Blue Jays mailbag: World Baseball Classic a hit despite minor quibbles
Fans can criticize the timing of the World Baseball Classic and some of the rules like the pitch counts and the tiebreakers, but anyone who criticizes the basic concept of the WBC should be forced to watch replays of Italy vs. Mexico, the Dominican vs. Venezuela and the Netherlands vs. Cuba from Thursday.
There was passion, there were upsets, there was sheer dominance by the Dominicans. It’s a joy to watch Jose Reyes, now with the Jays, compete for his country. He banged out three hits, smiled, laughed, patted opponents playfully as he came off the field, made his teammates shake their heads as he poked them with a verbal stick and, in the end, turned such a creative, instinctive double play with Robinson Cano that the stadium celebrated along with them as they ran off the field.
The three games were high drama and solid entertainment, with Italy and the Netherlands pulling off major upsets of Mexico and Cuba. How about Team Italy closer Jason Grilli raging, believing he had a strikeout to end the ninth for a 6-5 win, being squeezed, then in a tense duel hitting cleanup hitter Adrian Gonzalez in the knee to load the bases before ending it with a groundball?
In the Netherlands’ (or is that Team Curacao/Aruba/Netherlands) 6-2 upset of Cuba, check out the dugout reaction after Jonathan Schoop greeted Cuban reliever Yander Guevara with a three-run blast to left. Dutch treat.
The USA is the only country that isn’t all in. America’s Game 1 starter, R.A. Dickey spoke of his reasons for playing and what he sees when he looks around the clubhouse.
“I’m looking through the lens of having a lot of international experience, and so I say that to preface this point,” Dickey said. “It’s not about talent as much as it’s about spirit, heart, desire. In international tournament competition, talent doesn’t always win. If you got really good talent, you’re probably going to be one of the playoff teams. But in tournament play it’s a little bit different. So you want guys around you who are all in. And it’s nothing — it’s not a comment on anybody that chose not to come here, but if there’s 1-per cent of you that doesn’t want to be here, you shouldn’t come. Because that’s what it demands in order to win. I think we have got a clubhouse full of those guys, which is nice.”
On to the mailbag.
What would have to happen this year for Canada to win the WBC? If not this year, then when?
Tyler W, Toronto
A. A Canadian title won’t happen this year, because they are just not deep enough to compete should they advance to the second round and the final. Consider the injury to Brett Lawrie, the defection of Russell Martin and the weakness up the middle with no real dynamic middle infielders available. With a pitch count of 65 in the first round and 85 in the second, Canada would have needed all of its major-league-ready pitching talent to step up or to be healthy in order to make a long WBC run.
It would have been nice to have Ryan Dempster (opt out), Scott Diamond (surgery), Jesse Crain (late scratch) and even Scott Richmond (injury) who has international experience. The minimum is that it’s important for Canada to win at least one game in the tournament in order to avoid the dreaded qualification round prior to the next WBC in 2017. Teams that don’t win at least one game are entered into the qualifier along with other WBC hopefuls, which is played during the regular season in August, September of 2016, meaning Canada’s best players — its major leaguers that would be WBC eligible — are not available. It’s a dangerous situation that can be avoided with just one victory this weekend. Down the road, there are new Canadian pitchers that should be ready by 2013. Canada will be even better.
Q. Hey Richard,
A lot of praise has been lavished on Anthopoulous for the way he navigated this off-season, and most of it is deserved. In the interest of balance, what would you say his worst five moves have been in his tenure as Jays GM? The ridiculous two-year contract he gave to loveable band-aid Dustin McGowan and moving Mike Napoli for Frank Francisco are the first that come to mind. Still, it’s not like the McGowan contract is prohibitive, it’s just dumb, and Napoli’s OPS dropped .243 last year to more Clark Kentian levels. What else springs to mind?
A. Interesting question. I think that the philosophy of Anthopoulos wherein if he can upgrade his team in any way, he will make the move may have hurt him in making the J.A. Happ, Brandon Lyon, David Carpenter trade with the Astros last July. It may, ultimately, end up being his worst move.
Think about it. The Jays at the time felt they were still in the 2012 wildcard mix before the injury to Jose Bautista became season-long and the wheels fell off. Yes, Lyon was solid and helped out in the bullpen but was a free-agent at the end of the year. Carpenter was Triple-A inventory and is now gone. Happ looked like he could step into the rotation and be a solid No. 4-5 guy for the remainder of 2012, into 2013 and beyond. But the off-season moves in bringing in R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle has turned Happ into mere starting pitching depth — the best No. 6 starter in baseball.
Lyon and Carpenter are gone, so in return for second half contributions to a 73-win season and a No. 6 starter in 2013, Anthopoulos surrendered five minor league prospects — Carlos Perez, Asher Wojciechowski, Joe Musgrove, David Rollins and Kevin Comer — three from among the organization’s Top 30, and two major-league Franciscos — Frank and Ben. Think about it. What could AA get back for Happp right now? Certainly nowhere near what he gave up to get him.
Also on that short list of bad AA deals is Mike Napoli for Frank Francisco. That one needs the benefit of hindsight to be included on this list. Napoli was never going to be the starting catcher for the Jays and would not have earned the same high number of at-bats with the Jays that he did in Texas where he thrived for that one shining year as a catcher-DH-first baseman. The Rangers went on to the World Series. Francisco was OK as a relief pitcher, but the Jays really didn’t need him.
A third trade that didn’t work out for AA is with the Diamondbacks, sending Aaron Hill and the popular John McDonald late in 2011 for second baseman Kelly Johnson. When the Jays made an offer to Johnson, seeking draft compensation prior to 2012, he accepted, tying their hands for another year.
As for the signing of Dustin McGowan, I’ve got no problem with it. It’s a very human move by a very human GM. That money is insignificant enough that you can’t say it could have been spent elsewhere, because it wouldn’t have been. There is no payroll budget with AA, so it just wouldn’t have been spent. There have been other zero-impact, neutral moves but nothing that has really hurt the organization.
Q. Hi Rich,
I’ve read a lot about batting order recently and most in-depth analysis shows that hitting your best batters in the 1 & 2 spots produces more runs in a season than hitting them in the traditional 3 & 4 spots.
This makes sense to me as it gives your best hitters more ABs over the course of a year and makes a positive difference (albeit a small one of maybe 5 to 10 runs over a full year).
My question is – why isn’t any team following this advice? With everyone trying to eke out every last ounce of performance why is everyone ignoring this avenue?
A. First of all, how can “most in-depth analysis” show that when, as you point out, no team has ever tried it? Where is your evidence, other than dissecting past numbers of players that have batted 3-4 and importing them into the 1-2 holes and saying arbitrarily that they would be the same?
The studies that suggest ranking your hitters 1-9 and making that your lineup reflect the mistake of looking to the past in order to create your future. What about natural development of some young players as they mature? What about nagging injuries that cut into power or speed? What about right-left matchups that may lead you into the trap of make managing an opponent’s bullpen against your team much easier in late innings? Having one lefthander face four straight lefty swingers, hell, I can do that.
The biggest break from tradtion, from the original book of managing, that I have seen in putting together MLB lineups over the years is in the lineup’s two-hole where many teams have gone away from good bunters, solid move-along guys, slap hitters with speed that don’t necessarily work the count. They have moved towards a logical trend for on-base guys that don’t bunt or have speed but are good contact hitters and can help turn over the lineup. If the other thing, the actual base premise of your question here, the 1-9 concept, actually worked, surely there would have been some major-league team try it by now considering some of the geeky GMs that have passed through the major-league game in the past 15 years. And they haven’t. Maybe the Astros could give it a shot. Nothing to lose.
Q. Hi Rich,
Here’s possibly another angle on the “Who catches Dickey” conversation. Dickey seems happy with any of the three options. Thole seems to be destined for Triple-A. By Opening Day JP could well have caught him about the same number of games as Blanco (and more recently) although they will obviously be Spring Training + WBC vs. “real” games. And catching Dickey seems to be more of a physical issue (chasing knuckleballs to the backstop!) than a mental one (calming the pitcher, pitch selection, etc). Would one of the other pitchers (e.g. Romero) benefit more from Blanco’s veteran-ness than Dickey? Your thoughts?
CB in Toronto
A. For manager John Gibbons, catching Dickey involves handing over the fulltime duties to one guy. It’s like being Tiger Woods’ caddy. It’s not just the work you see out on the course that counts. There’s the preparation, there’s walking the course and defining yardages, there’s being a part-time psychologist and the thankless work on the practice range. It’s the same for Dickey’s personal catcher. Gibbons wants this guy to work with the Cy guy in the bullpen between starts, to sit with him, to know him and what he wants to do pitch-to-pitch, batter-to-batter. “What he wants to do,” you scoff. Doesn’t he just want to throw the knuckelball 95 times per game? But Dickey is a complicated personality. He’s the most interesting man in baseball. (Excuse me while I pop open a Dos Equis.) If Arencibia is catching 130 games, he won’t have the time Gibbons prefers to spend focused on the ace and his knuckleball.
As for one of the other Jays’ starting pitchers benefitting from working with Blanco, I think that guy might be someone like Mark Buehrle who is unlike any pitcher Arencibia has ever handled. He works fast and relies on finesse and being honed in and on the same page as his catcher. If Arencibia ends up catching Dickey, then I would think about Buehrle for the second catcher rather than Ricky.
Q. Hey Rich,
The lineup for the Blue Jays seems almost set, and we have a pretty good idea who is likely to fill the few remaining holes. But AA has also promised the Bison owners that he’s going to put a competitive team on the field in Buffalo, and has signed a bunch of guys with that in mind. As well, the Bisons represent our insurance policy, so we want them to be playing well, and winning games. With that in mind, any idea what their lineup looks like, and what their chances are for this season? Moreover, they’ve got a great stadium, and it will be fun to slide down the QEW to catch some games through the season. How are the Bisons shaping up?
A. I love Triple-A being in Buffalo. You are correct about AA promising a winner to Bisons management. Anthopoulos and this management group, led by director of minor league operations Charlie Wilson, pay a lot of attention to the well-being of their affiliates. The previous GM ignored the affiliates’ desires, by-and-large, which ended up costing them Syracuse and sending them to Las Vegas. Consider the day the Bisons staged their uniform-revealing press conference: AA, Paul Beeston and John Gibbons let them know they would attend. It was spontaneous and welcomed.
As for putting a fan-pleasing team on the field, that same day of the news conference, the Jays signed Buffalo native and local hero Jim Negrych to play second base. They also will have first basemen Lars Anderson and Luis (Kung-Fu Bison) Jimenez. They will have third baseman Andy LaRoche, dynamic centre fielder Anthony Gose, the reliable career Triple-A’er Ricardo Nanita and Moises Sierra. On the pitching staff, the Bisons will likely have recognizable names Justin Germano, David Bush, Ramon Ortiz and possibly J.A. Happ. Just like they do with the Bills, maybe Buffalo will allow the Bisons to play one series per year at the Rogers Centre. That would be a good move.
Q. Hi Richard.
Enjoy your blog.
The for and against DH is being debated once again and I have, what I think is, a simple solution to the issue. Let the home team manager decide before each game whether to play with or without a DH. The home team manager would base his decision on whether he felt it would be advantageous to his team to play with or without the benefit of a DH. This would allow a new element to managing and create a whole new reason for sports writers and fans to second-guess managers.
Would love to hear what readers of your blog have to say about this suggestion.
A. Baseball needs more structure than that. I believe, despite my history as a firm National League aficionado, that the future of the major-league game will inevitably be with the DH in both leagues.
With most teams now carrying 12 pitchers, I also like the concept of a 28-man pool on each team with 25 being declared eligible before every game. That would mean fewer disablements, more versatility coming off the bench. For instance, yesterday’s and tomorrow’s starter could be deactivated as well as a gassed reliever and replaced by a couple of bench players and a fresh reliever. If someone needs three days for a minor nick, he could be deactivated. That would bring some strategy back to the game, leading to fan discussion; discussion and debate are the keys to baseball.
My wife and I own a home in Dunedin and have been coming down to spring games for years. Two things we’d like to know:
a) In away spring games, the Jays often seem to be in violation of the rule which requires teams to bus a minimum number of starters that were on the prior year’s regular roster. Yet the veterans often play in B games, which the fans are not encouraged to attend. Why doesn’t the media do more to protect the fans’ interests in these issues?
b) Can fans attend B games, and if so, how do we find about them?
Bill and Vi Grimmett
A. You have one thing right and one thing wrong. Yes, the Jays often stretch the truth when it comes to sending representative rosters on spring training bus trips. I can’t think of a road game this spring in which they had four true major-league starters in one lineup. Fans in those ballparks have every right in the world to feel ripped off. But then again, it is spring training and they’re not shoveling snow.
The thing you have wrong is the belief that they play a lot of B games. This year, the Jays played none. And in the past, when they have played B games, it’s usually to allow a major-league pitcher some work followed up by young arms that they needed to see. If it’s a B game at home then there will be stars, but if it’s on the road, it will be all young roster players and camp minor-leaguers. Two reasons there are no B games this year is the length of spring training and the WBC taking players away. B games held in the main stadium lead to logistical problems of no staff and the gates not being opened yet. What’s more fun to attend and where fans are welcome is games at Mattick, two at a time, at the minor league complex from about March 10 through the end of the month. That is worth it for real fans.