T.J. Zeuch made his MLB debut on September 3, 2019. He entered the Jays-Braves game as a bulk pitcher, not a starter. Was it a wise choice for the Toronto Blue Jays to use Zeuch in the bulk role in his first MLB game?
I imagine that when T.J. Zeuch was first informed that he was going to the Show, he pictured himself on an MLB mound as a starter. However, Zeuch made his debut as a bulk pitcher against the Atlanta Braves; in the second inning, he followed Wilmer Font. He pitched 4 innings, faced 17 batters, and allowed 2 earned runs. The latter metric translates into a 4.50 ERA, which almost equals the 2019 MLB average ERA for starters (4.53).
There was some debate among fans and media members regarding whether Zeuch should have made his debut as a traditional starter or a bulk guy/featured pitcher. I think the Jays reasoning for using him in the bulk role was that Zeuch could enter the game and not face the top of the Braves order from the get-go. This would allow Zeuch to gradually feel comfortable before pitching to the likes of Ronald Acuna Jr., Freddie Freeman, and Josh Donaldson.
While I understand that rationale, I would have had Zeuch start the game. I think there is value for an athlete to go through their normal routine before entering a game. Zeuch is a traditional starter who typically prepares himself as a starter, a long opener if you will. I would have started Zeuch against Atlanta to see from the outset what he could do against the National League’s second-best offence (based on wRC+).
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A not-so-smooth segue
In the film The Searchers, the 1956 classic western, there is a scene in which a small group of men are debating whether or not everyone should continue to pursue the Comanche warriors. The Reverend Capt. Samuel Johnston Clayton says to Ethan Edwards, “right now we’re too many an’ not enough”. This quote applies to this article: too many topics to cover but not enough words for separate posts.
So let’s go to the phone lines to discuss the MLB June Draft update and also Alex Anthopoulos!
MLB June Draft update
Caller J.P.: You recently wrote an article that examined the June Draft records of Mr. Ricciardi and Alex Anthopoulos. In that article, the 2002-2004 drafts were not included in the data that was used to grade Mr. Ricciardi. If those three drafts were included in the sample, would Alex’s predecessor look better than he did in your original assessment?
Radio Host Bob: Do I detect a Worster accent?
Caller J.P.: No, no. I have a cold.
Radio Host Bob: Okay. Well, you can find the updated information in Table 1. The 2002-2009 period covers all of J.P.’s MLB June drafts. The inclusion of the 2002-2004 data did not affect my assessment of J.P.’s MLB June Draft record.
In terms of the number of drafted and signed players with a positive career bWAR, J.P. ranked 10th in the 2005-2009 period; he was also 10th in the 2002-2009 era.
With respect to total career bWAR of drafted and signed players, J.P. moved from 27th (2005-2009) to 24th (2002-2009) in the rankings. Those marks are both in the bottom-quartile of his then-GM peers.
J.P.’s top-two selections, in terms of highest career-bWAR, were Aaron Hill and Shaun Marcum. Hill ranked 27th among the highest bWAR-pick of each MLB team during the 2002-2009 period; Marcum placed 29th highest among each team’s second-highest bWAR selection. The comparable rankings for the 2005-2009 phase were Yan Gomes (27th) and Jake Marisnick (27th), respectively.
The Blue Jays relatively poor MLB June Draft record during the 2002-2009 period, as well as the 2005-2009 drafts, is consistent with the Ricciardi-led Blue Jays philosophy of drafting high-floor/low-ceiling players. The Blue Jays of that era were fairly adept at selecting players who made the Major League; they were comparatively poor at drafting players who became very good MLB contributors.
My grade for the J.P. regime’s MLB June Draft record, be it for the entirety of his Blue Jays tenure or the 2005-2009 period, is an “F”. I gave Anthopoulos a “C+” for his MLB June Draft record, which covered the 2010-2015 drafts.
Alex Anthopoulos and the 2018 Atlanta Braves
Caller Paul: Thanks for taking my call. Let me first say that I love all the numbers in your articles.
Radio Host Bob: Thank you. I’m guessing that you are an accountant. Is that correct?
Caller Paul: No, no. It’s just that I have been fond of numbers since my elementary school days in Welland. My question is the following: Am I wrong to link the 2018 playoff berth of the Atlanta Braves to the arrival of Alex Anthopoulos?
Radio Host Bob: Atlanta’s 2018 divisional title is a classic case of confusing correlation with causation.
I looked at the bWAR of the 2018 Atlanta Braves. I then divided the bWARs of each player into two buckets. Bucket A contains the bWAR of players that were in the Atlanta organization prior to AA’s arrival; Bucket B consists of bWARs of players acquired by A.A.
In 2018, the bWAR total for the Braves was 40.7. Bucket A players produced 37.1 (91%) of the Braves total bWAR. If you add the 48 games that would have been won by replacement-level players to the 37.1, that 85.1 win total would have secured the 2018 National League East Division title for the Braves.
In the 2019 season to date (September 2), AA-acquired players have produced a 9.2 bWAR. The largest single contributor is Donaldson with his 4.9 bWAR; next is Dallas Keuchel’s 1.6. Of the total 32.7 bWAR generated by the 2019 Braves to date, 28% has been provided by AA-acquired players.
In my view, Anthopoulos eventually became a good General Manager for the Blue Jays. His impact on the Braves will be felt more and more in the post-2018 seasons than it was in his first.
Thanks for the calls.
The last word
"I watch a lot of baseball on the radio."
Gerald R. Ford