Not in 16 years at this job have I received as much email on any issue as that of Sportsnet-1 and the perception of fans being bullied, ripped off, taken for granted or taken for fools. This is more than a case of the Rogers brand shooting itself in the foot.
Take for example Tuesday night. The Jays vs. O's was on Sportsnet-1. The Yankees vs. Rays was on regular Sportsnet. Viewers who are baseball fans first and Jays fans second, once they finished their nightly cursing of Rogers and fist-shaking at their TVs, settled in for a compelling Yankee-Rays battle for first place. Great game, extra innings for the second night in a row. Carl Crawford thrown out at third to end an 8-7 loss. However those that are Jays fans only cursed Rogers and then took their evening viewing over to Jeopardy, America's Got Talent, John Cena headlining a WWE card or some random 2006 Poker Tournament at Fallsview Casino.
The true Jays fans are the ones being alienated and they are angry indeed. The true “Jays first” fans are the fans that need to be convinced to come back to the ballpark. They are the ones that need to see the Jays are a fun team to watch. Only they can't watch them. Some cable systems don't offer Sportsnet-1. Many fans don't want to pay extra for Sportsnet-1. All fans feel like the Jays have not earned the right to start charging for games on TV. It can only have a ripple effect on all things Rogers. They should as a show of good faith put all game the rest of the way back on regular Sportsnet and go from there heading to next year. On to the mailbag.
Q: Hi Richard,
I'm a little confused as to the call up for Kyle Drabek. I'm fully understanding of the 'play it safe' approach by limiting innings of young pitchers to avoid injury and fatigue. A couple weeks ago if you asked me who I'd want in a one-game playoff, it would have been hands down Brett Cecil, but obviously even after being shut down last September he seems to still need to build arm strength to endure a full season. Now, after the company line was that Drabek will be limited in the amount of innings pitched (after pitching 158 last year, and up at 162 and counting this season), I'm confused as to the reasoning behind penciling him in for THREE starts. Yes he was spectacular in Double A, so why take the risk of him experiencing fatigue or arm troubles in 2011 or 2012 when the team might actually need him in September?
Maresh F., Toronto
A: The important thing with Drabek is that the Jays' brass smartly controlled his total innings pitched as the Double-A Eastern League season wound down by skipping him over one start after it was obvious the Fisher Cats had qualified for the playoffs and by shortening a couple of his starts. The fact is a 20-percent increase over his 158 innings in 2009 would be about 189, which means that heading into his Jays' debut in Baltimore he had 27 innings leeway remaining – the equivalent of three complete games.
As for Brett Cecil, I'm convinced that his pitching issues late in this season stem from overall conditioning and not necessarily any arm woes. That's a good thing. Cecil has really come on as a viable rotation stud in 2011 by adding a solid changeup to his repertoire. In September he has had to cut out his between-start bullpen sessions in order to save his bullets for the games. It started with the start at Yankee Stadium where he felt an overall body malaise coming out of the game and extended to his next start against the Rays where he was pretty much hammered. He is 6-0 pitching on his sixth day this year and 8-0 lifetime with that extra day. He is 5-5 on regular rest pitching on his fifth day. That is of concern.
Q: Hi Richard...love the Jays and really want to see a winner, but I'm not sure how anyone figures this team is going to be competitive by 2011 or 2012. from what I can see you have almost an entire lineup that can't hit lefthanded pitching. and we're not talking a percentage point or two. the numbers are appalling to say the least. Secondly if these guys don't hit home runs they don't win, simply as that. How can they challenge the best if they can't manufacture runs by any means other than the long ball. as much as I want to believe I have serious doubts about this team. What are your thoughts on this?
Rob Hardman, Madison
A: You are correct about the Jays' severe problems against lefthanded pitching. Facing southpaws, Jays' lefthanded batters after 144 games are batting .201 with a .254 on-base average and a .559 OPS. Just as disturbing is the performance of righthanded hitters against lefty pitching. They should be crushing them, instead have a cumulative .224 average and a not-so-convenient .711 OPS. Yes, that needs to change before the Jays can contend. Opposing teams notice these things. As such, there will have to be some changes in the Jays' lineup to better control lefthanders.
The lofty home run totals, especially by righthanded hitters give a clue as to the Jays' problems against lefthanded pitching. The hitting philosophy of Dwayne Murphy and Cito Gaston involve getting the front foot down early, before the pitcher gets his front foot down, finding a pitch you can drive and swinging from your ass. Rare is the Jose Bautista extra-base hit to the opposite field. As such, when the Jays face soft-tossing lefties that turn the ball over and keep it away from their righthanded hitters, the Jays have trouble. They can make contact with those pitches, but not hit them hard. The Jays as a team have 93 walks and 266 Ks in 1,037 at-bats against southpaws. Can that issue be addressed in the off-season? Yes, but not by returning the same starting nine.
How many games do you think it will take to win the AL East in 2011?
Richard Joll, Brockville
A: The Yankees are the Yankees. The Rays will lose Carl Crawford and they may have to clear out a couple of other veterans, but their rotation will be a year more mature and they have a solid farm system with more studly players waiting in the wings. The Red Sox will undergo a major facelift. The O's will be better and will compete harder against AL East opponents with fewer rollovers. That being said, the AL East winner should be 100-105 games, while the wild-card checks in at 95-100. The Jays have not won more than 88 games since 1993, that coming in the out-of-control '98 season of Tim Johnson, Roger Clemens, Jose Canseco, Carlos Delgado, Shawn Green, et al.
Q: Hi Richard,
In the last mailbag, you alluded to both the potential logjam at catcher in the system (J.P. Arencibia, Brian Jeroloman and Travis D'Arnaud) and Arencibia's recent work with infield coaching gem Brian Butterfield at first base. Do you see there being a chance of Arencibia seeing significant playing time at first to keep him fresh and his bat in the lineup next season while Jose Molina draws more of the plate duty to continue his mentorship of the young starters (potentially including rookies Kyle Drabek and Zach Stewart at some points)? And, that being the case, do you see the potential trio as Jays going forward, or will one of them likely become trade bait at some point? Or (most likely) is it far too early to make this kind of prediction with contention still a few seasons off?
Paul Boudreau, Waterloo
A: It seems that Arencibia is already being pigeon-holed as a strictly offensive catcher that has trouble calling a game and handling pitchers. That's a little harsh off the sample of a handful of major-league games. Jeroloman is the one among that threesome of Jays' prospects that is a given as a potential backup catcher throughout his career. At 25, the lefthanded linedrive hitter has mad defensive skills but a limited bat. There is no room for him as a second guy on a major-league team until the pitching staff has established itself more and until the No. 1 catcher has some solid experience in the majors. Backup catcher is the easiest need to fill in all of baseball. Supply and demand.
Arencibia has been working out at first base with Butterfield, but if it was done, it would not be to give him a rest every now and then. It would be a career move. The organization really likes D'Arnaud, but he is 2-3 years away from being a major-league hitter. If the decision was made to move Arencibia and his bat out from behind the plate, it would give the Jays the option of re-signing John Buck for three years until D'Arnaud was ready, but that would be totally unfair to Arencibia who has done all he can do at Triple-A and should not be sent back to learn another position. The Jays made the same effort with Adam Lind, trying to convert him to first base. In one of his first starts at first, Lind fed a high underhand toss to David Purcey who leaped high, came down awkwardly on the corner of the bag and was forced onto the disabled list. Lind became a first-base accident waiting for a place to happen. Bad perception and Lind should be given a second chance with Overbay as DH. Since then, Lind has been used sparingly and manager Cito Gaston has said he may be better off in left field (yikes) or as a DH. Gaston, of course, will not be there next year so Lind still is an option at first. Or is Arencibia the chosen one? Or is someone from outside the best 2011 option? Putting Jose Bautista at first would just be plain dumb, a waste of his arm. As for one of Arencibia, D'Arnaud or Jeroloman being trade bait, I don't think so for a while. If one of them is to become trade bait it would be J.P. but not yet.
We always enjoy your assessment on the state of the Jays. I read an interesting article from your colleague asking what it will take for fans to start attending Jays games. I'm interested in your take on the situation. On the one-hand, the Jays attendance at the dome is not declining as quick as the Jays' payroll (i.e. why pay for tickets when Rogers won't pay for an on-field product). On the other hand, we do have more exciting prospects. Personally I find the Jays organization to be less fan friendly - - they did not hold their Welcome Back BBQ where fans can meet the players, their giveaways and promotions have been cut back, watching games on TV is more difficult. Bottom line is that the Jays need to do more to want fans to attend. Your thoughts?
Frank S., Toronto
A: The first thing it will take for the Jays lost fans to start attending ballgames is a wild-card season or one in which they fight to the final weekend. Then it will be the NEXT season when the fans come back. Baseball is the sporting equivalent of Missouri. Just show me, baby. I don't think the Jays' attendance figures are as depressing as they seem. Two years ago, the policy of the v-p ticket sales was to look in the phone book, find a corporate partner, throw an armload of tickets in the air and if they hit the ground count them as attendance. It's all about asses in seats and if anyone was actually in the building two years ago to now, the size of the crowds looks about the same, it's just the reported numbers that have gone down. I also believe that the benign neglect in ticket sales and promotions is intentional to a certain degree. I think Paul Beeston believes that you can't know what “rock bottom” is until you hit it. In a season labelled as rebuilding, the Beest didn't mind finding the bottom of the well, because at the same time he knew his product on the field was improving for the long term and the rebound could begin from a known nadir.
As for team payroll, the Jays in fact spent $78.7 million this year, just under two million less than last year. That's middle of the pack in baseball, with a willingness to add in the future when they're sure of what they don't have. Of course, not all of that money was spent on their own players which is what you are bent about. For instance, there was the $10 million paid to B.J. Ryan NOT to pitch in 2010. Colleague Dave Perkins saw B.J. At the Masters in April spending some of his ill-gotten Jays' cash. The lefty reliever graciously talked to Perky for about a minute, then looked at his watch and said he had to go. Guess he had to shag – hopefully not with Tiger. Then, of course, there was the $6 million paid the Phillies to help them out with the Roy Halladay contract. The Phils turned that around at the trade deadline into Roy Oswalt and are now streaking. So that's $16 million spent on players not here that can be converted into players that ARE here in 2011. The bottom line is the Jays do seem to have a plan for winning in the future.
Q: Hi Richard:
Continue to enjoy your take on the Jays. I have a question that about a topic that has bothered me for some time. It has to do with batting practice. I can't understand how hitting majestic home runs on pitches thrown at sub-sixty speeds helps prepare a batter for pitches at ninety miles an hour or knuckle balls.There are pitching machines available and with today's technology, it seems to me that a machine could be developed that could better imitate the pitches that a batter is likely to see on any given night. A Blue Jay weakness appears to be hitting left-handers. Have the machine pitch like a left-hander. It would be more beneficial than the lob-balls they now get.
Bob Leatham, Ilderton
A: Come on Bob. Quit kidding around. This is Cito writing to me, right. The fact is the Jays' manager is completely on board with you about the limited benefits of batting practice. However, think about your own golf game. Would you walk out to the first tee without going to the driving range and at least whacking a few balls. You start with the wedge then work up to popping the velcro on your glove letting out the shaft with the driver. People might say, “what are you doing? There's no fairway to aim at, no traps to avoid, no water all the way up the left side of the fairway? What good is hitting balls on the range? Just play golf.” But everybody does it and wouldn't tee off without it.
As for the thought of a machine doing the pitching, that would make it even worse. Hitting is all about timing and even when a coach is throwing you can work on “my foot down...his foot down” even if it's in relative slow motion. The only solution would be one of those pitching machines you've all seen that has the video of every major-league pitcher projected on a screen with a ball coming out of a hole with the pitcher of the day's exact repertoire. That would get players ready for the game. Until then, coaches.
Does anyone else not think that the six losses to the Indians in mid-season, was a big part of the Jays' problems this year? Discuss. I enjoy your column.
Sid Greenberg, Thornhill (A Jays' fan since '77)
A: The four-game sweep in Cleveland came on the heels of that goofy series in Philly where the Jays were the home team but not really. That Halladay in Philly totally discombobulated the players' minds as they tried to ignore the all-consuming Doc factor but couldn't. Then they go to Cleveland where they are expected to win three of four against a bad Tribe team and get swept, scoring seven runs in four games. From June 20 to July 6 the Jays went 3-12 and their hopes were buried. We will blame it on the negative influence of the G20 conference as Jays' hopes were tasered never to recover.
Q: I attended the embarrassing 13-1 game today, sitting in the Outfield 200 Level seats. This is the first Jays game I have attended in a few years. Why are the replays not shown at least once on the Jumbotron? I realize that some plays (ie. close plays at first base) might be taboo, but good plays should be promoted as part of the live game package. Otherwise, I might as well just stay home and watch on Sportsnet (or Sportsnet-1 if I actually had access to that Rogers money-grab). A second topic: Player bad habits. We noticed in the Rays bullpen that tins of a prominent energy drink with a Salzburg, Austria HQ were all over the ground late in the game. I have also noticed that many of the Jays seem to be using chewing tobacco this season (can cameramen not avoid these images on TV games?). Why do teams go to huge lengths to protect the health of young players by limiting pitch counts, innings pitched, etc. and yet allow seemingly unlimited use of all sorts of unhealthy substances by many of the same players, even during games? Look forward to your blog every week.
Craig Breen, Owen Sound
A: I have long believed that there should not be an entertainment or information advantage to sitting at home in your living room over being at the ballpark. I have long believed that an experienced TV director should be hired to run the scoreboard show treating it like a telecast except for the required “pitch time” during which there must be no movement on the board. There should also be a full-time information director like Sportsnet's Scott Carson to supply interesting statistical info so that fans want to look up at the board between pitches and between batters. As a side benefit to that, they might actually be looking at the board when advertising appears. I've actually seen stuff up there as supposed highlights for established visiting hitters like “Led the Eastern League in doubles in 2004.” Give me a break. How about as the season goes along doing a bang-bang-bang highlight video package for each player. For instance, John McDonald steps to the plate and the board flashes three great Johnny Mac defensive plays in a row. Yunel Escobar is announced and the board shows his nifty behind the back feed to Aaron Hill, another play in the hole and a big homer. They could have four different video packs ready for each player. Ryerson or Sheridan or U of T has kids in broadcasting courses that would love to do that stuff for the summer. At the end of the year, during the winter send out a DVD of all those highlights to season-ticket holders.
As for the bad health habits of the players, let's just be thankful if it's only sports drinks, smokeless tobacco and seeds. We can't block out the real world from our children. We can only teach them right from wrong.
Q: Hi Richard
Love your blog. Just curious, what does Scott Downs scrawl in the dirt behind the pitching rubber after taking his warm-up pitches when he enters a game?
Dave Brown, Kitchener
A: Downs, before the first pitch, writes the names of his children into the dirt on the back of the mound.
Q: Hi Richard,
That was a great win on Sunday, with a dramatic come-from-behind two-run homer from Adam Lind. I didn't see it, of course, because like most Canadians outside of Ontario, this bone-head Rogers management has reduced our viewing options to nil. I don't like feeling like a pawn in a war of greed. But I know you have talked about this some, and I don't want to rehash the broadcasting mess. So I'll go where this all leads me... Do you think we'll ever (ok, in the next decade) see a MLB team in Vancouver? There are lots of fans out here.
Bryan Willis, Vancouver
A: By the time Vancouver gets a team there will likely be a Sportsnet-2 and then for sure we'll never see major-league baseball in Vancouver. But seriously, the Mariners immediate proximity is a powerful factor and with the M's drawing a lot of Canadians to the park and being in their area of exclusivity, it would be difficult nigh on impossible to see relocation or expansion to Vancouver. The Jays would also possess a necessarily under-the-radar objection because of their loyal fan base in British Columbia and in fact all of western Canada. Besides, there are other U.S. Cities to please before Vancouver gets to the top of the MLB depth chart. And with the shocking revelations about the Marlins and others making bucketsful of money on a shoestring budget and without the necessity of making the post-season, the cost of playing poker has just gone up.