The season so far

16 04 2011

I used to write a lot about baseball, but haven’t done much of that lately. But today I feel like doing so again. Here’s a few random words about some of the 2011 Blue Jays, based on an admittedly small sample size of 14 games.

Jo-Jo Reyes/J.P. Arencibia: I don’t quite understand what is happening with Jo-Jo. In spring training, he looked good. I mean really good: I saw a televised spring game, and he was consistently getting the ball down, attacking hitters, and breezing through the batting order. He looked like a quality major league starter. Admittedly, it was spring, but he was facing major league hitters and getting them out.

But, once the season started, everything changed: two of his three outings have been bad (one was so-so, but he hung in there and saved the bullpen from being overworked). Two sets of numbers tell the whole story:

Reyes in spring: 22 IP, 10 H, 8 BB, 18 K
Reyes in regular season: 15 IP, 22 H, 7 BB, 12 K

He’s walking 50% more batters (though most of them did come in his last start) and giving up way more hits. What’s happening?

Again, part of it is because, in spring, nothing counts. But I’m wondering: is Reyes doing things differently in the regular season? Is he trying too hard and not just pitching naturally? Is he lacking confidence?

I compare him to J.P. Arencibia. One thing that was obvious about J.P. when he arrived in Toronto was his confidence. Even after he went hitless for most of September, he seemingly never for a minute believed that his future was anywhere other than Toronto. He seemed so assured that some local writers made negative comments, assuming that he was suffering from self-delusion.

And, you know what? He does seem to belong here. He looks comfortable behind the plate. He seems to be calling a decent game (admittedly, probably with help from the bench). He’s throwing runners out every now and again. He’s gotten a few key hits (again, mostly in bunches, but they are there). He’s even being a bit more selective than we expected. It’s too early to tell whether he’s going to make it – the career of Josh Phelps is an example of why we should wait a bit before being too optimistic – but so far everything looks good for him. I suppose the moral is that if you believe it, you will be it.

David Purcey: One of the luxuries that the Jays have is that they have more major league players – or at least marginal major league players – than they have spots open on the roster. This means that a perfectly serviceable major league relief pitcher – Casey Janssen – was forced to spend a few days in Las Vegas because the club wanted to make sure that Purcey, who is out of options, would not help the team.

But the downside of having choices is that the temptation to punt on a player early is a real one. I don’t disagree with the decision to get rid of Purcey. A relief pitcher needs to throw strikes, and Purcey has never mastered that. The minors are full of pitchers with great stuff but no idea of where it’s going – in fact, it’s safe to say that the very job of minor league development is to take young men with raw stuff and turn them into actual pitchers. But Purcey did only pitch five times this year before being shipped out, and that’s not a very large sample size.

Mike McCoy: How many times has he travelled between Toronto and Las Vegas so far this year? I think he’s been sent down twice and recalled twice already. How does a player like that sort out his accommodation needs? Does he just swap residences with the guy who got called up or sent down, or is he constantly having to find a new place to live? How does that work? The Farrell-era Jays seem to be more actively bringing players up and sending them down than Cito did – I guess it’s a good idea. Certainly, North American airline companies, rental car agencies, moving companies and realtors are pleased by this news. (Side note: why is the term “realtor” sometimes capitalized, as in “Realtor”? I’ve seen that several times. Is it a proper name? Does it make the profession sound more lofty? What’s up with that?)

Travis Snider: With all the talk of Lawrie, Gose, Hechavarria, Drabek and etcetera, people may have almost forgotten that Snider just turned 23 and hasn’t yet established his ceiling. Players usually get better until they’re 27, so Snider has four more years of growth ahead of him. He could still become a great player. We’ll have to wait and see.

Brett Lawrie: What’s so exciting about him is that he is only 21 – which means (see above) that he will continue to get better for approximately six more years. And he’s pretty good right now (though he still has to master third base). I assume that he will come up as soon as the Super Two deadline has passed, which will allow the Jays to control him for one more year.

One of the ways l like to rate prospects is by Buzz Factor: how much are people talking about a minor league player? This is often as valuable a predictive tool as minor league statistics: for example, Roy Halladay didn’t have particularly good numbers in the minors, but scouts simply raved about him. And he kind of worked out, didn’t he? As I recall, the three most highly touted prospects in Jays history were, in order: Delgado, Fernandez and Halladay. Lawrie is coming pretty close to ranking fourth on that list.

Adam Lind: I am really impressed by how well he is picking balls out of the dirt at first base. He’s not only catching everything – he’s doing it with style. Lyle Overbay won’t be missed after all.

John Farrell: In the first game of the Boston series, I saw something I’d never seen before, and it really impressed both me and the Jays commentators. The situation: Jayson Nix led off with a walk and, with Yunel Escobar at the plate, faked a steal of second. Shortstop Marco Scutaro went over to cover the bag, and Escobar hit a ground ball right where Scutaro had been standing before the steal. Instead of a double play, the Jays had runners at first and third with no one out, and went on to score four runs and win the game. The Jays apparently practiced this move during spring. I’m impressed.

Jose Bautista: In 11 games, he has three home runs, plus one long bomb off the Green Monster at Fenway that would have been a home run anywhere else. All is well.

Overall: I predicted that the Jays would go 81-81 (but with hope for the future). Right now, they’re 7-7. So I feel vindicated. The club is in a far better place than they were in the summer of 2009, when they were an old team that was losing a lot of games, didn’t have much help coming in the farm system, and was about to lose its best pitcher. Now, they have lots of young players coming, plus some young players already here, a good young starting rotation, and oodles of useful bullpen help. I think it will be a fun summer.

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