Blue Jays Report Card for June 2005

Thursday, June 30 2005 @ 05:40 PM EDT

Contributed by: Dave Till

Welcome to yet another month-end report card for the Blue Jays, in which I presume to grade players from A+ to F. All grades are strictly non-scientific.

The Jays' bats were conspicuously silent for large parts of the month; you've probably noticed that already. Stats are AVG, OBP and SLG for June, in that order, and are from the ESPN web site.

Russ Adams
.250 .274 .441
People are saying all sorts of nice things about him - perhaps deservedly - but what the numbers are telling me is that Adams is trying to become the second coming of Alex Gonzalez. Like Gonzo I, Gonzo II is starting to show some power, but he's not reaching base very often. A .274 on-base percentage, especially at leadoff, is a giant lead weight attached to the offense.

To be fair, there are some differences between the two; for one thing, Adams doesn't strike out much. If he puts it all together, he could become a perfect #2 hitter. But he has a long way to go to become a useful hitter, and he doesn't have a particularly strong arm at shortstop.
Grade: C-

Frank Catalanotto
.276 .375 .382
His walk rate is up from this time last year, which gives him a quite respectable on-base percentage. A solid, professional hitter. Doesn't strike out much: only eight whiffs this month. Doesn't hit as much as a left fielder should, but I'll take that OBP any day of the week. Only drove in two runs all month.
Grade: B

Gabe Gross
.357 .400 .500
Right now, he's Exhibit A for why it is better to carry 14 position players than 12 pitchers, as he won the second game of the Tampa Bay series with that wondrous throw home. The sample size is way too small to draw any conclusions, but at least he's making a useful contribution. I still don't think he'll hit in the long term, but here's hoping that he proves me wrong.
Grade: B (would be higher if sample size was larger)

Aaron Hill
.333 .412 .456
Let's not get too excited. Even as we speak, dozens of video geeks all around major league baseball are closely examining Hill's at-bats, trying to find the holes in his swing. They'll eventually find them, since virtually everybody not named Pujols has such holes. And, when they do, Hill will have to adjust, and then we'll know exactly how good he is. If this all seems too cautious, recall that Josh Phelps hit .309 in 265 at-bats in 2002. Hill's only at 131.

Right, enough caution. It's time to put on my fan hat. All the available evidence suggests that Hill is making a great leap forward, as some young players do, and is about to become a star. He's patient at the plate, he's whacking the occasional extra base hit, he's playing third base like he was born there, and he struck out only nine times this month. He's been compared to Molitor a lot lately, but right now he looks a bit like the young Molitor and a bit like the young Wade Boggs. And the elevator may still be going up. I still think he should be given a shot at shortstop for a month, but he could play anywhere on the diamond and still be an above-average hitter for the position.
Grade: A+

Shea Hillenbrand
.266 .349 .415
After streaking and then slumping, he's settled into being a generic ballplayer, hitting slightly above replacement level. Doesn't really slug enough for a first baseman or designated hitter, but he's better than the currently available alternatives. A slightly different hitter than he's been in the past: he's drawing more walks and getting fewer hits than when he was with Boston and Arizona.
Grade: B-

Eric Hinske
.132 .264 .211
To be successful, a hitter needs to master two skills. One is pitch recognition, which is the ability to determine that a pitched ball is in the strike zone - or, better still, in the power zone. The second, and most important, skill is the ability to actually get the fat part of the bat on a ball in the hitting zone.

I contend, therefore, that there are two kinds of hitting slumps. A "pitch recognition" slump happens when a hitter starts swinging at bad pitches. This kind of slump is correctable, provided the player has the inborn ability to recognize whether a pitch is in the zone. A "hitting mechanics" slump is more serious: if you can't put the darn bat on the darn ball, you've got a lot of work in the video room and the batting cage ahead of you. Or else it's time to consider a career in the financial services industry.

Hinske's June numbers scream "hitting mechanics" slump. His strikeout totals have zoomed through the roof: he's just flat out missing pitches that he used to be able to hit. Because he's having trouble hitting the ball, he's taking more pitches; his walk total is way up. And his power numbers are down: when he does manage to make contact, he usually isn't hitting it very hard.

Of course, Hinske might be able to turn it around; anything's possible. But even his best numbers aren't are all that good, given the position that he plays. Finding a new first baseman may very well be Job One for J.P. and the Jays' shiny new budget; this can't go on much longer.
Grade: F

Ken Huckaby
.077 .143 .077
Hits so poorly that he has become the butt of Jays chat room jokes. ("Kids! Join us for Strike Out Ken Huckaby Day!") Gibbons now only uses him when absolutely necessary. Guillermo Quiroz must be seething with frustration: a major league job is there for the taking, and he keeps getting injured. The Cash for Gaudin deal isn't looking as good now - even a .150 average would be an improvement on what Huck is bringing to the table.
Grade: F

Orlando Hudson
.217 .286 .349
This looks like a job for Keith Law and whomever he employs as his number crunchers: exactly how valuable is the O-Dog's defense? If you replace him with a better hitter but worse fielder, will the Jays benefit? How much better must the replacement second baseman hit to make the move worthwhile?

One thing to remember about Hudson's offense is that he has been an extremely streaky hitter throughout his time in Toronto. He could very well bounce back at the plate - which is a good thing, as he needs to. You can't win anything with middle infielders with an OBP below .300.

As for his defense: a week or so ago, Aaron Hill made a terrific defensive play at third when he ran back and then dived to grab a line drive in shallow left. Such plays now seem less impressive than they really are because Hudson makes that play about three times a week.
Grade: D (thanks to his defense)

Reed Johnson
.174 .240 .261
Desperately needs a breather; he's a hustle player, and the batteries must be pretty much worn down by now. Is looking almost as overmatched as Hinske, fanning 22 times in June and hitting well below his weight. At this point, the Jays might as well give Gabe Gross a shot, as he can't do much worse than this.
Grade: F

John McDonald
.174 .269 .217
Has completely stopped hitting (admittedly, the sample size is small), so Adams has taken away his playing time. If the Jays keep both Hill and Adams, they don't really need McDonald, unless there's a desperate need for a late-inning defensive replacement, or a desperate need for somebody to go on a food run to the concession stands. I'll have a slice of pizza and a bottle of water, thank you.
Grade: F

Frank Menechino
.227 .393 .500
Gibbons is starting to play his regulars more, which means that Mini-Me doesn't have all that much to do except sit on the bench, look mournful, and hope that the O-Dog comes down with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or something. Plays well enough when he gets in there, and I'm glad that the team has more depth this year.
Grade: B (downgraded due to limited playing time)

Alex Rios
.272 .322 .457
It was the same as usual for Rios: he's this close to being a useful regular, and every month, he shortens the distance by a maddeningly small amount. When he gains ground in one skill, he usually loses ground in another one; this month, he gained power but lost batting average. At this rate of development, he'll be a useful regular at about the time he is eligible for free agency. Look well at this man, Oriole fans: he may well be the right fielder of your future.
Grade: B-

Vernon Wells
.330 .374 .549
People are asking too much of him. At present, his job requirements are: to hit like Carlos Delgado; field like Devon White; never make a physical or mental error ever; serve as the inspirational team leader. Oh, yes, and get paid far less than the top hitters on most other teams. Isn't this a bit too much to ask?

Perhaps not, since he's almost meeting these unrealistic expectations. Because his slow start has ruined his season stats, and because of his mental lapse when Tejada took second on him, no one realizes that he's back in top form at the plate. This month also provides support for the theory that Vernon is a hot-weather hitter. Toronto just set an all-time record for the warmest June ever, and V-Dub hit like gangbusters. (If global warming continues unchecked, Vernon is likely to make it to Cooperstown, provided no cataclysmic climate changes result.)

As for his temperament and/or hustle: I seem to recall that the last person whose desire to win was unfairly questioned was Shannon Stewart. It may be a coincidence that both Wells and Stewart are African-American. All the available evidence suggests that Wells is a hard-working ballplayer who has successfully adjusted to how the opposition is currently pitching to him. He's not part of the problem; he deserves to be surrounded by other good hitters, and not to be asked to carry the whole load.

While I'm here: when did players start leaving their clubs to be (understandably) present at the birth of their children? When I was growing up, I don't recall players being given permission to do that sort of thing. My guess is that players only started doing this during the free-agent era, but I could be wrong.
Grade: A

Gregg Zaun
.256 .352 .321
The Jays played 27 games this month, and Going Going appeared in 26 of them. That's a punishing workload for any catcher, and a cruel workload for a catcher who is well into his thirties and who recently had his brains scrambled. But when the team is trying to win, and the alternative is Mr. Whiffo (the quality food shortening), the only option is to play Zaun until he drops. The good news: his 11 walks ranked second on the team this month (to Hinske), which gave him quite a respectable on-base percentage for a catcher. The bad news: he's stopped hitting for power, and the Jays, like Ontario, need power from somewhere.
Grade: B

On the other hand, the pitching this month was quite good. The Jays have allowed fewer runs than any other team in the AL East. Which is a good thing, as they've needed to. Stats given are IP, H, BB, SO, and ERA for June, and are from the ESPN web site.

Miguel Batista
13.0 10 2 10 3.46
His earned-run average is up this month, but his peripherals are better: his K/IP is up, and his walks are down.

When did he last blow a save? Who expected him to be so quietly competent? Some people overestimate the value of a closer, but those people have forgotten 2003. Losing a game in the ninth inning is like being punched in the gut, and tends to drive fans away.
Grade: A

Gustavo Chacin
33.1 38 12 22 3.51
His K/IP and H/IP ratios suggest a serviceable but not particularly great pitcher. Serviceable is better than incompetent, though. It looks like he's going to hold his spot in the rotation, which could earn him a lot of money.
Grade: B

Vinnie Chulk
11.0 11 5 6 4.91
Off a bit this month, but that's just small sample size: when you only pitch 11 innings, one bad outing can artificially inflate your ERA. May drop behind Speier on the depth chart. The Jays are four deep in useful relief pitchers; many teams would kill for such quality. (See "Yankees, New York.") Low K/IP is a warning sign.
Grade: C

Scott Downs
6.2 12 3 4 12.15
When a pitcher gets relieved in a blowout, it's probably time for him to start checking out housing options in the upstate New York area. The only reason he might stick around is that there isn't anybody better who can take his place, unless they bring Bush back up and move Walker back into long relief. Hey, that might be a good idea!
Grade: F

Jason Frasor
12.0 9 5 6 1.50
Had a great month - but, like Chulk, his numbers are affected by small sample size. He walked five batters in 12 innings, and struck out only six; usually, pitchers who remain effective have better numbers than that. Next month, Frasor is likely to have Chulk's ERA from this month, and vice versa. I'm still not entirely convinced that they're not long-lost twin brothers.
Grade: A-

Chad Gaudin
5.1 17 2 5 20.25
The problem with evaluating the Jays' pitching talent is that they all look better in Syracuse. Look at Matt Whiteside, for example: he has a respectable 3.09 ERA for the SkyChiefs, after being beaten like a rented mule when up here. Perhaps some pitchers are doomed to be too good for AAA but not good enough for The Show. Or perhaps Gaudin, who is still very young, just needs more time to develop. Come home, Dave Bush - all is forgiven.
Grade: F

Roy Halladay
46.0 39 3 39 2.15
Has improved from being merely outstanding to being totally otherworldly. Walked only three batters all month while striking out 39. Even Pedro in his prime wasn't that good. Has single-handedly kept his team on the fringes of contention. The best pitcher on the planet, bar none.
Grade: A+

Ted Lilly
30.0 24 12 21 4.20
After all the drama, his numbers are starting to settle down to where they were last year. But it may be too late: Gibbons and his coaching staff seem to have washed their hands of him. While Lilly may, indeed, be uncoachable, causing even a saint to want to go berserk with a clue stick, it's a bad sign when a manager can't get along with one of his regulars. At the major league level, the manager's primary job is to motivate his players and get them to work towards team goals. Anybody is smart enough to know when to change pitchers.
Grade: C+

Scott Schoeneweis
7.1 3 5 6 2.45
The Jays' bullpen depth has forced him into the role of left-handed one-out guy, which he handles as well as anybody. Oh to be a lefty in the majors: you earn hundreds of thousands of dollars, and work only a few innings a month. It's a great way to earn a living, if you can get it.

By the way, Schoeneweis is one of three Jays' relievers who walked five batters and struck out six this month. Perhaps they went on some sort of Outward Bound group bonding session on a day off, as they're all beginning to seem interchangeable.
Grade: B-

Justin Speier
12.2 8 2 10 1.42
A quietly effective month; throws strikes. I'm surprised he isn't getting more work in key situations. I suppose there's no point in trying to fix something when it's not broken. The bullpen is one of the success stories for the Jays this year, which is a refreshing change from previous years. If something happens to Batista, Speier is likely the next in line to be The Man. Did not walk five or strike out six this month.
Grade: A

Josh Towers
35.0 39 11 22 4.37
Lost his control for a bit there - and without his excellent control, he's nothing. Then, he went back to being what he usually is: a competent fifth starter who is best suited to large ballparks and/or lineups without much power. He'd probably be really successful in St. Louis. Was second on the team in innings pitched this month.
Grade: C

Pete Walker
22.1 20 6 6 2.82
Struck out only 6 batters in 22 1/3 innings, which is a huge red flag. Normally, a pitcher can't be successful in the majors unless he strikes out at least one man every two innings; I call this the Michalak Line. If a pitcher is below the Michalak Line, he is usually about to get stomped or is hiding an injury. Walker deserves an extended shot at the starting rotation, but I wonder whether he can hold the job. Sadly, I think he's going to wind up on the DL, which is where he usually ends up when someone tries to stretch him out.
Grade: B+

The Jays have above-average pitching, which is cancelled out by equally below-average hitting. The result: a .500 team. As I said last month, it'll be hard to get better than this, as the Jays have a bunch of sorta okay players rather than some excellent players and some awful players. And the farm system isn't going to be as much help as some people think: there's no hitting at all coming up (except perhaps Hattig), and at most one or two of the young pitchers will make it all the way to the major league level. If the Jays want to get better, they're going to have to open their wallet.

But a .500 record is better than a .450 record, not to mention .400, and the Jays are still within striking distance of contention, which hasn't happened in a while. And who would have predicted that the Jays and the Yankees would be level at the end of June, especially considering that the Yankees have spent approximately a hillion jillion gazillion dollars more on their squad? Me, I'm not complaining.