Too Early To Worryby John Brattain
April 20, 2007
And another one bites the dust.
Geez, in the space of a week the Blue Jays lose their left fielder (and leadoff hitter) Reed Johnson, their third baseman Troy Glaus, and their closer B.J. Ryan. Look at it this way: If that happened to the Yankees, it would mean they lost Hideki Matsui, Alex Rodriguez and Mariano Rivera.
(I‘m gonna pause a moment and let Red Sox fans reading that to finish the cigarette and get that contended look off their faces—it was very good for them.)
However, I’m surprisingly unperturbed by it all. Is it Zen? Is it that I’m taking my meds again? Is it that I finally figured out how to use the home-lobotomy kit the editorial staff bought me as a gift? (Always read the instructions, people.)
Nah (well, maybe a little). It’s just that I think, for the most part, that the Jays have the personnel to make do with these losses. Losing Glaus’ bat hurts, but a bit of that is blunted by the improved defense provided by John McDonald and Jason Smith.
The loss of Johnson (ouch) means the Jays have two itches to scratch: a leadoff man and left fielder. Adam Lind, while not as defensively gifted as Johnson, has shown an ability to hit during his time in the big leagues. Granted, there are sample size issues, but his minor league numbers in 1,218 AB, .319/.382/.511, indicate that he can flat out hit.
Right now, it appears that Alex Rios is batting leadoff, but he doesn’t have the discipline needed to hit atop the order. Even Devon White walked once in a while (although it should be noted that both have about a 3:1 K/BB ratio). A better pick might be Aaron Hill (.327/.396/.524 since Sept. 1, 2006). Rios is off to a bit of a slow start (despite his hitting streak to open the season Rios is just .281/.303/.500—partly due to yesterday's 2B, HR, BB performance against the Red Sox. He was .267/.274/.450 at game time) and has drawn only two walks this year. It's a bit of a head scratcher why the Jays don't put the more disciplined Hill atop the order.
Thus far, in 44 AB, John McDonald and Jason Smith have combined for a .386/.413/.523 line. Nice numbers to be sure, but hardly sustainable for the duo. However these are the two guys who will be subbing for Glaus in the short term. Glaus was hitting .333/.467/.625 to start the year, is a career .254/.358/.503 hitter and averages a home run every 15.69 AB. McJason averages a dinger every 81.61 AB. Expect a shortfall. All the highlight-reel diving stops behind third base cannot make up that kind of production.
There doesn’t appear to be much help on the farm, as everybody on the left side of the infield at Syracuse and New Hampshire makes McJason look like the second coming of Mike Schmidt.
It’s good to remember that the 8-7 Blue Jays could just as easily be 11-4 except for three early-season bullpen meltdowns. Two were caused by an injured Ryan. The third is just one of those things (Manny Ramirez finally connecting—some days you tame the tiger, other days the tiger picks his teeth with your femur). They have accomplished this despite Frank Thomas, Lyle Overbay and Vernon Wells all off to slow starts.
They can make do without Glaus if the aforementioned three players get up to their career norms.
Now about those meltdowns…
To begin with: I really wish Brandon League weren't hurting and Dustin McGowan had a wee bit better command (as it is, he’s got a 13.2 K/9 ratio in 15 IP and a 1.80 ERA in Syracuse, but his BB/9 of 3.6 is a smidge on the high side). They’ve got the best raw stuff.
It’s too early to panic, and despite yesterday's arson attempt by Shaun Marcum (2 BB), the trio of Marcum, Casey Janssen and Jason Frasor started the day with an aggregate 2.16 BB/9 and a 8.28 K/9 (in 25 IP). They all have good stuff, the command is there (although the sample size isn’t terrific) and Frasor has experience in the role.
Jamie Vermilyea will be a plus. In almost 400 minor league innings, Vermilyea has been stingy both with the walk (1.98 BB/9) and the long ball (0.61 HR/9). His minor league record demonstrates that he won’t beat himself.
When you consider how walk-happy the bullpen corps was in early 2006 (about 5 BB/9 at the All-Star break), the Jays' start in 2007 is quite encouraging. Excluding the injured Ryan, even with yesterday’s histrionics, the ’pen has an ERA of 2.29.
Toss in that fact and that the Red Sox have concerns in up the middle (Coco Crisp, Jason Varitek, Dustin Pedroia and Julio Lugo) batting just .208/.292/.264 with 0 HR and the Yankees have three starting pitchers on the shelf you can see why the panic button is left alone. There are 147 games left to play.
Speaking of the Bombers...
I guess the Yankees ain’t such bad folks after all…
Props to the Bronx Bombers for their tribute to Jackie Robinson. I know there are some non-Yankees immortalized in Monument Park, but it’s still nice to see him receive the Pinstripes' highest honor.
Although they are known as "The Evil Empire," I’ve seen a lot of class associated with the Yankees. Probably my favorite was my brush with Bernie Williams: I was covering a Blue Jays/Yankees series at the Rogers Center back in 2000. On the Friday, I was hanging around the batting cage (which is probably the absolutely greatest perk about having press credentials—getting to watch BP up close) doing (or rather, trying to do) interviews. I came up to him and asked if we could chat for a few moments. He said "no" and nothing else. So I smiled and wished him a good (but not too good) game and moved on.
On the Saturday game I was back around the cage watching batting practice again. Suddenly there was a tap on the shoulder. It was Bernie Williams and he asked if the chat invite was still open. He explained that it was a rough flight in the previous day and the Yanks' early-season travel schedule was pretty brutal (they opened the ‘00 season on the West Coast and had a brief home stand before flying to Texas for three prior to coming to Toronto) and he was absolutely exhausted. He wanted to save what little energy he had for the game.
He commented how he'd almost never gotten a reaction like that from anybody in the media and appreciated how I didn’t take his brush-off on Friday personally. So, Williams said he would make it a point to find me to make sure I got a good interview as a thank-you. Totally blew me away, but in retrospect I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised since I'd heard many times that he was a class act.
Of course On Sunday he went 3-for-4 with a walk, 2 HR and 5 RBI as an anniversary gift to my wife and me. It was a gift in that he waited to do it in the game I couldn’t watch. Next time, Bernie, just send cash.
Despite their reputation, most Yankees fans I’ve come across in my work have been terrific folks (Steve Hoffstetter, Neil deMause, Tim Leonard, Lee Sinins, Larry Mahnken, Joe Domino, Rich Barbieri, Sean McNally etc… apologies to any I’ve overlooked).
Um, what's this slice of pizza doing on my monitor? Did somebody throw it?
Our good friend, and THT stalwart, John Brattain passed away on March 24, 2009. John was a prolific writer, whose work can also be read at Sympatico/MSN Sports and Baseball Digest Daily. John's work was also featured at USA Today, MLBtalk, ESPN Insider, Baseball Prospectus, The Baseball Analysts and The Baseball Journals. Never afraid to express himself in any medium, he was also a frequent radio speaker.