Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Misty water coloured memories of the way we blew...

Since this is allegedly a Blue Jays blog (or so the source inside my head has informed me) and there isn’t a lot of Blue Jays news at the moment (why on earth did I decide to start another blog after the season ended--nice move Einstein), I thought it would be fun to do a retrospective of my coverage of the Toronto Blue Jays' 2007 season. There were a lot of ups (young pitchers emerging, Aaron Hill and Alex Rios progressing etc.) and downs (injuries, batting slumps, folks getting on my case for not pretending out-machines are capable of walks and extra base hits with runners on base etc.). Therefore, here are my memories of the 2007 Blue Birds. Be forewarned, it's long and will confirm every dark suspicion Dustin Parkes has ever had about me:

During the third week of March I did my usual Blue Jays spring preview for the Hardball Times. By week three of the season, injuries have hit the Jays hard. Again, in THT I devote an article to it entitled "Too Early To Worry." The following week I wrote the following in the column "I'm With Stupid Again" where I introduce "The Whine Cellar"...
"I’m debuting a new feature for this season. I think this is the Jays' best shot at the postseason in quite a few years (and despite some early hiccups I still feel that way) and was pondering whether to keep a record of my season-long angst—kind of as a form of therapy. Initially I thought about starting a separate blog to do this, but instead I decided it might be more fun to let folks watch me slowly go insane as the season progresses. Be forewarned, this will only appeal to Blue Jays fans, mental health professionals and the sort of people with a great deal of morbid curiosity (such as folks who used to attend public hangings).

As you can see by the title I will spend much time whining, bellyaching, snivelling, sobbing and sulking here. Think of it as Jays talk written by the love child of Richard Griffin and Jann Arden. I promise that there will be no facts, logic, rational thought, objective viewpoints or anything that might get in the way of… (well, you get the idea)

Oh, don’t worry, I will still do full articles dealing with the Jays because I know that under those blue caps with the interlocking NY and red caps with the olde towne “B” are people who secretly love the Blue Jays, but due to geography they feel a little camouflage is in order (not to mention my fellow hosers who are open and honest about their fandom).

Perfectly understandable.

Sometimes I will ramble like Grandpa Simpson, other days I’ll will probe the deepest, darkest recesses of my soul, and still other times I’ll spit short, sharp bits of venom at whomever has ruined my day (past examples include Joey McLaughlin, Tony Castillo—the all time leader in surrendering game-winning RBI to players that are on the roster because of the Rule V draft—Mike Timlin, Joey Hamilton, Carlos Garcia and the sorry list of out-machines that manned second base during the post-Alomar era etc.)

Occasionally, I will hand out some props to those who have made my devotion worthwhile. I reserve the right to say a player is the worst thing ever to don a Blue Jays’ uni, issue a mea culpa the following week only to retract it the week after that. Conversely, I might say that so-and-so should be inducted into the Hall of Fame one week and demand his ass be shipped to Dunedin (or Pittsburgh) the next.

Consider yourselves warned (that includes the poor folks who have to edit my emotional outbursts)."

My first entry consisted of...
This week: Relievers. Since Tom Henke was Toronto’s closer from 1985 to 1992 here are the ninth-inning wonders Toronto has employed since then:
 1993:  Duane Ward 
1994: Darren Hall
1995: Tony Castillo
1996: Mike Timlin
1997: Kelvim Escobar
1998: Randy Myers
1999: Billy Koch
2000: Billy Koch
2001: Billy Koch
2002: Kelvim Escobar
2003: Aquilino Lopez/Cliff Politte
2004: Jason Frasor
2005: Miguel Batista
2006: B.J. Ryan.
2007: B.J. Ryan/Jason Frasor
Uh, yeah. Fifteen years, 12 closers. I do wonder about the mindset of these guys some days. You look at relievers: some are closers, others are setup men, others long relief or swing men. You often hear guys who struggle blame the fact that there are no clearly defined roles in the bullpen.

They say that they pitch best when they know their job. Evidently that doesn’t include closing because there were some major train wrecks here. But here’s my question: What makes closing so hard? It's the same bloody job no matter what your role is—Get. The. Other. Team's. Hitters. Out.

It doesn't matter whether you pitch the seventh, eighth, ninth inning or any combination of same—you have to do the exact same thing get the other team's hitters out.

If you're the long reliever your job is to Get. The. Other. Team's. Hitters. Out.
If you are a setup man your job is to Get. The. Other. Team's. Hitters. Out.
If you're a closer your job is to Get. The. Other. Team's. Hitters. Out.

For instance: Do you think it’s easier if you’re Mike Timlin and you’re facing Vernon Wells, Frank Thomas and Troy Glaus, in the bottom of the seventh, nobody out and you’re leading 2-1 in a game at the Roger Centre than it is to be Jonathan Papelbon and pitching to Sal Fasano, Royce Clayton, and John McDonald when you’re up 5-2 in the bottom of the ninth with nobody out at Fenway Park?

How can you state that you can get the middle of lineup out in the eighth but if you have to face the bottom of the lineup in the ninth you’re gonna have a Depends Moment? Why do having set roles mean so much? They don’t have that in the minor leagues. Do you think a 25 year old in Triple-A is going to go the general manager of the big club and say: “I can only pitch in very specific situations or I can’t be effective?”

No! He’s gonna say Just give me the #@*#!! ball and I’ll get anybody out at any time. Let me show you what I can do!” These guys have fought their way through high school, college and the minor leagues begging for the ball any way they can get it and they’ll show you what they’re capable of doing.

Now that they’re in the majors for a few years and they’ve got to be used ‘just so’ or they’ll have yellow sanitary stockings?

We hear about needing the ‘closer’s mentality’—but what kind of mentality did relievers have before the save rule became popular?

Right now, Toronto is going to be without B.J. Ryan for awhile. The Jays have got some terrific young arms with filthy stuff. But now they need to acquire a certain mentality to get three outs in the ninth, some times with a three run lead against the bottom of the lineup?

The save rule has really screwed things up. All too often the game will be on the line in the seventh inning but they’ll hold back their best reliever in case they’ve got a two-to-three-run lead in the ninth? We see the manager talk to pitchers brought into relieve. Can you picture a manager saying the following:

"O.K. son, bases are loaded and there's nobody out yet. Your job is to issue two walks, a strikeout and pop up while they bat around. I want you to leave guys on second and third and we'll bring in somebody else to get the third out—got it?"

"O.K., get this guy and we'll let you pitch the eighth. Since we've got a five run lead, make sure they can get two to four runs across so we can bring in our closer to get the save."

"The game's outta reach, our bullpen's exhausted and we don't want to use up our starter. Your job is to throw batting practice. If they get more than a 15-run lead we'll being in our first baseman to throw a few innings since he pitched in high school."

"They've got guys on second and third, two outs and Pujols is up. Since you'll be up third in the bottom of the inning your job is bunt any base runners over."

"Our setup guy left the bases loaded and there's two out in the inning. I know this isn't the ninth but since you've been trying to develop a circle-change I want you to throw nothing but that pitch until the game is over."

"Here's the plan: I want you let the leadoff guy hit a double off your slider. Walk the next guy on four pitches: two fastballs, a curve and a changeup. Wild pitch them over to second and third if the next guy tries to bunt them over. Once the bases are loaded—balk. That opens up first base when Delgado comes up so you've got some place to put him. Once he gets on we'll get up a guy in the bullpen but don't let that distract you. I want you to throw nothing but breaking stuff to Wright but no changeups. Make sure the at bat goes at least eight to nine pitches before you hit him on the thigh. Then we'll bring in...."

There’s gotta be somebody, somewhere in the organization who can get three freakin’ outs in the ninth without letting the other team toss up a crooked number on the scoreboard. All you need is the following mindset: Get. The. Other. Team's. Hitters. Out.

The following week's entry:
Last weekend, one bad inning against Josh Towers (5 ER/3 HR) got Mr. Towers booted from the Blue Jays' rotation and replaced by Victor Zambrano. I don’t think Towers deserved to lose his job, but it’s nice to have somebody in the ‘pen who's not so walk-happy. Jays’ relievers are averaging over 4 BB/9 IP.

Last year that caused them big problems early on. The reason they’re getting away with it this year is that they're not quite so generous in giving up the long ball. Only the Yankees have given up more walks among AL East relievers. The Jays are also second worst in issuing walks in the division (to Baltimore).

Right now, if there are runners on base, John Gibbons’ best options are Casey Janssen, Jeremy Accardo and possibly Jamie Vermilyea, since they keep the ball in the park and haven't been issuing many freebies. I’d be tempted to use Towers in this role, too, but he’s awful pitching from the stretch. This year, opposing hitters bat .279/.323/.393 against Towers from the windup and .326/.333/.651 from the stretch. He’s given up a single dinger to 61 hitters from the windup and four home runs to just 43 from the stretch. He needs to take a page from Bob Gibson's book. Since Hoot couldn't hold base runners, he simply didn't worry about them. With runners on base, Josh should just pitch from the windup. I think more damage is done by the hits and homers he gives up pitching from the stretch than by the odd stolen base.

Towers has great control (1.46 BB/9 IP) but since his raw stuff isn’t outstanding, he has a razor-thin margin for error—apparently he loses that margin when he throws from the stretch.

Finally, how good was Tom Henke—and for one year Duane Ward? During the glory years of 1985-93 (just 1993 for Ward), the two posted a 2.44 ERA as closers (AL ERA 4.12). Since then, Jays closers' ERA has risen to 4.05, against a league average of 4.68.

Of course, the Jays haven’t been in a postseason since 1993. I wasn’t nearly as depressed about this until I heard a criticism about the Pittsburgh Pirates: Somebody mentioned that they’ve been bad for so long that they haven’t reached the playoffs since 1992.


I’d be tempted to give Accardo a couple of save opportunities. Closer Jason Frasor is reminding me of Mike Timlin. Timlin was a good reliever (in fact, he’s still gainfully employed). With the Jays he had a nice sinking fastball and slider combination. However when asked to close, he stopped trusting his stuff and was afraid to challenge hitters. Timlin would fall behind, then try to muscle up, causing his fastball to lose its sink and his slider its bite with predictable results.

I see Frasor falling into the same trap. He was asked to close in his rookie year and this year. In the middle two years of his career, when he was not closing Frasor (in 124.7 IP) had a BB/9 of 3.25 and a K/9 of 8.16. In seasons he’s been asked to finish games, his BB/9 is 4.82 and his K/9 is 7.39 (in 80.3 IP). He looks like he’s afraid to challenge hitters with his stuff and now is starting to walk guys, then getting hammered when forced to come in. It’s 1996 all over again.

Since I wrote about the Jays over the next two weeks in That loud sucking noise and Autopsy of a Losing Skid there were no "Whine Cellar" entries. In late May I really started to tick people off by suggesting that John Gibbons might be well served by utilizing the proverbial "productive out." We discussed the genesis of this as well as the folk's opinion about the exodus of my common sense and the numbers behind my reasoning. The criticism was ruthless and my judges many. We chronicled it here in last month.
Since we’re looking into some of baseball’s quirks, we’ll open our Blue Jays discussion with one: Cliff Johnson was involved in one of Toronto's all-time greatest odd transactions. Johnson got the Jays: Cliff Johnson and Tom Henke for Matt Williams (not that Matt Williams, this one was a pitcher), Jeff Mays and Greg Ferlenda.

A little background. After the 1981 strike, the owners and union agreed on a free agent compensation pool program whereby every team could protect 24 players on its roster and the rest were eligible to be drafted by a team that lost a free agent. After the 1984 season, the Texas Rangers signed Blue Jays free agent Cliff Johnson. As their compensation pick, the Jays took unprotected Tom Henke.

In 1985 the Jays traded Williams, Mays and Ferlenda to Texas for Johnson in late August for the stretch run and playoffs. So the Jays traded two non prospects and a reliever who'd go on to pitch 26 more major league innings and got Cliff Johnson and Tom Henke in return.

Henke, of course, was the final piece of the Jays' puzzle for that young team (closer). Henke pitched 40 innings in 1985 and went 3-3 with 13 saves and a 209 ERA+ with 8 BB/42 K. Johnson was .368/.400/.474 in 19 AB in the ALCS for Toronto.

"The Terminator" would go on garner 311 saves, striking out 861 in 789.2 IP with an ERA+ of 156. He finished his career on top, too, saving 36 games, striking out 48 in 54.1 IP and compiling a 232 ERA+ with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1995 before retiring to spend more time with his family.

He turned down several overtures to return. He was the Jays' closer from 1985-1992. Since then Toronto has tried 13 different pitchers in that role with mixed success at best (ERA over 4.00). He might have been a Hall of Fame candidate if he'd pitched a few more years or if class had more weight in the voting process.

We miss you, big guy!

On to more current matters: I know J.P. Ricciardi is loath to give up outs for runs or to sacrifice. I hope John Gibbons realizes he has to be pragmatic. Right now, due to injuries, the Jays may have as many as three major out-producers at the bottom of lineup. If Troy Glaus’ legs are being rested it’s entirely possible that your 7-8-9 hitters could be some combination of Jason Phillips (78 OPS+), Sal Fasano (27 OPS+), Royce Clayton (78 OPS+), Jason Smith (44 OPS+) and John McDonald (67 OPS+).

Thus far this season (as of this writing), this quintet has drawn just 19 BB in 322 AB and struck out almost as often as they get a hit (77 K/ 78 hits).

Occasionally there will be runners at first and second with none out and one of these five players coming to the plate. Suffice it to say, the odds of a popup, strikeout or double play ball are much more likely than that of a hit or walk.

What Gibbons should do in this scenario is try to bunt the runners over. Every day, Gibbons should be giving these guys bunting practice. When the odds of an out (and possibly two) are so strong, a double play more probability than possibility, the Jays would be better served in making sure that the almost inevitable out (the aforementioned five players have an aggregate OBP of .292) at least moves runner along. That way a groundball or ball hit to the outfield at least gets you a run.

The Jays' offense has been struggling for a while now and they should look at doing whatever it takes to gets runs across even if it means making an intentional out.

The next edition of the Whine Cellar looked at the emergence of the Jays young pitchers as well as more laments about the offense:
Every so often, I get one right (or close enough that I’ll take it). Two weeks ago we discussed the following:

I'm actually a bit optimistic, despite all the bad luck. The Jays have some terrific young arms but let's face it: John Gibbons hasn’t a clue some days. He probably couldn't tell you how to use a pitching wedge properly, yet alone a pitching staff. Injuries have forced the Blue Jays to give regular starts to guys like Dustin McGowan, Shaun Marcum and Casey Janssen … Now that these guys know they're going to be in the rotation awhile, they'll have a chance to settle in … As a result, I think the Jays will be a pleasant surprise over the next while. I'm not saying they'll go 25-5 over their next 30 games, but they'll do a lot better than folks think. (17-13 maybe?) Jeremy Accardo, I think, will be fine as the closer and the more confidence these guys get in their stuff, the better.

Since their nine-game losing streak, the Jays are 11-6. Marcum and McGowan have been given regular work and they just keep getting better—walking fewer, going deeper into games, etc. A.J. Burnett has pitched into the seventh inning in seven of his last eight starts and has a 3.32 ERA over that span. Marcum, after tossing six no-hit innings against the D-Rays, has followed that up with three starts in which he has pitched 19 innings, walked six, whiffed 14 and posted an ERA of 2.84.

Roy Halladay is back early, and off Thursday night's performance, on his game. A starting four of Halladay, Burnett, Marcum and McGowan will serve the Jays quite well. Their current bullpen configuration has an ERA of 2.27 thus far. Accardo has established himself as closer and has blown only a single save in the role.

This is with Gustavo Chacin, Brandon League, Davis Romero (done for 2007), B.J. Ryan (done for 2007), John Thomson and Victor Zambrano on the D.L. and Josh Towers unavailable. The Jays may be 12 back, but there are four months and 111 games still left to play and Boston hasn’t had the rough patch almost all teams go through at some point in the season.

Right now, the concern is the offense, currently tied for last in runs scored with Tampa Bay in the AL East. It is only .003 points out of last in OBP (again Tampa Bay). The obvious culprits are Vernon Wells (.263/.329/.426; 98 OPS+), Frank Thomas (.225/.356/.391; 95 OPS+), and a bottom of the lineup (when Troy Glaus rests) made up of any combination of five players (Royce Clayton, John McDonald, Jason Smith, Sal Fasano and Jason Phillips) with an aggregate line of .235/.278/.329. That bunch has the dubious distinction of having 13 more strikeouts than hits (88 to 101) and has made 305 outs in 408 PA. Ryan Roberts didn’t help (.077/.250/.077 in 13 AB).

They ditched Smith (to Arizona) and demoted Roberts, which leaves them four more guys they need to do something about. What makes things frightening is that Wells' OPS+ since 2002 have been 100, 131, 103, 104, 126 and 98 this year. It could be that he’s closer to his normal output and that 2003 and 2006 were outliers. Plus, Thomas is pushing 40 and might simply be finished.

Thank God that Matt Stairs is picking up some of the slack of Adam Lind’s struggles. What looked on paper like an offensive juggernaut might turn out to be a jugger-NOT!!

I don’t know how much “Moneyball” philosophy is still rattling around in general manager J.P. Ricciardi’s cranium, but just in case, I’d like to offer a bit of advice. The reason there are a lot of out-making players available isn’t due to "market-inefficiency"—it’s because they suck.

The Jays have enough pitching to get them back into the hunt, but if J.P. thinks he has the horses in the lineup to get it done…well, then the Jays are done.
As June continued my optimism remained; there was lots of baseball still to be played:

OK, so maybe the Jays didn’t look so hot against the Devil Rays. I expected Roy Halladay to have at least one post-op bad start and I’ve pretty much conceded a loss to whomever pitches in the fifth spot. By the way, Tomo Ohka has been DFAed. Does Boston need him back? I once asked him during his tenure in Beantown whether he had a girlfriend in Pawtucket, since that's what he was pitching like during this game. I suspect his tenure in Toronto was his revenge—well played, Mr. Ohka, well played. Shaun Marcum’s back seems OK and the Jays still have a nice starting four.

Thursday’s bullpen meltdown is just a blip on what has been a very good relief corps the last while. It’s gonna happen occasionally. The hitting is a concern as is Lyle Overbay’s hand injury, but Matt Stairs has been mashing (.300/.381/.550; 140 OPS+) and should fill in adequately at first base.

Reed Johnson should be back within a month, so that will help. I’m beginning to worry that Frank Thomas might not find his stroke and that he’s simply done. It might not hurt to start Johnson a few games at DH should that be the case. It would also help to work him back into the lineup. If Lind continues to hit, he might be worth keeping on the 25-man and playing the odd game at DH as well.

For all the complaints I’ve made about the bottom of the lineup, it's been carrying the Jays of late (last seven days):

Adam Lind .444 .444 .722
Howie Clark .333 .500 .500
Jason Phillips .333 .455 .444
Sal Fasano .333 .333 .444
Aaron Hill .350 .458 .750

Hill really doesn’t belong in this group, but I wanted to pass along the latest. I’ve been dumping on these guys frequently, but credit where it’s due.

They haven’t been the problem with the Jays' lineup. Thomas, Vernon Wells, Overbay, Troy Glaus and Alex Rios all have been on the cool side. Overbay’s out, Thomas and Wells have yet to heat up in 2007, Rios and Glaus are just streaky. Once again, the underachieving of “The Big Hurt” and the $126 million man are big factors in the Jays' limp offense. Still, I’m still of the opinion that this team will play significant September games.

The following week, an earlier prediction turned out to be spot on, No one was more shocked than me:

Even a blind squirrel will find the odd nut.

After Roy Halladay went on the DL for appendicitis, I wrote:

As a result, I think the Jays will be a pleasant surprise over the next while. I'm not saying they'll go 25-5 over their next 30 games, but they'll do a lot better than folks think. (17-13 maybe?) Jeremy Accardo, I think, will be fine as the closer and the more confidence these guys get in their stuff, the better.

The Jays are 17-13 since Roy Halladay’s last start concluded the Jays' nine-game losing streak.

I’m not happy about it, however. (Am I ever? What's the title of this section again?)

The Jays' limp offense has blunted what has been some terrific pitching of late. Among the heroes of the last 30 games are A.J. Burnett, Shaun Marcum, Dustin McGowan (4.30 ERA since Halladay went down, 3.00 ERA over his last five in 33.2 IP), and brilliant bullpen work (2.45 ERA in 91.2 IP), including 53 innings of 1.19 ERA pitching from Brian Tallet and others. (Tallet's the unquestioned hero of late…before getting dinged for two runs in 1.1 IP Wednesday he hadn‘t been scored upon in 10 of his last 11 appearances spanning 21.1 IP). Jason Frasor has a 1.35 ERA since he was
taken out of the closer spot and setup man Casey Janssen has a 1.00 ERA over his last 16 appearances.

In all, the relief corps had a combined 77 appearances and didn’t give up a run in 59 of them.

The totals:
Reliever        G  SA* IP  BB   K   ERA
Brian Tallet 12 10 22.2 8 18 1.19
Casey Janssen 17 14 18.0 4 11 1.00
Scott Downs 17 13 15.2 11 15 3.45
Jason Frasor 8 6 13.1 3 16 1.35
Jeremy Accardo 14 11 13.0 6 15 5.25
Josh Towers 3 2 5.1 0 7 1.59
Brian Wolfe 4 2 3.1 1 1 5.41
Jordan DeJong 2 1 2.0 2 4 9.00

*scoreless appearances

Even though Halladay came back earlier than expected, the Jays got 16 quality starts out of the 27 non-Halladay games. Burnett and Marcum notched five each, and McGowan kicked in four. (Jesse Litsch and Tomo Ohka each had one.) You’d think that if you combined the work of that trio (14 QS) with a razor-sharp bullpen, the Jays would come away with something better than an 8-6 record.

Over the last 30 games, Burnett/McGowan/Marcum made 20 starts, averaged over 6.1 IP and posted an ERA of 3.24. Halladay won two of three and pitched better than I expected out of the gate after his surgery (his 5.71 ERA since he came off the DL was the result of an eight runs/3.1 IP pounding by the D-Rays).

True, the bullpen had a couple of mishaps, but those mishaps could’ve been prevented with better offensive support.

Even though Burnett might have to miss a start, Towers' peripherals are encouraging. Although he’s given up more hits than innings pitched, he has a BB/9 of 1.33 and a K/9 of 8.41 this year. His problem is that he’s given up seven of his nine HR with men on base. As stated here before, Towers has to stop worrying about the stolen base and start worrying about the three-run jack. His strikeouts and stinginess with walks should insure that even if he gives up the odd stolen base by pitching from the windup, he’s far better off with that than the .318/.328/.682 line he gives up pitching from the stretch (he’s .255/.291/.378 from the windup).

The Jays' pitching staff over the last 30 games, despite significant pitcher attrition, had an aggregate ERA of 3.58 ERA. However, in 17 of those games Toronto scored three runs or fewer.

Now you know why I’m not happy.

I soon got into trouble when I tossed around the cliché about "clogging the bases" without bothering to explain in detail where I was coming from. It wouldn't be the last time I paid for my lack of due diligence:
You developed a crush on a female friend in high school. Alas, it was unreciprocated. She’d date guys, break up with them, cry on your shoulder and tell you what a jerk he was, etc. Between boyfriends she’d become flirtatious with you—giving you hope. Then, inevitably, somebody from higher up on the food chain than you would ask her out and suddenly she’d feel compelled to remind you that she loves you only as a friend and apologizes profusely if she ever gave you the wrong impression.

This cycle would happen time and again. Hopes built up only to be crushed mercilessly, but remaining ready and willing, hoping, indeed praying that one day it would happen for you.

Not that anything like that ever happened to me, you understand (cough cough).

Well, that’s kind of what being a Blue Jays fan in 2007 has been like. Four years of high school encapsulated into 71 regular season games.

It looked like the Jays had a potent lineup, or at least eight-ninths or so of it:

LF Reed Johnson
1B Lyle Overbay
CF Vernon Wells
3B Troy Glaus
DH Frank Thomas
RF Alex Rios
2B Aaron Hill
Ca Gregg Zaun
SS Royce Clayton

We had pitching depth: veteran experience with some exciting young arms. We had a genuine, bona fide "I don’t experience Depends Moments in the ninth" closer.

Then came the injuries. Losing guys like Victor Zambrano, Tomokazu Ohka and John Thomson didn’t worry me. Even when Roy Halladay went on the DL with appendicitis, I expressed confidence in the kiddie corps (and wasn’t disappointed). Heck, even B.J. Ryan’s meltdowns and subsequent injury didn’t faze me (much) because I knew that one of our young power arms would step up and claim the job.

Losing Johnson hurt but I figured Adam Lind was up to the task. Then others went down, Zaun, Overbay, Glaus. And guys like Thomas and Wells have yet to really get on track. Wells has been a tease and Thomas’ OBP is blunted by the fact he clogs the bases. Toronto had some of the best pitching in the AL for awhile, but the anemic offense masked its excellence.

It’s eerily reminiscent of 2006; last year the Jays had one winning streak of five games, and a few of four. They never had the hot streak that propels a team into contention—the kind of streak where momentum feeds off itself. So far in 2007 the Jays haven’t been able to put together four consecutive wins. The Red Sox had a stretch where they won 13 of 17. The Yankees just finished an 11-of-12 run. The Jays' best stretch was 8-5.

Now the Jays came off a three-game winning streak that was ended despite a solid start for Josh Towers (7 IP/4 ER; just 81 pitches) which at least was cause for optimism. Now A.J. Burnett, who has pitched up to his contract the last couple of months, goes on the DL and that is followed by a pounding of Dustin McGowan by the Dodgers in which the Jays managed to score one run. That makes it the 32nd time this year the Jays have scored three runs or fewer—that’s 46% of the games the Jays have played this year.

My optimism is starting to wane a bit. The Jays are 12 games back in the AL East and eight in the wild card standings with six teams in front of them and little more than a week left in the month of June.

It’s starting to feel like time is luxury the Jays no longer have; it’s getting close to "now or never." The Jays have played 525 games since they came off their last six-game winning streak (May 4-10, 2004). It’s high time to change that.

It’s time for J.P. Ricciardi to step up and light a fire before the hopes for 2007 are extinguished. I’d like to leave J.P. with this thought: The Pittsburgh Pirates' playoff drought is only one season longer than the Toronto Blue Jays'. Besides Pittsburgh, the only teams that have gone longer without a postseason appearance are Tampa Bay (not really, but you get my drift), Kansas City, The Natspos (who wouldn't be on this list if not for the strike—but that's a hissy-fit for another day), Milwaukee and Philadelphia…and the latter two might be there in 2007. Remember contraction?

Teams that made the short list for extinction due to not being able to "compete" have won World Series and made multiple playoff appearances.

Take my advice: Don’t mention this on your résumé; and don't blame luck, because luck—whether good or bad—is the residue of design. They were going to contract teams that have outperformed your efforts in Toronto.
On the bright side, it gave me a handy topic for another column where I did go into detail as regards my Frank Thomas 'base-clogging' remark Break out the torches and pitchforks. For the first time in 2007, I finally begin to acknowledge that post season baseball may not be in the offing. On the bright side, I'm liking what I see for 2008:
Well, the Jays may not be done in 2007, but I’m looking ahead to 2008. There’s something missing and general manager J.P. Ricciardi seems to be disinclined to find out what. I think it was pretty obvious: The Blue Jays gave too many at-bats to guys who could neither hit nor walk. On top of that, manager John Gibbons didn’t even think of using the offensive black holes to move along guys who got on base. Time and again, he hoped for something that the numbers clearly suggested was not going to happen.

We’ve just passed the halfway point of the season. Despite some terrific pitching—with the emergence of some young power arms in the rotation and the bullpen—the Jays sit at 41-43. It’s hard to draw any comfort from being second in a tough division when it means you’re 11.5 games out of first and 8.5 out of the wild card with four teams to overtake.

We finally got the Frank Thomas we paid for; “the Big Hurt” is .313/.420/.566, with six homers and 21 RBI over his last 27 games. He was on base 42 times but was driven in by the men behind him on only eight occasions. Over his last 27 games, Vernon Wells was on base 36 times and was driven in on nine occasions. Alex Rios reached 43 times over his last 27 and was driven home on 16 of those situations.

Bottom line? Thomas was left on base a lot. Since the Jays aren’t a running team, Thomas should be higher in the batting order. If he keeps hitting like, well, Frank Thomas, then he should be in the three hole with Rios batting cleanup since he’s more likely to hit for extra bases, which would move Thomas more than 90 feet.

It might have helped a little, but still not overcome the ineptitude of the bottom of the lineup and the mismanagement of base runners by Gibbons.

The thing that frosts me the most about the offense is that it has hidden the magnificent work of Shaun Marcum. He has had 10 starts, posted an ERA of 2.02 over those 10 and is 3-0. Four times he left the game without surrendering a run. He came away with a win once. In his seven no-decisions (42.2 IP), Marcum has an ERA of 2.11.

After Marcum left his 10 starts, the bullpen backed him with a 3.56 ERA, which is actually a lot better than it sounds. You’ll recall the game where Casey Janssen finally got rocked against the Dodgers—giving up six runs without getting an out. Toss that one appearance out and the relief ERA behind Marcum was 1.78.

Think about that for a moment: Excluding that one bad outing, Marcum pitched 10 starts with a 2.02 ERA and the bullpen followed up with an ERA of 1.78 and he could only get three wins. In games Marcum got a no-decision, the Jays were 3-4. That kind of support would put a lot of brassiere manufacturers out of business.

My point? The Jays, believe it or not, are in a terrific position in 2008 if Ricciardi doesn’t try to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. What am I talking about? Right now, rumors swirl around A.J. Burnett. Now, Ricciardi knew three things about Burnett: He was good for an ERA+ of about 110, a K per inning and being injury prone.

What has Burnett given the Jays? An ERA+ around 110, a K per inning and time on the D.L. This is what J.P. bought and he’s thinking about trading him for getting what he signed him for? Sadly, in the current pitching market, a guy of Burnett’s talent is reasonably priced for the Jays. For the next three seasons, the Jays have four tremendous arms under their control: Roy Halladay, Burnett, Marcum and Dustin McGowan.

Why mess with that?

Next year, you’re going to have a bullpen consisting of Jeremy Accardo, (hopefully) B.J. Ryan and Brandon League, Davis Romero, Janssen, Scott Downs, Jason Frasor and Brian Tallet. Also in the mix are guys like Jesse Litsch, Jamie Vermilyea, Gustavo Chacin, Josh Towers and Ty Taubenheim.

That’s going to be the best pitching staff in the AL next year or bloody close to it. Here’s what you do with Burnett: You name him your No. 2 or 3 starter but treat him like your fifth starter. Limit him to six innings/90 pitches; if you have an off day, you skip over him and give him extra rest. He has an amazing arm that’s also fragile—accept it and work with it.

Speaking of trades, the best trade is often the one not made. That applies to Burnett and Troy Glaus. If you trade Glaus, you need two guys to replace him: You need a third baseman, and you need to find .250/.360/.500, 35 HR-100 RBI production. Glaus is younger than A-Rod and is approaching 300 HR. Those kinds of third basemen don’t grow on trees. Third baseman Alex Rodriguez may command $30+ million a year if he opts out and you’re thinking of trading a third baseman capable of thumping 40 HR and slugging .550 who is making a bit more than one-third of that?

Glaus has a shot at a 500 HR career, which for a hot corner man means a Hall of Fame plaque.

And you’re thinking of dealing him?

If Ricciardi trades Burnett and Glaus, he should be fired, period.

Ricciardi should look to upgrade shortstop. If Vernon Wells returns to form and the Jays don’t have the wave of injuries of the last two seasons, they’ll be in terrific shape. The roster needs a tweak, and a couple of breaks (the good kind) and 2008 would signal a return to glory for the Blue Jays.

I pray Ricciardi doesn’t find a way to screw it up.
My Hardball Times feature "The Whine Cellar" has now found a new home of sorts. MSN Canada had hired me as their regular baseball columnist. Most of my Blue Jays musings will be put there. My first article was A.J. Burnett, Roy Halladay and Dizzy Dean: A cautionary tale. The following week dealt with Time for the Jays to look to 2008. In late July I took a look at Cito Gaston and his struggles to find a major league managing job at THT with Discount da ringzzzz. MSN Canada asked that I deal with Barry Bonds' home run chase for a couple of weeks so The Whine Cellar reappeared at the Hardball Times and I was ticked at the Blue Jays offense:
My boss at MSN/Sympatico wanted me to do a column dealing with Barry Bonds, which left me with no outlet for my weekly vitriol drain.

And believe you me, I need an outlet. I’m listening to the tail end of the third game of the Devil Rays/Blue Jays series and have come to a conclusion:

Carl Crawford is history’s greatest monster. The man simply destroys Toronto pitching. He destroys the Jays, period. First he was a pinch-runner in the ninth inning of game one, stole a base and later scored tying the game. He finished off Toronto with a walk-off home run. Today, he is three-for-four with a two-run HR and another stolen base.

Last year he batted .404/.433/.474 against Toronto and stole 12 bases in 13 tries. Although he was less impressive than that in 2005, he did hit three homers and was seven-of-seven stealing bases. In 2004 he also hit three bombs and was five-of-six swiping bags and hit .295/.321/.500. Not counting today, Crawford is batting .356/.370/.711 with four HR and again seven-for-seven in stealing bases. Counting today, since 2004, Crawford has hit 12 HR and has 32 SB in 34 tries.

It’s like they took the DNA from Rickey Henderson during the 1989 ALCS and injected Crawford with it.

The man is evil. Pure unadulterated evil. I don't want him dead. I don't want him tortured. I want him in the National League.

Equally evil is the Toronto offense. The Jays are wrapping up their 107th game. They have scored three runs or fewer in 49 of them and four of those games were extra inning affairs. In 61 games they have scored four or fewer. Simply put, if the Jays had faced league average starting pitching in every game in 2007, they would be at least 46-61.

The fact the Jays are one game below .500 demonstrates how good Toronto pitching has been this year. In April, the Jays posted a 3.90 ERA. May was awful (4.79 ERA), in June it got better (4.36 ERA), and in July it was an AL-best 3.40 ERA and second in MLB only to the Cubs (3.26 ERA)!

Despite having the best pitching in the AL, they went 14-12. They scored two or fewer runs 10 times and were 4-6 in those contests. The Devil Rays bullpen has an ERA of 6.65 but in the three-game set against Toronto, they were used for 13.1 IP and the Jays could muster only one run!

One! Against a historically bad bullpen, it should be noted. One. Stinking. Run.

Deion Sanders in the secondary hit more often. A geriatric cheese aficionado gets more runs.

I phoned my mother a moment ago. I asked if she was the Jays batting coach. She was curious enough to ask why I would ask and I told her that she always taught me not to hit. I’m trying to find out if Ted Fujita can help, since he’s an authority on things that really, really really, suck. We’re dealing with an F5 here folks.

Somebody’s head should roll for this level of offensive ineptitude. While I appreciate the gesture of mounting Royce Clayton’s head on the DFA pike, he isn’t the problem. They didn’t sign him to hit, or field, or for his experience or clubhouse presence, or because he was the heir apparent to Ozzie Smith when my kids were in diapers. The Jays signed him because Clayton’s agent kept a straight face when Ricciardi phoned. Clayton was acquired for next to nothing and proved he was worth every cent.

The man delivered what was expected and he’s cut? Heck, he was one of the few guys in the lineup to fulfill expectations. He rolled into Toronto a .258/.313/.368 hitter and left after batting .254/.304/.344. Heck if Vernon Wells, Frank Thomas and Lyle Overbay hit that close to their normal production, Toronto might still be in this thing.


For the first time, somewhere in the bowels of the Rogers Centre, there exists a batting tee dreaming of a no-hitter. Doubtless the other batting tees laughed at their brother for harboring such a wild fantasy.

They’re not laughing any more. Oh no. It will happen. Pittsburgh's Dave Littlefield will hear of it and trade Jack Wilson for it and make it the Pirates' No. 3 starter. The move may garner laughter now, but there will be an inter-league series and the Jays will roam through PNC Park. They’ll catch up on old times around the batting cage, remembering the good ol’ days of soft breezes, light caresses and gentle love taps.

Sadly, the batting tee won’t win, the game will go to extra innings and the Pirates will hit a bloop single in the bottom of the 13th off Jason Frasor and win 2-1. However, the tee will live content in the knowledge that it gave the team eight solid innings and didn’t walk anybody and will have made more money in one year than I have in the last decade.

Would somebody please stop the pain?
This was followed up a column on THT examining the Jays miserable road record. It was aptly named Road Kill. Now came the time where I really got into a mess of trouble. I finally decided to look at the Jays' season to date to examine how many potential scoring opportunities they had frittered away by sticking with the station-to-station, high OBP/3 run HR philosophy when it was obvious that Toronto lacked the roster wherewithal to pull it off.

The first entry was How John Gibbons is hurting the Blue Jays followed up a bit later with How John Gibbons is hurting the Blue Jays--a follow up written for MSN Canada. I was critiqued fiercely by a lot of Blue Jays bloggers such as "The Mockingbird," "Maldonado Over Everything" and of course "Drunk Jays Fans." Since I have a bit of a word limit and a severely overworked editor on MSN, I decided I would fully explain things on THT over two columns: Scream-of-Consciousness and Is it a eulogy? Epilogue? Pathetic whining? I also had a prolonged discussion on the subject described here where I wasn't well-received by the other party.

The rest of my 2007 Jays musings to date were on MSN Canada with the following, ...plus a blog post here at TPoSGD Riffing Blue Jays and sniffing-glue daze... I hope the Jays will give me something good to write about before 2007 is over.

Best Regards


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