Monday, June 12, 2023

Ten random thoughts for an off-day Monday


It's been a while since I've posted a random thoughts post. Since the last post, the Blue Jays have had mixed results, compiling an 11-17 record in May, that included a rough stretch where they won just 2 of 15 against AL East opponents, including being swept in four games by the Red Sox at Fenway Park and swept by the Orioles at home. The Blue Jays had three game sweeps against the Pirates, Braves and Mets. They had started June on a winning stretch with 8 wins out of 11 games, including a huge come-from behind win yesterday. In this post, we will look at injuries, Alek Manoah and more. Here are ten random thoughts on an off-day Monday.

1. Like we usually do, we will kick things off talking about the injuries the blue Jays have been dealing with the last couple of months. For the most part, The Blue Jays have avoided an injury to one of their core players. The most impactful injury they have dealt with is to catcher Danny Jansen, who strained his groin running to first base during a game on May 24. The Blue Jays traded away catching prospect Gabriel Moreno in the off season, leaving leaving the Blue Jays thin on the depth chart for catcher. When Johnson got hurt, the Blue Jays recalled Tyler Heineman, who they reacquired via a trade April 30th (The blue jays selected Heineman in the international draft, Who was claimed by the pirates May 16th of that year). Alejandro Kirk has handled the bulk of the innings in danny Jansen's absence. Heineman has Start it in five games since johnson went down with his injury and in all but one game he was replaced by kirk for the final three innings or so. It's clear that Heineman is not at the same level as Jansen and Kirk in terms of defensive catching and also offensively. However, manager John Schneider should have trusted his backup catcher more nd should have let Heineman finish the games he started. Luckily Jansen is close to returning ( He joined buffalo for a rehab assignment on Friday) and should be back behind the plate for the Blue Jays sometime this week. A couple of players, Adam Cimber and santiago espinol made recent returns from the IL  after short stints due to respective rhomboid and hamstring injuries. Cimber, a 6th or 7th inning reliever, Had been pretty steady in eight appearances since returning from the IL. However, Saturday he was lit up for 6 runs on 5 hits and a hit batter and the sidewinder  recorded just one out. Because of that dreadful outing, Cimber now has the worst ERA on the team. Santiago Espinal, utility infielder who primarily plays second base, but also serves as backup to Bo Bichette and Matt Chapman at the hot corner and has a three game hit streak. Mitch White, who missed the first two months of the season with a dead shoulder, made his season debut on Saturday.  It certainly was not the debut white would have wanted.  He gave up a three run HR to the first batter he faced and gave up an additional run in the 9th. White is expected to be a bulk reliever going forward. The latest injury occurred in the 3rd inning of Saturdays game with Brandon Belt straining a hamstring scoring a run.  His absence shouldn't have too much of an impact since he mostly a DH and backup 1st baseman. Cavan Biggio will now be the backup 1st baseman until Belt returns.  CF Kevin Kiermaier has missed a couple of days after getting Drilled in the left hand by a Framber Valdez fastball in the left hand/wrist. Kiermaier has been a real asset defensive. Perhaps the first twins doesn't happen Saturday if it was Kiermaier in CF instead of Daulton Varsho. He's batting a solid .296 with 4HR and 16RBI in 53 games this season. Zack pop, on the IL since May 4th with a hamstring injury suffered a setback during a rehab assignment in a single-A game,  is currently being reevaluated in Toronto.  Pop is 1-1 with a 6.59ERA in appearances this season.  The blue jays have two pitchers rehabbing from Tommy John surgeries last season. Chad Green and Hyun-Jin Ryu. Green is a bit ahead of Ryu, (Green has progressed to facing live hitters, whereas Ryu is throwing off a mound but not facing live batters just yet. Both pitchers are expected to return sometime after the AL star break.

2. Next we will discuss the epic struggles of last year's ace Alek Manoah. After a tremendous 2022 season,  Manoah was expected to compete with Kevin Gausman for the coveted opening day start. Following a strong spring training,  Manoah won the assignment.  Right from the get-go, Manoah struggled mightily. In that opening day start, Manoah lasted just 3.1 innings,  giving up five runs on nine hits, while walking two and striking out three. His next start was a strong seven inning effort, albeit against a Kansas city team that sold be last in the AL Central through Saturday's games.  The final straw was his last start on Tuesday when couldn't even get out of the 1st inning.  Manoah was optioned to the Florida development complex the next day where he is likely to remain at least through the all star week.  There are several factors that are contributing to Manoah's struggles.  First, his personal catcher, Alejandro Kirk, missed most of spring training awaiting the arrival of his first child. This may have impacted the first few starts, but Kirk and Manoah should have ironed things out by now, given Manoah has made 13 starts. Second, the pitch clock could be having a major impact on his performance.  At times, it appears that Manoah is rushing his delivery to beat the clock. He was one of the slowest pitchers in the league prior to the introduction of the pitch clock this season. Third, it may be that the batters have adjusted to Manoah and now know the secret to hitting his pitches.  Also,  the batters were no doubt motivated to show Manoah up due to his cockiness (Manoah has trash talked during his starts and now that is coming back to bite him in the butt). Another factor that may be affecting his performance is the weight gain.  Manoah is listed at 185lb. Maybe dropping a few pound would allow him to execute his pitches better. Above all. Manoah is not in a good place mentally and that has to be addressed.  He mentioned in a recent media scrum that his mindset has been "don't throw the ball here" as opposed to "attack and throw strikes". Here's hoping this demotion works as well as it did for the late Roy Halladay, who was sent all the way back to single-A,  where he overhauled his delivery and resurrected his career. 

3. And now for the controversial part of this post, the DFA of Anthony Bass. In the past month, Anthony Bass has made two controversial posts on social media.  First, on April 23, he posted a short video on Twitter where he alleged that a united airlines flight attendant made his pregnant wife pick up popcorn that his daughter dropped on the floor.  He received a lot of backlash with some Twitter users saying he should have picked up the popcorn.  His second post was much more egregious and terribly timed. On May 29, just days before pride month and ten days before the Blue Jays pride weekend, Bass shared a video endorsing the boycott of Target and a Bud Light over their support of the LGBTQ community. Bass met with reporters and offered up a thirty second statement apologizing for offending anyone and saying he was using the Blue Jays resources to educate himself.  What resources was he utilizing? How to use social media as a professional athlete? To learn why gay rights exist? Bottom line, he would have been wrong to post that video even if he had done it six months from now,  but to do it right before a month long celebration of what the LGBTQ community has fight so hard for is just unforgivable. The Blue Jays had no choice but to cut Bass from the team. At any rate, Bass had not been performing that will reasonably anyway and might have been cut due to performance issues. He finishes his time in a blue jays uniform with a 4-3 record and a 3.28ERA over parts of three seasons. This season, Bass had a 4.95ERA in 22 appearances.  He had no wins or losses credited to him.

4. Let's have a look at the Blue Jays off season transactions and how they have done through the first two and a half months of the season:

  • Chris Bassitt - the Blue Jays major off season signing, Chris Bassitt is putting together a career year and will very likely be an all-star and get consideration for the Cy Young award. Bassitt's first start of the year wasn't great, getting lit up for 9 runs on 10 hits over 3.1 innings.  Since that start, Bassitt has pitched at least 6 innings in all but 2 starts.  He has thrown the only complete game of the season. His last two starts have been remarkable. Against the Mets on June 2nd, he was pitching in New York while his wife was getting ready to have a baby.  John Schneider came sprinting out of the dugout with two outs in the 7th inning so Bassitt could race back to the airport to get back to Toronto in time to witness the birth (He made it in time). On Wednesday, Bassitt unleashed his Greg Maddux and fired 8 stellar innings,  needing just 81 pitches and really should have been given the opportunity to complete that game. This has turned out to be a great signing. 
  • Kevin Kiermaier - signed to a one year deal in December,  Kiermaier has done a great job defender, taking away several home runs and extra base hits with leaping and diving catches. His signing also allowed George Springer to shift to RF to preserve his body. At the plate,  Kiermaier is batting a solid .296 with 4HR and 16RBI over 53 games and 180AB. He leads the league in triples with 4 on the season.  It's also nice to have a productive left handed bat in the lineup. Kiermaier is currently nursing a sore left hand/wrist courtesy of a Framber Valdez fastball. 
  • Brandon Belt - signed in the off season to be a backup first baseman for Vlad and DH, Belt has been marginally better than past left handed bats, hitting .263 with 4HR and 16RBI in 48 games and 180AB. he will miss some time after straining his hamstring while running home in the 3rd inning of Saturday's game. 
  • Daulton Varsho - acquired in an off season deal with the diamondbacks that sent Lourdes Gurriel Jr. the other way, Varsho has split time between LF and CF. He hasn't been quite as good defensively as Kiermaier as a couple of balls have gone off his glove for home runs. Offensively,  Varsho is batting .218 with 11HR and 26RBI over 65 games and 266AB (through Saturday's game). On Sunday, 
  • Erik Swanson - acquired in a trade with Seattle that sent Teoscar Hernandez the other way, Swanson has been the setup guy for closer Jordan Romano. Swanson is 2-2 with one save and a 2.56ERA in 31 appearances
  • Chad Green - signed to a one year deal,  Green is not expected to pitch until after the all star break as he continues to recover from 2022 Tommy John surgery.  He is progressing nicely in his rehab and has started facing live batters. 

5. Now let's look at how the former blue jays from the 2022 team have done in the first two and a half months of the season:

  • Teoscar Hernandez - acquired in a 2017 trade deadline deal that sent Francisco Liriano to Houston,  Hernandez spent 6 seasons and 609 regular season games in a Blue Jays uniform. He was the fun guy in the dugout, showering his teammates with sunflower seeds after home runs. Hernandez played the corner outfield positions and was prone to errors, committing 20 in total over the seasons. Offensively,  Hernandez batted .263 with 129HR, 369RBI over 2220AB. In four postseason games as a Blue Jay, Hernandez batted .200 with 2 HR and 4RBI. In 63 games as a Mariner, Hernandez is batting .240 with 10HR and 33RBI (through Saturday's games). Hernandez also leads the league in strikeouts with 85 strikeouts.  This is a good stat for a pitcher and a bad stat for a batter.
  • Lourdes Gurriel Jr - signed as an amateur free agent in the 2016 off-season, Gurriel Jr. spent 5 seasons and 468 regular season games in a Blue Jays uniform.  In 1724AB, Gurriel Jr batted .285 with 68HR and 254RBI. He missed last year's postseason with a hamstring injury.  Against Tampa Bay in 2020, Gurriel jr had 2 hits in 8AB for a .250 average.  In Arizona this season,  Gurriel Jr is batting a solid .309 with 10HR and 38RBI over 54 games and 204AB.
  • Ross Stripling - acquire in a 2020 trade deadline deal with the dodgers that sent a pair ofminor leaguers to LA, Stripling made 61 appearances (45 starts),  accumulating a 15-13 record with a 3.94ERA. After Hyun-Jin Ryu went down with season ending Tommy John surgery last season,  Stripling took his spot in the rotation and did a solid job.  He made one postseason appearance in 2020 against Tampa Bay and gave up a run on three hits over 1.1 innings.  Stripling cashed in and signed a multi-year deal with the giants.  In 9 appearances (5 starts) Stripling is 0-2 with a dreadful 7.24ERA. Looks like the Blue Jays did well not signing him to that contract.
  • Raimel Tapia - acquired just prior to the 2022 season in a trade with the rockies that sent Randal Grichuk to Colorado, Tapia had a decent season,  batting .265 with 7HR and 52 RBI over 128 games and 411AB. He was 0-6 in the two weeks card games against Seattle. 

6. The AL East continues to be the division to beat in the bigs. They occupy two of the three wild card spots  (Houston is a game up on the Blue Jays for the final WC spot). Last season, the Yankees absolutely dominated baseball before injuries occurred and they came back down to earth.  This year,  Tampa Bay started 12-0 before the Blue Jays ruined the streak and handed the rays their first series loss of the season (Tampa Bay exacted revenge by taking 3 of 4 in St. Petersburg.). The Rays still have a solid lead over the Orioles for the division lead. The Orioles are showing that last year's wild card run that fell short was no fluke.  Between 2018 and 2021, the orioles were the laughingstock of the MLB and in three of those years they lost over 100 games.  Last year,  it started to turn around and the orioles just about snagged the last wild card spot.  This year,  they have been solid and even swept the Blue Jays a couple of weeks ago. The Yankees seem a bit more beatable this year with their pitching staff decimated by injuries and star outfielder Aaron Judge hurting.  Nonetheless,  the Bronx bombers are still a formidable opponent and are likely to at least be in a wild card spot.  In the basement of the AL East are the Boston red Sox, who handed the Blue Jays a four game sweep at Fenway Park. They are 4.5 games back of the final wild card spot and are more than capable of a big winning streak. In short, the Blue Jays have to keep their foot on the gas pedal and keep winning as much as they can. 

7. One big issue for the Blue Jays has been driving in runners in scoring position (defined as a runner at 2nd base). The blue jays came into Sunday's game ranked 29th in that category, leaving an average of 3.83 runners on base who might have scored.  The blue jays never bunt and rarely hit and run.  You can't always swing for the fences.  Sometimes a single or sac fly is a good part to get a run in

8.  If you like to watch records being broken,  keep an eye on Miami Marlins 2B Luis Arraez, who is chasing a .400 average. It is unlikely he'll be able to maintain the pace needed to finish the year over .400. The last player to hit over .400 in a season was Ted Williams in 1941. Arte Wilson hit .433 in 1948, but played only 29 games that season and had 120AB, so that doesn't count.

9. Finally, the Oakland A's will be moving to Las Vegas after the 2024 season when the lease for the Oakland Colliseum. This will be the fourth move for the  A's franchise, that was originally based in Philadelphia from 1901-1954 when they relocated to Kansas City from 1955-1967 and finally to the current location in Oakland). For a while, both the NFL Oakland Raiders and the A's played out of the same stadium. which made for a unique viewing for baseball and football fans, who could see the markings for both sports on the same field. The Raiders relocated to Las Vegas after the 2019 season. It's really the Oakland fans who will be losing out on this relocation. It also makes it challenging to attract free agents who will want stability and to win. At the moment, the A's are in the midst of a terrible season with a league-worst 17-50 record. 

10. Blue Jay of the week: Chris Bassitt, who threw 8 outstanding innings on just 81  pitches just days after witnessing the birth of his first child.