2:15 PM Eastern

Just so you have something else to do on Christmas Day with everything closed except for movie theatres and Chinese restuarants (the traditional Jewish Xmas combo), here’s my first-ever mailbag!

I tried to answer every piece of e-mail that I’ve gotten since this blog started earlier this month, but couldn’t get everyone in here because I didn’t put in repeat questions and didn’t use any of the Rios-Lincecum stuff because that’s all moot now, thanks to the greatness that is Aaron Rowand.

E-mail was edited for space only (it was REALLY hard not to edit some for punctuation and grammar, but I held back), and I took out any compliments to me. I really do appreciate them a lot, but I don’t think you readers want me to publish other people telling me how much they like me. Gotta be pretty insecure to be throwing that stuff up there.

So, without further ado, here you go – actual comments from actual readers, as they say:

——————

Dear Mike,

My question is if you know how much JP values defence versus runs scored (1 saved run = x scored runs). Also, has JP estimated how many runs the Jays need to score (and give up) this year to hit at least 90 wins?

Thanks in advance,

Brent

Brent,

I don’t think J.P. values defense nearly as much as he values offence. Preferring Eckstein over Johnny Mac shows one example of that. I know for sure that he believes that a great defender is much easier to find than a great hitter.

I’m also not quite sure about estimating how many runs a team needs to score (and give up) in order to reach specific amount of wins. It’s not like you can look at your roster and say, “Wells should drive in 105 runs, Thomas should drive in 100, Rios might have 110 RBIs, etc….” then add it all up and see what you get. It’s more about how many more runs you score than you allow over the entire season, but don’t tell that to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

By the way, you have inspired me to check and see how the experts expect the Blue Jays’ players to do next season. OK, the expert. Bill James projects players’ outputs in his annual Handbook, which I highly recommend picking up. I took it and looked at how many runs he expected the Blue Jays to score, and how many runs he projected the Blue Jays to allow next season (though he didn’t project Sal Fasano, Buck Coats or Randy Wells, unfortunately). I put Curtis Thigpen in as the back-up catcher, for argument’s sake, and found that BILL JAMES SAYS THE BLUE JAYS WILL WIN 97 GAMES NEXT SEASON! He projects 800 runs scored and 655 runs allowed, which leads to a pythagorean winning percentage of .598.

(By the way, that’s accounting for the projected offensive production of Zaun, Thigpen, Overbay, Hill, Eckstein, Glaus, McDonald, Scutaro, Johnson, Stairs, Wells, Rios, Lind and Thomas and the projected pitching performance of Halladay, Burnett, Marcum, McGowan, Litsch, Chacin, Ryan, Accardo, Janssen, League, Downs, Frasor, Tallet and Wolfe. It doesn’t account for unearned runs, though, so throw 50 of those in there and you still come up with 92-93 wins.)

—————————-

Mike,

I made a point to vote for Tom Cheek everyday as well as Dave Van Horne and Don Chevrier.

If the Jays get off to a slow start next season will Gibbons get the axe. How much time do you feel JP has to get the Jays going in the right direction before he is let go.

Is it the plan of the organization to have Janssen in the starting rotation next year.

What is their drawing card to tickets this year if they do not have a signing to attract more fans, any chance of trade to shake up the team.

Thanks for taking the time to read my note.

Terry

Terry,

First of all, thanks for casting a daily vote for Tom! And it was nice of you to include Van Horne and Chevy, as well.

I do think the rope is nearing its end for both Gibby and J.P., but I think it’s important to remember that John Gibbons squeezed 83 wins out of his team last season with only three healthy regular everyday players, without his closer, and with only one pitcher making more than 27 starts.

That said, it’s time to win, and if the team stays reasonably healthy and is buried early, I think Gibbons will be let go. Also, if the team stays reasonably healthy and doesn’t play a significant game in September, that will be it for J.P. as well.

I don’t think any of that will happen, though. I believe that healthy, the Jays are more than good enough to take a run at the big boys. And so does Bill James!

As for Janssen, the plan of the organization is definitely to have him as a starter in 2008, but that’s not necessarily the plan of the manager, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens there. If Ryan and League are healthy out of Spring Training, there’s no debate. If they’re not, Gibby’s going to want Janssen back in the ‘pen. J.P. wants him starting either way.

And the drawing card for ticket sales? Even if there were a major signing, it wouldn’t be that. Heck, Roger Clemens, that ‘roided up freak, didn’t significantly boost attendance when he was winning his back-to-back Cy Youngs here. The fact is, the Blue Jays have been a very entertaining team to watch the past few years, despite their lack of overall success, and they’ll continue to be. Hill, Wells, Overbay, Rios, Reed Johnson and of course, John McDonald (when he plays) are a treat to watch defensively. You have a terrific group of young pitchers in McGowan, Marcum, Janssen and Accardo, and Halladay and Burnett can blow the doors off at any time. And if chicks still dig the longball, there’s Thomas and Glaus to cheer on. Lots of reasons to come to the ballpark. Oh, and Eckstein is a lot of fun to watch – and not just see if his arm stays in its socket while he’s making a throw to first, or while he’s in the on-deck circle.

Look, the fact is, if you enjoy watching baseball, you’ll come out to see the Jays. If you don’t enjoy watching baseball, you’ll come out to see the Jays if they’re in first place in September.

————————-

Hey Mike,

I feel that the Riccardi has to do something about this teams inability to hit right handed pitching. Having 2 regular left handed bats (3 now with Stairs), in the lineup against right handed pitching isn’t enough. Do you see any moves being made in an attempt to balance out the order a little more?

Steve

Steve,

I thought last year that the Jays were too right-handed, but I don’t think that’s what wound up hurting them in the long run. Yes, they had a far better record against left-handed starters, but that’s because Thomas and Glaus are superhuman against lefties, and always have been.

The thing is, most seasons the Jays’ right-handed hitters have been better balanced than they were last year. Glaus, Thomas, Wells, Rios and Hill all had all-star offensive seasons in ’07 if you only look at their numbers against lefties, but Hill, Rios and Thomas were just average against righties and Glaus and Wells were train wrecks. That doesn’t usually happen, though it’s now been two awful years in a row for Glaus against right-handed pitching. Glaus should probably be dropped down to the 7 spot in the order against righties, but that will never happen.

I think that Wells will return to form in ’08, as will Overbay, and the addition of Eckstein will give them a nice offensive boost, though I don’t think it should come from him out of the leadoff spot.

Six righties and three lefties in the everyday line-up (vs. RHP) isn’t the issue, production is. After all, the Tigers might be the scariest team in the AL right now, and they only have two left-handed bats in the everyday line-up.

———————

Hey Mike. I’m Toronto born but moved to Mexico for health reasons.

People “poo pooing” your idea of Santana, McGowan and Rios haven’t grasped the fact that Rios has moved up from lower middle tier to upper middle tier outfielder or even lower upper tier. OK OK no more tiers.

I however while taking the same approach would leave Santana to the Bosox, Yanks and Halos.

Mike Hogan was lamenting the fact that the Jays and Raptors had virtually no appeal outside Toronto and they weren’t marketed much outside Toronto either. To me that’s a shame. Canada needs to identify with a team and it’s unlikely Raps will ever be it.

BUT there has never been such an opportunity as there is now to make the Jays more popular coast to coast. Forget Santana. Go for Bedard who is available and a bit cheaper, younger and Canadian. That’d give you (not you you but the impersonal you) Bedard and Stairs and an outfield spot for Bay. Riccardi wants a reclamation project. Why not Jason Bay?

You’d have to spend some but for the first time you could market nationally with two of the highest profile Canadian ballplayers there are and Stairs is pretty popular nationally too.

It won’t happen. I’m just daydreaming but that’s what I’d try. Canadian content baby!

Dave (in Guadalajara)

Dave,

I’m glad you stuck the “it won’t happen” in there at the end. Shows that you know that even in Guadalajara, your idea won’t do. Though I did not think the girl could be so cruel.

There’s something to be said for going after great Canadian players, and even something to be said for overpaying for great Canadian players, but a player’s passport can’t be the focus of an organization that is trying to win.

I would love to see Jason Bay in left field for the Jays (though that does add another right-handed bat, which Steve might have a problem with), and I thought in Nashville when I heard that the Indians and Pirates were talking that the Jays could easily have put together a better package than Kelly Shoppach, Franklin Gutierrez and Cliff Lee (Thigpen, Lind and Chacin?). But the fact that that deal hasn’t happened yet means the Pirates want more, which they should. It’s a bad time to deal Bay anyway, coming off a down year. And besides, he’s a Mariners fan.

I would also love to see Erik Bedard on the mound in Toronto, but I have been led to understand that Peter Angelos will not allow him to be traded to an AL East team, so we’ll have to wait a couple of years for that.

Still, I go back to the notion well above that people don’t come out to see one player, they come out to see a winning team. If the Jays had 25 Hungarian players and they were in first place, Jays fans would be just as nuts over them as they would if they were all from Moose Factory. Who is the most beloved Blue Jay ever? My money is probably on Roberto Alomar, as opposed to Rob or Rich Butler, Matt Stairs or Dave McKay.

—————————-

Hey Mike,

Just one quick question. I read your blog on Dec. 5th and you set up the possible ’08 rotation. I noticed that Gustavo Chacin wasn’t mentioned. I was just wondering if Ricciardi is planning on working Chacin out of the ‘pen, or possibly a trade?

Hopefully it wasn’t a stupid question, hope to hear back from you.

Jason

Jason,

There are no stupid questions, only stupid people. Or something like that.

I don’t believe that the Jays are all that high on Gustavo Chacin in general. When the best thing you can say about a pitcher is that “all he does is win”, that can be a real indictment of the rest of his skill set. The fact is, Chacin just hasn’t really been all that good, despite his 25-15 career record. Heck, he shouldn’t have even made the team last year – he was their 8th-best starter in Spring Training, and carried over the lack of success into the season, allowing 6 homers in 27 1/3 innings before getting hurt.

In 2006, when he was healthy for only half the season, he allowed 128 baserunners in 87 1/3 innings, including 19 homers.

Basically, I think he fooled people with the wacky delivery and the novelty and such in his first year, but ever since then he hasn’t been able to either stay healthy or keep the ball in the ballpark. And if you’ll remember, the Jays weren’t exactly in a rush to get him back on the field last season.

Right now, Chacin is behind Halladay, Burnett, McGowan, Marcum, Litsch, Janssen and probably Wolfe and maybe Purcey on the depth chart among starters. I think he starts the season at AAA, and if he has some success down there, he gets called up when somebody gets hurt. Or maybe he starts in Spring Training and if he pitches well and shows he’s healthy, he gets dealt.

——————————

Mike

Simple Minds and Psychedelic Furs were both used in Breakfast Club. This
is probably why you, me and many others link the two songs. As for
getting a song stuck in your head for days, try getting the Doodlebops
theme song (or any kids show theme) out of your head (wait a minute, you
probably know ALL about that). It doesn’t help that my daughters watch
the show frequently. Just when I’ve almost purged the song, my mind is
‘re-infected’ upon hearing it again. Ouch.

You make an interesting point or two about Lofton. The Jays do need that
bonafide lead off guy and he or Willits would be great. I truly felt
Reed was our man but last season he showed that he is best in a platoon
roll (even factoring in the injury).

It was great to hear that BJ looks to be back in business at spring
training — what a relief (so to speak). Weren’t the Jays estimating
‘May/June’ for his return? What bumped up his timetable? J.P.’s not
going to rush him back is he? With all the injuries last year it would
be such a buzz-killer to have BJ go down 1.2 IP into the season.

I am saddened by the return of the powder blue, though for purely
selfish reasons. Years ago I managed to find an old poly “Clancy” jersey
that has given me tonnes of olde school street cred over the years (and
isn’t that what we all strive for? Olde school street cred) and now that
jersey will be “just another jersey.”

Regards

Geoff

Geoff,

Good call on the Furs/Simple Minds comparison. I hadn’t made that connection, but that probably has a lot to do with it. The Doodlebops, thankfully, is one of those shows that has yet to invade our home. I’m stuck with at least three showings of Hi-5 every day, which isn’t so terrible. At least they vary the music a bit. Though I still can’t get that damn Antarctica song out of my head………don’t have to be told that it’s icy cold, way down south in Antarctica! And I highly recommend The Backyardigans, by the way.

We can forget about Lofton or Willits now that David Eckstein is in the fold. The Jays really seem to think he’s the answer in the leadoff spot, but I just don’t see it. I mean, his career high in on-base percentage is .363! Every Blue Jay save for Wells and Zaun should be able to get there if healthy – does Eckstein lead off just because he has no power at all to speak of? I think he’s best suited to hit 8th or 9th in an American League line-up, but hey, he’s the leadoff man.

I guess what bumped up BJ’s timetable was just his rate of recovery over the winter. I would love to see him not be pushed until the end of May, until 12 months post-op, but he’s only being called upon for 20 pitches or so per outing, so maybe he can come back sooner than a guy who’s expected to throw 90-110. I have a feeling, though, that it won’t be full speed ahead for Ryan until a couple of months into the season, and Accardo will get his share of saves in April and May.

Don’t get down about the return of the powder blue, it’s definitely cause for celebration! Just be satisfied in the knowledge that you knew it was cool before everybody else did.

—————————

1. What do you think of going back to divisionless playoffs, essentially, the top 4 teams of each league, regardless of division, make the playoffs. This prevents 80 win teams like Colorado from making the playoffs.

2. Are teams able to trade players not on the 40 man roster. I’ve never been clear how it works.

3. Do you think the Mitchell report will really impact the use of steroids in baseball long-term?

Ilan

Ilan,

Ooh, numbers! OK, here we go:

1. I like the idea of the top 4 teams in each league making the playoffs, regardless of division. Of course, that means going back to a balanced schedule, which I also like a lot. However, don’t rag on the Rockies. They won 90 games last season, and were a half-game away from having the best record in the National League. No team with a losing record has ever made the playoffs, though the Padres and Cardinals have made it close recently.

2. Yes, teams can trade any player they have under control anywhere in their system, so long as they’ve had them in the organization for one year.

3. Nope.

————————–

Hey Mike

The Cubs let Mark Prior go, he would probably want a Major League contract since he is only in his late 20s. What you think of the jays signing hom to a 1 yr or 2 yr contract that would probably cost 3-5mill a year. JP tried with Ohka, Zambrano, Tompson last year even though they were alot cheaper. Even though hes injury prone, he still had nasty stuff few years back…

Any possibility to this?

Chris Stephens

Chris,

Probably not. Last I heard, the Padres were on the verge of signing Prior, though there were at least 8 or 9 other teams interested. I would be all for the Blue Jays signing him to a two-year deal, kind of like the Yankees did with Jon Lieber a few years back. If healthy, he’s among the best in the game. And his agent says he’ll be ready to pitch in the majors by the end of May, which sounds about right for A.J. Burnett’s annual trip to the D.L.

———————–

An interesting result of statistical analysis that I’ve come across
recently is the idea that a player’s fielding performance varies
quite a bit from year to year, just like hitting. Unfortunately,
fielding stats aren’t nearly as well understood as hitting stats, and
that’s why we see the same guys winning gold gloves year after year
(not to say those guys aren’t deserving – but sometimes they have an
off year with the glove, or a lesser fielder has a particularly good
year).

If you look at Eck’s fielding stats from the past few years (I use
revised zone rating (RZR) and out of zone plays (OOZ) – not sure
where to find defensive plus/minus), you’ll notice that last year was
somewhat of a down year for him. Whether this represents an age
related decline or simply an off year is up for debate, but I’m
inclined to believe the latter given that he’s only 31. With that in
mind, if Eck’s defense regresses to the mean next year, I think the
offensive difference will more than make up for the defensive
difference.

Some quick numbers:
Eckstein (2007) – .783 RZR, 46 OOZ, 943 innings
McDonald (2007) – .845 RZR, 51 OOZ, 799 innings

Eckstein (2006) – .841 RZR, 43 OOZ, 1029 innings
McDonald (2006) – .837 RZR, 31 OOZ, 661 innings

There’s no question Johnny is the superior defensive player, but I
just think the difference may be smaller than you think.

Regards,
Dave

Dave,

I appreciate the research, it’s well done and shows nicely the differences between the two players. And Eckstein’s defensive plus/minus wasn’t nearly as awful in 2006 as it was in ’07, either. I do agree with you that defense can slump, just as much as offense, but I’m not with you on the Gold Glove thing – that award is a joke, plain and simple.

Still, even looking at the numbers you present tells something important. In the year where Eckstein was more normal and McDonald was more human, 2006, and their Revised Zone Ratings were nearly the same, McDonald made just EIGHT fewer Out Of Zone plays in 358 fewer innings! The man gets you extra outs, even when he’s not having an extremely spectacular defensive year.

Maybe the difference isn’t as great as I had thought, though I still believe Eckstein is average defensively at best and McDonald is among the best in the business, but I think it’s still great enough to warrant playing Johnny Mac.

——————————

Hello Mike W.:

Your new blog has unwittingly given me another forum in which to pester you all off-season with mindless Blue Jayica.

I know there was talk of pursuing Matt Clement in the low-risk, coming-off-injury, nothing-to-lose philosophy (a la John Thomson, Vic Zamb.).

However, I was milling about some L.A. Angels forums and there is a lot of vitriol directed at a guy who similarly over the last two years has been frequently injured, with excremental 2006-07 combined stats of: 155.2 IP, 5.90 ERA, 1.56 WHIP 7-13 W-L and BAA >> .300!!!.

But from 2001-05: 4.04 ERA 1.24 WHIP 74-41 W-L, with one Denton True Young Memorial Trophy.

Besides the injuries and what appears to be lack of attention to his diet and nutrition, can the 34-year old Bartolo Colon bounce back? Would the Jays ever consider taking a flyer on him or is he actually expecting something along the lines of his 2007 salary of $14-M? (to which we would all say, “not a chance”).

Happy holidays,
Adrian F.

Adrian,

Colon has had his issues the last couple of years, as you mention, mostly because he can’t get himself into good enough shape to stay healthy. But I’m with you, he’s the perfect flyer to take, if he’s willing to take a low-risk, high-reward contract like Thomson, Ohka and Zambrano all did last season.

Thing is, I don’t think he’s going to be willing to do that. A few teams are interested in him – the Diamondbacks have kicked the tires for sure, among others, and I think he’s going to be able to pry at least a one-year deal worth over $6 million out of somebody. That kind of risk is too high for the Jays to take, I believe, given their depth in starting pitching.

And if I had to choose between the two, I’d pick Prior over Colon, just because I think Prior is going to wind up having a much better year. Long-term, of course it’s Prior, but that doesn’t matter, since no one would sign either of them beyond 2009 anyway, if that.

——————————

Looking back, is the Troy Glaus for Orlando Hudson & Miguel Batista trade one
you would still make?

Nicholas

Nicholas,

I know a lot of people disagree with me on this one, by my answer is an unequivocal yes. Like I mentioned earlier in the mailbag, it’s a lot easier to find a great defender than a great hitter, and Troy Glaus’ career rate stats are about the same as Reggie Jackson’s. He was exactly the big, scary bat that the Blue Jays needed at the time, and the Jays had a ready replacement at second base for Hudson in Aaron Hill, who is nearly as good defensively and has the potential to be a much better hitter. Batista, in my mind, is very, very replaceable. He almost doesn’t enter into the discussion. And with the advantage of that great pitchers’ park in Seattle last year, he allowed 294 baserunners in 193 innings.

I would make that trade again in a heartbeat.

———————

There you go, the first mailbag! And as long as the e-mail keeps coming to wilner590@hotmail.com, I will keep answering it. All those of you who are celebrating today, have a wonderful, meaningful Christmas! The rest of you – try to find some place that’s open to go and enjoy your Tuesday.

5 Responses to “Mailbag – Bill James sez the Jays will contend”
  1. 1.

    I don’t get why you keep mentioning Eckstein’s career high OBP of .363 as if it’s a bad thing. That’s 20 points higher than the leadoff average last year, and a whopping 41 points higher than the Jays’ in 2007. Not amazing, but he’s been a pretty solid leadoff guy for the last three years now and the Jays don’t have a better fit. Sure a healthy Glaus, O-bay, Thomas and Rios could match that but that makes no sense, and who knows what OBP Hill and Reed will put up next season.

    - Jonathan
  2. 2.

    Jonathan,

    Because Mike knows over his career Reed has a .371 OBP vs LHP (and thus more suitable to lead off against them) to go along with OBPs of .381 and .422 the last 2 seasons vs them.

    He also knows that over their careers, JMac only hits for 54 less OPS points vs LHP than Eckstein (and happened to hit a ridiculous .329/.360/.459 last year) and considering their gap in defense last year and the Jays dominance vs lefties, it’s clear that when facing LHP Reed should lead off and Eckstein should ride the pine.

    It just seems extremely silly to give probably the team’s weakest every day regular the most ABs over the course of the season.

    - Ari
  3. 3.

    Thank you for answering questions, Mike. You really made my day.

    - brrent
  4. 4.

    “Troy Glaus’ career rate stats are about the same as Reggie Jackson’s”

    On the surface, this is true. Jackson: 262/356/490. Glaus: 254/358/500.

    But there are two contextual factors that are conveniently being ignored.

    First, Jackson played in a lesser hitting environment, so his career line translates to a 139 OPS+. Glaus’s OPS+ is just 121.

    Second, Jackson’s career line includes his decline phase (he played until he was 41). Glaus’s career line only takes him to age 31 (one can safely presume that his career line will be poorer than it is now, after his decline phase has taken its toll). Comparing apples to apples, Jackson’s OPS+ at age 31 was over 150, further highlighting the contrast in his and Glaus’s offensive abilities.

    - Chuck
  5. 5.

    It’s also fair to note that Reggie Jackson is in the Hall of Fame because of his World Series numbers (.357 .457 .755). Otherwise Reggie Jackson is remembered about the same way as, well, Troy Glaus, a good but overrated power hitter and the only way he gets to Cooperstown is to buy a ticket. Once Glaus “gets mysteriously thinner” a la Giambi, his numbers will collapse like Rich Aurilia’s. Plus, the demand for known steroid users, outside of Shea Stadium and Kansas City is almost nil.

    - Lanny
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