Blue Jays Report Card

Monday, September 30 2013 @ 07:00 AM EDT

Contributed by: Magpie

We're not happy.

Well, vengeance is mine. Vengeance, and retribution. For the day of disaster is near at hand, and doom is coming quickly.


Could be. Let's find out.

Here's what the grades mean to me:

A - Outstanding
B - Good
C - Average
D - Below Average
E - Fail
F - Epic Fail

As always, a great many fellows wore the uniform for a period so brief that even I, unrepentant champion of the small sample size, have nothing to say about it. This time around the INC for Incomplete goes to Andy LaRoche, Mike Nickeas, Ryan Langerhans, Edgar Gonzalez, Jeremy Jeffress, Ricky Romero, Thad Weber, Mickey Storey, Luis Perez, Dave Bush, Aaron Laffey, Kyle Drabek, Justin Germano, and Sean Nolin. Jeffress was lights-out in September, but lots of guys have pitched well for 9.1 innings. Romero needs a fresh start somewhere else. Drabek and Perez spent most of the year rehabbing from injury, and just making it back to a major league mound was enough of an accomplishment (although Drabek's 35-6 K/W ratio in 43 minor league innings got my attention.)  Nolin got mugged in his only major league appearance but pitched very well in New Hampshire and Buffalo.

We begin with the guys who don't play...

John Gibbons D-
I am uncomfortable about this grade, which I suspect is an instance of Generosity Run Amok. As you all know, the Magpie is a tender-hearted creature, of infinite forgiveness. But I have an uncomfortable precedent to deal with here. In 2009, Cito Gaston managed a team that was supposed to lose 90 games to a 75-87 record. For which I gave him an E. Well, John Gibbons' 2013 team was supposed to win 90 games, and they couldn't even match that non-performance. You see my dilemma? I can't think of anything good to say about Gibbons' work in 2013. The best I can offer is that I don't think Gibbons did anything to make the situation worse (unlike Gaston in 2009.) Obviously he didn't do anything to make things better, but that's not what he was hired to do. This was the wrong type of team and season for what Gibbons brings to the table. Whatever that is...

Alex Anthopoulos D
It really wasn't a bad strategy - it certainly made much more sense than what he tried the year before. There was indeed every reason to believe that the team would have good starting pitching. Before they started actually playing the games, there was giddy speculation that Anthopoulos may have assembled the best starting rotation in franchise history. It didn't work out that way. Stuff happens. In this case, lots of stuff happened. The bigger concerns are the ongoing problems with helping young men graduate into contributing major leaguers, and helping them get better once they've done that. That certainly isn't one of this organization's strengths. And clearly, this organization has a serious problem when it comes to keeping players healthy, These issues make one wonder if there's something fundamentally wrong with how this organization does things. It's one thing for the Yankees to have injury problems - the Yankees lineup includes a multitude of elderly athletes, some of whom peaked more than fifteen years ago. That doesn't apply here. I sometimes think it might be helpful for Anthopoulos to make use of some of the game's traditional, if often conventional, wisdom. He's got the new thinking covered , but this year he assembled a team with no apparent recognition of the fact that defense matters. Which is something any grizzled old school baseball lifer would have growled in a heartbeat, while spitting some tobacco juice on your shoes. One assumes that some of these issues will be addressed this winter.  They had better be. Anthopoulos has still fielded exactly one winning team since taking the reins, and that was the team he inherited (and promptly stripped of its best player.) If a little discontent, a little impatience, is beginning to manifest itself, all one can say is why wouldn't it? 

Edwin Encarnacion A
Ended up on the DL, because that appears to come with wearing the uniform. Was anyone worried that 2012 was a fluke? If you were, worry no more. He was obviously the team's MVP, their best player, and no one else is even in the conversation. His 2013 season was almost exactly like the his 2012 season. I thought  he did a better job running the bases this time around. That's about the only difference. He's not a good first baseman, of course. But neither was Carlos Delgado, and while I value defense at this position more than most people, if you can hit like Encanacion or Delgado, I'm willing to live with sub-par defense...

Adam Lind B+
Adam Lind had the sixth best OPS in the entire American League against RH pitchers (behind Davis, Ortiz, Cabrera, Trout, and Cano.)  What happened? Well, Lind has had two problems these last three years. One of them is the very existence of LH pitchers, and there isn't much anyone can do about that. Lind had some success against them early in 2013, so Gibbons gave him a chance to show that it wasn't a fluke. But it was a fluke, and Gibbons quickly stopped exposing Lind to the sinister fellows. (He made just 16 starts against LH pitchers.) Lind's other problem has been the lengthy slumps he falls into. Slumps happen to everyone, but Lind's tend to drag on and on for two or three months. In the past, Lind has always responded to his struggles by expanding his strike zone, as if being more aggressive would solve his problem. It never did - his walks would drop to essentially nothing, he'd hit even less, and he'd expand his zone some more. This year's slump hit in July (.195/.263/.356) and what Lind did this August was different and interesting. He became much more selective than he normally is. He drew more walks than usual, he stopped driving the ball entirely, and just scratched out a few singles. It wasn't pretty, but it worked - rather than falling deeper into the abyss, he was able to arrest his decline, fight his way out of the slump, and start pounding the ball again in September. So maybe he's figured out something about himself. In other news, Lind has improved as a first baseman, and while he could never be described as good I think he's a little better than Encarnacion now. This is actually relevant because Lind hit quite a bit better when he was in the lineup at first base than when he was the DH (it made no difference at all to Encarnacion.) So ideally, against RH pitchers, I'd want to see Lind at 1B and Encarnacion at DH; against LH pitchers, I'd want Encarnacion at 1B and Reyes/Cabrera at DH.

Jose Bautista B+
Ended up on the DL and obviously missing more than a month of the season reduces his value. Bautista isn't Brett Lawrie, but he plays hard, and he's getting to the age where that begins to work against him a little. Gibbons tried batting him second for much of the season. This apparently makes good sabermetric sense, but I didn't much like it (and neither did Bautista, apparently.) Anyway, in 59 games in the 2 hole, Bautista hit .252/.332/.488; he hit .267/.385/.510 in 59 games (oh, happy coincidence!) batting 3rd. While that's probably just random happenstance, we've seen signs that Bautista takes this stuff seriously. You may remember that before Baustista had established himself as a great HR hitter, Cito Gaston tried him out as a leadoff hitter (Bautista being the only guy in sight with decent on-base skills.) Bautista dutifully worked very hard at getting on base, drew almost a walk per game, but didn't hit at all (.163/.327/.256). In other words, I think that when Bautista was batting second, he tried - just a little, and probably not even consciously - to do the things that two-hole hitters are supposed to do, like advance the runner. It's just his baseball DNA.

Aaron Loup B+
The team's hardest working relief pitcher also turned out to be its most effective. He's got a huge platoon split, which should be obvious to anyone after you've seen him throw one or two pitches. Pitchers who throw from that angle always have huge platoon splits. It wasn't obvious to John Gibbons for some reason, who chose Brett Cecil as the LHP who needed to shielded from RH batters. Which was not entirely unreasonable, as Cecil has developed a pretty significant platoon split of his own these last few years. Anyway, while Loup dominated LH batters (.200/.286/.220), RH batters had themselves a much better time of it (.299/.325/.461)

Sergio Santos B
Spent almost three months on the DL, but was utterly awesome when he returned. From mid-August forward until the final weekend, over 15 appearances, he allowed exactly one baserunner - that's right, one - and even that was a walk to the NL's RBI leader, Paul Goldschmidt, with first base open and one out. (Santos then got the inning-ending double play four pitches later.) He obviously has a chance to be the team's best relief pitcher. On the other hand, he's pitched less than 30 innings in his two years with the team so he's still not someone you'd want to count on.

Colby Rasmus B
Spent a month on the DL. Rasmus' season was obviously something of a fluke. I like lucky players - it's just that you can't count on them staying lucky. Rasmus had a .356 BABiP this past season, which is extremely unusual. No matter who you are. And when you remember that Rasmus had a career .287 average on his balls in play coming into 2013, it seems extremely unlikely that he'll be able to do it again.  I won't be holding my breath, at any rate. He's still a good player, though, and the team might want to consider giving him some more time off. Maybe that way he can avoid his annual injury.

Jose Reyes B
Spent almost two months on the DL and all the leg injuries are beginning to seriously compromise his raw speed, which was pretty awesome a few years ago. Now, to Reyes' considerable surprise, he's finding himself getting thrown out on the basepaths on plays where he probably expected to be safe quite easily. His first step quickness is also fading, which is a problem for a middle infielder. I'd really like the team to find a permanent caddy for him, so that he could DH at least once every home stand and get his wheels off the damn turf. I'd also like to see him position himself a little deeper in the field. He's still got a fabulous arm, which would allow him to take the Ripken approach to playing short. Meanwhile, of course, there is nothing wrong with his bat.

Brett Lawrie B
Opened the season on the DL, played hurt for a while, and went back on the DL. I spent much of the first half of this season musing that Lawrie might be no more than the next Aurelio Rodriguez, and brooding about how his career arc seemed to be matching that of Jeff Francoeur. So what Lawrie did when he returned in the second half of the season (.279/.340/.408)  was something of a relief, even if it's not quite what we're really hoping to see from him. We also need to see him avoid the DL and play well for a whole year. He's still just 23 years old. The grade is basically an A for the glove and a C for the bat.

Dustin McGowan B
Dustin certainly pitched very well when he was out there, but  he was used so sparingly it's hard to know what it means. If anything.

Casey Janssen B
In some way, Janssen is the ideal closer. After all, while he had a good season, there were still times when he seemed more like the fourth best relief pitcher on the team. Which in turn meant that better pitchers than he (Cecil and Delabar in the first half, Santos and McGowan in the second half) were the ones who were getting many of the higher leverage opportunities in the 7th and 8th innings. Leaving  the 9th inning to Janssen, who is a good, reliable relief pitcher - and one who has established himself in the closer's role sufficiently that his teammates believe in him. As I trust we all understand, there's a reason that managers hate to lose games in the ninth inning with anyone but their closer on the mound. The second guessing from the fans and media is mostly an irritation, but the second guessing from the players can be fatal. Anyway, Janssen was steady and dependable from the first week of the season to the last. Unlike the next two guys.

Brett Cecil B
Over the first three months, posted an ERA of 1.54, and for some weird reason was invited to the All-Star Game. Over the last three months, posted an ERA of 5.49 and ended up on the DL. Cecil has always had big platoon splits; as noted above, Gibbons protected Cecil from RH batters to such a degree that Cecil actually faced almost as many LH batters as righties. LH batters hit .191 against him, RH batters just .212; however all 4 HRs he allowed were to RH batters, and he managed to walk 19 of the 127 RH batters he faced (he walked just 4 of of the 123 LH batters he saw.)

Steve Delabar B
Over the first three months, posted an ERA of 1.62, and for some weird reason was invited to the All-Star Game. Over the last three months, posted an ERA of 6.41 and spent most of August on the DL. I was really impressed by Delabar after he came over in 2012, and his first half didn't surprise me at all. I'm not sure what went wrong, but we do know he was still out there pitching even though his arm was starting to bother him. To which, we can all say, and with gusto - "what the hell for?"

Chad Jenkins B-
Seems to be emerging as the David Cooper of the Jays' pitching prospects - someone who gets absolutely no respect, of whom very little is expected, but manages to play better than people getting much more hype. (Let's hope some weird, career-threatening injury doesn't bite him.) No one believes in him very much, but I always figure that if the guy is doing the job, you let him do the job. Don't let the fact that you don't think he should be able to do the job get in the way. Maybe he knows something you don't know.

Moises Sierra B-
Still not quite sure to make of him, as he's making a habit of doing the unexpected. After hitting just .289 in Las Vegas, I didn't think he'd be hitting .290 in the American League a year later. After drawing just 16 walks in 100 games at Buffalo this year, I didn't think he'd draw 14 walks in 34 games for Toronto. Is it that AAA pitchers have superior control? Doubtful. But they're probably easier to hit and Sierra was ending his at bats sooner by putting the ball in play. Last year, I said he seemed to be a kind of George Bell-lite. This year, I'd like to point out that it took Bell years and years to devolve into this bad a defensive player. So Sierra's certainly a step ahead of the original in one area.

R.A. Dickey C+
There appears to have a lengthy, and difficult, adjustment to the new league, the new home park, the new defense.  He went 6-8, 5.15 over his first 16 starts, when he may also have been pitching through some physical discomfort. But adjust he did, going 8-5, 3.46 the rest of the way. I think he should be be fine next year, but I don't expect him to ever contend for a Cy Young again. While knuckleballers have been known to last a long time, they don't always. They can also be pretty erratic from year to year in their baseball dotage. Dickey will be 39 next year - Phil Niekro's ERA+ at ages 39-41 was 142, 119, 102; Joe Niekro went 109, 91, 93; Tim Wakefield went 103, 100, 112; Tom Candiotti went 108, 94, 64 and was done.

Mark Buehrle C+
It's impressive what you can accomplish when you know what you're doing. Like a lot of pitchers who don't have impressive fastballs, Buehrle has learned to do everything else that can possibly help him. As everyone knows, Buehrle is one of the finest fielding pitchers in the majors. He also - practically alone on this staff - takes away the opposition's running game. Opposing base stealers managed just 4 SB against 5 CS this year, which is a typical Buehrle season. (Among the others - Dickey does an outstanding job of holding runners, but he throws an 80 mph pitch that is difficult to catch, which enables the guys who do run on him to do so pretty successfully. Johnson, Redmond, and Happ were all horrid - a combined 28 SB against 1 CS. In the pen, Janssen and Loup are tough to run on. McGowan is famously terrible at holding runners, and Santos, Perez, Lincoln, and Cecil weren't much better.) I'm sure some of you have noticed that Buehrle has scuffled in his own division- this season he was 2-8, 5.20 against AL East teams, 10-2, 3.29 against everyone else. He was actually just fine in his five starts against the Red Sox (2-1, 3.31) - it was the other three teams that made his life miserable (0-7, 6.02), despite one strong start against Tampa and two good ones against the Yankees.

Todd Redmond  C
The Jays might have stumbled onto someone useful here - he was better than both Rogers and Happ, never mind Johnson and Morrow. Redmond was drafted even later than noted 38th round pick Mark Buehrle, having been selected by Pittsburgh in the 39th round back in 2004. The Pirates traded him to Atlanta just as he was reaching AA. The Braves soon pegged him as a Josh Towers type, a RH pitcher with superior control and an inferior fastball.  Like Towers, Redmond was always willing to challenge any hitter any time, and like all such pitchers, he gave up more than a few home runs. Redmond never quite had Towers' control, but unlike Towers he did have a genuine third pitch that represented a change of speeds. The Braves obviously didn't believe those tools would play at the major league level but they did think he was a fine guy to have at AAA. So Redmond spent years and years in Gwinnett County, on the outskirts of Atlanta, watching Beachy and Medlen and Hanson and Venters and Kimbrel leave him behind on their way to the show. Redmond himself was called up a couple of times, and returned to the minors before actually getting into a game. But in 2012 - this is crucial - he suddenly added a few mph to his fastball velocity. It didn't make much of an impression on the Braves, who by now must have felt pretty sure that they already knew what they had in him. Needing infield help in mid-season, they traded him to Cincinnati. He finally got to appear in a major league game with the Reds. As always, he was instantly sent back to the minors and the Reds cut him loose when the season was over. He spent most of the past spring with the Orioles until the Jays claimed him on waivers, presumably to provide what he had always provided before - organizational depth. Except he wasn't quite the guy everyone thought he was anymore.

Mark DeRosa C
Not bad for a 25th guy. As a hitter, he's basically J.P. Arencibia in a good year - except with three times as many walks. He's not really a good defender anywhere at this stage, but at least he knows how you're supposed to play his various positions. On this team, that counts for something.

Juan Perez C
Spent almost the last two months on the DL. Too bad - in his old age, Perez discovered a two pitch combination - a very hard sinker and a slider - that basically made him unhittable for about an inning. Unfortunately, he was asked to become a multi-inning pitcher, something he hadn't been in at least six years. Just as he was starting to lose his effectiveness in this unaccustomed role, his elbow blew up.

Darren Oliver C-
Spent three weeks on the DL back in May and June. As Mick Jagger once observed, time waits for no one, and while it gave Oliver the benefit of the doubt for a long time indeed, it couldn't last forever. That said, he was hardly bad. He was merely Ordinary, and since returning to the AL in 2007 at age 36, he'd been assorted shades of Outstanding.

Anthony Gose C-
I think some patience is going to be required, by the fans, by the organization, and by Gose himself. It may take this guy a while. He's a wonderful athlete, with lots of talent. But he doesn't really know how to apply that talent and athleticism to playing baseball. (That's right - he doesn't know how to play the game.) I'd stick with him, though. While I think he'll be a late bloomer, I think it'll be worth the wait.

Neil Wagner C-
Looked good for a while there, and should probably be able to serve as your generic Relief Pitcher. His month-by-month ERAs were 2.45, 6.35, 2.92, 7.11 so maybe there's something going on with his biorhythms.

Rajai Davis D+
He didn't irritate me nearly as much this season, possibly because he was used much more often in the roles to which he's best suited.  He can steal bases more or less at will, which is a useful thing to bring off the bench. And he can hurt LH pitching, so he'd be useful as part of a platoon. (It's too bad he doesn't play the same position as Adam Lind, or vice versa.) He's presumably gone off in search of a full-time job somewhere. Good luck with that. He doesn't play centre field well enough to justify keeping his bat in the lineup every day, let alone one of the corner positions.

J.A. Happ D
Spent three months on the DL, but we're just happy he got out of there alive. Happ went 5-7, 4.56 this season - his evil twin Esmil Rogers was 4-7, 4.89 as a starter. (Those two sets of numbers, by the way, were almost identical before Happ came up with his best start of the season on the final weekend. Just to mess me up, no doubt.) While it's probably true that the most significant difference between these two guys is that one of them is left-handed and one of them isn't - I think Happ is the opposite of Esmil Rogers, I think Happ really does have a repertoire that is best suited to starting. He just doesn't have a starter's command, or any of the assorted secondary skills that go with the job. Which makes him something of a tweener.

Esmil Rogers D+
I don't believe in him, not as a starting pitcher. Not yet, anyway. I don't think Rogers has enough in the toolbox to make it as a full-time starter. He has something closer to a  reliever's repertoire. His secondary pitches come and go. But I like his arm and  I like him on the mound. If he gets to the point where his secondary pitches become more reliable, and if he finds a catcher who knows how to work with him from one game to the next....I know, I know. If, if, if.

Ryan Goins D
You may have noticed that Goins drew just 2 walks in more than 100 plate appearances in the majors. It's because AL pitchers aren't messing around with him - they're just challenging him with fastballs. There's little reason to do anything else, so it's unlikely he'll ever walk as much as he did in the minors. Not that he was walking a whole lot down there, anyway. It does suggest that it'll be a real struggle for him to manage an OPS of more than .600 in the majors. Still, on this team, I'd probably be willing to put up with a non-hitter - and Goins does look a lot like the new Johnny Mac - if I was getting a genuine defensive whiz at a key defensive position.

Munenori Kawasaki D
He can fill in defensively, he chips in a little with the bat. And shucks, people just like having him around. There's a role for a guy like that on a major league bench.

Melky Cabrera D-
Spent the last two months of the season on the DL, after missing almost a month earlier in the year. I have no idea what to expect from a tumour-free, PED-free Cabrera next year, and neither does anyone else. I'll say this, though - Esteban Loaiza's wife had a tumour on her spine back when Voldemort was a Blue Jay, and she spent most of her time in Toronto in a wheelchair. 

Brad Lincoln D-
Walked almost as many batters as Casey Janssen and Aaron Loup combined. Which is the heart of his problem.

Kevin Pillar D-
Didn't hit as much as was hoped, and it's not like we were hoping for a lot. Fortunately, he was able to break off his career-commencing oh-fer before it reached career shattering, Rich Dauer-like dimensions. But even so, he still hit just .247/.297/.400 afterwards, which isn't going to cut it in left field. He was better against LH, but not to the degree that it would be worth finding a platoon arrangement for him. And I think I'd want a little more from a fourth outfielder. So he's still got some work to do.

Macier Izturis E
Spent the final 6 weeks on the DL. I think we just saw him go over the cliff - I think he's finished as a useful major leaguer. He's a DFA candidate to me. I'd rather have Goins or Kawasaki on next year's team than this guy.

Brandon Morrow E
Spent the last four months on the DL. Sigh. I like Morrow, but my goodness... It's always something with this guy. This year? Well, apparently Morrow fell in love with his new cutter and threw too many of them. Different pitches are tough on the throwing arm in different ways, remembering that everything is tough on the shoulder. Sliders tend to eat up the elbow - throwing a slider is a little like throwing a nice football spiral. But you're not supposed to throw a baseball that way, and it's the elbow that generally objects the loudest. Whereas a cut fastball puts a lot of strain on the forearm. This is something you can quickly discover for yourself by trying to throw one. You're throwing a fastball with an off-center grip, and the forearm tends to automatically compensate to maintain your grasp on the ball. The cutter comes naturally to some pitchers, and the rest quite often hurt their forearms until they figure out how to do it.

Ramon Ortiz E
Spent the last three months on the DL, and I'll bet you he's furiously rehabbing away right now.  You have to love this guy. He's 40 years old. He's earned more than $16 million dollars playing baseball. That's a lot of money, folks, especially if you're a barber from the Dominican Republic. And yet he's spent most of the last five years of his life riding buses in the minor leagues. The only possible explanation is that he simply loves playing baseball. Which was made obvious to all of us as we looked on at his naked pain and distress when it looked like the game was being taken away from him forever last June. No, I wouldn't want him on my major league team either, but I sure wouldn't mind having him around, one way or another.

Josh Johnson E
Spent most of the last two months on the DL, after losing a month earlier in the season. What a disaster that was. For the team, and for the player. Just how much did this season cost Josh Johnson, anyway? $ 60 million? $70 million? I've speculated that Johnson was going through The Change of Life, which happens often to RH power pitchers around the age of 30. Their stuff changes just enough that the way they've pitched before is no longer effective, and it takes them some time to adjust and learn to how to get batters out with what they now have. I believe that what Johnson has left is quite good enough - I think he just hasn't figured out how to use it, and his frequent injuries aren't making the adjustment process any easier. I expect he'll be an effective pitcher again, and it could very well happen as soon as next year. But I sure wouldn't want to be counting on it. 

J.P. Arencibia F
Only three of his teammates made more plate appearances, which is unusual for a catcher - only one other AL catcher ranked higher on his own team in number of plate appearances and that man (Carlos Santana) made 70 starts at DH or 1B. I said last year that Arencibia was more likely to improve defensively than as a hitter. The defensive improvement didn't happen in 2013, and just for good measure he led the league in errors and passed balls (this last despite making just one start with Dickey on the mound.) Meanwhile, as a hitter, he seems to be going backward with all possible speed. This was an historically awful season, one that actually strained credulity. There simply can't have been very many major league teams in the last 50 years that have had a player this awful in their starting lineup. The 1962 Mets didn't have anyone this bad. Arencibia scored only 24 runs this season when he wasn't driving himself in. On the road, he hit an unfathomable .147/.185/.269, which is... well, I don't know what it is. It's a phenomena quite outside my experience. More than 20 major league teams received more offensive production from their backup catcher than the Jays got from Arencibia, and Arencibia is only in the majors because of his bat.  I suppose the Yankees and White Sox had catching situations as generally distressing as Toronto's, but beyond that I can identify just five teams where Arencibia could have made the roster as a reserve catcher: Baltimore, Miami, St Louis, Milwaukee, and Colorado. And yet, and yet, and yet... as bad as he was, as questionable as his very presence on a major league roster was - his backups were even worse.

Emilio Bonifacio F
Evidently his baseball talent was confiscated by some over-zealous customs official and only returned to him when he went off to Kansas City. Not that it was all that impressive to start with.

Josh Thole F
Did a better job throwing out opposing baserunners than Arencibia, despite the fact that Arencibia got to catch almost all of Buehrle's innings and Thole got to catch almost all of Dickey's. Hey, I wanted to say something good about his season.

Chien-Ming Wang F
Wang hasn't pitched well in the major leagues since he hurt himself five years ago, but I suppose desperate times call for desperate measures. It worked about as well as most desperate measures - AL batters hit .351/.398/.553 against Wang in 2013. That's right - he turned everyone into Mike Trout. Could have been worse, I guess. He could have turned them into Miguel Cabrera.

Henry Blanco F
I don't understand why he opened the season with the team, either. Of course, after seeing Thole play for the last three months I suppose it didn't matter nearly as much as we all thought it did at the time.