2012 Blue Jays: Brett Lawrie, Kelly Johnson, Yunel Escobar

16 02 2013

Recently, I realized that Brett Lawrie is the latest in a long series of Blue Jay rookies who hit up a storm when first called up, only to struggle when pitchers figured out their weak spots. Carlos Delgado, Adam Lind, Jose Cruz Jr., and – most notoriously – Josh Phelps are other examples of players who started off on hot streaks and then produced disappointing numbers either for a bit or forever. Perhaps it’s best just to throw out a player’s rookie numbers when predicting his career.

By the way: I don’t know how long it will last but, at present, Lawrie is the best defensive third baseman I have ever seen in person. Make a point of watching him field. It’s worth it. If he doesn’t earn a Gold Glove this year, the voters are not paying attention.

It’s worth remembering that the Jays probably didn’t really want Kelly Johnson. When they traded for him at the end of the 2011 season, they were undoubtedly expecting that he would refuse their offer of arbitration, become a free agent, and give the Jays yet another pick in the next free agent draft. Unexpectedly, they were stuck with him.

Modern baseball statistics provide clues to a player’s performance that would have otherwise been missed, and Johnson’s 2012 season is an example. At first glance, he appeared to be a much better player in the first half of the season than in the second: he batted .246 in the first half, and only .195 in the second. But one of the new statistics, BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play), reveals the true story: his first-half BABIP was .318. This is very high, and suggests that his batting average was up because he was lucky: many of the balls he was hitting were falling between fielders. His second-half BABIP was a much more realistic .254. When you consider that all of his other numbers are pretty much the same across the board in both halves of the season, the inescapable conclusion is that Johnson just wasn’t all that good.

It’s impossible to think about Yunel Escobar without thinking of the now-notorious words that he painted on his eyeliner. While Escobar’s actions didn’t exactly display good judgement, I find that I am uncomfortable with the sort of people who leaped to condemn him. The people who judged him would probably rush to judge me, too, if I did something that didn’t meet their exacting standards of behaviour. (And, sooner rather than later, I probably will.)

I was also intrigued to note that the reactions to his words varied widely among baseball people. Some people, particularly Latin-American ballplayers, said that they were harmless, and others claimed that they were a serious insult. I have no idea which is correct. Anyway, it doesn’t matter any more – he’s now a Ray, not a Jay.

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