A First Half Flagpole

Thursday, July 18 2013 @ 08:36 PM EDT

Contributed by: Eephus

You can use statistics to prove anything. 95 percent of all people know that.

There's no dancing around it: this has been a very trying season so far for the Toronto Blue Jays and their fans. Coming out of an offseason filled with big name acquisitions, talk of rivals weakening and enough optimism to fly a weather balloon, the Big Blue Machine has stalled while those same rivals have proven as resilient as ever. The Rays continue to churn out pitchers off their assembly line, the Orioles are no fluke, the Yankees continue to win despite a 100 million payroll of injuries, and the Red Sox rebound has a mark of Felix Felicis to it. Especially irritating for Toronto fans is now watching the success of former skipper John Farrell's Red Sox team dancing atop the AL East. (Whatever, if they sneak into the World Series my Reds will crush them anyway.)  We came into this season thinking this was the year we would finally break through, instead the wall between us and the postseason appears as indestructible as ever.

Fortunately, we have a plan! Professor Frink?

"Hmmhay, ladies and gentlemen."

"Quit stalling! What's the plan??????"

The rumours around the team right now suggest they're looking to add a starting pitcher, while frankly I feel they should be doing the exact opposite of that. There are just too many starters in the system coming back from injury/head-trauma/a-different-kind-of-head-trauma that are going to need a good look in a major league rotation. Throwing whatever prospects we've got left at Matt Garza, who you must think is significantly less likely to stick around after this season than Josh Johnson, just doesn't make any sense to me. Then again, a lot of things this organization has done this season haven't made a whole lot of sense either.

Anyhow, there a few thoughts on this half season I'd like to get out of my mind. Some are good, some are bad, and some are Emilo Bonifacio.

---     Maybe Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey haven't pitched as well or as consistently as we expected (okay, there's no maybe about that one.) But one thing that has been as advertised is their fielding ability. Buehrle is really as good as it gets: he finishes his delivery with his body perfectly square to the hitter so he's in an excellent position to field the ball automatically. If he's involved in a play he knows exactly what to do, where to be, who to back up, no matter the situation. Dickey meanwhile has a more unconventional delivery (knuckleballs will do that) and so finishes with his body tilted a little bit towards first base. Dickey however, must have the quickest glove I've ever seen a pitcher have. Every time a ball is hit hard towards him all he does is stab his glove out at it, always snagging it and making an easy toss to first. The crazy part of me thinks he easily could be the best defensive first-baseman on this team because of that skill alone.

---     Brett Lawrie isn't having the year we hoped for. A lot of that is because of injuries (if the guy is ever able to play 140+ games in a season I'll be very, very surprised), in particular the one before the WBC that pretty much robbed him of a Spring Training. He's been trying to find his timing at the plate ever since, and his numbers are suffering greatly because of it.
    Trying to make him into a second baseman? Personally, I think he's athletic and quick enough to be quite good there, but this is a case of "If it ain't broken don't fix it." Taking a struggling hitter and asking him to change positions (from one he plays brilliantly) mid-season is not likely to help those struggles.

---    Colby Rasmus is probably my second favourite Blue Jay (behind Casey Janssen, who should not be traded. Just because.) His swing, when he actually hits the baseball, is gorgeous and he's as steady a centrefielder we've seen in these parts since a young Vernon Wells patrolled out there. What I think is most impressive about Rasmus however is that he must be the smartest baserunner on the team. His speed is pretty decent but every time he's on base and there's a bloop hit, there's Colby jogging into third base, having read the ball perfectly. There was a play against the Twins where Rasmus easily took an extra base just by lulling the centrefielder into making a lazy throw into the infield.

---    At this point, it's clear the Blue Jays are infatuated with Emilo Bonifacio. It's easy to see why: he's a switch hitter! (Except that he's not a particularly good hitter from either side of the plate.) He can play almost any defensive position! (Except he can't play any of those positions particularly skilfully.) He's fast! (Not as fast as Rajai Davis, Anthony Gose, Jose Reyes or even Brett Lawrie, it seems.)
    You know, there doesn't seem to be any non-performance reason to dislike Bonifacio (unlike say, Arencibia) but Emilo is by far my least favourite Blue Jay. I hate watching him bat (stop trying to bunt! !@!#$@#@#!!!!!) and he's the kind of fielder where you're impressed if he actually makes the play. Blue Jays, just let go, please. If you try to sneak him to AAA, will teams be shoving each other in line to take this guy? And if they do, good luck to them and Bonifacio.

---    Esmil Rogers is the surprise of the season, to me. It seems like you can take the pitcher out of Colorado and take the Colorado out of the pitcher after all. The league is going to make adjustments and it's up to Rogers to then adjust to that, but there's a lot to be impressed about. What I like most is how he seems completely unafraid to throw any of his pitches in any situation. 2-0 count? Here's the get-me-over breaking ball. Some pitchers never find that throughout their entire careers.

What do I expect or predict from the rest of the season? I dunno, that's why they play the games. That's why baseball is so magical. Anything could happen. This team could end up making the playoffs, because crazier things have unfolded in two and a half months.
Extra Innings


In one of the first Game of The Week segments, I mentioned a trio of young promising pitchers in the National League all born within four months of each other in 1989. (Looking back now, I wish I'd done the research to mention some of the other great young pitchers emerging in the NL: Shelby Miller, Jose Fernandez, Madison Bumgarner*) Anyhow, the trio I looked at were Matt Harvey of the New York Mets, Patrick Corbin of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tony Cingrani of the Cincinnati Reds.

*also 1989, though you can argue he's certainly already emerged*

How are these three doing now?

Well Matt Harvey and Patrick Corbin made the National League All-Star team, and both were very much involved in that game.

Harvey of course was the starting pitcher for the NL, and after an early speed bump (injuring Robinson Cano in front of an NY crowd is quite a speed bump) he introduced the AL to his nasty power slider and two strikeout filled shutout innings followed. Harvey at the break has allowed only 119 baserunners in 130 innings, while 147 have struck out facing him.

Patrick Corbin also pitched a notable inning in that affair: the inning in which the American League broke the scoreless tie and took the lead they'd never relinquish. Corbin was charged with an All-Star game loss but that does nothing to diminish the success he's enjoyed so far this year. His W-L record of 11-1 surely catches the eye, but his .206 batting average against tells a story of more than just good luck. Seeing as he pitches for a first-place team you've got to think he's got a real chance to win 20 games, and as such probably a better chance than Harvey at nabbing a Cy Young (since voters seem to like those kinds of things.) Something interesting to keep an eye on in the second half.

Tony Cingrani did not make the All-Star team, for in fact he's had difficulties staying on the Cincinatti Reds team. That has hardly been any fault of his, however, since the Reds starters have been so superb this season that a young power lefty arm like Cingrani's is their sixth best option when everybody's healthy. In 15 games (10 starts) so far this season, he's been a bit homer-prone (1.4 per 9 innings pitched, 9 of 10 by RHB) but has not been easy to square up otherwise. (.206 average against, 77 strikeouts in 64 innings) With the injury to Johnny Cueto, Cingrani will get a good long chance to show a team in the middle of a playoff chase what he's got.