Tagged: Blue Jays

You’ll Always Remember Your First … Pennant Race

The Fist Pump

Some years in sports just stick with you, I’m sure many would agree?  For me, the 1989 A.L. East pennant race between the Blue Jays and Orioles was one of those years.  The image from that year that will always stick with me (and many Blue Jays fans) is the Tom Henke fist-pump as he strikes out Orioles’ Larry Sheets on the next-to-last game of the ’89 season,Jays89.jpg clinching the A.L. East for the Jays. 

It the greatest fist pump in the history of fist pumps, in my opinion.  Tiger Woods has nothing on that fist pump.  Seriously!  Henke was a very tall player, so that added to the drama as he raised his arm all the way in the air and virtually down to ground in the emphatic fashion only a fist-pump can provide.  It was like he was putting a nail in coffin of the Orioles (sorry O’s fans).  Being very young at the time, I needed that fist pump to help me acknowledge what the Jays had accomplished.  It was a long, gruelling race and the Jays had sealed it.

I recently tweeted on my page @talkinhomer about the moment to @MLB, with trend tag #MLBmoments. I even recieved some bitter responses from Oriole fans (unfortunately for them) remembering being on the losing side of the same race.  In one instance, the fist-pump even evoked some

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regurgitating out of one Oriole fans mouth.  Believe me, it was that good of a fist-pump!     

*(my apologies as my internet research skills did not acquire a link to a clip of the ‘Fist Pump,” but believe me it was a beautiful fist-pump in terms of fist-pumps) *       

1989

At the age of 7, it was probably the first year that I actually followed a baseball season (and somewhat realized what was going on).  The Jays of ’89 were a very competitive team having been to ALCS four years earlier and on the verge of starting something extremely special in the four years that were to come.  I was feverishly collecting baseball cards at this time (as were many kids+plus adults), I watched the Buffalo Bills fall apart in the Super Bowl against the New York Giants (the first Super Bowl that I ever watched, creating no chance for me ever to become a Bills fan) and my favorite Jay player the time was easily the Crimedog, Fred McGriff.  Unfortunately, the Jays would run into a bunch of drug crazy Athletics in the ALCS that year, beginning a brief rivalry between the two teams in the late 80s to early 90s.

My Favorite Player Back Then

In 1989, McGriff hit 36 homeruns, had a .399 OBP, won the Silver Slugger Award and came 6th in MVP voting.  ’89 was also the first year that the Jays played in the Rogers Centre (Skydome) and on June 5th McGriff would hit the stadium’s first homerun.  McGriff would consistantly bank balls of the Windows restaurant in center field for some of my fondest, early memories of baseball.            

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Such a Warm Thought that I Forget to Feel Cold

For baseball fans in Canada this is a time where we look see the bittersweet dichotomy of two worlds.  The newspapers show the 2011 Blue Jay faces basking in the sun and gearing up to play ball, while fans sit and look onto the cold Canadian months of February and March (not discounting the odd April week).  Florida, and its beautiful Grapefruit League, allows my mind to drift unto delight and bliss as I am met with -18 degree Celsius temperatures (factoring in the wind chill).  Such a warm thought that I forget to feel cold.  We are so close to baseball, only a little more than a month away from the season, yet so, so far away here in the north. 

ColdSpring.jpg
  

Okay, I maybe embelished the latter photo a little, but you can see what I mean.  Thank you to new MLB.com Blue Jay beat writer Gregor Chisholm for the spring training photo.

To think that they are actually playing baseball somewhere is a magical and mysterious presumtion.  Spring training baseball is like a fairy tale.  It makes me smiles whenever I hear tales of games being played down there.  Making it even more surreal, is the difficulty for me to find it on cable television.  Kristen over at This is a Very Simple Game … in the comment section of this blog articulated the fairy tale of Spring Training in a way that could not, so I will end with her words, tap my shoes together and hope that the dream comes true.  


Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues (are) rather like
children reading a fairy tale: The hitters wielded their mighty bats.
The pitchers tamed the wild change-ups and bent them to their will. The
outfielders set off in search of the golden gloves. The whole team
drank in the magic sunshine all day so they would remain strong and
healthy. And all of the fans lived happily, ever after: play ball!



Taking on the Bull

Taking the bull and putting him in his place!  Or bulling the man and taking him with horns of fury?!  Or taking horns and throwing bulls all over the place.  However that expression goes?  Alex Anthopolous is doing it with the Blue Jays right now.

AA.jpg

Presented with the monumental tasks of dealing Vernon Wells‘ long and expensive contract, acquiring some team speed, revamping the Blue Jays minor-league prospects and solidifing a team manger, Anthopolous has taken the challenge head-on.

Wells

Alex Anthopolous (or the Silent Assassin as many call him) dealt Wells to the Angels in return for Juan Rivera and Mike Napoli (who was later traded to the Texas Rangers for former closer Frank Francisco).  In process he has freed up the Jays from a large financial obligation that was not paying off.  Rivera and Francisco are decent players that will help the Jays in the 2011, and some will argue that Rivera could provide similar offensive production, even if we see him in a plattoon role.  The Jays will undoubtably be able to a lot of things financially in the near future, so many Jay fan are excited at those possibilties even if they did come at the expense of losing a good player.

The Need for Speed 

I did a prior post on this subject and I believe that it cannot be overstated.  The Jays are going to be a more athletic team.  The recent acquisitions of Rajai Davis, Anthony Gose, Brett Lawrie, Yunel Escobar (to lesser extent) and Corey Patterson has given the Jays a new dimension defensively and on the basepaths.  AA said that he was going to pursue more athletic players to give the team another threat.  He was true to his word.  I believe that this is an element of the game that the Jays have lacked in the past.  In my opinion speed isn’t vital to the success of a club, but it is important. 

A New Coach 

A Jays team without both Roy Halladay and Vernon Wells will seem unusual coming into the 2011 season.  Things will be different, but hopefully they will get better with changes on the managing front.  AA brought in a well-respected pitching coach from the Boston Red Sox, John Farrell.  A core of very good young pitchers consisting of Brett Cecil, Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow will have Farrell’s hands full.  Not to mention the young pitchers that are liking coming up in the near future Kyle Drabek and Zach Stewart.  Farrell will likely be able to provide some valuable mentoring for these players along the way. 

Conclusion

The task of winning in what is usually the toughest (or among the toughest) divisions in baseball every year, is extremely challenging.  Blue Jay fans have experienced it.  Right now, I see AA developing a well-thoughtout strategy to make the Jays successful.  Notably, the Jays are improving their minor-league system and player development, they are focusing on the draft, improving scouting and they acquiring players with high-ceiling and loads of athletic ability.  Or in other words:  

AA has branded a Blue Jay bull with the Blue Jay logo, and he is going to eat a succulent medium-well cooked New York (Yankee) strip steak with it! 

Make sense?  ha ha.  So, the Blue Jay bull is a Yankee?        

He is Legend

No pitcher prepares, trains and works harder than Roy Halladay.  His pre-game preparation and spring training regiment has become ‘a tale of legend’ among his peers.  You know whyDocPerfectgame.jpg the movie ‘I am Legend’ with Will Smith flopped in the box office?  Because it wasn’t about the life of Roy Halladay. 

Halladay focuses on every hitter/team like a school exam, and he is a straight ‘A’ student.  Some would call the Yankees and the Red Sox a hard test?  Not for Halladay.  ‘The Doc’ was 13-6 with a 2.59 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP against both teams while he was in the A.L. East.

No test is too difficult for Halladay.  On a Saturday night in Florida, Roy was given the test of the Florida Marlins and scored perfect.  With one out in the 8th inning I watched Halladay freeze a very good hitter, Dan Uggla, on a 2-seam sinking fastball that broke towards the outside corner of the plate.  When I saw him make that pitch, I knew he had enough to be perfect.  Sure enough, Ronny Paulino grounded a ball hit slowly enough in the hole that Phillies utility infielder, Juan Castro, could make a play on.  The rest was history!  A perfect history exam, if you will?

In all seriousness, does it get any better than Halladay?  As if you didn’t know how good he is yet?                     

Who is the Man?

Every Jays fan immediately felt a gaping void in the team’s pitching rotation the minute Roy Halladay was traded from the Blue Jays to the Phillies.  We all wondered who was going to step-up, thrown-down, lay it all on the line, lock and load, load and lock and be ‘the man’ in the rotation. 

Right now, we have two pitchers vying to be ‘the man;’ Ricky Romero and Shaun Marcum.  I’d compare them to wine sampling, ice cream parlours or Jamba/Booster juice?  Jays fan always have their flavour of the month.  Romero or Marcum?  Apples and Oranges.  Pumperknickel and French Stick. Beatles and Stones.  Murphy and Murray.  Justin and Kelly.  Bowersow and DeWyse.  Ti-Cats and that other team.  Blue Jays and …. Apples and Oranges.  You get a different answer for our ace depending on what Jays fan you talk to.  Many prefer the smooth, classic taste of Romero and Marcum like a Merlot or Pinot Grigio.  Some might evenMarcum_Romero.jpg like Brett Cecil as it stands currently, but you wouldn’t want to rely on a Rose or Zinfandel would you?!

Ricky Romero has burst on the scene with some devastating pitches and a lot of ‘rookie’ hype.  He has been extroadinarily impressive.  However, I see Shaun Marcum as the guy that ‘stealing the show’ right now.  Marcum has the advantage over Romero in experience.  He truly has excellent control, command and works an exceptional array of pitches keeping hitters off balance.  Watching Marcum pitch this season has been a delight.  This is his season to become ‘the man’ of the Jays staff.  He is on the verge of a ‘breakout’ year, in my opinion.  Free wine tasting tip:  Shaun Marcum is Pinot Grigio.  Marcum/Grigio is always a good choice.             

VORPin’ it up Blue Jay Style

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I don’t consider myself a ‘stat guy.’  I was never a strong math student.  But I do like
to analyze baseball stats from time to time.  The world of baseball
statistics has ‘blown up’ in the past 10 years with sabermetrics.  Don’t
ask me to demonstrate what these stats are?  I just find them interesting to look at and analyze.  Two of the more trendy stats out
today are VORP, and a UZR/150 score.

UZR/150
is concocted out of graphs, charts and ‘god knows what’ to get an overall
rating of how many runs a player saved, or lost, above any average
fielder.  The moniker stands for ‘ULTIMATE zone rate per 150 games
defensive games.’  First of all, I love the name. It compares some of my favorite
defensive baseball players to my favorite wrestlers, ‘The Ultimate
Warrior.’
  Follow the link above if you actually want to know
what it is about:  

For all those not familiar with VORP,
it means (Value Over Replacement Player).  VORP is a number generated
in terms of runs that are contributed offensively over a general replacement at
a certain position
.  For example, Derek Jeter had a 65.0 VORP
and Hanely Ramirez had 75.0 VORP in 2009.  This means that Jeter
contributed 65.0 more runs to his team over a general replacement shortstop in
2009, and Hanley contributed 75.0 over a general replacement.  Not that
big of a difference for Jeter when you consider the ‘fantasy phenomena’ that is
Marlins shortstop, Hanley Ramirez.  Jeter’s offensive production in 2009
(VORP doesn’t account for a player’s defense) was among the game’s
elite.   Jeter’s VORP was really a testement to the immense contribution
he had on the Yankees 2009 A.L. East pennet team last season.   
    

For me, it helps to visualize these so called ‘replacement players’ for each
position in order to assess VORP.

In the case of shortstop, the last two years Tigers shortstop, Adam Everett,
has had a 0.3 VORP.  Epitomizing the stagnate offense of the shortstop
replacement – respected only for his glove.  Another guy would be John
McDonald from the Blue Jays – with a -2.3 VORP.  McDonald is even a little
worse than the 0.0 mark of the average replacement at shortstop.  He is
still replacement worthy, but that is not saying a whole lot as the 0.0 number
value is made to characterize any ordinary player that can fill the role.

VORP copy.jpg

 

Lets breakdown the Blue Jays 2009 season related their
VORP and judge each player’s offensive value based on their
salary:   

    

  1. Fred Lewis, LF, Blue
    Jays,  $455,000 – 2009 VORP 6.7

 

Anthopolous
acquired Fred Lewis this season taking a risk on a player that has
obvious athletic gifts.  2009 was a terrible season in San
Francisco for Lewis.  He lost his job mid-season
and was sent to the minors.  A 6.7 VORP in ’09 shows that Lewis very close
to replacement level in left field.  The Blue Jays hope their hitting
coaches can help Lewis reach his full potential.  At his current price, AA
should be commended because Lewis looks like a risk worth
taking.    

 

 

  1. Aaron Hill, 2B, Blue
    Jays, $4,000,000 – 2009 VORP 41.6

 

2009
was a ‘career season’ for Aaron Hill that saw him make the All-Star game
and win a Silver Slugger.  His VORP shows that 2009 put him well above
replacement level.  He is emblematic of the modern slugging 2nd
baseman.  Hill is a free swinger that is criticized for not getting on
base enough.  He is our player with the most value in a stage of rebuilding,
so trading Hill has been thrown out there.  Personally, I like Hill’s
swing and approach at the plate.  It is overly-aggressive but I don’t see
any indications of that hindering his ability.  At this point, I’d hold
onto Hill, as he fits right in with the current mold of offensive producing 2nd
basemen.       

 

  1. Adam Lind, DH, Blue
    Jays, $550,000 – VORP 44.7

 

Adam
Lind
also had a ‘career year’ in 2009.  The Jays locked him into a
long-term contract for the foreseeable future before 2009 began.  This was
an astute decision, in my opinion.  Lind performed on the level of some of
the best #3 and #4’s hitters in the game last year.  It was a good
decision to keep Lind in the Jays future.  We are getting great value out
him on a 4-year 18 million dollar contract with options for even more
years.   

 

  1. Vernon
    Wells, CF, Blue Jays, $15,687,000 – VORP 15.4

 

As
if having a VORP at 15.4 wasn’t bad enough, Vernon Wells posted a -15
UZR score ranking runs gained/or lost on defense.  Defensively, Wells was
scored among the worst centerfielders in the league last season.  When you
deduce the defensive scores from the VORP, you get a replacement level
player
making seven figures.  2009 was a horror story.  It got
down right ugly for Vernon Wells.  At times, I couldn’t watch.  It
would give me nightmares.  However, 2010 is beautiful!!!  Wells is
hitting at a very high level, and actually earning his contract!!!  The
nightmares are gone.  15MIL is a huge commitment to any player.  It
could be argued that no player deserves that amount.  Wells streakiness,
injury prone seasons and age will definitely make him a contract that the Jays
will part with or trade at some point.  Right now, Wells is looking much
more athletic in the field and very savvy at the plate.  What a difference
a year makes?          

 

 

  1. Lyle
    Overbay, 1B,
    Blue Jays, $7,950,000 – VORP 18.4

 

Lyle
Overbay is hard to gage
because he is a player that saves runs on defense, having a UZR/150 score of
plus 6.  His VORP is slightly above replacement level, but at a position
where the offensive output at the replacement level is the highest. 
Overbay is a contributor, but the raw stats like AVG., doubles and RBI’s have
declined.  Overbay will earn 8 million this season and the Jays will
likely look to Brett Wallace (a centerpiece in the Roy Halladay trade) to fill
1st base in the future.  I wouldn’t be too patient with
Wallace.  If the Jays get in contention in the next few seasons, I’d chase
after a guy with some proven production.      

 

  1. Edwin Encarnacion, 3B,
    Blue Jays, $5,175,000 – VORP 9.6

 

Edwin
Encarnacion
played his best year at the Great American Smallpark in Cincinnati. 
He had a couple years with great offensive production, amid horrible defensive
skills.  He was acquired with a number of prospects for Scott Rolen last
season.  The Jays picked up Encarnacion’s hefty contract.  A very low
VORP compounded by injuries and terrible defensive skills puts Encarnacion at
replacement level in the 2009 season.  Nobody is expecting much from
Encarnacion, so there is room for him to prove himself with the
organization.  If the Jays aren’t drafting, looking or thinking of
establishing 3rd base help now, they are not doing their job. 
      

 

  1. Alex Gonzalez, SS, Blue
    Jays, $2,750,000 – VORP 5.8

 

The
injury riddled 2009 season for Alex Gonzalez in Boston
was probably a legitimate gripe.  Gonzalez has burst on the scene in
2010.  He is proving himself much more than a replacement level SS,
hitting .277, with 7 HR’s and 19 RBI’s thus far.  The Jays only saw
Gonzalez as a stopgap option, so they signed him to only one year.  He may
for a larger, longer contract next season while the Jays wait on young top
Cuban prospect Adeiny Hechevarria to develop in the minors.  I’d give
Gonzalez another 2 years if he keeps playing like this? 

 

  1. John Buck, C, Blue Jays,
    $2,000,000 – VORP 7.4

 

Another
‘stopgap’ for the Jays was John Buck, although he is a player that is
not playing well above his head right now.  The Jays signed him for one
year while they develop some catcher talent in the minors (i.e. J.P. Arrencibia
and Travis D’Arnaud).  The depth of talent at the catcher position is not
that significant.  I wouldn’t be worried about this position.  Buck
provides some pop in his bat while playing near replacement level.  I
don’t think we will get much more out of him.  The best that the Jays
could do is draft, and try to develop their young catchers into a rare case of
Brian McCann or Joe Mauer.  If this takes longer than expected?  Buck
might get another one-year contract with the team? 

 

  1. Travis Snider, RF, Blue
    Jays, $405,800 – VORP 6.5

 

Travis
Snider
is a case of a guy that crushes the minor leagues, but has not
nearly translated that into the majors.  The near replacement level VORP
indicated a lack of playing time last season, and some relative struggles for
Snider.  The Jays should be patient with Snider, as he is still very young
and could be an emerging star that we could get very good value out of. 
It depends how well the Jays do, if Snider tests their patience level.  I
might upgrade this position if the Jays turn into buyers at some point, and let
Snider take more time in the minors.  Just being here at this age, 22,
Snider is well above the curve.

 

Jose
Bautista, Blue Jays, Utility

 

Last
season Jose Bautista mainly played a utility role with the Jays. 
This season he has moved around positions on a more permanant basis. 
Edwin Encarnacion’s recent injury has Bautista currently filling in as the Jays
starting third baseman.  Before the arrival of Fred Lewis, Bautista was
rotated around the corner outfield position.  Regardless of where Bautista
ends up playing, he has proven to be a very useful acquisition – providing some
extra base pop in the order, hitting 6 HR’s with 20 RBI’s this early in the
season.  Upon the return of Edwin Encarnacion, he may relegate both Edwin
and Fred Lewis to a utility role.          

 

Conclusion

 

Looking
back on last season, the Jays only had 2 players here that produced significant
VORP.  They need to raise the depth of production in different
ways to help a very young, inexperienced, but inexpensive pitching staff. 
That is the only way we could compete with likes of the Yankees, Red Sox and
Rays. 

 

2010
 

 

How
many guys have been stepping it up this year?

 

This
year has been very pleasing to those looking for improvement in the Blue Jay
lineup from last season.  The Blue Jays lead the entire league in
homeruns!  I would not have expected that.  Alex Gonzalez, Vernon
Wells and Jose Bautista look on pace to have breakthrough seasons and increase
their VORP.  If Snider, Overbay, Lewis and Buck can make solid
contributions to the lineup, then the overall output in VORP will be much, much
better than last season.  Nobody expected this kind of the production from
the Jays so far, it has me giddy, happy and definably over-joyed!  We are
VORPin it up, and slugging with the ‘big boys’ in the A.L. East.  
    

Keys to the Season: What they are saying? What I am saying?

The Blue Jays enter 2010 depleted of some depth.  We traded our only front-end starter (Roy Halladay), let our best defense outfielder walk away (Alex Rios) and also traded our best defensive infielder (Scott Rolen). 
The analysts don’t see the Jays getting any better any time soon.  That
said, it is hard to get worse than the 75-87 record that saw the Jays
finish, once again, 4th place in the highly competitive A.L. East. 

The only thing that could be worse is the Jays finishing behind the Baltimore Orioles
for dead last in the A.L. East.  This is where most believe
the Jays are headed, as Baltimore seems to be going upward in the
standings with an array of emeging young players.  Some even go further
to say that the Jays are going to be the worst team in the American
League.  Hello Kansas City Royals!  I’m not about to go nearly that far, but I do believe the Jays 2010 success is contingent on some key factors. 

Every year I look forward to reading the Baseball Prospectus write-up that forcasts the Blue Jays future.  Similar many other baseball fans, I use the intelligence and effort put into Baseball Prospectus
to supplant my own personal lack of baseball intelligence. 
They do amazing work!  More to their credit, they were dead on with
pin-pointing the downfall of J.P. Ricciardi in previous years. 
Primarily, they critiqued Ricciardi’s string of questionable signings that
started with Cory Koskie and his low-risk, low-reward college draft
picks that produced a few good talents, but ended up depleting our farm
system as a whole.

For this season, Baseball Prospectus has pretty much agreed with
other publications saying that 2010 has been “clearly surrendered to
rebuilding’ with the signing of ‘stopgap’ players like John Buck and Alex Gonzolez.” 
They also state the obvious by very briefly saying “trading the Doc
hurts, and the Jays will be in a tough battle to be ahead of the
Orioles all year.”  What they are enthused about is the prospects of Hill, Lind,
Snider and the Walrus (Brett Wallace) all playing together at some point
this year, calling them the ‘Fab Four.’ 

I’m liking this ‘Fab Four’ analogy … a lot!   So, I’m going with it as my number 1 ‘key to the season’ for the Blue Jays:

Keys to the Season

1. The Fab Four  

It would be very nice to bank on repeat seasons from Adam Lind and Aaron Hill.  If it doesn’t happen, then Baseball Prospectus
has entertained the notion of trading Aaron Hill at peak value to
further establish the Jay’s committment to rebuilding.  Anthopolous
doesn’t seem headed that wa -, but it might be an idea? 
Hill and Lind anchored our lineup last year. The Jays would not have won 70
games without them.  For 2010 we need to count on their bats have to be back in full
effect.  They are both a key component to our team now.  They now have to show that the team can rely on them.  

It will key to get help from guys like Brett Wallace/Lyle Overbay and Travis Snider providing more support near the back of the order.  Going back to Baseball Prospectus, our home park (the Rogers Centre) statistically favors left-handed power hitters.  Last year Jays radio analyst and former player, Alan Ashby,
stated that what really contributed to the Jays 1st place dominance in
April and May was one man – Travis Snider.  Snider started the season giving the
Jays a great power element before totally tapering off in May.  He was a
nice surprise for a team that could use ‘nice surprises.’  This season the Jays could
potentially get another surprise in Brett Wallace.  Anthopolous acquired his
coveted left-handed power bat as a part of the Roy Halladay trade.  The Jays hope that Wallace will be the future, as Lyle Overbay
enters the last year of his contract.  Overbay suffered a
knee contusion last week in Spring Training, so the prospects of
Wallace in 2010 look more possible.  If Snider and Wallace can somehow
find their way into the lineup and produce at expected levels for the
kinds of prospects that they are?  The Jays will have a pair of surprise
‘left-handed’ power bats to compliment Lind and our home ballpark.  Brett
Wallace didn’t have a very good spring, so the Jays will look to
rejuvenate Lyle Overbay for their left-handed production in 2010.  Granted that Overbay’s knee contusion doesn’t become
serious.  These guys all have to produce for the Jays to compete with the potent lineups of New York, Boston, Tampa and now Baltimore.  

2.  Leading the Way on the Mound

The absence of Halladay in the Jays rotation leaves the question:  What starting pitching
talent(s) will emerge?  It would be nice to see multiple guys have
success.  For the Jays to have hope of doing anything this season, they
need some pitchers step up and make a name for themselves.  The likely
candidates are Shaun Marcum and Ricky Romero.  Romero is
coming off a fine rookie year going 13-9.  At one point in the season,
some Yankees writers compared Romero’s stuff, notably his changeup, to Mets ace Johan Santana
That may be a bit strong as Romero struggled at times – compiling an ugly
WHIP of 1.52.  He will need to do better than that to lead the Jays
pitching staff, but he is still learning.

I was really looking forward to watching Shaun Marcum in the Jays
rotation last season.  He came off an impressive 2008 only to be sidelined in 2009.  At times, the way Marcum changed speeds and commanded
the strikezone makes, he was unhittable against weaker hitting clubs.  He seems
to have a great pitching IQ.  I like that Marcum always looks
like he is in control on the mound – something that he probably
learned from Roy Halladay.  Having Marcum back will be an asset that
the Jays didn’t have last season.  Although, coming off an injury, that
will hard count on.  The Jays making the Marcum the #1 opening day
starter is good sign that he will be one ‘key’ to watch in 2010!

As for the rest of our staff, the Jays look to be going with three of Brian Tallet, Marc Rzyepcynski, Brandon Morrow or Dana Eveland.

Eveland had a very strong spring that propelled him into the mix.  It is hard to tell how he will fair with the Jays, but he has certainly opened some eyes this spring.  He might be the most unlikely candidate to lead the staff, but these kind of players sometimes emerge.  Look at Ben Zobrist last year?  

The Jays gave up an intriguing young pitching prospect, Yohermyn Chavez and hard-throwing reliever Brandon League to get Brandon Morrow.  Baseball Prospectus
called Morrow “an odd decision” since the Jays don’t look to be
contending anytime soon.  I don’t agree with this because at age 25, Morrow is still young – making him a possible factor in the Jays rebuilding project.  He is the kind of
player where the Jays are expecting the worse, and hoping for the
best.  I’d say Morrow is ‘big key’ to this season because he could be
due for a breakout year capitalizing on his chance to start full-time.  If Anthopolous hit a homerun with this trade, 2010 could be very promising! 

Brian Tallet pitched very well for the Jays filling in rotation spots last year.  He
has the most experience of the bunch and is a solid option.  However, I don’t
expect him to ‘breakout’ year in 2010.  I’d catergorize Marc Rzyepcynski
the same way.  Zippy (as I call him) is very advanced for his age.  He has four good pitches that he can command, but they don’t overwhelm batters.  Both these guys are solid optionsm, but without a very high-ceiling.

If the Jays want to do something this year then having Kyle Drabek and Brett Cecil
emerge is key!  Cecil overstepped his bounds getting some early
‘big-league’ experience when he should have been in the minors.  Cecil
brings a great arm and a somewhat deceptive left-handed delivery. 
Cecil’s development is not quite there, but in my opinion he has the makings of a front-line
starter.  He will start this year in AAA and look to bounce back into
the rotation at some point this year.  Kyle Drabek has had a very
impressive Spring Training.  Drabek is now being considered for the
rotation earlier than we expected.  Not having actually seen him pitch, I
hear he has a very effective, well-controled curveball that is featured
along with some other great pitching tools.  Jays fans can barely hold
their excitement on him.  I know better than the rely on a rookie though.     

With the rebuilding project underway there is no reason to rush both
Cecil and Drabek.  However, their contributions this season could be
‘key’ to the Jays 2010 season, although it is a bit of stretch to count
on rookies emerging in dramatic fashion.

It is also a bit of a stretch to count on players coming off the injuries to emerge.  Dustin McGowan and Jesse Litsch
are both wildcards at this point.  We may see them not pitch at all
this year?  McGowan had a serious injury, and it is a terrible shame because of
his talent level.  Litsch doesn’t have the stuff to be a top 3 starter in my
opinion, but I hope he proves me wrong.  I’m counting more on the
contributions of Drabek and Cecil as possible ‘keys to the season’ … and the future for that matter!

3.  Team Defense

The Jays lost Scott Rolen at third base, we picked up a decent
defensive shortstop Alex Gonzolez, stayed similar defensively at
catcher acquiring John Buck to replace Rod Barajas and got a little weaker in the outfield losing Alex Rios.  The Jays outfield will now have Jose Bautista
Bautista intrigues me because I want to see how much ground he can cover in the outfield.  Bautista’s arm is also well above-average.  I look
for him to step-up and be a key contributor to the team defense.  With Adam Lind and Travis Snider possibly occuping the other corner
outfield spot, it could get ugly.  Also Edwin Encarncion at third base is a very risky option.  The Jays will need to play good ‘team defense,’ as they look to be deteriorating in that respect.

Conclusion

If all these things fall into place, the Jays will have a very good
year.  If they don’t?  And you will notice that I don’t expect all them
to actually happen.  The Jays will – as every baseball preview predicts
– submit this season to rebuilding and likely end up in the ‘cellar’ of
the A.L. East.  Notice how I used the word ‘cellar.’  Cellar are often opened by keys … ha ha.  Yep, I’m a cornball.

Even though this year looks bleak Blue Jay fans, it will be entertaining to look out for my:

Keys to the Season”   

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