Sports And The City

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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

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.