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Blue Jays Off-Season Target – Ricky Nolasco

Ricky Nolasco

Ricky Nolasco


The Blue Jays have a lot of decisions to make in the upcoming off-season, from a new team president to a likely new general manager and even deciding whether or not to keep the team’s greatest player of all time in Roy Halladay.  I am going to be doing a series of posts in the new few weeks and months as the looming off-season is nearly upon us, with players (realistically – sorry Pujols is just not an option) I feel the Blue Jays would be smart to acquire.

The first player on my off-season wish list is SP Ricky Nolasco.  I know what you are thinking, the first player the Blue Jays should be attempting to land is a pitcher coming off a 13-9, 5.06 ERA season – I must be crazy, or stupid.  Well, you just helped my case if you felt it would be just plain insanity to even consider a guy like Nolasco – maybe this is the perfect time to strike for a guy who appears to have had a rough year but whose peripheral stats were nearly as good as any pitcher in the majors and a man who suffered from some extremely tough luck in 2009.

Ricky Nolasco, who will be 27 years old on opening day in 2010 just had one of the strangest seasons a pitcher has had in a long time.  Nolasco had the highest ERA (5.06) for any pitcher in history with a 1.25 WHIP and one of the biggest discrepancies between his ERA (a relatively useless stat) and his FIP (fielding independent pitching).  Nolasco led all qualified starting pitchers in the major leagues with a 1.71 difference between his ERA (5.06) and his FIP (3.35) as he suffered from absolutely miserable luck this season – namely a .336 BABIP and very low 61% LOB.

2009 3.35 5.06 9.5 4.4 1.12 38 336 61
2008 3.77 3.52 7.9 4.4 1.19 38 284 76


As you can see that 5.06 ERA sticks out like a sore thumb when you look at all of the other stats listed on the above table, as does the .336 BABIP and 61% LOB rate.  All things considered Nolasco was actually a better pitcher in 2009 as he took his strikeout game to an entirely new level with a 9.5 K/9 with the help of his wicked slider (which was worth 12.2 runs per 100 pitches) and an improved split finger offering (worth 5.6 runs per 100 pitches thrown).  Nolasco recently struck out 9 batters in a row (one strikeout away from the record) and has been fairly dominant since his return to the major leagues after a quick demotion.

The Florida Marlins are reportedly already looking to shed salary and Nolasco will be entering his lucrative contract years in the near future and the Blue Jays have what any cost sensitive teams want, cheap young talent.  I am not sure what it would take to get the deal done, but if the Jays offered Brett Cecil and a young bat it might be enough – but that is strictly hearsay.  Likely the Marlins know what they have in Nolasco and the young stud righty is anything but available in their eyes, but it has to be worth a phone call –or two.

If the Blue Jays are serious about adding payroll in 2010 and want to keep Roy Halladay, adding a legit #2 starter to backup Roy Halladay ala the much missed A.J. Burnett would be the first move I would make before looking at adding a veteran bat to take pressure off Aaron Hill and Adam Lind in the heart of the Toronto order.  If the perceived value of Ricky Nolasco is low this would seem like the ideal time to try and pull off a steal.


Jays Happ-y with Romero

Ricky Romero in the sharp red jersey.

Ricky Romero in the sharp red jersey.

In the Blue Jays attempt to trade Roy Halladay the Philadelphia Phillies were the team considered by most insiders to be the favourites to land the big righty, and among the names the Blue Jays insisted be included was 27 year old lefty J.A. Happ.  According to some reports, the Phillies would only include Happ or Kyle Drabek, but not both.  He was even considered by some the integral piece in any potential trade and I found myself asking the same question over and over, why?  On the surface, it appears Happ is having a pretty solid season with a 10-4 record, a shiny 2.77 ERA and a tidy 1.19 WHIP.  But upon further review Happ wouldn’t even be the best Blue Jays pitcher this year, sans Halladay.    

That honour would have belonged to 25 year old rookie southpaw Ricky Romero.  Romero will always be forever linked to Colorado Rockies SS Troy Tulowitzki as Tulo was the man the Jays apparently passed on in order to take Romero.  The selection of Romero by most accounts was a relatively ‘off the board’ pick that took most GMs by surprise when the Jays decided to choose the Cal State Fullerton standout.  Romero looked phenomenal in his first pro season posting a tidy 2.99 FIP and a solid 9.4 K/9 in 58.1 IPs in Class ‘A’ ball.  He showed some inconsistency over the next couple of years but he bounced back in 2008 after he was promoted to ‘AAA’ and the light seemed to turn on for Romero and he started to show the faith shown in him was warranted.

Going into 2009 he was considered a long shot at best to make the Blue Jays rotation but Romero essentially gave Cito Gaston no option but to keep him with the big club.  Romero started the season with a pretty impressive 21 IPs in April going 2-0 with a low 1.71 ERA and 1.10 WHIP.  Suddenly the name Tulowitzki wasn’t being brought up with the same vigour.

Romero throws harder than Happ (91.8 MPH vs 89.7) and also generates more swings and misses (78% contact rate vs 83) as well as outside-zone swings (24.4% vs 20.3).  Romero has even suffered from relatively poor luck in comparison to Happ and this table gives a reflection of the seasons they are currently having:

  FIP K/9 K/BB GB % HR/9 HR/FB BABIP O-Swing
Romero 4.35 7.0 1.7 53 0.9 12.4% .323 24%
Happ 4.37 6.2 2.0 38 1.06 9.4% .256 20%


I am not opposed to trading Roy Halladay but I do worry about most of the proposed offers that came out of the Philly/Toronto talks, I would think we could do better than a deal where the only (or best) arm we would’ve landed would be J.A. Happ.  With a bit more refined control and command Ricky Romero could develop into a pretty decent #2 starter for the Jays going forward and Romero is the leader of a pack of fairly impressive lefties the Jays have debuted this season including Brett Cecil, Marc Rzepczynski and David Purcey.

Travis Snider Still Cruz-in?

Love the stache Jr!

Love the stache Jr!


Nothing quite captures the imagination of baseball fans like the rise of a top prospect through the minor league system and (hopefully) into the major leagues.  There is nothing like the intoxicating allure of a fresh faced and well hyped youngster to get the old proverbial baseball juices flowing.  For the Toronto Blue Jays faithful the name Travis Snider is now firmly synonymous with a word Blue Jays fans have been lacking as of late, hope.  Baseball America named him the Jays top prospect in 2009 and he has basically been labelled as a “can’t miss” hitting prospect.  With so much invested in him emotionally already and expectations so high, will we all be left well, disappointed at what he becomes?  Think of poor Jose Cruz Jr.

Travis Snider was drafted in the 1st round (14th overall) in the 2006 draft in a year that saw one of the premier arms Tim Lincecum go #10 to San Fran and Joba Chamberlain in the compensatory stages of the 1st round.  Snider was a bit of a rarity for the Jays up to this point in the fact that he was drafted out of high school.  Normally a no-no for the Moneyball conscientious JP Ricciardi led Toronto Blue Jays front office.  Snider wasted no time in justifying the pick as he absolutely destroyed rookie ball 325/412/567 including 11 HRs in only 194 at-bats.

The next year Snider played 118 games in Class “A” Lansing and continued to flash a very impressive bat this time posting a slash line of 313/377/525 again showing solid power with 16 HRs in 457 at-bats, good for a very solid .393 wOBA.  A few red flags were raised as Snider showed less than optimal patience at the plate as he posted a 28.2% K rate as well as a low(ish) 9.7% BB rate.  Still hard to argue with a kid that just posted back to back .200+ ISO seasons in his first two professional seasons directly out of high school.

In 2008 Snider had a meteoric rise through the ranks as he started the year in “A” ball and made it all the way to big leagues by season’s end.  His stats per league played in for 2008:

“A” – 279/333/557, .403 wOBA, 7.6% BB rate

“AA” – 262/357/461, .366 wOBA, 12.6% BB rate

“AAA” – 344/386/516, .399 wOBA, 5.9% BB rate.

All in all very these are very impressive numbers for a kid his age ascending the minor leagues in this fashion but they were not without a few warts.  Namely, Snider was basically swinging at everything as he showed very little in the way of plate discipline.  Snider made a brief cameo in the show for the Blue Jays and played in 24 games and did not look totally out of place, posting a .345 wOBA but again showing zero patience with a 6.4% BB rate and a fairly low contact rate of around 70%.

Expectations were sky high for “Lunch bucket” (Snider’s nickname) but unfortunately for the kid, things did not go too smoothly.  While the Jays were playing well above their heads, Snider was struggling miserably and was sent down on May 22nd as he basically looked lost at the plate.  To his credit, Snider didn’t sulk and whine while he was in “AAA” Las Vegas, in fact his bat caught fire and he absolutely dominated the league posting a 337/431/663 slash line and even showed an increased strike zone awareness with a solid 13.8% BB rate.  He was aided by a .395 BABIP but I am nitpicking here, the kid was on fire and got the call-up in mid August.  Since his return, Snider has basically been swinging at everything (in 100 ABs since his return, a staggering 47% K rate – yikes!) as Marc Hulet at FanGraphs points out here.

Defensively Travis Snider looks like a future DH in the making as his UZR in 86 career MLB games sits at a relatively poor -10.3, Reed Johnson he is not.  There is some talk that the Jays may try to convert Snider into a first-basemen where his lack of range and poor arm could be better hidden, but the jury is still out whether or not he could even be a league average first-basemen.

The comparisons are pouring in as you would expect and the name that is brought up the most when people mention Snider is none other than JP’s best bud OF/DH Adam Dunn.  I like the comparison for the power bat, no defence and high K-rate, but Adam Dunn also walks at an absurd clip (17.1% career BB rate).  If Snider became Adam Dunn Blue Jays fans should rejoice and although there are similarities to their games I think a more valid comparison would be a left-handed version of Jason Bay (career 12.9% BB rate, 27% K rate), assuming Snider can increase his BB rate over the next 4-5 seasons.

The future is still bright for Travis Snider but I think some of the lustre has come off as he is turning into a real player to Blue Jays fans and not the mystical fantasy known as “prospect”.  Snider is under team control for many more years and will provide value with his bat well beyond his actual salary regardless of defence/position.  But it will be up to Snider to iron out the kinks in his game, again like Aaron Hill, command of the strike zone.  If he does that I think the sky is the limit for this kid, if he doesn’t he will be just like Jose Cruz Jr – loved one minute and gone the next.

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.

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?