Posts Tagged ‘Blue Jays 2010’

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.     

YEAR K/9 BB/9 FIP xFIP FB velo wSL/c* BABIP HR/FB ERA
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.

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Jose Bautista is having a monster career season for the Blue Jays in 2010.  After blasting two more homeruns he is currently leading the league with 30 HRs.  While his batting average has been held down by a low .239 BABIP (career .274) his triple slash line of 254/364/580 is pretty remarkable.  In 100 games Bautista has 22 2Bs, 30 HRs, 75 RBIs, 13.6 BB% and 21.4 K% good for a Blue Jays team leading .402 wOBA.  Quite simply, Jose Bautista is enjoying one of the best Blue Jays seasons in recent memory.

Surely there will be some regression in the power stroke (20% HR/FB in 2010, career 12.4%) and he probably won’t continue to hit as many fly-balls period (53.4% in 2010, career 44.7%) but by most standards it appears Bautista has potentially turned a corner in his career after being given the chance to showcase his skill set full-time by the Toronto Blue Jays.  Most of his peripherals look almost identical if you look at BB%, K%, O-swing%, contact %, the one that sticks out his he has absolutely destroyed the fastball in 2010.  His wFB/c (runs above average per 100 pitches) on the fastball is at 2.28 (for comparison Vernon Wells in 2010 -0.55) and for his career Albert Pujols checks in around 2.6. 

However this piece isn’t meant to argue to merits of Jose Bautista but rather take a look at why the Blue Jays might be better off to keep a veteran player like Bautista.  There is a common misconception when a team is rebuilding that the path to success (or the playoffs) is linear with a near exact timeline.  The truth is rebuilding teams often arrive suddenly and without much warning – see the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008. 

Sure we knew the Rays had been stockpiling talent for years with the plethora of high and talented draft picks (David Price, Evan Longoria, BJ Upton, Jeff Niemann, Carl Crawford etc) but we did not foresee such a monumental rise in 2008, at least I didn’t and I doubt most people did.  Everything came together for that young and supposedly rebuilding team and it appears as long as the bank doesn’t totally dry up they will be highly competitive for the next decade. 

Now most people feel it was the young talent all arriving at the same time, developing like crops in the minor leagues, finally ready for harvest.  But baseball does not work that way, Carl Crawford was established and steady, Evan Longoria was a rookie sensation like no other, BJ Upton was showing signs of regression, Jeff Niemann didn’t contribute much and David Price was only ready to help out of the bullpen. 

The young talent was there, and it was real.  But without their own Jose Bautista in Carlos Pena (who was 30 during the 2008 season) who led the team in HRs (31) and RBIs (by a wide margin at 102) where would this team have been?  The Rays also had solid production from two other veteran players in Cliff Floyd, Eric Hinske and Jason Bartlett during the heat of a pennant race and the presence of a few players with a bit of veteran savvy couldn’t have hurt.

My point is who is to say the Jays couldn’t be in a similar position next season in 2011?  The likely return of a couple borderline prospects are not likely to produce anywhere near Bautista in the next 2-3 years, or ever.  The starting rotation is starting to look impressive if not deep with Ricky Romero (ranked #48 on Fangraphs prestigious top 50 trade value series) Shaun Marcum, Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil and potentially youngsters like Kyle Drabek or Marc Rzcepcynski.

Two of the Jays best hitters from 2009 are having relatively miserable seasons in Adam Lind and Aaron Hill, one of their top hitting prospects (Travis Snider) has been derailed by injuries all season but seems primed for a breakout year, while there incumbent CFer Vernon Wells is finally hitting back around his career levels.  They recently stole Yunel Escobar (seriously did you see that play last night?) from Atlanta for a journeyman middle infielder (A.Gonzalez) and when Lyle Overbay and his $7 million depart they can either buy a stopgap to fill the need or give the highly touted Brett Wallace every opportunity to win the job.

They could have depth at catcher if they keep Buck/ Molina and JP Arencibia appears prime to burst onto the scene with his power bat (expect a low avg, high strikeout guy).  Third base is a bit bare but again there will be veteran options available or they could try Jose Bautista there fulltime in 2011.  AA and Paul Beeston have both been on record stating Rogers Corp has informed them they are willing and able to spend on the same level as the Red Sox, Cubbies and Dodgers if the team looks to be near annual contender status.

Projected 2011 line-up:

SS Yunel Escobar-DH Adam Lind-CF Vernon Wells-3B Jose Bautista-RF Travis Snider-2B Aaron Hill-LF Fred Lewis-1B Brett Wallace-C John Buck/JP Arencibia.

Add that to a very solid starting rotation/deep bullpen and depending on how AA spends a little extra cash the Jays might have in the off-season this would appear to be a team nearly ready to contend.  Carlos Pena was 30 years old in 2008 when the Rays went on a magical run to win the AL East, Jose Bautista will be 30 years old during the 2011 season.  There is no correlation of course but I’m just saying sometimes the Jose Bautista’s of the world can help turn a “good young team” into a contending team.

On the flip side, if a team wants to trade 2 or 3 of its best (and cost controlled) prospects our way for Bautista, we’d be crazy to turn them down, but I just see that type of return as highly unlikely.

BallHype: hype it up!

New Jays SS Yunel Escobar

My first reaction upon viewing the trade consummated by the Toronto Blue Jays and the Atlanta Braves was the Jays came out way ahead in the deal.  In fact, I couldn’t believe Yunel Escobar was dealt in the first place, and to the Blue Jays to boot.  After letting it settle and looking into the secondary pieces involved going both ways, my opinion was slightly more tempered as while it appears the Jays did well on paper as always “time will tell” if this trade makes much of a difference in the long run.

First off, when AA (Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos) stated Yunel was in the discussion for one of the top young SS in the game, he was not exaggerating as Escobar is legit, and has the numbers to back it up.  Although he is mired in his worst statistical season ever, if Escobar reaches his full potential this trade will look completely brilliant for the Jays.  Even if he just returns to his 2009 season level and stats, the Jays have a solid keeper at SS for a few years.

In 141 games last season the 28 year old shortstop racked up an impressive 4.3 WAR, 357 wOBA and had a solid defensive 1.6 UZR rating.  His triple slash line of 299/377/436 was nothing to sneeze at and it was coupled with 158 hits, 26 doubles and 14 homeruns.  Plate discipline is something of a foreign concept to most Blue Jays hitters but Escobar has shown signs of an improving eye in 2009 he only struck out at an 11.9% clip, and swung at pitches outside of the zone only 21% of the time. 

More encouraging is that as lousy as Escobar has been in 2010 for the Braves (and the only reason a player of his calibre was even available) is that his season appears to be an outlier in my opinion.  His BB% has risen from 9.4% to 12.3%, his K% has stayed the same, he has more BBs (37) than K’s (31), his BABIP isn’t terribly low, but at .270 is 46 points below his career average.  His batted ball profile looks nearly identical from year to year as he is hitting the same amount of groundballs (50%), line drives (18.4%) and fly balls (30.7%) but the big issue is the fly balls he is hitting are not leaving the ball park.

In 2009, 10.1% of Escobar’s fly balls went from homeruns, in 2010 a big fat ZERO – yes, you read that right.  Escobar has been better in the field by most defensive metrics in 2010 and is essentially the same hitter he has always been, but predicative factors have rendered him a tad on the unlucky side.  This is a classic case of buying a decent commodity at its lowest value all while selling Alex Gonzalez at his highest on his career year backed by marginal peripherals at best. 

The Jays had to move an interesting reliever in Tim Collins, and everybody is impressed with the 70+ strikeouts in 40+ IPs but unless goes on to have a Trevor Hoffman or Mariano Rivera type career his value is severely limited being merely a relief pitcher.  I agree he certainly would have been a fan favourite due to his limited stature and quirky delivery, but you can’t fault AA for pulling the trigger on this deal, the Jays gain six years on their starting shortstop and gain three years of team control through arbitration so they get a cost controlled dry run to determine if he is worth keeping.