I’ve been accused of playing favorites. Like many sabermetrically-minded writers, it’s said that we have a blind spot for teams like the A’s, Sox, and Blue Jays while punishing the Devil Rays or Brewers for the slightest misstep. Let me start then by criticizing the Blue Jays in as strong of terms that I can muster on something I consider to be of paramount importance: those home grey lids are ugly. I’m talking about ugly on the order of the rainbow Astros, but not quite as bad as those hideous “future” uniforms. This is a problem that must be corrected immediately.
Other than that, I’m hard-pressed to find something worth criticizing on this team. The Jays, on the field and in the front office, are smart, efficient, and operate using a plan. From J.P. Ricciardi to Carlos Tosca to the hot dog vendors for the FisherCats, the plan is known, clearly articulated, and every action must be related in some way to the furtherance of that plan. For a team with the budgetary constraints and competitive tightrope like the Jays’, keeping the club they planned for on the field is of utmost importance. While the Jays are beginning to reap the benefits of a deep, talented development system, they do not yet have the flexibility necessary to overcome a series of key injuries.
Like most teams, they can ill afford injuries to their key personnel, most notably Carlos Delgado and Roy Halladay. While Delgado has had some minor knee problems in the past, he is not taxed often with much running and keeps himself at a very low yellow. Given more to write about, I might try to make more of a case for keeping him as a green. Playing first helps, though the inflexibility at DH works against him slightly. In a pinch, the Jays could DH Delgado, playing Phelps or Myers at first, but this is certainly not a problem they hope to face. The injury to Eric Hinske last year showed that the drop to replacement level is, at almost every position, probably enough to push the Jays from contention.
With Halladay, we deal with a pitcher that is arguably the best in the game. (Way to go out on a limb for the reigning Cy Young winner, Will!) Among Halladay’s plusses is his ability to work a high number of innings. This in turn is the result of his focus on pitch efficiency. He had only six outings of 110 pitches or more, his highest (122) coming in a complete game in his last outing. Having attended that game, I think it would have taken a team of mules to get him off the mound; seldom have I seen a pitcher willing himself a win to that extent, even going so far as to block the plate on the potential tying run.
Where Halladay would be in danger is if the pitch efficiency failed him while his innings workload remained static. His 111-pitch debut in 2004 was certainly not efficient, but one outing isn’t much to go on, especially for a pitcher who went into May 2003 with only two decisions, both losses. Just looking at how far one must scroll down to find Halladay’s name on last year’s PAP chart is amazing. How is he below Darren Dreifort of all people?
Both designated hitters have injury problems, but both are very known quantities and are to a large extent protected by their usage patterns. Myers will catch some, with a very manageable workload that stands to fall further once Guillermo Quiroz makes his way up from Syracuse. With Phelps, his injury problems–back and knees–forced him from behind the plate a few seasons back. While he’s shown signs of fragility, he’s hardly a Nick Johnson wannabe. Given the expected workloads, the DH tandem is certainly a manageable risk and just the type of situation that Toronto excels in finding. (Old catcher who can rake? Check! Young former catcher that can’t run, can hit, and comes cheap? Check!)
The final discussion point is Pat Hentgen, nearly two years removed from Tommy John. As a placeholder while Dustin McGowan and David Bush ripen, he’s not a bad gamble, but he’s precisely the type of player that could have deceptively good numbers while pitching poorly, a la Cory Lidle. Trying to find placeholders who have outside shots at success or even a sprinkling of Loaiza-dust isn’t bad, it’s just not much fun to explain or to see on the mound most times.
The Blue Jays compete with the New York Empire and the Boston Billionaires. Look closely at that sentence–they compete. Given the right set of circumstances, the Jays could find themselves flying into October, but if not, they’ve done things according to their plan and made strides toward their targets. What you don’t see is whining, cries for new stadiums, or public subsidies. A lot of teams could learn a lot from this team.