Theo Epstein Offered What?

Clay Buchholz

Clay Buchholz

I have to say that Bob Elliot is one of my favourite baseball writers in Toronto.  You can tell he has an absolute passion for the game and for the Toronto Blue Jays but after reading this article about the general state of the Blue Jays and some of its higher ranked officials I have to say the offer that he posted in his article is beyond fabrication, it is borderline ridiculous.  I know the Toronto media has a serious hate-fest going on for Blue Jays GM JP Ricciardi but this is just throwing the man under a bus.  According to one of his sources, the Toronto Blue Jays were reportedly offered Clay Buchholz, Justin Masterson, Daniel Bard, Michael Bowden, Felix Doubrant and Nick Hagadone

You only have to read my recent blog on Roy Halladay to know that my man crush on the Jays starter borders on obsession.  I honestly believe he is the best starting pitcher in the game and Blue Jays were correct in stating that they “wanted the world for him” as they could not afford to botch a deal involving arguably the greatest player in the history of the Blue Jays relatively storied history.  But, if that offer were true, Clay Buchholz and company would already be well situated with the great city of Toronto, I mean come on.

As the old adage goes Theo Epstein might’ve been born at night, but he wasn’t born last night.  You don’t build a championship team in the time it took Epstein to do so and not be considered a very sharp baseball mind.  I’d rank him and the Red Sox front office among the top 5 in baseball and with every fibre of my being I do not believe that Theo Epstein and the Boston Red Sox would even consider making this offer, even for Roy Halladay.  Unless I missed the memo that the Red Sox are running some sort of a charity now catering to the small market teams?

Let’s start with Clay Buchholz, widely considered the crown jewel of the Red Sox farm system and a pitcher most teams would love to get their hands on.  The 25 year old right hander hasn’t had the immediate success at the major league level (besides the no-hitter of course) that one would hope for from its top prospect but patience looks to be finally paying off for the Red Sox.  A lot has already been written about him but Buchholz has been lights out in AAA Pawtucket posting an impressive 3.23 FIP, 3.0 K/BB, .194 BAA and 0.64 HR/9 in 99 IPs.  He has looked equally impressive for the Red Sox at the major league level in 6 of his past 7 starts and he is a scout’s wet dream with his advanced control and velocity on his fastball, as well as his impressive array of secondary offerings including a wicked change-up. 

Justin Masterson has looked very solid and durable in his short pro career and was a key part of the Red Sox offer to the Cleveland Indians that saw the Red Sox land C/1B Victor Martinez for their playoff run.  Masterson, only 24 years old would have looked equally as good in a Blue Jays uniform going forward.  In 112 innings this season, he has a tidy 3.97 FIP, 7.7 K/9 and has shown a propensity to induce his fair share of ground balls (career 54% ground ball rate).

Daniel Bard is the one player I feel most certain the Red Sox wouldn’t have included in this offer, not this season.  The flame throwing Bard (fastball average 97.1), also just 24 years old is playing a huge role for the Red Sox in their bullpen this year and for that reason alone the Red Sox would be crazy to include him unless the Jays were also offering a solid relief pitcher in this trade (which was not reported in the article).  He has a ridiculous 12.2 K/9 in 43 innings as well as a solid 3.01 FIP.  He was a starting pitcher in the minor leagues in 2007 before being shifted to the bullpen (and seeing increased results) but either way (relief or starting) he would’ve been an extremely smart addition for the Blue Jays.

Michael Bowden, only 23 years old hasn’t been untouchable in the minors by any stretch (6.2 K/9) but has shown the ability to get hitters out at the AAA level (4.08 FIP) and while not a deal breaker still a solid depth player to add in any trade.  At the very least, he could come in and replace Scott Richmond or Brian Tallet fulltime.  Felix Doubrant, a 22 year old lefty has shown some promise early and is still very young.  Nick Hagadone is 23 years old and was also included in the Victor Martinez trade, so they must have seen something in this kid as well.

Never mind the fact they [Red Sox] would have essentially kissed their trade for Victor Martinez goodbye but factor in that they would have been trading 5 young, cheap and talented pitchers for a year and half rental of Roy Halladay and it just makes very little sense.  If the Jays had landed Buchholz, Bard, Masterson, Bowden and company JP Ricciardi would be deserving of a statue in front of the Rogers Centre.


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.