Category Archives: MLB

So this is what they’re “Goins” with, eh?

Goins loved life with the Fisher Cats... will the MLB be a different story? (Dave Schofield/NH Fisher Cats)
Goins killed it with the Fisher Cats… will the MLB be a different story? (Dave Schofield/NH Fisher Cats)

Oh the ‘Goins’ puns. So easy, plentiful, and hard to resist.

The fan in me wants Ryan Goins to succeed. Everyone loves the idea of a homegrown player coming working their way up through the system and making it in the bigs.

I was actually even at his major league debut at a road game in Houston. He went 2-4, his family was there, he doubled – it was all gumdrops and rainbows.

So, believe me when I say I really want to like the idea of Ryan Goins. A great, glove-first guy at the two bag, and he’s had some pretty serviceable numbers at stops in the minors.

But if the Toronto Blue Jays are going to start Goins at second base in the 2014 season, then there better be a contingency plan in place, because right now, the signs don’t really point to him being a major league-caliber starter.

I’m pretty patient when it comes to prospects. I am more than happy for the Jays to make a start with Goins, the reality though is that’s a little reckless.

Let’s take a look at some key stats on the kid from Round Rock:

With the Jays – 34G, 121PA, with a .252/.264/.345 line. (AVG/OBP/SLG)

Where things really got fugly though was with the walk and K rate. Walk rate was a horrific 1.7% and K rate and equally frightening 23.1%. I mean, that is approaching Arencibia territory (3.6%/29.8%). *shudders*

The masses have preached “small sample size”, and they are, by all means, correct. The concerning part is that for some numbers he did put up, particularly the K and walk rates, is where Fangraphs claim those start to normalize. But for things like average, and OBP, etc, we’ll really need to see an extended look.

The good stuff:

His numbers from AA were actually not so bad.

136G, 618PA, and a .289/.342/.403 line… Honestly, if Goins can replicate that at the MLB level, I can get down on that. The slugging is a bit shit, but a .342 OBP (or.336 wOBA) is fine by me.

Lump that in with a 7.6% walk rate, and 12.6% K rate when he was with the Fisher Cats? Granted those are basically the best numbers he posted in those fields in his pro career – and it’s double A – but that’s actually pretty alright. Or at least it’s mostly average. But mix in the sexy defense and you’re looking a useful major leaguer.

Speaking of defense:

In his brief look at the MLB level, his UZR was a fantastic 6.2, and UZR/150 was 33.1 – for perspective, the uber-talented Manny Machado had a UZR/150 of 31.2. The best second baseman? Darwin Barney at 15.5. Of course, they played all year, not just as a September call-up like Goins.

My guess is that number would go down, but hey, who knows? I mean Gibby likes what he sees, so why shouldn’t we?

Where can he improve?

Base running. This seems like the best, and most obvious thing Goins can improve on. Brooks Baseball gives a pretty unfavourable take on his track record as a hitter, so when he does get on base, he better be smart about it.

Goins seems like a pretty good athlete, and can obviously run somewhat if you consider his range. (I picture him as the anti-Troy Glaus) So why he hasn’t done better in this regard is beyond me. His BsR (Base Runs Above Average) was -2.1 in his stint with the Jays. Not great. In the minors he had 30 stolen bases, and 29 caught stealing. So… what gives?

My thinking is if he can work on his timing, try and figure out some of the pitchers, and get smarter about base running, then he’ll be able to at least work his way back up to average levels, and improve his overall value.

Long story short. He kinda looks like the second coming of Johnny Mac, just at a less important position, where it will be even harder for his weak bat to play. Maybe that’s nothing you didn’t already know, but now it’s all laid out here.

Maybe Goins is one of those guys who figures out how to hit at the major league level… but if not, I hope Anthopoulous has a plan B.

Good luck, Goins. I’ll be pulling for you.

Where the wild Puigs are

Yasiel Puig NLCS Los Angeles Times Dodgers

“This is America, so I can show you my nipples if I want!”

The drifter lifted his shirt and started walking towards me with a doped-up look in his eyes. It was hard to see him under the dim yellow lights and the empty gray concrete of the boardwalk, but those were definitely nipples.

By this point in the night Venice had been completely turned over to the homeless and the crazies, and there was no telling what kind of trouble you might find on a fairly short walk.

The man had a point though. He could show me his nipples if he wanted. But what if that wasn’t what I wanted? I’d finally found parking and was beginning the march back to my beachside apartment, so I was in no mood to be hassled in my fatigued state. All I wanted was a nice bed to crash in after a long day.

“Very nice,” I replied, and walked past him. I didn’t feel like engaging this vagabond in an argument about the true meaning of liberty. Besides, his goldfish attention span would no doubt carry him on to his next thought before I could say anything meaningful.

I had a fleeting concern he would try and rob me, but I had almost nothing of any real value anyway. My pockets were lined with a few dollar bills and some maxed out credit cards. But the Dodgers tickets – he could turn those for a quick profit if he had the brains to realize it.

Venice sign at night

The threat quickly subsided as his friend shouted he had “nicer nipples” and the two began to bicker as I scurried into the building.

I tapped the breast pocket of my blazer to feel for the tickets. They were safe.

After all, this was my L.A. highlight. Sure the city had sun, beach, nightlife, and entertainment. But L.A.-St. Louis, NLCS, game three, under the lights at Dodger Stadium? Baseball games like that don’t come along too often.

I’d gambled – hard – on buying the tickets in the first place. With one night in L.A. to make the game, and neither the Dodgers or Cardinals having advanced, buying the tickets was reckless, but with great risk comes great reward.

I took the rickety old elevator up to my floor and started down the light blue hallway. The apartment complex had a very beachy vibe, even in the dead of night. At the end of the hall another tenant stood on the fire escape, smoking a joint while the palm fronds swayed in the background. He shot me a hesitant glance, but I looked back at him and smiled, as if to say, “Relax pal. I know I’m in a suit, but I’m no NARC.” I wasn’t about to rain on his parade. It’s hard to enough to find peace in the chaos of this city. If this man found his paradise, why not leave him be?

I got back up to the trendy, exposed brick room and took my dress shoes off. The light hummed to life in the kitchen, and I grabbed a beer out of the fridge. Yelling and rattling went on three floors below, the drifters finding new ways to amuse themselves in my absence.

As I’d been informed earlier, this was America. The wild west. This is where dreams came to flourish or die. I was in the middle of mine, but the dark, chaotic souls of the Venice boardwalk had rattled me. The sudden, random exposure to a man’s nipples jarred me, but also set my mind straight. Maybe this drifter knew something I didn’t? Caution is no antidote for entropy. We’re all susceptible to the chaos, so we might as well keep living on the edge. Maybe flashing our nipples at strangers in the dead of night will become the new normal? I guess we’ll just have to deal with it.

I sipped my beer and leafed through the sports section of the Los Angeles Times to ease my mind. This was it. Do or die for the Dodgers. Go down 3-0, or stay in this thing. Making maters worse for L.A., it was Staff Ace versus Portly Korean. Something special would have to happen, or tomorrow would be a very sad night in L.A.

***

It was a warm afternoon and the sun beat down on the powder blue stadium. Fans milled about the parking lot and the entrances as the towering palm trees lining the stadium loomed overhead. The sun lit up the San Gabriel mountains in the distance and Los Angeles was buzzing for baseball. The fans moved in throngs through gift shops and up the ramps to their seats. There was no sense of fear, or uneasiness, about the dire circumstances of today’s game.

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My blonde-haired companion bounded through the gate ahead of me in her new Dodger blue T-shirt. These were the times when even the most tepid baseball fans catch the fever.

The concourses were like a time warp. That beautiful powder blue colour – it was everywhere – lined the walls, and the hand-painted murals showed up every so often to remind you of the great history ever since this Brooklyn transplant found it’s new home. The scent of Dodger Dogs wafted through the air, and the jovial fans wandered about looking for condiments and beer.

The game started in the late afternoon with all the pomp and circumstance we’ve come to expect from playoff baseball. Military honours, drawn out anthems, and unnecessary explosions of Cardinal-red fireworks (an odd choice?).

The first few innings moved smoothly, with that pace usually reserved for pitcher’s duels. Each team with a baserunner in the first, but promptly going three-up, three-down over the next two innings.

Night began to fall over Chavez Ravine, the powder blue shifted a shade and the mountains began disappearing into the darkness.

St. Louis started the fourth the same way, but L.A. would not follow suit. Adrian Gonzalez doubled home a run, then moved over to third on a groundout. Anything past the infield would bring him home. Then with two outs in the fourth, Adrian on third, and in steps Yasiel Puig.

The Cuban sensation had dazzled ever since his mid-season call-up. He played a wild and exuberant brand of baseball that meshed nicely with the wild and exuberant town he played in – a style my drifter friend would be proud of.

He clashed severely with baseball’s old guard. His cockiness, and reckless play drew the ire of just about everyone, but it also won baseball games, so it was tough to argue with the results.

The Cardinals’ ace Adam Wainright, now with a run charged to him tried to refocus. Two fastballs, and a curve, left the count two balls to one. Puig dug in and Wainright came back with another fastball.

With a violent swing, the ball cracked and the 93 mile an hour sinker was suddenly headed hard and fast towards the darkness behind right field. Puig’s arms went up immediately – the bat flipping wildly into the background – and he strutted out of the box like royalty.

In this moment he was the king of L.A., and he would put an exclamation point on a pivotal run if he wanted to.

“The code” would not approve, but King Puig lives by no code but his own. His game is raw and wild. A code is just dated rules for a culture of scared and stoic baseball players, and Puig was scared of nothing that balmy night in Los Angeles.

The ball died as it neared the fence, and a home run would not materialize, so Puig sprang to life. Raw power exploded from the sinew in his muscular legs. The slow, cocky trot around first, turned into an aggressive burst around second, and an arrival at third, standing up, arms raised, and blowing a kiss to the sky.

Shrugging off a lifetime repression, this was Puig’s time, and he would play his way – like it was the last game on Earth.

It was an odd sight. The young, enigmatic, mohawked Cuban showing the Americans how to play the game with the wild and free energy it deserves to be played with.

It was sure to ruffle feathers and consternate the baseball community, but in reality it was just a sheer expression of joy, and joy is not vilified in L.A.

At the night’s end, a Dodgers win complete, Puig had a simple response to his play:

“We’re in the playoffs. Playoffs, playoffs.”

A simple “fuck you” to baseball’s old guard. Puig will play how Puig plays. He will throw his arms up. He will flip bats.

He will do this, because this is the playoffs, and this is America – and this is how you win the west.

If only he’d flashed his nipples.

 

Editor’s note: The Dodgers would go on to lose the NLCS.

Safe, for the moment

 

As Someone Great by LCD Soundsystem shudders through your eardrums it’s easy to get swept up in the emotion.

It’s funny though. While the lyrics are very sad, the bouncy electronic beat does something to keep that sadness from completely overwhelming you.

I never got to see the group play live. In fact, I only really started to listen to with more than a passing interest after their break-up. The great thing about music though, is that even though the band no longer performs, their creative efforts will live on forever.

The song is by no means one about a baseball pitcher. It’s probably fair to say it’s open to interpretation, but it’s about something much heavier, and darker than baseball – that’s for sure. But lately when I listen to it I picture Roy Halladay – or more specifically his career and his struggles at the start of this season.

Few things have been as hard for me to watch in sport as Halladay’s struggles early on.  He seems to have gotten back (more or less) to his old self now, but carrying a 14.73 ERA through the first two starts was unsettling to say the least.

Halladay’s decline, for me, is one that really chews at your core and makes you contemplate the end of all great things. It’s the clear signal that things you once knew and made you comfortable will not last.

For years, tuning into a Halladay start was a given. You could sit down, crack a couple beers, and settle in for a lesson in pitching. A complete game was a likelihood, and maybe even a shutout.

Even when it came time for him to move on to the Phillies – a team the Jays beat for their second World Series title – it was hard not to just sit and stare at the things he could do with sheer joy. It only seemed to get better as he left. The perfect game. The playoff no-hitter. It was always sensational.

To tell the truth I saw it coming…

But nothing can prepare you for it,

Of course there was writing on the wall. He’s 35 now, and he’s thrown over 2,700 big league innings. His spring was dreadful, and he faltered at times last year. His walk rate went up and his HR/9 crept up over 1.00 for effectively the first time in his career (meaning: since 2001).

Greatness will come to pass, and when it’s gone there will be a void. Nothing lasts forever – and it was never meant to – and while it’s easy to focus on the end, celebrating the past is just as important.

Part of the problem though, is that watching Halladay pitch for so many years in Toronto did for me what The Wire did for other TV shows. It set a standard so high, and so perfect, everything after it seems pale in comparison. It jaded me to everything else.

With someone new I could have started,

Too late, for beginnings.

And I’ve tried to find solace. Game of Thrones is a fun show. I love watching Clayton Kershaw starts. But it’s never going to be the same. Halladay and The Wire weren’t like the others, because they never missed – at least not to me.

Of course if I hadn’t seen Halladay as a Blue Jay for so many years, would I have felt the same way? Doubtful.

I can appreciate that he maybe isn’t the best ever. Pedro Martinez could do unreal things with a baseball, and I’ve heard that Koufax guy was a bit of a pitcher in his day.

But they didn’t do it around me and their successes never shaped my fandom. Halladay was so good, and so consistent, you were surprised he was human, and that’s what makes the fall so hard to watch.

His decline may be coming more quickly these days than we’d like, and for fans like myself it’s important to accept that. But if we keep those memories close, it’ll be like he’s never gone.

 

Besides, he’s pitching just fine for now.

We’re safe, for the moment.

Saved,
For the moment.

Crazy ol’ Gene

So, a while back we learned a bit more about how Travis Snider’s career was more or less derailed by poor communication from Jays’ former manager Cito Gaston, and hitting coach Gene Tenace.

In a Sportsnet article by Shi Davidi, Snider reflected on what he was told on his first day in the bigs:

“Have you always finished your swing with two hands?’” Snider remembers (Tenace) asking. “I said, ‘Yes I have, my whole life.’

“He said, ‘You might want to change that if you want to stay at this level.’”

Funny that. Tenace seems to be a bit of a hypocrite (jump to 1:58 for the action):

Looks an awful lot like a two-handed finish to me.

Now, granted Tenace’s year with Oakland in ’72 he wound up hitting .225  with a .339 slugging percentage and an OPS of .646 in 82 games. Not the best numbers. So maybe he was telling Snider what NOT to do based on his experience. Who knows?

And to be fair, in Davidi’s piece Tenace does say he doesn’t remember what he told Snider. But, man… if Snider remembers correctly? Well, me thinks Tenace has got some explaining to do.