Major League Baseball awards bookend an eventful season

There’s always next year for the Blue Jays

Major League Baseball awards bookend an eventful season

The Boston Red Sox won the 2018 World Series, handing the Los Angeles Dodgers their second World Series loss in a row. Whether you’re a Dodgers fan wallowing in disappointment all over again, a Red Sox fan celebrating your club’s ninth championship, or even a Blue Jays fan forgetting already almost all that has happened this season and thinking wistfully of the impending Guerrero era, you’d be inclined to agree that 2018 was a pretty fun season for baseball.

For starters, there were three teams who recorded no-hitters — up from last year’s grand total of one. Oakland’s Sean Manaea secured one, and Los Angeles’ quartet of Walker Buehler, Tony Cingrani, Yimi Garcia, and Adam Liberatore combined to secure another no-hitter. In addition, Seattle’s James Paxton became the second Canadian-born pitcher to record a no-hitter; even more symbolic is that he achieved this feat against the Toronto Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre.

However, none of the aforementioned pitchers won the coveted Cy Young award, which went instead to Tampa Bay Rays’ Blake Snell in the American League (AL). Snell recorded a remarkable ERA of 1.89, helping Tampa Bay surpass expectations. The Rays finished comfortably third in the AL East division, eighteen games over .500.

In the same league, the pitcher who generated the most buzz preseason on account of his ability to both hit and pitch, Shohei Ohtani, won Rookie of the Year, which came as a surprise to no one. Ohtani, along with Silver Slugger winner Mike Trout and Gold Glove winner Andrelton Simmons, made the Los Angeles Angels an exciting team to watch, though they did not ultimately reach the playoffs.

In the National League (NL), Atlanta Braves’ Ronald Acuna Jr. won Rookie of the Year, while the New York Mets’ Jacob deGrom also became a first-time winner, securing the Cy Young with an almost unbelievable ERA of 1.7.

And it was a good year for pitchers — specifically, for the strikeout: for the first time in Major League history, there were more strikeouts recorded than hits. In more hitter-friendly records broken this season, the previous record of 80 walk-off home runs was broken in August.

One player who contributed to setting this record was Mookie Betts, who had a year that can only be described as spectacular. The Red Sox’s right fielder finally won the AL MVP award, as well as a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger — all while helping his team win the World Series. Boston combined to win more awards than any other team, with three Gold Glove winners and three Silver Slugger award recipients, to secure 2018 as the year of Boston.

In more local review, the Blue Jays put up a less than impressive season: no pitcher landed in the league’s top 50 lowest ERAs and no hitter landed in the top 50 highest averages. To say Toronto was mediocre would be a compliment, as the Jays were uninspired and utterly forgettable.

However, that may have been partially due to the moves the team made during the season: the Jays dealt JA Happ to the New York Yankees, Josh Donaldson to the Cleveland Indians, and Curtis Granderson to the Milwaukee Brewers. If Toronto fans want any claim, however small, to Boston’s World Series win, it would be in Steve Pearce, who had started the season with Toronto until being traded in June, and was named the World Series MVP.

Pearce, Betts, and JD Martinez will make the AL East a difficult division to compete in for years to come. This season, the AL East was the only division to have two 100-win teams in the Yankees and the Red Sox. The former would go on to be eliminated in the Division Series, whereas the latter would go on to win the whole thing.

On the flip side, not a single team recorded a 100-win season in the NL. In fact, four teams had to play one extra game — increasing their total to 163 games in the regular season — because they were tied for division champs: the Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the Colorado Rockies to clinch the NL West, while the Brewers defeated the Chicago Cubs to clinch the NL Central. Milwaukee would go on to lose to the Dodgers in the NL Championship Series, though they found some consolation, as newly-acquired Christian Yelich secured the NL MVP award for his incredible season.

From no-hitters to walk-offs, 2018 gave baseball fans a lot to be happy about. Established teams, like the Red Sox, the Dodgers, and the Yankees, delivered what their fans expected — while the Braves and the Brewers surprised all with their dominance. With the likes of Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and Dallas Keuchel as prominent free-agents this offseason, 2019 can be the success story for teams that had unimpressive seasons this year.

Wherever the superstars land, and however players are traded from one team to another, one thing is for sure in this offseason: March can’t come soon enough.

Baseball must live on

MLB attendance is down league-wide as the average game length continues to increase

Baseball must live on

Attention spans have shortened and with the rise in popularity of competing sports leagues, the NBA has replaced the MLB as the second most popular sports league in North America, behind the NFL.

In an recent episode of The Bill Simmons Podcast, host Bill Simmons says that he believed that people under 35 generally do not care about baseball. “When you go to the games, half the people are on their phones,” he said. “I got LAFC MLS tickets and you go to the game and people are into it, and its two hours and you’re out!”

The slow pace and long schedule of baseball has increasingly become a problem. The MLB has adopted new rules: the number of mound visits per game are limited, intentional walks are no longer thrown, and managers have only a 30-second window in which they can challenge a play. Each of these changes was made with the end goal of speeding up the pace of play.

In the end, there is no way to control how many hits or walks will occur during a game, and there is no limit on how much time a pitcher is allowed to take between pitches. The long, tense nature of the sport is unavoidable. And despite rule changes, in 2017, the average game length reached a record high, at three hours, five minutes, and 11 seconds.

Another point made in Simmons’ podcast is that an overdependence on statistics may actually be hurting fan engagement. When I find myself watching baseball with my roommates, one asks, “Hey what’s OBP? What about RISP?” and none of us know. Interesting baseball discussions have boiled down to analytics, a jumble of numbers, citing past matchups, and hitting averages against lefties or righties — the list goes on.

Simmons explained that the league has become so “stat obsessed” that there is no room for arguments. Meanwhile, basketball fans can argue about a player for hours since there are many arguments that do not refer to statistics.

Chuck Klosterman added that baseball arguments are often about “should we even care about batting averages?” and that he is “constantly being told what stats not to think about.”

Baseball’s dependence on numbers has halted conversations and simply made baseball debates less engaging. Ultimately, we must ask whether the level of argumentation is truly a reflection of the sport’s health. In my household, baseball games mainly provoke statistics chatter — much less engaging than our chats during the NBA season.

Now, let’s get down to the numbers regarding the MLB’s troubles. In June, Fortune reported that attendance is down 6.6 per cent since the same time last season and that there hasn’t been such a drastic dip in attendance since 1995. MLB attendance is now at its lowest in the past 15 years and there is a chance that average attendance dips below 30,000 for the first time since 2003. This may support the argument that the sport’s overuse of statistics and lengthening games has not done well for the MLB’s ratings.

Ironically, the advanced statistic Three True Outcomes percentage (TTO) is the clearest signifier of baseball’s slowing pace. TTO shows the percentage of at-bats that result in a walk, strikeout, or home run. Reporters have noticed that baseball has transformed from a “game of intense strategy, scrappy hitters, crafty pitchers and defensive wizardry,” into a sport that solely emphasizes the matchup between batters and pitchers. This year TTO reached a league average of 33.5% of at-bats, the highest rate in history, which means the league has never seen so few balls hit in play.

As the average number of home runs and walks reach their highest rates in history, the games only get longer. The MLB is walking a tightrope as there is pressure to shorten the game, but there is also pressure to promote excitement — which means base runners and home runs.

The recent decrease in ticket sales and TV ratings display that the sport is in obvious trouble, but baseball is still too special and popular of a game for it to die out completely.

Personally, the game’s slow pace adds a level of tension that no other sport can offer. Every motion and every inch in baseball can decide out or safe, win or loss. The use of statistics creates a fascinating strategic element that is unparalleled in any other major sport. It remains the only sport where players can depend more on technique and knowledge than pure athletic prowess.

While young, flashier soccer and basketball players have put pressure on the MLB to reinvigorate its own fan base to see a rise in viewership, I strongly believe that this is only a phase and there are many decades of great baseball ahead of us.

Why the Blue Jays needed to move on from Roberto Osuna

The former Blue Jays closer was charged with assault in May

Why the Blue Jays needed to move on from Roberto Osuna

On May 8, Toronto Blue Jays fans woke up to disconcerting news. The news wasn’t related to an injury or a sudden trade — instead, star closer Roberto Osuna was arrested for domestic violence. The 23-year-old was charged with assault and put on administrative leave by Major League Baseball (MLB) commissioner Rob Manfred. Osuna later received a 75-game suspension retroactive to his arrest date.

The arrest left Blue Jays fans scratching their heads, wondering how to react. Osuna is the first Blue Jays player to be suspended under the MLB’s new domestic violence policy, effectively allowing him to set a precedent for how the team and fans would react to a similar situation in the future.

Do we, the fans, burn his jerseys? Should the team bring him back? On the scale of ethics and objective athleticism — which side does domestic abuse weigh more?

It’s first important to explore the domestic violence policy that dealt the punishment to the young pitcher.

The official transcript of the policy, established in August 2015, noted that the MLB would conduct an independent investigation into any occurrence of domestic violence, but did not specify how or with what means the investigation would occur.

Since the policy’s debut, only a handful of players have been suspended under its pretense: Aroldis Chapman, José Reyes, Héctor Olivera, Jeurys Familia, Derek Norris, Steven Wright, José Torres, and now most recently Osuna, whose 75-game ban is the third longest given out under the new policy.

Immediately following the arrest, Blue Jays’ General Manager Ross Atkins announced that the team had no interest in trading Osuna and that once his suspension was lifted on August 5, he would be re-integrated into the team. The announcement fueled the cloud of confusion that hung over an already-discouraged fanbase. Osuna was once the bright spot on a team filled with mediocrity.

As a Jays fan, I’ve spent countless evenings at the Rogers Centre listening to a lulled crowd suddenly get jolted by a burst of energy, spirits lifted when saw they a certain relief pitcher exiting the bullpen and the sound of his walk-up music echo throughout the stadium.

Osuna was the cherry on top of the whipped cream: he gave hope to fans and rejuvenated a game. A tie in the 11th? Well, it’ll stay that way because Osuna is on the mound. Up one run in the bottom of the ninth? We’ll get that W because we can always count on Osuna.

The conundrum that took hold of Toronto due to Osuna’s behavior is an indication of the current culture and outlook surrounding domestic violence that is held by the MLB. The league’s new domestic violence policy, though not nearly extensive enough, is a positive step in attempting to correct a culture decades-long in the making. Other leagues, such as the NHL and the NFL, don’t have any specific policy for domestic violence to begin with.

However, the new policy’s mere existence does not erase the dark history of ignoring violence that mires the MLB. The outlook that the MLB had on domestic violence for decades prior to the naissance of the policy reinforced a culture rife with the acceptance of violence, so long as the perpetrator was an asset to a team. This culture is still very much alive to this day. The essential agreement among managers, players, and many fans, has been: who cares what a player does in his personal life as long as he delivers on the field?

The debate about the extent to which players should be punished for actions in their personal lives has turned reporter against colleague, fan against fan, and — possibly — player against player. To dive deeper into this discussion, it is important to first decide what components make up an athlete. Is style important? Personality? Would Mike Trout be lauded more confidently as this generation’s best player if he had more swagger? Do we take into account things other than the objective mechanics of pitching, hitting, or catching when discussing a player?

According to the MLB — and the awards that it gives out — the answer is yes.

The Roberto Clemente Award — most recently awarded to the Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo — is annually given to a “player who best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, and community involvement”. The league very publicly rewards players for their behaviour and community participation off of the field — in effect, affirming the idea that many components make up an athlete, ones that surpass muscle and sweat.

If the MLB wants to publicly reward its players for doing good off of the field, then it should handle opposing manners with the same publicity and vigor. Athletes have long been considered role models. They grace our cereal boxes, talk to us from the screens of our TVs while promoting a new Adidas shoe, and make their presence felt in whichever city they are representing for the given time.

Osuna’s incident isn’t just an unfortunate incident of violence: it is an endorsement of a lifestyle and outlook that has always been promoted within sports culture. It is representative of a culture that surpasses baseball; one that reveres Chicago Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane, despite the disturbing rape allegations that plagued him in 2015 and 2016.

It is a culture that emphasizes charity and community, but buries instances of violence and abuse. It is a culture that teaches young people that they can be violent and receive minimal punishment — because let’s face it: at the end of the day, to Osuna, who is a multimillionaire, a 75-game suspension is nothing.

The most prevalent question is: do we care that a guy beats up his girlfriend if he’s throwing over 100 miles per hour? The answer should always be yes. The rings, the banner, and those frosty, tense, baseball nights in late October should be a reward for good behaviour — not a guarantee.

And thankfully, the Blue Jays’ front office got it right. On July 30, less than 24 hours before the trade deadline, Roberto Osuna was traded to the Houston Astros, for three right-handed pitchers: Ken Giles, David Paulino, and Hector Perez. None of these pitchers have numbers as spectacular as Osuna’s — but none of them have been arrested for domestic violence either.

It is easy to get lost in numbers, statistics, and sabermetrics when it comes to baseball. It is easy to view every player as an amalgamation of averages and percentages. The Blue Jays — in the midst of a season where nothing is going right — did something good. They chose morality over athleticism; a decision that will no doubt cause controversy and be scoffed at by local fans and enemies alike.

It seems ridiculous to trade a young, controllable, skilled player — but this move also breathes some humanity into a league that is obsessed with moneyballing every trade and acquisition. It also sends a clear message: Osuna will not use Toronto’s mound or people as the basis for his redemption. No one is beyond redemption, but Atkins and his associates made it clear that Osuna would not get the satisfaction of forgiveness from a crowd that, prior to May, loved and revered him. The Blue Jays’ stance on violence is therefore unmistakeable: it will not be tolerated.  

I, for one, am glad I don’t have to see Roberto Osuna sport a Blue Jays uniform any longer. I will be sporting my own blue-and-white jersey with pride.

Are the baseballs juiced?

Why the MLB needs to come clean about the historic rise of home runs

Are the baseballs juiced?

Aaron Sanchez, the Toronto Blue Jays’ young ace, was sidelined for most of the 2017 season because of a blister. In July, Sanchez’s teammate and fellow pitcher Marcus Stroman was also unable to pitch due to a blister. Stroman publicly commented on the matter, claiming that blisters had become an “epidemic” within baseball.

Noah Syndergaard, David Price, and Taijuan Walker all battled blisters throughout the season as well. These blisters left multiple fanbases scratching their heads, confused at how perfectly healthy players and even aces were left unable to pitch because of what seemed to be an issue with the physical composition of the ball.

These blisters, which seemed to contribute to most pitcher-related injury news in 2017, foreshadowed a larger problem in MLB. A few weeks ago, FiveThirtyEight confirmed an alteration to the balls used in games.

The signs were all there. For one, the number of home runs per season has dramatically increased over the past year — and no, that’s not because of Giancarlo Stanton. The average number of home runs per game in 2017 was 1.26, which is almost 50 per cent higher than 2014’s average of 0.86. There was a 46 per cent spike in home runs between the two years.

In order to explain this spike, it is important to talk about the anatomy of a baseball. There’s the cowhide shell, which is the white leather exterior of the ball, the cork and rubber core, and the yarn that separates the two. The core, however, is where most of the alterations seem to have occurred.

The core of a baseball is made up of four parts. First, there’s the cork pellet that sits in the very centre of the ball. Then there’s both black rubber and a rubber ring, all of which are held together by pink rubber. In a study comparing the densities of balls made in 2014 and balls made in 2017, the ESPN Sport Science team, headed by Dr. Meng Law, found that the pink rubber was around 40 per cent denser in the older balls than in the new.

This decrease in density can be explained by a study done by Kent State University. Looking at the molecular composition of the cork as well as the pink rubber, researchers found that the pink layer of the core had 10 per cent less silicon relative to older balls.

These changes may seem subtle, but they have an impact: baseballs now weigh on average 0.5 grams less than they did a couple years ago. They are also bouncier, which The Ringer estimates can add three feet to the distance a ball travels off a slugger’s bat. This means that a hit that would normally be caught on the warning tracks is now likely carrying over the fence for a home run.

You may be wondering what the problem here. Are more homers bad? Is baseball now an objectively easier game to play? Will 50 home run seasons, like those of Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge, become the norm? No, no, and maybe. It is important to clarify that the problem with this revelation isn’t that the balls are being ‘juiced,’ but rather, the lack of transparency on the side of the MLB. Keeping mum on alterations to equipment can have serious repercussions, both in sabermetrics and in injuries.

Houston Astros pitcher and 2011 American League MVP Justin Verlander commented on the matter to his nearly two million Twitter followers. “All I’m saying is I don’t care if balls are juiced (seriously),” he tweeted this month. “We’re all using the same ball so it’s a fair field. My issue is I don’t like being lied to. I knew something was different. Century old records are being broken and numbers are skewed.” Verlander was specifically referring to the findings that the exit velocity and launch of a baseball now had a higher correlation to the chance of a home run — something that can be explained by the less dense balls.

Whether the lower densities initially caused the blisters is uncertain; what is clear is that the athletes are frustrated and the fans are frustrated. It seems that everyone except the MLB is frustrated. This then poses the question: why keep the alterations a secret? And why vehemently deny — as Commissioner Rob Manfred has done numerous times — something that was ultimately proven to be true?

Maybe the secrecy is due to some kind of contractual obligation with Rawlings, the company that manufactures the balls in Costa Rica. Or perhaps it comes from fear of backlash — from those who refer to themselves as ‘purists’ and oppose any and all change, scoffing at pitch-clocks and the like. It is true that the culture surrounding the game of baseball has been challenged over the past couple of decades, from social issues, like attempts to remove racist rhetoric from vocal celebration, to technical elements, like adding instant replay. Baseball culture is notorious for rejecting any evolution the game may go through.

This has to change. Progress is good — it is as simple as that. In 1858, baserunners weren’t obligated to touch all the bases in order. In 1884, a player needed six balls to attain a walk. In 1885, bats could have one flat side.

Were it not for change, we would be watching a game where pitchers threw spitballs, players wore no protective gear, and the bats resembled canoe paddles. Baseball is a game that has been transformed into the phenomenon it is today thanks to changes it has undergone throughout its almost two-century existence. It is high time that fans, both old and new, regard the evolution of baseball as a benefit to the game instead of a detriment. For now, however, the MLB owes its athletes and its fans transparency. The way in which Manfred goes about explaining and justifying this issue will be indicative of the MLB’s commitment to the truth — or lack thereof.

Is there hope for the Blue Jays in 2018?

Jays revamp outfield with Granderson and Grichuk

Is there hope for the Blue Jays in 2018?

The 2018 Major League Baseball (MLB) season is going to be tough for the Toronto Blue Jays. The Boston Red Sox have maintained their pitching and hitting power, and the New York Yankees have acquired powerhouse Giancarlo Stanton — who hit 59 home runs last season — in a trade that didn’t see them lose many significant players. That’s right, the Yankees now have 2017’s National League MVP and American League (AL) Rookie of the Year in their lineup, and the Jays are going to have to compete with that for years to come.

In terms of significant transactions, barring the Stanton trade, this year’s offseason has been rather cold, seeing minor trades here and there and no spectacular free-agent signings — José Bautista is still in limbo, belonging to no team quite yet.

Attempting to fortify a team not ready for the strong competition brewing in the AL East, the Jays signed free agent and former Met and Yankee player Curtis Granderson, dishing out $5 million USD for one year. Granderson, who is going to be 37 years old come Opening Day, will most likely split time in left field as part of a platoon. Granderson is a left-handed hitter — a type of player the Jays desperately need. Hitting 26 home runs last year for the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets, Granderson’s signing is encouraging but not an addition that can single-handedly lead the Jays to the playoffs.

What is exciting, however, is the trade that brought 26-year-old outfielder Randal Grichuk to Toronto from St. Louis, with pitchers Dominic Leone and Conner Greene going the other way. Not only is Grichuk a reliable defenseman more than qualified to fill Bautista’s spot in right field, but with enough plate discipline, he can shine with a bat as well. Offering a measly .238 batting average for 2017, Grichuk, who batted .276 in 103 games in 2015, is far too young to be written off as mediocre and will hopefully thrive in a hitter-friendly ballpark like Rogers Centre. Words of encouragement: he hit over 20 home runs in each of the past two seasons. Here’s hoping that number only rises.

But, in the interest of being realistic and objective, Grichuk would have to go through a Justin-Smoak-like transformation to be a power-hitter that is feared in the AL East – something that is very unlikely to happen.

In additional trades, the Jays picked up infielders Aledmys Diaz and Yangervis Solarte from St. Louis and San Diego respectively to play the middle of Josh Donaldson and Justin Smoak’s corners of the infield. Along with Troy Tulowitzki — who can hopefully rise up from his steady decline — and Devon Travis — who can hopefully stay healthy for a season straight — the infield is the team’s most stable and secure area. The outfield is fine too: the cast of six outfielders are an upgrade from last year, but it is nowhere near rivalling the outfield of the Yankees.

Pitching is something that has also been heavily neglected by the Blue Jays’ front office this offseason. It would be best for the team and the fans if the rumours of regular reliever Joe Biagini being promoted to a number-five starter remain just that — rumours. The Jays need to pay a starter and pay him well. Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman can’t carry this team on their two backs, and the Jays’ underwhelming goings-on in the bullpen only cast a shadow over the overall pitching situation.

Call me misguided, but I believe with enough pitching fortification, the Jays can confidently secure a Wild Card spot in the 2018 MLB season.

Not all is lost, but at this point, unless the front office can stir up a trade that gets Toronto a reliable starter and reliever — or two — the only hope for the team to make the playoffs is if they move to a different division altogether.

The Jays can extend their World Series window

An insight into the Toronto Blue Jays’ offseason

The Jays can extend their World Series window

Entering last season, expectations for the Toronto Blue Jays were high, despite the losses of slugger Edwin Encarnacion and relief pitcher Brett Cecil. However, the Blue Jays were unable to deliver on experts’ predictions of a playoff finish, ending the 2017 season with a .469 record, nine games back of the final wildcard spot in the American League.

Missing the playoffs after consecutive trips to the American League Championships Series has left fans pondering a dangerous question: has the Blue Jays’ World Series window slammed shut? If so, then a rebuild would be on the cards, and a difficult one at that. Toronto boasts one of the oldest rosters in the MLB, and they are burdened by the untradeable contracts of veterans Troy Tulowitzki and Russell Martin, both earning $20 million for each of the next two seasons. The future is bright with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette on the way, but they still find themselves playing High-A ball in Dunedin.

With the notion of a rebuild out of the question, how can the Jays squeeze out another shot at the playoffs? Let’s consider the team’s options this offseason.


The addition of an infielder

The Jays boasted a middle infield comprised of Ryan Goins, Tulowitzki, and the oft-injured Devon Travis last season. A healthy Travis started at second, with Tulowitzki at shortstop, and Goins deputizing both positions.

Injuries to Travis, Tulowitzki, and Josh Donaldson exposed the lack of depth in the infield and resulted in Toronto playing some combination of Darwin Barney, Chris Coghlan, Rob Refsnyder, and Goins — none of whom are with the club today — alongside Justin Smoak. This leaves Richard Urena and Gift Ngoepe as the Jays’ only depth at middle infield, making a utility infielder a top priority.

Eduardo Núñez is one such utility infielder. Valued at almost $12 million, he can play virtually anywhere in the field should a starting player go down with an injury. Batting .313/.341/.460 with 12 home runs, 58 runs batted in, and 24 stolen bases last season with the San Francisco Giants and Boston Red Sox, Núñez would bring some speed to an aged squad.

Speaking of speed, Dee Gordon may find himself leaving Miami soon, as new Marlins CEO Derek Jeter attempts to lower the club’s salary. A left-handed batter with a high on-base percentage makes Gordon the ideal leadoff man. He even snagged 60 bases last season, making him an attractive trade option for the Jays. Gordon would take over at second full-time, benching Travis, and making Goins the backup shortstop, creating depth by pushing the incumbent starters down the chart.

Depth at starting pitcher

The Jays’ rotation currently features Marcus Stroman, Marco Estrada, Aaron Sanchez, and JA Happ, leaving a vacant starter slot. Toronto have rightly expressed interest in Jake Arrieta, one of the top pitchers on the market and a World Series winner with the Chicago Cubs. With a Cy Young Award and two no-hitters to his name, Arrieta’s proven track record makes him a tantalising option for the Jays. The downside? Arrieta would command almost $27 million per year on a long-term contract.

The most interesting option is dual-threat Shohei Ohtani, who is free to be signed on a minor league contract. Unproven against MLB opposition, he is considered a promising starter with a good bat. The one caveat to signing Ohtani is that all teams in MLB have a shot at signing him, so the Jays need a contingency plan should they fail. Toronto should take a run at him, but they will show reluctance to play him in the field if they succeed, as they’ve shown reluctance to push young players, such as Sanchez, too hard for fear of injuries.

Expect Toronto to pick up a few low-cost starters to improve pitching depth. Don’t rule out a return for Brett Anderson. 

Not splurging on sluggers

The loss of Jose Bautista has left the Jays short of a slugger in right field. With big-money power threats JD Martinez and Jay Bruce hitting free agency, it can be tempting for a club to spend big on a long-term deal for either, but they shouldn’t. If Toronto is serious about reaching the World Series in 2018, they need more than just Martinez or Bruce — they’d need to improve the infield depth and the pitching rotation to stand a chance against teams like Houston. Such moves would prove costly in the long term, as the Jays would be stuck with the hefty contracts of Martin, Tulowitzki, and any free agent acquisitions.

Instead, the team should place their faith in Teoscar Hernández, who showed some pop during a September call-up, to spare themselves the stress of carrying several overpaid veterans in the future.

Verdict: the Jays will express caution, making deals to improve depth and hope that last season’s misfortunes were but a blip. This team is good enough to turn things around on their own, and should get back to winning ways with minimal alterations.

Celebrating the life and career of Roy Halladay

The greatest pitcher in Blue Jays history died in a plane crash last week

Celebrating the life and career of Roy Halladay

Roy Halladay loved being a Blue Jay. He loved playing for Toronto’s baseball team, and he was vocal about it. Though a Blue Jays team fresh off of two consecutive ALCS appearances is genuinely something to be proud of today, Halladay, commonly referred to as ‘Doc,’ was part of a very different baseball team. His was an era before bat flips, sell-out games, walkoff home runs, and — to be blunt — competent baseball.

Halladay, nothing less than a prodigious pitcher, had little to be proud of, and yet he pitched in Toronto for 11 years, not once making it to the playoffs and not once complaining about it. This humbleness and kindness is what makes up the core of Halladay, a man who put as much effort into enriching Toronto’s community as he did to throwing his two-seam sinking fastball.

Halladay died at the age of 40 on November 7, when his plane crashed in the Gulf of Mexico.

It feels wrong to define by numbers a man so known for his generosity and spirit, but the numbers Doc put up in his 15 years of pitching in the MLB were tremendous. He recorded a 3.38 earned run average in 416 games played — 67 of which were complete games and 20 shutouts. Doc led the league in wins above replacement for pitchers four times: twice in the AL with the Blue Jays and twice in the NL with the Phillies.

Halladay was impressive off the field as well; his benevolent efforts to enrich a city that never gave him a postseason berth will forever be cherished and appreciated. While in Toronto, Doc and his wife Brandy established “Doc’s Box,” a suite that they annually rented out at Rogers Centre, where children from SickKids Hospital and their families could enjoy a day at the ballpark. He was also a keen contributor to Toronto charities, donating $100,000 to the Jays Care Foundation annually.

Though his impact and legacy within Toronto are unquestionable, it is important to note that, after being traded in 2009, Halladay pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies and added a couple more achievements to his already impressive arsenal. And, almost as if written by a novelist, in his first career playoff appearance with the Phillies in 2010, he threw a no-hitter. It was only the second post-season no-hitter in MLB history.

Earlier that year, he threw his first perfect game, becoming the 20th player in baseball history to record one and the first pitcher to ever throw a perfect game and a no-hitter in one season. Halladay was magic; genius, hard work, and talent all rolled into one spectacular pitching performance after another. Phillies fans understood why Doc was so admired in Toronto, and they showed him the same calibre of love.

I became a baseball fan after Halladay had retired in 2013 due to injury, so I never saw the man don powder blue or stark black on the mound in the Rogers Centre. While getting acquainted with Blue Jays greats, before Joe Carter, Vernon Wells, and even Roberto Alomar, I learned about Doc — the savant who, when pitching, uplifted an otherwise depleted baseball team into greatness.

When Doc took the mound, Toronto was no longer the vehicle for other teams to flex their pitching and hitting skills — no longer the punching bag. Once every five games, Doc worked his magic, commanding the league to pay attention to an unexceptional team with an exceptional player. With his two Cy Young wins and eight All Star appearances — six of which were with Toronto — Halladay maintained the Blue Jays in baseball fandom’s consciousness. For that, I came to revere his name.

He was a methodical and calm pitcher who worked his magic on the mound and stuck with his team through tough times. In an institution where teams have ever-changing rosters of more than 40 athletes, and play more than 160 matches a year, it is a true accomplishment to stay relevant after retirement and an even bigger one to be labeled a legend so quickly.

Those who were baseball fans during Doc’s reign had profound reactions to the announcement of his tragic death. Every sports news station remembered and celebrated the pitcher, every publication put out a touching tribute, and experts, journalists and fans alike joined forces in remembering Halladay’s generous spirit and incredible talent. The Toronto Maple Leafs and the Toronto Raptors both held moments of silence before the starts of their matches, effectively proving that Doc’s influence was not confined to baseball but rather spread into other sports.

It would be a disservice to remember Halladay as simply an athlete, and an injustice to recognize him solely by his statistics, as good as they may be. Halladay not only reignited a spark in Canada’s baseball community, but he put time and effort into enriching Toronto, both through his inadvertent ambassadorship when representing Canada’s team at an All-Star game and through Doc’s Box.

Already inducted into Canada’s Baseball Hall of Fame, it is only a matter of time before Doc gets his spot in Cooperstown. Now the conversation turns to the Blue Jays and how they will honour the man who breathed life into a team that was otherwise bereft of it. Put his name on the Level of Excellence, retire his number, erect a statue of him outside of the Rogers Centre — do anything and all that is possible to ensure that every generation of Toronto fans cherishes, appreciates, and reveres the legend that was Roy Halladay.

Troy Tulowitzki and the Coors Field effect

In the midst of his regression, what impact did Coors Field have on Tulowitzki’s prime?

Troy Tulowitzki and the Coors Field effect

On the early morning of July 28, 2015, a blockbuster trade shook the MLB. Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and veteran pitcher LaTroy Hawkins were sent to Toronto in exchange for Jose Reyes and three pitching prospects: Miguel Castro, Jeff Hoffman, and Jesus Tinoco. It was the type of trade usually reserved for the offseason, when clubs are concerned with either building up or tearing down their rosters.

Prior to the trade, the Toronto Blue Jays had hopes for a deep playoff run, but after the addition of Tulowitzki and Detroit Tigers pitcher David Price, the team both won the AL East pennant and achieved a postseason berth for the first time since 1993. Toronto eventually fell to the Kansas City Royals in the American League Championship Series.

There’s no question that 2015 marked the rejuvenation of Canada’s baseball fandom. Josh Donaldson’s first year in Toronto was embellished by his AL MVP crown and the fact that he gained two All-Star teammates. Just two Septembers later, it’s impressive to note how much has changed. As of September, both players have caught the injury bug: David Price as a member of the AL East leading Boston Red Sox, and Tulowitzki being ruled out for the season with ligament damage in his right ankle in August after awkwardly stepping on first base a month before.

Despite the excitement that followed Tulowitzki’s trade, his performance in the two seasons he has donned blue and white has been, at best, average. And so the question remains: was he really that great of an offensive acquisition for Toronto?

Before that question can be answered, a different one must be asked: when traded to Toronto, was Tulowitzki all that exceptional of a player to begin with?

The answer may not lie with the Tulo himself but rather with his former home, Coors Field. Entering 2015, Tulowitzki’s career looked to be on track for an incredible playing history. He played six seasons with a batting average (BA) over .290, was a four-time All Star, and his Gold Glove defense placed him in the company of many iconic shortstops. But this is not necessarily all Tulowitzki’s doing — his home field, where half of his season’s games were held, has long been home to rumours that it inflates home players’ batting averages.

First, some things to consider about Coors Field: opened in 1995 in Denver, its dimensions in feet run 390-415-375, and it stands 5,280 feet above sea level. The latter number alone may knock shortstop phenomenon Tulowitzki off his pedestal. Coors Field stands significantly higher above sea level than any other MLB stadium; the Arizona Diamondbacks’ home, Chase Field, clocks in at second highest, standing 1,082 feet above sea level — over 4,000 feet less than Coors. And when considering the effects altitude has on both pitched and batted balls, it becomes apparent that not all stadiums offer equal hitting opportunities.

Let’s make the physics lesson quick: Magnus Force — or, the lift that applies to spinning balls — and drag are both reduced in Coors due to the high altitude of the field. Because of this, the ball travels about nine per cent further, so a home run that is hit 415 feet in Yankee Stadium, which is sea-level, is estimated to travel 450 feet in Coors. The trajectory of the ball’s flight also makes for sharper-hit balls, which can evade outfielders and turn into base hits.

Taking this into consideration, I looked at the BAs at home and on the road of all thirty MLB teams from 2010 to 2016, and I found that the Colorado Rockies are the most inconsistent. The discrepancy between home and away batting averages is astronomical. In 2010, the Rockies topped the league with their .298 BA at home, yet on the road, their BA was the worst of all thirty teams at a measly .226. In 2014, Colorado was again the best of the league, hitting .322 at home, and second worst on the road, hitting .228. Tulowitzki followed a similar trend: in 2014, despite playing four more games on the road, Tulo hit 14 home runs at home and seven away, hitting .417 at Coors and only .257 elsewhere. Tulowitzki’s home/away splits are as follows: at home he hits .310, and away he hits .269. Where he was consistently hitting either of the numbers, the first would make him a future Hall-of-Famer and the second would make him slightly better than mediocre. And after leaving Coors, Tulowitzki’s first full year as a Blue Jay was underwhelming: his BA of .254 was below league average.

Hidden behind all these numbers and statistics is one corroborated detail: Coors Field is kinder to its home players than any other field in the MLB. Whether it’s the altitude or the different dimensions, Rockies players both current, like Nolan Arenado and Carlos Gonzalez, and former, like Troy Tulowitzki and Matt Holliday, have significantly higher and better statistics at home than they do on the road.

The argument that players are just more familiar and comfortable in their home fields is valid, yet no team’s performance discrepancy is as significant as Colorado’s. In 2014, both the Detroit Tigers and San Diego Padres proved that consistency was not an impossible feat; the former had the second-highest batting average both on the road and at home, and the latter placed in last or second-last in both splits. In fact, the Tigers hit more home runs on the road — an impressive achievement given that teams don’t visit fields for more than four days in a row. Tulowitzki, once considered the face of the Colorado Rockies franchise, is beloved in Toronto — fans wear his jersey proudly, and chants of “Tulo” fill the stadium every time he comes up to bat. But his celebrity going into Toronto is, in part, due to the way in which his former home field was built.

Altitude doesn’t teach all the things Tulo has done, like hitting a home run, fielding a ball, or turning an unassisted triple play, but altitude does help the ball travel, and according to Tulowitzki’s disproportionate splits, Coors played a role in his rise to fame and success. When a player is the most paid person on their team — Tulowitzki, along with catcher Russell Martin, topped the Blue Jays payroll with $20 million salary per year — excellence is expected of them. It’s the kind of excellence that Tulowitzki has not yet shown.

Coors can’t instill talent in an athlete. When Matt Holliday left Colorado in 2009, his play did not severely worsen. Players have both flourished and diminished following departure from the Rockies. Though Tulowitzki’s stats have been in decline ever since he left his previous team, fans have only been getting louder and more vocal in their support for the once-prodigious shortstop. It’s a good thing the kids are happy, but at the end of the day, fanfare doesn’t win you ballgames.