“Perplexing.” That’s one of the words Dan O’Dowd used to describe the Blue Jays decision to buy Troy Tulowitzki out of his contract yesterday. Two interesting things about that observation : one, O’Dowd had some insight into “Tulo” and what he can do. He was the General Manager of Colorado through 2014, seeing him play in his prime. Two, that observation was made in a video on the Blue Jays official website! And good reader, when the baseball team’s official promotional site can’t figure out what the heck the GM (Ross Atkins) is doing, it’s time for a clean sweep at front office. Atkins and his boss, Mark Shapiro, who came in at the same time as Atkins, from the same Cleveland organization need to go, faster than a wonky-ankled infielder.
For those not following the news, the team decided to release outright one-time superstar shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. Given his injury problems of late (surgery on both feet last year kept him out of the lineup for the whole season) that might at first glance make sense. What doesn’t make sense is that he was still under contract for a whopping $38 million through 2020 (with a buyout included in there) and as the team admits they “are on the hook for that full amount.” Thus they have paid Troy $38 million to go and twiddle his thumbs for the next two years. Should another team decide to pick him up and put him on their roster (as O’Dowd predicts ten teams will attempt to do), they will only have to pick up about $500 thousand of the total… toronto would then be paying him in the range of $37M or more to play… for a rival! Great.
Atkins refers to the 5-time All Star Tulo as “professional and respectful.” Teammate Marcus Stroman, never one to mince words, declared Troy an “unreal clubhouse presence…one of the best baseball minds I’ve ever encountered” and stated his career would be far from over. O’Dowd, who still keeps in contact with his former star, says TT appears to be in great health and is working out to be in game shape by spring. Yet Atkins still declares paying him to go away “the best interest of the organization.” Perplexing to say the least. Downright dumb to say the most.
Now, there are a couple of caveats Atkins has seemed quick to point out this fall. The Jays, coming out of the 2018 season, had a logjam of middle infielders, too many to have them all on the team. Since then he “non-tendered” Yangervis Solarte, making him a free agent, and traded Aldemys Diaz for a non-descript minor leaguer. With Tulo now gone, the Jays could actually be in the position to be shorthanded in April if even one remaining infielder (either major league or budding-superstar, aka Vladimir Guerrero Jr,or Bo Bichette) should get injured. As well, Tulowitzki, just turned 34, is not all that likely to return to his peak, MVP-caliber play. A career .290 hitter with an .856 OPS and Gold Glove-winning defence, has been on the downslope since his mammoth 2014 year with the Rockies. that year he hit .340, had an OPSof a head-turning 1.035 and managing to hit into only 4 double plays all year. His WAR that year was 5.5 according to Baseball-reference. In 2017, in the half season he played with Toronto, he hit just .249, ground into 10 DPs and had a microscopic WAR of 0.1. Anybody who sees him contending for a batting title or driving in over 100 runs, like he did in 2011, is delusional.
That said, if healthy, he can still play baseball. There’s little doubt to that. As Stroman says, he’s a great mature clubhouse presence that would be invaluable on a roster of young kids. He doesn’t buckle under pressure either. After a so-so initiation to Toronto in the latter months of the ’15 season, he came through in the playoffs with a pivotal homer in game 3 of the ALDS and ended up with 11 RBI in 11 games. Ousted manager John Gibbons, in his going-away comments suggested the Jays would have not only not beaten Texas in the 2015 ALDS, but wouldn’t have even made the playoffs without the trade for Troy. Not hard to argue with, since Gibby was right there and Tulowitzki replaced Jose Reyes, who by that point was a huge negative on the field, with a virtual “iron glove” and an attitude. Reyes last year, by the way, hit .189 for the Mets and had a negative WAR, for the third time in the last four years. Probably makes him mad enough to go and beat his wife… which leads to his domestic violence suspension, but that’s a tangent for another day. Point is, Tulo’s Toronto days haven’t been all for naught.
As it stands, the Jays are projecting to begin the year with Lourdes Gurriel as the shortstop and Richard Urena, rapidly becoming a “veteran utility man” as the backup there and at second. Kendrys Morales will be the DH for the third year. Gurriel was promising last year , so no problem with that. But if healthy- and all indications suggest he will be – Tulowitzki is a better hitter than Urena or Morales. If you’re going to pay him anyway, why not have him as the backup infielder/DH , ready to go in case of injury? He’d add some value to the team, to the clubhouse and while it might be annoying to pay around $18M to have a player do that (and about the same in 2020), it’s not as annoying as paying him $18M to do nothing at all. Something is better than nothing. Perplexing indeed.
With the added announcement of a tentative deal for JA Happ and the Yankees, despite Toronto attempting to re-sign him and despite Atkins’ admission that starting pitching is weak to bad right now with the Jays, with their seeming indifference to star Canadian pitcher James Paxton being traded by Seattle when he would have liked to pitch in Canada, the one thing not perplexing is whether or not Toronto’s current administration is up to the task of making a winning, or at least contending team. They’re not. Toronto fans deserve better.
The Jays apparent concept that they shouldn’t even try to win in 2019, despite having two of the best prospects in the game readying to appear, is all too symptomatic of the malaise of MLB these days. We’ve seen too many teams in the last two years either deliberately “tank”- lose to save money or else get good draft picks – or at least make a conscious decision to not try to contend. It all ties into the reason attendance last year was down by over a million in Toronto and was under 70 million overall in MLB for the first time since 2003. The 69.6M fans through the gate was well below the 73.8M in 2015. But with ticket prices that continue to rise, making a night out for a family, once hotdogs and a beer for Dad, colas for the kids are worked in, equivalent to a second hand car loan, and teams which flat out refuse to try to provide a winner for the fans, where is the incentive to go out to the old ballgame in many cities? Fix those things, Rob Manfred, before throwing a pitch clock on the dugout wall or trying to ban “the shift.”
Have you ever been really, really hungry and had a friend give you a martini with an olive while everyone else in the room sat eating super-sized burgers? Secretly you think, the martini is only to make you tipsy enough to forget you’re hungry and not getting what you need. If not, you’re obviously not a Blue Jays fan. Because, don’t get me wrong- Troy Tulowitzki is a huge addition to the team and instantly improves it. Likewise, LaTroy Hawkins won’t hurt at all. But are they not the martini and olive?
I was amazed yesterday morning, not to find that Troy Tulowitzki had been traded from the wheel-spinning Colorado Rockies that he’d made it clear he was unhappy to be, but to find that Toronto was the recipient. Equally surprising, that the Jays had managed to find someone to take Jose Reyes and his big salary off their hands. It’s exciting. But unless Alex Anthopoulos has some more tricks up his sleeve- as in ones which will bring in more pitching – it seems less than game-changing. All the while, the Royals improved their chances of going back to the World Series by acquiring Johnny Cueto, and Jon Papelbon’s wishes to get out of the hellhole that is Phillies baseball, 2015 edition, just ran him 75 miles down the road rather than north across the border.
That said, I will give credit where it is due and give kudos to the Jays and Alex A. Tulowitzki is, when healthy, the best shortstop in baseball, at the plate and damn near the best with the glove. Jose Reyes is on the sunset slope of his career path.
While Tulo is surprisingly only a year and change younger chronologically than Reyes, he plays much younger, perhaps a function of this being his tenth year in the bigs while Reyes is in his 13th. While some point out that the pair have had similar career batting averages (.299 for TT vs. .291 for Reyes), except for speed-related categories like stolen bases , Reyes has been good but Tulowitzki has been extraordinary. Despite three fewer seasons, TT out homers Reyes 188- 115 and has driven in 55 runs more; his career slugging percentage is a lofty .513 to Reyes ordinary .433.
This year too, Troy has the advantage. He’s been clipping along with a .300 avg, .818 OPS and 12 HR/53 RBI. Reyes is hitting .285 but has only 4 HR, 34 RBI and a .708 OPS. Even throwing in the fact that Reyes has 16 steals and Troy seems done with that part of the game (the last time he stole 16 in a season was 2009 ) one has to concede that the ex-Rocky is much more of a threat at the plate.
Perhaps even more importantly, he’s a better fielder at this point in his career. Anyone who’s seen a few Colorado and Toronto games this year can see that qualitatively but the numbers back it too. Reyes has commit 13 errors in just 69 games at SS this year for a lacklustre .953 fielding percentage; Tulo has only 8 errors in 82 games and a .978 fielding pct. Baseball-reference.com scores Troy as a 4.24 “range factor” at short, compared to 3.78 for Reyes. It’s not a stat that’s an everyday number to me, but know that the higher the number, the better the player is at getting to balls. The all-time record for shortstops is 6.7.
Add in that Tulowitzki is considered 11% above average for OPS , when adjusted to the ballparks he plays in whereas Reyes is a -3% and you can see that the Jays offense should benefit as well as the “D”.
The big question though is ‘is it enough’? Scoring runs hasn’t been that big a problem for Toronto this year. Pitching has been. I did some quick calculations, assuming that both TT and Reyes could stay healthy for remainder of the season (which is a big “if” for both– Troy hasn’t played 140 games in a year since ’11, and Reyes who’s already missed some 30 games with injuries this year has hit that mark only twice in the last 7 seasons) I’m projecting Troy to hit about .305 with 15 more homers (he hits more fly balls than grounders, which is sure to work to his advantage at the Rogers Centre) and around a .575 slugging percentage. Reyes, optimistically, had he stayed, might have hit .280 with 3 HR and a .425 slugging. Even factoring in Reyes advantage on the basepaths and I see the newcomer adding some 20 runs between his greater power and higher average. More importantly, in the field, Troy should get to more balls than Reyes would have, make more outs. He could start 45 DPs, reyes might not exceed 30. Based on this year’s numbers, even factoring in Tulo’s unfamiliarity with artificial turf and even if his fielding percentage drops, he should provide 50 more defensive outs than Reyes would have. Given that the Jays have an appallingly bad record of letting opposing base-runners score (one of only 4 teams who have had over half of the opposing runners come in to score, with a league-worst 58% ) that translates to 29 defensive runs scored.
So the question is: how many extra wins are added in if Tulowitzki can indeed save 29 runs in the field and account for 20 or so more Jays runs? That is indeed a million dollar question, but my guess is this- some , but not enough. Six maybe.
The unspoken wildcard in the whole deal might be ancient LaTroy Hawkins, 42 years young and in his 21st baseball season. he plans to retire after 2015, and likely open up a baseball cap shop since Toronto will be the eleventh hat he’s worn. The smart right-hander has been good this year with Colorado , with a 2-1 record, 2 saves and a 3.63 ERA , plus a solid 5:1 K to BB ratio. From all accounts he’s a good mature presence in the clubhouse and he’ll solidify the middle of the bullpen for the Jays. However, he’s not worked as a closer regularly since 2004 and isn’t expected to do so here. If he replaces Bo Schultz, which seems likely, numerically he won’t add anything but he might function much better in pressure situations.
I like the trade. It makes Toronto better, it makes the Jays chances of making the playoffs better than it was. It makes the Jays better looking ahead to next year. But if they want my applause, there’d better be more moves coming up before Friday’s trade deadline. I think this trade moves Toronto to about 87 wins and a solid second place in the East. A reliable starter would put them over the top, and James Shields (who is under contract for three more years, something Alex A. has said is important to the team), David Price and Mike Leake are among the options open. (By the way, while Joe Blanton and Wandy Rodriguez were designated for assignment by KC and Texas, respectively, I would by no means consider them game changers, let alone season-savers.) Meanwhile, even after giving up some youth to Colorado, the Jays could still stand to offer prospects like Daniel Norris (who’s terrible season in Buffalo might suggest the sooner they get rid of him, the better), Jonathan Harris, 905-born Dalton Pompey (hitting .310 back in the minors this year), highly-touted catcher Max Pentecost and leftie Matt Boyd (remarkable at 9-2, 1.68 between AA and AAA this season despite looking historically-bad in two appearances at Toronto) to offer up. Even Drew Hutchison should be looked at as a token to offer if the chance of getting a “non-rental” pitcher, ie Shields, Leake or Tyson Ross, is on the table.
We were expecting a nice meal, a starting pitcher, and got a good drink – an all-star shortstop- instead. Time for the main course, Mr. Anthopoulos. The fans are hungry.
Thursday Addendum: And so he did!! The trade today delivers the front-line starting pitcher the Jays so badly needed in David Price. While giving up Daniel Norris, Matt Boyd and Jairo Laibourt is a hefty “price” to pay for a pitcher who may only be around for two or three months, it is a solid deal which instantly transforms Toronto into as good a choice to go to the World Series as any AL team. Numerically, Price has a good shot of winning five more starts before end of season compared to Felix Doubront (who was designated for assignment yesterday), but the effect goes well beyond that. Price should assist the other starters by keeping the bullpen a little fresher and certainly delivers the “shot in the arm” as John Gibbons terms it, to the other players in the clubhouse. What’s more, it delivers a pitcher with a decent amount of post-season experience looking to prove himself on a big stage going into free agency.
Toronto is all in this year. Congratulations, Mr. Anthopoulos, you served up a fine dish!
As I write this Monday night, the Blue Jays are in a good news/bad news situation. The bad news is Jose Reyes is heading to the DL but the good is that Jose Bautista is back in the lineup at least as the designated hitter, after missing five games with a bad shoulder. Although they ended up losing to Boston in the ninth, at least they scored a few and looked like they might win, something absent in the weekend series against Tampa Bay. It goes to my point that Bautista, if not necessarily the 2014 MVP, is all in all, the Most Valuable Player to his team in baseball.
I’ve made the point here before that last year his numbers were remarkably similar to Mike Trout’s- almost the same number of home runs, RBI, batting average a few points lower but on-base about the same due to taking more walks. It’s no knock on Trout- he’s a talented young player and it seems like, at 23, the sky’s the limit for him – but rather, a comment on how when it comes to awards time , Bautista is unfairly ignored.
I got to thinking, how much does “Joey Bats” add to the team’s offense? So bear with me here, I’m going to throw out quite a few numbers. I started by asking, how many runs he directly provides. Well, looking at 2014, he scored 101 runs and produced 103 RBI. Since he hit 35 homers, this means he drove in 68 other runs (not including the runs he scored himself from those four-baggers) for a total of 169 “runs generated.” Ergo, it would seem like he added 169 runs to the total for the team. But, hold on, I’m sure you’re thinking, if he wasn’t playing, someone else would have been in his place in the lineup, and they would have scored some runs as well.
This in mind, I tried to estimate how many runs he generated compared to an average replacement outfielder. To do that, in my semi-scientific manner, I looked at all the other AL teams and took the stats of their second-best outfielder last year for comparison’s sake, to have an idea of what an “average” outfielder would provide. Looking at the numbers of the likes of Rajai Davis, Lorenzo Cain, Dustin Ackley and Nick Markakis, the average “runs generated” was about 96 (Brett Gardner of the Yankees was highest of the group, at 128). Since Bautista had 169, this means he added about 73 runs to the the team. Impressive, but incomplete.
Bautista and his 100+ walks had a lofty .403 on base percentage, far better than the league average of .316. Over the course of the season, this represented him being on base (via hits, walks or being hit by pitch) some 58 times more than an average player would have been. This would account for some of those extra runs he scored, but ignores the benefit of having innings extended. Some of those extra 58 trips to the base paths would have been a third out. By preventing the final out of the inning, he gave more batters a chance to get to the plate and ultimately drive in more. If about a third of the additional batters got to base as well, there’s another 19 or so base runners, which translates to probably 8 more runs scored.
Seventy-three runs generated, plus eight more created by extending an inning longer… conservatively, #19 tacked on about 81 runs to the Blue Jays total last year by being in the lineup. To try to determine the number of wins that added is tricky, but I gave it a shot.
Finding an exact number is impossible; if in one game he “generated” two runs for the Blue Jays, it might have meant a win if the final score was 4-3; the same two runs in a 9-3 loss would be meaningless in the win column. However, over the course of the season, the team scored 723, and allowed 686 runs- a difference of +37. As we know, they won 83, lost 79, so if 37 extra runs equalled just four wins more than losses, one might think that it took about 9 additional runs to add one win to the total. Which would still mean Jose B provided about 9 wins with his bat directly. However, the 9 runs/win was high; most teams with similar run differentials did better in the standings. For instance, division leader Baltimore scored 705, allowed (a surprisingly low) 593, for a difference of +112 runs. They won 96, lost 66, for 30 wins over. Dividing that gets a figure of about 3.8 runs/extra win. The Red Sox on the other hand scored 634 while giving up 715, a differential of -81. They went 71-91, or 20 wins below, meaning a difference of about -4 runs for every loss. On the whole, most teams in the American League seemed to benefit about one win for every 4 more runs scored than allowed. Bottom line- conservatively, Bautista won about 20 games with his bat alone. As disappointing as the season was, it’s reasonable to guesstimate that without his bat in the lineup, the Jays would have twenty fewer wins to show and would have been a last place club. That doesn’t even begin to take into account the runs he saves with the slick fielding in right field.
As impressive as that is, I think it still underestimates his worth to the team. Bautista adds an intangible to the Jays. He has presence. He’s a “name”. When CNN News did a piece on the start of the baseball season for their student news network, of all the players available to interview, it was Toronto’s #19 that they talked to for the clip. He intimidates opposing pitchers into messing up to other batters. He somehow makes his teammates believe they can do anything, hit anything. The deflation of the others hitters is obvious when he’s hurt, as we saw this past week. Even though Bautista had started the season in a significant slump, the Jays were still hitting .261 and had scored 84 runs over the first 14 games- an average of 6 runs per game. Over the five that Bautista was missing, (of which they won only one), they hit a lowly .207 and scored 16 runs, or 3.2 per game. Take an uncharacteristically cold-batted Jose Bautista out of the game and see the runs drop by almost half.
Two things are obvious from that. One, the Blue Jays need to handle their star like a Faberge egg. Two, arguably there are better players in the game right now, but none are more valuable to their team than Jose Bautista.
Alex Anthopolous and by extension, the Blue Jays organization are nothing if not optimists. Their reasoning for expecting much greater results from essentially the same roster as last year are based on the assumptions that they can avoid the major injuries that plagued the team in ’13 and that players returning from injury will be back upto speed. And, indeed, if that happens to be the case, the 2014 Blue Jays could make some noise. But that is also a whole lot of “ifs”.
If healthy- note the ‘if”- this team should score runs. Lots of them. Dioner Navarro, the new #1 catcher, should easily outpace JP Arencibia’s insipid .194 average and .592 OPS, even if he tires out and lags behind his .300 average over 89 games with the Cubs last year. The front end of the lineup could be a run-scoring machine, given that it will be fronted by the men who had the highest batting averages in the NL in 2011 and 2012 (Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera respectively) followed by two bona fide 40 home run threats in Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. The monkey wrench in there is that all 4 suffered significant injuries last season and already Jose Reyes is having difficulty with his hamstring. If (there’s that word again) Reyes is ok and stays more or less in good condition through the long year on bad turf, he should be in scoring position for the big bats a lot, needless to say.
Cabrera has benefited from new hitting coach Kevin Seitzer or from feeling better after back surgery last year, or perhaps both , and is hitting up a storm this spring. In the final week of spring training, he looks like a new man compared to the slow, weak-hitting version Toronto fans endured last season, and is clipping along with a .429 average and nine doubles. There is hope to think that last year was the aberration. After all, over the 2011-12 seasons Melky hit .325 with a slugging pct of almost .500. Anything remotely close to that this year, hitting behind Reyes, could easily put both Joey Bats and EE over the century mark for RBIs by the time Labor Day rolls around.
Bautista is seemingly in good health and spirits this spring and if he manages to play past mid-August for the first time since 2011, should be a contender for the home run title again. Even over the past two injury-marred campaigns he’s tallied 55 home runs, and averaged at least a homer per 16 AB, numbers any team would happily put up with, even if at the expense of a few silly temper tantrums along the way. If JB stays healthy, I have a sense another 50 home run year may be on its way and his strong arm could garner a Gold Glove for him as well. Edwin Encarnacion often goes unnoticed it seems, despite knocking 78 balls out of the park over the past two years. Reports are that his wrist is good again and hitting in this lineup, another 35 dinger,100 ribbie year is easily doable.
Brett Lawrie and Adam Lind are both hitting well this spring, and could be added offensive weapons. I’m undecided on Lawrie’s potential, but used judiciously, I think Lind could hit .300 and near 30 HR, even if not matching his fabulous 2009 season.
Colby Rasmus , if not hitting up a storm , is at least hitting up a drizzle and seems to have matured little by little through his time here , so it’s entirely possible he could hit .275 or so and perhaps drive in 80. That leaves only second baseman Ryan Goins, who is struggling this spring and didn’t look altogether comfortable at the plate in his debut last summer, despite an OK .252 average. This year he’s below the Mendoza line , but his defence has been solid (Alex the Optimist suggests already he’s a Gold Glover in the making, something not altogether outrageous to those of us who watched him last year as he looked at ease even when adjusting to a new position– he’d played SS in the minors). If – yes, that word again- his weak bat is the biggest hole in the lineup, Jays fans will have reason to feel chipper and look forward to the playoffs.
My gut feeling is that Reyes hamstring will be a nagging problem well into the summer, and as we saw after his return last season, a slowed
Jose Reyes is no game changer but still an adequate infielder. A big year from any two of Bautista, Encarnacion and Lind should result in a pretty powerful hitting machine that could well produce a good few runs more than last year’s 712 (which ranked them 8th in the AL). Alas, even if they can do so,it may not be enough to move up in the standings given the pitching… which we’ll look at next.