Blue Jays mail bag
The Big Hurt is gone and life in Jay-Land goes on. But what’s up with Alex Rios? The Jays fly from Texas to Baltimore and he gets the day off. The Jays fly from T-O to Orlando and he gets the day off. Is this a clause in his new contract? The Jays lost both those games and the final one vs. Detroit with Vernon Wells getting the day off. It seems Cal Ripken has nothing to worry about from any Blue Jay. To the mailbag, Batman.
Q: Hi Richard.
Let the pessimistic side of me come out early, will you? If the Jays find themselves mired in mediocrity again this year and so far, I see no reason why they won’t, I am curious, with A.J. Burnett’s opt out, will the Jays try and shop the right hander before the July 31st trading deadline. I vision the New York Mets being a great destination for him. Thoughts?
Bob van Rees, Guelph
A: As is the usual modus operandi of J.P. Ricciardi, he will always answer his phone and listen to discussions for any player as the trade deadline approaches, but does that constitute “shopping a player”? The problem for the Jays would be that by trading Burnett for futures in July, J.P. would be admitting his ’08 season is a failure and would be basically signing his own pink slip, since he promised Ted Rogers a contender this year.
Any team that wishes to trade for A.J. during the season is going to have to sweeten the pot for the remaining two years of his contract (2009-10) that currently calls for $12 million per season. The new team – if they want to hold onto him – would also have to include an extension, so it would basically be a free-agent situation with his contract. Remember, his opt out clause after ’08 would be carried over to his new team.
Of course, the way the market for free-agent starting pitchers has gone recently, even the Jays, his current team, will likely have to sweeten his deal in October to keep him. Are they willing to do that? Not likely, which means they will, indeed, be willing to trade Burnett in July for the right package but won’t feel compelled to. If he declares free agency in November and goes elsewhere, the Jays get a draft choice, which is not the end of the world, plus they would have $12 million to spend elsewhere which gives them some flexibility. As for suitors, the Mets are always in the mix.
Q: Putting on your G.M. hat - contracts and major league experience aside (based on ability, not just “when their stuff is on”) - if you could choose between A.J. Burnett, Shaun Marcum and Jesse Litsch and could only have one of three in your rotation, whom would it be? This one really puts the overly used word “potential” into play.
Kris Duffin, Toronto
A: In order, right now, I would want Burnett, then Marcum, followed by Litsch. It’s pretty much of a tossup between Marcum and Burnett in terms of who I would want on the mound on any given day, but Marcum is a finesse guy that has only done it for one year. A concern is the 27 home runs he gave up last year and the fact that his busiest pro season is still only 165 innings. Burnett, on the other hand, has several seasons of 200-plus innings, although his residence is officially listed as the corner of Electric Avenue and Broken Dreams Boulevard. There’s a reason Litsch was a 24th round draft pick just four years ago. It will show itself eventually.
Q: Hi Richard,
A couple more questions, quickly. Why have we not seen Johnny Mac come in as a defensive replacement for Eckstein in the late stages of close games? Also, do the Jays have plans for (David) Purcey to be the starter to replace Burnett should Burnett walk in the off-season?
Rory Wilson, Halifax
A: That’s a very good question regarding John McDonald as a late-inning replacement at shortstop. Back at spring training, manager John Gibbons said emphatically that he would not do that. But there have been moments in Jays games so far where a bouncer goes up the middle or into the hole at shortstop and you almost expect the play to be made by a diving, sliding, somersaulting Johnny Mac. Instead, David will appear in the picture slightly late and centimetres short. That one groundball out makes a huge difference to a pitching staff, but maybe when Scott Rolen returns to action and it frees Marco Scutaro up as a bench player, McDonald can be used more in that late-inning defensive role with another player (Scutaro) still available that can play short in case of an injury. Why not use all your resources in the best situations that they can be used to help secure a win?
Q: Richard, I enjoy your column and respect your opinion. I have a concern that Gregg Zaun’s power seems to have disappeared. Could this be linked to the steroid scandal or just a temporary slump? Watching the bottom third of the batting order, it seems anemic without Barajas in there.
Ken Henry, Waterloo, Ont.
A: I think that Zaun’s mention in the Mitchell Report has people paying special attention to his power numbers and also staring at his biceps. But the fact of the matter is that Zaun’s career highs are 24 doubles and 12 homers. At his current pace, he would end the ’08 season with 24 doubles and eight homers. Speaking to him during BP late in the last homestand, he was becoming happy with the way he was beginning to swing the bat, hitting the ball hard, with not much results to show.
I don’t think we can blame Zaun for being surrounded by Scutaro and Joe Inglett in the bottom third of the order. If it was a symphony orchestra, the bottom third of the Jays’ lineup would be the banjo section. When Rolen returns, all of a sudden, it will push hitters like Matt Stairs, or Lyle Overbay, or Shannon Stewart or Adam Lind into the bottom third and it will seem less anemic.
Q: Hi Richard,
Baseball 102: My dad and I were watching the Web Gems on that network of subtlety, ESPN, and he wondered how fast the infielders throw. I imagine on routine plays, it’s probably 55 or 60 mph, but on the “bang-bang” plays, it's got to be 75 mph on up. I’m sure Rafael Furcal could get it up to 90 mph, which must be a thrill if you're a first baseman. I'm guessing of course, but wondered if I was close.
Nik Jones, Port St Lucie, FL
A: It’s amazing how much velocity the slope of a mound adds to the pace of pitches, so you and your dad are right. Even though guys look like they’re throwing peas over to first base, you have to take into consideration that a lot of throws are off-balance, heading away from the bag or flat-footed. A good shortstop or third baseman probably gets off good throws at between 70-75 miles per hour. Guys like Furcal, or Shawon Dunston from back in the day, would be 85-90 m.p.h. as an estimate. As for ESPN’s treatment of baseball, they are about as subtle as YouTube’s Tila Tequila at spring break.
Q: Living from hand to mouth: I have a question regarding a baseball rule that I would like to have explained. On Sunday, I was watching the Jays game vs. the Rangers and pitcher Jeremy Accardo went to his fingers to help moisten up the baseball, while on the mound. The third-base umpire caught what he did and penalized Accardo with a ball that was added to the hitter’s count. That evening, I took in a few innings of the Yankees-Red Sox game, and I noticed that the Yankees starter, Phil Hughes, did the same thing Accardo had done, an act that was either overlooked or undetected by the four infield umps. What gives? Is there not consistency regarding this stipulation? Or does it just depend on how much of a stickler the ump is on any given day? And what do they call these pitches anyway, “lickety-splits”?
Darrell Holtze, Guelph, Ont.
A: They used to call those pitches “cheating”. Spitballs are a lost art, but I remember when the late Lew Burdette, then coaching for the Braves in the mid ’70s, would come into the Jarry Park press room for a post-game libation and entertain the scribes with a game of “spitball or no spitball”. Standing within arm’s length, he would go through an intricate series of twitchy pre-pitch rituals and nobody could ever see when it was that he had horked a loogie on the ball. It was amazing.
But back to the original question, on cold days, the umpires will tell both managers and starters that it is okay for the pitchers to blow in their hands or go to their mouths while standing on the mound. It’s more a matter of moving the game along and the reality of the weather. On occasion, the umpires might miss one, but they are usually pretty good about it. I would guess that it was cold enough at the Sox-Yankees game that they had permission.
Q: Hi, Richard,
It’s such a little thing, but the decision to keep Randy Wells (Rule 5 Draft) on the squad to begin the season, only to return him to the Chicago Cubs after one appearance is bothering me. I just can't figure out what the strategy was behind the decision to keep him and then let him go.
As a Rule 5, you know there was a good chance that after a few appearances he might not have panned out and in making a roster move, they potentially lose him through waivers or would have to return him directly. But to let him go after one appearance, they might as well have kept (Jesse) Carlson from camp (considering they brought him up to take the spot). What was the gain or was this just a “Bloop?” What could they have possibly assessed from that one short appearance that was not determined in camp?
Martin Keogh, Mississauga
A: I asked Ricciardi about the Jays true intentions as soon as Wells was designated for assignment, feeling much the same way as you. J.P. said that they had had discussions with the Cubs during the end of spring training about making a minor deal that would have allowed the Jays to keep Wells and send him down to the minors. Ricciardi said he was confident that something could be worked out during the waiver period. But for some reason they couldn’t come to an agreement and the Cubs wanted him back. My theory is that Brad Arnsberg and the Jays staff did too good a job at working with Wells on a two-seam sinking fastball and that he had improved so much from when the Cubs had him that when they scouted him again in the spring as part of their look at the Jays, that they now wanted the new and improved Wells back in their system and said screw the deal we may have been talking about.
As for why they shipped him out, if I recall, the Jays had been in a couple of tough bullpen games and needed a fresh reliever. They also needed a roster spot, so they designated Wells and hoped they could make a deal. Wrong!
Q: Hi Richard,
I just want to let you know that I love getting your insight about all things Blue Jays in the mailbag.
My question is regarding A.J. Burnett - do you think that his negative reputation based on his .500 record is really justified? Last year Burnett had an ERA of 3.75 and a WHIP of 1.189. Roy Halladay had an ERA of 3.71 and a WHIP of 1.243 and their career numbers are also similar in those areas. Wouldn't you agree that wins are a poor way of evaluating a player since the outcome of the game is completely out of their control (i.e. lack of run support, failure of the bullpen)?
Eric Sillius, Oakville
A: Don Sutton, when he was approaching 300 career wins, would only sign as a free agent with a team that had a superior bullpen. Even this future Hall-of-Famer knew what you were talking about with regard to factors contributing to victories.
But the fact is that you don’t go to the post-season on the total WHIP of your pitching staff. You go on the total WINS of your pitching staff. Think about it. Guys with great stuff that are always involved in low scoring games are going to have better Walks and Hits to Innings Pitched ratios because every inning is essential to victory. Guys on teams that score a lot of runs often pitch to the score of the game, like Jack Morris, challenging hitters with fastballs if they’re leading big. Their WHIP will naturally not be as good, while their win total is invariably better.
Burnett in ’07 made 25 starts and pitched 165.2 innings. Doc made 31 starts and pitched 225.1 innings. Who would you rather have? WHIP and ERA are projected averages given the same number of innings. Dude, just because I can run the 100 metres in 15 seconds, doesn’t mean I can finish a marathon in under two hours.
Q: I know that John Gibbons is often criticized for his use of the bullpen - his frequent switching, unwillingness to let a pitcher finish an inning, etc. This has not really been an issue for me until recently, and has now been highlighted by the gross mismanagement of his pitchers in the recent 14-inning loss to the Texas Rangers. How incredible and irresponsible is it to use nine pitchers (including two starters) in 14 innings? That’s the equivalent of 1.5 pitchers an inning! I understand about getting the right match-ups and all that, and the fact the Jays didn't tie the game until late, but in the light of the Rockies and the Padres going 22 innings and using seven and eight pitchers, respectively, don't you think Gibbons mismanagement of the bullpen is glaring and egregious?
Andrew Swartz, Toronto
A: Just a slight correction on the math, nine pitchers in 14 innings is one pitcher every 1.5 innings, not 1.5 pitchers every inning. I agree with you that handling a staff is not Gibby’s forte. The main thing for me is the number of guys that warm up and never come into the game. Over 162 games, it wears pitchers down. But I don’t think you can ever manage a game as if it’s going to go 14 innings, although what you can do and what I’ve seen good managers do over the years is you can have the last guy out of the pen be one of your swing guys, a former minor-league starter, one of your mop-up guys who can pitch 3-5 innings if necessary.
The Siren’s call that seems to get the Jays in trouble with the makeup of this bullpen is the unusual balance between left-handers and right-handers that entices a manager to go with left-right matchups throughout the game, leaving you with neither when push comes to shove in the 14th inning. If Joe Inglett had just got the bunt on the ground on a squeeze, the game would have been over.
Q: Hi Richard,
Love your column. What do you think the chances are the Jays might have interest in Kenny Lofton? If Matt Stairs becomes the full time DH that would leave Shannon Stewart as a full-time LF. I'm not sure I'm ready for that. Lofton can still play, as exhibited last year when he was with the Indians.
I love the Jays, but for me the jury is still out on this year’s club. I think my confusion is caused by reading your “glass is half empty” reasoning in the paper, and then hearing Mike Wilner’s “glass is half full” reasoning on the radio. If this persists, you two may have to settle this with a boxing match. At least I'd know who to listen to.
Jim Branscome, Newark, Ohio
A: Kenny Lofton wants to be a starter and play every day. As for Stewart, he will end up splitting time in left field with Adam Lind and DH’ing occasionally. Lofton is 40-years-old and has played for nine major-league teams in the past six years. There is a reason for those nomadic tendencies and the main one is never being happy with a role. And we know how well Gibby deals with that.
As for Wilner, even with his Herbal Essence diet I don’t think I’m in the same weight division.
Q: I have a few questions about the art of giving signs in baseball. We routinely see base coaches give signs to hitters and guys on base. Question #1: How often does a team change their signs, is it from game to game, week to week? Question #2 In your experience in and around the game have you ever known a player to struggle to read the signs to the point it cost him playing time? Question #3 Are the signs being relayed to batters actually changed pitch-by-pitch in some situations?
Jacob Bestebroer, Chilliwach, BC
A: More important than changing signs is changing “indicators”. That’s the specific hand signal that tells a hitter or baserunner, “Okay you better start paying attention.” The real signs may be semaphored over and over during any sequence, but until the hitter sees the indicator sign, then it’s like Mr. Peterman sitting in the jungle cave in Burma. “Elaine it’s not Burmese. It’s all gibberish.”
The main time that teams will change signs going into a series is if a player they have had recently has gone to the other team and knows thir old signs. The signs remain the same for the whole game, but indicators may be changed if a coach suspects they have been stolen.
As for guys missing signs, I remember Pascual Perez getting the squeeze sign for the Expos in San Diego on August 29, 1989 and as the runner, Nelson Santovenia, charged home Perez swung away and fouled off the pitch. Thed third base coach called the loopy right-hander out and put an arm around his shoulder to tell him he missed a sign and gave him a verbal sign. The squeeze was on again as Santovenia raced for the plate. Again Perez swung and pulled one past the big catcher’s ear. Perez struck out on the next pitch.
Q: Hi Richard,
Do you think that, along with the other benefits already mentioned, the cutting of Frank Thomas could lead to more starts for John MacDonald? Part of the problem with getting him in the lineup, after all, is that the Jays don't have another true leadoff hitter. But once Rolen is back and they have that third power bat, against lefty starters they could DH David Eckstein and bring in MacDonald’s glove. In addition, they could revisit the notion of a personal SS for Doc without worrying about losing their sparkplug. I know Eckstein chose us partly to play short over second. Do you think he'd mind the occasional DH night? And do you think the Jays would do it?
Mark Acheson, London
A: It’s an interesting idea, having Eckstein DH vs. some tough left-handers, while Johnny Mac draws a start at short. The other options are Stewart and Barajas as right-handed hitters. Stewart, of course could play left field in those same games, while Barajas catches. I do think that it would not be a bad idea to have McDonald at short for many of Halladay’s starts, because in those games, defence is as important as offence. I don’t think Eckstein would mind an occasional day off in the field as long as he was in the lineup. Whether Gibbons agrees is another story.
Every Wednesday, Richard Griffin answers your Blue Jays questions, in the Blue Jays blog. Click here to submit a question.