Sports And The City

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Archive for the ‘Toronto Blue Jays’ tag

Time goes by so slowly

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It’s amazing how much I’ve come to neglect this space — this corner – of late. My excuse: I’ve devoted myself to the Adventures of Joe West. If you haven’t noticed, Joe West’s silhouette has replaced that of a batter in the NotGraphs logo. Since Joe West’s first adventure just over two weeks ago, that’s how far we’ve come.

Time, and Toronto, rolls on. Postseasons are about to officially be missed, and new seasons are about to begin. Death, and rebirth. The cycle of life, yo.

1. Opening Day is less than two weeks away. That is insane.

2. Back in the day, learning about the happenings of Spring Training meant waiting for highlights — awful looking highlights, camera angle wise, too — found in the depths of SportsCenter. Today, I know when Edwin Encarnacion hits a fly ball to the warning track immediately after he’s sent said fly ball to the warning track.

3. The coverage has increased at least a billion-fold, but I still don’t really care about Spring Training.

4. If Rajai Davis hits home runs, Rajai Davis can’t steal bases. The legend of Dwayne Murphy grows.

5. This time of year reminds me of one word, and one word only: Thaw. It’s a fantastic word. Say it out loud: thaw.

6. Ron Wilson starting J.S. Giguere in Miami was straight disrespectful to me as a Toronto Maple Leafs supporter. I’m stupid, but I’m not that stupid.

7. I like to think I’ve made peace with the Phil Kessel deal. That I support it fully, and am glad Kessel’s a Leaf. He’s 23. Kessel won’t be 24 until October. He’s a child! But every now and then, I suffer through fits of doubt. And I’ll be honest: defending Kessel, and the deal, is bloody exhausting.

8. You know who else is only 23? Carey Price. Thanks to The Score, I’ve watched a ton of Montreal Canadiens games this year. Price is for real. And he’s only 23.

9. Michael Cammalleri looks nothing like the Michael Cammalleri of 2009/2010, let alone the Cammalleri of 2008/2009. His struggles, injuries included, are what’s known as sweet justice for not signing with the Leafs.

10. I desperately — very, very desperately — want Nazem Kadri to succeed in the NHL. It would make my life easier.

11. Tomas Kaberle will play in Toronto as a member of the Boston Bruins Saturday night. Awkward. The Bruins are 7-2-3 since the trade, Toronto 6-4-4. Kabba’s got three assists in those 12 games as a Bruin, and he’s +5. But I’ve no doubt: Tomas misses home. If you’re at the game, I hope you remember that Kaberle is love. Give it up.

12. Brian Burke’s got to sign one of Tomas Vokoun or Ilya Bryzgalov. As much as I can’t really stand Ron Wilson, Burke owes it to his BFF to hook him up with at least one year of NHL-calibre goaltending. Imagine the freedom.

13. That being said, thank you, James Reimer. You’ve been the most pleasant of surprises.

14. My brother tells me I’m way too hard on Mike Komisarek. I say I can’t be hard enough. Worst.

15. I’m headed to Detroit next week to watch the Leafs take on the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena. If you’ve got any Motor City recommendations, I’d love to read them.

16. I still can’t believe George Packer doesn’t have a Twitter account.

17. I can’t point out the date on a calendar, but I checked out on the Raptors season a long, long time ago.

18. However, this — DeMar DeRozan’s spin move, posterization of two members of the Utah Jazz — might be the play of the year. As always, the reaction from the bench is almost as great as the dunk itself.

19. Re-sign Bryan Colangelo already.

20. What’s up with Gaddafi and the tents?

21. If you’re ever in the Phoenix area during Spring Training, make sure you visit Salt River Fields at Talking Sticks. Incredible facility. I’ll have a post about the place up at NotGraphs in the coming days. And, yes, hanging out with the FanGraphs staff, the best and brightest baseball nerds, in the desert was just as fun as I imagined it would be.

22. Tell me that Toronto FC, led by locals Dwayne De Rosario and Julian de Guzman, will make the playoffs.

Image courtesy Ronnie Yip. Davisville Village stand up.

Written by Navin Vaswani

March 19th, 2011 at 5:40 am

Wallace for Gose redux

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In which I use my ESPN Insider subscription to mail in a post.

Noted Canada and Toronto Blue Jays hater Keith Law’s been dropping science on baseball’s best prospects for the past couple of weeks, including his organizational rankings (the Jays ranked fourth), and his top 100 list (which included seven youthful Blue Jays).

Tuesday he ranked his graduated prospects, guys “who barely exceeded the eligibility requirements for the Rookie of the Year award, making them ineligible for [Law's top 100] rankings as well.”

At the bottom of the list: Brett Wallace. Here’s Mr. Law:

The way Wallace’s rise to the majors has stalled out has been a hot topic among scouts this winter, since at the time he was drafted the debate was over whether he could play any position well enough to keep him off DH, not whether he’d hit. But the new consensus is that Wallace can’t cover the inner half because he doesn’t fully rotate his back side through his swing, ceding the inside part of the plate to the pitcher, and that it’s not fixable. If anyone can help him, it’s new hitting coach Mike Barnett, who was hitting coach in Toronto while I was in the front office … but the industry has officially jumped off the Wallace bandwagon.

“Not fixable” are the words that stand out. Especially considering Wallace is only 24 years old. And “back side,” too. Because young Wallace has what looks to be quite the hefty one.

Wallace’s 2011 projections, especially RotoChamp’s, are far from flattering. According to Law, Wallace missed the cut for the top 100 list by only 14 at-bats, but had he qualified, he wouldn’t have made the list at all. Wallace has fallen far, and fast, and while Anthony Gose didn’t make Law’s top 100 list either, perhaps the trade won’t be as one-sided as everyone feared when it went down.

I’m going to go ahead and chalk another one up for Alex Anthopoulos. Why not.

More Insider Goodness

I didn’t know this until I became an Insider at the Worldwide Leader, but Buster Olney ends every one of his columns with: “And today will be better than yesterday.” Dude is positivity, personified.

Olney’s been sharing pitching data with us, his loyal, paying customers, so I figure I’ll pass the buck around, as it relates to the Blue Jays. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: Sharing is caring.

Scott Downs made the cut for “highest rate of success with two- and four-seam fastballs.” He ranked 10th in the American League, with a line of .242/.302/.352/.654. Downs never had overpowering stuff. He was a pitcher, in every sense of the word. I will miss him tremendously.

Ricky Romero’s curveball was one of the best in the business, “among the AL pitchers who threw 200+ curves.” Here’s the slash line: .133/.170/.195/.365.

Still on Ricky: his breaking ball has a release speed of 76 MPH, which is league average, and a spin rate of 2,493 RPM, also league average (2,300-2,500 RPM), and an average tilt (clock face) of 5:00.  The higher the spin rate, the better, of course. For comparison’s sake, Downs’ breaking ball was clocked at 75 MPH, with one of the better spin rates, 2,773 RPM, and an average tilt of 4:15. God, I’m going to miss that breaking ball.

Finally, from Olney, tracking extension on fastballs; “pitchers who release closest to the plate, or those who get the most mound extension.” All this data, by the way, comes to Olney via TrackMan, who’ve got 3D Doppler radar systems up and running in a few major and minor league parks, and David Purcey and Brandon Morrow made the list, in this case.

Purcey:

Extension from mound: 6’8″

Release speed: 93 MPH

Spin rate: 2,230 RPM

Time of flight: .404 seconds

Effective velocity: 95 MPH

Morrow:

Extension from mound: 6’6″

Release speed: 95 MPH

Spin rate: 2,289 RPM

Time of flight: .398 seconds

Effective velocity: 96 MPH

Do with that information what you will. All I know is that I’m excited to find out what role John Farrell has for David Purcey; I can’t wait to watch Brandon Morrow pitch, period; and Ricky Romero’s your Opening Day starter.

Image courtesy Scott Pommier.

Written by Navin Vaswani

February 8th, 2011 at 3:36 pm

Slightly above average

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It hasn’t sunk in yet. It won’t, until Spring Training. Until Vernon Wells isn’t in centre field for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Over the past few days, when I thought about the Blue Jays, and thought about centre field, Devon White and Vernon Wells were the only two names that came to mind. I missed the Lloyd Moseby era; I was too young. And for the life of me, I couldn’t remember who played in centre before Wells. In my mind, there was White, and then there was Wells. Devo, then Boo. And there would be Vernon, until his mammoth contract expired. Or so the entire universe, save for a couple of crazies in Anaheim, thought.

My point is: Two years of Otis Nixon, and three years of Jose Cruz, had completely faded from my memory.

Drew at Ghostrunner On First writes:

Ultimately, I think this town will forget Vernon Wells in a hurry. Despite logging thousands of innings in the middle of Rogers Centre, his legacy will not last. Other insane contracts will shove his from the memory, other affable & well-adjusted athletes will attract our undeserving scorn.

I don’t buy it. Wells won’t go the way of Nixon and Cruz. Partly because he was a Blue Jay for so goddamn long, and, as The Tao writes, partly because he did represent an era, a decade, one that’s now officially come to an end. And because of his bloody contract. Really, how much more insane can a contract get? There should be two larger-than-life portraits hanging on the walls of the Blue Jays’ front office: One of Vernon Wells, and one of B.J. Ryan. Those contracts, those mistakes, must never be forgotten.

Actually, make it three larger-than-life portraits. This one is a must.

Looking at Wells’ numbers, shit, he was far from great. Worse than I, obviously, a devout believer, remember him. Wells’ career 108 weighted runs created plus (wRC+) proves that, offensively, he was only slightly above average. Jesse Barfield, Carlos Delgado, Fred McGriff, John Olerud, Roberto Alomar, George Bell, Shawn Green, even Shannon Stewart and Rance Mulliniks, all sport higher weighted on-base averages (wOBA), and wRC+ averages, as Blue Jays than Wells. All of them.

Defensively, according to ultimate zone rating (UZR), in the history of the Blue Jays, only Carlos Delgado was a lesser fielder than three-time Gold Glove-winner Vernon Wells. And that blows my mind. I mean, I’m still, weeks later, having a hard time reconciling the fact Roberto Alomar, according to UZR, was a below-average second baseman. My entire worldview was shaped on the belief that Alomar was one of the greatest defensive second basemen. Ever. Now this, Wells’ -38.0 UZR rating? It’s hard to swallow. I can believe Joe Carter’s -32.0, and Russ Adams’ -25.1, career UZR ratings as Blue Jays. But not Alomar’s -26.0. Not Wells’ -38.0. I don’t want to believe I was deceived by my own young eyes.

Depressed by his numbers, I’d have to say no, Wells’ name and number don’t belong on the Level of Excellence. Had he played out his contract in Toronto, there’d probably be no debate; Wells would have owned too many team records not to go up. But now that he’s gone, it’s pretty obvious Wells wasn’t excellent. He was slightly above average. There are other, more worthy candidates to be honoured. Like Jimmy Key.

I’m going to be honest: I don’t know where the hell I’m going with this. I think I might have convinced myself that Drew’s right; perhaps Wells, to some extent, will be forgotten. Not forgotten like Otis Nixon, or Jose Cruz, but not remembered like Roy Halladay, or Carlos Delgado. And that’s how I wanted Wells to be remembered. Like Doc, and Carlos. But as much as I wanted him to be, he was never as good. And as has been pointed out, once he signed that contract, it became his legacy.

I can’t say, though, that I ever thought of Wells the baseball player as complacent, or comfortable. I always thought of V-Dub as someone who busted his ass day in and day out; someone who tried to lead by example. Who dove for balls when he probably shouldn’t have, and who tried to play through injuries, to the detriment of both himself and the team. I saw Wells’ even-keeled approach and attitude to success and failure as ideal for someone who tries to hit a baseball for a living.

After writing this post, I think I feel even more melancholy about Wells’ departure. Slightly above average. I don’t know, it just leaves more to be desired. Like Vernon Wells. With four years and $86 million left on his contract, I guess I never thought Wells and the Blue Jays would have unfinished business.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m ecstatic about said unfinished business. The Blue Jays gave up more cash when they traded Doc. And Wells’ departure puts the onus on Adam Lind, Aaron Hill, and Travis Snider. Vernon was never going to be one of the feared hitters in the Toronto lineup when they were finally ready to contend.

It’s a fascinating time to be a Blue Jays fan. Halladay and Wells traded in back-to-back off-seasons, along with another Opening Day starter. Yet baseball boners abound. There’s the Red Sox inquiring about the availability of Jose Bautista. Mike Napoli acquired and dealt in less than a week. Hey, I thought Napoli was a great fit for the Jays, too. But I like that J.P. Arencibia is being given his shot. Edwin Encarnacion, too; I just can’t quit the bastard.

Whether it’s to stock up on potential compensatory draft picks, or help support a very young starting pitching staff, Alex Anthopoulos has revamped the Toronto bullpen. I’ll take Octavio Dotel’s awful splits, the personable Jon Rauch, along with “criminally underrated relief pitcher” Frank Francisco, over Napoli, and, say, Manny Ramirez, and any relief pitcher signed to a long-term, rich contract. The bullpen wasn’t strong last season. Anthopoulos set out to improve it. The kicker: John Farrell. I can’t wait to see the new manager run the bullpen. Hell, the whole ball club.

Anthopoulos always maintained that the Blue Jays wouldn’t be active in free agency. That the Jays would look to improve through trades. Brett Lawrie for Shaun Marcum. Rajai Davis for a couple of arms. Wells for Napoli and Juan Rivera (who’s my starting right fielder, with Bautista at third base). Napoli for Francisco. It continues. There’s no point in speculating whether Anthopoulos is done, because on a Friday evening in January, he pulled off the unthinkable.

It all comes full circle. Slightly above average. That’s how I’d describe Vernon Wells. And how I’d describe, of late, the Toronto Blue Jays. Slightly above average isn’t good enough.

Image of a sleeping Blue Jay courtesy Kimberly Robyn.

Written by Navin Vaswani

January 26th, 2011 at 4:25 am

Thank you, Vernon …

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I think as a special tribute, the Vernon Wells Hatred Advisory System should be permanently set to “Low.” - @BlueJayHunter

Brilliant idea.

To the Toronto Blue Jays: Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera.

To the Anaheim Angels: The untradeable; Vernon Wells and the $86 million left on his contract. Along with no cash to pay for some of that $86 million, and the Vernon Wells Hatred  Advisory System. We won’t be needing it anymore.

I spent a lot of time over the past couple of years arguing, and writing lengthy blog posts, about  Wells. He was my guy. He was never going to live up to his contract, and I hated, absolutely hated, that he was booed so mercilessly at the Rogers Centre.

It’s bittersweet. I’ll miss Vernon Wells. I wish him nothing but success out in SoCal. By every single account, he is a fantastic human being. And I’ll argue until the end that he’s a damn good baseball player. Like me, like all of us, Wells was a lifer. But for Alex Anthopoulos, a living Greek God, to rid the Blue Jays of his contract, well, it’s nothing short of a celebration.

I’ll remember Wells as an ambassador for the Toronto Blue Jays. As an all-star. I’ll remember his home runs to left field, and the professional way in which he always rounded the bases. I’ll remember the Gold Gloves; all the incredible catches in centre field.  The grab that comes to mind right now is the one that at the time saved, albeit only briefly, Brandon Morrow’s no-hitter against Tampa Bay. I’ll remember Wells as a leader. And I’ll never, ever forget his 11th inning, walk-off home run against Mariano Rivera, only the greatest closer in baseball history.

Don’t get me wrong; I’ll remember the infuriating middle-infield fly balls, the cursing that followed, and all the injuries, too. And I’m truly excited for the post-Wells Blue Jays era, and the — wait for it — financial flexibility it brings.

But one more time, for the road: I believe in Vernon Wells.

Image courtesy of my man Ian. Read and bookmark The Blue Jay Hunter. And buy a Meats Don’t Clash t-shirt.

Written by Navin Vaswani

January 21st, 2011 at 9:10 pm

NotGraphs: Where were you when …

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To give you an idea of what you might find from me every Tuesday and Friday over at NotGraphs, I’ve cross-posted today’s entry. It’s about hall of famer Roberto Alomar’s 1992 ALCS game four home run. The home run that changed everything …

For a generation of Toronto Blue Jays and Canadian baseball fans, it is the home run. The home run that forever changed Toronto’s baseball destiny. The home run that represents, perhaps defines, one’s fandom. And I’m not talking about Joe Carter’s 1993 World Series-winning walk-off.

What made Roberto Alomar’s call to Cooperstown this week so enjoyable for me was the reliving of past glories. Up here, they’re all we’ve got.

I was 10-years-old when Alomar sent a 9th inning 2-2 Dennis Eckersley pitch into right field for a two-run home run, to tie game four of the 1992 ALCS between Oakland and Toronto at six apiece, completing a rather miraculous 6-1 Blue Jays comeback. I don’t remember watching Toronto take an early 1-0 lead on a John Olerud home run, or watching Jack Morris get tagged for five runs in the Oakland half of the third, but for some reason, I remember Alomar’s home run. Vividly.

It was a 4:00 pm Sunday afternoon local start in Toronto, the game being played out on the west coast, on October 11, 1992. When Alomar went yard, it had to have been after 7:00 pm Toronto time. I was in the backseat of my parents’ car, being whisked away somewhere. I remember hearing Alomar’s heroics on the radio, listening to the call as the ball sailed over the right field wall, Alomar apparently raising his hands in the air in triumph, and going absolutely insane with my older brother, who was sitting in the backseat with me. Without looking at the box score, I couldn’t tell you how Toronto won game four, or whether I saw it happen live on television or heard it on the radio. I only remember Alomar’s home run.

Time is funny. I can see myself in the car, bouncing around the backseat with my brother. But in my memory, it’s daylight out, bright and sunny, which it couldn’t have been at the time. I asked my older, and much wiser, brother if he remembered, and he said: “I think we were at home.” Which one of us is right, we’ll never know. But I like to think it’s me.

The next day, I probably didn’t even read the newspaper. I was too young at the time to understand the magnitude of the home run, or the comeback victory. I was too young to realize that the Toronto Blue Jays were exorcising their past playoff demons; putting 1985, 1989, and 1991 to bed, and shedding the label of playoff chokers.

In the aftermath of the home run, it all came back to Eckersley’s antics: His dramatic fist-pump to end Toronto’s 8th inning, when Oakland was on top 6-4.

Jack Morris, quoted in The Toronto Star, pulled no punches:

The best part was that we knocked Eck’s butt off.

But Morris saved his best quotes for The New York Times:

I think Eckersley’s Little League gesture to us really inspired us. He wheeled and looked at us and did all that stuff you do when you’re in Little League. He got it today. It finally came back to haunt him.

Years later, these quotes amaze me, and take me right back to the backseat of my folks’ car, when Alomar made history. Roberto, quoted in The Los Angeles Times, seemed to understand the importance of what he and his teammates had done.

Everybody is always talking about Toronto choking in the playoffs. We’ll see.

Candy Maldonado chimed in as well with this gem:

Sometimes you can’t wake up a sleeping dog because he might bite you.

Preach on, Candy. Preach on.

When Alomar stepped into the box, Toronto shortstop Alfredo Griffin, quoted in Sports Illustrated, and a Dodger in 1989, knew what was going to happen:

I saw Kirk Gibson all over again.

While I didn’t see it live, I’ve watched that ball sail over the right field fence in Oakland a thousand times. Probably more. Alomar’s iconic arms-raised pose is one that every Blue Jays fan remembers, just as much, if not more, than Joe Carter leaping at first base at the SkyDome in October 1993.

Alomar, of course, wasn’t trying to show anybody up. Like me, like the rest of us, he was simply caught in the moment.

I’m a little guy. But I guess the little guy became a big guy.

Time can play tricks on the mind. But it certainly can’t change the facts. And Alomar’s home run remains one of the reasons I’m more in love with baseball today than ever. Because I want to feel how I felt in the backseat of that car, all the way back in 1992, again. Just one more time.

Image courtesy of RobertoAlomar.com. Alomar himself loves that photo!

Written by Navin Vaswani

January 7th, 2011 at 8:58 am

Righting wrongs

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Last year, on January 7, 2010, one proud member of the Baseball Writers Association of America wrote the truth:

We botched it. There’s no other way to say it. We botched it.

– Steve Buckley

People screw up. I have. Far too many times. You have. The BBWAA has. It’s our nature.

Roberto Alomar’s screwed up, too. I can still see that nasty loogie hitting John Hirschbeck’s face. The “spitting incident” even has its own subsection on Alomar’s Wikipedia page. It’s hard to believe that A) Alomar actually spit in Hirschbeck’s face, and B) That it happened in Toronto.

I was pissed off with the BBWAA about Alomar not making the cut last year. He is/was a first ballot hall of fame inductee. But none of that matters anymore. If a year’s wait was Alomar’s penalty, so be it.

Alomar screwed up back in 1996, and, in apologizing to Hirschbeck, and actually becoming his friend, Alomar righted his wrong. Today, when the BBWAA calls on Alomar to Cooperstown, they’ll right their wrong.

I’ve wondered of late why I feel so emotionally invested in Alomar’s candidacy. And why I care so much about sports, something so trivial, in general. It’s hard not to question my devotion when, during a live-blog I’m paid to host for The Score, some miserable soul comes along and says: “Hey fuckface, your mom told me to tell you that dinner’s ready upstairs.” No, asshole, mom gave me dinner before the game, like I asked.

Obviously, I know why Alomar’s call to the hall is a big deal. Alomar reminds me of my youth. My fleeting youth. Growing up, his posters and pictures were on my walls. I had a binder full of Alomar’s baseball cards. It was literally an Alomar-only baseball card binder. The cover was red, if my memory serves me correctly, which it probably doesn’t. When I grew up, I wanted to be the Toronto Blue Jays’ switch-hitting, Gold Glove-winning second baseman. Who didn’t?

I think of Alomar and Carlos Delgado as the greatest Blue Jays I’ve ever seen. Naturally, this calls for a WARGraph. And between them, it isn’t even close. Alomar’s the best position baseball player Toronto has ever seen. That Toronto might ever see.

The Toronto Blue Jays will finally be represented: Alomar’s off to Cooperstown. And for the first time in my life, on Friday, July 22, so am I.

Image courtesy the Internet. Thanks, Internet.

Written by Navin Vaswani

January 5th, 2011 at 10:51 am

The week that was

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We have officially begun week 50 of 52. It’s about the time of year when I curse my immigrant parents for choosing Toronto and not, say, San Diego, and when I try to remember where another 12 months have gone. Time flies when none of Toronto’s pro sports teams make the playoffs.

Goodbye

Scott Downs joined the Toronto Blue Jays almost six years ago to the day as an afterthought. He became so much more than that. Today, he’s an Angel. And he will be sorely missed. Oh, Snakeface. Where do I even begin?

Signed to a minor league contract by J.P. Ricciardi in December 2004, Downs did it all for the Blue Jays. He came out of the bullpen. He mopped up. He made spot starts. He even closed. Through it all, and to very little fanfare, he became one of the best relief pitchers in baseball. Left-handed or right, it didn’t matter to Downs. He made outs, while seldom walking a batter.

What I enjoyed most about Downs was that he wasn’t a flamethrower. He was a pitcher. Fastball, curveball, slider, and a changeup. Nothing overpowering, yet always effective. That curveball; I’ll never forget it.

Over the years, Downs shared the bullpen with the likes of Miguel Bautista, Vinnie Chulk, Josh Towers, Jeremy Accardo, Brian Tallet, Brandon League, B.J. Ryan, Scott Richmond, David Purcey, Josh Roenicke, Brian Wolfe, Jesse Carlson, Jason Frasor, and Kevin Gregg. Save for B.J. Ryan’s freakish 2006 season, I was never as calm as when Downs was on the mound. Above all else, Downs was reliable, and it’s that reliability I’ll miss most.

By signing with Los Angeles, Downs nets Toronto a supplemental draft pick, and the Angels’ second-rounder. That could change, though, and Parkes has you covered on the details. In the end, Los Angeles isn’t Boston or New York, and you’re damn right I take solace in that. Unless Jose Bautista has something to say about it, and, believe me, I hope he does, I’m quite certain Downs will go down in history as Ricciardi’s best acquisition as general manager of the Blue Jays.

Thanks, Scott Downs. Was a pleasure. Enjoy Orange County, and may you write the initials of your children in the pitcher’s mound’s dirt forever.

Winter Meetings

As much as Brett Lawrie wants to begin his Major League Baseball career, there’s no chance that’s happening in April 2011. Lawrie will start the season with the Las Vegas 51s, which means we’re probably in store for more colourful pictures of his time spent away from the ballpark. I can’t wait. Because Lawrie’s the first 20-year-old to have ever been photographed in a compromising situation. In all seriousness, it’s the right move, especially if he’s taking up a new position …

Chalk one up for sanity: Alex Anthopoulos won’t be trading Travis Snider and Kyle Drabek for Zack Greinke. Personally, I don’t believe Anthopoulos considered it. Not even for a second. If we learned anything last week, it’s that Dayton Moore, the man who targeted Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera, should be getting Anthopoulos coffee, not putting together a Major League ball club …

I’m now more intrigued about the prospects of Magglio Ordonez in a Blue Jays uniform than Manny Ramirez.

Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome

I’ve watched the video countless times. If only Brett Favre was on the field, alone, at the time.

In the aftermath of the Metrodome’s collapse, I couldn’t help but wonder: Imagine Toronto was hit with the mother of all snow storms, and our very own SkyDome caved in on itself. Rogers would be forced to build a ballpark. And if they’re serious about buying MLSE, lord knows they can afford a new stadium. The Blue Jays, meanwhile, would spend a season playing in Montreal. Everybody wins.

Make it happen, Mother Nature. As much as I’m a Rogers Centre apologist, I wouldn’t mind some new digs, and this scenario is the only plausible one I can think of.

Saving Bryan Colangelo

On the evening of December 7th, based on Andrea Bargnani’s and the Toronto Raptors’ stats up until that point, here’s what C_R_Black at T.Jose Caldeford concluded:

In summation: Toronto’s offence is 3 pts better per 100 possessions when Bargnani’s on the bench; Toronto’s defence is 12 pts better per 100 possessions when Bargnani’s on the bench; and Toronto’s rebounding is 3 percent better when Bargnani’s on the bench. …

In another (final) summation:

1st point: Despite being the team’s focal point on offence, Bargnani is not a good passer.
2nd point: Despite being a 7-footer (and having a pretty soft touch inside), Bargnani remains a jump shooter.
3rd point: Toronto is better offensively with him on the bench.
4th point: Toronto is better defensively with him on the bench.
5th point: Toronto is better on the glass with him on the bench.

On December 8th, Andrea Bargnani scored 41 points. In one game.

On December 9th, The Globe And Mail’s Michael Grange wrote:

The extension [Bryan] Colangelo signed [Bargnani] to in the summer of 2009 might have looked rich then, but now? The four years and $42-million Bargnani has remaining on his contract look like spectacular value. … It might even make up for signing Hedo Turkoglu.

Conflicted? I’m not. For all his faults, I love the lanky Italian. Nothing would please me more than for Bargnani to be the best player to come out of the 2006 draft. Bryan Colangelo told us to give it five years, at the very least. While Brandon Roy paid early dividends in Portland, Bargnani might have been the best long-term option. I look forward to finding out …

Back to the timeline: On December 11th, Saturday night, after a 1-for-9 performance the night before, December 10th, Jerryd Bayless couldn’t miss. Making his second start at the point, Bayless scored 31 points to lead the Raptors to their largest ever come-from-behind victory. Stuck 25? No sweat. (The Detroit Pistons are AWFUL.)

Bayless for Jarrett Jack might be Colangelo’s Brandon Morrow for Brandon League. Like it or not, Colangelo’s getting an extension. And for the record, I like it. Colangelo’s entertaining. The roster turnover year-to-year in Toronto is nothing short of amazing. So many years later, and I’m still impressed at how immaculately Colangelo dresses. He still exudes confidence. And if the past seven days were any indication, there’s never a dull week.

Road Trip

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ season could have effectively ended Saturday night, after a stretch of fives games against the Eastern Conference’s five best teams. Boston, Washington, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Montreal. I figured they’d win one game, and lose another in a shootout. Three out of a possible 10 points. Instead, they picked up six. Of course they did. The misery must be prolonged. Heading out west, the Leafs find themselves nine points back of Atlanta for the coveted 8th and final playoff spot. Once again, if you’re a fan of the Maple Leafs, the playoffs will take place in mid-December, and early January …

Regular season playoffs!!!1 It’s just not the same …

If the Leafs are serious about making a run towards the promised land, the 8th and final playoff spot, their road record must improve; 3-8-1 just won’t get it done. And we’ll find out just how serious the Leafs are about turning around their season Tuesday night in Edmonton. The Leafs need to take this one. By any means necessary. I’m thinking 8-0. Or 3-2, in the shootout, using double and triple spinoramas. Hell, if the game is decided by penalty shots, I’m all for Phil Kessel skating backwards from centre ice on his attempt. The Oilers need to be embarrassed on home ice the way the Maple Leafs were. Period. And if Ron Wilson’s players don’t come out ready to play, that’s not on Wilson, that’s on each and every Maple Leaf on the ice. I’m so sick of excuses …

Speaking of excuses: Mike Komisarek. He is one. To quote a good friend of mine, Komisarek’s “THE WORST!” …

Mea culpa: I take back every bad thing I ever said about Colby Armstrong. Money well spent …

Waffles: The worst of our many humiliations …

Moving forward, do you go with J.S. Giguere or Jonas Gustavsson? In 15 starts, Giguere’s faced 406 shots, and stopped 363 (.894). Gustavsson, in 14 starts, has faced 407 shots, and stopped 367 (.902). I guess the difference is negligible. And that’s a shame …

Was that Clarke MacArthur/Jaroslav Spacek fight not one of the strangest altercations you’ve ever seen? …

One day, Nazem Kadri will score a goal. There might be a parade in celebration …

Thursday night, in Dion Phaneuf’s triumphant return to Calgary, do you think Flames fans have a “Sloppy Seconds! CLAP-CLAP-CLAPCLAPCLAP” chant in them? Props to them if they do.

Image of our frigid city courtesy Fuck Yeah Toronto.

Back to basics

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Writing in this space used to be easy. Writing, in general. It isn’t anymore. At least it isn’t right now. (Also, it’s official: I hate the words “blog,” “blogger,” and “blogging.”) It’s been a wild 12 months for me, personally. I haven’t been around much. I feel like I have to make up for lost time, except I’m not sure how to do that. I also feel, mostly due to Twitter, like I’m drowning in information. That if I’m not bringing a distinct opinion and voice to the conversation, there’s no point to any of this. That if I’m not writing about WAR, or xFIP, or showing you a graph of some sort, I’m bringing something to the table that’s utterly unreadable, and a waste of your time. And I’ve never felt that way before. I’ve gone as far as to comb through my own archives, in search of, I think, inspiration. Sure, some people find my writing and my twittering — surely my twittering — annoying. But that’s always going to be the case.

I read a lot. If you can’t write, read, right? In the aftermath of the Shaun Marcum for Brett Lawrie trade (or is it the Lawrie for Marcum trade?), I’ve read an inordinate amount of blog posts and columns devoted to the transaction. I’ve seen Lawrie’s infamous Eminem-inspired tattoo, and his abdominals. The amount of content out there — instant content — boggles the mind. I think it’s amazing how much, and how well, Joe Posnanski writes. Every. Single. Day. I only wish I could. I want to. And, yet, I open my RSS reader, and log on to Twitter, and I’m overwhelmed. By all of it.

On January 29th of this year, just a few days before I took off for a jaunt through India, George Packer, one of my favourite writers, wrote about Twitter (which he doesn’t use):

The truth is, I feel like yelling Stop quite a bit these days. Every time I hear about Twitter I want to yell Stop. The notion of sending and getting brief updates to and from dozens or thousands of people every few minutes is an image from information hell. I’m told that Twitter is a river into which I can dip my cup whenever I want. But that supposes we’re all kneeling on the banks. In fact, if you’re at all like me, you’re trying to keep your footing out in midstream, with the water level always dangerously close to your nostrils. Twitter sounds less like sipping than drowning.

The most frightening picture of the future that I’ve read thus far in the new decade has nothing to do with terrorism or banking or the world’s water reserves—it’s an article by David Carr, the Timess media critic, published on the decade’s first day, called “Why Twitter Will Endure.” “I’m in narrative on more things in a given moment than I ever thought possible,” Carr wrote. And: “Twitter becomes an always-on data stream from really bright people.” And: “The real value of the service is listening to a wired collective voice … the throbbing networked intelligence.” And: “On Twitter, you are your avatar and your avatar is you.” And finally: “There is always something more interesting on Twitter than whatever you happen to be working on.”

This last is what really worries me. Who doesn’t want to be taken out of the boredom or sameness or pain of the present at any given moment? That’s what drugs are for, and that’s why people become addicted to them. Carr himself was once a crack addict (he wrote about it in “The Night of the Gun”). Twitter is crack for media addicts. It scares me, not because I’m morally superior to it, but because I don’t think I could handle it. I’m afraid I’d end up letting my son go hungry.

Packer’s writing, for some reason or another, has always spoken to me. But never, ever like those three paragraphs did. I’m who he’s talking about; I’m on Twitter crack. From The Hardball Times, to Baseball Prospectus, to Drunk Jays Fans, to Dustin “Fuck Off” Parkes’ new and impressive Getting Blanked, to Pension Plan Puppets, and Down Goes Brown, to The Tao of Stieb, and MLB Trade Rumors, and Ghostrunner on First, and The Blue Jay Hunter, and RaptorBlog, and The Basketball Jones, and FanGraphs, and NotGraphs (have you subscribed yet?), and T. Jose Caldeford … You get my point: Information overload. I’ve tweeted almost 9,050 times. That’s a lot of characters. A lot of, essentially, posts here at Sports And The City. And here I am, one of those people worried about people’s shortening attention spans, and the dying art of long prose. Have you even made it this far?

I used to write for me, and you. But mostly me. I believe I’m a better writer today because of it. I’m going to try and get back to basics.

Opening Doors

You didn’t think I was going to write all of that, and not tell you how I feel about the Lawrie for Marcum trade, did you? You so crazy. It’s why I appreciate you.

I love the trade. Don’t get me wrong, it’s tough to see Marcum go. North of Steeles, forever. Well, hopefully not. I really miss living in the city, personally, but you know what I mean. Marcum pitched with pride. Not only for himself, but for his teammates. I’ll never forget how angry he was after the Balitmore OriLOLes, in late September, threw at Jose Bautista. Make no mistake about it: Shaun Marcum was taking names. I’ll miss his confidence, his leadership, and his swagger. An Opening Day starter for the Toronto Blue Jays, I trust he’s left a competent set of men to follow in his footsteps. The Marcum era will be looked upon fondly, and I wish Shaun well in the National League, where it’s even easier to pitch like a man.

To get, you’ve got to give. In return for Marcum, Brett Lawrie brings a different kind of swagger to Toronto, and as Parkes pointed out at Getting Blanked, there’s nothing wrong with that. Lawrie is a high ceiling, high reward type of ballplayer. Is he worth the risk, in dealing Shaun Marcum? If the Carl Crawford contract with the Boston Red Sox proves anything, it’s that, yes, Lawrie is worth the risk. And so is Anthony Gose. For the Blue  Jays to climb a mountain that only seems to grow higher and higher, Alex Anthopoulos has to reach. He has no choice but to play high stakes; high risk, high reward.

While it hasn’t publicly, to these eyes, the Lawrie deal puts an end to the Zack Grienke-to-Toronto speculation. The 2011 season isn’t about “going for it.” Lawrie’s all about upside, and versatility. Lord knows he can hit. Now it’s up to the Blue Jays to find him a position, and make a big leaguer out of him.

In his 1988 Bill James Baseball Abstract, James wrote:

What I wanted to write about… is a very basic question. Of all the studies I have done over the last 12 years, what have I learned? What is the relevance of sabermetric knowledge to the decision making process of a team? If I were employed by a major-league team, what are the basic things that I know from the research I have done which would be of use to me in helping that team?

Number one on his list was:

Minor league batting statistics will predict major league batting performance with essentially the same reliability as previous major league statistics.

Here are Lawrie’s and Travis Snider’s numbers from their seasons in AA-ball, when both were 20 years young:

Snider: 362 ABs, .262/.357/.461

Lawrie: 554 ABs, .285/.346/.451

Most, if not all of us, are ecstatic about a season for Snider freed from the shackles of Cito Gaston. And if you’re as excited about Snider as I am, how can you not be excited about Lawrie? He’s got a bat, and wheels. The fact that he’s Canadian is a bonus. I could care less where a ballplayer is from, Canada, Cuba, or India. Bring me the best baseball players, period.

The 2011 season is about Snider finally getting a full season under his belt. It’s about Kyle Drabek earning his stripes in the ultra-competitive American League East. It’s about J.P. Arencibia becoming a big league catcher. It’s about Adam Lind learning how to play a competent first base, and Aaron Hill returning to form. What I love most about the Lawrie for Marcum trade is that it proves that Alex Anthopoulos isn’t trying to open a window from which the Blue Jays can contend. He’s trying to open a set of French doors, overlooking the ocean.

Image courtesy This Isn’t Happiness.

Rough Weekend

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Four games, two each for the Maple Leafs and Raptors, Friday evening through Sunday afternoon. Four losses. Another shutout of the Leafs’ so-called “offence.” Another broken foot for Reggie Evans. His other one, believe it or not.

I miss the Blue Jays. No, they didn’t make the playoffs. They weren’t even close. But they won more games than they lost. And that fact wasn’t lost on my mental health.

I picked the wrong time of year to quit drinking for six weeks. But, deep down, I know the truth: There’s no right time to quit drinking. Not when you’re immersed in Toronto’s postseason abyss.

Jay Triano, fast becoming the best quote in town, with the final words:

“You go one-through-five. I’m not going to pin it on DeMar. DeMar got outplayed by Joe Johnson. Jose got outplayed by Mike Bibby. Andrea got outplayed by Josh Smith. Sonny got outplayed by Marvin Williams. Joey got outplayed by Al Horford. Fuck. Okay?  … I mean, I’m not picking on our starters for getting outplayed. Amir didn’t outplay anybody on their bench either. Leandro didn’t… They beat us. Every single position. Every single guy got beat.”

Drink.

Image, most apt, courtesy of Reuters, via daylife.

Written by Navin Vaswani

November 28th, 2010 at 3:57 pm

Running Rajai

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Rajai Davis is fast. Compared to his new Toronto Blue Jays teammates, Rajai Davis can fly. He stole 50 bases for the Oakland A’s in 2010. The Toronto Blue Jays, as a team, stole 58.

On the surface, Davis’ 2010 .320 on-base percentage, for a Blue Jays team looking to improve their OBP as a unit, is nothing to go upstairs and tell mom about. But as R.J. Anderson points out over at FanGraphs, “Davis’ career .330 on-base percentage would’ve ranked as the fifth-highest on the 2010 Blue Jays.” Which is pretty goddamn sad.

As for where Davis fits into the Jays’ lineup, your guess is as good as mine. He could be John Farrell’s new leadoff hitter, although, again, Davis’ .332 career OBP in 133 career games, in 538 at-bats, from the top of the order doesn’t exactly get me all hot and bothered. If Davis is Farrell’s new fourth outfielder, and pinch-runner, he’s certainly an upgrade over the departed DeWayne Wise. And because the newest Blue Jay can play all three outfield positions, he probably leaps Fred Lewis on the depth chart, too.

There’s more to Rajai Davis than just his speed, though. Where he’s going to come in handy for the Blue Jays is against left-handed pitching. Because, as you know, the Jays can’t hit left-handed pitching. At least they didn’t in 2010. Davis’ slash line versus LHP this past season: .304/.349/.435/.784. A .323 BABIP, along with a .344 wOBA. For his career, Davis has hit southpaws to the tune of .292/.347/.402/.750. Good enough for a .329 BABIP, and .331 wOBA. The numbers aren’t spectacular by any means, but considering how the Blue Jays fared against lefties in 2010, they’re going to help.

How bad were the Jays this summer? Bloody awful. They scored 139 runs versus LHP; nobody scored fewer. Their AL East brethren, the Rays, Yankees and Red Sox, scored 264, 263 and 239 runs against LHP, respectively. Good for first, second and fourth in the Majors. Toronto’s .215 team batting average against LHP? Last in baseball. Toronto’s .286 team OBP against LHP? Last in baseball. Their .379 slugging percentage against LHP wasn’t thirtieth out of 30; it ranked twenty-first. Home runs will do that for you. Only Baltimore, Houston and Seattle registered a team OPS lower than Toronto’s .665 versus LHP.

Only two regulars from Cito Gaston’s infamous final lineups put up OPS’s of greater than .900 against LHP: John Buck (1.116), and Edwin Encarnion (.914). John’s Buck-ed off down to Florida, while Edwin is Encarnaci-gone. Yunel Escobar’s line of .275/.396/.425/.821 was none too shabby, but came in only 40 at-bats. You’d think guys like Vernon Wells, Jose Bautista, and Aaron Hill would feast on LHP. Instead, they were feasted upon. Hide your kids, your wife, and your husbands, too:

Wells (113 ABs): .195/.289/.354/.643

Bautista (108 ABs): .222/.333/.509/.843

Hill (120 ABs): .125/.226/.225/.451

Adam Lind (137 ABs): .117/.159/.182/.341

If there’s a silver lining in those bawdy numbers, it’s that Hill and Lind can’t possibly be that bad again. Hill’s BABIP against LHP last season was .124; Lind’s: .167.

The point is, while Toronto can certainly use Davis’ speed, they need his bat, too. Now, I’m not going to pretend to know much of anything about the two prospects — Trystan Magnuson and Daniel Farquhar, both relievers — Alex Anthopoulos sent to Oakland. But that the Blue Jays chose to trade two guys from an area of organizational strength for someone who fills two needs, and who is under team control until 2014, makes the deal a good one. All the more so when I read in the San Francisco Chronicle that Davis was “among the most popular players on [Oakland], always cheerful and respected by his teammates for his deep faith and work with his church,” and that he called the trade “a new adventure.”  Hustle, heart, and God. And, you know what, maybe the guy upstairs can help.

The more you look at the Davis acquisition, and all the numbers, the more a Fred Lewis/Rajai Davis platoon at the top of the lineup, and in the outfield, makes sense. But make no mistake about it, Davis becoming a Blue Jay is about more than just his speed.

The best part of the transaction: Anthopoulos is just getting started. Of all the offseasons in professional sports, none are better than baseball’s.

Credit to Getty Images’ Jed Jacobsohn for the photo.

Written by Navin Vaswani

November 17th, 2010 at 11:15 pm