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…

Playing the Average: Smoak’s Edge

If you think Justin Smoak’s contract is a joke, you should see my tables

Starting the season there were a whole lot of people getting themselves all in a lather over the decision by the Blue Jays’ front office in May 2016 to sign Justin Smoak to a two year, $10 million contract extension. “He’s a terrible player!” these people screamed. “He’s not worth that kind of money!”

Show me the money!

Smoak’s salary this year is $4.125 million which makes him the nineteenth highest paid first baseman amongst the forty one listed at Spotrac, meaning he is making pretty darned near the dictionary definition of the Major League average salary for a first baseman. The three players just ahead of him on that list are Wil Myers (Padres, $4.5 million), Mitch Moreland (Red Sox, $5.5 million) and Mike Napoli (Rangers, $6.0 million). Just behind Smoak are four players, each making $4.0 milllion this year: Eric Thames (Brewers), John Jaso (Pirates), Yonder Alonso (A’s) and Brandon Belt (Giants).

So how does Smoak stack up? Let’s start with their slash lines, organised by batting average:

Eric Thames 0.327 0.431 1.174
Yonder Alonso 0.309 0.378 1.079
Wil Myers 0.302 0.331 0.885
Mitch Moreland 0.271 0.355 0.804
Justin Smoak 0.255 0.288 0.741
Brandon Belt 0.222 0.359 0.761
Mike Napoli 0.164 0.218 0.546
John Jaso 0.154 0.243 0.551

So: Smoak is fifth out of the eight in batting average so far this season, and sixth in both On Base and OPS. Not bad…not great, either, but for a first baseman making average money he’s performing at about an average level.

Let’s look at some power numbers, this time organised by home runs:

Player HR RBI HR/PA RBI/PA
Eric Thames 13 24 0.094 0.173
Yonder Alonso 11 27 0.097 0.239
Wil Myers 7 22 0.048 0.152
Mike Napoli 5 13 0.037 0.096
Justin Smoak 5 17 0.045 0.153
Brandon Belt 4 14 0.028 0.099
John Jaso 2 4 0.027 0.053
Mitch Moreland 2 16 0.014 0.113

Tied for fourth with Napoli in home runs, all on his own in fourth place for RBI and for home runs per plate appearance, and third in RBI per plate appearance. Once again, amongst comparably paid first basemen, Smoak is producing at an about average level in every category.

And that’s what I find the most striking, really. Amongst comparably paid first basemen, Justin Smoak stands out as almost startlingly, solidly, average. He’s not at the top of any of the stats, but he’s not at the bottom either.

But just one more table (I promise), this time comparing plate discipline and organised by strike outs:

Player SO BB SO/AB
John Jaso 16 8 0.246
Yonder Alonso 24 12 0.247
Justin Smoak 25 5 0.236
Mitch Moreland 29 16 0.246
Eric Thames 29 20 0.257
Wil Myers 40 5 0.288
Brandon Belt 41 25 0.350
Mike Napoli 42 6 0.344

Third on the list for strike outs, and worst (with Wil Myers) in terms of taking a walk, but take a closer look and you’ll notice that amongst these eight comparably-paid first basemen Justin Smoak has the best rate of strike outs per at bat. So while Smoak may not walk a lot (at least compared to comparably paid first basemen) he also is cagier than most of his peers when it comes to strike outs which means he’s putting the ball in play more often than them.

A lot of people may be surprised to learn that Justin Smoak does not, contrary to popular wisdom, strike out every time he comes to the plate. In fact, with just twenty-five strike outs so far this season he is ninety second amongst the one hundred ninety players with at least one hundred at bats so far this season making him, once again, an average player making an average salary for his position.

Now, I get it: the season is not very old and all these numbers are based on what can and should be called a truly small sample size. But so far, at least, those numbers tell an interesting story. Justin Smoak isn’t Mike Trout…but then again, nobody’s Mike Trout (unless his name was Barry Bonds). But he isn’t Joe Crummy Nobody either. He’s a genuine major league first baseman, making standard major league first baseman money.

But here’s the statistic that makes him worth every penny the Blue Jays are paying him:

Thirty-three.

Justin Smoak has appeared in thirty-three games for the Jays: that’s every game they’ve played. The only other players to pull that off in this injury nightmare of a season are Kevin Pillar, José Bautista and Kendrys Morales (whose streak is about to come an end) which makes him an extremely valuable commodity for the team.

A dependable bat and fantastic glove who can be relied on to play every game, for league average money?

Sounds like a good deal to me.

So give the guy a break, willya?

The View From Thirty (One)

In which I gain the wisdom of a child and prove with numbers that Kendrys Morales is THE MAN!

In addition to winning their second series of the season over the weekend (and in Tampa Bay no less!) the Jays passed an important, if somewhat arbitrary, milestone: game thirty. It’s an old saw that you can only really begin to start taking stock of where your team is at after thirty games have been played, and at the moment, well, the Blue Jays are kind of where they’ve been all year: between a rock and something just a little less rock-like. Eleven and twenty is…not good. It’s not as bad as it could be, but still…not good. Are the Jays doomed? Are they still in this thing? Are these questions we should even be asking?

I dunno. But here’s the transcript of a conversation I had this morning with my eleven year old son that I believe pretty much sums up the interior life of every Blue Jays fan these days:

Son: Daddy, can the Blue Jays make the playoffs this year?

Me: Well, I’m not sure. They could but it’s going to be really hard for them to–

Son: Don’t say that! They can do it.

Me: Well, I didn’t say they couldn’t, it’s too early in the season to be sure. I’m just saying that they started really badly–

Son: But they’re playing really well right now.

Me: I don’t know if they’re playing really well. Bautista’s looking very old all over again and Travis isn’t really hitting yet; the pitching is a mess–

Son: They’re all injured, though. It doesn’t count. Who’s even in the lineup right now, anyway? They’re not even really the Jays. Tulowitzki and Donaldson are going to come back and they’ll be good again.

Me: Martin’s injured too now, you know.

Son: He’s no loss, he wasn’t hitting well anyway.

Me: Actually, he was coming round and he’s always good behind the plate. They were really depending on him.

Son: Doesn’t matter. They’re winning. They can still make the playoffs and you shouldn’t say they can’t.

Me: I didn’t say they couldn’t, I just said it would be har–

Son: They can make it.

Me: Maybe, but–

Son: They can.

Me: But–

Son: They can, Daddy!

And then it kind of went on like this for a while.

And: who the man? Kendrys, Kendrys is the man.

Here’s a statistically insignificant point which I am going to claim is significant:

In games where Kendrys Morales homers the Blue Jays are three and two. In games in which he does not hit a dinger they are eight and eighteen. Put another way, when Kendrys homers the Jays have a .600 win ratio, and when he doesn’t they’re playing .444.

By way of comparison, when we look at the team’s next-best tater-hitter, Justin Smoak (with five so far this year, compared to Kendrys’ six, which added together is still less than Aaron Judge but we’re not going to talk about that right now) the Jays are two and three (.400) in games in which Smoak finds the seats.

Things get even more interesting when you look at the RBI for each, with Smoak at seventeen and Morales at twenty. So while Morales does have a slight edge in RBI, meaning we could perhaps chalk up his greater win ratio to there simply being more men on base for Morales than for Smoak, I’m not sure that’s going to fly given that the difference is just three runs.

The fact is, when Morales hits home runs, the Jays tend to win games. So this really isn’t rocket science, is it? What should Morales be trying to do in almost every single one of his at bats, particularly with men on base?

That’s right: swing, baby, swing!

 

 

 

Looking For (And Finding) The Good News

There really are things to be happy about right now…for example, Kevin Pillar and Justin Smoak

Blue Jays 4, Angels 5

It’s becoming almost as frustrating as it is familiar: the Jays losing by a run after a late inning rally. Amongst the positives that I perpetually seek amongst the tea leaves:

  • Casey Lawrence looked very OK, that grand slam not-withstanding. Statscast apparently supports the eye test on that one—it had no business getting out of the park. Chalk that one up to bad luck and a tailwind. Still hurts, though.
  • José Bautista hit that ball hard in the eighth which is so very nice to see the day after his late inning heroics. Again, some bad luck from the unlikely glove of Kole Calhoun made the difference there. Still hurts, though.
  • They scored four runs again which is, as I have pointed out before, the magic number for success this season. Maybe not last night, though. Which is why it still hurts.

Oh well.

On the up side, of course, the game gives me an excuse to highlight a couple of players I’ve wanted to write about a bit more fully for a few days: Kevin “Superman” Pillar and Justin “Not So Terrible” Smoak, who together combined (again) to provide the bulk of the Blue Jays offence.

Superman, for real?

There was a lot of buzz in the Blue Jays/Rogers friendly-press during spring training about Pillar’s “new approach” at the plate and for those weeks in March it sure looked like he was keeping away from the crap off the plate and swinging harder at good pitches. I remained unconvinced, though, since it is very rare for a crappy hitter to suddenly become good. I even (and to my eternal shame) scoffed at the venerable Tao of Steib for suggesting that Pillar would “flirt with .300 for most of the season”.

Tao…mea culpe, mea maxima culpe.

I have to admit, I’m becoming a true believer, and it wasn’t just the home run last night (although that certainly didn’t hurt). He has looked different at the plate this season and it shows no sign of going away. He’s more patient with borderline pitches, more aggressive with the good ones and only rarley makes one of his patented dives across the plate trying to smack at garbage low and away. I’m not quite yet at Gideon Turk level of adulation for Pillar, but, well, I can admit that there may be grounds for at least some of his boundless faith.

But one word on Pillar before I move on, and it may prove to be the word too far, but I’m sorry, as great a centre fielder as he may be, the greatest centre fielder in the American League is Kevin Kiermaier. I’m ready for you, so bring it if you wish…

He’s actually OK, like I’ve been telling you

Waaaaaay back in February I had the following exchange on Twitter with Jonah Jeri

Now, putting aside for the moment that I apparently forgot how to do a slash line and accidentally put in a projected OPS where SLG should go (perhaps occasioning Mr Keri’s brief reply: “LOL”), I’m feeling pretty smug about that tweet, because beside my projected (and corrected) slash of .270/.320/.430, Smoak’s current .269/.309/.558 looks positively conservative.

Now, I can practically hear Keri’s voice in my mind reminding me that it is very early for individual stats and that we really do have to wait until at least the All Star break before any conclusions can be drawn and that for some stats you can’t really be sure of a statistically useful number of at bats until virtually the end of the season. And he’s right, of course he’s right, I know that.

But, oh what the heck, nyah nyah nyahnyah nyaaaaah! Justin Smoak isn’t terrible, he isn’t! He and Pillar are doing really well, and it’s for real!

So there.

Something to Get Excited About?

One win is probably not something to get too excited about, but it’s a reason for hope?…maybe…?

Blue Jays 8, Angels 7

I’m not a night person so I knew all along I wasn’t going to be able to see much of the game: when they’re out west, I rarely do. And given how the Blue Jays have been playing of late, the moment Mike Trout made it four-two in the fifth I stopped trying and let myself go to sleep for good.

Looks like I missed a good one.

So much goodness to revel in really, and that’s what I think the team and their fans can be excused for doing today: revelling. Because while a single win only makes a terrible record a little less terrible, some real signs—maybe ‘hints’ would be the better word—of hope were everywhere last night:

Offence

They actually had some. I said a while back that to win this season the Jays just needed to be average at the plate because of their strength defensively and in the starting rotation. I argued that all they really needed to do was to score four or five runs a game and they would be fine, and lo and behold, over nine innings they scored five runs.

What I find truly hopeful isn’t so much that they got those five runs, but who provided them. Too often this season it’s been the bench players fluking their way into runs while the big bats remained silent. But last night Smoak, Martin and Tulo all got in on the act (with, I would point out, Smoak providing the bulk of the run production). Martin went three for five with a walk and just one strike out (!?), raising his average above the Mendoza line for what seems like the first time this season. Is the box score right? Did that really happen?

Joey Bats

Oh, and José Bautista hit a three run homer in the thirteenth. Wish I’d been awake for that, but the video highlight is still pretty cool.

It’s just one home run, I get it, and on the whole Bautista’s season has been horrific, and, yes, I agree that just one at bat doesn’t change that or necessarily signal any kind of turn around, and I can see that he’s still batting just .131…

But…

In addition to the dinger, Bautista had a hit, took a walk and struck out just twice. Not spectacular, nothing to write home to mom about, but still…

José Bautista had a good night at the plate. If he can start having just a few more of those, then perhaps, just maybe, this season needn’t go completely down the toilet.

Matt Latos wasn’t terrible

He wasn’t spectacular, either, but he was solid…or at least solid enough. Six hits and four runs through five innings against a team with Mike Trout and Albert Pujols in the lineup is perfectly OK for a sixth starter and there isn’t a team in the majors who wouldn’t be happy with that.

When Fangraphs came out with their rankings of team pitching and had the Jays in the middle of the pack, a lot of people went a bit nuts (yours truly included), but as Andrew Stoeten quite usefully explained, this ranking made sense when one takes into account, as Fangraphs goes, the pitching depth on a team beyond their starting rotation. Yes, the Jays have one of the best starting five in baseball, but after that things get a lot softer; and with Sanchez out for one start, and now Happ looking to miss two, the Jays are going to need to rely on that depth. Latos’ performance last night should provide them with some small sigh of relief, however tentative. If he’d come out and blown spectacularly up…? Eesh.

So all in all, I’d say a win is a win and they’re going to need a lot more of those before the season can start to turn around. But it was a very hopeful win.

But José really should have flipped the bat.

Even When You See It In Real Life, It Can Be Kind Of Ugly

Four take-aways from my trip to the Dome

Blue Jays 7, Red Sox 8

All right, I got to my first game of the season at the Dome last night and, no big surprise, the Jays lost. Oh well, they always lose when I’m in the Dome.

No, seriously, for over a season now I’ve never seen a live win.  Oh well… I got to see live baseball, eat a hot dog and drink a couple of vastly over priced beers, so I’m not complaining.

Other than that, here’s my record of the evening in four snapshots…

Stroman stumbled

On a night when the Jays finally get some runs, the pitching wasn’t quite there. Stroman wasn’t terrible but he wasn’t great either. He made a lot of dazzling pitches, but some just plain missed the spot and hung out over the plate, and the Sox are a good hitting ball club. Everything they touched seemed to find a gap (while the Jays kept finding the infielders) because everything they hit they hit hard (the Jays…not so much).

The Red Sox pitching, on the other hand, was very average with last-minute AAA call-up Brian Johnson tossing eighty-five to eighty-nine MPH taters that somehow stymied the Jays, followed by three incredibly mediocre performances by ho-hum Hembree, he’s pretty A-bad, and throwing at the Barnes door… So, yeah, the Jays got some runs, but it was hard to get too excited. They face Porcello and Sale next…

Russell Martin just looks awful

Don’t let the home run he hit fool you, he looked just dreadful at the plate. When you swing out of your shoes at literally everything then every once in a while you’re going to run into one. Don the usher agreed with me: Martin needs to accept that he’s not twenty-five anymore and shorten up a bit. Yikes.

Joey Bats may be coming round

His at bats looked good as he worked the zone and fouled off some decent pitches, a lot of them straight back, but the results still aren’t there. I’d like to take away a good, happy impression from this but find that a bit tricky when I reflect that at the end of his first at bat he struck out because he couldn’t catch up to an eighty-nine mile per hour “fast” ball that had no real movement on it. Still, I remain a believer in José.

Smoak swings away

Got himself a homer, yep, but the at bat I most clearly recall came in the seventh with Tulo on first and nobody out. With one strike on Smoak, Pablo Sandoval left third and came all the way over to just beside and behind first; Xander Bogaerts set up almost behind second and the outfield played it straight away…resulting in the entire left side of the field being empty of position players.

Now, I know Smoak can’t bunt, but he could at least try to shoot the ball the other way. A hit to the left—any hit—would be a guaranteed double with Tulo possibly scoring. But, nope, he tried to pull it, drove it into Sandoval’s glove who tossed to second to erase Tulo on a fielder’s choice.

Just…eesh.

I’ve said that small ball doesn’t work, but I’ve also said there is a time and place for strategic adjustments and if that wasn’t one such time I can’t imagine what is. All he has to do is at least try to send it the other way a couple times and other teams will stop over shifting him to such an extreme.

Ah well, at least I had those expensive beers to console me.

 

BJ Bye-Bye

Bye-bye BJ Upton, the man who couldn’t or wouldn’t change his swing as easily as he changes his name.

He really should have stuck with BJ. I don’t care that he didn’t like it (apparently his father was called “Boss Man” and so everyone took to calling Melvin “Boss Man Junior” which is a bit silly but still a heck of a lot better than Melvin), “BJ” is much cooler and maybe could have cemented him with the B(lue) J(ays) (in case you missed that) a bit more permanently.

I said in yesterday’s blog that I was glad to see Upton off the roster, and since there was no game yesterday I’ve had some more time to think about that. It wasn’t that he was a terrible player…I mean, sure, yes, he was kind of complete garbage with the Blue Jays last year (.196/.261./318) and through the entirety of spring training, but his career numbers aren’t terrible and he’s a perfectly serviceable fourth outfielder, maybe even platoon guy…and it wasn’t that he struck out in what seemed like every second at bat (OK, it wasn’t that bad, I know, but 49 Ks in 148 at bats is still striking out 33% of the time), that can also be OK in the right lineup and with the right match-ups (as in: it’s really not the end of the world that Smoak is on the team, so chill).

No, what makes me glad Upton is gone is what it tells me about the direction the team is taking. They’re clearly indicating that players who are utterly incapable of changing or learning, of adapting to new roles, have no place on this team. Upton’s swing was, each and every time I saw it, Upton’s swing. Leading with the hips, swinging from the shoulders, straightening out those arms: it didn’t matter where the pitch was over the plate (or, far too often, off the plate) he’d swing like it was batting practice and if he happened to run into one, give it a ride. Never once did I see him shorten up, try to turn something inside out, drop the bat head. With his speed, you’d think that he’d at least toy with the notion of putting something in play into an infield gap but, nope, forget about that. With Melvin it was always and apparently forever either the fences or go back and sit on the bench.

Which points toward a sort-of second reason I’m glad he’s gone, which is really more aesthetic than anything else. A big swing that connects hard is a fine sight: not beautiful (think: Ted Williams) and not really awe-inspiring (Babe Ruth) but still a fine sight…like a lumberjack felling a tall maple with just a few well-placed blows of the axe, hitters like Melvin (and, yes, Smoak) wail away and pretty much to their own and everyone else’s surprise will occasionally make some contact and boy but does that baby fly. But when that big swing doesn’t connect, when the bat is just a hunk of wood riffling past the ball and the batter is left staggering in the batter’s box, clothed in nothing but failure, well, that’s a really ugly sight. It just looks bad and every swing Melvin took that didn’t connect looked like that.

Yes, I know, Smoak: but if you actually watch the guy you’ll see that he does change his approach from time to time, and he does alter his swing to match the situation…-ish. Maybe not enough to give him a lot of success (yet) but certainly more than Melvin ever did. And given that even a one of something is infinitely greater than a zero of that same thing, in this particular and limited comparison Smoak is literally infinitely better than Melvin.

So, anyway, back to the team philosophy thing. It seems to me eminently plausible (and entirely desirable…which means I really really want this to be true) that Upton is gone because he just could not or would not adapt. Smoak is back because he’s at least trying (or, in fairness, he’s trying because they actually brought him back…either way, result is the same). Changing approaches seem to be all the rage with the Blue Jays these days: Pillar, so far, seems like a different guy at the plate; Steve Pearce is working out in entirely new ways to keep in shape and healthy; Russell Martin went out over the off season and got himself a whole new physique; heck, even Jose Bautista has moderated his tone and self-presentation in the wake of the free agency humbling he received during the off-season (I don’t think this last one has anything to do, directly, with a new direction in the team philosophy, but it does fit or at least reinforce the appearance of the overall pattern of Adapt To Our Needs Or We Will Not Use You that I’m hoping I’m detecting here).

Interestingly enough, Gideon Turk has a report that they let Upton go partly because they were confident nobody else would want him and they could re-sign him easily enough to a new free agent contract. So…OK…sure, maybe, I guess. It doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense for a team to strategise their way toward re-signing someone for more money than they are already paying because he’s so terrible nobody else wants him, but heck, sure: Gideon’s been at this blogging thing longer than I have so who knows? I still don’t think it will happen, but if it does it will be interesting to see if Melvin can do with his swing what he’s done so often with his name: change it.