Weekend Wrap: The Long Weekend And Trade Deadline Edition!

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A deep-ish dig into the numbers and performances from the past weekend of Toronto Blue Jays baseball (probably), brought to you by Draft Kings — get your Daily Fantasy Sports on at Draft Kings!

The trade deadline has passed — and below you’ll find a whole bunch of thoughts on that — and we’ve already covered a lot about this weekend’s Jays-Orioles series — from Tulo’s latest injury to Franklin Morales’s ignominious exit to… a bunch of other stuff, too — but there’s still time to celebrate and look back on a long weekend of Blue Jays baseball that was more successful than it felt when things came apart for the club in extra innings on Sunday, and again in a gut-punch loss in Houston on Monday night.

Even though the club’s ascension into first place was brief, that they’ve reeled in the Orioles as much as they have bodes very well. The Jays still seem to me like the better team, and no Wade Miley acquisition is going to change that.

Of course, moving Aaron Sanchez to the bullpen — which the Jays seem to be about to actually do — just might.

That’s because, even with the tough extra inning loss over the weekend, Sanchez continued his sparkling run this season. July was his best month of the season so far (if you ignore a slight dip in strikeouts — and a slightly nerve-wracking All-Star experience), and he now sits tied with Max Scherzer and David Price as the twelfth ranked pitchers in baseball by fWAR, which is good to place fifth in the American League.

And given that three of the four guys ahead of him (Verlander, Tanaka, and Quintana) may be penalized for not pitching their teams into the playoffs, we could be legitimately looking at the runner-up to eventual Cy Young winner Corey Kluber! That is, if they change their minds and let him stay in the rotation.

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There is, of course, another Blue Jays starter with some impressive leaderboard placement these days, and that’s J.A. Happ, who twirled yet another in a long series of of gems in Saturday’s 9-1 curbstomping of the Orioles.

Over the past calendar year, Happ now ranks as the 12th best pitcher in baseball by fWAR, tied with Chris Sale and the Astros’ Colin McHugh. Kluber, Quintana, Verlander, and Price are the only American League pitchers ranking ahead of him. And with a 2.73 ERA over that span, Happ ranks fifth in baseball, and higher than any qualified American League starter — just barely edging Marco Estrada, who is at 2.85.

Dial back the innings threshold to 120 — i.e. to include Aaron Sanchez — and over the past calendar year your MLB ERA leaders are: Kershaw, Arrieta, Bumgarner, Strasburg, Carrasco, Sanchez, Happ, Estrada. JUST LIKE WE PLANNED IT!

A quick thought on Sanchez…

I have yet to read John Lott’s piece over at VICE Sports on the issue, though I’m sure it’s great, and apologies if I overlap, but here’s how I look at this (big hat tip to Russell Carleton of Baseball Prospectus)…

The cause of any given pitcher’s arm injury — beyond the plainly obvious one: pitching — is pretty damned difficult to pinpoint. These injuries are certainly contributed to by a number of factors that vary by individual, making it just about impossible to actually prove anything particularly meaningful about innings increases in isolation. I think it’s just too difficult to find a truly homogenous group of pitchers with which to properly test a hypothesis like the “Verducci Effect,” or anything else that would indicate that the correlation of a year-over-year inning increase and an arm injury implies causation. Thus this stuff is pretty much all debunked. 

Surely pitchers can be overworked, though. And teams can’t be too cavalier about that just because it’s hard, or impossible, to demonstrate that working a pitcher past a certain point may cause undue and unseen harm beyond what is normal for the act of throwing so many baseballs at such high velocity and with such high stress on the body. Pushing the arm when it’s already starting to show signs of stress or fatigue does have some correlation to causing or worsening an injury (or so those whose opinions on this subject I respect will tell you — which is to say: I’m not going to go look up a study on this right this minute, but I’m pretty sure it’s true!), so that has to be part of the Jays’ calculation here too. And I’m sure it is part of the calculation. I’m sure they have some idea at which point in the season pitchers start to tire and labour and really feel the accumulation of all those pitches — or at least a better idea than most of us not in the game do. Just as I’m sure they understand that they don’t want Sanchez to actually reach that point at all — a point where he might be forced to be shut down entirely, for the good of his arm.

It’s all pretty hypothetical, and it’s certainly being cautious, but there’s no need to go into this thinking the Jays are being flippant or necessarily abiding junk science. I have no doubts that they’ve thought about it a lot, and that for reasons only they need to know, it’s what they think is the best course of action.

That’s frustrating as hell as a fan, especially given that Sanchez, being a pitcher, will almost certainly experience an injury at some point regardless of what the club does here. But is that a reason to push him to the point of an even harder decision for the club — shutting him down or letting him pitch when truly isn’t right and may be doing serious damage to his long-term future? I don’t know. I think either option is in some ways defensible and in other ways pretty damned hard to defend, really. So do you err on the side of caution? I guess the Blue Jays think so, and even thought the fan in me would be awfully reluctant to do the same, I think that’s OK.

Deadline Thoughts…

Not to toot my own horn — but exactly to toot my own horn — while I’ve entertained all kinds of outlandish possibilities for what the Jays might do at the trade deadline *COUGH* Bautista nonsense *COUGH*, when pressed, all along I’ve said I figured that whatever the Jays were going to do, it was probably not going to be very sexy. It didn’t take any kind of special insight to see it — they had such a strong roster already, and just not a whole lot of prospect capital with which to make significant upgrades.

Sure, they have some nice prospects that any organization would want in their system, but they’re not so loaded as the Red Sox or the Rangers or the Cubs as to feel comfortable about what they’d be left with if they dealt some. Nor did were they particularly inclined to move what few top drawer pieces they did have.

In fact, it turns out that they went looking to add legitimate prospects — by acting like a big club and taking on a whole bunch of salary, while trading away a nice piece that was maybe only ever going to be a fallback option here — while also making some key incremental improvements to their roster ( with a view to the playoffs, and improving organizational depth. (Which I think is basically what Ross Atkins said about it, but it’s true!)

It’s a hell of damn trick to pull, really! And given that there simply weren’t a whole lot of places the club could upgrade its big league roster, you can’t even say it was too focused on the future, either. Having Melvin Upton as your fourth outfielder, Scott Feldman as your swingman, and Francisco Liriano as your 5th/6th starter is definitely better than where the Jays were sitting before yesterday. Again, not sexy moves, but real smart ones.

That is, unless — as I wrote yesterday — the financial component of the Liriano deal isn’t actually an indicator that the club is thinking a little bit bigger right now, in terms of the budget, than we’re used to. It seems on first blush like it is, but if Liriano’s money being on the books serves, in part, to keep them from being able to keep their championship window legitimately open in 2017, I’d have very different thoughts about that aspect of their recent manoeuvring. 

Worth a read…

Stephen Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette looked at yesterday’s most fascinating trade from a Pirates perspective. It did not go over very well.

Not so much a read, but worth a look: Baseball America polled all the managers of full-season minor league teams on a huge number of topics regarding the best of the big leagues, and for whatever that’s worth they rated John Gibbons the AL’s third best manager. Not bad!

From back in May, an interesting FanGraphs piece on Liriano’s struggles this season. 

Up next…

Tuesday – Thursday @ Houston, 8:10 PM ET
Friday @ Kansas City, 8:15 PM ET
Saturday @ Kansas City, 7:15 PM ET
Sunday @ Kansas City, 2:15 PM ET

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