What’s going on with Brett Lawrie

During his first plate appearance on Sunday’s game, Brett Lawrie fouled off the first pitch he saw.

According to Pitch f/x it was right down the middle. The plate appearance was his 100th of the season and the 73rd time he saw a first pitch strike. It was good to see him take a hack, and wonder if part of his early season struggles can be attributed to his lack of aggressiveness early on.

Fangraphs says the league average for first pitch strike percentage is 59 per cent, so Lawrie’s first pitch strike percentage is quite high. I can’t find anywhere that gives his swing rate on the first pitch, but one thing I’ve noticed is that early in the season there are two numbers that have gone the wrong direction: he’s swinging at more balls out of the strike zone and fewer in the strike zone.

This makes me wonder, have teams noticed that he’s loathe to swing on the first pitch? Perhaps they’re just grooving one in, knowing they can pretty easily get to an 0-1 count. (Of course as I write this he’s swung at both first pitches he’s seen. Noteworthy though is that he put neither ball in play).

And that might coincide with another problem: he’s not pulling the ball. Check out his spray chart at Fangraphs (http://www.fangraphs.com/spraycharts.aspx?playerid=5247&position=3B&type=battedball&pid2=5247&ss1=2014&se1=2014&ss2=2012&se2=2013&cht1=battedball&cht2=battedball&vs1=ALL&vs2=ALL)

An awful lot of going the opposite way. Strangely, and perhaps encouraging, is that when he pulls the ball in the air it goes a long way.

Could it mean that he’s taking early, getting down quickly and being forced to expand the zone and shorten up? It would explain the lower O-swing% and increased Z-swing% as well as the inability to pull the ball.

He has had a good week, hitting to a .422 wOBA. However he’s swinging at even more balls out of the zone, up over 40 per cent.

Still, with the insane first pitch strike percentage, hopefully he adjust and is ready to go early in the count.

Immediate Angry Response #1

Well that game was a gut punch.

Really two actually. I didn’t catch it all, had some errands to run and real world shit to do. The first gut punch was when I heard on the radio while I was out and about that Morrow was being pulled in the third inning. The second was when the comeback fell short.

What really bugs me though, above Morrow struggling and above a second straight loss to the BoSox, is that I’m starting to really question the roster construction of this team. Now it may be the hate of losing to Boston paired with a few afternoon beers, but seriously, what the hell?

They’ve carried an eight-man bullpen for most of the season. It turns the bench into a joke, especially considering you have a defensive-minded middle infielder on the bench, while also having a defensive-minded starting middle infielder. Then you have a catcher, obviously, and an outfielder who can’t field, and right now can’t hit.

I mean, I’d be ok with this if it meant the bullpen was total shutdown. And, despite recent meltdowns, I think the back end guys are shutdown type relievers. But what’s the point of carrying three, now four, guys who are only mop-up guys? I mean, seriously. If you want to stack the bullpen, stack them with extra shutdown guys. You really only need one of Rogers, Redmond, Happ or Jenkins. Jenkins can be sent down to the minors, so it comes down to one of the other three. We’re a month into the damn season, it’s time to make a choice. Take the risk of losing one of those guys and let’s improve the roster here.

Today’s game perfectly illustrated that. Morrow’s shit and gets pulled early. Gibbons goes to Jenkins, cause for some reason he has a hard on for him. After he fails, but because the game’s still in reach, he doesn’t go to Redmond or Rogers because he wants to win the game.

But then, despite burning through his back end bullpen pieces to keep the game close, he’s unable to do anything with the bench late. I’m not saying they would have won, but there sure would have been better options than having Dinner Navarro running the bases. Or what about having Jonathan Diaz in a key position, cause that’s all ya got.

I like Anthopolous and think he’s a strong GM in almost every facet, but his refusal to give away fringe players by putting them on waivers has cost them early this year.

The team game that is baseball

I listened to the post game Jays Talk after Sunday’s game. It’s not something I normally listen to but I was driving home from the parents’ place and rather hungover, so music was out of the question.

Anyway, there was one comment that was hilariously off-kilter, but also got me thinking about an aspect of baseball that I find very interesting. And that’s the team game aspect.

Baseball is, in my mind, so unique in that it’s a team sport that’s so individual in nature. It’s really just a bunch of guys facing off against a pitcher. There’s some teamwork when it comes to defence – cutoffs, double plays, etc. – but really teamwork is not needed. Especially no in the sense of most of the other major team sports, where everyone needs to be working in unison to be successful. You can’t have a good running back without a good offensive line. Basketball is heavily influenced by schemes and plays that require all five players. Hockey is the same way.

But baseball is just a collection of individual actions. What the guy in front of me in the batting order did has very little impact on what I do at the plate, other than me batting with or without runners on and maybe getting an idea what the pitcher’s throwing. Still, it’s me against the pitcher – and that’s it.

However, the lack of teamwork required to be successful does not, in my mind, make baseball not a team sport. And what makes it a team sport is the fact that everyone – or at least the majority of players – needs to be successful in their own individual battles in order for the team to be successful. When you look at any game, the starting pitcher has more control over the outcome of said game than any other individual player. And yet, even the pitcher doesn’t impact a game in the same way a shutdown goalie or superstar shooting guard or quarterback can. On top of that, any one pitcher only impacts one out of every five games.

Think about it: Jose Bautista gets roughly four plate appearances a game. Four individual battles of a total of more than 70 in a game. On defence, he may make what, three plays? He might directly be involved in seven plays a game. Maybe.

So for a team to win on any given night it needs contributions from a number of players.

Even those complete game, 12-strikeout shutouts by ace pitchers require 15 outs from the defence, plus at least one run from the offence.

The day a pitcher throws a 27-strikeout shutout and hits a solo homerun for a 1-0 win is the day I’ll call baseball an individual sport.

Let the decent times roll

A little late on last week’s thoughts but it turns out to be kinda awesome on account of tonight’s game that just ended. Beauty game, nice to see some power, especially from Encarnacion. With Reyes back and Cabrera continuing to look more the guy from 2012 than the old man from last year, that’s a formidable top four.

There seems to be a strange amount of negativity surrounding this team. I mean, from what I see most people are level headed and maintain that cautious optimism that’s probably going to be the theme for most of the first half of the season. But there’s a significant portion of people who lose it after a couple of ugly ones.

It happens. 

It.

Happens.

I’ve gone into this season looking at chunks of games, because lets face it, none of use can really keep the entirety of the season at the forefront of our minds when the bullpen walks 451 consecutive batters. So while it was a kick in the nuts, I got over much more easily knowing the team could still finished the Orioles-Twins-Indians stretch in decent shape.

And they did. I was hoping for a 6-3 stretch, but was quite happy with a 5-4.

Because at the end of the day, the team is still very much in it. The doomsday people like to point to these blown games and say, “well these are the games that matter when we miss out by two games.” But the simple fact is we have no idea what the future holds. And the longer the Jays stay at or near the top the longer we can look forward to one more meaningful game.

And would ya look at that, the team is near the top. They’re also 6-5 against the AL East. So relax people, things are looking ok.

Really, records don’t mean anything at this point. As long as the team’s playing ok ball and they haven’t put themselves in a hole, you’ve gotta be happy.

There’s more you could like (Dickey to get through the fucking order a third time would be just peachy). But considering they were 8-12 at this point last year, and already facing a 5.5 game deficit for first place, I’ll take it.

 

Thoughts on Week Two

It’s amazing what starting pitching and defence can do.

The Jays finished off the second week of the season with a convincing series clincher against the Orioles. It was a game that finally saw the bats break out, and a good way to finish the week.

After last Sunday I figured the Jays would ideally something like 6-3 in the three upcoming series. They’re still in great position to do that, and who knows, a sweep against Minnesota is certainly doable.

And so far it’s been decent pitching and great fielding. Although, on the pitching front, it’s hard to look at the numbers and figure out how well the starters have actually been pitching. They’re middle of the pack in ERA, near the top in FIP, and near the bottom in xFIP. Frankly, that has me confused, and it’s likely just a case of early season statistical fun.

But by the eye test, it’s been more good than bad. Morrow and McGowan looked pretty good, as did Hutchison and Buerhle. Well, Buerhle looked like Buerhle, which somehow gets shit done.

Even Dickey’s start wasn’t as bad as some lamented. Sure the final numbers weren’t great but he got through the first four innings relatively unscathed. He even could have been yanked after six and finished with a respectable line, six innings and two runs. But that’s the way it is with the Dickster, it’s a fine line you’re always walking with him. Still, there’s some to like about his start. Makes one and half good starts, one and a half bad.

On the defensive side things look much better than last year. Melky’s so much better in the outfield, and Lawrie – though struggling with the bat – looks steady at third. The middle infield’s been good and Navarro’s strong behind the plate.

I’m skeptical with how much his presence affects the rest of the team, but things sure feel better with Navarro as opposed to our friend JPA (who is having a whale of a game right now). The fact he’s tough to strike out is just gravy.

Again, it’s super early, but the team’s DRS is sitting third at +8, while UZR/150 pegs them in at fifth, with a 19.5 rating. 

Overall, it just feels better than last year. The team’s just north of .500, but the number of “oh shit why am I even watching?” games have been kept to a minimum.

And while this season’s looking pretty ok on the big league front, it isn’t going to stop me from getting excited about the farm system. Anthony Gose has walked seven times in seven games, and perhaps is beginning to develop enough of a bat to make him a useful piece. Stroman and Nolin have both had mixed results in their first couple games in Buffalo but certainly haven’t – judging by the box scores – done anything to suggest they’re taking a step back.

After two dominating starts from crown jewel Aaron Sanchez to start the year in AA, he laid a bit of a turd in his most recent game. But that’s going to happen, and I’m fully letting the good outshine the bad.

Further down, I think I’m full on jumping on the Daniel Norris bandwagon. He had a great second half last year and has picked up where he left off. In 11 innings, he’s struck out 11, given up only one run and especially impressive, he’s only walked one batter. He might be one of the first in line for a promotion and if he can handle the move to AA he’ll be right back in the thick of legitimate prospect debate.

Dwight Smith Jr., Dalton Pompey and KC Hobson also appear to be getting off to good starts. I have a soft spot for KC Hobson, who manned first base for many years in by OOTP franchise. Him and Jabari Blash, who was a Rule 5 pickup, anchored my offence. But I digress.

Further still down the pipeline, Mitch Nay, Matt Dean and DJ Davis all seem to be doing well in Lansing.

So it’s been pretty positive all around. Shitty news today about Izturis possibly missing the rest of the season. He’s not a huge part of the team but he was enjoying a bit of a resurgence and seems like a likable dude.

On the bright side, injury-wise, it appears Jose Reyes won’t be long. That’s a damned formidable lineup, with 1-6 looking downright scary, and the possibility of 7 and 8 being ok as well.

Bring on the Twins.

Corporate greed and sports

Is the love of my life nothing more than a soulless, money hungry, heartless bitch?

After all that’s come out in the past week about the Jays, and how players were going to defer money so the team could sign Ervin Santana, I’ve been left conflicted. It’s truly disheartening to hear that the owners of a team – owners I should point out that have money beyond what any of us can imagine – that appeared last year to enter a new phase of competing and spending with the big boys has so quickly done an about face and left the front office with no ability to complement what remains a strong core of talented players. This, to me, is worse than past years when there was at least a multi-year promise, of sorts, to spend. 

I’ve been a Jays fan for as long as I’ve been a baseball fan. I have vague recollections of Joe Carter hitting his famous home run in 1993 (I was six years old at the time). I cheered for the likes of Hengten, Delgado, Green, Gonzalez, and even Josh Phelps – who was the next big thing in my eyes at one point. I followed closely the careers of Halladay and Wells, well at least up until VW turned into a pumpkin, though even then I paid attention with morbid curiosity always hoping he’d do well but knowing he probably wouldn’t.

And each year I became more engrossed in the sport and the team. To the point where I started a blog. I do daily searches for Jays news and know more about the team and organization than I probably should.

So after this latest news, seemingly the third time Rogers has pulled the financial backing from under a front office trying to compete, it feels like the team I love is nothing more than a gold digger. She cares for only the almighty dollar, willing to take the praise when it appears she’s doing good by me, only to hide away when I discover she’s maxed out my credit card.

Honestly, my initial reaction when I heard the deferral news was that this is it. It sounds harsh, but I actually have a history of this. For a while I was nearly as big a Leafs fan as I was a Jays supporter. But the soulless nature of the owners, the mismanagement, and the media/fans turned me off. Of course, the labour disputes and league-wide issues have kind of turned me off hockey as a whole. I’ll still cheer for the Leafs and would like to see them win a cup, but I’ve already watched more baseball this year than I have hockey.

So back to the Jays. If this is what they’re going to do to every GM, then screw them. I could find another team.

But maybe not. Even though I’ve done something similar with the Leafs, they’re not my first sports love. And it’s not like I’ve soured on baseball as a whole. This is a golden era of sorts for the sport. It’s popular, financially strong, and growing. There are great players, the once in a generation type.

And on top of that, I love this team. Regardless of ownership, the team is fun. I remain confident in Alex Anthopolous. Gibby’s awesome. And the team is full of players I enjoy cheering for. Colby’s redneck-ness, Lawrie’s Canadian Jesusness, the out-of-nowhere stories of EE and Jose Bautista. Then there’s Jose Reyes, RA Dickey, Mark Buerhle, Dustin McGowan. The list goes on. They’re players I can get behind.

Their willingness to defer money even adds to that. They want to win here, and they’re willing to do what it takes to win.

So I somehow have to separate the team from the owner. Perhaps the girlfriend’s a nice girl, she just comes from a family with the wrong priorities. Yeah, that works for me. Her parents only care about making bank, while she just wants to have fun, drink a beer, and see Cletus sock a few dingers.

And in the long run, it might even work out. AA’s a smart guy, and one I think knows how to adapt. If he’s able to survive this year and come to the realization that the money’s not necessarily going to be there, he can build a winner. He was deluded into that thought – that the owners would give him that extra few million if he really, truly needed it – and now knowing better he can build a team that perhaps won’t need that extra money. He’s proven to be a pretty strong drafter by all accounts, and can make some pretty shrewd trades.

I guess I can still be a Jays fan. I’m still wearing my Jays cap as I write this, so there’s that. And I’ll watch the game tonight, and probably tomorrow too. 

But Rogers? Fuck Rogers. 

There. I feel better.

Impressions – Week 1

Ugh, phew, OMG, sweet, ugh, YES!, meh.

That’s pretty much my take on the Jays season after seven games. There was some good, some bad, and some ugly.

If there was ever a way not to start off this campaign it was pretty much what happened opening day. A blowout and key injury to Jose Reyes started this season on some really ominous tones. But – and I have no logical answer to why I feel this way – I have a feeling that a key difference this year is things aren’t going to spiral out of control. It could be the fact they aren’t facing the same insane hype as last year, perhaps it’s just a team more relaxed with each other, or maybe the lack of the World Baseball Classic has the players feeling more comfortable. I don’t know, and it could all just be bullshit, but I don’t think this is going to be a year where things get out of hand.

Though that doesn’t mean I’m super stoked for postseason baseball, or even anything close to that. There are some definite warts on this squad. It starts with the rotation. Dickey did his best Jekyll and Hyde, Hutchison to a lesser extent did as well. Morrow wasn’t great and neither was McGowan.

Mark Buerhle had an ok game, I guess. Yeah, he dominated. And yeah, I think he’ll do better with Dinner Navarro behind the plate. But, we more or less know what we’re getting with him.

I still see a rotation that can do enough. And the fact Aaron Sanchez started his AA career with a dominating performance helps dream on the nearish term future. But still, the pitching is iffy at best. Todd Redmond’s performance in relief today helps the confidence level a bit. If needed I think he can step in and complete some spot starts.

The lineup looks like it could be strong. But again, if there are some key injuries to some of the big offensive guys things could change quickly. Even with just one injury to Reyes, the bottom of the order looks atrocious. Diaz and Goins as your 8-9 is not great, though I’ve always kinda liked Diaz and am glad to hear some whispers that he might stay up when Reyes returns. I almost feel like the team could squeeze enough out of Diaz, Izturis (who looks like it might be a rebound year for the wee Maicer), and Goins to make the position look decent.

Melky looks great to start the year, a complete reversal of last year. I got laughed at a bit online earlier today about bringing the topic up, but I wouldn’t mind seeing them start contract talks early. With him and Rasmus both set to be free agents, the team has to address the long term outfield situation. And with Rasmus being such an enigma the past few years I actually feel more confident with what the Melkman brings. Maybe they start talks with Cabrera if he’s still looking strong a month or two from now.

While a few players – Encarnacion, Rasmus and Lawries, namely – are off to a slow start, this still looks like an offence that can contribute. It seems like this year they have enough talent that they can deal with a key player on a cold spell.

It was nice to see some big crowds in the opening home series. Though 3-4 isn’t a great record, it’s pretty decent considering the opposition. A .500 record against the AL East would be a great target for them. But that means they have to beat the teams they’re supposed to beat.

The team has a three game series against Houston coming up, followed by three against Baltimore and three against the Twins. Best case would be 7-2, sweeping either Minnesota or Houston and winning the other two series. That’s certainly attainable. A 10-5 record after 15 would be a great start to the year.

This year’s team, to me, feels like one that’ll be a slightly above .500 most of the way and needs that one strong stretch where they win 10 of 12.

Either way, it’s damned beautiful to have baseball back.