Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Impressions of Game 4: Jays 7-Athletics 6

Well, I'm not sure what will happen to this blog, but here are some thoughts on tonight's game:


Jo-Jo Reyes. I am unsure of how Reyes managed to succeed so markedly in Spring Training. He looked pretty horrible even though he was around the plate all night. Perhaps he normally has more movement on his fastball, but it looked flat tonight, and the Athletics were making solid contact off it all night. It would be unfair to condemn Reyes after a single outing, and perhaps poor pitch calling had something to do with it. Frankly, I think Reyes needs to mix speeds better to succeed.

Villanueva took a batter in each inning to find the strike zone, but otherwise looked strong, mixing his pitches well, and showing an ability to finish guys off with a strikeout despite his lack of a strong fastball.

David Purcey was an encouragement to us all- after not being able to find the strike zone all spring, his first appearance showed good command, with just two pitches getting away from him, and showing a reasonable ability to locate within the zone.

Jon Rauch does not look like he should have effective stuff. Unless he recovers some velocity, he basically has Shaun Marcum's arsenal (with an average changeup, rather than a stellar one). That's not quite good enough for the back of the bullpen. Coco Crisp hammered a double into right field on a line, and he was bailed out by Rajai Davis on a long fly ball.

Shawn Camp & Jason Frasor showed exactly why they are reliable relievers. Frasor made a single mistake with his slider, which was turned by Willingham to give the A's the lead, but otherwise threw strikes, located his slider and changeup effectively and changed speeds well. Camp threw down in the zone with great movement.

The Hitters:

Juan Rivera has shown incredibly good strike zone judgement thus far this year. Regrettably, when he does get a good pitch to hit, he looks nothing like a major league hitter. I'm sure he'll eventually swing at a pitch outside the strike zone, and I'm sure he'll eventually show us why he's been a Major League starter for years. So, either take his plate discipline as a good sign, or worry about his lack of good contact. To be fair, he did hit a ball hard to third today but I think that was only his second well-hit ball this year.

Edwin has looked to me like he has a good approach at the plate, mostly laying off bad pitches and getting good swings. The results haven't been there - he's gotten a little jammed sometimes, and has rolled over on other pitches, so perhaps his timing isn't quite right, but he's still producing a fair number of line drives like his double to left field today.

Aaron Hill looks like he's trying to hit line drives rather than home runs, and he's succeeding. 3 blistering line drives today, two straight at the third baseman. I had thought Hill looked directionless at the plate against the Twins, but today he put good wood on the ball.

Rajai Davis seems to be trying to pull too many outside pitches, resulting in groundball outs- his strikezone judgement hasn't been particularly good either.

Travis Snider hasn't shown any sign of his power, and his plate discipline, particularly against left-handers has been questionable. He seems to be chasing high fastballs (which, as I recall, was a problem of his early last year as well), and against the lefty Blevins swung at 2 balls outside the strikezone and watched a fastball split the plate.

Adam Lind made good contact and showed decent patience at the plate. His single to left-centre field was a good sign that he's not too pull-happy- the number of ground balls to first base has been somewhat concerning early this season.

Yunel! still looks like he could stand to be a little more selective, but he's obviously showing good results. He looked really good on the basepaths, showing good instincts, especially in going to second on Lind's foul ball that scored Davis in the 5th.


Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the game was the play of Toronto's defensive corps. Escobar made a brilliant play on a ball deflected off of Reyes, though he couldn't get the runner at first. On the double plays and more routine ground balls, Escobar showed good footwork, quick transfers and strong, accurate throws.

Snider made three throws to try and get the runner advancing to second on a ball hit to left field. On one, he looked like he couldn't get a good grip and threw well off-line. On another, he made it a very close play with a strong & accurate throw. On the third, he beat the runner, but the ball popped out of Hill's glove as he applied the tag. Snider has a decent, but not impressive outfield arm, but he closes on the ball quickly, and gets the throw off quickly.

Aaron Hill also made a good play going to his left, knocking down a ball and quickly throwing to first. At first Adam Lind looks increasingly at ease- he looked more than capable in the first series, but definitely a little nervous. Today, not at all.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Reasons for Optimism, Causes for Concern

The beginning of every season, (like the start of any blog) offers broad expanses of hope and stronger probabilities of disappointment. Looking at the first few games, what threads of hope can we latch onto and what shades of decline can we fear?

Be Merry & Rejoice!

Jose Bautista: His swing and his eye look as good as at any time last year. He looked a little anxious when hitting with men on and the Jays behind on Sunday, swinging at a couple balls at his laces, but otherwise has almost had a perfect eye at the plate.

Travis Snider: Aside from a bobble transferring to his throwing hand, Snider has looked brilliant in Left Field. Why he can't be the backup Right Fielder is a mystery- and the way he's looked on his jumps and routes, he may be a viable emergency centrefielder as well, if given the chance. At the plate, Snider hasn't shown any power in the early days, but his approach at the plate looks solid.

J. P. Arencibia: At the plate, he has looked marvellous, far better than his spring had led us to expect. While he has obviously gotten a pair of home runs and a triple, all of his other at-bats are sources of optimism. In these few early games, Arencibia hasn't chased bad pitches or been overly aggressive, he's rarely (if at all) swung through a pitch, and he's recorded at least three long fly ball outs. His power is clearly real. Perhaps of even greater importance is his play behind the plate. He's thrown out one runner attempting to advance, and has looked good blocking pitches in the dirt. There has been nothing to suggest that Arencibia will be a weak defensive catcher as yet.

Adam Lind: Defensively, Lind has looked like he's incredibly nervous out there, yet he's done just about everything right (one somewhat high underhand throw to the pitcher covering notwithstanding). At the plate, there have been mixed signs. He's hit some balls hard, but has rolled over on others, resulting in weak ground balls.

Ready the bunker, the Jayscopalypse is upon us!

Juan Rivera: While he's shown respectable plate discipline, he has barely hit a ball with authority yet.

Aaron Hill: While he's not popping everything up, Hill hasn't been making good contact, and continues to look pull-happy and over-aggressive at the plate.

Brett Cecil: News of Cecil's diminished velocity leaked a week ago, and the unanimous reaction of the Jays commentariat was that it wasn't of significant concern. Given that Cecil hit 92 on the gun, his maximum velocity doesn't appear to be truly concerning. However, by the fifth inning, and after just 50 pitches, Cecil was clearly spent, throwing mainly 84-87. Gameday puts his average fastball at 88.5, but that is clearly a major over-estimate, as Gameday misidentified a great number of pitches in the mid-80s which might be either sliders or fastballs. Both Cecil's top velocity and his endurance bear watching and merit concern.