Category Archives: Baseball

A more in depth look at the Toronto Blue Jays baseball club.

Blue Jays Off-Season Target: Felipe Lopez

Felipe Lopez taken 8th overall in 1998.

Felipe Lopez taken 8th overall in 1998.

 

Sometimes in order to build a successful future you should occasionally look to your past, and this off-season target would accomplish just that.  Felipe Lopez would make a great addition to the Blue Jays infield, preferably at third base, he would also be a great add to the top of the batting order.  Blue Jays fans may remember Lopez as one of the more hyped up middle infield prospects the Jays have ever had after the switch-hitter was taken 8th overall in the 1998 Amateur draft.

Fast forward eleven years  and Lopez could be a very astute addition for new Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos.  In 2009 with the Brewers/Diamondbacks Lopez hit a respectable 310/383/427 with a .356 wOBA as Lopez drove the ball hard (career high 22.3% LD rate) and caught a few breaks on balls hit into play (.360 BABIP) but even accounting for a little luck there is reason to believe Lopez can be a valuable commodity going forward.  The biggest improvement was made in the patience department where Lopez posted a respectable 10.5% BB rate to go along with a reasonable 16.6% K rate showing he could possibly thrive in a leadoff or two-hole home in a line-up, preferably the Jays line-up.

Lopez  was worth 4.6 wins above replacement (WAR) in 2009 based on his outstanding year at the dish and solid play in the field (2B – 7.6 UZR) and with a career 2.0 UZR in 95 games at 3B I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume he could be an above average 3B going forward.  Based on about 4.5 million/WAR on the free-agent market, Lopez was worth about 20 million last year (similar to Marco Scutaro – who we will get to later) and although no GM in their right mind would pay Lopez as a 4-5 win player (especially if he switches to 3B) I think Lopez can be valuable at 2 years/20 million.  If he could recapture some of his past speed exploits, this could be a real steal.

Now, signing him as a 3B would improve the Blue Jays defense, which I feel has to be refocused on if we hope to have any chance of competing with the Red Sox/Yankees/Rays for the foreseeable future.  The reason for most of the Jays success over the past 3-4 seasons has been its stellar play in the field and its ability to convert balls hit in play into outs, ask the Jays pitchers if you don’t believe me, or read my previous post on the JP Ricciardi era.  Defense is still being undervalued league wide and with every penny counting for the Blue Jays, continuing to add value on both the offensive side and defensive side is a solid strategy.

There is no sense improving at 3B if we are just going to let Marco Scutaro walk, so I would love to see the Blue Jays be aggressive and bring back Scooter to play another 2-3 years at SS and have Felipe Lopez right beside him at 3B.  With the plethora of left-handed starters we are likely to throw at teams in the next 4-5 years this would also sure up a left side of the infield that looked abysmal with the loss of Scott Rolen last year – an obvious bonus.

Having Scutaro bat leadoff all season would be nice too with his patient approach and pendency to take a walk or two, which would be exemplified by a switch hitting (slightly more aggressive) Felipe Lopez hitting behind him in the two hole.  With no internal candidates for either position, I would hope an aggressive approach like this would be in the cards for 2010 as we have one season to show Roy Halladay we are serious about turning the Blue Jays back into the model organization, while this is only one move (or two, with resigning Scutaro) I think they would both be smart pickups that would add value all over the field.

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Randy Ruiz – The Next Andruw Jones?

Ruiz has been a 'big' contributor.

Ruiz has been a 'big' contributor.

 

Randy Ruiz was signed back in July of 1999 by the Cincinnati Reds as a non-drafted free agent.  In two seasons at rookie ball, Ruiz showed early promise with a 351/440/544 slash line in 333 at-bats.  Apparently nobody was paying attention.  Ruiz toiled in ‘A’ level ball from 2001-2004 spanning four seasons and by the end of 2004 was with his 4th major league organization.  In those four seasons he compiled a 286/368/488 slash line in over 400 games.  Then from 2004-2007 spanning three seasons he did not manage to get above ‘AA’ ball and by this time had played for a total of 8 total major league organizations (including a return to Philly).  In 411 total ‘AA’ games Ruiz again showed the ability to hit the baseball putting up a 318/383/591 line.  He was also suspended my MLB for 30 games in July of 2005 for violating the major league baseball drug prevention program.

There was clearly more going on with Ruiz than first glance would lead you to believe.  Although he was not the hot prospect of any of the eight organizations he had been through, his numbers suggested he deserved at least the courtesy of a major league appearance and/or cameo.  He finally got promoted to ‘AAA’ in late 2007 and for most of 2008 and again put up solid overall numbers (303/355/517).  In late 2008 the Minnesota Twins called up him for his first shot at the major leagues at the ripe age of 31.

Ruiz has shown a clear ability to hit the ball with authority but has also shown a reluctance to be patient at the plate as through the levels he showed a propensity to strike out and wasn’t all that willing to take the free pass.  Outside of a handful of freakishly great hitters this kind of lousy plate discipline is not a pre-cursor to success at the big league level.

‘A’ – 10% BB rate, 30% K rate

‘AA’ – 9 % BB rate, 26% K rate

‘AAA’ – 6% BB rate, 28% K rate

His average was also been propped up by fairly gaudy BABIP numbers throughout his minor league career also.  I’d say the BABIP average in the high .350 range, and for a guy with average speed this was a bit of an anomaly.  He did hit 181 HRs in 3652 minor league at-bats (rookie ball excluded) or 1 in every 20 at-bats, not a torrid pace for an aged minor leaguer but still respectable. 

So what can we expect going forward?  Frankly, it’s hard to say.  Ruiz is currently batting 269/363/513 for the Jays, good enough for a .375 wOBA (weight on-base average) in a very small sample size of only 78 at-bats, nowhere near enough to draw any strong conclusions about future production.  He has been slightly lucky on balls hit into play with a .333 BABIP but not far off his career minor league mark.  He still hasn’t shown any improvements in the plate discipline department (34.6% K rate) and he obviously loves to fish out of the strike zone (39.5% outside zone swing rate!).

Unfortunately there is more as the biggest red flag is the hugely unsustainable HR/FB rate of 35%, that’s not a typo.  For comparison sake current Jays HR leader 2B Aaron Hill has had a monster power season and his current HR/FB is over twice his career rate yet only stands at 15.8%.  Take a moment to let that one sink in.

As Jeff Blair wrote   Randy Ruiz has been a feel good story for a Blue Jays team and fan base in desperate need of something positive to hang their hat on, and there is nothing wrong with that.  As opposed to anointing him our DH of the future (or even for 2010) let’s enjoy the ride but also take it for what it’s worth.  If I had to think of a valid comparison, it would be Andruw Jones; unfortunately I am speaking of the current out of shape version.

The Umpire(s) Strike Back!

The 'two umpires'

The 'two umpires'

 

I’ll take a break from analyzing Blue Jays stats tonight to share with you my two new favourite Blue Jays – umpires to boot.  I have to admit I love the “two umpires” act.  My fiance called them the “Tumps” (Two umps – yeah, I didn’t get it either) and even she got a pretty good kick out of seeing the two of them going through the motions.  The “Tumps” got the call tonight for the Toronto Blue Jays game versus the Minnesota Twins at the Rogers Centre with Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay on the mound.  My first thought was “Roy is not gonna appreciate this!”.

It’s a guilty pleasure watching these guys call the game from the front row on TV.  They call balls & strikes, foul balls & even (fake) throw the ball back to the pitcher on a foul back to the screen.  It’s quite entertaining and the people around them in the same section all seem to love the act.

Toronto Natives Tim Williams and Joe Ferrell are the men behind the masks and they are already turning into a league wide hit!  They have done this three times before at Rogers Centre in Toronto an the New York Yankees got quite the kick out them when The Bronx Bombers recently played  Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre.   Their act so unique and fun to watch that sometime the actual game played second fiddle (easy to do lately).

Back in June during a Nationals/Blue Jays game, a 2-1 Nationals win in extra innings, Washington team president Stan Kasten approaches Williams and Farrell to shake their hands and compliment their work. Scores of fans rush up during every half-inning to get their picture taken with the faux men in blue, while others take delight in either cheering or heckling their calls.

“We were out in the tent (a beer garden just across the street from the ballpark) having beers before the game, and we took 38 pictures with people,” the pair explains. “They thought we were the real guys going to get juiced up before the game. We were like ‘No, no, we’re not gonna be on the field tonight, we’re just fans.'”

Their appeal is undeniable.

“We love baseball, we love umpires, we love the Blue Jays and we like having fun. That’s it.” Williams says.

But the act doesn’t pass muster solely because of their enthusiasm for their fake job. Williams and Farrell have authentic umpire uniforms. They have the short-brimmed hats, the official major league umpire shirts with numbers stitched on the sleeves, gray slacks, masks (which they only don when the Jays are pitching), clickers to track the count, brushes, pictured right, to clear dirt off of home plate and ball bags saddled to their right hips. Every time the actual umpire behind home plate throws a new ball to the pitcher, they dig into their bags, pull out a baseball and follow suit.

The pair are leading the league in wFUR (weighted fake umpiring ratio) and are runaway leaders for most creative fan gig this season!  Hey, I had to add some sort of stat to this post.

All is Not Well(s)

The name once synonymous with the future of the JP Ricciardi led Toronto Blue Jays has now been transformed into the name most synonymous with failure and utter disappointment.  I dug up the following out of the archives:

“All-Star center fielder Vernon Wells agreed Friday night to a seven-year, $126 million contract extension with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Wells’ pact, the sixth-largest in baseball history, would give him a $25.5 million signing bonus, no-trade clause and guarantee him the right to opt out of his contract after four years. In addition, he could earn bonuses of $250,000 for MVP, $200,000 for World Series MVP, $150,000 for league championship series MVP and $100,000 for receiving the most votes in his league in All-Star game balloting.”

At the time of the signing, Peter Gammons called him a legit top-5 centre fielder and one of the top fielding CF in the game (FYI – Wells has only posted positive UZR numbers three times in his career).  He went on to state he was well worth the new contract extension he signed with the Jays.  A man the Jays had to sign to compete with the Yankees and Red Sox going forward.  To be honest, I don’t remember many Blue Jays fans or analysts who were overly outspoken against this move. 

Wells signed this monstrosity of a contract after the 2006 season.  That season Wells played in 154 games, had 185 hits, 40 doubles and 32 HRs.  He also posted a respectable 7.5 UZR in CF for the Jays that year and clearly was an above average defender.  With the combo of a solid offensive campaign and above average glove at a premium position V-Dub was worth 5.8 wins above replacement level, a career high for Wells.  He also had a respectable .382 wOBA on the season and he even managed to swipe 17 bases for a Blue Jays team that absolutely hates the stolen base, or more accurately the “caught stealing” stat.

Overall it was a great 2006 season for Wells, but in retrospect it didn’t come without its share of red flags.  He wasn’t showing improved patience at the plate (8.1% walk rate), though he wasn’t whiffing at an alarming pace either (15.2%).  He was fishing outside of the strike zone a bit much (28% outside zone swing rate)   His HR/FB ratio for the season was 15%, slightly above his career rate of 11.8% though that could have swayed his HR total by about 5-6 HRs, nothing to sneeze at come contract time.

To call him a one-year wonder wouldn’t have been fair either.  He was an above average hitting CF for pretty much his entire career up until 2006.  In 2003, he posted his best season with a .386 wOBA, belting 33 HRs and adding 49 doubles and posting a respectable 317/359/550 slash line in 161 games.  He hit a consistent amount of HRs, drove in his share of runs and played slightly above or right at league average defence centre field until from 2001 until 2006.

Let’s fast forward to 2009.  To call Wells season anything other than miserable would be a blatant lie.  His slash line of 250/302/392 is barely passable even at a premium defensive position like CF.  Wells hasn’t benefited from much luck this season, his BABIP sits a .271 and his paltry 13 HRs can be attributed to his rather unlucky HR/FB rate of 6.5% (a career low – and half of his career rate).  He hasn’t squared the ball as much this year (line drive rate 14.5%), but his fly ball and ground ball rates are right at his career averages.  Even his outside-zone swing percent is at 24.2%, which is lower than both his 2006, 2007 and 2008 rates.

This season Vernon Wells has a negative WAR (wins above replacement).  That’s right, Wells has been so miserable with the bat and glove this season he has actually been a full win WORSE than a replacement level player (for example, a Russ Adams).  Again, among all qualified players in the major leagues, Vernon Wells is the least valuable player in the game.  Furthermore, according to fangraphs expected salary based on his current WAR, Wells actually owes the Jays 4.4 million dollars this year.  For comparison, in 2006, Wells actually gave the Jays the value of a player worth 21.4 million dollars.

So I guess that leaves only one question, what happened?  The halo that shone brightly above Vernon’s bald head quickly dissipated after Wells struggled pretty mightily in 2007.  While Wells rebounded slightly in 2008, he has nearly hit rock bottom in 2009.  As miserable a season that Wells is having with the bat, he has been equally miserable with the glove.  His UZR currently sits at -18.5, good for dead last among qualified CF.  For those interested Adam Dunn currently has a -21.9 UZR in the OF (albeit at LF/RF). 

In my opinion Vernon Wells just happened to cash in at the perfect time.  It was the perfect storm for a player coming off a fairly good season and who was coined as the must have “Franchise” player by fans and media alike.  The economy was stronger, the Jays were actually spending money and the overall knowledge of the game (especially in regards to defence) wasn’t nearly as strong even three years ago as it is today. 

One final note, under the extension, Wells has the right to terminate his agreement after the 2011 season and become eligible for free agency.  A man can dream can’t he?

A Case for Malpractice

So, what was wrong with Roy Halladay the past month?  From the media headlines I had been reading, it sounded as though our ace Doc had turned into Erik Hanson overnight.  Various conspiracy theorists wrote that Halladay must be distracted after a very busy trade deadline.  Or that his arm was tired.  Or that he had actually wanted to be moved and was pitching this way well, out of spite? 

We were being inundated with so much talk of Halladay not being himself I actually thought it must be true.  After all, being that Toronto is one of the most media savvy cities in North America they just had to be onto something, right?  Over the past 30 days (this does include the CG 1-hit shutout vs. the Yankees on September 4th, 2009) Roy’s win loss record (a stat hugely out of any pitchers control) was only 3-4.  How could Roy live with himself? 

Let’s be honest, the offense has been pretty paltry and the once proud Jays defence has taken quite a hit with the departures of defensive stalwarts Scott Rolen (15.2 career UZR/150) and the much maligned and fan whipping boy Alex Rios (career UZR/150 sits at an impressive 12.7).  They were replaced by the stone hands of Edwin Encarnacion (-12.9 UZR/150 this season at 3B) and the fullback turned right-fielder Travis Snider (very small sample size aside, a brutal -22.6 UZR/150 thus far). 

Thankfully Halladay is a ground ball oriented pitcher (past 30 days, 49.2% ground ball rate – career 56.4%) so adding Snider (and now DH turned LF Adam Lind) to the outfield doesn’t necessarily affect Roy’s overall numbers as much as a poor infielder would, but it can’t help.  I dare say the legendary Walter Johnson would have trouble winning in front of these Jays right now.

Even the once proud CF Vernon Wells decided he doesn’t see the need to actually track down fly balls anymore (past 2 seasons UZR/150 sit at -24.0 & -19.3 respectively).  To put it bluntly, the Jays outfield defence is absolutely abysmal.  Considering the porous defence behind him you can see why Roy Halladay has struggled so mightily the past 30 days or so.  Or was he struggling? 

Let’s take a deeper look.  In the past 30 days Roy Halladay has managed:

-8.57 K/9, 1.71 BB/9, 5.0 K/BB, 1.07 HR/9 to go along with a tidy 3.37 FIP (fielding independent pitching).

All of the above numbers are in spite of a high(ish) .338 BABIP, low(ish) strand rate of 68.1% and around league average HR/FB ratio of 12.8%.   He’s still pounding the zone (66.3% first strike rate) and getting plenty of swings outside the strike zone (29.4% outside-zone swings).  He hasn’t had the slightest bit of luck yet his numbers over the past month are still outstanding by any measure. 

Before his CG 1-hit shutout of the Yankees, his numbers obviously weren’t quite as impressive.  In the six starts before his last, his main source of trouble rested on the fact he had given up 54 hits in 42 innings pitched.   Of course as we all know the pitcher has zero control of the ball once it leaves his hand from the pitcher’s mound and Roy was clearly suffering from both bad luck and bad Toronto defence.  He didn’t have much luck on fly balls either, as over 18% of his fly balls turned into HRs which is well over his career HR/FB rate of 10.4%.  However, he still had his impeccable command working as he posted an impressive K to BB ratio of 36:5 during the same span.

Another popular opinion making the rounds was that Roy’s arm was getting tired or being overused.  However, the velocity on his 2-seamer has been 92.6 mph and on his cutter 91.5 mph.  He’s actually been throwing the ball slightly harder over the past month of baseball.  What’s more amazing is not just how well Halladay has been pitching but who he was pitching well against.  His past 7 starts have lined up like this: NYY, BAL, @TB, BOS, TB, @BOS, and NYY.  Six of Halladay’s past seven starts have come against arguably the three best teams in all of baseball.

To me Roy Halladay is still evolving as a pitcher, even at the age of 32.  He is a pitcher’s pitcher, who has managed nothing but success even while pitching during the height of the steroid era, all while presumably being clean himself.  He has nearly ditched the 2-seam sinking fastball in favour of his cut fastball over the past few seasons with great success.  Here is the percentage of cutters thrown since he started throwing it in 2004 – 2.5, 7.5, 19.3, 25.2, and 33.2 all the way to a healthy 42.2% of the time this season.  He only throws his fastball around 30% of the time now. 

This is probably a sound strategy and his cutter rates as one of baseball’s most effective pitches according to fangraphs pitch type values.  With the increased success of the cutter has come a more effective way to deal with left-handed batters, always a boon to a right-handed pitcher.  On the season, Halladay has better overall numbers versus lefties this season than right-handed batters (lower ERA, whip & batting average vs. the southpaws).

There are plenty of things that need fixing with the Jays right now but let’s just put this one myth to bed immediately.  Roy Halladay is just fine, thanks.