2004 Toronto Blue Jays Preview - Part One
Wednesday, March 24 2004 @ 11:02 AM EST
Contributed by: Coach
Many thanks to all my colleagues for their entertaining, informative work on this series, which would have wrapped up today if I had been more concise. This was quite an ambitious project for Batter's Box, and I'm extremely pleased with how it turned out.
Warning: unlike my thesis on the Cardinals, this one is really l-o-n-g, so it's being presented in three parts, beginning with this gaze into the rear-view mirror. The player "analysis" (my sabrmetrician friends may smile at my use of the term, or just shake their heads) comprises Part Two, which will be posted tomorrow. On Friday, most of Part Three will be devoted to Jordan Furlong's assessment of the Top 40 Prospects in the Toronto organization. I'm very grateful for that contribution, and to Craig Burley for allowing me to follow up on his remarkably accurate first impressions of Carlos Tosca.
Batter's Box regulars, so familiar with the Jays, may not learn much from this. I hope you enjoy it anyway.
Fighting Jays Have Fighting Chance
In baseball's so-called "nuclear" division, while the superpowers' payrolls escalated to record heights and names like Schilling and A-Rod stole the headlines, the Blue Jays quietly added seven new pitchers to an already potent arsenal. Though he's not making any rash predictions, J.P. Ricciardi believes he has assembled a better club than last year, and as usual, he won't get an argument from me.
Improvement is no guarantee of winning every other team in the AL East appears stronger than last year, so the Jays need to be better just to match their 2003 record. Even 95 wins, as predicted by Carlos Tosca in February, might not be enough to earn the wild card. The skipper hasn't exactly recanted that forecast, but he's no longer mentioning a number, preferring to focus on a playoff spot as his yardstick for a successful season.
The contract situations of the GM and the manager explain their slightly different perspectives on the 2004 squad. J.P., cautiously optimistic about this season, is paid through 2007 to take a long-term view. His rebuilding project does appear to be a full year ahead of schedule a contender wasn't in the original plans until 2005 yet his vision may not become fully realized until 2006. I'm not implying that Ricciardi is content to finish third; he's an extremely competitive fellow. It's just that he can afford to be patient, and won't sacrifice the future for the present by trading away blue-chip prospects for the possibility of immediate help.
Tosca, in the final year of his deal, is much more motivated to win right now, and being a positive thinker, believes he can. Part of his mandate is to inspire his troops, so the "Little General" insists that they can compete on even terms with Boston and New York. If the Jays avoid serious injuries to key players, he could be right.
J.P. has likened his club to Seabiscuit; I love the analogy. Long before Laura Hillenbrand's wonderful book, and the satisfying movie version by Gary Ross, the 'Biscuit was one of my favourite racehorses. A ticket to the 1940 Santa Anita Handicap, his final race, passed on to me by my late grandfather, is among my most treasured posessions. Seabiscuit, an undersized, underachieving colt in the powerful stable of "Sunny Jim" Fitzimmons, was practically given away, only to flourish under unorthodox, creative management and become a champion.
The Yankees are typecast as chief adversary War Admiral, complete with the fancy pedigree, Triple Crown trophies and high-class connections. The Red Sox? Well, they haven't won a World Series since Man O'War was a yearling; some punters might conclude they are long overdue. Most handicappers consider the Jays to be the third-best "horse" in this race, a few lengths behind the deserving co-favourites. Toronto fans hope that their underdog team has the heart of Seabiscuit, which will be necessary to pull an upset. No matter what the result, few things are as exciting as rooting for a longshot in a photo-finish.
|Record: 86-76 (15 games back of Yankees)||Runs Scored: 894 (2nd in AL)|
|Finish: 3rd AL East (sixth consecutive year)||Runs Allowed: 826 (10th in AL) |
|Attendance: 1,799,458 (23rd in MLB, 11th in AL)||Pythagorean Record: 87-74 |
What went wrong?
Though it was not unexpected denizens of Da Box had been dreading the Terrible Twenty since the schedule was first published the month of April was a nightmare for Toronto fans. A packed house for the opener was silenced, as the Yankees won the marquee Halladay/Clemens matchup and went on to sweep the series, scoring 27 runs in three games. With the SARS scare keeping people away from public places, few witnessed the next two series; actual attendance appeared to be no more than half the announced average of 13,000 and change. A heartbreaking loss in the finale of the Red Sox set (Cliff Politte and Trever Miller gave up homers in "relief" of a 10-K Halladay start) was the beginning of a horrendous 2-12 stretch, during which the Jays were swept by the Twins, then lost three of four in both New York and Boston. That led to a dismal 10-18 record at month's end.
Even the thrill of a six-run, bottom-of-the-ninth comeback to beat the Royals was missed by many disgruntled fans who, assuming another ugly loss, left the premises early or changed channels. Thanks to a local company buying up all the empty seats to encourage virus-phobic Torontonians to leave their homes, more than 48,000 paid a loonie, packing the Dome for the next game. With a chance to make a positive impression, the Jays fell behind Texas 7-0 before stumbling to an embarrassing 16-11 defeat. Shooting themselves in the foot in front of large crowds would become a recurring 2003 theme.
Early on, the defence was horrible. Eric Hinske gamely tried to play third base with a broken throwing hand, Chris Woodward was erratic at short, Orlando Hudson alternated between spectacular plays and brain cramps, and the catching platoon featured two excellent hitters. Shannon Stewart and Frank Catalanotto, never mistaken for Gold Glovers, were stationed in the corner outfield spots, hoping the ball would be hit to center. J.P. once told me that he isn't obsessed with offence; if he could afford great pitching and defence, he would love to have it all. Financial reality dictated that he rebuild in stages, and hitting, most easily acquired, had to take priority. Especially in the AL, it's more cost-effective to try to win 7-6 than 3-2. That doesn't mean you ignore run prevention; fortunately, that aspect has improved since the start of 2003.
Injuries are a part of any sport, and sore arms are commonplace for pitchers. There's a fine line between sucking it up tolerating a certain amount of pain for the good of the team and hiding a serious injury in a futile attempt to hang on to a role or roster spot. This has become a pet peeve of mine. Chris Carpenter's selfish desire to pitch the 2002 opener at Fenway in front of family and friends led him to keep some important secrets about his aching shoulder from the pitching coach and training staff; he's been paying for that irresponsible decision for two years, as have the Jays. The 2003 club would have been better served if Pete Walker, Cliff Politte and Cory Lidle (all since departed) had been more open and honest with their coaches and trainers. Instead of being shut down and taking time to rehab, they pitched hurt, to the detriment of the team and perhaps their own careers.
Considering the Jays recovered from that awful start to win 86 games, one more than the skipper predicted in spring training and eight more than the previous year, some folks thought 2003 was a success. Actually, it could have been much better; there were many disappointments involving the pitching. The bullpen, pieced together in the offseason with the likes of Doug Creek and Jeff Tam, was supposed to be anchored by Kelvim Escobar. That plan went out the window early, as Escobar was more erratic than ever. He was put into the rotation as a last resort, and though that turned out well enough, it left a gaping hole in the 'pen.
These old eyes thought Cliff Politte had lost a foot or two off his nasty 2002 heater way back in spring training; the illusory "rise" or late "hop" was missing, and it never came back. Thrust into the closer's role, Politte walked a tightrope for a while before a tendency to self-criticism and a bum shoulder cost him his new job. Midseason band-aids (Juan Acevedo, Scott Service, Dan Reichert and an assortment of AAA callups) couldn't stop the bleeding. The lack of quality relief pitching was the most frustrating issue of the season for most fans.
Only one starter performed as expected in 2003 Roy Halladay asserted himself as one of the very best in the game. Escobar, not even considered for the rotation in April, showed enough flashes of brilliance that the Angels gave him an additional guaranteed year and almost $9 million more than the Jays offered him to stay. That surprise barely made up for the underachieving Cory Lidle, who was acquired to be the #2 man, began reasonably well, then had a season we're still trying to forget. Tanyon Sturtze, pencilled in to eat 200 innings in front of tremendous run support, never found a groove and was banished to the far end of the bullpen bench. Mark Hendrickson made 30 starts, a few of which were promising, but for the most part, Lurch was hittable, and you can only wait so long for even a 6' 9" lefty to develop. The revolving door of fifth starters kept spinning until August, with Pete Walker, Doug Davis and Corey Thurman among those failing auditions.
The less said about the 8-11 record vs. Tampa, the better. Stung by those annoying Devil Rays, the Jays were a game over .500 against the rest of their division. If you're wondering, they went 17-15 vs. the West and 22-14 vs. the Central, where there's still room for improvement on a 3-6 mark against the hated (by me, at least) White Sox.
What went right?
Plenty. Roy Halladay won his first Cy Young, Carlos Delgado narrowly missed the MVP, and Vernon Wells became a star. The object of the game is to score runs, which the 2003 Jays did a club record 894 of them, 81 runs more than they notched in 2002, second only to the Red Sox in the AL, and third in the majors. Had they been only a little better at keeping their opponents off the scoreboard, they might have stayed in the playoff hunt to the end.
May more than made up for April. The Jays won 21 games, the best month in team history. They swept Anaheim at home and won the rematch on the coast, swept the Royals in K.C., then rolled into Yankee Stadium only a game under .500 and proceeded to win four straight there, for the first time ever. The momentum continued into June. After an unfortunate stop in St. Louis even the umpiring crew conspired against them, reversing a triple play they bounced back to win nine of the next 12 Interleague matches, and on June 23 were a dozen games over .500, the high-water mark of the season. With reasonable observers cautioning that they were neither as bad as they had looked in April, nor as good as they appeared in the ensuing seven weeks, the Jays and their fans gradually accepted reality it was a very good club, relegated to third place in the game's strongest division.
I have nothing against the guy he was a fine Blue Jay for many years but the trade of Shannon Stewart was another positive development. What amused me most about the ludicrous MVP campaign waged on his behalf by some seriously misguided writers was how they completely ignored the first half of the season. Rarely does the MVP miss a month, and while Shannon was on the DL, the Jays went 16-6; they were several games under .500 when he played. Forget that, and his noodle arm in the outfield. Just look at the bottom line the Jays could no longer afford Stewart, who earns more than three times as much as Frank Catalanotto, for almost identical production. Maybe J.P. had Ted Lilly in mind all along when he traded for Bobby Kielty, but that's the net result by dealing Stewart, who was leaving anyway and completely replaceable, the Jays ended up with millions in valuable payroll flexibility and an experienced lefty starter, instead of two draft picks.
Team defence also improved when Stewart was dealt, which wasn't merely addition by subtraction. Cat had been overmatched in right field; he's far more comfortable in left. Kielty became a significant upgrade in right, making some highlight-reel grabs. The arrival of Kevin Cash was a plus; no longer were the Jays helpless against running teams. O-Dog settled down to become more consistent at second, and the smooth, steady Mike Bordick earned more playing time at short.
Greg Myers did amazing things with the bat in 2003. Tom Wilson combined with Crash to form "Frankencatcher," the bargain platoon that put up all-star numbers for the first half. Reed Johnson was the feel-good story of the year. Emerging from obscurity not even on the 40-man roster right into the leadoff spot, Sparky energized the team. His leadoff and walk-off homers to open and win the Father's Day game against the Cubs were unforgettable.
By season's end, the bullpen wasn't a complete disaster. Rule 5 draftee Aquilino Lopez was a brilliant find, and waiver pickup Jason Kershner was another pleasant surprise when he came up from Syracuse at the end of June. For the second year in a row, the Jays had a great September, going 19-7 behind the spectacular pitching of Roy Halladay and the unheralded Josh Towers. Carlos Delgado became the first Blue Jay (and just the 15th player) to blast four home runs in a single game. Vernon Wells set a Toronto record for hits in a season. Later that same day, another indelible memory was the megawatt smile lighting up the face of the normally stoic Halladay when he established a new club mark with his 22nd victory.
If the Blue Jays did nothing else in 2003, they convinced themselves and discerning fans that they were getting close to serious contention. While none of the subsequent roster moves turned the baseball world upside down, an already solid team has taken several more steps in a positive direction.
| Good day, eh?|| So long, eh?|
| RHP Miguel Batista (FA)|| RHP Kelvim Escobar (FA, Anaheim)|
| RHP Pat Hentgen (FA)|| LHP Mark Hendrickson (trade, Tampa)|
| LHP Ted Lilly (trade)|| OF Bobby Kielty (trade, Oakland)|
| RHP Justin Speier (trade)|| RHP Cory Lidle (FA, Reds)|
| LHP Valerio de los Santos (FA)|| RHP Cliff Politte (FA, White Sox)|
| RHP Kerry Ligtenberg (FA)|| LHP Trever Miller (FA, Tampa)|
| RHP Terry Adams (FA)|| C Tom Wilson (FA, Padres) |
| IF Chris Gomez (FA)||RHP Pete Walker (sold, Japan)|
|RHP Talley Haines (Rule 5)||SS Mike Bordick (retired)|
| RHP Jayson Durocher (NRI)||RHP Tanyon Sturtze (FA, Dodgers)|
| LHP Bruce Chen (NRI)||RHP Jeff Tam (FA, Rockies)|
|LHP Dave Maurer (NRI)||RHP Sandy Nin (PTBNL, Colorado)|
| RHP Josue Matos (NRI)||LHP Dave Gassner (PTBNL, Minnesota)|
|OF Chad Hermanson (NRI)|| |
| OF Noah Hall (NRI)|| |
Locking up their ace with a four-year, $42-million deal was by far the biggest offseason coup for the Jays; Doc is the essential building block for an anticipated run at another title. He isn't the only Cy guy in the rotation, as Pat Hengten has come "home" to Toronto. That move had nothing to do with nostalgia; the leadership Hentgen provides to the entire staff and his mentor relationship with Halladay are merely bonuses. Fully recovered from Tommy John surgery, Pat proved last season he can still pitch. Free agent Miguel Batista, sought after by as many as a dozen teams, chose the Jays, making El Artista an immediate favourite of Bauxites. The other new starter, Ted Lilly, has yet to throw a pitch for his new team in spring training, though he is scheduled to go a couple of innings tonight. Once his tender wrist has healed, the lefty figures to be part of a considerable upgrade on last year's staff, only four of whom have returned.
Because he was able to overhaul the rotation without breaking the payroll bank, Ricciardi had more to spend on revamping the bullpen. Finally, he believes, "we've got some guys we trust a bit more." While there wasn't an affordable Proven Closer under the Christmas tree for Jays fans, a trade and three free agent signings addressed that 2003 weak spot, turning it into a potential strength.
There will always be some losses. Tom Wilson's bat and Mike Bordick's glove will be missed; both were classy, likeable guys and we wish them well. Cory Lidle and Kelvim Escobar may have very good years with their new organizations Esteban Loaiza's name will invariably be mentioned if they do but for various reasons, it's probably best that they have moved on. Virtually everything on the to-do list was accomplished, all within the confines of a frugal budget, in a highly successful winter for the front office.
Contrasting the impulsive, hands-on style of George Steinbrenner, Ted Rogers has been almost as invisible as the Belgian beer barons, content to put his team in Paul Godfrey's hands. Godfrey, a power broker who ran Metropolitan Toronto for a decade, has also been willing to take a back seat. Those are good things, from a fan's perspective; so was the hiring of J.P. Ricciardi to make the baseball decisions.
"Rogers didn't interfere with the baseball operation at all," Godfrey told George Gross of the Sun early in 2002. "However, the company was concerned about the budget and we had to make changes. Gord Ash became one of the victims. We went from a big-market team when the Canadian dollar was $1.18 against the U.S. buck to a small-market team with the dollar at $1.40. I had to look for a new GM."
Not being a baseball expert himself, Godfrey wasn't about to make a snap decision.
"Names such as Pat Gillick and others were thrown at me," he recalls. "But I had to find somebody who had a game plan and strategies specific to our situation."
He assembled a list of 50 candidates. Many had already interviewed it is said that Paul DePodesta turned down a job offer when Godfrey and lawyer Herb Solway, one of the founders of the Jays, met Ricciardi for the first time. J.P. blew them away in five minutes, with his intimate knowledge of the club, its assets and its bloated payroll.
In addition to grasping the budget issues, Ricciardi explained the Oakland philosophy of player development he would implement throughout the organization. Mature college players would be drafted, a coaching staff of "teachers" would be hired at every level, and the system would soon produce patient hitters who were on-base machines, along with pitchers who worked fast and threw strikes. He didn't recommend spending on free agents until they were a player or two away from a championship roster.
"I think J.P. is on the right track and I expect he'll soon become the executive of the year in baseball," Godfrey has said. "That's why I turned down Boston when they asked for permission to talk to him and that's why I extended his contract by five years."
That's also why it says here that Paul Godfrey is doing an excellent job as team president, and Ted Rogers is a fine owner. The only criticism from this corner will come if and when the Jays really are just one player away, and the purse strings aren't loosened a little. Of course, Toronto fans can help make that happen, by turning out in greater numbers to support the team.
J.P. Ricciardi spent 16 years in the A's organization, where he was quite content as the right hand of his best friend Billy Beane, never promoting himself as a GM candidate. "I was just out there doing my job," he says modestly. "I'm most proud of the fact that my baseball reputation was rewarded."
Whether or not he delivers a World Series by the time his contract expires, Ricciardi has already turned the franchise around in just two years. He's focused on the goal, not easily distracted even when the team's hot streak last summer raised the expectations of some bandwagon-jumping local fans, J.P. wasn't about to deviate from his plan.
Above all else, Ricciardi remains a talent scout.
"He's got a great understanding of assets," says Jonah Keri of Baseball Prospectus. "He knows what's expendable and what's not."
Leigh Sprague's comprehensive Blue Jays All-Time Annotated Trade Catalogue includes a summary of J.P.'s trades. Some were salary dumps of players like Raul Mondesi, Alex Gonzalez and Brad Fullmer (all of whom were replaced at a fraction of the cost) but the biggest deal Billy Koch for Eric Hinske and Justin Miller brought an influx of talent at considerable savings. That's not the only way Ricciardi has made his club cheaper, younger and better. He's plucked useful talent off the waiver wire, signed free agents, reaped benefits from the Rule 5 draft, and promoted from within. Not every move has been an unqualified success, but his percentage is excellent.
For those of us who fancy ourselves armchair general managers, the common denominator among J.P.'s transactions is simple they make sense. Paul Quantrill for Luke Prokopec may not have worked out very well, mostly because the Aussie's right arm disintegrated, but any time you can flip a highly paid middle reliever for a young, inexpensive starter, that's usually a good idea.
While steadily improving the 25-man roster, Ricciardi has simultaneously implemented a new philosophy throughout the farm system. Afterthoughts from other organizations have been given a second chance, and almost everyone selected in the last two amateur drafts fits the blueprint. Not everyone agrees with his emphasis on drafting college talent, but as someone who spent many years on the road scouting prospects, J.P. knows exactly what he is doing.
The Jays, with a few bright lights in the organization but little depth, didn't have the luxury of waiting for high school kids to mature. They needed immediate help at every level. On a modest developmental budget, they can't afford to compete with richer clubs offering massive bonuses to first-round picks. It's not that they don't recognize or appreciate the talent of 18-year-olds, it's that college players are two or three years closer to the big leagues, and considerably less expensive to sign.
There was criticism from some quarters, mainly those with strong connections to tools-based scouting, when Ricciardi made wholesale changes to his organization. Gone are respected traditionalists like Tim Wilken and Bill Livesey, but don't let anyone with an agenda fool you they weren't replaced by computer geeks, spreadsheets, robots or aliens. Remember, Gord Ash had to rely on advice from "baseball people" he's never worn a uniform or sat in a dugout.
J.P. has baseball coursing through his veins, and he's all but cloned himself by hiring Tony LaCava. Chris Buckley is another solid baseball man, who played professionally, coached in college, then paid his dues in the scouting ranks. The whole front office pays attention to the statistical analysis provided by Keith Law, which serves many purposes, not the least of which is to minimize costly mistakes. The remaining scouts in a streamlined organization all realize how valuable that information is, to complement their observations.
Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball, told John Allemang of the Globe and Mail how impressive he considered Ricciardi's accomplishments.
"It took the Oakland A's a decade to wrap their minds around what he's done in a year, changing an entire corporate culture. He's got big balls, firing scouts who are grossly incompetent when it's so easy to retain them and not get crucified in the press."
The system is efficient, and so far, it's been incredibly effective. The AA team in New Haven, the High-A team in Dunedin and the short-season club in Auburn were highly successful in 2003, and that talent is moving up the ladder, giving AAA Syracuse a very promising lineup for the upcoming season. The benefits should be felt in Toronto beginning in 2005, and for many years after that.
Not everyone falls under Ricciardi's spell; his intensity has even rubbed a few people the wrong way. Only a professional skeptic would fail to notice that the guy is a charismatic leader. According to the original Toronto baseball man, Bobby Mattick, J.P. has "a presence that permeates the club." It's a combination of intelligence, humour, honesty, and every other aspect of his character. Few, if any, general managers are as comfortable around their players, and vice versa. They interact like the boss is just another coach.
It's not essential to be a huge fan of a GM to enjoy the team he puts on the field, but it helps. For me, part of the fun of supporting the Jays in Pat Gillick's heyday was the belief that the team was on the right track, and that he would do something clever each year to give his club an edge. Confidence that the man calling the shots was smarter than his rivals disappeared while Ash was in charge. From the day Ricciardi was hired, it began to return. Naysayers who point to third place in the AL East standings and conclude that nothing has changed are simply not paying attention to the details. Even if the end result appears the same, the Jays will be better for the third successive year, and there are more and more reasons to be hopeful about the future.
About a year ago, in the 2003 Jays Preview on Baseball Primer, Craig Burley put Carlos Tosca "in a box" the format used by Bill James in the 1984 Baseball Abstract, adapted for his subsequent book on managers. This was an ambitious project even for Craig, as Tosca hadn't yet managed a full season. Some things haven't changed much, like the skipper's CV:
Tosca never played professional baseball. He played at the University of South Florida and there came under the wing of Yankees exec Jack Butterfield, who also was influential in the careers of J.P. Ricciardi and Buck Showalter as young men. Butterfield (father of current third-base coach Brian Butterfield) was Yankees' VP of Player Development before dying in a car crash in 1979. Tosca has coached for and worked with Jim Leyland and Buck Showalter (three years as bench coach).
Citing the decisive way Tosca handled Raul Mondesi's punctuality problems in 2002 and the poor attention span of Felipe Lopez, Burley called the manager a disciplinarian, with an important distinction.
Tosca does not like to fight battles through the media, but keeps matters within the clubhouse.
Having observed him in a few of the daily "scrums" last year, I would say that Carlos is somewhat wary of the media. He doesn't duck questions, giving straightforward, honest answers, but he chooses his words carefully. When he called a closed-door team meeting to address an apparent lack of intensity, the media pros tried a number of different approaches to get him to reveal what had transpired. Nothing doing. His silence let his players know he can be trusted.
Another of the original Jamesian questions asks if a manager is an optimist or a problem solver. Two-thirds of a season was too soon to tell with certainty for Craig, who took an educated guess.
One would normally think that a successful and longtime minor league manager would be a problem solver, since there's little room in development for the wait-and-see philosophy.
If being an "optimist" means just waiting for issues to go away, that's definitely not Tosca. He had his share of problems to solve in 2003, and faced them head-on, without pointing fingers. Carlos isn't easily categorized along these lines; he does try to avoid pessimism, both personally and among his players. Perhaps there should be a third category like the rest of his coaching staff, he's a teacher.
On the issue of set lineups vs. platoons, Craig's observation "He tends to ride lineups during a winning streak" was accurate. The question of using proven veterans ahead of younger guys was also difficult to answer, based on such limited data, but Burley nailed it.
He's not averse to using unproven players, but he seems to prefer older guys (proven or unproven) over younger guys. Tosca had a very good relationship with a number of older players without much MLB experience Ken Huckaby, Chris Woodward, Pete Walker, Mark Hendrickson. As befits a minor league manager, he knows what career minor leaguers can do.
One promising youngster who has occasionally been a forgotten man in Tosca's reign is Josh Phelps. That's not entirely a matter of experience; the skipper has also considered the platoon advantage, and tried to keep the hot bat of Greg Myers in the lineup against righthanded pitching as much as possible.
As to whether he prefers offensive players or glove men, Craig made an interesting point.
The team's general philosophy is based around offense, but Tosca appears to act as something of a counterweight to that.
In my opinion, Carlos has made a number of compromises between his personal beliefs and the organizational precepts. As J.P. told Batter's Box readers last summer, "I didnt hire him to implement his plan, I hired him to implement our plan. Our manager has to be an extension of us."
We learned a bit more when Kevin Cash arrived. Not all managers would stick with a guy who didn't hit his weight, but Tosca kept writing Cash's name into the lineup. When he benched Woodward in favour of Bordick, that was another clear preference for defence, at least up the middle.
Other questions in the James box refer to a manager's use of his bench. As Craig pointed out, the 2002 Jays didn't have much depth. In 2003, that changed for the better, particularly when the opposition started a lefthander. Tosca didn't employ strict platoons, but players like Dave Berg and Tom Wilson were often in the lineup. With Cat, Myers and sometimes Hinske available off the bench, he did a lot more substituting. He's definitely loyal; Craig pointed out that Carlos "kept going back to the well with struggling players" in 2002.
Does Tosca play for the big inning or employ one-run strategies? Reflecting the wishes of the front office, that's another area in which he's changed.
The Jays made 34 outs using one-run strategies in 2002, finishing last in MLB in caught stealing and last in sacrifice bunts. Tosca was as extreme a big-inning man as we've seen in many a year. 26 of the other 29 teams burned more than twice as many outs on one-run strategies as the Jays. This represented a complete about-face for Tosca. In the minors, Tosca was a run-run-run manager who loved to bunt.
"We're not opposed to the bunt," he explains. "We're opposed to sacrifice bunting until the situation absolutely calls for it. Where you've got the right pitcher on the mound, one you can't steal a base against or a catcher who is tough to steal on."
The first time I ever spoke to Carlos, I made him laugh by suggesting that he's a National League guy at heart, who would be happier making double-switches and starting runners. However, he's well aware that he's in the station-to-station DH league now. The Blue Jays were last in the majors with 11 sacrifices last season. Even Oakland, which ranked 29th, had twice as many. However, that doesn't mean bunting is prohibited.
"We don't want to give up outs but all of our guys, if they see an opportunity to bunt for a base hit, can do it any time they want," Tosca says.
The same applies to the running game, which Tosca has all but abandoned since moving to the AL. He doesn't hit-and-run often, and the stolen base is reserved for critical situations. Craig pointed out that's a major change in his approach:
In 1996 in Portland of the Eastern League (Marlins) he ordered 254 steal attempts in 141 games. In 1991 with the Royals' Baseball City affiliate in the FSL, he ordered 315 stolen base attempts in just 131 games. He literally had to be running at every opportunity his GCL numbers were similar around 2.5 stolen base attempts per game.
In 2002, the Jays' success rate was tremendous 71 SB to just 18 CS, part of that under Buck Martinez but in 2003, the Jays were dead last in the majors with 37 steals, and were caught 25 times, suggesting that with the possible exception of Eric Hinske (12 of 14) they should stay anchored to the bag.
Burley didn't take long to notice the manager's reliance on intentional walks.
He would intentionally walk a blind, lame Rey Ordonez if it would set up a double play. Toronto led the AL in intentional walks, mostly due to Tosca. As a minor league manager, Tosca didn't order an unusually large number of intentional walks until 2001 at Richmond, where he also ordered a very substantial number (52 in 144 games).
2003 wasn't much different, as the Jays again led the league in IBB, with 46. Ten National League teams had more, but in the Senior Circuit, you have to deal with pitchers on deck and the phenomenon of Barry Bonds.
Regarding pitchers, Craig noted that Tosca "seems to be very high on guys who put the ball in play," then cited a managerial trait that has become a source of frustration for some fans.
He loves his bullpen. The Jays were second in the American League in relievers used. He'll use anybody, everybody, anywhere, anytime. He preferred set roles for set-up man (Politte) and closer (Escobar) with a lead, but otherwise guys pitched whenever they were available, particularly because Tosca loves to get the platoon advantage.
Again, 2003 confirmed those initial observations. Trever Miller led the American League in appearances, and Tosca wore out a path from the dugout to the mound. In one notable inning against the Devil Rays in August, he brought in the lefty Miller to relieve the lefty Hendrickson. The first batter popped out on the second pitch, but Carlos popped out of the dugout, pointing to his right arm. Aquilino Lopez gave up a single, Lou Piniella sent up a pinch-hitter, and Tosca countered with Jason Kershner, his third southpaw of the inning.
This season, with more experienced arms in the bullpen, some of whom are equally effective against hitters from both sides of the plate, perhaps that tendency will diminish. That's the most common criticism of Carlos, who also has many positive qualities, the strongest of which Burley identified a year ago as leadership and determination.
When Tosca wants to do something, he does it. He absolutely does not believe in half-measures. He is a natural for command; players respect him but he is a disciplinarian at heart.
Bill James' final question is a hypothetical, asking what a manager might be doing if there was no professional baseball. I can't think of a better answer than Craig's.
Remember that awesome movie from the late 1980s, Stand and Deliver, in which Edward James Olmos played Jaime Escalante, a Bolivian math teacher inspiring a class of poor students from East L.A. to take on, and conquer, the Advanced Placement calculus test? Yeah, Tosca would be doing something like that.
Recently, Tosca told Larry Millson of the Globe and Mail that his ability to communicate has been developed with the help of sports psychologist Harvey Dorfman.
"I think he helped me to understand that process," he said. "First of all, I think guys in the clubhouse should police themselves. That is the ultimate. You have arrived when that occurs in your clubhouse. I also feel it's very important for me to connect with people so that I can find out how to motivate them or encourage them or scold them when I have to."
Almost every baseball fan indulges in second-guessing. Some display a knee-jerk reaction to every managerial move, depending on the guy's current popularity. More astute observers, like the majority of Bauxites, try to be more thoughtful in their criticism, understanding that a manager makes countless choices every day and hopes that enough of them work out. It's impossible to tell the best bench boss from the worst one in a single inning, game, or series only over the long grind of the season are strengths and weaknesses revealed.
The GM must decide this year if he has the right man in place to lead his club to the next level. I don't think the won-loss record, caught-stealing percentage or number of sacrifice attempts should or will be considered; this is one of those "performance" evaluations based on baseball savvy, character and leadership. Here's hoping a fast start by the team leads to midseason contract extensions for Carlos Tosca and his entire coaching staff, who have done a terrific job.
Tomorrow in Part Two: Your 2004 Fighting Jays
Friday in Part Three: Top 40 Toronto Prospects.