Category Archives: General baseball

Everything that doesn’t fit anywhere else.

Slumping sluggers

11 games in and the superstar outfielder has, compared to what people are used to seeing from him, struggled. He’s coming off a season in which he was arguably robbed of the MVP award — I mean, just look. He led the league in home runs, walks, OPS+ and intentional walks.

But now, 11 games in, his team is at 6-5 and some fans are kind of freaking out. He’s got a sub-.800 OPS. In a little more than 50 plate appearances and he’s only hit two home runs! Should we be worried? Is he finished?

Am I writing about Jose Bautista? No, although all of the above applies to him.

In 1959, Mickey Mantle was in the exact same situation. Well, I say exact, but I don’t know for sure what the fans were saying about him. Other than that, it was pretty much the same. Really, check out the stats!

(Click the pics to embiggen, or the links to see the source at Baseball Reference.)

Mantle’s 1958:

Bautista’s 2011:

Mantle’s first 11 games of 1959:

Bautista’s first 11 of 2012:

Obviously Bautista is not Mantle, but to everybody out there worrying about Bautista: Don’t. It’s way, way too early yet. If you hear people talk about small sample size, listen to them. If you don’t want to believe them, remember the above stats — and remember this: Despite his slow start in ’59, Mantle went on to hit 31 home runs and post on OPS of .904. It wasn’t Mantle’s best season, but it was still very, very productive.

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Louisville Slugger, the making of

The first baseball bat I ever owned was a black Louisville Slugger. It had white tape wrapped around the handle for grip. When I started playing organized ball, and aluminum bats became an option, I didn’t look back. Why would I? Aluminum makes the ball fly!

But that Slugger, it holds a special place in my heart. I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling like this about the old wooden bats.

I guess I had always assumed the bats were made by a dude with a lathe. Until relatively recently, I would have been correct. But no more! Wired recently toured the Louisville Slugger factory and the footage they came back with is pretty interesting. Babe Ruth-bat interesting, even!

[brightcove vid=1542019618001&exp3=1813626064&surl=http://c.brightcove.com/services&pubid=1564549380&pk=AQ~~,AAAAAF1BIQQ~,g5cZB_aGkYZXG-DCZXT7a-c4jcGaSdDQ&w=404&h=436]

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Rogers Centre staff*

Year before last, I went to a game in San Francisco. During the third inning, I went to get myself some of the famous garlic fries (highly recommended!) and upon attempting to return to my seat, was told by an usher to wait until the end of the half inning before going down the aisle. Having only previously attended games in Toronto, this was a shock to me, but not an unwelcome one.

“You’re right, man. Thanks for doing what you do,” I said to the usher. “This would never happen in Toronto and you know what? It sucks. This is a much better system.”

The usher seemed confused by statement and proceeded to actually chain off the aisle as more out-of-towners (obviously, right?) tried to make their way to their seats.

That game in San Francisco remains the only MLB game I’ve attended outside of Toronto, so I don’t know if Giants ushers or Blue Jays ushers are more typical of the league-wide experience, but I can say that, on the whole, the experience in San Francisco is a much more pleasant one. The ushers there seem to be in place to enhance the experience of people who wish to watch the game and have fun. Continue reading

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Yu Darvish can shoot lightning from his eyes

Poor Alexei Ogando. He’s been demoted to an actual bullpen.

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How posting works (or don’t believe rumours about Darvish)

If you follow sports at all, there’s a good chance you’ve heard misleading or downright incorrect reports about Yu Darvish and his posting. If you live in Toronto and have eyes or ears, you’ve definitely heard these frustratingly wrong reports.

To be fair, the posting system which allows Japanese players who are still controlled by their Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) team is a murky, complicated and secretive process. It is easy to get confused about these things if you don’t know how the process works. It’s especially easy to get confused when rumour mongers can’t help themselves from tweeting and reporting every utterance they hear (whether it’s actually heard or just in their head).

Now, as the deadline for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters (Darvish’s Japanese team) to  either accept or reject the highest bid to come from MLB teams, let’s take a look at what we actually know about the situation:

Is Darvish coming to Toronto?

As of right now, anybody speaking in certainties about which team Darvish is going to play for next year is talking out of their ass. The fact of the matter is that, until a bid is accepted, NOBODY knows. Not even Darvish himself (OK, maybe he’s been told, but he doesn’t officially know). I know that sounds a little crazy, but it’s a function of the posting process. Read on and it will, I hope, become clear.

How does posting work?

Once a player is posted by his NPB team, there are three steps to the process:

  1. MLB teams have a 4-day window to submit sealed bids to MLB Commissioner Bud Selig. When that 4-day window closes, Selig goes over the bids and notifies his Japanese counterpart of the high bid. At this point the only people who know what the high bid is and which team it came from are the two commissioners and whatever trusted henchman they may have had in the room with them.
  2. NPB Commissioner Ryozo Kato notifies the posted player’s team of the high bid. The Japanese team has a 4-day window to decide whether to accept the bid.
  3. If the NPB team accepts the bid, the MLB team which offered the bid has a 30-day window to negotiate a contract with the posted player. If a contract is reached, the NPB team keeps the posting fee*. If the team and player are not able to reach an agreement, the posting fee is refunded to the MLB team that failed to sign the player.

* It’s important to note that the posting fee is completely separate from the player contract. A posting fee of, say, $50 million is completely separate from a $50-million contract awarded to the player. Those two examples would result in the MLB team spending $100 million on the player.

So where are we right now?

The process for Darvish is nearing the end of the second step. Any rumours you’ve heard to date about where Darvish is going and for how much, well, those are just rumours.

Would it be cool if the Blue Jays land Darvish? Hell yes. But, if even the Jays win the bidding process, there’s no guarantee the Japanese star will land in Canada.

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Why Blue Jays fans should be cheering for the Cardinals

It would be very easy right now to label the St. Louis Cardinals a “team of destiny.” They snuck into the postseason on the last possible day and only because the Atlanta Braves completed a collapse that was nearly as legendary as that of the Boston Red Sox. Since then they’ve knocked off the Philadelphia HalladayLeeHamelsOswalts and the Milwaukee Prince Fielders.

Now all that stands in the Cardinals’ way is the Texas Rangers, a team which has no trouble defeating destiny. In the ALDS, they dispatched the Tampa Bay Rays rather handily. Not enough proof? Why, just last year, they won the World Series when they beat a team that made it that far despite not knowing how to score runs! (What? They didn’t beat the Giants? Oh…)

Anyway, look. The Rangers are pretty huge favourites to win the whole thing this year. I believe the odds are such that if you bet on the Rangers in Vegas, you’ve got to put down about $1.50 to win a dollar.

But you, dear Jays fan, should be cheering for the Cardinals to overcome the odds again. Not only because it’s more fun to cheer for an underdog, but because the better the Cardinals do, the better off our real favourite team is.

Tony La Russa is a Questionable Man who thinks Questionable Things

You know how so many Blue Jays fans go around calling Alex Anthopoulos a “silent assassin”? Maybe a ninja? I don’t like it, but the sentiment is justified. Anthopoulos earns the title because he does things like trade (essentially) Marc Rzepcynski, Octavio Dotel and Corey Patterson for Colby Rasmus.

(I know the deal was more complicated than that, but come on.)

Judging by the reactions of most Jays fans, Anthopoulos had reached the Billy-Beane-in-Moneyball level of trading. That is to say that other GMs should be afraid when Anthopoulos gives them a call. That reaction is and was justified. And it’s exactly why we should all be cheering for the Cardinals right now.

For all the fleecing of St. Louis that took place back in July, the Cardinals still made it to the World Series. On top of that, Tony La Russa is saying that his team getting ripped off in the deal is the REASON the Cardinals are in the World Series. Seriously. I’m not making this up.

“I’ll tell you if that trade had not been made, I believe we probably would have been an under .500 club. That’s how important it was to us.” —Tony La Russa, genius

The more the Cards win, and the more the more their people make Toronto’s front office sound stupid for trading with them, the better is for Toronto.

If you’re a competing GM and Anthopoulos gives you a call, would you rather be afraid that he’s going to rip you off or would you like to think that “hey, maybe he’ll help me win the World Series, too!”

If the Cardinals win, it will make Anthopoulos look, in the eyes of many people, a little bit dumb. We know that’s not true in the least, but it’s a damn good thing for other teams to think.

So, Go Cards. Win it for the good people of Toronto.

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Pitcher of the yarrrr

I was going to try to turn this into a big, full-featured post, but I just don’t have it in me right now. I mean, I really can’t make a big deal about who should be winning the Baseball Blogger Alliance’s Walter Johnson Award for best pitcher of the year. Everybody knows it’s going to be Justin Verlander — and rightfully so.

So yeah, here’s my ballot followed by a picture and then a video. They may be related, they may not. I haven’t decided yet. Feel free to rip my ballot in the comments!

5. Jered Weaver, California Angels of a parking lot in Los Angeles

4. James Shields, Tampa Bay Rays

3. Dan Haren, Anaheim Angels of Los Angeles, California, United States of America

2. C.C. Sabathia, New York Yankees

1. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

I used to work at a paper where the agate guy would always delete the first two letters of DeJesus in the boxscores. Nobody ever complained.

P.S. Better things are coming.

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Rookie of the year

Summer. Damn. It moves too fast. Seems like just yesterday I was at the SkyDome watching the Jays thump the Twins in the season opener.

But it wasn’t really yesterday. It was long enough ago that now I’m getting emails reminding me (and rightly so, since I often have trouble remembering which day of the week it is) that it’s time to vote on the 2011 Baseball Bloggers Alliance awards.

First up is the Willie Mays Award, which the BBA bestows upon the best rookies in each league.

Ballots for this award use a 5-3-1 point system and for a ballot to count, it must include three names. Since this is a Blue Jays blog, I can only vote for the American League award. So my choices, in ascending order, are as follows:

3. Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox

While not the sexiest of choices, Chris Sale led all American League rookies in WPA this year. For those unfamiliar with the stat, WPA stands for Win Probability Added or, basically, by what percentage did a player add to his team’s chance of winning over the course of the season. A good explanation of the stat can be found here.

Anyway, working out of the bullpen and in only 71 innings pitched, Sale piled up a WPA of 3.53. He also posted an ERA of 2.79 and a FIP (like ERA, but with fielders taken out of the equation as much as possible) of 3.12. Overall, a great year for the Pale Hose rookie.

2. Desmond Jennings, Tampa Bay Rays

The Tampa leftfielder made his first appearance in the Rays’ lineup this year on July 23 and proved he belonged immediately, going 2-for-3 with a double and a triple and drawing two walks in his first game. He’d go on to post a slash line (BA/OBP/SLG) of .259/.356/.805 and give Blue Jays fans further proof that the road back to the playoffs is not going to be an easy one as long as the schedule stays unbalanced.

I mean, really, Tampa may not have any money but, NEWSFLASH, the team’s got some amazing player development going on.

1. Brett Lawrie, Toronto Blue Jays

I fully expect flack for this choice and (probably justified) accusations of homerism but, to my mind, Brett Lawrie is definitely the rookie of the year.

In only 150 at-bats, Lawrie hit nine home runs. He posted a slash line of .293/.373/.580. He showed patience and poise at the plate and an eye that at times seemed to rival that of Jose Bautista.

Now, it would be reasonable to say that, with such a small sample size, there’s a good chance that opposing pitchers would adapt and figure out ways to get him out. Totally possible, but his incredible eye would help to offset that a bit as he seems unlikely to chase after bad pitches and get himself out. There are two more reasons he’s got my vote though:

  • Before his call-up, there were a lot of questions about his defence, but not only did he not look out of place playing third on the SkyDome’s artificial turf, he was downright impressive.
  • While his offensive output may have slowed had he played more, how incredibly productive he was during his stint has to be taken into consideration. Despite only 171 plate appearances, Lawrie’s WAR (wins above replacement) came in at 2.7 — tied for first among non-pitching rookies and that is just insane.

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So there you have it, my Wille Mays Award ballot for the rookie of the year. There are many other great rookies this year who could have (and maybe should have) cracked my Top 3, with Eric Hosmer, Michael Pineda, Alexei Ogando and Dustin Ackley chief among them. So who’s your rookie of the year? Let me have it in the comments.

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Jays fan in a Yankees universe

If there’s one thing that unites most Canadians (other than health care and complaining about the weather) it’s got to be the notion that Americans don’t care to know anything about us and don’t pay any attention to us. I mean, there’s a reason those Talking to Americans specials were so popular, right?

This weird insecurity does extend to many baseball fans as well. It’s most evident in the “why doesn’t ESPN show the Jays on Sunday night?” cries that are heard from time to time.

So when an American does pay attention, it comes as a surprise and, unless the reason is obvious, people usually want to know why. It’s in that vein that this post is, uh, posted. The following was written by Elise Myers, a Californian living in New York who is, somewhat surprisingly, a Blue Jays fan:

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Mathletes

I haven’t seen the particular ad yet myself, but apparently Sportsnet is using Travis Snider’s fielding percentage in some of its advertising for the upcoming Jays season. I’m going to assume that the vast majority of people who bother to read baseball blogs know enough about the game to know that fielding percentage is not even remotely a good way to evaluate a player.

Anyway, the ad led to an interesting Twitter exchange last night between Stoeten of DJF fame and a guy who goes by GoatmealCrisp about why exactly Sportsnet would take such a tack in its promotional course.

Goatmeal argued that the ad is for the “casuals” and that people who know better are watching the games anyway. Stoeten, who was making the most of St. Patrick’s Day, was having none of it.

Now, I’m with Stoeten 100% in that nobody should be pretending a worthless stat means anything, but the second half of his statement might not be entirely accurate.

I’ve often wondered why words like “grit” remain so prevalent in discussions of baseball and what makes a player good or valuable to a team. The following map might, in part, help explain the reluctance of some people to adopt new ways of looking at the game:

What you’re looking at is a map of Canada, drawn up to show numeracy skills for a recent feature in the Globe and Mail. Red is bad. Going by these stats, there are an alarming amount of people in Canada who lack the basic math skills to “live fully in a modern economy.”

The consequences of poor math skills are many and affect more than just the individual who struggled with calculus in grade school:

The financial crisis of 2008 is often blamed solely on the banking world’s irresponsibility, but individual decisions by people struggling to understand their mortgages, or the true cost of a loan or a debt, arguably helped bring world economies to their knees.

To be sure, people losing their jobs and their homes is a much more important issue than the widespread acceptance and understanding of a stat like ISO, FIP or any of the other advanced metrics out there. But if people can’t wrap their heads around a personal loan or a mortgage, with the huge implications those things can and do have on their personal lives, how can we expect those same people to be bothered with the sabr movement?

Now, just to be clear, I’m not saying people who don’t “get” math are stupid — far from it. I know there any many, many factors that go into what people can or can’t do intellectually and the individuals in question don’t have control over all of them.

And I’m not excusing large swaths of the mainstream media for continuing to look at the game of baseball in an outdated way. Good media should be reporting things in the best way possible — including taking advanced stats and explaining them, or converting them into language most people can understand. Unfortunately, most media doesn’t work that way — for a number of reasons, some understandable, some horrible.

Sportsnet really shouldn’t be promoting the Jays with Travis Snider’s fielding percentage. But if you run into a Jays fan in the real world who likes to talk about simple, outdated things like fielding percentage, it might worth it to see if they’ve got a grasp of fielding range or something else that you can get a good sense of without looking at numbers. If they do, their use of fielding percentage as a go-to metric might not be entirely their fault.

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