Monday, April 18, 2022

Ten Random Thoughts: Weeks 1 and 2 - April 3-17

The 2022 MLB season started 2 weeks late due to a lockout. The big change that came out of the lockout was universal DH (more on that later). The Blue Jays and their fans were pumped for this season. Last season ended in heartbreaking fashion. They won thir final game but missed the playoffs because New York and Boston both won their final game. The off-season saw the departure of free agents Robbie Ray (Mariners), Marcus Semien (Rangers), Steven Matz (Cardinals), Kirby Yates (Braves) and Corey Dickerson (Cardinals. The Blue Jays welcomed Kevin Gausman, Yimi Garcia, and Yusei Kikuchi to the fold. They swapped third catchers with the White Sox sending Reese McGuire to the windy city for Zack Collins. Randal Grichuk was traded to the Rockies for Raimel Tapia. The opening game of the season started off in the worst way possible with Rangers scoring 4 times in the 1st inning. Jose Berrios recorded just one out. The Blue Jays stormed back and eventually won the game 10-8. They won that series 2-1, dropping the final game 12-6. They then had their first road trip of the season to Yankee stadium, where they were shutout twice by their AL East rivals and shut out the Yankees once and then defeated the Bronx bombers in the 3rd game as well. They returned to Toronto for a weekend series against the A's. . Here are ten random thoughts from the first 2 weeks of the 2022 MLB season.

1. There are a few rule changes for the 2022 season. The big one is the universal DH rule. Since January 11, 1973, the AL has had a DH and in the NL, pitchers batted. Very rarely, the DH was removed in AL games if the player designated as DH has to go into the game in a position. Pitchers can remain in the game after they have been removed as DH. The Angels will no doubt take advantage of that rule when Shohei Ohtani is pitching. Another rule change will see roster sizes change from 26 to 28. Baseball will be somewhat back to the pre-pandemic rules. Double headers will be back to 9 innings each (for the two pandemic seasons, double headers were seven innings each). Extra inning games will continue to start with a ghost runner on second base. It will be interesting to see how the universal DH affects bunting. NL teams typically led the league in bunting because pitchers typically bunted if runners were on base with less than two outs. I still think bunting is a very relevant play. For example, you got runners on 1st and 2nd with 1 out bunt the runners over and you can get two runs vs. 1 or 0.A final big change will see 12 teams make the playoffs, up from 10. This will mean more teams being in contention later.

2. One big reason for the lockout was to resolve the competitive imbalance. Teams like the Orioles, Marlins and Diamondbacks are consistently in last place, whereas the Yankees, Rays, Astros and Dodgers are consistently competing in the world series. Further, the latter teams snap up the best players in free agency. Did the lockout change the fortunes of the perennial bottom feeders. Early results in the standings say no. Baltimore and Arizona are last in their divisions with 2-5 records. Expanded playoffs should help at least extend the time these teams are in the playoff race, but will not impact the success of these teams overall unless these teams take steps to improve their rosters. Further, service time manipulation was another major issue that was not resolved. Case in point, the Blue Jays with catcher Gabriel Moreno. The Blue Jays are without the services of regular catcher Danny Jansen for the next several weeks with an oblique strain. Zack Collins and Tyler Heineman are splitting time backing up Alejandro Kirk. Moreno is supposed to be better than Collins and Heineman, but the Blue Jays can't/won't recall him for several weeks to manipulate the service time so he remains under the control of the Blue Jays an extra season. Granted, he missed training camp with visa issues, so will need a week or two to get in game shape. Nevertheless, service time should have been eliminated in negotiations because players should be able to enter free agency at a reasonable age. Also, fans should be able to see their favorite prospects when they are ready to be promoted, not an arbitrary date when they have spent enough time in the minors to accrue an extra year of team control.

3. Injuries are a common theme in baseball. At the moment, the Blue Jays are dealing with oblique injuries to Jansen and outfielder Teoscar Hernandez.  At the beginning of the season the blue jays were carrying 3 catchers. The absence of Jansen shows his importance to the team. Alejandro Kirk is the 2nd best catcher on the team and Zack Collins and Tyler Heineman have proven to have flaws. The absence of Hernandez has meant Raimel Tapia has gotten playing time and the Blue Jays have also gotten a look at Bradley Zimmer. It's going to be difficult to replace such a key bat in the long term. Lefty Ryan Borucki has been dealing with a mild hamstring injury.  He is close to returning and may just require 1 or 2 more bullpen sessions. When he returns, it will give the Blue Jays an extra lefty in the bullpen. The Blue Jays could also option Taylor Saucedo to the minors if they want just two lefties in the bullpen. Nate Pearson may require more time. He is recovered from his bout with mono, but he now has to build back up to where he was. He wants to be in the rotation, but could also be a long man out of the bullpen too. On Saturday, the Blue Jays lost a starting pitcher with Hyun-Jin Ryu going down with left forearm soreness. This could be especially concerning because often that injury is a precursor to a torn UCL which often needs Tommy John surgery and that can take a year or more to return. The timing is also tough with the Blue Jays about to embark on a stretch of 20 straight games after the off-day Monday.

4. As mentioned in the preamble, the Blue Jays have several new faces on the team. Here is how they have fared in the first ten games of the season.

  • Kevin Gausman - Signed to essentially replace Robbie Ray in the rotation, Gausman is 0-1 with a 4.22ERA over 2 starts. Like Berrios, his second start was better. Gausman pitched into the 6th inning and struck out 9 batters. Early signs show that Gausman will be an effective pitcher for the Blue Jays
  • Zack Collins Traded for Reese McGuire, Collins bat was red hot Saturday with 3 hits in 4AB, 2 RBI and a run scored. The previous night, he had 2 hits and an RBI. He did a fine job managing the pitchers too. On Sunday, he had a hit and drew a walk
  • Reimal Tapia - Traded for Randal Grichuk, Reimal Tapia will be a 4th outfielder, slotting in when Lourdes Gurriel Jr., George Springer or Teoscar Hernandez need a day off. With the injury to Herrnandez, he'll get regular playing time for the next several weeks. Tapia batted leadoff Saturday with Springer given the full day off. He went 1-5 and gave Toronto the early lead with some smart base running.
  • Yusei Kikuchi - Signed as a 5th starter, Yusei Kikuchi is 0-1 with a 5.40ERA in 3.1 innings in his lone start. Kikuchi walked 2 and struck out 2. With the Blue Jays facing a stretch of 20 straight, Kikuchi will get a couple of starts for sure.
  • Yimi Garcia - signed to a 2-year deal, Yimi Garcia has been called upon to pitch in the 6th or 7th innings. In 5 appearances, he has not allowed a run, walked 3 and struck out 2. 

5. The Blue Jays also said goodbye to several players who were key players on the team in 2022. Here is how they have fared in the first ten games of the season

  • Robbie Ray (Mariners) -Winner of the Cy Young last season, Robbie Ray is 1-1 with a 4.73 ERA in 13.1 innings over 2 starts as the Mariners ace. His first start went better with one earned run allowed. Five days later, he was tagged for 6 runs on 10 hits. His strikeouts were down too. He had many 10+ strikeout games in 2021. That will surely get better as he gets used to a new catcher. Robbie Ray returns to Toronto with the Mariners May 16-18 and Toronto visits Seattle July 7-10
  • Steven Matz (Cardinals) - Steven Matz had a disastrous first start as a Cardinal, giving up 7 runs on 9 hits while walking 1 and striking out 5 over just 3 innings. A blister on his middle finger didn't help matters. He said after the game he was unable to finish his pitches due to the ailment. Matz threw 5.2 innings of 3-hit shutout ball yesterday while walking none and striking out 6. The Blue Jays play a pair in St. Louis May 23-24 and the Cardinals visit Toronto July 26-27
  • Randal Grichuk (Rockies) - Relegated to 4th outfielder, Randal Grichuk was traded to the Rockies for a cheaper option. In 14 AB this season, Grichuk is batting .286 with 2 runs scored, 2 RBI and a stolen base. Grichuk had a pair of hits Sunday to raise his average to a solid .333. He will not face the Blue Jays this season unless the Rockies and Blue Jays both make the World Series.
  • Marcus Semien (Rangers) - Marcus Semien got his return to Toronto over and done with opening weekend as his Rangers were scheduled to face the Blue Jays in Toronto. Semien was 1-13 with a walk, a run scored and 4 strikeouts against his former team. He played 2B for the Blue Jays and Santiago Espinal and Cavan Biggio have been platooning at the position this season. As a whole, he is batting .156 through 9 games - well below his pace of 2021. Semien was 0-5 Sunday. The Blue Jays make the trip to Texas September 9-11
  • Reese McGuire (White Sox) - The third catcher for the Blue Jays, Reese McGuire was traded to the White Sox to be the backup for Yasmani Grandal. He has played 3 games so far and is batting .222. At least he'll get more playing time in Chicago. Reese McGuire returns to Toronto with the White Sox May 31 - June 2. Toronto travels to the Windy city June 20-22.
  • Corey Dickerson (Cardinals) - A trade deadline acquisition, Corey Dickerson was a 4th outfielder/left-handed bat off the bench. He inked a 1-year deal with the Cardinals. In 8AB this season, Dickerson is batting .182 with 3RBI IN 11 games this season. He's mostly been used as s a pinch hitter. He has also struck out twice. Dickerson drew a bases loaded walk on Sunday for his 3rd RBI of the season. The Blue Jays play a pair in St. Louis May 23-24 and the Cardinals visit Toronto July 26-27

6. Another new addition to 2022 will help stop sign stealing and that is the ability of catchers to digitally relay the pitch type and location to the pitcher, who will have a receiver in his ball cap that will verbally tell him the info. In the past, catchers would change signs with runners on base, especially 2nd base where the base runner can pretty clearly see the signs. Sign stealing played a significant role in the 2017 world series where the Astros would bang garbage cans if a curve ball was coming. The 2018 Boston Red Sox were also accused of sign stealing. Early criticism on the new technology is it is difficult to hear in loud crowd noise. I just hope baseball doesn't evolve into a sport where noise is discouraged so pitchers can hear properly. After all, this isn't tennis or golf.

7. As has been the case in recent season, the offense is very much feast or famine, all or nothing, As a team, the Blue Jays lead the majors in HR and will certainly challenge for the all-time regular season record. However, they have not been great when it comes to driving in runs. They are 7th worst in the league when it comes to strikeouts with 82. They have drawn 25 walks (tied for 25th in the league). 

8. The issue of pitch counts cost Clayton Kershaw a perfect game. He was pulled after 7 innings and 80 pitches. I get that it was a short spring training but he may never get another opportunity to throw a perfect game. 

9. Finally, a shoutout to broadcaster Buck Martinez, who is stepping aside his broadcasting duties as he undergoes cancer treatments. All of us at JITH are behind you and we all wish you the best in your cancer journey. We know you will beat this horrible disease.

10. Blue Jay of the week: Adam Cimber. The side-winding righty has been lights out this season. He has gotten credit for 3 of the wins this season.. In 6 innings, he has allowed just a single run off a home run, walked none and struck out 4. An honorable mention goes to Jordan Romano, who is on a consecutive save streak of 29 and recently passed Blue Jays great Tom Henke for the Blue Jays consecutive saves streak. The American League record is held by Zach Britton, who saved 60 straight between 2015-17. The MLB record is held by fellow Canadian righty Eric Gagne, who saved an impressive 84 between 2002-04.