Good news! For those who enjoy listening to the Blue Jays on the radio, you’ll have noticed that Jerry Howarth hasn’t been away from the broadcast booth for a number of games now. Fortunately, he tells Howard Berger (via Facebook), that his tough April “thankfully is not at all related to my most successful prostate cancer surgery back in November.” He says he hopes to be back in the booth on Friday, which is great to hear.
LATE ADDITION: John Gibbons calling in to JaysTalk on Monday night (mostly to chirp Wilner for panning his choice to start Luke Maille over Russell Martin) was preeeeeeetty great. “Is it the same bozos every night?” It sure is, Gibby!
Buster Olney wasn’t purged in last week’s shareholder-appeasing bloodletting at ESPN (unlike far too many talented journalists, including the great Jayson Stark), so he was able to report for ESPN.com over the weekend that the Jays’ offer to Dexter Fowler this winter was a four-year one worth $64 million. The Cardinals beat them by offering five years and $82.5 million. So St. Louis added a half million per year and one extra year. Maybe not as big a gap as it looks on the surface — though those prone to payroll derangement syndrome are probably going to find a way to lose their shit about this regardless.
José Bautista has struggled so far this season, or so we’re supposed to believe. The truth is a little less black-and-white, however. He hasn’t quite looked himself, power-wise, but April was far from a monolith for him. On April 20th, following the Red Sox’ visit to Rogers Centre, his wRC+ sat at just 11 for the season, through 66 plate appearances. Heading into Monday’s game against the Yankees in the Bronx he’d put up a 135 wRC+ since then. The power still isn’t there (his slash line over the span is .286/.409/.400), but it makes me wonder if the concerns of eelliott29 of Bluebird Banter, or some of Dave Cameron’s pessimistic readers at FanGraphs, are maybe jumping the gun. A little over a week ago I wrote about Bautista’s struggled for VICE Sports, and wondered if the answer could be as simple as the “minor” back injury he picked up at the very end of the World Baseball Classic. He was crushing it until that point, and perhaps now he’s finally coming around again. Fingers crossed!
Our old friend Jordan Bastian tweets that Edwin Encarnación (who?) hasn’t started the season very well either.
Another slow starter this season has been Devon Travis, who I wrote about a little in my Blue Jays mailbag for VICE this week. In it I focussed on BABIP and then mostly just shrugged and said I figured it’ll get better as he gets deeper into the season and more into a rhythm at the plate — something that’s at least plausible because he missed so much of Spring Training. I’m adult enough to admit, though, that Elie Waitzer of BP Toronto did me one better, touching on that stuff, but also looking the new Statcast-based stat, xwOBA (aka Expected wOBA). Travis has one of the biggest differences between his expected and his actual wOBA, suggesting even more strongly that he’s stung a bunch of balls that haven’t managed to fall for hits. Great stuff. He’ll be alright.
Speaking of xwOBA, Henry Druschel of Beyond the Box Score looked at underperformers — including Devo — and overperformers, which is a list that includes your boy Zeke. People reallllly like trying to draw conclusions at this point of the season, but sometimes it takes a while for things to right themselves. If you were to tell me that Travis will clearly experience positive regression and Zeke will, y’know, probably not continue to be a better-than-league-average hitter, I’d be all on board with that. And, with apologies to Travis Is Gonna Get Demoted truthers, so would Statcast, apparently.
Back to BP Toronto, where Rachael McDaniel goes in depth on why Blue Jays fans are such masochists, and the nature of fandom itself. Great stuff!
From Baseball Prospectus proper, Patrick Dubuque has an outstanding rumination on the natural conclusion of baseball statistics.
More on struggling Blue Jays, as Mike Wilner answers some Frequently Asked Questions for Sportsnet, including the one about sending Devo down (no), Bautista’s power outage (be serious), and whether Steve Pearce is going to go the way of Salty (holy piss no). The Salty thing was especially interesting, because while I knew the defence has been bad — and the control of the running game — Wilner really underlines it. “Nine runners tried to steal bases off Saltalamacchia and they were all successful. Now, some of that is on the pitcher, of course, but of the nine throws Salty made to try to nab a runner, eight of them didn’t even make it to the base to which he was throwing without bouncing, including a throw to third. The one throw that did get to the bag without bouncing sailed on him, and was hauled in well up and away from the bag.” He adds that “with Luke Maile – a far better defender – having unexpectedly been made available on waivers in early April, the leash was going to be short on Saltalamacchia.”
A bunch more from Sportsnet: Shi Davidi reports that Aaron Sanchez may get a rehab start as soon as this weekend in Florida, with the hope being he’s still close and will be ready to go when he’s eligible to come off the DL on May 1th (bless that new 10 day DL!); the Tao of Stieb looks at some “players who have kept hope alive, and those whose performances have contributed to the unexpected plunge to the bottom”; Jeff Blair would like to fill you with pessimism, or something; Jonah Keri would like to fill you with even more pessimism, comparing José Bautista with Ken Phelps; and Gare Joyce has an outstanding Big Read piece on 13 year minor leaguer, and big league hopeful, Jarrett Grube.
Our friend John Lott has a great one, as he always does, over at the Athletic, where he talks to Roberto Osuna, who says he’s felt weird on the mound this season, but that Russell Martin has been a great help for him, trying to shake off some early struggles. “I feel great warming up. As soon as I hit the field, I feel different. I don’t feel confident, and I don’t know why. I was warming up just seconds before, and I was feeling perfect, and whenever I cross the line … I don’t know, I can’t really understand it,” he says, in literally the last thing you want to hear from your team’s closer. Pitching coach Pete Walker chimes in, saying that he thinks Osuna has moved away from his four-seamer, perhaps because his velocity has been a little down, but both he (Walker) and Martin are imploring the youngster to go back to it. Let’s hope he gets it sorted…
Jays fan South of the Six would like to ask his fellow Americans to stop chanting U-S-A at Canadian sports teams. Because it’s stupid.
An awesome one from Jays Droppings, as Ryan looks at the Jays’ awful Sunday reds and uses them as an excuse for a trip through all the awful logos and uniforms in Blue Jays history.
Graham’s Crackers has a great one, too, on the rough start to the Blue Jays season, and coping with it — but mostly about how the Jays are damn due.
Counterpoint: Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs looks at the teams whose expected wins projections have changed the most since Opening Day. The Jays find themselves second in the negative direction, behind only the similarly woeful San Francisco Giants. The dagger: “Some of the negative trends are going to reverse, but one should feel a little worse about the Jays now as compared to a month ago. That’s an obvious point, but it’s still a point worth remembering. It’s not *all* just about the early wins and losses.” Hey, but at least they now have to be better than we thought a month ago, right???
Clutchlings looks at the hot start for Anthony Alford, and how he’s already regaining some of his top prospect lustre. And another one from Clutchlings examines the ongoing education of Sean Reid-Foley.
Over at the Toronto Star, Mark Zwolinski looks at the suddenly not useless bat of Justin Smoak, who he says is making some key adjustments — in particular, when it comes to breaking balls, which he struggled mightily with in 2016. “A lot of teams now are grooming pitchers in the minor leagues to throw off-speed pitches for strikes when they come up to the big leagues,” Smoak told him. “The crazy thing is, those guys are throwing harder now than ever, but you won’t even see that at 2-and-0. That’s what’s making it more difficult, I’d say.”
Lastly, oh man, the Noah Syndergaard mess in New York. I take no joy in it. Whether he was a Blue Jays prospect in a previous life or not, watching this guy pitch is incredible, and it sucks that reports are now saying that he’s going to be on the shelf for weeks, not days — maybe longer. What doubly sucks is that someone as profoundly respectable as Ken Rosenthal can casually declare that “virtually the entire industry saw this coming from the moment Syndergaard showed up at spring training with an extra 17 pounds of muscle and announced that, after averaging a major-league best 97.9 mph with his fastball last season, he wanted to throw even harder.” Hopefully Noah recovers well and is back to utterly fucking dominating real soon.