Archive for Toronto Blue Jays
Things have gone exceedingly bad for the Blue Jays on the injury front this year, to the point where the sheer volume of pitching injuries is threatening records. The Yankees head north of the border for a three-game weekend series after taking three straight from the Jays in Yankee Stadium last month. Toronto swept a two-game series at Rogers Centre back in May.
What Have They Done Lately?
Losing. Lots and lots of Losing. The Blue Jays were just swept by the Rays in St. Pete and have lost nine of their last eleven games overall. At 53-58 with a -1 run differential, they sit in the AL East cellar with the fifth worst record in the league.
The Yankees are catching a bit of a break this series, because Jose Bautista (140 wRC+) is still on the DL with the same left wrist injury he suffered swinging a bat the last two times these clubs met. Brett Lawrie (100 wRC+) was just placed on the DL with an oblique problem, Adam Lind (87 wRC+) is also out with a back strain, and J.P Arencibia (97 wRC+) is on the shelf with a broken finger. That’s four pretty important pieces for the Jays. Toronto have averaged 4.7 runs per game this year, but that number is down to 3.8 since Bautista got hurt.
Among the guys who are healthy, clearly the most dangerous is Edwin Encarnacion (157 wRC+). He ranks fourth in the league with 29 homers. Colby Rasmus (105 wRC+) and Yunel Escobar (72 wRC+) have both avoided the injury bug, ditto Kelly Johnson (90 wRC+), Rajai Davis (100 wRC+), and Jeff Mathis (79 wRC+). The rest of the lineup is filled with call-ups, including David Cooper (109 wRC+), Yan Gomes (49 wRC+), Moises Sierra (113 wRC+), Anthony Gose (43 wRC+), and defensive whiz Adeiny Hechavarria (-22 wRC+). All of those numbers come in limited samples, most in fewer than 100 plate appearances. Omar Vizquel (43 wRC+) is still kicking around as well. Sometimes all these call-up types can surprise you, but the obvious key to the series is keeping Encarnacion in check.
Friday: RHP Freddy Garcia vs. LHP Ricky Romero
In a year of injuries, Romero’s drastic drop-off in performance might be the worst development for the Jays this season. The 27-year-old southpaw has pitched to a 5.47 ERA (5.06 FIP) with a mediocre strikeout rate (6.39 K/9 and 16.0 K%), a bad walk rate (4.87 BB/9 and 12.2 BB%), and a strong ground ball rate (53.6%). Romero’s two and four-seamer both still sit in the low-90s, and he still uses an upper-70s curve against lefties and a low-80s changeup against righties. His location and command have just been awful — he’s not throwing enough strikes, and when he does hit the zone he’s catching too much of the plate. The Yankees hung six runs in six innings against Romero a few weeks ago.
Saturday: RHP Ivan Nova vs. LHP Aaron Laffey
A brief and former Yankee, Laffey has stepped into Toronto’s rotation due to injuries. He owns a 4.39 ERA (4.98 FIP) in eight starts and four relief appearances, though he isn’t striking anyone out — 4.88 K/9 and 13.0 K%. He is doing well in the walk (2.28 BB/9 and 6.1 BB%) and ground ball (49.7%) departments, however. Laffey’s sinking fastball sits in the mid-to-upper-80s, and he backs it up with a low-80s slider, a low-80s changeup, and an upper-70s curveball. These soft-tossing lefties can be tough as the Red Sox have found out (twice) this year.
Sunday: RHP Phil Hughes vs. LHP J.A. Happ
The Jays acquired Happ from the Astros and initially used him out of the bullpen, but injuries forced him into the rotation like Laffey. The 29-year-old has pitched to a 4.98 ERA (4.28 FIP) overall, with an excellent strikeout rate (8.56 K/9 and 21.7 K%) and decent walk (3.50 BB/9 and 8.9 BB%) and ground ball (45.0%) percentages. Happ throws his fastball right around 90, and his array of offspeed weapons includes a low-80s slider, a low-80s changeup, and an upper-70s changeup. The Yankees and their fans right remember him from his two relief appearances in the 2009 World Series.
Toronto’s bullpen looks very different than the one we saw earlier in the year due to trades and injury. Closer Casey Janssen (2.85 FIP) threw 30 pitches in garbage time yesterday, which could help the Yankees tonight. Left-handed setup man Darren Oliver (2.57 FIP) threw 11 pitches yesterday, so he’s good to go. The only other reliever manager John Farrell had to use against the Rays yesterday was funky lefty Aaron Loup (2.03 FIP in limited time), who needed just 19 pitches to record four outs.
The rest of the Blue Jays’ bullpen is in good shape and is entirely right-handed. There’s setup man Brandon Lyon (2.54 FIP), hard-throwing middle man Steve Delabar (4.61 FIP), former fourth overall pick Brad Lincoln (3.50 FIP), and the recently recalled Chad Jenkins (1.75 FIP in three innings). The Yankees are in pretty rough shape bullpen-wise, with Rafael Soriano coming off back-to-back appearances (and a four-out save yesterday) and David Robertson just a day removed from a 35-pitch outing. Other than those two, they should be fine. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for exact details, and check out Drunk Jays Fans and Tao of Stieb for the latest and greatest on the Jays.
The Yankees have 74 games left to play this season, and
15 16 of them will be against the Blue Jays. That’s basically one out of every five games. Three of those 15 games will be played this week, starting tonight in the Bronx.
What Have They Done Lately?
Toronto just took two straight from the Indians but have won just five of their last eleven games overall. They’ve hovered right around .500 all season long and are currently 45-44 overall, good enough to put them in a last-place tie with the Red Sox. Their +26 run differential is the third best in the division and sixth best in the league.
Only two teams have scored more total runs than the Blue Jays this season. They average just shy of five full runs per game on offense (4.99 to be exact) and own a team 104 wRC+. The guys who do the most damage are, naturally, Jose Bautista (142 wRC+) and Edwin Encarnacion (160 wRC+). They rank second and fourth in the AL with 27 and 25 homers, respectively. They’re not quite vintage David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, but Bautista-Encarnacion is one of the game’s very best three-four lineup combinations.
Beyond those two, Toronto also has a surging Colby Rasmus (113 wRC+) and a bunch of guys who rate right around league average: Brett Lawrie (102 wRC+), personal fave Kelly Johnson (100 wRC+), and Adam Lind (93 wRC+). Lind has hit very well since returning from Triple-A, but it’s only been 16 games. Rajai Davis (86 wRC+) brings the speed, J.P. Arencibia (85 wRC+) the power, Yunel Escobar (72 wRC+) the contact skills, and Omar Vizquel (33 wRC+) gives sweet veteran presents. Ben Francisco (78 wRC+) hasn’t played much due to a hamstring issue and Jeff Mathis (120 wRC+) hit the snot out of the ball in April before crashing back to Earth. The Jays are always tough and this series will be no different.
Monday: RHP Phil Hughes vs. RHP Henderson Alvarez
The Blue Jays currently have four starting pitchers on the DL, but Alvarez has been able to avoid the injury big so far. The 22-year-old right-hander owns a 4.36 ERA (5.19 FIP) because he gets ground balls (59.1%) and limits walks (1.93 BB/9 and 5.0 BB%), though his strikeout rate (3.02 K/9 and 7.9 K%) is the second lowest among qualified starters behind Derek Lowe. Alvarez just doesn’t miss bats despite throwing four distinct pitches: low-to-mid-90s two and four-seamers, a mid-80s slider, and a mid-80s changeup. Left-handed batters have hammered him for a .375 wOBA (.318 vs. RHB) as well. The Yankees saw Alvarez once last September, hanging five runs on him in six innings.
Tuesday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. LHP Brett Cecil
Cecil absolutely annihilated the Yankees back in 2010 — ten total runs allowed in five starts — but he’s not the same pitcher anymore. Toronto sent him all the way down to Double-A earlier this year before the injuries forced him back into the rotation, where he’s pitched to a 6.75 ERA (5.66 FIP) in five starts to far. Cecil can still strike guys out a bit (7.09 K/9 and 17.5 K%) and he doesn’t walk a ton (3.38 BB/9 and 8.3 BB%), but he is one of the game’s most extreme fly ball (26.5% grounders) and homerun (2.03 HR/9) pitchers. His fastball has dipped down into the mid-to-upper-80s, creating little separation with his low-80s changeup. A mid-80s slider and upper-70s curveball round out his repertoire. The Yankees have seen quite a bit of Cecil over the last few years, and he’s gotten progressively worse each time.
Wednesday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. LHP Ricky Romero
At this time last season, Romero looked like he was in the middle of a breakout season and on his way towards becoming one of the game’s elite hurlers. The 27-year-old southpaw has taken a big step back this year though, posting a 5.03 ERA (5.18 FIP) in 19 starts. His ground ball rate (55.7%) is holding on strong, but the strikeout (6.34 K/9 and 16.1 K%) and walk (4.64 BB/9 and 11.7 BB%) numbers have taken huge steps backwards. Romero’s stuff — low-90s two and four-seamers, low-to-mid-80s changeup, mid-to-upper-70s curve — remains unchanged, but his command has been off. He’ll falling behind in the count far too often — 51.5% first pitch strikes this year, down almost 9% from the last few years — and getting pounded because of it.
The Indians worked Toronto’s bullpen over pretty well these last few days, forcing lefty reliever extraordinaire Darren Oliver (2.81 FIP) to throw two innings for the save yesterday. Regular closer Casey Janssen (3.04 FIP) had appeared in each of the previous two games. Right-hander Jason Frasor (3.65 FIP) has also worked in two of the last three games and is the third wheel in manager John Farrell’s late-inning trio.
Because their rotation has been so compromised, the Jays are currently employing a 13-man pitching staff. You’ve never heard of most of them either. Aaron Loup (3.07 FIP in two innings) is their only other southpaw besides Oliver, then you have Chad Beck (5.13 FIP in 5.1 innings), Drew Carpenter (10.57 FIP in two innings), and Sam Dyson (one whole out recorded so far). Oh, and then there’s the veteran Francisco Cordero (5.68 FIP), who has been one of the two or three worst qualified relievers in baseball this year. If the starter can get them through six innings, Toronto is generally okay. If not, all bets are off.
The Yankees’ key late-inning guys all got some rest yesterday, so they’re in good shape Make sure you check out our Bullpen Workload page for exact reliever usage. There are a number of great sites you can check out for the latest and greatest on the Blue Jays, including Drunk Jays Fans and Tao of Stieb.
Via Dan Barbarisi, the Yankees have claimed right-handed reliever Ryota Igarashi off waivers from the Blue Jays. He’s been optioned to Triple-A Empire State and Brad Meyers was transferred to the 60-day DL to clear a 40-man roster spot.
Igarashi, 33, owns a 6.17 ERA and a 4.42 FIP in 70 big league innings with the Mets and Blue Jays. He can strike guys out with a mid-90s fastball and a mid-80s splitter (8.87 K/9 and 20.6 K%), but he’s also walk prone (6.17 BB/9 and 14.3 BB%). Seems like a move designed to add a little up-and-down bullpen depth due to David Robertson‘s injury.
Brett Lawrie is going to get suspended and the Yankees are arriving in Toronto just in time for him to a miss a few games. The tirade you see above was the result of two questionable called strikes last night, and they just so happened to result in
the game-ending strikeout a strikeout that was the second out of the ninth inning. That’s pretty bad. Lawrie might appeal the suspension and be able to play in this two-game set, but … yeah, that’s really bad. Inexcusably bad.
What Have They Done Lately?
Like the Yankees, the Blue Jays just wrapped up a two-game series with a division rival. They lost both games to the Rays and are currently riding a three-game losing streak. They’ve also lost four of five and seven of their last ten games. Toronto is 19-18 with a +15 run differential, sitting in fourth place in the AL East with the fifth best record in the AL. It’s a tough division, you know.
With an average of 4.51 runs per game that just barely ranks as a top-ten mark in baseball, the Blue Jays’ offensive attack revolves around Jose Bautista. He’s off to a slow start (100 wRC+) but has still hit eight homers with as many walks (23) as strikeouts (23). Blame the .171 BABIP. Edwin Encarnacion (150 wRC+) has hit a dozen homers already and is in the middle of a breakout year that really started in the middle of last season. They’re easy to overlook when talking about the best lineup tandems in the game, but these two are incredibly dangerous.
Personal fave Kelly Johnson (123 wRC+) sets the table from the leadoff spot and is actually the only other player on the team that qualifies as a better than league average hitter. Adam Lind (62 wRC+) has been terrible for more than two years now, meaning Johnson, Colby Rasmus (68 wRC+), and Eric Thames (90 wRC+) are Toronto’s only left-handed hitters of note. Catcher J.P. Arencibia (72 wRC+) got off to a brutally slow start but has started to rebound in recent weeks. Yunel Escobar (63 wRC+) hasn’t done much damage despite hitting second between Johnson and Bautista.
The Jays have some useful pieces on the bench, though I’m sure they’d like Ben Francisco to do more against left-handers (73 wRC+ vs. LHP). Rajai Davis provides some speed (105 wRC+ and six steals in limited action) and Omar Vizquel (-20 wRC+) gives some of the best veteran presents in all of baseball. Assuming Lawrie’s little hissy fit keeps him and his 101 wRC+ off the field, Vizquel figures to man the hot corner. Backup catcher Jeff Mathis (126 wRC+ in limited action) has been hammering the Yankees for years and I’m hopeful we won’t see him at all after playing in yesterday’s game.
Wednesday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. RHP Kyle Drabek
The centerpiece of the Roy Halladay trade, Doug’s son has struggled in his various big league auditions and this season is no different. He owns a shiny 3.66 ERA but his FIP (5.12), strikeout (7.55 K/9 and 19.5 BB%), walk (5.49 BB/9 and 14.2 BB%) and homer (1.37 HR/9) rate portend bad things. Drabek’s ground ball rate (56.4%) is pretty awesome, however. The 24-year-old right-hander is very fastball heavy, throwing his mid-90s two-seamer, mid-90s four-seamer, and low-90s cutter a combined ~75% of this time. His mid-80s changeup is his primary offspeed pitch, but Drabek will throw low-80s sliders and curveballs on rare occasions. The Yankees have seen Drabek a few times over the last few years, so they should know that patience is the key.
Thursday: RHP Phil Hughes vs. RHP Drew Hutchinson
Toronto’s ninth best prospect coming into the season, Hutchinson has pitched to a 5.53 ERA (4.07 FIP) in his five starts, becoming the only man to allow a homer to Albert Pujols this season along the way. The 21-year-old righty has a pretty typical rookie statistical profile — 6.83 K/9 (16.9 K%), 3.25 BB/9 (8.1 BB%), 0.98 HR/9, and 42.2% grounders — after skipping right over Triple-A and making just six career starts at Double-A. His minor league track record (26.0 K% and 6.0 BB%) suggest improvement may be coming. Hutchinson is primarily a low-90s four-seamer/low-80s slider pitcher, but he will mix in the occasional two-seamer and changeup.
Like the Yankees, the Blue Jays are currently on their backup backup closer. Sergio Santos has been on the DL for most of the season with a shoulder injury and replacement Francisco Cordero (7.16 FIP) has already lost the job to Casey Janssen (4.01 FIP). The setup tandem of right-hander Jason Frasor (2.67 FIP) and left-hander Darren Oliver (2.61 FIP) have been really, really good in the early going. Multi-inning lefty Luis Perez (3.07 FIP) has been solid but multi-inning righty Carlos Villanueva (5.39 FIP) has not. Rookie right-hander Evan Crawford has allowed two runs in five innings since being called up.
Frasor, Oliver, and Janssen each appeared in last night’s game but threw no more than 11 pitches. The entire bullpen is rested, really. The Yankees are in good shape as well after Freddy Garcia soaked up two innings last night. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for each reliever’s exact recent workload. There are a bunch of great Blue Jays’ blogs out there, including The Tao of Stieb and Drunk Jays Fans.
Last week we took a nice long look at the teams who figure to be the Yankees’ primary competition this season, meaning the Red Sox, Rays, Tigers, Angels, and Rangers. There are eight other clubs in the American League though, and the Yankees are going to play those eight teams quite a bit more than the five other contenders. Most of those eight teams aren’t very good, but every game counts the same.
Rather than doing a boring old offense/defense/pitching preview for each of those eight non-contenders, I decided to have a little fun with this one and put together some haikus. I encourage you to leave your own in the comments.
No pitching, few bats.
Buck is all talk and no bite.
Don’t dare dis Flanny!
Chicago White Sox
Rebuild or contend?
Kenny can’t seem to decide.
I wish we had Danks.
Some funny names,
Asdrubal and Ubaldo?
Not winning this year.
Kansas City Royals
Hosmer is the shizz.
Young pitching ain’t quite there yet.
Mauer and Morneau
Used to be really awesome.
Now they are broken.
Yoenis is here.
Trade all of the pitchers!
Where are the fans?
Felix is the man,
The rest of the team sucks.
I miss Montero.
Toronto Blue Jays
AA the best,
Until he gets Jeff Mathis.
New unis do rule.
It might not feel that way, but the Yankees and Blue Jays just locked horns two weeks ago. The Yanks swept them handily as part of their six-game winning streak. Things have been a bit tumultuous lately, which leaves that memory further back in our minds.
What Have the Jays Done Lately?
Since dropping all three games to the Yanks two weeks ago, the Blue Jays have been on a mini tear. They went 6-3, including 4-2 against the Red Sox. For that Yankees fans have many thanks. But that’s about all we have. The last thing the Yankees need is to flub a series when the Nos. 2 and 3 teams in the AL East are locking horns.
Jays on Offense
The Jays are in essentially the same position offensively as they were the last time the two sides met. At that point, 12 games ago, they had a 103 wRC+, which ranked fifth in the AL. They currently have a 102 wRC+, which still ranks fifth in the AL — though they’re a bit further behind the Tigers this time, for obvious reasons. They’re also at the same place power-wise, with a .168 ISO. But the Rangers pulled further ahead of them in the past two weeks.
Yes, Jose Bautista still leads the Jays offense. That’s not changing now, or does it figure to change in the near future. Since the Yankees series, in which he went 3 for 11 with three singles, he’s gone 6 for 29 with a double and two homers. That puts him at 42 on the year, three ahead of Curtis Granderson. It does appear that Bautista will walk away with the crown for a second straight year.
Again, not much has changed since the last time the Jays played the Yanks, so it’s more of the same story. Yunel Escobar continues to hit and walk in the leadoff spot, while Brett Lawrie continues to impress. He does have a bruised knee, which he suffered during Wednesday’s game, but with a day off yesterday he could be back tonight. Edwin Encarnacion is the other guy in the lineup who can cause some damage, while Eric Thames has heated up of late.
(Also be on the lookout for Adam Loewen, whom you might remember pitching for the Orioles years ago. He’s reemerged as an outfielder for the Jays, and is 5 for his first 14 with a homer.)
One thing to consider about the Jays offense is that they’re very top heavy. Lawrie has just 149 PA, yet he has the second most runs above average on the team. That’s a counting stat, so he’s managed to outpace everyone but Bautista in what amounts to less than a quarter of a full season. That they continue to bat Adam Lind and his .295 OBP in the middle of the order further illustrates their less than impressive offensive achievements.
Blue Jays on the Mound
There will be no Ricky Romero this series, as he tossed eight innings against the Sox on Wednesday. Here’s how it’ll break down.
Friday: LHP Brett Cecil (vs. CC Sabathia). Remember the days when Cecil killed the Yankees? If not, don’t worry; it wasn’t a long stretch. In 2010 he had a few choice outings against the Yanks, holding them to four runs in 22 IP, covering three starts. In his four starts since then he’s tossed 22.2 innings and allowed 16 runs. When he faced them on September fourth he lasted six innings and threw just 84 pitches, but he allowed two homers and five runs total. The Yanks took that game easily. Last time out he was a degree better, going 7.2 and allowing just two runs, one earned, while striking out nine. But that was against the Orioles. The Yankees have a veritable gauntlet of a lineup against lefties, so tonight should not be so easy for young Cecil.
Update by Mike (3:10pm): The Blue Jays just announced that Cecil has been scratched from tonight’s start. Apparently he cut a finger while cleaning out a blender. Dustin McGowan will start instead.
Saturday: RHP Henderzon Alvarez (vs. Bartolo Colon). On Saturday Alvarez makes his eighth major league start, but his first against the Yankees. We’ve seen the Yankees falter against guys they see for the first time, but that’s just a narrative. It’s not representative of any particular deficiency. That is, it just happens sometimes. Alvarez does have some strengths, his greatest being his low walk rate. In 88 AA innings this year he walked just 1.74 per nine, and in his 43.2 MLB innings he’s walked 1.44 per nine. That, combined with a fair home run rate, has led to quality component ERAs (3.87 FIP, 3.43 xFIP) to go along with his 3.09 ERA. He doesn’t strike out man, though he has induced a good number of ground balls so far. That could play up well against the Yankees. In other words, if they do falter against him it won’t be solely because they haven’t seen him before.
Sunday: RHP Dustin McGowan (vs. Freddy Garcia). On Sunday McGowan made his first start since 2008. It was a long road back from a number of shoulder issues, but he’s finally completed the journey. Unfortunately, his return has not gone so well. The Jays threw him to the wolves in his first overall appearance, which came in relief against the Sox. He allowed three runs in four inning then. Against the Orioles he lasted just three innings while allowing four runs on five walks. The last time he faced the Yankees — June 5th, 2008 — he allowed five runs in 5.1 innings. Of course, only four of the starters from that game are still on the Yankees roster: Jeter, Posada, A-Rod, and Cano. The two players who homered off him, Jason Giambi and Wilson Betemit, are long gone.
Bullpen: The Jays do have a few weapons in their pen, but overall they’re lackluster this year, with a 3.88 ERA and 4.05 FIP. Those might not sound like bad numbers, but they both rank 10th in the American League. Casey Janssen has been the leader, with a 2.02 ERA and 2.39 FIP. Frank Francisco and his 1.32 HR/9 remain in the closer’s role.
The Yankees, specifically Joe Girardi and Russell Martin, made a little bit of a stink during the team’s four-game series in Toronto immediately after the All-Star break, suggesting that the Blue Jays were stealing signs. They weren’t the first team to make such accusations, and the ESPN duo of Amy Nelson and Peter Keating published an article today about said accusations. They’ve spoken to opposing players who’ve seen a person relay signs from the standings, and dug up some more possible evidence. It’s a pretty interesting read, so check it out.
For the last decade or so, the AL East has been a two-horse race between the Yankees and Red Sox. The Rays have gotten involved in recent years by alternating good and great seasons, and the Orioles were definitely a factor back in the late-90′s.The Blue Jays, on the other hand, have always just kind of been there. Only three times did they fail to win at least 80 games from 1998-2010, but never once did they win more than 87. They actually finished second in the AL East in 2006, but they spent the bulk of those years in third place behind the Yanks and Sox. Given the events of the last two years, their days buried behind New York and Boston may be coming to an end.
You’ve probably heard by now, but Toronto pulled off a pair of trades yesterday that might as well be considered one three-team trade. First they shipped reliever Jason Frasor and prospect Zach Stewart to the White Sox for Edwin Jackson and Mark Teahen, then they flipped Jackson to the Cardinals along with Octavio Dotel, Marc Rzepczynski, Corey Patterson, and either cash or three players to be named for Colby Rasmus, minor leaguer P.J. Walters, and relievers Trever Miller and Brian Tallet. GM Alex Anthopoulos identified two clubs with different needs and connected the dots. The White Sox needed to unload some cash, the Cardinals needed pitching depth, and the Blue Jays earned something on the side as the middle man.
The Rasmus trade is very similar to last year’s Yunel Escobar trade. Toronto had the veteran player (Alex Gonzalez) the Braves sought, set their price, and expanded the deal to include some lesser pieces to make it work. These aren’t spare parts either. Escobar and Rasmus are two legitimate up-the-middle players that were acquired before their 28th birthday and with several years of contractual control left. Escobar has been a four-win player this year, and Rasmus is a lefty power bat moving from a park with an 82 LHB HR park factor to one with a 114 LHB HR park factor. There’s a common denominator here: Anthopoulos bought low on both players because of attitude problems. Yunel had tons of trouble with Bobby Cox and the coaching staff in Atlanta while Rasmus managed to get on Tony LaRussa’s bad side. Maybe jerks are the new market inefficiency.
Anthopoulos took over for J.P. Ricciardi the day before the final game of the 2009 season, but it’s JPR that gets credit for letting Alex Rios and his contract go to the ChiSox on a waiver claim. Rios has been below replacement level this year and still has another three years and $38M left on his deal. Anthopoulos managed to unload $100M worth of Vernon Wells on the Angels last winter, a win even though the return was negligible. That’s $140M+ worth of bad players taken completely off the books within 18 months of each other. Some of that money was redistributed and used to lock up young cornerstones like Ricky Romero (five years, $30.1M) and Adam Lind (four years, $18M), not to mention the world’s greatest player, Jose Bautista (five years, $75M).
The Roy Halladay trade was one that had to be made because Toronto was going to lose him to free agency after the 2010 season. Anthopoulos acquired a prospect with frontline starter potential (Kyle Drabek) and one of the game’s top catching prospects (Travis d’Arnaud) in exchange for Halladay, turning what seemed like an unwinnable situation into one that could pay big dividends. You can’t ask for much more given that tough spot, everyone knew Halladay had to go. Brandon League for Brandon Morrow gave them another high-strikeout power arm for the AL East. Shaun Marcum turned into Brett Lawrie, one of the top offensive prospects in the game. Carlos Villanueva has a 3.25 FIP and was acquired for a relatively insignificant amount of cash. Anthopoulos’ obsession with draft picks (15 top 100 and 20 top 150 picks over the last two drafts combined) have helped create what is now considered to be one of the game’s three best farm systems.
All the young, cost-controlled players are nice, but remember that Toronto is not a small market. The team is owned by Rogers Communication, which is like Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, Time Warner, and Cablevision combined up in Canada. The city itself has about 2.5M people within the city limits plus another 5.5M or so in the surrounding areas. The ballpark holds close to 50,000 people, and as we saw in the early-90′s, the seats will be packed if the team is competitive. The Jays had a $98M payroll as recently as 2008, and everything is in place for them to support a nine-figure team. Don’t be surprised to see them dip their toe in the deep end of the free agent pool in the coming years.
The Jays aren’t going anywhere this year, they’re the fourth best team in baseball’s toughest division, and their 52-52 record and +12 run differential bears that out. But they certainly play the Yankees tough every time they meet, and that was with guys like Rajai Davis and Juan Rivera in the lineup. Replace them with Rasmus and soon enough Lawrie, and they’ll only be tougher. Anthopoulos is building his team from the middle out, focusing on up-the-middle players and pitching. He’ll have money to work with in coming years and even more young players on the way. Toronto won’t be a factor in the division race this year and probably not next year, but they’re well on their way to being a force in the AL East.
Over the past few games, the Yankees have been fairly vocal with their feelings regarding Toronto’s alleged stealing/relaying of signs. After being outscored 23-8 through the first two games of the series, Joe Girardi commented, “Sometimes we have inclinations that certain things might be happening in certain ballparks and we are aware of it and we try to protect our signs.” The skipper elaborated, “I’m not accusing anyone. I just said we need to protect our signs. You have to take pride in it, and you have to be smarter than other clubs when you do things, and you have to change things up.”
For what it’s worth, my guess is that the losses endured over the first two games of the series had more to do with the shoddy defensive play and grossly underwhelming pitching than anything else. Perhaps not so coincidentally, CC Sabathia didn’t appear overly affected by any stolen signs as he pitched eight strong innings of one run ball during the third game of the set, which ultimately resulted in a 4-1 Yankees win. The same could probably be said for Phil Hughes and his six inning, two earned run effort today.
Of course, if the Blues Jays were actually using some outside form of monitoring (binoculars, electronic equipment, etc.), than that absolutely would be a problem as that type of action blatantly contradicts the written rules of the game. In the same vein, if the Yankees seriously believed this to be the case — which would constitute a fairly substantial charge against the Jays — I’d suspect MLB would probably be asked to step in. Interestingly enough, the Yankees are not the first team to make this particular type of complaint either.
Assuming no official rules were actually violated though, this situation at the very least, qualifies as one of the many ambiguous circumstances of the game that are not necessarily illegal, but still incensing to some nevertheless. It wasn’t shocking to anyone when Martin commented, “They’re lucky that that’s my mindset, of me wanting to change [the signals] because it’s my fault. But some other teams, guys can get drilled for that. I’ve seen it happen.”
It would appear that popular consensus suggests that if a base runner is clever enough to figure out a pitch sequence, signal the dugout, and focus on base running, more power to him. To me, it speaks more towards overall poor pitch selection or general predictability on behalf of the pitcher and catcher. I completely agree with Russell Martin’s conclusion, “The reason why you put multiple signs down is so they’re not able to relay, and that type of stuff. There’s a reason why you just use one when there’s nobody on, and multiple when there’s people on.”
However, it’s certainly understandable how rationalization of this type of “gamesmanship” treads a fine line. Depending on your stance, other similar aspects of the game become a little trickier to condone or condemn. When does “crafty gamesmanship” become unsportsmanlike shenanigans? Also, do you find your feelings change when the discussion shifts to other topics such framing pitches, sliding especially hard into second, pretending to be hit with a ball during an at bat, or distracting an infielder while running the bases? I’d be curious to hear your thoughts.
Fun’s over, time to get back to work. The Yankees enjoyed their three days off for the All-Star break and now head to Toronto for a four-game weekend series against a team that always seems to play them tough. Will they be fresh, energized, and ready to go after the rest? Or slow and lethargic because of the downtime? One of those two will be your narrative for the weekend.
What Have The Blue Jays Done Lately?
Toronto went into the break with a 45-47 record, good for fourth in the AL East. Their +10 run differential is sixth best in the league, behind the three division powers, the Rangers, and the Angels. The Jays won their final three games before the break, clinching a four-game series win over the Indians. They’ve been hovering right around .500 all season, which reflects their true talent level.
Blue Jays On Offense
It’s all about Jose Bautista (who’s playing third base now), the world’s best player. He’s at .334/.468/.702 with an MLB leading 31 homers and 74 walks, and in ten July games he’s hit .395/.455/1.000. If he failed to reach base in his next 48 plate appearances, Bautista would still have a higher OBP and SLG than Adrian Gonzalez does right now. Dude is on a completely different level. This is a four-game series in his home park, so he’s going to hit two or three or four homeruns. Just accept it and move on, nothing anyone can do.
Bautista’s season has overshadowed his teammates and rightfully so, but Adam Lind might be baseball’s best kept secret right now. He’s at .300/.349/.515 with 16 homers right now, but since the end of April he’s hit .331/.383/.606. He’s legit protection behind Joey Bats. Yunel Escobar has been one of the game’s best leadoff hitters at .291/.365/.438, and he’s been molten hot since early-May: .317/.397/.490 with seven homers, 26 walks, and 22 strikeouts. Rookie Eric Thames (no relation to Marcus) allowed them to cut ties with Juan Rivera thanks to his .308/.357/.519 batting line (just 28 games though), and Travis Snider has seven extra base hits (six doubles and a homer) in seven games since coming back up from Triple-A. Those last two fill in the blanks around Bautista, Lind, and Yunel.
The rest of the lineup consists of a bunch of low-OBP guys that may or may not run into a fastball. Aaron Hill (.234/.279/.328) just keeps on getting worse and worse. J.P. Arencibia (.222/.287/.427) is doing exactly what everyone expected him to do, low OBP and some pop. Edwin Encarnacion (.255/.283/.405) and Rajai Davis (.240/.264/.357) pretty much suck. Corey Patterson is somehow keeping the dream alive at .258/.292/.393. The top four guys are legit, but the rest of the lineup can definitely be pitched too.
Blue Jays On The Mound
Thursday, LHP Jo-Jo Reyes (vs. Bartolo Colon): Joey Jo-Jo has been decidedly mediocre this season, with a low strikeout rate (5.29 K/9) and a low ground ball rate (39.4%). He does limit walks (2.96 B/9), so all those homers (0.99 HR/9) don’t sting as much. Reyes lives off his low-90′s four and two-seamers, and he’ll mix in a wide array of offspeed stuff (changeup, slider, and curve). The Yankees saw him in May and hammered him (five runs in three innings), so that was one of those rare instances in which they didn’t falter against a pitcher they haven’t seen before.
Friday, RHP Brandon Morrow (vs. Freddy Garcia): My breakout pick started the season on the disabled list, but he’s been back for 15 starts and his crazy ERA-FIP split has carried over from last year. He’s got a 2.70 FIP and a 4.60 ERA this year after 3.16 and 4.49 last season, respectively. Morrow’s strikeouts are again sky high (10.64 K/9), but the walk rate is nothing special (3.58 BB/9) and the ground ball rate is kind scary (34.2%). He’s been primarily a two-pitch pitcher this year, but they’re two very good pitches: a legit mid-90′s fastball and a high-80′s slider. Last year he threw a low-80′s curveball and a high-80′s changeup regularly (combined 20.2%), but not to much this year (3.5%). The Yankees tear two-pitch, non-changeup pitchers to shreds (eventually, might not be until the third time through the order though). If Morrow comes out with just the fastball and slider, that’s good news.
Saturday, LHP Ricky Romero (vs. CC Sabathia): This will be a fun matchup, because these two pitchers are very similar aside from the obvious physical differences. Their strikeout (7.78 vs. 7.43 K/9) and ground ball (48.4% vs. 52.6%) rates are close, but Sabathia separates himself by limiting ball four (2.16 vs. 3.31 BB/9) and also with some homerun luck (3.9 vs. 11.4% HR/FB). We’ve seen Romero enough over the two-plus years to know that he’s fastball-changeup heavy with the occasional curveball, and he’s done a nice job of keeping the Yankees in check this year (three runs in 14 IP) after they roughed him up last year.
Sunday, RHP Carlos Villanueva (vs. Phil Hughes): The transition to the rotation has gone swimmingly for Villaneuva, who has a 3.67 ERA (~3.40 FIP) in nine starts (54 IP). The first of those starts came against the Yankees, when he stymied them for five innings (one run). Hopefully that won’t happen again the second time around. Villanueva is very offspeed heavy, throwing his high-80′s fastball justs 45.7% of the time. Low-80′s sliders and changeups are his go-to offspeed offerings, though he’ll also use a low-70′s curve. Dude’s very unpredictable, he’s throw anything in any count.
Bullpen: Toronto has some major problems at the end-game, because Frank Francisco (4.44 FIP) and Jon Rauch (4.67) are both pretty bad. They’ve been having a blown save contest for the last six weeks or so and are two of the three sub-replacement relievers in the Jays’ bullpen. Kinda funny, actually. No lead is safe with that tandem. The other sub-replacement level guy is Octavio Dotel (4.44 FIP), but righties Shawn Camp (3.84) and Jason Frasor (3.90) plus lefties Luis Perez (4.32) and Marc Rzepczynski (3.49) have been anywhere from good to okay. Lots of different looks, got some fastball-slider guys, some fastball-changeup guys, fastball-curveball as well.