Examining the Back of the Blue Jays Bullpen

I am certainly not one to buy into the idea that a team needs to have a fixed closer throughout the season. To me, it makes more sense for a manager to use his best relievers in the situations with the greatest leverage. Of course, these situations do occur in the ninth inning some times, but most happen in earlier innings. Fixed bullpen roles, as a whole, can be dangerous. We saw this in the 2014 American League Wild Card game, when Ned Yost refused to bring out Kelvin Herrera in the 6th because he was his “7th inning guy”.

So, even though you and I might think that the idea of saving your best for a save on a game-to-game basis is a less-than efficient usage of your bullpen, we do know that the Blue Jays, and more specifically, John Gibbons, will likely continue to employ this strategy. For the last three years, the Blue Jays have turned to Casey Janssen to lock down the final inning, but they will find themselves without Janssen going in to the 2015 season, barring any unforeseen re-signing. In his wake, the Jays are left with some interesting options to use in the closer role, some more realistic than others.

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Separating RA/9 and FIP: A Non-Statistical Look at Statistics

How an individual baseball player’s season is evaluated is a debate that will be had until the end of time. Obviously, those more analytically inclined, myself included, will look at more advanced statistics. For hitters, stats such as wOBA and wRC+ are both valid, as they take what a player has actually done over the course of a season, and adjust them to determine value. They are stats that you could, and should use instead of the basic batting average, on base percentage, and dare I say RBI.

While I really adore the way that sabermetrics are used to evaluate position players, the same cannot be said for pitchers. The assumption that the more mainstream advanced stats have been perfected on the pitching side of things is really off base. I’m speaking specifically about FIP. To briefly explain, FIP is a stat that is supposed to determine what a pitcher deserved over a season. In order to determine this, the stat uses only those things that a pitcher can realistically control: home runs, walks, strikeouts, and hit batsmen. To make the result easy on the eyes, FIP is put into an ERA scale. The resolution made from FIP is that if a pitcher out-performs his FIP with a lower ERA, he got lucky and didn’t deserve his success, and vice-versa. There is much more that goes into FIP, and the Fangraphs Library has a more detailed explanation.

This article is not a FIP takedown piece. My mechanic is a FIP, my hairstylist is a FIP, and the person who repairs my shoes is a FIP. FIP is a useful metric. However, it is most appropriate when used as a predictor. It should be analyzed to determine trade value, or to put a dollar number on a contract. FIP is proven to work as an indicator of a pitcher’s future performance. What irks me about FIP is that people are constantly using it in the wrong way.

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Is Russell Martin Worth his Contract?

It’s a lot of money. And it’s five years. And he’s 31. And he’s a catcher! So, that’s a lot of money that will be going to Russell Martin until he is 36 and presumably well into the decline phase of his career. This has all the hallmarks of a regrettable free agent contract, doesn’t it? Will it turn out that way though? To find out, let’s look at the largest free agent contract Alex Anthopoulos has ever given out through the prism of $/WAR and surplus value. If you’re unfamiliar with the concepts, it is generally accepted that teams pay roughly $6.5-$7.5 million for a win on the open market. Surplus value is the difference between how much a player makes, and the value of their production from a $/WAR perspective.

For these purposes I’ll go with a starting point of $7 million per win, and add 5% inflation per season after that. I’ll use Martin’s 5-year ZiPS projection, which has him providing 3.6 WAR in 2015 and declining a bit each year after that. We also now know the structure of Martin’s contract, which has been back loaded so as to allow for flexibility in the near-term.

Year
Projected WAR
Salary
$/WAR
Value
Surplus Value
20153.6$7,000,000$7,000,000$25,200,000$18,200,000
20163.3$15,000,000$7,350,000$24,300,000$9,300,000
20173$20,000,000$7,700,000$23,100,000$3,100,000
20182.6$20,000,000$8,100,000$21,100,000$1,100,000
20192.1$20,000,000$8,500,000$17,900,000-$2,100,000

This is a rough estimate, and the rate of inflation for the price of a win is somewhat contentious, but that’s $29.6 million of surplus value the Blue Jays are looking at with Russell Martin, even allowing for age related decline. Even in the last year of the deal, Martin is just slightly overpaid. Here’s the most beautiful part though. This doesn’t even account for one of Russell Martin’s greatest strengths.

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Gammons: Blue Jays get Russell Martin for “McCann Money”

So there is this…

Brian McCann signed for 5 years and $85 million.

More coming as we learn more!

Updates: 

Update 2:

So this is amazing.

The Jays have signed Russell Martin to a 5 year deal worth $82 Million, according to Ken Rosenthal.

Update 3(actual analysis time!):

Breathe.

After months of saying they will spend, Alex Anthopoulos and the Blue Jays have finally done it. AA has signed a free agent to a pretty big contract.

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On Devon Travis, Anthony Gose, & the Fickle Nature of Prospects

On Wednesday night, Alex Anthopoulos pulled off yet another trade, his third in just under two weeks, trading Anthony Gose to the Detroit Tigers for second basemen Devon Travis. Although this trade doesn’t come with all the fanfare of say, the trade Anthopoulos made with the Marlins two years ago, it still is an intriguing trade because it fills needs for both clubs, with no clear “winner” emerging when the deal was announced. Furthermore, this trade is interesting not only because both clubs dealt from positions of strength and came out better, but because it ends the brief and disappointing era in which Anthony Gose played for the Blue Jays. After originally being targeted in the Roy Halladay deal, Gose was brought to Toronto months afterwards in exchange for Brett Wallace – who was acquired on the same day as the Halladay deal for Michael Taylor. Gose sped through the Blue Jays farm system in two years, and made his debut on July 17th 2012. Since that day, he has done nothing to show that he can be a successful major league ballplayer, relying only on his diminishing base running prowess and his superb defense to stay in the Major Leagues, albeit for brief cameo’s more often than not. Anthony Gose is the latest example of just how fickle prospects can be, and why getting over attached to them could only lead to years of franchise failure.

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Takeaways from the Devon Travis for Anthony Gose Trade

Late last night, Alex Anthopolous pulled the trigger on a deal flipping former Blue Jays centre fielder of the future Anthony Gose, to the Detroit Tigers in exchage for second base prospect Devon Travis.

Lets start out by diving into exactly who this Devon Travis character is…

Scouting Reports

Baseball Prospectus ($) – OFP from Mark Anderson – July 2014

Bless You Boys – from BJP favourite Jordan Gorosh – March 2014

Baseball America – AFL Report from Clint Longenecker – October 2013

Projection Systems

Fangraphs – Top 10 prospects by Steamer Projected WAR – October 2014

Baseball Prospectus ($) – PECOTA Takes on Prospects – May 2014

The general consensus seems to be that Travis is a player who lacks a carrying tool, and can probably best be described as a “grinder”.  From what I was told from a few public and private scouts I reached out to last night, he’s a player with more “skills than tools”. He has an advanced approach at the plate, with a line drive oriented swing, but probably lacks anything resembling impact. On the bases, his 38 steals over the past 2 years would tell you he has some speed, but that seems to have more to do with his plus instincts rater than pure speed. While in the field he lacks range and quick twitch abilities, he could  compensate for that with his instincts and baseball IQ.

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Under The Hood: How The Blue Jays’ Success With J.A. Happ Affects Marco Estrada

On November 1st, in a move that surprised the majority of the Blue Jays fanbase, Adam Lind was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers for troubled pitcher Marco Estrada. The pitching mechanics nerd in me was excited by this deal because it gave me an excuse to study the newcomer’s mechanics over the years to see what to expect in Toronto. What I discovered after reviewing some film were some striking similarities to J.A. Happ.

Both Happ and Estrada are potential fits in the no. 5 starter role with Toronto, but the similarities go far beyond just their potential role. Estrada’s current mechanics are plagued with similar red flags as Happ’s were when he arrived in Toronto over 3 years ago.

Happ suffers from all kinds of mechanical flaws, such as fluctuating balance, poor stride length, and a smooth delivery which robs him of power. He’s a fifth starter and nothing more. I will never understand the fascination Alex Anthopoulos had with Happ for all these years, but the changes the Blue Jays were able to make to Happ since his arrival make this devotion somewhat clearer.

Despite all his faults, the Jays staff been able to work with Happ the last three years to make some minor, effective adjustments. These adjustments have squeezed out what little ceiling he ever had and In 2014 we saw a glimpses of what he can be.

Prior to joining the Blue Jays, Happ wasted a lot of upper body movement. He had a very distinct scap load, delayed trunk rotation and a closed stride. The delayed trunk and scap load are still evident even today, but Happ and the Jays staff have have made large gains since 2012. One of the Blue Jays’ main organization philosophies is that pitchers have a direct line to the plate. They attempt to eliminated closed strides and cross-body throwing when a pitcher is struggling before they go all Ricky Romero.

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Should the Jays bring back Melky Cabrera?

On Tuesday, free agent season in baseball officially opened up for business. This means teams around the league are now free to make calls to any player on the open market as they attempt to fill holes on their rosters. If you have a need, if no one else can help, maybe you can hire…The FA Team[1].

The Blue Jays have a lot of those needs. They have holes in CF, 2B and at DH, but if you were to ask many Jays fans, the first order of business is to fill the hole in LF by re-signing free agent Melky Cabrera.

Cabrera was a definite bright spot for Toronto in 2014; he fought back from a tumor on his spine to put up a very solid line of .301/.351/.448 and solidify the number 2 spot in the order between Jose Reyes and Jose Bautista.

Cabrera was working on the 2nd year of a two year, $18M contract signed before the 2013 season. As fans know, the Jays were only lucky enough to get Melky on such a reduced deal because he was coming off a 50 game suspension for using performance enhancing drugs[2]. They will get no such discount this time.

Melky is hitting FA as one of the better OF bats available on the market at a time when teams are starved for offense. As such, there should be a real demand for his services. This led the Blue Jays to extend the one year, $15.3M qualifying offer to Cabrera.

If Cabrera accepts the qualifying offer, the Jays will happily take Melky back on a one year deal and keep the strong top of the order they had in 2013. But the chances of that are slim[3], so the Blue Jays will have to fight for Cabrera on the open market.

The real question is: should they?

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