Tagged: Roy Halladay

True Blue Pt. 6 – The Best Of The Blue Jays

With the All Star break only a few days off now, we notice that the only representative of the Jays there for the actual game will be pitcher Marcus Stroman. Fitting perhaps, as while the Jays have long been classed as a “hitting machine”, historically they’re more respected for their pitching (4 Cy Youngs) than their hitting (one batting championship, two MVPs both of whom were position players.) So, carrying on, back to our ongoing look at the best Blue Jays ever. Today, more pitchers.

LEFT-HANDED STARTING PITCHER:

First, let me say I never quite understood separating southpaws from righties. After all, a good pitcher will have to face hitters on both sides of the plate and get them out, and they are doing the same thing, albeit looking at a different side of the crowd doing so. But I’ll divide the starters into left and right, because it’s customary… and gives us a chance to talk about a few more greats that way.

Jimmy Key

Watching Key in the ’80s or ’90s would bring to mind the word “unassuming.” He was quiet off the mound and didn’t blow batters away on it. As his pitching coach Al Widmar said at the height of Key’s success, he had an “average fastball.” But also “a good sinker and curveball, and he knows how to change speeds…his control is outstanding.” Key was a finesse pitcher, one who could thread a needle with his pitches and outthink hitters.

He came up as a bullpen arm in 1984, and joined the rotation the next year, being a regular up until sipping champagne after winning the ’92 World Series. He then went on to some good years with New York and Baltimore, but he logged more innings for the Canucks than the other teams combined. Through the 9 years, 8 in the starting rote, he went 116-81 with a 3.42 ERA over 1696 innings and 317 games. He also nabbed 10 saves in the ’84 rookie year.

Evidence of his finesse rather than raw power is that he only struck out 944- about 5 per 9 innings. He got the ground ball outs and relied on great infielders to let him win, and win regularly. As well as his aforementioned control. He walked a mere 404, not much more than one an outing. He was a two-time All Star, in 1985, and 1991, but surprisingly not in 1987. That year he balloted behind only Roger Clemens in Cy Young voting, going 17-8, with a league-leading 2.76 ERA through 261 innings. His WAR that year was a remarkable 7.4! On his Toronto career, it was 30. He only had one losing season here and logged 200+ innings 6 times.

He left Toronto on a high note, with the World Series, during which he won one game he started and the clinching Game 6, in which he got 4 outs from the bullpen as the game dragged to 11 innings. He had a 3.03 ERA in 7 post-season games for the Jays.

RIGHT-HANDED STARTING PITCHER

Roy Halladay

Trying to pick the best Blue Jays starting pitcher is always a great invitation to a lively debate over Molsons’ at the hot stove in Canada. Roger Clemens name usually comes up at some point, and with good reason. He easily won Cy Youngs both years he pitched for Toronto with some of the most dominant stretches we’ve ever witnessed. In all he went 21-7, 2.05 and 20-6, 2.65 in ’97-98, and led the league in wins and ERA both times as well as setting a club record with 292 strikeouts in ’97 when his WAR was a mind-boggling 11.9! Since the team struggled to win 76 that year, it suggests they would have played sub-.400 baseball had he not signed with them. But- two years does not a career make. And there’s that cloud of steroid suspicion hanging over his head not to mention the rather cold way he all but forced his way out of Canada and onto the Yankees roster for 1999 (demanding a trade while dangling a loophole in his contract that would let him walk.) Clemens may go down as the player whose popularity lagged furthest behind his talent in Blue Jays history.

Which leaves us with two options. Dave Stieb or the one I pick, “Doc.” Both were intense, both were always up for Big Games and both may have been the best pitchers of their decade.

Stieb didn’t overpower like Halladay would, being smaller (an average 6′, 180 guy) who Sporting News noted as having a good sinker, a high fastball and an “awesome slider, a curveball and a changeup and (he) isn’t afraid to throw any of them for strikes.” He was hard on himself and hard on teammates who made mistakes (Lord knows what he would have done if he had pitched in the age of social media!) … but he was outstanding.

A consummate Blue Jay, he was a cornerstone of the rotation from 1979 through an injury-shortened 1992, pitching just 4 games after that in White Sox black-and-white before retiring. Many Toronto fans will remember the post-script. Invited to the spring training in ’98 to give some pointers to young pitchers, he looked better than some of the kids when he was showing them how, and at age 40 came back and pitched out of the Jays bullpen that year!

Stieb was a 7-time All Star, and after a crazy number of no-nos lost in the 9th inning, finally authored the first (and only to this point) Jays no-hitter in 1990. That year he won 18, a career high. Many of his career numbers are best for Toronto: 175 wins (134 losses for the record), a WAR of 57, 103 complete games. From 1982 through ’85, he hurled 260+ innings a season and in that latter season, his 2.48 ERA not only led the league, it was 71% ahead of the average.

As great as all that is, I give the nod to Halladay for several reasons. While Stieb’s overall numbers in some areas are better, he pitched in an era when 250 innings wasn’t unusual for a starter, and he never quite found ways to win as effectively as Roy did. Not to mention that, while fans admired Dave and liked him, he never quite “owned” the city in the way Halladay would two decades later.

The late, great Roy Halladay was a player that could have walked out of a Hollywood script. Highs, lows, and perseverence all in one handsome package that ended in a tragedy. After debuting in 1998 to great fanfare (and a close-to no hitter in his second game), he came back down to the ground with a so-so ’99 rookie campaign followed by a 2000 that was one for the history books, it was so bad. Suffice to say a 4-digit ERA is never a good thing. Demoted to the lowest levels of the minors the following spring, he was given an ultimatum: work with us, listen to the coaches, and you’ll be a star, or else just walk away. We know which he did. By mid-summer he was back in Toronto and finished 5-3 with a 3.16 ERA. He pitched with Toronto through 2009, after which (as every Toronto fan remembers) he was traded to the Phillies where he threw a perfect game in summer, then a no-hitter in his first ever playoff game.

Through the years in Toronto, he pitched 313 games, 287 of them starts, going 148-76 with an ERA at 3.43. Subtract that infamous 2000 season and you get 144-69, 3.20, which would rank him clearly tops among starters who’d been around here for more than two years. 2047 innnings, 1495 strikeouts and a miniscule 455 walks, as well as 49 complete games helped him be a 6-time All Star with the Jays and win 20 games twice. He won the 2003 Cy Young, when he was 22-7 with a 3.25 ERA, leading the league in wins and with 266 innings. He was second in Cy balloting in 2008. Through his time in Toronto, he had 4 years with an ERA under 3.00, three 200 K years. He seemed a throwback to a different era as well. At a time when bullpens were expanding and 6 innings was denoted as the mark of a “quality” start, Doc wanted to go out and finish what he started, most times appearing aggravated if he was pulled from the game. He led the league in complete games 5 times and there were years when he single-handedly pitched more CGs than the entire staffs of half the teams in the league.

His 2.41 ERA in ’05 was 85% better than the AL average and through his years with the team, his ERA was 33% better, another reason that gave him the slight edge of Stieb who posted approximately the same ERA but did so in a lower-scoring decade. Likewise, Halladay’s innings logged stood out in the 2000s; Stieb pitched a ton as well but then every pitcher worth his salt did so! There were years Stieb was behind teammate Jim Clancy in IP, although he almost always outshone Jim.

Put it all together and statheads rate Roy’s WAR as 48.4 for Toronto, including 8.1 in 2003 alone… a year when the team won 86 total. On the team leaderboard, Halladay is second in strikeouts, wins and shutouts, third in starts and innings and second to only Roger Clemens in winning percentage. His “adjusted ERA” (comparison to average) is best among starters with 500 or more innings… and he’s first in the hearts of Toronto fans. While steely and irritable on the mound, off the field he was pleasant, great with fans and a proud resident of the city. Although there are a few who are miffed his family decided not to have him in a specific cap on his Cooperstown plaque, most recognize it as a tip of the cap to the class act that he was. He’d want to give credit to all those who helped him get where he was both in Toronto and Philly and wouldn’t want anyone to feel snubbed.

Next time out, we’ll wrap up this “best of” feature.

The 2019 Hall of Famers

I was overjoyed, but not surprised, yesterday when Roy Halladay was honored by Major League Baseball and its writers, winning induction into the Hall of Fame on his first try. Presumably, the late great “Doc” will be the second player to go into Cooperstown representing the Blue Jays. I say congrats to him, and of course, his wife Brandy and his sons, seeing the love and respect their husband/father commanded in the sport.

Congratulations as well to the other trio announced as being Hall of Famers yesterday – Mariano Rivera, Mike Mussina and Edgar Martinez. All rightful recipients.

I made the numeric case for Halladay’s induction here before (here’s yet one more bit of trivia to back his status as a Hall of Famer: since 2009, Roy leads MLB in complete games.Yeah, the deceased guy who hasn’t pitched since 2013has tossed more CGs over the past ten years than guys who have been at it through the whole period!). Rivera is a no-brainer; the best “closer” in baseball history who somehow got better when the pressure was on in the post season. Mussina is overdue, with 270 career wins, 5 All Star Games, over 3500 innings pitched and a remarkable 17 straight years after his rookie campaign, of winning double-digits. That’s consistency! Often overlooked with “Moose”too, his 7 Gold Gloves. Having him out on the mound was almost like adding a defensive infielder.

I’m glad Martinez made it in, but a little surprised. The knock on him had always been he was mostly only a designated hitter. True he didn’t add much “D” to his team but his hitting…. in another class. .312 career average, 309 HR, .418 career OBP, two batting titles, 7 time All Star, 6 100+ RBI years (including a league high 145 in 2000). Martinez wasn’t the flashiest hitter of the ’90s and early-’00s, but he might have been the best one in the AL at least. Or at least the best one not tainted by PEDS.

So the questions left behind are interesting. Will Mussina go in as an Oriole or a Yankee? He had great runs with both, and I have to admit when I hear his name I instantly think “New York.” But he did 10 years in Baltimore to 8 in NY; won more games with the O’s (147) than Yanks (123) and most surprising, was never an All Star with New York. He should have an orange bird on his Cooperstown plaque.

The other big question is will next year’s prime inductee candidate, Derek Jeter, be unanimous? His teammate, Mariano Rivera just made history by being the first unanimous selection. This was a surprise to me. No argument whatsoever that he should have been in there unanimously, but I’m surprised since nobody else had ever floated in that easily. I expected, somewhere some writer would leave him off the ballot because either A) they were a diehard and dumb Red Sox fan and vowed never to vote for an enemy operative, or B) they were tyring to make a point that he was good but not that good. I’m glad I was wrong, and expect Jeter will follow in his footsteps next winter.

Which leads to one final question: what the hell were the writers who didn’t vote for Babe Ruth back in the day thinking? Mr. Baseball. Career 162 WAR. 714 home runs, a record that would hold for some 40+ seasons. .690 slugging percentage … can you name a player playing now who had a .690 for one year… let alone a whole career. And then there was that 94-46 record with a 2.28 ERA as a pitcher on top of that. Yet somehow, only 95% of voters picked him in the 1936 ballot! He wasn’t even the leading vote-getter that year. Bottom line – players might not be getting better these days in baseball, but the credited writers certainly are!

Start Carving Doc’s Plaque

This coming July should hold a special moment for Blue Jays fans, no matter how the team is faring on field. It should mark the second time we see someone inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame with a Blue Jays cap on. Because folks, in 2019, the late great Roy Halladay should be in.

When I first started working on this piece, I actually wasn’t entirely sure of that last statement. Don’t get me wrong. Halladay was my favorite Blue Jay in his dozen years with Toronto and made me cheer on Philadelphia when he was traded. I’d say few were as elated as me when “Doc” pitched that no hitter in the NL playoffs in his first year there (2010) , but in fact I bet half of Canada was. We all loved Halladay.

That said, did his numbers really merit being in Cooperstown? If he gets elected will it be merely a pity vote due to his unfortunate and accidental death last year? The answer to those questions is A) yes he does, and B) no it wouldn’t be. Let’s examine that. And let’s keep in mind some of the starting pitchers likewise voted into the Hall this decade – Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, Jack Morris – and one who missed out last year (with about 63% support), Mike Mussina.

To recap Roy’s career, he pitched in 16 major league seasons, pitched 416 games, 390 of them starts, with a 203-105 won-lost record. He hurled 2749 innings, with 2117 strikeouts to a measly 592 walks (which one notes, is fewer than 2 per start.) He completed 67 games and had 1 save to boot. Career ERA was a stellar 3.38. And of course there was the Phillies magnificence with the regular season perfect game and playoff no-hitter, only the second one of those ever tossed. In the limited time he got to appear in the post-season he was 3-2 with a 2.37 ERA over 5 starts. To point out the obvious there, big-game star that he was, he pitched more effectively (lower ERA) in the post-season than in the regular. He led the league in the K:BB ratio 5 times and innings pitched four. All that added up to 8 All Star game selections and a pair of Cy Youngs, one AL, one NL. Baseball Reference company calculate his career WAR (wins above replacement) at 64, or 4 per season.

So how do those numbers compare? Well, his career .659 winning percentage bests the likes of Greg Maddux (.610) and even Randy Johnson (.646). It was even more remarkable when you consider that Toronto, in the Halladay seasons, never made the playoffs and were basically just a .500 team – 977 wins, 966 losses. Take out his atrocious 2000 year (in which he had an ERA of over 10, leading to his demotion to single-A the beginning of the next season and a rapid ascent to the top afterwards) and his career ERA drops to 3.20.

He averaged 6 2/3 innings per start, essentially identical to Maddux and Johnson. And let’s not forget those 67 complete games. It will be a long time ,and require many changes to prevailing managing  strategies for us to see the likes of that again. For comparison, Justin Verlander, as fierce a competitor as one’s likely to find on the mound these days, has 24 over 15 seasons. “Doc” went out there with the mindset that he was starting the game, he was finishing the game and his team was going to win.

His 3.6 strikeouts to a walk is a better ratio than Maddux’s or Glavine’s (Glavine was only 1.7). But perhaps the crowning achievement was the 3.38 ERA over those 16 years, most of them years when longballs and offense-is-everything philosophies were king. That number falls right between Randy Johnson (3.29) and Tom Glavine (3.54, despite pitching in the “easier” National all his career.) What’s more, his adjusted “ERA+” is 1.31, meaning his number was typically 31% better than the league average , which worked out to 4.42 during the seasons he was active. Glavine was only 18% better, Morris a piddly 5%. If you’re thinking, “well, that’s good but it’s not Bob Gibson –good” well guess what? Over his 17 years, the Cards’ superstar posted a 2.91 ERA which was only 29% better than average. Clearly all of Halladay’s stats point towards being very much Hall of fame-bound.

Is there an argument against Roy? Yep, two…and we’ll deflate both.

First, the “yes he was good, but he didn’t pitch long enough” one. I must admit, I thought this could be true. Greg Maddux pitched 23 seasons, Johnson went 22, hanging up the glove at age 45. But that old grinder Jack Morris lasted only 2 seasons more (18) and as just mentioned, one of the all-time greats, Bob Gibson only had one extra year on Halladay. And among recent position players, catcher Mike Piazza had 16 years as well and Blue Jays infield inductee Roberto Alomar, 17. We would have liked to see him hang in there for a couple more years if he felt up to it, but it’s clear 16 seasons is enough for a player with such a high level of success during them.

Last but not least, an argument I imagine many Bronx and Baltimore fans might make: Mike Mussina was good too, and missed out by about 12% of the vote last year. Mussina logged 18 seasons, going 270-153, an average of 15 wins per season and he went the distance 57 times. He’s the only recent pitcher to match Halladay in the strikeouts to walk category and had an OK ERA of 3.68, pitching exclusively in the tough AL East (an ERA we add that was .22 better than Jack Morris’). Basball reference cite Mussina for an 83 career WAR, or better than 4 wins added to his team every season.

Yes, those numbers are impressive. But when looked at in context, all it really tells us is that Mussina was likely ripped off. Somehow he didn’t have the image of a “Superstar” and enough voters must have looked at it that way to exclude him. In time, he’ll probably make it to Cooperstown… as should the late Roy Halladay.

Mariano Rivera should be in unanimously with this winter’s ballot; there are good arguments for the likes of Todd Helton … but whomever is there, we should see Brandy Halladay up on the podium next summer, representing her departed husband, and the Blue Jays organization.

Pitchers Getting An Easy Ride?

So, a few more odds and sods for the mid-Spring Training midweek. An example of baseball looking backwards and perhaps moving forward this year…but maybe taking two steps back in doing so.

First on the agenda, we have the announcement today that Arizona will bring back the Bullpen Cart this year. For those too young to remember- it was, after all, last seen in any ballpark back in 1995- there was a time when relief pitchers had an unusual perk. They weren’t considered superstars back then, and seldom earned a fraction of what top starters did, unlike today, but they did get a free ride to the mound! No having to actually run or put wear and tear on those cleats for the late-inning arms of the ’70s and ’80s- they’d be driven to the mound in a modified golf cart! In the case of the Mariners, modified so much it looked like a boat! The Yankees, who long have seemingly had the motto “Go big or go home!” one-upped the others: they drove the pitchers out in an actual sports car!

Eventually the practise was discontinued, in no small part to the ridicule the pitchers, and sport in general ,were getting. Somehow, baseball has long suffered from the reputation of being a lazy man’s sport; a game played by athletes who are anything but athletic. It’s unfair, sure. Hockey players might exert more energy, for instance, but typically do so in shifts of 90 seconds or less – often interrupted by whistles and breaks- followed up by several minutes of sitting on the bench. Anybody who’s actually played outfield in a game, even at beer league level, knows you work up quite a sweat playing and need to be in decent shape. But that’s not what the public thought and having players who were seemingly too lazy to jog a distance less than the length of a football field didn’t help that perception.

Now Arizona’s bringing it back, and doubtless other teams will follow suit, apparently in an effort to speed up the game, per Rob Manfred’s directive. I wonder just how many seconds are actually saved by the slow-moving carts (which of course need to return to the ‘pen after delivering their passenger) compared to having the pitcher power himself onto the field. I can’t imagine it will be many, but do figure it will be a new revenue source for teams, as judging by the Arizona one unveiled this week, they’ll stick some ads on it.

I have to admit, they’re cute and will make a neat little collectible if teams start giving away miniature ones instead of bobbleheads or visors. But at a time when the public already perceive players as whiny and spoiled, in a game that has Bartolo Colon and

5’11”, 260-pound (give or take a hamburger or two) Pablo Sandoval , making them seem even lazier and more pampered hardly seems like good marketing!

Speaking of lazy pitchers, seems at least two teams in the AL West are considering lightening the workload for theirs. Los Angeles Anaheim and Texas are both apparently considering using a 6-man rotation this year, instead of the traditional 5-man. In the Angels’ case it may be a specific move to accomodate Shohei Ohtani, who is coming from Japan where starters frequently only pitch once a week. In the Rangers case, it presumably stems from their thinking that they have 6 decent major league starters (although that assumes Mike Minor is fully back from surgeries which made him miss 2015-16 and pitch out of the Royals ‘pen last year and that Matt Bush needs to be in the starting rote. All of Bush’s 115 big league appearances thus far have been relief ones.) Their ace Cole Hamels has outspokenly criticized it. “It’s not part of baseball,” he told reporters, “I was brought up in the minors on the 5-man and that’s what I’m designed for.” He added that he planned to start 34 games and go 200 innings this year, a bar that would have been considered low only a decade back but now is uncommon.

He’s right. It’s difficult to see how this idea could possibly help a team. Perhaps it’s designed to reduce injuries, but that seems doubtful. If arm and shoulder injuries were just the outcome of throwing too many innings, we’d not see relief pitchers go down, nor starters blowing out their arms in April or May when still “fresh”. And we should see far fewer injuries now than a generation back, when pitchers routinely aimed to finish their starts and carried heavier workloads. Instead, the reverse has happened. As Hamels points out, he and almost every other non-Japanese pitcher in the game have been trained for years to pitch on the fifth day, with a well-oiled workout and rest regimen for the off-days. Tinkering with that seems destined to cause problems with pitchers over-compensating by working out too much between starts or resting too much and not being in full game shape.

If it is a response to the concept that most teams number five starter is pretty bad these days, and wanting him out there less… well, that would be accomplished. But so too would their best pitcher see less trips to the mound. Not to mention that it would require a number six starter be picked from the best of the previously not good enough! In the case of Texas, last year Martin Perez led the team with 32 starts. Using a six-man rote would have meant A.J. Griffin would’ve been a regular. He was 4-6 with a 5.94 ERA over 18 games last year. Do Texas fans really want to see more of that caliber of pitching.

Hamels’ former teammate, Roy Halladay, is probably rolling around in his grave over the idea. It seems a long time back now, but it was in fact only 15 years ago “Doc” started 36 for Toronto and logged 266 innings. Four times in his career he had 9 complete games (10 in 2010 if we include the playoffs). These days few teams post 9 CGs a season. His numbers of course, pale compared to some of the pitchers he grew up watching. Early Blue Jay Jim Clancy started 40 games in 1982, completing 11 of them, at the tail-end of an era when a 4-man rotation wasn’t uncommon. He was a contemporary of rubber-armed Wilbur Wood, who was moved from the bullpen to rotation by the White Sox in 1971. In 1972, he started 49 games and pitched 376 innings (winning 24 and having an ERA of 2.59.Not too shabby!) The next year he took it easy a little – only 48 starts! Wood’s career was cut short by injuries , mind you. But it wasn’t his arm, it was his knee after being hit square on it by a line drive.

And for those who’d argue Wood doesn’t count as he was a knuckle-baller, there’s the curious case of Nolan Ryan. The hardest-throwing pitcher of his generation, Nolan pitched from 1966 to 1993! In 1974 he threw 26 complete games, 332 innings and K’d 367 batters. Pitch counts weren’t a normal stat back then, but it’s said with all those strikeouts, Ryan passed 200 pitches in a game several times. Age eventually caught up to him- he last pitched 200 innings in 1990. At age 43.

Perhaps that kind of strain isn’t wise for anyone’s arm. But I would rather see more Nolan Ryan-inspired, Roy Halladay-like or even Cole Hamels types out there and fewer starters who look irritated if they’re still on the mound when the pitch count turns 90 and are happy enough to see five or six fewer appearances on their annual sched.

Franchise Four

Today is the final day of voting for Major League Baseball’s current nod to its past, the “Franchise Four.”

The Franchise Four, if you’re not aware, is a fan vote whereby we can pick the four greatest players ever to play for each team. Let the debates begin and armchair critics chairs become airborne.

Some franchises would appear to be relatively simple to pick. Chicago Cubs? How about Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Fergie Jenkins and Ryne Sandberg. Others are trickier because there is so much history; take the Yankees for instance. Maybe Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle and Derek Jeter. But it’s hard to forget Joltin’ Joe Dimaggio or Mariano Rivera. Others are difficult for the opposite reason. Try picking four greats for Tampa Bay. And there’s Washington where my guess is none of the Franchise Four ever played for the Nationals (Larry Walker, Tim Raines, Gary Carter, Steve Rogers… Montreal, you can now begin sobbing unapolagetically.)

My particular interest is , not surprisingly, the Franchise Four for the Blue Jays. Now in their 39th season, there’s a surprising number of viable options to represent Toronto. For me, three are fairly simple choices.

Carlos Delgado played for the Jays for a long time (1993- 2004) and at a high level. He is second in all-time games played for Toronto, with 1423, over which he hit a solid .283, with a club record 336 home runs- more than a hundred more than second -place Vernon Wells. He’s the alltime Jays RBI leader as well, with 1058 and second in on base percentage, behind only John Olerud, who’s tenure was much briefer.

His 145 RBI in 2003 not only led the league but is a team record that still stands. Nine years of 120+ games, a two time All Star, three time Silver Slugger. Although he doesn’t join George Bell on the list of American League MVP winners, he was the runner-up in ’03 to Alex Rodriguez who was at the time using PEDs by his own admission. Unfortunately JP Ricciardi ran him out of town prematurely and a bad back cut short what would have otherwise likely been a Hall of Fame career. He may not be Cooperstown, but he’s on the Jays “Level of Excellence” and can’t be anything other than one of the “f4.”

Roy Halladay is a no-brainer to me. First appearing at the end of 1998 in dramatic fashion (coming oh-so-close to a no-hitter on the last day of the year) and being the face of the franchise most of the time until he ended up being traded for 2010, he was always a classy individual off the diamond and a top-flight pitcher on it. Well, actually, to be accurate, he was the latter after a brief stint back in A-ball in 2001 to retool his delivery. After doing that, he was a stellar 135-62 (or a .671 winning percentage on a team that hovered around .500 continuously) with a 3.32 ERA. That’s a good ERA in any era, but remarkable in the early 2000s, when the steroids were shooting as fast as the balls were out of the parks and the league average ERA was 4.39. Add in his durability, (266 innings pitched in ’03) such as his 47 complete games and two 20-win seasons and it’s no wonder he was a six-time All Star for the Jays, their Pitcher of the Year five times and was in the top 5 for Cy Young voting four times besides the one he won in 2003. Overall he’s third in games started all-time and second in wins for Toronto. Arguably no other Blue Jay received as much attention across the league as Roy did in ’09 when rumors abounded of him being traded… until

Jose Bautista, my third pick, started hitting dingers when given the chance to play every day. Joey Bats hasn’t yet accumulated career numbers with the Jays to rival Delgado or a few others, but he’s clearly become the Face of the Franchise, and has had unparalleled popularity which continues to grow, as do his numbers. Since arriving from Pittsburgh, he’s played in 833 games and counting, and is tops of the current roster in games, hits, home runs… his 54 homers in ’10 is a team record and the 529 walks over the span is incredible and puts his OBP at .384, fourth best among all Jays. Two times leading the majors in long balls, league leader in slugging percentage in ’11, three Silver Slugger awards, five time All Star (including last year when he became the first jay ever to lead fan voting across the AL), he’s brought respect to a team often overlooked Stateside. Moreover, as noted in a blog here recently, he brings an intangible along with him. In the lineup, the team seems confident and capable of racking up huge tallies; when he’s absent, the team deflates. One might argue that he isn’t the best Blue Jay of all-time, but he probably is the best-known one… and he’s not far down the list on the talent list!

Three down, one to go. This is where it gets tricky. Certainly we can give a nod of appreciation to Mr. October (93 edition), smilin’ Joe Carter, to Vernon Wells, to the closer of the glory years, Tom Henke, but it’s hard to argue for them in the top four. It’s hard not to put Dave Stieb up there. For the entire decade of the 80s, he was among the premiere pitchers in the AL, and still leads the team in all-time wins (175), starts and innings. He also tossed our one and only no-no, in 1990, the year his win total topped out at 18. In his 16 non-consecutive year career, he only logged four games in any other uniform (with the White Sox in ’93.) He came out of retirement in 1998 to pitch out of the Jays bullpen, for lawd’s sake! A 7-time All Star, he had a great 1985 when he led the league in ERA and then started 3 games in Toronto’s first playoff series. He belongs on the Level of Excellence, where he is honored… but falls just short of the Franchise Four.

My most controversial ommission is bound to be Roberto Alomar. Alomar was charismatic and well-liked in Toronto, was a sparkplug for their back-to-back World Series wins (a .381 post-season average with the Jays, stealing 8 bases in both ’92 and ’93 playoffs and of course, being remembered for one memorable homer off Dennis Eckersley that turned the team’s fortunes around in the ALCS) and won five Gold Gloves in his time in Toronto. From ’91 to ’93 he had at least 170 hits a season, and his .326 average in ’93 was third best on the club… and third best in the league! And let’s not forget, he is the only person in the Hall of Fame depicted wearing a Jays cap.

For all that, as much as I loved watching him turn the double play and appreciate his contribution to the success of the early ’90s team, i find it hard to put a player who only played for the club for five years up there with players who contributed much longer. His 703 games doesn’t even crack the top 30 on Jays all-time.

No, my pick for the final member of the Franchise Four is another middle-infielder with remarkable dexterity and speed…Tony Fernandez. If ever there was a player who bled blue jays blue, it’s Tony. After all, he started his career with Toronto in 1983, was disappointed to be traded to San Diego after 1990, and returned for three more stints in Ontario, eventually retiring a Jay in 2001. His 1450 games played is far and away most by anyone in a Jays uniform, and his 1583 hits in those games is likewise tops. Although not a power hitter, his 613 RBI ranks him sixth. In 1986, he managed to play in 163 games; four years later he led the majors with a team-record 17 triples. Eight times he stole bases in double digits and he sported a nifty .298 average over his many years of Blue Jaydom. Four-time All Star, four Gold Gloves, four years in the AL Top Ten in hitting. In 1999, at age 37 he managed to hit .328 and drive in 75 runs for the team he’d just rejoined. Happily he managed to get a World Series ring with the ’93 club after being traded back from New York midseason. It’s worth noting that he managed to collect 10 RBI in 12 games that post-season. Tony , like Halladay, was always polite and classy off the field and brought goodwill to the club through his charity work.

So there you have it : Delgado, Halladay, Bautista, Fernandez. My Blue Jays Franchise Four. Have you picked yours yet?

The tapping you hear…

 

Fell asleep after dinner watching last night’s Jays game against the Yankees. Something woke me in the 8th after a two inning nap…likely the ‘tappa-tappa-tappa’ of the final nail being hammered into the coffin of the Blue Jays 2012 season. With Jose Bautista’s wrist injured, the team’s already Calista Flockheart-thin hopes of making the post season are officially done. The lineup was already beginning to scramble for runs of late and one has to think that Bautista’s presence was the major reason once-again slumping Colby Rasmus ever got to see any decent pitches to hit. Ben Francisco starts in RF tonight in place of Joey Bats for the record. The fact that the team and it’s Sportsnet Radio are playing up the call-up of minor leaguer Anthony Gose as a silver lining and something to be excited about only shows the organizational contempt for the fans and our intelligence.

 

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Then again, even before Jose fell to the ground like a Toronto party-goer (that is to say like someone who’d been shot), one had to feel like the Jays chances were next to none given our lack of pitching depth, and also had to feel that much of the Rogers’ owned Sportsnet crew viewed their viewers and listeners with contempt anyway. I had to give my head a shake yesterday when one of the sage TV analysts said to us, in apparent seriousness, “I think they’re (the Jays) gonna have to outscore the Yankees to beat them.” You don’t get insights like that if you actually go out to the ballpark to see the game!

 

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Watching the Jays 11-9 win over Cleveland this past weekend reminds me that , once in a blue moon, the best trade is the trade never made. This time last season, the Jays were rumoured (probably falsely) to be in the running to acquire Colorado fireballer Ubaldo Jimenez. In the end, Cleveland gave up blue chip young prospect Drew Pomeranz and got in return a moody pitcher who this season has walked 62 in barely over 100 innings and sports a 5.09 ERA. He was the one and only Indians pitcher the Jays were able to really smack around and for once, I say good for Alex Anthopolous for notselling the farm to get a pitcher that besides one good year has always been mediocre and prone to unprecedented wildness.

 

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We’re well past the All Star game and still, the best team in Pennsylvania is the Pittsburgh Pirates! Who saw that one coming?

Two points about that : first, right now there is no better player in baseball than the Pirates Andrew McCuthchen who is inches away from a triple crown, hitting a major league best .371 and sits second in the NL in both home runs and RBI. Second, one has to look at this season’s Phillies and be reminded of our own 1994 Blue Jays.

In ’94, the Jays were coming off their second straight World Series win and brought back largely the same roster. I, and most others in these parts thought a “threepeat” was imminent. Instead, Toronto stumbled out of the block and when that annus horribus ended with the infamous strike, they sat at a dismal 55-60, way out of any playoff hope had their been any playoffs that season.

Joe Carter played well that year, Paul Molitor in his second year with the team hit a sparkling .341 and Roberto Alomar still moved towards his eventual hall of fame standing. But injuries occurred, infighting followed , reigning batting champion John Olerud saw his average drop off almost 70 points, the once dazzling Juan Guzman lost something off his control and velocity and walked 76 in 147 innings and saw his ERA balloon to 5.68; Dave Stewart’s career was over but he refused to admit it and the once unhittable bullpen lost both Duane Ward and Tom Henke and was anchored by (bonus points if you remember this!) Darren Hall. The Jays rebounded to averageness the following year and were quickly telling us in the fanbase that the team would be contending again within five years. Here we sit, 18 years later , the Jays haven’t made the playoffs and Jays exec Paul Godfrey told media earlier this year that the jays would contend- within five years.

 

The Phillies this year came in after winning their division for five years in a row,heavily favoured to make it to the World Series this year. But someone forgot to tell the Nationals and other teams in the NL East, ace Roy Halladay got injured and pitched like merely a jack before going down , Cliff Lee (also known as the richest pitcher in the game) is sitting one win ahead of his catcher , Ryan Howard took 9 months to come back from a leg injury and aging Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins looked like shadows of their former All Star selves. The trade deadline looms and the Phils look to be sellers, not buyers and think about rebuilding for the future. Perhaps five years…

 

The message in it is clear. Dynasties, in baseball like in real life, have a lifespan. In baseball, they usually seem to be no more than five years. Therefore fans should enjoy them when they find themselves in their midst and owners should pull any strings at their disposal to make the most of it when they have a chance. Are you listening Nolan Ryan? Your Rangers should still win it all this season. But with Josh Hamilton wanting albert Pujols money and probably a ticket out of Lone Star , Michael Young starting to fade and cross country, the Angels starting to see Pujols be Pujols and Mike Trout after two months in the bigs being the best player in the league already, next year will be too late. If they don’t add a Greinke or Dempster to the rotation or an Upton or maybe Willingham to hit; they’re treating the Texas fans with the same respect that a broadcaster telling fans they have to outscore the opponent to win is.

Phils hope Punxsutawney Phil not their new mascot…NL East

If the Robins singing outside my window aren’t enough evidence, the Jays and Cardinals playing on the diamond are proof positive- spring is in the air! Our long winter is over, and for us Blue Jays fans it’s been rather a winter of our discontent. But March is when hope springs eternal and all teams are equal. The Orioles are tied with the Yankees and the Pirates have no more losses on the board than their cross-state rivals. This of course will not be the case come Independence Day, or even the May long weekend, by which time we should have an idea of how the 2012 season should shake down. For now though, the fun is in looking ahead and imagining what will be. Thus in the next few days I’ll share with you my predictions, starting today with the National League.

 

You’ll see that as well as the outlook for the teams in general, I’ve listed three key players for each one this season: the Ace, the Wild card and the Joker. The Ace is the “franchise” player, the marquee performer (not necessarily a pitcher mind you); the Wild Card is less obvious, the player whose season is pivotal to the fate of the team’s success. The joker, as the name implies, is the guy they’re stuck with that takes up space (and you probably want to stay away from in your Rotisserie leagues.)

 

East:

 

Atlanta: Funny thing. I grew up in greater Toronto, and the only other place i’ve ever lived is in metro Atlanta briefly. Besides that personal point, the two cities seem connected in the baseball world. Both cities seem to feel a sense of boredom and impatience when it comes to their teams, a sense of disappointed nostalgia looking back to the glory years in the 1990s. Both teams are pretty good, but not good enough anymore in their tough divisions.

The Braves will continue that tradition this year too. Yes, its a good team. Unfortunately, their in a great division where the competition is getting better as Atlanta spins its wheels. Their rotation is as good as any in the league not wearing scarlet caps with a “P” on them; it’s arguably better than last year even with the departure of Derek Lowe. Or perhaps because of that; it frees up a spot for a talented youngster like Brandon Beachy (7-3, 3.68 in 25 starts last year) or Julio Teheran (15-3 in AAA). Add in that Tommy Hanson should be healthy this year and that they have the best 1-2 bullpen combo in the NL with Craig Kimbrel (as in Rookie of the Year Craig Kimbrel) and Jonny Venters (85 appearances,96 K’s in ’11) and you have to figure the opposition won’t be scoring a ton of runs against the Tomahawks.

Unfortunately, neither will they score a ton of runs. Granted Michael Bourn is a great addition and gives them speed aplenty on top of the lineup, and Brian McCann is the best hitting catcher in baseball. But Chipper Jones has had surgery on both knees in the past couple of years and seems to be running on fumes, Dan Uggla is too streaky to rely on and as an everyday outfielder, Martin Prado makes a great utility infielder. The team’s offence isn’t bad; it’s just not spectacular and they are cursed by a tougher sched than Central division teams.

Ace: Brian McCann- even on a “down” year he caught 126 games and hit close to his .286 career average

Wild Card: Jason Heyward- needs to show last year was a case of sophomore slump, not signs of his rookie year being his career year

Joker: Chipper Jones – turns 40, bad knees, power shrinking…

 

2012 Prediction: 87 wins, 2nd place

 

Miami– will be fun to watch if nothing else what with new name, new art deco look, new manager and payroll. No question the team has improved in the off-season, they’d better have become better after dishing out some $191M in free agent contracts! The thing to remember though is that last year’s edition won only 72 games– are the new stars and identity enough to add the 18 or so games it will take to compete or at least make the playoffs? Short answer: no.

Perhaps the biggest addition for the M’s will be one who’s not an addition at all- Josh Johnson. Johnson seems to be healthy again which is good news indeed for Florida fans. The young hurler has a .667 winning percentage and 2.14 ERA over past 2 years. The bad news is that he’s managed to only log 243 innings in that span. The addition of Mark Buehrle is bound to help the pitching, but with Javier Vasquez departing, Johnson will have to step up and stay healthy if the fishies are to improve upon their 2011 10th place finish in pitching. Heath Bell should help their previously mediocre bullpen and close out leads Johnson hands them but might not match the success he had in the pitcher-friendly West.

Giancarlo (nee “Mike”) Stanton is the best young outfielder in the NL and should have a break out season with more support around him in lineup; if the ball carries in new SunLife Stadium, 40homers and 110 ribbies isn’t out of the question. Jose Reyes gives them a great leadoff hitter and reigning batting champion and with John Buck thrown into the mix, the Marlins could score a lot.

The worry for SE Floridian fans has to be the “intangibles”. No doubt there is a ton of talent in the clubhouse. But there are also some very difficult personalities. Reyes wasn’t known for his work ethic in New York and has displaced the already peevish Hanley Ramirez from shortstop, to the latter’s displeasure. Throw in hot-headed Carlos Zambrano and have them all reporting to the always colourful but at times redoubtable Ozzie Guillen and one thing’s certain- there should be some entertaining stories coming out of Miami this summer. Less certain is if the Marlins mix will be magic or melee.

Ace: “Giancarlo” Stanton – two years, 113 extra base hits, one RBI per 6 at bats

Wild Card: Ozzie Guillen- granted, he’s no longer a player, but how the rather eccentric manager deals with such a talented but emotional roster will spell the difference between a lot of W’s and L’s

Joker: Juan Oviedo, formerly “Leo Nunez”…apparently his identity was as big a scam as were his credentials as a closer.

 

2012 prediction: 82 wins, 4th place

 

New York: baseball’s black hole, where stars go to collect absurd amounts of cash and never be heard from again. Jose Reyes departure leaves them with all of one decent veteran player in the everyday lineup, and David Wright seems to be living upto his owner’s insult (“Wright is not a superstar”). In fact a third baseman who has a meagre .929 fielding percentage and .427 slugging percentage might realistically be viewed as a liability but he’s still the best player on the squad and might rejuvenate his career in a different environment. With the fences moved in a bit this year,he may outdo last year’s 14 dingers as might jason Bay and his 12 but neither will do much damage. Ike Davis should be back from his ankle injury and in a parallel universe would be on his way to being a star, but in Mets land will probably level off at .250 with 12 home runs.

Johan Santana is potentially healthy again after shoulder surgery last year, surprisingly he’s only 33 so there is time for him to return to form, but realistically he was great when George Bush was president. The Metropolitans should be ecstatic to get 175 innings and 12 wins out of him now. They raided the Jays clubhouse for Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch to revamp their bullpen. Apparently they didn’t watch Blue Jays games last year. This is a team which has potentially to blow 40 saves if they could only lead in that many games.

Ace: None. David Wright is the best they have and he’s a jack at best.

Wild Card: also David Wright. A good first half should parlay itself into a trade to a contender which will bring in future prospects that might help the M’s look decent by 2015.

Joker: Johan Santana. Hey, maybe i’ll be wrong, he’ll return to his prime Twins form and win 20. But my money’s on him being injured by July and having a losing record at that point.

 

2012 Prediction: 72 wins, 5th place

 

Philadelphia: City of Brotherly Love fans hope that Punxsutawney Phil stays over on the western side of the state and that this year won’t be Groundhog Day for them. The last two years have looked much the same for the Phils- best record during the regular season, great pitching, trouble scratching out runs, flat-lined hitting in the post-season. Unfortunately , little they did in the off-season promises great change from that pattern.

Even though pouting Roy Oswalt isn’t there anymore (in fact, lacking an offer from his favoured Houston or St Louis,he’s not anywhere but sitting on his front porch, having apparently spurned suitors in Toronto, Cleveland and Detroit), the Phils still have pitching coming out of their yin-yang. Roy Halladay is simply the best pitcher of our era, potentially starts the season as the wins leader among active pitchers and has, when “adjusted” (to league averages basically) one of the 15 best ERA’s – ever. So what if he turns 35 this year? With his discipline and work routine, 35 is the new 24. Give him some runs and a solid bullpen for the 20 games he doesn’t finish and he is a threat to win 25 and his third Cy Young. Writing this today, March 4th, he already looked in mid-season form in his spring training debut. Cliff Lee would be the ace of any other staff not located in Michigan but here is second fiddle. But his fiddle is a Stradavarius violin; all he did last year was notch six shutouts and post a 2.40 ERA, and run his career record in Philly upto 24-12. Cole Hamels is one of the best young pitchers in the game and no doubt benefits from being around not one but two Cy Young winners in the clubhouse as will Vance Worley who in any other year would likely have been the Rookie of the Year after going 11-3 with a 3.01 ERA and better than a strikeout per innin in his first complete season. Joel Piniero is a new addition who will challenge Joe Blanton for the number 5 spot.

Jon Papelbon might not quite make up for the loss of both Brad Lidge and ryan Madson, but keeps the P’s in the game with a rock-solid closer although relying on former starters Jose Contreras and Dontrelle Willis for middle innings is a little disconcerting. Nonetheless, a team with an ERA of barely 3 can stand to lose a bit of ground and still dominate opposing batters.

The area of concern of course, isn’t the pitching. It’s the hitting, and for the past two years the Phil’s have been squarely middle of the pack. Last year their .253 average was right in the middle of the league and their 713 runs was 7th best . Good enough to make the playoffs, bad enough to be shut down quickly by good pitching as the Giants and then Cards showed in the past two post-seasons. Little they did this winter inspires confidence that they will be much better this year. Ty Wiggington has hit 37 homers in the past two years and will be a good bat off the bench and the timeless Jim Thome adds a superb veteran presence to the bench but is questionable as an everyday player at age 42- and with Ryan Howard being out for some time at start of season with his Achilles tendon trouble, that is what Jim might need to do. Howard being out of the lineup for potentially 40 games will not help them get off to a flying start. Hunter pence however is a solid all-round hitter and will fill in as the cleanup hitter nicely. Out of the hole that is Houston, Pence might well shine and be mentioned in MVP circles…he was hitting .308 with 11 homers in south Texas when traded last year and then upped his average while knocking another 11 out of the park in just 54 games in Philly. A .333 average, 30 home run year isn’t out of the question. Neither is a World series win for this team, but things will have to fall into place nicely for that to happen and in all likelihood, they’ll have to supplement their offence again this year by the All Star break.

 

Ace: Roy Halladay- 170 wins in past ten seasons, tops in majors.

Wild Card: Chase Utley – once the best second baseman in the game, various injuries have cost him over 100 games in past two years. Can he stay healthy this season?

Joker: Domonic Brown, one time top prospect hasn’t shone in his stints in bigs over past two years and with the addition of Wiggington and juan Pierre, may not even make the opening day roster.

2012 Prediction: 96 wins, 1st place

 

Washington: the Nationals start looked a lot like their predecessor, the Expos, finish- a lot of future promise, little real-time performance and disinterest among fans, or potential ones, in their home cities. Thankfully, the ownership of this team has made some wise moves, drafted well and all of a sudden there is a buzz about the Nats. Their top picks in ’08 and ’09 are arguably the most talked about and anticipated youngsters in the game: pitcher Stephen Strasburg and outfielder Bryce Harper. Strasburg has already dazzled in his brief time in the majors and showed at the end of ’11 that he’s recovered from his Tommy John surgery, his 2010 debut should help him be ready for the inevitable media frenzy that will surround his every pitch. Gio Gonzalez gives them a legitimate #2 starter, even if his ERA is likely to rise from his 3.02 of last year, given the tougher competition he’ll face most days, and Edwin jackson is a solid addition to the rotation too. Brad Lidge gives them a reliable closer and to get to him, there’s none better than rubber-armed Tyler Clippard, of 18 wins and 210 innings over past three seasons fame. His ERA of 1.83 last year was best of his career and second best in the league among pitchers with 70+ innings.

Jayson werth was an expensive flop last season for Washington, leading off his $126M contract with just 20 homers and .389 slugging percentage, but expect bigger things from him this season as well as from Ryan Zimmerman, who missed two months last year with abdominal injuries but seems good to go this year. When healthy Zimmerman , if not the best third bagger in the league is at least the most under-rated, hitting for a rather consistent .289 or so average and 20-25 homers per year. Danny Espinosa was an under-rated rookie infielder last year, with 21 home runs and being one of only two 2Bs in the league to participate in over 100 double plays. If he can be more selective at the plate and cut down on his 166 whiffs, he’ll up his average and help the Nats be in the top half of the NL hitting-wise. There’ll be pressure on the team to bring in 19 year old star-in-the-making Bryce harper but smart money would keep him in the minors for more seasoning. If Werth et al can hit upto their capability, the team will score enough runs anyway.

 

Ace:Stephen Strasburg, only 23 and with only 92 big league innings, he’s a rarity in being a kid who shows signs of living upto his reputation.

Wild Card: Jayson Werth. Forget about the $18M a year stipend, a .232 average and 160K’s won’t cut it for a major league outfielder. He knows it and may be the Werth of old again, in which case the N’s will be a number of games better.

Joker: Chien-Ming Wang- light years removed from his 18 win season with Yankees, yet another Asian pitcher who’s not been able to succeed as expected in North America.

 

2012 Prediction: 86 wins, 3rd place.

 

Up next- the Central Division… were the Cardinals a fluke?