Autopsy of a Losing Skid

That was ugly. It was ugly like the remains of Benito Santiago after dying of leprosy—adipocere setting in—and then getting run over by a combine with dull, chipped blades coated in moldy pig manure.

Hey, I said this was gonna be an autopsy.

I’m not surprised with the Jays’ recent mini-surge. With regards to Shaun Marcum being pulled after six no-hit innings: I disagree with a lot of what Gibbons does but I feel he was bang on here. I couldn’t see him lasting nine and if any team has a chance for infield singles it’s the D-Rays. I couldn’t see him pitching a no-hitter. The Blue Jays need healthy arms, and to risk one on something that probably wouldn’t have happened is foolhardy. I think Marcum would prefer a starting job and 15 wins over a no-hitter and a tired arm.

Marcum left the game with a ton of confidence and is probably champing at the bit for his next start. The Devil Rays have some nice talent on offense and he still held his own.

If he goes into his next start not afraid to throw his best stuff into the strike zone—that’s a good thing. I’m actually a bit optimistic, despite all the bad luck. The Jays have some terrific young arms but let’s face it: John Gibbons hasn’t a clue some days. He probably couldn’t tell you how to use a pitching wedge properly, yet alone a pitching staff. Injuries have forced the Blue Jays to give regular starts to guys like Dustin McGowan, Marcum and Casey Janssen. However, before all the injuries it seemed like one bad start and bam: back in the bullpen. One bad outing and bam: two weeks riding the pine.

Now that these guys know they’re going to be in the rotation awhile, they’ll have a chance to settle in. Plus with Jamie Vermilyea and Josh Towers in the bullpen, we’ve got two guys in the ‘pen who don’t give up many walks (a major bugaboo among Jays relievers the last two years). Of course, I hope Towers realizes that he’s better off pitching from the windup with guys on base and risking the odd stolen base rather than pitching from the stretch and giving up a three-run bomb.

As a result, I think the Jays will be a pleasant surprise over the next while. I’m not saying they’ll go 25-5 over their next 30 games, but they’ll do a lot better than folks think. (17-13 maybe?) Jeremy Accardo, I think, will be fine as the closer and the more confidence these guys get in their stuff, the better.

Thanks to his strong outing, Marcum has a lot more of that quality now. Similarly, McGowan went from a start in which he walked five and struck out four to a game in which he whiffed six and walked one. His command is improving, he’s got nasty stuff and if his confidence in it improves, watch out. Now with Jesse Litsch enjoying a nice debut … who knows? This might pull the Jays together more than looking for certain players to carry them.

Fall from grace

Enough optimism. Something jumped out at me the other day. In three weeks I went from a column entitled “Too Early To Worry” to “That Loud Sucking Noise” and I thought it might be masochistic to see, aside from injuries, what transpired in that span. Who were the heroes and zeroes of a painful stretch that included a nine game losing streak. [Note to self: Search for some cyanide and order a copy of Final Exit. Request overnight delivery from Amazon.]

To get the obvious (my forte) out of the way, the Jays went 5-14. That will tax even the most delusionally optimistic fans’ (Stop staring at me!) fortitude.

The pitching

Looking over the data, one thing that surprised me was how well A.J. Burnett pitched over that stretch. He had four starts and pitched at least seven innings in three of them, posting a 1-2 record with a 4.05 ERA. He ended that stretch on May 11 with 6.2 innings and just one earned run against the Devil Rays, giving him a 3.51 ERA and 33 strikeouts over five starts and 33.1 innings (although his 5.13 walks per nine innings over that stretch is worrisome. Then, Burnett tossed a complete game three hitter, allowing just one earned run to go along with two walks and 10 strikeouts, lowering his overall ERA to 3.99). In that stretch, he had only one bad outing: against the Tribe on May 1, he coughed up five runs in five innings, and that after sitting out a rain delay.

On the other hand, his walks were high (4.73 walks per nine innings overall), and he surrendered six home runs in just under 27 innings as the Jays went 5-14. He was victimized both by poor run support (nine runs in his losses and one no-decision) and a flammable pen behind him (9.86 ERA). Roy Halladay was Halladay until his appendicitis apparently affected his pitching.

Tomo Ohka averaged six innings over his four starts, and that’s all that can really said about him that was positive. On average, Ohka had four quality starts over that period, since he averaged six innings and three runs. Look a little deeper and you see that in 24 innings he coughed up 27 hits, walked 12, struck out just 10 and went 2-2. Of the five games won by the Jays over that 19 game nightmare, Ohka got 40% of the wins.

Go figure.

Gustavo Chacin got two starts in this train wreck before being placed on the DL, going 9.2 innings while surrendering 12 hits, six walks and just two strikeouts for a bloated 9.32 ERA. Likewise, before he was exiled to the bullpen, Josh Towers had two starts, also pitching 9.2 innings posted a likewise ERA of 9.32 but walked just three while striking out 11.

What I find interesting is how similar they are: Towers gives up more hits but walks half as many batters as Chacin. Their home run and strikeout rates are very close. Bottom line, Chacin gives up 12.43 baserunners per nine innings and Towers gives up 12.75. This year Towers has averaged 14.7 pitches per inning in, while Chacin has averaged 15.4. The biggest difference is that Chacin gives up baserunners via the walk, while Towers does it through base hits. I’m guessing that’s why they banished Towers to the bullpen. Unless the bases are loaded, it’s hard to give up runs with men on base if you walk a hitter—and if the bases are loaded you just give up one.

But I digress. I just found that interesting.

Keeping company with bloody near everybody on the DL is Victor Zambrano. He didn’t get out of the third inning in either of his starts, but still managed to walk 11 while coughing up five home runs. Just to show his versatility, he had two relief appearances in which he totaled a whole inning two earned runs, one strikeout and three. Overall, Zambrano, lost three (one in relief) of the four games he pitched in and only managed all of 6.1 innings, walking 15 and sporting a generous ERA of 17.06. Averaging 21.33 walks per nine innings should qualify for some kind of award. Preferably the kind you pick up at the unemployment office or in Kansas City.

In all, the starters averaged 5.2 innings per start, with an ERA of 6.52 with a whisker under 4 walks per nine innings. Starters not named Roy Halladay had a walked over five per nine innings!

The bullpen posted a deceptively high ERA of 4.74. Actually, they really only spit the bit in four of the 19 games. In those four games, the relief corps posted a 12.15 ERA in 13.1 innings, the primary culprits being Marcum, Scott Downs, Towers and Jason Frasor (the lead arsonist: 1.2 innings, six earned runs). In the other 14 games, the bullpen had an ERA of 2.00 in 36 relief innings. Of concern, they walked over four batters per nine innings, but on the bright side, they were stingy with the long ball (only nine home runs over the 19 games).

The offense

Looking at players on offense with a minimum of 38 at-bats (two per game), let’s see of we can spot the heroes and zeroes of my 19 game stint in Purgatory:

Player         AB  R  H 2B 3B HR RBI    BA/OBP/SLG
Aaron Hill     83 10 17  5  0  4  11  .227/.275/.453
Frank Thomas   75  5 19  3  0  2  10  .264/.346/.346
Adam Lind      74  9 17  3  0  3  10  .230/.313/.392
Vernon Wells   72 12 19  4  1  1   7  .311/.391/.459
Lyle Overbay   65 11 16  4  1  4   9  .246/.338/.532
Alex Rios      61 11 21  6  0  3  10  .253/.311/.434
Royce Clayton  40  3 10  1  0  0   3  .250/.286/.275
Troy Glaus     39 10 12  2  0  4   9  .308/.426/.667
Jason Phillips 39  1 10  3  0  0   4  .256/.310/.308
John McDonald  39  3  9  3  0  0   1  .231/.231/.308

Probably the best sign of how poorly the offense performed is that Troy Glaus, in just 39 at-bats, was tied for 3rd most runs and RBIs, and tied for first in home runs. He was unquestionably the biggest offensive threat. What’s really scary is that J.P. Ricciardi’s recent rant about having able replacements available for duty after the wave of injuries sounds kind of silly when you consider that they batted .237/.293/.355 over the 19 games. When your regular shortstop is batting .250/.286/.275 and your DH isn’t even slugging .350 on top of that, it’s easy to see how many outs are being given up for minimal production.

Depth… ?

Still, Ricciardi stated quite vehemently:

“A left-fielder, a catcher, a set-up guy, a closer, a f—— third baseman—who’s got those replacements? … The Red Sox got those f—— replacements?”

If J.P. thinks that OPS+ numbers of 73 (John McDonald), 45 (Jason Smith), 79 (Adam Lind…although I’ll let J.P. have this one since he’s a prospect getting experience), 67 (Jason Phillips), 45 Sal Fasano, and 74 (Royce Clayton) constitute adequate replacements then he’s delusional. Boston would probably prefer the Jays to keep their replacements, since they’d do the Red Sox the most good in Toronto. You can pick up that kind of production anywhere. He’s looking at guys who are between 25-50% below league average as adequate?

On the pitching side, however, I do agree with J.P. on. Trouble is, it’s John Gibbons‘ decision how those replacements are to be used. He is getting better (using Accardo to close, Ohka to the bullpen) but he seems to struggle with optimal usage of his pitching resources. I think they have enough to keep them close for a late season run when (if!) everybody is healthy.

However Ricciardi seems to struggle with what is a fungible commodity regarding position players and what is not. It should be crystal clear that giving regular at-bats to John McDonald, Royce Clayton, Jason Smith, and Jason Phillips could rouse the putrefied remains of Kennesaw Mountain Landis from his eternal slumber to investigate whether or not the Jays are throwing games. Of course, he would starve to death (version 2.0) when he attempted to both feed and reclaim his job at the Office of the Commissioner.

So, bottom line, what cost the Jays 14 losses in 19 games was ineffective starting pitching from the three through five starters (although the ailing Halladay was clearly responsible for two of those losses with six-run third innings in both games) and too many at-bats given away due to a lack of bench strength. The pitching is coming around but J.P. cannot sit on his hands for too much longer. You cannot give up three or four at-bats each time through the order in the AL (and I imagine it doesn’t work too well in the NL either), especially in a division with the Red Sox and Yankees.

What J.P. does at the trade deadline will show whether he truly has the mettle to assemble a contending club or not.

The Whine Cellar…

…will return next week. I actually didn’t intend to do a Blue Jays column two weeks in a row. I was just going to comment on their 5-14 skid and just couldn’t shut up. Think of my poor editor Joe Distelheim. He’s got over 2,000 words from my deranged Canadian vocabulary to slog through to make this presentable. I think he’s suffered enough. [Editor's note: Conveniently enough, Joe's internet went out yesterday, causing editing duties to fall on Bryan Tsao.]

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