This is fun. Recall that the Jays had a good start last year, but not quite like this. The ’08 Jays under John Gibbons were 31-26 on May 30 after the first game of a series in Anaheim. Then B.J. Ryan stumbled and the Jays found out Aaron Hill was concussed and would miss significant time. The Jays then went 4-13 the next 17 games and Gibby was fired. Now, with a healthy Hill in the lineup again, the Jays are in first place overall in the AL. So is the key to Jays’ success Aaron or Cito? In any case, the next significant date for the Jays will be May 12, when they play their first game of the season vs. the Yankees and any of the big three in the AL East -- Rays, Yanks, Sox. That’s when we’ll start finding out more about the ’09 Jays. On to the mailbag.
Q: Talk about the stunning, unbelievably helpful comeback of Aaron Hill. He is a huge reason the jays are winning and why I enjoy watching them win. If the Blue Jays are still contenders in early July, and the Red Sox and Yankees are underperforming (which, to be frank, due to age and injuries is going to happen) who would you like to see the Jays pick up to bolster the rotation? Maybe a closer? And I'm sorry to say it because he's contributed a few good years and seems to be a good guy, but B.J. Ryan's career in Toronto has to be over.
Thanks for your comments,
Kevin Preston, Brockville, Ont.
A: I’m not sure whether the word “comeback” applies to what Aaron Hill is accomplishing as much as the expression “return to health”. Hill is still just 27-years-old and has never really had an underperforming statistical season from which to come back.
Hill, as we all know, in ’08 suffered a serious concussion delivered by the pointy elbow of David Eckstein on May 29 in Oakland. He never doubted he would be able to return to action, he just never knew exactly when. In the meantime, his appreciation of what he always had as a professional athlete grew. Now, every day, he leaves everything he’s got on the field and it’s showing in his offensive numbers and his defensive enthusiasm.
I agree that Aaron’s presence in the Jays’ two-hole every day is a huge factor in the Jays’ improved offence. Hill had a nice offensive season in ’07 with a .291 average, 47 doubles, 15 homers, 87 runs, 78 RBIs and a .792 OPS. That is a floor with his not ceiling yet defined. He is likely to improve on most of those ’07 numbers. It’s not a comeback as much as resuming “career interrupted”.
As for the possibility of the Jays still being in a contending position in July as the trade deadline approaches and doing something, interim-president-for-life Paul Beeston indicated that the folks at Rogers would be receptive to spending money if needed, but it is unlikely. And don’t look for Beeston to reach out to his old golfing buddy Roger Clemens for a quick injection of talent. By then, Casey Janssen should be healthy and one of the two young lefties may have developed enough to contribute. The big factor at the trade deadline - if they are contending – is that the issue of whether Roy Halladay stays or goes will be moot. He stays.
The Jays’ bullpen without B.J. Ryan is more stable than with him. Perhaps when he’s ready to return, Scott Downs will not be ready to hand back the closer’s role and Ryan can pitch in middle relief until he proves he can set up. Perhaps if that happens, with the Jays’ constantly dangling him like a worm on a hook on waivers for the big-market sharks in July and August, someone will grab him in a panic the same way the Padres in ’98 took Randy Myers and his bulky contract off their hands.
Q: Hi Richard,
Again, I'm loving the columns & mailbag. Just curious if you might agree with a theory I've got. With an experienced coaching staff that has Cito Gaston and Gene Tenace, who've done it all here, with guys in the locker room like Scott Rolen & Kevin Millar, who've done it all or been close, wouldn't that keep the young guys’ level and the others wanting to do more? You have said that the room is not the problem, but maybe, the quality of the room is that much better?
Thanks as always Richard.
Lee Denike, Mississauga
A: I will reiterate that the players say the clubhouse has never been the problem. The Jays, and we’ll stick to recent history, have always had veteran leadership in the clubhouse, going back to Carlos Delgado, Mike Bordick, Frank Catalanotto, Corey Koskie, B.J. Ryan, Reed Johnson, John McDonald, Rolen and Millar.
A winning record always makes a clubhouse look like it has “chemistry”. The real secret is winning. Players show up earlier, hang out more, talk baseball constantly and smile all the time. It’s not rocket science. Cito Gaston was the missing chemist, mixing all the right ingredients to create a spontaneous combustion of talent. The young guys see the success and are a part of it, able to work their way into significant major-league roles without having to do much of the heavy lifting.
Q: Hi Richard,
The past couple of years, we have had all these injuries, from Vernon Wells to, now, the pitching staff. Is this a conditioning problem? If it is, why haven't we replaced the conditioning coach? A couple of years ago, when the Yankees had injury problems, they fired their conditioning coach. We gave ours an extension. It doesn't make any sense to me.
Angel Martinez, Miami
A: Never go with what the Yankees do with their off-field personnel as the template for a major-league “how-to” manual. If you closely follow only one team, it might seem that the injury woes of that organization are worse than anywhere else. The fact is that most teams have deep injury woes that are similar, one to the other. In this day and age of multi-year guaranteed contracts, erring on the side of caution has become an obsession. A mid-market organization like the Jays tends to gravitate to pitchers and players with a history of injury, taking a chance that they can capture lightning in a bottle. Often, with a reoccurrence of chronic injury problems, a finger is pointed at the current organization when, in fact, the seeds of disablement were sown elsewhere.
Q: Hi Richard,
What are the chances that the Jays bring up Wade Miller to replace Brian Burres? Granted Burres only has had one opportunity, but Miller's AAA stats are stronger than Burres'. What is Miller's velocity at? Could he provide a contribution to the Jays?
Adam Lis, London
A: Burres is not the answer even on an interim basis in the rotation. He was let go by the Orioles at the end of last year. That’s a resume buster. The 28-year-old has allowed 232 baserunners in 134 major-league innings since Opening Day last year. In Chicago, the White Sox after an inning realized that Burres could not get a pitch past them and he was gone in the fifth. He is interim.
However, the 32-year-old Wade Miller is not the answer at this point. In his first 19 innings at Triple-A Vegas, Miller has walked 13 hitters. Maybe he can help later, but the right-hander underwent shoulder surgery in ’04 and has not pitched much since, making just eight major-league appearances in the last three years. At this time, there are answers other than Miller.
Q: Hi Richard:
Besides being anxious to see how the sluggin' Jays fare against the AL East, I have a question. What is it, specifically, about the skills of Bruce Walton and Brad Arnsberg that has led to the success of pitchers such as Jesse Carlson, Shawn Camp, Accardo, Downs and Brian Tallet (compared to what they did with other teams)? Are BW and BA simply able to zero in on individual strengths? Is it something else about the mental and physical approach to pitching? Are there other coaches who deserve kudos, as well?
Stu Royal, Erin
A: The Jays’ bullpen has been a strength for the team since ’06 when B.J. Ryan arrived and Scott Downs evolved into a lefty specialist. A big factor has been the consistency of the personnel over the past three seasons, creating an esprit de corps. Bruce Walton has been a big part of that as the den mother during games. Guys that were there in ’06 that are still members of the Jays bullpen, in addition to Ryan and Downs, include Jason Frasor, Brandon League and Tallet. The Jays coaches know what every member of the ‘pen can do and in which situations they thrive. Every day, Arnsberg gives Gaston a list of bullpen guys that are available to pitch that day. Nobody gets overworked and there is no panic because of the depth out there. Players know their roles and that may be the greatest strength of what Walton and Arnsberg are doing with the bullpen.
Q: Hi Richard,
As long as I have been watching baseball I always notice that after the third out a coach will throw a ball to the first baseman as he approaches the dugout. I assume this is some sort of tradition, but how and why did it get started?
Steve Smith, Saskatoon
A: The first baseman has forever kept a ball in his glove lying on the top step of the dugout between innings so that when he goes back out in the field for the next inning he can warm up the infielders as the hurler takes his eight pitches. It used to be that if the inning ended with a groundball, the first-baseman would already have his ball in and the coach wouldn’t need to throw him one. But in the last 10 years, it’s become universal that every time the fielding team comes to the dugout to get ready to hit, someone from the fielding team flips the inning-ending baseball into the stands, whether it’s Lyle Overbay, Vernon Wells or the catcher. Therefore, now, after every inning the first baseman needs a new ball to keep in his glove. Thus the coach’s flip.
Q: Dear Mr. Griffin,
I am a huge fan of your columns and your mailbag. I like to pore over minor league statistics quite often trying to see who is in the Jays' system. Checking over the Jays Single-A squad in Dunedin I stumbled over a tiny pitcher named Tim Collins. It really seems like he can pitch, judging by his statistics. The Jays picked him up as an undrafted free agent last year and he has done nothing but mow guys down since then. He is averaging over 2 Ks per inning this year after striking out almost 1.5 per inning last year at Lansing. His WHIP this year is 0.45. I know it's early, but who is this kid? Does he project as bullpen pitcher or a starter? Noticed he was from JP's hometown of Worcester, they also look to be about the same size, which made me laugh. I saw his stats and his size and I instantly thought of Tim Lincecum. I know that's unlikely, but I would be interested to know what you could dig up and let me know if he could be a legitimate prospect. All the best and thank you.
Matthew Lago, Port Credit, Ont.
A: The guy that recommended the undrafted Tim Collins to the Jays is apparently John Ricciardi, J.P.’s dad who had seen him pitch in American Legion ball in Worcester, Mass.
Collins would be a great story of he was able to ever make it to the majors. The 19-year-old stands about 5-5 (he’s listed at 5-7) and throws 93 m.p.h. with a nice overhand curve and a needs-work changeup. At Dunedin, he has walked just four and struck out 26 batters in 14 innings with a 1.29 ERA. In three pro seasons, he has fanned 131 in 88 1/3 innings. The last pitcher that Ricciardi signed out of Worcester was Tanyon Sturtze. Collins signed in ’07 and has amazed pro personnel at three levels. He projects as a short reliever….literally. It’s a nice story.
Q: Hey Richard,
The Jays have now called up two relievers to fill spots in their bullpen (Bill Murphy and Bryan Bullington). Why have they not summoned Jeremy Accardo?
Adam M., Toronto
A: That is a very good question and one that I’m sure Accardo would like an answer to as well. I asked Brad Arnsberg about that on Tuesday afternoon and he got very defensive about the decision, asking me why I thought Accardo should have been called up. He claimed that there were three candidates put forward at the time of Ryan’s injury and that Bullington was the one that was having the best year.
Accardo has more success at the major-league level than the other guys and is clearly healthy. At Vegas he has pitched eight innings, with eight hits, two walks and four Ks. The Jays’ organization is clearly down on Accardo. They have been that way since the 2008 season, when after a bad start and an injury (forearm soreness), he was sent to the minors and never brought back. His season was shut down on August 20.
There has been an organizational perception of Accardo that he does not work hard enough. It is difficult for me to say, but it’s a head-scratcher that he was passed over in April behind Murphy and Bullington.
Q: Hi Richard, I was just wondering what happened to Joe Inglett. He's a career .304 minor league hitter who finally got a chance last year and made the most of it. I realize he doesn't have as much power as Baustista, but he's much more valuable defensively, is a better average and on base guy, and a better base runner. Surely he's a better option than Baustista?
Jim Dickie, Fredericton
A: The 30-year-old Inglett is a good utility player, but at this stage of his career does not need to play every day in the minor leagues to maintain his value. It’s a good thing because he’s got just 24 at-bats in six games at Las Vegas. The 51s have Scott Campbell, Howie Clark and Russ Adams that can all play second base, plus a solid outfield.
The way Cito uses his bench, Inglett’s assets as a defender and baserunner would go to waste. Bautista has more power and the Jays need a reserve third baseman for when Rolen gets a day off. The corners should have more power than Inglett provides.
Q: Richard, I would love to get Brian Butterfield's take on the NFL draft that took place this (past) weekend. Any word on who was running back and forth from the clubhouse to the dugout in Chicago to fill him in on the picks?
Jonny J., Toronto
A: I asked Butter on Tuesday what he thought and how he handled the draft and his beloved Patriots. Apparently as he prepared for the game on Saturday in Chicago, he would glance up at the TV screen and check out the ticker scroll across the bottom. As soon as he saw the Pats turn was coming up as one of the next three picks, he would take a break and watch.
A big admirer of Bill Belichick’s career in New England, the Jays’ bench coach did not anticipate several of his team’s selections, although he did have DB Patrick Chung (Oregon) as the top defensive back on his own draft list.
Butter, who has a personal relationship with several executives in the Pats’ front office, explained how Belichick works his draft. He and his aides pinpoint players that can make the Patriots roster that coming season, even if they are special teamers. Those are the guys they draft, especially in the later rounds. Butter talks about the Pats like it’s a cult.
Q: Hey Richard,
If we ever see Halladay, Litsch, Romero, Purcey, Richmond, Janssen, Marcum, McGowan, and even Tallet (looking like a bona fide starter) all healthy, would the Jays bring up Brett Cecil as a starter to make it a 10 man rotation?
In all seriousness, how much can be said for teams not getting much looks at starting pitchers? If you're sending different arms out to the mound every day, giving teams very little opportunity to learn the pitchers throughout the year, could this not be a competitive advantage? These young starters clearly seem to be embracing every opportunity to shine. In a Tony LaRussa-esque attempt to change the way the game is managed, is there an argument for having a 10 man rotation? There is the obvious issue of starters getting used to pitching every fortnight, sure you only have so many spots on the team, and let's be honest, this pitching bubble will burst, but why not try it? I mean if it ain't broke....
Come one. It's an interesting thought!
Paxton aka optimist
A: The only problem with a 10-man rotation and a seven-man bullpen is that leaves just eight position players to form a lineup. Maybe you could have each starter pitch until he loses and then disable him, giving the next guy the same chance. Then again, maybe not.
Click here to send Richard a question, and he'll answer a selection in his mailbag Wednesdays in this space. **Note: please follow the link above to send a question to Richard. Questions posted in the comments section may not make it to the mailbag. Thanks.**