Category: Uncategorized

Phantom Proposal Might Have Ghost Of A Chance

So what do I think of MLB’s proposal for a 2020 season, arrived at yesterday?

Frankly, I don’t know… because the league itself hasn’t admitted there even is a plan. Which is a problem. We know multiple sources, and a number of players, have said that the owners reached an agreement amongst themselves and offered it to the players’ union. Yet there’s no word of it on MLB’s website, which instead features things like “the coolest player on every team” today.

We know that the proposal would involve the season starting up around July 4, for a shortened season of 80-84 games, with more teams making the playoffs and games (at least during the regular season) taking place in empty stadiums. We know that a schedule would involve trying to minimize travel, especially by plane, and probably include only teams within teams own divisions and other nearby geographic teams. Some have suggested it outlines only games within divisions and closeby teams in the other league’s same division. Ie, for Toronto, games would be against AL East teams and whatever teams in the NL East were considered “close”- probably the Mets and Phillies but not the Braves or Marlins. The Nats would be sort of borderline, I would imagine. We also know that (just to drive rock bassist Mike Mills crazy perhaps) there would be DH across the board, finally bringing the designated hitter to the National League.

We know that there’d be no minor league season, which is problematic on a number of levels, but that MLB teams would carry a bigger roster (29 or 30 by most reports) and then would have some sort of supplemental pool of up to 20 players who could be used as injury replacements. How they’d keep those extras game ready without playing is a bit of a mystery.And, here’s the key to it all, we know the agreement wants the players’ to accept a different form of payment than they agreed to. The owners want to split revenue 50-50 with players rather than have to live up to terms of contracts signed, or the agreement they reached with the union less than two months ago.

What we don’t know is just how the playoffs would work, when they’d be (although extrapolating from a July 4 start, we could guess the regular season would end somewhere in the first half of October, depending upon the number of days off and whether or not double headers are scheduled.) We don’t know if the games would be played in all major league cities, a trio of cities (Phoenix, Dallas and Tampa) and their MLB parks as well as nearby minor league or spring training facilities or a mixture of each. And, needless to say, we have no idea of whether or not the players will go for this. Continue reading

Cooperstown 2020 By The Numbers

With the free agent market beginning to wear thin, expect much of the attention of baseball writers to shift to the Hall of Fame. On Jan. 22 the 2020 inductees to Cooperstown will be announced (and be joining Ted Simmons who was deservedly put in by the Veteran’s committee, who last year puzzled everybody by similarly honoring Harold Baines, a durable but rather average player)

There’s a bumper crop of stars eligible for the Hall treatment, headed up first and foremost by “Mr. Yankee”, Derek Jeter. Among the other notable names being voted on are Jeff Kent, Scott Rolen, Jason Giambi, Andruw Jones and Cliff Lee. In addition to, once again, the ever-controversial Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and Manny Ramirez who’ve been denied in the past, presumably because of their confirmed or suspected ongoing breaking the rules regarding steroids and PEDs.

Sometime before then, I’ll probably give you my personal picks for who I think should be voted in. But today though, I thought we’d do something different. We’ll see if grade school math can tell us who will get in.

Essentially, being a Hall of Famer comes down to being very good for a long time. There’s a 10-year minimum before a player’s even eligible, meaning that Mike Trout still has to play out this next season before he’d even be allowed to be inducted , should he suddenly retire. Which no one expects him to, thankfully.

So, I thought, well, maybe Hall of Fame credentials really come down to a simple equation of seasons played and the current baseball buzzword, “WAR” – the suddenly very in-vogue Wins Above Replacement. So I went back and listed all the players voted into the Hall by the baseball writers from 2000 on, and found the number of seasons played (I note that I used an arbitrary 20 games pitched or 60 innings; 40 games played or 100 plate appearances for position players to define a player’s “rookie” season. Thus, some players who popped up for a handful of games as September callups before becoming regulars have fewer seasons played by my count than official stat sheets.) as well as the career WAR. I divided that to find an average WAR per season for each.

Now, I’ll say I’m not a total disciple of the “WAR”. I find it a useful stat, and an interesting one, but not a definitive rating of a player’s value. For one thing, its a subjective rating, using statician’s best estimations, not a hard, fixed number. Thus one will often find different values for the same player depending on whether you look at FanGraphs or Baseball Reference for your number. 40 home runs is 40 home runs, but that could be a 2.5 WAR season to one rating and a 4.0 to another. Second, it ignores the intangibles like how good a teammate a player is, how he performed in pressure situations and so on. A .280 hitter who was a star in a couple of World Series and the most popular guy in the clubhouse was probably a better player than a .295 hitter that was selfish and never played in the post-season, but WAR might not see it that way. But, it’s a number that a lot of execs now see as the holy grail of measuring talent.

I then put my old grade 8 math skills to use and graphed the results. The results were pretty clear – there’s an obvious curved line which players usually need to be above to be elected to the Hall of Fame. (See illustration 1 below). The curve drops lower as the number of years played increases. A player with 13 years to his credit is likely going to need a WAR of about 5 per year; if he’s hung in for 20 seasons, a WAR just below 3 may be good enough. The vast majority of players elected this century follow that trend.

20191218_131716_2

 

As the illustration above shows, there are a few outliers – guys who make you scratch your head a bit. But maybe not so much. the three who fall farthest short of the curve and still made it in are all “closers” – Trevor Hoffman, Goose Gossage and Bruce Sutter. None of them managed an average of even 2 WAR per season… but they collected a lot of saves. This perhaps suggests closers are over-rated and over-valued in baseball; it definitely is a reminder that a “save” is an iffy stat. Some saves are vital and dominant – a pitcher comes on with bases loaded, nobody out in 9th and a one run lead and whiffs the side – that’s a save. Huge. Likewise, a reliever who comes out and tosses 4 shutout innings to preserve a narrow lead after the starter is lifted. Coming in with a 6-3 lead, nobody on base, two out in 9th, to get the opposing pitcher to ground out – not huge! But still a save in the boxscore. However that shouldn’t come into play this year as no stud relievers are on the list.

So using that graph and rationale, whom should we expect to see go in next summer? Well, illustration 2 gives you an idea. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are so far above the curve they barely fit onto the graph. They theoretically are open-and-shut shoo-ins. Next there’s Larry Walker, Curt Schilling, Derek Jeter and Manny Ramirez, who all fall about equal distances “above” the line. Then we have Scott Rolen, Andy Pettite and Gary Sheffield. Players falling well below the dividing line and seemingly having no chance include Cliff Lee, Alfonso Soriano, Paul Konerko and Omar Vizquel.

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So, if we make the assumption that they will certainly not vote in more than five players, and more likely four, the numbers would tell us the 2020 inductees would be Bonds, Clemens, Walker and Jeter and/or Schilling. However, as we cannot eliminate the human element, one has to think that both Bonds and Clemens are still unlikely no matter how many records they set or how dominant they were for better than a decade. The cloud of steroid suspicion and their surly, accusatory natures may well keep them out of Cooperstown as surely as Pete Rose’s betting and arrogance did him. Manny Ramirez was great but not Bonds-great and had the same PED issues hanging over him, so he’s not likely either.

Which leads to the “numeric prediction” for 2020 Hall inductees: Larry Walker, Derek Jeter, Curt Schilling, Gary Sheffield and possibly Scott Rolen. Do I think that’s how they’ll line up? Well, Jeter will be in without question (other than if he will be unanimous), Walker should be, Sheffield and Rolen are iffy and Schilling, good as he was on the mound (particularly in the World Series), seems improbable. His ferociously outspoken political commentary since leaving the game has alienated approximately half the country, including at least some sports scribes and many of them aren’t about to overlook his personality.

By the way – if we look at simply the career, cumulative WAR fo the nominees, this group would be shape up like this:

1) Bonds 163

2) Clemens 139

3) Schilling 79

4) Walker 73

5) Jeter 72

6) Rolen 70

Which compares to the best entrants so far this century:

1) Henderson 111

2) Maddux 107

3) Johnson 101

4) Ripken 96

5) Blyleven 94

6) Boggs 91

7) C. Jones 85

8) P.Martinez 84

9) Mussina 83

10) Glavine 81

The lowest, in case you were wondering, Sutter with 24.

So the numbers tell us it’s welcome to Cooperstown, Mr. Schilling, Walker, Jeter and Sheffield. However, as much as we are in the cybermetrics and Moneyball era there is still an element to the game that isn’t defined in a computer algorhythm. Which will make the January announcement interesting.

 

(Ps- sorry for the poor quality of the images – scanner was acting befuddlingly so I had to grab a couple of quick snaps for it)

Blue Jays Good News/Bad News Monday

Yesterday was something of a microcosm of the recent past for the Blue Jays. Last night’s game gave fans plenty to cheer about as they routed Texas 19 – 4, a season high for runs and hits (21). Oft-forgotten Brandon Drury hit a grand slam, everyone in the lineup had at least one hit and as usual (of late) the kids were alright…to say the least. Rookie catcher Danny Jansen hit a homer and had three hits, Cavan Biggio and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. each had two hits, with Vlad scoring three runs and Dante’s little boy, Bo Bichette, once again led the way. Hitting lead off he notched two singles, two doubles and scored three. For those keeping count, Bichette, in his third week in the “bigs” has 11 doubles already and is clipping along with a .394 average.

It was fun for fans, a middling crowd of about 16 000 at Rogers Centre plus the TV viewers, and was although extreme, indicative of recent weeks for Toronto. After an atrocious start at the plate, the Jays have begun hitting pretty well and much of that has been ignited by the youngsters – rookies Bichette, Guerrero, Biggio and Jansen as well as sophomore Lourdes Gurriel. The result is a team that on some nights looks like world beaters, other nights can be rather ordinary. Since the end of June, the Blue Jays have been an even 19 -19, largely because they’ve had 6 games of double-digit runs in that stretch and scored 206 runs – about 5.5 per game. While the team still only tops Detroit in the AL in terms of batting average (.238) and on base pct. (305), their recent run and power hitting has them 5th in the league in homers (186) and 10th, but climbing in the important category, runs scored (561.)

Yes, the blowout game was fun and good news, particularly because very few fans or players in Toronto have forgotten Roughned Odor’s cheap shot sucker punch of Jose Bautista three years back. But as usual, it would seem, the joy was tempered by another dark cloud floated over the stadium by GM Ross Atkins. Only hours before the team took the field they announced they’d given shortstop Freddy Galvis to Cincinnati on a waiver claim. The twitterverse was once again aghast and annoyed. One could almost imagine Atkins in Batman villain gear chortling “So they didn’t like getting back one second-string outfielder for two pitchers, eh? Wait til they get a load of this…”

The supposed reasoning that the team took the uncommon stance of announcing on Twitter was that they had a shortstop now in Bo Bichette and he’s playing well, so let him play. Who needs two? So they threw Galvis out on waivers and let Cinci come on by and drive him off for absolutely nothing in return. Nada.

This seems dubious wisdom to say the very least. Galvis is immensely popular in Toronto and in fact just won the team’s Heart and Hustle Award for the player “who best personifies the values” of baseball and sports, both on and off the field. It’s Galvis’ second one of those, having won Philadelphia’s two years ago as well. Galvis leads the Jays in games played this season (115 out of their 122) which is no surprise since he played every game last year and the season before and ran a league-leading 349 straight games until Charlie Montoyo sat him one day in April. Freddy had earned his time on field too; he also led the team in hits and RBI at the time (Randal Grichuk overtook him in that category in last night’s game.) All in all he was hitting .267 with 18 HR, 54 RBI and a WAR of 1.6 so far. He was also a reliable glove in the infield, leading the team with a part in 64 double plays and a high .986 fielding percentage at short.

Now, there’s no denying young Bo has been impressive since being called up from the minors. Nor that he is one of the game’s best prospects. His 11-game hitting streak upon being called up is the longest to begin a career in Jays history. He’s fast, exciting and a friend of his other young counterparts in the infield. If he keeps it up, he will be the “Bo” people think of when someone says “Bo knows baseball.”

All that doesn’t make giving away a star infielder for nothing at all sensible. Galvis is a very durable veteran – at least veteran compared to the bulk of his teammates – with a great work ethic as well as the steady hand in the field that to this point, Bo is a bit lacking in. Just as with Vladimir Guerrero, Bo is already a hitting star but at times looks a little bit overmatched in the field. That’s not meant as a knock; few 20 or 21 year-olds look like latter day Brooks Robinsons or Roberto Alomars defensively and fans should be overwhelmingly pleased with their composure and effectiveness at the plate. But it also doesn’t mean that Bichette might not learn a bit from an above-average defensive SS who is also a popular guy in the clubhouse. Nor that Galvis couldn’t continue to get some regular ABs even with Bichette playing. Consider that manager Montoyo tries to insist young players have at least one game off per week to not overwork them, that the team lacks a full-time DH and that Galvis can also play 2B or 3B.

Galvis wasn’t eligible for free agency until after next season and the team had an option for a reasonable $5.5 M for 2020. Toronto could have kept Freddy at least until the end of this season, played him probably 4 games a week without sitting Bo Bichette more than the manager already does and had important backup protection in case of injury. That would have been smart. Or they could have decided three weeks ago he was expendable and put him on the trading block. While pitchers were the preferred pick-up this past July 31, if Tampa would pledge two “players to be named later” for the Jays journeyman IF Eric Sogard and LA would give up an A-ball pitcher and a veteran reliever currently injured, in Tony Cingrani, for St. Louis journeyman Jedd Gyorko who was hitting just .196 trying to recover from a back injury, one has to imagine that some team would have made some reasonable offer for a good-hitting, hard-working veteran like Galvis.

Instead Atkins chose to do neither and Toronto gets nothing but fond memories and the insecurity of having no real viable backup for a rookie shortstop with only 15 games under his belt.

In short, the Blue Jays have been fairly good of late. But one has to suspect that’s despite the front office not because of it.

All Star Points To Ponder

A couple of random items before we get back to the final instalments of the Best Ever Blue Jays.

The first is reason for hope for Jays fans. A few of whom have been grumbling about a perceived lack of performance from Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Which might be reasonable if viewed through the lens of media hype and the assumption that the majors are no different than the minors. However, the two are utterly different and there is a learning curve for even the best of players coming up. Last night, #27 played in his 49th big league game (and had 3 hits plus and RBI against the Yanks). To put his first two months in context, let’s compare him to another good player through their first 40 games. That other player is Mike Trout, who logged exactly 40 games in 2011, just few enough to keep him under the bar so he could come back and win the Rookie of the Year in 2012 – which he did. Guerrero’s 40th game was back on June 14th, so we’ve backdated his stats to that game:

AB H 2B HR RBI B AVG OBP SLUG OPS DIF
Trout 123 27 6 5 16 220 281 390 672 N11
Guerrero 149 40 8 7 18 268 325 467 788 4

Most of the stats are self-explanatory, but I point out that the decimal points are missing (software quirk) and the final column is the difference between the player’s OPS and the league average that year. Trout’s N11 is negative 11… 11% below average.

We can see that Guerrero’s numbers are better in every category. Does that mean he’ll continue to outpace Mike Trout and be an even bigger star than the Angel’s OF down the road? Not necessarily. But it does mean it’s time to shut up with the complaints about Vladimir’s hitting.

*** ***

Give commissioner Rob Manfred one thing. He’s not afraid to tinker with time-honored traditions of the game. Among his many changes have been alterations to the All Star Game.

He’d already eliminated the (relatively recent) incentive of the winning team getting home field advantage in the World Series. This year he’s played around with the voting procedure.

For the first time, there are two separate votes to get to the starting lineups for the AL and NL team – the initial one which has wrapped up now and another round starting tomorrow with fans picking between the top 3 at every position. Fun! (Yawn) Excitement!

If memory serves, last year there was a cap on how many times a fan could vote -35. This year, no such limit has been in place. But a funny thing happened along the way to the All Star ballpark. Fans seemed to give up caring.

Although MLB quickly seemed to edit out the total number of votes received by players, the tallies were out there and they show that so far Cody Bellinger of LA leads with 3.68 million votes. Christian Yelich and Mike Trout are the only others to log 3 million ballots this year. Last year, Jose Altuve led all vote-getters… with 4.85 million. Flip backwards like a bat in time to 2011 and you’ll recall Jose Bautista became the first Blue Jay to lead in votes… with 7.4 million.

I don’t have the time to search out the entire vote results for year, if they are even archived and add them up. But the trend seems clear. Fans can vote more than ever this year. And they are in fact voting less than they have before this decade at least. Methinks paying the players to take part in the rusty Home Run Derby isn’t the way to bring excitement back to the Mid-summer Classic.

Perhaps if fans could vote on who they wanted for MLB Commissioner people would pay attention again.

Alek Could Be Man-O-the-Hour Sooner Than We Think

It’s been a trying enough time lately for us Jays fans, with an array of losses, Cavan Biggio struggling in his first weeks as a major leaguer yet being told already by manager Charlie Monotyo he needs to be the clubhouse leader and Teoscar Hernandez, one of the worst fielding outfielders ever to take the field in the blue-and-white now being annointed as the new Centerfielder. Not to mention aging Edwin Jackson,who gave up 10 earned runs a few days back and has an ERA of over 11 being told he’s still in the rotation because in the words of the manager, “we don’t have anyone else.”

So, as much as the desire is there to comment on those things, or on Marcus Stroman going off on another one of his “me-I-me-me” rants and dissing his teammate Randal Grichuk online, let’s try to find a bit to be happy about as Jays fans. Starting with the recent draft, in which MLB figures Toronto made out among the top six teams with their drafts.

Their first round pick is hard to dispute. For years, Toronto seems to have been obsessed with “big” hard-throwing pitchers. Yes, Justin Verlander is 6’5” and of course, going back a ways, Randy Johnson was somewhere between “too tall to go through doors” and “Jolly Green Giant” but there also have been more than enough great pitchers of more normal dimensions. Take little Stroman, mouthy and sometimes lacking a filter between his brain and texting fingers, but still a fine, hard-working pitcher at 5’8”. All that said, I think we have to expect the Blue Jays first pick, Alek Manoah is a good one.

The lad from West Virginia U. is 21, 6’6” , maybe 6’7”, weighs in about 260, which the team admits puts him in the rare category of CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda among current MLB starters size-wise. But the right-hander has a fastball coming in at 95 regularly, 98 in a pinch, and a “plus slider” according to Baseball America. With his Mountaineers college team he was a pretty solid 9-4, 2.08 ERA and 144 Ks in just 108 innings this spring… me too, I had no idea they played that many games in university ball!

Anyway, Manoah is big, strong, has three good pitches apparently and – not to be undervalued- seems excited to be a Blue Jay and is already interacting nicely with Toronto fans on social media. At 21, I would project him to throw a few innings this summer in an A-club like Vancouver and be ready for AA next season. I like the pick and can only hope it ushers in a new-’90s for Toronto. In the 1990s, the Blue Jays managed to draft in the first round Shawn Green in ’91, Chris Carpenter in ’93, Hall of Famer Roy Halladay in ’95 (nice addition to that story, they picked his son Braden this draft in the 32rd round) and Vernon Wells in ’97. By the 2000s they’d gone on to such first round trivia answers as Gabe Gross, Russ Adams and Miguel Negron who collectively would make a pretty OK beer league softball team in some small towns.

I have a few more reservations about their second round pick, yet another big pitcher, Kendal Williams. The Florida high school kid is 6’7” and strong but there’s a whole lot that can go wrong in the probably six years between him picking up his $1.4M cheque and potentially being ready to pitch in the Majors. Third round pick Dasan Brown is also a teen, but he’s a speedy outfielder and a hometown boy who played for Canada’s Junior National Team. Obviously there’s also a lot that can go wrong there also, but his signing bonus is lower and outfielders are a little less likely to have career-limiting injuries when young than pitchers, and as a (suburban) Torontonian, he’s not a bad addition and Lord knows, right now the Jays are weak in the outfield!

They are a long ways off but they could be important names for Toronto in years to come.

To try to keep a positive spin, next we’ll look at the best ever… the Blue Jays best players ever to set foot on the astroturf.

Five Highlights For Jays On Victoria Day

Well here we are, rapidly approaching the one-third mark of the season already! We’ve noted here there’s been a bit of a sense of …ennui, perhaps is the word about our Blue Jays. The fact that they’re still ahead of Baltimore in the standings isn’t quite reason enough for fan exuberance, or trips through the Rogers’ Centre turnstiles. However, since the Blue Jays are still our team (and quite likely yours if you’re reading this) and May’s a beautiful month where the landscape changes by the day, let’s look at five things to be happy about in the changing landscape of the Blue Jays, this fifth month of 2019. Starting with…

Nerd power. Very few took notice when the Blue Jays signed veteran infielder Eric Sogard to a minor league deal last winter. Why should they? The small 32 year-old has been around in the majors since 2010, but hasn’t really made much of an impression other than to earn the nickname “nerd”, largely on account of his thick glasses. Last year he was a part of the almost World Series-bound Brewers, but he hit an anemic .134 in 55 games with them. Indeed, his career average as of this year’s opener was .239 with 11 homers in 1576 at bats. Few expected him to even crack the Toronto lineup, with Lourdes Gurriel and Devon Travis ahead of him for the second base job. However, Devon’s ongoing knee issues and Gurriel’s bad fielding backed with a surprising lack of hitting soon got Eric up and playing second. Lo and behold, the good-natured little grinder is clipping along hitting .295 with 4 homers and a .511 slugging percentage in 24 games. Certainly a small sample, but that’s way ahead of his previous best, a .429 slugging, way back in ’10. Jays fans have begun to get behind the nerd, who just might remind some a little of another hard-working middle infielder we all loved, John MacDonald.

The Knuckleballer  Even a serious fan looking in on Saturday’s game might have been taken aback, with a mystery southpaw with a hard to spell name on the mound for the Jays. A few might vaguely remember the name – Ryan Feierabend. The 33 year old was picked up almost unnoticed in the off-season, after pitching in a low-level Korean league last year! He first pitched in the Majors in 2006, he last pitched (a mere 7 innings) out of the Texas bullpen five years back. Ryan’s last major league start was late in 2008, for Seattle. He now features a 85 mph sinker and most noteworthy, a knuckleball, making him the fourth knuckleballer ever to toss for T.O. (behind Phil Neikro- briefly – , Tom Candiotti and recently, RA Dickey). A fellow lefty knuckleballer, Wilbur Wood who pitched from ’61 to ’78 called in to the broadcast to say “hi” and tell people that knuckleballs are like any other pitch- “it has to have movement to have success.” On Saturday, Ryan had some movement but it wasn’t fooling too many White Sox. He went 4 innings, gave up 7 hits including a home run but did manage a pick-off at first base and some 70% of his pitches were strikes. He also managed another rarity. The game was called mid-way through the fifth, due to rain, making him the first pitcher since Steve Trachsel in 2006 to hurl a 4-inning complete game! “For me, a veteran player, I think it’s all about keeping after it… hoping there are more opportunities ahead.” With a guy who’s been willing to wait 11 years for his shot at starting a game again, fans can hope along with him!

Number Six At times we’ve criticized Marcus Stroman (and his attitude) here before, but so far this season, he’s been someone to cheer. By far the most consistent member of the starting rote he’s been pitching close to as well as he ever has (rather curiously since he’s throwing fewer ground balls than ever before – 1.4 per flyball, about half the rate he had last year). He’s gone 10 starts, 7 of them “quality”, and lasted 58 innings, 11th best in the league. Not Doc Halladay let alone Dave Stieb-type innings loads, but at a little better than 5 2/3 innings per start, pretty good by today’s standards and about a half inning more per game than last year. Despite giving up more flyballs this year,only 3 have left the yard, and his K:BB rate is good (2.7 strikeouts per walk) which all leads to a very solid 2.95 ERA. Unfortunately, a league-low 1.5 run support (1.5 runs scored by team per 9 innings pitched) has meant his record is an unsightly 1-6. But to his credit, the oft-short tempered and loud-mouthed pitcher has taken it in stride, not calling out or insulting his teammates and says “it’s a long season and my guys are going to be there for me.” No criticism for that attitude, and we sure hope he’s right and the team start to put a few runs on the board for him soon.

Bubbling Under In Buffalo – we have one hot young player with a Hall of Fame father in the lineup now, soon we might have two. Cavan Biggio, son of Astros’ great Craig Biggio, has been promoted to AAA Buffalo and his estimation in the eyes of the organization keeps rising. In 2018 at AA, he hit a solid .252 with 26 homers and 20 steals. This year, at the higher level, he’s at .310 with 28 bases on balls resulting in a .436 on base percentage, plus 6 homers and 26 RBI. What’s more, he’s showing a bit of his dad’s versatility. Originally billed as a second baseman, he’s still done that job half the time this season… but he’s also played first, third, left and right field and has only commit 2 errors, both at second base. While his path to second base may not be direct this year (if “Nerd power” keeps producing or Gurriel shows the promise he had last year in Toronto while in Buffalo, there’d be little reason to promote him quickly) his versatility could mean he might show up right behind the other Hall of Famer’s kid, in left field, soon.

The Face …of the organization, even before he made the big league roster.Vladimir Guerrero Jr. He’s here at last, and that alone is reason to cheer. Vlad is shining the spotlight on Toronto baseball again like no one has since Jose Bautista was chasing 50 home runs. That is good, and he’s holding up well, smiling for the press. But hey, here’s something more. In case you haven’t noticed, VG2 is starting to quickly make adjustments to tough big league pitching. As of a few days back, he was facing fewer pitches in the strike zone than any other regular in the AL, Mike Trout included, and he did swing wildly at ones down low too often in the first few games. But hey… check out his last 8 games (6 of which have been against the Chisox through a weird scheduling twist). In those games, he’s been 10 for 27 with his first 4 home runs and 9 RBI to boot. Two of his longballs have been to straight away center, showing he can bash with the best of them when he sees something in his wheelhouse. Overall, his average is .235 and he is still hitting more groundballs than he did in the minors but the numbers are on their way up. With some six weeks to go before All Star time, all bets are off as to who Toronto’s representative will be…but if Vlad keeps hitting like he has been in the last eight games, don’t bet against it being young #27!

Five things to feel good about even if the score doesn’t turn our way against Boston this holiday Monday.

American League Season End Predictions

MVP:

Mookie Betts (Bos)

runner-up: Mike Trout (LAA), Jose Altuve (Hou)

dark horse : Byron Buxton (Min)

CY YOUNG:

Chris Sale (Bos)

runner-up: Justin Verlander (Hou), Mike Clevinger (Cle)

dark horse : Aaron Sanchez (Tor)

ROOKIE:

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Tor)

runner-up: Eloy Jimenez (Chi)

dark horse: Jesus Luzardo (Oak)

MANAGER:

Kevin Cash (TB)

runner-up: AJ Hinch (Hou)

dark horse: Rocco Baldelli (Min)

PLAYOFFS:

Wildcard:

New York (I have Minnesota and LAA tying for second wild card spot, but NY should take either)

ALDS:

Houston over New York

Cleveland over Boston

ALCS:

Houston over Cleveland

and, (Drumroll please)

World Series:

Houston over St. Louis

NL Preview – The Winners…

So, after looking at the teams and the year ahead, we look into the crystal baseball and see–

MVP :

Nolan Arenado (Col.)

runner-up: Freddie Freeman (Atl), Paul Godlschmidt (STL)

dark horse : Mike Moustakas (Mil.)

CY YOUNG:

Max Scherzer (Was.)

runner-up: Jacob DeGrom (NYM), Walker Buehler (LAD)

dark horse : Sonny Gray (Cin)

ROOKIE OF YEAR:

Chris Paddack (SD)

runner-up: Fernando Tatis Jr. (SD)

dark horse: Dustin May (LAD)

MANAGER:

Brian Snitker (Atl.)

runner-up: Andy Green (SD)

dark horse: Joe Maddon (CHC)

PLAYOFFS:

Wildcard:

Chicago over Milwaukee

(toss up for Cubs opponent there as I put Mil and STL in a tie for first)

ALDS:

LA over Chicago

St. Louis over Atlanta

ALCS:

St. Louis over LA

More Men, Moving Mounds…Manfred’s New Ideas

One thing that can be said for baseball’s commissioner, Rob Manfred – he’s not afraid to tinker with the game. Or to royally ire the dedicated long-term fans who’ve made the sport the billion dollar industry it is these days. The latest examples of that have come down in the last week. A slew of rule changes are coming to MLB over the next two seasons, and being looked at for further down the road.

In the majors, the big change this year is making the July 31 Trade Deadline the trade deadline. No more asterisks, buts or unlesses like we have had up until now. Less significant changes involve cutting the number of trips to the mound by a catcher or coach from 6 to 5 (excepting pitching changes or injuries), a change to the All Star Game voting to make it a two-time sort of thing and offering a million dollars to the winner of the Home Run Derby at the game. About five seconds will be shaved off the break-time between innings also, saving a whopping minute-plus per game! Next year though, things really begin to look a little different.

In 2020, major league rosters can expand for most of the season by one, to 26 players. However, come September, only two additions will be allowed, meaning 28 player teams rather than the max of 40 currently employed down the stretch. There will, however, be a limit (to be determined still) on how many of those 26 can be pitchers. And with Shohei Ohtani and now Cinci’s Michael Lorenzen wanting to pitch and play infield, there’ll be rules requiring teams to designate certain players as “two-way” for them to be allowed to do so. But wait, there’s more… Continue reading

New York Headline Sums Up Toronto Outlook

In the Blue Jays camp the news of the week is… well, let’s just turn the headline over to the New York Post: “Here’s the …excuse the Blue Jays had waited for.”

Yes, surprise, surprise, they have announced Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has an oblique muscle strain, and that will take around 3 weeks to clear up. This of course means he’ll end up missing most of spring training and will doubtless need to work on some rehab and some brushing up on the basics in the minors before being deemed ready to play in the Bigs. Three weeks plus, say two weeks of rehabbing at Buffalo might put us at… oh,about the third week of April, which would coincidentally be around when the number of days left in the season would dip just below 172.

172 is a magic number to players and owners alike because that’s the number of days a player has to be on the MLB 25 man roster or the 10-day Injured (nee disabled) list to qualify for a full year’s service time. And a player needs 6 years service time to be eligible for free agency. Ergo, a player who comes up as a rookie, oh say around April 17, might get 170 or so days on the roster that year… and not be credited with a full service year. Those few days push back his path to free agency by a full year (not to mention delay him getting salary arbitration.)

Of course, the team can’t say “we’re keeping so-and-so at AAA for a few weeks because we don’t want to lose him to free agency a year sooner and we think this might save us $30 million down the road,” because that would violate the collective bargaining agreement and probably get them sued left and right. So instead, the best rookies inevitably find themselves either suffering mystery injuries in April or being kept down because something… their base-running, their bunting, their penmanship for signing autographs… needs work and will work itself out, probably about 15 days in. It’s a farce, but Toronto’s not unique in taking part in it. We saw Atlanta do it last year with Rookie of the Year Ronald Acuna, we saw Washington do it a few years ago with one Bryce Harper. It’s a situation that needs resolving next time the owners and players sit down and chat, for everyone’s sake. Especially the fans.

The sad thing is, hey, who knows… Vlad might have pulled a muscle. He’s a very big and very physical young guy, and pulling a chest muscle can happen easily. But with the league’s monetary and free agency systems set up like they are, no one is going to believe it for a minute. At least it gave us a few laughs, like the one person who tweeted that on an “unrelated note” the Jays were releasing Tonya Harding from her position in “player development.”

Speaking of Guerrero, I’m getting increasingly nervous for his season. Guerrero is undoubtedly a talent already and has potential to be a superstar. A quick search of his 2018 minors and flirtation with a .400 average, or of video of him swatting balls right out of the park against solid pitchers will convince anyone of that. However, in the limited at bats he had in spring so far, he was hitting barely .200 and striking out more than we’re used to seeing. This in itself isn’t a worry. 20 times to the plate makes not a year, and we’ve seen legit veterans look way out of their depth in the first week of March, only to go on to be in the All Star Game and end up smashing 40 homers or hitting .315. My worry though comes from how high expectations are for young VG…and how intolerant some fans can be.

Upon a news release from the team about his injury which included a picture of the not-petite-in- any-way Guerrero in a baggy jersey reaching for a grounder, the Twitterverse was abuzz with comments about “is he rehabbing at McDonald’s” and it’s going to take a long time for him to get in shape, to which others responded things like “he’s in shape already -round!”. In short, those who seemed to believe he was injured at all seem to assume that it’s because he’s “out of shape” and “fat.” Uggh.

Guerrero turns 20 this week. Mike Trout had just turned 20 when he first got called up to the Majors by the Angels… and lest you forgot, played 40 games that year, hitting a lowly .220 with 5 homers and 30 K’s to just 6 BBs. Yet, most would agree, things have worked out quite well with him. I think Vlad will hit better than .220 and won’t strikeout five times to every walk this year… but he might not be an instant MVP, .333 hitting, 40 homer guy. I am not sure everyone in the stands and Jays-verse will be as understanding of that fact as I will be. He’s a kid folks. A very talented, hard-working one, but a kid nonetheless. Let’s cut him a little slack and relax. He’s trying, he’s got talent, he’s going to win some games for the Blue Jays. But not until the end of April, it would seem.

On our next outing here, I’m going to look at some more changes it seems Rob Manfred has engineered that might be coming to a big league park near you sooner than you think.