Thursday, May 31, 2018

"A Better Loss": Updated Thoughts on the Jays

With due credit to Tom Dakers at BlueBirdBanter for the headline.  One thing I like about Dakers reporting is that he continually searches for an upside. We need that because, well, there has not been a lot of upside to the Jays, at least this last month. People might recall that I was optimistic at the start of the year. I thought that the Jays upper management had done a good job letting salary clear and keeping prospects. I thought they had done a good job piecing together a low cost team that could be in the hunt -- winning somewhere between 78 and 86 games, putting the Jays on the margins of the playoff race -- while not taking on any further longer-term salary commitments. There were "ifs" in my equation and things started out well and then .... So, what do we make of what is going on with the Jays right now? Is there reason to change my assessment?

No ... the Jays may not be in the playoff hunt but I don't see any reason that they cannot look to a .500 season. Right now they are playing horrible ball -- and some of their problems are telling -- but the team, overall, is still OK. Injuries have hurt, as has age, and this is one of the reasons I continue to be optimistic about this season: the Jays may not win but we know more about what the future might hold with each passing day.  How so?

Well, we know that Devon Travis has been seriously harmed by three years of injuries. I feel bad for him. Three years ago, he was 24 years old (perhaps a bit older than we would like a guy who was basically a AA player becoming a rookie) but when in the lineup he played well. His defence was better than average, he seemed like he could swipe 20 bags a year given the chance (that is, he seemed like an intelligent baserunner even if he was not blessed, say, with Pillar's speed), and his offence seemed to have a real upside. Three injury-plagued seasons later, he is struggling, and struggling is generous. Eyeballing him, he seems to have trouble getting to balls, he never walked a lot but he is not walking *at all.* No walks + truly horrible batting average = an on-base percentage so low that it makes one ill. Again, I feel bad for him. He seems like a really nice guy who works hard and his current situation is not his fault. It is made worse, however, by the fact that he does not have a lot of versatility.  It seems unlikely, in other words, that he could become a utility player to keep his job.  With a number of good looking middle infielders in the minors, he will be pressed for playing time by September, if not before.  He's got his job back only because the roster madness and tryout like approach at short after Diaz went down did not allow anyone to take control of the job.

So, what do we know: we know Travis is not our second baseman of the future. Knowing that is good because it allows the Jays to think about who is (Biggio, Bichette?)

We also know that Russ Martin's career is truly over, baring some sort of Devine intervention.  One of Martin's appreciable strengths is that he takes a lot of walks and so, theoretically, gets on base, but this is compromised by another truly horrible batting average. And, his defence behind the plate remains slightly -- just slightly -- better than average.  The Jays seem to be looking for a way to keep him the lineup, although exactly why has confused a variety of commentators (the guys on Blue Jays Central claim to not be able to figure out what is going on). Martin has started at 3rd, short, and left field this year as well as at Catcher. My view is that he is done and both he and the Jays know it. They are not trying to transition him to a utility player (although there might be more merit in this than one might think if one reconstructed the lineup), but instead letting him engage in a bit of a swan song before he steps aside.

It would be great if he did step aside. The Jays should give him an office job -- a consultant, roving ambassador, bullpen coach or catcher or something like that. Keep him in the public eye because he's a good face for the Jays: he speaks well, gets along with reporters, seems to really love and respect the fans and that Canadian thing means he is popular with the fans. I don't lament that his career is done. I think it Joe Siddall (on Blue Jays Central) said that the Jays knew this was coming when they signed him as a free agent 3+ years ago. They knew they were going to eat salary on the back end of his contract and were paying him anyway as the price of getting to the playoffs. That was my thinking, too. The chickens have now come home to roost. Pay the man and see who the future catcher is.

It ain't Luke Maile either but he might be the back up. The way the Jays construct their roster creates problems with call ups -- as we have seen -- but we will likely see Danny Jansen after the all-star break (or, earlier if the "right" injury occurs). I read some dingbat saying that they thought Max Pentacost was major-league ready!! He ain't (and I feel bad for him too because this is another story of injuries).  Keep expectations on Jansen limited. He's having a good year AAA and he is only 23, but his record this year is significantly better than his overall minor league record. Remember, this is a guy who spent three full years at various levels of A ball and who, last year, started the season at the A level (admittedly advanced A) and then just hit everything going for the first time in his pro career.  In other words, I hope he is good (for both him and the Jays), but don't over expect. Still, on the what do we know front ... we know Martin is on his way out, Maile is likely the back up of the future, and we will likely see Jansen as a starter this year.

We also know that Morales is done. The Jays will likely cut him this year. His offensive and defensive WAR (wins above replacement, a measure of how a player performs relative to an average replacement player) are both negative. This means that simply replacing Morales with an average player, say from AAA, will make the Jays better. Morales has really tried this year. He's gotten glasses and lost weight. I suspect age is the key factor so he might get on a hot streak, but don't be confused. We know the future and he is not in it.

There are some other things but I'd like to move on to a couple of less optimistic points:

Point #1:, we know there is a lot of pressure on the Jays to elevate Guerrero, Jr. More on this in another blog. I think rushing the kid to the majors would be a mistake, even though I think we should see him this year.

Point #2:  I think we now know why Teoscar Hernandez did not have a major league job. The guy can hit. In less than 400 major league at bats, he's whacked 20 HR and has a +.800 OPS. OPS is a measure of power and ability to get on base. +.800 is all star territory. But, his defence is ... well ... horribly horrible.  I can't say this for sure, but the Jays coaches don't seem to be doing anything about it either. They seem to be letting him to try to work the matter out. The commentary on him notes that he takes bad routes to balls and misplays balls he should be able to catch. It is just a subjective opinion, but my eyeballing of games tells me that he gives up on balls too easily, gets frustrated, and then gets distracted by his own frustration.  Maybe he could be moved to DH (replacing Morales). We do have outfielders (Smith, Alford, Pompey) in the minors or on the bench.

Finally, and I'll end this blog on this point, I think Gibby has lost the team. The number of mistakes they are making is truly outstanding. There is more to say on this point but the Jays are just not playing good baseball. This is frustrating because, in my view, some of their problems could be addressed through coaching.

Do I remain optimistic? Yes, in the long term. We finding things out and that is what this season, I think, was really all about.
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