It's time once more for me to pick up, with failing hands, the torch first carried by the great Dave Till....
The grading scheme goes more or less like this:
A - Outstanding
B - Good
C - Average
D - Below Average
E - Fail. (Replacement Level? What the hell is Replacement Level anyway? I understand the concept perfectly well, but actually trying to define it? Seems a little like pinning jello to the wall. It's slippery as hell, and it keeps moving around. Anyway...)
F - Epic Fail
The class had a remarkable year, all things considered. What are those things we must consider? How about: a) the departure of one of the team's all time greats, and b) the extremely disappointing work turned in by both of 2009's star pupils, Messrs Hill and Lind. As I recall, a great many people expected this team to lose at least 90 games in 2010 - even I, normally a fairly optimistic sort, went with 76-86. Had any of us even imagined that Aaron Hill and Adam Lind would each lose some 70 points of batting average and a third of their HRs... well, come on. Surely only divine intervention could prevent 100 losses, no?
Which is why we begin with matching B+ grades for the freshman GM and the retiring field manager. Anthopoulos stuck with his program, didn't let himself get bullied into trading players just because a lot of people wanted him to, and made out very well with his short-term fixes: John Buck, Alex Gonzalez, Fred Lewis. And Cito Gaston demonstrated, presumably for the last time, that one of his key, if always unrecognized, skills as a manager has been helping young arms graduate into major league pitchers.
As for the guys who actually play the game - we begin with the top of the class and work our way down.
Jose Bautista A+
There's not a whole lot to say about the greatest season any RH batter has had in a Blue Jays uniform. I have no doubt whatsoever that he is "for real." That doesn't mean we should expect him to hit 50 HRs every year, because no one does that. But I'll be shocked if he doesn't hit about 110 of them over the next three years. I think he should be in RF by the way, and I think he'll get better out there. Bautista actually hasn't played very much in the outfield as a pro. He basically didn't play there at all in the minors, so it's been On the Job Training at the major league level. He still has a bit to learn about reading the ball off the bat and taking the best route. He's got the tools, as they say.
Vernon Wells A-
When he's healthy and on top of his game, he's still quite the ballplayer. He's never put together two good seasons in a row, and I think this was the year he really did lose a step (although I also thought his defense bounced back considerably this year.) He's about ready to devolve into a Joe Carter type RBI guy at the plate. Of course it was utterly impossible for him to drive in many runs this season, as he spent the first half of the year batting immediately behind Hill and Lind. If you're at the park and you're in the mood, Wells is a rewarding player to watch closely - he's as smart a player on the field as anyone we've had here since Alomar.
Ricky Romero B+
The young staff doesn't really have an ace. Romero was the best of the bunch in 2010, but it was very much a case of primus inter pares. You can sure understand why Ricciardi fell in love with him - he's just a bulldog out there. And maybe it's just me, but I think it's very cool to have a pitcher who takes the mound to the strains of Dr Dre and Tupac chanting out "California Love." Still learning what he can and can't do.
John Buck B+
Doesn't throw all that great, but does a very fine job working with the pitchers which is much more important, anyway. This team works very hard preparing for the other team's hitters, and it was something that placed Arencibia - coming in from another league in mid-season - at an enormous disadvantage. Buck has made small, incremental improvements as a hitter pretty well every season since he arrived in the majors. This has got to stop eventually, you would think. Right about now seems a likely time. On the other hand, he only turned 30 a couple of months ago and he hasn't had a lot of wear - he should be a good player for the next three years at least.
Scott Downs B+
Still the best reliever on the team, but over the last two years he hasn't been nearly as untouchable as he was in 2007 and 2008. John Gibbons used him very aggressively - he made 81 appearances in 2007 - and Downs may be one of those guys who needs to be used like that to be at his best. Gaston was quite a bit more conservative with him. This was probably because Downs kept hurting himself, but I'd note that he wasn't hurting himself pitching - he was hurting himself fielding his position, or swinging the bat.
Shaun Marcum B
A marvelous comeback year, and he clearly seems to have emerged in the post-Doc era as the spiritual heart and leader of the pitching staff, Unlike Doc he seems to positively relish the role. On the mound, he's not particularly efficient, so he's always going to need more help from his bullpen than Romero. And I worry about the health of his arm going forward. Nevertheless, I have become a huge fan. I absolutely love watching him blow that 85 mph fastball by people. I can't get enough of it (probably because it validates everything I've ever said here about pitching - but never mind!) Anyway, I enjoyed watching that more than anything else this team showed me all season. Even more than Jose...
Shawn Camp B
Becoming one of my favourites, mainly because it's hard to imagine a pitcher with less charisma and less mound presence. He's Tony Castillo, without the excitement (and Tony always looked as if he was stifling a yawn on the mound.) Camp just works through his innings, limits the damage, and gets the team into the dugout.
Yunel Escobar B
An unusual player - he's almost 28 years old, and he still seems completely raw, like a 21 year old with tremendous tools who still needs all kinds of lessons in fundamentals. To their credit, the Blue Jays seem willing to help him out, and to his credit, Escobar seems willing to take the instruction. That, by the way, does not speak well for the current state of the Braves organization, which during the Schuerholz years regarded teaching young men how to play baseball as what they did, a point of pride.
Brett Cecil B
Right now he's a solid, middle of the rotation guy - and he's also just turned 24 and he has the tools to become considerably more than that. Like Morrow, he's still in the process of harnessing his tools. He's probably further along than Morrow, although the tools aren't quite so eye-popping. Seems to be running out of gas late in the year (and is he carrying a bit more weight than he should?) but he does compete out there. Marcum and Romero, of course, are both absolutely fierce competitors out there, and it seems to be spreading to the rest of the staff...
Alex Gonzalez B
Played great for the Jays, and hit better here than he's hit anywhere in his long career, so Anthopoulos cashed him in for someone who was both: a) just as good right now who also b) had a chance to be much better going forward. I highly doubt there were any similar offers for Buck or Bautusta.
John McDonald B
The most important thing Cito Gaston accomplished during his second tour was graduating the young arms into major league pitchers. But it's also been lots of fun watching these career utility infielders quite unexpectedly evolve into all-star type players under his watch - Marco Scutaro in 2009, Jose Bautista in 2010. There wasn't really room for John McDonald to join the club, but he was part of the program too. McDonald posted a better slugging percentage this season than Lyle Overbay, Adam Lind, Aaron Hill, Travis Snider, and Edwin Encarnacion. That's one hell of a utility infielder, people.
Brandon Morrow B-
The proverbial million dollar arm... and everyone I talk to around the team simply raves about what a fine young man he is, how coachable he is, how much he wants to get better. He made an awful lot of progress this year. I really don't think there's any limit as to how good he can be.
Kevin Gregg B-
He ain't pretty, but he generally accomplishes the mission. Fights his control far too much to be an elite closer, but does anyone actually expect him to be an elite closer?
David Purcey B-
It's a much simpler job description, coming out of the pen - two pitches are quite enough to get by, you're not going to face anybody twice in the same game - and that seems to suit Purcey just fine. He's been eased very carefully into the job - Gaston is very, very good at this type of thing - and I expect him to be a key component of next year's pen. He's hard to hit, he strikes guys out. Like Gregg, he fights his control from time to time. Purcey's not a youngster, but he's still young enough as a pitcher to make some progress on that front.
Lyle Overbay C+
The first six weeks of 2010 were awful enough to completely spoil his season, but from the middle of May through the end of the year Overbay played about as well as he's ever played. Interestingly, he also arrested some of his decline against southpaws this season. He had 6 HRs and a .740 OPS against LHP in 2010 - over the previous two years, he'd managed just 1 homer and an OPS below .540. He's a free agent, and he turns 34 in January, but I don't see that the team has anyone better waiting in the wings. Never mind defense - do you completely trust Adam Lind to be more productive with the bat? He might be... he was in 2009, he probably will be in 2011 - but he might not. Overbay was better than Lind in 2008 and 2010.
Jason Frasor C+
He's always been my whipping boy, of course. Reverted to form after a very impressive 2009. But he was hardly bad- he was just... OK. His former GM said he freezes up in the big moments, something I've said myself. But that's probably not fair. It's more accurate to say that Frasor is a thrower, not a pitcher. When his stuff is working, he's just fine. When it isn't, he doesn't have anything to fall back on. He can't pitch his way out of trouble, like Camp or Marcum. All he can do is keep throwing, and hope for the best.
Casey Janssen C+
A much better season than I thought he was capable of, which I'm pleased to report if only because seems a very likeable fellow. Took some real steps forward - he managed to both reduce his walks to something like his previous levels while increasing his strikeouts significantly. Still gives up too many hits, but I'm much more optimistic about him going forward than I was a year ago.
Jose Molina C
Molina was a big upgrade on Rod Barajas, who was last year's starter. His defensive skills are extremely narrow - he moves about as well as you'd expect a Molina to move, and he can be a little careless on balls in the dirt. But he throws very, very well and he's done an outstanding job of working with the young pitchers. Even better than Buck.
Fred Lewis C
Not really a good fit. He was acquired to be a bench player, injuries forced him into the lineup and he ran with it for a while - but he's not a starter on this team and he doesn't seem ready to accept anything less. And he doesn't really have the skill set I'd want from a fourth outfielder anyway.
Dewayne Wise C-
Now here - almost - is a fourth outfielder! First of all, he accepts the job. Second, he can play all three spots in the field. Third, he can come off the bench and pinch run. Alas, he's not quite accomplished enough at the plate. If only there was just one thing he could do better than the average guy - like hit LH (or hit RHs, I'm not fussy!), or get on base, or something...
Edwin Encarnacion D+
His tools are tempting, are they not? He's athletic around the bag at third - quick reactions, strong arm. At the plate... I don't care what Cito Gaston says. This guy is the strongest hitter on the team. He's a beast. Did you see that shot he hit the other day against the Orioles to tie the game (the one Overbay won with his walkoff in the 11th) - Encarnacion reached down for a breaking ball below the knees, hit it with basically one hand, and drove it well over the fence in CF, some 400 feet away. Sooner or later, the Law of Large Numbers says he's going stay healthy for a full year. If that ever happens, he could quite easily put it all together and explode for 40 plus homers. Don't think it's going to happen here - but on the other hand, I don't see anyone actually in place who can move him off the position.
Jesse Carlson D+
Unlikely to get back to where he was in 2008, but he's making some progress. And it's not like he was actually bad in 2009.
Travis Snider D
His manager stuck with him, as he stuck with Overbay, through his dreadful start. Alas for Snider, just as he was getting it turned around, he hurt his wrist, missed more than two months, and was basically starting from scratch when he came back. Makes an awful lot of rookie mistakes, which is what you'd expect of someone who was rushed to the majors in such an ungodly hurry. I think, like everyone else, that he's going to be pretty good. He isn't all that good yet, but he's working on it.
Kyle Drabek D-
Not quite ready for prime time. But really, really close. Really close.
Rommie Lewis D-
He looked like a decent enough lefty out of the pen for a while there. He went and gave up 8 runs over 2 IP in his last two outings, which sort of skewed his season totals in an ugly way. He should hang in there. He's still got a chance to be Trever Miller.
Adam Lind E
It's OK to be a total klutz everywhere but the batter's box when you're hitting. When you're not hitting... it's a major problem. I never expected Lind to be as good as he was in 2009, and I never expected him to be as bad as he's been this year. But really, all that happened this year was he went into a slump and had a devil of a time getting out of it. So his slump lasted for two months. Remember, he got off to a decent enough start this year - he hit .286/.359/.484 in April, which is just fine. But over 53 games May and June, he hit exactly like the pitcher he's supposed to be replacing in the batting order - .166/.219/.276, which is gruesome. It was bad enough and protracted enough to ruin his season. In the three months since then, he's hit .265/.308/.504.
Aaron Hill E
I've never been the biggest Hill fan, but this was just weird. As I write this, Hill is hitting .197 on his balls in play, which is freakish and amazing. His career figure is .289, and it's only that low because of this year - the lowest figure he'd ever posted before was. 288 in 2009. I've heard some observers say he's gotten "homer happy" - I tend to agree. I think he's picked up Dick Schofield disease, in which a guy who is not really a home run hitter insists on trying to hit a homer every time up. To his credit, he was able to leave all that in the dugout when he took the field.
Brian Tallet E
A lot of you are probably eager to see the last of Tallet and I can't really blame you - he's been pretty awful. Injuries forced him into the rotation in 2009, and it's pretty clear that working as a starter has seriously messed him up. I would point out that his last three years used exclusively as a reliever can stand being compared to the work of Scott Downs. Also, as bad as Tallet was this year, and that was pretty bad indeed, he was still able to shut down LH batters (.182/.234/.354.) He may be quite capable of replacing Downs next year.
Mark Rzepcynski E
In 2009, opposing batters hit .225 against Rzep - this year, they hit .310. That's really the only difference between the two seasons, but it's quite enough. Otherwise - his walks and HRs allowed are the same. His strikeouts are down, but not all that much. But there is a pretty big difference between hitting .310 and hitting .225, and because his control is so iffy, Rzepczynski really has to limit the number of base hits he gives up.
J.P. Arencibia E
He did announce his presence With Authority, which was a good thing, because he's gone 1-25 since that momentous day. As a catcher, he's clearly not yet in sync with the pitchers and the coaching staff - and that's exactly what you'd expect from someone dropped in from another league in the middle of the season. You may say, well, let him learn on the job. Which would be fine, except we're also trying to develop the young pitchers. Everyone just forgets about them. But I'm not worried. I'm sure he'll be better if he's on the team from the first day of spring training.
Brad Mills E
What worries me about Mills is not the 86 mph fastball - that's no problem, lots of guys can succeed with that. It's that weird delivery of his - I just have trouble believing he can consistently command his repertoire throwing that way. I'm probably worried about nothing - what looks weird to me probably feels completely natural to him, which is far more important. On the other hand - he hasn't done it yet.
Jesse Litsch E
He clearly did something - besides pitching so poorly - to annoy his manager. I have a strong suspicion it had something to do with conditioning. He definitely picked the wrong guy to irritate. Cito Gaston does not take any crap from pitchers, and for all of his fabled patience with hitters (Travis Snider and Lyle Overbay this April just past) I've never seen a manager more willing than Gaston to throw a pitcher off the bus and give someone else a shot. Anyone else - a ten year veteran of the minors, a kid from AA.
Josh Roenicke E
Still throws really hard. Still doesn't know how to pitch. He's eight months younger than Shaun Marcum in human terms, a lifetime younger as a pitcher.
Mike McCoy E
He's probably a capable utility guy - he can pinch run, he can play almost anywhere on the field. But in his very limited playing time, he couldn't crack the Mendoza Line and he struck out in more than a quarter of his at bats.
Jarret Hoffpauir E
Mike McCoy without the speed? Or the versatility?
Shawn Hill E
If he can stay healthy, who knows? Maybe he can be a decent major league pitcher. But I'm pretty sure he's not going to stay healthy. The act of pitching simply does not agree with his elbow, as two Tommy John surgeries (and an arthroscopic procedure in between) would suggest.
Dana Eveland E
No one really took him seriously as a starting pitcher on this team and in this division - at least I hope no one did - but he had himself a good camp back in March. This let the team use him to buy a bit of time for Cecil and Rzepczynski (who had injury problems in the spring.)
Randy Ruiz E
It's a swell story - veteran minor leaguer gets hot for 33 games in the majors, and parlays it into a nice contract in Japan. It wasn't all that long ago that people were complaining when Baustista was getting at bats instead of Ruiz. Ah, memories!
Jeremy Accardo F
I assume we've seen the last of him. He's lost a bit off his fastball, and the forearm injury seems to have taken away his splitter. Which doesn't leave all that much. You must admit, he does not lack for confidence. It can be irritating when you hear someone blame everyone else for his problems, but for a professional athlete it can sometimes be a necessary trick of the mind.
Jeremy Reed F
Better than Delucci.
Nick Green F
Better than me.