Blue Jays Report Card, Victoria Day weekend 2012

21 05 2012

Back in the day (i.e. in 2005 or so), I used to write regularly for a site called Batter’s Box, which is a bunch of Canadians (and the occasional American) writing about baseball. One of my monthly indulgences was a Blue Jays Report Card, in which I presumed to grade each Blue Jay on a scale of A+ (awesome) to F- (1962 Mets) based on more or less random criteria. As a writing exercise, I thought I would try this again with the current ball club. Enjoy or whatever.

(Note: I wrote most of this on Sunday, before that day’s game.)

Hitters
As I type this (on Sunday morning), the Jays are third in the American League in runs scored. That’s pretty good.

J. P. Arencibia
This is pretty much what was expected – low average, low walks, bursts of home run power, OK defense. I like him, but he’s basically a more photogenic version of Rod Barajas. JPA has been one of the public faces of the club in off-season promotions and stuff, so it will be awkward if the Jays decide to move him out of the way to make room for d’Arnaud. But this won’t happen yet – d’Arnaud is only batting .292 in Las Vegas, which is like .192 in a real ball park.
Grade: B-

Jose Bautista
Fangraphs reports that, as of May 12th, Joey Bats had the worst BABIP (Batting Average On Balls In Play) in baseball. This suggests that he has been tremendously unlucky. He’s also been struggling with timing issues – as you probably already know, much of his success depends on knowing exactly when to start his swing. Opposing pitchers have also figured out where his power zone is, and he has been forced to make adjustments. But all of his skills are still there – as anyone who leaves a fastball over the inside half of the plate can tell you – and he’s starting to hit a few more out of the park, some of which are leaving at escape velocity. He still draws lots of walks. He’ll never hit .300 again, but I suspect that all will soon be well.
Grade: B+

Rajai Davis
John Farrell has talked about giving him more playing time, but I think he might be better off staying where he is. Last year, he hit .221 against right-handed pitchers  and .288 against lefties. This year, he’s only hitting .258 against lefties (he’s 5 for 18 against righties). So he’s actually no better than he was last year – he’s just playing in situations that maximize his success. The problem, of course, is that Colby Rasmus isn’t hitting, which makes Davis seem like a more attractive alternative.
Grade: C+

Edwin Encarnacion
We all knew that EE was capable of this, and now he’s gone and done it. His hitting, and his outlook on life, improved markedly once they stopped playing him at third base, which he can’t, and just let him hit, which he can. It’s hard to believe that this guy was waived out of the league, turned down by Oakland, demoted in favour of Jarrett Hoffpauir, and benched in favour of Jayson Nix. Baseball is an unpredictable game. I don’t know whether his hitting will suffer now that he has to play first base more. Or he might just have a cold streak. Players do that every now and again.
Did you know that EE, as a Blue Jay, has stolen 16 bases and been caught only 3 times? You don’t think of him as either smart or fast, but he has to be at least one of these things or both in order to succeed at that rate. At this moment, he is tied for the club lead in steals with 6 – and if you claim that you predicted that, I don’t believe you.
Grade: A

Yunel Escobar
Has struggled a bit in the early going, and his walks are down, but I think he will bounce back. He’s 29 now, though, which is past the peak age of 27; now that we are in the post-steroid era, players will start to age at more normal rates. Gets a better grade because the Jays have such a solid defensive infield, and the shortstop is a big part of that. Has there been any kind of controversy about him at all lately?
Grade: B

Ben Francisco
Hasn’t done much, but he virtually never plays. I can’t see him sticking around too much longer – Yan Gomes might take his roster spot.
Grade: Incomplete

Yan Gomes
Step 1 has been successfully accomplished – he can hit major league fastballs. I am not excited about him in the long term, though – he drew only six walks in Vegas, and his swing has a lot of moving parts. If he’s going to have a career, he might need a rebuild from a hitting coach. Still, anybody who can catch, play first, and play third is going to be valuable, especially in an era in which pitchers take up 12 or 13 roster spots.
Grade: Too early to tell

Kelly Johnson
At first, I thought that he was an Aaron Hill clone – they even have the same uniform number, for chrissake – but Johnson has one skill that Hill doesn’t: he draws walks.  His on-base percentage of .367 easily leads the team. He’s good at turning the double play, and he cranks more than his share of long balls, so he’s been very valuable. He’s 30, so I suspect that he will be gone after the season – somebody will give him five years and a boatload of money to gradually decline in performance. Do the Angels need a second baseman?
Grade: A

Brett Lawrie
You don’t really need me to tell you about him. The two things that are most remarkable are (a) he hasn’t really gone into a slump ever, which suggests that he is adjusting to the league, and (b) his defense, which is of Gold Glove caliber already despite his only having been at the position for a little over a year. His range, reflexes, instincts, and throwing arm are easily the best I have ever seen from a Blue Jay at that position; Gruber had the range, but not the explosive reactions. Rolen was the closest.
So far, Lawrie has managed to play within himself enough to stay healthy. I’m not worried about the incident that drew the suspension – he’s not likely to get that kind of umpiring very often against him. Dropped down from an A grade because he isn’t walking much yet. Perhaps he never will – he’s a good enough bad ball hitter that he might not bother learning how to take borderline pitches.
Grade: A-

Adam Lind
It’s like this in any walk of life – if you don’t do the job, you lose it. What’s interesting about Lind is that his walk totals are way up this year – it’s as if he’s recognized that there are pitches he can’t hit, so he lays off them. This works up until you get two strikes against you. It’s not guaranteed that he will ever come back, by the way (especially if he has been put on waivers).
Grade: F

Jeff Mathis
He’s drawn a few walks, hit a couple of long balls, and played good defense. That’s what you want from your backup catcher. All is well.
Grade: B-

Colby Rasmus
I think it was Keith Law who was quoted as saying that Rasmus needed a demotion more than Travis Snider did – there are more things wrong with Rasmus’s swing than Snider’s. Rasmus is a decent defender and has occasionally popped a ball or two, which has saved him for now.
Grade: D

Eric Thames
Y’know, there isn’t that much that he is doing well. He’s got middling power, he’s not reaching base much, he strikes out a lot (second on the club behind Johnson), he doesn’t steal bases, and his defense isn’t exactly wonderful.  He’s basically a little bit below average at everything. The only good thing about him is that he is not likely to undergo a full meltdown out there, which Snider could well do. (T-Snide is batting .333 at Las Vegas, but many white-haired grandmothers could bat at least .280 there. The Jays have to find a real AAA affiliate as soon as possible.)
Grade: C

Omar Vizquel
He’s a good human-interest story, but at this point he’s an interchangeable part – I don’t think he’s doing anything that Mike McCoy couldn’t do. Basically, he exists as an insurance policy; it’s noteworthy that the Jays elected to call Gomes up to play third during Lawrie’s suspension rather than put Vizquel there.
Grade: Insufficient Data

Pitchers
The Jays are second in the American League in fewest runs allowed. That’s pretty good too.

Henderson Alvarez
It’s hard to predict what will happen to him because there’s never been anyone quite like him. How many 21-year-olds are calm enough to take the mound for the home opener without dissolving into a lather of nerves? How many young pitchers waltz through the minor leagues and into the majors without experiencing Drabek-style speed bumps along the way? How many pitchers are successful striking out as few batters as he does?
His low K rate is likely a harbinger of doom, but then again he could get better. Who knows. So far, so good. (I wrote this before Sunday’s game.)
Grade: A-

Joel Carreno
Battling Crawford for the role of 13th pitcher on a 12-man staff (or 14th pitcher on a 13-man staff, or whatever). Might be a bit overwhelmed by the majors – he’s walked only 4 in 20 Vegas innings, but 9 in 12 up here.
Grade: D

Francisco Cordero
Has shattered the myth of Proven Closer once and for all. It’s not his fault – he knows he isn’t a closer any more, and the Jays didn’t sign him as one. He was the logical first choice when Santos went down, but his major league future is now uncertain.
Grade:  D-

Evan Crawford
Had to leave a game with back problems, which is not a good sign, especially since he’s only 25.
Grade:  Incomplete

Kyle Drabek
Has experienced occasional meltdowns, but the ratio of good to bad is going up. It’s a reminder not to give up on a pitching prospect too soon – everyone had written him off after his horrific 2011.
Grade: B

Jason Frasor
Has picked up right where he left off when he was traded. He’s a perfectly serviceable middle reliever. He’s been a bit wild, but he hasn’t given up a home run yet.
Grade: B+

Drew Hutchison
Hasn’t looked overmatched out there, though it’s often been a struggle. His future is probably bright. Will likely go back to Vegas if the Jays sign Oswalt or something like that.
Grade: C

Casey Janssen
Has given up 1 walk while striking out 15. Yowza.
Grade: A

Brandon Morrow
Is sixth in the league in ERA – he would be even higher in the standings if a reversed scoring decision hadn’t tacked on a few earned runs. He throws 95. He has a nasty breaking pitch. He now has good control. Ladies and gentlemen, the future is now.
Grade: A

Darren Oliver
Was signed to do one thing – handle tough lefties in the late innings. He is doing that one thing quite well.
Grade: A

Luis Perez
A middle reliever is like the Invisible Man. If he is called into the game, the team is usually down by several runs, so the fans have lost interest. They might keep the game on in the background if watching or listening at home, or they might stay at the park, have another beer or two, and admire the view, but they don’t pay close attention to the guy on the mound. This particular Invisible Man strikes out more than a batter an inning, walks a few more than he should, and mostly does a pretty good job.
Grade: B-

Ricky Romero
Is very good at battling without his best stuff. Which is a good thing, as I think he’s lost something off his game. His walks are up, and he sometimes seems to lose it in mid-game only to mysteriously find it again. But he has five wins, and he’s averaging more than 6 1/2 innings per start.
Grade: B

Sergio Santos
Is it true that some of the Jays’ top brass were less than happy with Santos’s decision to take himself out of action? Are there old-school types out there who think that he needs to learn to pitch through the pain? We’ll never know what would have happened had he not been put on the disabled list. I do know, from even my limited experience as a non-athlete, that it’s hard to distinguish between the sort of pain that goes away in a day or two, and that you can work through if you absolutely have to, and the pain that is the result of something being torn that won’t heal for weeks or months unless you stop what you’re doing, right now. And it’s even harder to determine the difference between the two when it’s your livelihood at stake.
Grade: Incomplete

Carlos Villaneuva
His problem is that his primary function on the team is to come into the ballgame after the starter has made a dog’s breakfast of it and needed to be pulled in the third or fourth inning. Then, Carlos would show up, pitch three or so good innings, and give his team time to get back into the game. This year, the Jays’ starters have been more resilient and have left Villaneuva with little to do, like that guy at your office whose duties were eliminated after the latest restructuring but wasn’t fired, leaving him nothing to do but sit at his desk all day and play Minesweeper. Getting paid to do nothing might seem like heaven on earth for the first day or two, but trust me – it’s a horrible way to have to live. What Carlos needs is for somebody like Brett Cecil to come back and get regularly pulled in the fourth inning, thus giving him some purpose in life.
Grade: D

Miscellaneous Not Yet Players

Dustin McGowan
The Sisyphus of baseball. Poor McGowan gets close enough to game action to be almost ready, and then something else breaks down. Now that he has his new contract, he could keep doing this for years. I hope that he, someday, gets a chance to be a competent, regular member of a starting rotation again, but life is not always fair.

Vladimir Guerrero
If he has anything left at all, the Rogers Centre will bring it out of him. We shall see.

Adeiny Hechavarria
With prospects, you never know. At one point, it looked like he might be the next Tony Fernandez. Now, it looks like he’ll be the next Cesar Izturis.

Anthony Gose
And he could be the next Rickey Henderson, or the next Devon White. Or both. Or he could be the next Dewayne Wise.

Overall
I still think that the Jays made a tremendous gamble when they introduced the new/old uniforms this year. They’ve pretty much announced to the world that the old Jays are back. They’re not exactly guaranteeing a parade down Yonge Street, but they’ve raised expectations among the casual fan base, despite not actually making a lot of moves in the off season. The upside of this is tremendous – the fans are all still out there, and the potential to fill Ted’s Shed every game is there. But the potential to disappoint the fan base yet again is also there too. The Jays are a good team – really, they are – but they might not be good enough to please a city that hasn’t had a winning team in so, so long.

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