Watched some major-league highlights on Tuesday night including a dramatic Braves comeback win over the Marlins keyed by a pinch-hit two-run homer by former Jays third baseman and 2002 AL rookie-of-the-year Eric Hinske. The Braves are battling hard for the wild-card and if they make it into the playoffs and reach the dance floor in Bobby Cox's final season as manager, don't count them out of going to the World Series. Why? Call it the Hinske Bump. This guy has been money since he left the Jays. For three straight years he has been a Fall Classic magnet. In 2007, his first full season in Boston, the Red Sox beat the Rockies for his first ring. In 2008 he signed with the Rays. They turned it around and went to the World Series, losing to the Phillies. It looked like Hinke's run would end in 2009 as he signed wth the putrid Pirates. But mid-season he was traded to the Yankees and they cruised to a Series win over the Phillies. Now he is a Brave. Book your rooms in Atlanta for Games 1-2. The man is October gold. How would he look on the Jays' bench in 2011. On to the mailbag.
Q: Hi Richard,
Love the mailbag, I read it religiously every week. My question to you is; what free agents this offseason might the Jays go after to fill some holes and be contenders next season? How about a Carl Crawford in left field and batting leadoff? Or a Carlos Pena playing first base? I'd like to hear your thoughts.
Joe Lamothe, St. Catharines
A: There will be some interesting free agents available in the off-season, but will the Jays have interest in them? At first base with the Jays losing Lyle Overbay, you have Adam Dunn, Derrek Lee, Carlos Pena and Overbay. At third base if you choose to go away from Edwin Encarnacion and trade or non-tender him a contract, you have Adrian Beltre, Maicer Izturis, Pedro Feliz, Brandon Inge and Ty Wigginton. In the outfield, if you wanted to move Jose Bautista to third base, you have Carl Crawford, Austin Kearns, Jose Guillen, Marcus Thames and Jayson Werth. There is also a long list of free-agent starting pitchers, but do the Jays really need to go there via free agency in 2011? It was interesting on Tuesday to hear GM Alex Anthopoulos talk about his “when to compete” philosophy of allowing the current players to “tell him when they're ready to compete” rather than the J.P. Ricciardi way of signing up expensive free agents and saying “this is the year we're ready to compete”. That's the very philosophy that derailed the loyalty of Roy Halladay after Doc took a voluntary paycut for 2008 in his negotiated extension years ago because that was the season J.P. told him they needed the money to bolster their run for the roses.
Anthopoulos in fact compared his belief in going with the flow to the 2011 Padres who were not expected to do anything and surprised the world. The difference is that if the Jays had a similar first half in 2011, ownership would have the money available to be buyers at the trade deadline while the Padres did not.
Q: Hi Richard,
Love the blog. We've heard a lot of talk about the Jays' prospects over the past year. Now that the season is over, who were the biggest surprises, biggest disapointments in terms of development? Thanks,
Tom M., Ottawa
A: In discussing surprises and disappointments let's stick to what were considered top prospects rather than going with deep tracks. Among the disappointments in terms of stalled development of once considered prime prospects are: Kevin Ahrens (3B), Justin Jackson (SS), Balbino Fuenmayor (1B), Rei Gonzalez (RHP) and Kenny Wilson (CF). Some of the most pleasant surprises included Chuck Huggins (LHP), Matt Daly (RHP), Alan Farina (RHP), Jarrett Hoffpauir (INF), Chris Lubanski (OF), Aaron Mathews (OF), Darin Mastroianni (OF), Eric Thames (OF), Carlos Perez (C) and Boomer Potts (LHP). I just wanted to write that last name cuz it's a cool baseball name.
Q: Hi Richard,
I know yourself (and other media types) have mentioned consistently that Adam Lind is "too young" to be a full time DH. I understand that traditionally DH in the AL has been a great role for aging players to be fitted under (players who can still hit, but can no longer field). My questions is why is Adam Lind "too young" to DH? If he's a liability defensively, then why should the Blue Jays (or any other team) force him into playing the field just because of his youth? Why does age even become a factor on whether or not a hitter should or should not be a DH? I would rather put out a fantastic defensive team on the field, and continue to have Lind's bat in the lineup via DH, rather than force him into the field where the defense might deteriorate.
Zaki Ameen, Mississauga
A: Most of the time when a player is evaluated as “too young to DH” it's an assessment strictly from the player's side of the equation. When you are a DH at 24 and are pigeon-holed as such, by the time you arrive at free agency after six years in the bigs you have basically knocked 16 NL teams out of the running in terms of negotiations for your services. When Frank Thomas or Paul Molitor was here as the DH, they had played positions at a younger age and by the time they evolved into DH had a comfort level and a routine between ABs. Lind has the energy of youth and no outlet except five times per game at the plate. To me that's not being a baseball player. It's like being a “long drive” champion and saying you're a PGA Tour golfer.
The solution is to make Lind a first baseman and see the Jays move on from the Lyle Overbay Era – although the pair of 3-6-3 double plays Lyle executed on Tuesday were spectacular. I think not playing a position had something to do with his lull at the plate in 2010. Teach Lind to play first base at a respectable level. Send him to Instructional League and have him take grounders until his hands bleed. That was the plan at one point then they put him in at first base and he flipped a ball high to David Purcey and he came down on the bag and was out for three weeks. End of experiment. It requires patience, but in baseball if you can hit, they always find a position for you. And I don't consider DH to be a position.
Q: Speaking of managers, can we speak of Buck Showalter? The question that perplexes me and which I hope you have an opinion on (no worries there), is how and what can one skipper bring to the table that dramatically changes the team's game virtually overnight? Since taking the wheel at a record of 32/73, the team has gone to 61/91 representing a 29/18 win/loss statistic under Mr Showalter's leadership. Truly a Brobdingnagian performance! The achievements are all the more astounding considering that, according to the O's website, he didn't bring his own team of coaches with him, as Cito did. Can you pontificate, insightfuly as always, on the magic Buck Showalter has brought to the Orioles?
Love da blog....
Richard Netherton, Halifax
A: Sometimes it's the mere fact of a team knowing that the guy in charge is going to be there as long as they themselves are going to be there that gets players to focus and do their best. When Juan Samuel, who is a wonderful man, was there wityh the O's on an interim basis, the players had already tuned out the world and paid no attention to the standings. When Showalter was named it caught their attention because here was a guy they had heard about, had watched on TV and maybe had even played for at some point. But they knew they had better show up and play because their future depended on it. When the O's showed up at the Rogers Centre at the end of July it was a joke. Adam Jones, a very talented young player was wandering out to take early BP in the afternoon and as he walked by he had his high school team's t-shirt, a sponsor's hat and no visible sign that he was an Oriole. It was a silent statement of disrespect for his organization. Then when the team came out for team stretch, it was a joke. Players were missing and the rest of them were out of step, doing anything on their own. It looked like a slo-pitch team stopping a game to look for a contact lens. That all changed the next time they were in with Showalter. Buck is the Mike Keenan of baseball. He will turn it around with his micro-managing style then when the team has been built into a contender, he will wear out his welcome, piss someone in ownership off and be fired. Then they will win. The 1995 Yankees were managed by Showalter. He was replaced by Joe Torre and they won the Series in '96. The 2000 D'backs were managed by Showalter. He was replaced by Bob Brenly and they won the Series in '01.
Q: Hi Richard:
Much is being made of the dismal batting average of the Jays. However some statistics point to much weaker batting averages for the AL East. In 2009 there were 23 who batted .300 or more and 31 with .290 or more. This year there are 10 at .300 plus and 17 with .290 or more. NYY team average dropped from .283 to .268 while TO went from .266 to .247. Any suggestions for the decline? Also will Bautista get what he deserves and be named MVP?
Bob Leatham, Ilderton, Ont.
A: I have an unusual theory on that decrease in the number of high batting averages. With the reduction to the number of cheating players due in large part to increased and mandatory testing for performance enhancers, it has had an interesting side effect. Back when a generation of MLB pitchers was cheating (along with hitters), the obvious strategy of pitchers was that, if you're going to get bigger and stronger, your natural reaction is to try and throw harder, try and overpower people. It was the testosterone and ego talking. But as Cito Gaston likes to point out, major league hitters can catch up to a 98 mph fastball as much as an 88 mph heater – and did. So what has happened? Pitchers were forced to return to normal size and strength and learned to throw more changeups and off-speed pitches. Now they take bat speed away from befuddled hitters and the ball gets put in play, defenders defend and overall averages go down. Not to mention the reduced bulkage and strength of many of today's hitters. But that's a home run story and we're talking batting average in the course of this discussion.
As for Bautista, he deserves Top 5 MVP voting and the fact that the Jays will finish above .500 in the deepest division in baseball means he could easily receive a few first place votes. But the fact is that MVP more often goes to players from winning teams. He will compete with Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers for the voters that don't believe in MVP as a playoff guy. Meanwhile it will come down to Robinson Cano, Josh Hamilton, Evan Longoria and Carl Crawford. It says here that J-Bau finishes fourth.
Q: Hello Richard,
I was wondering if you could confirm something for me: I recently noticed, over the course of a number of weeks, that Vernon Wells appears to make a point of "tipping his cap" to the opposing team's pitcher prior to an at-bat. If he is indeed doing this, I wonder if this impacts how a pitcher - even subconciously - approaches Vernon? I mean, he's only been hit by a pitch 3 times this year, and only once last year.
Trevor Hardy, Mississauga
A: Yes he does do that, but no I don't think that affects whether any pitcher throws at him or not. In fact, if a guy tipped his helmet and made eye contact with me as a pitcher before stepping in I would tend to drill him in the ribs first pitch, just on principle.
Q: Hey Richard,
Never miss your mailbag. Always learn something about baseball I never knew before. my question is about simulated games. How exactly do they work? Lots of times you hear, oh so and so threw a simulated game as part of some type of rehabilitation, but what exactly is a simulated game. I know some friends who are curious as well. thanks Richard and keep up the great work!
Nick Shepard, Saint John, N.B.
A: Simulated games are useful in terms of a rehabbing pitcher facing live hitters without having to travel to the minors on a rehab option. Say a guy's been hurt and on the DL. He throws in the bullpen over and over ad nauseum and finally they feel that whatever ailed him has been healed. What next? Oh, they could send him to Dunedin or New Hampshire – or they could have him pitch a simulated game.
In a simulated game, usually played early afternoon before regular BP, a pitcher goes to the mound and warms up for the first inning like he would in a game. He then faces a batting order of bench players, coaches, anyone with a bat who wants to step in and get some hacks. Director, team travel Mike Shaw even played in one of those games once. In any case, the pitcher gets three outs as judged by the umpire behind the mound (usually the pitching coach) and then sits down for a short period of time to simulate a real game. He then goes back out and gets three more outs, etc. There are no scores kept and he usually ends it at a certain pitch count. Lot of fun and nobody gets hurt.
Q: Hi Richard,
You've mentioned in the past that you like the “wins” pitching statistic as a basis of judging a pitcher's ability. But are wins for a pitcher really that telling? Seattle's Felix Hernandez is a mediocre 13-12 yet is leading the league in ERA, CG, Ks, IP, WHIP, K/9, BB/9 and many other statistical categories. Seattle is on pace to score the lowest amount of runs for an MLB team since 1971. A total of 16 of Hernandez's losses or no-decisions came when he allowed 3 runs or less. Felix Hernandez obviously can't do anything to help his team score runs. All he can do is prevent the other team from scoring runs, and it seems that he's the most effective in the league at doing that. How are wins such an important stat for pitchers when the most dominant pitcher in the American League is one game over .500?
Kent Randall, Peterborough
A: Last time I looked, baseball is still a team sport. The standings in the paper every day show wins, they show losses and they rank teams from most wins at the top to fewest wins at the bottom. That's why wins are important. The argument for Roy Halladay's candidacy last year when he was a Jay is that he pitched in the tough AL East facing the Rays, Sox and Bombers, all grinding professional hitters, while the Royals' Zack Greinke pitched in the mediocre AL Central feasting on the least. So why do wise-guy Jays fans not use the same argument against King Felix's candidacy compared to, say, CC Sabathia, David Price or Jon Lester?
I love WHIP and I love K/IP as indcators of who the really dominant pitchers are. But consider that since Hernandez has no run support that he has to pitch his ass off in every inning of every game to give his team a chance to win, while there are games for the other candidates where they have a big lead early aqnd can afford to just challenge hitters with fastball strikes on the way to 27 outs. That can lead to base hits and hme runs because the pitcher's team has given him a nice cushion. That can inflate his WHIP and all those other new-world stats. At the end of the day, CC, Lester and Price should be in the mix with Hernandez, but don't arbitrarily dismiss win total as a factor.
Q: Hi Richard,
The Blue Jays starting pitchers have had an impressive season this year and it certainly will be enjoyable to watch them develop over the next few years. However, there is one thing I found bothersome to watch and it's the number of trips Jays catchers make to the mound - they make far too many, especially in the innings when they make multiple trips to speak with the same pitcher. Not only does this break their rhythm it makes them look weak and incompetent. Young staff or not, I expect these guys must be thinking (and perhaps they say it) - "shut up, just give me the ball and get back behind plate!" Earlier this season with Frasor in to close out a game Molina made 3 trips not that Thurman Munson would have ever done so but how do you think Goose Gossage would have reacted if Thurman came out to talk to him 3 times with the game on the line? Also, I would appreciate any insight you may have on how the Blue Jays missed out on drafting & signing Toronto born and raised and National League MVP candidate Joey Votto. He grew up and played ball right in their backyard!
Frederick Vance, Calgary
A: The reason the Jays signed John Buck and Jose Molina as catchers for 2010 is because of their veteran status and their need to guide a young rotaton through 100-plus pitches. Both guys are hands-on and even though they had the same pre-game meeting to go over opposing hitters, in the heat of the battle they often don't agree on pitch selection. The catcher knows what is the best pitch, but unless the pitcher believes that it is the right call and has 100-percent conviction, then it is the wrong pitch. Thus the visit, the conversation, the pitch. Sometimes it's merely a ploy to slow the game down for a pitcher that has been speeded up and the game is getting away from him. Never does he go to the mound if he feels his pitcher has a rhythm. Pitshcers are flighty and emotional. Catchers are detached and logical. It's like Captain Kirk throwing to Mr. Spock.
As for Joey Votto, it was J.P. Ricciardi's first draft as GM and he didn't give a rat's behind about Canadian or not. Votto was drafted 44th overall by the Reds and the Jays first rounder was No. 14 overall which they felt was too high for the Etobicoke native on the verge of NL MVP. The Jays got their man in the first round – shortstop Russ Adams. Later in the round, here are some of the guys that were available and drafted: Scott Kazmir, Nick Swisher, Cole Hamels, James Loney, Denard Span, Matt Cain and Mark Teahen. Votto was selected 11 spots before the Jays Rd. 2 selection which was righthander Dave Bush. Right after J.P. chose Bush, the Sox picked a guy named Jon Lester. But Lester was a high school kid – too risky, as was catcher Brian McCann and pitcher Jonathan Broxton. Bush was the safe (??) pick. Lester has 19 wins and Cy numbers.
Q: Hi Richard...look forward to your column each week. I don't want to get into the whole Sportsnet 1 thing again but I just checked the schedule and the last game of the season will be carried on that very channel. That means that Jays fans across this country, who support this team through thick and thin will not even be able to watch Cito and company's last game of 2010. Do you think Rogers really gets it? Do they think that the only people who follow and love this team show up at the stadium? So they think SNET 1 only upsets a few thousand people? I see your blog each week and the addresses are from Newfoundland to BC and expats across the world. Bottom line....do you think Rogers really understands how much this team is followed throughout Canada? Thanks...
Terry Fallat, Espanola, Ont.
A: I do not believe that Rogers “really gets it”. If they did they would have handled this whole Sportsnet ONE thing far differently. I know business is business and I probably don't understand the financial nuts and bolts of their obligation to customers that signed up for the premium channel. But what I do understand is fans' emotions and how it can affect loyalty to a sporting brand. It should be a two-way street. Fans are loyal to a team. The team should be loyal to its fans. They don't get it.
Q: Hi Richard,
If Tampa is not able to get their new stadium and looks to relocate, what do you think about a move to Montreal? They have the temporary stadium, and would be natural rivals with the Jays and Red Sox. Of course Montreal would have to cave in and promise a stadium. Montreal and Toronto are sleeping giants when it comes to baseball and I would so love it to have them in the same division and pissing off the Yanks and Bosox fans!
JJ Redington, Winooski, Vermont
A: I'm sure the old blueprint for the downtown Expos' 37,000 seat stadium could be pulled out of a drawer and the dust blown off. Given the speed of construction in Montreal when it comes to sporting facilities, it could be ready for, ohh, the 2015 season. Les Eclaircies Diable de Montreal. Too wordy? Maybe they could call them Expos TWO and show them on Sportnet TWO, another new channel that nobody gets.