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Previewing The Exciting Blue Jays Vs Cardinals Pitching Matchups

The Toronto Blue Jays will look to continue the roll they got on last week tonight against the St. Louis Cardinals. After taking two of three from both the Padres and Giants last week the Jays have another three game set with the Cards. While much of the attention is sure to be on Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday the pitching matchups are exceptional.

Both teams will send their top three starters to the mound over the next three days. The teams also come into the series with similar records, the Cards at 38-31 and the Jays at 38-32. St. Louis does have the better run differential at +56 to the Jays +26. The Jays are 19-15 at home, while the Cards are just the opposite, 15-19, on the road.

Offensively, the Jays and Cards are evenly matched with the Jays .329 wOBA just ahead of the Cardinals .327 wOBA. Where the Cards hit for a higher average and draw more walks, the Jays of course counter with superior power. Defensively, according to UZR the Cards are a +8.6, with the Jays checking in at -12.4. 

When matters get turned over to the bullpens the Jays and Cards sport similar FIPs of 4.03 and 4.06, respectively. However, the Cards have a bullpen ERA of 3.18 to the Jays 4.37. The big difference in ERA despite similar FIPs stems from the Cards bullpen stranding 78.2 percent of it’s baserunners and having a BABIP of .271. The Jays ‘pen has only managed to strand 71.3 percent of it’s baserunners and suffering from a .310 BABIP.

The key to any series is the pitching matchups, especially ones as good as these, and here they are:

Tuesday: Brett Cecil vs Jaime Garcia

It’s only fitting that these two should be matched up. Both are young, left handers in the midst of breakout seasons. Garcia, 23, has been a groundball machine with 58.4 percent of his balls in play staying on the ground. That coupled with a scant .23 HR per nine innings has kept his ERA way down at 1.59. His one weakness is his 3.97 BB per nine innings. He doesn’t counter it with an overwhelming number of Ks either leaving him with a FIP of 3.19.

Cecil continues to impress this season heading into tonight’s start with a 3.58 ERA and a 3.55 FIP. He’s found success thanks to his 2.30 BB per nine innings and keeping the homers in check allowing .77 HR/9 IN. Cecil has been able to get batters to chase 32.5 percent of his pitches out of the zone, bettering the league average by 5.2 percent. Hitters are also swinging and missing 9.4 percent of the time against Cecil (8.3% league average).

Wednesday: Ricky Romero vs Chris Carpenter

Carpenter has picked right up where he left off last season and is turning in another season worth Cy Young consideration. Both his 2.83 ERA and 3.78 FIP are impressive. Just like Garcia, Carpenter does an outstanding job keeping the ball on the ground with a 54.1 groundball rate. He mixes good control, 2.30 BB/9 IN, with a solid strikeout rate of 7.79 K/9 IN. The Jays should look to exploit his .97 HR/9 IN, which is just above the .94 HR/9 IN league average.

Quietly putting together a Cy Young worthy campaign of his own, Romero heads to the mound with a 3.16 FIP. Romero gets it done with a combination of strikeouts and groundballs. He sits down 8.97 batters per nine innings and has a 56.4 percent groundball rate. Romero doesn’t cough up the long ball much either yielding only .53 HR/9 IN. His ERA, at 3.08, is outstanding as well.

Thursday: Brandon Morrow vs Adam Wainwright

For the second year in a row Wainwright has teamed with Carpenter to form the NL’s most dangerous one-two punch on the mound. Wainwright has been the better of the two this season with a 2.23 ERA and a tidy 2.90 FIP. He’s tough to beat no matter how you look at it. Wainwright whiffs 8.34 batters per nine innings while walking only 2.39 per nine innings. Surprise, surprise, just like Carpenter and Garcia, Wainwright has an outstanding groundball rate at 52.3 percent. He’ll be tough for the Jays to solve with his .50 HR/9 IN.

Despite pitching better as of late as he continues to embrace being a full time starter, Morrow is the only starter in the series with an ERA over four at 4.97. He also isn’t a groundball machine getting a grounder on only 40.8 percent of his balls in play. He hands out a decent amount of walks too, walking 4.86 per nine innings.

But Morrow has used his outstanding 9.95 K/9 IN and well below league average .59 HR/9 IN to keep his FIP at 3.63. He’s been terrific three times out in June with a 1.89 ERA and a 2.65 FIP. Morrow’s been much better at home with a home ERA/FIP of 3.35/2.87 compared to his road ERA/FIP of 7.09/4.61.


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What the Toronto Blue Jays Can Bring to the 2010 Trade Market

The Arizona Diamondbacks and Oakland A’s unofficially kicked off the 2010 pre-deadline trading activity this week. With the D-Backs running up the white flag on 2010 and putting out word that almost everyone on their roster can be had, the trade market should be on the verge of getting busy. The Kansas City Royals are also putting it out there that they too are willing to shop several of their veteran pieces.

With those two teams and the Baltimore Orioles open for business, now is the time for the Blue Jays to start putting their veteran pieces up for sale. There’s been plenty of speculation around the league that most teams will be tight on money this season and not looking to take on large contracts as they look to add pieces for playoff runs. The Jays then would be wise to act now before more teams become sellers and the market becomes more flooded and returns are diminished.

Luckily, the Blue Jays have a nice mix of cheap, veteran talent that won’t bring back a large haul of top level prospects, but shouldn’t be hard to move either. Moving some of these guys sooner, as in now, as opposed to later (late July), would potentially increase the quality of the prospects the Jays get in return since the players they’re sending out will be with their new clubs longer. It will also free up playing time and fuel promotions, and take the Jays’ youth movement on to the next step.

Here then is a look at who could be on the move and why:


John Buck

Buck has done a nice job offensively for the Jays this year, hitting .265 with a booming .271 isolated power and a dozen homers. He’s signed to a cheap two million dollar, one-year deal that shouldn’t be a problem for most teams to take on. Buck turns 30 in July and mediocre catchers in their twenties don’t usually become anything more than that in their thirties.

He shouldn’t factor into the Jays’ long term plans and his performance this season has allowed top catching prospect J.P. Arencibia more time to develop in the minors. Arencibia looks ready for a promotion; he’s been better offensively this season than the highly touted Brett Wallace . Yes, for all the clamoring to see Wallace come and all the concern over J.P., Arencibia has performed better at the plate than Wallace this season. He’s ready and Buck should be on the move so the kid can come up.


Lyle Overbay

Many Blue Jays fans seemingly can’t wait for Overbay to head out of town so the Brett Wallace Era can begin in Toronto. But Overbay has afforded Wallace more time at Triple-A, where he’s been good but not great this season. After almost being traded in the offseason, Overbay almost certainly is the one guy who will be dealt before the deadline.

After a rough start to the season Overbay couldn’t have picked a better time to get hot. Through fourteen games in June he’s hitting .354 with a 12.7 percent walk rate and an isolated power of .146. His resurgence will provide some comfort to potential teams that all is well with Overbay and he can produce like he has in recent years.

Overbay is an attractive piece because he’s a veteran player who hits righties and plays solid defense at first. He has short term value off the bench as a pinch hitter, DH, platoon partner, and defensive replacement. And he’s a free agent after this season. It’s possible the Jays may have to pay some of Overbay’s remaining salary as he’s owed a little under $4 million for the rest of the season at this point.

Him leaving also opens the door for Wallace and should ease the potential log jam in the outfield when Travis Snider comes off the DL. Both Jose Bautista and Adam Lind could see time at first if Wallace is not deemed to be quite ready.


Fred Lewis

Even though he hasn’t been around in Toronto for long he could bring back a player or two from a team looking to shore up their outfield for the stretch run. Lewis could easily be pitched as a cheap alternative to the Royals’ David DeJesus, who is owed roughly five times more for the rest of the season than Lewis. At 29-years-old he could be useful to the Jays for two to four years and at a low cost as well. 2011 will be just his first year of arbitration eligibility.

But that same cost control coupled with Lewis’ decent performance should make him attractive to more than a few clubs. Lewis has done a little bit of everything for the Jays. In just over 200 at-bats he has four homers, five steals and 21 doubles. He should bounce back to his career walk rate of 9.4 percent soon, which would go nicely with his current .291 batting average and .189 ISO.

His defense limits him full-time to left field, but he could play center or right in a pinch. With the way he’s played, coupled with his low cost, the Jays can’t go wrong whether they keep him or deal him.


Brian Tallet

With thirty starts and nine relief appearances between this year and 2009, Tallet ‘s versatility could have value to a contender. Tallet isn’t going to go somewhere and single-handedly vault a team over the hump. But his ability to soak up two or three innings here and there out of the ‘pen would spare a contender from burning through its better pitchers in one-sided affairs. He could also step in and make a few spot starts as well if need be.

His numbers on the year aren’t great with a 4.99 ERA and a 5.70 FIP in 30 and two-thirds innings. Tallet has struck out 7.04 batters per nine while walking a modest 3.23 per nine. In his first two relief outings he’s pitched three and one-third innings, allowing no runs on one hit while striking out five and walking one. It’s an absurdly small sample size, but at least he looks to be adapting to the role.

Tallet is owed roughly one million dollars for the rest of the season and will be eligible for his last year of arbitration in 2011. He could easily be non-tendered after the season and the club trading for him wouldn’t owe him anything after 2010.

The Jays aren’t going to get a huge return on the guys they can move, but GM Alex Anthopoulos did pick up an interesting piece in Ronald Uviedo for the incredibly ineffective Dana Eveland. Not to be overlooked either is the valuable MLB playing time for guys like Arencibia, Wallace, and so on that would come from moving out the veterans. The Jays are all about the future and right now is the time to start making some moves with 2012 in mind.


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How Do Cito Gaston’s All-Star Picks Stack Up?

On Saturday while the Toronto Blue Jays were in the midst of an inter-league series with the Colorado Rockies, manager Cito Gaston was asked which of his players deserved All-Star consideration. Gatson told writer Jordan Bastian that he felt Brett Cecil, Ricky Romero, Shaun Marcum, Vernon Wells and Jose Bautista were worth serious consideration. Gaston also said he hopes to see at least three selections from his squad.

It would only seem natural for a manager to name several of his players for consideration, whether they had truly earned it or not. With that in mind, here’s a look at each of the five and if their performances stack up well enough in the American League to be worth a selection to the mid-summer classic.

Vernon Wells

Wells is the most deserving of all the Blue Jays hitters as he leads the team in wOBA at .394. The resurgent offensive attack from Wells has him hitting .292 with an isolated power of .292. His 15 homers not only matches last year’s total but it has him tied for second among AL outfielders with Texas’ Josh Hamilton. The 23 doubles he’s collected so far leads all AL outfielders, two ahead of the Angels’ Torii Hunter.

If his resurgence continues he’s certain to have his best year since 2006 and after last year’s disaster he could be inline for Comeback Player of the Year. In the meantime, Wells has pushed himself to the top of the pile amongst AL outfielders and Cito is absolutely correct to recommend him for the All-Star game.

Jose Bautista

Despite being second in the AL in home runs with 18, trailing Miguel Cabrera by a single homer, Bautista’s case is a bit more complicated. The main problem for his candidacy, as much as it helps his team, is that Bautista has split his time almost evenly between third base and right field. That leaves the task of deciding whom to compare his numbers to and double the competition as well.

Bautista’s .232 batting average doesn’t help him much either as far as traditional stats go. But his power can’t be ignored either he leads the league in isolated power and stands fourteenth in wOBA at .389. He’s also largely offset the low batting average by walking in 15.4 percent of his plate appearances, third best in the AL.

At third base Bautista will have to contend with Evan Longoria, Michael Young and even the resurgent Adrian Beltre. The outfield is littered with competition including his teammate, Wells and former teammate Alex Rios. Gaston certainly enjoys Bautista’s versatility but that same versatility will likely cost him a spot on the AL squad.

Ricky Romero

Romero has improved in every way possible over his rookie campaign in 2009. In thirteen starts this season he has established himself as the ace of a Blue Jays staff that has shown both excellent results and hope for the future. The lefty has used an improved ability to strikeout batters to compliment his outstanding groundball generating ability. At the same time he’s limited the heavy damage that comes from serving up homers and cut back on his walks from a year ago.

While he’s just fifteenth among AL starters in ERA at 3.29, he stands fifth in FIP with a mark of 3.15. Romero is fifth in strikeouts per nine at 9.07 and ninth in homers allowed per nine at just .60. His 55.6 percent groundball rate is third best among AL starters. Topping it all off for Romero, he’s generates more swings and misses than any AL starter besides Francisco Liriano.

If the Blue Jays send one pitcher to the All-Star game in Anaheim, it has to be Romero.

Shaun Marcum

Not far behind Romero, Marcum stands seventh amongst AL starters with a 3.24 FIP. Marcum has made up for his so-so 6.86 K/9 IN with impeccable control. His 1.90 walks per nine innings is sixth best in the AL and his .63 HR/9 IN is eleventh. Marcum’s change-up has been the best in the AL worth a full 10.6 runs above average.

Marcum’s ERA at 3.38 is just seventeenth in the AL amongst starters. That, despite the fact his FIP is better than ten of the pitchers with a better ERA, will probably erase almost any chance he has of making the team. Romero making the team would probably also hurt Marcum’s chances. Even though he most likely won’t make it, he’s pitched well enough for a bid.

Brett Cecil

Quickly emerging as one of the Jays’ best arms the twenty-three year old Cecil joins Romero and Marcum in the top ten amongst AL starters in FIP. His 3.40 FIP is tenth and well ahead of both Clay Bucholz and Brandon Morrow at 3.59. Like Marcum, he doesn’t get a ton of strikeouts setting down 6.58 per nine innings. He gets by with solid control walking just 2.24 batters per nine innings. He also cut his home run rate by more than half going from 1.64 HR/9 IN in ’09 down to just .70.

His 3.22 ERA is good for eleventh amongst AL starters. All four of his pitches have been above average including the league’s fifth most valuable change-up that’s been worth 7.4 runs above average. 

Despite his excellent season to date Cecil’s first All-Star bid will have to wait. With his drastic improvement from last season to this one he might make the team as soon as next year. Cecil’s performance isn’t the problem, he’s last among qualified AL starters in innings with 64 1/3. That’s no fault of his own as he’s only made ten starts where as most qualified starters have at least a dozen or more.

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Free Jarrett Hoffpauir

Alex Gonzalez‘s recent temporary departure from the team has highlighted the Blue Jays lack of a useful backup middle infielder. Gonzalez and second baseman Aaron Hill have been healthy as of late and there hasn’t been much playing time for the backup infielders. But Hill continues to struggle and third baseman Edwin Encarnacion has been scuffing since returning from injury.

Unfortunately for the Blue Jays, the options off the bench, John McDonald and Mike McCoy, have struggled to produce in limited playing time. McCoy is hitting .184 with an isolated power of .061. His walk rate, 7.5 percent of plate appearances, has been his only useful offensive contribution. His defense has been good, his UZR is 5.3, albeit in too small a sample size to come to any meaningful conclusions.

McDonald has also been above average defensively, as would be expected. But he’s also been more useful at the plate than McCoy hitting .250 with a .159 ISO. Despite his inability to draw walks his .267 OBP beats McCoy’s .245. 

In all the two players are essentially filling the same role of a no-hit, defensive specialist. Which is all fine and good, except for the fact that the Blue Jays don’t need two of them to fill the same role. The fact that McCoy has 53 plate appearances and McDonald just 47 also indicates the redundancy of having the two of them on the roster. McDonald has shown to be the better hitter in limited playing time and is at least just as good defensively as McCoy. That leaves McCoy as the odd man out.

The man to take his place is twenty-seven year old Jarrett Hoffpauir. He whom currently leads the Triple-A Las Vegas 51s in batting runs above average at 12.5. A look to his more traditional stats shows him hitting .332 with a .385 OBP while drawing 19 walks to just 11 strikeouts in 219 trips to the plate. He’s also popped eight homers and collected a dozen doubles.

According to his numbers would translate to a .262/.307/.396 batting line in the majors. Not incredible numbers but clearly more useful to the Jays than what McCoy and McDonald have done to date. His career line across 332 Triple-A games is .293/.366/.446 across four seasons. Hoffpauir has never been given a real chance to prove himself in the majors.

Defensively, he’s not great and probably below average but he does have the versatility to play second, third and a little shortstop as well. It would be a waste to call him up and use him as little as McCoy has been. But Cito Gaston could certainly work him in two or three times a week across the three positions and find out if Hoffpauir can be a useful player in a utility role. And with basically no MLB service time, a cheap utility option at that.

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Toronto Blue Jays Off Day Notebook

The Blue Jays have Monday off as they get a chance to catch their breath during a brutally tough stretch in the schedule. Over the weekend, the Jays took two of three from the Yankees and nearly pulled off the sweep. But thanks to another less than impressive showing from the ‘pen, the Jays had to settle for splitting their six home games with the Rays and Yankees.

The Jays will get another shot at the first-place Rays with a three game set down in Tampa Bay. Checkout the pitching pairings for the series here. With the night off, here are a few non-draft related notes to hold you over until tomorrow night:

Fred Lewis’ Vanishing Walk Rate

Since coming over from the Giants, Lewis has put together a good offensive season so far. He’s bounced back nicely from last year’s disappointing showing in which he hit just .258 and saw his isolated power drop to a pedestrian .132. This year, he’s got some pop in his bat with a .192 ISO to go along with his .291 batting average. Already, he’s gone deep four times in 195 plate appearances after hitting only four bombs last season in 336 plate appearances.

The only glaring deficiency has been his 4.6 percent walk rate, well below his career mark of 9.3 percent. That has held his on-base percentage to a slightly below average .325. Lewis’ struggles could largely be attributed to his chasing of pitches outside the strike zone. Last year he offered at just 19.1 percent of pitches outside the zone, well below the league average of 25.1. This year he’s offered at a staggering 30.9 percent of out of zone pitches, almost one out of every three.

The Brandon Morrow Experience

The bullpen’s collapse on Sunday cast a shadow over Morrow’s outstanding outing against the Yankees. That outing, combined with his previous start against Tampa Bay, were his best two back to back starts this year—against two of the best teams in the league no less. Combined he went 14 innings, allowing just seven hits and two earned runs. He went seven innings in each start, the first time he’s lasted for seven innings or longer in two consecutive outings this year.

It also marked his third straight start without yielding a home run. Most importantly for Morrow, he only walked three batters across the two starts. And after getting just one strikeout against the Rays, he bounced back and set down eight Yankees by way of the K.

His ERA still sits at 5.48, but he’s kept his FIP (3.68) in check. The FIP has remained low despite walking 4.92 batters per nine innings thanks to his .70 HR/9 IN. The 74 strikeouts in 64 innings has helped as well. He might never be a control pitcher but if he can keep striking out a batter or more an inning and keep the homers to less than one per nine innings he will be successful.

Pumping the Brakes on Brett Wallace

Don’t worry, Brett Wallace is good and is most likely going to continue to be good. But he’s cooled off lately for Triple-A Las Vegas as he has seen his batting average drop down to .270. According to , his 99 wOBA+ puts him as just a league average hitter in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League. His non-adjusted wOBA has dropped from .378 last year with Sacramento to .357 in 2010.

It isn’t all bad for Wallace though. After hitting 20 homers in 532 at-bats last year he has 11 already in just 222 trips to the plate. His walk rate and isolated power have also increased over last year’s numbers.

This isn’t a big cause for concern in the long run for the Jays or Wallace but it is reason enough to give him some more time at Triple-A. The best case scenario would be to wait for him to heat up before being recalled. The more confidence the young man has upon his promotion the better.

Be sure to check back to Bleacher Report tomorrow to see Jeff Wahl’s initial thoughts on the Blue Jays’ early round draft selections. The Jays have several picks in the first couple rounds of new GM Alex Anthopoulos’ first draft experience.

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Kevin Gregg and Fun With Sample Sizes

To most people’s surprise, Kevin Gregg opened 2010 with quite possibly his best month of work in his career.

Gregg then promptly followed that with an almost equally surprising ugly month of May. It wasn’t shocking that Gregg had a bad month, he’s had his share over the years, but everything seemed to collapse on him at once. After starting the year with 12 scoreless outings in his first 13, he was then touched for at least a run in four of his next seven appearances.

Gregg’s FIP for the month of April was an outstanding 0.83that almost exactly matched his .82 ERA. There was no luck on his side, he was just plain excellentstriking out 11.45 batters per nine innings while walking .82 per nine innings. He also didn’t allow a homer in 11 innings of work. Most importantly for the Blue Jays, Gregg was a perfect six-for-six in save opportunities.

When the month of May finally came to a close, Gregg’s strikeout rate was down to 9.49 per nine innings, still an excellent rate. His homer rate jumped up to 1.43 thanks to yielding a pair in 12 1/3 innings of work. What really fueled his struggles though was his whopping 6.57 BB/9 IN. That left him with a 5.11 ERA and a 5.29 FIP. The closeness of the two numbers removes any doubt that he had a run of bad luck, Gregg was just plain bad.

Where does that leave Gregg moving forward? He can’t reasonably be expected to duplicate April’s numbers. With his 2/3 of an inning, four run, five walk, melt down against the Rays on June 1st he’ll have to settle down quickly if he’s going to bounce back this month.

But Gregg has been unpredictable from month to month before, suggesting he could still have a couple months of effectiveness this season. Just last year, Gregg kicked it off with a 5.79 FIP in April but was able to follow it up with FIPs of 4.81, 4.33 and 3.31 over the next three months. He then promptly had his worst month in August with a 6.70 FIP.

The best example of Gregg’s ability to look like a different pitcher many times in the same season would be his 2006 campaign with the Angels. It also happens to be Gregg’s last season in the American League before this one. That year Gregg put up FIPs of 1.93 in April and 1.54 in July. Sandwiched in the middle were FIPs of 5.13 and 5.06 in May and June. He finished the year with an effective 3.38 FIP in August and another stinker with a 5.11 in September.

Even Gregg’s full season numbers show his struggles with consistency. After allowing just .75 HR/9 IN and .39 HR/9 IN in 2007 and 2008 he allowed a whopping 1.70 HR/9 IN last year. In the same 2009 in which he had the worst homer rate of his career he had his best walk rate since 2006 and struckout more batters than innings pitched for just the second time in his career.

Getting guys to strikeout hasn’t been a problem this year for either good Gregg or bad Gregg. He could live with May’s 1.47 HR/9 IN, but he’ll need to get a handle on the walks quickly. This isn’t exactly the most exciting pattern of behavior for a team’s closer. It also raises the question of how long the Jays should try and ride it out with Gregg in the closer’s role. The walk rate is the key factor, if he can’t stabilize it quickly the Jays need to look elsewhere at the end of games. Or just wait ’til next month and see which Kevin Gregg trots out from the ‘pen.

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Breaking Down How The Blue Jays Stack Up Against The Rays

The Toronto Blue Jays surprising early season success continued this past weekend with a sweep of the Baltimore Orioles. Going into the season the Jays were expected to battle these same Orioles in a fight to stay out of last place in the AL East . That has not been the case through two months of the season as the Jays are currently one game behind the second-place New York Yankees and one game in front of the fourth-place Boston Red Sox.

The question now becomes whether or not the Jays can turn this good start into a legitimate pennant race. The next nine games will not make or break the Jays season but the next three series, two against the first place Tampa Bay Rays and one with the Yankees, will be a solid indicator of what type of summer the Jays and their fans are in for.

The test begins tonight in Toronto with a three game set against the Rays. The Jays will also travel to Tampa next week for three more against the best team in the league. To get a better understanding of how both teams have arrived at where they are in the standings to this point, read on.

Offensive Comparison

The Jays have the league’s second best offense scoring 5.21 runs per game behind the Yankees league leading 5.56. Tampa is right behind them at 5.18 R/G, as are the Red Sox at 5.17. These four teams are not only in the same division they’re also the only four teams in the AL scoring over five runs per game. Despite their almost even ability to put runs on the board the Jays and Rays do it in completely different ways.

The Rays are fourth in the AL in walks, drawing a free pass in 9.9 percent of their plate appearances. Despite walking so much there .257 batting average (seventh in AL) pulls them down to sixth place in on-base percentage at .335. They do have above average power as their .153 isolated power is good for fifth in the league.

The Rays shine brightest on the base paths in almost every way possible . They lead the AL in stolen bases with 58 and sit fifth in stolen base percentage with a 76% success rate. They’re tied for the league lead in steals of third base with nine while being caught trying to steal third just one time. The Rays are also tied for the league lead in bases taken with 64. Also, when they’ve had an opportunity to take extra bases on a single or double they’ve done so successfully 47 percent of the time, best in the league.

To this point in the season the Jays have scored most of their runs with an astounding affinity for the long ball. They lead the league with 88 homers, 19 more than the second place Red Sox. They’re also first in doubles with 123, slugging percentage (.471), and isolated power with an outrageous .227. The Jays have hit just .244 putting them 12th in the league and well below the league average of .258. The average, along with their 11th in the league walk rate (8.28% of PAs), leaves them dead last with a .310 on-base percentage.

Unlike the Rays, the Blue Jays don’t run much with just 22 steals on the season. They don’t get caught much though, stealing successfully 81.5 percent of the time, third best in the AL. Amazingly, despite their different approaches both teams are tied for first in the AL in run scoring percentage. Both of them have managed to plate 35 percent of their base runners, slightly more efficient than the Yankees’ 34 percent.

Pitching and Defense Comparison

This is where we see the gap between the Rays and just about everyone else in baseball, Blue Jays included. The Rays allow just 3.43 runs per game easily the best in the league and more than a run lower than the league average of 4.49. The Jays also stand better than average and sixth overall at 4.29 R/G. The Jays 4.17 ERA is good for seventh in the league, just ahead of the league’s 4.21 mark overall. Again, the Rays shine with a 3.18 ERA more than half a run better than second place Minnesota’s 3.72 ERA.

The sparkling ERA comes in spite of ranking tenth in the league in home runs allowed, hopefully something the Jays’ bats can take advantage of. The Rays have been able to neutralize that by only walking 8.13 percent of batters faced, third best in the AL. Their strikeout rate, 19.03 percent of batters faced, is also third best in the AL. Combined the Rays are second in the league in strikeouts per walk at 2.34.

The Rays pitching and fielding have combined to limit opposing teams to only 7.7 hits per nine innings, best in the league and the only team allowing less than eight. The defensive metrics peg the Rays as easily the league’s best defense. They pace the AL in both defensive efficiency and TotalZone’s defensive runs above average.

Oddly enough, the homer happy hitting Jays also happen to have allowed the second fewest homers in the league. Jays pitchers also strikeout more batters faced, 20.63, than any staff in the AL. Both are impressive and also help to offset the Jays eighth best walk rate, 9.32 percent of batters faced.

Defensively the Jays are third best in hits allowed per nine innings (8.4). The Jays are eighth best in defensive efficiency and exactly league average in terms of TotalZone’s defensive runs above average. The Jays have the Rays beat in one defensive category, caught stealing percentage. The Rays rank sixth at 33 percent while the Blue Jays lead the AL with 39 percent.

The Blue Jays offense will be hard pressed to put runners on against the Rays staff to take advantage of their home run hitting power. Also, controlling the running game will be a big challenge for Jays’ pitchers and catchers alike. And the pitching matchups look to favor the Rays in games one and two this week as well. It’s not going to be easy but if the pitching steps up and the Jays can keep the power at the plate on the surprising start has a chance to carry over into June. 

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Don’t Pull the Trigger on Aaron Hill Just Yet

Aaron Hill has been back playing every day for the Blue Jays for slightly over a month now. He landed on the disabled list from April 8 to 23 when he injured his right hamstring. Since returning the results have not been encouraging, especially coming off a career year in 2009. When a player has a career year in his thirties, that’s one thing, but when a player has one at age 27 like Hill did, you’d hope he could replicate it for a few more seasons. Hill is struggling to match his production from any season right now.

Going into the Jays’ series against the Baltimore Orioles, set to start tomorrow night, Hill is hitting just .154. The incredibly low batting average is dragging down his on-base percentage (.268) and slugging percentage (.324) to equally ugly levels of production, leaving it to look like Hill is completely lost at the plate.

But the further away we go from Hill’s batting average, the more optimistic things start to look, starting with his 12.7 percent walk rate, which sits well above both the league average, 9.1, and his own career mark of 7.0 percent. Likewise, his isolated power stands at .169—well below last year’s outstanding .213, to be sure, but still better than his career average of .151. In short, he’s walking more than usual and still collecting some extra base hits.

There are two parts to explaining his .154 batting average. With the extra walks have also come more strikeouts, as he’s gone down on strikes in 19.1 percent of his at-bats. That’s just about league average, slightly better actually, but well above his career mark of 14.3 percent. That’s a combined 10.5 percent less balls in play than his career norms, which isn’t always a problem.

Unless, that is, if your batting average on balls in play happens to be .144. That is Hill’s current BABIP, an almost unfathomable number given his career mark of .299 and this season’s league-wide average of .297. If Hill had a .299 BABIP on his 104 balls in play this season, he’d be hitting .272, and this article wouldn’t exist.

The main culprit for that lowly BABIP is Hill’s career low 8.2 percent line-drive rate. He’s never had less than 17.3 percent of balls in play hit for liners in his five-year career before this one. Line drives have substantially higher BABIPs than any other batted ball. When Hill starts hitting more line drives, it will fuel a rise in his BABIP and batting average.

Throw in career-low BABIPs on his groundballs and fly balls, and you have the perfect storm for a depleted batting average.

His batted ball profile does have a silver lining though. 11.1 percent of his fly balls have left the park, better than any season except ’09. You’d still like to see more line drives and more balls fall in for hits, but he looks like he can pop 20-plus homers this season.

Some of Hill’s struggles can be attributed to bad luck, which can happen in small sample sizes. The lack of line drives could also be partially due to the hamstring problems he’s experienced so far this year. He might be out there almost every day, but that doesn’t mean his legs aren’t still sapping some of his power. The further away he gets from his hammy problems, assuming they’re gone, the better.

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Brett Cecil Solidifying His Spot in the Toronto Blue Jays’ Rotation

Brett Cecil has been making the most of his second stint, in as many seasons, in the Blue Jays rotation. He goes into tonight’s start against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim fresh off a solid outing on May 19th against the Seattle Mariners. In that start he went 6 1/3 innings allowing two runs, earned, on seven hits. He walked just one batter for the third time in his six starts and struckout four. There was little margin for error in that start either as the Jays would hold on to win, 3-2.

The outing on the 19th came on the heels of a brutal start at home against Texas. Cecil lasted just two innings and was rocked for eight runs on eight hits and a pair of walks. He lasted just 48 pitches. It was his second poor outing in a row, he had struggled on the eighth of May giving up seven hits and three walks in 5 1/3 innings in which he yielded three runs.

These two starts put a damper on his delightful performance across his first three outings, including a brilliant outing on May 3rd that saw Cecil throw an eight inning one-hit gem against the Cleveland Indians. The up and down performance in his first five starts left some doubt about Cecil’s progress compared to last season. The twenty-three year old didn’t answer all of them last time out, nor could he, but he showed some character bouncing back from such a rough outing.

Overall, several of his key statistics are looking better than last season’s. First and foremost he’s cut the walks down to 6.8 percent of batters faced, 2.2 percent better than last season. He’s kicked it up a notch with the strikeouts as well, mowing down 20.6 percent of batters faced, a fifth more batters than last year. Despite an increase in his flyball rate his home runs per nine innings has dropped to 1.05 from 1.64.

Put that all together and you get a FIP of 3.76, a good deal lower than his 4.98 ERA. Last season his FIP(5.37) closely matched his ERA(5.30) but the tables have turned this year with his FIP a full 1.22 lower than his ERA. If nothing else, Cecil has a better grasp on the aspects of the game he most controls.

Cecil has also changed his approach this season in terms of pitch selection. The biggest difference is his increased usage of his change-up. He threw 11.5 percent change-ups in ’09 and he’s more than doubled that this year throwing it 26.4 percent of the time. It’s been effective, worth 2.46 runs above average per 100 pitches, according to FanGraphs’ pitch type values. The change-up is more effective, typically, with more separation off the fastball and Cecil’s changes have come in on average -8.9 MPH slower than the heater (-7.5 MPH in ’09).

He’s also thrown less sliders and more two-seam fastballs. Both of those pitches have added velocity from a season ago. The slider has averaged 85.2 MPH up from 83.9. Less separation in velocity off the fastball makes the slider harder to recognize and it’s movement that much more effective. Likewise, the two-seamer has averaged 89.9 MPH from 88.2 and the difference in speed off the four-seam fastball has decreased from -2.6 MPH to just -.8 MPH.

Cecil was a closer in college and the Jays looked to have made the right move by turning him into a starter. With fellow rotation mate, Dana Eveland, being sent down Cecil will continue to sink or swim with the Jays for a little while longer.  

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Checking In On Adam Loewen’s Progress in Double-A

What Adam Loewen is attempting to accomplish doesn’t happen all that often.

Loewen has already made it to the big leagues once before, which came as no surprise after the Baltimore Orioles selected him fourth overall in the 2002 amateur draft.

However, if Loewen makes it back to the show, it would be an incredible story.

He would have the rare distinction of making it first as a pitcher, then returning again as a hitter. But it won’t be an easy journey—Loewen is 26 years-old, and has just 526 professional plate appearances.

Last year, after signing with the Jays, he was sent straight to Advanced-A Dunedin, where he played in 103 games and made 391 trips to the plate.

The 6’6″, left-handed hitter played primarily in the outfield, getting into 62 games in left and 18 in right. He also manned first base for five games.

Loewen hit just .236, but he did show some power potential with a .119 ISO . He also drew a healthy amount of walks, leading to a .340 on-base percentage. That’s a solid OBP, considering the league average was .322.

He showed some skill on the bases, as well, swiping five bags in seven attempts. Loewen only left the yard four times, but he did pick up 22 doubles and three triples.

In addition to drawing 50 walks, he also struck out 114 times in 335 at-bats. But, all the walks and strikeouts showed an ability to work the count.

The Blue Jays were impressed enough with his first crack as a pro hitter. They sent him out to the Arizona Fall League. While there, Loewen was able to get more at-bats and more time in the field.

The Jays decided to keep pushing Loewen along to start 2010. He opened the season in Double-A with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats .

In April, Loewen put up similar numbers to his 2009 stats in Dunedin, hitting .228 with a .353 OBP and an ISO of .140. The fact that he moved up a level, and continued to put up comparable numbers right away, was a good sign.

Loewen also quickly grabbed six steals in seven tries in April. He hit a pair of homers, too.

Loewen has hit like a seasoned slugger in May.

In just 56 at-bats, he’s already notched three homers and five doubles. Eight of his seventeen hits have gone for extra bases.

Loewen is batting .304 for the month, and still drawing walks to put his OBP at a healthy .403.

Since going 3-for-3 on May 9, Loewen hasn’t slowed down. He’s hit safely in seven of his last nine games. Loewen hit .363 during the stretch, with a homer and six doubles.

His strikeout ratio has also improved in 2010. He’s been rung up in 27 percent of his at-bats this season, down from 34 percent in 2009. Still a decent amount of strikeouts to be sure, but he’s progressing against more advanced pitching.

As for the walks, they’re still coming at a similar rate. In 2009, he drew a walk in 12.7 percent of his plate appearances. This season, he’s taken a walk in 12.5 percent.

The season is a long one, and Loewen will undoubtedly be tasked with making adjustments. Pitchers will look for ways to get him out now that he’s established himself.

His development in the field will be crucial, as well. Loewen, as you would expect, had slightly below average TotalZone numbers last season.

He’ll need another full season, or two, to fully develop in the outfield. If his progress in the field is as good as it has been at the plate, Loewen should be fine.

If he can make it back to the top, it will be a rare feat.

The great story that still has a few more seasons to unfold. 

(Photo is courtesy of Kevin Littlefield)


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