Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A'S-JAYS: ROGERS CENTRE, ON THE SHORES OF LAKE FLACCID

Wednesday -- A's 4, Jays 1: Someone should figure out a way to have Mike Wilner host every post-game show in Canada -- or at the very least, get the guys who handle those duties for Senators broadcasts on The Team 1200 and say, "This is how a real broadcaster does it."

Wilner opened today by calling the Jays offence "flaccid" and it got better from there. He coined a new word: "Frustcination."

Frus-ci-nat-ion (noun)

  1. State of being a fan of a team that's ninth in the league in runs scored.
  2. Watching a .500 team that has the second-best park-adjusted ERA in baseball.
  3. Having to be Mike Wilner and trying to talk sense to a guy in Markham who bases his argument on the musings of "Richard Griffin of the Toronto Sun." Apparently the Jays had a five-year plan since one of Paul Godfrey's lucky-sperm-club spawn so said on Off The Record years ago. Who the hell cares? Ass.
  4. A not uncommon reaction to watching Esteban Loaiza shut down a team in his first start all season.
Tuesday -- A's 6, Jays 4: From the Department of That's No Coincidence -- losing by same tally, for the second straight night no less, that also marks their record from that 10-game stretch of quality starts when they couldn't hit for tunafish. That's karma.

The genius manager continued to act on his belief the Brians (Wolfe and Tallet) are something more than innings eaters and consequently, another another winnable game fell by the wayside.

Reed Johnson was 0-for-5, struck out three times and made the final out in the wake of Richard Griffin's passionate plea about the need for his small ball skills (scroll down). Oh-for-five?

Dick Griffin writing a column that's completely crackers is nothing new, but what spurred him on in this case is a mystery. Maybe Johnson showed him a Ghostbusters lunchbox full of Dick drawings.

Monday -- A's 6, Jays 4: Making a list is better reading than a recap of a game that had about as much intensity as Monday night mixed slo-pitch, with countless errors, Shaun Marcum getting jocked (law of averages) and Dustin McGowan appearing as a pinch-runner.

  • The Tao of Stieb (thanks again for all the help) picked up on context that needs to be given during the Jays' summer of craptacular hitting: Home runs are down.

    Team home runs per game, American League:
    2003: 1.101
    2004: 1.150
    2005: 1.075
    2006: 1.123
    2007: 0.975

    The last time the average AL team hit less than one homer per game was 1993. It seems like Frank Thomas' comment last week about deadened baseballs is more than the whelp of a declining designated hitter.

    This doesn't get Jamie Campbell off the hook for commenting, "Boy, if the fences were moved in 15 feet for this game, the Blue Jays would be winning 8-2," during Sunday's flyball fest vs. Orioles right-hander Jeremy Guthrie. Which park has a 385-foot centre-field marking again?

    Worth looking at: Hardball Times showed earlier in the year that opposite-field home runs as a percentage of all home runs has dipped steadily across the past decade. Yet the Jays are still built around the home run.
  • The Star's Dick Griffin wrote a panegryic for Reed Johnson and his "true top-of-the-order skills in the art of small ball" being left on the bench last night.

    For (probably) not the last time, it's not about small ball, it's about production. The Jays had very good output from the leadoff spot in 2005 and '06 when Johnson hit there the lion share's of the time, but calling that "small ball" is a little rich.*

    Johnson just flat-out hit in 2006. The difference between his .366 batting average on balls in play (BAbip) last season and the league average of .308 wasn't all bunts and bloopers. This season's been a write-off for him after the hernia surgery and subsequent rehab. He's still decent when he puts the ball in play -- his BAbip is .336 (through Monday's play).

    Emphasis is on the last part. His batting eye -- which is a big part of the art of small ball -- is shot to hell in the wake of having undergone major surgery. Johnson's drawn nine bases on balls in 178 plate appearances -- about one per every 20 trips to bat. He's struck out once every five times.

    How is a 4-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio small ball again? Do you really want a guy who's pressing and trying to make up for lost time with one swing or one big game hitting leadoff?

    The Jays have had better-than-average production from the leadoff spot across the entire season with Alex Rios, Vernon Wells and 39-year-old Matt Stairs filling in there. It's the 3-4 slots that have killed them, as J.P. Ricciardi correctly pointed out.

    The fact Johnson's BAbip has not fluctuated too much in light of what's gone wrong for him this season gives hope that he will be fine next season. He's a grown man who should be able to wait his turn and besides, he'll have a new manager and hitting coach to prove himself to next spring in Dunedin.
  • A personal irony to Griffin, who occasionally reminds readers that he coaches kids' teams, writing in praise of Johnson and his small ball skills: In August 2005, good friend Jeff Dertinger and I took in a Jays-Tigers game in Detroit. It went to extra innings and Johnson was called on to bunt after Russ Adams ripped a double (you know it was a while ago when...). He popped up his bunt attempt, Brandon Inge caught it, the Jays didn't score and eventually lost.

    So a couple nights later during a dinner break, I stopped by the ball diamond across the street from the Simcoe Reformer office. Right at that moment, another youth baseball coach was holding bunting practice for some 11- and 12-year-old kids, mentioning they would "need to play small ball -- you can't just hit home runs all the time" when they got into late-season tournaments. Guess who he cited as an example of how not to bunt?

    Reed Johnson. And with god as my witness, I could have sworn turkeys could fly.

(* Others would have said, "it's a Dick move," but that's just not right.)

That's all for now. Send your thoughts to neatesager@yahoo.ca.

7 comments:

Dennis Prouse said...

Teaching 11 and 12 year olds how to bunt. Brilliant! Boy, that'll teach 'em some fundamentals, eh? Give me a break. Do youth sports coaches ever read? Do any of them have an internet connection? "Small ball" and the sacrifice bunt are going the way of VHS as people crunch the numbers and figure out that, strategically, it's a low percentage play. Still, there's a chance it might work at the youth level, where fielding skills are weaker, to help you win a tournament, and God knows that's what it's all about! (insert eye roll here.) Teaching proper fundamentals and game strategy? Who cares about that when you can lay down a lame bunt in a game amongst 11 and 12 year olds, and maybe win!!!

We get the same thing in youth football -- doorknob coaches who ignore the teaching of fundamentals in order to maybe, maybe squeeze out another win. Then we act all surprised when kids quit and our turnover ratio goes up.

sager said...

Earl Weaver put it best with small ball: "Play for one run and that's all you'll get."

With the younger kids, it's a good skill to teach after they've got the other stuff down — a nice level swing, knowing the strike zone, making solid contact. That was basically the context that youth coach was putting it in; his team could score runs, but needed to have the bunt in the backpocket.

I didn't mean to make him look bad, but only to point out the irony that Griffin's sultan of small ball was another coach's bad example for bunting.

Good point on the larger issue, Dennis... with the kids it is about making sure even the poorest player improves and goes home smiling.

Pete Toms said...

Let's start with:

1. HR are down in 07. Thanks to TOS (BTW I thought the movie was funny, particulary the Hitler riff but I digress ) for rooting this up. My instincts from reading the box scores and looking at indiviudal, random stats all season was that HR were down but I hadn't got round to looking up the facts. It is either because; a. there is less juice and hence less
bulk in the game and / or b. the ball has been deadened some to intentionally reduce the # of HR's and take some of the emphasis off this debate about the "Home Run / Steroids / Arena Baseball / Bonds " era in the press.

In support of b. subesequent to Thomas" comments re. deadened balls, I heard Alan Ashby
comment that the ball wasn't carrying at Rogers Center as well as it had earlier in the season....and he framed his comments in the context of a reaction to Thomas'...

2. Small ball is dead, rightly or wrongly and is a direct result of the influence of saber geeks on strategy. I agree with Dennis that the sac bunt has proven to be a "low percentage" play. Paul DePodesta during his brief tenure as Dodgers GM clashed with his
more traditional Mgr. Jim Tracy on the value of the sac bunt. I hink the saber guys and hence the relative absence of small ball are in the game to stay. Even teams that don`t employ a saber kinda GM (i.e. Daniels, Beane, Epstien, Silverman, Ricciardi ) employ these guys as advisers. Will the saber community be more sac friendly if HR & Runs continue to
decline or will they continue to believe it a waste of an out?

3. Naete, I thought Loaiza was getting the start tomorrow, where did you see Meyer? Meyer is an interesting guy, he was a key guy for the A's in the Hudson deal, but as with a lot of pitchers he hasn't been very healthy since. The A's obviously had pretty high hopes for this guy not too, too long ago.

Tao of Stieb said...

As far as conspiracy theories go, maybe the best answer as to why there are fewer homers is that the ball is back to normal, after years of being juiced or wound too tight.

Just a thought.

BTW - Welcome back Neate!

Pete Toms said...

A new low point.

Will Ricciardi weather the storm? Stay tuned.

TOS - I suspect you're right, the ball is back to "normal" after years of being "not normal". Think it had anything to do with the 94 strike? Is there a precedent in MLB history when they juiced the ball as a reaction to a big PR problem?

sager said...

I'm not sure how much it directly had to do with fallout from the '94 strike... remember the numbers guys were putting up that year before the players walked off the job? The offensive explosion of the '90s predated the strike.

I checked my Bill James New Historical Abstract and his 5 reasons were 1) acceptance of strength training 2) abbreviating of pitcher's motions (i.e., the stretch) 3) aluminum bats in amateur ball 4) the policy of automatic fines and suspensions for fights and 5) bat design (the thin handles).

Reason No. 3's a good one... James pointed out people thought the aluminum bat would ruin hitters and it didn't. It opened their eyes to standing on top of the plate and blasting a pitch to the opposite field.

How many opposite field homers have the Jays hit this season? Not many. It's possible the pitchers have caught up and figured out how to take that away from batters.

Pete Toms said...

N, I haven't seen the #'s but I believe you when you say the offensive explosion predates the 94 strike. I think it corresponds with the introduction and increase of steroids into the game. I would be interested in knowing if the increase in HR was accelerated post 94.

As for James, that's very interesting. I think Bill James is one of the most important people in baseball the past 20 years. I hadn't seen James theory on the offensive explosion but I have immense respect for his theories ( some of which he has admitted he now disagrees with, even he makes mistakes ).

I agree with James on all 5 of his factors although I admit I hadn't considered #'s 2 -4. When he / you say "acceptance of strength training" the use of steroids is part & parcel. There is not SERIOUS weight training without them. You want steroids, go to a gymn where you find "strength training". What did Greg Anderson do for a living before he was incarcerated for refusing to testify against Bonds? It's simple, you get better results from weight / strength training if you're on the juice. Are you too young to remember Charles Dubin?

I think James is remiss is not including the ball. I think it got really stupid post 94 ( do the numbers bear this out? ) Brady Anderson, Luis Gonzalez, Greg Vaughn et.al, good hitters who put up ridiculous #'s and the guys who took a quantum leap in HR, Sosa ( 3 seasons 60+ ) & the obvious Big Mac ( the reporters all saw the Andro - was it? - in his locker ) & Bonds.

There's one other factor although I think "acceptance of strength training" is the most significant. Ballparks. Camden Yards begat the building of baseball only parks practically everywhere in the game. With few exceptions ( Petco, Comerica, Safeco ) they are much, much more HR friendly than the parks that preceded them. Fans will pay more to be closer to the field.

Anyway, late for the Tigers / Indians game.