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?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Since I Been Gone

Sorry, but there's no chance in hell I'm linking the song the title alludes to.
The Blue Jays, you say? What Blue Jays? I hear there were a couple of decent games against the Royals. I wouldn't know, though. Really, a triple play? Do you know how many years I've been watching baseball waiting for a bloody triple play? You kill me, Blue Jays.

Well, at least I saw the last three outs of the 9 perfect innings Phil Humber threw up for my fantasy team. And I finally got my no-hitter last year. But I'm still waiting for that damn triple play.

Anyway, there were other highlights, or so I hear. If hyperbole is your spice of life, the Blue Jays are running out a rotation of Johan Santana, Felix Hernandez, Roy Halladay, and AJ Burnett (with Cole Hamels toiling in AA). And apparently Drew Hutchinson made a slightly less-than-stellar major league debut, but less-than-stellar is usually enough when you're facing a team who have been losing for longer than it's been since I've had a chance to watch a damn ballgame. We'll see what people are calling Henderson Alvarez after he faces a real offence for the second time. And as for Drew? Hold the phones. I'm not ready to get my panties in a knot either way for a 21-year-old control guy who's barely tasted the high minors. But long story short - after Kansas City, the Jays are tied for first in the AL East!

So how long have I been barren, you ask? Well, let's just say I'm sick of JJ Hardy's douchey Mac expressions and ringing doubles off the wall. (Did anyone else catch him snickering at a particular Bautista snap job during the last series at Rogers Centre? All I could think was, you play in fucking Baltimore. Maybe being a little more competitive would help your cause.)
So yeah, I missed a rough series against the Rays and then heard about more than saw the Royals crumbling in the face of Chris Perez's challenge. (I can't decide whether it's more pathetic that the Indians felt the need to start a rivalry with KC in the first place or that the Royals immediately rolled over as if to say, "we know our place." I mean, when the Jays sweep you in four games on the road, you know you're still pretty terrible. That Luke Hochevar, he's no Brian Bullington...)

But it's not all bad. I climbed a mountain, bought a new HDTV and computer and started my own baseball season. And unlike Rany Jazayerli, my vacation didn't necessitate me ceding my responsibilities as a fan. I'll miss the games tonight and tomorrow, but I should be able to catch the Mariners' vaunted offense this weekend. And then the calendar turns to May, and things get serious...

Friday, April 13, 2012

I Used to be an MVP, You Know

A couple of days ago I came across a facetious comment about what a great fit Justin Morneau's $28 million dollar Canadian concussion would be for the Toronto Blue Jays. I chuckled, then stopped to think about it for a minute. Well, why the fuck not?

And as the permeating possibility wormed its way through my alcohol-riddled brain, visions of left-handed-hitters of all shapes and colours began to dance. They ran the gamut: Votto. Koskie. Hafner. Fielder. Lind. Morrison. Snider. Delgado. Morneau's potential value has a lot of determining factors, only a few of which can be summed up in the following:

1) Is Morneau healthy?
1a) (Depending whether he is or not) Is he worth $14 million dollars a year?

2) Is Morneau available?
2a) If he is, is his price tag reasonably bargain basement? 

3) Is mid-late career Morneau a better option than Adam Lind at first base?
3a) If he is, is Lind's contract tradeable?

That said, there are some reasons to like the idea. Lind had a good year once; Morneau had a bad year once (not including last year's injury-shortened nightmare); the Twins just lost Scott Baker for the year and Francisco Liriano continues to be a mystifying mess, much like the rest of the roster, Morneau included; and since Terry Ryan has just recently taken the GM reins back, one would presume that he appreciates the amount of elbow grease required to hark back to his scrappy glory days. Oh yeah, and there's that citizenship thing. And if you care that much about protection (and let's say for the sake of argument that I point to Kelly Johnson's six-game-sample in front of Jose and agree with you), a productive Morneau could provide an offensive weapon behind Bautista that far outstrips anything that Lind, Encarnacion, or anyone on the current roster could possibly provide, and even as a high-risk investment $28 million over two years is nowhere near as crippling as the $200 million more over nine years that a similar threat recently received.

Of course, if Morneau's proven himself fully healthy by the time the Jays make an offer for him, the price tag will still be astronomical. By the same token, the Twins won't give him up for nothing unless Morneau really and truly is ready to pull a Koskie (Canadian, left-handed hitter, Twin, concussion recipient) and hang up the cleats for good. 

If any one person definitely knew the answer to the three questions posed above, then there would be no deal to be made. The Jays aren't really in a position to trade premium talent for a rental. If there's value, though, it's in that middle ground. The Twins don't know if Morneau is any good anymore, and they probably don't have the roster to do anything with him over the next year and a half even if he is. They also need to get Joe Mauer and Chris Parmalee reps at first base and DH. The Jays, by all indications, have money to burn on short-term and/or high-value investments - it's hard to argue that Morneau wouldn't be a better allocation of resources than Mark Teahen was - and a roster that's poised to hopefully break through over the next year or two. Gose for Morneau? Given questions about potential contact rates, I would have no problem giving up on the next Rajai Davis. Realistically, there'd probably be a pitching prospect involved too, and I'd be a bit more leery of that. But it's a thought, anyway.

Of course, it's hard to forget Koskie. (Or far too easy to forget him, if you catch my drift.) Though he was never at Morneau's level, he was a very good hitter throughout his twenties and was 32 when he signed his free agent contract in 2005. Morneau is 31. But that's simply a risk you take when trading for damaged goods.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

State of the pen

Topical? Hardly. But after RickyRo's gem this afternoon topped off by Sergio Santos actually converting a save, here's to raining over the Jays' vaunted, revamped bullpen. The offense - averaging 5 runs a game through the first six games - is not the problem everyone thinks it is. Bautista and Rasmus should begin to hit, and even if Arencibia's loopy uppercut never comes around and he finds himself following the same middling career arc as his predecessor, there's enough power, speed and plate discipline on this roster to grind out some runs. (And no, I'm not trying to parrot Buck Martinez.)

The rotation, question mark that it may be, is another cup of tea altogether. The Jays will live or die on the backs of Drabek, Morrow and Alvarez. If those guys self-destruct, the season is over before it begins. Everyone knows this. By passing over on the John Lannans, Roy Oswalts and Livan Hernandezs of this world, Alex Anthopoulos has made a commitment to his aces. If they boom, we're in. If they bust, we're out. That's ballsy. And, you know, good on them.

The bullpen, on the other hand - oh, the bullpen. What is a bullpen, anyway? Philosophically, I mean. Generally speaking, it's a motley assortment of borderline players...guys who lack control, guys who lack stuff, guys who lack endurance, guys who never got a fair shake, guys who got too old. It's a collection of single-inning wildcards, allocated to "roles" by some alchemic mix of gut feelings, matchups and luck. Not even a stat invented to measure pure pitcher performance like FIP can really govern the random deviations that can occur within any given inning. If we can cherry-pick any Ricky Romero inning from today's game, and we pick out his third inning, we'd hardly have a fair barometer of his performance.

So, I mean, even the best bullpens are gambles. The general consensus on bullpen construction, if there is one, would have to be along these lines: find a consistently dominant arm or two, surround him by some guys who tend to outpitch their stuff, mix in some raw talent and a couple of failed starters (for blowouts), then hold your breath and hope for the best. That's pretty much what the Jays did last year: they added Frank Francisco to replace Keven Gregg (proven closer), replaced Scott Downs with Jon Rauch and Carlos Villanueva to team with Casey Janssen  (overperformers) and mixed in some Frasor, Zep, Camp, and Luis Perez (pure skills/long relief). What happened? They led the league in blown saves. Shitty buzz.

So this offseason, what do they do? They replace one alliterative closer with another; replace a 33-year-old former closer in a setup role with a 36-year-old former closer in a setup role; add a left-handed specialist ex-starter after trading a younger version to the St Louis Cardinals; and reacquire a middle reliever. There's nothing wrong with any of that, and 11 innnings of four-hit ball on Opening Day last Thursday certainly gave us hope for this relief corps. But the formula hasn't changed in any meaningful way. If Santos' two blown saves aren't simply an anomaly - say, if his already-dicey fastball control deserts him for any extended period of time - there's no reason he can't have the same early rut that Francisco had last year. Cordero, through a meaningfully miniscule sample size, is already bringing back shades of Rauch. Obviously variance is a necessary and understood caveat at any position in any professional sport, but with a major league bullpen this is magnified tenfold. Two blown saves in two early outings means less than eleven innings on Opening Day, which means less than any given week in the starting rotation. In a larger sense, even if Santos is good - as in better than Francisco - the random allocation of the results of that goodness (i.e. when in the game situation he gives up the 12 or 15 runs he might surrender this year as opposed to when Francisco gave up his 21 runs last year) won't necessarily manifest in any meaningful way.
In short, put your faith in sandy haired kids and Venezuelans. The rest, my friends, is chance.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Extra Innings are Fun

  • ·        Pitcher Change: Tony Sipp replaces Chris Perez.
    ·        1.Edwin Encarnacion doubles (2) on a line drive to left fielder Shelley Duncan.
    ·        2.Brett Lawrie singles on a line drive to right fielder Shin-Soo Choo. Edwin Encarnacion to 3rd.
    ·        3.Rajai Davis doubles (1) on a line drive to center fielder Michael Brantley. Edwin Encarnacion scores. Brett Lawrie scores.
    ·        4.J. P. Arencibia strikes out swinging.
    ·        With Colby Rasmus batting, Rajai Davis steals (1) 3rd base.
    ·        5.Colby Rasmus singles on a line drive to right fielder Shin-Soo Choo. Rajai Davis scores.
Ninth inning comeback - check. Bautista Bomb - check. Blown saves - check. No-hit bid - check. Sixteenth-inning-victory - check. Rajai Davis' speed - check.

That first series was nothing. How bout a walkoff tonight?

Happy baseball season.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The 2010 Yahoo All-Stars (or, Why I Suck at Fantasy Baseball)

The post-Ides of March: when I remember that I don't really care about college sports, when even exciting Raptors wins are tempered by the knowledge that guys like Alan Anderson and Ben Uzoh will soon disappear back into oblivion, that Jose Calderon won't be on the next playoff team, and that every meaningless W counts against a draft pick. The end of March is when MLB blueballs us with non-televised out-of market games at three in the morning. Those bastards.

And so I fill the void with fantasy drafts, constructing team-worlds that don't seem to matter quite so much as they did a decade ago, but still give me an excuse to gossip about the upcoming year like a teenage girl sneaking into a bar for the first time with her girlfriends. Who's worth pursuing? What wallflower hasn't found his true potential? And do any of us actually have a clue what we're after?

Some people approach their drafts with surgical precision, buying Baseball Pro almanacs and immersing themselves in projection systems (I'm not going to extend this awful metaphor any further, I promise). Me? I prefer a less scientific approach, one that straddles the fine line between ingenious-bargain-hunter and clueless-chump-chasing-names.

When I first got into fantasy baseball - circa 2002 - I couldn't figure out why people were dumping on 35-homer Juan Gonzalez as a high pick. Well, it turned out the fantasy experts knew their shit - Juan Gone was a chump pick, a guy who had one decent half-season left and would be out of baseball within three seasons. In contrast, a guy like Paul Byrd, a journeyman junkballer, was getting a lot of hype because he was on his way to a miraculous 17-win season, and that sort of thing matters in fantasy.

But as I played more and more fantasy baseball (with very limited success), it seemed this effect got overblown. Everyone wanted to discover the next Albert Pujols and nobody wanted to get stuck with the corpse of Mo Vaughn, so as guys became more educated more and more superstars found their way to the bottom of my drafts. I never became uber-successful with my strategy, but by 2005 I was playing half a dozen leagues and contending in half of them. I was pretty much your run-of-the-mill fantasy player - I played a casual league against some co-workers and walked all over them, but I couldn't hold the jockstrap of a legit fantasy geek.

Of course by last year, when I played another league against the same casuals I landslided in 2005, I finished 9th out of 10, headlined by my "sleepers," Manny Ramirez and Jason Bay. So this year, when drafting for the same league, you might think I'd learned from my mistakes (and I guess I have learned not to punt saves and steals right out of the gate). But my core strategy never changed: find value that's dropping. And who offers more upside than a guy who's proven that he has MVP talent? So, without really trying, this year I set out to draft an all-2010 All-Star Infield (round in parentheses):

C Joe Mauer (6th)
1B Adrian Gonzalez (1st)
3B Alex Rodriguez (5th)
SS Hanley Ramirez (2nd)
2B Chase Utley (9th)

Of those, Utley was easily the worst pick, with what emerged right after the draft as a potentially career-threatening-injury, and I probably took Mauer and Hanley a bit high. But on the back of four guys who could easily break right and wind up top-5 on the MVP ballot, some power pitching (my true sleeper, Ubaldo Jiminez, dropped to the 14th) and some speedy/young breakout/hot waiver wire outfielders, I like my chances to recover from last season's disasterfuck.

Or, y'know, maybe next year I'll turn off the basketball game and actually do my research...

Monday, March 19, 2012

Baseball Season

My ex-roommate once mentioned that watching sports on TV was completely antithetical to the spirit of sports because devoting yourself to a team obligated you to spend three sedentary hours staring at a screen. He was right. But there's more to it than that. Living vicariously through other people's athletic achievements on a refracted frame of glass is about a lot more than the experience of competition. To be honest, the thrill I once got from watching live competition is now found elsewhere in my life - in playing pool for myself, in negotiating convoluted sim league trades where the "roster" of players is one I have constructed (both still indoor sports, admittedly). But the fact that I have found personal outlets for my competitive drives doesn't completely devalue the source material.

I live in Victoria. Victoria is a small town on an island - from a climate perspective, at times an almost subtropical island. Because of our proximity to the ocean, among many other factors, we don't have clearly delineated seasons. Some years we'll have a summer afternoon in January and a snowstorm in March, and other years we'll have one blizzard all year and not much else of a winter. This year our main issue has been occasional hurricane-force winds. Other than being awakened by my bedroom window rattling in the 100 km/hr gales, though, I've found it a very temperate February and March. Which is to say, there has been no real solstice moment. My recollections of Ontario are of the calendar solstices coming early, but once the weather finally broke, the season was over. A few weeks of slush and then spring, a couple of brisk winds followed by barren trees for Hallow's Eve. It might still be zero on Opening Day, but by Easter more times than not spring was in full throttle towards summer.  It's not like that here. Spring doesn't so much emerge from winter as it becomes a more consistent version of itself, and as such the barometers of the seasons become something else. Hockey on TV means winter, college basketball means spring, baseball means summer.

So watching Brett Cecil face off against Cole Hamels with his inferior stuff (but better results) yesterday was about so much more than just the most meaningless of meaningless blowouts. It was baseball, real live baseball. Yan Gomes as Arencibia's doppelganger from facial hair to position to alma mater? A BautistaBomb? Eddy in left field? Anthony Gose flashing his wheels? Jimmy Rollins gifting Ben Francisco a stat-padding single which led the main offensive outburst of the game? Hell, a Mickey Mick suicide squeeze?  Spring, hope eternal, whatever other sterile metaphors you choose to bestow upon it; a hallmark moment which prepared me to dig in for the 162 games that matter.

This is about a lot more than sitting on a couch and watching paint dry.

I've always liked the perfect closure of the annual baseball season; unlike hockey or basketball, the seasons don't flow against the Gregorian calendar. Every baseball season marks a year, and you can mark the years of your life off by the seasons. 2007 - staggering bleary-eyed through the halls of my dormitory during first-year exams for a rainout. 2010 - a rebirth, the first year without Halladay, and that spring I was leeching cable off my far more established and alien roommate. My university years were a dark place, mostly literally (so many hovels without television access), but even still, I refer back to the baseball seasons by the years. 

Take 2006: the year of the all-in push. Ricciardi went after Glaus, Burnett, Molina, Overbay and Ryan. It was also the year I graduated from high school, piled into a beat-up truck and drove across the country to start a new life at university. False hope? The '06 Blue Jays were good, but not good enough, and eventually the failure of those five drove Ricciardi out of town. Victoria wasn't everything I thought it would be, but it was something, and I'm here six years later a different person than I left.

Of course this yearly encapsulation isn't perfect in a real-world sense; the school years themselves adhere much more closely to hockey or basketball season. Living in a Canadian university town, I can tell you firsthand that there's a lot more action in April than there is in October or December. Still, as I while away the next two weeks enjoying my laissez-faire city, preparing for fantasy drafts and trying to bring my sim team a championship, I will know that when the next Blue Jays game comes on television, it will mean something.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Misdirection (Alex, Omar and the game)

Let me be the target, let your bullet hit, I'll handle that
Let me see you flex aggressive ignorance, see half these cats
Stagger like the simple common sense to put one foot before the other

So these pitchers, man. Blanton. Lannan. Floyd. Spring training beat writers would have you believe that the Greek is licking his chops at the visage of every John, Joe or Gavin on the market, but then this is The Game. Who is the real target? Is it the system, man? There are five starters in camp, plus Luis Perez, Carlos Villaneuva and enough prospect pitching depth to tickle the fancy of the nerds. Things are not always as they seem. And why on earth would the Jays, a team with three left-handed-hitting young outfielders already, be linked with Gerardo Parra, of all people?

The infield is set: Lawrie, Yunel, Johnson, Lind. Arencibia and Mathis split the catching until D'Arnaud is ready. Bautista, Rasmus, and the winner of Snider/Thames fill the outfield, while Encarnacion DHes. Three bench spots go to an infielder (Vizquel), an outfielder (Davis) and someone else (McCoy?). Any other roster spots go to the loser of the LF battle (if a starter goes down) or to the somewhat inexplicable ex-Indian monster in camp of Ben Francisco/Luis Valbuena (if it's bench depth that's needed)...And then of course, we get to the prospects...and there's no reason to bother with the Heches and Goses and McDades of the world until those situations presents themselves. 

So Snider for Blanton and Arencibia for Parra? Sheeee-it. I'll pass - if you're going to sell that as an all-in push, you better sell me on a good reason why you gave Manny the old bait-and-switch. Fuck that. And Blanton's nothing but a two-bit hustler anyway, more Poot than Bodie. If you're trading upside for established talent, make it real talent. 

Even Gavin Floyd. There's too much smoke to that fire to pin it on Alex's head. I don't think Kenneth Williams plays it quite so smooth. When he tells a reporter he's not looking to move Gavin Floyd, I believe that statement (superficially). And is Floyd really all that? If there's a bounty on his head Alex will keep his distance. More likely, if he's searching for a pitcher at all, there's someone who can give him Floyd's innings but with a far smaller premium to be paid. Which brings us most obviously to name #3: John Lannan, a 27-year-old whose team seems awfully eager to be rid of him given his numbers. Is he Randy Johnson? No. Is he better than Brett Cecil? Maybe. He's a pitch-to-contact product of the NL East who's making 5 million dollars, but he's also a 27-year-old who has been a thoroughly solid starting pitcher for four seasons, and that's not entirely worthless. Not worthless, that is, if Anthopoulos sees a roster spot for him - and therein lies a big if; McGowan will more than likely be seen in the major league rotation if he is seen at all, and the other four projected SPs each deserves their slots as much as Lannan might.*

But I don't really buy the Lannan talk, either. John Lannan just doesn't seem like Alex's type. He likes them young and hot, not middle-aged and average. How about moving Snider for someone like Brian Matusz (and presumably something else as well)? It was only a couple of years ago that Keith Law, sour grapes or none, alleged that Matusz was a lock to be a better big league pitcher than Ricky Romero. And before last season's shit brigade, he wasn't all that bad at all. 

Attitude problems are fair game, so why not shitty seasons? Dan Duquette is new to Baltimore, and while he's no stranger to under-the-radar pitching superstars, one imagines he might have less attachment to a certain high first-rounder than some members of the previous regime might have.

Although (poetically, perhaps) broaching the subject brings up the clusterfuck in Baltimore. I mean, of course, the abomination of an Orioles' front office that presumably drove Tony LaCava back to his old digs, not the political situation portrayed on The Wire, although they probably do have their similarities. Can Dan Duquette even trade Brian Matusz? Would he try, if only to piss off his overlords?

P.S. Smacketology. Awesome.
*Sidebar: Does anyone know if there's any kind of limitation on teams acquiring major league players and assigning them to AAA? I mean, aside from the obvious - service time requirements, opt-out clauses, the like - is there anything to prevent a team acquiring a prospect who also happens to be a young starting position player on a division rival and stashing him in AAA?   

Thursday, January 19, 2012

January Blues (Looking Forward)

Welp, hello again. The calendar's flipped to January, and with it an unseasonably warm season has turned wintry all of a sudden here in the Pacific Northwest, balmy Victoria drenched in a foot of white while across the border Washington enters a state of emergency. (Remember all those brown Christmases from Vancouver to Winnipeg to Toronto? Seems long ago, now.)

Anyway, January seems to be the nadir of the baseball offseason - on Prime Time Sports last week Alex Anthopoulos hinted as much by setting February 1 as an unofficial deadline to make any more significant acquisitions this offseason - as the last few free agents sign and teams begin to enter season-prep mode. For Blue Jays fans, that means grandiose hopes (indian summers?) fade for much starker realities. Instead of Prince Fielder we get Darren Oliver, and a whole bunch of cagey talk about payrolls and money management. But it's not so bad. With realignment and the second wildcard presumably delayed until 2013, one gets the sense that the 2011-12 offseason was more about getting ducks aligned. With only Kelly Johnson, Edwin Encarnacion and some of the RP options looming as significant free agents after 2012, I would certainly hope that barring a disaster there will be some semblance of "going for it" next offseason.

It's been mentioned by quite a few people with some surprise that Darren Oliver's free agent contract is the largest handed out by Anthopoulos since taking the reins. I'd argue that statement does more to laud his skills as a trade negotiator than indict the Jays' financial straits - but that surprising fact does point the finger right back at his predecessor. For all of the differences between Anthopoulos and Ricciardi - and there are multitudes: media savvy; scouting and development; focus on defense - it strikes me that the shape of their terms has some similarities. Like Ricciardi, Anthopoulos spent the first few years stripping and realigning a talented but misplaced roster, with trades for prospects and scrap heap free agent acquisitions. (Now, if only AA could grow himself a Scott Downs...) It wasn't until the '05-'06 offseason (his fifth) that he received the big cash outlay for Glaus/Burnett/Ryan/Molina/Overbay. The '12-'13 offseason will be AA's fourth, and with the looming wildcard available, it might make sense to go after a Hamels/Cain/Greinke, a real second baseman, maybe a couple of superior bullpen arms. Add Technicolor visions of a seasoned Lawrie, repaired Snider/Rasmus/Linds, Travis d'Arnaud relegating JPA to backup status, a not-at-all-regressed Bautista, and that roster may have the makings of a division winner, as opposed to a distant-from-competitive 87-win roster. But for 2012...looks like we're holding onto our chips. And that means I've got a whole year to learn how to start caring again.
(Yeah, I did.)