Wednesday, August 29, 2007

JAYS-A'S: ORDINARY JOE, LOOK WHO'S NO. 1 AND JUSTIFY HIS GLOVE!

Wednesday -- A's 5, Jays 4 (11 innings): Take it away, Sheryl:

Been feelin' better, cause that's
What you get when you
Stay together too long
And I can't cry anymore


The way it should have worked is that Matt Stairs gives Huston Street a good ride with two out in the ninth but the ball dies in the outfielder's glove on the warning track — thus giving Roy Halladay another complete game as cold comfort for the hitters' non-support. The Jays are what they are and they'll invariably contrive to not get a sweep vs. a pitcher they've hit well (Lenny DiNardo) and having their ace throwing.

Lyle Overbay did get his stroke back. He had the go-ahead double in Tuesday's game and was starting to turn on a few inside fastballs — he pulled a couple foul to the first-base side — before he homered off Street.

Tuesday -- Jays 5, A's 4: Spending so much time at baseball-reference.com -- bow down and face Mecca -- softens the surprise of learning that Vernon Wells will lead off the rest of the season. Just check his splits: Wells has hit seven of his 15 homers as a leadoff man. Why not put him there?

II. Justify His Glove, i.e, Mike Wilner's about-face on John McDonald (scroll down), Part 2: It's hard to trust what The FAN 590 host is saying, especially in this age where the ballclub and its flagship radio station are one and the same.

Wilner's used sound logic and cold, hard facts to keep dumb callers in their place all season long, and he should be a Member of the Order of Canada for it. (OK, maybe in a couple years.) Now that their ilk has dropped out and the Jays are on the West Coast with fewer late-night listeners, he's trying to push the notion that McDonald's defence elevates him to the fourth-best shortstop in the majors.

Look, why not say, "There is no free access to the labour market for shortstops in the off-season. The Jays can't go and get Derek Jeter. Hanley Ramírez is not walking through that door. John McDonald is what the Jays have, he comes cheap and watching him play shortstop adds to the overall experience of watching a Jays game for casual fans who come to a handful of games each season, watch the odd one on TV, and aren't up at 2:45 in the morning comparing on-base percentages because they have a friggin' life."

That kind of honesty is better than trying to say there's numbers to show McDonald is one of the best 10 shortstops in the majors. Anyway, Wilner admitted his ratings are "not a real stat," and has a big flaw. He hasn't watched other shortstops as closely. In practically the same breath, he maintained McDonald ranks ahead of the Mets' José Reyes, whom the caller brought up as an example.

How's that? Reyes has been a more effective hitter (by about 200 percentage points in on-base-plus-slugging while playing in pitcher-friendly Shea Stadium) in more than twice as many time at bats. He's in the top 10 in his league in Runs Created while playing in a park that holds down run scoring. He might end up winning a Gold Glove, too, since managers will look at the fact he's an offensive star who's made only eight errors.

Somehow John McDonald is the equal -- sorry, slightly better -- than someone who's scored close to 100 runs, leads the league in steals and has made less than 10 errors at an important defensive position. This is according to a stat Mike Wilner, who is generally awesome and our dream choice to be MC of our wedding, made up.

III. The long and short of it: Jesse Litsch is still tough on the nerves; Brian Wolfe is found money and don't worry about Jeremy Accardo's ninth-inning problems.

IV. The front-office's spitballing to find left-handed pitching has landed Joe Kennedy (pictured), late of the Diamondbacks. It took about a minute to look at his career numbers -- 42-61 record, 4.79 earned-run average -- and dub him "Ordinary Joe." How about shortening that to O.J., in hope Kennedy will be a real killer for the Jays. What, too soon?

Kennedy has a 3.54 earned-run average in 40 2/3 career innings at Rogers Centre, more than a run better than his career mark. He's Jays batters there to a .243 average. So there's more to this signing than Kennedy, who's also pitched for the Rockies and Devil Rays, having gone almost two seasons without wearing a garish uniform.

Monday -- Jays 6, A's 2 (12 innings): Not sure what's more jarring -- forgotten reliever Jason Frasor actually getting called in with the game on the line or having to call shenanigans on the FAN 590's Mike Wilner over a statistical argument.

As if trying to digest the news about Owen Wilson wasn't tough enough last night. (Be strong, Owen. The world needs laughter and it isn't going to get it from Dane Cook vehicles.)

Wilner, who must have the patience of Job to put up with all the people who want to believe that the Prime Minister of Defence can really hit, switched gears during a truncated post-game show. It was around six beers to 2 a.m., but he claimed he had crunched the numbers to show McDonald's fielding really does make up for his craptacular hitting.

His methodology was that he pored over his scorecards for plays he had put a star next to (like you do) and figured McDonald has made 44 "great plays, the kind only he can make" in the field. Fair enough.

Wilner reckoned that had saved the Jays about 20 runs this season and that he'd added that into McDonald's (piddly) Runs Created Per At Bat as a hitter and found he became the fourth-most productive shortstop in the major leagues. This is the same John McDonald who, a couple nights earlier, was cited by Wilner as the worst hitter among the 32 major-league shortstops who have batted 200 or more times this season. Somehow he went from No. 32 to No. 4. Forget Ozzie Smith, put John McDonald on the all-time Gold Glove team.

Who knows? Maybe it was just stirring the pot, or Wilner was trying to throw a bone to the callers who truly believe it doesn't matter what a guy hits if he can field.

Hardball Times has defensive stats updated through Aug. 25, last Saturday, and it does paint a picture that John McDonald has been part of a very good Jays defence. The team leads the league in Defensive Efficiency Rating (the number of balls in play that are converted into outs) and Revised Zone Rating, with the infielders ranking first and the outfielders ranking fourth. The infield also has made more out-of-zone plays -- i.e., balls that a fielder shouldn't be reasonably expected to get to -- than any other team's. However, the Jays have a ground ball pitching staff that gives their infielders a lot of work.

(The same source credits McDonald with 31 out-of-zone plays, somewhat less than Wilner's 44. That's still as many as Derek Jeter was credited with in about 375 more innings.)

Wilner -- who at least he uses numbers and logic to present an argument, which is more than can be said for some in the media -- also left some questions unanswered about how he was able to slingshot McDonald from No. 32 to No. 4 across both leagues. He didn't specify if he gave every shortstop a similar boost of 20 Runs Created (isn't that what people call a controlled variable?) during his little exercise. It would have taken for-frickin'-ever, but it is also, uh, intellectually honest.

That's why I had to wonder when he didn't list the Angels' Orlando Cabrera as one of the three shortstops who is ahead of McDonald. At the time of its last update, Hardball Times viewed Cabrera as the most valuable fielding shortstop in the American League with 7.2 fielding Win Shares, or about one earned per 145 innings.

McDonald had 4.4, or about one earned per 151 innings. So where would Cabrera, who's also a real hitter, be if you move the 20 (or more) runs he's saved the Angels to the hitting side of the ledger? Is John McDonald really better than Orlando Cabrera, who's played more and can actually hit? Hard to believe.

Or how about looking at a randomly selected shortstop who can't match McDonald's fielding, but makes a modest contribution at the plate? Take the Minnesota Twins' Jason Bartlett, since he and McDonald are even in fielding Win Shares, even though Bartlett's played about 270 more innings.

Bartlett's not going to make any long-time Twins fans forget Roy Smalley. He's not a league-average hitter this season. In the traditional stats, he doesn't look all that different from John McDonald, really:

Bartlett: .279, 5 HR, 37 RBI (in over 400 at-bats)
McDonald: .260, 1 HR, 25 RBI (in 250 at-bats)
There are people who would look at that and figure the two players' output is pretty similar. It's not. Bartlett actually walks more than twice per month (35 bases on balls to McDonald's seven) and he's a good percentage base stealer with 21 in 23 attempts. McDonald has just six steals, and that's not because the Jays don't steal bases. He's never been a base stealer (he stole 17 in Triple-A one year, but got thrown out 10 times, which is a lousy percentage).

Bartlett, in fact, is the median for everyday American League shortstops. He's seventh in the 14-team league in Win Shares Percent at .507, some one hundred percentage points ahead of John McDonald and his sweet skills. Somehow Wilner has McDonald as fourth-best in two leagues, when another says he's only 10th-best in one league.

Hopefully this raises the right questions. Priority One for Wilner as the Jays' post-game show host is to entertain, edify and stimulate thought and he's done that. The point is it's hard to fathom that McDonald is really that good, and 10th-best in the American League is not enough for the Jays, especially when you consider there might be a law of diminishing returns for any utility player the more he plays.

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

10 comments:

Pete Toms said...

Hey N. Aren't there 30 teams, not 32. 14 in the AL & 16 in the NL?

sager said...

There are, but Wilner did say 32 regular shortstops... there's a couple teams who would have had more than one shortstop bat 200 times by this point in the seaosn.

Tyler King said...

How can you be a Prime Minister of Defence? It just doesn't make any sense... you can be a Prime Minister of a country... or a Minister of National Defence... but it just doesn't work together!

sager said...

Ask Drunk Jays Fans... they came up with it!

THE GREAT LAKES KNUCKLEBALLER said...

I get to see Jose Reyes with regularity here in New York and I can say there is not a shortstop in baseball, perhaps not another player, that I'd rather have. He's exciting to watch, puts fans in the seats, plays with exuberance, and is a real pain in the ass for any pitcher to deal with once he gets on base. Hits for a bit of power and a dead-solid average.

I think Johnny Mac is worth what the Jays are paying him, and IMO the team has worse problems. But I wouldn't for a second believe that Mac is in the same stratosphere as Reyes.

Chris said...

The first prime minister of Canada was named John A. McDonald. Seeing as the Jays have a shortstop with the same name who plays great defense, it's kind of a play on words. While I agree I would like to see more productivity out of the SS position, you also have to remember that there's 6-7 guys (Wells, Thomas, Glaus, Overbay, Zaun, Johnson, etc.) who are having well below average years.

Personally, I believe if these guys were putting up even close to their regular averages we'd be ecstatic to have as good a defensive SS as Johnny Mac who contributes with the bat every once in a while.

Bottom line, there's not much of an upgrade option out there this off-season, 2 years in a row we've handed him he starting job halfway through the year after someone else fouls it up, I'd say he's earned his chance to be a starter next year.

sager said...

That reminds me a passage in Roger Kahn's The Boys of Summer about how the Brooklyn Dodgers used to try out five third baseman every spring before they settled on Billy Cox. Cox was was a great fielder who didn't hit much.

McDonald's bat, so-called, would be less of an issue if the Jays were getting good production from 6 of the other 8 spots in the order, rather than 3 of 8. The reality is he can't hit, and it will get worse if he plays more next season. Right now finding a second baseman, moving Aaron Hill to short and keeping McDonald as a late-inning sub who starts two games a week seems the best course of action.

Pete Toms said...

I agree with Chris. If the 6-7 veterans that he mentions, which is practically all the everyday position players, performs up to their career AVERAGE, the Jays have a lot more wins ( how many I'll leave up to the stat heads to debate ) and the Johnny Mac debate is irrelevant. Yes he can play D, whatever he hits is a small bonus.

I, and many other Jays fans I think, got excited when the everyday lineup was intact post All Star Break. I / we were hopeful that they would go on a tear. Yes the everyday lineup is intact but I think there is a lingering effect to the injuries. Overbay admits to playing with pain in his hand ( makes it a little tougher to hit ), Glaus has been a physical wreck all season and I still don't think that Johnson ( who barely played this year ) & Zaun have recovered their A games at the plate. Wells & Thomas, that's luck too, some years even stars have sub bar seasons, these are 2 such seasons.

How about Loaiza to the Dodgers? I think this is a good move by Colletti. Pitching is desparately hard to come by and at $7 million next season he's cheap. His arm is healthy, he was out all year with a knee injury.

Pete Toms said...

After the Mariner's series, assuming the Jays don't sweep Seattle, should Wells have the MRI on his left shoulder ASAP? If he's goin under the knife why not find out now and do it and max out the rehab time before next spring?

sager said...

Not a doctor, but it's not unheard of for a player to take the last few weeks off. Besides, it's a way to get Lind some September at-bats (Johnson can play right).