For those of you who are familiar with MLB’s Game Day app will recognize this post’s title. That is the text that displays when a ball is put in play and runs are scored. As a dad of two young children, I rely on the Game Day app to keep me posted on games while I’m lying on my son’s or daughter’s floor waiting for them to fall asleep at night. As a Blue Jays fan, I got to see the aforementioned text displayed many times in 2016. You’d see Donaldson, Bautista, or Edwin up to bat, the pitch come in, the blue ball appear on the screen indicating the pitch had been put in play shortly followed by the text, “In play, run(s)”. You’d then wait in eager anticipation to see how much damage was inflicted by the MLB’s most prolific offense in 2015.
The Toronto Blue Jays scored 891 runs in 2015, 127 more runs than their closest competitors in the runs department, the New York Yankees. In 2016, Blue Jays’ fans could see the same level of production or more and here is why:
- No Key Departures: Besides the light hitting Ben Revere, The Blue Jays offensive lineup is pretty much intact from 2015. All the big bats are still here; Donaldson, Bautista, Encarnacion, Tulowitzki, and Martin. Add to that mix some extra pop in the duo of Colabello and Smoak and a healthy Michael Saunders and this offence is poised to pick up where it left off in 2015. Questions abound as to what production Pillar and Goins can bring to the table and who will hit leadoff but at the end of the day, does it really matter? Devon Travis is expected back at some point in 2016 which won’t hurt matters either.
- A Full Season of Tulo: Troy Tulowitzki’s first foray as a Toronto Blue Jay didn’t meet some fans expectations. Tulo was hit with trade from the Rockies by surprise, felt betrayed by Colorado’s ownership and had to leave the only MLB franchise he’d ever known to come to Toronto. He was admittedly shaken up by the trade and never really got in the groove and then his shoulder blade got the wrong end of Kevin Pillar’s chin. Well now Tulo is comfortable, he had a full offseason to train rather than rehabilitate a surgically repaired hip and if healthy, will be a fixture in the Blue Jays lineup for the bulk of the 2016 season. Expect to see some bigger numbers from #2 this year.
- Joey Bats in a Contract Year: Jose Bautista wants to get paid. He has earned that right and entering into the last year of a very team friendly contract, he’ll be determined to put up the best numbers possible. Jose puts the work in to maximize his performance and another big season could mean even bigger dollars for Jose. It could also mean it’s his last as a Blue Jay but why not go out with a bang?
- A Healthy Edwin: Edwin Encarnacion dealt with a nagging injury to ligament in his finger which caused him to miss some games and had him dealing with pain throughout much of the 2015 season. He still managed 39 homeruns and a wOBA of .392. Besides a bothersome tooth, Edwin is coming into 2016 healthy and also in a contract year. I hope that parrot of his still likes going for walks around the bases.
The 2015 season was a playoff year on the back of an explosive offense. Barring injuries, this offense could again carry the Blue Jays to the post season in 2016.
Spring Training is over finally! Opening Day is just around the corner. It is time to really focus in on the upcoming season.
As always, the Blue Jays are in tough this season in the American League East Division. You have your usual powerhouses of New York and Boston who are going to be strong again this year. Then there is the Tampa Bay “Don’t Call Us Devil” Rays coming off a playoff season in 2011 and look to be an improved club in 2012.
There is an extra wild card spot available in 2012 which has raised hopes for Blue Jays fans but even with an extra playoff spot, the Blue Jays will have to have a lot of things go right to be in contention. Outside the East you have two big teams in the AL West in the back-to-back American League champions, the Texas Rangers and the Los Angeles Pujols of Anaheim (Angels). Then in the Central you have the home of the hefty infielders in the Detroit Tigers. In my opinion, these are the six teams that have the inside track at the playoffs (Yankees, Rays, Red Sox, Tigers, Rangers, Angels).
In all honesty, I don’t see the team making the playoffs this year. That’s not to say I’m not excited for this team and the 2012 season, I just think they face an uphill battle this year and a lot of things have to go right for the playoffs to be a consideration. I really this team is built to start contending in 2013 and beyond. However, I’ve been known to be wrong (ask my wife) and unlike last year I do not have to look at the Blue Jays lineup and see Juan Rivera in right field, Edwin Encarnacion starting at third base, Frank Francisco/Jon Rauch as the team’s closer and a starting rotation featuring Jo-Jo Reyes. The 2012 Blue Jays could possibly avoid being the best fourth place team in baseball and push “The Big Six” for a playoff spot but as I mentioned earlier, a lot of things have to go right.
In my humble opinion, here are the top five keys to the Blue Jays contending this year:
1. The best players need to continue being their best players: Jose Bautista and Ricky Romero need to perform to their abilities this year. Any down season for either of these players would be extremely tough to overcome. I’m not saying that Jose has to duplicate the monster season he had last year but a season where he has an OPS of 1.000 (.600 slugging, .400 OBP) will be no small feat but that’s the type of production the Jays need from him barring any breakout seasons from others in the lineup. Ricky needs to continue to be the team’s ace, pitch 200 plus innings and have a WHIP close to his 2011 total of 1.15.
2. Protection for Jose Bautista: Without any protection in the number 4 and 5 spots in the batting order, teams simply will not pitch to Jose Bautista. This is taking the bat out of the hands of MLB’s home run leader the past two seasons. This is not good. Someone has to step up and provide another middle of the order threat. Right now the spot light is on Adam Lind who looks to start the season in the #4 slot in the lineup and Edwin Encarnacion who will be in the fifth spot. Personally, I don’t think Lind is the right fit in the number four spot. Right now, I think Encarnacion has the most promise in the four spot with Lawrie moving the fifth spot. However, given that Bautista, Encarnacion and Lawrie all bat from the right side, John Farrell is not likely to have Bautista, Encarnacion and Lawrie grouped together in the lineup so Adam Lind will need to produce.
3. Brandon Morrow: We’ve been hearing how Brandon Morrow has the potential to be a front of the rotation starter and has the best ‘stuff’ on the team. He had an impressive 2010 campaign, his first as a Blue Jay, and was pegged to have a breakout season in 2011. However, 2011 was a struggle filled with inconsistent starts and early exits from ball games. Morrow is optimistic about 2012 and has mentioned that he has figured out what his approach should be on the mound. He’s going to focus on being more efficient (i.e. pitching to contact) and lasting deeper into ballgames. The Blue Jays need him to be a legitimate #2 starter if they have any hopes of contending in 2012.
4. Emergence of Young Stars: I’m focussing here on Brett Lawrie and Henderson Alvarez. Lawrie made a huge splash in 2011 and needs to continue to emerge as an impact, all-star calibre player for the Blue Jays in 2012. It looks as if he’s ready to do so as he picked up where he left off last September this spring. Can Lawrie play up to the level he did in 2011 over the course of an entire 162 game season? How well will he adjust to the adjustments AL pitchers are surely going to try and make as they get more familiar with the young Canadian? If all goes well, Lawrie could make a good Blue Jays offense a great one.
Based on his spring results and what we saw in late 2011, Henderson Alvarez appears to be poised to have an impressive 2012 campaign. If he does that will go a long way in solidifying the Blue Jays rotation giving them a solid top three (even if Alvarez is technically the #4 starter).
Although I focussed on Lawrie and Alvarez, the Blue Jays feature a number of young players who could take the next step forward in their development and contribute significantly a strong season. J.P. Arencibia is coming into his second full season as the Blue Jays’ starting catcher and if he can figure out how to reach base a little more, he can build on the impressive power numbers he put up in 2011. Kyle Drabek seems to have learned from a disastrous 2011 campaign and appears to be back on track. He possibly could be a mainstay in the rotation in 2012 given the door has swung wide open for him with Brett Cecil being sent to AA New Hampshire. Of course there is also Eric Thames who is the Blue Jays starting left fielder to start the season. He seems to have a mature approach at the plate and clearly is in great physical shape. Can he consistently produce? Or if he doesn’t, does Travis Snider finally establish himself as an everyday big leaguer?
I should also mention the much maligned Colby Rasmus who seems to have been labelled by an alarming number of Blue Jays fans as a bust and a malcontent despite only a brief time with the club in 2011. If Rasmus can find his 2010 (and early 2011) form, he can put up some big numbers and endear himself to the Blue Jays faithful. Of course if he goes 0 for 4 on Opening Day in Cleveland, fans will start asking when the Blue Jays are going to call up Anthony Gose which I find absolutely ridiculous.
5. The Bullpen:
The bullpen, especially the back end of the bullpen was much maligned in 2011. Exit stage left: Jon Rauch, Frank Francisco, Shawn Camp. Enter: Sergio Santos, Francisco Cordero, Darren Oliver and Jason Frasor (again). Add to that the incumbents, Janssen, Villenueva, and Luis Perez and Blue Jays fans should see a much improved bullpen. Now a good bullpen on paper doesn’t always guarantee performance but if this bullpen performs, it will go a long way to the Blue Jays improving on their win total from 2011. Sergio Santos bringing stability to the closer’s role will be key.
There, of course will be other factors that I’ve not included such as the ability of the team to stay healthy and consistent performance from the back end of the rotation (4,5 starters) etc. that will also determine the Blue Jays success in 2012 but the above represent solely what I think will be the most significant factors in the success of the Toronto Blue Jays in 2012. Now can we watch some real baseball please???
What I’m Listening To: As a recurring feature in my blog posts, I like to let the readers know what music I’m listening to while writing my blog. This week it’s Chris Cornell’s Songbook. This is a live acoustic album from recorded on his 2011 tour of the same name. Cornell is best known as the lead singer for the recently reformed Soundgarden as well as the former lead singer for Audioslave. The album features acoustic versions of some Soundgarden hits, his other solo releases, covers and even a Temple of the Dog song. I consider Cornell one of the best rock/alternative/grunge vocalists of his time and this album did not disappoint.
For this week’s post, I had planned on doing a piece on what spots on the roster were actually still undecided besides left field. I noticed on Twitter that an surprising number of people were posing questions to the likes of Sportsnet Radio’s Mike Wilner (@Wilnerness590) , and well known bloggers Tao of Stieb (@TaoofStieb) and Drunk Jays Fans (@drunkjaysfans) regarding the chances of certain players making the opening day roster. Questions such as:
What are the chances of Anthony Gose making the team in 2012?
Why don’t the Jays put Snider in centre and Thames in left?
I don’t see why the Jays don’t just move Escobar to second and play Hechevarria at short!
Can Snider or Thames play first base?
The first two questions to anyone who follows this team closely are quite easy to answer. Colby Rasmus is the Blue Jays’ centre fielder in 2012. Gose will be spending his 2012 in Vegas. Why people think Gose is a better option in centre having never played an inning in the majors is beyond me. Yes he’s fast and a plus defender but he’s at least a year away from being ready for the Show. Barring injury, you won’t see Gose playing for the Jays this summer. He’s a prime candidate for a September call-up but the Blue Jays have no need to rush him and remember that Colby Rasmus fellow???
The second question is also an emphatic NO!!! Again, this Colby Rasmus fellow who everybody was thrilled to see the Blue Jays acquire last season is the Blue Jays’ centrefielder. Yes both Eric and Travis are having fine springs but one of them is going to start the year in Las Vegas. It’s probably going to be Travis but I discussed that in my last post so I won’t go into any further detail as to why I think this to be the case.
As for the third statement, similar to Gose, the Blue Jays have no reason to rush Adeiny Hechevarria. From all accounts, Hechevarria is already an elite defender and major league ready with his glove. However, he is very much a work and progress at the dish. He’s improving at the plate and is apparently much stronger this spring then he was at the end of the season last year but he still needs time to develop. Again, the Blue Jays have a shortstop and second baseman in place for 2012; Yunel Escobar and Kelly Johnson.
Again for the fourth question, the answer is ‘NO’. It’s not that Snider and Thames can’t play first base it’s just that the Blue Jays have Adam Lind slated to play first. If that fails then you’ll see Edwin Encarnacion try his hand there and if E5 turns into E3 then you’ll likely see David Cooper get a shot. There is no chance the Blue Jays would throw Snider or Thames at first in 2012. It is conceivable I suppose that the Blue Jays might consider converting one of them to a first baseman in 2013 but I find that rather unlikely.
This brings me to the main subject of this post and that is who will be the Blue Jays fans’ whipping boy in 2012? In 2011, the Vernon Wells trade presented us Juan Rivera on a silver platter. His struggles at the plate and his total lack of speed did nothing to help Mr. Rivera’s cause and mercifully, the Blue Jays dealt him to the Dodgers in June. The fan’s ire then shifted fully to the back end of the Blue Jays bullpen where Jason Frasor, Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco drew heat for a multitude of late inning meltdowns.
Given the fan’s attention in Spring, I think it’s pretty clear that the prime candidates for whipping boy 2012 are, in no particular order: Colby Rasmus, Kelly Johnson and Adam Lind.
I don’t get why some fans have given up on Rasmus already. My best guess is that these are Blue Jays fans that watch the Blue Jays and only the Blue Jays and see Rasmus as a player with an attitude problem who only batted .173 with 3 homeruns as a Blue Jay. They don’t see the five-tool player with a huge upside who had an OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) of .859 and 23 homeruns in 2010 as a 24 year old. In 2011, the kid got run out of St. Louis by Tony LaRussa who then proceeded to throw him under a bus after the trade to Toronto. He got to Toronto and then dealt with a wrist injury and only got in 35 games. Hardly time to give up on a player this young and with this much upside. That being said, if Rasmus gets off to a slow start, you’ll see fans calling for the Jays to play Snider or Gose in centre.
Kelly Johnson was another player who had a really rough 2011 season and has Blue Jays questioning whether he should be the team’s second baseman. However, given that the previous everyday second baseman for the Blue Jays who the Jays traded to get Johnson was having an equally bad 2011 (and a brutal 2010 for that matter), a change of scenery could bode well for both Johnson and Hill. Johnson is only signed to a one year deal so fans won’t resent him for his contract but again may be the target of fan’s ire simply because some fans don’t want to wait for Hechevarria.
Then there is Mr. Adam Lind. Lind had a great 2009 season. A breakout year for Mr. Lind. Then came 2010 where as the team’s DH, he struggled mightily with an OBP of a mere .287. Some writers pointed to the fact that he was a DH at such a young age and had to dwell all game over his failures at the plate as a reason for such a drop-off from 2010. The 2011 season was supposed to be a comeback season for Adam given that he was back to a full-time defensive player. Despite a promising start to the year, he again put up horrific numbers batting .251 and an on-base percentage of .295. He did put up 26 homeruns and 87 RBIs but given first base is generally a power position, these numbers don’t hold water. This kind of production is also not acceptable for a team’s #4 hitter who is supposed to provide protection to one of baseball’s premier power hitters in Jose Bautista. There is a reason why Bautista led the majors in walks last season. If you want to really put how bad Adam Lind’s numbers were in 2011, just look at his Wins Above Replacement of 0.7 and compare that with those players that played 50% of their games at 1B last season and had enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. He ranks 18 out of 20. To me, this is the guy who is going to be your whipping boy for 2012 Blue Jays fans. He’s had two consecutive bad seasons, he’s the player who is supposed to be providing protection for the Jays’ best hitter and he’s the guy who was quoted this spring as saying that he’s ‘not much of a workout guy’ and still doesn’t like it but now knows he has to work out and is willing to put in the twenty minutes a day he believes is necessary. Maybe he’ll return to his 2009 form but all signs are pointing to another rough season. I just hope that if he does struggle, John Farrell has enough sense to take him out of the lineup or at least move him down in the order.
It’s Spring! It’s a magical time of year when spring training is underway and that seems to melt away all the grumblings and mumblings over the Blue Jays not making a big splash on the free agent market and signing the likes of Prince Fielder or Yu Darvish. It is also the season of “If/Thens” for MLB fans when assessing their favourite team’s chances at making the playoffs as in:
If Arencibia, Rasmus, Lind all have big seasons, then the Blue Jays could make some noise in 2012
If Brandon Morrow emerges as a true #2 starter and Alvarez, Cecil and McGowan all pitch to their potential then the Blue Jays could have a really strong starting rotation.
If the Blue Jays’ bullpen doesn’t have as many blown saves as in 2011, then the Blue Jays could make the playoffs.
If Pat Tabler thinks a Blue Jay is ‘big’ and ‘strong’ then he’ll say “he just looks like a ballplayer”.
I could attempt a few more but I think you, as the reader, get the picture!
Over the next few days, I’m going to share my thoughts on Spring Training thus far but today I’ll focus on the battle for left field between incumbent Eric Thames and Travis Snider.
With all other positions on the field already spoken for, the competition for the starting left field position has been the main focus of this spring in Dunedin.
First off, I like both of these players. Snider has had the spotlight on him as a ‘can’t miss’ prospect for a long time. He seems to be a hard worker and willing to do whatever it takes to improve and contribute consistently at the big league level. He’s built like a fullback, runs well and has greatly improved his outfield defence since he first debuted in the Majors in 2008. He also seems like a pretty decent human being and seems to have his head screwed on straight. However, as a highly touted prospect, Travis Snider was rushed up to the big leagues early in his career but, to date, has yet to live up to expectations. He’s spent the parts of the past two seasons up with the Blue Jays but never producing consistently and, as a result, has spent the bulk of his time the past two seasons at Triple-A Las Vegas. In the opinion of some fans, the Blue Jays should unload him now. I’m not of that opinion. I thought 2011 was going to be Travis Snider’s coming out party. I couldn’t have been more wrong but I see a player who has all the skills and is just starting to figure out what he needs to do to be an everyday big leaguer.
Eric Thames is a physical specimen. He’s ripped. However, his bulky physique resulted in injury problems through college and in the minors. Eric then integrated Yoga to gain some flexibility and lost some bulk off his frame. After an impressive Spring Training in 2011 that led to an initial stint with the big club in May and then after a brief stint in Vegas, he was recalled for good in mid-June and eventually established himself as the Blue Jays starting left fielder.
Coming into Spring Training, the Blue Jays were quick to explain that left field was Eric Thames job to lose but there would be a competition between him and Snider for the starting left field spot. Now if you’re to look purely at statistics thus far over Spring, Travis Snider has the edge. I’m not going to bore you too much with the numbers themselves but over nine games, Travis has 3 HRs, 12 RBIs, is batting a respectable .296 and has a .345 OBP. Eric hasn’t put up as impressive numbers over his 9 games but is still batting .320 and has an OPS (on-base plus slugging) of .890 (Snider’s is 1.086). However it is still Spring Training and the numbers are basically meaningless. Snider and Thames aren’t always facing MLB calibre pitching and even if they are, those pitchers may be working on certain pitches/mechanics that day and aren’t subjecting hitters to their full arsenal. The batters themselves may also be working on things like pitch selection or driving the ball to the opposite field.
I think the next two weeks of Spring Training games will be more telling as pitchers begin to stretch themselves out more and get deeper into games, rosters start to get pared down to more closely resemble Opening Day rosters. My thinking is that Eric Thames will be the Blue Jays’ opening day left fielder with Snider being sent down to Las Vegas unless Snider vastly outperforms Thames the rest of spring training.
Personally, I think Snider is the better player and is heads and tails a better defender than Thames. I like Thames but he plays a really ugly left field. Having played some ball in my time, I always marvel at how some guys get to the Majors and still can’t track a fly ball. I know I’ve taken some really bad routes to balls in the outfield and occasionally misjudge a ball hit to me but if I had the opportunity to shag flies everyday and had coaches helping me out, along with the physical attributes of an elite athlete (this being the key factor here), I think I could figure out how to play a decent outfield. Please don’t read the last sentence and think that I believe play outfield at a major league level! I know Eric has worked hard in the offseason on his defence so hopefully it has paid off.
If Snider can figure things out at the plate and stay healthy, I believe he will produce in spades. That may require some additional time at Las Vegas (even though he’s hit well in AAA before and then failed to match that success in Toronto) but I think he’s the leftfielder of the future barring him getting traded. Thames will start the year as the starting left fielder and may stay there all season but I think by Opening Day 2013, you’ll see Snider there and perhaps even sooner.
Of course, I could be entirely wrong. Snider could get recalled and sent down a few more times, decide that he’s never going to make it as a player and tell Alex Anthopolous that he thinks he fits better on the business side of baseball. He’ll starts off as a scout but eventually makes his way to GM of the Blue Jays where he finds success applying statistical analysis known as “SABRmetrics” to players changing the way all teams evaluate players. Then someone will write a best-selling book about him and his exploits with the Blue Jays which will then culminate in an Academy Award nominated movie being made based on his story called, “Meats Don’t Clash”.
What Am I Listening To?
Whether I’m at work or at home and I’m writing I generally will listen to music so I thought some people would find it interesting to know what I was listening to when I wrote this post. Today I’m listening to Young The Giant’s debut album. I starting hearing their first single, “My Body” on Ottawa’s alternative rock station Live 88.5 at the beginning of last January or February and liked it but kept missing who the band performing the song was. I finally found out it was Young the Giant. I was just going to download the single but then “Cough Syrup” started getting airplay and I liked that song as well. I have a rule that if I like two songs off the same album prior to me hearing the whole album, I’m going to take the chance and just buy the entire album. I did and haven’t regretted it. It is mellower than I originally anticipated but still excellent. I had the opportunity a few weeks ago to see Young the Giant play live here in Ottawa and it was a great show. I’m sure most of you have heard of this band already but if not, you can check them out at http://www.youngthegiant.com
I mean it this time. I’m going to fully commit myself to this blog in 2012. Why you ask? The Blue Jays did me a solid and got rid of those stupid black jerseys and hats so I shall return the favour and provide the mlblogosphere my rantings and ravings about the team and sport I love.
In all seriousness, I enjoy blogging and was writing posts on almost a daily basis a few years back but then life sort of got in the way over the past few seasons. First, my wife and I had a child (he was born during the 2009 MLB all-star game). As a new parent, I was just not accustomed to not sleeping and stringing a series of coherent thoughts together about the Blue Jays proved to be a monumental challenge and I just didn’t have the time or desire to post. Secondly, my work life got busier. I got a bit of a promotion and the project I was working on picked up steam so I spent more time travelling and working some later hours. Lastly, I discovered Twitter and the vast universe of Blue Jays fans that are on there, many of whom blog themselves. I was intimidated by the quality of these blogs and the knowledge of these authors. I played competitive baseball for years and followed MLB and the Blue Jays since I was six years old and yet my knowledge of the game and the Blue Jays paled in comparison to many of these fans. So I really didn’t think I had much to contribute that others would find worth reading so I simply stopped writing.
I now realize that I miss blogging and decided that I’m going to try my best to produce a quality blog this year. If I don’t? Well, I’m still going to have fun doing it. I like expressing my thoughts and opinions on the Blue Jays. It keeps me more in tune with the game and more invested in the season. It also provides me with an outlet for when the Blue Jays just aren’t doing so well.
This is my first post of many in 2012. My next post will actually discuss the Blue Jays and what is happening in Spring Training this year and why I’m cautiously optimistic for 2012 and extremely optimistic for 2013 and beyond.