Jays mailbag: A legend's farewell, and unusual stats
Baseball is such a great game, and its heroes from the past are so easy to visualize in the mind's eye and so easy to hold onto in a sporting respect and awe because of the huge storehouse of statistics and information.
There is a unique reverence in which we hold baseball's history unlike other sports. The legends stay in the public eye and we feel we know tham.
But despite all the feel-good moments baseball brings, reality sometimes intrudes and such is the case with a brief note recieved on Friday from the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. It is a statement from legendary Twins' slugger and Hall-of-Famer from the class of '84, Harmon Killebrew, now 74-years-old:
“It is with profound sadness that I share with you that my continued battle with esophageal cancer is coming to an end. With the continued love and support of my wife, Nita, I have exhausted all options with respect to controlling this awful disease. My illness has progressed beyond my doctors’ expectation of cure.
“ I have spent the past decade of my life promoting hospice care and educating people on its benefits. I am very comfortable taking this next step and experiencing the compassionate care that hospice provides.
“ I am comforted by the fact that I am surrounded by my family and friends. I thank you for the outpouring of concern, prayers and encouragement that you have shown me. I look forward to spending my final days in comfort and peace with Nita by my side.”
Killebrew still lives in Minneapolis. Our thoughts and prayers are with him.
Now to the mailbag.
In last night’s game I saw Rajai Davis steal 2nd twice, taking the bat out of Bautista's hands...What's happening? I've never seen the green light given while a slugger is up.
Peter Thomson, Elizabeth City , NC
A-You'll see a lot of things you've never seen if you watch these Jays every day. There is one train of thought, as you point out, in which you never take the bat out of your best hitter's hands – by stealing second and leaving a base open for the opponent to pitch around Bautista, especially with Adam Lind on the shelf. But there's another train of thought in which the feeling is the more runners you get on base, the more times the heart of your order and your best hitters (i.e. Bautista) will spin through it and come to the plate. That's the thought process of the Jays and rookie manager John Farrell.
If base-stealing coach Torey Lovullo sees favourable splits adding the pitcher's time to the plate and the catcher's pop time to second base, and if Davis or any other runner is a mortal lock to be safe on a steal, the Jays feel they must take advantage. Yes, it's rare to see that strategy in the majors with many teams not wanting to take the bat out of their best plyer's hands, but, let's face it, if an opposing team wants to be careful with Bautista and they end up walking him, they will do it whether the runner is on first or second base. I agree with the Jays' strategy. To me, more baserunners means more opportunity to score more runs. It's not a one-man team – or at least it shouldn't be.
Q-Keep hearing all this great stuff about 'Non-prospect' Chad Beck. Wondering exactly what's going on to turn a 90-94 mph fastball into a 93-97 mph fastball? I also hear that he just added a splitter this year and that he finally figured out the change-up and that his slider is better. Either way, he's leaps and bounds better than he's ever been. Is he for real? Has he entered the picture?
Chris Thom, Toronto
A-I am a big fan of the veracity of scouting and especially if 30 organizations' scouts all had the same opinion on a player. Such is the case with 6-4, 245 lb. righthander Chad Beck, currently with AA-New Hampshire. He was drafted 43rd round by the Jays in 2004 and 14th round by the Diamondbacks two years later. He came to pro ball with two workable pitches, a fastball and a slider and so was seen as a bullpen future, at best.
The Jays' organization under GM Alex Anthopoulos preaches teaching the same skills all the way up and down the organization - from the majors to all of its summer league teams. As such, beginning with pitching coach Bruce Walton on down, the change-up is an integral part of the Jays' organization's pitching plan. Beck is one of those pitcers that has added the change and it has moved him up in terms of being a future major-leaguer, but it's tough to see him forcing his way up the deep and talented Jays organization depth chart of starting pitchers.
It's a nice story for Beck but the best I could see for him is if later in the summer the Jays needed a spot starter as an injury fill and they didn't want to start the clock on any of their young stud pitchers, they could give the 26-year-old Beck a call. But in terms of long-term major-league future with the Jays, there is a stampede running him over.
Since baseball is filled with unusual stats I thought I'd add my own. I find it very strange this year that in the opening game of a series the Jays are now 10-2. (should be 11-1 but the bullpen had a meltdown in the opening Seattle game that I happened to be attending). In the rest of the games the Jays are a terrible 6-18. Any ideas as to why the Jays rise to the occasion in game one of a series only? Or is it just coincidence?
Tim McDonald, Marysville WA
A-There are many factors that would go into such an interpretative stat, not the least of which is coincidence. But one factor that I think does play into it is that when you're an up and coming team like the Jays, not expected to contend, even by your own front office, when you have won the first game of a three-game series, a natural tendency might be to just say to yourselves, “Hey guys, all we have to do is split the next two games and we win the series.” The same thing with winning the first two games.
The championship teams at that point with their foot on the throat of an opponent would move all their weight forward and crush him, the Jays and teams with lower expectations and a recent history of mediocrity, would mentally step away and be happy with the first two wins and hey, it's great if we sweep, but we've won the series. It's clearly not the pitching matchups because teams are just flowing through their rotations and you can never tell who will be pitching Game 1 in a series.
I enjoyed Morgan Campbell's column about the Jays maybe playing better when the dome is closed. I wanted to ask you if you think the Jays play better in night games than day games.
I couldn't find the start times for all the Jays games, but they are 1-11 on Saturdays and Sundays (which are usually day games) and 15-9 on Monday to Friday (usually night games). Do you think there is a reason for this? Are they still half asleep during day games?
Patrick Darling, Toronto
A-Like the previous question, the answer to this is all theory. There's no right or wrong. I'd like to blame it on Twitter, but, instead, I think a lot of that losing Jays statistic in day games, especially for the weekend games, lies in the building of routines. Saturday games are usually day games following a Friday night game, so there's not a lot of turnaround hours from the end of one game to reporting to the ballpark for the next. Some veteran players around baseball are disciplined to shut it down right after the Friday night game and mentally start prepping for the next day. Other teams, especially with younger, inexperienced players, have not yet learned that skill.
Then on Sundays, the second of back-to-back day games, if the Jays are on the road, they have to pack their bags, check out of the hotel, they have a later reporting time at the ballpark and usually don't stage batting practice. Breakfast in the clubhouse, hit in the batting cage, stretch and then Play Ball. That's a huge difference in routine and athletes are creatures of habit as much as anyone else. At home games, they're with family on Sunday mornings, chilling before heading to the park and strapping it on for a 1:00 p.m. start. I honestly think from my experience, if given a choice, most players would rather play night games all the time.
I look forward to your blog each week. You stated in a recent article that "It was the frothy, faithful in Jays Nation cooking up a cauldron of optimism" for the 2011 pitching staff. My question is: Do you think 2012 is realistic for the Jays to contend, as management has stated? (And I have read in this paper numerous time.)
Management keeps running out a veteran lineup with the likes of Jo-Jo Reyes, Patterson, Johnny Mac, Rivera, Molina etc. The payroll already indicates they aren't trying to win this year. So instead of benching and optioning the future to the minors, why not give them a shot?
Jeff Iles, Haliburton
A-That sentence sings, doesn't it? And by the way, Reyes is only 26, so not quite veteran. Here's the sequence of building years that the Jays have followed under Anthopoulos. In 2010, AA let Cito Gaston finish out his contract as manager partly as a favour to Paul Beeston, because expectations were low and partly becuse they were simply looking to identify those players that could play, moving forward. That season was a season for keeping notes, finding out which of the players on hand were core players moving forward and which were going to be moved on to make room for core players moving forward. In 2011, the current season, they have hired their manager of the future, have put those identified core players in places to succeed and now need to see if they were correct in their assessments.
So far, they have been correct on Bautista and the decision to sign him long-term, correct on Lind and moving him to first base, on J.P. Arencibia and trusting him to develop, on Yunel Escobar as a nice two-way shortstop, on Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero and even Kyle Drabek. They also need to find out which of their abundance of bullpen guys they are going to keep moving to 2012.
As you rightly point out, this current Jays roster is still not good enough to win in 2012, but Anthopoulos, after two years of identifying his team's strengths and weaknesses, must take the next step as a show of faith with an impatient fan base. The way he can compete next year is to keep identified strengths in place but fill in their weakesses by spending money on trades and free agency. They have a nice inventory of minor league talent to use in the off season to trade for the right veteran in the right position and have money to spend where they can also sign a short-term veteran starter out of the free-agent pool to help put them over the top. I believe when the time is right, these guys are willing to bump payroll over $100 million and they have promised that it will be 2012. They must keep their word.
I know many of us are concerned about the Jays rotation and the lack of going deep into ballgames. I know most of it is command issues and not being economical with pitches. But how much can we start to put down to Farrell? I know priority one is to "protect the young arms," but is he being overly abusive of his bullpen in being so dogmatic over pitch counts?
I don't mind if you baby Drabek a bit, but Romero should be able to go to 120/130 on occasion by now if he's pitching OK and the bullpen needs a rest. Litsch is a veteran and not really a prospect (and has a sturdy build). Jojo is a freebie arm. You'd think Farrell would get them more work. I also don't get yesterday's quick hook on Morrow any more than he does. His command wasn't great but he had given up only 2 runs and 3 hits when pulled, at the end of a 4-game series when the bullpen had been overworked.
Let him try to pitch his way out of it. It can only help in the long run.
Mark Acheson, London
A-Consider in the last 15 games, only one Jays starter has pitched seven innings. That was Jo-Jo Reyes. During that stretch, heading into Minneapolis, Jays starters have averaged slightly over 5-1/3 innings. Part of that stems from Farrell having a seven and eight man bullpen, perhaps feeling he can go get his starter early and still have arms available. But there's no way that any major league team should enter a game with two healthy bench players and eight healthy relievers. It makes no sense and yes Jays' starters need to go deeper into games and that means pitching to contact more early in counts. Farrell gave the ultimate bakhanded compliment to Litsch the other day saying how impressed he was that Jesse with all those 3-2 counts did not walk a batter. Huh!
If the Jays are going to brag about their young rotation, as I wrote in a column the other day, they have to become quality major-league starters, not promising major-league starters. There may even be a part of these young starters that at this point under Farrell feel that okay I'm in the sixth now. He's coming to get me soon. Maybe they need to be left out to pitch through seven and then into the eighth as part of the next step in their development. As writers there every day, there has becomean edge, an impatience, a frustration shown by Farrell towards the failures of his players in certain situations, both on the mound and as position players. He's still a rookie and maybe it's part of his own learning process, but they should cut the bullpen to six relievers.
Love the blog. I was just wondering about the pitching in the rest of the AL. It seems like every game, the Jays are facing guys like James Shields, Jered Weaver, John Lackey, Justin Verlander, etc. Is this a sign of increased depth in pitching in the American League or is the inconsistency of the Jays rotation making other teams starters look better than they actually are? More still, is it the Jays hitters who are making these pitchers look good or have the Jays just been cursed with a tough April/May schdule?
Matt Strmec, Bolton
A-There's increased depth in pitching everywhere, not just the AL, starting with last season as the Year of the Pitcher. A lot of that pitching dominance stems from the MLB mandatory testing program for performance enhancers starting in '04 and the effect it has had on diminishing offences. That also makes you wonder about where the Jays' young rotation really stands relative to the rest of baseball. Yes, the Jays starters have showed significant improvement over the past two years, but it's also a trend in baseball. There are statistics, even at ther college level about the huge decrease in home runs and they blame it on the restrictions that have been imposed on bat manufacturers, but some of is is the clean, more natural hitters, even at that level of ball. The Jays have had a tough early schedule, but they also have had injuries to key hitters and have now used 33 different lineups in 37 games.
Q-Corey Patterson is playing a very tentative centre field. I have seen him a number of times pull up and a catchable ball fall in for a "base hit." For example, a number of balls that hit near or at the base of the wall, and short flies that he prefers to take on the bounce. What is your take on his play? When do we see Podsednik? I know Gose and Thames have to gain maturity and should not be rushed.
Jim Gilhuly, Waterloo
A-The last year that Patterson played regular centre field in the majors was 2008. Since then and before this season, he had played 14 games in centre. This year with the Jays he's played 23. That's more a lineup out of necessity than anything else. How poorly has he played the wall? You know when you put the like ends of magnets together and they repel each other, impossible to get them to touch, that seems to be the same relationship Corey has with outfield fences. It may also be a case of having seen Vernon Wells at the position for the entire decade that spoiled fans and made their perception of Rajai Davis and Patterson so jarring. As you are probably already aware, Podsednik asked for and was give his release by the Jays to pursue his goals of reaching the majors with another organization yet to be determined. Podsednik had been slipping down the depth chart, with Patterson's useable major-league effort, with Dewayne Wise at Triple-A and with the development of Eric Thames and with Travis Snider now in Vegas too. The young galloping Gose is startng to heat up in New Hampshire and Thames is having an all-star year in Vegas.
Love the blog, it certainly gets me to questioning the reason for some of the moves the Jays make. One move I haven't figured out yet is why they brought up David Cooper? He might be the first baseman of the future somewhere, but it certainly looks like Lind has taken that spot for the next few years. EE is a backup for Lind. So Cooper is the DH and he is hitting .143 (as of May 8). Are they trying to see how he hits against major league pitching before sending him down again? I'm sure there are others that could fill his spot on the bench and be more effective during this rash of injuries hitting the team.
Bob Mayhew, Lindsay
A-To me, Cooper will develop into one of those useful bench players that every organization needs who can come up and fill in for a while and then go back down to the minors. The only downside is that he has just the one position, first base, and as you point out, being a lefthanded hitter, with Lind under contract and adjusting to the position fairly well, how often will that happen. As soon as the Jays settle their third base dilemma with Brett Lawrie coming up – likely for good - then Cooper will have to go down, with Edwin Encarnacion off the field where he belongs and into the DH role.