Blue Jays series preview

By Jason Wojciechowski on August 18, 2011 at 4:45 PM

The series

Toronto comes to Oakland for four:

  • Tonight (Thursday) at 7pm
  • Friday also at 7pm
  • Saturday at 6pm
  • Sunday at 1pm

Both teams have Monday off, with Toronto traveling back home and the A's flying to New York to face the Yankees.

The Jays lately

Toronto is 63-60, in fourth place, as always, in the AL East. Baseball Prospectus says that they're right where they should be, in terms of their component stats (i.e. their "third-order winning percentage" is the same .512 as their real winning percentage). Unfortunately, this solid record leaves them with zero shot at the playoffs -- whatever little chance a non-Sox, non-Yankees team might have of making it to the postseason from the East is eaten up by the Rays.

The A's were just in Toronto, of course, where they took two of three by beating up on Brad Mills in game three and having Rich Harden get a little fortunate on his way to seven innings of one-run ball in game 1. The Jays took two of three from the Angels and Mariners in their next two series, though, racking up a 38-25 run differential over those six games. Most impressive were the eight runs they put up in 4 2/3 innings against Angel co-ace Jered Weaver.

Pitching matchups

According to ESPN right now:

  • Ricky Romero vs. Trevor Cahill
  • Brett Cecil vs. Rich Harden
  • Henderson Alvarez vs. Gio Gonzalez
  • Brad Mills vs. Guillermo Moscoso

Ricky Romero is a lefty with a superficially impressive ERA (under three), but an FIP over a run higher, and well in line with the rest of his career. His strikeout and walk numbers are both a tad above average (good for strikeouts and bad for walks, that is). He is an above-average ground-baller, with Fangraphs clocking him around 55%.

Pitch-wise, he brings a fastball or two in the low 90s, a change in the mid 80s, and an infrequent curve in the high 70s. His fastball is a little harder than you see from most lefties, but it's also, according to the Texas Leaguers league average chart, also a little straighter. Lefties will basically see the fastball, with a curve coming in strikeout counts. Righties get the change mixed in on all counts, but can also basically swear off the curve unless there are two strikes.

Brett Cecil is another lefty, but he's not quite as good, as his 4.72 FIP this season attests. His walks sit right around the league average, his strikeouts a tad below, and he's a bit homer-prone. You can see how this adds up to an unimpressive FIP. He was apparently a ground-baller once a upon a time in the minors, with Baseball Prospectus showing him at 65%+ from 2007-2009, but those days are gone: Prospectus has him at 50% and 44% 2009-10 in the majors, while Fangraphs comes in with 42.6% and 44.2% figures, plunging all the way to 35.2% this season. There's something weird about this data, but it's unfortunately not something I can look into at the moment. (It's probably been written about elsewhere -- I just have to find it with my trusty search that doesn't exist.)

The PITCHf/x charts here have Cecil throwing a sinker and a straight fastball in about equal proportion, but to the extent those actually are two separate pitches, it's not clear where one stops and the next begins, so the even split may not be right. Those charts are a sloppy mess in general, but it looks like he's got a changeup and two separate breaking pitches along with the fastballs, with the entire arsenal basically coming in from 80 to 90. (Also, his horizontal vs. vertical movement chart really looks like South America. Click that link and tell me I'm lying.) Cecil throws all his pitches to lefties, including the change, and I can't make heads or tails of his pitch selection by count. Here's my advice to the A's: wait for a pitch up in the zone and hit it. Everyone else does it.

Henderson Alvarez made his major league debut against the A's in the last series. He lasted 5 2/3 innings, but gave up eight hits and three runs. Against Seattle, basically the same deal: five innings, six hits, four runs. He's only walked two of the fifty hitters he's faced, but he threw quite a few first-pitch balls to A's hitters, then came into the zone with pitches that resulted in things like David DeJesus homers and Ryan Sweeney doubles. It's too early to say anything about his pitch tendencies, but Alvarez does throw hard, burning his fastball in around 95, and the separation from his change is close to 10 mph.

Brad Mills, as I wrote last time, is the manager of the Astros. (Not really.) He's yet another lefty, he's making his fifth start of the season, and he gives up a lot of walks and homers. He's basically refused to throw anything but fastballs to fellow lefties, with just 22 of his 134 pitches to them being curves or changes. This is possibly related to the 5.41 FIP he's posted against them. On the other hand, his overall FIP is 6.01, so maybe he should quit throwing the change to righties, too, especially seeing from his strike-zone report how often he leaves it up where hitters can bash it.

Toronto's bullpen

Using this fabulous tool I just found out about, I can tell you that if the A's see Luis Perez again, something has gone either very right or very wrong. (Perez also just threw 61 pitches two days ago, so I don't know how long he'd be available to go if the A's routed Ricky Romero tonight). Casey Janssen and Frank Francisco are the late inning guys, with Francisco serving as the closer. Janssen's had the better year, but Francisco is probably the better pitcher overall. Jesse Litsch and Shawn Camp are also out there -- Camp in particular is a very contact-oriented pitcher. (Which is really just me trying to be nice about the fact that he doesn't strike anyone out.) Wil Ledezma and Rommie Lewis were both called up to the bigs on Tuesday. Ledezma's a long-time mediocrity and Lewis is an organizational soldier, having made his 18 2/3 inning debut last year at 27 and not having pitch in the majors at all this season. If his AAA performance translated directly to the majors, he'd be pretty solid. Too bad for him AAA is not the majors.

Toronto's offense

Little has changed since the last series.

  1. Yunel Escobar, SS, .297 TAv
  2. Eric Thames, LF, .281
  3. Jose Bautista, RF, .383
  4. Adam Lind, 1B, .286
  5. Edwin Encarnacion, DH, .299
  6. Colby Rasmus, CF, .260
  7. Brett Lawrie, 3B, .395
  8. Aaron Hill, 2B, .222
  9. J.P. Arencibia, C, .257

Brett Lawrie has pushed his way up the order a little is all. Jose Molina is the backup catcher. Nobody else really gets to start, and why would they? That's a pretty scary lineup: a couple of guys destroying the ball, a bunch of guys well above league average, a couple of guys below league average, and then Aaron Hill serving as the obligatory "Hey, Aaron Hill is up, move in, move in" player.

I say it every series, but I'm pretty sure this is the game where Moscoso gets hit with like three homers.

Required reading

When I did this last, I missed a couple of Tampa Bay Rays tweeters accidentally. I hope not to do that again.

On Twitter, please consider checking out Deck McGuire, a Jays minor leaguer who I have on my dynasty team, R.A. Wagman, prolific Baseball Prospectus commenter, Navin Vaswani, and Drew F..

On the bloggity front, try The Tao of Stieb and Ghostrunner on First.