Sunday, 26 February 2012

So it begins

On Tuesday pitchers and catchers were required to report to Blue Jays spring training in Dunedin Florida. As a long time Jays fan, I have begun to apologize to my loved ones. This morning, as I threw my Jays T-Shirt on, I turned to my love and proclaimed, "Sorry - you're going to need to get used to this."

Being a sports fan is something that those who are not can rarely understand. As self-reflective as I may be, I can't exactly determine where this comes from. Google pointed me to this explanation, but no level of intellectualizing can properly convey exactly what it is to be a sports fan... in particular a Toronto sports fan.

The Curse Of The Torontonian 

Being born in Toronto, and raised to understand that The Leafs are "Gods team" creates an expectation of disappointment. This hockey season has played out like many:

  1. The Leafs start by winning more games than the fans expected
  2. Their fans/media expect the trend to continue, extrapolating the small sample size to continue throughout the year
  3. The Leafs fall back to where their talent should have them
  4. The fans/media freak out as their new found expectations aren't being met. A media circus ensues. 
  5. The Leafs fall even further back
  6. The fans/media proclaim that someone must be fired.
And this is just the horror of being a Leafs fan. Imagine being a Raptors fan! In existence for more than a decade, a good portion of their ticket/box holders are only doing so because they're required to for their Leafs obligations, American born players don't want to play in T.O. When it's all said and done, there's more players who have publicly asked to get out than there are play-off series won.

In fact, the only team in Toronto with any "recent" history of winning a championship is The Jays. This is only if your definition of "recent" is "within the last 20 years".

There are reasons for optimism in Blue Jay Land, however. Legitimate reasons, which is much more than we can say for fans of any other Toronto sports team. So without further adieu, I give you my thoughts on why the Blue Jays have a chance at making the post season.

Blue Jays 2012 Season 

As much as any fan over paying for internet/cellphones/cable with Rogers would like to think that the Blue Jays have unlimited resources, they do not. Rogers executives are looking to make money, and Paul Beeston (Jays President) has made it very clear that the payroll will only go up when revenues do.

This is why paying 8 million dollars for Jose Bautista instantly makes this team competitive. Jose was the AL Leader in:
  • Home Runs 
  • Slugging
  • Walks 
  •  On-Base + Slugging (In my opinion the most important stat in baseball) 
For 8 million dollars!!! That's 1/4 of what Alex Rodriguez is being paid. Not only that, but Jose is only in the second year of a 5 (team option 6) year contract. So whatever happens this year, there's a reason for long-term optimism. 

This isn't exactly breaking news, but the Jays year hinges on Bautista. Without him in the lineup, the middle of the order has no teeth. Pitchers can walk the lefties they don't want to face - and pounce on what is a weak collection of batters otherwise. With Bautista in the order, the 1/2 hitters will get pitches to hit since the starting pitcher sure as hell doesn't want to walk men on for Bautista to drive home. This will require some batters who aren't exactly free swingers at the top of the order for the team, which in itself may be a challenge. Even for Bautista, you could see as the year wore on and pitchers were less willing to give him a pitch to hit - he became somewhat more willing to go outside of the strike zone for a pitch to hit instead of just taking the walk that was handed to him. As Anthopolis noted in yesterday's Globe and Mail, Lawrie may also fall victim to this.

So I stated that this team has a chance to make a playoff run, but there was a reason I both bolded and italicized "chance". This requires so many things to go right that it can only be labelled as a chance, similar to that of hitting "00" in a roulette game.

JP Arencebia, Brett Lawrie, and (potentially) Eric Thames are all going to be sophomores this year. The Sophomore Curse is real, as close to 2/3's of rookie of the year winners regress in their second year. This means that two of these players should be expected to get worse, and potentially one could get better. Of course all three could excel, all three could regress, or any combination. However regression is the most likely outcome for each of these players. Add to this Kelly Johnson's striking out 26% of the time last year, and Adam Lind's strike out percentage nearing 20% - you start to wonder where the runs come from outside of Bautista.

But IF Rasmus gets his act together, the sophomores don't have a huge regression, and Bautista continues to produce - the offence could lead this team to the playoffs.

None of this even begins to address pitching, and I fear to dive into that subject as everything beyond Ricky Romero seems like a complete gamble. The only bright side to the off season was the aquisition of Santos, and even that feels like a gamble considering his youth. If that kid is the real deal, fixing some part of the 25 blown saves from 2011 would make a huge influence on the Jays playoff chances.

There's really only one thing that matters though:

How Many Games Do We Win? 

Vegas has the over/under at 80.5. With a gun to my head, I'd say under. However it's entirely possible that it could be ten games over, especially with an early acquisition of another big bat to protect Bautista.

Who Wins The Ring?

We will see many prognostications in this regard in the coming month, and none of them matter. There's a reason there's 162 games in a baseball season, and it's because the outcome of seven game series have too many values that could be attributed to luck. Forced to make a decision, I'd gamble on the Red Sox. The psychology of their slow start and finish last year set aside makes them prime candidates for a redemption tour.

Before I go, I need to get this off my chest...

Dear Pittsburgh Pirates:

Are you out of your freaking minds? AJ Burnett is a 500 pitcher, which he has been his entire career, and he's made millions of dollars on the expectation that eventually he'll be able to put it all together. Many teams have tried to get this guys head right, and many teams have failed. Why you would bring a cancer like that into your dressing room is beyond me, and why you would put him in a leadership position with all those young players seems even crazier. Whatever lack of success your team has this year I will attribute to AJ. Is that fair? Nope. Neither is what this man has been paid for his horrific consistency over the years. AJ is doomed to failure, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy every time he failed.

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