by Quinn Sweetzir
Even though the 19-26 record is probably not as strong as the Toronto Blue Jays or their fans had hoped for, the fact remains that there have been a handful of strong starts to the season from players on the team which we certainly had low expectations. Among those performing surprisingly well include previous regulars like Kevin Pillar, relievers such as Ryan Tepera and Aaron Loup, and bench players turned regulars like Ezequiel Carrera and Justin Smoak. Expectations for these five were quite low to start the season, however they have all managed to exceed expectations and become useful players in the early stages of the season.
At around this point in the season, players usually regress/progress back towards their expected norms. Just consider players like Devon Travis, who had an absolutely dreadful April, but has rebounded nicely and started to return to his career averages. Instead hasn’t necessarily happened for the aforementioned five, who’ve managed to overperform and become some of the clubs most useful players. This leads me to ask whether this group is just having an extended hot streak or has actually done something to improve their performance in 2017.
Leading all Blue Jays position players in WAR, Kevin Pillar has dramatically exceeded expectations to start 2017; improving his offence by a substantial margin and continuing to play exceptional defence. Pillar’s OPS has jumped from .679 in 2016 to .853 so far in 2017, and most would point to improved plate discipline as the biggest factor in creating this improvement. This is evidenced by a reduction in his O-Swing%, which has decreased by 4.6% from 2016 to 2017. However Pillar hasn’t done this by simply refusing to swing at pitches, and has also managed to become more selective with a Z-Swing% which increased by 8.4% over the same time. The result has been both a 3.2% increase in Pillar’s walk rate, and a 4.4% increase in Pillar’s hard contact rate, resulting in improved performance at the plate for Pillar. Assuming Pillar continues his impressive improvement in plate discipline, the sustainability of his success seems very plausible.
After joining the Blue Jays organization in 2009, Ryan Tepera spent years developing as a starting pitcher before converting to a reliever full time in 2014. Coming into this season, Tepera had managed a 3.16 ERA over 51.1 career innings at the big league level, however expectations remained somewhat low thanks to a career 5.03 FIP and a miniscule .215 BABIP. Tepera’s strong numbers may be slightly inflated to start this season as well, thanks to a continually low BABIP at .222 and an extremely low 3.6 HR/FB%. However his ERA of 3.04 lines up with his FIP of 2.93, and a 4.3% increase in strikeout rate suggest that his surprisingly strong performance is more sustainable than we might expect from Tepera. In addition, he allowed 7 of his 9 earned runs during two outings where new relievers allowed his inherited runners to score, suggesting that his performance might be even better than his numbers suggest. Although he might not be able to remain as successful over the course of the season as he is right now, I believe Tepera could manage around 70 innings of 3.50 ERA ball, and his recent improvements are probably more sustainable than you some people might think.
Over the last two seasons, Aaron Loup managed to record an ERA of 4.61, and expectations weren't much higher among most fans coming into this season. However, Loup has managed to record an ERA of 2.76 and has been very good as a lefty specialist, allowing lefties to record an OBP of .429. Unfortunately for Loup, his improved performance appears to be more a result of a lack of innings combined with luck rather than a more impressive performance to start this season. Most of all, Loup has managed to record a 4.96 BB/9, more than twice his career average. Loup’s fastball velocity is also still short of his previous levels - averaging just 91.9 MPH in 2017 compared to 93.2 MPH in 2015 - and the lack of an improved strikeout rate and an inflated LOB% of 79.7 suggest that Loup has been lucky rather than good. In addition, Loup has the highest HBP/IP of any reliever with at least 50 innings at a rate of 0.18 since 2015. This isn’t to suggest that there isn’t value to having Loup on the Jays as a lefty specialist, but his ERA of 2.76 should rise by around a run over the course of a full season. Unlike what might be suggested by glancing at basic stats, Loup’s performance has not improved to his pre-2015 form, but has instead managed to be successful largely through luck early in the season.
Spending significant time as the starting left fielder, Ezequiel Carrera has managed to be at least an average hitter, with a WRC+ of 100 and a .286 batting average. On the surface, these seem like solid numbers until you consider some of the more detailed aspects of his performance. If you remember last season, Carrera started on a hot streak which began to collapse in the beginning of June. Carrera managed a WRC+ of 151 in April and May last season, however opposing pitchers increased their fastball usage by 4.5% during June, July, and August, and his WRC+ dropped to 53 as a result. Opponents are using fastballs at around the same rate to that of his early season numbers last season, and I suspect they will soon change their approach when pitching to Carrera by throwing less fastballs and more offspeed and breaking pitches.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the sustainability of Justin Smoak's success, and found some rather surprising results. Most importantly, he’s managed to reduce his whiff rates on breaking balls have decreased by large margins. Whiff rates have decreased by 4.95% and 8.11% on sliders and curveballs respectively. These are rather impressive totals and assuming Smoak can maintain his successes, he should continue to be successful for the foreseeable future. As as result, Smoak’s strikeout rate is down 13.3% from his numbers last season, and the new 19.5% figure would be the best of his career. In addition, Smoak’s hard contact rate is up by 5.7% from his totals last season, obviously indicating that an improved approach against breaking balls is leading to a substantially higher batting average - which increased from a career average of .226 to a career high of .278. His OPS and WRC+ are also up from .710 to .881 and from 97 to 135 respectively from his career numbers to those of this season.
by Quinn Sweetzir
Much was made about the Blue Jays utterly terrible start, but a recent turnaround which includes a still climbing winning streak of 4 games has signified the start of an effective rebirth for the Jays. Although the 16-21 record is far from exceptional, the improvement the club has shown of late has inspired me to hand out some mid-May awards.
Forgotten Man Award: Matt Dermody
Honorable Mentions: Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Melvin Upton Jr.
This one is simple really. If I told you to list every player to play for the Blue Jays this season, who is the last one you’d remember. The answer is probably Matt Dermody, who owns an ERA of 135.00 over just a single appearance. That appearance was on April 16th against the Baltimore Orioles, a game which the Jays lost 11-4. Dermody was responsible for much of that blowout, as he surrendered 5 runs over just a third of an inning and owns a -0.2 WAR as a result.
Despite having received the honor of being the forgotten man award winner, Dermody is still on the Jays 40-man roster, so it’s possible that he could reappear at some point before the seasons end. Until that happens however, Dermody must be the choice over Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who’s 10 game performance was terrifyingly bad, and Melvin Upton Jr., who doesn’t qualify for this award since he’s a minor leaguer in San Francisco’s system.
Biggest Disappointment: High Performance Department
Honorable Mentions: Jose Bautista, Gregg Zaun
I’ll confess that Jose Bautista has had an absolutely terrible start to the season. I’ll confess that Gregg Zaun’s continued idiocy is be a massive annoyance to fans and Marcus Stroman alike. But the overwhelming winner of the biggest disappointment award has to be the Toronto Blue Jays new high performance department.
Brought in before 2016 with the hopes of improving player health, the department has been nothing short of a colossal disaster to start the season. The list of important Blue Jays on the disabled list continued to grow, and there are no indications that the department is doing anything to improve recovery times, reduce the rates of injury, or improve the general health of players. Although it’s still too early to make massive conclusions about the department, early impressions seem to indicate that the department is failing and they will be the recipients of the biggest disappointment award until they prove otherwise. Or until Zaun says something really, really stupid.
Gregg Zaun’s Favorite Player Award: Francisco Liriano
Honorable Mentions: Jason Grilli, Chris Archer
Speaking of Zaun, the next award I am going to hand out is Gregg Zaun’s favorite player award. Zaun has continued to demonstrate his lack of general baseball knowledge over the course of this season, but his biggest issue this season is probably his encouragement of players policing themselves through beanballs, and other nonsense.
In the past, Zaun has supported veterans more than rookies in terms of respect and general liking, therefore the obvious choice for Gregg Zaun’s favorite player award is Francisco Liriano, who is the most experienced player on the Blue Jays who’s tied for the team lead in hit by pitches. Consideration was also given to Jason Grilli for being Jason Grilli, and Chris Archer for throwing at Jose Bautista.
Worst Commercial: Sportsnet Now Rule 73/66 Commercials
Honorable Mention: Aaron Sanchez’s WestJet commercials
Even though Aaron Sanchez’s blister was probably a result of the puppies, or the hot dogs, or the premium seating from the WestJet commercials, the impact of this pales in comparison to the atrocity that is the Sportsnet Now ads.
I don’t think Sportsnet understands what makes a good broadcast considering the vastness of unappealing commentators, analysts, and reporters; but their sure doing a good job of turning away viewers with their ridiculous statements, opinions, and lack of captivation. The commercials make unnecessary jokes including watching Sportsnet Now at your best friend’s wedding, making out with your best friend’s sister, and not knowing what split screen means. However, these ads make me more likely to hack Sportsnet Now than to use it. In fact, the commercials are so bad that there in competition with BMO’s talking ball commercials during Toronto Raptors broadcasts for the worst commercial on a Canadian sports network in 2017.
Most Loved Bad Player: Ryan Goins
Honorable Mentions: Chris Coghlan, Luke Maile
If you only listened to the Blue Jays broadcast and knew next to nothing about baseball, you might think Ryan Goins is the second coming of Cal Ripken or Derek Jeter. Seriously, the ways Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler rave about Goins is sickening, especially considering his modest 83 WRC+ and .667 OPS. His defense is good, but it far from makes up for his lack luster offensive skills.
Martinez and Tabler have spoken about how regular playing time since Troy Tulowitzki’s injury has helped Goins improve his skills with the bat, even though his actual results have continued to be well below average. Additionally, there seems to be a large Goins fan base which thinks his glove makes up for his bat, which is simply not the case considering his replacement level performance over more than 1000 career PA's. Honorable mentions to Chris Coghlan, who’s -0.2 WAR is overshadowed by his impressive “slide” over Yadier Molina and Luke Maile, for simply not being Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Josh Thole.
That concludes the different Toronto Blue Jays awards up to this point in the season. All I can say is the recent turnaround in club performance is a good thing, and that this team is finally on the right tract after an atrocious start. I hope these awards highlighted areas where the team is thriving, or needs to improve if the team wishes to continue their new found success into the remainder of the 2017 season.
by Quinn Sweetzir
Note: Unlike most of my articles, this one is not about baseball or the Toronto Blue Jays. This is a one-off article.
Having spent the last few seasons competing with the likes of the Washington Wizards, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat etc. for the title of being the second-best team in the East, the Toronto Raptors continued the trend of falling to LeBron James after being swept in the second round. No one has been able to overthrow the LeBron James led Cleveland Cavaliers in the past three seasons or the LeBron James led Miami Heat before them, but the Toronto Raptors could conceivably improve with major moves that don’t involve getting rid of Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan.
Instead of a full scale rebuild where the Raptors trade one or both of their stars in the hopes that they can bounce back in time for LeBron’s dominance to have diminished, the Raptors should make dramatic changes to their supporting cast. Lowry and DeRozan are legit all-stars, and building another team which contains as much talent as these two players posses is both difficult and unlikely.
Since it’s unrealistic to expect that engaging in a total rebuild will result in a better long term roster than what the Raptors already have, the Raptors should instead attempt to improve by acquiring a third all-star. In particular, the Raptors should make a concerted effort to acquire someone like Paul Millsap or Blake Griffin, both of whom are free agents and appear willing to move to new organizations.
If the Raptors were to do this, they would obviously need to clear cap space, as such of their current core including Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, Patrick Patterson, and PJ Tucker are also free agents. As currently constructed, the Raptors stand to get worse since their current cap situation makes resigning all four of these players highly unlikely.
The Raptors should trade expensive contracts like those of Jonas Valanciunas (15.46 million), DeMarre Carroll (14.80 million), and Cory Joseph (7.63 million), even if the return is minimal to non-existent. In an age where veterans are more overpaid than ever, having solid quality, depth on rookie contracts has never been more valuable. Luckily, the Raptors have young players like Jakob Poetl and Delon Wright, who can probably produce at 90% of the level of JV and Joseph. Norman Powell is already better than Carrol too, and still has one year on his rookie contract. Plus, JV, Carroll, and Joseph would surely combine to make more money as free agents than what they’re currently being paid, making their seemingly large contracts more tradeable than it would appear.
With depth replacements already in the organization on their rookie contracts, there’s no need to carry the more expensive veterans, and if the Raptors were to trade all three of JV, Carroll, and Joseph, than the players Raptors would enter free agency with over 80 million dollars in cap space. This doesn’t consider the cost of resigning Lowry, but even if he signs a max contract, the Raptors are still left with more than 40 million to sign other free agents, and potentially pick up another star.
Plan A should be to sign a talented star level forward, preferably (and most likely) Paul Millsap, who put up 18.1 points and 7.7 rebounds as the best player on the Atlanta Hawks this season. The Raptors were reportedly trying hard to acquire him midseason this year, but the Hawks decided they didn’t want to sell him after all, so he remained property of Atlanta. Toronto could also conceivably make a push for Blake Griffin given that he would also be a good fit, but Millsap should be the Raptors preferred option since Griffin should have far more suitors and might not even be as good as Millsap without Chris Paul.
If the Raptors are unable to sign Paul Millsap, trading this trio still makes sense, and using the cap space to retain Serge Ibaka, and either PJ Tucker or Patrick Patterson which helps keep the Raptors competitive enough to try something similar next year if they wish. Doing this also makes since if you can resign them using bird rights and use the cap space to quality three point shooters such as Robert Covington or Kyle Korver, or stud defenders like Tony Allen or Andre Roberson.
As currently constructed, the Toronto Raptors are in no position to defeat Cleveland unless LeBron leaves to play baseball. However, a total rebuild doesn’t necessarily make a title more likely in the short or long term. Acquiring one star is hard enough, and acquiring a second is even harder. If the Raptors wish to win a title, their more likely to do it through acquiring a third star while they already have 2 than by trying to rebuild, and acquiring three later.
by Quinn Sweetzir
With a record of 9-18, it’s safe to say that the opening to the season has not gone exactly how the Blue Jays had hoped. Even though this start has been rather atrocious, there have been a handful of bright spots on a team full of disappointments, most notably Justin Smoak. After being hailed as a low quality and replaceable layer by most fans and analysts in the offseason, Smoak has resounded by having a very good start to the season, with a .796 OPS and 117 WRC+ as well as batting fairly high in the order in most of his recent starts.
Although Smoak is a pleasant surprise for most of us, the fact remains that a single month of a 162 game season is far from a large sample size. This leads me to ask whether Smoak has actually been lucky or good to start the season.
On the surface, a .305 BABIP for Smoak doesn’t seem to high, especially considering the face that he recorded a .295 BABIP last year when he struggled dramatically. Additionally, his batted ball rates are at essentially the same level they were last season, so perhaps there is more to this than just some good luck early in the season.
For his career, 52.6% of the pitches Smoak has faced have been fastballs, however this is down by a large margin this season to just 44.0%. The fastballs he has faced have been harder too, with an average velocity of 93.7 as opposed to his career average of 91.9. To compensate, opposing pitchers are throwing Smoak significantly more breaking balls, with curveball usage up 4% and slider usage up 7.6%. This trend should be unsurprising however, since opposing fastball rates are down 5.1% as a team.
The eye test leads me to believe that Smoak generally struggles against breaking balls, but maybe there’s more to this which I haven’t realized. To investigate I pulled up some heatmaps for Smoak’s career in the hopes we’d all been fooled.
It turns out that the eye test was right in this case; Justin Smoak is not good as good at hitting breaking balls as he is at fastballs for his career. So, has anything changed this season? It would appear not, as Smoak is slugging .378 against breaking balls this season, which is both well below his career slugging against fastballs – which is .499 – and a rather small improvement on his career .235 slugging versus breaking balls considering the small sample size.
But if results against breaking balls are not the biggest reasons for a progression in performance for Smoak, then what is? Smoak’s biggest problem last season was his absurd 32.8% strikeout rate, a career high which would have been good for second in the MLB (behind only Chris Davis) had he received enough plate appearances to qualify.
Smoak has improved on that horrendously bad figure by a 10.7% to 22.1% to start 2017, and I have reason to believe this is somewhat sustainable since he never had a strikeout rate above 24% before he joined the Blue Jays. Interestingly enough, Smoak’s walk rate is down by 7% also, indicating that among the biggest improvements Smoak has made, has been the ability to put the ball in play at an elevated rate.
This leads me to ask whether Smoak is doing anything differently this season when he’s pitched a breaking ball. In fact, the biggest difference Smoak has made is a reduction in whiff rates, which have decreased by 0.90% against sliders, and a rather impressive 6.79% decrease versus curveballs. Although the sample size is quite small, it is something to keep an eye on as the season progresses, as a more disciplined Smoak could make a big difference going forward.
His approach has been different depending on whether he’s facing a slider or curveball however, as there are different causes for a reduced whiff rate in both cases. Against sliders, Smoak is actually swinging more often than he has for most of his career, however he has managed to foul off 6.48% more sliders than his career average so far. Even though a foul ball is an relatively unproductive result, it does increase the amount of pitches thrown in an at bat, which therefore increases the probability of facing a fastball; a pitch which Smoak excels at hitting.
Unlike with sliders, Smoak is taking 4.35% more curveballs early in the season, but is still fouling them off at a rate which is essentially the same as his career averages. It’s too early to tell whether this change is causing Smoak to strikeout looking more often or in fact shows an increase plate discipline, but if it is the latter, it could help explain why Smoak is such an improved hitter.
Although some individuals have chalked Smoak’s early season success to luck early in the season, I believe that to an extent, Smoak’s success is sustainable. It’s true that some things such as his BABIP are at a career high, however I argue that Smoak’s success is more a result of increased awareness about breaking balls which he’s being thrown, and an increased ability to avoid whiffing on these pitches should help Smoak dramatically in 2017. If Smoak can avoid striking out against breaking balls at a higher rate than in seasons past, it should lead to some continued success for the veteran 1st baseman.
by Quinn Sweetzir
With three blown saves in his first four save opportunities of the season, it’s safe to day that Roberto Osuna’s start in 2017 has been less than ideal. After starting the season on the disabled list Osuna has come back, only to allow 5 runs in first 6 innings of the season. In addition, his struggles in both spring training and at the World Baseball Classic have put Jays fans on high alert.
Among the more obvious concerns for Osuna’s struggles is a velocity drop, as his fastball has decreased 1.4 mph. Several individuals have pointed to this as the most significant reason for Osuna’s struggles. After all, we saw what a velocity drop could do to a reliever when we watched Drew Storen pitch last year, and he wasn’t very good.
Usually, the biggest impacts of a velocity drop is a reduction in the quality of a pitcher’s stuff, which often leads to a reduction in strikeouts. Storen suffered a rather dramatic 2.2 mph decrease in velocity from 2015 to 2016, which led to a dip strikeouts from 10.96 K/9 to 8.36 K/9. However, Osuna hasn’t suffered the same fate, as his K/9 is down from 9.97 in 2016 to 9.00 early in 2017. This is a small sample size but it is something to pay attention to in the coming games as a reduction in stuff often leads to a reduced strikeout rate.
However, one similarity between Osuna’s and Stroen’s velocity drops is the increased amount or contact these pitchers allowed. In both cases contact rates both in and out of the strike zone increased by around 6%. As you can see, there are comparable between the dominant to replacement level Drew Storen, and the dominant to TBD Roberto Osuna. I should however emphasize this sample size is incredibly small, and we should understand that drawing real conclusions this early in the season is virtually impossible.
This leads me to explore an entirely new idea, which is that Roberto Osuna needs to stop throwing his sinker. Late in 2016, Osuna struggled somewhat, allowing a 3.96 and 4.10 FIP and xFIP respectively. During September, Osuna increased his sinker usage by over 20% from his season average to that point. This trend has continued in 2017, with his fourseam fastball usage decreasing to 29.90% and sinker usage rising to 26.80% in 2017.
There is a rather significant problem with Osuna’s sinker however, and that is it doesn’t really sink all that much. Just consider the differences between Osuna’s sinker, and that of his teammate Marcus Stroman, who’s sinker is significantly better.
A you can see, the difference between the sinker of Osuna and Stroman is dramatic. Stroman’s sinker sinks around 6 or 7 vertical inches than Osuna’s, while Osuna’s averages around 2 or 3 inches. The problem with the sinker is that is if the vertical movement is insignificant, then it becomes a slower version of a fourseam fastball.
For his career, Osuna’s sinker is about 0.7 mph slower than his fourseam fastball, and when you combine this with his with the overall velocity drop he has suffered from this season, his velocity on sinkers with minimal movement is about 2 mph less than his average fastball velocity in previous seasons. Basically, more than a quarter of Osuna’s pitches have been close to straight fastballs which are 2 mph slower than they have been in the past.
The conclusion I’ve reached from this article is that Roberto Osuna needs to stop throwing his sinker. He struggled when he threw it last season, and when he throws it this year its lack of movement is exposed when its thrown 2 mph slower than your fourseam fastball career average. Osuna’s velocity drop on its own is not enough to cause sustained struggles, however regularly throwing slower sinkers which don’t sink is probably the most alarming aspect of Osuna’s early season struggles to this point.
by Quinn Sweetzir
As many of you know, I'm not exactly the biggest fan of Gregg Zaun. Whether its his suits, his irrational opinions, or his often unjustified rants, Zaun's reputation is not exactly that of a well respected analyst. Instead, Zaun is most well known for his controversial opinions which have become an expected feature of his time with Sportsnet.
After Sunday's victory over the Los Angeles Angels, Stroman and Blue Jays fans became enraged with Gregg Zaun, after he criticized Stroman for over celebrating and disrespecting the game. To show you what I mean, here's what some Jays fans thought of Zaun's comments about Stroman.
As you can see, Jays fans aren't exactly the biggest fans of Gregg Zaun's comments on Stroman, but this is far from the first time has created controversy with hid comments. In fact, Zaun has become infamous for his comments on several topics including his views on rookie hazing, questionable opinions, and misogynistic comments and tweets hes made ever since he became an analyst. Just consider this advertisement for his charity golf tournament.
I don't care what cause you're supporting (and I am a big of Right to Play myself), but using woman in a provocative way in attempt to attract old men to a golf tournament is simply sexist, unethical, and infinitely more disrespectful than anything Stroman did by celebrating yesterday. The unfortunate thing is this is far from the only association with misogyny Zaun has. Just consider this tweet from Zaun himself.
The rich girls from TO must be home from college. Tubby, unfortunately manish, and super stuck up are all at Hemingways tonight
— Gregg Zaun (@greggzaun) December 19, 2012
Luckily, Zaun later deleted the tweet (which is why I couldn't embed it) but this does not justify the fact that Zaun described woman as "tubby" and "super stuck up". And if this isn't enough just watch this video, and listen very carefully to the way Zaun and his Blue Jays Central partner Jamie Campbell act.
This is the among most cringiest, strangest, youtube video's out there, and yet I don't entirely blame Zaun for this video, as Sportsnet deserves some credit for having this, whatever you call it, take place on live television.
In addition to these sexist moments, Zaun has also been renouned for his impressive knowledge of baseball analytics, such as this formula he created for "run prediction".
This led to the creation of ZARP on the score in which Sam Thompson was the all time leader. Although these analytics are useless and ineffective for evaluating play, Zaun has admitted he is a traditionalist, and analytics are not his specially. So, lets move on to his views on rookie hazing. Here's a quote from an interview Zaun did on Prime Time Sports.
Oh my goodness, I can tell you a prime example of what happened to me, myself. I grew up around the game — my uncle Rick played 24 years in the big leagues. He was a Baltimore Oriole; I grew up with the Orioles. Cal Ripken Jr.’s first roommate in the big leagues was my uncle — I used to go to lunch with the guy. Every time they came to Anaheim, I’d be in the car with Cal Jr. He gave me a glove. So when it came time to become a Baltimore Oriole, I went to the instructional league with Brady Anderson and Ben McDonald and Chris Hoiles — I was exposed to all these veteran guys who were veterans, but I was exposed to them when they were on their way to the big leagues. So when I got to the show I took liberties with these guys. And you know what? As much as they liked me, as much as they wanted me to be successful, they nipped it right in the bud, and they clipped my wings from day one.
I’ll never forget it: I was out in the stretch circle, I played catch with Chris Hoiles every single day, and I lobbed the ball to him — and he was paying attention, but he pretended like he wasn’t. He head-butted the ball and all of a sudden I had what was called “the posse” all over me. Cal Ripken, Ben McDonald, Brady Anderson, Chris Hoiles, all of the above. They beat me on my ribcage, physically abused me on my way to the training table. They taped me spread-eagle to the training table, they wrote “rookie” on my forehead with pink methylate, and they shoved a bucket of ice down my shorts. I missed the entire batting practice, and you know what? Phil Regan, the manager of the Baltimore Orioles, he did not care, because he knew that what those guys were doing was ‘educating me.’
I had taken liberties with some of the veteran players. I had become a little bit too mouthy. And, I’m sure this comes as a shock to you guys — I was a little bit chatty; a little bit talkative as a young player, yeah. But I learned how to stifle myself. I learned how to show these veteran players respect and give them their room, and all the while close my mouth and be the guy who listened.
So basically, Zaun is saying that he was assaulted by his teammates and that its okay because he was learning a lesson. It doesn't matter what you had done, rookie hazing and assault is never okay, and Zaun is acting like it is despite having been a victim himself. Now, last I checked, corporal punishment is illegal in most of the modern world, and yet Zaun suggests that it should be acceptable in professional baseball. Later on, Zaun suggested that had Brett Lawrie undergone something similar, he wouldn't have struggled as much as he did after his rookie year. The scary thing, is that the interview continued, and what happened next is even more contradictory.
If I had a dollar for every time Cal worked me over, physically, I’d be a pretty wealthy guy. He still owes me a suit! He told me flat out, he said, ‘You are never to come past this point into the back of the plane, under no circumstances.’ So, I’m in my first suit that I paid for myself as a Major League player, feelin’ real frisky, and Cal says, ‘I need you to come here.’ And all of a sudden I crossed over that imaginary barrier line. He tackled me, wrestled me to the ground. They had just got done eating a bunch of blue crabs in the back of the plane, so there was nothing but mud and Old Bay seasoning everywhere. He throws me to the ground and he tears my suit off of me, and I’m like, ‘What are you doing?’ And he goes, ‘Remember when I said that under no circumstances do you come back here?’ I’m like, ‘Well you just told me to!’ ‘I said under no circumstances, and that includes when I ask you to come back here.’
So, these kind of things don’t happen anymore, but they need to happen more often. And they need to happen with the backing of the management, all the way up to the front office, down to the field manager. You have to allow your veteran players to create the atmosphere that they want in the clubhouse, because at the end of the day, when guys get along and they know their pecking order, and they know the hierarchy, everything seems to work out just fine.
So, not only does Zaun support hazing of rookie's from within the team, but he also believes that the front office should promote it to encourage hierarchy among players and management. This leads to embarrassing moments for the players who are victims of hazing, and who often become traumatized as a result.
You would think experiences like these would lead Zaun to reject hazing, but instead he's claims to support it because it kept him in line. Additionally, Zaun has generally been more critical of younger players because they are undisciplined (see Marcus Stroman) and tends to favor veterans. In general, this team should be to his liking, and yet Zaun continues to be excessively critical of the actions its players.
I wrote this article to attempt to display Greg Zaun's history of controversial comments, tweets, opinions, and much more. It seems as if the players, and the fans hate him which leads me to ask why he's still employed as an analyst. With a history of being a bad analyst, my best guest for why he's still employed is that his stupidity actually gets ratings, similarl to someone like Skip Bayless.
Whether through his sexist views, his lack of acceptance towards the ways of modern baseball, or his support of hazing, Zaun's unwillingness to adjust his views and demonstrate restraint on particular topics is deeply concerning, and if he continues to make comments which are illiberal, and promote his views, than I hope Sportsnet will have no choice but to #FireGreggZaun.
by Quinn Sweetzir
I understand that point has been beaten to death already, but the start of this years incarnation of the Blue Jays has been far from ideal. The biggest of the Jays problems has been their offense, which has ranks second last in runs scored and ranks near the bottom of almost every major offensive statistical category. During the broadcast of the Jays game from last night, Dan Schulman suggested that other teams are throwing more breaking balls in response to Toronto’s struggles in last seasons ALCS. In response, I decided to investigate the pitch usage of opposing teams when facing the Blue Jays in order to determine if the way their being thrown is a factor in their performance.
Even though its early, the Jays are being thrown 3% less fastballs this season compared to last. Instead, teams are throwing more sliders (up 1.6%), curveballs (up 1%) and especially cutters (up 4.5%). This only tells part of the picture however, as if you consider “trick pitches” such as knuckleballs which are thrown less than 3% of the time, the gap becomes more apparent, as fastball the gap between 2016 and 2017 increases to a decrease in fastball usage from opponents by 6.4%, which is more than one less fastball for every 20 pitches.
Although not every player has suffered from a dramatic decrease in pitches which are thrown to them, there are several players who have. In the case of Josh Donaldson, opposing teams have decreased their fastball usage by 2.4%. Though the sample size is small (Donaldson has just 35 PA’s), the most dramatic increase to him has been in cutter usage, which has more than doubled from 5.8% in 2016 to 13.4% in 2017. This could be a result of two factors. Either teams figure that Donaldson is simply not as good at hitting cutters as he is at other pitches, or some of the pitchers he’s faced simply throw a lot of cutters. Even if this is a result of small sample size, it is an interesting trend to watch for the rest of the season.
Unlike Donaldson, Jose Bautista’s early season performance has been simply dreadful. He’s hitting just .118 with just 2 extra base hits and only one RBI early on in 2017. Bautista has seen a decrease in fastballs faced by just 0.4%, hardly enough for us to consider it a cause for this dramatic of a decline in performance. Instead, the pitch type data leads me to believe that an increase in average fastball velocity (up 1.4 mph) is among the biggest reasons for his struggles. I tend to agree with this opinion, as Bautista hasn’t been able to catch up to the fastball in many of his at bats early in the season. Additionally, Bautista has also seen a dramatic increase in cutter usage, which is up 8.8% in the case of Bautista. Again, it is likely a result of small sample size, but this is a trend to watch in the future if Bautista continues to struggle.
Another player who has struggled tremendously is Devon Travis, who is hitting just .091 with a -29 (not a typo) WRC+. Opposing teams have thrown Travis 3.6% less fastballs this season compared to last, however this has been offset with a dramatic increase in slider usage (up 6%) and cutters (up 2.4%). As you can see, the trend of decreased fastball usage in favor of throwing more cutters continues with Travis, and leads me to question whether the Jays are struggling to increase because of this increase in cutters, or because of something else. So, I decided to look at heat maps to decide whether players on the Jays can hit cutters or not.
As you can see, Travis has more or less struggled when hitting cutters, as his slugging percentage is down significantly from his .444 career average; however his sample size of just 233 cutters seen for his career is too small to make a reasoned conclusion.
But what about for Donaldson. His increase in cutter usage is more likely to be a result of teams discovering a weakness in the former MVP's hitting ability, so is he actually worse when facing cutters.
Since Donaldson has hit cutters well for most of his career, this could just be a result of opposing teams trying something they used less in the hopes that Donaldson will struggle given a larger sample size.
However, Jose Bautista is a whole different story, as he has struggled to hit cutters even in his hay day. Just consider this spray chart of his against cutters he's faced since the 2010 season.
As you can see, Bautista has never been able to consistently hit cutters unless they are meatballs right down the middle. Why it's taken so long for anyone to notice this is beyond me, but it is something to keep track of this season. If people continue to exploit Bautista in this way, we should continue to expect struggles.
AS you can see, Dan Schulman was somewhat on to something. Teams are throwing some key players less fastballs, and they can partially explain the struggles. We should however keep in mind that it is still mid April, and this trend could be a result of small sample size rather that intentional strategy change.
by Quinn Sweetzir
The Toronto Blue Jays are 1-8. They’re already 5.5 games out of first place in the AL East, despite the fact that none of the teams have played more than 10 games. The clubs biggest culprit has been an incredibly lackluster offence, which ranks last in HR, R, SB, BABIP, AVG, OBP, SLG, wOBA, WRC+, and fWAR. Their 29th in ISO too. But the Jays aren’t just last. In at least 8 of these statistics, they rank last by a considerable margin.
So, the offence is off to a rather terrible start. But which players are most responsible, and how likely is it that each player is going to struggle going forward? With the team struggling, I decided to investigate each player with at least 15 plate appearances and attempt to determine once and for all how likely each player is to improve on their struggles in the long run.
Unlike literally every other player in this lineup, Josh Donaldson has been raking all throughout the start if 2017. He has a WRC+ of 193 and half of the Jays home runs. However, due to the nature of baseball the Jays are not able to remain competitive despite their former MVP’s impressive performance. Though his recent calf injury and a .467 BABIP are concerning, the strong performance of recent seasons from Donaldson is expected to continue across the rest of the season.
Although Morales was able to hit a grand slam against Tampa Bay, his performance has been generally average throughout the season, as Morales has a WRC+ of 109. This combined with a rather low .269 BABIP and his and ISO of .147 – his lowest total since his rookie year – plus a 51.9% hard contact rate, leads me to believe that we can expect significant improvement in the performance.
Despite the fact he is among the major league leaders in RBI, Tulo’s performance has been generally poor to start the season, as he has recorded a .212 average and a WRC+ of 67. However, his BABIP is a very low .214, and his walk rate is rather low to start the season as well, at just 5.5%. The good news is we can expect the performance to progress overall by the end of the season, and Tulo has done a good job of hitting with runners in scoring position .375 average and 7 RIB’s.
Pillar first of many Blue Jays position players with negative WAR totals, and much of this is a result of a WRC+ of 49. Pillar’s biggest problem to this point has not been plate discipline as it has in seasons past, but rather the lack of extra base hitting ability, as Pillar has just one extra base hit. Additionally, a rather low .258 BABIP and incredibly low .030 ISO are numbers which we could expect to improve, although expecting an extreme offensive improvement from Pillar may be unreasonable.
The scary thing about Smoak is that his 32% strikeout rate is actually an improvement on his 2016 numbers. Unfortunately, expecting a serious improvement from Smoak is unwarranted, as Smoak has a .313 BABIP, and his .208 average and .292 SLG are not very far off his career norms. Luckily, his power should improve, as his ISO is just .083, which would be the lowest of his career.
Zeke is struggling to start the season, with just 3 hits and zero walks with 17 plate appearances to start the season. Admittedly, his sample size is about half of the size of most of the other names on this list, and a .188 AVG is caused largely by a low .231 BABIP and .063 ISO. Luckily Carrera has only played part time to this point in the season, however that could change as the Jays search for a reasonable productive lineup, however expecting Carrera to display extensive improvement overall is not realistic.
To be honest, I am seriously worried by Jose Bautista’s early season performance. He has a 25% strikeout rate, a 12.2% swinging strike rate, and has looked like he’s unable to catch up to any pitcher with velocity in the early going. Although Bautista should improve upon a .208 BABIP and .061 ISO, the concerns are astronomical, and his performance should be closely watched in the coming games.
Although Pearce hasn’t looked great at the plate, his versatility and track record should lead to some improved performance from the veteran. He’s hitting .174 in 25 plate appearances, but this should improve with an increase in his .235 BABIP, and his .000 (not a typo) ISO. Plus his 24% strikeout rate is a little high which should result is a solid season from Pearce.
After starting the season 0 for 21, Martin finally managed to get a hit. Unfortunately, a .042 average and .083 slugging are not going to cut it, but these numbers should improve dramatically over time, as Martin has a .071 BABIP and a 32.3% strikeout rate. However, career trends indicate that we can expect Martin to improve significantly over time, even if he is in a bad stretch to open 2017.
The Jays worst player according to fWAR so far, Travis has struggled mightily in the early stages of the season. Already worth -0.5 fWAR, Travis’ .088 average is expected to rise due to his low BABIP of .111 and ISO of .000. Travis has shown an ability to hit consistently throughout his career, and we can hope for some improvement in the near future.
After investigating the Jays 10 main position players a few things became apparent to me. The first is that many Jays have remarkably low BABIP’s, which has at least in part led to an inability to get hits. This combined with the often low ISO’s are a result of small sample size, and we can expect serious improvement from this offence in the coming games, even if the current results have been underwhelming.
Considering the strength of the Jays pitching staff, a serious improvement from a record standpoint in a short amount of time is possible, and if the Jays are able to 10-6 (putting their overall record at 11-14) then the Jays are fine – albeit behind – from a standings standpoint early in the season. Anyway, the Jays are in poor shape at this moment, however expecting the offence to be this bad over the course of the season is unwarranted, and the Jays should not be panicking over their early season struggles.
by Quinn Sweetzir
To put it lightly, the start to the season for this year’s Toronto Blue Jays has been quite mediocre. Although the 1-6 record is nothing to get excited over, it does not mean the season is already a failure, or show that the team is not a playoff contender as would be suggested by some, but rather proves the erratic predictability of a baseball game from day to day.
Though several fans and a few analysts – most notability Jon Morosi – are concerned with the Jays early season performance, the fact of the matter is in baseball good teams lose once in a while, and in any particular major league baseball game, anything can happen.
But it wouldn’t be right of me to tell you that the Jays are in fine shape without giving you some other examples, so here is every Jays team to make the postseason (plus the 96 win team in 1987) and their biggest slumps.
This shows that even the best teams can have stretches where they don’t play well, as even the best teams in Jays history had stretches where they were 1-6. All but two had even worse stretches. It just shows that putting too much thought into a slow start to the season does nobody any good.
Panicking over a mediocre start to the season is an easy thing to do, but the fact remains that this club is still very much in contention. Fangraphs gives it a playoff probability of 30.0% and while this number is far from ideal, an average start is far from a deal breaker for the Jays.
All we can do is hope for some improvement from the Jays in the meantime which is probably given the amount of talent on the roster (and Russell Martin can’t possibly go 0 for the season right?), and the volatility of baseball itself day to day. In a 162 game season, things balance out and worrying now does nobody any good, and panicking over some struggles from a good team is simply irrational.
by Quinn Sweetzir
The 2017 season opened Monday, and the Jays came up short, losing 3-2 in extra innings against the Baltimore Orioles. Though the result was not what I desired, watching the Jays first live, meaningful baseball game in months was incredibly satisfying. But now that the first one's over, it's time to consider how the Jays can win as many of the next 161 as possible, specifically looking at controllable things that the club should do to help themselves win as much as possible. As such, here are five things the Jays should avoid doing throughout next season.
1. Don't Use Jason Grilli Against Lefties
This one is really pretty simple. The Jays should look to avoid using Jason Grilli against left handed hitters because he simply struggles to get outs. Grilli's triple slash against righties in 2016 was .197/.261/.352 - a very good line overall. However his abilities decline significantly against lefties however, as his triple slash regresses to .211/.372/.506, a rather alarming trend. Luckily, there is rather simple fix to this, and that is to avoid using Grilli against lefties as much as possible. After all, the 8.10 BB/9 against lefties is not something we want to see this season.
2. Don't Fall For Ezequiel Carrera's Streakiness
Ezequiel Carrera does this thing every once in a while, where he gets hot for a few weeks, fans start to think he's worthy of a full time outfield role, and than opposing pitchers remember he's Ezequiel Carrera, and he goes cold again. Since joining the Jays in 2015, Carrera's lack of consistency has been both incredible and frustrating. Although this streakiness has occasionally effective - 2016 playoffs - it has let to some rather underwhelming seasons overall. Just consider his numbers from last season. Carrera's WRC+ ranged from -32 to 173 depending on the month, which just goes to show that trusting him can be beneficial for a couple of weeks, but is not sustainable in the long run.
3. Don't Be Afraid To Joe Biagini For Multiple Innings At A Time
There are two big benefits to using Biagini for multiple innings at a time this coming season. First, doing so makes it easier to transition him to the rotation in 2018 should one of Marco Estrada or Francisco Liriano depart in free agency. Secondly, Doing so improves the Jays this season. If the Jays elect to use him in this role more frequently, it allows the Jays to avoid overusing other members of their bullpen, and keeps Biagini if (or when) one of the Jays starters gets injured. Plus, doing so also could allow to remove their starters earlier in the game, and have a smooth transition to the back end of the bullpen without overusing the rest of the bullpen.
4. Don't Overwork Russell Martin
In seasons past, excessive playing time for Russell Martin could be justified by the fact that Josh Thole was the clubs backup catcher, and could realistically expected to perform at a quality level for 40+ games a season. However, the club replaced Thole with Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who might not be a reincarnation of Buster Posey, but is as least solid enough to keep Martin off the field 40+ times this season. Keeping Martin healthy is one of the keys to a succesful season, and adding Salty could lead to an improvement in the performance of both Martin, and from the backup catcher standpoint.
5. No Stupid Injuries
Joaquin Benoit tore his left calf running fro the bullpen to a brawl in a game against the Yankees last season. He was out for the rest of the season. Devon Travis was out a few games from injuries suffered in the same brawl. The fact of the matter is that injuries like this are both avoidable and outright stupid, and the Jays need to do their best to ensure that they don't get injured in unnecessary brawl, or falling down the dugout steps, or washing kitchen equipment, or any other dumb reason. Injuries are unavoidable throughout a 162 game season, but risking further injuries in preventable circumstances is something the Jays should absolutely about this season. Every game counts, and you never know when losing a player to injury is going to cost you dearly.
Anyway, that's it for my things for the Jays to avoid in 2017. Though there are a few more smaller things, these are the big ones, and may prove to play a surprising role in the success of the team in 2017.