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Here's an almost-end-of-season overview of the 2006 Blue Jays season. Executive summary: it hurts more when you care more.

In the summer, you can live in a bubble. The weather is warm, life seems full of possibility, and any team can still win. (I still recall coming back from a late-spring game with the Jays only 1 1/2 back. I wish I could bottle that feeling.) But, right around Labour Day, the bubble always bursts. Reality - work, aging, bad weather, the Yankees - rears its ugly head, and the Jays fall out of contention yet again. And, sometimes, you have to wonder: is it all worth it? Why bother with baseball? Why keep going with all of this?

Anyway, enough two-bit philosophizing and random whining. On with the reportage. As usual, this content is virtually analysis-free: there will be no references to VORP or BABIP or anything like that, 'cause I'm too lazy to do research.

I still can't figure out whether the Jays actually have a functional offense, as the numbers are obscured by weather and park effects. When the Rogers Centre roof is closed or Toronto's weather is hot and humid, the ball flies off the bat, and all the hitters get a boost. In cooler weather, fly balls don't carry, the hitters slump, and the pitching staff suddenly starts to look good. So I have no idea, honestly.

Russ Adams
He could do something, someday, but he's not doing anything right now. He's not hitting for average. He's not hitting for power. He's not stealing bases. He's not drawing walks. He's not playing second base or shortstop very well. He's obviously got some ability, but how is he going to help the Jays win? He'll probably wind up in Pittsburgh, Kansas City or Tampa, because that's where they all go, eventually.

Frank Catalanotto
Like many of the Jays' hitters, the Cat didn't hit as well in the second half. In particular, he stopped drawing walks. I think this is because hitting is cumulative: if everybody else around you is hitting, pitchers get rattled, and throw you more bad pitches. I have no idea whether this theory is true, but it sure sounds plausible, doesn't it?

I have no idea whether he will be invited back. My guess is no: he's getting older, Lind bats left, and Reed Johnson is playing close to full-time.

Troy Glaus
Like many power hitters, Mighty Troy is very streaky: in September, he was going so badly for a while that Gibbons removed him from his customary #4 slot. And, also like many power hitters, he takes an all-or-nothing approach to hitting: nearly half his hits were for extra bases, and he easily led the team in strikeouts. Now, for the good news: he's a proven 35+ home run hitter, and he's a legitimate third baseman. He doesn't have exceptional range, but he makes all the plays he's supposed to make, and he's very good at barehanding slow rollers and making off-balance throws to first. This athleticism is startling to watch in such a big man.

Aaron Hill
Right now, he's almost exactly as valuable as Orlando Hudson. The O-Dog, as you probably recall, was a slightly better defender, but Hill reaches base more often, so it's a wash. Hill's quite useful, but I'm not sure whether he's going to get much better than this: none of his minor league numbers indicate potential stardom, and Hill doesn't have any outstanding skills - he's just reasonably good at a bunch of stuff. Still, he's young, so you never know - and his ability to quickly adapt to third base and then second has got to be a good sign.

Shea Hillenbrand
Pfui. Go Dodgers! Go Padres!

Eric Hinske
No offense to Eric, who is a useful player in the right situations, but what were the Red Sox thinking? If he was going to be any help, the Jays would have been playing him more, don't you think? Perhaps the big teams develop a kind of arrogance, and assume that other teams' scrubeenies will automatically raise their game to the level of their teammates when presented with a pennant race. Erm, nope. It may be a coincidence, but the Sox began to sink at about the time they acquired Hinske. The moral: wishing don't make it so.

Reed Johnson
The magic fairy dust has worn off: since the all-star break, he's gone back to his pre-2006 numbers, and he's stopped drawing walks. If he has reverted back to his former level, he probably will need to be platooned again. Fortunately, Adam Lind bats left. Sometimes, it all works out for the best, doesn't it?

I don't mean to take anything away from Sparky's wonderful season. He's among the American League leaders in hitting, and he was pretty much the perfect leadoff man all year. Bravo!

Adam Lind
So far, he's been great, but this is still Stage One of the journey. In Stage One, the pitchers all challenge the newbie with their best fastballs; subtlety is tossed out the window. A rookie in Stage One often has a high batting average and very low walk totals: you can't draw a walk if everybody's flinging the ball down the middle at you.

We will know how good Lind is when we see Stage Two: pitchers will start trying to find his weak spots. Assuming Lind isn't the second coming of Albert Pujols, they will find them and will ruthlessly exploit them. Successful major league hitters make adjustments, learn to cover their weaknesses, and move on to Stage Three (a real career). Hitters that are unable to adjust wind up walking the Josh Phelps Trail Of Tears. It's too early to speculate which way Lind will go, but so far, so good.

An especially good sign: apparently, his first reaction on seeing major league ballparks was not, "Ohmigawd, pitchers here are tough," but "Ohmigawd, the lighting here is so much better." I guess Mr. Lind doesn't faze easily.

One other thing I've noticed about Lind: he has no batter's box mannerisms. Between pitches, he just stands there and waits for the next one - maybe he steps out and steps back in again, and that's it. I've never seen that before; maybe someone will teach him the major league way of doing things, which involves a lot of fiddling and adjusting between pitches.

John McDonald
If he could hit even a little bit, he'd have a starting job: in Jays history, only the young Tony Fernandez has played shortstop as well as McDonald did this year. (Alex Gonzalez comes close, but McDonald is better at getting the 6-4 forceout.) But J-Mac can't hit, not even a little bit. He'll always have a job somewhere as a reserve, though.

Bengie Molina
Are his positives worth his negatives? The bad parts are transparently obvious: he swings at everything, he's slower than ketchup coming out of a bottle, and he's not actually that good on defense. The good part: he hits better than most catchers. I think that Zaun + Phillips can cover the position well enough, but having a sort of okay player in a slot where most teams have crappy players is a real advantage.

Lyle Overbay
Proof that perhaps God (or the First Cause, or the forces of evolution - pick one) produces people out of cookie-cutter moulds. This guy, basically, is John Olerud: left-handed hitter, inside-out swing, doubles power, occasionally turns on an inside pitch, .300 hitter, decent on-base percentage, good fielder, quiet, team player. There are some slight individual deviances from the norm, possibly due to quality control issues at the factory - Olerud walked a bit more, and Overbay is a shade faster - but they're effectively the same player. Lyle doesn't have star potential - he'll never hit over .360 - but his worst seasons are likely to be better than Johnny O's worst seasons.

Alex Rios
Has anyone ever had a season like this? Before he got hurt, Rios was arguably the best player in the league: he treated the American League's top pitchers as if they were serving up an extra round of batting practice. He was also playing exceptional defense and learning to work pitchers for walks. He was a consensus All-Star, and a possible MVP candidate. After he came back, he was arguably the worst player in the league: hitting below .220 with no power or walks. Hitters aren't supposed to be like this: sure, they sometimes go into slumps, but usually it averages out over the course of a season and you can figure out the hitter's true level of ability.

It was like this in the minors, too: a bunch of so-so seasons and that one big wondrous explosion. So I have no idea what to expect in 2007. He could be anything from the league MVP to a starting outfielder in Syracuse. One thing is for sure: his glorious half-season will buy him a lot of chances. If he doesn't come back in Toronto, look for him in Pittsburgh or Kansas City or Tampa. Or all three.

Vernon Wells
Now entering the mature phase of his career. (It's kind of weird to describe baseball players as if they were wine.) He's stabilized as a .280 to .300 hitter with 30+ home runs and excellent defense in centre field. Obviously, that's rather good. I hope that the Texas Freaking Rangers appreciate what they are allegedly going to be getting. Oh: and if he signs with the Yankees, he is dead to me. Dead.

Gregg Zaun
Slumped in the summer, just like he did last year. I think this is because he's giving it everything he has out there, bless him. He's good enough to be the #1 man, but he'll need somebody behind him who can play 65 to 70 games without being awful. Too many teams have a backup catcher with a .260 on-base percentage: if you give 250 at-bats to a guy like that, you can kiss your season goodbye.

Same comment as for hitting, but reversed: it's kind of startling how the pitchers got good when the hitters stopped hitting. This sort of seasonal variation makes talent evaluation difficult.

Jeremy Accardo
Hmmm. He looked like a decent pitcher in San Francisco, but he's struggling a bit here: hits are up and strikeouts are down. He's now behind both Speier and League in the right-handed relief depth chart. Pitching in the American League, and in Toronto, is a tough assignment.

A.J. Burnett
Now that he's healthy and all, he's a pretty good pitcher, dontcha know: an ERA under 4, plenty of strikeouts, and he'll take the ball deep into games. He's probably not worth what he's being paid, but the Jays had to pay a premium to get him; that's just the way the market works. I don't think the Jays are going to regret this signing.

Gustavo Chacin
He spent most of the year battling elbow problems, then was soundly clobbered in his rehab assignment and his first couple of starts back. Then, something suddenly clicked, and he was the Chacin of 2005 all over again. His K/IP ratio is still low, and he's still vulnerable to the home run, so I wouldn't count on him for much. Of course, no one has ever expected anything from him, and he's delivered before. Pitching is unpredictable, and left-handed pitching even more so.

Vinnie Chulk
He was never more than just another right-handed relief pitcher, but he's hung in there. You have to give him credit. I hope he does well in San Fran.

Scott Downs
Strange pitcher - he's very seldom mediocre. He's either blowing hitters away, or he's getting beaten like a gong. On average, he's a useful long man and occasional spot starter in the bullpen. You gotta like the wildman hairstyle.

Jason Frasor
When he came back the second time, he started pitching great. I don't know why. Nobody knows why. Nobody understands pitching. Of course, perhaps he shouldn't have been sent down that second time - maybe the Jays had some frequent flyer miles they had to use up on Western New York Airlines, or something.

Roy Halladay
I guess he's not going to win the Cy this year.

It's the same old story: even if a pitcher has the perfect build, temperament and work ethic for his job, he's still doing something that the human body simply wasn't meant to do. So far, none of the injuries have been major, presumably because Doc is smart enough to distinguish between normal pain and injury pain. (I suppose you can expect that from someone whose nickname is Doc, come to think of it.) The Jays don't have enough financial flexibility to replace Halladay if he goes down with an injury; some of Toronto's competitors do have this flexibility, which puts the Jays at a disadvantage.

Casey Janssen
You have to give him credit for trying, but I just don't think he's good enough: his K/IP ratio is low, which probably means that he doesn't have major-league stuff.

Brandon League
Somewhere along the way, he found his control, and the hitters are now quietly walking back to the dugout. If he keeps this up, it'll be like Henke and Ward all over again. Good times.

Ted Lilly
He's the pitching equivalent of that guy down the street from you. He's a great guy, really he is; he's always willing to lend you his snow shovel. But he's always this close to snapping, and you're just that little bit uneasy around him, because you don't know what will set him off.

Lilly has been a decent pitcher most of the season, but has totally lost the plot a few times, especially during that notorious shoving match. I wouldn't want him on the mound in a must-win game. Old-time baseball men would have a simple explanation for this: he's left-handed, and lefties are always crazy. Enough said. (There was one old-time guy who said that when pitchers are doing windsprints, you should never put all the lefties at one end, as they'll run crookedly and throw your whole line off.)

As for next season: apparently, he wants to come back, and the Jays want him back. But somebody's going to throw too much money at him: he'll be offered at least $32 million over 4 years, and I'm not sure he's worth that much. But the Jays have talked about raising their payroll, they need pitching, and there might not be anybody better out there.

Shawn Marcum
It bears repeating: the difference between major league pitchers and minor league pitchers is usually command, not stuff. The minors are chock full of pitchers with major-league quality stuff who have no idea where it's going. This is Marcum's problem: his stuff is good enough, but he doesn't have enough control. He's wild both outside the strike zone (too many walks) and in the strike zone (too many home runs). Until he becomes more consistent, you can't count on him for anything.

Dustin McGowan
Has the potential to be great. But he's a long way away - he hasn't even proven himself in AAA yet. It's a bad sign when a pitcher starts walking more batters when he moves up a level: he may be intimidated by major-league hitters. At this point, I'd be willing to bundle him in a trade.

Davis Romero
He has the perfect name for an actor, especially an old-time television actor: "Your Show of Shows, starring Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, and Davis Romero as 'Earl'." So far, he looks like yet another left-handed pitcher. I suppose it's a good idea to collect them, but where are the Jays going to put them all?

Francisco Rosario
A bit ahead of McGowan, as he's pitched better in AAA. But it's a bad sign when a player shows good control in the minors and poor control in the majors. I'd probably be willing to bundle him in a trade too.

B.J. Ryan
Okay, let's get the worrisome part out of the way first: Ryan has been worked very hard this year. Often, the symptoms of overwork don't show up until the next season. Still, it's not as though he's had Duane Ward's workload: Ward threw 110 innings a year for five years, had one season as a closer, and only then blew up. And, I suppose, the Jays only need to worry about the five years.

The good news: he's been a great closer all year, one of the elite pitchers in baseball. Sure, he wasn't quite as overpowering in the second half, but you can't expect an ERA under 1 all the time. Let's put it this way: he was better than Miguel Batista, wasn't he?

Scott Schoeneweis
He has an 0.77 ERA in 13 appearances in Cincinnati, though some of that may be luck: he's walked 7 in 11 2/3 innings. Conclusion: the National League is obviously inferior. Schoeneweis is a decent pitcher when not overworked, but he's nothing special, and the Jays have more than enough left-handed relief pitchers to fill the gap.

Justin Speier
When he came back from injury, he was basically great. Whether he will come back depends on his salary demands: League has pretty much filled his spot, so the Jays will probably be willing to let him go. He could be useful, though - the Jays have a lot of left-handers in their bullpen, and somebody has to be available to pitch to Manny Ramirez.

Brian Tallet
How does he do it? How can he walk so many batters, strike out so few batters, and keep his ERA that low? Perhaps it's voodoo black magic. Oh, wait: he's left-handed, isn't he? Never mind. Carry on with what you were doing.

Ty Taubenheim
I'd forgotten about him. Didn't pitch all that badly at times, but he's basically a replacement-level starting pitcher. He's no worse than Marcum or Janssen.

Josh Towers
He's a nice guy and all, and he tried his best, but there's a strong case for the argument that Towers, all by himself, cost the Jays a serious run at the post-season this year. If you replace him with a league-average pitcher, the Jays gain about five games right there, which puts them at least in the fringe of the wild card race even now. The lesson: if a pitcher isn't striking out many batters, he has to get everything exactly right in order to succeed. And that's hard to do.

Pete Walker
His arm fell off. So it goes.

I think it was Jonny German who said that the Yankees bought the American League East this year, and I'd have to agree with him. On July 31, the Red Sox were one game ahead of the Yankees, and the Jays were 6 1/2 back; once the Yanks picked up Abreu, they had enough raw offense to steamroller their opponents. The Yankee payroll is $198 million, which is more than that of the Jays and the Sox put together. There oughta be a law.

Still, there was no way the Jays were going to make it all the way from mediocrity to the post-season in one year - the gap was just too great. Now, the Jays have to decide whether they can afford to go the rest of the way. From reports I've been reading, the answer appears to be yes. I guess we'll all have new hope again next April. That's kind of how it works.
The Almost End-Of-Season Blue Jays Report | 26 comments | Create New Account
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Mike Green - Saturday, September 23 2006 @ 11:59 AM EDT (#155878) #
The fall colours of Till return. 

It's really hard to know about Reed Johnson.  His career line is now .287/.348/.422, and he made substantial improvements in controlling the strike zone and adding power at age 29.  Sometimes by force of determination, a player will have his best years after 27.  Will Johnson be one of those players?  I wouldn't put too much emphasis on his late season slump, any more than his early season hot streak. 

It's funny.  The two PECOTA ratings at the start of this season  which I strongly disagreed with were Johnson's and Hill's.  PECOTA had Johnson as a below replacement level player, and Hill as struggling due to lack of power.  I don't mean to slag PECOTA- any purely objective rating system is going to have some difficulties.

Flex - Saturday, September 23 2006 @ 12:29 PM EDT (#155879) #
I love a good snicker on a Saturday morning. Nicely done, Dave!

One other thing I've noticed about Lind: he has no batter's box mannerisms. Between pitches, he just stands there and waits for the next one - maybe he steps out and steps back in again, and that's it. I've never seen that before; maybe someone will teach him the major league way of doing things, which involves a lot of fiddling and adjusting between pitches.

Boy, I hope not. Back in 1994, during the strike, I watched an archival game featuring the Yankees from 1952, and the thing that struck me most was how nobody got out of the batter's box. Between pitches they just stood there, maybe leaning back, maybe taking a cut, but they DID NOT LEAVE. The game sped along.

It was wonderful.

westcoast dude - Saturday, September 23 2006 @ 12:36 PM EDT (#155880) #
Rios' injury/illness could have been tragic. He survived and he's recovered. With his recent hand injury now behind him, he's back to multi-hit games in each of the last three. It seemed to me that when he went down, the wheels fell off the team bus, although the silver lining was that Hinske rose to the occasion and Boston took the bait. If Alex leaves the Blue Jays, it won't be for KC, it will be for NYC. One thing is certain: next stop is MVP.
VBF - Saturday, September 23 2006 @ 12:46 PM EDT (#155881) #

That's so true about Lind. In fact, whenever he goes towards home plate, he doesn't even walk behind the ump and catcher--he just takes the most direct route to the batter's box.

He must be a believer in step efficiency.

Pistol - Saturday, September 23 2006 @ 01:14 PM EDT (#155883) #
The PECOTA on Hill isn't far off.  He's at the 75th percentile for OBP and 50th percentile for SLG.

And Hudson's slugging about 100 points better than Hill.  I don't know what the AL/NL conversion is, but it'd have to be a lot to make up that much difference.

jamesq - Saturday, September 23 2006 @ 01:47 PM EDT (#155884) #
No question some progress was made this year.  There are some good players to build around (Overbay, Glauss, Ryan, Wells, Halliday, Burnett),  and some young  talent on the roster (like Hill, Leaugue, Rios, Lind, Chacin) that will hopefully become even better.   

I am disappointed that by the end of July the team was pretty much out of contention and IMO the intensity level seemed to be lacking thereafter.  

Gerry - Saturday, September 23 2006 @ 02:16 PM EDT (#155885) #

I think Johnson is better this year and hopefully for future years.  Last season he would fall prey to the slider away.  This season he doesn't and he has improved his ability to hit off-speed pitches.

Aaron Hill's offensive weakness is a shortage of walks and power.  I believe Aaron will improve on both of those as he gets older and wiser to the league.

Rios looks like he is now back to form.  Although he came back from the staph infection I think his body was not 100% better until recently.  He has had the good swing going in the last few games and looks to be back in early season form.

I don't see Jason Phillips as a catcher on this team unless you have a guy who is going to play 140 games in front of him.

Although the pitching takes the blame for the poor performance this season the slump of Glaus and Rios' illness hurt the offense badly and I agree the intensity has not been there.

NDG - Saturday, September 23 2006 @ 05:11 PM EDT (#155886) #
I think the descriptions for Janssen and Marcum are completely reversed.  This is the second time someone has posted Marcum is a little wild, and I've said before, this isn't true in my opinion.  I think this is something people believe by looking at the stats, which doesn't show the true story.

Marcum has excellent control but very fringy stuff.  He knows not to challenge hitters which is why he ends up with so many walks; it also helps his K-rate because he locates pitches real well.  His HR rate is just  a factor of his stuff.  He's like a Tom Glavine or Kenny Rogers in this sense, two other guys who from stats look like they have control problems, but really it's just their pitching philosophy.  I'm not sure I know of any successful righthanders who pitch like this (I was thinking maybe Freddy Garcia, but Garcia has much better stuff).  Hence I'm pretty worried about his future as a ML'er.

Janssen (again IMO) has much better stuff but doesn't have the control.  He doesn't want to walk anyone and leaves far too many pitches in the hitting zones.  I think once he gets this under control, he'll become a decent major league starter.

Mike Green - Saturday, September 23 2006 @ 05:33 PM EDT (#155887) #
MGL published a study in the Hardball Times this summer which suggested that the pitching in the NL was about even with the AL in 2005, but the hitters were way behind.  Some adjustment for the league difference may still be required for Hudson, but it is probably not a huge one.  He had a fine year in 2006, perhaps equivalent to his 2004 but stretched over a full season. 
SK in NJ - Saturday, September 23 2006 @ 09:03 PM EDT (#155888) #
I think Aaron Hill can develop a bit of power moving forward. His ISO in AA (age 22) was .131. That park doesn't favor RHB, IIRC. In AAA (age 23) he had 16 extra base hits (5 home runs) in 156 at bats for AAA, for an ISO of .167. Then he was called up to replace Koskie. He's having trouble breaking a .100 ISO in the Majors, but he's only 24 and was probably rushed to the bigs. I think he can develop into a 10 home run player eventually. Maybe a .290-.360-.430 type of player. I don't think the Hill we're seeing today is his ceiling.

I think the statement at the end of that article was very true: "Still, there was no way the Jays were going to make it all the way from mediocrity to the post-season in one year - the gap was just too great." I'm as disappointed over the 2006 finish as anybody, and certainly improvements have to be made, but I don't think this was the end of the road for this current core group of players. Let's keep in mind that the team started the year expecting development from Rios, Hill, and Adams. The former two developed, while the latter didn't. AJ Burnett was getting his first taste of AL pitching, and unlike Beckett, Pavano, Clement, and others of the same mold, Burnett has actually been able to bring over his National League ratios to the Majors when healthy. That's a significant step forward. Overbay and Glaus did about as well as expected. Wells did better. Johnson was a pleasant surprise. There were roadblocks along the way (Towers, lack of starting depth, Chacin, short-stop, the bullpen), but this team can still take a step forwards next season. A lot will depend on the depth and ability to acquire or develop cheap productive talent. This wasn't going to be 80 wins to 95-100 wins overnight, unless the team had a Detroit Tigers type turnaround, and that's rare.

It's good that we're looking at +/- 85 wins as a disappointment. That's how it should be viewed. The last few years we've been aiming for this mark, and now it's considered way below the expectation, and that's a step up. Don't settle for these win totals; aim higher.
VBF - Sunday, September 24 2006 @ 12:17 AM EDT (#155893) #

It seems like we're having this discussion every third day, but...

I think that something as simple as shortening the schedule would help make the barrier between teams like the Jays and Yankees a little bit closer. If you can eliminate the need of a fifth starter (Yankees are probably a bad example, but you get the idea), you definitely help the lesser teams significantly more.

Of course the Detroit's and Chicago's of the world do get better, but not significantly improved as a team like the Jays, Orioles, or even Twins would get. It's the type of move that doesn't cause a huge ruckuss but can have some very interesting results.

Matthew E - Sunday, September 24 2006 @ 08:47 AM EDT (#155895) #
Yeah, but shortening the schedule wouldn't do that; you'd need to keep it as long as it is, but with more off-days. Unless you could talk everybody into going back to a real four-man rotation, which you could do without touching the schedule at all anyway. Anyway, it'd probably be a tough sell with the players' union, regardless of the merits of the idea.
VBF - Sunday, September 24 2006 @ 09:08 AM EDT (#155896) #

Yea, that's what I meant :P

I'm not sure what ramifications it would have on the actual schedule. You'd basically need to add an extra off-day every week and ideally MLB would like to keep its Friday-Saturday-Sunday three game series formula. Actually, now that I think about it, ending and beginning two series on the same weekend woudl probably be pretty neat--seeing two teams on the weekend.

The players union would have something to say about it, but the number of jobs aren't being reduced, the type of job is. And yea, I know pitchers like to start and not pitch in relief, so tough luck...

Pepper Moffatt - Sunday, September 24 2006 @ 09:21 AM EDT (#155898) #
"I think that something as simple as shortening the schedule would help make the barrier between teams like the Jays and Yankees a little bit closer. If you can eliminate the need of a fifth starter (Yankees are probably a bad example, but you get the idea), you definitely help the lesser teams significantly more."

Better yet - why not eliminate the DH. so the Yankees don't have anywhere to hide their old injured superstars?

I wonder if the AL would have more NL style parity if they dumped the DH.
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