Monday, 30 April 2012

Thinking Blue: Weekly Recap - April 30th

Photo Credit: Getty Images via Daylife
Record This Week: 3-3

All is no longer right in this world. Down is up, up is down and the Orioles are at the top of the AL East. Of course I'm kidding as thus far the Jays have only played 23 games, which is only 14% of the the 162 game season.

They sure didn't build on their success from last weekend in which they swept the Kansas City Royals in a 4 game series, but in a long season every team has slumps. This week the Jays relatively poor play resulted in a finish at 4th place in the AL East, but with one hot week they could be right back at the top.

Granted that week likely won't be this upcoming week as the Jays have a 3 game series with the Rangers at home and then a grueling 4 game series in Anaheim against the Angels. However the point still holds true. The Jays are only 2 games behind the Orioles in first and a half a game behind the Yankees for the second wild card spot.

Not that it needs to be taken too much into account though, if the Jays go winless in the next week, its not something that you want to see, but so what. Over the course of a full season the true talent level of this team will shine through and I think they'll be pretty darn good. If you're patient enough to sit through an entire baseball game you should be patient enough to wait for the outcome of the 162 game MLB season. Winning is nice, but patience is key.

If you follow the Blue Jays online community on Twitter (And really why wouldn't you be), you may or may not have noticed something, the lack of #FreeSnider tweets. That partially has to do that with the fact that Snider left Thursday's AAA game after jamming his wrist while trying to catch a ball in left field, but it could also be the fact that over the past week Eric Thames has been absolutely mashing. After this week Eric Thames is now the second best hitter on the Jays according to wOBA (that's excluding Jeff Mathis and his 18 plate appearances) and also is second on the team in OBP.

Of course again this is a very small sample size, but Thames has looked good, well offensively at least. During the series against the Orioles in which the Blue Jays amassed 3 runs in 3 games, Thames seemed to be the sole bright spot. He had two home runs (one off of his glove) and led the Jays in WPA or Win Probability added during that series.

However the one thing I fail to understand in all of this is the sort of anti-Colby-esque mindset that has been put around Eric Thames. When Colby has played well there has been dozens of tweets along the lines of "where the haters at now?" or "Colby don't look so bad anymore" as statistics based Jays fans make their proclamation to those who doubted Colby last year that Colby is in fact a good player. On the flipside of things when Thames has played well it has been the statistical community who is shut up by his production.

Don't get me wrong its nice to see Thames hitting well and the Jays getting good production out of left field, but I keep the mindset that as long as Snider is fully healthy (which he isn't at the present moment) he should be the one in the majors. The reason being that for one despite being the second best hitter on the team according to wOBA, Thames still has a negative WAR. Why? Because he has been terrible defensively, which has resulted in a -5.0 UZR.

I'm not going to go into all of the many details on the matter of who should be up with the Jays and why, as I did that pretty extensively back when Snider was demoted, but I'll say one thing. That is that the Jays gave Snider a very short leash in 2011 and to be honest, despite Eric Thames' sudden offensive power surge *cough* .354 BABIP *cough*, I'd hope they do the same with Thames in 2012. When he's hitting he can stay, but when he should be on the first plane back to AAA. Viva Las Vegas.

Where Oh Where has Bautista Gone
Last year on this day Jose Bautista had 1.312 OPS, a .366 BA and he led the league in practically every offensive category. This year so far he has had a .670 OPS and a .187 BA and has been one of the Jays' worst hitters.

At first glance that looks really bad and you probably either A. Spazzed out at your computer screen or B. Shrugged it off as just small sample size. Both sides may seem like plausible reactions, but the answer lies in between.

If you look beyond just the raw offensive numbers, Bautista hasn't really been as bad as he's seemed. His walk rate is below his gaudy 2011 numbers, but also above the 2010 numbers.  That walk rate is to go along with a career best 11.6% K rate. The encouraging thing about those numbers is that walk and strikeout rates are generally statistics that normalize quickly, meaning they can be taken in to context in smaller sample sizes.

Beyond that most of Bautista's plate discipline numbers have stayed relatively the same as well, meaning he hasn't necessarily "seen the ball" any worse than he had last season. However one thing worth noting is that Bautista's O-Swing% has jumped up 5% showing that despite him making contact with roughly the same amount of pitches and getting roughly the same amount of pitches in the strike zone, Bautista has been swinging more at pitches outside the zone.

Because Bautista is swinging at more pitches outside the zone and therefore making contact with more pitches outside the zone, in some ways it explains why numbers like his slugging percentage or isolated power have been so low.

It is true that he is still making contact with pitches, but the contact isn't necessarily good contact. Rather than hitting sweet homeruns he is hitting more weak grounders to the shortstop. This is shown through Bautista's batted ball data, which includes a drop in both LD% and FB% in order to facilitate an increase in GB%. Ground balls often aren't a good thing and especially not a good thing for a player who is considered a power hitter.

Though as with all that has happened so far in this season it still is small sample size and it shouldn't be taken as the end all be all luck stat, but Jose Bautista has had a ridiculous .179 BABIP. That number being almost .100 points below his career average.

So then Bautista may not be performing to the level he did last year, but it would be very hard to expect that from him. His approach seems to have changed slightly at the plate, but he also gotten extremely unlucky. He is regressing and he is getting older, there's no way he is this bad, give it time, have patience.

Bonus: The Home Run off of Thames' Glove
Sources: Fangraphs, Baseball Reference

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Discussing John Farrell's Managerial Capabilities

Photo Credit: AP Photo via Daylife
In baseball managers seem to play a significant role in the team. The managers manage the players, they manage the game and some fans would argue that they are the glue that holds a team together.

As a member of the more forward thinking baseball community I'm well aware that the little things that we can observe form managers like lineup cards and pitching changes is a very small percentile of the job in its entirety. However because those things are all that we can see they are also all the we can criticize.

In 2011 one could argue that there was quite a bit to criticize with Blue Jays Manager John Farrell. It seemed he had trouble identifying his pitcher's strengths in the bullpen and didn't give two shits about who was where in the Jays lineup.

At the beginning of the 2011 season, Farrell continually put Octavio Dotel up against left handers, when at that point he was pitching like a ROOGY. Furthermore, countless times he put Adam Lind in the cleanup spot against left handers despite Lind being the 6th worse hitter against lefties in the past decade (according to wRC+).

As the year wore and rookies were called up from the minors things didn't exactly improve. Farrell hit Eric Thames in the 2 hole whilst he was slumping and Brett Lawrie anywhere from 5-8 whilst he was hitting like one of the best players in the league. I digress.

Though Matthew Kory's (@MattyMatty2000) poop joke algorithm has declared John Farrell's managerial decisions as poop on the scale of 1-Poop, one must remember one thing. That thing is that last year John Farrell was a Rookie manager. As any Rookie player would do, a Rookie manager also makes mistakes.

What I find more important, which is also what scouts look for in a Rookie is improvement. This year Farrell seems to have improved to levels unimaginable. For one there is not a bullpen decision of his this year that has been too out of line. For another it seems he finally realizes what Adam Lind is...a platoon player.

In response to his newfound recognition of Lind's true abilities (or lack thereof) Farrell has taken to dropping Lind in the batting order and sometimes even benching him when the Jays are facing a lefty starter.

Furthermore, what has been described as a managerial trend in this short season and something Farrell seems to have embraced are shifts. If you have watched any number of the Jays games this season you probably have witnessed these shifts.

Particularly against lefties the Jays have played two different shifts. One shift where the SS, 2B, and 1B players all stay in their regular position, but Brett Lawrie over at third has moved into shallow right field. Another shift has done the same thing except Lawrie was instead moved to a position straight up the middle.

I'm sure there have been other slight adjustments that my eyes, always distracted by watching the pristine pitching performances put on the by the Jays, have not captured. Though for the particular shifts described above, they have seemed to be relatively effective. On multiple occasions the ball has been hit directly to the shifted player resulting in an out and end to the inning.

All of these changes, all of this improvement is wonderful. Where as last year it looked like John Farrell could become the next Jim Tracy with his managerial decisions, this year he seems to be moving towards the ever eternal Joe Maddon managerial territory.

Although good managerial decisions don't necessarily add a whole lot to the success of a team, they sure don't hurt. With good managerial decisions the players are happy, the fans are happy, and newspapers have to write about something other than the bad decision the manager made last night...everybody wins.

Sources: Fangraphs

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Thinking Blue: Weekly Recap - April 23rd

Courtesy of Daylife via Reuters Pictures
After a couple of weeks of a few lucky wins, it looks like the Blue Jays are getting back in the swing of things. Edwin is hitting, KJ is hitting, Colby is hitting, and even the so called slumping Bautista is recovering from early season troubles. Furthermore after yesterday's win against the Royals the Jays sit now atop the AL East tied with the Yankees for first place.

These next couple of weeks look to be pretty crucial in establishing the standings in the early goings. Both the OriLoLes, who haven't been so LoL worthy thus far, and the Rays are only a half game back of the Jays and Yankees. Of course the Red Sox and all of their beer and chicken issues are sitting firm in last place, and despite their atrocious relief pitching and the pessimistic beliefs of Red Sox fans everywhere they are still a force to be reckoned with in the AL East.

Hutch's First Big League Start
As I'm sure most of you saw, Drew Hutchison (Yes, that's H-u-t-c-h-i-s-o-n with one N) made a start for the Blue Jays on Saturday. Yes, the Blue Jays Top 10 prospect (and Top 100 MLB Prospect if you ask Keith Law) took to the mound in a duel against Luis Mendoza. Unfortunately I wasn't able to catch his entire outing as I missed the beginning, but from what I saw he looked like he held his own.

His line on the night didn't end up being exactly what you'd like to see. He gave up 5 runs over 5 1/3 innings and two home runs. To go along with that Hutchison walked 3 batters and hit one more. On the surface that doesn't look so great for a pitcher's debut, but Hutch is only 21 and most pitchers don't produce Kyle Drabek like debuts. Besides Hutchison did end up striking out 4 over the 5 1/3 innings and got the win, if thats the sort of thing you care about (I don't).

The outing wasn't the most impressive thing in the world, but I also wasn't disappointed. Again, he's still only 21 and will be for another 4 months, he was just called up from AA and its his first start in the majors. Not to excuse the performance, but occasionally that kind of pressure can be pretty daunting. Before we make any rash decisions or evaluations on Hutch lets at least see another start of his, an opportunity I hope the Jays give him.

P.S. If you want a more In-Depth Analysis of Hutch's first start, the kind of thing I have been known to do from time to time, you can check out MjwW's FanPost over at Bluebird Banter where he excellently broke down the start using Pitch F/X numbers.

Santos to the DL
One week after coming back from the birth of his first child, Sergio Santos is on the 15 day DL for Shoulder Inflammation as reported by @SNBarryDavis. This isn't exactly the news you want to hear from your favourite team, but it doesn't project to be a huge pressing issue. If you assume Santos is as good as he was last year over the course of this season, you lose only a little more than 0.1 WAR off the season total, which in the grand scheme of things is a relatively small number.

In the meantime the Jays have thrust "Capital C Closer" Francisco Cordero into the closer role. Cordero isn't as good as Santos, but having him as your closer isn't the worst thing in the world. He has a declining skill set, which I have outlined before, but he should be fine in the role for 15 days. However, one thing I fear with Cordero is if he actually performs "well" in his little stint in the 9th inning role, there may be pressure to keep him there.

Santos hasn't been great so far this season, but it has been an extremely small sample. Nonetheless if Cordero performs well, I could easily see the fans and the media for that matter building the narrative that Cordero needs to be in that closer role citing Santos' two blown saves in this short season. Of course I don't care about blown saves, but the Toronto media, well they sure seem to.

Colby Haters Be Gone
Colby Rasmus is always going to be easy pickin's as an entity that everyone can throw their anger at. He is the inevitable scapegoat, he is athletic and graceful both on the field and at the plate and that has gotten him the J.D. Drew treatment.

Nonetheless Colby has done his very best to silence his naysayers, which seemed to be more than half of the fan base after last year's debacle. After a terrible showing last season following his transition from NL to AL, St. Louis to Toronto, and La Russa to Freedom, Rasmus definitely wasn't helping himself in the fan appreciation department.

People called him lazy, people called the trade stupid, but people say a lot of things. Well at least they did.

Nowadays with Colby having hit 3 home runs thus far with an OBP of .321 all good for a 120 wRC+, people aren't saying a lot. These "people" have seemed to have been silenced by Colby's admittedly fantastic performance both at the plate and in center field.

He is not hitting to the level that he did in 2010, his wRC+ is 9 points lower, but his defense is being rated better by the always confusing UZR. This has put him on pace for a 5.4 fWAR season. That pace likely won't continue, but there is a chance that it very well could. Rasmus has the potential for that type of season, it will be interesting to see if he has that in him.

He's hitting that triple, double, single, that smooth home run, he is fire burning in the outfield and quickly sliding his way right back into Toronto fan's hearts...for the time being. #Colby2012


Side Note: Does anyone else see the resemblance?
Courtesy of Daylife via AP Photo and Getty Images
Sources: Fangraphs, Baseball Reference

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Drabek Watch: Overanalyzing His First Start

WARNING: Everything in this blog post must be taken in to context as it will be discussing the smallest of sample sizes, therefore any over or under-excitement that may be experienced through reading this blog post is not the fault of the writer, you were warned.

If you didn't already know from my overenthusiastic assessment of Drabek in the Projecting Performance series or the plea I made for him to become relevant among Jays discussion in February, I'm a pretty big Kyle Drabek fan. As such I was sure to attend his first start of the season last night and to say the least I had mixed feelings.

As a fan and observer, it seemed to me like he was keeping his composure better than he had last year, not reacting when things didn't go quite as planned and generally having a better presence on the mound. By this I mean he seemed like he kept a more consistent delivery, keeping on line with the plate, and not getting out of his mechanics when he gave up hits or runs.

As well from a very very amateur scouting standpoint (if you can even call it that), in terms of his actual pitches, they "looked" a lot better than last year. The key in that previous sentence being the vision aspect as any fan can attest to, when you're at the game you tend to get a little googly eyed and fandom can get in the way of your objectivity. This ultimately brought me to do the little bit of extra research after the game.

The reason I questioned my initial feelings about the game is though Drabek "looked good", from a stats point of view it didn't seem like there was too much change. After his first start Drabek has put himself at much improved 1.69 ERA and 2.86 FIP, but his 4.49 xFIP was more remeniscent of the 2011 season. It is true however, that number is influenced by his apparent luck as evidenced by the .200 BABIP and 83.3% strand rate, which in small sample sizes can be very iffy. Moreover when getting to the raw statistics, Drabek still walked 3 batters in his 5.2 innings of work and only struck out 4. Astonishingly to some that strikeout to walk rate is higher than last season, but it could not have gotten any worse and there is not nearly enough change to be evidence of any true change.

Furthermore despite the apparent change in mechanics and pitch choice that the Jays had done with Drabek in Spring Training and over the offseason, Drabek's Pitch F/X information showed mixed results. On Monday's Baseball Today Podcast Keith Law mentioned that in Spring Training the Jays had Drabek throwing more two seamers and cutters rather than four seamers, because Drabek was lacking movement on the four seamers in 2011.

However as per Texas Leaguers Drabek actually threw 47.3% four seamers in Tuesday's game, where as he only threw 34.8% four seamers last year. Beyond that the percentage of two seamers thrown was relatively similar and it seemed like Drabek threw quite a bit more curveballs and far less cutters. Of course this could always be an issue with pitch mislabeling and pitch choice would depend on the type of situation that Drabek is in so there is quite a bit of room for error per say.

Last, but not least one last "analysis" if you will would be of the pitch F/X variety. Last year if you looked at some of Drabek's pitch locations and release points (both graphs directly below) you can see that they a little bit scrambled. The pitches Drabek threw were very wild and his release point greatly varied not only form start to start, but from pitch to pitch.
Drabek's 2011 Release Points
Drabek's 2011 Pitch Locations
Then if you look at the pitch location and release point graphs for Drabek's start on Tuesday, they are much more condensed. The release points all look much more consistent than they were in 2011 and his pitches appear to be much less "wild" and more of where he would want to put them. The changes in the Pitch F/X results could be attributed to the mechanical changes that the Jays apparently did in Spring Training and are similar to those described by Keith law.
Drabek's 2012 Release Points
Drabek's 2012 Pitch Locations
In summary Drabek's first start looked pretty good through the simple stats and in person. Some of the luck stats suggested that his performance was helped by the luck gods and some of peripheral stats suggest he may not have been as good as advertised. However in terms of mechanical change rather than production, it appears he may be a bit of a changed pitcher. He is hitting his spots and getting a consistent release point, which could very easily result in better peripherals and game results than he had in 2011.

Though remember this is one game we're talking about here. In one game a terrible hitter like Jeff Mathis can hit 1.000 and a terrible pitcher like Armando Gallaraga can pitch a perfect game. Despite that, how Drabek produced in his first start of the season is intriguing to say the least and definitely pushes towards my hopes and predictions that he will be what we thought he would be when he was the Jays No. 1 Prospect only a year ago.

Sources: Fangraphs, Baseball Reference, Texas Leaguers, ESPN