The 2011 Montreal Expos!

10 11 2010
Posted by WAMCO

The Montreal Expos moved to Washington DC in time to start the 2005 season. While the popular method to summarize their move was due to lack of support in Montreal, this does not really tell the whole story. The fans of the Expos did not have a chance. It is hard to be a fan of a team when you were more or less told, every year from 1995-onward, that your team was going to move. It is hard to support a team with an owner that abandoned them, and Major League Baseball had to take over. While MLB owned the team, they once famously refused to allow the team to make September call-ups while they were in a pennant race, putting them at a disadvantage. Like I say, the reasons for Montreal losing their team are far more complex than the attendance issues. However, this discussion is for another day.

As the 2011 season approaches, I got to thinking about some of the great players that played in Montreal. Every now and then, watching a ball game, I’ll see someone like Vladimir Guerrero or Carl Pavano and think, “he used to play in Montreal.”

Of course, if the Expos were re-formed, Youppi would be a big part of it. After the Expos moved to Washington, Youppi signed as a free agent with the Montreal Canadiens of the NHL, so he is still active in the community!

How many players who played in Montreal are still out there? I decided to attempt to construct an all-Expos line-up, comprised of active players who played for Montreal at some point (much thanks to baseball-reference.com for assistance with this research!). This includes guys who signed free agent contracts with the Expos, but does not include minor leaguers that were traded before they reached the majors (so, sadly, no Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore or Brandon Phillips for this team). Here goes:

Catcher – This position was a problem. Brian Schneider is the only active catcher to have played a game with the Expos, and quite obviously his best years are behind him. Gregg Zaun signed a free agent contract with the Expos in the offseason of 2003, so for now I am going to cheat a bit and include him as the backup catcher.

Infield – This group will need a lot of luck if they are to avoid the injuries that have plagued their careers. At first base, we have the made-of-glass Nick Johnson. When healthy, Johnson can still provide decent on-base numbers. At second base, Macier Izturis, currently of the Angels, who had a cup of coffee with Montreal in 2004. This team will need him to repeat his numbers from 2009. The shortstop will be Orlando Cabrera. Throughout his career, Cabrera has been mis-cast as a top of the order type. He will continue to be mis-cast in that role here. At third base, the much-traveled Fernando Tatis, who shows how much we are really scraping the bottom of the barrel here. Backup infielders include many serviceable players, such as Geoff Blum, Brendan Harris and Jamey Carroll, who will all be required to help out. Mark Grudzielanek is somehow still eligible for this team, as he had a handful of at bats in 2010, but for now he will be in AAA.

Outfield/DH – The Expos used to play in the National League, but they are getting a DH here, due to the age of the players. Outfield defence will be an issue for this team, but there are some decent hitters available. The left fielder will be Milton Bradley, who started his major league career with the Expos. In center field, Ryan Church will be called upon to make up for Milton’s lack of range. In right field, Juan Rivera, currently of the Angels, will be counted on for his solid bat. Finally, at designated hitter, we are smarter than Ron Washington, and will not subject Vladimir Guerrero to the field. He will be counted on for his productive bat, and will definitely be burning his glove. Fernando Tatis can back up at the outfield corners, and someone will need to emerge as the backup in center (I suppose it would have to be Bradley, that is unfortunate…..).

Starting Rotation – This is definitely the strength of this team. There are many decent-to-good starters currently in the majors that have played for the Expos. The number one starter will be Carl Pavano, who has really turned his career around after his terrible run in New York. The number two starter is Ted Lilly, who did not pitch long for Montreal, but has turned into a solid starter. The number three starter will be Javier Vasquez. Hopefully the 2009 Vasquez shows up, and not the 2010 version. The 4th starter for these Expos will be Livan Hernandez, who was actually good in 2010 (I didn’t believe it either, look it up). Rounding out the rotation will be Shawn Hill, giving the team some Canadian content. Hill pitched well down the stretch in Toronto last year, coming off major surgery.

Bullpen – Another strength for this team, there are several solid relievers for them to go to in the late innings. Jon Rauch, who spent time closing for Minnesota in 2010 will handle the closing duties. Scott Downs, the solid set-up man for Toronto, will handle the 8th inning, with assistance from Miguel Batista, who has had two solid years of relief in a row (I couldn’t believe it, but it appears to be true). Guillermo Mota, Chad Cordero and Gary Majewski are all on the downside of their careers, but can all be effective middle relievers for this team. And when the game gets out of hand, Claudio Vargas can be counted on in long relief.

In summary, here are your 2011 Montreal Expos. Obviously, the line-up has seen better days, but given perfect health, it’s not the worst pitching staff I’ve seen. I think they’d win 70 games with some luck….. what do you all think?

Batting Order:
SS Cabrera
2B Izturis
1B Johnson
DH Guerrero
RF Rivera
LF Bradley
CF Church
3B Tatis
C Schneider
Bench:
C Zaun
UT Harris
UT Carroll
UT Blum
Rotation:
SP Pavano
SP Lilly
SP Vasquez
SP Hernandez
SP Hill
Bullpen:
CL Rauch
SU Downs
SU Batista
MR Majewski
MR Cordero
MR Mota
LR Vargas




MLB Expansion: The Way of the Future!

8 11 2010

Posted by WAMCO:

Back in 2001, Major League baseball was considering contraction, going from 30 teams down to 28. At that time, the two teams that were to be contracted were the Montreal Expos and the Minnesota Twins. Since 2001, the Expos have moved to Washington and are in the process of establishing their identity. The Minnesota Twins? They have won six central division titles. This is the biggest reason I do not believe contraction is the answer.

The Twins have come a long way in a short period of time, going from baseball’s chopping block in 2001 to multiple time central division champs in 2010

Major League baseball is a $6-$7 billion industry. The Twins looked like a hopeless franchise that could never compete and was on death’s doorstep. But given the chance, they have managed to persevere and enjoy a relatively dominant stretch. Now, they have a new ballpark and are in the top ten in major league payroll. As hopeless as any team looks, it can turn it around and be successful. The industry is big enough to support these teams while they do. In the majority of cases, once there is success on the field, attendance and television viewership will follow. In fact, with such a large income base across the entire league, I believe the time is right to expand and grow the game in new markets.

In order to properly balance the schedule (which is a topic for another day in another article), there needs to be an equal number of teams in each league. The obvious question is: where should the expansion teams go? It is important to look at more than a city’s population. The size of the media market, the population of the metropolitan statistical area, and the city’s current ties to minor league baseball should be considered. Below I will examine four potential expansion sites.

Before I get into the examination, I will explain some of the factors that I looked at. One, was the ability of the area to support other major professional sports teams. I chose the four traditional major sports. Perhaps I could have included MLS as well, but I did not in this case. I also reference average and total attendance for minor league teams in the area. The highest minor league average attendance in 2010 was the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs of the International league, who averaged 9227 fans per game. There were only ten minor league teams that averaged over 8000 fans per game, to give you a sense of what the below numbers mean. There will be many reasons a city has good or bad minor league attendance, but I did not get too much into that in most cases. I also considered looking at unemployment rates in the individual areas, but felt that this was mostly a non-issue, as there are places with high unemployment rates that still draw well (Detroit) as well as places with good unemplyment rates that do not draw well (its all about winning!). I also reference the size of the media market in relation to other metropolitan statistical areas in the United States, keeping in mind that Cincinnati and Milwaukee are 34th and 33rd respectively in media market size, for reference purposes.

Portland, Oregon: The area around Portland is underrepresented in professional sports. The only other major professional sports franchise in Portland is the Trailblazers of the NBA. The metropolitan statistical area of Portland/Vancouver/Beaverton had an estimated population of 2,241,841 people as of 2009, and the 23rd-largest media market in the United States. The Portland Beavers AAA baseball team drew an average of 4265 fans per game in 2010, and 294,332 fans in total, despite the knowledge that the team was leaving the city at the end of the year due to a stadium dispute. This attendance ranked 71st in the minors, which is obviously not terrific, but I believe their stadium issues would have largely contributed to this. A natural rivalry with the Seattle Mariners could develop here, which would be great for baseball in the Pacific Northwest.

Charlotte, North Carolina: It is hard to say that the sports market in Charlotte and the surrounding area is underserved. The Charlotte Bobcats of the NBA and the Carolina Panthers of the NFL are both quite popular in the area. Charlotte has the 27th-largest media market in the United States. The Charlotte Knights AAA baseball team in the International League drew an average of 4247 fans per game in 2010, and a total of 305,842, which ranked 73rd in the minor leagues based on average attendance. The metropolitan statistical area of Charlotte/Gastonia/Concord had an estimated population of 1,745,524 in 2009. Greensboro, NC, is less than 90 minutes drive from Charlotte, and this area had an estimated population of 714,765 in 2009. A potential rivalry with the Atlanta Braves is intriguing here. Despite the current number of teams located in the eastern United States, Charlotte would seem to be a decent fit, as there appears to be a geographical dead area in the Carolinas, which would be helped immensely by an MLB franchise.

Nashville, Tennessee: The home of country music is also the home of the Nashville Predators of the NHL and the Tennessee Titans of the NFL.  Nashville has the 30th-largest media market in the United States. The Nashville Sounds of the AAA Pacific Coast League drew an average of 4764 fans per game in 2010 (ranking 64th in the minors), and a total of 319,235 over the entire season. The metropolitan statistical area of Nashville/Davidson/Murfreesboro/Franklin, Tennessee had an estimated population of 1,582,264 in 2009. Nashville has often been criticized as a poor market for the NHL (I hear this a lot in Canada). However, their attendance numbers have been decent since the NHL strike in 2004-2005, filling their arena more than 85% capacity since then. Obviously this is a different sport, but it paints a picture that the city can get behind a major sports franchise. Nashville is directly between St. Louis and Atlanta, which could lead to an interesting rivalry between the cities.

Salt Lake City, Utah:  The home of the 2002 winter Olympics boasts one major professional sports franchise, the Utah Jazz. Salt Lake City has the 36th-largest media market in the United States. There is clearly interest in baseball, as the AAA Salt Lake Bees drew an average attendance of 7292 people per game, ranking 14th in the minor leagues, and a total of 510,484 over the entire season in 2010. The metropolitan statistical area of Salt Lake City had an estimated population of 1,130,293 in 2009. A franchise in Utah would be ideal, from the standpoint that the area does not really have any other franchise even close in proximity, and if paired with an expansion team in Portland, would really stretch Major League Baseball further into underserved areas of the country. A potential natural rival would be Colorado (battle of the four corners, anyone? I guess Arizona would have to be a part of that as well).

Obviously, there would be major and minor details to decipher (revenue sharing, ownership groups, ball park construction, territorial rights, etc.). We all know that these things would need to occur before any expansion would be possible. I feel that all of these sites would be viable major league towns, but there are many other factors that would need to be considered before an expansion team was placed in any of these cities. My preference? I think that Portland, Oregon is the first logical place, because of the geographical gap that it would close. For my second team, I am torn between Salt Lake City and Charlotte. I think Charlotte would be more successful from a monetary standpoint, but there is the potential for a place like Salt Lake City to rally around a team. Based on money, I guess I would go with Charlotte, but its really close. To me, though, the important thing to remember is that all of these teams can make money. The sport is a multi-billion dollar industry. I believe it is worth it to expand to areas without access to major league baseball, for the purpose of growing the game, and reaching more people. Isn’t that what this should be about? 

Would any of these sites actually work? Are there other sites that should be considered? Comments and discussion is appreciated.

*All data for metropolitan statistical areas obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau, http://www.census.gov

**All data for minor league attendance obtained from Ballpark Digest, http://www.ballparkdigest.com

***Media market rankings obtained from Pro Advance, http://www.proadvance.com





Doctober: This Toronto Fan’s Perspective

7 10 2010

Posted by WAMCO:

“Bittersweet.”

Amongst many Blue Jays blogs and websites and comments, this is the word I am consistently seeing with regards to Roy Halladay’s 104-pitch no-hit masterpiece in his playoff debut. If you told me five years ago that he would have this type of performance in his first playoff game, I would have believed you. However, there are some things that would have seemed strange: He pitches for the Philadelphia Phillies. In the National League division series. Less than one year after he was traded away from Toronto.

“Bittersweet.”

As a lifelong Blue Jay fan, it is difficult to know how to react to a situation like this.

“Bittersweet.”

For many Toronto fans, it is bittersweet to see Doc Halladay succeed with the Phillies, and not their beloved Jays

Roy Halladay is a winner; there is no question about it. Whether he was receiving appropriate run support or not while he pitched for Toronto, he still won games, and still dominated most nights. As a starting pitcher, he has been above 5.0 in WAR seven times in his career. He has lead his league in complete games in six of the past eight years. His other numbers are well known; the dominant ERA, WHIP, etc. Even if you are partial to pitcher wins, he’s had over 16 wins in seven of the past nine years. He is the total package. Add to that his incredible work ethic, his contributions to the community, and his influence on his fellow pitchers, and you pretty much cannot dislike this man, unless you are in the unfortunate position of being in the batter’s box against him.

“Bittersweet.”

The Blue Jays could not put a team together to surpass New York, Boston, or (more recently) Tampa Bay during his time in Toronto. Halladay, on two occasions, signed under-market extensions with the Blue Jays in order to make it work there. The team could not get over the hump. Despite their best efforts, they fell short every year. The man that the late, great Tom Cheek christened as “Doc” Halladay did not pitch in a playoff game for Toronto.

“Bittersweet.”

Toronto fans are torn. Halladay did ask out, in the end. He knew he was running out of time, and needed to make a move. On the other hand, all of the good things Doc did in Toronto will stick with many fans. I know this fan was on the edge of his seat from the sixth inning on last night. I know this fan jumped when the final out was recorded. I know this fan had a tear in his eye. Even though it is too bad it didn’t happen in a Blue Jay uniform, this type of performance couldn’t have been turned in by a better man. Those who saw the game were witnesses to baseball history, Blue Jay fans or otherwise. From where I sit, that is the bottom line.

“Sweet.”





Blue Jays – 2011 Lineup Options

15 09 2010

Posted by WAMCO

Jose Bautista can play RF and 3rd base

There is a lot of sentiment for the Blue Jays to make a run at the AL East in 2011. The 2010 season has been extremely encouraging in many ways, and this kind of optimism can be both good and bad. For my part, I am expecting a regression by some of the young pitchers as they continue to develop, so I am not sure I would necessarily dump a ton of money into the 2011 payroll myself, depending on who you could get of course.

If the Blue Jays as an organization decide that they have the core to make a run in 2011, though, they will need to improve in a couple of areas. Position by position, this is what I would do:

Catcher: Use J. P. Arencibia as the starter, and sign a good defensive backup (read: not Jose Molina, get someone who will actually block balls in the dirt. Fun fact: Molina actually played two innings at third base for the Yankees last year; that is truly terrifying)

First Base/DH: I put these two positions together, because a lot depends on who they can sign in free agency. If they are going for it, I would love to see them sign or trade for a big power hitter to play first, and allow Adam Lind to be the DH. Another option would be for Lind to play first, and for them to sign a strictly DH guy. The best solution might be to have a job share, where Lind plays 1B sometimes and the other guy plays 1B the rest of the time, and they DH when they are not at first.

Second Base: Aaron Hill. He won’t be as good as he was in 2009 or as bad as he’s been in 2010. Fangraphs suggests that Hill has been extremely unlucky this year with a .204 batting average on balls in play.

Third Base: This is where I would use Jose Bautista. I do not see a lot of other options for them here, unless they bring Edwin Encarnacion back, and the only way that should happen is if he is non-tendered and re-signed at a lower salary.

Yunel Escobar could be decent batting leadoff, if a better option cannot be found

Shortstop: Yunel Escobar. Based on his career thus far, I would think he might be a decent option at the leadoff spot, with a career on-base percentage of .366.

Right Field: I’ll go here first, it works better that way. This is where I want Travis Snider. He’s played right most of his minor league career, and while his defensive metrics, according to fangraphs, are somewhat better in LF, he has not played nearly enough games for those to be accurate. He could also play LF, depending on if they sign anyone else.

Center Field: They need to stick with the twenty-million dollar man in center, barring the acquisition of a better defender, which would push Wells to LF.

Left Field: Right now they have Fred Lewis. I think they need to do better. The best option on the free agent market will likely be Carl Crawford. Whether Toronto could lure him or not, going the trade route is another option. The Blue Jays have a surplus of quality pitching prospects in the minors, and if they plan on going for it in 2011, this offseason might be the time to consider dealing a couple of them for a quality bat in the outfield, or at first, or at third.

In summary, the great thing about the players that the Jays currently have that are worth keeping for next year is that they have a decent amount of flexibility. For example, if they acquire a 3rd baseman, then Bautista goes back to RF and Snider to LF. A 1st baseman pushes Lind back to DH. I believe they need two bats for next year, one for the top and one for the middle of the lineup.





J.P. Arencibia’s Debut: A Waste of Time?

19 08 2010

J. P. Arencibia's contract was purchased from AAA on August 6th, and he only played in five games before being demoted

Posted by WAMCO:

Toronto fans were expecting a down year in 2010, and in relation to the Yankees, Rays and Red Sox, that is exactly what they have experienced. Knowing this, since winning this year was unexpected, or even possible, it would seem to make sense that the Blue Jays should try and catch a glimpse of the future, and get some experience for many of their young players when the appropriate opportunities arise. With that in mind, the Blue Jays really dropped the ball recently with the promotion of “catcher of the future” J. P. Arencibia from AAA.

John Buck, who is having a fantastic season, was injured on August 4th and Arencibia was recalled on August 6th. Jose Molina started at catcher on August 6th, and over the next two weeks, ending August 18th, Molina started seven games while Arencibia started five. Arencibia caught back-to back games once. This is a major increase in playing time for Molina, who not only is a terrible hitter (career .618 OPS) and has been dreadful at blocking balls in the dirt all season, but is 36 years old and clearly not a part of the future. Arencibia, in all likelihood, is the starting catcher in Toronto in 2011, and this would have been a great opportunity to see what he could do over a short period of time, and give him some (albeit not a lot of) experience. He will not get a lot of playing time in September, because he will have two veterans on the roster to fight with for playing time.

As great as it was to see Arencibia come up and have the debut of a lifetime (4-5, with a home run on the first major league pitch he saw!), the team has really missed an opportunity here to do itself and the player some major good, and unless they are committed to allowing their young position players to play (like they have with their young pitchers), the rebuilding process in Toronto could take a lot longer than it should.





Fred Lewis – Everyday Player?

17 08 2010

Posted by WAMCO:

Earlier this year, the Blue Jays picked up Fred Lewis from the Giants for a small amount of cash. Lewis had been squeezed out of a roster spot in San Francisco, and the Jays stepped in and took him off their hands. At the time, this seemed like a minor move, to pick up a guy who would likely be a fourth outfielder at best. Much like many moves made by Toronto since Alex Anthopoulos took over as the general manager, it did not seem to make a lot of sense at the time.

Fred Lewis is having a solid season with the bat, but can the Jays live with his defense in the outfield?

Almost immediately, Lewis began to hit, and aside from a few slumps that every player has, he has had a great season up to this point. He has not matched his career norms in on-base percentage, but his other numbers have been decent, as he has .ops’d .777 thus far, hitting for a bit more power. He has somewhat solidified the leadoff spot for the Jays. Sounds like the kind of guy you definitely want to keep in the lineup every day thus far.

However, there is a downside to keeping Fred Lewis in the lineup, and that is his defense. Upon his trade to Toronto, I read some comments from many Giants fans, and most were to the tune of “good luck with Lewis in the outfield.” Watching him play, he looks lost out there on some fly balls, and does not appear to get good jumps. His arm seems weak as well. Knowing, of course, that looks can be deceiving both on offense and defense in baseball, I felt it was important to check out some defensive metrics to ensure that I was, indeed, correct that Lewis is not a good outfielder.

According to fangraphs, Lewis’s UZR thus far in LF in 2010 is -5.6, and his UZR/150 is -12.6. In 2008, his UZR/150 was 2.1, and in 2008 it was 7.0. So he has clearly regressed in LF this season. His career UZR/150 in LF is 0.1. His career numbers in RF and CF are much worse, albeit the sample sizes are not nearly as large. It is fair to say that Lewis is an average outfielder at best, and probably below average. It would seem that my eyes have not been deceiving me.

Can Toronto do better? My feeling is yes, they probably can. Even if they were to put a similar defender in LF, they could likely get someone who hits for more power than Lewis. They have others (Yunel Escobar?) who could potentially take over the leadoff spot. Going forward, if Toronto acquires a third baseman, they will likely have a crowded outfield which would include Lewis, Travis Snider, Vernon Wells and Jose Bautista. To me, Lewis should be the odd man out in that scenario. Even if Bautista plays third base, they can probably improve on Lewis. I would like to see him in the fourth outfielder role we all originally thought he would fill.





Evenin’

17 08 2010

Hi folks, this is WAMCO, the resident Canadian on the blog. When I can get an internet connection up here in my igloo, I’ll be offering my opinion and insight as a fan of the Toronto Blue Jays, and their depressing struggle against the oppressive Yankees and Red Sox. I’m a former season ticket holder in Toronto (2006 and 2007), and I am old enough to remember who was on deck when Joe Carter hit the walk-off home run in the ’93 series (it’s a really good thing he hit that home run, it was Alfredo Griffin on deck, he pinch ran for Olerud in the 8th). I am not as advanced in the SABR stats as some of my fellow bloggers here, but I am keen to learn, and will do my best to provide useful insight and analysis. I’ll also try and not criticize Cito Gaston in every post, but it’s going to be hard (he’s brutal, seriously…..).

Hope you enjoy it, glad to be a part of the team!