April 9, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher B. Morrow (23). Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

5 Questions Going Into 2014

When coming up with this article, I thought about what I could do to get you, the reader, to feel more involved.  We have several people consistently chiming in and we love and appreciate people taking their time to inform us or correct us, and sometimes, just say they enjoy our work.  This week I came up with my own list of questions.  I’m hoping, via Twitter, to gather your questions in the future.  I’m presenting a Fan Sided (see what I did there) viewpoint when answering.  I am, in no way, an expert.  I do, however, do my homework to try and give you insightful answers regarding questions you may have.  So this week, I answer a few questions going into 2014.

UPDATE: This was initially written a week ago.  I was going to post it but I decided to wait and see how that crazy Japanese pitcher would pleasantly surprise us somehow break our hearts.

Before I begin, I realize there is still a month before Spring Training and as fans, we’re waiting on whether or not Masahiro Tanaka will be a Blue Jay. Now that Masahiro Tanaka will not be a Blue Jay, After that, are the Jays in on the other three arms remaining (Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Ervin Santana) in Free Agency?  Those are questions I’m not privy enough to answer, so I won’t (see what I did here?)  So 5 Questions could be a bit premature at this stage, but I take nothing for granted and I’m assuming, at this point, the “worst case scenario” that the Jays will sign nobody else.

5.) Will Ryan Goins hit?

Sep 6, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Toronto Blue Jays second baseman R. Goins (17). Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Tough call.  Based off of stats from Fangraphs.com and BrooksBaseball.net, it’s unlikely.  In 2012 AA ball, he had positive results that showed a .289/.342/.403 slash line.   2013 didn’t have the same results.  Some may say his first shot at The Show after playing most of the season in AAA was positive, but I’m skeptical.  His line dropped to .257/.311/.369.  The positive to take from this is that Goins did produce extra base hits 30% in AAA and that didn’t change much (23%) when he reached the majors.  What’s concerning is the K%.  In AAA, Goins K% jumped to 20% of his ABs and up to 23% while with Toronto.  His OBP from AAA to the majors dropped from .311 to .264, granted his major league opportunity was limited to only a third of the ABs he received while in AAA.

To further drive this concern home is his Brooks Baseball card.  For the 3 major pitch type categories (fastball, breaking balls, and offspeed pitches), he is considered to have an exceptionally poor eye over the 464 pitches that were tracked by Pitch f/x during 2013.  So at 3.89 average pitches seen per AB, he could be considered an aggressive hitter, but Brooks Baseball says he takes a patient approach (got to love numbers.)  Also according to Pitch f/x, when Goins is swinging the bat, it’s outside of the strike zone 44% on pitches not deemed a fastball, and 34% on pitches that are fastballs.  Yet, he takes a patient approach.

Perhaps the most disheartening value is that of Fangraphs projections.  Both Steamer and Oliver have Goins, hitting below .245, but above .220 (which could be considered an upgrade considering what Emilio Bonifacio and Maicer Izturis did there last season.)  I am a believer that a player can learn to adjust when seeing more pitches at the level of competition they’re playing at, however, in Goins case, it may still not mean he hits .250 or improves his OBP to a more acceptable .325-.330.  He may, however, beat predictions.  If so, then combined with his defensive prowess, that, again, is still better than what Toronto received last season at 2B.

4.) Who will step up on the Blue Jays pitching staff?

Nov 2, 2013; Surprise, AZ, USA; Toronto Blue Jays pitcher M. Stroman. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

In Marcus Stroman I trust.  Last year, I said “Don’t take the gloves off yet.  Don’t do to him what the Jays did to Sean Nolin.”  I still believed that was the correct way to go.  From AA to the big league is a huge jump and please spare me from the “there are more talented hitters in AA than AAA.”  That’s crap.  Allowing Stroman to come to Spring Training gives him a chance to see major league and AAAA hitters.  It’s great practice.  I believe some AAA time would be nice to, but if not, that’s ok because I’m a believer in this kid.

Stroman is now armed with five pitches, recently adding a cutter to his repertoire.   To say he’ll step up on this staff may be much because then I’d have to believe he’ll make the rotation out of Spring Training.  Whaddayakno, I believe he will.  Call it a gut feeling.  Or take it from our own Jays Journal editor, Kyle Franzoni, who posted several days ago that Blue Jays skipper, John Gibbons, said he thinks Stroman can make the 2014 rotation.

A few things of concern is that Stroman is throwing certain pitches harder.  Scouts and pitching coaches tend to say a good cutter is thrown at 88-91 MPH (I heard this on a NESN broadcast from Jerry Remy discussing Jon Lester‘s cutter).  Supposedly, it tends to break better and look less like a fastball.  Stroman’s CUT sits at 93-94 MPH, which isn’t much slower than his FB.  His CRV is also 2-3 MPH faster and it’s definitely having an effect on the vertical break of the pitch, which could make the pitch flatten out.

3.) Who has a break out year?

Sep 27, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays third baseman B. Lawrie (13). Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

How can you not say Brett Lawrie?  The fan base is waiting.  I hate even writing about this because it seems like we’ve been writing about it forever.  Lawrie has shown he’s got “it” in the field.  He’s shown hints of pop in his bat.  With a frame like his, how can he not?  He’s got hustle.  He’s got heart.  He’s got intensity, though sometimes too much.  Now it’s all about his bat.

As stated by virtually every Blue Jays blog site, Lawrie has stood more upright and used less movement during his ABs.  What does that mean?  Well, the standing more upright is pretty self-explanatory, but the less movement means he looks less like an ADHD child and more in control and calm.  I’m not saying he’s an ADHD child nor am I saying he’s less intense, but the less movement seems to mean a faster swing, while the upright stance means more loft upon contact with the ball.  From July 28 through the rest of the 2013 season, Lawrie had a line of .293/.354/.410 including 4 HRs and 25 RBIs over 222 ABs.

Steamer and Oliver seem to be at odds over this and it makes sense.  Steamer is a bit more optimistic saying the 3B will hit for .274, with more HRs (18) in less ABs and GP compared to Oliver.  I’m going out on a limb and saying Lawrie hits .280, with 21 HRs and possibly a 90 RBI season.  He may even register 15-17 SBs.

It’s time for this young man to prove he’s a stud and I believe he has the attitude and drive to do so.

2.) How much will the coaching staff changes affect the team?

Feb 29, 2012; Surprise, AZ, USA; Kansas City Royals batting coach K. Seitzer (36). Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Hopefully a lot and for the better.  I’m worried about Seitzer’s impact on the team.  As I’ve written about before, I’m a fan of former hitting coach Chad Mottola‘s approach, which contrary to popular belief, was NOT swinging for the fences.  His “patience” approach at the plate was the very heart to why the Blue Jays’ bats came alive during the 11 game win streak in June of 2013.  It was also the major reason to great seasons by several players like Adam Lind, Colby Rasmus, and Edwin Encarnacion.  Yet, Gibbons and Jays’ GM Alex Anthopolous parted way with Mottola.

So ENTER Seitzer.  The good news is Seitzer preaches the “patience” value much like Mottola did.  Whether or not that will improve the Jays’ BA wRISP numbers from last year (.254) will remain to be seen.  Seitzer also comes with another teaching: the art of the inside-out swing (aka opposite field hitting.)  For some players, like Lawrie, I believe this could be beneficial.  For players like Jose Bautista, I’m concerned.  Why?  For a guy like Bautista, it’s all about timing and part of his timing relies heavily on his wrist action.  For him, that’s max effort in every swing.

When you talk about hitting the ball to the opposite field or spraying the ball around, like Seitzer did for most of his career, it’s about wrist control.  Think of it like when you’re playing softball.  What’s more beneficial than a guy occasionally hitting a home run in softball?  You guessed it!  Hitting the ball to the opposite field every time.  There are a few methods to do so and Seitzer knows them all.  Slowing down your wrists is one way.  Being able to pull the bat in, so you can hit the ball with the upper, outside portion of the bat is another.  In my case, it was using a closed stance as opposed to an open stance.  Timing is another way, but a dangerous method.  Delaying your swing is extremely difficult and will often lead to badly messing you up at the plate.  Don’t believe me?  See how bad Bautista looks when his timing is off.

The other key change is the loss of Bullpen Coach Pat Hentgen.  Pitchers raved about the way Hentgen helped refine their 2FB into more of a sinker/2FB hybrid.  Whether or not Bob Stanley will have that effect will remain to be seen.  Rest assure though, that the coaches brought in for the 2014 season are “Gibbons’ guys.”  If you can’t buy the players to come play in Toronto, then at least you can get the right coaches in place, which seems to be Anthopolous’ and Gibbons’ approach at this point.

1.) How important is Brandon Morrow for the 2014 season?

Morrow means everything to the success of the Toronto Blue Jays this season.  Everybody expects R.A. Dickey to start out better than last season.  The same goes for Mark Buehrle.  But nobody knows what to expect from Morrow and that’s a scary thought.  So how important is he?  In an article by the National Post’s John Lott, Gibbons states that Morrow “…could be the key.”  Yes, getting the 2012 Morrow back would be huge for a team that expects to start faster than the 2013 April and May.

It’s a lot of pressure for a pitcher that’s never shown much in the way of consistency.  Morrow’s defined by being consistently inconsistent on the mound every season, but one.  If Morrow finds consistency, Toronto should be a force in the AL East.  He’s expected to be the Jays’ #2 starter and at his best, he can outpitch any #2 in the MLB.  I’m not being biased either.  For those that have watched, every pitch Morrow has in his arsenal is absolutely mindblowing.  “How does he throw 93 MPH one minute and 98 MPH the next?”  “How did that straight line pitch drop out of the strike zone and land on top of home plate?”  “His slider started inside on the hitter and was well out of the strike zone!”  Those are all comments I’ve heard while watching Morrow throw/pitch, particularly in 2011 (more throwing) and 2012 (more pitching).

Gibbons was being modest when he said Morrow could be key.  Morrow IS the key to a successful 2014.


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  • Ewan Brocklehurst

    I am a died in blue blue jays fan since April 7, 1977 (Section 108, row 30 seats 1 and 2). I do not jump on and off the bandwagon. I love this team always. WIn or lose, I will go their games. Now last year was a great team that disappointed (Josh Johnson), but I truly believe if we can have an average or better than average health rate, we can be very good. I believe in Drew Hutchison, Brett Lawrie and Adam Lind. My biggest regret is buying a JP Arencibia jersey three years ago. But this year, I think that the players and the manager will start on the same page, have a complete spring training (no WBC) and will come out of the gate strong. I do hope they make one splash with Jiminez, the other two will not be able to keep the ball in the park (especially Rogers Centre) If they get Jiminez, we may very well make the playoffs, anyway, here’s hoping!

    • Justin Jay

      So from Day 1. I wasn’t quite around yet and honestly, growing up not too far from Boston and being born in NY, I somehow managed to resist both franchises and jumped on the Blue Jays bandwagon as a kid, in ’91. Except for 1 month, I’ve been a Jays fan… and trust me, I paid dearly for that 1 month with the greatest, yet most awkward moment of my life while in Tampa Bay catching a Jays-Rays series.

      I believe in the players you speak of as well. Lind needs to continue to be patient and work counts, much like I mentioned of Bautista above. Lawrie just needs to show some consistency with the bat. It’s good to see he worked hard at correcting his flat swing last season. Hutchison, IMO, I think is the best young candidate to make the Jays rotation. The only thing that concerns me is the red flag that a fellow writer at Blue Jays Plus tagged on him. He’s had some arm trouble and if certain issues in his delivery weren’t corrected, he may continue to have arm trouble. That would be a shame because he’s got decent-to-good stuff with great location. If he stays healthy and progresses, he could be a #3 in the future. I like his make up. Just want to see his arm stay healthy.

      You can cross Garza off the list of pitchers. He was signed today. I still think, despite pitching in the Trop, he was quite effective in a hitter friendly field. Texas too. HRAs are big deals but I think it’s receiving too much attention. FB/HR I feel is a better measure. If I had to choose an arm though, I’m with you on Jimenez and his crazy mechanics. But Garza was my 1A

  • RyanMueller

    Love talking about this stuff. Ewan, I am with you on that bandwagon, win or lose I love my Jays. I think Ricky would play huge role in turning this team around. If he is able to find his former self that would morph our rotation into one of the 10 in baseball. I have given up on thinking Morrow will be an ace with the Jays….he will become an ace one year after he joins a new team. Lawrie will have a good year and Goins will be decent (I think he will be similar to Manny Lee but with a bit more pop). Kevin Seitzer will have zero effect on Jose (both), Edwin, and maybe Lind. He will have a positive influence on guys coming up or with mixed success. The Joses and Edwin have all been successful so he will leave them alone.

    • Justin Jay

      I agree with most of this. Jose gets streaky. It would be nice, if Seitzer does anything, to keep Bautista in check and remain patient. He seemed to do really well when he worked the count in his favour. Of course, that’s easier said than done if the pitcher is throwing the 1st pitch for strikes. Usually when Bautista took the pitch and it was a borderline strike, it drew his ire when it went against him.

  • Erik Trenouth

    As much as I love Morrow (he is my favorite Jay ever since Halladay left) I don’t think that Morrow at his best is better than Greinke or Scherzer at their bests. But he is without a doubt a top 5 #2 guy if healthy and throwing like he can.

    Nice article.

    • Justin Jay

      I don’t know Erik. When Morrow was healthy and on, he was dirty. Every pitch had movement, including his missle 98 MPH FB. My buddy and I watched him throw a splitter against Tampa. This pitch came in hot, just like a fastball. The hitter swung and the ball dropped out of the zone so fast, it landed smack in the middle of the plate making the Rays hitter look foolish. I think it was Zobrist or Rodriguez. Greinke’s mostly effective because his arsenal has great varying velocities (mid-90s FB, 69-70MPH slow curve… nasty combo), but Scherzer is probably Morrow’s best comparison. Biggest difference is strike consistency. Morrow’s pitches have better movement… or they did.

    • ziggy13

      I wouldn’t call Greinke a #2. I’m not gonna say he’s an ace, but he’s definitely a #1 (I believe there’s a difference between the two). I’d call Morrow a top 3 #2 at his best.

  • Justin Jay

    I plan on trying to do this weekly, so if you have questions or ideas, feel free to tweet @JayOnJays if you have Twitter.