Tag Archives: roy halladay

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.

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.

Nolasco FIP ERA K/9 K/BB HR/9 GB% BABIP 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.

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.

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.