Kelly Johnson? Yes, please

Oh man. There are a lot of things for Jays fans to be excited about so far this season: Colby Rasmus looks like he’s figuring it out; Edwin Encarnacion has figured it out to the point that he’s been officially handed the cleanup hitter’s role; Brett Lawrie is being Brett Lawrie and that gets people excited even if he’s not yet playing as well as he’s capable of playing; the pitching!

Yes, there’s a lot of to be excited about. But there’s one guy who seems to be flying under the radar. Perhaps it’s because he doesn’t seem to have a personality that lights the world on fire. Perhaps it’s because his offensive production isn’t the flashiest. Perhaps it’s because your Toronto Blue Jays had to trade John McDonald and someone other scrub to get him. Continue reading

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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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Cecil murders lefties

Yesterday’s news that Brett Cecil, after a terrible spring, has been demoted to Double-A New Hampshire came as a not-unwelcome surprise. Putting him in Toronto’s rotation to start the year would have been bad for everyone, but I really believed that’s what would happen.

It’ll be interesting to see how Squints fares in the pitcher-friendly confines of Northeast Delta Dental Stadium as he faces Double-A hitters with stuff that works (to some degree) at  the major league level. Maybe success there, if he finds it, will give transfer to the Majors whenever he gets another chance. But if he struggles in New Hampshire, it likely won’t (or, at least, shouldn’t) be the end of Cecil.

I’ve made the argument before that ol’ Squints should be moved to the bullpen. I still think he should be used as a starter if at all possible, but as time goes on that seems less and less likely. I still think he has a future in the ‘pen. But in what role? Just now, as I was going through Cecil’s velocity charts and pitch outcomes and splits looking for something to defend the guy with, I found something that seems interesting:

Brett Cecil is really good at getting left-handed batters out

I doubt any pitcher aspires to being a LOOGY (lefty one-out guy) but they have an important role to play in the modern game. Brett Cecil, if he can’t get it together enough to start again, could be a great LOOGY.

Over the course of his career, Cecil’s held lefties to an OPS of .664. While that’s a good number, it’s inflated by his relatively awful 2009 performance against lefties. In 2010 and, yes, even 2011, Cecil murdered left-handed batters. Check out these lines:

2010 vs LHB: .224/.255/.342/.597 (AVG/OBP/SLG/OPS)

2011 vs LHB: .186/.282/.240/.522

Pretty crazy, eh? Even when Cecil’s putting together a season like last year’s that makes everyone doubt his future, he’s still able to hold lefties to pretty anemic numbers.

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A meaningful spring stat: Winning percentage!!!1

It's a Blue Jays parade!

Have you been paying attention to spring training?

If your answer to that was “a little, but it doesn’t really matter. Let me know when the meaningful games start,” then you and I are in the same boat. Spring training is neat and all, what with the fog of hope that envelops every team and young players trying so hard to prove they belong, but any games where pitchers are pitching to work on their stuff instead of to win are, ultimately, not that important.

Except! (Not the exclamation mark? Excitement follows!)

Except that the Blue Jays are winning a lot of games! So many, in fact, that they’re in pretty nice company, historically. (If you count the last 20 years to mean “historically,” at least.)

The Blue Jays are right now sitting at 23 wins and 6 losses in the spring. That’s a winning percentage of .793. They have two games left, both against the Tigers and, if they win just oen of those games against Detroit, the Jays will finish with a winning percentage of at least .774.

But who cares about winning percentage, right?

ESPN’s Jayson Stark, that’s who!

Over the weekend, he went all crazy and compared the Jays to the 1997 Florida Marlins and the 2009 Anaheim, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A. Angels. The ’97 Marlins won the World Series and the ’09 Angels went on to win 97 games before losing in the ALCS in 6 games to the Yankees. What do the Jays have in common with these teams? Spring training winning percentage, of course!

Those Marlins and Angels teams were, although I’m sure you don’t need me to spell it out for you at this point, the only two teams within the last 20 years to post spring winning percentages above .750.

So, now, I hope you can see how important it is that Toronto wins at least one of its final two spring games. The outcome of the upcoming season clearly hangs in the balance.

And, really, we wouldn’t want the team to let Larry King down, would we?

 

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Tables turned

Maybe it’s because I’ve heard one (hundred) too many “Let’s go Leafs” chants at Blue Jays games. Maybe it’s because there does seem to be a genuine interest and excitement in Toronto about the upcoming Blue Jays season. Maybe it’s because I’m also a bitter Leafs fan who gave up hope a long time ago (go Sabres!).

Whatever the reason behind it, the “Let’s go Blue Jays” chant at last night’s Maple Leafs game makes me smile. Perversely, the Leafs losing 7-1 also makes me smile.

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No such thing as too many options

The news broke late last night: The Toronto Blue Jays have optioned Travis Snider to Triple A Las Vegas. My initial reaction was one of frustration. Snider has the highest upside! Snider’s been jerked around so much, he deserves a real shot! If Snider was on any other team, Alex Anthopoulos would trade three relievers and a bag of popcorn for him and then let him play every day! TRAVIS SNIDER HAS LIGHT-TOWER POWER, DAMN IT.

I’m sure most of you have seen it already, but if not, check the 40-second mark in the above video. That was 2008. Snider was 20. He’s still only 24 (math!) and anybody ready to write him off is, well… foolish is probably the nicest word to describe those people.

So yes, I’m frustrated that Snider’s not going to get his much-deserved shot at the start of this season, but maybe it’s not such a bad thing.

Eric Thames is not a bad player. Not even close. If you can against root against Eric Thames, I don’t know that we can be friends. He works hard, he plays hard, he always looks like he’s having fun AND he can hit. He’s not Snider, but he doesn’t have to be.

Thames put a .262/.313/.456 (batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage) slash line last year and he did that over nearly 400 at-bats. He could learn to take a few more walks, but the power certainly seems real. If he can improve at getting on without sacrificing the power, he could be something special — or at least above average.

But where does that leave Snider? If he goes down to Vegas and mashes the minor-league pitching as he usually does, he’ll certainly be deserving of another shot in the bigs, but what position will he play?

I have a lot of hope for the 2012 Blue Jays, but there are a lot of question marks surrounding them. Particularly at first base. If Adam Lind and/or Edwin Encarnacion struggle at the plate again, the team can’t afford to give them endless opportunities.

It pains me to say it, but Lind’s been one of the worst hitters in MLB over the past two seasons. Sure, maybe he can regain something of his 2009 form but, without some form of improvement, he no longer deserves an everyday spot in the lineup.

Encarnacion, when he’s on his game, he’s one of the best hitters going. But when he’s off? It’s ugly. Maybe the DH/1B role will lift the weight of 3B and the E5 moniker and allow him to focus on hitting well. Or maybe he’s just another streaky player who’s a better fit for a bench role.

Both Lind and Encarnacion are going to get a shot to prove themselves worthy, but if either struggles and the team does something about it (as it should) that will open up the DH spot. Snider’s a better fielder than Thames, so it’d be a natural fit for Thames to DH while Snider patrols left.

And if everyone comes out swinging and no spots open up for Snider? That’s not a bad problem to have, especially for a GM who seems interested in adding pitching.

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Today in good deals for the Blue Jays

For the last two seasons in Toronto, most Jays fans seem to have fallen into one of three camps when it comes to Brandon Morrow:

  1. Dude is AMAZING!!1
  2. He’s got great stuff, but what the hell? Why is he so frustrating?
  3. Morrow’s pitching? UGH. WHY BOTHER WATCHING? He SUCKS.

While I think hope nobody reading this falls into that third group, the second group is, rightfully, highly populated. In fact, I find myself in that second group most times, but Morrow’s got something that makes me and a lot of other people believe that he could make the leap into the AMAZING!!1 category — and he could do it as soon as this season.

Even the experts at Fangraphs think highly enough of Morrow to draw some comparisons between him and Justin Verlander. That’s some pretty high praise for Morrow and if the comparison turns out to even be fractionally valid, Toronto’s in a good place for at least the next four years.

Why four years? Because the Blue Jays just signed Morrow to a three-year extension worth $20 million. The deal also includes a $10-million option for the 2015 season.

At just under $7 million a season, Morrow’s a steal — even if he doesn’t improve all that much.

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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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