Sunday, November 17, 2013

The end

This blog is dead. Might be some more baseball writing to come, but probably not here. For now, I have a more multi-purpose blog at Half-Cocked Concepts.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Midterms: Rajai and the Blue Jays' Magic Lamp

It's been a long time. I know it has. And as the weeks pass by between my posts and things continue to happen in Blue-Jays-land, and my readers gradually dwindle to zero, I mourn my sloth. My most recent post was about the Brett Lawrie helmet toss. Remember the Brett Lawrie helmet toss? You know, that incident that got everybody fired up, talking Blue Jays, that netted Lawrie disapproving words from everyone from the MLB Network to Jamie Campbell to Ken Rosenthal? Oh, a happier time, when the Blue Jays still had a starting rotation and Kelly Johnson was king of the universe.

Yeah, that Kelly Johnson. Leadoff hitter Kelly Johnson, with his great batting eye and clutch power. Fuck that Aaron Hill, we said. Kelly Johnson plays better defense, we said. Well, fast-forward eight weeks and now Kelly's a gimpy, limited-range #8 hitter with 90 strikeouts and zero power and Aaron Hill can't stop hitting for the cycle.

But the more things know. When Lawrie attacked Bill Miller on May 15th, the Jays were two games over .500, about to fall to one game over. And on July 5th, five starting pitchers and a couple of left fielders later, they're two games over .500. Amazing how a mediocre team can manage to remain so astonishingly mediocre through so much adversity! (And for the record, as much as this applies for the last eight weeks, it's equally fitting for the previous 16 years.)

But back to Kelly Johnson. His gradual descent from first in the order culminated on America Day, as he switched with Aces Up Adam Lind. Lind hitting fifth, you say? After such a tiny sample size? After ample assurances that he wouldn't? Gotta love those inflated batting lines and mistake homers.

So I look up the lineup and gradually strike away names...Arencibia's .260 OBP can stay #9 as long as he's still getting more at bats than Jeff Mathis (who is still, you know, Jeff Mathis)...Yunel has somehow managed to contribute no power while seeing his supposedly proficient walk rate disintegrate...Johnson couldn't buy a hit in June. So that leaves us with two potential candidates: Adam Lind and Rajai Davis.


Okay, I'm calm now. Phew. But as much as I can't really believe it, I'm serious. It goes back, of course, to the old Bill James saw: set up your top four hitters for one inning, and then your bottom four hitters for one inning. The ninth guy is either a pitcher, an equally terrible hitter, or if necessary slots into one of the foursomes. And the top foursome of the Jays lineup has been ungodly of late. Crazy good. (As in, 34.4 batting runs over the month of June versus -11.3 for the rest of the team. I don't even understand what that means and it's still mind-boggling.) Regardless, odds are on any given day that the guy who leads off the second inning is probably going to be the #5 or #6 hitter in a given lineup. And while Rajai's poor on-base skills make him a less than ideal leadoff hitter, I'd argue that that ungodly speed makes him a great second leadoff hitter (especially in the absence of a viable, non-Adam Lind-shaped, 5-hole alternative). Building innings around Rajai, Yunel, and then some three true outcome platoon guys is hardly the worst idea in the world. In a vacuum, because the hitters at the bottom of the order are so much worse than the hitters at the top, you could leave the corpse of Adam Lind at #5 and stick Rajai #6. That way, the highest possible percentage of innings start with Rajai Davis or Brett Lawrie. (If there's one thing JP Arencibia's atrocious line does contribute to, it's Brett Lawrie leading off innings. And when Brett Lawrie leads off innings, god - I mean good - things happen.)

I also think that Davis' hack/slash/speed game could make for some interesting innings if pitchers are putting runners on base for him. If you put Davis at the plate in potential sacrifice situations - say, after a Jose walk and an Edwin single - you open up endless possibilities. The sac bunt with Rajai running is a dicey proposition for the defense at the best of times. And the more the third basemen has to cheat, the more the possibilites of sneaking a ground ball through the hole increase. There's still the vulnerability to breaking balls in the dirt and two feet outside (although slightly less so than a month ago), but I suppose I'll take the odd strikeout over Yunel's patented 6-4-3.

Anyway. This wasn't a post about Rajai. This was a post about the Blue Jays. The Jays, those lovable not-quite-losers who just keep plugging away. Fetch me your diatribes about a-changing-of-the-guard in the AL East. Then look up the Pythagorean records. At halftime 2012:

New York

49 - 32

46.6 - 34.4

47.3 - 33.7

47.4 - 33.6
Red Sox

42 - 40

46.0 - 36.0

47.5 - 34.5

46.6 - 35.4
Blue Jays

42 - 40

43.7 - 38.3

41.3 - 40.7

42.3 - 39.7
Tampa Bay

43 - 39

41.2 - 40.8

39.1 - 42.9

40.5 - 41.5

44 - 37

37.7 - 43.3

36.2 - 44.8

37.9 - 43.1

Squint a little bit and that 1 on the calendar could turn into a zero. 2012=2002. Whether I blog about them or not, whether they're starting Brandon Morrow or Aaron Laffey or Esteban Loaiza or Tanyon Strurtze, whether they're starting  Rajai Davis or Brad Wilkerson or Frank Catalanotto, the Blue Jays are still the Blue Jays.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Role Models

I have no time for soapboxes. Whether they present in the form of overzealous MADD commercials, irritating Facebook statuses, overly preachy mothers in amateur plays, young hippies selling stocks in quasi-legitimate charities, or self-aggrandizing ex-jocks on television, I generally tend to smile and nod or flip the channel when someone tries to tell me what's good for me. Take MADD: it's not that I think drinking and driving  is okay, it's just that I feel that I personally have been beaten over the head with that particular message so much in 25 years that I could happily go another 25 without ever seeing another MADD commercial and never drink and drive in my life. (Likewise with the other stuff - I'd give to charity on my terms, and if I wanted to hear about your female empowerment within a particular academic field, I'd talk to you about it, not read my Newsfeed.)

And so it always went with the whole "professional athletes are role models" lecture that got thrown in my face every time I listened to Colin Cowherd's analysis of a professional athlete's particularly unsavoury act. I know kids look up to athletes, having once wanted with every ounce of my being to be the next coming of John Olerud, and there's no question that that one time in grade school gym class when a prepubescent girl complained about my spitting, Major League Baseball was partly to blame. But by the same token, I thought that it was a phase thing. I simply didn't think we needed the commissioner to make a statement about Josh Lueke for us to understand as human males that raping a bitch wasn't cool. Because, you know, once you're old enough to do that, you should be old enough to make your own decisions. (And remember that Eminem lyric about blaming the parents instead of Marilyn Manson for Columbine? Yeah, that.)

But then Brett Lawrie threw his helmet. And I learned something about people. I was watching the incident at work when it happened, and thought nothing more than, "No shit? He didn't? This is gonna be a story." Sure, as a Jays fan, I had a few optimistic thoughts about the ejection pulling the team out of their tailspin, but I mostly shrugged off the act itself as a laugh. Hey, look - the flashpoint rookie in baseball plays in Toronto! (Maybe my soft buy reaction is best expressed in the stat that a Blue Jay hadn't been suspended since Todd Stottlemyre. Todd Stottlemyre?! About time someone went apeshit.) I was greedy for Toronto coverage in the big American media machine, and ate up all the analysis of the act itself: overgrown child, defender against umpire autocracy, obligatory Downfall parody. Ate it up, that is, until a couple of days later, when a guy wearing a Blue Jays cap pulled into the drive-thru at my work.
Now I work in the fast food industry, which for all its pitfalls (being perennially underpaid, working anti-social hours, dealing with petulant human beings) provides a whole lot of insight into the human psyche. What are human beings like at their absolute worst? How do intimates behave when they don't think anyone else is watching? How do teenaged girls behave around university-aged guys who happen to be their superiors? Anyway, this Blue Jay superfan (he was also wearing a 1992 commemorative t-shirt) drove up to the drive-thru after being asked to turn off his truck engine.

"So it's my fucking fault you're deaf, man?" King Douche yells through the drive-thru window. My cashier attempts at first to assuage him, but within moments I'm forced to intervene in what has begun to devolve into a testosterone-fuelled shouting match, about very little other than a request by one person to have the other person repeat himself. I apologize to the douchey customer while strongly hinting he should probably drive away. Unfortunately the dude takes the opportunity to come in and engage my cashier in a nose-to-nose shouting match for the next 15 minutes, much to both of their detriments. Anyway, aside from the impact of the incident on my store itself, which isn't really the point of this post, it left me wondering: how much did the Brett Lawrie helmet toss drive this guy to seek out a fight at the next minor perceived slight in his life? There's very little doubt in my mind that, whatever we may have done, the service wasn't bad enough to provoke the Roid Rage reaction, and the Blue Jays gear gave the whole thing an ominous tint. Really, buddy? You need to relive the Brett Lawrie helmet toss at a fast food restaurant? I can't pretend to be a saint - I've had some pretty legendary explosions of my own - but it simply eludes me why he wouldn't take out his anger on something a little more relevant. Squash. Tennis. The bar on a Friday night. As fast food employees we're often the targets because we're trained to be passive, but that wasn't the case here. The guy was looking for a fight, and I'm not sure what our store did to antagonize him.

I guess the problem with my position on MADD is that I naively trusted that the average human being in our modern culture was intelligent enough to understand why imbibing and driving was dangerous in rational terms rather than requiring garish exaggerations about the effects of a joint on the human psyche. But the fact is, thousands of people still do it. People are all too often lacking in direction and/or slaves to their own interior moments, drives and needs. Hell, thinking back on it, I probably would have had more respect for the fellow's outburst had it happened prior to the Lawrie thing, because at least then it would have seemed as if his random rage had come entirely out of his own personal struggle with whatever his demons may have been (broke up with girlfriend, took one too many uppers before going to the gym?). See, at least then it would have been original anger. But what I saw was nothing of the sort. I saw a twenty-something-year-old's pale imitation of something a professional athlete did on a professional field, and there was nothing cathartic or purposeful about it. It was a harsh reminder that, just as people continue to drink and drive no matter how bad the ads get, some people don't give up their desperate need to emulate once they grow some hair on their balls.

So, in conclusion, maybe I should get off my anti-soapbox soapbox, and accordingly adjust my expectations for humanity.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Don't Know Yu

As April comes to an end, my university friends depart for higher-paying warm-weather jobs, my fantasy team has taken its customary place in 7th, and the Blue Jays are talented underachievers a couple games over .500 in fourth place in the AL East. In other words, summer's here.

Yesterday, in the true summer spirit, a guy I used to play pool with on the regular came through the drive-thru at my restaurant and placed an order while doing his damnedest to pretend he'd never met me before. At first, it rankled a bit - was he ashamed to know me? Couldn't he at least acknowledge me, even if he had no intent of returning the bar where we'd once wasted so many Tuesday nights?

After he drove away, I gave it another second or two of thought. How many times have I avoided someone on public transit? Walked right past someone else on the street while pretending to be avidly window-shopping? Felt that a casual acquaintance's customer-service friendliness was over-the-line? Sometimes it's personal, but sometimes you just have absolutely no interest in pointless small-talk. (And it's funny - now that I'm on the other side of the counter, where incessant small-talk becomes a necessity of the job description - how quickly you forget these things.)

Well, tonight some lucky fans (i.e. not me) will get to take in Yu Darvish in person. And I'm thinking it might be much the same sort of relationship, that maybe Jays fans should treat Darvish much as this nameless dude treated me. Let's just say that if he had been on the radio, he wouldn't exactly be denying he'd ever played eight-ball against my roommate and I. He's just wouldn't be addressing it. After all, it's not like we really knew him that well. And when Darvish pitches on a Monday night at Rogers Centre, will there really be any kind of special turnout? It's not quite like AJ Burnett or Alex Rios, guys who flamed out spectacularly before our eyes, and willingly or unwillingly punched their own tickets out of town. I have a deep sense of Alex Rios' talents and shortcomings as baseball player. Yu Darvish's Blue Jays career, on the other hand, never left the theoretical chasm of the internet, no more real - less real, even - than the three-point lead my fantasy team blew on Sunday afternoon. To extend the metaphor further: we sorta, kinda chilled at the bar a few times, maybe invited him to a party or two, but since we've each moved on and gotten real lives it's a non-thing.

Better to boo one of the Mikes, guys who gave the Jays pretty much zero return-on-investment for what they were worth at the time. Okay, so there was no $100 million dollar free agent investment this offseason, but as of right now Grienke and Hamels are still available next winter, and even without Votto there will be plenty of future opportunities for the Jays to sink their theoretical bank. There's something to be said for Humbering him - anytime a terrific pitcher comes into town and gets dropped a notch it's an endorsement for the local offense - but it'll be a one-time vindication. Twelve months from now, when Darvish has inevitably lost Game Seven of the World Series in a Rangers uniform (because everyone knows that's what the Rangers do) how many non-diehard-Jays fans will actually remember what Jim Bowden said?