Archive for August, 2010

A lot of my time is dedicated to playing in a simulation baseball league to which I am a co-founder (established in 1999) and a proud (and active) member to this day.  The league is run on ‘Diamond Mind Baseball’, the preeminent baseball simulation software which uses the player’s current stats (from previous full MLB season) and using the advanced game engine produces results for games and a season. 

I know there are a lot of simulation players out there, and more specifically a lot of DMB users and I have decided to construct a ‘Top 50 Most Valuable Simulation Players’ list for your enjoyment.  This will be similar to the extremely popular ‘Fangraphs Top 50 Trade Assets’ but I will tailor the list to the needs to simulation baseball players and more specifically to the parameters and setup of my particular league as it a fairly standard type of league.

My league has 16 teams (divided into 2 Leagues and 4 divisions of 4 teams), 40 players per roster and is set to the current ‘NL’ era (or atmosphere for stats, so it uses the NL team batting average, E.R.A and runs/game etc).  If I have lost you, sorry, a simple explanation is that we are the owners/GMs of ‘fake’ teams that play an entire season and postseason using the  most advanced ‘simulation’ software on the market. 

If you have never played in one, I highly recommend it, it forces you to become totally enamoured with the game of baseball when you are in a league like this and in turn you learn a ton about the game and it’s players as with 640 total players combined on our rosters, you need to know more than just the top 25-30 players in the game, you even need to know relief pitchers, backup infielders and a healthy knowledge of prospects is a must.

Join the ongoing conversation about baseball, DMB, simulations and leagues on TWITTER, follow me @tdotsports1

There are a lot of different aspects that DMB uses to churn out the results, and this list will be comprised of players who I feel are most valuable to the DMB world and not necessarily just the major leagues.  This list will be similar to the Fangraphs lists however this is not based on salary at all as our league has no salary cap or any vesting interest in what a player makes per season.  Age is going to play a factor but this list will not contain many pure prospects (think Mike Stanton) as we have a steep amount of drops at season’s end so production in the next 2-3 seasons is vital and will be a major factor in the overall rankings.  Youth is preferred of course, but if a player is still in or entering his prime he will still be ranked accordingly (think Pujols, Halladay).

Here are some of the factors I have taken into account based on my knowledge and experience with DMB:

Position, position, position:  Just like in real life, there is a huge premium placed on the catcher, shortstop, centre field and second base positions – not only for defense sake but there just aren’t as many solid players to fill those spots league wide.  This isn’t to say I will take Craig Counsell over Mark Teixeira but one has to factor in positional value (and scarcity) as well as the offensive contributions.

Defense:  DMB assigns a ‘defensive range’ rating (from PR to EX) and defense plays a big overall role in team success and keeping your pitcher’s ERAs as low as possible.  Like in real life, solid defenders are preferable to the stone handed fielders so don’t expect to see Adam Dunn on this list!

Versatility:  if defense is important, than versatility is huge as the more positions a player is rated the more valuable he is for the season, as long as he isn’t rated poor at most of them.  Also, players cannot play out of position in most leagues and are heavily penalized if one’s that allows this. 

Park factors:  DMB places an emphasis on home ballpark for the players, so a pitcher who is solid at Coors Field is going to be more effective than if he pitched at PetCo – Ditto for hitters, but reversed, of course.

Handedness:  For pitchers it is more beneficial to be right-handed as a southpaw can face a super stacked line-up of all righty hitters who have incredible splits vs. Lefties.  For hitters, I give a slight advantage to lefties (or switch hitters) as the league is normally loaded with right handed starters (for the above reason) who historically are tougher versus righties.

Age:   younger is preferred, but as we discussed players entering or in their primes are welcome additions to many rosters as you just want immediate productivity.  With no salary cap or salary structure in most leagues, there is no worry about arbitration, free agency or ‘super two statuses’.  Again, this doesn’t mean I am going to take Tim Hudson over Felix Hernandez regardless of how good a season Huddy is currently having, age has to be factored in.

Other general nuances:   over the years I have noticed ground ball pitchers with solid HR rates (i.e., low) tend to ‘sim’ better than the norm, and low-ish average/high on-base hitters tend to fare better than a high average/medium OBP hitter.  Kevin Youkilis will likely sim better than say Delmon Young as the low BB hitter is at the mercy of his BABIP, just like real life.   Some teams/owners might value a certain player or position more than another, just another factor that a list cannot totally encapsulate, plus this is for fun and entertainment also!

An everyday player is preferred over a pitcher, and a starting pitcher is preferred to a reliever (duh) so only one relief pitcher made the cut, and his future potentially lies in the starting rotation.  Pitchers are extremely volatile and injury prone and only eleven total pitchers made the Top 50 and one has recently been scheduled for TJ surgery and has effectively wiped out his entire 2011 season, lending even more credence to the above stated rule of thumb regarding the value of everyday position players.

There are of course many other factors that may come into play in a given season and some leagues might have different settings, rules that could affect a player’s overall value (like a strict salary system) but without further ado, here is the 2011 Simulation Baseball’s 50 Most Valuable Assets, starting with the also-rans, players who were just left off the list. 

There were a ton of great players who didn’t make the final cut and I could name 100s of players I like, here is a highlight of a few of the more interesting names left off:

Honourable mention:

SP Stephen Strasburg – though the phrase “Tommy John” doesn’t cause a massive coronary as it used to, the fact remains Strasburg will be going under the knife and will miss all of 2011 and who knows if he will be the same pitcher he was prior to this injury.  His injury has to be one of the biggest disappointments of the season in 2010, and I actually had my rankings finalized prior to his injury and he was close to cracking the top ten – what a shame.  Here’s hoping for a speedy and solid recovery.

SP Clay Buchholz – I still do not fully trust that Clay has ‘arrived’ despite a gaudy ERA (2.21) as his K rate has dropped again (has dropped every season in the bigs) to a pedestrian 6.2 K/9, his BABIP is unsustainable (.260) and his xFIP sits at a rather ordinary 4.19.  Still, nice to see he has finally put it all together for the BoSox in 2010.

 SP CC Sabathia – close, but his falling K rate and being a southpaw was the deciding factor, plus better options to choose from.

SS Jose Reyes – Another guy who must prove he can stay healthy and regain that patience he was starting to show at the plate, his declining defense and BB rate are worrisome however he is still young-ish and the position of shortstop is in sad shape.

RF Jay Bruce – Too many solid OFers to choose from, Bruce must continue to improve, but the power potential seems to be scratching the surface, hard to ignore minor league numbers and overall talent level.

1B Prince Fielder– tons of talent, but he plays an even easier position to fill (1B).

C Victor Martinez – yeah, catcher is that weak – and he is barely a catcher anymore.

3B Alex Rodriguez – what would a list be without A’Rod, however, given the better options ahead of him at 3B, his declining power production, his age and wonky hip A’Rod finds himself on the outside looking in.

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I decided to embark on a new five part series in which we will debate and argue the merits of the top five Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors and Toronto Blue Jays as well as the top five overall athletes in Toronto sports history and finally as a contrast we will do the top ten athletes currently residing in the ‘Big Smoke’.  Feel free to comment and please post your own opinion on any of the top five lists, I am sure there will be seriously differing opinions across the board and people definitely place a different emphasis on things like winning, personal stats and overall impact on the city.

Part I – Top 5 Maple Leafs of all time

Part II – Top 5 Raptors of all time

Part III – Top 5 Blue Jays of all time

Part IV – Top 5 Toronto Sports Athletes of all time

Part V – Top Ten Current Athletes in Toronto

This will be a quick breakdown of the top athletes currently residing in Toronto and it is a down and dirty look at the athlete’s ready to contribute on the Toronto sports scene.  This certainly won’t be referred to as the golden era in Toronto’s sports history, but I’d say the scene is definitely on the up-swing and improving almost daily.  The Jays are looking to be competitive in the next 1-2 seasons, the Leafs look to be in good hands with Brian Burke and the Raptors aren’t as bad as most think, though they are looking lottery bound in 2010/11 (not such a bad thing though?).  Well, here is my list for the top ten current Toronto athletes.

10) SP Brandon Morrow – Toronto Blue Jays

-A hugely talented arm with untapped potential, he might have the most upside of any of the current Blue Jays arms.  Putting together a great first season in Toronto, the future is bright and price to acquire him was right.

9) LW Kris Versteeg – Toronto Maple Leafs

-Coming over from the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks (thank you salary cap) in which he was a key third line member and a heart and soul type player described as having a wicked wrist shot.  Only 24 years old and coming off back to back 20 goal seasons, I think Toronto fans are going to really like this kid.

#8) SP Shaun Marcum – Toronto Blue Jays

-Looks to be completely back after undergoing TJ surgery and has been the Jays best pitcher this season with 151 IPs, 3.70 ERA, 3.83 FIP and an impressive 3.8 K/BB.  Marcum will look to score a longer term contract in the next year or so and will hopefully continue to put hitters away with that nasty changeup for many more seasons.

7) SG Demar Derozan – Toronto Raptors

-The 7th overall pick out of Compton, California and USC University, the sky is the limit for Derozan and the ‘Young Gunz’ (along with Sonny Weems and Amir Johnson), fans are hoping for a big breakout year for Demar to give them some (any) hope for a Toronto Raptors eventual resurgence.  The kid has all the talent and skills you could want and just needs seasoning and some refinements to certain aspects of the game (mid range jumper and handle) to really take that next step.

6) RF Jose Bautista – Toronto Blue Jays

-Bautista leads the majors in homeruns and has been a total beast for the Blue Jays this season (41 HRs, 607 SLG%, .416 wOBA – 4.9 WAR), he has been so good there is some talk the Jays might be best served dealing their top slugger while the getting is good and his value is at an all-time high.  The most debated/discussed Blue Jay player this season, mixed opinions on whether or not he should be around long term.

5) D Tomas Kaberle – Toronto Maple Leafs

-What would a Toronto article be without Kaberle, fact remains he is still one of the best defensemen to suit up for the Leafs and if he remains this season will be counted upon to contribute a huge season. 

4) PF Andrea Bargnani – Toronto Raptors

-The smooth, sharp shooting 7-footer was the 1st overall pick in the 2006 NBA Draft and has shown steady improvement each season (in scoring) over the past three years scoring 10.2, 15.4 and 17.2 PPG.  He still needs to improve his overall game, with more focus on rebounding and weak side help defense, however a big man with the ability to drive and dish the rock who will likely average 20.0+ PPG, shoot around 48-49% from the field, 37-38% from 3-point land and hopefully average 7-8 rebounds and 1.5-2 blocks per game don’t exactly grow on trees.  Andrea doesn’t get enough credit for the player he has become, expect that opinion and sentiment to change with a huge 2010/11 season as the Raptors go to guy.

3) SP Ricky Romero – Toronto Blue Jays

-JP Ricciardi envisioned this type of success for his first pick (6th overall) in the 2005 MLB Amateur Draft but it took Ricky a few seasons in the minors to finally flourish and make it to the big leagues (too little, too late for our old buddy JP though) but flourish he has.  The Jays lefty recently signed a contract extension that will keep in Toronto for the next 5 seasons, hopefully his prime years are still to come.  In 2010, Romero has been great, in 172.2 IPS he has a 3.54 ERA, 3.59 FIP, solid ground ball rate and a pretty good 7.7 K/9.

2) D Dion Phaneuf – Toronto Maple Leafs

-When you are the new captain of the most popular team in town, you are going to get some attention and since entering the league Phaneuf has definitely drawn his fair share.  The top scoring defensemen since joining the league, the hard hitting Alberta native is being counted upon to lead the Brian Burke era in team history and fans are excited and anxious to see what a full season of a motivated Dion Phaneuf can bring to the team. 

1) RW Phil Kessel – Toronto Maple Leafs

-There haven’t been many better skilled Leafs than Phil the Thrill in the team’s long history and the slight forward will again be counted upon to lead the woeful Maple Leafs forward core to the hopeful goal of making the playoffs.  Playing with a relatively unknown (and rookie) centre in Tyler Bozak, Kessel still managed 30 goals in 70 games and fans are hoping he can take his game to the next level and become a 40-45 goal scorer with a full season to come in 2010/11.

Drafted in the first round (5th overall) in 2006, he has been called the ‘American’ Sydney Crosby with his unbelievable level of skill and shooting ability.  Kessel will only be 23 at the start of the season and though the trade and cost to acquire Kessel is hotly debated, the player we received certainly cannot be, Kessel is legit and one of the most skilled players in the game.

This concludes my five part series looking back at some of the greatest players to ever play for our beloved Toronto sports franchises and also a quick glimpse at who is currently leading the charge for hopeful future success. 

Hope you enjoyed it.

I decided to embark on a new five part series in which we will debate and argue the merits of the top five Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors and Toronto Blue Jays as well as the top five overall athletes in Toronto sports history and finally as a contrast we will do the top ten athletes currently residing in the ‘Big Smoke’.  Feel free to comment and please post your own opinion on any of the top five lists, I am sure there will be seriously differing opinions across the board and people definitely place a different emphasis on things like winning, personal stats and overall impact on the city.

Part I – Top 5 Maple Leafs of all time

Part II – Top 5 Raptors of all time

Part III – Top 5 Blue Jays of all time

Part IV – Top 5 Toronto Sports Athletes of all time

Part V – Top 10 Current Toronto Athletes

Part IV – Top Five Athletes in Toronto History

I hope you have enjoyed the ‘Top Five’ series thus far and today we continue by looking at the Top Five Athletes in Toronto Sports History.  This list will not focus as much on tenure and longevity as some of the other lists have but purely on talent level and peak performance while in the city of Toronto, more than one or two seasons of greatness is preferred but this list will encapsulate the absolute best that has ever performed in the great city of Toronto.  A player that was as close to the top of his respective sport as possible for a 2+ season stretch, so just missing out were Hakeem Olajuwon, Erik Hanson and Vesa Toskala. 

On to the list.

#5 – QB Doug Flutie.  Two seasons with the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts, led the entire CFL in 1996 & 1997 in passing attempts, passing yards, passing completions, passing TDs and rushing yards by a QB.

A surprise name to see for some, he was a must inclusion for me.  Prior to Doug Flutie’s arrival in 1996, the 1995 Toronto Argonauts were pitiful, sporting a 4-14 record, in Flutie’s first season with the ‘Boatmen’ was in 1996 and he led them to a 15-3 record and a story book turnaround, they won the Grey Cup and Flutie was named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player.

Next season Flutie led the team to back-to-back CFL Grey Cup’s and again won the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player (1997) after leading the league in basically every major statistical category.  Toronto had a love affair with its diminutive QB and the popularity of the CFL in Toronto was at an all time high.  There are probably even some that are surprised to hear that Doug Flutie isn’t even Canadian.  Flutie went on to have a fairly successful NFL career and people in Toronto will always claim him as one of their own, anybody down for some Flutie Flakes?

In my opinion Doug Flutie for those two seasons in 1996 and 1997 was one of the top athlete’s in the history of Toronto sports.

#4 – 1B Carlos Delgado.  Hugely successful slugger basically his entire career with the Blue Jays and dominated for four straight seasons (2000-2003).

Carlos Delgado was one of the game’s best sluggers during his peak years with the Toronto Blue Jays and was absolutely robbed of deserved MVP Awards in 2000 and 2004 when a Canadian hating writer from Chicago neglected to even put Delgado on his MVP ballots.  Look at these stats and take into consideration that WAR heavily penalizes Delgado for playing first base (plus playing it relatively poorly), his bat was lethal:       

Year HR RBI OPS wOBA WAR
2000 41 134 1134 471 7.5
2001 39 102 948 398 4.0
2002 33 108 955 401 4.7
2003 32 145 1019 423 5.5

 

Delgado was the best offensive player in the history of the franchise and among the best in baseball for a good portion of his career in Toronto, without the ‘hack’ excluding him from his ballot he might have some impressive hardware to show for his handy work.  Imagine the 2010 Blue Jays had Delgado at 1B?

#3 – C Doug Gilmour.  Played parts of 6 seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, his peak seasons in 92/93 and 93/94 and undeniably some of the best hockey ever played in Toronto and ‘Killer’ was considered among the NHL’s best all-around players.

Ah, 1992-1994, nothing warms the soul like a trip down memory lane and for Toronto Maple Leafs fans born basically anytime post 1970 the back to back playoff runs from our beloved Leafs in 1992/93 and 1993/94 will forever have a place in our hearts.  The thrilling OT Game Seven winner by Nikolai Borechevsky, or the wrap around goal by Doug Gilmour against Curtis Joseph and the St. Louis Blues or that high-stick by Mr. Gretzky that was missed by Mr. Fraser, that ******* high stick!  Not that I am still bitter or anything.

At the helm of those teams was the heart and soul and leader of leader’s the Assistant Captain Doug Gilmour, old #93.  He was in the prime of his career during both of those magical seasons and put up the best seasons a Leafs player has ever had in its illustrious history:

YEAR G A PTS +/- PIM PPG
1992/93 32 95 127 32 100 1.53
1993/94 27 84 111 25 105 1.26

 

Not only great regular seasons but simply brilliant postseasons as well:

YEAR G A PTS +/- PIM PPG
1992/93 10 25 35 16 30 1.66
1993/94 6 22 28 3 42 1.55

 

Taking the team to the Stanley Cup semi-finals two straight years and playing a huge role in the early 90s turnaround of the Maple Leafs, Gilmour was the talk of the town and will forever remains a folk hero for any true Leafs fan, they don’t make enough Dougie Gilmour’s.

#2 – SG Vince Carter.  V.C. put Toronto basketball on the map, totally dominated the NBA during the 1999/00 and 2000/01 seasons.

No player is more vilified however no player was more dynamic and electric than Vince Carter during his prime two year stretch with the Toronto Raptors.  Seemingly flawless and on the verge of joining the absolute elite of elite players, Carter had captivated the city and it was buzzing and energized for all things Raptors, basketball and of course Vince Carter.  

Easily the most polarizing figure in team history, during his peak Vince Carter put up ridiculous numbers in his two best years here:

YEAR PPG RPG APG SPG FG%
1999/00 25.7 5.8 3.9 1.3 .465
2000/01 27.6 5.5 3.9 1.5 .460

 

Those numbers stand up against almost any player in the NBA at the time and Carter even chipped in a block per game and was getting to the free-throw line nearly 7 times per game.  Carter’s production remained fairly steady up until his last season with Toronto however he struggled to play a full season and was exposed as a terrible defender and one-dimensional player soon after his peak years.  However, to say he wasn’t one of the most talented players to ever play in Toronto would be an outright lie, who knows how the franchise would have fared if Vince Carter and Chris Bosh attempted to play together for a few more years.

#1 – SP Roy Halladay.  Routinely called the best pitcher in baseball, Halladay has the numbers to back up those claims and was completely dominant during most his seasons with the Jays, and exceptionally great during the 2002, 2003, 2008 and 2009 seasons.

The city of Toronto has had a lot of great players come and go in all of the major sports but I don’t think any of them could have or were ever considered the absolute best at their position in their respective sport, besides Roy Halladay.  On a pure talent and peak season(s), Roy Halladay is the greatest athlete to ever play in Toronto, and I don’t think it is particularly close either. 

One of the classiest players to boot, Halladay was a machine, a well prepared workaholic, Halladay took his craft very seriously and for these four seasons was one of the better pitchers in the history of baseball:

YEAR IP W-L ERA FIP K/BB BB/9 HR/9 BABIP WAR
2002 239.1 19-7 2.93 2.97 2.7 2.3 0.4 .296 7.8
2003 266.0 22-7 3.25 3.23 6.4* 1.1 0.9 .294 8.0*
2008 246.0 20-11 2.78 3.03 5.3* 1.4 0.6 .293 7.4
2009 239.0 17-10 2.79 3.06 5.9* 1.3 0.8 .313 7.3

*led baseball

These truly special four seasons in Halladay’s career were simply amazing, he pitched 990.1 IPs, was 78-35 (.690 win %) and accumulated an insane 30.5 WAR.  I included his BABIP totals each season to show his successful seasons were never ‘outliers’ and luck did not factor much in his overall success (obviously), Halladay even had a strong ground ball rate each season (normally top five in MLB) and suppressed HRs as well as anybody.  He won 78 ballgames in these four years while the team provided him an average of 4.5 runs per game, he also had a whopping 29 complete games and 9 complete game shutouts.

It was obviously a tough day for me to see him leave but I think I can speak for nearly all Blue Jays fans when I say I wish him all the best and I hope he goes on to much success and glory with his new team, maybe he could even return one day.

There you have it, the Top Five Athletes in Toronto History are 5) Doug Flutie, 4) Carlos Delgado, 3) Doug Gilmour, 2) Vince Carter and #1 Roy Halladay – the incomparable one.

Next up, the top ten current athlete’s in the city of Toronto…

We will take a break from the ‘Top Five’ mania that has riveted and compelled the world of sports (ok, I made that up) and we will instead focus on the talk in “Leaf Land” today which seemed to centre on whether Brian Burke and the Toronto Maple Leafs should have signed Raffi Torres to a one year, one million dollar contract for the upcoming season.  The popular answer among Leafs followers appears to be yes, we should have brought him into the fold, but my response to this question is an emphatic no and yours should be too.

Raffi Torres, who will turn 29 years old for the upcoming season is joining his fifth organization since entering the league as the 5th overall selection by the New York Islanders at the 2000 NHL Entry Draft.  Four seasons removed from his last relatively productive season in 2005/06 with the Edmonton Oilers (27 goals, 41 points) Torres has been the model of inconsistent and one of the more frustrating players in the NHL.

Torres stands 6’0” and weighs over 220 pounds and has the reputation as under achieving power forward with some untapped potential, but since that 27 goal campaign four years ago Torres has averaged 59 games, 12 goals, 25 points (0.42 PPG) and a mere 45 PIMs.  I applaud Brian Burke for passing on this player as this is the kind of recycled projects the Leafs need not partake in, though the price is right there is absolutely zero upside to a move like this as even a career season (very unlikely) from Torres would essentially only make him a poor man’s Alex Ponikarovsky, at best.

This guys is barely an NHL calibre player at this point in his career, and if he goes on to snipe 25 goals this year for the Canucks (not likely) than good for them but the Leafs have internal options who are younger, hungrier and most importantly what kind of message is Brian Burke sending those kids if he decided to bring in a complete re-tread on a guaranteed contract with a lousy track record to boot?  This guy defines ‘replacement level’ hockey player, in fact he might be a step below and I think almost any of the Leafs current forwards (including Colton Orr) could give us 12 goals and 25 points with the type of minutes that Raffi Torres would need to put up even half decent stats for the team.

Didn’t we already go through this when we jettisoned Lee Stempniak, Jason Blake, Alex Ponikarovsky and Matt Stajan last season, and those guys actually had some talent and past success?  Torres doesn’t make us better at all this season and is not a step-up over any of our current returning or prospective forwards.  He isn’t a great defensive player or penalty killer (like an A. Asham) and clearly is not a legitimate scoring threat of note so why would we waste a roster spot and risk the development in any way, shape or form of a Nazem Kadri, Marcel Mueller, Jerry D’Amigo, Christian Hanson or Luca Caputi, among others. 

For better or worse, Brian Burke has a game plan and I admire the fact he doesn’t look for a band-aid solution to appease the masses of fans who seemingly want him to sign any recognizable free agent just for the sake of signing him at the expense of developing a core of hungry, young (and cheaper) alternatives internally.  Not only would signing a player like Torres not make us better I would venture to say he would in fact make us tangibly worse not only this season but when we factor in the ice-time he is possibly taking away from a younger player who would just as likely produce at the same (or better) level, it also makes us worse for the future.

Thanks, but no thanks.

All sports fans love to reminisce to the good old days, maybe it was a better period or span of time for their favourite or local team or quite possibly it was just a simpler and more carefree time in their own lives.  Whatever the reasons nothing gets the argumentative juices flowing like a good old fashioned ‘All-Time Top 5’ list – let’s get our own going.

I decided to embark on a new five part series in which we will debate and argue the merits of the top five Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors and Toronto Blue Jays as well as the top five overall athletes in Toronto sports history and finally as a contrast we will do the top ten athletes currently residing in the ‘Big Smoke’.  Feel free to comment and please post your own opinion on any of the top five lists, I am sure there will be seriously differing opinions across the board and people definitely place a different emphasis on things like winning, personal stats and overall impact on the city.

Part I – Top 5 Maple Leafs of all time

Part II – Top 5 Raptors of all time

Part III – Top 5 Blue Jays of all time

Part IV – Top 5 Toronto Sports Athletes of all time

Part V – Top 10 Current Toronto Athletes

Part III – Top Five All-Time Toronto Blue Jays

The Toronto Blue Jays have been around since 1977 and for a team in a sport with deep, rich history have had a pretty impressive 30+ years of tradition, winning and excellence.  Their record is currently 2654 wins and 2691 losses for a .497 winning percentage (ranking 15th in baseball history among current teams) and their back-to-back World Series titles give them as many championships as the storied franchises in Philadelphia, New York (Mets) and Chicago (Cubs).  In fact, there are currently eight teams in the MLB that have not even won a single championship, for a relatively junior franchise, the fan base of this team has been spoiled with the five AL East titles and two World Series championships.

Sure there have been numerous ups and downs just like any other franchise but the team has also had its lion’s share of impressive talent come and go over the years and of the three major sports teams (Maple Leafs, Raptors and Jays) this was by far the toughest list to not only compile but to ultimately finalize the overall rankings and I probably had about 3-4 change of heart moments before settling on the list I am about to unveil.  Let’s get to it.

#5 – CF Vernon Wells, born August December 8th, 1978 in Shreveport, LA.  Has played 12 seasons (and counting) with 1357 games, 1490 hits, 214 HRs, 785 RBIs, 771 runs.

Can you believe Vernon Wells is currently playing in his 12th major league season (all with the Toronto Blue Jays)?  Wells inclusion on a Top Five All-Time list might surprise a few people (myself included) but let me tell you (and show you) he deserves it.  The right handed centre-fielder currently ranks 4th in games played, 2nd in runs scored, 2nd in total hits, 2nd in homeruns, 2nd in RBIs and by season’s end will rank 1st in doubles.  Throw in 3 All-Star appearances, 3 gold gloves and a silver slugger and yeah, there you have it.

Drafted 5th overall by the Jays in the 1997 Amateur draft, Wells quickly rose up the Jays ladder and by the end of 2002 was the Blue Jays full-time centre-fielder and outside a few injury-riddled seasons has provided the Jays a ton of value with plus defense and good power from a premium position.  Since 2003 Wells has hit 23, 33, 23, 28, 32, 16, 20, 15, 22 HRs respectively and owns a very solid .472 SLG% for his career.  Outside of his massive contract extension, Vernon Wells has been one of the greatest Blue Jays to ever play.

#4 – SS Tony Fernandez, born June 30th, 1962 in San Pedro de Macoris, D.R.  Tony played 12 seasons (off and on) with 1450 games, 1583 hits, 704 runs, 613 RBIs and 172 SBs.

Not including the all-time Jays leader in hits would be a disgrace to one of the most loyal, hard working and beloved Blue Jays of all time in Tony Fernandez.  Fernandez ranks 1st in game played 1st in total hits, 4th in runs scored, 6th in RBIs, 4th in BBs, 4th in stolen bases and has a 297/353/412 triple slash line with the Jays.  Impressive statistics for a middle infielder in the late 1980s and early 1990s Fernandez was a 5 time All-star and 4 time gold glove winner and had three different (successful) stints with the team over his 17 year playing career.

Signed by the team in 1979 as a 17-year old out of the Dominican Republic Fernandez was the Jays fulltime starting shortstop by 1985 and one of the most consistent and steady contributors on and off the field before being dealt away in 1990 (with Fred McGriff for Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar) before the ‘Championship’ years, that deal was integral for the Jays two titles (obviously) that has to be worth a few extra brownie points. 

#3 – 1B Carlos Delgado, born June 25th, 1972 in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico.  Delgado played 12 seasons with 1423 games, 1413 hits, 336 homeruns, 1058 RBIs and 889 runs scored.  Ranking 1st in homeruns, RBIs, extra-base hits, run scored, total bases, on-base & slugging percentage and base on balls over a span of 12 extremely productive seasons (including two MVP seasons in 2000 and 2003, damned the writers) with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Signed by the team out of Puerto Rico as a 16 year old Delgado came up through the system as a top catching prospect but was quickly moved full-time to first base as it became evident the bat was too valuable to waste on a player with borderline defensive capabilities as a backstop.  Delgado burst onto the Toronto sports scene as a 22 year old in 1994 with 9 HRs in the final month or so of the season and all signs pointed to him becoming the teams fulltime starting first basemen the next season in 1995 but Delgado struggled out of the gate and it was not until 1996 that he finally took over for good.

Delgado never looked back and was the Jays best hitter year after year and now in franchise history, since 1996 he has cranked 25, 30, 38, 44, 41, 39, 33, 43 and 32 homeruns respectively, all while drawing his fair share of free passes, playing adequate defense at first and managing to stay out of the whole steroids controversy. 

Delgado put together an MVP calibre season in the 2000 season batting 344/470/664 with 57 doubles, 41 HRs and 137 RBIs but finished 4th in voting (behind two admitted steroid users Jason Giambi and Alex Rodriguez).  In 2003 he hit a robust 302/426/593 with 42 HRs and 145 RBIs and finished 2nd in the MVP vote to, you guessed it, Alex Rodriguez (just more reasons for Jays’ fans to dislike him).

Delgado was a monster for the Blue Jays and the best hitter to ever play for the team, by a wide margin.  Delgado was not re-signed when his contract ran out and the Jays were experiencing severe budgetary limitations, however after his departure he still went on to have four more extremely productive power seasons (33, 38, 23 & 38 HRs) until chronic injuries eventually caught up with him though he recently signed with the Boston Red Sox on a tryout basis.

#2 – SP Roy Halladay, born May 14th, 1977 in Denver, Colorado.

#1 – SP Dave Stieb, born July 22nd, 1957 in Santa Ana, California.

Halladay or Stieb – was there any doubt in who would battle it out for the top spot in Blue Jays history?  These are the two preeminent players in franchise history who have now become the benchmark to which young Blue Jays hurlers are compared to.  Halladay was drafted in the 1st round in 1998 (15th overall) while Stieb was drafted in the 5th round in 1978.  Stieb found almost instant success, Halladay had to be remade.  Stieb was a fly ball pitcher; Halladay was a ground ball pitcher.  Stieb was more guts than stuff; Halladay is the model of pitching efficiency and mechanics. 

Though Dave Stieb was a poor man’s version of Jack Morris and Roy Halladay is on an almost certain path to Hall of Fame greatness, they were both great, for the Toronto Blue Jays.  Stieb was a 7-time All-Star, ditto Halladay however ‘Doc’ also took home a Cy Young Award and was close on several other occasions.

Take a look at some numbers and how the two stack up against each other:

  GS IP W-L WIN% ERA ERA+ FIP CG/SHO WHIP
Stieb 408 2873.0 175-134 .566 3.42 123 4.12 103/30 1.24
Halladay 287 2046.2 148-76 .661 3.43 133 3.45 49/15 1.19

 

Some of their other ratio’s compared:

  H/9 K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9 K-BB
Stieb 8.0 5.2 3.2 1.6 0.70 2.0
Halladay 8.8 6.6 2.0 3.3 0.76 4.6

 

 This of course is not to argue who the best overall pitcher is, as that is a competition easily won by Roy Halladay, one of the best pitchers of the past 25 years, but more to argue which pitcher in fact contributed more to the Blue Jays organization during their respective tenure with the team.  For this list, considering that Stieb started 121 more games, pitched 826+ more innings (roughly 4 seasons worth of innings for Halladay based on his track record) and won 27 more ballgames than Roy Halladay I have to rank Dave Stieb as the best all-time Blue Jays pitcher (and player) in team history, though it was obviously not an easy selection.  Historical WAR numbers peg Stieb worth approx 50 wins above replacement while Halladay put up around 55 wins above replacement during his time with the Blue Jays.   

Roy Halladay’s overall excellence and superior statistics to Stieb all while pitching in the “steroid era” rank him an extremely close second.  Halladay pitched in an exceptionally more difficult offensive environment against far superior versions of the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox and in an era where complete games have gone by the waist side threw a complete game 17% of his starts, Stieb was roughly 25% in an era that promoted the pitcher finishing what he started.  Halladay’s incomparable stats across the board almost tilted the ranking in his favour and Roy’s winning percentage of .661 alone was almost enough to give him the nod, almost.

So there you have it, my top five All-Time Toronto Blue Jays players are 5) Vernon Wells, 4) Tony Fernandez, 3) Carlos Delgado, 2) Roy Halladay and #1 was Dave Stieb.

Up next I will take a look at the Top Five Athletes in Toronto Sports history, with the list based around talent and overall greatness with less emphasis on tenure alone.

All sports fans love to reminisce to the good old days, maybe it was a better period or span of time for their favourite or local team or quite possibly it was just a simpler and more carefree time in their own lives.  Whatever the reasons nothing gets the argumentative juices flowing like a good old-fashioned ‘All-Time Top 5’ list – let’s get our own going.

I decided to embark on a new five-part series in which we will debate and argue the merits of the top five Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors and Toronto Blue Jays as well as the top five overall athletes in Toronto sports history and finally as a contrast we will do the top ten athletes currently residing in the ‘Big Smoke’.  Feel free to comment and please post your own opinion on any of the top five lists, I am sure there will be seriously differing opinions across the board and people definitely place a different emphasis on things like winning, personal stats and overall impact on the city.

Part I – Top 5 Maple Leafs of all time

Part II – Top 5 Raptors of all time

Part III – Top 5 Blue Jays of all time

Part IV – Top 5 Toronto Sports Athletes of all time

Part V – Top 10 Current Toronto Athletes

Let’s get to the fun.

Part II – Top Five All-Time Toronto Raptors

The junior franchise among the majors in Toronto, the Raptors have none the less given Toronto sports fans a lot of good/bad times, meaningful basketball mixed with some pretty obsolete seasons and boasts a pretty solid resume of basketball talent that has come and gone.  The team was established in 1995 and played their original seasons (and three more seasons) at the cavernous Skydome (aka Rogers Centre). 

The team has gone through a lot over the past 15 years including a monumental (for us) upset against the Chicago Bulls (during the Bulls run to another title and the 72-10 win-loss season), let’s just assume the Bulls had a great night on the town before playing that game, score an assist to the Toronto night life for that one!  Vin-sanity’s rise and fall, Chris Bosh and Bryan Colangelo, and the ever-growing record three-point field goal record.  The Raptors have been a very solid drafting team and can boast 8 First team “All-rookies” in Damon Stoudemire (1996), Marcus Camby (1997), Vince Carter (1999), Morris Peterson (2001), Chris Bosh (2004), Charlie Villanueva (2006), Andre Bargnani (2007) and Jorge Garbajosa  (2007).

Let’s just say the Toronto Raptors have had a tumultuous fifteen plus seasons and with the recent departure of Chris Bosh, a whole new franchise game plan is about to be implemented.  Let’s take a look at the five greatest Toronto Raptors contributors since the year 1995:

#5 – PG Damon Stoudamire, born September 3rd, 1973 in Portland, Oregon.  Ranks #7 in Raptors scoring, #3 in assists (2.5 seasons, 271 games, 5142 points, 2341 assists).

Potentially a strange inclusion on an all-time list consider the player was only with the Raptors for 2.5 seasons, but the impact felt by ‘Mighty Mouse’ still resonates and outside of Vince Carter was the most exciting Raptor of all time.  The former Arizona Wildcat standout was drafted with the first ever Toronto Raptors draft selection (7th overall) by GM Isiah Thomas who was enamoured with the quick but slight point guard.  Stoudamire had an outstanding rookie campaign for the Raps setting the record for three-point field goals made by a rookie with 133 (record since broken), ranked third in NBA history for assists per game by a rookie (9.3). 

Stoudamire went on to win the NBA Rookie of the Year (the shortest man to ever do so) and the team appeared to be in the right hands for a resurgence and hopeful quick rise to prominence for the expansion franchise.  In his next season, Stoudamire played a Raptors record (to this day) 3311 minutes and averaged 20.2 PPG, 8.8 APG and 4.1 RPG and still holds Raptors records for most assists in a season (709), assist per game (8.8) and minutes per game (41).

Tired of the constant losing, the final straw for Stoudamire was when Isiah Thomas had a falling out with ownership after a failed power play to gain controlling interest in the budding franchise, Stoudamire was shipped out on February 13th, 2010 to the Portland Trail Blazers for Kenny Anderson, Alvin Williams, Gary Trent, two 1st round draft picks, a 2nd round draft pick and cash.  Things quickly went south for Mighty Mouse and his career spiraled downwards after departing Toronto, run-ins with the law for a marijuana charge and plummeting overall stats, Stoudamire even admitted that leaving Toronto in hindsight was probably a mistake.

A spoiled brat upon his departure? Yes. But one of the most impactful Raptors in franchise history, even with only 2.5 years? As a day one Raptors fan, I say yes. Based on overall impact on the franchise (and assets we received in return) he just beats out potential top-fivers Antonio Davis, Alvin Williams, Tracy McGrady and Charles Oakley.

#4 – PG Jose Calderon, born September 28th, 1981 in Villanueva de la Serena, Spain.  All-time franchise leader in assists (5 seasons, 359 G, 2364 assists) and amazing 4.1 assist/turnover ratio.

I can already feel the eye rolls and sarcastic remarks as you wonder how this ‘overpaid bum’ could ever rank on a greatest all-time Toronto Raptors piece, but fact is, Calderon has put up five pretty impressive seasons as the Raptors main point or backup point guard.  The franchise’s all-time leader in assists and assist/turnover ratio Calderon’s career averages (all with the Raptors) as a starter have been even more impressive (33.3 MPG, 12.2 PPG/8.3 APG/3.0 RPG), he is currently the 8th leading scorer in Raptor’s franchise history also.

Calderon, standing 6’3″ and weighing 210 pounds played six season as a professional in Europe and was signed by the infamous Rob Babcock on August 3rd, 2005.  Known as a pass-first, low-turnover playmaker, Calderon has also proved to be an effective overall shooter (49.6% FG), solid range (38.7 3P%) and of course one of the best free-throw shooters in the game (87.8% FG) having set an NBA record for free-throw shooting (98.1%) in 2008/2009.

Injuries have taken their toll on the Raptors efficient Spaniard point-guard (a curse of the Raptors) and his lacklustre on the ball defense has been much maligned, but fact is for a relatively baby franchise, a player who is the all-time assist leader and in the top eight in scoring all the while being a great teammate and unselfish ballplayer, Jose Calderon belongs on this list.  How much longer he actually remains in Toronto of course remains to be seen as a rumoured deal sending Calderon to Charlotte fell through in the much discussed fiasco involving Michael Jordan and the Bobcats.

#3 – SF Morris Peterson, August 26th, 1977 in Flint, Michigan.  Currently ranks #1 in all-time games played, #2 in minutes, #3 in all-time scoring and #4 in all-time rebounding (7 seasons, 544 games, 6500 points, 2064 rebounds).

Playing at the basketball crazy factory known as Michigan St under legendary head coach Tom Izzo, “MoPete” helped the Spartans [Mich St] win a National Championship in 2000  leading the team in scoring, field-goal percentage and free-throw percentage and was subsequently selected 21st overall in the 2000 NBA Draft by the Toronto Raptors.  Peterson quickly became a Raptors fan favourite for his gritty workman like style (371 consecutive games played between February 12th, 2002 and November 22nd, 2006) and all-around effective style.

Peterson is all over the Raptors all-time rankings as we noted, to summarize he ranks #1 in games, #2 in minutes, #3 in points scored and #4 in rebounding.  Peterson had a penchant for big-time shots at crucial times and he was always good for ridiculous half court heaves from time to time.  He made the NBA All-Rookie team in 2001 and #24 remains a popular player in the Toronto basketball scene.  It would seem ludicrous for MoPete not to be on this list and his overall game, longevity and numbers places him firmly amongst the Raptors greatest in my opinion.

#2 – PF Chris Bosh, born March 24th, 1984 in Dallas, Texas.  Basically re-wrote the Raptors record books, the franchise’s all-time leader in scoring, rebounding, blocked shots and minutes.

Drafted 4th overall in 2003 by the Toronto Raptors in what some call the greatest NBA draft class of all-time featuring Lebron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony Bosh took his lanky and long frame to Canada’s lone franchise and would eventually establish records for essentially every major statistical category.  For his rookie season, Bosh averaged 11.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 33.5 minutes in 75 games leading all rookies in rebounding and blocked shots and was named to the All-Rookie team.

Bosh also helped fans forget about the ugly divorce between then hero Vince Carter and the team and was anointed the new face of the franchise and really, Chris never looked back taking the reigns and putting up huge individual numbers though outside of a division title in 2006/2007 never could lead the team to the next level in the post-season.  A five-time all-star Bosh is the all-time franchise leader in points scored, defensive rebounds, offensive rebounds, total rebounds and RPG, blocks, free-throws made and double-double’s.

More discussion on Bosh located here, for whatever reason and whomever the Raptors brought into town (Jermaine O’Neal, Hedo Turkuglu, TJ Ford, Jason Kapono, Jarret Jack) it just never seemed to click with Bosh as the franchise player and he eventually opted out of his contract and ended up with the Miami Heat where both Dwayne Wade and Lebron James are members of the now infamous and hated team in South Beach.

So how could the all-time leader in basically everything Raptors not be its top all-time player?  Because the man at the top of the list was simply the best player to ever don the uniform and essentially put Toronto basketball on the map and at one point was considered among the games best players and a guy who fans will never ever forget.

#1 – SG Vince Carter, born January 26th, 1977 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  4th all-time in games played, 3rd all-time in minutes, 2nd in scoring, highest point-per-game and highest PPG in a season (actually owns the top three in that category).

Vincent Lamar Carter, aka Vin-sanity had the entire city of Toronto at his feet beginning in 1998 after being drafted 5th overall by the Golden State Warriors and quickly flipped to the Raptors for the 4th overall pick Antawn Jamison.   Carter’s rookie season was shortened by the NBA lock-out in 1999 and Vince started basically every game for head coach Butch Carter averaging 18.3 points per game and eventually won the NBA Rookie of the Year award. 

The very next year Carter was selected to the All-Star team and averaged 25.7 ppg, made the 3rd team All-NBA team and captivated the entire world after winning the greatest NBA Slam Dunk contest in history at the 2000 All-Star game with an array of high-flying, gravity defying throw-downs.  In 2000/2001 Carter averaged a career high 27.6 ppg, made the All-Star team and was voted to the 2nd team All-NBA team all the while leading the Raptors to its greatest season with 47 regular season wins.

In the playoffs, the Raptors beat the New York Knicks (3-2) and advanced the Eastern Conference Sem-Final, where they took the Philadelphia 76ers to a decisive seventh game, the same day Vince decided to attend his North Carolina university graduation ceremony and after missing a game-winning shot with 2 seconds remaining was heavily criticized by the ultra tough Toronto media on his decision to attend the ceremony.

However, the team was doing well on the court and raking it in off the court with the NBAs top draw and most exciting player Vince Carter firmly in tow, and the team rewarded Carter in the summer of 2001 with a MAX 94 million/six-year contract extension to what both parties hoped would be a successful marriage.  One could say that this was the proverbial beginning of the end for both Carter and the franchise and the next few years would prove painful (literally) for the team and the injury prone shooting guard.

Over the next three seasons Carter played 60, 43 and 73 games respectively and the chinks in the once bullet-proof Carter were starting to become very apparent in Raptor land.  Questions arose about his toughness, hustle and bad defense league wide and it all came to a head in 2004 when Carter became disenchanted with the direction of the franchise and in the 2004/2005 season suddenly stopped driving the hoop, swore off dunking and basically played like a sieve, giving up on the team.  Carter averaged 15.9 points in 30.4 minutes for the Raptors and upon being dealt to the New Jersey Nets on December 17th, 2004 (for Alonzo Mourning, Eric Williams, Aaron Williams and two future 1st round picks) went on to average 27.5 points in 38.9 minutes per game, a pretty stark difference.

Carter even reference the marked difference in his play after the trade in an early January interview with TNTs John Thompson that he didn’t always push himself in Toronto.  The fan base in Toronto felt betrayed and letdown and considering the team didn’t add a single tangible asset for the greatest player in its history, it also set the franchise back several years.  Carter is still roundly booed upon his return to the ACC.

So why Carter?  As painful as it is to admit, Vince Carter was Toronto basketball, the team never had more success than during the Vin-sanity tenure and individually Vince was the greatest player to ever play for the team, period.  During the height of his popularity, people often included Carter in talks for the games greatest player, and on countless occasions Vince literally put the team on his back and was almost single-handedly responsible for some of the best Raptors basketball in team history, and for those reasons I have to rank Vince Carter as the greatest Toronto Raptor of all time.

All sports fans love to reminisce to the good old days, maybe it was a better period or span of time for their favourite or local team or quite possibly it was just a simpler and more carefree time in their own lives.  Whatever the reasons nothing gets the argumentative juices flowing like a good old fashioned ‘All-Time Top 5’ list – let’s get our own going.

I decided to embark on a new five part series in which we will debate and argue the merits of the top five Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors and Toronto Blue Jays as well as the top five overall athletes in Toronto sports history and finally as a contrast we will do the top ten athletes currently residing in the ‘Big Smoke’.  Feel free to comment and please post your own opinion on any of the top five lists, I am sure there will be seriously differing opinions across the board and people definitely place a different emphasis on things like winning, personal stats and overall impact on the city.

Part I – Top 5 Maple Leafs of all time

Part II – Top 5 Raptors of all time

Part III – Top 5 Blue Jays of all time

Part IV – Top 5 Toronto Sports Athletes of all time

Part V – Top 10 Current Toronto Athletes

Let’s get to the fun.

Part I – Top 5 Toronto Maple Leafs of all time

The most storied franchise not only in Toronto and hockey history but I feel it safe to assume also among sports history, the Toronto Maple Leafs.  With the widest fan base in Canada and probably North America it is not uncommon to see even the Florida Panthers arena completely filled with crazy screaming Maple Leafs fans.  The Leafs even make up close to a majority of total seats in tilts against its Canadian based franchise rivals, besides in le belle province where the Canadiens fans do a pretty solid job scooping up available tickets.

I argued my top five list with a colleague at work as his top five only included Stanley Cup champions while mine was basically just the greatest singular talents not necessarily with the prerequisite of having won a championship.  There are no right and wrong answers to this question and I expect to see a lot of heated arguments and great debate on who you think is the most appropriate top five. 

Without further ado, here is Toronto+ Sports Blog top five Toronto Maple Leafs of all time:

#5 – LW Wendel Clark, born October 25th, 1966 in Kelvington, Saskatchewan.

Potentially the most controversial member of my top five, Clark brought so many intangibles to the Maple Leafs night after night that his inclusion on my list was mandatory.  Clark was heart and soul personified and no other Maple Leaf inspired an entire fan base at a time when the team’s interest and passion was waning, and Clark literally wore his heart on his sleeve. 

Oh, and the kid could play some hockey.  If Brian Burke had access to a fountain of youth I would have to think he would bring back Wendel Clark, the prototypical power forward.  He could change a game as much with his physical presence and absolutely jarring body checks as he could with his soft hands and absolutely deadly wrist shot.  If you weren’t near tears (with pins and needles) when Clark came to the aid of Doug Gilmour when Marty McSorley flattened him in the playoffs, you have no soul my friend and I could have breathed fired at that moment in time and that is why Clark must be on this list.

Injuries prevented Wendel Clark from becoming one of the game’s best power forwards as his body failed him numerous times in his career, likely a result and culmination of his rugged style of play.  Clark burst onto the Toronto scene in 1985/86 with 34 goals and 227 PIMs, regularly taking on all of the toughest players of his era, and more than likely coming out of the battle on top with his huge right hand.

Everybody remembers the playoff runs of 1992-1994 with Doug Gilmour and the boys and Clark had his best overall season in 1993-94 when in only 64 regular season goals tallied 46 goals, with a full and healthy season Clark could have potentially netted 60 goals that year.  Wendel Clark also helped Toronto in another regard, in the trade game.  Fans were devastated upon learning that the teams Captain and heart and soul player was dealt in June of 1994, but without this trade, this top five Maple Leafs lists would be quite different as the trade netted one of the greatest players in team history.

There might be more deserving players overall statistically speaking but in terms of what Wendel meant to a city and team going through one of the worst era’s (Ballard) in history, the way he rose to prominence and re-energized an entire fan base, nobody will ever forget him or the 11 seasons he played here.

What a beauty!

#4 – C Dave Keon, born March 22nd, 1940 in Noranda, Quebec. 3rd all time scoring leader (1062 GP, 365 G, 493 A – 858 pts)

Nobody gets instant respect easier or quicker than Dave Keon when mentioning his name among Leafs fans of all ages and was known as a true warrior, leader and ultimate team player.  Keon joined the Maple Leafs in 1960/61 and won the Calder Trophy (rookie of the year) after netting 20 goals and 45 points in his rookie season.

He led the Leafs in scoring in 1963/64, 1966/67 and 1969/70 and led the team in goals in 1970/71 and 1972/73 all while earning a reputation among the players, coaches and fans as a shutdown defensive centre who would routinely be matched up against the other teams top line.  Keon also won four Stanley Cups with the Leafs playing an integral part as the leader of the 61/62, 62/63, 63/64 and of course the infamous 1966/67 season – the last time the Leafs have hoisted Lord Stanley’s mug.

Named captain in 1969 (succeeding George Armstrong) and Keon played 14 total seasons until Harold Ballard publicly blasted him Keon which has led to a falling out with the team that still lingers and stings Keon to this day, he even turned down an invitation to attend the closing ceremonies of Maple Leaf Gardens in 1999.

An 8-time all-star, rookie of the year (1961), Lady Byng winner (1962, 1963), Conn Smythe winner (playoff MVP in 1967) and inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1968.  Dave Keon is a welcome and warranted addition to any top five Maple Leafs lists in my opinion.

#3 – C Darryl Sittler, born September 18th, 1950 in Kitchener, Ontario.  2nd all time leading scorer (844 GP, 389 G, 527 A – 916 pts)

Darryl Sittler came into the NHL in 1970/71 and slowly acclimated himself to the pro game in his first two seasons with more limited minutes on a veteran hockey club that was only three years removed from winning a Stanley Cup, tallying 10 and 15 goals respectively.  By the 1972/73 season Sittler was becoming the team’s top scorer after scoring 29 goals and putting up 77 total points.

Sittler was great because of his consistent offensive output, the guy was a scoring machine and his point totals beginning with that 72/73 season and over the next eight seasons with the Maple Leafs were 77, 84, 80, 100, 90, 117, 87, 97 and 96 – amazing.  Sittler will of course always be remembered for his famous 10-point night (6 goals, 4 assists) versus the Boston Bruins on February 7th, 1976.

Another Maple Leaf who was run out of town by Harold Ballard and basically given away for nothing to the Philadelphia Flyers.  Sittler always held himself with great class and is still among the most popular Leafs players in franchise history and an alumnus with a visible presence with the Maple Leafs to this day.

#2 – C  Mats Sundin, born February 13th, 1971 in Bromna, Sweden.  Top scorer in franchise history (981 GP, 420 G, 567 A – 987 pts)

Sorry to any Mats Sundin haters out there but big Mats was simply an outstanding Toronto Maple Leaf for his entire tenure and one of the best players in the history of the game in my humble opinion.  Sundin, while not to be confused with Wendel Clark in terms of physical play stood a massive 6’5” and weighed in at 231 pounds, and he used every inch of that frame to gain the necessary space to put up the most points in Maple Leafs franchise history.

Did you know for his entire career (QUE, TOR, VAN) Sundin put up an amazing 1349 points in 1346 games and outscored players such as Denis Savard, Mike Gartner, Pierre Turgeon, Jeremy Roenick, Jean Beliveau, Bobby Clarke and Bobby Hull.  In fact, only 25 players in NHL history have amassed more points in their career’s than Mats Sundin – he was an amazing player.

Often criticized for not taking the Leafs to the next level, Sundin had eight playoff runs with the Leafs and in 67 total playoff games with the team scored 32 goals and put up 70 points all while basically putting the team on his back.  The team was always top 5 in payroll but for one of the richest franchise in all of sports never really “went for it” in one season to give Sundin and the Leafs the best overall chance the win the title.

Sundin, acquired in 1994 in the now famous Wendel Clark trade was classy to the end and one of the biggest gripes fans have had with him is that he was basically “too loyal”, when he refused to be a rent-a-player during the 2007/08 season.  Admittedly, while it was definitely annoying to hear about his on-again, off-again career in his post Leafs days, I for one have no beef with anything Sundin ever did in his tenure as the greatest forward in Maple Leafs history.  Named captain after Doug Gilmour’s departure in 1996/97, Sundin led by example and with a quiet dignity that commanded respect until his last season with the Leafs in 2007/08.

I think when we look back in ten to fifteen years Sundin might honestly be remember as quite possibly the greatest Leafs to ever don the uniform, however, without the top man on my top five list, his career might have never been.

#1 – D Borje Salming, born April 17th, 1951 in Kiruna, Sweden.  4th overall in all-time franchise points (#1 amongst defenseman with 1099 GP, 148 G, 620 A – 768 points)

Nicknamed “The King” Borje Salming was one of the premier defensemen of his era and was the first European born player to make a big impact in the NHL as well as the top scoring defensemen in Leafs history, ranks first on my list for all-time greatest Toronto Maple Leafs.  Salming’s amazing 620 assists still ranks #1 in Maple Leafs history and outside 49 games played for the Detroit Red Wings, Salming played his entire 17 season career in blue & white.

After making the all-star squad of the 1973 World Championship the Toronto Maple Leafs signed Salming as a free agent for the 1973/74 season and he scored 39 points and an impressive (plus 38 +/-) in his rookie season and was voted the Leafs rookie of the year.  In sixteen seasons with the Leafs Salming put up 768 total points and was among the game’s best defensemen and one of the most popular players in Leafs history.

Carrying the torch for aspiring European born players was never easy and Salming was constantly finding himself as the target of opposing players and fans.  Often referred to as “Chicken Swede”, however Salming, was a fearless player and that reputation and misconception quickly faded.  Salming played in the rough and tumble 1970s and he remembers his visits to Philadelphia where he was quoted “you would even stay away from the boards because they would try to grab you and yell at you”.  Salming was built like a mack truck (and is still in great shape in his late 50s) and never shied away from the constant attention and attempted physical (often cheap) intimidation.

For Salming to have persevered through all of the negative elements and stereotypes that accompany the “foreigner” and still put up the type of numbers he did for the Maple Leafs is simply astounding.  In 1996 he became the first Swedish born hockey player to be inducted in the Hall of Fame and in 1998 he was ranked 74th on “The Hockey News” list of the 100 greatest hockey players.

So there you have it, my top five Maple Leafs were 5) Wendel Clark, 4) Dave Keon, 3) Darryl Sittler, 2) Mats Sundin and #1 was Borje Salming.  Let’s hear what you have to say about this list and your own personal top five lists as I am sure there is some strong opinion out there in Leaf land.

Stay tuned for the next instalment where I will breakdown the top five Toronto Raptors of all-time – that should be a fun list!

Post your own Top Five in the comments section…

Cue the cheesy theme song as it is time for everybody’s favorite game as today we will have a look at four different pitchers, three of whom have relatively similar stat sets and one who looks like he doesn’t quite measure up, without further ado let’s play ‘Can You Name That Player’?

  IP H ER HR BB K ERA FIP BABIP
Player A 318 335 162 48 73 272 4.58 4.03 308*
Player B 235 207 98 26 43 256 3.75 2.87 300*
Player C 229.1 192 80 27 38 223 3.14 3.23 280
Player D 229.1 195 55 11 51 242 2.16 2.33 309

*approximated

At first glance my first thought is Player A could potentially be an old-timer from a different era when you look at the innings pitched, a whopping 318, not even the modern day ironman Roy Halladay could approach that lofty total without either his arm falling off or his pitching coach being arrested.  If I didn’t already know the answer my guess for Player A would have been someone like Phil Niekro based on all evidence.

Here are some more clues:

  FIP K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9 WHIP
Player A 4.03 7.7 2.1 3.7 1.35 1.28
Player B 2.87 9.8 1.6 5.6 0.99 1.06
Player C 3.23 8.7 1.5 5.8 1.06 1.00
Player D 2.33 9.5 2.0 4.7 0.43 1.07

 

Player B appears to have strong peripherals across the board but for some reason his ERA has not reflected his true talent level.  Player C looks to be one of the better pitchers in the game and Player D is very obvious to me (I owned him in a few fantasy league’s and it’s hard to hide that ERA and amazing overall season from 2009).

Ok, now that you are on the edge of your seat I will reveal the pitchers identity in reverse order.  I would hope most of you ascertained Player D is of course Zack Greinke (circa 2009), just look at that season and marvel, it’s almost mind boggling and he tops this foursome in ERA, HR/9 and FIP.  Player C is none other than Anaheim Angel’s new toy Dan Haren (circa 2009) who had another fantastic season, leading this group in K/BB and WHIP.

Player B has some of the strongest overall peripherals in this all-star group of pitchers, a tidy 1.6 BB/9 and 5.6 K/BB, the highest strikeout rate (9.8 K/9), a phenomenal WHIP (1.06) and the second best mark in terms of suppressing the homerun (0.99 HR/9), however his ERA does not reflect what his peripherals suggest.  That sentence might be written in his pitching obituary when he decides to hang them up and of course Player B is none other than Ricky Nolasco.

What would ‘Can You Name That Player’ be without a twist thrown into the mix?  Player A and Player B are of course, the same pitcher, however Player B is actually Ricky Nolasco’s second half splits over the past three seasons while Player A encompasses the first half splits over the same time period.  When glancing at the above charts Player B appears to be one of the best pitchers in baseball and even stacks up stat-for-stat with the pitcher/robot known as “Zack Greinke 2009”, while Player A looks like he doesn’t even belong in this group. 

Nolasco (2nd half version) struck out more batter per nine innings, walked fewer and had a lower WHIP than “Super Greinke 2009” who had one of the finest seasons a pitcher has had in the past 10-15 years and produced an insane 9.4 WAR, let that sink in for a minute.  Perhaps the Florida Marlins should extend Nolasco’s spring training each year, by about three months. 

Nolasco has long been the poster boy for sabermetricians as he has consistently put up very impressive peripherals (K/9, BB/9, K/BB, FIP etc) but has seemingly underachieved in actual results (ERA, WHIP etc).  We have all waited for the breakout season to come where his ends would match up to the means or he would at the very least put together one full season of consistent pitching without the 1st-half swoon and 2nd-half tear syndrome.  Honestly, how does a pitchers best overall season when considering FIP, xFIP, K/9 and WAR also produce a 5.06 ERA?

Maybe there is something telling in his pitch profile, he is armed with a four pitch arsenal that he obviously commands extremely well, here is how often he throws each pitch:

YEAR FB SL CB SP
2008 51.6% (91.2) 15.8% (83.9) 26.8% (75.0) 4.5% (83.0)
2009 51.5% (91.5) 24.8% (83.7) 14.5% (75.4) 9.2% (84.5)
2010 49.0% (91.1) 23.1% (84.6) 16.0% (75.5) 11.9%(85.0)

 

Here is the effectiveness of each pitch (Runs above average per 100 pitches thrown, a higher number means a more effective pitch:

YEAR FB SL CB SP
2008 0.29 0.80 1.31 -1.27
2009 -1.01 1.94 0.11 1.95
2010 -0.74 0.96 1.11 -0.55

 

The fastball velocity has remained extremely consistent and like most pitchers who don’t throw overly hard (or induce a lot of ground balls, career 39% GB rate) has shown a negative run value when using it and it is clear he merely shows the fastball to set-up his off-speed and breaking pitches to put hitters away.  It is hard to say if there has been any coding errors (for pitch type) over the past three seasons when considering the slider and splitter as they both act similar and are thrown with nearly the same velocity. 

The curveball was utilized 26.8% of the time in 2008 but it appears over the past two seasons Nolasco has preferred the slider as he has increased his usage of the slider by 8-9% and in terms of run value this pitch has been one of his most effective offerings.  The curveball has been thrown 16.0% of the time in 2010 and has shown a very positive run value when he has used it over the past three seasons.

Nolasco’s usage of the split finger fastball has increased each season and in 2010 is being thrown 11.9% of the time and it has shown the biggest variance in terms of run value over the past three years.  Early in 2010 (small sample size) it was easily his worst offering but as his season has started to come around (closer to his peripherals) so has the splitter become more effective.  Perhaps there is a correlation between the success of his splitter and the overall success to his game.  Last season the splitter was worth 1.95 runs above average per 100 pitches thrown and that is a career mark for any of his pitches, so maybe there is something there?

Let’s take a peek at some pitch f/x data for his latest dominating performance on August 17th, 2010 vs. the Pirates 109 pitches over 6 shutout innings including 9 strikeouts:

As you can see, it is probaby hard to get comfortable against Nolasco when standing in the batter’s box.  His pitches have such differering movements that visually it must be a nightmare to pick up the baseball consistently.  Nolasco has managed to get hitters to chase his out of zone offerings a solid 33.1% (o-zone %) and his contact rate of 78% and 10.6% swining rate are both solid marks.

 Let’s take a look at the variance in speed combined with vertical and horizontal movement for his last start to further show the difficulties faced by opposing hitters, first velocity and vertical movement:

Now take a look at velocity combined with amount of horizontal movement:

Changing speeds has long been praised as an effective equalizer against opposing hitters and looking at the above graphs you can see the huge variance in not alone velocity and speed but also movement.  Nolasco definitely fits the ‘nasty’ description when describing a tough pitcher to face.  On this particular day Nolasco reached as high as 94 MPH with the four-seam fastball and was clocked as low as 72 MPH on his curveballs all while getting huge movement on most of his offerings.

For a multitude of reasons Ricky Nolasco has become one of the more over-analyzed and frustrating pitchers in the major leagues, he seemingly has all of the tools to be a superstar ace starter but has yet to put together that one breakout season we have been waiting for given the impressive peripherals he puts up year after year.  Will we be comparing him to Javy Vazquez for the rest of his career or will the sieve like first half performances we have seen be something he can eventually overcome? 

It would be intriguing to see because as we just learned ‘Second half’ Ricky Nolasco is one of the best pitchers in baseball, period.

The Toronto Blue Jays have come to terms with their 1st round selection Deck McGuire for a reported $2 million dollar signing bonus, MLB recommended a $1.863 million dollar bonus for the 11th-overall selection so again the Blue Jays paid “over slot” to get the signing consummated.  Blue Jays scouting director Andrew Tinnish used the first selection the Jays owned to draft the 6’6” right hander out of Georgia Tech who has been described by most prospect mavens as a safe-ish selection who has an advanced feel for pitching considering his age and could be a potential workhorse down the line with ‘solid command of his 4-pitch arsenal’. 

However as we have learned projecting the potential career path for a 6’6” righty (or any prospect) has never been an exact science and I think it is a great move that we got McGuire signed before the deadline passed.  Not every scout is sold on his potential and some see him as a number three starter at best, there was even some talk making the rounds that the Blue Jays would simply walk away from McGuire and take their chances in next year’s stronger 2011 draft class however I think in this case the Jays made the smart play as according to my math two is normally greater than one.

If the Jays were holding a top 5-7 pick and they could project with some confidence what player would potentially be available at their selection for next year’s draft they might have taken that road but the draft is supposed to be extremely deep so I think they went with a sound strategy to sign their top selection Deck McGuire and add him to the ever growing stable of quality young arms (you can never have too much pitching in baseball) and you never know what type of development you can expect or how long it will take for each different player to reach the major leagues, if at all.

Furthermore, while looking ahead to the 2011 Amateur draft they will still be picking somewhere in 20s next draft anyway and if it is as deep as most pundits have claimed they will likely not see much of a drop-off in quality (or any) sliding from #11 to #20+, especially with a lot of teams letting more quality prospects slide in favour of picking a player who is more ‘sign-able’, aka cheaper.  All in all the Blue Jays made the best decision for the franchise going forward, whether or not Deck McGuire ever makes a huge impact for the ballclub it is essential to restock your minor league system annually and this is something that has been sorely lacking for the Blue Jays under the JP Ricciardi regime. 

The Blue Jays spent a big but necessary sum of $5.4 million on deadline day to ensure they signed most of their top selections, “I would think strictly for the sheer number of picks in such high areas, that alone, even at standard signing bonuses for every single pick, we were going to reach new highs,” said Anthopoulos. “I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but I’m fairly certain it would be a high-water mark for us.”

According to TSN the first firm offer to McGuire was tabled at around 10:30 p.m., and the sides worked from there, eventually settling at a bonus of $2 million. Griffin Murphy (2nd round) ended up with $800,000, Sam Dyson (4th round) $600,000 and Dickie Thon Jr. (5th round), who was seeking first round money to pass on a scholarship to Rice University, got it $1.5 million. Zak Adams (15th round) and Myles Jaye (17th round) each got $250,000.

“It was definitely right to the last minute,” said Anthopoulos. “Minute might be an understatement. This definitely is the latest we’ve ever gone in terms of a negotiation. Glad to have it done, and glad to have it behind us.”  The players were to be assigned within the organization Tuesday.

This is a huge development for a club that has for the most part obeyed MLB’s slot recommendations and while there is no ‘hard slot’ rule, the team hadn’t veered off that path too often in the past few years.   However to continue competing with the big boys of the AL East (Red Sox and Yankees routinely spend over slot to get top prospects) it is imperative they continue to place an emphasis on scouting and development with the overall focus squarely on the best talent and not just sign-ability.  This year the Blue Jays were able to sign 36 of their 56 picks and Alex Anthopoulos was given the green light to spend as much money as he deemed necessary and the Jays spent a record amount on this draft class.    

If this new draft strategy marks a permanent shift in organizational philosophy going forward I for one am excited for the future prospects (no pun intended) of the Toronto Blue Jays franchise, today was a step in the right direction for the team.

The best I could find for McGuire:

A solid clip of our 2nd round pick Aaron Sanchez:

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On the surface the Toronto Blue Jays decision to move Roy Halladay when they did made perfect sense, aside from losing the best player to ever don the Jays uniform it was widely agreed upon that this was going to be a year of rebuilding and to get some tangible assets for Doc going forward was a no-brainer.  Like I mentioned in my piece about Jose Bautista at the trade deadline, the improvement (or arrival) of a team is not linear in the sense that you can almost never anticipate with any degree of certainty when a team has officially turned a corner, or arrived.

Playing in the AL East certainly makes that prediction or projection that much tougher and this piece isn’t meant to be a criticism for the Blue Jays trading Halladay but rather a look at a franchise that is clearly on the rise and what this season could have looked like if the Jays just hung on to their ace.  First, I think the Jays definitely made the right decision and I applaud the due diligence and determination of our rookie GM Alex Anthopoulos for leaving no stone unturned in his pursuit to get the best possible deal for our franchise pitcher, but today we will have a little hypothetical fun.

The Blue Jays by most respected baseball insiders got a solid package of talent when they acquired SP Kyle Drabek, C Travis D’Arnaud and Michael Taylor Brett Wallace CF Anthony Gose and I would have to agree with that consensus.  The lack of a dominating K-rate for Drabek is slightly disconcerting and I think his stock has dropped ever so slightly since the beginning of the season though the kid has pitched a no-hitter (who hasn’t this year?) and his minor league splits show a very solid ground-ball rate, maybe it is fair to say he is now rated to be a potential Matt Garza as opposed to Josh Beckett.

Again, the package we received was fair and D’Arnaud and Gose are both very intriguing young hitters with Gose having the potential to be a fairly high-impact defender in centre field, always a valuable commodity in today’s game.  This isn’t to dissect or discuss the Roy Halladay trade but to determine what type of season the Jays could have had with Halladay still on the team given that the three assets we received for him are not likely to make much (or any) impact to our team for this current season.

Roy Halladay continues to pitch like a man possessed as he is ranked #1 in terms of WAR accumulated this season on Fangraphs, are we (as Jays fans) surprised in the least that Roy is the best pitcher in the game?                                                

Halladay IPs ERA xFIP K/BB BB/9 WHIP WAR
2010 193 2.24 2.82 7.9 1.03 1.01 6.3
MLB Rank 1st 3rd 1st 2nd 2nd 5th 1st

 

Pretty much par for the course for our beloved Halladay but the category we will focus on for this piece will be WAR, where Halladay is currently ranked at the top of the league (in the year of the pitcher part deux) with a very impressive 6.3 mark currently.  WAR of course stands for ‘Wins above replacement’ so the number of wins that said player contributes over and above a replacement level player (think Vicente Padilla) it is a great way to see how much value he would truly add (well, close enough anyway) without giving ridiculous claims of 18-20 wins because Roy even on his off days helps us pitch complete games. 

Toronto’s record currently sits at 62-55 which is impressive considering the league and more specifically the division we play in, take away our 12-0 record vs. Baltimore and our record vs. AL East is a paltry 12-24.  I think Roy Halladay could have helped us some in that regard given his strong track record against even the toughest AL East foes.  Our starting rotation for most of the season has consisted of the impressive quartet of:

2010 Age IPs GS W-L ERA xFIP
Romero 25 160.0 24 10-7 3.43 3.64
Marcum 28 135.0 22 10-6 3.87 3.95
Morrow 25 127.1 22 9-6 4.45 3.68
Cecil 23 125 20 9-6 3.96 4.14

 

Hard to complain about that group so far this year and the worst ERA of the bunch Brandon Morrow actually has some of the best stuff and peripherals on the staff and definitely possesses a bright future for the team.  However, all season the weakness of the Blue Jays staff has of course been the fifth starter spot, where Jesse Litsch and Dana Eveland have provided little to no value, or better yet ‘replacement’ level pitching.  Ahh, maybe you see where this is heading.

2010 Age IPs GS W-L ERA xFIP
Litsch 25 46.2 9 1-5 5.79 5.46
Eveland 26 44.2 9 3-4 6.45 5.69
Totals – – – 90.4 18 4-9* 6.17 – – –

*Eveland inexplicably had 3 wins while posting a 6.45 ERA so the record should be even more ghastly for the fifth starter spot all things considered.

Roy Halladay has made 25 starts this season and has been worth 6.3 wins above replacement level so for the fun of this exercise we will kindly and optimistically round up to 7.0 (we’ll call it a few extra points for saving the bullpen extra mileage) and we will adjust the Jays record to 69-48, 4 games up on the Red Sox and only 2 games out of a playoff spot, saying Roy Halladay adding 7 wins to the bottom line is not ridiculous, it might even be the low end.

This is of course a rather elementary way of making an adjustment to the Jays overall record as there are a million different factors in play here including who did these 7 wins affect in terms of opponent which potentially could add additional losses to the top teams in our division but it does give you a solid grasp of the knowledge that the Blue Jays with Roy Halladay are most definitely a serious playoff contender.  You could also assume that the Jays would have been buyers, maybe even extremely active buyers at the deadline to shore up any weak spots and add depth for a stretch run further solidifying the roster.

This was all hypothetical (and fun) but it does beg the question: Were the Jays with Halladay a stronger team/contender than the Phillies with Halladay this season?  Perhaps the Jays should have just let Halladay play out his contract year at the risk of losing him for valuable compensatory draft picks at season’s end, though a part of me thinks he likely would have been excited and rejuvenated by the success and buzz the franchise has produced in 2010 thus far.  Another could argue on the other hand if the Phillies would have kept Cliff Lee and still added Roy Halladay that they might have had the greatest 1-2 combo in the history of baseball.

But this is all highly speculative.