Just a couple of observations from the game of baseball that caught my attention this week before proceeding on to the mailbag. On Tuesday the Jays were distributing their 2011 pocket schedules and a friend in the press box wisely pointed out that the player on the front fold of the pamphlet was Jose Bautista. In the modern history of the game, this usually means that said player is being counted on the following year. In fact no major-league marketing department has ever, on its own, chosen the cover-boy for any official club produced publication that promotes the following year's team, whether it's a media guide, a highlight film or a pocket schedule. They could have used images of Ricky Romero or Adam Lind or Vernon Wells who are all signed to long-term deals and that would have been safe. Sounds like a multi-year Bautista deal may be in the works.
The second observation came s a result of the apparent lack of fallout from that phantom plunk of Derek Jeter last week against the Rays where at best the ball brushed his jersey as he leapt out of the way and then squarely bounced off the knob of his bat. All wood, only Jeter acted like he had been shot by a sniper. Rays manager Joe Maddon was irate and was ejected. My problem? Can you imagine if A-Rod had done the same thing how much of a national hue and cry there would have been for the cheating, whiny, crybaby...did I say cheating, extraordinary superstar? But when it's Jeter, he's just playing to win. I love the guy, but what a crock. What a double standard. Makes you almost feel sorry for A-Rod and his $30 million and his Hollywood girlfriends and his ... Oh well, you catch my drift. When it comes to controversy, Jeter is Teflon while A-Rod is Velcro. On to the mailbag.
Q: Mr. Griffin:
Love the mailbag and hope it continues well into the offseason. After reading your article on a Spanish speaking manager, I was glad to see you listed the man that I feel would be perfect for the job: Tony Pena. He's had previous experience managing, and with a team full of young players (which we will definitely have next season) to boot. Also, his time with the Yankees professionals can do nothing but help improve his coaching skills and prepare him for his next managerial opportunity. My question to you is, if you were given the chance to name the next Jays manager, who would you pick? Thank you,
Tony Bubier, Wales, Maine
(stuck in Red Sox nation proudly wearing my Blue Jays hat)
A: The thing I would not do is choose a high-profile manager from a high profile team. Not that any of them would be interested, but guys like Joe Torre and Tony LaRussa would not even be considered. I believe that the best candidate profile would be a young, up-and-coming major-league coach with a winning organization, working right now. One such person of interest to me would be Rays' bench coach Dave Martinez. The 46-year-old Brooklyn native has worked closely with Joe Maddon on the Rays bench since the 2008 season, the year they went to the World Series. Watch a Rays' game on TV and Martinez and Maddon always seem to share the same screen, view the same charts and at times seem joined at the hip. The Rays are the type of dangerous, balanced team, with great speed, decent power and excellent defensive abilities that the Jays would seem to wish to emulate. The Rays have a similar young, talented starting rotation and a veteran bullpen as the Jays. Given the increased Latin clubhouse presence in Toronto and the fact that Martinez as an active outfielder played for both teams in Canada and would be comfortable with any of those issues, he would be one of my top candidates.
Q: As a DH Adam Lind's batting average is very poor. He is a liability in the outfield and it looks as though management were not impressed with his performance at first base. We understand the Blue Jays are trying to build a team like Tampa with speed and athleticism. Do you believe Lind is in the future plans of the Jays?
Clary MacDonald, Merigomish, N.S.
A: Lind has been swinging the bat better lately. How do we know? I asked him on Tuesday evening about maple bats and he said he uses them but the key was that he was breaking a lot of them earlier in the season but he believes he has used the same bat for the past month. That is a clear sign that he swing the bat much better in the past 30 days (either that or he has struck out every time).
As far as his defence is concerned, he has not done himself any favours in his attempt to transition to first base. In his first game as a starter at first, he fielded a ground ball and fed an underhand throw to David Purcey that was high. The lefty reliever went up for it and came down awkwardly, turning his ankle and spending three weeks on the disabled list. Bad first impression for Lind and it has stuck with Cito. As far as left field is concerned, Snider is a better outfielder and Gaston opined in September of 2009 that he would have a hard time playing Snider and Lind in the same outfield. It seems to me that Lind will either be a first baseman or a DH and is too young to be fulltime DH.
At this time there is no reason to believe that Lind, who signed a multi-year extension on the eve of opening day, is not a part of the team's future. He can hit.
In looking around the League, there are several hitters who have Hall-worthy numbers (morals being another story) as important thresholds are reached. I'm thinking of names like Alex Rodriguez closing in on 3000 hits and 2000 RBIs or Albert Pujols with an OPS average of 1.000 over the last 10 years or even a Derek Jeter closing in on 3000 hits. However, pitching has had it rough this last decade and I'm having a hard time finding names that have reached those important thresholds, such as 300 wins. What pitchers in the game today do you think are on the path to the Hall of Fame?
Andrew Puckrin, Toronto
A: Pitching Hall-of-Famers? The Steroid Era certainly did help hitters more than it did pitchers, but a bigger factor has been pitch counts and shutdown bullpens with solid setup men and lights-out closers. As such, let's start out search for pitching hall-of-famers with the bullpen. How about Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman to start. As for starters, you have CC Sabathia if he wins more World Series, Roy Halladay if he pitches until he's 40, Felix Hernandez if his team can score some runs and other youngsters that may be starting out their careers but need a breakthrough, statement season or two. Andy Pettitte? Not so much. Yes, compared to this era's hitters, the pitching pickings are relatively slim or maybe the accepted bars of excellence need to be lowered.
I found it very troubling the other night as the Jays lost their second of three in a row to the resurgent Orioles that the boys seemed more interested in screwing around -- crime scene outlines in front of the dugout, pulling off a hot foot -- than competing. The fact that outgoing manager Cito Gaston allows this nonsense to go on tells me the inmates might be running the asylum. Is this team still not mature enough to be a contender as early as next year?
DeShaun Kozak, Uxbridge
A: Even the storied Yankees do the tired old “pie-in-the-face” routine during post-game interviews. The ghosts of Monument Park must blanch whenever that happens – but how would we know. Basically these major-leaguers are kids playing a kids game, no matter how old many they are in human years. I recall an interleague series in Philadelphia a couple of years ago. The writers were gathered in John Gibbons office pre-game when around the corner on the ground, crawling on their bellies and elbows stealthily came A.J. Burnett and Vernon Wells, armed to the teeth with unregistered Nerf long guns. Suddenly as they crawled through the door, the two millionaire athletes and team leaders rose as one and fired off a couple of Nerf-tipped darts bouncing off the surprised manager's noggin, turned and ran back into the main clubhouse giggling like school kids. It will always be a part of a major-league clubhouse and is not a reflection of any desire to compete – or not. It is a long season and as long as they don't lose their pride or focus when it's their turn for the spotlight, I don't see anything wrong with it. I could do without the pie in the face stuff. It's getting old.
Q: Hi Richard,
My question is what do you think is the best way to fix the Jays bullpen by the time we are scheduled to compete in 2012. This is by no means a bad bullpen, but not an acceptable one for a contender.
David K., Toronto
A: Bullpens are the easiest aspect of a roster to change in a short amount of time. Just look at the Rays between '07 and '08 when they went to the World Series. They realized that in late innings they were being crushed because they had spent all their money on hitters, so late in the '07 season GM Andrew Friedman began to gather some reliable veteran relievers. By the end of '08, the Rays pen had become an asset to a championship team. They added guys like Troy Percival, Dan Wheeler, Grant Balfour, Trever Miller and Chad Bradford and the rest is history. As such, there really was not much wrong with the Jays' pen this year, other than at crunch time you would ideally like Kevin Gregg in more of a setup role than the Great Wallenda of closers. The key for 2012 is to identify the proper closer whether it's someone developed from within or signed as a free agent. Guys like Scott Downs, Shawn Camp, Gregg and Jason Frasor can be a part of a championship bullpen. But for the Jays this was never going to be the year. There will be bullpen changes, but looking two years ahead is a crapshoot.
Q: Hi Richard,
A few mailbags back, you talked about how certain players divided the locker room last year (or were separate from the other guys), one of them being Kevin Millar. I just watched a This Week in Baseball episode chronicling Millar in the minors and they're painting him as an all-around good guy who's helping out youngsters. Can you explain this?
A: I hate to break it to you, but This Week in Baseball is not exactly 60 Minutes or 20/20 when it comes to hard-hitting journalism. I did not say that Millar did not believe what he was saying in his attempt to be a Jays' leader in the 2009 clubhouse, but it was condescending towards the Jays' situation of playing in Canada, playing for low-key Jays' fans and playing for Cito. Millar, whose first attempt at major-league baseball was as a replacement player during the strike of '94-'95 was never a member of the MLB Players Association and had to work harder than most to overcome that stigma. Sometimes it seemed he was working too hard to be the life of the party. He is a good guy when you deal with him one-on-one, but he will always be a Red Sox loyalist first. By the way, good for Kevin in giving back to young players, but the '09 Jays was not the right place for him.
Q: Hi Richard.
I have a question concerning the strike zone. Starting pitchers will take an inning or two to firmly establish the umpire's strike zone, then try to live within it, but relief pitchers are expected to be familiar/comfortable with the umpire's strike zone right out of the bullpen. The relievers are sitting too far away to see the borderline calls, clearly. Who's job is it to inform or instruct them on what to expect from the home plate umpire in a given game?
Thanks for a great blog!
Wayde Murray, Port Hope, Ont.
A: You make it sound like each umpire has his own, dramatically different version of the strike zone. What you are talking about when a game starts is more nuance than geometry. A reliever comes into the game and tries to throw strikes that would be strikes for any umpire. Now, if he misses with a tailing fastball on the outside corner and the umpire calls it a strike, the pitcher and catcher will file it away and come back to that same spot in a clutch situation. But that does not mean the starting pitcher ever got that same call and could have let you know as he handed you the ball. Most times, he's already in the dugout. If you start worrying about the umpire's zone before you even throw a pitch then you are pretty much screwed. Throw strikes, pay attention and don't try and fool the men in blue.
Q: Hi Richard.
Can you give us a short tutorial on the best short new(er) baseball stats (e.g. WHIP) their meaning and which ones you value as meaningful? It is impossible to keep up with all the new stats we hear about.
Charles Novogrodsky, Toronto
A: It is impossible to keep up with all the new stats we hear about. The fielding stats are the ones I have the most trouble respecting because so much of determining range and percentage rely on outside forces like official scorers, pitcher's repertoire and pimply-faced geeks in the press box making judgments on whether you should have caught a ball or not.
As for stats that I prefer, fans of the mailbag know how much I am a fan of something called “wins” for starting pitchers. For those that aren't aware, that's when you start a game and pitch five or more innings, leave with the lead and your team hangs on to win. If pitchers put enough of these together for the same team, maybe 95-100, then that gives you a chance to play in October and maybe win a fluttery thing called a pennant that they present at the end of the year and flies high over your ballpark the next year...I think just slightly above the flag that is awarded annually for the VORP championship or the WHIP title or the DIPS or PERA crown. Seriously, though, the pitching stat that I have always liked is the WHIP which basically with walks and hits per innings pitched gives a good idea of the most dominant pitchers. Even Mick Jagger was a fan. On the album Some Girls, he wrote: “When the WHIP comes down, when the WHIP comes down, yeah check it out there.”
Q: Mr. Griffin,
My question is regarding starting pitching and the rest. The old-schooler in me would love players to pitch longer. The realist in me wonders if they wouldn't benefit from longer rest. You mentioned Cecil's record with the extra day and considering the concern teams have with burning out arms, why wouldn't a team investigate a six-man rotation? After all, there's enough roster space with the extra relievers and with one more day of rest, each pitcher could potentially go longer in the game. Heck, we might see double-digit complete games! Thanks again for your time and all the effort you put into your work.
All the best,
Jay Menard, London, Ont.
A: An interesting twist on an old debate. Six man rotations, instead of the usual suggestion of reverting to a four-man rotation. The problem with any philosophical changes to rotations is that all of this needs to be done organization wide. You have to start with pitchers as soon as they turn pro at the lowest levels of your system then have them weaned on sixth-day starting. That creates a problem if you make a trade for a pitcher almost ready for the big leagues at Triple-A in another organization or one that is already in the bigs or one that is a free agent and has always pitched on his fifth day. Nobody would sign with you. Simply because Cecil, who was a reliever all through college, has had better success on his sixth day doesn't mean it's the right thing for everyone. To me, 32 starts, averaging seven innings per start, making 224 innings is not a case of burning out your pitchers. Those are soliod numbers in a five-man rotation. It's not like starters do nothing between starts. They have a daily between-start routine that they have been doing since they were kids. The extra day often gives established pitchers more trouble than it is an advantage because of the extra rest. Guys throw every day and want to pitch every fifth day. The Cecil Rule will never be the norm.
Q: Hi Richard:
As the season winds down there is still a concern about the catching situation. I like much of what Molina and Buck bring to the team but find it increasingly annoying to watch both of them stab at balls bouncing in and failing to go down to block them. Apparently the Jays don't have a catcher coach but this seems to me to be catching 101. Who is responsible for correcting this? Also, it's hard to understand why Arencibia is not getting practice at this time of year.
Bob Leatham, Ilderton, Ont.
A: I'm glad someone else noticed. It's clear after 150 games that this catching duo's biggest, in fact only apparent defensive weakness is blocking balls in the dirt. After a slow start, Buck is throwing to bases much better and Molina has always been a base-stealing deterrent. However those balls thrown in the dirt or slightly off to the side and down are still a problem. But dumping guys for that deficiency? That's like cancelling a date with Charlize Theron because you don't like the way she giggles. There is more and more talk about the Jays bringing back both Buck and Molina and allowing Arencibia to either play first base, be traded or else go back for a third year at Vegas. He should play right now and he should be projected as the guy next year. If not then the Jays are not rebuilding and are repeating the mistakes of the Ricciardi regime. Be happy at a certain plateau of comfort and competency and quit shooting for the moon. Hey, the moon is so far away. The summit of Everest is pretty damn high enough. If Arencibia was ever in their plans for the future, he has done nothing to remove himself from that blueprint.