Monthly Archives: April 2011

Is Snider’s demotion really about mechanics?

After a slow start to the season resulting in a .184/.276/.264 slash line, the Toronto Blue Jays have done the near unthinkable and sent their prized young outfielder Travis Snider back down to AAA Las Vegas.  The 23-year-old leftfielder had exhibited terrible mechanics at the plate this season and General Manager Alex Anthopoulos says that the best course of action is to let Snider work out those issues at AAA.

This wouldn’t be so much of a problem if the Jays had any hope of contending this season, but the fact is, they do not.  This is a team with a very bright future, but presently, they aren’t any more than a .500 ballclub; if that.  It makes very little sense to send Snider back to a level where he has nothing to prove.

The last time Snider was at AAA was in 2009 when he tore the cover off the ball going .337/.431./663 with 14 homeruns in 204 plate appearances.  He simply has nothing left to prove at the minor-league level.

There is no doubt that Snider has struggled so far in 2011, but for the team to send him down after less than 100 plate appearances is downright con-fucking-fusing.  When looking at Snider’s batted ball and plate discipline statistics, most everything is similar to his career numbers.  The only thing that stands out as different is his infield flyball rate which has jumped from 10.5% in 2010 to 20.0% this season.  Like Anthopoulos said this morning in his press conference announcing the demotion, this suggests that his swing mechanics are on a serious fritz, but it still makes no sense to me to send him down.

Even though Anthopoulos has stated many times before that he will not hold a player in the minors to manipulate service time, this (and for that matter the Cecil demotion) stinks of a team trying to prevent players from reaching Super-Two arbitration status.*

As Dustin Parkes explains on Getting Blanked

“Snider entered this season with one year and 126 days of service time. A full year in a Blue Jays uniform would’ve meant two years and 126 days of service. Last season, the Super Two cut off was two years and 122 days, but experts say that 2011 will have a much later cut off, somewhere around two years and 144 days.”

For what it’s worth the difference between Snider’s and Cecil’s service time is two days.  I don’t want to be a conspiracy theorist, but this seems fishy for a team with no thoughts of contending.  This is exactly the year that players like Cecil and Snider should be allowed to fail and work out their problems at the Major-League level.  In fact, in Snider’s case, Anthopoulos has stated many times that this is the year Snider will finally get 600 plate appearances at the major-league level; not anymore!

It’s probably exactly as it appears to be; that Snider’s mechanics at the plate are so messed up that the organization feels it’s best to send him down to fix his problems.  I still wouldn’t be totally surprised if this is a creative way for the team to save money by pushing Snider’s arbitration clock back a year.  Him struggling (and again, Cecil as well) just gave the organization the excuse to do it.

*- If you are unaware of baseball rather complicated arbitration process, check out this page for all you need to know.  You shall see the light unfold before you.

Is Jose Bautista the most watchable Blue Jay of all-time?

I, like many who follow baseball feverishly, had my concerns about Blue Jays star rightfielder Jose Bautista heading into the 2011 season.  After a breakout season that no one in the league’s history has ever experienced, the Jays inked Bautista to a five-year, $65-million extension that when coupled with the Juan Rivera contract and the signings of Octavio Dotel and Jon Rauch basically cancelled out the financial savings of the Vernon Wells trade.

I was concerned.  What if Bautista dive-bombed back into obscurity and the Jays were left with a utility player worth roughly $13-million a season?  I was under no grand illusions that he was going to repeat his 54 homerun performance from 2010, and trust me, he doesn’t need to to make this contract worthwhile, but I was still concerned that Bautista was a jewel-encrusted chariot, ready to turn back into a pumpkin at midnight.

Then the season started.

Bautista destroyed a pitch in his very first game into the leftfield bleachers at Skydome Rogers Centre and despite missing three games since due to the birth of his daughter is leading the league in every important batting category: batting average (.364), on-base percentage (.517!!!), slugging percentage (.788), obviously OPS (1.305), walk-rate (24.1%) and isolated power* (.424!!!).

I’m slowly being converted to a believer in Bautista’s long-term ability, but I’m not willing to call it a sure thing yet.  I still believe the extension’s timing, especially considering its length, was questionable.  It’s all about process and signing Bautista to a five-year deal at that point flew in the face of that.

For now, at least, it appears as though he’s worth every cent and then some.

I was thinking about this earlier.  Is there any hitter in Jays history that has been more fun to watch than Bautista?  I honestly can’t think of any; not even Delgado in the late 90s/early 00s.  Right now, there’s no one in the game I enjoy watching more.  His attitude, swagger and confidence coupled with an ability to get on base at stupefying rates and smash pitches into the far reaches of the universe make him the most interesting player in baseball.  Throw in the fact that he came out of obscurity at the age of 29 to do it and he might be the most interesting player I’ve ever bared witness to.

*Isolated Power, for those who don’t know, is simply slugging percentage minus batting average.  It’s purpose it to measure a player’s pure power rating.  A decent power hitter will have a .200 ISO, while the league leaders are usually up just under .300.  Last year, Bautista’s ISO was a major-league-best .357.

Power Rankings April 24th — No change at the top as the tier-two teams are too close to tell apart

Another week has gone by and so I bring you the BC Power Rankings once again.  Things have been slow around here these days, but as always, you can check out my writing on fantasy baseball over at Getting Blanked and you can follow me on Twitter here.  If I’m watching the Jays game live, I’m probably tweeting too…a lot.

Here are the Rankings:

As you can see, the top six are unchanged from last week, as are the bottom three.  You’ll notice as this goes along that I treat power rankings as they were intended to be treated, that is, I don’t necessarily look too closely at the record, at least not this early in the year.  The idea of power rankings is to rank the best teams in baseball.  If you really think about it, it’s obvious that the Red Sox are a better team than the Clevelands, even though their current record would suggest otherwise.

So, my top six remain unchanged since the Phillies are still winning, the Red Sox finally look like we thought they would getting great pitching and the Yankees are still managing to win despite rain-outs and a pitching staff thinner than Hilary Swank’s midsection (honestly, it’s the best I could do; leave me alone, I have a migraine).  The Rays have looked really good with what I consider to be the best rotation in the AL, while the Braves look to finally be turning things around.  The Rangers took four of six games this week and are still winning despite their best player being on the DL; now let’s see if they can do it without their best pitcher, Neftali Feliz.  A bullpen that includes Brett Tomko and Dave Bush doesn’t exactly scream late-inning dominance so let’s hope for their sake that the ultimate pumpkin Alexi Ogando continues to pitch the way he is.

When everyone else acts surprised that the Marlins are doing so well, remember who told you at the beginning of the year that they would be good.  A rotation that has Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez is going to compete and compete well in the NL.  I have them seventh this week, jumping Colorado who has lost five of their last seven.

In ninth, Oakland’s rotation has come as advertised and once some of their bats (Josh Willingham, David DeJesus, and Daric Barton specifically) start hitting the way they should they’ll be much better than .500.

Rounding out the top ten is the Los Angeles Dodgers who once again leapfrogged the Giants after a 5-2 week.  Like the Giants, the Dodgers’ rotation is very good and with Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier hitting the way they did in 2009, the Dodgers are in a great position to sustain their winning.  I would like to see them add a bat at some point this season, which may be hard considering the whole ownership fiasco.

Ranking the teams 12th through 18th was certainly a chore.  I had about seven different configurations before settling on this one.  A few wins here or there by any of these teams can vault them up the rankings quickly.

I still maintain that right now, the Reds (12th) are the best team in the NL Central although the continued good play from the Brewers (13th) after a slow start could change that quickly.  Getting Zack Grienke back from the DL very soon could vault them ahead of the Reds.  After that I have the Cards at 15th, even though they currently lead the division and just took two of three from the Reds, and the Cubs at 19th.  The separation between 18th (Minnesota) and 19th (the Cubs) is quite large however.

The Angels were one of the hottest teams in baseball led by Jered Weaver and Dan Haren and their ridiculous starts, but after being swept at home by the Red Sox, I had to drop them a spot to 14th. While the Tigers went up two spots with a good week to 16th and the White Sox’ terrible week has landed them in 17th, three spots lower than last week.

With Toronto’s continued struggles to hit the ball (outside Jesus H. Bautista of course) I swapped them with the Cubs at 19th and 20th.

The Indians appear to be falling back down to earth losing all their games this week that they didn’t play against the Royals, but they stayed treading at 21st mainly because none of the teams behind them took enough of a jump to move them down.

Washington has been hovering around the .500 mark all season and they remain in 22nd spot, while their Beltway cousins Baltimore move up a spot to 23rd, again, mostly because I couldn’t justify putting them below and of the teams following them on the list.

The Mets’ end the week with four straight wins (albeit against the lowly Diamondbacks) and as a result move up thee spots to 24th, while KC’s 2-5 week keeps them at 25th only because the five teams below them are very bad teams.

After a 1-6 week, the Padres fall three spots to 26th and if they continue this trend will be rivalling the bottom-dwellers by next week.

The Astros and Mariners are 30 and 30A this week and that probably won’t change anytime soon.

Agree, disagree? Let me know.

Series Preview: vs. New York Yankees April 19th-20th

Okay Jays’ fans; deep breath, and exhale.  Okay, let’s just calm the fuck down about the Jays losing three of four to the Red Sox.  Yes, they played like shit, but here’s the secret:  Despite what their record says, the Boston Red Sox are arguably the best team in baseball.  They have four good starting pitchers and a fifth starter that most teams are very envious of, and a ridiculous lineup.  Let’s also mention that this series was at Fenway Park, where there is a strong home-field advantage.

Just calm down.  No need to jump off whatever bandwagon you hopped on in the offseason.  If we’ve been realistic since the beginning, we all know the Jays aren’t exactly what you would call a good team right now.  Let’s keep our eyes on the collective prize and realize that there are a lot of things going for the Jays.

For instance, Brett Lawrie is currently raking at AAA-Las Vegas.  He’s 20 for 47 with eight extra-base hits and two stolen bases.  Now, I know it’s the PCL, but that’s still impressive.  If he continues at this pace and manages to be half-competent defensively, it won’t be long before he’s called up to the majors.  For the record, I would still keep him down in AAA for most of the year, but I feel like the Jays will call him up if he keeps hitting like this.

As for the upcoming series, the Jays will host the Yankees for a short two-game set at the Dome.  New York is coming off a 4-1 week and sit atop the AL East with a 9-5 record, while Toronto is coming off an unimpressive 3-7 road trip and will look to rebound at home.

The boo birds will be out in full force tonight as A.J. Burnett takes the hill for New York against rookie Kyle Drabek for the Jays.  Burnett has had a decent start going 3-0 with a 4.67 ERA in his first three starts.  If not for giving up three homeruns in 17.1 innings, Burnett’s numbers would be better.  So far he’s been striking batters out and has kept his walk-rate more-than-respectable.

Drabek, on the other hand, has been outstanding so far this year posting a 1.93 ERA and 3.70 FIP in his first three starts and looks as though he’s here to stay.  So far, he’s been striking batters out at a near one-per-inning clip and although he’s walked a few too many, the outlook is very promising.  He’ll be tested tonight against debatably the best lineup in the Majors.

At the moment, the lineups have yet to be finalized, but Alex Rodriguez might not be on the card as he’s still recovering from his oblique strain.  If he isn’t in tonight, he’ll likely be in tomorrow.

The matchup for tomorrow’s game will be Brett Cecil for the Jays against Bartolo Colon for the Yankees.  Cecil battled through more inconsistencies in his last start, but looked much better than in his previous two.  His velocity seemed slightly more consistent as well.  Colon, on the other hand, will be making his first start for the Bombers after starting the season in the bullpen.  With Phil Hughes hitting the DL with ‘dead arm’, Colon is expected to make a least a few starts.

In other news, the Jays traded left-hander David Purcey to the A’s for Danny Farquhar after Purcey was designated for assignment last week.  Farquhar was just traded to the A’s by the Jays in the Rajai Davis deal and will return to his original organization.

I think Purcey, a former number-one pick of the Jays, has a lot of potential as a shut-down reliever, but he needs to figure out his control problems; a change of scenery to Oakland may be just what he needs.

The Jays also sent Jesse Litsch to AAA-Las Vegas today to make room for reliever Frank Francisco who rejoins the team after a right pectoral strain had him sidelined for over a month.  It’s unknown how Jays manager John Farrell intends to use Francisco right out of the gate.

Finally, Brandon Morrow, who’s been on the disabled list since late in the spring with elbow inflammation should make his first start of the season on Friday against the Rays.

Down on the Farm
As mentioned earlier, Lawrie has been absolutely raking in AAA, but there are other players making noise in the Jays’ system.  Yesterday, 2010 first-round draft pick Deck McGuire notched his first professional win for High-A Dunedin against the Lakeland Flying Tigers pitching 5.2 innings of three-hit shutout ball, walking two and striking out four.  In his first three appearances with Dunedin, McGuire has a 1.88 ERA.

Catching prospect Travis D’Arnaud has been struggling so far with AA-New Hampshire posting a .133/.212/.167 slash line in his first eight games, while McGuire’s teammate in Dunedin, catcher Carlos Perez has started well going .400/.483/.560 in his first 29 plate appearances.

Shortstop prospect Adeiny Hechavarria is at AA-New Hampshire as well and has apparently been very impressive defensively once again.  He hasn’t totally embarrassed himself at the plate either with nine hits in his first 40 plate appearances.  He’s still not walking often, just once so far, but he’s only struck out three times which is promising.

Finally, a prospect to watch out for is right-handed pitcher Aaron Sanchez.  Sanchez was drafted out of a California high school last year 34th overall by the Jays and is on the radar of many scouts around baseball.  Sanchez has a projectable 6’3”, 170-pound frame and smooth arm action that allows him to let loose a low-to-mid-90s fastball with a low 70s curveball with terrific bite.  He’s also working on a changeup.  He’ll start the year in the Appalachian Rookie League with the Bluefield Blue Jays whose season gets under way on the 21st of April.

A lot of very respected prospect analysts think Sanchez will find his way into Top 100 Prospect Lists perhaps as early as next season.  Hop on the bandwagon before everyone else.  You’ll find me sitting there.

Enjoy the series!

Power Rankings week two: Boston falls to number two as Philly assumes the top spot.

It’s Monday again so here are my Power Rankings for the week.

After letting their record fall to 2-10 before back-to-back wins against the Jays, it became very difficult to keep Boston ahead of Philadelphia in the rankings, but their fall from grace was merely to the second spot.  After another win to round out the series against Toronto today, the BoSox appear to be finding their form so don’t expect much more of a fall, unless the Yankees, now ranked number three, keep playing the way they are; more on them in a minute.

The Phillies take over the number one spot on the list thanks to another solid week, winning three out of five games.  Their record now sits at 10-4 and that pitching staff has come as advertised making them very tough to beat every single night.

The Yankees at number three won four out of five games to jump another spot, leapfrogging the Braves.  Their stay could be short lived with the news that Phil Hughes’ drop in velocity will result in a DL-stint and who knows how long he’ll be out.  It’s hard to see the Yankees maintaining this level of play with A.J. Burnett, Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia, and Bartolo Colon occupying the majority of their rotation, but for now they’re challenging for the top spot on the list.

The Tampa Bay Rays won five out of six games this week on the strength of their terrific pitching staff.  All the people who were leaving them for dead seem to forget that they have David Price, James Shields, Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann, and Jeremy Hellickson in their rotation which I would hazard to say is the most complete starting unit in the AL.  Their play earned them a two-spot jump to fourth.

Rounding out the top five is the Atlanta Braves who had a middling 3-3 week, but still have all the makings of a contender, while Texas came back down to earth after an 8-1 start, going 2-4 this week and fall back out of the top five.  With Josh Hamilton out for two months with a broken upper-arm, the Rangers could be in some trouble if their rotation regresses.

The biggest jump of the week belonged to the Colorado Rockies, who followed up their 6-2 opening stretch with a 6-1 second full week and sit atop Major League Baseball with a 12-3 record.  Their jump in the rankings went from 14 to 7 and they are now atop the rankings in the NL West passing both the Giants and the Dodgers.

Other big jumps this week include the Angels who won five of six games and jumped from 16th to 13th, while the Cards jumped from 20th to 17th winning five of seven games.  The Cleveland Indians continue to play well above their heads and move from 28th to 21st.  Their division mates in Kansas City also move up a few spots from 29th to a modest 25th with their hot start.  Don’t get comfortable Indians’ and Royals’ fans, the swoon won’t last.

Big falls for Minnesota who has fallen from 8th to 16th in the last two weeks, and from 11th this week as well as from the Mets, whose terrible 1-6 week has landed them in 27th ahead of only the D-Backs, Mariners, and Astros who are in the basement for the second straight week.  The Baltimore Orioles fell back down to earth as the only winless team this week, falling from 18th to 24th.

Discuss.

Series Preview: @Boston April15th-18th

I’m going to try and stay disciplined enough to review each Jays’ series this season (starting of course with the most recent one against the Mariners since I sort of missed the boat on the first three series of the year) and preview the upcoming one.

The Jays won the final game of their West Coast road trip to Anaheim and Seattle salvaging a 2-4 record and will now head east to take on the slow-starting Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park.

The main focus for most on this road trip was the first game in Seattle on Monday night when the Jays built up a 7-0 lead against one of the best pitchers in baseball only to blow it in an 8-7 walk-off loss, but fret not fragile Jays’ fans, this sort of thing happens at least once or twice a year.  I had grand plans to find the actually probability of it happening in hard numbers, but I simply don’t have the math skills, nor the information at the moment.

Toronto Blue Jays (6-6) @ Boston Red Sox (2-9)

All in all, the Jays’ 6-6 start is not bad and is probably right about at expectation.  The Red Sox, on the other hand, come into this four-game set with Toronto holding baseball’s worst record at 2-9.  Needless to say, the Red Sox have far too much talent to continue along this path and will eventually start winning, let’s just hope it’s not this weekend.

Friday’s matchup
The first game of the set will feature Clay Buchholz for the Red Sox against Toronto left-hander Brett Cecil.  After both pitchers had breakout seasons in 2010, most expect them to regress in 2011 and so far the numbers bear that out.

Both Buchholz and Cecil have identical 7.20 ERAs so far in 2011 and Buchholz, after surrendering only nine homeruns in all of last season, has already surrendered five this year.

The starting lineups for the teams are as follows

Toronto Blue Jays
SS Yunel Escobar
CF Corey Patterson
RF Jose Bautista
1B Adam Lind
2B Aaron Hill
C J.P. Arencibia
LF Travis Snider
DH Juan Rivera
3B Jayson Nix

Manager John Farrell, in his return to Fenway, elects to go with Nix over Encarnacion at third base tonight against Buchholz more than likely because E5 is 0 for 6 against the Boston righty in his career.  Jose Bautista and Aaron Hill have both gone deep in their career against Buchholz, while Adam Lind has done so twice.

Boston Red Sox
LF Carl Crawford
2B Dustin Pedroia
1B Adrian Gonzalez
3B Kevin Youkilis
DH David Ortiz
RF J.D. Drew
C Jarrod Saltalamacchia
SS Marco Scutaro
CF Jacoby Ellsbury

Five of the Red Sox nine starters are hitting under .200 (Crawford, Scutaro, Youkilis, Saltalamacchia, and Ellsbury) and have a .230/.324/.348 slash line as a team.  On the plus side for the BoSox, their current members are hitting a combined .382/.429/.724 against Cecil.

Gonzalez is also fresh off of signing his 7-year, $154-million contract extension, which some viewed as being a little low considering just how good Gonzalez is compared to Ryan Howard who signed a 5-year, $120-million contract with the Phillies.

The remaining three games probable starting matchups look like this:

Saturday: Jo-Jo Reyes vs. Josh Beckett
Sunday: Jesse Litsch vs. Jon Lester
Monday: Ricky Romero vs. Daisuke Matsuzaka

Boston clearly has the edge in the second and third games of the series and Monday’s matchup is interesting simply because Daisuke has been atrocious so far this year and there is some speculation that Boston could skip him and go straight to John Lackey because of their rain-out against the Rays on Wednesday coupled with an off-day yesterday.

Injuries
For Toronto, reliever Frank Francisco is still out with his right pectoral injury and apparently has had trouble finding his velocity in a rehab stint with Dunedin, while starter Brandon Morrow is still rehabbing from elbow inflammation and understandably, the Jays are being very careful with their high-ceiling stud.  Word is that Morrow is set to make at least one more rehab start in Dunedin before rejoining the team.

Earlier this week, Toronto placed centerfielder Rajai Davis on the DL with a nagging ankle injury and he will obviously miss this series, while Scott Podsednik’s plantar fasciitis doesn’t seem much closer to being better.  At this point, I’d be very surprised to see Podsednik ever suit up with the Jays.  Trust me, though, at this point in his career, it isn’t much of a loss.  In the meantime, Corey Patterson (who’s been hot so far) will start in centerfield.

The Red Sox, on the other hand, are almost entirely healthy with the exception of reliever Matt Albers who’s on the 15-day DL with a right latissimus strain.  No, I don’t know what that is either, what am I a doctor?

In other roster news, the Jays sent down left-hander Brad Mills to AAA-Las Vegas after a two-game call-up where he was not used.  After Toronto wasted their bullpen last week in a 15-inning marathon against the Angels and then the meltdown against the Mariners, they designated lefty David Purcey for assignment and demoted utility man Mike McCoy.  In their stead, the Jays called up two relievers in Casey Janssen (who had just been sent down to make room for the returning Octavio Dotel) and Mills.

It was sort of expected (by me) that Farrell wanted eight relievers to get them through the rest of the series against Seattle and then they would send down one of those called up relievers and recall McCoy.  It is being reported, however, that the Jays have instead called up another left-hander in Luis Perez.

This move doesn’t make a lot of sense as Toronto will go with an eight-man bullpen for the series against Boston.  I understand the need for an extra lefty with the obvious left-handed talent in the Red Sox lineup, but going with a three-man bench for this long seems odd and so does the random two-day call-up of Mills.

Whatever, they don’t pay me to make the decisions.  Not yet.  Not yet.

Enjoy the series!

“Die a hero, or live long enough to become a villain”

I’ve been avoiding comment on the Barry Bonds trial thus far because I see it as an unfair persecution of a player who probably used performance-enhancing drugs and probably lied about it repeatedly to a grand jury, but shouldn’t be singled out of the hundreds of other players who also used.

Bonds doesn’t seem like a very nice person, although I don’t know him personally, and neither do any of you, so commenting on his personal character seems besides the point.  The fact is that Bonds was selected to be the fall guy for baseball and the steroid era.  He’s the guy who MLB and the U.S. government is going to make an example of to save their own asses.

And all of it, of course, has been done on the American taxpayer’s coin.

To say that this has nothing to do with the fact that Bonds is a black man is naive and honestly, just plain stupid.  I however, could not possibly articulate it better than my favourite sports writer Dave Zirin does in this article.

Here are a couple excerpts from the column:

“What did Bonds do to “obstruct justice”? According to one juror, “Steve,” the obstruction of justice charge was reached because, “The whole grand jury testimony was a series of evasive answers. There were pointed questions that were asked two or three or four different ways that never got clearly answered. That’s how we came to that.”  Wow. Apparently, a “series of evasive answers” lines you up for a 10-year sentence behind bars. By that standard, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, and Scooter Libby should be breaking rocks in Leavenworth for their performance at the Valerie Plame trial.”

[…]

“Major League Baseball and the US government has long decided that Barry Bonds would shoulder the burden for the steroid era. We’re here because a surly Black athlete who thinks that the press is just a step above vermin was easy pickings for an industry rife with systemic corruption. Major League Baseball made billions off of the steroid era, an era many now see as a rancid, tainted lie. It was an era where owners became obscenely wealthy and billions in public funds were spent on ballparks. The press cheered and America dug the long ball. Now the dust has cleared, our cities have been looted, Barry Bonds could be going to prison, and Commissioner Bud Selig still has a job – and a RAISE. With apologies to Harvey Dent, this is the story of the Black athlete today: die a hero or live long enough to be a villain. And the men in the suits walk – or in Selig’s case, slouch – all the way to the bank.”

Zirin more than hits the nail on the head.  Baseball is the love of my life, but the institution that is Major League Baseball is one of the most systematically corrupt around.  Whether its persecuting Bonds or treating Latin America like some sort of slave-level baseball factory, the corruption in the business is rife and despicable.