Spring Training: Twins 2, Jays 0

Thursday, March 24 2005 @ 09:01 AM EST

Contributed by: Jordan

This is the third consecutive shutout (albeit in a rain-shortened 6 Ĺ innings) Iíve covered in my Game Reports. Spring training shutouts are not the most exciting things in the world to write about, I can tell you.

The good news for the Blue Jays was another sterling effort from Dave Bush, who fired five shutout innings at the Twins before tiring in the 6th (though a flyball that dropped between Vernon Wells and Frank Catalanotto did go for a triple). The bad news has to be that the Jaysí starting lineup was shut down by Kyle Lohse, Terry Mulholland and Juan Rincon. To refresh your memory, Lohse allowed 240 base hits in 2004, and Mulholland started Game 6 of the 1993 World Series for Philadelphia. Yes, that Game 6.

So much for the game recap. Mike Moffatt, cuttlefish wrangler, provided a roundup the other day of various Websitesí predictions for the Blue Jaysí final record this upcoming season. Most of these forecasts involved in-depth analysis of the players and careful scrutiny of the sabrmetric tea leaves. Thatís too much like work for me, thank you.

So I thought I would choose a prognostication system with much less depth and insight: ESPNís Fantasy Baseball Player Rankings. Here are the projected stats for most of the Blue Jaysí 2005 starters, along with their overall rankings at their positions. Judging from these lines, at least, it would seem that Toronto will finish dead-last or close to it in the major leagues this year: every other team places at least one starter in the Top 12 at a given position. The top fantasy Jay is projected to be Vernon Wells, at # 76 overall.

C  28. Gregg Zaun: .251, 28 R, 5 HR, 28 RBI 
1B  22. Shea Hillenbrand, .297, 69 R, 17 HR, 88 RBI
2B  23. Orlando Hudson, .277, 67 R, 12 HR, 60 RBI
3B  15. Corey Koskie, .268, 71 R, 20 HR, 73 RBI
3B  23. Eric Hinske, .255, 75 R, 17 HR, 74 RBI, 12 SB
SS  29. Russ Adams, .277, 65 R, 11 HR, 59 RBI, 8 SB
OF  18. Vernon Wells, .292, 99 R, 32 HR, 107 RBI, 7 SB
OF  81. Frank Catalanotto, .289, 53 R, 6 HR, 40 RBI
OF  83. Alex Rios, .295, 65 R, 5 HR, 49 RBI, 16 SB
SP 20. Roy Halladay, 15 W, 145 K, 3.48 ERA, 1.19 WHIP SP 47. Ted Lilly, 12 W, 154 K, 4.09 ERA, 1.28 WHIP SP 99. Miguel Batista, 10 W, 114K, 4.43 ERA, 1.44 WHIP SP 101. Dave Bush, 12 W, 139 K, 4.20 ERA, 1.33 WHIP
CL 26. Justin Speier, 4 W, 17 Sv, 56 K, 3.91 ERA, 1.23 WHIP
There are a few observations you can make about this list:

1. ESPN really doesnít go out of their way to update their predictions based on spring training developments. If you went into your fantasy draft counting on Miguel Batista to bounce back in the rotation or Justin Speier to pick up a few cheap saves, youíd be unpleasantly surprised when the season began. (In the Jaysí finest dreams, Batista gets those 10 wins and 114 K as a multi-inning closer).

2. Alex Rios is underrated. He will hit more than 5 home runs over the course of a full season ó his mere 1 HR as a rookie was an aberration from his previous totals. If he bats sixth or even seventh, heíll get more RBIs. And I think he could as much as double those 16 steals ó these arenít the old station-to-station Jays anymore.

3. Dave Bush is equally underrated. If youíre looking for a serious rotation sleeper come draft day and youíre in a league with non-Jays fans, pick up Bush to fill your 4th or 5th starter position. He should strike out more batters than that and he should have a lower WHIP than that. If youíre in a keeper league, grab him and hang on tight.

4. Gregg Zaun could score 28 runs this year accidentally. He could score that many even if he dropped anchor at every base he rounded. Guillermo Quiroz is at least half a year away, and I donít think Greg Myers is going to be able to provide much more than caddying duties. Also, ESPN spelled Zaunís first name as ďGreg.Ē Nice.

5. Is the Jaysí infield really that bad? No, itís not. Russ Adams is still a work in progress, but heís not the 29th-best shortstop in baseball. Orlando Hudson should post those numbers by August 1st. And I have a feeling Corey Koskieís going to provide more power than many people think. As for Hillenbrand and Hinske ó well, okay, those numbers do seem about right.

Certainly, itís a sobering list for Jaysí fans who head into the season with optimism (as most of us do). But these traditional-roto numbers donít tell us how the Jaysí lineup should post a ton of doubles, and how most of these regulars should provide defensive talent ranging anywhere from good to excellent. And I will gladly take the ďoverĒ on Roy Halladay whiffing just 145 batters. Bottom line: I think the Jays will surprise a few fantasy players this year.

So now, of course, itís time for the usual balancing dose of pessimism, and for another installment of Three Things. After discussing, last time, players who will have to step up in 2005, todayís topic is The Larry David Special: Three Blue Jays About Whom You Should Curb Your Enthusiasm.

1. Ted Lilly

Which of these two pitchers would you rather have on your team?

A:   12-10, 4.34, 9.05 H/9, 7.42 K/9, 2.93 BB/9, 1.21 HR/9
B:   12-10, 4.06, 7.81 H/9, 7.66 K/9, 4.06 BB/9, 1.18 HR/9
Probably youíre thinking that itís a toss-up. Pitcher A had better control, while Pitcher B allowed fewer hits; otherwise, their numbers are pretty much identical. Considering that hits allowed is a fairly variable stat, in fact, you might prefer the finer command of Pitcher A. Well, both pitchers are Ted Lilly: the first is 2003 in Oakland, while the second is Lillyís supposed breakout 2004 in Toronto. Now, more advanced metrics do tell a slightly different story: his ERA+ was 98 in í03, 120 in í04, while his VORP was 28.8 in í03, 44.6 in í04. But his success in 2004 can be tied largely to his unusually low number of hits allowed: his Batting Average on Balls in Play in 2003 was .288; in 2004, his BABIP was .258, 7th-lowest in the major leagues. It could happen again in 2005, but 2003 (or worse) could happen too.

2. Frank Catalanotto

Another stats package for you:

30	249	87	6.0
29	489	111	25.5
28	212	104	10.5
27	463	131	44.0
26	282	106	20.0
25	286	97	11.7
24	213	98	9.5
These numbers are not news: in five of the past seven seasons, the Cat has recorded fewer than 300 AB, posted an OPS+ below 110, and achieved a VORP of less than 12. Certainly, in a couple of those early seasons, Catalanotto wasnít given the chance to play, and Iím sure he could have performed well if handed the opportunity. But the fact remains that his track record is spotty at best in terms of both presence and production. If heís in an every-other-year pattern, the Jays are in great shape. If he repeats 2004, not so much.

3. Gustavo Chacin

I certainly respect the knowledge and instincts of the Blue Jays coaching staff, and if the braintrust says Gus Chacin is ready to pitch in the majors this year, thatís a heckuva vote of confidence. But letís pause for a moment and revisit his 2004 numbers. If you cast aside the gaudy 16-2 record and overlook the 2.86 ERA for a moment, youíll see some very ordinary peripherals: 141 IP, 113 H, 49 BB, 109 K. Thatís more than 3 walks per 9 innings and just about 7 Kís per 9; those are not overpowering numbers. Now consider that this line was posted in Double-A, two whole worlds away from the majors. Chacinís Syracuse sojourn was a success and his baptism by fire against the Yankees was one for the scrapbooks, no question. But once batters get used to that stutter-step delivery, thereís a good chance that heís going to be exposed. I fear that Chacin is going to make more than a few starts for the Skychiefs this season.

I feel a little badly, having finished this report, because Frank Catalanotto must think I have it in for him. I donít, really. From all accounts, heís a terrific person and a great teammate, yet all I ever seem to do here is give him the gears. Iím certainly not saying that he, Lilly and Chacin are going to be flops this year, not at all. I just think fans should temper their expectations for them in 2005.

Here's a quick Roundup for you:

- The Star, the Sun, and the Globe & Mail all report that Gabe Gross is making it very tough for the Blue Jays to send him down to Syracuse. I still think Triple-A is the best place for The Gabe, because he needs to be playing every day, not warming the bench and getting two pinch-hit at-bats per week. In the fullness of time, space will be made for him on the 25-man roster -- which, as JP Ricciardi points out in the Sun article, always looks a lot different two weeks into the season than it does on Opening Day.

- Dr. Fence has a report on the continued evolution of Eric Hinske, professional ballplayer. If, as the article suggests, Hinske's days of frustrated bat-throwing and helmet-slamming are past, then that's a very good sign indeed. A lot of players only start to come into their abilities when they stop fighting themselves all the time.

- For those of you wondering how the Jays will solve the nice but imminent problem of three middle infielders (Orlando Hudson, Russ Adams and Aaron Hill) for two infield positions, consider that negotiations between the Jays and the O-Dog about a long-term deal have slowed to a standstill. That could be because Hinske's long-term deal went badly and Ricciardi doesn't want to get burned twice. It could be because there really is no rush to get a contract signed. Or it could be because there's no point making long-term commitments to a player who might be very valuable on the trade market a year from now.

Finally, hereís your Linda Richman Talk-Amongst-Yourselves Question of the Day: which Blue Jay do you think will be the most pleasant fantasy surprise in 2005?