Development doesn’t stop the second you reach the big leagues

Well, it’s been quite the first month for Blue Jays fans, eh?
There’s been some good – hello Devon Travis and Josh Donaldson! – there’s been some bad – back to the van with you, Daniel Norris! – and there’s been some ugly – Aaron Sanchez walking approximately 418 batters en route to what was at the time his best start in the majors, comes to mind.
And because the team hasn’t come out and run away with the division some are already calling for changes. Because, as what happens to the vast majority of young players, a few guys have been optioned down to AAA, some are calling for a rebuild. Because the pitching has been more or less atrocious many fans have already given up.
They’re acting as if this is the final product. That this is the team Alex Anthopoulos constructed and it’s not nearly good enough.
And that’s ridiculous.
The nice thing about this year’s Toronto Blue Jays is that there are essentially two types of players on the team: the totally established guys and the totally raw guys. For every Bautista there’s a Castro. For every Encarnacion there’s a Sanchez.
Why is that nice? Well, because a month, two or even three months into the season you can still feel comfortable with the established and you can still dream on the raw.
Take, for instance, Encarnacion. He’s had quite a poor start to the season, batting to a 75 wRC+ heading into tonight’s contest. But after three consecutive years of posting a wRC+ of 144 or better, is anyone really concerned with him? The answer, at least it should be, is no.
Now, take for instance, Dalton Pompey. At the major league level he batted to a 67 wRC+ so far this year. Worse than EE, for sure, but not that much worse. And Pompey played centre field mostly.
The reason we’re worried about Pompey and not worried about Encarnacion is simple: the latter has a track record.
Where the line of reasoning gets off track, though, is that we forgive EE for having a slow start but completely forget that over the entirety of last season Pompey excelled at every single level. Pompey hasn’t built up enough – goodwill? – with the fan base to allow for a slow start. Encarnacion has a track record at the major league level, sure, but Pompey has a track record in professional baseball. It should count for something.
Now the young centre fielder has been sent down to Buffalo. What you’ll notice, though, is that now that he’s been a major league starter, getting sent down is more about “getting him right” as they’re saying. The “development” aspect of his professional career is considered over.
But that’s not true. All of these young players are continuing to develop, no matter where they’re playing. Just because Aaron Sanchez remains in the Toronto rotation doesn’t mean that this is The Aaron Sanchez. He’s still developing. What he is in August should be better than what he is now. The same goes for Pompey, Norris, Castro, Osuna, Travis and the rest, no matter at what level the’re playing. They should all be better in August, than they are now.
And that’s why we, as Jays fans, should be excited about the first month of the season. By and large, the young guys haven’t taken the world by storm. Travis has played unbelievable, and Roberto Osuna has continued to impress. But Sanchez, Norris, Pompey and even Drew Hutchison have, to certain degrees, disappointed.
Sure, they aren’t all going to stick. Simply doesn’t happen that way. But there’s enough talent and youth there to expect the team as a whole to be better three months from now than they are now.
That’s all I’m asking for, and it’s all anyone else should be asking for.
Stick around long enough for the team to click.

The awesomeness that is Joey Bats

I spend what many might consider an inappropriate amount of time on Fangraphs. Every time even the smallest baseball stat related thought comes into my mind I immediately log onto the site to satisfy my curiosity.

One of the things I always find entertaining is the search function, and namely when multiple responses come up as I’m searching for a player. You might find only one or two results come up for a very common name. You could discover the crazy number of Latin players when you go to search, say Miguel. Or you could also find contemporary all stars share the name with far lesser known players of the recent or distant past.

It’s the latter that always intrigues me when I type in Jose Bautista. In the Major League section two names come up: a pitcher who played for the Orioles, Cubs and Giants from 1988 to 1997, and the outfielder for the Jays, who if you’re a Toronto fan and watched last night’s game, probably realize is awesome.

Jose Bautista the pitcher was nothing to write home about. He finished his career having accrued -1.0 fWAR, meaning, he was pretty damned bad by Major League Baseball standards. Only once in his career was he above replacement level, when he put up 0.9 WAR in 111.2 innings for the Cubs in 1993. In that year he actually sported an impressive 2.82 ERA, though with a 5.08 K/9 and walk and home run rates that were OK but nothing special he was probably more lucky than good that year. His 4.00 FIP suggests that was the case, though 1993 marked the best FIP of his career.

In his final season in 1997, his K/9 was almost half his ERA – 3.93 to 6.66. He called it quits after that season, perhaps one or three years too late.

Through 2008 or 2009 the Jose Bautista we have all come to know and love wasn’t doing the name much better. In 2006 and 2007 with the Pirates he managed to nearly be league average with the bat, hitting to a 96 and 97 wRC+ in those two years.

When he was traded to the Jays part way through 2008 he was a below replacement level player, much like the former pitcher of the same name. In September 2009, more than a full year after he was traded to the Jays for catcher Robinson Diaz, he hit 10 home runs and was 39 per cent better than a league average batter, putting up a 139 wRC+ in that span.

Since that time he has hit 200 home runs, got on base nearly 40 per cent of the time he comes to the plate, put up a 157 wRC+ and accrued 28 wins above replacement. With a couple more solid years he may get the coveted “best player of the decade” nod (well, next to Mike Trout). Since 2010 he’s fifth in WAR, first in home runs, and fourth in wRC+.

In a fan base that seems to overrate the heartwarming role players and underrate the true superstars, it sometimes seems we take Joey Bats for granted. He’s already the third best Jays position player by fWAR, and may take over the No. 1 spot this year. He’s done that in between 200 and 600 fewer games than his counterparts atop the list.

Heading into tonight’s game against the Orioles, Bautista trails Carlos Delgado – the benchmark for Toronto Blue Jays sluggers – by exactly 5 WAR, in exactly 600 fewer games. That’s nearly four seasons worth of games.

He’s one of the very best players in the league and one of the best to ever put on the Blue Jays uniform. And though I’m loathe to ascribe much value to the whole atmosphere/attitude/leadership aspect of things, Joey Bats brings an attitude Toronto’s other superstars never brought. As much as I loved watching Delgado, or Roy Halladay or – standard hockey reference alert – Mats Sundin, those stars didn’t have the same attitude of Bautista. They were all intense, for sure, and wanted to win, but Bautista seems to possess the perfect antidote for our Canadian inferiority complex. Where the others were quiet in their determination, accepting whatever the baseball, or hockey world said because they knew what they were all about, Bautista seems to say, “no, we’re a force. I’m one of the best players in the league, and I’m surrounded by some of the best players in the league.”

That attitude was on full display last night when he took the Baltimore Orioles’ bullshit and shoved it down their collective throats. And the fact it wasn’t the first time he’s been thrown at and come back to hit a dinger just makes it that much more awesome.

Thank you Jose, for being so completely awesome. And the other Jose Bautista thanks you too, for he will come up on Fangraphs searches for the rest of eternity thanks to an unbelievable six seasons.

Marco? Marcoooooo? Where is Marco Estrada?

Not Marco Estrada. This is Manuel Jose Estrada Cabrera, an ancestor of Jerry Manuel, Jose Bautista, Marco Estrada and Melky Cabrera. I think.

Well that was a nice kick in the ass after a couple of tough ones.

The bats came out last night to make Wednesday’s game a bit of a laugher, at least until the ninth when Todd Redmond did his best to let the Rays back into it. But, a 12-7 win will play and Dosh Jonaldson is starting to look like the awesome player he is.

Oh, and Kevin Pillar.

But perhaps lost in the win is the continued absence of Marco Estrada. The player they acquired for Adam Lind – who’s off to a pretty ok start in Milwaukee – has only seen one inning on the mound in this young season. Old Gibbers has mostly gone to the young guys in high leverage situations if he needs a righty, leaving Brett Cecil and Aaron Loup to handle the other higher leverage duties. Cold Hynes has even seen multiple appearances.

Then last night, in what was very clearly not a high leverage situation, he went with Redmond, Hynes, and then even Cecil to close things out.

So what gives?

Heading into the season some thought Estrada could even challenge for the closer’s job. Of course, that was before Castrosuna took the world by storm. Still, it almost appears he’s gone from high leverage reliever to no leverage reliever.

In his one inning of relief work thus far he did give up a home run, which has plagued him in his career, but retired the other three batters he faced.

One thing to keep in mind is that he’s only thrown 1.2 fewer innings than Cecil. Granted, Cecil’s gotten into four games.

But if Gibbons wasn’t going to use the righty, they could have cut him in spring training and saved $3.25 million of his $3.9 million 2015 contract. With Shi Davidi reporting the team could have $5-8 million to spend mid-season that extra money could be huge. Of course, they could still include Estrada in a mid-season trade, but his early season usage is curious.

Many assume the Jays will go back to a seven-man bullpen when Michael Saunders is ready to join the team. It would appear it’s between Liam Hendriks and the aforementioned Redmond, with Redmond not doing himself any favours early on. Hynes should probably also not feel too comfortable. With Cecil out of the official closer role, Hynes’ role on the team is a little redundant.

All this is to say Estrada’s usage may increase once the bullpen is reduced to seven. Perhaps the team wants to see what it has in the Hynes-Redmond-Hendriks triumvirate before they get too deep into the season. Estrada’s stronghold on the Major League roster is maybe leading to his early absence from game situations.

Another possibility is perhaps the team is secretly getting him ready to take over a starter’s role. Now I’ll admit, I have no idea how behind-the-scenes things really work, but is it possible they’ve been stretching him out in the bullpen to take over for Daniel Norris or Aaron Sanchez? I don’t think Norris has been all that bad and should hold down a starter’s role for the foreseeable future.

On the other hand, Sanchez had a forgettable debut. It’s only one game, of course, but if he’s going to be a guy who throws to an ERA in the high-fours, does it perhaps make sense to switch Sanchez with Estrada, the latter of which would probably perform similarly in the rotation? Given the organization appears to be going all out this summer, and given how good Castro and Osuna have looked thus far, how bad ass would it be to have those three electric arms in the bullpen locking it down? Suddenly the relief corps goes from unsure to pretty awesome, especially when you throw in Cecil and Loup, who can mow down lefties with the best of them.

It’s a possibility, and would make tonight’s game an important one for Sanchez. Should he have another stinker will Gibbons and Alex Anthopoulos consider making a switch?

There’s also the possibility that everything I’m saying is just bullshit and Gibbons just hasn’t gone to Estrada because the situation hasn’t warranted it.

Either way, I don’t think the Jays are going to let Sanchez put up too many stinkers in the rotation before they make a move. Perhaps Johan Santana returns to health. Perhaps it’s Randy Wolf who gets the call. Or perhaps it’s Estrada.

Or, perhaps Sanchez throws a gem tonight and we all forget about it.

The good and the bad of the Blue Jays home opener

Well, that was kind of a weird home opener, wasn’t it?
For everything there was to like, there seemed to be a caveat that left a sour taste in Jays fans’ mouths in their 2-1 home opener loss to the Tampa Bay Rays.

RA Dickey got through six innings, only giving up two runs on three hits and striking out six. But….he walked five, and the two runs that did score came in on walks in the fourth inning when the Dickster walked three. He looked great early, and rebounded to have back-to-back three-up-three-down innings after the ugly fourth. And really, he minimized the damage enough that he deserved a win. But…again, five walks. Not good, especially considering he was entering 2015 with a goal of cutting down on those walks.

The bullpen shut the door in its three innings of work, keeping the Jays in it. But…Osuna gave up a couple of loud outs. The box score says four of Osuna’s six outs were flyouts to the outfield, and if memory serves at least two of them were warning track or near-warning track distance. It’s the results that count, but the process that led to the those results is perhaps a small cause for concern.

Jake Odorizzi’s good, but…not that good. Sure, he looked pretty strong in his eight innings of work. But I don’t think Odorizzi pitched as well as his line suggests. He only struck out four over those eight innings, and did give up three walks. The Jays had some good at bats – Bautista especially refused to give in and swing at borderline pitches, leading to two walks against Odorizzi and three on the night – but they also gave a few bats away, in my opinion. The seventh and eighth innings, in particular, weren’t pretty. In an early season game, with Odorizzi’s pitch count rising, the Jays didn’t put up great at bats in either inning. He only threw 15 pitches in total between those two innings. Granted, 11 of them were strikes. But when a guy’s tiring, and you’re seeing him for the third and fourth time, you should put better at bats together.

And the fans. While it looked like those in attendance more or less behaved themselves, a rare feat for the home opener, online there were some asinine comments about the ninth inning. Namely that old Gibbers gave Bautista and EE the hit and run, which necessitated EE swinging at what was “clearly” a ball. One, no one gives the hit and run on a full count. Two, no one gives the hit and run on a full count. Seriously. Three, it’s totally common to send the runner with none or one out to stay out of the double play. That’s especially the case when the batter isn’t terribly prone to striking out. The thinking is that he’ll either walk or put the bat on the ball. The walk negates the steal and the majority of hit possibilities will mean the runner either stays out of the double play or has an opportunity to get back to first…or, perhaps scores on one in the gap.

The thing is, despite EE not being strikeout prone – especially for a power hitter – he does strike out. And that’s what happen. It was a very reasonable risk to take, and one that backfired.

High heat after a couple of offspeed pitches down. It’s a classic pitching sequence to strike a guy out.

One series down

Every year a team comes out of the gate on fire. They win 20 in April or something like that and take the baseball world by storm.

And every year my dad grumbles about how he never wants to see a team storm out of the gate, because invariably they’ll come crashing down at some point. I remind him that a win’s a win, doesn’t matter if you get it in April or August.  He’ll typically grumble something along the lines of “yeah, but still, don’t like to see them on fire early.”

While he’s wrong in thinking that every team that starts out hot will hit an equal or exceeding cold streak – the season ebbs and flows of its own volition, there’s no telling when a team will be hot – his sentiment isn’t entirely wrong.

Last year the Colorado Rockies won 16 games in the first month of the season. With Troy Tulowitzki putting up a ridiculous .503 wOBA in the first month, heads were turned. Then, in June and July combined they won 16 games, going 16-37 in that span and taking up their project residence near the bottom of the NL West.

The team wasn’t projected to be great, I just dug an old Grantland article that pegged them for last in the division, so the early hot streak was basically the one hot streak a team’s bound to have in a six-month span when it’s composed of professional baseball players.

So that’s where my dad’s line of thinking is both right and wrong. You have to look at the context. You have to consider the team that starts out on fire, and the way in which they win.

And it’s the latter that I think makes the start in 2015 for the Jays promising. Don’t kid yourself, they’ve started out on fire – or at least as on fire as three games can make. In its opening series in Yankee Stadium against a division rival, the team has been tied or led for all but a single inning. That’s impressive.

There are varying opinions on the quality of the roster heading into the season, but no one can say they are an unequivocally bad team. Question marks? Absolutely. Not a division winner? A possibility for sure. But bad? Not a chance.

So taking two out of three in the Bronx, in fairly convincing fashion I might add, is a great sign. The team’s not playing stupid good. There hasn’t been a May 2014 Edwin Encarnacion performance these first three games. Sure, Devon Travis has been a pleasant surprise thus far and may stumble in the coming weeks or months. But it’s not like his performance has been unreasonably good. And it’s not like he has to continue as he’s started for the team to succeed.

Castrosuna might be the only area where the team is getting unexpectedly high performance. And the only reason it’s unexpected is because they’re so young and relatively new to the scene. But they’re legitimately getting guys out, Castro especially. They’re not lucking their way into shutdown outings.

The Yankees series was a convincing success despite the fact Jose Reyes, Josh Donaldson, Russell Martin and Jose Bautista haven’t done much. To only be losing for one inning out of 27 when your top four guys haven’t been anything close to top four guys is a great sign.

Yes, it’s stupid early. But there’s little not to like so far.

Now bring on the OrioLOLes

R-E-L-A-X

Blue Jays fans, Aaron Rodgers has a good message for many of you.

Now true, not everyone is flipping their lid over last night’s Jays game and how it ended, but enough people are that it’s making today kind of insufferable.
Let’s recap:

  • Pop-up double that benefitted from the crazy wind.
  • Solid single up the middle.
  • HBP.
  • Wild pitch.
  • Strikeout.
  • IBB.
  • HBP.
  • Single that deflects off pitch, squeaks by shortstop into left field.
  • Strikeout.
  • Fly out.

Now, I’m not saying it was a beautiful inning. Loup looked off, and Cecil did too. But let’s have a little perspective here. There was literally one well-hit ball that entire inning. One. Single. Well-hit. Ball.

Two hit batters isn’t great, but they weren’t terribly awful pitches. The one on Gardner, at least, was a pitch that simply road up and in a little bit. I’ll admit, MLBtv went haywire, so I missed the second hit batter.

The double was a screwy play. and the final hit had a couple chances to turn into an out.

It was cold, it was unpleasant. Cecil perhaps isn’t quite ready to go. Loup had an off night. It happens.

Sure, it was an annoying way to end what could have been a great start to the season. Sure, the Jays probably deserved to win that one. And sure, how great would it have been to see the Jays go 2-0 against New York while having Bautista go 0-fer?

But let’s look at the positives. Travis looks legit. Castrosuna looks legit. RA Dickey battled and got into the seventh with the lead. And one thing I haven’t seen mentioned is the fact Pillar has taken some really tough pitches and will probably be a great fourth outfielder when Michael Saunders returns from injury, which sounds like it’ll be shortly.

And today there’s a really nice chance that the good vibes return. The Jays are going up against a CC Sabathia who has been a pumpkin for more than a calendar year. Bautista and Donaldson, et al aren’t going to be shut down for long. And we get a chance to see young Daniel Norris – who, did you know, lives in a van throughout the winter? – get his promising career going.

It’s two games in. The Jays have led for the vast majority of those two games. And best of all: tomorrow’s game is a 3 p.m. start, so it’s perfect for knocking off early, hitting a local watering hole and getting the weekend started early.

What did we learn from Game #1?

Nothing.

The answer’s nothing. It’s something I have to keep reminding myself, because, hooo-boy that was a great way to start the season. Whether it was Hutch shutting things down against a team filled with left-handed hitting batters while not quite having his best stuff, to Dalton Pompey showing off his speed and looking all around strong or Devon Travis being an absolute boss and giving the big wank-off motion to all the “Yankee Stadium” mystique crap, Monday was awesome.

Oh, and Miguel Castro. ‘Nuff said.

Even with the Marcus Stroman injury early in spring, I’ve felt a growing sense of optimism as March wore on. Every year I’m filled with optimism, and every year I remind myself that last year I felt the same way and to temper my expectations.

I’ve tried to this year. I really have. I mean, check out the damn lede to this story!

But between the combination of veterans in their primes and young guys who have done nothing but impress, I’ve got a tremendous feeling as 2015 gets going. And Monday’s game did nothing to slow that down.

It is only one game, I keep telling myself that. When they talk about how spring training games mean nothing, they should say spring training and opening day games mean nothing. Now obviously that’s not totally true, Monday’s game certainly means something in the standings, and the stats count. However, far too often we try to draw too many conclusions from the first game of the season, as if they’re a harbinger of things to come.

They’re not. But a good start is better than a bad one.

One down, 161 to go.

Baseball has Risen

Hey, I know you.

Once again it’s been a far too long time since I wrote anything baseball-related. Luckily, hopefully, the past six months of…let’s go with weirdness or perhaps anti-scrumtrelessence…at my day job should be coming to an end. And that should mean I can get back to writing about baseball on a regular basis.

And what a perfect day to do so. It’s opening day, sort of. True, there’s only one game on this Easter Sunday, and the Jays don’t start until tomorrow. But who cares? It’s baseball season and for the next six months there’ll always be something to watch on TV!

As Annie Savoy said in the awesome Bull Durham:

“I believe in the Church of Baseball. I’ve tried all the major religions, and most of the minor ones. I’ve worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms, and Isadora Duncan. I know things. For instance, there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball. When I heard that, I gave Jesus a chance. But it just didn’t work out between us. The Lord laid too much guilt on me. I prefer metaphysics to theology. You see, there’s no guilt in baseball, and it’s never boring… which makes it like sex.

Like the Susan Sarandon the only church I believe in is the Church of Baseball. Well, that, and Eric Church. He’s got some pretty good music.

Anyway, despite all that, here’s some scripture from the Church of Baseball that I dug up. Enjoy, and happy baseballing!

Baseball has Risen (except fastballs, which don’t rise. I mean, it’s impossible. There’s no such thing as a rising fastball)

After Spring Training, at dawn on the first day of the season, all the fans went to look at the stadium.

2 There was a violent earthquake, for Los Angeles Angel Mike Trout came down from the clubhouse and, going to batting practice, reared back his bat and socked a dinger into the centre field seats. 3 His bat was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow before he dove for a sinking liner. 4 The Mariners were so afraid of him that they shook off the fastball and threw curves in the dirt.

5 The Angel said to the fans, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus Montero, who was crucified for being far too overweight. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as Zduriencik said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell the advance scouts: ‘He has risen from the roster and is going ahead of you into Tacoma.There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

8 So the fans hurried away from the stadium, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell the bloggers. 9 Suddenly Jesus Montero met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them,“Do not be afraid. Go and tell my teammates to go to Tacoma; there they will see me.”

11 While the fans were on their way to the games, some of the reporters went onto the Internet and reported to Twitter everything that had happened. 12 When the manager had met with the front office and devised a plan, they gave Kluber and Ventura a large sum of money, 13 telling them, “You are to say, ‘we’ve still got work to do every night, cutting down on stolen bases while we’re asleep on the mound.’ 14 If this report gets to the ownership, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So the pitchers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the minor leaguers to this very day.

16 Then the eleven prospects went to Tacoma, to the ballpark where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted he would ever fulfill that potential as a middle of the order bat. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All the ice cream in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and find the stats of all the starters who will actually contribute this year, Baseball Referencing them in the name of the Felix and of the Seager and of the Holy Taijuan,20 and teaching them to obey great command over their fastballs and discipline at the plate. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the buffet line.”

Farewell good Bill Risley

Bill_Risley_(1996_Blue_Jays)_2

It’s funny how losing a co-worker in an already bare bones, skeleton staff of a department for three months and leaving me to essentially do triple duty during one of the busiest times of the year, and then through the not so busy time right back into the second or third busiest time of the year can really screw with your attempts to blog.

But I digress.

Luckily it’s been pretty slow the last little while. At least as far as stuff I’d be interested in writing about goes (sorry, couldn’t really be arsed into caring one iota about the Duquette thing).

But oh boy, here’s something. Danny Valencia won his arbitration hearing today, and will earn $1.675 million in 2015.

It was the first time the Jays have gone to arbitration since 1997. It’s the first time they’ve gone to arbitration since the beat the ever loving shit out of Bill Risley, with the arbitrator ruling in favour of the club and their $380,000 offer.

The Valencia ruling, of course, means Risley’s Blue Jays legacy now will vanish into the ether. But before it does, lets honour the man who may be, somewhat surprisingly, one of the most referenced Blue Jays of the past decade.

Risley threw a total of 221.1 innings over parts of seven years. Most of his time came with the Jays and the Seattle Mariners. He got one Major League start, when he struck out two, walked one and giving up one run over five innings. That means, as a starter he has a career 1.80 ERA, 2.58 FIP, and a sparkling perfect win-loss record of 1-0.

As a reliever, he had a couple of decent years. With Seattle he threw to 3.44 and 3.13 ERAs, respectively, in 1994 and 1995.

Originally drafted by Cincinnati, Risley was included in the John Wetteland trade to Montreal in 1991. He ended up getting selected off waivers by Seattle and eventually traded to the Jays, along with Miguel Cairo (the same Miguel Cairo who played up until 2012, when he got into 70 games with those same Reds).

With the Jays he had one decent year, pitching to a 3.89 ERA in 1996. Three years of decent ERAs is likely the reason he asked big in arbitration, but luckily those arbitrators were pretty smart cookies, because they looked at the peripherals and said, “not so quick Mr. Risley.”

In his first season with the Jays his FIP was 5.76 and he was below replacement level according to fWAR. He struck out 6.26 per nine but walked an ugly 5.4 per nine.

After that fateful arbitration hearing, Risley’s career went downhill. He only threw 4.1 innings in the 1997 season and they weren’t good innings. The following year he returned and managed 54.2 innings of 5.97 ERA baseball.

And that was it for the 6’2 righty. He retired after the 1998 season.

So farewell Mr. Risley. You will no longer be the throwaway comment in the annual winter arbitration stories. However, since he appear in three games with the Expos and played three seasons with the Jays, he’s still in the lore as one of 23 pitchers to play for both Canadian squads.

The Bill Risley legend lives on!

So how do the 2015 Blue Jays compare to last year’s squad? The infield

Over the past few years the Toronto Blue Jays have employed some less than stellar options at second base. Guys like Ryan Goins, Munenori Kawasaki, Emilio Bonifacio and Kelly Johnson have all spent considerable time at the position. And none of them have done particularly well at it.

And for at least two years, we’ve known this. Heading into last year, especially, we all conceded second base was a bit of a black hole. Last year, by fWAR, it was 15th in baseball, buoyed entirely by the fact the team’s third baseman, Brett Lawrie, spent time there. The other options were all more or less replacement level.

So, with an aging but still top tier shortstop on board, coupled with a first base/DH combination that features one of the best hitters against right handed pitching and one of the best hitters in baseball period, as well as a starting catcher that was basically your team’s biggest move the previous off season and a 24-year-old third baseman who can also fill in admirably at second base, what do you do?

Surely you don’t focus on finding a legit second baseman, that’d be silly.

Nope, you basically turnover the rest of the infield/catcher/DH position.

And it might just work.

The Jays’ infield is going to look quite different in 2015. Gone are the aforementioned Lawrie and the righty masher Adam Lind. Last year’s starting catcher Dioner Navarro will either be backing up or moving to a new city in a trade, as Russell Martin takes over as the starting backstop. First base appears to be new acquisition Justin Smoak’s job for the taking. Edwin Encarnacion is slotted in, more or less, as the full time DH. Josh Donaldson has taken over the hot corner.

Basically, the only mainstays from last year’s team are EE, Jose Reyes and the black hole that is second base.

And I’m quite excited about it.

There is a lot to like about what GM Alex Anthopoulos has done with the infield/DH/catcher. For the past couple years we’ve been so focused on the black hole at second base that I think we’ve overlooked the problems with the rest of the infield. Yes, Brett Lawrie is still young. And yes, despite being kind of douchey I love the guy and hope he has a great career. And yes he has shown spurts of being the guy everyone hopes he will be.

But in the four seasons he’s spent time at the big league level, Lawrie has yet to show a) he can play a full season, and b) he’s got the potent bat everyone is dreaming on.

Since becoming a full time big leaguer in 2012, Lawrie has played in fewer games each season, and when he has played, his bat has been a fairly consistent one, with season wOBA totals of .319, .314 and .320 in the last three years.

With his defence, that’s actually pretty decent. Over a full season, he’d be pretty valuable.

But…Josh Donaldson. He’s been consistently good, and consistently healthy, since coming up. Comparing the two for 2015, you could safely argue that Lawrie’s ceiling is Donaldson’s floor.

And…Russell Martin. Again, Navarro’s not a bad player. In a position starved of real quality, Navarro is a solid piece. But also, in a position that’s starved of real quality, Martin is one of the very few star back catchers.

And then…Justin Smoak. OK, that’s not super exciting. But forgive me if I can’t be arsed into worrying too much about replacing a guy who’s 31 years old and brings quite literally one skill (hitting righties) to the table with a 28-year-old who maybe doesn’t have the top end skill of Lind, but who is at least more well rounded and who also has some upside. With the combination of youth and his playing so many games in Seattle, Oakland and Anaheim, there’s certainly reason for optimism when it comes to Smoak.

The Verdict

Throw all that together, and what do you have?

Well, significant upgrades in both skill level and certainty at catcher and third base. Shortstop and DH are still the same, and there’s some upside if you can find a way to keep Reyes healthy. Second base is still a bit of mess, albeit there might be enough to cobble together something, and there is potential help on the way in the form of Devon Travis.

First base might be a downgrade, but in the overall it might also be an upgrade. Yes, you’re not getting the 300-400 awesome plate appearances against righties that Adam Lind brings. But you’re getting that upside. And really, what’s the difference between EE/Lind/lefty masher and EE/Smoak/lefty mashers/starters who get a half-day off? Maybe I’m understating Lind’s ability to hit righties, but it simply doesn’t seem like a lot.

Overall, I think the Jays have more skill, more certainty, and more reason for optimism in 2015 when it comes to the infield.