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:
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.
Tomorrow’s the Big Day. Well, probably not the big day, but it is the day we find the All Star Game roster… unlike past years, the entire rosters, save for the final spot (to be voted on by fans as has been the practise for the past few years) are announced all at once rather than having the starting lineup , as chosen by fans, were announced days in advance of the subs.
Anyway, this year the announcement holds a little less interest than usual for the Jays and fans. Justin Smoak isn’t repeating his 2017 boffo first half, Josh Donaldson has been injured more than active and we’re now in the post-Bautista era (as an aside, check out Joey Bats’ New York numbers… after a slow, brief start with the Braves, he’s been heating up with the Mets, with an on base percentage of over .400 ) . In short, there are no obvious Jays’ candidates to be on the squad.
It seems almost inevitable that the rep for Toronto will be a pitcher. Kevin Pillar’s outfield “D” is brilliant as ever, but a gold glove won’t get you in when you’re hitting below .250 and are on pace for 50 RBI. Teoscar Hernandez has the best OPS for the Jays so far, .823, but as such he’s still only 24th among regular position players, hardly making a claim to be among the AL’s elite outfielders.
Most assume the All Star Blue Jay for ’18 will be JA Happ, and they may be right. Happ has been rock solid once again for Toronto, going 10-4 with a decent ERA of just over 4. Happ tries for #11 later today, against a team most seem to assume he’ll be with in August – the Yankees. I for one, hope they make a diligent effort to re-sign JA, and hold onto him. The organization has plenty of talent coming through the ranks at positions (Guerrero, Bichette, Biggio etc.) but is thin on new blood on the mound beyond Ryan Borucki who’s already here. Happ could be a good veteran anchor to build the rotation around for the next couple of years. Nevertheless, it is quite possible that he might be in a different uniform by the mid-season Classic.
While Happ has been good, it’s not without merit to suggest he’s not an All star. Granted, there’s something to be said about the “right stuff”- like Jack Morris and others before him, Happ seems to know how to pitch just well enough to get the “W” for his team… if you go 10-4 on a team with a losing record, you’re doing something right! But, Happ is just 20th in the league in innings pitched (102 2/3) and his ERA is highest among pitchers with double-digit wins. Since we, as well as every team, get at least one rep (have fun finding a Royals All Star) I would suggest that the proper choice would be Tyler Clippard.
Clippard has done an admirable job of anchoring an overall strong bullpen.The bullpen which has been a highlight of an otherwise rather forgettable season. With 44 appearances, he’s pitched in over half their games and is tied for second in the AL. He’s got a 4-2 record (not that the win-loss counts for much among relief pitchers) and a very decent 3.02 ERA. Not to mention his 6 saves after being thrown into the fire as ergo “closer” upon the suspension of Roberto Osuna. The last time Tyler held that role was in 2015, in the part of the season he spent with the A’s.
Will he be? Probably not. Should he be? I think so. If this past winter, I’d have advocated Clippard for the All Star team, it wouldn’t have surprised me much. I’ve long thought he was one of the better, more under-rated relievers around. What I wouldn’t have expected was for him to be the only suitable choice for the Blue Jays. And that, in a capsule, summarized the disappointment of the 2018 season.
I like Gregg Zaun’s “call it as I see it” approach to talking about baseball, something too infrequent in the media these days with so many media sources tied into ownership of the clubs or having vested interests in not rocking the boat. However, I have to disagree with his take on the All Star Garme.
Zaun dislikes that fans get to vote on it, because there is a chance that they may pick undeserving players to appear in the Mid Summer Classic. Certainly that has happened before (with players being voted in on merit of past glories rather than current ability or because of one city stacking the ballot box…KC, looking at you!) and it will no doubt happen again. And I say to that – good. Let it.
Because, the game is after all, for the fans. At least when it decided home advantage in the World Series, it actually meant a little to some teams. Now it’s once again a pure fan spectacle. If we need any further proof of that, just look at the Home Run Derby tied to the game, in which players pick their own pitcher (often a coach or even a father) to lob them the easiest possible balls to hit a mile. There’s very little skill involved and it has nothing to do with actual regular schedule game play, but many fans seem to love it. If MLB wanted to suggest it actually had some sort of redeeming value tied to the season, they’d at least pick the toughest pitchers to throw at the boppers. Max Scherzer trying to throw around Aaron Judge who’s trying to knock one out of the park- now there’s some competition and battle of skill!
The All Star Game is for fans to see their favorites all on the field at once and enjoy some lighthearted moments that inevitably result when players who are typically arch-rivals and foes bond and goof off together. Yes, that may mean a few young players, especially on small-market teams, may get over-looked in favor of future Hall of Famers having their last hurrah, but if that’s what the fans want to see, isn’t that what baseball should provide? If fans prefer seeing “Big Sexy” Bartolo Colon , 45 years old and 90 pounds overweight on the mound to say, Mike Clevinger, why not give them that chance. Speaking of which, I think the fan vote should be expanded to include at least one pitcher.
A look at this year’s balloting so far shows the fans are doing a decent enough job at being discerning anyway. Atlanta is the only team with three players leading in the voting, and the Braves are one of the year’s big surprises, leading the NL East still. Over in the AL, Boston and New York each have two players looking like they’ll be in, but again, those teams have been steamrollers thus far and it would be hard to argue against Mookie Betts, (tied for the lead league with a .340 average as well as clipping 18 homers); JD Martinez (22 homers, second best in the league to Mike Trout, who is also set to be voted in), or Aaron Judge, the sophomore with 18 homers and a .963 OPS so far.Gary Sanchez is a wee bit more questionable, but there’s no catcher rewriting history this year, so he’s about as valid as any other choice. The most “iffy” leader so far would be Jose Abreu of Chicago, who has decent numbers (.284, 11/43, .843 OPS) but hasn’t stood out. And the White Sox aren’t raking in votes elsewhere, so it’s hard to accuse them of ballot-stuffing.
Let the fans have their say and there will still be plenty of chance for the players and manager of the squad (last year’s league champion manager) to select overlooked stars. Remember, fans only pick the starting position players. The players and manager add all the many reserves and pitchers. On the same topic, while I see Zaun’s reason for objecting to having a rep from each team there, I say let that stand. It’s true some teams don’t have any player who really is dominant enough to outshine their competition – and yes, Toronto is one of several teams fitting that description this year – what harm is there in having a player wear the cap and “represent” ? The object of it is to get fans tuning in and one wonders how many people in areas like Tampa or Cincinnati would do so if their teams were entirely snubbed and we instead saw virtually the entire Red Sox or Nationals roster there because of their numbers.
Yes, there will be a player or three who are good enough to be there that won’t be and yes, you can be certain between fan biases and the “every team present” rule there will be a player or two of merely ordinary talent there. But the resulting debates are half the fun for us fans, and the actual exhibition game the other half. Besides, we already have a way to measure who really has the best talent in baseball. It’s called the World Series.
Congratulations to Josh Donaldson, not only voted into the All Star Game in his first year as a Blue Jay, but doing so with panache- leading all players in votes, setting an all-time record along the way. Take that, Kansas City! If there was ever any doubt there’s an ocean of fans waiting to let loose, fill the Rogers Centre and cheer on a winning Toronto team, the 14 million votes for Josh should clear it up. Despite a now league-high 21-year playoff drought , there’s still a huge, avid Blue Jays fanbase north of the border.
Congrats too, of course, to Jose Bautista, going to his sixth straight ASG as a Jay, and Torontonian Russell Martin named as well. Well-deserved honors and something for us to look forward to seeing next Tuesday. However, as big as that is, the one baseball date in July that looms larger yet for the team is the “trade deadline” at month-end, and the thing that would make us cheer louder than a Donaldson home run at the mid-summer classic in Cinci would be the Jays landing a star pitcher. Maybe from Cincinnati. The one arm who’d lift the team above their water-treading, perennially-middling doldrums.
Unfortunately, the thing working in Toronto’s advantage this year is exactly what will work against them at the trade deadline- Parity. The very fact that Toronto can be (as of Tuesday night) just two games over .500 yet within two games of the division lead is indicative of MLB, 2015 style. Take away, as one columnist put it this week, the “two outliers” – the one very good team (St. Louis) and one very bad team (Philadelphia)- and you’re left with a batch of 28 teams which really aren’t that different than one another. There are no great teams, save for perhaps the Cards, and no atrocious teams, except for the Phillies, (assuming they can’t find a time machine and dial it back to 2010). As of this morning, 12 of 15 American League teams and 9 of the National League ones are within six games of a playoff spot, through either the Wild card or a division lead. With nearly three months left, it’s hard to believe that a team couldn’t make up six games. And there’s the rub.
Years when players were flying between clubhouses in July faster than balls out of Coors Stadium in the 90s were years when there were clear cut winners and losers; years when no more than half the teams even could entertain dreams of playing in October. Seasons like that might be bad for fans in general, but are great for the few teams hanging on the edge of a playoff spot. It’s a buyer’s market with ten or more teams trying desperately to dump salary and get at least some return for players soon to depart to free agency.
This year though, many teams, like Toronto are scrambling to get that boost to put them over the top and few teams are ready to throw in the towel. If you’re a GM and you’re team is sitting five and a half games out of a playoff spot in late July, it’s going to be hard to explain trading away your staff ace to the fans. Or the resultant empty stands for the final two months to the corporate bosses.
Even last year, a relatively “flat” year in terms of extremes between the good and bad teams, Boston was sitting 8 games out of a wild card spot at the ASG, just before they jettisoned Jon Lester and the Cubs were running a full eleven out before giving up on keeping “The Shark” around for the remainder. The Rangers, who traded a pair of potential closers (Jason Frasor and Joakim Soria) in the month sat at 38-57, 13 games out of the final playoff position at the unofficial half-way mark.
Compare that to this year, when the Red Sox are still locked in the AL East basement, but only 5 games from the lead.
So with so many teams still in the running, it’s going to be a seller’s market. This isn’t good, as obviously this drives up the price for the few talented players who will be put up for trade. However, that shouldn’t deter Toronto. As the Phillies are finding out, the window of opportunity for a championship is finite. With the Jays leading the world in offense this year, the Yankees probably a year away from a total makeover and the Rays nurturing a boatload of up-and-coming young pitchers the window isn’t going to open any wider than it is this summer. The time to make the deal is now. There will be a few worthy arms on the market.
The Phils from all accounts are still very interested in ditching their aging, high-paid arms such as Hamels and Papelbon, but there seems little interest in them due to their personalities, large salaries left and larger demands from the Phillies.
A few teams are still likely to be able to be willing however. Milwaukee, sitting at 36-50 have little realistic chance to turn it up enough in the second half to make the post-season, but also have little to offer in way of bolstering a starting rotation. Veteran closer Francisco Rodriguez, however, would be a nice upgrade over rookie Roberto Osuna or unpredictable Brett Cecil to shut down opponents in the 9th. F-Rod is 19 for 19 in saves thus far, with a highly commendable 1.45 ERA over 31 games.
Oakland, although on a bit of a run the last couple of weeks, and despite having a solid +50 run differential, are still 7 games shy of a wild card spot and given the way last year went, unlikely to try to trade up. Tyler Clippard would still be a good fit for the Toronto ‘pen, although Scott Kazmir is suddenly a big question mark after leaving today’s game against NY after 3 innings with “triceps soreness.” Expect to hear his name bandied around a lot less in coming weeks.
Cincinnati is still apparently shopping Johnny Cueto and maybe Mike Leake as well; Leake would be a good #5 starter but of course Cueto is the prize. His shutout yesterday against Max Scherzer’s Nationals boosted his value too, but he is the type of ace who could take Toronto to a Yonge Street parade in November.
San Diego has been a surprise under-achiever this season, and one wonders if at 39-47 and falling, they’d not sell off some pitching. James Shields’ and Craig Kimbrel will no doubt still be the cornerstones of the franchise for years to come, but Tyson Ross might be expendable. At 5-7 with a 3.63 ERA (in an admittedly pitcher-friendly division), coming off a 195 inning, sub-3 ERA season, he could fit nicely between Buehrle and Estrada in the rotation. Similarly, the White Sox have a lot of ground to cover if they entertain any thoughts of October and are said to be ready to ditch their prize off-season acquisition, Jeff Samardzija. Could Toronto be his fourth ball cap in thirteen months? He might not be the superstar Oakland thought he would be last year, but is a solid pitcher aiming for a huge winter contract. The Jays could do worse than adding him to the roster for three months, and will have a chance to see him up close on thursday when they take on the Sox.
One other name jumps out at me this week. Jason Frasor. While KC is certainly in the playoff hunt again and are arguably competing with the Jays to add pitching depth, they inexplicably designated Frasor for assignment two days ago. Presumably the Royals have just too much strength in the bullpen to keep the aging rightie around. The Blue Jays all-time games pitched leader might not be the total answer,or the closer the team needs so badly, but they could do worse than run him out to the mound in the 7th now and again. The ageless one (well, actually he’s 37) is having a decent year again, with a 1-0 record in 26 appearances and a solid 1.54 ERA, as well as 18K to just 2 BB. Frasor has always expressed his love for the city and one seemingly saved his best work for it, so, he’d be a welcome sight in our blue and white once more.
We’ll be waiting with bated breath… for the fireworks of next week’s home run derby and then for the real fireworks- the arrival of arms who’ll give this team some pitching to match the offense in the second half.
Much has been said and written about the voting for this year’s All Star Game, and in particular, how Kansas City fans have been, well …”enthusiastic” about showing their support. As of this weekend, Royals are leading in seven of nine positions… and even Omar Infante, the veteran second baseman who sports a .217 average, no homers or stolen bases and the lowest OPS of any regular player in the league, is within striking distance of being voted in. Catcher Salvador Perez (as Sports Illustrated put it this week, “a fine player” but not the best catcher around) leads all players in votes, garnering about 4.42 million ballots so far. He’s been e-checked on close to half of all votes sent in. The fiasco shows all that’s wrong with baseball’s All Star Game… and what’s right with it!
Obviously, it’s easy to see what is wrong, or seems wrong about it. Fans voting can electronically “stuff” the ballot box and let their loyalties override their senses. KC is a good, solid, first-place team and doubtless they deserve to have some reps there in Cincinnati for the Mid-Summer Classic. Just as obvious, they shouldn’t have seven of nine starting position players and many of the current vote leaders are nowhere close to the best choices. Mike Moustakas, for instance, is a decent third baseman finally living up to his potential; so far he’s hitting .322 with 5 HR, 18 RBI and a .465 slugging percentage. Coupled with his solid glovework, that adds up to +2.5 WAR (wins above replacement , according once again to SI). However, compare that to the Jays Josh Donaldson, a Gold Glover who’s been pacing Toronto’s league-best offense with a .310 average but 16 HR, 43 RBI and a sky-high .582 slugging pct. That equals 3.5 WAR.
One can’t begrudge the Royals’ “Moose” some votes, but how in the world does he have over a million and a half more than Josh? SI advice : “vote for Donaldson.”
Likewise, first baseman Eric Hosmer of KC is a decent player having an above average year. But his .306 avg, 7 HR, 35 ribbies and .868 OPS pale beside perennial superstar Miguel Cabrera’s .320, 12/38, .985 or even Texas’ rejuvenated Prince Fielder, he of a league leading .356 average plus 10 homers and 40 RBI. Yet, i think by now you can guess who’s in line to be voted into the big game. In the outfield, Alex Rios, injured most of the year, hitting .235 with one home run and a negative WAR (meaning an average outfielder, if replacing Rios, would actually mean more KC victories) has been voted on over two million times, and many times more than the Jays Jose Bautista or Orioles Adam Jones! Apparently madness isn’t just a British ska band.
The problems with this are obvious. Unless there’s a huge pushback by fans in places like Toronto, Detroit and Dallas in the next couple of weeks (or unless fans in places like New York and Boston hold their noses and cast ballots for the likes of Miggy and Donaldson), the American League starting lineup in the All Star is going to look a whole lot like the team that lost the World Series to San Fran last fall. The lineup is going to be far from the best one available from the talent pool.
As well, with the home advantage in the World Series riding on it, it’s not inconceivable the fans’ choices might come back and bite the AL team (be it Detroit, Texas, Toronto or even, ironically, KC) on the butt in October. Do you think anyone on an American League team playing Game 7 in the World Series in St. Louis or DC this fall will forget if Omar Infante struck out with the bases loaded in the All Star game?
However,it also shows what’s right about the process. For starters, the game is primarily a showcase of talent for fans, and fans should thus have some say in who they want to see out there. Little question Miguel Cabrera is a better player than Eric Hosmer and Jose Bautista with his .400 on base pct. outranks Alex Gordon in almost every possible measurable statistic, but if more fans want to see Hosmer and Gordon, should they be denied? It’s the fans who fill the stands, and have their eyes glued to their TVs in numbers that get advertisers standing in line salivating to buy time.
Secondly, baseball has come to realize the potential for this problem and has made the game less and less dependent upon fan ballots. With the players themselves voting in backups and the manager filling in some of the bench players and pitchers, not to mention the contentious rule that every team must be represented by at least one player, there will be solid talent there and a diverse range of caps no matter how determined the western Missouri voters might be. Their choice of Sal Perez or Moose Moustakas won’t prevent Stephen Vogt or Josh Donaldson appearing in the game. Baseball gets the balance between getting fan faves and getting the best available players as closer to perfect than any other sport.
And, as much as I might be a bit loathe to admit it, it’s great to see the surge of votes for KC. For years it seemed the big-market, big-money teams (read: Yankees, Red Sox) dominated the voting. With voting now online and the power of social media, it’s obvious the playing field is leveled. I can’t help but be pleased to see the outpouring of support for their team from the people of Kansas City. The KC metro area has a population barely over two million- one tenth that of New York City! Among major league cities, only Cleveland and Milwaukee are smaller urban areas. One has to admire the passion for their team and be thrilled with what one great season can do to turn around the fortunes of a small market team that had struggled at the gate for some years. We Toronto fans can bitch about it – or get to our computers and smart phones and vote for Donaldson, Bautista, Martin and Encarnacion.
If there’s anyone to feel bad for in this whole process, it’s probably Ned Yost and his pitchers. As manager of last year’s AL champions, completing the All Star roster falls on his shoulders and given his requirements (a player from each of the 15 teams) and the resentment some fans are feeling at the stacking of the lineup with Royals, one has to think he won’t be naming any of his talented pitchers to be there. Pity him the day he walks into the clubhouse after naming his fill-ins. So c’mon down, Koji Uehara and Luke Gregorson and enjoy watching the game from the comfort of your living room, Greg Holland and Mr. Sub-One ERA, Wade Davis!