Notes and links: The slumping Jays enter the dreaded Trop
On José Berríos, the dome finally opening, Brett Gardner, Hyun Jin Ryu, the struggling bullpen, Julian Merryweather, Yosver Zulueta, Orelvis Martinez, Kevin Gausman, Jordan Romano, prospects, & more!
I’m sure many of you out there could use a palate cleanse after last night’s hockey thing. I know that I could certainly use one after digging deep on what’s ailing the Jays’ offence yesterday — and concluding that it’s not necessarily going to be a quick fix. So, with a series at the stupid, shitty Trop looming, no baseball yet for several hours, and nothing set for this site until Sunday — when I’ll be hosting a live post-game Blue Jays Happy Hour episode on Callin, and taking your calls after the finale of whatever is about to go down between the Jays and Rays — I figured it would be a good time to pass along some notes and links, Afternoon Snack style.
So let’s have at it!
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• First things first: a little more shameless self-promotion! In case you missed it, I chatted about the Jays and their recent struggles yesterday on TSN 1260 Edmonton’s the Jason Gregor Show. There’s no way for me to embed the audio, it seems, but you can listen to my segment here.
In the clip you’ll hear Gregor ask me about José Berríos and his release point — which is something I said I hadn’t really looked into. Well it was a good catch by him, because Berrios has indeed been seeing some changes there — something that happens game to game when you’re looking so closely as here. Interestingly, only once in 2021 did Berríos have a release point below 5.4 feet, which fairly consistently has been the case here in 2022.
Could that be the difference between the versions of Berríos we’ve seen year over year? I’m not sure we could say so, as this stuff is pretty volatile and we’re talking about a matter of inches. But it’s curious!
• Turns out that this past week hasn’t been all bad, because as you can see at the top of this post, the folks who run the facility had the Rogers Centre roof open, for what I believe was the first time this year — as reported by CTV Toronto’s Paul Ross, via the CTV Toronto chopper. Usually there are a few days of testing before they’ll actually open up the dome with fans in the building, which puts them in line to (hopefully) be playing outdoor ball when they return next week for a weeklong homestand against the Mariners and Reds.
The last time the Jays played a full season at Rogers Centre was 2019, and the roof didn’t open that season until June 6th — though that was due to construction work that was being done on it. Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi reported at the time that “The earliest the roof has ever opened for a game was April 16, 2002, when the game-time temperature was 27 C. Last year (2018), the first game with the dome peeled back was May 9 on a 17 C day, after late May openings the previous two years.”
In other words, we’re just about on time.
• While we’re on the subject of the roof, I missed this at the time, but apparently the Jays at some point looked into the possibility of a moving to a translucent ETFE (Ethylene tetrafluoroethylene) roof — or segments of it — going as far as having an engineering company use VR to simulate the light and glare conditions at certain times of the day/year, were the Jays to move forward with a project like this. This was reported by Daily Hive Toronto back in early April, though a later correction on their piece notes that they were contacted by the club and told, per Mark Shapiro’s most recent media availability at the time, “that there would be no exterior changes, including the roof, in the Rogers Centre renovation.”
Hopefully that doesn’t rule this out for some time down the line, because it looks cool as hell. (Unfortunately, the page about the project from engineers Walter P. Moore was first noticed by archive.org way back in 2018, so it’s had quite some time to gain traction, which — coupled with Shapiro’s comments — makes me skeptical, personally!)
• Some real news from the WTF? file, as the Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal tells us in his latest notebook post that the Blue Jays made a $6 million offer to former Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner after the lockout — a period in which the Jays’ interest in Gardner was rumoured, as they searched for a left-handed outfielder. Gardner ultimately turned down their offer… which… uh… thanks, Brett! Or is it Brent? Either way, thanks!
Gardner had been a useful hitter in 2019 and 2020, but sunk to a 93 wRC+ (.222/.327/.362) in his age-37 year in the Bronx, with below average marks defensively in both left and centre according to both DRS and UZR. And while I’m certainly not going to say I definitely would prefer Raimel Tapia at this point, I… uh… thanks for saying no, Brett!!
• More real news, as Jays fans will see a different starter than they’re used to in game two from the Trop, as Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith reports that today’s game notes from the club have revealed that Hyun Jin Ryu will be activated from the injured list and will get the start on Saturday.
Ryu pitched a rehab start in Buffalo last Saturday, and while he wasn’t the dominant Ryu of 2020 and early 2021, there were at least some good signs. Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News reported that he passed the eye test, even if the fact that he left the game with his team down 5-0. Three of those runs were unearned, after a two-out error in the third from catcher Josh Fuentes which was followed by a home run (aided by a strong wind). Ryu allowed five hits over four innings, throwing 74 pitches (49 strikes), with no walk and six strikeouts.
More importantly, Harrington tells us this:
“The Korean left-hander worked through all of his pitches and got his velocity where it usually is in the low 90s. He had no issues with the forearm inflammation that landed him on the disabled list three weeks ago.”
If he really was in the low 90s — and was there consistently, not just occasionally — that’s at least comforting. In his last big league start, Ryu’s fastball velocity was down to 88.8, which ranks among the bottom five of his 45 career starts with the Jays.
I guess we’ll see! The move will send Ross Stripling back to the bullpen, and will necessitate a reciprocal move. With the club at just 13 pitchers on the active roster, they won’t be forced to give up a pitcher to add Ryu, meaning someone like Vinny Capra could be the one going the other way. Hey, but maybe they’ll surprise us!
• Lost in all of the recent talk about the Blue Jays’ offensive struggles — particularly with runners in scoring position — lately has been the story of the club’s bullpen, which hasn’t exactly been stellar in its own right! As we can see from this Benny Fresh tweet:
Tim Mayza, David Phelps, Adam Cimber, Yimi Garcia, and Trent Thornton have all logged double digit innings for the Jays so far, and none has produced a strikeout per inning. Phelps, in particular, is way down in this regard, striking out just 21.3% of the batters he's faced after being over the 35% mark in each of his previous two seasons. He's also walking guys at a career high clip.
• There are, of course, internal bullpen options beyond Nate Pearson, though they may not exactly be championship calibre ones. Julian Merryweather has really good peripherals this season, having issued the fewest walks-per-nine of any Jays reliever with at least a full inning of work, while generally kept the ball in the ballpark, striking out an above average share of batters, and producing the best FIP (2.44) among that same group of relievers with more than one inning. And yet I don't know if there's anyone who wouldn't say he's been terrible!
His ERA sits at 6.94, his xERA isn't much better (5.63), and his pitiful 34.5% strand rate is the worst in baseball among pitchers with at least 10 innings.
One might be inclined to call that luck, but once a runner gets on base he's been getting absolutely hammered. With the bases empty this year opponents have slashed just .208/.240/.333 (.254 wOBA) against him this year. With runners on it jumps to .333/.304/.619 (.379 wOBA), and with runners in scoring position it's even worse. (For context, last year Matt Olson ranked 18th among qualified MLB hitters with a .379 wOBA).
It's odd! And he's got to figure out what on earth he's doing differently once guys get on base. Is he tipping his pitches? He doesn't really differ his windup based on whether runners are on or not, so you wouldn't think that would be it. Is there something that can't be seen from the front but can from the side that's allowing runners to signal to their teammates at the plate? Impossible for me to say from here at my computer, but if he could pitch like he's been pitching with no runners on the Jays could really have something here. (Major caveat: We're talking about tiny samples here, so it's entirely possible the hits just happened to have come with runners on.)
• Another arm that could theoretically at some point be very useful to the Jays’ pen — though he probably isn’t going to be ready for that assignment any time soon — is Yosver Zulueta.
On Thursday in the Florida State League, Zulueta was dominant. He averaged 96.6 on his fastball over 4 2/3 innings, generating swing-and-miss on 18 of 37 swings against him (49%), with the curveball, sinker, and slider all being virtually untouchable for the Low-A hitters he faced — and the curve looking especually outstanding, as he got four whiffs on six swings plus eight more called strikes on the pitch. That's either a whiff or a called strike 71% of the time he threw it!
Obviously he's a starter for the moment in Dunedin, and has multiple levels to ascend through before we can talk about him in the big leagues, but clearly he's on the ever-growing list of Jays pitching prospects to watch.
• Speaking of prospects, don't look now, but Orelvis Martinez just might be making the adjustments he needs to in Double-A. After slashing just .188/.224/.518 in April, with an ugly 1.5% walk rate, and a nearly as ugly 35.8% strikeout rate, his numbers are looking much better so far in May. This month so far he's got a slash line of .323/.432/.645, a walk rate of 8.1%, and his strikeout rate is down to 21.6%. He's also got three homers in nine game — including this one he crushed on Thursday.
• Moving back to the big leagues, the Jays take on the Rays tonight, and though it maybe doesn’t feel like it based on the way the Jays’ offence has been going of late, we’re in for a showdown between two of the game’s greatest young superstars: Wander Franco and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Interestingly, in poking around some of the data at Props.cash — player prop bets made easy! — I noticed that taking the over on 0.5 hits pays worse for Franco than it does Vlad, despite Vlad being in the midst of a nine-game hitting streak. Truly an injustice by the oddsmakers!
• Another interesting tidbit I found from poking around Props.cash, which I’m supplementing here with even more stats from FanGraphs, was this: Tonight’s starter Kevin Gausman has absolutely ridiculous splits this season.
Gausman has been below average when it comes to striking out left-handed hitters (18.3%), though they've still barely managed to do damage against him (.201 wOBA). Right-handers, on the other... uh... hand, have struck out 40.2% of the time against him. His FIP against RHBs is an utterly ridiculous -0.07, and I've gotta tell you, I'm not sure I knew you could get a FIP below zero. However, right-handers have done a better job against Gausman so far (.278 wOBA), because of one crazy stat: their BABIP against him has been .471.
Right-handers’ BABIP against Gausman in 2021 was .268, so what’s going on this year is very strange indeed. Could it even be… bad luck? Could that regress and he somehow actually do better? You’d love to see it!
• We’ll stick with Gausman in our first link, as Travis Sawchik of theScore has a great, lengthy piece on him, how he built his splitter, how he’s bought-in on the Jays’ love of throwing first-pitch strikes, and more! (He even mentions the reverse splits.)
• Another incredibly important pitcher for the Jays is, of course, closer Jordan Romano, who, so far this year, has had some ups and downs — including on Tuesday in New York, when his fastball was down 1.7 mph compared to his season average, and his slider was down 3.8 mph with noticeably more downward break than usual. Hopefully that was just to do with gripping the ball — something we know was an issue thanks to the fallout after Yimi Garcia’s plunking of Josh Donaldson and subsequent ejection.
Anyway, over at Blue Jays Nation, Paul Berthelot took a look at the ups and downs of Romano’s season so far, noting — not unlike my friend and podcast cohost Nick Ashbourne did a few weeks ago, immediately before Romano seemed to briefly turn things around — that there are indeed still some red flags there. Fingers crossed that this piece has the same effect!
• Something that has been working, mostly, for the Jays so far this season has been their defence — which has included shifting far more than Jays fans are used to seeing, and the use of more four-man outfield configurations than any team in baseball. David Adler of MLB.com did a deep dive on it this week, producing an array of interesting numbers, and this extremely funny quote from George Springer on somewhat indifferently buying in on the rather radical scheme:
"I’ve personally just come to the conclusion of, whether it’s us or somebody [else], it’s going to happen. There’s no sense in trying to figure out why you’re going to do it. Just go stand where they want you stand, and if it works, it works. And if it doesn’t, it doesn’t."
• Another excellent one this week was from SI’s Mitch Bannon, who caught up with Samad Taylor — a player the Jays would have left unprotected in the Rule 5 draft had their been one, yet continues to impress in Buffalo and is doing everything he can to get himself a big league shot with the Jays.
• Speaking of prospects, Ricky Tiedemann continues to get plenty of love, including in Baseball America’s latest list of players who will be making significant jumps up their organizational top 30 lists.
• Gregor Chisholm opened up the ol’ mailbag this week over at the Toronto Star, kicking it off with a question that would have made outstanding fodder for one of my old Griffbag posts: “What are the Jays doing about (Ryu’s) conditioning? They need to keep this guy away from the fridge. He has been out of shape since he signed here.” LOL.
• Yusei Kikuchi getting some work in on a visit to Central Park this week was pretty cool.
• I’m going to need an MLB team to do an 18 minute version of this when the next round of fresh 162 game schedules drops.
• Lastly, look at all these blue jays my parents saw in their backyard today. Clearly a sign that the Jays are going to finally get their act together this weekend, right? Right???
Now don’t forget to join me on Callin for a live Blue Jays Happy Hour at the conclusion of Sunday’s game!
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