Archive for August, 2010

With approximately twelve hours until Tomas Kaberle and his NTC effectively kicks back in, there are no new updates regarding the status of a potential trade. Brian Burke was recently quoted by TSN that “If these offers are all we get…he’s staying put,”.  Only a day after Burke basically tempered our expectations for a Kaberle ‘home run’ type return stating he would definitely consider a more futures oriented package as opposed to a impact roster player for this upcoming season.

Heading into the final few hours it is looking more and more likely that Tomas Kaberle will remain of Toronto Maple Leaf at the conclusion of the day, though I cannot claim any of these reports accurate with any level of certainty they are at least making the rounds:

San Jose Sharks have offered Derek Joslin and a 1st round pick.
*Not sure if this fits at all what the Leafs were hoping to accomplish.

San Jose Sharks have offered Ryane Clowe and a 1st round pick.
*I think if this were true, Brian Burke would have taken it.

DarrenDreger It’s going to be a long day/night. Someone is going to make a deadline day offer the leafs will have to seriously consider. (via twitter approx 1 hour ago).

Los Angeles Kings offered/interested in trading Dustin Brown for Tomas Kaberle and Jay Rosehill
*This rumour has been repeatedly shot down as purely speculation, and we can see why.  Not often do you trade your captain for a potential one year rental and spare part tough guy.

Tampa Bay Lightning reportedly not wanting to part with LW Ryan Malone, a desired commodity for Brian Burke.

Dallas Stars want to shed Mike Ribeiro’s contract and are offering him league wide, unlikely the Leafs want to add this burden, especially going into a Free Agency year with Joe Thornton, Zdeno Charo and others available.

Buffalo Sabres a surprise entry potentially offering Tim Connolly or Drew Stafford, however the Leafs prefer Derek Roy.

Colombus Blue Jackets potentially offering Derek Brassard.

Nobody knows how serious any of the above mentioned teams are in acquiring him but Brian Burke did state that he expected the offers from teams interested to be significantly better come the final couple days, and with today (Sunday) essentially the 25th hour I hope he is right.

Losing a player with the abilities and talents of Chris Bosh is a tough pill to swallow.  Bosh was a gamer and a highly skilled player who was also fiercely competitive, his 24 ppg and 10 rpg is something you do not simply replace.  Chris Bosh was a star player, and in the NBA that means a few things.  First, you get calls (even marginal) and that will send you to the free-throw line, a lot, Bosh had a career high in FTA and FTM last season.  Second, you draw attention and the extra man, which frees up teammates and allows them to get into open space and hopefully take advantage offensively. 

Chris Bosh was also a facilitator, he often had plays run through him and he was excellent at reading the double team and finding the proper outlet, a skill that simply takes years to hone.  How often do you see a newbie big man dribble himself into trouble or turn the ball over repeatedly as they just do not have the court vision or awareness that year’s in the league brings.  Chris Bosh was also a solid teammate and an above average defensive rebounder given his relatively slight frame for the power forward position.  Bosh really stepped up his hustle game and made sure he was consistently attacking the basketball – that is all that makes a league average rebounder, hustle.

However, Chris Bosh was not without his weak points also.  Bosh was not a dominant low post player, he has shown he can be easily pushed around by a stronger big man and in all of the years he was with Toronto he could never quite carry them to the next level for any real extended periods of time.  His supporting cast, while not legendary was never completely horrendous.  Another worry for me with Bosh long term is the wonky knee, have you seen the size of that knee brace?  Images of a Jermaine O’Neal type decline just cannot escape my mind and I think he has already shown some signs that he just might be beginning to slowly break down. 

Bosh has improved his physique over the years which will bode well for the coming battles with Dwight Howard, but the Miami Heat better hope they pick up some much needed size and physicality to match up against some of the other bigger Eastern teams or they will get pounded down low.  I foresee some extremely intense battles in the coming season against the Celtics and Shaquille O’Neal, even if he doesn’t guard O’Neal, it appears O’Neal has a grudge against Bosh in some shape or form (think RuPaul)  so the bodies and elbows might be flying and that is a battle Bosh simply cannot win.

The biggest question remains how will the Raptors manage without their franchise star forward?  It appears they want to play an extremely up-tempo offensive game and they have even reworked their roster to be a little more defensively aware.  It’s hard to blame Bryan Colangelo for the Bobcat trade being reneged (would have landed them a solid centre in Tyson Chandler and swingman Boris Diaw while also disposing of the terrible Jose Calderon contract), he has proven to be a mover and a shaker and I think the team is still in great hands and in fact I think the franchise will be better sans Bosh going forward. 

The question was asked internally and will probably be questioned by his current employer in a few years, is Chris Bosh really worthy of being a MAX guy?  Even with Bosh’s weaknesses and drawbacks you just don’t simply replace the man you decided was your franchise player and the 24&10 that accompanied him on a nightly basis.  But we have discussed Chris Bosh ad nauseum and it’s time for all to move on and set our sights on the future, which certainly isn’t as bleak as most think. 

For any immediate success the Raptors will have to see some serious internal development year over year and two prime candidates for breakout seasons have to be the new power forward Andrea Bargnani and our 1st round pick from last season shooting guard Demar Derozan.  With Bargnani sliding into his natural position (or best suited) I think the best is yet to come with the silky smooth 7’0” Italian born shooter.  With improved strength and increased overall confidence I think Bargnani will definitely average 20+ points per game and with a little extra hustle (the key ingredient to a successful rebounder) could bump his rebound totals to 8-9 a game.  In short, I think Bargnani will take his game to a much higher level this season.

Demar Derozan was the talk of the latest NBA Summer League as he basically dominated each game from beginning to end, which was the reasoning behind sending him.  When I watched Derozan he reminded me of a young Tracy McGrady in terms of raw athleticism and natural ability.  If Derozan takes a big step forward in his development this season, that could go a very long way in helping to replace the 24 points coming off the books [Chris Bosh departing].  He has packed on some additional muscle and with the increased strength should come an even more explosive attack the rim style.

Another player I am extremely excited to watch game in and game out is the “Brazilian Blur” Leandro Barbosa.  Although he has battled injuries the past few seasons he has the ability to be an impact scorer (he averaged 18 PPG off the bench in Phoenix only a couple seasons ago) and it will be interesting to see how Jay Triano utilizes his new guard.  Will he save him for the second unit and the first man off the bench to hopefully punish the opposition guards (and wear them out) or will Barbosa find himself in the starting unit for basically the first time in his career? 

Small forward Linus Kleiza brings more of an edge and can be a fairly reliable bench scorer and possible starter.  Everybody remembers the baseline dunks that he will showcase from time to time and he brings the toughness and grit that we have been seriously lackingSonny Weems shouldn’t be underestimated and he has a lot of reasons to improve his overall game, money being the primary motivator after seeing his good buddy Amir Johnson sign a shiny new contract don’t think Weems doesn’t want to get his.  Weems has all the tools and raw athletic ability you could ask for but he needs to continue to develop that mid-range jumper and overall consistency to his game.

Speaking of Amir Johnson I have to admit I am a huge fan of his game, the guy gets up and down the court, is an outstanding rebounder and I believe has untapped offensive abilities but does not dominate the ball or require plays run through him to be an effective scorer.  Foul trouble has haunted him over his career but something tells me we are going to see a much improved and matured version of Johnson over the life of his contract, his best basketball is still to come.

It appears now that the chances of trading Jose Calderon are slim to none and our point guard situation will again be the two-headed monster of Calderon and Jarrett Jack, which isn’t the best duo in the league but teams could do worse.  Calderon for all the criticism has been a fairly consistent offensive player for most of his Raptors career, he is extremely efficient running the team’s offense and if a defensive scheme or system can be put in place to lessen the impact of his woeful on the ball defence the Raptors would still get plenty of value out of Calderon.

Wildcards for this season include Julian Wright (6’8” swingman who is an athletic defender) and Ed Davis (undersized but very athletic rebounder and strong defender).  Hopefully there is some available playing time for them to develop.  Joey Dorsey (likely NBADL bound)honestly has the physique of Dwight Howard and he looked liked an absolute monster in the summer league, he obviously isn’t even close to the same type of super-athlete that Howard is, but man that body.  Solomon Alabi is another intriguing big man who will likely see limited minutes and opportunities in a suddenly relatively deep pool of big men.

The Raptors have the trade exemption still firmly in hand, and with a few teams looking to unload, this could prove to be a valuable chip.  We also have more long term financial flexibility and what I feel is at least the beginning of a stronger team overall given the system we wish to employ.  Although though they are criticized for being too Euro-centric in their draft/sign strategy, I am afraid this will have to likely continue as it has become abundantly (and loudly) clear that American born African-American ballers just do not see Toronto as a serious and viable market for their tastes. 

Most will agree and some players have gone on record saying TO is the spot to visit for road trips (almost all the NBA ballers hit up Caribana annually) and even Sir Charles Barkley recently called Toronto “One of the ten best cities in the world” but whether it be the cultural differences, hockey mania, higher taxes or just the fact they do not get the desired American TV exposure (and the potential for milk moustaches) they do not want to commit their prime playing years to this city and scene.

Still, fact is, money talks and the Raptors will have some to spend in the coming years, and lets be real outside of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami, is there really a better all-around city in North America to spend prolonged time in than Toronto?  We will still continue to bring in talent, as we always have, this time we need to add the missing equation – sustained meaningful and winning basketball. 

What’s the old adage, if you build it, they will come?

Everybody loves a good old fashioned trade rumour and that is probably especially true for hockey fans.  With only four days to go before Maple Leafs defensemen Tomas Kaberle’s no-trade clause officially kicks back in I thought I would take one last look at some of the potential trade suitors and rumours that have been making the rounds.

These type of pieces haven’t really been my specialty as I am not an insider nor do I have any “sources” so everything I report today is basically for fun and a conversation piece, it is all second hand information, and likely third and fourth hand given the plethora of people who claim to have inside “sources”.  So although it feels like I am boarding the bandwagon and piling on a bit, let’s have some fun with it.

First, Tomas Kaberle is a very impressive offensive defenseman and has everything you would want in a puck moving blue liner.  Kaberle possesses silky smooth skating skills with the ability to stop and start on a whim and the uncanny (and un-teachable) ability to hold onto the puck while waiting out difficult pressure situations from opposing forwards to ensure a solid first pass out of the zone.  While not a huge defensive presence he is normally in the right position when it matters most and although his lack of strength and size are his biggest detriments he has worked around this weakness enough to carve out a nice little niche and impressive career in the NHL.

Kaberle burst onto the scene in the 1998/1999 scene after a very impressive training camp and he was such an unknown that Joe Bowen was pronouncing his name Kay-bur-lee.  Over the past decade Kaberle has been one of the best Leafs players consistently year in and year out and over 820 games with the Leafs he has amassed 80 goals, 402 assists good for 482 points.  Very impressive for a defenseman drafted in around that no longer exists in the NHL entry draft (8th round, 204 overall).

So the latest rumours have double digit teams potentially making a pitch to Brian Burke and company and a definite six teams with serious interest.  Among the six interested squads seemingly includes the Boston Bruins, San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings, New Jersey Devils, Dallas Stars and the Tampa Bay Lightning.  There are likely a few wildcard teams out there who would like to add the best current blue liner available but might not have the chips or desire to meet the Leafs asking price.

Let’s look at the teams and potentially rumoured players coming back:

Boston – Marc Savard.  The rumour that will just not go away has the Leafs receiving Marc Savard and likely another piece for a player the Bruins have coveted and could seriously use in Kaberle.  I like Savard as a player but I am not enamoured with his salary situation (7 year deal at 4 million, currently being investigated by the NHL for cap circumvention) or injury history (head injuries are no joke).  I don’t see the Leafs trading Kaberle to get this player, but if the right deal or situation came about (aka salary dump) than I would have no problem adding Phil Kessel’s former running mate.

Savard – 33 years old, 5’10” 190 lbs put up 33 pts in 41 games last season.  Career PPG – 0.89.

San Jose – Ryane Clowe.  Mr. Clowe brings the intangibles that Burke craves as he has enormous size and strength and will go to the dirty places on the ice that a lot of Leafs forwards either won’t or can’t.  The addition of Clowe to the top line would definitely provide the size and space that Phil Kessel needs to get through a full rigorous NHL season in top notch form and with top PP minutes Clowe would be a potential 30+ goal scorer.  I guess the downside is he sort of mirrors the stats of former Leaf Alex Ponikarovski but with a tougher mindset and the truculence “Poni” lacked. 

The Sharks have been a rumoured Kaberle landing spot since the off-season began and he would likely put up 70+ points with the weapons the Sharks have on the power-play (Thornton, Heatley, Setoguchi etc).  The latest is Clowe and a 1st round pick for Kaberle.

Clowe – 28 years old, 6’2” 220 pounds put up 19 goals, 38 assists for 57 points and 131 PIMs.  Only 2 PPGs so room for improvement with Toronto.  Career PPG – 0.63.

Dallas – James Neal Brad Richards Mike Ribeiro.  Sorry Leafs fans but Mike Ribeiro would be the likely candidate to move in a potential Kaberle deal unless Dallas loses its mind.  Ribeiro brings a definite upgrade offensively over Tyler Bozak/Nazem Kadri for at least one or two seasons but I think both Leafs centres have higher ceilings than Ribeiro, and he isn’t exactly known as a physical specimen or force on the ice.  This is a long-shot at best but If he panned out and blossomed in Toronto it would at least tick off Montreal fans, so that alone gives it a slight boost.

Ribeiro – 30 years old, 6’0” 180 pounds put up 19 goals and 34 assists for 53 points.  Career PPG – 0.73.

Los Angeles – Wayne Simmonds.  The kid from Scarborough would be a local boy and a likely fan favourite for the way he plays the game, a definite gritty and in your face style with budding offensive skills.  Not sure if the Kings would want to part with him necessarily and not sure he provides the immediate offensive impact that the Leafs desire either however it would have to be considered a coup if Burke was able to land this kid.  He’s still maturing physically and his offensive game is only in its infancy, the future is very bright for Simmonds.

Simmonds – 22 years old, 6’2” 181 pounds put up 16 goals and 24 assists for 40 points and 116 PIMs.  Like Clowe, limited power-play time and overall minutes, would likely see huge increase in Toronto given the current state of our wingers.  Career PPG – 0.39.

Tampa Bay – Ryan Malone.  He isn’t young and he isn’t old so he is smack dab in his prime and would definitely fit into the Brian Burke breed of hockey player.  Given his salary situation and age I don’t see how they would accept Malone without an enticing sweetener of some form but I doubt the Lightning would want to part with its first round pick given where they have chosen the past few years, supposed improvements be damned.  Clowe > Malone, so this one is a long shot.

Malone – 31 years old, 6’4” 224 pounds put up 21 goals and 26 assists for 47 points and 68 PIMs.  Career PPG – 0.59.

New Jersey – ?  I honestly do not see any realistic trade opportunities between these clubs at all.  The Leafs do not want Dainius Zubrus or Jamie Langenbrunner and the Devils won’t part with Zach Parise (having 45 and 38 goal seasons in the past two might be reason to keep him?). 

So there you have it, I promise to do a proper and more professional analysis of the Maple Leafs haul if and when the Tomas Kaberle trade saga comes to an end.  Who knows what will happen in the next 48-96 hours and there may even be a wildcard team or two that could give the Leafs exactly what they desire.  One of my sources (ok, a buddy from my office) said he heard Buffalo was trying to put something together centered on bad-boy Zach Kassian and likely one of their overpaid and underachieving forwards.

My gut tells me San Jose will ultimately end up with Kaberle, with Clowe and a couple draft picks coming to Toronto unless Burkie gets creative (and lucky) and can score Ryane Clowe and a Devin Setoguchi for Tomas Kaberle and Mikael Grabovski? 

What are you hearing, what are your “sources” telling you and more importantly what do you hope (realistically) the Leafs get for Kaberle?

Although he doesn’t lead the Blue Jays starting staff in wins (Shaun Marcum with 10), ERA (Ricky Romero at 3.37) or K/BB (Shaun Marcum at 3.9) I think it’s safe to say the arm that Blue Jays fans are most excited about going forward is none other than ‘Mr.1-Hitter’ himself Brandon Morrow.  If you didn’t realize how good he was prior to yesterday afternoon’s start versus the Rays, you are probably starting to take another look.

My initial thought after learning we had acquired Morrow from the Mariners was the price was probably fairly steep, after reading it was Brandon League and a minor leaguer named Johermyn Chavez (ranked #10 on Marc Hulet’s Fangraphs Top 10 prospect list in Feb/2010) who is having a very huge season for the Class A Seattle Mariners minor league team (312/380/575 – 27 HRs), I was fairly surprised.

Still, you had to figure the Jays would give Morrow every opportunity to prove himself in a starter’s role making it likely he would be more valuable than any relief pitcher almost regardless of a hugely successful 2010 campaign, especially on a team with a deep bullpen like the Blue Jays.  The fact that Chavez is having a solid minor league campaign at least lessens the blow for Mariners fans – sort of.

Through 22 starts in 2010 Morrow has been a revelation and another young arm the Jays can hopefully build around to begin a hopeful meaningful ascension in the AL East starting as soon as next season.  Mind you Morrow hasn’t been a starter his entire career but let’s take a look at some key stats compared to his career levels.     

2010 10.6 4.0 3.26 3.69 93.6 2.20 .340 7.4% 4.45
CAREER 9.8 5.1 4.05 4.32 94.6 0.49 .305 8.7% 4.15

*wSL/c – Fangraphs pitch value per 100 pitches thrown.

After racking up an impressive 17 K’s vs. the Rays on August 8th Morrow now has 151 strikeouts in only 127.1 innings and continues to lead the major leagues in K/9 at 10.6.  His control has been much improved compared to his career levels and the budding Morrow has even showcased improved control as the season has progressed (2.7, 3.5, 2.5 BB/9 over the past 3 months) giving Jays fans even more reason for optimism.  Quite simply I feel that Brandon Morrow has the most untapped potential of all the Jays current starting pitchers, including Kyle Drabek.

Morrow has been pounding his hard moving fastball (93.6 MPH) and has been putting them away with one of the better pitches in baseball in 2010, his nasty slider.  According to Fangraphs Pitch values per 100 pitches thrown Morrow’s slider has been the 8th best in the game this season at 2.20, currently tops is Scott Feldman with an insane 9.59, and Morrow is just behind Francisco Liriano who checks in at 2.66.

In one of the best performances of the 2010 season (that is saying a lot this year) Morrow threw 38 sliders in total with an average velocity of 85.8 MPH.  Of the 38 sliders he threw 71% were swung at and of the 71% that were swung on Morrow had an amazing 36.8% whiff rate, 31.6% were hit foul and only 2.6% were actually put into play.  To put it simply when he threw a slider, the hitter’s didn’t have a chance. 

Here is some Pitch F/X data from his August 8th start vs. Tampa Bay, look at the vertical drop in the 84-86 MPH range:

 For the day Morrow was getting some serious vertical drop on his slider as it was dropping over 3.0 inches according to the data, while moving only 1.08 inches horizontally.  Compare that to Zach Greinke’s past 17 sliders which moved only 1.75 inches vertically and 3.74 inches horizontally respectively.  Armed with a notoriously tight and nasty slider, Francisco Liriano’s past 75 sliders have been thrown harder (over 2 MPH harder than Morrow) but have moved less (hence “tight”) averaging only 0.64 inches vertically and 0.37 inches downward.  All three starters have been effective throwing their sliders and all throw it with distinctly differing movement.

The Blue Jays are getting a lot of value out of Brandon Morrow so far this year (3.0+ WAR) and it is quite possible we have not even seen the best that Morrow can offer.  Combining his heavy fastball with a nasty slider and improving overall control Morrow is definitely an arm people are again starting to pay attention to across the majors.

With all of the hype (mostly deserved thus far) being thrust upon the latest young prodigy Stephen Strasburg I couldn’t help but think back to another pitcher who was almost as hyped (relatively) and was certainly scrutinized, that pitcher was Jesse Foppert  Josh Beckett.  Unbelievably, Beckett turned the big 3-0 this season (where did that last decade go?) and I wanted to take a look back at his career thus far to see if all the hype was warranted and if we should temper our expectations for Strasburg (yes).

Drafted by the Florida Marlins with the 2nd overall pick in the 1999 Amateur draft, behind only OF Josh Hamilton (chosen by the Rays) and ahead of other notable first round selections including Barry Zito, Ben Sheets, Colby Lewis and Brian Roberts.  Beckett was the cover boy for this draft class and one of the most hyped draft picks of the past few decades, and this was before the real baseball internet explosion and culture of the past four or five years.

Standing 6’5” and pushing 220 pounds, the big Texan had everything you could ask for in a potential ace in the making.  Beckett possessed a repertoire of three plus offerings, a big fastball, a nasty hook and an advanced change-up.  Beckett had no qualms in letting people know he had skills, reportedly putting himself in the same category as Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens from an early age and saying he would be an “All-star by 2001”. 

Baseball America raved about his stuff and stated he would be a top of the line starter for years to come, he was the BA Minor League player of the year for 2001 only two years later was named the MLB World Series MVP with a historic and dominant post-season run for the Marlins during their 2003 World Series championship run.  Clearly the man can pitch, but has his total body of work for his career matched expectations?

First, let me just clarify that I think Beckett has been a solid major league pitcher, with a resume most pitchers would kill for.  He certainly hasn’t been overpaid (to date) when compared to what he was produced in terms of WAR each season but I wanted to dig a little deeper to see if he was truly among baseball’s best starters for the past nine years.

Beckett hasn’t been the model of health (what pitcher is?) with twelve trips to the DL and countless other ailments over the past nine years have certainly sapped some of his value.  Due to injuries (blisters) and being brought along slowly Beckett’s innings totals were 24, 107.2, 142, 156.2, and 178.2 in his first five seasons in the bigs.  However he was fairly effective in the latter three of those years (3.9, 3.0 and 4.0 WAR respectively) and in fact after his first season reaching the 200+ IPs threshhold in 2006 he posted a mere 2.1 WAR (his first year in Boston).

While Beckett has had a few solid seasons, he has never had that one huge outlier year where we just stop and marvel ala Zack Greinke in 2009 or Cliff Lee in 2010.  He has never surpassed 10.0 K/9 (9.6 in 142 IPs in 2003) though his career K/9 still sits at a very respectable 8.51 (Roger Clemens career mark is 8.5) so Beckett has still shown plenty of ability to make hitter’s miss.  His career xFIP currently sits at 3.61, another very strong mark.

His best season came in 2007 when he went 20-7, 8.9 K/9, 4.8 K/BB, 47% GB, 3.43 xFIP (3.08 FIP) for a robust 6.5 WAR on the season.  However, that is a far cry from Roger Clemens 10.0 WAR in 1988, Greinke’s 9.4 in 2009, or, well you get the point.  A 3.08 FIP and 6.5 WAR is nothing to sneeze at but for a guy as highly rated as Beckett, is this not a bit disappointing?  Since 2003 Beckett has produced 30.9 WAR, while another big right hander out of Texas has produced 31.5 WAR in that same time period, his name is John Lackey.  I don’t remember anybody claiming Lackey to be one of the best pitchers in baseball over the past eight to ten years, solid yes, but nowhere near the hype that Beckett has generated.

Beckett has been more John Lackey and Kevin Millwood than Roger Clemens and Nolan Ryan.  An above average pitcher but not quite the legend we might have all expected, as unfair as that is to Beckett and today with Strasburg.  Maybe injuries took a toll on Beckett’s development or maybe he hasn’t had one of those truly magical (and sometimes lucky) seasons we would all remember (like his 2003 postseason run) but for whatever reason I would have to say Beckett’s actual results have fallen short of the expected one’s.

2003 3.04 3.32 9.6 2.7 3.9
2004 3.79 3.63 8.7 2.8 3.0
2005 3.37 3.56 8.3 2.8 4.0
2006 5.01 4.39 6.9 2.1 2.1
2007 3.27 3.43 8.7 4.8 6.5
2008 4.03 3.24 8.9 5.0 5.0
2009 3.86 3.35 8.4 2.5 5.3
2010 5.70 4.10 7.9 2.5 1.1


Looking at the above chart I think we can all agree that this would be a pretty solid stretch of pitching for anybody, and especially for a guy who has spent the past five years pitching in the AL East.  But let me ask, in nine seasons if this was the chart for Stephen Strasburg, would you be disappointed?

Let’s play the ever popular “Guess that player” and consider the following numbers using the past three seasons:

A 178 448 .267 7 *6.0 11.4 21.0 *315 *330
B 388 1347 .325 64 *18.1 11.1 17.5 *355 *412

*approximated, or split data not available

Well first off you see a pretty wide discrepancy in terms of playing time, Player A might possibly be a role player or oft-injured?  Player B has a pretty big advantage in wOBA though he has had significantly better luck with balls in play and a markedly higher percentage of his fly balls leave the yard.  Ok, enough with the suspense as I am sure you are all at the edge of your chair in anticipation awaiting the names of Player A and Player B.

Player A is none other than Hanley Ramirez, while player B is…Hanley Ramirez?  As a few of you might have guessed Player A is actually Hanley Ramirez versus left handed pitchers and Player B of course versus righties.  Over the past three seasons Hanley Ramirez has been the best shortstop in the majors and in the conversation for best overall player in the game, but looking at his numbers against southpaws and it appears Hanley could have possibly been even better.

Although not always the case ‘Baseball 101’ states that right handed hitters will perform better against left-handers, and possibly struggle against same handed pitchers.  Hanley stuck to this premise in his first two seasons in the league as his splits versus lefties were ridiculous (2006 – 307/385/588, 2007 – 399/455/703). 

But over the past three seasons he has hit southpaws much worse than righties:

Hanley Ramirez VS L

2008 258 389 402 351
2009 316 376 418 347
2010 202 286 323 260


Hanley has over three times as many at-bats versus right-handers over the past three seasons to use, and those numbers have been ridiculous:

Hanley Ramirez VS R

2008 313 403 580 417
2009 353 424 594 429
2010 307 385 477 373


His batted ball profile shows only slight differences at first glance and Hanley has actually hit more fly balls versus lefties than righties for his career, however the HR/FB is a huge difference maker (8.5% vs. L and 15.2% vs. R) nearly twice is high.  The BABIP difference is approximately 40 points and this could have helped make up some of the BA/OBP difference as over his career he has hit more line-drives against lefties overall.

So what happened from his first two seasons when he obliterated left handed pitching and was above average against righties to the past three seasons where he has had a reverse split, and destroyed righties at a similar clip to that of Albert Pujols?  Has the quality of left-handed starting pitching improved dramatically over the past three seasons, or at all?  It’s hard to imagine that specialized relievers have much of an impact as I can’t see Sweet Lou (or any other manager) coming out of the bullpen and summoning his top lefty reliever to get Hanley out in the bottom of the eighth inning?

Not sure if anybody has access to ‘Pitch type’ values split for each hand but taking a quick look at his profile for an entire season (vs. Both hands) and the number of cutters that Hanley has faced has risen each season, from 1.9% in his rookie season to 5.5% in 2010.  Some of this could be incorrect pitch type recognition from the past (the system has improved a lot since 2006) but it is possible lefties are busting Hanley inside with more cutters.  For his career Hanley has only pitch that shows a negative run value (per 100 pitches thrown) coming in at -0.26, that pitch is the cutter. 

It appears he has struggled in 2010 with more pitches (CB -1.30), (CH -0.52) than he has in the past and has really scuffled against the cutter (CT -2.86).  David Golebiewski recently did a wonderful analysis on his current season and gave his take on what to make of Hanley’s relatively down season.  What are your thoughts, more specifically on his reverse platoon splits?  Should we ignore them as the sample size is much smaller than versus righties or is there enough to go on that we can ascertain meaningful conclusions which can explain a pretty huge difference in overall numbers?

So my television went through a hot tub time machine yesterday afternoon, all the way to the year 1999.  Ok, so in actuality I just tuned into Raptors TV on my day off from work and they were showing a retro game from 1999 featuring the Toronto Raptors against the Los Angeles Lakers.  Although I actually remembered this particular game and the end result I couldn’t bring myself to turn the game off.  The Raptors were in Los Angeles playing a prime Shaq Diesel, Rick Fox, Brian Shaw, Glen Rice as well as youngster Derek Fisher, among others.  Kobe Bryant wasn’t dressed for the game, but he and his afro did make a few cameo appearances during timeouts.

Watching an absolutely lethal Vince Carter operate with a youthful and reckless abandon was of course painful to watch.  To make matters worse Carter even toughed out a fairly hard foul from none other than Shaq and after heading to the dressing room for some repairs Carter actually made it back onto the floor and amazingly played even harder.  Tracy McGrady was getting some playing time off the bench and showing all of the early signs that a star was looming underneath that long and scrawny body, he made a few dazzling plays. 

But this isn’t another if we could’ve only kept Marcus Camby, Chris Bosh, Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter and Damon Stoudemire/Chauncey Billups (what, you were expecting Kenny Anderson?) though seriously, to say Toronto hasn’t been a talent magnet would be a lie.  The thing I wanted to discuss was something that was so visibly evident while watching and clearly missing from today’s version of the Toronto Raptors – toughness. 

The Raptors were not pushovers for one second of the game, not even the huge frame of Shaquille O’Neal could push around or intimidate a Raptor without some form of retribution.  No, Colton Orr didn’t jump onto the court and pound somebody into oblivion but when Vince Carter was hammered by Shaq and sent to the floor, there was somebody else in his ear after it occurred – his name was Charles Oakley.

Outside of the hard foul on Carter, Shaq was relatively “well behaved” and while watching the game it was refreshing to see a level of compete, a level of disdain for our opponents and a measure of grit and toughness that I have honestly not seen from the Raptors in years.  Our toughest player last season (in terms of action shown) was Jay Triano – need I say more?  When I heard we were on the brink of adding (supposedly) Tyson Chandler and Matt Barnes I was excited more for the intangibles, edge and toughness they would hopefully bring to the team.  In our best years the Raptors were a collection of veteran defensive minded big men who played with an edge (in 1999 led by Butch Carter) with solid wing play (Carter and McGrady) and strong overall athleticism. 

Our roster against the Lakers in 1999 featured tough, strong and fierce competitors in Antonio Davis, Kevin Willis, Charles Oakley, Doug Christie, Alvin Williams and Dee Brown.  Needless to say we weren’t pushed around and Vince Carter’s defence didn’t look so porous when he was being helped by the rugged Davis, Oakley and Willis.  Our bench even included the little general Muggsy Bogues and the sharp shooter Dell Curry.

Fast forward to the 2010/2011 Toronto Raptors and the level of compete and intensity is cranked down about 100 km/h (or for Bosh, 60 mph) when compared to that 1999 team.  A part of me thinks the game has changed and the league no longer values the intangibles that an Oakley, Davis and Willis could bring.  Look around the league and try to name a player or two that are even comparable to the above mentioned trio of big men.  Outside of Reggie Evans, the Raptors roster is certainly void, and around the NBA the names aren’t exactly abundantly clear – maybe Rasheed Wallace, Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins, Andrew Bogut, Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson, Matt Barnes or Kenyon Martin?

But if there was one area where I think we can all agree we need to address, and address it now, is our team toughness.  Colangelo obviously agrees as he was almost successful in retooling the roster by adding the aforementioned Tyson Chandler and Matt Barnes.  It would’ve almost been like adding Antonio Davis and Doug Christie all over again, and it would’ve been well received, Barnes would have assuredly become a huge fan favourite in Toronto given his blue collar style of play.  No offence to Reggie Evans (and maybe he comes into camp in shape this year) but a guy playing a tough, hardnosed style for 8-10 minutes a night just isn’t enough for this current roster.

Andrea Bargnani, Amir Johnson, Sonny Weems, Demar Derozan and Ed Davis should be forced to watch these old ballgames and almost be mandated to incorporate some of the edge and toughness shown from that group into their own games.  I watched Demar Derozan in the summer league a few weeks back and he looks noticeably bigger and stronger, his handle still needs work but he was being very aggressive at both ends of the floor.  I am not saying he will ever develop into this type of player, but he honestly reminded me a lot of a young Tracy McGrady with his raw athleticism and lean frame – this was also reaffirmed slightly after watching the retro 1999 game versus the Lakers.

It’s hard to question Bryan Colangelo’s insistence on turning the Raptors into a more European centric model, as the best American born players simply do not want to commit their prime playing years to the city of Toronto, do I need to go into examples?  Even role players or aging veterans weren’t exactly lining up to come here as we had to bribe Antonio Davis, Charles Oakley was on the last legs of his career and Kevin Willis was running out of options elsewhere.  But for the Raptors to truly start competing on the highest level again in the future we will have to look to our past and regain an element that has been lacking for far too many years whether of the European or American variety – balls.

BallHype: hype it up!