Archive for November, 2011
Friday, November 25th, 2011
1:32 PM Eastern
Since I’m headed down to the Caribbean tomorrow and will be off the grid until the Winter Meetings in Dallas (Dec. 5-8), I figured that I’d throw down a little something about the events of the week just past – namely the arbitration-offering decisions and the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
The Blue Jays offered four players arbitration ahead of Tuesday night’s deadline – modified Type A Kelly Johnson and Type Bs Frank Francisco, Jose Molina and Jon Rauch.
Shawn Camp was the only one not offered arbitration, with the Jays feeling as though the sandwich pick they’d receive if he declined and signed elsewhere wasn’t worth the risk that the 36 year-old would accept the offer and return to Toronto next season on a one-year deal worth somewhere in the neighbourhood of $3 million.
Camp really found himself during his five years in Toronto. He had been a mediocre journeyman middle reliever with the Rays and Royals, with a WHIP of 1.49 over three years, before the Jays picked him up. After a rough 2007, Camp had three straight very good seasons with the Jays, combining for a WHIP of 1.27 over that span and sucking up innings out of the bullpen, before slipping back this year and basically getting murdered for half the season (.967 OPS against from June through August, though that was pretty much from five awful outings out of 31).
Camp’s a good, veteran presence and a solid arm in the mushy middle of a bullpen, a place where there aren’t many solid arms across baseball. He’ll find a job somewhere, and do well more often than not, but his position in a bullpen isn’t one that’s generally worth $3 million.
None of the other decisions were shockers, except maybe Rauch, but he isn’t a bad bounceback candidate on a one-year deal, and I have a feeling he’s going to decline the Jays’ offer anyway. It was a forgettable year for Rauch, from the early blown saves to all the home runs to the emergency appendectomy to the season-ending knee injury, and I have a feeling he’s going to want to move on and start fresh somewhere else.
Kelly Johnson’s status as a modified Type A (the Blue Jays will gain a first-round pick in addition to a sandwich pick if he signs elsewhere, but the signing team won’t lose a pick) all but paved the way to his exit from Toronto. Johnson may well be the best free agent second baseman remaining on the board, but the chance to pick up two high draft picks is a lot for Alex Anthopoulos to give up. Given the contracts that have already been signed this month by Aaron Hill,Mark Ellis, Clint Barmes and Jamey Carroll, Johnson has very good reason to believe that he’ll be able to get a solid, multi-year deal out on the open market.
However, he could also be tempted to accept the Jays’ offer, make $6.5 to $7 million on a one-year deal and hope to have a year more like 2010 than ’11, then go out and sign a huge contract next winter.
Francisco is already drawing interest from other quarters, but it might be in his best interest to accept the Jays’ offer. I doubt he’ll be able to get a $5 million deal on the market, and he’d probably get at least that in arbitration. To those of you who are rolling your eyes at the prospect of Francisco’s return, remember that after the all-star break, he was 4th in the league in ERA (1.37), 7th in the league in WHIP (0.84) and didn’t blow a save, holding opponents to a .188/.220/.323 line.
As for Molina, he’s about to sign with Tampa Bay, so he’ll decline the Jays’ offer and they’ll receipt for a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds and go find a back-up catcher like Chris Snyder (shame that the Twins got to Ryan Doumit first).
So if all the Jays’ free agents sign elsewhere, Andrew Tinnish and his band of merry scouts will pick up five free draft picks, likely all in the top 50, to go with the two first-rounders they already have.
That’s where the new CBA comes up, because in gaining concessions from the owners in free agency, the players kind of sold out the kids who are on the way up by allowing some pretty draconian penalties for overspending on the draft.
Each team will be given a figure that they can spend on draft signing bonuses – that figure will be equal to the MLB-established slot value for all of that team’s picks in the first 10 rounds (including sandwich and comp picks; bonuses after the 10th round don’t count against the limit unless they’re higher than $100,000). If a team spends more than its limit, the fines are pretty harsh, up to a 100% tax on the overage AND the loss of first-round picks in each of the next two drafts if a team exceeds its limit by only 15%.
We don’t know yet if that’s going to cut down on signing bonuses to the extent that there will be more holdouts or more kids going to play football and basketball or whether it’ll just normalize the process and get the draftees signing earlier and for more reasonable money, knowing the huge payday will still be available to them down the road.
Of course, they’re not going to be paupers or anything – slot for the top pick will be $7.2 million. But you won’t see many second round picks signing for two million bucks anymore.
The new agreement is seen as pretty anti-Blue Jay, since many of the methods that Alex Anthopoulos has used to rebuild the Jays’ minor-league system are being eliminated.
Since he took over, Anthopoulos has used a clear strategy of acquiring as many draft picks as possible, spending the money necessary to sign as many high-ceiling selections as he could and being very aggressive in signing international players who aren’t eligible for the draft.
In this brave new MLB world, the only way to acquire extra draft picks after this winter (unless you’re in one of the bottom 10 markets in either size or revenue, neither of which include the Blue Jays) will be to offer your pending free agent a one-year deal worth the average of the top 125 salaries in the game (this year, around $12 million) and have him decline. So that’s not going to happen much anymore.
There will be no more Type As and Type Bs, no more picking up Miguel Olivo at the arb-offer deadline, offering him, having him decline and picking up a draft pick for your trouble (in order to get a comp pick, you now have to have had the player on your roster all year), no more taking flyers on guys like Francisco and Rauch who you hope wind up being Type Bs and cashing in.
There are also severe limits on international spending in the new CBA, with signing bonus limits and big-time penalties for exceeding them. This may well lead to a worldwide draft in the new few years.
All these changes absolutely mean that “business as usual” for the Blue Jays is going to have to change drastically, but it really feels as though they’ve been preparing for this.
The Jays went out and had the most aggressive draft anyone could remember last June, and wound up signing ten of their top eleven picks (and boy, is Tyler Beede going to regret being the one who wouldn’t put pen to paper). They spent a ton of money internationally this summer, signing four of the ten best available free agents. They had seven of the first 78 picks in the 2011 draft and could well wind up having seven of the first 50 in 2012.
It’s almost as though they’ve been stocking the cupboard with bottled water and dry goods, anticipating the apocalypse.
Now that it has happened, they’re in awfully good shape, and unlike teams like Tampa Bay, Kansas City and Pittsburgh, they plan on being able to retain their high-quality young players once they’re ready to hit arbitration and, eventually, free agency.
Among some of the other highlights of the new CBA:
-A second wild card team in each league; the two wild cards will meet in a one-game playoff, with the winner moving into the Division Series. They’ll decide by March 1, 2012 whether this will go into effect in ’12 or ’13, but Bud Selig wants it to happen sooner than later.
-The Houston Astros will move to the AL West in 2013, meaning there will be at least one interleague series going on all the time, since there will be an odd number of teams in each league. But at least every division will have the same number of teams in it.
-The minimum salary is going up to $480,000 and will continue to increase through the life of the five-year deal.
-Instant replay will be expanded to include fair/foul and trap calls.
-No one will be allowed to duck the all-star game unless they’re legitimately injured.
-Players will be subject to blood testing for hGH, with reasonable cause.
-A new, safer batting helmet will be mandatory as of 2013
-Low-density maple bats will be grandfathered out of the game as of 2012.
-No more chewing tobacco allowed during TV interviews, and no tins in uniform pockets.
-Luxury tax on total payroll remains a ridiculously high $178 million the next two years, increasing to an even crazier $189 million for 2014-2016. That’s the payroll threshold a team has to exceed in order to be dinged. So, it’s the Yankee tax.
-The top 22% of players with between two and three years of major league service time will now qualify for arbitration, as opposed to the top 17%.
-The signing deadline for draftees moves from August 15th to the week of the all-star game, which at least assures that they might actually get to play pro ball somewhere other than the fall instructional league the year they sign.
Hope that helps!
I’m off for a week, so you won’t be hearing from me either here or on The Twitter while I kick back and relax with the family. Hopefully things don’t go too nuts, BlueJayically.
The Twitter feed, that won’t have much on it after the weekend, is @wilnerness590, but make sure you follow @ShiDavidi for all the Jays news you need while I’m gone.
Rational, reasonable comments are always welcome – I’ll check them out when I get back!
Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011
1:00 AM Eastern
I’m having a pretty good run here with these post-season awards, as it turns out. If you look back over the last week-plus of posts, you’ll see that I have correctly predicted the winner of each of the first seven BBWAA post-season awards handed out except for one – and the A.L. Rookie of the Year happened to be won by the guy I said I thought should have won, Jeremy Hellickson.
There’s just one piece of hardware left to give out, and I can honestly say I don’t have a clue as to who is going to win the National League MVP.
For me, it comes down to two people: Brewers’ leftfielder Ryan Braun and Dodgers’ centrefielder Matt Kemp.
Both had terrific years: Braun led the NL with a .994 OPS while finishing second in the batting race to Jose Reyes, hitting 33 homers and stealing 33 bases while only getting caught six times. Kemp took a serious run at the Triple Crown before falling off in the last week of the season – he finished atop the league with 39 homers and 126 RBIs but wound up third in average, 13 points behind Reyes. He also stole 40 bases (11 times caught), finishing just one home run shy of the 40-40 club. And he won a Gold Glove, for what that’s worth (not much).
Kemp did what he did with his home stadium in a much tougher hitting environment than Braun’s and also led the majors in rWAR and the National League in fWAR.
For me, Kemp is the MVP, but here’s the rub: The Brewers won the N.L. Central while the Dodgers finished 11 1/2 games back in the N.L. West, not having been within 10 games of the lead since late June. They wound up with 82 wins, one more than the Toronto Blue Jays.
We just saw Jose Bautista finish third in A.L. MVP voting despite being his league’s best player. He only got five first-place votes out of 28, and four writers placed him outside the top five on their ballots, because he played on a mediocre team that was never a threat for the playoffs.
Kemp also played for a mediocre team that was never a threat for the playoffs, so how could he win the MVP of his league when Bautista didn’t win the MVP of his?
You know what? I think he will. And not just because it’s a smack upside the head to Blue Jays fans (many of whom will take it that way).
I like Kemp to win the N.L. MVP for the same reason I liked Justin Verlander to win the A.L. MVP: Late-season buzz.
While the writers were agonizing (one hopes) over their MVP ballots over the last couple of weeks of September, Kemp’s profile kept rising as he made a run at the Triple Crown, something no hitter has won since Carl Yastrzemski did it in 1967. He hit four home runs in five games to get people talking about his chances to be a 40-40 man. His name was on the tips of everyone’s tongue as the season wound down.
As for Braun and his almost-equally-prolific teammate Prince Fielder? They were taking it easy, continuing to put up great numbers, but home and cooled as the Brewers prepped for the post-season.
But how can they give the MVP to Kemp when they didn’t give it to Bautista and their situations were almost exactly the same (except that Bautista had a better year, both relative to Kemp and to his competition)? Easy. The voters are different, for one thing. None of the 32 writers who cast a ballot for this award voted for the A.L. trophy.
Also, the National League didn’t have the freight-trainness of Verlander. Despite the fact that Clayton Kershaw won the Triple Crown of Pitching in the senior circuit, no one was mentioning him in MVP talk – mostly because he didn’t obliterate his competition the way Verlander did, with Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee hot on his heels.
It sort of makes me sick, because I can see the same writers who were just fine with Bautista not winning singing the praises of Kemp’s victory, but if I had to lean one way or the other, I’m leaning towards Kemp taking home the hardware.
A deserving winner, to be sure. Just like a certain Toronto Blue Jay would have been.
That will be it for awards season, so the daily blogging will cease for a bit (unless the Jays do something, of course), but keep an eye here and on Twitter @wilnerness590 – there’ll be more fun and entertainment coming your way soon!
Rational, reasonable comments are always welcome!
Monday, November 21st, 2011
1:35 AM Eastern
For the second straight season, Toronto was home to the best player in major-league baseball.
Jose Bautista actually improved upon his historic 2010 campaign, posting career highs with a .305 batting average, .447 on-base percentage and 1.056 OPS. His home run total dropped from 54 to 43, but he still led the major leagues.
Bautista also led the big leagues in OPS, slugging percentage and walks and he was beaten out by .001 for the lead in on-base percentage by Miguel Cabrera.
He also led the bigs in Runs Created per 27 outs, with 9.98. That is to say, if you fielded a team of nine Jose Bautistas, it would have scored an average of 10 runs a game in 2011, which is sort of swell.
And that’s the majors, not just the American League.
Bautista also led the American League in rWAR, wOBA and Win Probability Added. He was second to Jacoby Ellsbury in fWAR. I love me a stat that two different sites figure out differently.
Anyway, should Bautista be a landslide winner of the American League’s Most Valuable Player Award, having already won the Hank Aaron Award as the league’s top offensive player, and a Silver Slugger as well? Of course.
Will he win it? Probably not.
I hate to say it, because Bautista is a very deserving recipient of the prize for the second straight year, but the problem many voters have with his case is the word “valuable”. For many, a player can’t be all that valuable if his team doesn’t even sniff a pennant race, no matter how good a year he had. They say that if the Blue Jays didn’t have Jose Bautista, they’d have finished fourth in the A.L. East, and with him, they finished fourth in the A.L. East, so how truly valuable could he be?
Personally, I think that’s an enormous, steaming load of crap. What that says is that a rather large part of a player’s worthiness for the MVP has nothing to do with him – it’s about how well his teammates play. The truth is that if Bautista had had better teammates the last couple of seasons, he’d be looking at his second straight MVP, but he didn’t, so he’s likely to come away empty-handed again.
Voters are starting to come around to certain things, like the idea that pitcher wins really don’t mean that much, if anything. I thought they were starting to come around to the value of on-base percentage until I saw Mark Trumbo finish second in A.L. Rookie of the Year voting. I hope one day they’ll realize that the MVP should be voted on on his own merits, as opposed to how good his teammates are.
I don’t think that day has come yet, though I really hope it has.
There is some real competition for the A.L. MVP from players whose teams were in playoff races, the biggest names among them (for offensive players, anyway) being Curtis Granderson, Miguel Cabrera and Jacoby Ellsbury.
Granderson was the only other big-leaguer to crack the 40-homer barrier. He hit 41, along with driving in a league-leading 119 runs while posting a .916 OPS, stealing 25 bases (only 10 times caught) and playing a mean centrefield. His .264 batting average will work against him (note: I’m not saying it should. It will.).
Cabrera won the batting title, hitting .344, and also hit 30 homers, drove in 105 runs, led the majors with a .448 on-base percentage and finished second to Bautista in OPS. He had a terrific year. Unlike Bautista, Granderson and Ellsbury, though, Cabrera has no defensive value at all. He’s an average first baseman, at best. However, defense doesn’t seem to matter a lot in the eyes of many voters.
Ellsbury had a phenomenal year, but his candidacy is tainted by the Red Sox’ historic September collapse. It should be noted, though, that Ellsbury hit .358/.400/.667 while his teammates were falling apart over the season’s final month. The Boston centrefielder hit .321/.376/.522 with 32 homers. He drove in 105 runs despite having all but 11 of his plate appearances batting first or ninth. He stole 39 bases (15 times caught) and led the majors in total bases with 364.
He also had some huge hits in the last week of the season, and had the Red Sox snuck into the playoffs, I think he’d have won the MVP. But they didn’t.
Who do I think will win it? A guy I haven’t mentioned yet, though I did write about him last week.
I believe the writers will go with Tigers’ ace and Cy Young winner Justin Verlander, though I believe that’s the wrong choice.
I don’t believe in the “pitchers have their own award, so they can’t be MVP” argument. They’re eligible, and if one has a year that’s that good, he should win it.
Make no mistake, Verlander had a great year. He won the Triple Crown of Pitching in the American League, he had 24 wins against just five losses and threw a no-hitter. I just don’t think he had a great enough year to take out a guy who had an offensive season like Bautista did.
I firmly believe that if the Blue Jays had been a playoff contender, or if a player on the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays, Tigers or Rangers had had a year like Bautista did, there wouldn’t be any debate. Bautista would be a slam-dunk winner.
But thinking back to the last couple of weeks of the regular season (all ballots were submitted prior to the start of the playoffs), there was a lot of talk in the national media south of the border about the A.L. MVP, and Bautista was an afterthought in most of those conversations, if he was even mentioned at all.
And in most of those conversations, Verlander was front and centre. That’s the main reason I think he’s going to win it – the buzz. His candidacy for MVP was the thing about which nearly everyone in the media was talking towards the end of the season. Not everyone thought he should win, but everyone was talking about him.
As that talk developed, there seemed to be a huge camp that argued that without Verlander, the Tigers wouldn’t have won the A.L. Central, which just fuels the fire of the “Valuable-ers”. That one is a leap I just can’t take. The Tigers won their division by 15 games, and there wasn’t a single other team in the Central that even finished with a .500 record. Yes, they were 25-9 in the games Verlander started, but that means means they were 70-58 in games in which he didn’t start. And do you really think if he wasn’t there, he’d have been replaced by a guy in whose starts the Tigers would have gone 9-25? Because that’s what it would have taken for them to lose the division without him. If you want to make your case for Verlander winning the MVP, be my guest – but keep that particular argument in your back pocket, thanks.
When the American League MVP is handed out at 2:00 PM Eastern this afternoon, I believe the writers’ choice to take home the hardware will be Verlander, making him the first to win both the MVP and Cy Young Award since Dennis Eckersley did it in 1992. He’ll become the first starting pitcher to do it since Roger Clemens in ’86.
Jose Bautista is my American League MVP, but I don’t get a vote.
Follow me on Twitter, you can find me @wilnerness590 – I will tweet out the winner as soon as it’s announced.
Rational, reasonable comments are always welcome!
Friday, November 18th, 2011
4:10 PM Eastern
The Blue Jays finally revealed what we’ve all been waiting for for a while now – the new logo and uniforms were unveiled this afternoon in a grand presentation at Rogers Centre.
Team President Paul Beeston opened his remarks by proudly declaring that the Blue is now back in Blue Jays, and boy, is it ever.
There’s no black at all in the new logo, and no more grey but for the colour of the road jerseys and pants. Not that I didn’t like the now-deceased logo and uniforms, I did, but they didn’t really mean anything as far as this team was concerned. The old uniforms were just laundry, these uniforms reflect tradition.
Everyone associated with the Blue Jays will swear up and down that the new logo and the new uniforms aren’t just like the ones the Blue Jays wore in their glory years, a few used the word “reminiscent” – and they’re not exactly the same, but there’s no doubt about the feelings and memories that are conjured up in looking at them.
The bird is sleeker, and there’s no baseball behind it on the caps and the uniform shirts. The split lettering has been modernized, and the piping isn’t quite the same.
But it certainly brings back those memories, and it brings back the history and tradition that is the Blue Jays, inasmuch as a franchise that’s only 35 years old can have that much history and tradition.
Personally, I love it. I don’t like it as much as I liked the ’92-’93 uniforms, but I think that’s just a matter of getting used to the new bird. As someone who has followed the Blue Jays from Day One as a seven-year old, it’s very difficult to put into words what it was like to be on that field to watch the Jays go back to the look that meant so much to so many of us as we watched the team grow from expansion doormats to up-and-coming contenders to division champions to World Series winners.
Throughout that time, that Blue Jay, with the red maple leaf by its left ear, was the constant. The uniforms changed ever so slightly – they moved from the pullover to the button-down in the late ’80s, I think, but that just classed them up a bit.
Then they went to that streamlined stemless-maple-leaf background look, then that ridiculous steroid-infused “T-Bird”, then to the latest logo before today, removing all the blue and making the dominant colour black. Of all those, I like the most-recently-deceased logo the most, but there’s no question what the ideal is, and the Blue Jays have just gone back to it.
To say that it’s a breath of fresh air seems a little odd, since the truth is that it’s the exact opposite of that – it’s a breath of old air, but the air isn’t stale, it’s refreshing and renewing.
Ultimately, the logo and uniform changes have absolutely nothing to do with what’s going to go on on the field – what you wear doesn’t affect how you play (except that the new unis are made of a different material that’s designed not to get weighed down as much by sweat), but it’s going to be amazing to watch them in the new threads, I must say.
As for the baseballicness of the day, the Cole Kimball era was a short one, as the Jays lost him to the Washington Nationals on waivers just two days after claiming him on waivers from the Nationals. The Jays would have loved to have had Kimball as a minor-league player, but having him sitting on the 40-man roster until Spring Training, when he was unlikely to pitch much, if at all this year, was a luxury they felt they couldn’t afford.
They tried to sneak Brian Jeroloman through waivers and couldn’t do it – the third catcher who didn’t get into a single game in his five weeks in the big leagues (mostly because he has an injured wrist that nobody told us about) was claimed by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
And on this, the final day to add players to the 40-man roster in order to make sure they wouldn’t be exposed to next month’s Rule 5 draft, four players got the call: catcher Travis d’Arnaud, first baseman Michael McDade and pitchers Evan Crawford and Nestor Molina.
Time to go back to work – I’m going to appear on the Prime Time Sports Roundtable tonight, so make sure you tune in on Sportsnet590 The Fan and Sportsnet from 5:00 – 7:00 PM Eastern.
Please give me a follow on The Twitter – I’m @wilnerness590 and there are all kinds of pictures of the Jays’ new stuff in my timeline from this afternoon.
Next week, the MVPs will be announced – A.L. on Monday, N.L. on Tuesday – and I’ll give you my thoughts in this space Sunday and Monday night.
Rational, reasonable comments are always welcome!
Wednesday, November 16th, 2011
9:15 PM Eastern
There’s no question that Justin Verlander got all the publicity as far as starting pitching went this season, to the extent that the Cy Young race over in that other league was almost completely ignored.
And that’s too bad, because it was an awfully good race, but just like the one in the Junior Circuit, it’s going to come down to one thing:
You win the Triple Crown of pitching, you win the Cy Young.
Verlander did it in the A.L., and Clayton Kershaw turned the trick in the N.L – so the 23 year-old lefty needs to clear a spot on his mantel.
Kershaw didn’t dominate his league like Verlander did his, winning the ERA title by .07 of a run over Roy Halladay, outpacing Cliff Lee by 10 strikeouts and tying Ian Kennedy for the league lead with 21 wins, but a Triple Crown winner he was.
Even more impressively, Kershaw led the N.L. in each of opponents’ batting average (.207), opponents’ OBP (.256) and opponents’ slugging percentage (.298). In fact, he was the only pitcher in the big leagues to hold his opposition to a slugging percentage under .300.
Kershaw also led the league in WHIP with a sparkling 0.98 (.01 better than Cole Hamels) and finished third in innings pitched and strikeout-to-walk ratio.
While it’s definitely more bunched up at the top than the A.L., Kershaw is the clear choice. I won’t go so far as to say he’ll win by unanimous selection, though he should. Strong cases can be made for Halladay, Lee and even Kennedy, but in the grand scheme of things, Kershaw was better than all of them. And he even won a Gold Glove, for what that’s worth (note: really not much).
The award, to be announced Thursday afternoon at 2:00 PM Eastern, will be the last one handed out this week, but not my last post. That’s because on Friday afternoon, the Blue Jays will reveal their new logo and uniforms, about which they dropped a hint earlier with a teaser video that you can find on bluejays.com. It appears as though the black is gone, to be replaced by blue, and the uniforms will look a whole lot like the ones the Jays were wearing when they won the World Series.
Follow me on The Twitter @wilnerness590 and you’ll see pictures of the new duds as soon as they’re presented!
Rational, reasonable comments are always welcome!
Tuesday, November 15th, 2011
9:30 PM Eastern
Both Manager of the Year Awards will be handed out Wednesday afternoon at 2:00 pm Eastern, and while one nod is as easy to predict as Justin Verlander winning the A.L. Cy Young was, the other is much more difficult.
I can’t really make any arguments for who I think should win the Manager of the Year award, because it’s pretty much impossible to determine a manager’s exact impact on his team.
Sure, stories are told and sonnets are written about the great rah-rah speeches, the brilliant tactical minds, the one word here and one move there that turns defeat into victory, but for the most part all that stuff is a giant load of crap.
Managers are only as good as the players they have, and there’s far more a manager can do to lose a game than he can do to win one. Ultimately, it’s out of his control. A manager can make the absolute correct tactical decision and the player he chooses to use can fail to execute. A manager can make the completely wrong tactical decision, but the player he chooses to use can get the job done. It happens all the time. All he can really do is make the best decision that’s available to him at the time and let the chips fall where they may.
No voter has enough exposure to the day-in, day-out nuances of any particular manager other than the one he or she covers on a regular basis, so really what a Manager of the Year Award comes down to is two things:
-A team exceeding expectations in a given season, and
Picking the National League Award winner is like shooting fish in a barrel. It’s going to be Kirk Gibson of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Much like the 2010 San Diego Padres, the 2011 DBacks were expected to be awful and to finish well back of the pack in the extremely mediocre N.L. West. Arizona shocked the baseball world, winning the West by a healthy eight games over the defending World Series champions, finishing with 94 victories, third-best in the league.
The Padres’ Bud Black won it last year, Gibson – in his first full season as a big-league skipper – will win it this year.
The American League is a much tougher call, because there was no team that seriously exceeded expectations for the entirety of the season.
The Cleveland Indians burst out of the gate at 30-15, and held a share of the A.L. Central lead as late as July 20th, but they wound up under .500 (though just barely) and 15 games behind the division-winning Tigers. Still, Manny Acta will get some serious consideration for “guiding” the Tribe to an 80-win season and for having them in the race as long as they were.
The Texas Rangers shook off the loss of free agent Cliff Lee and won the A.L. West for the second straight year, dusting the Angels by ten games. And Ron Washington earned a lot of fans with his trip to the World Series last season (all votes were in before this year’s playoffs).
But I believe the Tampa Bay Rays take the cake. They certainly exceeded my expectations of them this season, but they made the playoffs more because of the Red Sox’ historical collapse than because of how good a team they were. It’s difficult to say that the defending A.L. East champion winning the wild card is a surprise achievement, but it really was.
Not only did the Rays lose Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena in the off-season, they also traded away top-flight starter Matt Garza and lost their entire bullpen. That would be the bullpen that in 2010 led the American League in ERA, saves, opponents’ batting average, K/BB ratio and was second in opponents’ OPS – they lost everyone.
Rafael Soriano, Joaquin Benoit, Dan Wheeler, Grant Balfour, Randy Choate and Chad Qualls. All gone, leading to a complete overhaul of the relief corps.
The Rays started the year 0-6, but were over .500 by April 27th and never dipped below again. They didn’t set the world on fire, but they were in position to take advantage of the greatest September collapse in baseball history, going 17-9 over the season’s final month to make up ten games on the Red Sox.
Add to all of that the fact that Rays’ skipper Joe Maddon has the reputation of being a master motivator and brilliant tactician (who got more credit for Dan Johnson’s homer with two out in the bottom of the 9th on the last day of the regular season – Johnson or Maddon?), as well as being an absolutely incredible guy to whom to talk and with whom to deal, and you have your winner.
For the second time in four years, Maddon will be the A.L. Manager of the Year.
Tomorrow – the N.L. Cy Young!
Please follow me on the Twitter, you can find me @wilnerness590.
Rational, reasonable comments are always welcome.
Tuesday, November 15th, 2011
1:24 AM Eastern
Justin Verlander. And I’m tempted to say “that is all”, but I’ll elaborate a bit.
When you win your league’s Triple Crown of Pitching (Wins, ERA, K) and also lead the league in WHIP, innings pitched and each of opponents’ batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, there’s no one else who is even in the conversation.
Despite finishing 30th among qualifying pitchers in run support, Verlander went 24-5. He finished with a 2.40 ERA, notching 250 strikeouts in 251 innings while posting a WHIP of 0.92.
Who was second in those categories? CC Sabathia had 19 wins and 230 Ks, Jered Weaver had a 2.41 ERA and 1.01 WHIP and James Shields threw 249 1/3 innings.
It was a dominant year that featured one no-hitter, which Blue Jays fans remember well but want to forget, and two more close calls on no-no’s.
There’s really no debate to be had here, Verlander should and will win the American League Cy Young, and will more than likely do it with a unanimous vote. And it may not be the only piece of hardware he takes home this awards season.
Tomorrow – the Managers of the Year!
Please give me a follow on The Twitter, you can find me @wilnerness590.
Rational, reasonable comments are always welcome!
Sunday, November 13th, 2011
11:00 PM Eastern
The Silver Sluggers and Gold Gloves have been handed out, as have the Hank Aaron Awards, and now it’s time for the Baseball Writers’ Association of America to flex its muscles and start handing out its hardware.
This week, awards will be handed out Monday (Rookies of the Year) through Thursday (NL Cy Young), and next Monday and Tuesday, we get the MVPs.
I’ll be posting every night before an award is handed out to break things down and tell you who I think should take home the prize, and who I think will.
We begin with the Rookies of the Year, American League first:
I think it comes down to one of three starting pitchers, but I need to address the whole Mark Trumbo thing first.
For the life of me, I can’t understand why Trumbo, the Angels’ first baseman, is getting so much press and publicity for Rookie of the Year while Blue Jays’ catcher J.P. Arencibia is being virtually ignored.
The two rookies had very similar years, Trumbo posting a .768 OPS with 29 homers and 87 RBIs (voters look at them) while Arencibia had a .720 OPS with 23 homers and 78 RBIs in almost 100 fewer plate appearances. While catching.
I understand that Arencibia only hit .219 while Trumbo batted .254, but their OBPs were only nine points apart, which really closes that gap.
For me, you have two power hitters who didn’t get on base well, one of whom plays the most difficult position on the diamond and the other one of whom plays one of the easiest. If you consider Trumbo for the award, you have to consider Arencibia, as well.
That said, I don’t think either one of them will win it, or should. For me, it’s a three-horse race between Tampa Bay’s Jeremy Hellickson, Michael Pineda of the Mariners and the Yankees’ Ivan Nova.
Pineda burst on the scene and was 6-2 with a 2.30 ERA after a great start against the Orioles on June 1st. He seemed to have the award in his back pocket, but wound up going just 3-8 over the final four months of the season to finish 9-10 with an ERA of 3.74, though his WHIP of 1.10 was the best among qualifying rookies.
Now, I don’t care about a pitcher’s won-lost record – there are so many things that are out of his control. Pineda had 14 starts this season in which he went at least six innings and allowed no more than two earned runs, and won just nine of them. That’s actually not a bad success rate, especially with the Mariners’ bats backing him, but in the six starts in which he went at least six innings and allowed exactly three earned runs, he went 0-3.
For me, Hellickson is the A.L. Rookie of the Year. Pitching in the A.L. East, he went 13-10 with a 2.95 ERA that was tops among qualifying rookies and 8th in the league, and his 1.15 WHIP was second only to Pineda’s among qualifiers. He led A.L. rookies in innings pitched and was second to Pineda in strikeouts. It’s tight, but I give it to Hellickson.
I think, however, that the voters will give it to Nova. There are things that jump out at a voter, and a 16-4 record is a big one. After seeing Felix Hernandez win the A.L. Cy Young last year while going 13-12, and Tim Lincecum taking the N.L. Cy the year before with just 15 wins, I’m starting to have more and more faith in the voters discounting won-lost record because of a pitcher’s lack of control over it, but I still see 16-4 as a pretty big carrot dangling in front of them.
Nova’s 3.70 ERA and 1.33 WHIP are better indicators of the year he had, as are the almost nine runs a game of run support he got from his Yankee teammates, but 16-4 is pretty gaudy, and thinking back to the end of the regular season, it seemed a lot more people were talking about Nova than were talking about Hellickson.
I say the Ray deserves it, but the Yankee gets it, though I’m kind of talking myself into the writers picking Hellickson as I write this.
In the National League, the choice seems a lot clearer. There was no especially outstanding offensive performer, though the Mets’ Lucas Duda wound up with a very pretty .292/.370/.482 slash line. He really only became a regular after the deadline trade of Carlos Beltran to the Giants, though, and hit just 10 homers in about a half-season’s worth of at-bats.
The Phillies’ Vance Worley posted the gaudy 11-3 record and ERA just a hair over three, but one freshman blew away the competition – quite literally.
Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel took the bigs by storm, tying for the N.L. lead with 46 saves and leading the major leagues (min. 60 IP) with a phenomenal 14.84 strikeouts per nine innings. He struck out 127 hitters in 77 innings of work, while posting a 1.04 WHIP and holding his opponents to an OPS of .499. Those numbers are just stupid, and more than enough to get Kimbrel the hardware, quite possibly by a unanimous vote.
He gets my vote, and I feel pretty safe in saying he gets the writers’ too.
Tomorrow – the American League Cy Young. Man, what a tough call.
Please follow me on Twitter @wilnerness590.
Rational, reasonable comments are always welcome!
Thursday, November 3rd, 2011
10:11 PM Eastern
Hey, just because it’s the off-season doesn’t mean all is quiet.
Since the end of the World Series, the Blue Jays have retained the services of Player Development Guru Tony LaCava, picked up the option on Edwin Encarnacion, declined to exercise their option on Jon Rauch and outrighted Adam Loewen and Jesse Carlson off the 40-man roster to Las Vegas, a move which immediately made them six-year minor-league free agents.
The only things among these that were a little surprising to me were the cases of LaCava and Loewen.
Tony LaCava has worked with the Blue Jays for nine years. Targeted by J.P. Ricciardi as soon as he got the job, LaCava was brought on to become a key member of the Jays’ front office, perhaps the most important one besides Alex Anthopoulos. Widely respected and highly regarded throughout the game, LaCava was J.P.’s and is now Alex’s top and most-trusted lieutenant. He has a great eye for scouting and a great mind for the game and also happens to be a pretty tremendous human being.
LaCava was a finalist for both the Pirates’ and Mariners’ GM jobs in the recent past and this week declined an offer to become General Manager of the Baltimore Orioles. Partly because of his loyalty to Anthopoulos and the Blue Jays and his desire to see things through here in Toronto, but also because it’s pretty much a gong show in Baltimore, with meddlesome owner Peter Angelos always having to stick his nose into the baseball operations. Word is that LaCava wanted to clear out some of the dead weight in the department in Baltimore and Angelos nixed that idea. Just ask Pat Gillick how hard it is to work for that guy.
Eventually, someone will come along and snatch LaCava away from the Jays, and his departure will be a massive, massive blow to what the club is trying to do, but for now, they get to keep him, and that’s a very good thing. His return to the office (the Blue Jays keep employees who are being considered for opportunities with other teams out of their planning sessions) was greeted with a standing ovation.
As for Loewen, it really came down to what gave the Jays the most flexibility and what was best for him. Had the Blue Jays kept Loewen on the 40-man roster, he would have come to Spring Training fighting for the last spot on the bench and been out of options, which means the Jays would have had to have kept him up with the big club or put him through waivers, allowing any other team to have a shot at him.
This way, the other teams have a shot at him now, when there are legitimate jobs for him to potentially contest, and if he doesn’t find anything he can come back to the Jays (where he really wants to be) on a minor-league deal and his out-of-optionness won’t be an issue.
As much as people wanted to think that Loewen was going to be able to challenge Eric Thames or Travis Snider for the every day left field job, or even Adam Lind for the every day gig at first base, that just wasn’t going to happen. He’s far from a finished product, and it would have done Loewen a disservice to have him make the team and just sit and rot at the end of the bench all season long, waiting for someone to get hurt so he could get some playing time.
I’ll be popping up all winter long in this space, whenever something happens, and I’ll make sure not to go more than a week without posting. If you want to be the first to know when a new post goes up, follow me on The Twitter – you can find me @wilnerness590.
There will be posts coming all next week to discuss the BBWAA Awards – who I think will win rookies and managers of the year, Cy Youngs and MVPs, and who I think should.
Rational, reasonable comments are always welcome!