Posts Tagged ‘Toronto sports’

Frank Zicarelli once took a swipe at us dedicated bloggers in one of his articles, basically inferring we are the tiny pest on his shoulder that he has to swipe away.  He is the main basketball writer for the Toronto Sun and covers the Toronto Raptors most of the time and he occasionally writes a half decent piece but after his slight to the blogging community (a pretty tight knit group I might add) I have read his pieces a little more meticulously and his latest article contained a big faux pas, in my opinion.

Dorsey, Sonny Weems, DeMar DeRozan and Amir Johnson have formed a strong bond, a group of young and energetic players who aren’t exactly the most talented,” he wrote.

Really?  DeMar DeRozan, often compared to a Vince Carter athletic type with some of the greatest jumping ability in the league and recently invited to the NBA Slam Dunk contest.  Sonny Weems like Derozan is an extremely athletic and talented wing who just hasn’t been given an opportunity to showcase his skills, but it’s clear the stats just haven’t caught up to the ability, and talent. 

Amir Johnson, one of the fastest big men in the game with buttery soft hands and touch around the net, who just signed a contract for $50 million dollars?  Yeah, no talent there.  Finally, Joey Dorsey, with clearly limited offensive skills but have you seen this man’s body?  He is Dwight Howard without the height, with muscle on top of muscle and great jumping ability and rebounding instincts.  He doesn’t get rebounds the way Dennis Rodman got them, this man can simply use his superior strength and jumping ability (combined with great hustle of course) to get that ball.

Picking four of the Raptors most athletic specimens and saying they are more guts than stuff is probably one of the least thought out points I have read in a while especially considering there are plenty of other candidates to choose from on our roster who fit that description almost to a tee.  In the age of dedicated, educated and talented bloggers the time where shoddy (or lazy) journalism would never be scrutinized is over, just because your name is in lights and you are a “professional” doesn’t make you any less fallible. 

Step your game up, Frank.

RAPTORS SHOULD PASS ON DAMPIER?

Jose Bautista has easily been baseball’s biggest surprise in 2010, going from a relatively useful yet unknown commodity to the game’s premier homerun hitter in the span of one season.  In 2009 the 30 year old veteran Bautista was a 1.9 win player (1.9 WAR) and slashed a rather pedestrian 235/349/408 and in 404 PAs he belted 13 HRs while posting a .173 ISO and .339 wOBA.  He provided value with his versatility (able to play multiple positions) and league average defense but all in all was likely considered expendable by Toronto Blue Jays brass heading into the season if his numbers didn’t improve.

Bautista’s unprecedented 2010 season has been well documented by a lot of great sources on the net but to quickly recap Bautista has been a revelation with the bat and is already a near 7 win player (6.9 WAR) and has slashed 260/378/617 with 35 2Bs, 54 HRs, 124 RBIs, 100 BBs and has even chipped in 9 SBs.  He has a ridiculous .357 ISO (career .207) and a .422 wOBA (career .346), he has been aided by an inflated 21.7% HR/FB (career 13.8%) but not a ridiculous rate and he has even been hindered by a low .233 BABIP.  Any way you slice it and whatever your preferred method of stat-ology might be it has been a huge year for Jose Bautista.

This piece is to do a little comparative action to compare Bautista’s giant 2010 and any past big time Jays seasons to see exactly where this season fits in terms of greatest seasons (offensively) for a Blue Jay.  As I scoured the books to see who I would compare his season to I stopped no further than a man who ranks as the greatest Blue Jays hitter of all time, our old friend Carlos Delgado.  Oh there were some nice years from a few other sources, the usual suspects of John Olerud, Roberto Alomar, George Bell, Joe Carter, Jose Canseco’s juice filled comeback season and the like but I figured it would come down to a showdown between Bautista and Delgado. 

So here is the matchup:  in one corner we have 2010 Jose Bautista (season still continuing of course, so counting stats will improve but rates shouldn’t move much) and in the other corner all the way from Puerto Rico it’s the 2000 Carlos Delgado.

First, we will start with some standard counting stats:

  PA H 2B HR RBI R BB K IBB
’10 JB* 683 148 35 54 124 109 100 116 2
’00 CD 711 196 57 41 137 115 123 104 18

Let’s now look at some more advanced numbers:

  AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO BB/K wRC+ wOBA WAR
’10 JB .260 .378 .618 .995 .357 0.86 167 .422 6.9
’00 CD .344 .470 .664 1.134 .320 1.18 182 .471 7.5

 Considering Jose Bautista leads the league in HRs this season, has 100+ RBIs, 100 BBs and basically having a once in a lifetime season yet his numbers still pale in comparison to Carlos Delgado’s 2000 I have to ask a couple questions:

1)      Should Delgado not be given the MVP considering that hack writer from Chicago left Delgado off his MVP ballot entirely, costing him the award?

2)      If Jose Bautista has been accused of potentially using PEDs how has Delgado managed to avoid the same scrutiny even ten years later?

3)      Should the Jays be actively looking to maximize Bautista’s value on the trade market?

It’s a shame this amazing season by Jose Bautista (and Delgado’s 2000 season) has basically been for naught in terms of the teams overall success, it would be nice to hot-tub time machine this beast of a year about two years into the future when the exciting and potentially dynamic rebuild is hopefully starting to really blossom in the highly competitive AL East landscape.  Either way, kudos and a big hat tip goes to Jose Bautista who has put up one of the better Blue Jays offensive seasons of all time, and definitely one of the most surprising in Major League Baseball history.

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.

Ok, so I can readily admit it, I am a sports addict, obviously.  Anybody who devotes as much time as I do to a writing a sports blog (which may or may not ever be read by another human) would be in denial if he didn’t just admit otherwise.  Let me save you the time and anguish and say if you are reading this we will just assume you are likely one too. If I am not actually playing sports, I am writing, discussing and usually thinking about them in some manner – doesn’t everybody have a few fantasy teams out there to worry about?

I will always love sports because they provide a great outlet from the everyday grind, for me watching the Maple Leafs lose another game is a great way to unwind and escape the “real world” for at least three hours.  As a former athlete who played sports 24/7 I love watching the absolute best compete against each other.  Most of my friends are fellow sports lovers so it is a great social outlet also, nothing beats having a few beers discussing the current state of your favourite team while watching the game on the tube (or live). 

I was lucky enough to have taken in Justin Verlander’s no-hitter a couple of seasons back with my friend (he still owes me for that one) and we still talk about that game to this day, the tension, the electric atmosphere, and the sheer euphoria that ensued when “Mags” (Magglio Ordonez) caught the final out to complete the “no-no”.  It was a priceless moment which a good book just can’t always (or ever) deliver.

However, today I wanted to discuss the opposite end of the spectrum as I am sure we have all known (or heard of) one or two males belonging to this strange breed – the non-sports fan.  They are normally fairly easy to spot as they are either totally silent during any conversation involving sports or they are the one looking perplexed during a simple “Halladay or Stieb” debate.  Sure, sometimes they will try to throw you off the scent and will throw in a “Yankees sure look tough” from time to time, even if they are currently mired in an eight or nine game losing streak, but for the most they aren’t hard to spot.

To quote Seinfeld: “Not that there is anything wrong with that”, and there isn’t, to each his own.  I have a multitude of non-sporting interests, including poker, politics, fitness & exercise and I am also a confessed stock junkie but sports is something that I always come back to and cannot live without.  If it isn’t sports then I have to ask, what consumes your time, what are you passionate about and what the hell do you watch on TV?  When I have asked this question I normally receive the following standard answers:

1)      I read – I love a good book and I have even been known to read a few from time to time, including non-sports books!  Still, how much alone time does a man need, or have?   

2)      Music – Sorry, I have over 10,000 MP3s and counting and even play the guitar relatively well.  This will not end my love affair of sports and in fact they normally go together beautifully.

3)      Movies – Again, if you have seen the size of my DVD collection you will understand my passion and love for movies.  Goodfellas, 25th Hour and The Unforgiven among my favourites.

4)      Time – They just don’t have time.  Hard to argue that, and sometime a 3 hour ballgame can be redundant, but what else are you keeping tabs on, celebrity gossip?  Of course, this is also the same guy that is lighting up your email with terrible jokes and frivolously updating you on his every move via facebook.

5)      Girlfriend /Significant other – This one isn’t always easy to get around as some guys might want to watch sports (a lot more sports) but they cannot successfully navigate the always tricky “what is on TV” argument.  Maybe I am lucky in that regard, I am normally in charge of my remote control.

6)      Kids – Can’t argue this one, but get them involved in sports at an early age and you will gain an extra vote (and hopefully a small majority) in the household TV voting democracy.

This isn’t directed at the casual sports fan, nothing wrong with taking a smaller interest in your favourite team or sport so you have time to partake in all of your hobbies and interests.  I am more curious to find out how a male basically comes to lose touch with sports all together, and completely.  Is it simply a lack of interest, general knowledge, athletic ability or does the girlfriend/spouse simply wear the pants?

Gentlemen, what am I missing?

BallHype: hype it up!

Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke

There are a lot of theories as to exactly when and why the Toronto Maple Leafs started to play a better and more inspired brand of hockey last season.  Some point to when the Leafs were basically out of the playoff race, or when Brian Burke fleeced the Calgary Flames out of our new Captain Dion Phaneuf but for me the moment we started to look more like a major league hockey team was when we decided the team finally gave up on its quest to show the NHL just how tough we were.

Brian Burke wants to play the game tough, and I couldn’t agree more with his philosophy of building from the net out when trying to put together a competitive and hopefully championship contending team.  As a long time Maple Leaf fan, some of my favourite players have been the heart and soul guys, the Wendel Clark’s, Tie Domi’s, Ken Baumgartner’s and Darcy Tucker’s.  The best hockey games are the ones that are filled with big hits, fights and intense battles for the puck – if this is the style that Toronto wants to play, I am all for it, the meaner the better as there is nothing worse than watching your team get bullied or pushed around on a nightly basis.

However, I think the Leafs got caught up in some of the Burkie hyperbole in terms of aggression and his insistence of a clear definition of “top six” and “bottom six” forward grouping.  The Leafs did everything they could in the pre-season and early stages of the regular season to show they were not going to be pushed around, from Mike Komisarek or Francois Beauchemin consistently going out of his way (sometimes ill advised) to put a lick on an opposing player, or Colton Orr and Jamal Mayers trying to play the part of bully.  The Leafs went out of their way to either impress Brian Burke or set an early tone and it ended up backfiring in the end.

Nobody predicted the Leafs to finish second from the bottom at the beginning of the season, and in fact a lot of pundits felt they would be much improved with the additions they made in the summer.  But a lot of the players played outside of themselves in order to play the Burkie way, when they weren’t built to play that way for the most part.

The team looked confused early on, the “Top Six” forwards thought all they had to do was score and the “Bottom Six” forwards looked like they were afraid to score as per the definition of how Burke’s team were built.  Guys like Lee Stempniak and Jason Blake were essentially turned into checking line wingers as they assumed the role of “sand paper”.  I am not sure if Ron Wilson finally had a talk with the team and said “Ok, enough.  The league knows we aren’t wimps, now play the game you know how to play.” but there seemed to be a marked improvement in team play about half-way through the season, relatively speaking.

Ron Wilson and Brian Burke are definitely buddies outside the rink and I am sure they share many views on how the game of hockey is supposed to be played, but I think there are differences there that may hamper the team’s success going forward and could result in Burke having to find a suitable replacement for Ron Wilson.

Wilson loves the up-tempo, high pressure fore-check system, one that values solid speedy skaters and an endless motor.  Burke also values the pressure style, but with a difference, he wants his skaters to be able to paste the defensemen into the end boards.  Wilson wants three lines of skill, speed and scoring ability, I am sure he would love to have more size than the Leafs current roster provides and that is how the Leafs finally started to play better hockey, rolling three lines and basically letting the “sandpaper” out of the cage when needed.

This is where the issues could begin to surface with the philosophies of two notoriously stubborn men could start to wreak havoc on their relationship.  Burke insists on two highly skilled top two lines with the bottom two lines filled with sandpaper, grit and toughness.  The Maple Leafs roster as it currently stands cannot afford to ‘waste’ their third line’s minutes with only grinders and “pick and axe” players.  We are not talented nor deep enough on our first two lines to get away with this type of strategy and Wilson recognized this (albeit a little too late) in his club and started playing a more speed oriented, puck pursuit style while toning down the overall physicality of his forward lines.

Tyler Bozak, Viktor Stallberg, Lee Stempniak, Jason Blake, Matt Stajan, Phil Kessel and Nik Kulemin are not a big scary physical bunch, they were never built to play the “Burkie” way, they needed to know their roles earlier in the season but instead played confused and lost for the first half of the season before the team was essentially blown up. 

I am not saying that any of the players that were moved should have been kept, far from it, I like the new roster and where Burke is taking this team, but until the Leafs are assembled entirely as a “Burke” style team it will be difficult to win employing the strategy and style we have currently taken unless Ron Wilson goes in his own direction, and well that could be tough as Brian Burke is Ron Wilson’s boss, period.