like that warrants a "fix" ... or at the very least, a "tweak". Otherwise, I'm fearful that history might repeat itself.
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
|Courtesy of Yahoo/AP|
This time, the Melky Cabrera signing was overshadowed by the blockbuster trade with the Marlins and the acquisition of R.A. Dickey. Perhaps that was the plan all along or maybe it wasn't, but ordinarily a move like that would receive an inordinate amount of press.
The absolute fact is that Melky Cabrera was implicated for PED's. But when it comes to his performance on the field, Melky is a complete question mark.
The Blue Jays know they now have an everyday left fielder, they know they have a switch-hitting number two hitter, but beyond that ... what to the Blue Jays really know about the one they call the "Melk Man"?
Melky Cabrera is the true unknown on the Blue Jays roster because it's so incredibly difficult to determine his career baseline. 2012 obviously has to be thrown out, and maybe even 2011 or 2010 as well considering the most recent steroid allegations.
So does that mean Melky Cabrera's last three seasons are a complete write-off? I don't think that's necessarily the case, but Cabrera's true potential is much closer to a 1 or 1.5 win season rather than the 4 or 4.5 win seasons he's posted the last two seasons.
The 2013 projections for Melky Cabrera look to be fairly solid, with most of them coming in around 2 WAR or more. To me, that seems somewhat generous considering everything that's happened with Melky these past few years.
With all that said, I think the bare minimum expectations for Melky Cabrera is he just needs to perform better than Rajai Davis. If Cabrera can simply be an everyday left fielder for 130 games a season the next few years, then the $16 million dollar contract will pay for itself.
Then if Melky can contribute with his bat, that's just icing on the cake. As Jared noted over at Bluebird Banter, the bar has been set so incredibly low these past few years by Blue Jays left fielders, that any semblance of a consistent season would be an upgrade.
It would cost the Blue Jays upwards of $10 million dollars a year to sign a 2.3 win left fielder, so signing Melky at $8 million dollars per year appears to be good value.
I'm positive there were plenty of teams lining up to ink Melky Cabrera to a one year contract, but it sounds like the Blue Jays were one of the few teams willing to go two years. So not only does it work out well for Toronto, but Melky has a guaranteed two-year deal where he otherwise might only have gotten one.
Obviously, there's somewhat of a stigma attached to signing a player linked to PED's, but unless Melky Cabrera is found guilty of further PED use, it shouldn't affect the Toronto Blue Jays at all. As far as I'm concerned, he served his punishment and it's time to move on.
The thing that I'm most concerned about with Melky Cabrera is simply his ability to perform on the field with the Blue Jays the next two seasons.
While most of the headlines this offseason were devoted to R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson and others, the ultimate success of this Blue Jays squad will also hinge on what Melky Cabrera can bring to the table.
In an offseason that was littered with big free agent signings like Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke, inking Melky Cabrera to a two-year deal was arguably one of the most under-valued signings of the winter.
Cabrera's steroid implications presented a very unique situation for the Blue Jays; a very rare buy-low scenario for a player that might otherwise fetch double or even triple the amount he did on the open market.
Had Melky Cabrera not gotten caught for performance enhancing drugs, one can only imagine the size of contract he would have commanded on the open market. A price tag that surely the Toronto Blue Jays would not have been able to afford.
The Blue Jays truly do have an unknown on the roster in the way of Melky Cabrera. There really is no telling what they'll be able to expect from him as the everyday left fielder.
Given the circumstances, signing Melky Cabrera was a risk ... but it was a calculated risk.
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
|Courtesy of Toronto Sun|
It's crazy to think the Blue Jays could potentially have Adam Lind locked up through 2016 if the decide to exercise all his options. However, the more likely scenario is Lind may be cast aside when the first opportunity rises for the Blue Jays to decline his first club option.
Statistically speaking, 2012 actually wasn't that awful of a year for Adam Lind. After spending some time back in Triple A and suffering a back injury that sent him to the DL, Lind came with a renewed sense of patience at the plate in the latter part of the season.
Down the stretch, Adam Lind posted a slash line of .302/.341/.447 in his final 35 games of the season. Nearly 73% his hits during that span were singles and only 27% went for extra bases. Those kind of numbers aren't indicative of the prototypical cleanup hitter, but Adam Lind no longer fits the mold as a "big bopper" hitter.
Adam Lind's ability to hit extra bases has steadily declined ever since he peaked in 2009. Last year alone, Lind's extra base hits only accounted for 7.7% of his total hits; a far cry from 2009 when Adam was knocking in doubles, triples and home runs to the tune of 12.4% of the time.
I think any manager would gladly take those kinds of numbers from their number six or seven hitter, which is where Adam Lind projects himself to fit in to this brand new Blue Jays lineup.
In 2012, Adam Lind saw the second most pitches per at bat of his career (3.95) and posted his best on base percentage (.314) since his breakout season of 2009. Not to mention, Lind struck out far less than in previous years as well, in just 17.3% of all his at bats last season.
By all indications, this would seem to be a player who has turned a corner and is on course to get his second wind. So why is he being treated like the red-headed step child of the Blue Jays lineup?
The confusing part is Adam Lind isn't the standard pull or opposite-field hitter; his spray charts are fairly even across the diamond. Even his spray chart from his run in late August and September shows he peppered the field pretty evenly.
|Courtesy of Texas Leaguers|
As evidenced by his zone charts below, Adam Lind absolutely killed pitches in the strike zone in 2009.
But ever since then, it's been a completely different story. Beginning in 2010 and ever since then, Lind began to chase even more pitches outside of the strike zone ... especially on pitches down and away.
Last season, it looks like Adam Lind really only had luck connecting on belt high pitches, exposing a weakness to pitches above and below the middle of the strike zone.
One can see why a zone like this is extremely problematic for Adam Lind; unless opposing pitchers are serving up cookies down the heart of the plate, they're getting him out all over the zone (and outside of it as well).
All of this probably isn't new information to former hitting coach Dwayne Murphy and the new incumbent Chad Mattola. The million dollar question is, how do they remedy the situation?
I noticed late last year Adam Lind was sporting a much more upright batting stance, so maybe that had something to do with his renewed approach at the plate.
Perhaps Adam Lind has already figured part of it out, in effect transitioning himself into somewhat of a slap hitter in the latter part of the 2012 season. Though I wonder if that's a sustainable strategy, as Adam Lind's first half BABIP was .251 compared to .321 down the stretch.
Although he did manage to collect 27 singles in his final 25 games of the season, that curiously high BABIP is bound to even itself out. Combine that with the fact September call-ups parade out a flurry of inexperienced pitchers, Lind may have gotten a little lucky in September.
For better or worse, Adam Lind isn't going anywhere in 2013. The Blue Jays will pay $5 million dollars for his services regardless, so it seems wasteful to eat that money and supplant Lind with a replacement level first baseman.
In the 2012 incarnation of the Blue Jays lineup, Adam Lind was somewhat of a liability in the cleanup spot. However, with a much more evenly dispersed lineup card for John Gibbons to work with this year, slotting Lind further down in the lineup no longer poses a burden.
For a guy who's only 29 years old, Adam Lind has certainly been put through the ringer in his short big league career. Lind has bounced all over the diamond; being shifted from left field to DH to first base. Lind has missed 54 games the past two seasons due to back injuries.
Not to mention, Adam Lind was designated for assignment last season, causing his complete future with the Toronto Blue Jays to come into question. Through all of that, Lind has remained resilient and is still on the Blue Jays roster ... so I think that deserves some credit.
Maybe if Adam Lind does get his second wind and rediscovers some of that magic from his breakout 2009 season, perhaps those club options for 2014 and beyond may not be as futile as they appear to be.
Wednesday, February 6, 2013
|Courtesy of Sportsnet|
But we all know what happened at season's end ... things changed. Priorities shifted and the roster was completely overhauled after the blockbuster trade with the Marlins, the signing of Melky Cabrera and the aquisition of R.A. Dickey.
And thus the tone of the 2013 Blue Jays State of the Franchise changed drastically as well. It suddenly went from a sombre affair to a much more upbeat and optimistic gathering.
Unfortunately, there really weren't all that many juicy quotes from the panel of Paul Beeston, Alex Anthopoulos and John Gibbons. There was a lot of rehashing of the same questions, or answers to questions that most people already knew.
The only new information revealed was that John Gibbons is planning on employing a rotation order of Dickey/Morrow/Buehrle/Johnson/Romero, that Maicer Izturis has the edge over Emilio Bonifacio at second base, and the plans on running a seven-man bullpen.
Other than that, it was overall a pretty tame evening. All questions were pre-submitted ahead of time by season ticket holders and not surprisingly most of them were fairly standard softball questions.
That may have diffused any hostile inquiries, but even if the questions weren't pre-submitted, I can't imagine the evening would have unfolded much differently than it did.
Really the only noticeable difference was just the overall tone of everyone on the concourse. There truly was a renewed sense of optimism from the Blue Jays fan base.
It's all summed up best by @StephR2D2 and her friend Emma who noted the mantra of the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays seems to be that they're "cautiously optimistic" ... which really encapsulates what most Season Ticket holders feel about this Blue Jays squad.
The cautious optimism also appears to be shared by Alex Anthopoulos as well, because at no point during the evening were expectations ever addressed. Unlike previous years, there were never any promises uttered by the panel as to if and when the Blue Jays would be making the postseason.
In effect, what the panel didn't say at the State of the Franchise almost had more of an impact than what the panel did say. Frankly, Alex Anthopoulos pretty much already answered all the outstanding questions by the moves he made during the offseason.
I assumed there would be some sort of "playoffs or bust" statement from Beeston or Anthopoulos, but neither of them really confirmed the 2013 Blue Jays are "all-in", even though they essentially are.
I think they learned over the past few years that managing fan expectations is extremely important. When Paul Beeston said at last year's State of the Franchise that he expected the team to be in the playoffs two to three times in the next five years, people remember that. In fact, they never forget that.
Coming from the team President, that's basically a promise to the fan base that the Blue Jays would be in the playoffs. And when the team fails to hold up that end of the bargain, fans get angry ... and for good reason.
Rather than making promises they might not be able to keep, the Blue Jays front office made a departure from previous years and would apparently rather let the results on the field speak for themselves.
And that's really what it all ultimately boils down to; Alex Anthopoulos and Paul Beeston could promise the world to season ticket holders at the State of the Franchise, but what's it all worth if the Blue Jays don't make the playoffs?
Then the season ticket holders would be back at the 2014 State of the Franchise making the exact same demands while Alex and Paul would be making the exact same promises. Seems like a futile exercise if there ever was one.
The flurry of offseason moves may have proved otherwise, but the Blue Jays' goal for this upcoming season should be to under promise and over deliver. That being said, they have every reason to be cautiously optimistic for the 2013 season.
Monday, February 4, 2013
|Courtesy of The Movie Blog|
To me, that's the essence of baseball; real grass and real dirt. Not artificial turf.
If you've ever felt the turf at the Rogers Centre, you know it's the furthest thing from real grass that you can possibly imagine. Frankly, it seems like outfielders take their lives into their own hands each time they dive for a ball on the turf.
And on hot summer days, the field at the Rogers Centre radiates heat ... to the point where you can visibly see the heat emanating from the AstroTurf. Those kinds of things just don't happen with real grass.
For the longest time, the possibility of a grass field at the Rogers Centre seemed like a complete pipe dream. But with the comments made by the Blue Jays brass in recent weeks, it seems like that proposition may be close to becoming a reality.
At last year's State of the Franchise, Paul Beeston made a brief comment when asked about the possibility of installing a grass field. At the time, it just seemed like Beeston was paying lip service to the season ticket holders, but it's reassuring that other members of the front office are echoing his sentiments.
It's about much more than just installing real grass at the Rogers Centre; it's also about improving the overall experience at the ballpark. While the Blue Jays have made strives in recent years to enhance the game for fans, this is an opportune time to not just improve the field, but the entire baseball experience.
If the Blue Jays are going to put all that time and effort into bringing in a grass field to the Rogers Centre, the entire ballpark could use a facelift as well. As popular as they once were, multi-purpose stadiums are nearly extinct.
The fact remains that the Rogers Centre is the seventh oldest ballpark in the Major Leagues. At the time of its unveiling in 1989, the Skydome was a modern marvel of technology. Nearly 25 years later, the stadium is definitely starting to show its age.
The issue most people have with multi-purpose stadiums like the Rogers Centre is they try to be everything to everyone. They are attempting to be a jack of all trades while specializing in none. Rather than focus on making it a spectacular baseball experience, they stretch themselves too thin.
The obvious solution would be to start fresh with a brand new ballpark devoted entirely to the Toronto Blue Jays. However, let's keep in mind that Rogers purchased the Skydome for an absolute steal at a mere $25 million dollars in 2004.
As a comparison, the total cost to build the Skydome in 1987 was $570 million dollars, the equivalent of a $910 million dollar price tag today. With those figures, you can see why building a brand new stadium simply isn't in the cards.
It's promising that the Blue Jays are truly seriously considering bringing a grass field to the Rogers Centre, but why must it take five years? I don't claim to be an engineer, but that five year timeline seems like awfully long time to wait to get that AstroTurf out of there and install a drainage system and real grass.
I realize these things take some time and a great deal of money and resources, but isn't there a way to speed things up and push the timeline up so fans don't have to wait until the year 2018 to finally see the Blue Jays play on real grass?
Something tells me that if the Blue Jays play as well as people are hoping they will in the next few years, that five year plan will be fast-tracked. Much like the town of Springfield scurried to get a Monorail up and running at the suggestion of Lyle Lanley, it's certainly possible to make something happen if there's a sense of urgency.
If the goal is for the Blue Jays to eventually play in the World Series, it's only logical to have the Rogers Centre look as good as it possibly can on baseball's greatest stage. Another positive side effect is it could put Toronto in the running to host yet another All-Star Game.
I think fans are beginning to realize the Rogers Centre isn't going anywhere any time soon. There's just too much potential for revenue right now for the Blue Jays to abandon the stadium and start fresh in a billion dollar ballpark.
So if a brand new stadium isn't in the cards for the Blue Jays, then installing a grass field is at least somewhat of a compromise. If not for the fans, then at least for the players.
While it's important to keep the fan base happy, let's keep in mind it's also crucial to keep the people who work on that field 82 games a year happy as well. Not to mention, prospective players also consider the artificial playing turf in Toronto when weighing their options.
Alex Anthopoulos confirmed the Blue Jays missed out on one free agent last year (rumoured to be Carlos Beltran) because he didn't want to play on artificial turf. By installing a grass field, that removes a considerable roadblock preventing prospective free agents from signing from the Blue Jays.
To me, that's worth it alone right there. Not to mention the other benefits of installing grass at the Rogers Centre, like providing players a superior surface to play on, as well as improving the overall atmosphere within the stadium.
I'm not going to hold my breath in anticipation of a grass field finally coming to the Rogers Centre, but it would be a big step forward in changing the Rogers Centre from a stadium into a true ballpark.