Posts Tagged ‘tdotsports’

It would appear Toronto has turned a new leaf in 2010/11 and with the latest result against the powerhouse Pittsburgh Penguins the nation of Leafs Bashers have to be getting nervous after seeing the Toronto Maple Leafs hold off the Pens for a hard fought one goal victory.  We haven’t seen this type of effort from a Leafs team in quite some time and it was refreshing to say the least as the Leafs improve to 3-0.

The Leafs should have been leading after the first period, forcing the Pens into a ton of turnovers and pressuring them in every zone on the ice, even winning 10 of 14 one-on-one puck battles.  However, they left the ice somehow trailing 2-1 after holding the Pens without a shot for the first eleven minutes or so. 

Heading into the third period, the Leafs were leading 4-3 after a skilful goal scored by the wonder kid Sydney Crosby but again the Leafs probably deserved a larger lead.  The Leafs held a slim one goal lead the big question was whether the Leafs could play a solid final period and keep control of the game and ultimately win the game.  The Pens completely dominated the second half of the game as the Leafs managed only 14 total shots but they weren’t as soundly outplayed as the shot clock might have suggested.

Goal scorers:

Colton Orr (1), Clarke MacArthur 2 (4), Francois Beauchemin (1)

Some more musings and observations from the Leafs effort tonight:

-All comparisons to last season’s Maple Leafs have to cease, immediately.  This isn’t the same roster, let alone the same “attitude” and the comp has no value or meaning to me.  Gone are Matt Stajan, Alex Ponikarovsky, Nik Hagman, Lee Stempniak, Jason Blake, Jamal Mayers, Ian White, Jeff Finger and most importantly Vesa ‘the sieve’ Toskala.  Looking at the special teams improvement so far (early on) and I almost have to apologize to Ron Wilson, maybe it really wasn’t his fault and the needed troops just weren’t at his disposal.  This current version has well defined roles, vision and most importantly heart.

-So Clarke MacArthur can play, scoring another pair of impressive goals for the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Brought in by Brian Burke at a ridiculous bargain basement price after the Atlanta Thrashers walked away from his arbitration award at season’s end, he is showing he can be a reliable scoring winger for the Leafs so far.  He does more than score, he is fairly sound position wise and isn’t hesitant to take the body occasionally.  One on play tonight he was the lead fore checker and laid a nice hit on a Penguin defenseman and about ten seconds later was the man touching the puck to secure an icing call. 

-Colton Orr is willing to bang, more so than even some of the toughest heavyweights and from time to time he is prone to get decked, well it happened tonight.  Against an unknown opponent Orr was soundly dropped at the end of a spirited and lengthy bout that Orr was probably winning at the time.  It happened last year unbeknownst to most fans against Jody Shelley, Orr left with what Ron Wilson will likely call “getting his bell rung” but he’ll be back.  Tough break, he played a solid first period.

 -The fourth line was again terrific with Mike Brown showing great speed and fore checking ability, Colton Orr tipping in a Luke Schenn point shot and Mike Zigomanis winning draws and playing a sound defensive game.  The Leafs were led by their bottom six forward last seasons and so far this season the third and fourth liners are again leading the charge. 

I like seeing the bottom six engage and play physical hockey with the other teams better more skilled players, that is a key going forward.  This team has to be tougher to play against and I don’t mean for the opposing tough guy having to face Colton Orr, Jay Rosehill or Mike Brown I mean the top skilled guys knowing they will be in for a tough night against the Leafs sand paper.  Mike Brown played quite a few important shifts down the stretch on the top line in place of Phil Kessel to add some more defensive ability to the top unit.

-Tyler Bozak hasn’t been overly impressive so far but Phil Kessel and Kris Versteeg have picked up the slack and have made a pretty decent first line although they were basically invisible all game versus the Pens.  The second line was again impressive with Nik Kulemin using his big frame to win puck battles and Clarke MacArthur showing surprisingly impressive skill and speed and has scored four goals already while Mikael Grabovski has been the weak link on that line.  Brian Burke has to be on the prowl for a top end centre and with the recent demotion of Jeff Finger freeing up approximately four million valuable cap space dollars he at the very least has his fishing line in the water.

-Luke Schenn and Tomas Kaberle have been an impressive pairing thus far with Kaberle showing his normal slick puck moving skills and Schenn using his big frame to knock opponents off the puck.  Why a team wouldn’t pony up a reasonable forward for the ultra skilled Kaberle is a head scratcher, when you factor in his contract, maybe it is best we kept him.  Dion Phaneuf and Francois Beauchemin gave up a couple goals tonight but for the most part have looked the part of top defence pairing and hopeful shutdown duo.

-Jonas Gustavsson looked a bit rusty and didn’t quite play up to the lofty level that starter JS Giguere has shown in his first two starts of the season.  The jury is still out on the Monster whether he will develop into the number one goalie the Leafs hope and it has to beg the question as to the Leafs plans in the offseason when Giggy’s contract is up.  Gustavsson settled down in the third as the Pens were pressing hard to tie the game and the Leafs were getting hemmed in and held without a shot for sixteen plus minutes at one point he was actually pretty stellar down the stretch and made several timely saves.

 -A lot of money is tied up in the backend and it is a tad worrisome to see Mike Komisarek and his 4.5 million dollar cap hit playing sparing minutes on the third pairing with Carl Gunnarsson.  You would have to think if a team came to Burke looking to snag Komi away it wouldn’t take much at this point, but I doubt many teams are willing to eat that contract.

-Cool to see a new arena in Pittsburgh and the team deserves a shiny new rink but the ice was awful tonight.  Maybe that explains the completely awful Dave Andreychuk looking penalty shot attempt by Evgeni Malkin in the second period?

-Not to be a buzz kill but one has to point out that the Leafs caught the Canadiens, Sens and Penguins without a few key players, but that is just nitpicking at this point and the Leafs have deserved every point they have earned so far with a solid, relentless effort at all ends of the ice.  Kudos to the Buds!

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What is the old saying, hope springs eternal?  A phrase more commonly associated with baseball at the beginning of spring training, the term still has meaning for the beginning of any pro sports league.  With that said following the Toronto Maple Leafs tight 1-goal victory over the Montreal Canadiens (god that feels good to say doesn’t it?) it brings me to an ongoing worry as a paranoid and hopeful fan of the ‘Buds – what happens if we actually do win that beautiful Stanley Cup one of these years?  Law of averages and basic odds say we can’t continue to defy mathematics like this and the Leafs are simply overdue for a championship season.

However, I wanted to talk about the other end of the spectrum and what really worries me as a dedicated and hardcore Maple Leafs fan.  Call it paranoia but this concern has got me thinking about making a list (and checking it twice) and I plan to have that list (whether mental or literally on paper) readily available in the event the Leafs do one day climb that playoff mountain and take home the greatest trophy in sports.  The list will contain the known identities of a certain group of degenerate hockey fans. 

I’m looking at you Leaf bashers, in all of your forms but not limited to:

– Message board pirates wasting their lives filling cyberspace with nonsensical and hate filled Leaf bashes yet not identifying which team they root for,

– Office and work email junkies with your constant forwarding of sarcastic jokes, bashes, ridiculous superimposed pictures and supposedly clever puns,

– Crazed fans from other teams taunting us with the constant reference to a year we are obviously all familiar with – 1967,

– Even non-sports fans (oh the worst kind) that couldn’t differentiate between a goaltender and a bartender get in on the act and “pile-on”, you know whom I speak of, your great aunt Betsy who hasn’t watched a single sporting event is suddenly a hockey expert when it comes to the Leafs futility over the past 40 odd years

Oh, there are other forms of these vile, time wasting losers out there and some even wait in the wings just to get in a jab or two from time to time without being labelled full out “Leafs Bashers”.  We know who you are and enjoy it, soak it all in, relish in it because I want the record to plainly show when the time comes, the glorious time when the Maple Leafs will finally sip from Lord Stanley’s mug exactly who you are.

You might ask why I want all of this, haven’t we had enough of the pain, suffering and misery not to mention the butt of too many jokes?  Well I’ll tell you why, because when that day finally comes I don’t want these same despicable people with their years (decades) of countless jokes, barbs, shots and low blows doing something even worse – jumping on the bandwagon

The city of Toronto and let’s be honest the entire country will be abuzz the same way the city of Boston (and the United States) was when the Boston Red Sox defeated the New York Yankees after being down 3-0 and going on to win the World Series after 86 (eighty-six!!) years of playoff futility and heartache not even a Maple Leaf fan can fully comprehend and appreciate. 

Don’t kid yourselves, the Leafs will suddenly pick up about a million or so of these ‘fair weather’ fans when this happens, oh they will claim they have been there since day one and they suffered through the same drought as you and I and that is why I encourage you to take notes now so when the unthinkable happens and the Leafs win the Cup we know who the real fans are.

Why?  Simply so we aren’t sipping champagne with the same antagonistic, ignorant and annoying Leaf Bashers that have simply decided to hop on what will undoubtedly be the greatest bandwagon in the history of bandwagons.

Take note Leaf Bashers, because we’re taking notes too!

With the upcoming Toronto Maple Leafs and NHL season now upon us, the pundits and experts are out taking their best shots at making some educated predictions as to where the teams will finish in the standings.  Most publications, TV stations and media outlets all concur on one particular fact: the Toronto Maple Leafs will not be a playoff bound team in 2010/11. 

Here is the projected opening night lineup:

Kris Versteeg Tyler Bozak Phil Kessel
Nik Kulemin Mikael Grabovski Clarke MacArthur
Freddy Sjostrom Tim Brent Colby Armstrong
Mike Brown Mike Zigomanis Colton Orr

 

Dion Phaneuf Francois Beauchemin
Tomas Kaberle Luke Schenn
Carl Gunnarsson Mike Komisarek

 

*JS Giguere Jonas Gustavsson

*starter

Making the playoffs is normally thought of as a successful season and the dividing line between playoff and non-playoff teams is often a very fine one.  I thought I would take a look at a few key factors in a playoff and non-playoff season for our beloved Toronto Maple Leafs.  Now, this is based on Ron Wilson being the coach and the team utilizing his particular style and brand of hockey which is a more up-tempo, high pressure fore-check in all three zones.  Whether this is the appropriate strategy given the current makeup of the Maple Leafs remains to be seen and is an issue to be discussed on another day.

The Leafs will have to improve approximately twenty points in the Eastern Conference standings all things considered equal and with a few breaks here and there it can be possible.    Here are a few things to keep an eye as the season progresses and that fine dividing line we spoke about earlier between a successful or disappointing NHL season. 

THE LEAFS WILL MAKE THE PLAYOFFS IF: THE LEAFS WILL MISS THE PLAYOFFS IF: 
-A few forwards show great internal year over year improvement and development, specifically Kulemin, Grabovski and Bozak -The much needed secondary scoring is not found and teams focus all attention and energy on the Leafs top line
-Phil Kessel remains healthy and productive -Phil Kessel gets injured
-Tyler Bozak can maintain and productive point pace throughout 82 games -Tyler Bozak doesn’t possess the skill or ability to anchor the top line for an entire season
-The goaltending improves and we get a complete season of steady and solid play between the pipes -We get Vesa Toskala type goaltending again, for any stretch of the season
-Mike Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin play the way they are capable of playing -Our relatively deep defense core doesn’t shore up enough to lower scoring chances against
-Luke Schenn continues his development, forcing Ron Wilson to play him 20+ minutes a night -Luke Schenn’s development stagnates, at all
-Our special teams play is markedly improved -Power play and penalty killing rank in the bottom third of the league again
-Dion Phaneuf is rejuvenated and gives the Leafs a physical and offensive spark from the backend -Dion Phaneuf’s declining numbers continue
-Our bottom six forwards continue their strong play, bringing a defensive and physical edge -Our newly formed checking line (Sjostrom-Brent-Armstrong) doesn’t provide a reliable, consistent and sustainable defensive presence
-We go .500 or better in shootouts and OT games -We continue to struggle gaining the extra point in OT/shootouts

 

The Maple Leafs will be improved and I doubt few could argue that much considering the Leafs might have won a few more games if Vesa Toskala simply left his stick and glove lying on the ice in front of his net as opposed to actually attempting to play goal.  He was one of the worst goalies statistically speaking of the last 10-15 years and for a team that was dead last on the penalty kill it’s not hard to see why the team improved so much when JS Giguere came aboard via trade.  The Leafs had absolutely no confidence in Vesa Toskala last season and it showed when they completely melted down late in games on numerous occasions and almost looked shaken when having to kill a penalty off.

I think one fact the ‘experts’ or pundits are overlooking is the internal improvement from a number of Maple Leafs, most notably Nik Kulemin and Luke Schenn.  Kulemin has the opportunity to blossom into an impact two- way forward capable of scoring upwards of 30 goals if he gets a few bounces, he possesses a lethal shot with a quick release and is starting to utilize his impressive size and strength to his advantage. 

Luke Schenn was the 5th overall selection in the draft for a reason.  For such a young defenseman with limited experience Schenn is calm and cool with the puck possessing solid instincts to go along with a huge frame capable of absolutely dominating opposing forwards physically.  Most defenseman aren’t fully developed until around age 25-27 give or take a year and Schenn is well on his way to becoming an Adam Foote type shutdown defender teams crave and simply do not grow on trees. 

Patience is needed with young defenseman more than any other position and I applaud Brian Burke for not using Schenn as a trade chip to acquire a borderline top six forward to appease the fan base starving for another solid scoring threat.  I guarantee teams would be lining up around the block to get a piece of a defenseman clearly ready to take a big step forward.  After a relatively slow start last season Schenn quickly rebounded and was among our best players down the stretch, and still posted 5 goals and 12 assists and was a positive plus 2 on a poor defensive squad.  I think this is the year Schenn takes his place among the games better young defensive defenseman.

So do the Leafs have what it takes to survive an 82 game season and put up enough points to seriously contend for a long overdue playoff spot?

Here is the introduction to the DMB (Diamond Mind Baseball) Trade Value series.

2010 DMB Trade Value: #50 -#41

2010 DMB Trade Value: #40 – #31

2010 DMB Trade Value: #30 – #21

2010 DMB Trade Value: #20 – #11

So here we are, to our Top Ten DMB Ball Players and I must say looking at the top 15-20 there isn’t much that seperates most of these players, almost personal preference or just slight improvement in key areas (and age).  It has been awesome to break this type of list down with a “DMB” twist and I look forward to doing it every season.  We’ll see who rises and falls the most season over season and see what hot new players burst onto the scene in 2011, hope you enjoyed.

10) SP Adam Wainwright (R) – Age: 29

Quick Take:  Definitely one of the best arms in baseball, sporting a solid 8.2 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, 2.91 FIP and a solid gb rate Wainwright is quickly becoming a reliable workhorse and ace pitcher many had envisioned when he was a prospect.  His big weakness in 2009 was his propensity to get slightly roughed up by left handed hitters appears to be over given his .222 avg vs L this season and he should be counted upon to be one of the game’s best starters for the next 5-6 seasons.

DMB PRO: solid control, groundball rate

DMB CON: lefties have historically hit him relatively hard, not a major concern at this point. 

9) 2B Robinson Cano (L) – Age:  28

Quick Take:  Can you believe this is Cano’s 6th season with the Yankees?  It feels like just yesterday he was the young rookie from “Murderer’s row plus Cano” but now he is firmly entrenched in his prime and his offensive game has gone to unseen heights, his power (.238 ISO, .563 SLG%) as well as patience (8.5 BB%, almost double is career rate) has powered the second basemen to a career best .402 wOBA.  Cano plays a very valuable position and has improved his defense in 2010 (3.2 UZR) and is the best overall second basemen in the game on pace for 30 HRs.  He has finally put it all together in 2010 and should remain among the best middle infield options in DMB for 4-5 seasons if he continues to improve his patience and plate discipline.

DMB PRO: huge power for a 2B, big numbers versus lefties and righties.

DMB CON: plays in hitter’s park, still needs to improve BB rate to maximize DMB value.

8 ) SP Josh Johnson (R) – Age:  26

Quick Take:  One of the top overall arms in baseball, Johnson has taken another step forward in 2010 posting career best numbers in ERA (2.28), K/9 (8.8), BB/9 (2.28), FIP (2.50 and xFIP (3.23) in his second full season in the majors since coming back from TJ surgery.  He is equally effective against lefties and righties and possesses one of the biggest fastballs in the game (94.8 MPH) and has shown a solid gb rate in his career.  The only flaw he has DMB wise is pitching at Marlins Stadium, a notorious pitchers park.

DMB PRO: huge strikeout numbers coupled with low walk totals, good groundball rate, effective vs lefties and still improving

DMB CON: plays in is a pitchers park

7) 1B Albert Pujols (R) – Age:  30

Quick Take:  Having an “off-year” with only a .420 wOBA, Pujols is in contention for the NL Triple Crown and is again having a remarkable season, if you don’t compare to his past body of work of course.  One of the best hitter’s of our generation, Pujols is likely to be among the game’s best all around players until he retires.

DMB PRO: best overall hitter in the game?  Patience/power

DMB CON: only a 1B.

6) 1B Miguel Cabrera (R) – Age:  27

Quick Take:  Probably the game’s best right handed hitter, if he was still rated at 3B he would probably be near the top of this list but as it is he is still firmly in the top ten as his offensive ability carries him a long way.  Miggy possesses huge power (.305 ISO), patience (14.4 BB %, .437 OBP) and a huge .446 wOBA all while playing in a pitcher’s park with zero protection is a pretty lame Tigers lineup.  Equally amazing against lefties (1.034 OPS) and righties (1.096 OPS) Cabrera is entering his prime and there is no reason to believe he won’t remain among the game’s best hitters for the next 5-6 seasons.

DMB PRO: amazing hitter, power and patience.  Plays in a pitcher’s park

DMB CON: only plays 1B, lousy defender

 5) SP Roy Halladay (R) – Age:  33

Quick Take:  The best pitcher in baseball, period.  Halladay is a nightmare matchup for any hitter with his impeccable control over an arsenal vast enough to make an army general jealous.  Halladay throws a nasty two-seam fastball with good sink, a cutter he throws to both lefties and righties, a solid overhand curveball and an improving changeup he hasn’t thrown with much frequency until 2010 – scary.

The only thing keeping him from being ranked even higher is his age, though showing no signs of slowing down in 2010 (career best ERA at 2.27, FIP 2.80 and xFIP 2.91) Halladay has carved up the NL after serving as the game’s best pitcher in the game’s best division (AL East) since 2002.  Doc seems to have a skill set that will age well (a control, groundball pitcher) that a Greg Maddux like age 36-40 period doesn’t seem far-fetched.

DMB PRO: workhorse, solid against lefties and righties, awesome control and BB rate, groundball pitcher, pitches in a hitter’s park, is a DMB dream pitcher

DMB CON: aging – like fine wine however.

4) 3B Evan Longoria (R) – Age:  25

Quick Take:  One of the best all around players in the major leagues, his big time power (career .240 ISO, .523 SLG%), decent patience (10.2 BB %) and outstanding defensive abilities (15.3, 17.7 and 8.4 UZR marks the past three seasons).  Still young and theoretically improving Longoria will be a DMB mainstay on rosters for the next ten seasons with his huge level of talent.  Hits lefties and righties nearly equally as well and has added a bit of speed in 2010 (15 SBs) to go along with the power.

DMB PRO: huge power, great glove at 3B

DMB CON: could strike out less, never been a huge average hitter until 2010

3) C Joe Mauer (L) – Age:  27

Quick Take:  The player to which all prospective catchers will be compared to for the next 15-20 seasons, maybe longer.  Mauer has everything you want in a DMB player, he plays the most demanding (and leanest) position at catcher, has solid power for a backstop (.156 ISO), patience (11.7 BB %, 11.0 K %) and average (career .327).  The fluky power show from 2009 (in 2009, his HR/FB was 20.4 %, his career mark is 10.7 %) hasn’t returned but when you have a catcher that is as strong of an overall hitter and player as Mauer you have one of the top assets in DMB baseball.  Only 27 years old and entering his prime, keep an eye on the park factors for the new Minnesota ballpark.

DMB PRO: premium position and top flight stats, hits lefties and righties

DMB CON: power has come and gone over his career.

2) 3B Ryan Zimmerman (R) – Age:  26

Quick Take:  Simply, Zimmerman is a beast.  Playing in a pitcher’s park Zimmerman has put up huge power numbers (career .199 ISO), his 12.3 BB % is a career high which has also led to a career best OBP of .387, Zimmerman has it all.  One of the best defensive players in baseball at a relatively thin 3B position, there aren’t many better all around players in the game when factoring in age, talent and what DMB values in a player.  Zimmerman might still improve as he is only 26 years old and the future is bright for a guy who has already put up a 6.3 WAR in 2010.

DMB PRO: big offensive numbers in pitcher’s park, awesome defender, solid versus lefties and righties

DMB CON: nothing major

#1) SS Hanley Ramirez (R) – Age:  27

Quick Take:  Like we discussed with Pujols previously, Hanley is having a bit of a ‘down’ year but has still put up an impressive .370 wOBA with a triple slash line of 299/375/476 in 2010 while providing league average defense at shortstop, he is miles better than any other SS in DMB considering he also plays in a pitcher’s park.  He destroys righties (874 OPS in 2010, 1018 in 2009) and has been remarkably consistent with his offensive numbers (.364, .411, .405, .410, .370 wOBA ) since his rookie season. 

Hanley brings everything to the table, average, power, patience, speed and improved defense.  At only 27 years old, Hanley will be entering his prime hitting seasons and is poised to be considered one of the best hitting shortstops in the history of the game if he continues at his current torrid pace.

DMB PRO: best offensive middle infielder in baseball, plays in a pitcher’s park, great all around game, hits righties better than lefties

DMB CON: could stand to improve BB rate to maximize DMB value

Here is the introduction to the DMB (Diamond Mind Baseball) Trade Value series.

2010 DMB Trade Value: #50 -#41

2010 DMB Trade Value: #40 – #31

2010 DMB Trade Value: #30 – #21

20) CF/RF Josh Hamilton (L) – Age:  29

Quick Take:  Hamilton appeared ready to take his place among the game’s elite after a stellar 2008 campaign (.530 SLG%, .385 wOBA) but things quickly turned south in 2009 as Josh struggled through injuries and a season long slump.  Well 2010 has answered any potential questions, and then some, Hamilton is having a career year and hitting for power (.277 ISO, .637 SLG%, .448 wOBA) and though his average is being propped by a .395 BABIP, he has cut his strikeouts down marginally year over year.  An average fielder, he still qualifies at CF which is a bonus.  If not for the injuries and shaky past would have ranked much higher.

DMB PRO: huge lefty slugger destroys right handed pitching, qualifies at CF

DMB CON: scary past life struggles, doesn’t hit lefties well, plays at hitter’s park, average defender, what is his true talent level?

19) 1B Joey Votto (L) – Age: 27

Quick Take:  Has put up monster numbers throughout his young career and currently sports a huge .438 wOBA for the Reds as their first basemen.  Plays solid defense and is in the early stages of his prime seasons.  Would have ranked much higher but there are a ton of great 1B and this takes away from some of his value, also some DMB leagues allow ANY player to man first base regardless of if they are rated there or not.

DMB PRO: huge power/on-base combo, good defense

DMB CON: hitter’s park and only a first basemen

18) SP Tim Lincecum (R) – Age:  26

Quick Take:  Though I think the ‘best pitcher in baseball’ tag might be removed after a more pedestrian 2010 (3.48 xFIP, 3.80 ERA) the ‘freak’ is still among the game’s best arms with a still solid 9.4 K/9, 30.9 o-swing % and one of baseball’s best changeups.  However, his value has taken a hit as he finally looks human after years of utter domination, playing in a pitchers park and a rising BB rate (3.6 BB/9) hurt his overall DMB value but we will give him another season to get back to his old form before starting to officially panic.

DMB PRO: strong strikeout numbers

DMB CON: rising BB rate and pitches in a pitchers park

17) 2B Dustin Pedroia (R) – Age:  27

Quick Take:  The pesky little second basemen has been a solid player since entering the league in 2006 and 2010 has been a solid but injury riddle season.  Increased power (.205 ISO) along with his rock solid defending at the scarce position of 2B give him immense value going forward.  Probably has reached the apex of his career and will likely never rank higher than this given the propensity for 2B to literally fall off a cliff in their mid to early 30s but for now, a hitter in the midst of his prime.

DMB PRO: good defense, solid bat for a 2B

DMB CON: Fenway takes away some of his hitting value

16) 1B Adrian Gonzalez (L) – Age:  28

Quick Take:  A monster with the bat given that he plays at PetCo park in San Diego, career .224 ISO and .508 SLG, his stats are hugely magnified in a neutral ballpark and he is a DMB machine if your team plays in a hitters park.  Gonzalez provides solid defense and as long as he keeps producing at this clip in San Diego will be among the best hitters in DMB.  Keep an eye on his impending free agency.

DMB PRO: huge power numbers in the worst hitting park in the majors, good defense

DMB CON: only a 1B

15) C Buster Posey (R) – Age:  23

Quick Take:  Posey has been everything he was advertised as and more, posting a .374 wOBA so far in 2010.  A few question marks remain in terms of where Posey will end up playing position wise, if he is a catcher the sky is the limit in terms of his value, if he sticks at 1B, he won’t see this list again.  There have been no indications that he won’t be a fulltime catcher so for now, all systems go and stock way up.  His numbers likely won’t be this gaudy with a full rigorous season behind the plate, but he might also see improvements in BB rate (currently only 5.6%) and this is only his first full season in the bigs.

DMB PRO: great numbers for a catcher in a pitchers park

DMB CON: positional questions, will he stick at C?

14) RF Jason Heyward (L) – Age:  21

Quick Take:  A 21 year old rookie shouldn’t be posting the insane numbers that Heyward currently has put up, sporting a solid .197 ISO and .379 wOBA Heyward has shown every indication that stardom is in his very immediate future, if not already.

DMB PRO: solid power, good fielder

DMB CON: growing pains of youth, must learn to hit lefties

13) SS Troy Tulowitzki (R) – Age:  26

Quick Take:  One of the better all around players in the bigs, Tulo has solid power (career .190 ISO, .362 wOBA)) and plays a mean shortstop defensively.  Injury concerns have started to creep up and playing in Coors Field definitely hurts his overall value in DMB, however given the lack of options at SS he is among the game’s most valuable players in spite of a few flaws.

DMB PRO: good hitting/fielding shortstop

DMB CON: Coors Field, lack of patience hurt his overall DMB value

12) SP Ubaldo Jimenez (R) – Age:  26

Quick Take:  A 26 year old pitcher with a 3.14 FIP, 8.2 K/9, 50% gb rate, 1.13 WHIP and 0.41 HR/9 would be one of the best pitchers in the game no matter where he pitched, but when you take into consideration the home park of Coors Field, it takes it to a whole other level.  Jimenez has simply developed into one of baseball’s best pitchers and might be the best pitcher in DMB given the park factors of Coors Field.  Just entering his prime years, Jimenez appears poised to become one of DMBs best hurlers for the next 5-6 season, possesses the hardest fastball in baseball (96.2 MPH).

DMB PRO: good strikeout numbers, solid ground ball/homerun rate and pitches in an extreme hitters park

DMB CON: high-ish walk rate

11) 2B Chase Utley (L) – Age:  32

Quick Take:  Contradictory I know as I knocked Pedroia for being close to his early 30s and here I am ranking Utley as one of the best overall players in the game, and for good reason.  Utley has been a model of good health until this season (given his age, there is slight concern going forward) and his career .387 wOBA, .222 ISO, .379 OBP and amazing defense at the thin position of 2B is absolutely insane.  Utley is definitely deserving of such a high ranking and should be counted among the game’s best hitters for the next 2-3 season at least.

DMB PRO: great all around hitter/defender at weak position

DMB CON: is hitting the age some second basemen turn into pumpkins, hitter’s park

Here is the introduction to the DMB (Diamond Mind Baseball) Trade Value series.

2010 DMB Trade Value: #50 -#41

2010 DMB Trade Value: #40 – #31

30) 3B Adrian Beltre (R) – Age:  31

Quick Take:  A defensive wizard at 3B and a power bat to boot, Beltre gives you everything you want in a corner infielder.  Since leaving the hitter’s hell that is SafeCo Beltre has absolutely killed the ball (.228 ISO) and though the BABIP (.340) is helping his average his overall .390 wOBA combined with a 9.2 UZR has valued him at a 5.7 WAR thus far in 2010.  Beltre will never be confused as a patient hitter but should be productive for the next 5-6 seasons and with pending free agency, again keep an eye on what park he lands in.

DMB PRO: awesome defender, great power

DMB CON: does not walk (5.5 BB %) and this affects his overall DMB value

29) SP Felix Hernandez (R) – Age: 24

Quick Take:  Seemingly been in the league forever, Hernandez is just entering his prime and his resume is impressive.  Has been a workhorse since 2006 (191, 190, 200, 238 and 204 IPs so far in 2010) and has been a solid groundball/strikeout guy since making his debut in 2005.  While not the K-machine I think some had envisioned there is not much to dislike about a 24 year old with the body of work that Felix possesses and no reason not to invest heavily over the next 5-6 seasons.  My only concerns would be workload on his young arm, his home park is extremely pitcher friendly and he plays in front of one of the better defences, sometimes affecting his DMB value depending on chosen ballpark and defense.

DMB PRO: solid ground ball rate, good control, consistent

DMB CON:  extreme pitchers park

28) RF Justin Upton (R) – Age:  23

Quick Take:  A fulltime player holding his own at age 21 is a rare breed and Upton is truly a rare talent.  Upton possesses huge power potential (career .200 ISO) to go along with his solid defense, arm and speed.  If he could only improve his lacking plate discipline we could be looking at one of the best overall players in baseball.  His ‘off’ year so far in 2010 has still produced a .350 wOBA and 3.3 WAR, not bad for a 23 year old.  Upton is still a talent on the rise who at worst will provide a low average power bat with amazing right field defense, but his upside is that of top player in the game and definitely an intriguing talent.

DMB PRO: big power, solid defender, speed

DMB CON: lack of patience and high strikeouts, hitter’s park

27) SP Cliff Lee (L) – Age:  32

Quick Take:  Normally a pitch to contact left hander is bad news in the world of DMB but Lee is a rare talent which his unreal control (.60 BB/9!), decent K rate (7.8 K/9) and normally solid numbers versus right handed hitters that he was another must addition to this list.  Doesn’t appear to be slowing down any as he has entered his 30s and is one of the top lefties in the game, keep an eye on what team he signs with in the off-season.  If he signs with the Yankees, expect a drop in his overall numbers playing in that ballpark and division.

DMB PRO: impeccable control, solid K rate, good numbers vs. Righties

DMB CON: is still a lefty and susceptible to a righty heavy lefty crushing line-up, can give up a lot of hits.

26) LF Matt Holliday (R) – Age:  30

Quick Take:  Basically given up for dead while with Oakland in 2009, Holliday was supposedly only a product of his environment (Coors Field) but people failed to realize his environment in Oakland was extremely chilly to hitters.  Holliday has proven to be one of the most consistent and feared right handed hitting outfielders in the game (.390 and .384 wOBA in 2009 and 2010) Holliday provides great defense (7.1 UZR) and great power (.221 ISO in 2010) and is equally effective versus righties or lefties.  A guy you can just book for 300/390/500 with 40 2Bs/25 HRs, a solid rating in LF and a 5.0-5.5 WAR each season.  In a DMB keeper world, that is as good as gold.

DMB PRO: consistently solid with the bat and glove, good splits vs. L and R

DMB CON: low-ish walk rate (career 8.9 BB %)

25) SP Zack Greinke (R) – Age:  27

Quick Take:  If anybody is holding Greinke to his unbelievable 2009 season to say he is having a bad year in 2010, you are crazy.  He was never going to repeat that season, which was one of the best over the past 10 years however Greinke is still among the game’s best starting pitchers and is only just entering his prime seasons.  His K-rate is down (9.5 K/9 in 2009, 7.5 in 2010) however his control is still great (2.0 BB/9) and his 3.31 FIP suggests he is still an ace in the making.  I am still buying the hype.

DMB PRO: solid control pitcher, improving GB rate

DMB CON: pitcher’s park, declining K rate.

24) 1B Kevin Youkilis (R) – Age:  31

Quick Take:  The Greek God of Walks as once dubbed by Billy Beane “Youk” is an on-base machine (13.3 BB %, .411 OBP) who hits both lefties and righties well and gains an extra little bit of positional value by also being rated at 3B (for most seasons).  If he ever lost his 3B eligibility permanently it would put a serious hit on his overall value.

DMB PRO: hits both lefties and righties, OBP machine

DMB CON: Fenway is a good hitters park for righties, potentially only a 1B one day.

23) CF Carlos Gonzalez (L) – Age:  25

Quick Take: “CarGo” is another intriguing talent who has shown absolutely massive power this season (.271 ISO, .596 SLG%) but is not without a few warts.  Questions still abound whether he will be able to play CF going forward and his walk rate has been abysmal (5.3 BB %) which will hurt him immensely in DMB but that power stroke cannot be denied, even accounting for the effect his home ballpark will have.  If he can show improved plate discipline, he could be a major force.

DMB PRO: huge power, rated at CF

DMB CON: poor walk rate and the “Coors” effect could seriously affect his value in DMB.

22) C Carlos Santana (S) – Age:  24

Quick Take:  The leg injury was scary but it appears the Santana avoided a potentially career debilitating injury and is an exciting catching prospect with some very strong upside.  A switch-hitter who plays catcher has the potential to give a lot of value and Santana’s numbers while coming up through the minor leagues are nothing short of brilliant and he should be a top five catcher for the next 8-10 years.

DMB PRO: position, upside

DMB CON: will injury affect his long term value?

21) C Brian McCann (L) – Age:  26

Quick Take:  It seems like McCann should be nearly 40 but in reality he is only now hitting his prime hitting seasons and in 2010 has been a beast (.380 wOBA) and his improving patience (13.4 BB %) is a bonus.  One of the top hitting catchers in baseball and should be counted upon to put up consistently strong numbers for the next 5 seasons minimum.

DMB PRO: a strong hitting catcher, improved patience and BB rate

DMB CON: not as strong versus lefties, but that is nitpicking.

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.

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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