No matter which team wins the World Series, one thing is sure: it will be an “old” team, by baseball standards. That’s because the average age of the Washington Nationals is oldest of any MLB team – their players average 30.1 years old. The Houston Astros are third among the 30 rosters, averaging 29.8 years of age. In between them was Oakland, their players averaging 29.9. Following them, Atlanta and the New York Yankees, each 29.5 years old.
On the other hand, we have the Blue Jays. Their average age is 26.8 years old, 27th oldest out of the 30 teams, ahead of only Detroit, San Diego and Baltimore. Does anyone else see a trend there?
The five oldest teams in the game all made the post-season. They averaged 103 wins this season. Of the four youngest, none were better than 4th in their division, and they averaged 59.5 wins a piece. It should put an end to the theory that youth is what wins in baseball these days. Likewise it should make it clear what Toronto needs to do for next season … and it’s not bring in plenty more kids to make their major league debut!
Club president Mark Shapiro recently had a Q&A session with Toronto reporters and he advocated a baseball philosophy that I completely agree with. He told At the Letters that he wants a team with a good mix of players. He said he is “a big believer in looking at different segments of the player population. You need young players…talented young players that give you upside, tons of energy. You need players in their prime…you can bank on (them.) Then you need veteran players. Volatile, they get hurt a lot but they’re the guys that want to win, can handle the pressure better and they’re the guys who make the younger players better.”
Well said, Mark. Houston and Washington both prove those statements out this year as did the Blue Jays World Series teams all those years ago. (Anyone remember Dave Winfield, already in his 40s, and his contribution to the ’92 team?) The path for Toronto this off-season is clear. They already have the young talent, a lot of it in fact. Now is the time to bring in a star pushing 30 years old, or three; and perhaps find a savvy “gray beard” to add maturity to the dugout.
Make sure Ross Atkins is on the same page, Mr. Shapiro, of find someone who is that will do the job.
Speaking of front office types being replaced, what to make of the Astros? As you likely know they fired their Assistant General Manager Kevin Taubman while the GM, Jeff Luhnow, apologized for his behavior about a week after Taubman drew scorn for statements he made. Apparently after the Astros won the AL Championship over New York, during the clubhouse celebration Taubman repeatedly yelled “Thank God we got Osuna!” and added a few profanities. Roberto Osuna had given up a couple of runs in the final game but locked down the save, his third of the post-season to that point. The comments were apparently in the faces of three female reporters present and seemingly were mocking them and concerns over Osuna’s past.
Roberto Osuna, should you somehow have forgotten, is the star reliever who’s career in Toronto was derailed when he was charged with domestic violence early in the 2018 season. The Blue Jays knew a hot potato when they saw one, and dealt him to Houston (for another reliever, Ken Giles) while he was serving a suspension. Former MLB catcher Gregg Zaun told me (during Osuna’s suspension) that he figured fans would rake Osuna over the coals for a long time before forgiving him and that we’d not see him back on the mound during 2018.
Turns out Gregg was wrong about the season. Osuna was activated as soon as possible by the Astros, and actually pitched 23 games for them before season’s end. Zaun might have been more on the money when it comes to fan reactions and memories though. Although a few Astros players initially complained about the trade and Osuna’s presence, they apparently put differences aside and welcomed him in. He had a stellar 2019 season, being nominated for the “Rolaids Relief Pitcher of the Year” award. (It’s no proud moment that another of the nominees, Aroldis Chapman also had a suspension for a similar charge.)
It raises a number of questions for the game. First off, Osuna was suspended for 75 games although eventually criminal charges against him were dropped. The story suggests his girlfriend wouldn’t testify against him and actually wasn’t going to return to Canada to appear, leaving the “Crown” without much of a case. Baseball on the other hand, apparently did their own investigation talking to police and the victim and decided he was guilty by which they based their penalty, as they’d done before in similar cases including Chapman’s.
I’m a little uncomfortable with that but not entirely. They talked to appropriate people and felt there was an overwhelming suggestion of proof even if a criminal charge couldn’t be won in court. Lawyers will tell you the burden of proof is higher for a criminal case than a civil case so it seems reasonable that baseball should be able to discipline separately from court proceedings, just as they do with players found guilty of drug offences.
Then there’s Taubman. Exuberance and perhaps a bit of beverage-fueled silliness is to be expected in the clubhouse after a team clinches a championship, and an exec singing the praises of a star is a given. However, all present seem to suggest the context in this case was absolutely wrong and taunting the women present, perhaps even applauding Osuna’s violence in a backhanded way. I’m not sure if that moment alone should be enough to cost him his career, when the actual offense itself didn’t cost Osuna his. But I won’t shed any tears for him and am pretty sure should the Nationals pull off their long shot World Series win over Osuna’s Astros, “karma” is going to be a word we hear a lot!
Team Record – 11 – 15 (.424)
another somewhat dismal month with many on the crew looking like they’d lost heart and interest by the return from the All Star break as losses pile up and the Red Sox put on the hyperdrive to seemingly run away from the pack, including the Yankees, second best in baseball but some 5 games out in the division. The Jays languish in 4th, some 14.5 games behind the wild card teams. Three game sweep of Orioles post-All Star break was a minor highlight; Jays have owned the orange-birds this year winning 9 of 10.
Player of the Month – Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
we’re starting to see why the Jays were so eager to get this guy out of Cuba and sign him to a surprisingly large long-term contract a couple of years back. Looking more confident by the day, he showed hustle, versatility and did something no one had done in baseball since Tony Perez back in ’73- put together an 11-game streak of multi-hit games! He raised his average by over 100 points to .322, some 60 points higher than the next top hitter on the roster with over 100 at bats (which would be Kendrys Morales, believe it or not.) On the month, Gurriel had 30 hits in just 17 games,hitting .423 with 4 doubles, 4 homers adding up to a .648 slugging percentage! Unfortunately he hurt his knee on Monday and will miss most, if not all of August.
Pitcher of the Month – Ryan Borucki
it could be seen as an indictment of the many veterans on the Jays that the player and pitcher that really stood out in July were both rookies. But we’ll take it as a message of hope of better years to come! Toronto’s pitching was quite bad this past month – 142 runs allowed over the 26 games, with the opponents putting 8 or more on the board 7 times. So this kid, compared already to a skinnier Mark Buehrle was a breath of fresh air in his 5 starts, even though he still hasn’t picked up a big league win! He started 5, went 29 innings, throwing an average of 95 pitches per game. He had a 2.79 ERA in the month, but if you throw out a single bad start against the red-hot Red Sox, he was averaging nearly 7 innings a start, had 20 Ks to only 3 walks allowed and an ERA well under 2. Even though his opponents are hitting a rather solid .279 against him, his ability to keep the ball on the ground (no homers allowed thus far) is doing what matters- keeping them off the board.
Story of the Month – The trades
Expected but still disappointing, with the team well and truly out of contention, management jettisoned a lot of salary and talent, particularly when it comes to pitchers – the team’s best pitcher of the year so far, JA Happ going to the Yanks, with Canadian-born reliever John Axford off to LA, long-serving Aaron Loup over to Philly and Seung Hwan Oh sent to Colorado. For the most part, the return on them was not very inspiring, but who knows- more than one star have been developed from low-prospect minor leaguers picked up via trade. The one different breed of cat – or trade- was the surprising trade of one time superstar-in-the-making Roberto Osuna to Houston for their erstwhile closer Ken Giles and two minor league pitchers. This had everything to do with Osuna’s arrest and subsequent suspension and a realization fans wouldn’t take warmly to him … as apparently, Justin Verlander in Houston isn’t either. Most fans I’ve heard from approve of this one.
Seems like upto the news of Roberto Osuna being arrested this morning, the biggest topic of discussion for Blue Jays fans was if Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was ready to be called up and make a splash in the Big Pool known as the MLB. Actually, from what I can gauge, the discussion might be more along the lines of “why haven’t Toronto already brought the kid up?”
It’s understandable. Guerrero is one of the top three “prospects” in the game and has been tearing it up in the minors this season. Not to mention that he shares a name with a soon-to-be Hall of Famer who happens to be his father. Junior was in headlines just days ago for hitting two monster homers in one game for AA New Hampshire. Not since two Ken Griffeys have a father and son combo shown so much talent. Not since – well, maybe ever- has a super-talent worked his way through the Blue Jays minor league system, hype surrounding the likes of Eric Hinske and JP Arencibia in days gone by notwithstanding. The big difference here is that Americans and scouts from other teams are raving about Vlad Jr.,not just Blue Jays press releases and Buck Martinez.
There is an argument to be made for promoting him now. He came off a gigantic season at lowly A-level ball last year (a .325 average, .910 OPS and more walks- 76- than strikeouts- 62, a decided rarity at any level these days) and has upped his game at the next level of play so far this spring. In AA, he’s leading the league with an eye-popping .398 average and 35 RBI in just 25 games. He’s got an unheard of OPS of 1.126. We’re talking Ted Williams numbers, Barry Bonds stats without steroids to boot. And, the argument continues, Toronto is playing decently but falling behind the hard-slugging Red Sox and Yankees by the week. A big power bat could level the playing field and current DH Kendrys Morales isn’t giving us that of late . Although he hit two homers in one game in Minnesota last week and has been on the rise in the last couple of weeks, his .152 average, 3 homers and 10 RBI are quite embarassing for a full-time player…and one who’s sluggish as well, negating any possible advantage of speed from his slot in the lineup.
So, case closed- get him on the first Greyhound out of New England to Toronto, right? Well… not so fast.
The first major flaw in the thinking is that AA numbers are going to be reflected at the major league level. Wrong. Vlad isn’t going up against Justin Verlander or Corey Kluber down there, he’s going against a lot of other 19 year old pitchers who likely have only a workable fastball. Statistically, many of them aren’t ever going to make it to the majors. A 500-foot moonshot homer is a 500-foot moonshot, but knocking one off a sub-par 90 MPH fastball is going to be easier than off a savvy pro with a 100 MPH heater and a great curve and slider added in to the mix. Not to mention, at only 25 games in, most of the pitchers are only seeing Vlad for the first time. Let’s wait and see if they adjust and get him out more often when they see him the second, third time through, around June or July before deciding he’s a legitimate threat to hit .400 or drive in more than a run a game. there’s a reason the minor league process has three levels and takes most players, even good ones, three years to advance through. Continue reading
Last time we looked at the starting pitching, which was a considerable strength for the Jays in 2016 and could be the same next year – if they stay healthy and JA Happ and Aaron Sanchez’s years weren’t total flukes. I still would like another starter signed on as an insurance policy, so to speak, and suggest trying to bring back RA Dickey, although i rather doubt he’d be wanting such a reduced role.
The bullpen was a little bit of a nail-biting, roller coaster ride this past year, but still on the whole came through well. This was especially true after the trade deadline with the addition of Joaquin Benoit and Jason Grilli. Roberto Osuna has at 21 established himself as one of the most poised and polished closers in the game (and I might add drawn considerable attention from the crew at TBS-TV who were all but in awe of him in nationally-broadcast playoff games) and got only better under the pressure of October. Throw in suprise Rule 5 rookie Joe Biagini, and Grilli, who’s contract option is apparently being picked up and if they just re-sign Benoit ( who was lights out with Toronto, allowing just one earned run in 23+ innings) they should be in great shape for right-handers in the ’17 bullpen. Toss in someone like Ryan Tepera or Bo Schulz , or perhaps Gavin Floyd if he’s healthy in spring and it should be a strength to work with.
The left side is cause for more concern. For the past couple of years, southpaw bullpen has equated to Brett Cecil and Aaron Loup for Toronto. This off-season though, Cecil is a free agent and neither was all that reliable or stellar in ’16 anyway. Loup will be back, presumably, but the 5.02 ERA and .288 opponents average this year were career worsts for the low-throwing Louisianan. Mind you, that was in a small sample (21 games) but even that has to be tempered by the realization that the sample was small because he was relegated to the minors most of the summer due to poor performance. Perhaps an off-season adjustment to his delivery might help.
Cecil is more of an enigma. Intellectually I know not to make too much of the W-L of a reliever, but still his 2016 1-7 looked ugly. Maybe that idea was heightened by his 3.93 ERA and .269 opponent’s average, both worst for him since 2012. On the other hand, his August-September performance was quite good (4 earned runs in 17 2/3 innings) and his K:BB ratio was great as usual – 45:8. As much as during the season it seemed he’d buckle under pressure, in the post-season, under real pressure, he shone, keeping the opponents hitless and off the board in 6 appearances. The Jays should make an effort to keep him around, but it’s questionable whether he’s still worth the $3.8M he got this year, let alone a raise. Also questionable, in this season’s market, is whether other teams with a barer cupboard of pitching wouldn’t jack his value up into the stratosphere. There is likely to be an unfortunate lack of left-handed pitching in the sub-Chapman price range on the market this winter.
If Cecil did fly the coop, a pitcher worth investigating would be Travis Wood of the NL champs. As the Jays did with Cecil, the Cubs have transitioned Wood from a middling starter to a star specialty reliever. this regular season he appeared in 77 contests for Chicago, going 4-0 with a 2.95 ERA and holding left-handed hitters to a meagre .128 average and .217 slugging percentage. He’d be a great asset for Toronto in the late innings- but would also in all likelihood cost more than his current $6M. A cheaper but slightly less-effective option would be to go after “Scrabble”, Mark Rzepcynski, well-liked still in Toronto and coming off a reasonable year in Oakland. He did, however, pitch better against righties than lefties, curiously enough. Once again, it all comes down to dollars and cents, and that in turn likely is dependent upon knowing where Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista are come April.
I’ll be back in a few days with a few final thoughts on the 2016 campaign and ideas for the winter ahead, as well as (hopefully) some kudos to the Indians. Take me out to the ballgame…
Despite an ugly loss today, it’s pretty exciting to be spending Labour Day with the Jays in first place, a lofty 19 games above .500. The last time we could say that was back in that mystical and almost mythical year, 1993. With a full month to go, it appears close to a done deal that the team will end their 21-year run of futility and make the playoffs (at very least as a Wild card team) and that they’ll blow past my spring prediction of 81 wins for them this season. Of course, that’s one prediction I don’t mind seeing going down in flames, nor does it make me feel particularly bad… if they play only .500 for the remainder of the year, the Jays will hit the 90-win mark. I personally didn’t see anyone in any Spring Training time blog or publication predict more than 86 for the Blue Jays this year. So, what went right?
Many things, as must be the case for any division leader. The team’s been reasonably healthy, all things considered, which is a huge and unpredictable plus. The trades for Tulowitzki and Price have revitalized the players and fans and seemed to turn the year around. Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista are having very good years- again! John Gibbons didn’t panic in May when people (myself included) were calling for his head when the blue train derailed, so to speak. He stayed the course and the team righted itself, which might not have happened under a new manager. But most of all, 4 players stand out to me that have made the team “over-achieve”, four big surprises. (Note that word– of course, for example, Bautista has been important and excellent, but that he has 96 RBI and counting is almost what we expected of him by now, not a surprise.)
Marco Estrada– a pitcher most fans didn’t know much about when he was sent over from the Brewers in return for Adam Lind. Most fans felt a bit cheated. I expected a run-of-the-mill Todd Redmond clone; a respectable long man for the bullpen who could make a spot start or two but wasn’t going to be much of a factor at all. Instead we have a guy who’s flirted with two no-hitters, has a stellar 3.18 ERA and is getting better as he gains confidence. Since July 25, he’s 5-2 with a 2.74 ERA.
I’m not too surprised that others are surprised by the 32-year old Mexican as well. His 23 starts so far ties his career high and his dozen wins make it his first double-digit win season. His ERA is about half a run better than his previous best and , assuming he doesn’t get blown out of the water in the first or second, his next game will see him top his previous best of 150 innings.
Athlon Sports considered him “trade bait” and too prone to giving up homers to win in Toronto back in spring. I would have shuddered to think of going into the playoffs with him being the #3 or 4 starter. Given his second-half performance, I’d now feel OK with him on the mound in a Game 7. Estrada has kept the at times sketchy rotation afloat this year.
Roberto Osuna– the youngest pitcher in baseball, he wasn’t listed on most spring rosters for the Jays and barely on anyone’s radar. Why would he be? despite having some good power and raw pitches, he’d never pitched above A-ball and last year, he made all of 8 appearances (as a starter, it should be noted), averaged less than 3 innings a game and was hit to the tune of a .308 opponents average. Who saw him becoming one of the most confident, lights-out big league closers by August??
I thought it was audacious for Alex Anthopoulos to try Miguel Castro as a closer in the early-going. He, we’d at least heard of. No one really expected Osuna to take the job and run with it after Castro was demoted and Cecil seemed incapable of handling the stress. But run with it he has. He leads all rookies with 16 saves (only C.Smith of Seattle have more than two among other rookies), set a franchise record for consecutive saves and has a pretty dazzling 2.11 ERA helped out by a 67:12 K to BB ratio. More importantly, the 20 year-old looks Mariano Rivera-confident in close games staring down the Yankees, Orioles or Rangers. The closer’s role was a big question mark for the team this year. it looks like Roberto is the big answer.
Josh Donaldson– sure, when the surprising trade was made to get the 29 year old Auburn alumni from Oakland, we knew he was good. I said, like most others at the time, that he’d make us forget about Canuck Brett Lawrie. We figured, based on ballparks in the East and on his own comments about balls he hit last year that almost flew out, that he’d get 30 homers for the first time. maybe 35.
What we didn’t figure is that he was going to be the leading candidate for AL MVP. that he’d run away with the RBI lead, despite hitting second in front of the “big bats.” That when TV commentator Gregg Zaun suggested he was good but not the best, that he (Josh) would drive in 9 runs over the next two nights. With a month to go, his 38 doubles, 37 homers, 115 RBI are all career highs as are his .306 average and .963 OPS. Given that his career average pre-Toronto was .267 and he’d hit one HR per 22.4 at bat (compared to one every 14 this year), who could have imagined? His 10 sac flies this year is already equal to the total from the past two years combined. And while he’s made a few too many throwing errors, he has visibly improved the already solid defence at third for the Jays compared to Lawrie (who was above average to begin with.) We knew Donaldson could add to the club- we didn’t know he could carry it on his back!
Kevin Pillar – in March I wrote that he was a “serviceable backup” outfielder. by late April I noted he was “off to a hot start” and that he “could shift to center” if Michael Saunders got healthy . Saunders didn’t, which might be a blessing in disguise, since it’s given Kevin a chance to be an everyday player.
Pillar’s been OK at the plate, but that hasn’t been the big surprise. His numbers this year (.267 average, .379 slugging) are very close to his numbers last year; 10 HR is a nice bonus but not remarkable; only his 18 SB is truly surprising with his offense… unless we consider the fact that he’s kept up his totals over 500 at bats, more than the past two years combined. Where he shines is with his defence.
In the past, Pillar looked decent in left field. At times he’d make a noteworthy catch, but his range, throwing arm , even his apparent effort were pretty ordinary. something’s happened to the 26 year-old this season and as a result, he’s pretty much a fixture on the “Plays of the Week” segments, even for fans watching in far-flung places like Texas. Pillar’s stealing the homers, making the dives, running down the balls in the gap- finding ways to keep the opponent’s off the board and keep his pitchers happy. The stats show it- this year,he’s third in the AL in fielding percentage among CF , behind only Mike Trout and the under-rated rifle-armed Leonys Martin of Texas. His range factor (as quoted by mlb dot com) is better than those two though, and in fact is the best in baseball among regular outfielders. Ten outfield assists show that he has quite an arm too.
With comparisons abounding between this year’s Jays and the greats of ’92-93, Kevin Pillar really turns heads. Not Black, skinny or Jamaican, Pillar still manages to remind one of Devon White from those teams. Consider that White, in 1992, hit .248 with 17 HR, 60 RBI and a .693 OPS. Pillar sits at .267, 10, 46 and a .681 OPS. More importantly, White, often considered the franchise’s best-ever defensive CF, had a.985 fielding percentage, 8 assists and a 2.97 Range Factor in ’92. Pillar’s has topped the fielding percentage and number of assists and has a 2.93 range.
We may not have the new Roberto Alomar yet, but with Pillar we have the new Devon White. Bring on October!