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The Sports Section

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It’s amazing that the amount of news that happens in the world every day always just exactly fits the newspaper.

– Jerry Seinfeld

I read Saturday’s sports section. The Toronto Star’s. The actual, physical sports section of the Saturday Star. Of the newspaper. I touched it. It was in my hands. I read the whole thing. I can’t remember the last time I did that. It’d been a while. I read the news online, exclusively, like a normal person. Every day. I’m one of those people. I have to, for work. Actually, I read everything online. Books, too. I didn’t pay for The Star. Fuck no. I’d never do that. I read it at Second Cup. Well, outside Second Cup. Saturday was a beautiful day in Toronto. Welcome, September.

It was underwhelming, the Star’s sports section. I’m a bit sorry to say so. But it was. Full disclosure: I’m mostly a reader of The Globe and Mail. Sports, news, everything. I grew up reading the Star, though, it was the newspaper my father had delivered to our front door, the newspaper he read, so I like to check in every once in a while. (I’m not a fan of The Star’s website; it’s too damn busy.)

On the front page, above the fold, baseball columnist Richard Griffin had a piece breaking down MLB’s wild-card race. I like Griffin, but it was a pros/cons/prediction “column” about nine teams and what their chances are down the stretch. It was nothing great; hardly Griffin’s finest hour. He calls for the Rays and Tigers to meet in the AL wild-card one-off, and likes the Braves and Dodgers in the NL, because of course you were wondering.

The rest of the front page: A feature about Chris Williams, the “CFL’s most exciting player,” by Bob Mitchell. Now, I have no idea who Chris Williams is, had never heard of him before, and don’t know what position he plays, or what team he plays for. I’m about as casual a football fan as can be. The Buffalo Bills have my heart, and I try to get down to one game in Buffalo a season, before it gets unGodly cold down there, mostly to get wasted on a Sunday afternoon, because that doesn’t get to happen enough, but I don’t fuck with the CFL. I passed on the Williams piece.

On page two, Mr. Griffin had a gamer on Friday night’s 2-1 Blue Jays’ victory over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Standard, with quotes from Tony Lovullo praising Moises Sierra, the star of the night, about some of the extra outfielding work Sierra’s been putting in, and quotes from Brandon Morrow, and Ricky Romero about Morrow. Nothing terribly exciting. Like I said, I’ll read Griffin more often than not. Not those crazy-long “Bullpen” blog posts he writes — who’s got the time?  – but his other stuff, sure. I may not like everything Griffin writes, but he’s a pro. And he uses that Drunk Jays Fans-inspired avatar on Twitter, which I still like to give him credit for.

The rest of page two: A local high-school football story, which I didn’t even think about reading. Life’s too short.

Page three: A column by Dave Perkins on the plight of Ontario’s racehorse breeders. I told myself I wasn’t going to read it, but then went back and did. I owe Perkins that much, don’t I? The column did nothing to change my stance on the issue: While I’m sorry for all those whose jobs are at risk now that the Ontario government is getting out of the horse racing business, the bottom line is that I don’t want the Ontario government involved in the horse racing business.

The rest of page three was devoted to the 2012 Paralympic Games, with articles from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press. Hours later, I can’t tell you what the CP story was about, but the AP piece was about a survivor of the 7/7 attacks in London — she lost both her legs — competing in the games. In volleyball, no less. You have to read the human interest stories. Too much of the news is bullshit to not read the human interest stories.

Pages four and five, save for a three-inch wide CP story on the left side of page four about NHL labour talks having been “recessed,” which I did not read, having already learned the details on Friday, were a huge Kevin McGran spread about which NHL teams made the best moves in the offseason — “Summertime Stanley Cup.” I didn’t read it. It was, like the Griffin piece on the front page, another team-by-team round-up. Far too broad. When I read the newspaper, I want specific. And I want, for the most part, a Toronto focus. I could care less about McGran’s take on the Carolina Hurricanes’ summer, or the Jordan Eberle contract. The NHL season isn’t going to even start on time, and I’m supposed to want to read an offseason round-up? Well, I don’t. I don’t even want to read about the goddamned lockout. The NHL can simply go away until they figure their shit out. I’d rather read a Cathal Kelly column, about whatever the hell he wants to write about. At least that’s original content.

On page six, I didn’t read an AP article about the U.S. Open, and didn’t read notes about golf, Bob Uecker’s statue, and the CFL. On page seven was a full-page scoreboard, with standings and results from the major professional sports. Who the hell actually uses that page? All that information is available on our phones.

So, in short, I read about a third of The Star’s sports section, and came away thinking, “This is why newspapers are dying.” I wouldn’t pay. I don’t pay. Not for that.

You know what I would have liked to read in the sports section of a Toronto newspaper? (Which isn’t the same as what I’d pay for, just so we’re on the same page — pardon the awful pun.) Something like this from Leafs Nation, about Nikolai Kulemin’s immediate future, and the fact that his agent said he would have asked for a one-year, $3 million deal in arbitration, if contract talks had gone there. Or @DrewGROF‘s piece about Steve Delabar, whose “stuff” — his splitter, mostly — has people talking. Or FanGraphs’ look at Carlos Villanueva, his changeup in particular (with a graph, duh, FanGraphs). The newspapers, as evidenced by this Star piece about Villanueva, and this Star piece about Jose Bautista and Sam Fuld, remain far too interested in getting me quotes from baseball players, even though we all know baseball players don’t say a damn thing when they talk.

I like what the National Post is doing — I’ve seen some PITCHf/x graphs and WPA graphs on their website over the past few months. They’re trying. Although I still don’t understand why John Lott doesn’t post his minor-league round-up, which he tweets, on the Post’s website. Hell, do both. And, again, as a reader of The Globe and Mail, I’m a bit surprised they haven’t created a Blue Jays-specific blog yet, like they did in creating James Mirtle’s Leafs Beat. The Globe gets it — Toronto drives traffic. With the Blue Jays the only baseball game in town, and in the bloody country, and interest in their happenings only increasing online — especially online — a Blue Jays-only web-first blog at The Globe seems to only makes sense. To me, at least. But what the fuck do I know.

Well, one thing, maybe: The sports section seems very much like what it used to be. And that’s the problem, isn’t it?

Written by Navin Vaswani

September 2nd, 2012 at 3:23 am


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Some disjointed, but from the heart, thoughts on the Blue Jays and Yankees.

  • Watching Yan Gomes clap his hands as he left the batter’s box, and again when he got to first base, after his first big league base hit was one of the better moments of the season so far. We talk, write, tweet, and think about these guys so often, we dehumanize them. First hit in The Show! I hope Brazil went wild. Apparently Gomes’s parents were crying. As they should have been. I hope Yan went out last night. Celebrated.
  • I don’t recall another Blue Jay ever wearing #68. I’m just going to assume Gomes is a huge Jaromir Jagr fan.
  • After another hitless game, Colby Rasmus has a wOBA of .261, and a 60 wRC+. Adam Lind left Toronto for Las Vegas with a .262 wOBA, and 61 wRC+. Rasmus has been worse at the plate than Lind. Worse. Than. Lind. Awful numbers. For Rasmus, they’re actually better than what he posted in 35 games last year as a Blue Jay, which is very sad, but, again, still awful. It’s incredible how much Lind had been vilified of late, while little to nothing’s been said about Rasmus. I knew he’d been weak at the plate, but I didn’t think he’d been that bad. Not Lind bad. We all need someone to hate, apparently. I’m obviously one of those people who’s willing to give Rasmus a ton of rope. A stupid amount of rope. The longest rope.
  • I’d forgotten that Edwin Encarnacion was sent down to Las Vegas two years ago. I remember how much he was struggling at the time, batting an even .200 when he was finally taken out of the lineup, but the demotion slipped my mind. Hard to believe, really, now, with Encarnacion the most productive hitter in the lineup. So that means there’s hope for Adam Lind. Not a lot of hope, considering he’s been terrible for a while, but some hope. As much as there was for Encarnacion, I guess.
  • Drew Hutchison’s struck out 24 batters in 33.2. innings. Henderson Alvarez has struck out 15 batters in 55 innings. Some people pray for rain. I pray for strikeouts, mostly. Life ain’t so bad.
  • I’ll never understand why Blue Jays fans boo Derek Jeter.
  • Raul Ibanez, Andruw Jones, and Eric Chavez aren’t “Yankees.” Austerity’s a mother fucker.
  • I can’t wait until Vladimir Guerrero takes Ben Francisco’s spot in the lineup.
  • That 3-2 curveball Phil Hughes struck out Jose Bautista with in the 5th inning was filthy. Filthy and rude. But an incredible pitch. And that after Jose Bautista took him deep, the last time they met. The curveball: A pitcher’s revenge.
  • You have to respect a man with John Farrell’s jawline. It adds to his presidential aura.
  • Rock bottom for Jose Bautista had to have been that swing in Anaheim, when he tried to hit a ball that hit the dirt a couple of bloody feet in front of him. He’s looked different since. The at-bats have gotten less and less, well, ugly. The ability to wait for his pitch, and then hammer it, seems to have returned for Bautista. Good ability to have. His patience seemed to have left him for a bit, there. The confidence seems to have returned, too. He simply looks different at the plate. Bautista’s May numbers are great: a .409 wOBA, and a 163 wRC+. Yes, he’s back.
  • Bautista looks exclusively pissed off when he’s on the field. He has fun in the dugout sometimes, but I’d like it if he smiled more. He should enjoy being one of the best hitters in baseball. I want him to enjoy the experience. I hope he’s enjoying it, even the tacky Booster Juice billboards.
  • Between Hutchison and Drabek, the back end of the rotation, those were two fantastic starts against the Yankees. Two big wins, especially after all the drama. Two games is definitely a sweep.
  • I think that overweight gentleman on Twitter fired up J.P. Arencibia. He’s hitting .326/.356/.674 in May, with four home runs, and 10 RBIs. I could go for a donut. Haven’t had one in a long time. Old Fashioned Glazed.
  • The Mets are in town. The other team from New York. And I have no feelings about them. Complete apathy.
  • Fuck bunting.
  • When Brian Butterfield held Yan Gomes at third base after Rajai Davis’s double in the fourth, I thought to myself, “I trust Brian Butterfield completely. I’ll tweet that later.”
  • Rajai Davis is on an absolute tear, and I like that Farrell is rewarding him with some playing time. If Farrell’s willing to sit Thames, I think we’ll see Travis Snider sooner rather than later. That’s exciting. Something to look forward to.
  • In his one and only full season in Toronto, Scott Rolen, in 2008, saved nine runs at third base, according to Baseball Reference’s Defensive Runs Saved. As pointed out by Grant Brisbee, Brett Lawrie, according to the same BR data, has saved 17 runs already this season. Remember how good Rolen was? I still think about him, every now and then. Shame how his career is ending. But Lawrie. Wow. I can’t wait to see what a full season’s numbers look like, on both sides of the baseball. I ain’t mad at Brett Lawrie. That 3-1 called strike was worth a good helmet toss. A four game suspension? Them’s the breaks.
  • Let’s face it, anyone — literally anyone — was going to be better than Francisco Cordero in the 9th inning, but Casey Janssen’s looked good closing games. His strikeout rate, 9.42, keeps getting better.

Image credit: Getty Image, via Daylife.

Written by Navin Vaswani

May 18th, 2012 at 10:30 am

Blue Jays Sweep Mariners, Save Their Season

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For the Blue Jays, it was revenge, pure and simple. Unlike the last time Toronto and Seattle completed a three-game set, the mood in the Toronto clubhouse – the swanky, air-conditioned Rogers Centre clubhouse – was jovial.

“I’d be lying to you if I said we didn’t talk about that April series before game one on Tuesday night,” said manager John Farrell. “They ended our season after, what, 10 games? I hope they lose another 12 in a row.”

The unofficial end to the Blue Jays season came after only 11 games, actually, but that hardly mattered Thursday afternoon, in the glow of victory. After blowing a 5-1 lead in the 8th inning, the Blue Jays rallied to win 7-5, sweeping the reeling Mariners out of town, and, in the process, salvaging what was, up until then, a lost season. Now a game above .500 with just over two months left to play, Toronto’s right back in the thick of the playoff race.

“Eight-and-two in our last 10, and only eight-and-a-half games back in the Wild Card,” Farrell said, beaming. “It’s on. This is what it’s all about. I’m looking forward to the rest of the summer.”

So is Travis Snider. While he went hitless on Thursday, he continues to look confident at the plate; like he’s now able to leave his poor at-bats behind, instead of dwelling on them. Since his recall, Snider’s put up a .384 wOBA, along with a 145 wRC+, while driving in 17 runs. And he’s playing centre field, and playing it well.

“The food’s a lot better in the Major Leagues, let me tell you,” Snider said, seated at his locker, enjoying a post-game rack of lamb. “But everything tastes better when you’re winning, and when you’re contributing.”

He didn’t even have to say it, before I did for him: “Meats don’t clash.”

Mike McCoy walked by, and I asked him if I could have a word. He came up big in Thursday’s matinee, hitting two clutch doubles, and scoring the go-ahead run in the bottom of the 8th, to make sure Seattle’s losing streak continued.

“Sure,” McCoy said. “But I want to ask you a couple of questions first. I saw you talking to Farrell. Did he mention me at all? Say he needed to talk to me?”

I told McCoy Farrell hadn’t.

“Excellent. I’m still here,” McCoy said. “You wouldn’t think you could get tired of hearing, ‘We’re sending you to Las Vegas,’ but you’d be wrong. I try to stay away from John, you know? Alex, too.”

“Well, you could always hide behind Jon Rauch,” I told him.

“That’s actually a pretty good idea,” McCoy said, clearly thinking about it. “Shit, Farrell’s coming this way. I gotta go.” And he took off; a departure Nyjer Morgan would have been proud of.

As I was making my way to Ricky Romero’s locker, where he was pulling a crisp $100 bill out of his wallet and handing it to Edwin Encarnacion, Adam Lind stopped me.

“You know who I just spoke to on the phone? John-Michael Liles,” he said. “Yeah, the new Maple Leafs defenceman. He’s from Indiana! Like I told you last time, man, it’s just a great state. Ask him about it. Lets go Hoosiers!” he yelled, and walked away.

Lind’s a little bit crazy.

I finally got to Romero, who was now alone at his locker, writing the letter “W” over and over again on a notepad. I looked down and caught “WIN” written a few times, too, but mostly there were only Ws. I made the decision not to ask.

“Uh, Ricky, hey, I know it’s none of my business, but I saw you handing Edwin a hundred dollar bill a few minutes ago. What’s up? He win a bet?”

“Yeah, actually he did,” said Romero. “We’ve got a bit of a wager, you know, between millionaires, when he’s on the field when I’m pitching. You know as well as I do it’s a circus when he’s out there, especially at third base. So any play he makes, error free, I have to give him $50. If he makes an error, he owes me $100, and $200 for the second error, and $300 for the third error, and so on. I know he hasn’t done it yet, but I think Eddie’s probably capable of making five errors in a game. He’s got it in him to do that. Just depends on the bounces, and the guy keeping score.”

And this is how ball players keep a 162-game season interesting, I thought.

“How many plays did Edwin make today?” I asked, while thinking that it was funny that we were still talking about Encarnacion’s defence. Other than Jose Bautista, Encarnacion’s been Toronto’s best hitter in July, putting up a most impressive slash line: .328/.394/.500; a .400 wOBA! Believe it or not, Edwin’s walked seven times in July; he walked only nine times in April, May and June combined.

“Only two plays,” Romero replied, as we got back down to business. “Both in the 2nd inning. Luckily for Eddie, Seattle didn’t hit another ball his way.”

I feel for the Mariners right now, from Ichiro to their fans, the team in the midst of a soul-crushing 12-game losing skid. You know they had to have been trying to hit the baseball at Encarnacion. Towards him, in his vicinity. It’s the right game plan. It’s just that nothing’s working for Seattle these days, except for Eric Wedge’s mustache.

Usually when a team’s caught up in a losing streak the likes of Seattle’s, you figure they’re bound to win a game, thanks to a lucky bounce, or an error-filled game from Encarnacion. Something. Anything. But not the Mariners. They don’t look like a ball club that’s going to be winning a game anytime soon. Even after Miguel Olivo tied up the game with his grand slam in the 8th inning, and stole Romero’s precious “W” out from under his fingertips, the momentum didn’t feel like it had swung. The Blue Jays were going to find a way to win. More to the point: the Mariners were going to find a way to lose. And they did, with the light-hitting duo of McCoy and Rajai Davis doing the the damage. Now off to Boston, then New York, and then back out west, at home to Tampa Bay, it might be August before the Mariners win again.

But the fate of the Mariners is hardly the concern of the Blue Jays. They’re off to Arlington, Texas to face the Rangers, who play the opposite of Mariners baseball, and who own the American League’s best home record: 31-18.

“They ought to get a roof down there,” said Jose Bautista. “What baseball fan wants to pay to sit in that heat? That ain’t beast mode.”

Neither is Jo-Jo Reyes, I thought, who’ll be on the mound Friday night, deep in the heart of Texas. But should Jo-Jo and the Blue Jays, against all odds, continue their winning ways and sweep the Rangers, they’re guaranteed three more wins after that, with Baltimore in town after an off-day on Monday. That’d be a nine-game winning streak; definitely beast mode.

Image credit: Getty, via Yahoo! Sports.

Written by Navin Vaswani

July 22nd, 2011 at 10:15 am

Heed Splits: The Octavio Dotel Story

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Octavio Dotel didn’t do a whole lot of relieving last night. It feels like he rarely does. Every year, there’s one guy I hope never gets the call from the bullpen. I know he has to. I know it’s inevitable that he’ll be coming into the game, eventually. The manager can’t let him rot out there. But I just, well, don’t want him to. We’re nine days into June; a third of the season’s officially complete. Only a hundred games left. Dotel’s that guy.

“Oh, no. Not Dotel.”

That’s my usual reaction to when Jerry Howarth lets me know that Octavio”s warming in the bullpen.

“Please, President Farrell. Don’t do it. I’ll be good, I swear.”

Followed, sooner or later, by: “Oh, Octavio.”

What’s unfortunate is that Dotel hasn’t been that bad. Prior to Wednesday night, Old Octavio hadn’t allowed a run in his last seven appearances, lowering his ERA each time out. The honour — That Guy in the Bullpen — should actually go to Frank Francisco. He’s been fucking brutal. But so much was made at the start of the season about how Dotel was being used — splits be damned! — that I find I’ve got little to no faith in the guy. And then, last night in Kansas City, Dotel was again put in a position to succeed, brought into the game to face right-handed hitting Billy Butler, and he gave up a three-run bomb. In eight previous at-bats against Butler, Dotel had held him to one hit, a double, and had struck him out twice. That’s baseball, yo. God bless it.

I used the word “again” above on purpose. Someone, Alex Anthopoulos presumably, has gone and done what I was hoping they’d do, and left a copy of Dotel’s splits on John Farrell’s desk. Anthopoulos is stealth-like, which is why I assume he did it. Proof: In Dotel’s last eight appearances (including last night’s at-bat versus Butler) – 6.1 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 1 HR, 2 BB, 9 K – he’s faced true left-handed hitters four times, and switch-hitters four times, out of a total of 26 batters. The only time Dotel faced more than one left-handed hitter in an outing — switch-hitter or true left-handed hitter — was against the Minnesota Twins on May 15, with Toronto up 11-3 at the time, when he faced four of them. Yeah, about the only time Dotel should be facing more than one left-handed hitter.

Out of those eight at-bats versus lefties, Dotel retired six of them. Go figure. Only Minnesota’s Alexi Casilla and Denard Span managed hits — both singles — off of Octavio, and they both came in the rout of the Twins I mentioned above, on May 15, when I presume Dotel was rightfully experimenting.

The sample size is small, but that’s not the point. John Farrell got the memo. Octavio’s going to be fine. Octavio’s going to turn into a precious draft pick. And I’m going to set my sights on Frankie Francisco.

Image — Dotel face! — courtesy of Reuters, via daylife.

Written by Navin Vaswani

June 9th, 2011 at 2:05 pm

Photo: The misadventures of Edwin Encarnacion

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If there’s one image that so far defines Edwin Encarnacion’s tenure as a Toronto Blue Jay, it’s that one, above. Third base or first base, it hardly matters; the baseball’s either getting by Edwin, or he’s throwing it somewhere it’s not supposed to be thrown.

Encarnacion’s rather photogenic – Edwin face has been a personal favourite for quite some time. But the photo above is, for now at least, Encarnacion’s legacy.

Some guys can’t hit. Think: Johnny Mac. Some guys can’t field, as witnessed by Eddie E’s almost unfathomable -70 UZR/150 at third base, so far in 2011. If Alex Anthopoulos, steward of the Blue Jays, truly has a responsibility to “try and win as many games as we can,” Encarnacion will never play third base again.

Yet through all of Encarnacion’s misadventures, I still can’t find it in me to refer to him as “E5.” That just seems like piling on, because no baseball player deserves such a moniker, even though Edwin probably does. I’ll stick with “Eddie E,” and continue to hope against hope that Encarnacion, somehow, puts it together in the field.

Edwin’s most recent gaffe courtesy of Getty Images, via daylife.

Written by Navin Vaswani

May 11th, 2011 at 1:10 pm

Travis Snider: Still a prospect

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I was going to title this post “Wither Snider?”, until I remembered that everyone — including and especially myself — hates with an incredible passion posts and/or columns that are titled: “Whither ______?” It’s the question mark that really pisses me off. Are you asking me, or telling me?

Anyway, Snider’s Vegas vacation. Everyone is, unsurprisingly, up in arms about the demotion. I didn’t bother counting how many “Snider has nothing left to prove in AAA!” tweets I read yesterday. Far too many. Who said Snider was Vegas bound because he has to prove he can hit AAA-pitching? Nobody. Because he’s done that already. As Alex Anthopoulos confirmed Friday morning, the demotion, like Brett Cecil’s, is about fixing mechanical issues. In Snider’s case, his swing, obviously. And, frankly, I don’t care whether Anthopoulos mentioned Snider’s confidence, or lack thereof, as an issue. Does he look confident at the plate? No, he looks the opposite; he looks lost. While I appreciate the notion that Snider should be allowed to struggle and work out of his funk at the MLB level, especially considering the Blue Jays aren’t going anywhere this season, the belief that that’s something that can be easily done in the AL East is foolhardy. What if Snider continues to scuffle? How might an entire lost season — say, for example, an Aaron Hill 2010-type season — impact a young Snider? I’d rather not find out.

Whether people are willing to accept it or not, Snider remains a prospect. He’s only 23-years-old. While the decision Thursday afternoon certainly came as a surprise, it didn’t come as a surprise-surprise, you know what I mean? Not to me, at least. Not after watching Snider over the past month.

Look at his numbers. They’re God awful. It’s not just Snider’s low BABIP (.238), and his frighteningly low ISO (.080). His LD% (14.1%) is approaching Hill territory. His IFBB% is a Vernon Wellsian 20%. There’s something wrong, a combination of confidence and mechanics. So far in 2011, and this is what concerns me most, it’s fastballs that are giving Snider the most trouble. In only one month — yes, a small sample size — Snider’s hitting fastballs for 5.0 runs below average. In 2008 and 2009, when Snider made the jump to The Show, he hit fastballs for 4.2 and 3.6 runs above average, respectively. As has been pointed out in the Blue Jays blogosphere, Snider’s opposite field power has disappeared. Remember: he’s 23. A trip to Vegas is hardly the end of the world. It just feels that way.

Snider was drafted 14th overall in the 2006 MLB draft, out of high school. Below are Snider’s career MLB numbers — his wOBA, wRC+ and plate appearances — compared with those position players that went before and after him in the same draft, along with their current age in parentheses. For those players who haven’t yet made it to the big leagues, their highest level of baseball is stated.

Evan Longoria (25) — 3rd overall, Tampa Bay — 1846 PA, .376 wOBA, 133 wRC+

Drew Stubbs (26) — 8th overall, Cincinnati — 887 PA, .346 wOBA, 110 wRC+

Billy Rowell (22) — 9th overall, Baltimore — No MLB experience — AA

Tyler Colvin (25) — 13th overall, Chicago NL — No MLB experience — AA

Travis Snider (23) — 14th overall, Toronto — 774 PA, .322 wOBA, 96 wRC+

Chris Marrero (22) — 15th overall, Washington — No MLB experience — AAA

Matt Antonelli (26) — 17th overall, San Diego — No MLB experience — AAA

Chris Parmelee (23) — 20th overall, Minnesota — No MLB experience — AA

Maxwell Sapp (23) — 23rd overall, Houston — No MLB experience — A

Cody Johnson (22) — 24th overall, Atlanta — No MLB experience — AA

Hank Conger (23) — 25th overall, LAA — 78 PA, 319 wOBA, 101 wRC+

Jason Place (22) — 27th overall, Boston — No MLB experience — AA

Preston Mattingly (23) — 31st overall (supplemental), LAD — No MLB experience — A+

Emmanuel Burriss (26) — -33rd overall (supp.), San Francisco — 503 PA, .290 wOBA, 71 wRC+

Kyler Burke (23) — 35th overall (supp.), San Diego — No MLB experience — A+

Chris Coghlan (25) — 36th overall (supp.), Florida — No MLB experience — AAA

Adrian Cardenas (23) — 37th overall (supp.), Philadelphia — No MLB experience — AAA

Draft schmaft, right? Longoria, Stubbs, Snider and Burriss are the only four players drafted in the first round in 2006 who’ve had more than 500 MLB plate appearances. Snider’s the youngest of the four, and the only one of the four who was drafted out of high school. One of those guys listed above is no longer playing professional baseball.

Pardon me for going all Tampa Bay Rays on you for a second, but: “Trust the process.” Snider’s going to be great. Like you, I firmly believe it. It just might take a little longer than we’d all like.

While I know that all Travis Snider and Roy Halladay share in common is that they’re baseball players who’ve played for the Blue Jays, once upon a time, Roy Halladay was sent to A-ball. He worked out just fine.

Snider, too, will be worth the wait.

Image courtesy Ross McDonnell.

Written by Navin Vaswani

April 29th, 2011 at 12:38 pm

NotGraphs: My most favorite baseball players in the whole wide world, Part II

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A cross-post, Toronto Blue Jays heavy, from NotGraphs:

Last week, I gave you those baseball players that make up the latter half of my top 10 most favorite baseball players in the whole wide world. If you missed it, and would like to read my most scientific of scientific reasoning, here’s the post. However, since then, I’ve had to make one change to those very rankings. Here they are, in short order:

10. Melky Cabrera and Coco Crisp. It’s a tie. Actually, to be more specific, Melky Cabrera and Coco Crisp’s afro.
9. Kirk Rueter
8. Paul O’Neill
7. Tony Fernandez
6. Mark McGwire

Without further ado, I present my top five:

5. J.T. Snow

The more I thought about this most fruitful exercise, the more I thought about J.T. Snow. And I’ve come to the realization that, deep down, I’ve always had an affinity for slick-fielding first basemen. And that love affair began with J.T. Snow. The scoop at first, it’s an art. And Snow was an artist. He wasn’t the greatest hitter, and, even though he spent the majority of his career in the National League, I always kept a watchful eye on Jack Thomas’ career. And, hey, on top of winning six straight Gold Gloves, Snow saved young Darren Baker’s life. That counts. (On an aside, I’ll never forget Dusty Baker’s reaction in the dugout after the incident. Baker knew, as we all did, that when he got home that night, he was a dead man.) In the end, two years after his retirement, Snow’s career ended the way so many players’ don’t: He signed a one-day contract with San Francisco, and left the game once and for all a Giant.

4. Ken Griffey Jr.

“The Kid.” That swing. Along with John Olerud’s, the sweetest swing I’ve ever seen. It’s rare for a player so highly touted — a first overall draft pick — to not only meet, but exceed lofty expectations. Ken Griffey Jr. did, and more. He played with his father, he played with swagger, and he played center field the way I did in my dreams. Junior was the reason I wished I didn’t bat right-handed. Junior was the reason I tried, at the very least, to switch hit.

Last summer, I was in Seattle to watch the Mariners only a few of days after Junior announced his sudden retirement. I spoke to a man outside Safeco Field, who left a written message on a photo of Griffey Jr. that adorned the ballpark’s wall. (I did, too.) The man, this baseball stranger who I’d never met before and will never meet again, was super emotional as we spoke, after I asked him to describe what Griffey Jr. meant to him. “[Ken Griffey Jr.] built this ballpark, man” he said, fighting back tears. “He saved baseball in Seattle.” It was raw emotion. “I wanted one more chance to see him,” he said. We all did.

Junior did it all, from playing with his father, to playing at home in Cincinnati, to returning to Seattle, where it all began. Full circle. If healthy, there’s no doubt he goes down as one of the best ever. Growing up, it didn’t matter where you were from or who you rooted for. You wanted to be like “The Kid.”

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Photo: The bond that binds Jon and Jose

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“You’re my most favourite Molina brother in the whole wide world, Jose,” Jon Rauch said, as he put the finishing touches on yet another save.

Getty Image, via daylife.

Written by Navin Vaswani

April 20th, 2011 at 1:00 pm

Blue Jays lose series to Seattle, season effectively over

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The mood in the visitor’s clubhouse at Safeco Field, after Toronto dropped a 3-2 decision to Seattle late Tuesday night, was somber, as expected. Having lost two in a row to the lowly Mariners, and more importantly the series, the writing was on the wall for the Blue Jays, their season officially over, only 11 games in. Manager John Farrell tried his best to put a positive spin on the results.

“You know, we learned a lot over these last two weeks, and throughout Spring Training. I learned a lot. It’s been a great experience for me, personally, working with the staff, and getting to know the guys. Now we’ve got, what, 151 games to prepare for 2012. I’m excited, to tell you the truth.”

Farrell’s troops had a harder time accepting their fate. Travis Snider, enjoying his customary post-game filet mignon, was crushed to have his season end at home, in his native Washington.

“I’ll be honest with you, I was still thinking about Monday night’s collapse up there against [Michael] Pineda,” Snider said, between bites. “How the hell do we blow a 7-0 lead against the Mariners? Meats don’t clash, man.”

Snider shook his head in disgust. Hitless in the first two games of the series, and batting .147 on the season, Snider was brutally honest when it came to himself, and his teammates.

“I’ve got to be better. Period. I mean, what hope do we have if Corey Patterson’s leading the way, when it comes to driving in guys on base? Jesus. Meats don’t clash, man,” Snider lamented, once again.

At that moment, Snider, seated next to the post-game spread, was asked by Edwin Encarnacion, seated at his locker, to toss him a bread roll. Snider obliged, showing off his rocket of an arm. It couldn’t have been more than ten feet, and the roll was thrown right at the numbers, but Encarnacion couldn’t handle it.

“E5, you bastard,” Brian Butterfield muttered, as he walked through the clubhouse.

Snider managed a smile, as Encarnacion made the walk of shame to the garbage can. I was hoping Edwin would try to toss the roll into the trash from afar, but he thought better of it. Snider was right, though, I thought. About himself, and especially about his teammates. Patterson himself agreed with the young left fielder.

“What do I got, four hits and four RBIs in two games? If these guys are relying on me to drive guys in, let’s be real, we haven’t got a prayer,” Patterson said.

I asked Patterson about the play at the plate in the 8th inning, when he tried to score on a Bautista foul ball to right field, which Seattle first baseman Justin Smoak ran down. Smoak made the catch on the run, turned, and threw a strike to catcher Miguel Olivo. Patterson was DOA, and didn’t even bother to slide, or try to knock the compensatory draft pick out of Olivo.

“What’s that, Home Run King? Yeah, be right there,” Patterson said, looking back, and to his left. And then he walked away. No one was there. Most certainly not Jose Bautista, who I could see at his locker. Strange cat, that Patterson.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Not for the Blue Jays, or their fans. Not after Toronto stormed out of the gate, winning four of their first five games, and five of their first seven. But the team’s problems began on the road, in Anaheim, and followed them northwest to Seattle. And it was staff ace Ricky Romero, who pitched his tail off Tuesday night, who was taking the premature end to the season hardest.

“Losing two in a row to Seattle, and a series to Seattle, is the actual, definitive opposite of Beast Mode. I’m just really disappointed in myself and my teammates right now. Milton Bradley’s out there wearing f–king earplugs, and we’re losing one-run games to these guys? Blowing seven-run leads to these guys? How many runs did they score last year, 73? No one in this room should be happy right now,” Romero said, as he punched a wall near his locker, and screamed “BEAST MODE!!!1″

One-run losses. They’ll kill you. Five of the Blue Jays’ six losses have been by just one run. The team’s other loss was by only two runs, over the weekend, after being dominated by Los Angeles’ Jered Weaver. I asked Jose Bautista about why his team couldn’t come through in tight ball games.

“It’s tough, man,” Bautista said, Usher’s “Oh My Gosh” playing softly, on repeat, from a tiny set of speakers in his locker. “I mean, I joined this team in 2009, when Aaron Hill and Adam Lind were Silver Sluggers. Do you recognize those guys anymore? I sure as hell don’t. I want those guys back.”

Lind, batting .206/.216/.324 against right-handed pitching, didn’t have any answers for me.

“You know, I really think Indiana deserves an MLB team. Great state. Just a really, really great state.”

I persisted, asking Lind about his .133 batting average with runners in scoring position in 15 at-bats, and .143 batting average with runners in scoring position with two outs. Lind, though, deflected, pointing the finger at his lost Silver Slugging cousin, Hill.

“I don’t think Hill’s got a hit in nine at-bats versus a southpaw this season. That’s brutal,” he said, as he began to play with his iPhone, and then put on a rather large set of headphones.

Hill refused to comment, telling me, “What’s the point? The season’s over. No comment. I’ve gotta go tune my guitar.”

Eleven games in, no, it absolutely wasn’t supposed to be this way. Not for Hill and Lind. Not for Brett Cecil. Not for anybody. Not when the Blue Jays were only two games out of first place in the American League East, trailing the Baltimore Orioles, who surely won’t be there in about, oh, a week. Not when the Blue Jays were two games ahead of the dismantled-but-still-apparently-bloody-awesome Tampa Bay Rays. Not when Toronto was four — four! — games up on the 2-9 Boston Red Sox, who would probably kill to have Jo-Jo Reyes in their starting rotation.

“Maybe next year,” Kyle Drabek, Wednesday afternoon’s starter, said, as he walked past me, headed out of the clubhouse, and towards the team bus. “And, hey, have you seen David Purcey? Can’t find that dude anywhere.”

Image courtesy Mental Floss.

Written by Navin Vaswani

April 13th, 2011 at 11:20 am

Welcome back …

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Below is a post I published at NotGraphs, celebrating the return of Major League Baseball, while also serving as a quasi-Blue Jays preview. Yes, that is a picture of the Cincinnati Reds, above, but it’ll all make sense. Just read. They’re home. They’re finally home.

I went through a boatload of photographs last night from Opening Day. The above, courtesy of the fine folks at The Associated Press, is definitely my favorite. Is there anything better than a walk-off home run on Opening Day, in front of your home crowd? No, there isn’t. I dare you to argue otherwise.

Look at the Reds’ faces. Go, look. The picture is a reminder of why I love baseball. And a reminder of how much I missed baseball over the winter. Nothing brings out the inner child in a Major League Baseball player, or a fan at the game, more than a walk-off home run, and the customary wait at home plate for the man’s man who saved the day.

I draw your attention above to #43, Miguel Cairo. The ageless Miguel Cairo, now in his sixteenth Major League season, with his tenth team. He’s not even looking at Ramon Hernandez. He’s got his eyes on the prize, home plate, for when Hernandez leaps on it. And he’s also making sure Jonny Gomes doesn’t get too close. You see, that’s why Miguel Cairo’s lasted so long in this beautiful game of baseball. He gets it. And, years under his belt, having surely gone through the drill before, the look on Cairo’s face suggests he’s enjoying the walk-off experience for only the first time.

That’s the beauty of Opening Day. Year after year, it feels like the first time. This evening, I’m heading down to the Rogers Centre Skydome to get my Blue Jays on. Opening Night, a tradition like no other. Two years ago, Roy Halladay was on the mound for the good guys. Last April, Shaun Marcum. Tonight, Ricky Romero is the chosen one. And I’m going to sit back in my seat in Section 204, Row 3, Seat 102, and welcome back baseball. With the most open of open arms.

I’m not going to worry that this year’s version of the Toronto Blue Jays are, to these eyes at least, one giant question mark. For one night, I’m not going to worry about Adam Lind’s new position, first base, or whether he might regain his 2009 form at the plate. I’m not going to stress over which Aaron Hill is going to show up; 2009 Hill, good, lovable, 3.9 WAR Hill, or 2010, awful, .291 wOBA Hill. I’m surely not going to wonder whether Edwin Encarnacion, a few days ago Toronto’s 1B/DH, losing a few pounds — he’s in the best shape of his life! — means he’ll now be able to make the throw across the diamond, from third to first. (Miss you, Scott Rolen.) I’m most definitely not going to worry about Brett Cecil’s fastball, or that Brandon Morrow is on the disabled list to start the season, and, who knows, could miss more than the one start he’s scheduled to.

There’s more: I’m not going to wonder if this is the year Travis Snider puts it together; he’s still only 23-years-old. I’m not going to spend tonight wondering if J.P. Arencibia, the Catcher of the Future, is actually the Catcher of the Future. And I’m not going to put any added pressure on Kyle Drabek. He was traded for Roy Halladay. Harry Leroy Halladay III! And, hell no, I’m not going to fret over Jose Bautista, now otherworldly rich, and whether he can do it again.

Nope. Not going to do any of that. Instead, I’m going to sit back with 20 of my friends, play Loonies!, and ring in the John Farrell, and Rajai Davis, era with a tall, smooth, and extremely refreshing can of Bud Light Lime*. Probably two or three of them.

Game one isn’t for worrying. That’s what the other 161 are for. They’re home. Welcome back, Blue Jays. Welcome back, baseball.

* Don’t be a hater.

Written by Navin Vaswani

April 1st, 2011 at 12:08 pm