Dickey and Bunting and Numbers…Oh My!

It’s been a few weeks, but here I go again: stealing questions from Andrew Stoeten’s mail bag. Arrr!

OK, I guess this is now a thing: I highjack Andrew Stoeten’s mailbag from over on Vice.com. Call it a personal tick, an unhealthy habit, a time-wasting exercise, I don’t care, I get a kick out of doing it.

As usual, I have removed the names of the questioners (what with this being an act of theft and all) and I have not read any of Stoeten’s answers, although scrolling through the article they look long, and they even have bullet points and everything, so I suspect that he’s gone into more depth than I will, but what the heck. Here we go:

Question: what genius schedules a #bluejays off day on Victoria Day?

The same geniuses who continue to allow nepotism to dominate over competence in the hiring of umpires, who refuse to do anything to stop pitchers from throwing at hitters, who wink at the hyper-masculine queer-bashing woman-deriding culture of the clubhouse, who deify good players from the Yankees (Derek Jeter) while ignoring equally talented players from smaller markets (Craig Biggio), and who spend a year celebrating a Designated Hitter from the Red Sox because he’s cuddly (David Ortiz) while doing everything they can to erase the memory of the greatest player of all time because he’s not nice to reporters (Barry Bonds): Major League Baseball.

In case you’ve never noticed this, MLB cares about one thing, and one thing only: making money–which is “fine”, I guess, when you remember that it’s a business and that the whole point of a business is to make as much money as possible for the greedy pigs who own it. This is why all of those things I’ve listed above are not just tolerated but active policy of the owners insofar as they produce an entertaining product for the largest possible market. There’s no money to be made in holding Craig Biggio week or producing endless Barry Bonds retrospectives, nothing to be gained–monetarily–by taking on the umpires’ union over their hiring practices (and, in fact, it can be good for ratings having guys like Angel Hernandez out there every night–lots of umpshow for the mob!) or the Players’ Association over matters as paltry and minor as ethics when there’s really important stuff like revenue-sharing to work out.

And there’s literally no money to be made in New York, Boston, Florida, Southern California or the Mid-West with a Monday afternoon game in Canada. Frankly, I’m amazed that the Jays are able to manage getting their Canada Day game every year, although I suspect that’s largely because MLB is happy to get that game in Canada out of the way just in time to bring the Jays to an American city for the “real” holiday on 4 July.

Based on the trends in the first quarter of the season, which of the following events would you rate as most likely and least likely to happen by season’s end (assuming relatively good health):

Kevin Pillar > 50 walks
Justin Smoak > .850 OPS
Francisco Liriano BB/9 < 4.8
Luke Maile OPS+ > Josh Thole’s 2016 mark

Hmmm…good question: and a toughie, seeing as I left my crystal ball in my other pants. But we’ll give it a shot.

Kevin Pillar and fifty walks?

Sure, what the heck, I can see that happening. Last year he took twenty-four and the year before it was twenty-eight so it would appear to be quite a leap to ask him to double those numbers over just one season, but he’s already at fourteen after forty-six games which does project out to…*quick math*…forty-nine, so…yeah…getting all the way to fifty would be a stretch for him, even with his renewed approach at the plate. So, I dunno, maybe?

Justin Smoak and an .850 OPS?

He’s already sitting at .881 and showing no signs of slowing down. It may seem a crazy suggestion that a career .710 OPS guy could perform by 140 points above that average but, honestly, if you were asking me (and I know you weren’t, but I’m a pirate: ARR!) I’d say that, yes, Smoak is probably going to do it this year.

And believe you me, when it does happen I am totally going to troll Jonah Keri with retweet after retweet of this exchange I had with him way back in February:

He who LOLs last LOLs longest Keri!

Francisco Liriano averaging less than 4.8 walks through nine innings?

Currently at 7.3 but with a career average of 4.0, with only two years above 4.8 in his entire twelve years in the majors…I’m going to go with yes on this one too. Things may be looking ugly right now, but who knows how much of that was due to the injury he sustained in Anaheim and apparently felt through three starts. Assuming he can get healthy and stay healthy enough to pitch enough games to offset the beginning of the season I’m confident Liriano will perform to his career average and lower the current number significantly.

Luke Maile having a better than thirty OPS+ (Josh Tole’s number for 2016)?

His career average is thirty-five, but with Maile you have to use the word “career” loosely given he’s only played seventy-two games at the major league level. Still, when in doubt, trust the numbers and the numbers would suggest that on the whole he’s better than thirty so, what the heck, it’s going to happen.

Now the tough part: which of the above is the most and least likely to happen? I’d like to say that the most likely is Justin Smoak posting an .850+ OPS but that would be a lifetime number for him, just like the fifty walks would be for Pillar, whereas Liriano pitching to an average of fewer than 4.8 walks per nine innings is just a return to the norm for him, so I guess I’d have to go with that as the most likely scenario; all of which leaves Maile outdoing Thole as the least likely outcome, but honestly, they’re both terrible hitters so who cares?

Just wondering why all of a sudden the Jays think they can bunt. Well they can’t.
What’s going on?

They’ve been paying too much attention to the dummies on Twitter?

Actually, I suspect there’s a few things going on here.

The first is that certain players may be trying to put the “idea of a bunt” into the minds of the fielders, which can be a nice way of drawing them in and getting them out of the shift. A lot of the ‘bunt’ attempts this season are really just bluffs or attempted misdirections which, OK, they might not be doing much, but they are doing at least something to move the fielders around.

Second, Gibby is kind of doing the same, I think, by asking for bunts in situations where the Jays as a team have not traditionally tried for that part of the game. Again, I’m not sure it’s working in terms of generating more offense (in fact, I know it isn’t because bunts don’t work) but it seems to me at least probable that Gibby is playing the longer game here: trying to combat the perception of the Jays as a pull-happy, swing for the fences team and thus get everyone to stop playing them that way, which means getting fewer or at least not-quite-so-extreme shifts. I have no idea if it is actually accomplishing that, but I would bet you a Coke that someone in the Jays analytics department is examining that very issue…

Finally, some of them actually can bunt for a hit–Carrera, Barney, sometimes Goins–and those are just the guys who can’t reliably get on base any other way, so why not try to drop one down the line and beat out the throw? With all the injuries this season there’s been far more Carrera, Barney and Goins than is really healthy for a team, and thus more of their desperation bunts.

So, really, the bunts may actually be a bit more explainable and a bit less dumb than it would appear at first glance: with the singular, and extraordinary exception of asking Devon Travis to lay down a bunt with two men on, nobody out, and Barney, Carrera and Goins coming up behind him…oy vay, Gibby, honestly.

The Jays (horrific) stretch of games against Atlanta sorta reconnected us with Robert Allen Dickey. The Dickey for Syndegaard/d’Arnaud trade is one that you’ll often hear classified by some Jays fans in the “wish we could get that one back” category. Even given d’Arnaud’s chronic fragility and Thor’s increasingly worrisome arm issues—and certainly both are still young and talented enough that they can make the deal look more lopsided in the future—should we feel that way?

True, we didn’t get the “Cy Young” R.A. that we were hoping for. And yes, the capital of Syndergaard and d’Arnaud could have been used to pick up another player. But Dickey tallied over 800 innings for the Jays, with a decent WHIP, and all in all was a solid and durable 3-4 starter and was an above-average contributor to two pretty entertaining Jays seasons. It was a classic future vs. now kind of deal, and while we can dream of Thor hurling mighty bolts in a Jays uniform, I thought the “now” the Jays got in return makes the deal more than defensible.

Boy, are you ever wrong.

I never liked the Dickey deal: two very promising young players–one of them a pitcher who could throw that hard!–and three other prospects (that’s five young players, for those of you keeping score at home) for a one-off Cy Young Knuckleballer on the wrong side of thirty-five to pitch in the American League East?!

Now, don’t get me wrong, I liked R.A. fine and agree with your assessment of him: a perfectly serviceable middle-to-bottom of the rotation starter and a great guy: but nowhere even close to being worth what the Jays gave up to get him. A lot of Dickey defenders point out, as you do, the “win now” logic of acquiring Dickey but…huh? Am I not remembering the 2013 season correctly? The Jays finished last that year. They didn’t actually win anything until 2015 and 2016 and it wasn’t Dickey who made the difference but David Price (2015) and Aaron Sanchez (2016) who got it done for the Jays.

Yes, Dickey helped, but there are a whooooole lot of pitchers who could have contributed just as much while costing the farm system much less.

OK, so let’s go see what Stoeten had to say…

That’s a Bit More Like

The only thing better than a grand slam is a grand slam topped off with a squeeze

Blue Jays 5, (Devil) Rays 2

Wahoo! all right, so that’s what I’ve been waiting for: a win! And now that it’s here the whole two game losing streak thing seems a lot less significant than it did before…as in, it now seems as insignificant as it always truly was. Still, it was a two game losing streak, plunging the Jays to a zero and two start, don’t hit the panic button but ohmigod I kinda want to panic…

But they’ve won one! Take the foot off the gas, settle in and get ready for a long season of this sort of thing.

Weirdly, the win looked a lot like the two losses, which is comforting in a strange way. All the good stuff was still there (an amazing start from Stroman, some very good defense, a solid-if-not-perfect outing by the bullpen) but the not-so-good stuff was still on display as well: just five hits on the night to the Rays’ eight, with eight strikeouts (which isn’t terrible, but also not fantastic) and another eleven men left on base.

So why is that comforting? Because they freaking won, man! Who cares if the strike outs are a bit on the high side and if they’re stranding runners, so long as they’re getting those big hits when they count. Which, “oh my goodness that was 444 feet!”, did they ever. Welcome to the Blue Jays Kendrys! I already liked you fine (even though you did play for the Royals, but nobody’s perfect) and I was deeply impressed with you during spring training, but this cements it. Who’s the man? Kendrys. Kendrys is the man.

But even with that—even with the first home run of the season for both Morales and the Jays being a game-busting grand-slam—the thing that most caught my attention (and, if what I heard on Blue Jays Talk is any indication, a lot of other people’s attention) was nothing less than Barwin Darney’s seventh inning RBI-producing bunt single. So much to love about that, and so I’m going to give it some love…

But first: no, I do not subscribe to the idea that the Blue Jays need to play “small ball” (whatever the heck that is) instead of going for home runs (which wins games: cf. the Orioles in the first two games of the season), nor do I think that bunting is easy, strategically smart in every or even in most cases, nor do I believe—as many, strangely, would appear to—that bunts are in some way better or purer or more entertaining than the long ball. But…they do have their place, and that was absolutely one of them.

It doesn’t happen often that you have a hitter at the plate who is, a) capable of laying down a bunt and, b) not really capable of hitting it out of the park, when there is also a left-handed pitcher, runners at first and third and less than two outs. It’s so rare that I’m willing to bet my vintage Jays’ cap that it happens a whole lot less than having a power-hitter at the plate with the bases loaded. But when it does happen, and it did, then you absolutely bunt: with the lefty pitcher falling toward third and the first baseman covering the runner, there’s a nice patch of grass (or, in this case, green-tinted polyethylene) just waiting to gobble up that ball.

(This has been true for a good century, by the way, in spite of Joe Maddon’s (apparent) claims to have “developed” the play—but I don’t know if it’s even fair to fault Maddon on this, since this was the claim of Joe Siddall on the radio.)

So, anyway, what I really love about the play isn’t that it justifies the “need” for more “small ball” (it doesn’t) or that it somehow redresses the imagined shortcomings in the Blue Jays’ power-focused offense. No, what I love about it is that even with a four-zero lead in the seventh, when Gibby saw the chance to squeeze in another run, he took it.

After the game, Gibby (being Gibby) said that he called for that play simply to “appease the fans” which got a nice laugh from the press (which it should). But that’s Gibby playing the folksy card again and being all shucks-I’m-from-Texas-and-charmingly-self-deprecating. The truth is, he called for that play because he was doing what good managers do: they identify the best way to score in a given situation and then try it. Actually, with that bunt he did two things that good managers do: he identified the best way to score, and then he called for it even with a comfortable lead. It was a brilliant, cut-throat, high-risk with low-potential-reward move and he made it without hesitation. That’s why I liked the bunt so much, and that’s part of the reason why this first win was so sweet.

Well, that, and the 444-foot monster-slam by Kendrys. Who the man? Kendrys. Kendrys is the man.

But also Gibby.