Blue Jays Report Card for July 2005

Monday, August 01 2005 @ 08:17 AM EDT

Contributed by: Dave Till

As usual, here's my monthly report card for the Blue Jays. Players are graded from a high of A+ (MVP calibre) to F (get thee gone, and never darken our door again).

Disclaimer: my grading is notoriously non-scientific.

A good month for the hitters, to put it mildly. I see two reasons why this is so:

Stats are taken from the ESPN web site; I've listed batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage here.

Russ Adams
.329 .427 .380
A completely different hitter than he was earlier in the season. In the spring, Thrillhouse was hitting for more power, but his on-base percentage was poor; he was looking like the next Alex Gonzalez. In July, though, he took to the leadoff spot like a duck to water or a computer geek to free pizza, drawing oodles of walks and slapping lots of singles. He's playing a perfectly reasonable shortstop, reaching base over 42% of the time, and scoring a run a game; no wonder both J.P. and Gibbons have stated that Adams is going to be the Jays' shortstop for some time to come. If he keeps this up, he's going to start showing up on leader boards, and he'll start drawing some attention. It looks like the kid's gonna make it.
Grade: A+

Frank Catalanotto
.333 .385 .548
That'll do nicely, thank you. Spent the month channelling Ichiro!, hitting balls hard to all parts of the field. His outfield defense has improved; he doesn't have great range, but he goes back well on fly balls, and looks like an honest-to-goodness outfielder. Is very comfortable in the #2 slot, which is usually a tough role to fill. J.P. has made a lot of good decisions this year, and re-signing the Cat was one of them.
Grade: A+

Gabe Gross
.308 .357 .308
Jays fans divide into two camps when discussing Gross: there's the True Believers, and there's the Skeptical Cynics. The True Believers are convinced that he is only a few months away from becoming a star outfielder. The Skeptical Cynics want to see him actually hit either at AAA or in the majors before anointing him with the holy oil. I'm a Skeptical Cynic; I am 95% convinced that Gross isn't going to make it. But I'm a notoriously lousy scout.

When Cat and Wells got hot, Gross became redundant, so he's now back in Syracuse, attempting to win over the Skeptical Cynics. Hmph, I say. Hmph.
Grade: Insufficient data

Aaron Hill
.209 .255 .319
Now comes the tough part. As expected, Hill's luck has turned sour, and pitchers are starting to figure out how to get him out. Now, he'll have to put in a lot of work and make the adjustments. I expect that he'll be able to do that without any problem - he showed signs of life at the end of the month - so he won't need to hunt for an apartment in the Syracuse area ever again. His strikeout ratio isn't appreciably worse than in June, and he did hit a few doubles, so I'm not worried about him. His grade for this month is quite low, as I grade just on this month's performance and his OBP was awful, but he's a very valuable ballplayer.

A question: will he hit well enough to support a move to the outfield, if that's the only place there's room for him? Molitor did, and so did Yount (to name two hitters whose stats Hill could match if everything breaks right).

By the way: if you ever need to hunt for an apartment in the Syracuse area, the web site you want is You're welcome.
Grade: D+

Shea Hillenbrand
.280 .348 .500
Has been through a streak and a slump, and has settled down to be quite a serviceable player. The Shea Hey Kid plays a perfectly decent third and first when asked, hits for power, has a decent batting average and an acceptable on-base percentage, and plays hard. He leads the American League in being hit by pitches. And he's only 30, so he should be able to do this for a few years yet. Sure, he flails away at the plate sometimes, but who doesn't? It's not like any of us are perfect, are we?
Grade: A-

Eric Hinske
.244 .310 .487
To heck with subtlety: the Dude seems to have decided to whale away up there. His strikeouts are up through the roof - but, thankfully, so are his doubles totals, and his average isn't as bad as it has been in previous months. Still not hitting as much as you want from your first baseman (alas! Carlos!), but isn't the gaping hole in the lineup that he has been. The Jays can live with this, provided he keeps it up. But I'm still not convinced that he'll do it.
Grade: C+

Ken Huckaby
.250 .250 .313
Errm... if the Padres were able to go out and get a catcher, why can't the Jays do it? I suppose that the problem is that J.P. can't trade with anyone - they all want Aaron Hill in return. Huck is what he is: good defense, no bat whatsoever, good organizational soldier. Quiroz is starting to hit in AAA, so it's only a matter of time before Huck goes back to mentoring in Syracuse as planned.
Grade: D-

Orlando Hudson
.357 .387 .529
The O-Dog has always been an extremely streaky hitter, and he spent most of July in a tremendous hot streak. He cooled off a bit at the end of the month, but it was still pretty gosh-darn good. Has learned not to collide with his outfielders when ranging farther than just about any second baseman in recorded history. Seems to do something unique and wonderful every game.

As an experiment, the Jays should try not putting a right fielder out there. I want to see how far Hudson can go back on a popup.
Grade: A+

Reed Johnson
.333 .365 .567
Business as usual for Sparky: once he started getting some rest, he started hitting again. I think of him as the Human iPod: he provides convenience and good performance, but his battery needs constant recharging.
Grade: A

Corey Koskie
.280 .357 .320
Announced his return in fine style by making a death-defying run down the third-base line to catch a foul popup. He's returned at exactly the right time, as the Jays can now let Hill make his first major-league adjustments at a slower pace. I like to think of Koskie's return as being the equivalent of trading for a power hitter at the deadline, but perhaps I see the world through rose-coloured glasses. Isn't hitting for power yet, which suggests that he hasn't gotten his timing back.
Grade: Welcome back

John McDonald
.313 .353 .313
Fulfilled his job function: he hit the occasional lefthander, and tutored Adams until he was ready. I wish him the best of luck in Detroit (except, of course, when the Jays play the Tigers).
Grade: Gone

Frank Menechino
.241 .389 .276
One advantage that veteran players give you, especially veteran bench players, is that they're predictable. You can rely on Mini-Me to be patient at the plate, play a decent second base, rack up an excellent OBP when spotted properly, and never complain. Bench strength is a Good Thing.
Grade: B+

Alex Rios
.267 .349 .347
An end-of-month slump reduced Rios's on-base percentage from "good" to "barely passable", and seven hitters had better power numbers than he did this month. As usual, he's this close to being a useful player, but is reaching that goal at a maddeningly slow pace. May need to be rested a bit against pitchers he can't handle. At this point, I don't think he'll ever be a star: he's never had one of those hot streaks in which he carries the team, and really good players do that every now and again.
Grade: C

Vernon Wells
.315 .347 .595
At the plate, he's Joe Carter in his prime: lots of power, decent batting average, not many walks, tremendous plate coverage. In the field, he's Devon White in his prime, or close to it. That's a pretty good combination. Sure, I'd rather see him walk more, but why bother walking when you can hit a pitch up the gap hard every time up?

The rest of the league is beginning to realize that he's got his hitting shoes back on, as he's starting to draw intentional walks with the game on the line. As for his "leadership": I say just let him play, and leave the leadership to the guy immediately following him in alphabetical order. The only Jay to play every game this month.
Grade: A

Gregg Zaun
.278 .387 .380
The Fighting Jays personified: not a lot of power, but has tremendous patience at the plate, and will battle the opponents with every fibre of his being. Most catchers have really awful on-base percentages, which is odd, because they see so many pitches; Going Going has started drawing walks like crazy, which makes him a useful offensive force. A wonderful player; he's effectively the team leader, and a case could be made for him as the MVP of the club this year. Exhibit 1 in his favour: the Jays have done better without Halladay than they did without Zaun.
Grade: A

This month, the pitching was surprisingly good, given that the big man was out of action, and the heat and humidity had turned the Rogers Centre (or Ted's Shed, as I've just decided to call it) into a launching pad. And three pitchers have arrived, or are about to arrive, to improve the starting rotation. Yummy.

Stats are from the ESPN web site; IP, H, BB, SO and ERA are listed.

Miguel Batista
15.0 25 6 11 4.20
Was hit hard and often this month. His strikeout total was down. His walk total was up. His ERA was up. He was charged with three losses. What, you were expecting Dennis Eckersley? Let's be realistic, people. Even the best closers screw up every now and again. I'm not going to worry about him just yet. I'll start worrying, say, in mid-August. And anyone who complains is to be sent back in time to 2003 and forced to watch Jeff Tam attempt to close games. Works harder than most closers.
Grade: B-

Dave Bush
15.1 13 3 6 2.35
Seems to have picked up where he left off at the end of 2004: he's got his poise back, and he's getting them out. His K/IP ratio is still low, though, which means he has to get everything right in order to succeed. That's hard to do. His grade would be higher if he had had more than two starts this month.
Grade: B+

Gustavo Chacin
36.1 38 9 22 2.97
Gave up a fair number of hits this month, tied for the team lead in homers allowed (with four), and didn't strike out that many batters. These are all bad things. On the other hand, he hardly ever walked anybody, had an excellent ERA, got lots of run support, and won five games. These are good things, and the good things far outweigh the bad things. He has now set a record for most wins by a Jays rookie starter, with 11.

Now that Chacin is in double figures in wins, you've got to figure that he's going to get some Rookie of the Year votes, don't you think? And if he doesn't win Rookie Pitcher of the Month this month, it's safe to assume that the voters are smoking crack.
Grade: A

Vinnie Chulk
13.2 10 5 4 1.98
For once, Chulk and Frasor don't seem like the same pitcher this month. Frasor got gonged, but his numbers indicate he has good stuff. Chulk got most of 'em out this month, but hardly struck anybody out. I suppose this is another example of the wonders of small sample size, but it's a huge warning sign for me - I fear that his tank is close to empty.
Grade: A

Scott Downs
12.0 11 6 12 4.97
Was the second-lowest pitcher on the food chain for most of the month. The moral of the story: if you're the worst pitcher on the staff, you're out of here. If you're the second-worst, you usually get to stick around. (As the joke says, I don't have to outrun the bear - I just have to outrun you.) Has been useful at times, and is left-handed, which is the Magic Lucky Charm for pitchers. Pitched well and struck out a whole bunch of Texas Rangers in his emergency start at the end of the month, which should buy him a lot of time.
Grade: C

Jason Frasor
13.2 19 4 12 8.56
I'm not sure what is happening here. His K/IP and K/BB ratios are all good - in fact, they're very good - but he's been beaten soundly about the head and shoulders this month. I wonder if he's just pitching in bad luck, or whether he's making his strikes too good. I think he'll bounce back - but if I could see the future, I'd go out and buy a lottery ticket.
Grade: D-

Chad Gaudin
2.2 7 2 1 16.88
He seems to be too good for AAA, and not anywhere near good enough for the major leagues. He's still very young, but what this usually means is that learning to speak Japanese might be a good career move at this time. Domo arigato, Chad.
Grade: F

Roy Halladay
10.2 11 2 10 2.53
If things break right (sorry, that's the wrong choice of words, isn't it?), he'll likely be starting by the end of the week. If he does, he'll have only missed five starts with his broken leg. Whoa. Some pitchers miss that much time with blisters.

If the Jays can stay in contention until he returns, and he can pick up where he left off, August and September could be very very interesting around these parts. But I hope they don't bring him back until he's fully ready.
Grade: Crossed fingers

Brandon League
3.2 6 1 3 9.82
Apparently, Brad Arnsberg is rebuilding League's pitching motion, which is why Hawaiian Punch-Out was up in Toronto but not getting into any games. (How do you rebuild a pitching motion, anyway? Do you use a wind tunnel, or what?) It's best to think of him as a long-term project, and perhaps it's just as well: his current struggles mean that he is not likely to follow Billy Koch's career path. Remember when people were talking about installing him as the closer? Yeah, I know: that's so 2004.
Grade: Work in progress

Ted Lilly
29.1 29 9 23 3.68
The sometimes eccentric behaviour of pitchers can best be understood when you realize that throwing a baseball overhand at 90-plus miles an hour is a wholly unnatural act. The human body simply isn't meant to do that. Any pitch that a pitcher throws could very well be his last. I'm not meaning to say that Ted Lilly has thrown his last pitch in the major leagues, but shoulder tendinitis can be an ominous sign. That's what Duane Ward was initially diagnosed as having.

Before returning home on his shield, the Tedster actually was pitching reasonably well this month, but I don't hear anybody claiming that his injury is a crippling blow to the Jays' contention hopes. That's a damning indictment right there.
Grade: B

Dustin McGowan
5.0 2 3 6 1.00
Am I the only one who thinks he resembles Roger Clemens? He's not quite as fast as Clemens, but he's a stocky right-hander, he holds his glove up near his face before starting his delivery, and he has the classic drop and drive motion. And he's not a mere thrower: he can strike batters out with his curve and change as well as hump it up there at 95 miles per hour. I don't know whether he is ready yet, but he's got to be pretty darn close.

While I'm here, there's one thing that annoys me about television coverage of baseball games: when a relief pitcher blows a lead, why do they always train a camera on the starting pitcher's face? McGowan looked impassive when Frasor gave up his game-tying home run, but what if he'd involuntarily flinched? He would have appeared selfish without meaning to, and no doubt there are writers who would happily use this as a column subject. Major leaguers are required to control their emotions more than mere mortals are.
Grade: So far, so good

Justin Miller
2.1 5 0 2 15.43
Came up for an emergency outing, got beaten like a rented mule, and then went back down to Syracuse, suitably chastened. Hey, he struck two batters out, so not all hope is lost. Remember, Justin: that's for the best in Syracuse rental accomodation.
Grade: F

Scott Schoeneweis
12.1 12 4 13 2.92
Is proving to be a decided cut above the average spot lefthander. Is the best lefty out of the pen since Plesac's salad days. And he can pitch to right-handed hitters when necessary. Executive summary: yay.

One of only three Blue Jays pitchers to not allow a home run all month; the others were Bush and McGowan. And that's a nice K/W ratio, isn't it?
Grade: A-

Justin Speier
13.1 4 2 17 0.68
Yowza! If he keeps this up, somebody's going to want him as their closer. Has gradually moved up the food chain, and now is equivalent to Frasor and Chulk in the bullpen hierarchy: he's being put into close games in a setup role. The Jays' bullpen has been both deep and effective in 2005, which is a refreshing change from the recent past. Or, to put it another way: this roster spot used to be filled by Juan Acevedo and Dan Reichert.
Grade: A+

Josh Towers
27.2 38 4 10 5.86
K/IP is way down, which suggests fatigue. Or maybe the hitters have caught up to him again. He's back to throwing strikes, and getting hit hard when the strikes are too good. In other words, it's business as usual. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
Grade: D

Pete Walker
17.2 21 8 7 5.09
I've been thinking of him as a starter, but five of his seven appearances this month were in relief. Had only seven strikeouts in 17 2/3 innings; I'm wondering whether he's hurting again and isn't telling anybody. Pitched well in the last innings of the 18-inning marathon, so perhaps he'll go back to being effective in long relief. So much of effective roster construction is finding the right man for the right spot, or vice versa.
Grade: D+

The Jays were frustrating this month: they would win two or three in a row, usually against a good team, and then lose a bunch and sink right back to the fringe of contention. They're now six games out, which is going to be difficult to overcome.

But they're still in the pennant race, which is better than most of us expected for the first of August. And the Jays now look like a team that has enough quality and enough depth to become really good: they just need to whip out their wallet and bag one or two top-rank players, which is well within their financial reach at this time. Stick around: things might get interesting real soon.

Oh, yes: and they're ahead of Baltimore now. Heh heh heh.