J.P.Oed

I’m confused.

Yeah, yeah so what else is new. I may be a blithering idiot but your choice of reading material hardly qualifies you for MENSA pal.

Heh.

Anyway, believe it or not, the Blue Jays’ offense hasn’t been awful of late. Since they were embarrassed in the first three games of their last series in Cleveland Toronto has hit .278/.356/.400. It’s marginally easier putting up with the whole public women’s restroom philosophy to outmaking (always take a friend along) when it’s partly due to having a lot of base runners.

On Sunday, I wrote the following about Alex Rios on Baseball Digest Daily:

… his swing seems to be improving, its more level, he’s transferring his weight forward a bit better and squaring up on the ball but his head still needs straightening around. Before today’s game, over his prior 37 (games) he has the same number of extra base hits, walks (with 38 K) and GIDP with 10–a living, breathing walking rally-killer. Rios was hitting .210/.271/.274 with RISP, had 11 PA with the bases loaded or second and third and has zero hits (four BB/two intentional). He’s had 41 PA with two or more men on base and is hitting just .195 and one extra base hit (a double) and is slugging .243 with two (or more) on.

Sabermetrics tells us it’s a sample size fluke, my eyes inform me that he’s squeezing the sawdust out of the bat, tightening up and trying to avoid screwing up rather than aggressively looking for a fat pitch to drive. He seems content to let the pitcher control the at bat with RISP by passing on the first pitch regardless of its hitability (today’s new word). If the trend continues, the Jays might have to take measures to clear the fog from his brain.

It may not be sabermetrically sound, but this isn’t about sabermetrics—it’s about baseball and I will take into consideration what my two eyes tell me.

But I digress.

At any rate, I’m guardedly optimistic that whatever bad habits he’s gotten into regarding his swing that he might be emerging from the wilderness (3-for-4 with a walk Monday night). Hopefully, he’ll add the final two letters and start being an asset at the plate soon. However, during my recent rigorous mental self-flagellation that is part of almost every Blue Jays season I noticed something both obvious and awful.

Before I proceed, this epiphany came about after realizing that the Jays were offensively solid at the infield corners and catcher and that Vernon Wells came off the DL looking very much like he had never been on it. Aaron Hill generally heats up in the second half and with Rios possibly unfunking up, it looked like the Jays might have the making of a passable offense.

I know the Jays are unsettled in left field having run about eight different guys out there getting the results one would expect of a team running eight guys out there. I just didn’t realize it was this bad:

LF     BA  OBP  SLG  HR
AL   .263 .337 .419   8 
Jays .229 .309 .292   1

Sheesh … and not surprisingly, dead last in the AL. Equally cringe worthy is that average left field production would lead the Jays in home runs. (Matt Stairs has seven as of this writing). Adding insult to injury, Jays left fielders lead the AL in GIDP with 11—a cardboard cut-out of Dave Kingman wouldn’t be much worse.

Since the Jays released Frank Thomas obviously the club has been looking for a guy to man the position. How’s that been working out?

DH     BA  OBP   SLG  HR
AL    .248 .335 .416   9 
Jays  .219 .327 .357   8

It’s not often league average would represent such an upgrade at not one, but two positions. In both cases you’re not looking for a decathlete—just two guys who can hit at league-average levels, one of whom is mobile enough not to require a wheelchair in the near future. The Toronto Blue Jays are literally wasting two lineups slots that are traditionally used to provide offense.

Is J.P. Ricciardi unable to find two league-average bats with only one needing to be a functioning biped? It’s almost as if he’s looking for guys who couldn’t hit enough to play for the Mariners or making a rebuilding club’s 25-man roster or something.

Waitaminit.

Actually, it isn’t even that difficult a task since you only need a right -anded hitting complement for Matt Stairs at DH. (We’ll leave the whole Frank Thomas debate behind since it’s a painfully moot point.)

As to left field, what is mystifying is that if Ricciardi is so unconcerned with left field production that he’s more than happy to have a guy who’d hit ninth in the NL manning the spot then why not just give the position to Adam Lind? Call him up and tell him that even if he sucks like a tornado caught in a black hole offensively he’ll be in left field until the sun goes supernova or Neifi Perez becomes the first player elected to the Hall of Fame unanimously by the BBWAA.

Surely given enough playing time out there he could get his OPS up to .602 and hit two home runs sometime over the course of his next 240 at-bats—that’s all that’s required to improve the spot.

Since J.P. lacks the necessary acumen to find two league-average hitters in the trade market (let alone an unemployed player) to man left field and DH, is there anybody within the organization who may possible be able to hit .248/.335/.416 as a DH (or at least hit that well right handed) and .263/.337/.419 in left field?

Adam Lind is obvious—anybody else?

Well, if Gregg Zaun can get up to speed offensively I suppose Rod Barajas could be the righty DH; he’s playing way over his head right now, however, and I wouldn’t want to stake my season that he could keep it up. In Syracuse, righty hitting first baseman Erik Kratz is batting .273/.321/.578 this year (some in the Eastern league) with nine home runs; could he hit lefties to the tune of .248/.335/.416? Infielder Scott Campbell is just 23 but he hits righty and is mashing in Double-A this year (.355/.444/.500)—why not give him a shot as (the right-hitting half of) DH? At this point I wouldn’t be surprised if Travis Snider could hit better than .229/.309/.292 at the big-league level. Would he be any worse than Kevin Mench and Joe Inglett?

Bottom line: the Blue Jays have too much offensive dreck getting too many at-bats at positions a club is supposed to be getting offense. I cannot see the Jays any worse off if they released Mench, Inglett and Wilkerson (hitting a combined .252/.329/.351 with seven double plays in 202 at-bats) and called up some combination of Lind, Kratz, Campbell and Snider.

The current mix doesn’t work. Yes, there’s lots of baseball still to be played, but the hole has to be shallow enough from which to be dug out.

Monday night’s game against Seattle was a microcosm of the Jays’ offensive woes. Down by one in the bottom of the 10th inning, Toronto managed to load the bases with none out. Lyle Overbay hit into a double play; the Jays managed to load them up again, but David Eckstein flied out.

Toronto has managed to load the bases 73 times this year but have only brought home 48 base runners and are batting .230/.260/.470 in that situation. The Jays have both seven extra-base hits and seven double plays with the sacks juiced and thus far in 2008 Alex Rios, Shannon Stewart, Gregg Zaun and Scott Rolen have yet to not make an out in that situation and have three double plays among them.

The Jays are tied for fifth in the AL in loading the bases and are second in hitting into double plays after doing so, next-to-last in batting average (.230), and 10th in OPS. Of note, the Jays have lost five of seven games to the three teams directly below them in that regard.

The most heartbreaking aspect of this is that bases loaded is when the pitcher has almost no margin for error, but more often than not, the Jays are most obliging in helping out distressed moundsmen.

There is a malaise affecting the lineup as a unit; the Blue Jays have suffered five walk-off losses and have yet to win a walk-off game. That’s the worst ratio in the AL. Despite having among the better bullpens in the league, they have among the worst ratios of come back wins (CB) to blown lead losses (BL).

TEAM  CB/BL  RERA* Lg. Rnk
TOR   .667   3.17    3rd
CLE   .588   4.68   13th  
KCR   .421   3.97   10th
TEX   .364   5.36   14th

*reliever ERA

In the case of the Tribe and Rangers, an ineffective bullpen appears to be the culprit; in the case of the Jays it’s from the relievers protecting too many tiny leads and an offense that is unable to overcome same (see the 0-5 record in walk-off games). In the case of the Royals it’s a mix of the two. There is too much evidence to suggest that it’s a mere fluke of sample size—it appears that for whatever reason the offense as a group spits the bit in key situations. A quick recap (including some extra data):

1) Lead AL in hitting into double plays
2) With the bases loaded the Jays are almost 50 points below league average in BA.
3) They are second in the AL in GIDP with the bases loaded despite being fifth in total opportunities
4) They are below league average in hitting with RISP: .235/.332/.327 (AL: .266/.351/.406)
5) They are below league average in hitting with RISP/2 out: .208/.320/.303 (AL: .235/.339/.356)
6) They’re hitting .160 with RISP in extra innings with three GIDP and zero extra base hits (with RISP).
7) They have no walk-off wins.
8) They’re 0-4 at home in extra innings.
9) In those four extra-inning losses at home, 11 times they had man at third, fewer than two out and were left stranded.
10) Interestingly, of Alex Rios’ 11 GIDP, six have come in the seventh inning or later.

It’s crystal clear that a change is required because there has come to be an expectation of failure when a key hit is required. It does not even need to be a dramatic change—as stated earlier, left field and DH would be upgraded hugely by simply getting league-average bats at those spots.

Even more clear is this: if the Toronto Blue Jays miss the postseason because left field and DH remain offensive black holes (read: worse than league average) all season long, then he should be fired. Period. A general manager who cannot come up with two league-average hitters where defense isn’t a major issue from among 30 major league organizations is one that is either derelict or incompetent.

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