Blue Jays mail bag
Don’t blame it on Rios. There’s a lot of Jays’ angst going around this week about the highly paid Puerto Rican slugger and his failure to lead the struggling offence to the next level. But have no fear, there’s plenty of blame to go around. The Jays are still spinning their wheels in the AL East race, but with Vernon and Johnny Mac back and Aaron Hill and Gregg Zaun on the way, the bench will once again become an asset and Joe Inglett can finally cash his ticket back to Syracuse. Note to starting pitchers: Don’t get hurt. On to the mail bag:
Q: Hi Richard,
Another “personal” question. Do you think that speaking your mind (as you do in these mailbags) hurts your relationship in gleaning knowledge from the great J.P. Riccardi and/or John Gibbons? For example, in your June 4th mailbag: “But J.P. is a genius so who are we to question him?” I personally love the cutting sarcasm, since you write what we as fans are feeling (in my opinion), but do you find it makes your job more difficult?
Nik Jones, Port St. Lucie, FL
A: Good question and I’m not sure of the answer. What I do know is that if I believe what I’m writing it makes it easier to walk through the door into the clubhouse or the pressbox and deal with the Jays’ front office and manager. And I do believe in what I’m offering to readers as opinion. As for the sometimes sarcasm, sometimes I just can’t help myself. Between the two Jays’ men, Ricciardi and Gibbons, the manager has a far better grasp on the situation than J.P. seems to. After some rocky moments with Gibby, the relationship has settled into one of arm’s length mutual respect. In fact I think Gibbons enjoys answering questions that challenge his baseball intelligence and make him think. He gives thoughtful, detailed answers, rather than those brushed-off questions from casual media that are one dimensional and treat him like a country bumpkin – which he’s definitely not. As for J.P., he still believes that he’s in Canada to teach us all about baseball – which is quite irritating.
Q: Is it time the Jays think about sliding Rios down the batting order? I mean, every game that I watch it appears he is either (a) striking out with men in scoring position; or (b) grounding into a double play with the bases loaded. How long can this continue? He is leaving way too many men on base. I know J.P. will never allow a guy who he just signed to a huge extension to bat seventh or eighth, but his lack of production is killing the team. And it doesn't look like he is trying to change his approach at the plate to try and bust out of this (prolonged) slump. What to do?
Bram Green, Toronto
A: Perceptions of Rios’ failures with runners in scoring position seem greater than they really are because of the expectations from a guy that physically looks like he should be getting a hit every time up and a guy that just signed a huge contract like he did. Also, when the team batting average with RISP is under .240, everyone is a culprit.
One thing that is true about Rios is he seems to be hitting the ball on the ground a lot more than he used to, not driving the ball into the alleys like he should. Dropping him down in the order would not be the solution. Those key opportunities with runners on base would still be coming up in key game situations, just once fewer per game. Besides, who else has earned the chance to bat in the top three in the order? Nobody. Moving Rios back into the leadoff role was the best idea for the moment. As for his prolonged slump, the man is hitting .268, although his OPS (on-base-plus-slugging) hovering around .700 is unacceptable.
Q: I saw that Charlie Manuel pulled Jimmy Rollins - reigning NL MVP - for not running out a ball in the fourth inning of a game, which I personally think is a great move.
My question is what is John Gibbons’ threshold with Alex Rios’ 400-500 times of Alex trotting half speed down to first before he is challenged or pulled?
Andrew Stevens, Burlington
A: Once again with Rios, perception is the key. The guy is an elegant athlete and when he runs full speed it looks like he’s gliding. I believe that the progress he made as an outfielder while filling in for Vernon Wells in centre field is what should be the hallmark of his ’08 season, thus far.
There’s no doubt that it has been a frustrating offensive season for Rios and his teammates. I agree with you about the merits of what Manuel did with Jimmy Rollins in Philly, but I don’t see the need with Rios. Plus, it’s unlikely, given the Jays’ manager. Not saying it won’t happen at some point, but Gibbons protects his players at all times from public criticism, even when they make obvious mental or physical gaffes. I don’t think it’s in his makeup to publicly embarrass one of his players like Manuel did to Rollins.
Q: I liked your comment the other day about the Jays consistently being five games +/- the .500 mark as I think you are exactly right. It's been that way for a while except for the odd stinker year, which this one could still turn out to be. As a long-suffering Jays fan watching from afar and getting sick of J.P’s spin, let's be constructive and say "What will it take for the Jays to be a consistent division or wild card contender?"
What worries me is this acceptance of the level we're presently at, the litany of excuses and a cupboard (the minors) that seems pretty bare. Our offence isn't much better than it was in 1980, and we are one or two starting pitcher injuries away from disaster. In your frank opinion, what needs to be done?
Rob Brander, Sydney Australia
A: What will it take for the Jays to be annual contenders? It will take a reversal of Ricciardi’s standard operating procedure. Instead of buying high-priced veteran talent around the diamond and filling in the gaps with the best homegrown or cheap, released free agent talent available, the Jays need to introduce two or three new, talented homegrowns every year and fill in around them with veteran free agent talent. The steady stream of talent coming through the system is not happening and that does not bode well for the Jays being any more than mediocre for the next several years. Sure, one season they may catch lightning in a bottle, but homegrown talent at multiple positions is the key to annual contention.
Q: With (Diamondbacks’ second baseman) Orlando Hudson set to become a free agent this winter, do you think the Jays would be interested in bringing him back to the city of Toronto and moving Aaron Hill to shortstop?
Kareem El-Assal, Scarborough
A: That’s a wonderful scenario to consider. Hill could certainly handle the adjustment to shortstop. He has the arm to play the position. But Hudson would never consider a return to Toronto unless GM J.P. Ricciardi was gone. That part of the equation may happen. But the other aspect of it is that Hudson is so clearly the class of the free-agent second baseman pool for ’09 – others are Jeff Kent, Mark Grudzielanek and Mark Ellis – that his asking price may be as high as $12 million per year. The other thing is that Hudson was clearly a fan favourite and the Jays for some reason like dumping those guys. It’s almost in the Jays’ world as if nobody should be as popular as the GM.
Q: With all the buzz around Joba (Chamberlain) starting, I was curious as to how he's burst onto the scene so quickly. I was surprised to see that he was drafted 41st overall in the 2006 draft out of college. For someone with the talent to become a dominant set-up man one year removed from the draft, shouldn’t he have gone much higher in the draft? How is it that 40 teams passed on this "future hall-of-famer"?
Rob Rudd, Toronto
A: When you look closely at Joba’s background, it may be surprising that he was picked as high as 41st overall. The fireballing prospect did not pitch until he was a senior in high school. Scouts would not have had him on their radar screens until he had posted a 3-6, 5.23 ERA as a freshman at a Division II college in rural Nebraska. He then transferred to University of Nebraska, lost 25 lbs. and had knee surgery. Basically scouts would have had two years at Nebraska to scout this Native American late bloomer and decide whether his weight and health issues balanced out against his incredible stuff.
The Yankees drafted Ian Kennedy 21st overall and Chamberlain 41st, bit picks received as compensation for the Phillies’ signing of reliever Tom “Flash” Gordon. The Jays took outfielder Travis Snider 14th overall. Pitching has turned out to be the fast-track position from the ’06 June draft. Already in the majors from the first round are Luke Hochevar (Royals), Kennedy and Joba (Yankees), Andrew Miller (Marlins) and Tim Lincecum (Giants). There are plenty of stories like Joba through the years in the baseball June draft because of the imprecise nature of baseball scouting. It’s a crap-shoot.
Q: Hi Richard,
With B.J. Ryan finally blowing a save, I have to repeat a question I've been asking for a long, long time, even pre-injury. Why doesn't this guy get hit more often? He's not over-powering, topping out at 91, if he's lucky. He throws two pitches, and doesn't mix speeds very well. And he’s left-handed on top of it all, so his signature slider breaks in to the righties. Is his control THAT good? It cannot possibly be his intimidating size - the guys he faces are professional hitters. Please help me understand why B.J. Ryan posts such impressive numbers as a closer.
Thank you for your time.
Brad Mitchell, Calgary
A: Closing major league games is as much a state of mind as it is a physical accomplishment. Compare the ninth-inning body language of Ryan and, say, Jason Frasor. It’s like the difference between Hulk Hogan and Pee Wee Herman. Ryan as closer is one of those great illusionists like Kriss Angel. People can get as close as they want and try and watch every moving part of his body as he goes through the ninth inning save and they leave shaking their heads wondering how the trick was accomplished. Ryan relies a lot on deception, with a herky-jerky delivery on two prime pitches. In fact, since he returned from elbow surgery, B.J. has been topping off at about 89 m.p.h.
One of the great baseball videos involves a mid-‘80s sequence with the Cardinals’ Al (the Mad Hungarian) Hrabosky. Well under six-feet tall with an angry-looking Fu Manchu ‘stache, his schtick was to angrily take the ball, turn his back on home plate, stride angrily off the back of the mound, go into an angry trance, snap out of it, throw the ball into his glove hand, spin and climb the hill, staring in at the sign and then rushing into a herky-jerky, angry delivery. When he threw a changeup off that pre-pitch routine the results were hilarious – and effective. Ryan’s own presentation, from turning the corner as he appears out of the bullpen, his sprint to the mound and his warmup routine exudes confidence that carries over to his opponents and his teammates.
Q: Richard, are you ready to acknowledge that it is time for the Jays to go with Barajas full time at catcher? The more playing time he gets, the better he plays. He can actually throw the ball all the way to second base and saves more passed balls than the other guy even catches in game. He was their choice two years ago and all the other guy has done since then is get even older.
J. Mac, Brampton
A: Barajas is not a full-time catcher in terms of 115 or more starts behind the plate. Then again, neither is Gregg Zaun. Certainly Barajas has now, at least, earned the right to split the starts behind the plate with Zaun, instead of making 50 starts as was the original projection.
Barajas has been better than many would have expected, but on throws from the outfield, there have been three recent balls that had a runner beat that Barajas was unable to handle for the catch and tag. One of them at Yankee Stadium would have been a stunning backhand short-hop sweep and tag, but the others were capable of being made. Zaun will get his playing time when he returns, but I’m with you. I think Barajas has played himself into pretty much an equal partnership. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was more starter-catcher pairings the rest of the way. Burnett with Barajas, Halladay with Zaun, etc.
Q: Hi Richard,
I've noticed that when a manager comes out to argue a call with the umpire, he is almost always thrown out of the game. This happens even when the call was obviously wrong, or when the manager speaks or argues very politely. Why do managers still argue even when they know the umpires will rarely change the call, and they will get ejected? How does the ejection of the manager affect the team - either for better or for worse? Also do the managers get fined afterwards for ejections?
Clement Ma, Toronto
A: That is a missed perception on your part. In fact, John Gibbons often comes out for the sole reason that one of his players or one of his coaches has reacted to a call. On the recent trip to Anaheim, Gibbons was asked his reasons for leaving the dugout about two steps out to the field in the game B.J. blew in the ninth. Gibby just shrugged and said, “I don’t know. I didn’t see the play very well.” The reason he went out and the reason he goes out most times is to defend his personnel.
The times he has a chance to be tossed are the times that his face looks like a scrunched up, furrowed ball of fury. If he hangs around more than five seconds, there’s a chance he’s about to be tossed. If he follows the umpire that has just turned away from him, there’s a very good chance he’ll be tossed. I would say there’s less than a 10 per cent ratio of ejections to trips onto the field for all major-league managers.
Q: Hey Richard,
I read your response to the guy headed to Pittsburgh and wanted to ask you a similar question, as a buddy and I head to Baltimore to catch the Jays clash with the Orioles just after the All-Star break. Anything in Baltimore you rate as a must-see experience? Thanks.
Chris Goodal, North Bay
A: Yeah, for sure. Most of the stuff you want to do takes place around the Inner Harbor. Back in ’79 when I first went to Baltimore for the World Series vs. the Pirates it was a horrible tourist town. There was nothing built up downtown and every time you left your hotel you felt like an extra in The Wire.
There are harbour tours on small boats. Take one to Fells Point for lunch. Wander around this historic district filled with antique shops, used book stores and funky architecture. Maybe dinner in Little Italy followed by a walk around the inner harbour area with a stop at ESPN Zone. The next day before the game you have to take the tour of Fort McHenry where Francis Scott Key watched a naval battle unfold and wrote the words to the Star Spangled Banner. At Camden Yards, have a pre-game meal at Boog’s Bar-B-Q and maybe Boog Powell himself will show up. He doesn’t look as big in person as people remember the first baseman from the mid-‘60s. Also the Babe Ruth Museum is a must-see for baseball fans. If you want to rent a car you can drive to Annapolis, home of the U.S. Naval Academy or go out to Havre de Grace and visit everything Ripken. Did you know that the Susquehanna River that empties into the sea at Havre de Grace has its headwaters in Cooperstown?
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