Saturday, October 15, 2011

End-of-season report card on Jays

I thought I’d let the dust settle for a few weeks to give you my overview on the 2011 season for the Jays. Larry Toman, our official bench guy this year did a great job with his mid-season report card on the team. A lot happened between then and the end of the September. I’m going to borrow Larry’s formatting for consistency.

STARTING PITCHING: How many starting pitchers did the Jays trot out this season? I wouldn’t be surprised if it was somewhere north of 15. While many will point their fingers at the bullpen for the reason the team didn’t do better, I’m more inclined to look in the direction of the starting pitching. With 2010 behind us, it was thought the starting 5 would be a real strength of the 2011 team. Sadly, this wasn’t so. Too many of the young pitchers crashed and burned for a variety of reasons, mostly due to inexperience. Still a number of positive things filtered through the clutter. We now know we have a legitimate ace in Ricky Romero who could have easily won 20 games with a bit better luck – and a better bullpen. Henderson Alvarez was a very impressive call-up late in the season. Will the Jays bring in an inning-eating veteran in the off-season? It might be a smart move, but you could also make a case for standing pat and seeing what happens in spring training. With Dustin McGowan now back and throwing with authority (if not the best accuracy at this point), the Jays could have caught lightning in a bottle. Brandon Morrow might figure out how to be consistent.

Bright lights: Ricky Romero, Henderson Alvarez, Dustin McGowan.

Question marks: Brett Cecil and Kyle Drabek. And will the real Brandon Morrow please stand up?

RELIEVERS: Okay, the Jays did sort of shoot themselves in the foot here during the season, trading away Rzepczynski and Jason Frasor for some center field help, but there were big question marks before that happened. Rauch was probably a flyer the Jays took on and it really never worked out. Good move to get rid of Dotel. Shawn Camp sort of swooned late, and once he got back from the DL, Casey Jannsen was terrific. It turned out to be a mistake to try to make Villanueva a starter. He’s probably better out of the pen in the long run. Great move to have Litsch move to the pen. He looked good. Will the real Frank Francisco please stand up? He was just not good early on and then looked great towards season’s end. The Jays have to get a real closer. Francisco may be the answer – if he can continue right on from where he left off, not take half a season to warm up. Maybe they’ll try to get Frasor back. Perez might turn out to be bait.

Bright lights: Casey Jannsen, Jesse Litsch and possibly Villanueva.

Question marks: Camp, Rauch, Francisco and Perez.

BATTING: Wasn’t this an up and down year for the team? At times they were just awesome, unstoppable, a force of nature. Other times, it was more like a Punch and Judy show. Bautista was “as advertised” until that damn homerun derby at the All-Star game. After that he seemed to come down to earth. My big question is will Adam Lind have the stamina to be an everyday first baseman and keep his hitting up? Don’t you all wish that we’d had Brett Lawrie all season? With Encarnacion at third, how could Lawrie have been any worse? Patterson and Rivera are thankfully now gone. Eric Thames has made it difficult for the Jays to stay hot about Travis Snider. What is up with him anyway? Escobar was a real plus at the plate. It is nice to contemplate going with him leading off again, followed by Thames, then Lawrie with Bautista cleaning up. Maybe Lind could bat fifth. If Rasmus does what he seems to be capable of and Arencibia picks up where he left off (and improves his average), the Jays could have a very potent lineup in 2012.

Bright lights: Bautista, Yunel Escobar, Lawrie and Thames.

Question marks: Edwin Encarnacion, second base, Lind and Rajai Davis.

FIELDING: The Jays’ outfield was screwed up through most of the season. Snider bombed, Patterson bombed, Rivera bombed, and Rajai Davis proved he can run the infield, but not patrol center field. We won’t talk about Dr. Strangearm at third base.

But shortly after Larry’s report card, there was a sea change in what the Jays brought to the defensive part of the game. People were moved out and some interesting replacements brought in. Colby Rasmus is a legit center fielder. Thames, God bless him, is working hard to improve his fielding and it shows. We’ve now got the best right fielder in the game back in right field. On the infield, Lind proved he can play first base well, Escobar is dazzling at short, and I think Lawrie is going to really open up some eyes with his second season at the hot corner. Second base is a big question mark. Johnson is smooth turning the double play, but will he be back? Behind the plate, Arencibia did well and should continue to improve. The Jays do need to get their bench strength up, though. Who’s going to back up Arencibia? Will we get Johnny Mac back from Arizona or go with McCoy? Will the real Travis Snider show up next year?

Bright lights: Bautista, Lawrie, Escobar and Rasmus.

Question marks: Thames, Snider and Davis.

The Jays certainly have a lot of young players to use as trade bait and I expect them to use that strength to bring in some veterans to fill the team’s holes, but even if they decide to stand pat, there are a lot of things to be excited about: Lawrie for a full season, Arencibia being able to concentrate more on hitting, Bautista being the superstar for the entire season and some potentially excellent starting pitching. If the team is going to improve from outside, it would be best to concentrate on the bullpen.

The pieces are definitely falling into place.


Larry Toman said...

Hi Rick, an excellent report on our boys of summer. Hopefully, (in the near future) we can refer to them as the boys of October. I can't take exception with any of your observations. A legit closer certainly should be a priority, and as you said, that may or may not be Francisco. He can sure make the ninth-inning an adventure. If MLB decides to add another wild card, the Jays could benefit greatly in the tough and demanding AL East. Thanks for the great read. Cheers!

Rick Blechta said...

Thanks muchly, Larry. If you think back, Henke could also be way more exciting than we would have liked, but he did get the job done. Francisco reminded me of Henke in the latter part of the season. If the Jays could get a whole season of that, I’d be happy. They also do need some reliable set-up men, though. Janssen is one, but after that. Litsch? Maybe a 7th inning guy, but he isn't quite so steady as someone for the 8th. Villanueva might be it, but he’d also be good for long relief.

Hmmm... You brought up some good points. Thanks!