Posted by: Peter Houston | March 24, 2010

Heads I’m right, tails you’re wrong (or Balk, Counter-Balk)

AMGR: Welcome to the premiere edition of Balk, Counter-Balk. Picture Pardon the Interruption; an argumentative panel discussion, with lots of jibba jabba.

Today’s first topic of discussion shall focus on broadcast commentary, and our eternal love for the ads on Rogers Sportsnet. I don’t know about you, Pete, but I’m feeling pretty pumped! Enthusiastic! Almost nostalgic…

PH: Give me a Buckin’ break. See what I did there? I said buck, miss. (A reference to Summer Heights High and Buck Martinez in one sentence? Hand over the Pulitzer). In all seriousness, if I see one more commercial on Sportsnet of Buck Martinez hyping up the Jays, I’m going to put my golf club through my TV and bust it more than my bracket.

Listen, I understand Buck works for Sportsnet, and Sportsnet is owned by Rogers, and Rogers owns the Jays, so he’s basically contractually obliged to do these overly optimistic commercials. But seriously, GIVE ME A BREAK. “Aaron Hill loves baseball.” Do I need to attribute that quote? Didn’t think so.  You can guess the genius that came up with that one. Have you seen the Adam Lind or Vernon ones? Surprise, surprise, Buck expects Lind to recreate his breakout season and only improve as he learns more about pitchers in the American League. Vernon? Buck foresees a bounce-back season.

You’d have to see the ads to understand my frustration, but it boils down to this: Buck Martinez gets hyped up as the new play-by-play guy by doing ads where he makes ridiculously vague and optimistic predictions about the big name Jays players. The only thing they achieved was convince me that he knows nothing about the team.

AMGR: That may be the case, but is this a surprise? Like you said, Rogers owns the team, they own the station, this is clearly a case of overblown propaganda.

If there’s one thing that I’ve noticed in the 22 years I’ve spent planted in front of my television, it’s that there are certain companies and organizations that have never and will never have a clue how to advertise. McCain is one of them. If I hear that ding with the star one more time, I will go ape-shit with stylings similar to your TV-smashing. Another one is Tim Hortons, who go all over the place, from corny sentimentality to feeble attempts at humour that generally make no sense.

My point is: find me a Rogers commercial that does not suck. They do not have a clue. If their little couch battle with Bell last year wasn’t obnoxious and childish enough (for those who don’t recall, both companies used the image of a blue and red couch for their ads, to prove a point?), how many more of those ads with the poor guy losing cell phone reception, only to see an arrogant jock going slowly up an escalator to the tune of the intro to 2001: A Space Odyssey do we need to see before we get the point?

All advertising rants aside, we’re talking about quality of commentary here, not Rogers’ eternal inability to market itself. You cannot deny that the Jays’ television broadcasting has not been the same since Buck was a part of it. He and Dan Shulman were an excellent team, and their departure ushered in the Rod Black/Rob Faulds era. Yuck.

Buck was a superb colour commentator, he has worked with the best (Shulman, Jim Hughson), he’s been at it for years, and the Alan Ashby experiment on the FAN (former player calling play by play) works just fine. Buck has always spoken smoothly for a colour commentator (compare him to Rance. I dare ya). I think he will do a fine job, but he needs a good colour guy too.

PH: First things first, I like those Rogers cell phone commercials. That guy is a funny dude. But that’s besides the point.

You said Buck’s going to need a good colour guy. Fine, but it’s not gonna happen with Mulliniks and Tabler (although I don’t mind Tabler). What Sportsnet should have done is kept Darren Fletcher. No, he’s not the most knowledgeable or lovable broadcaster, but c’mon, he’s entertaining. He would call out Jaime Campbell on his garbage commentary and he always had a few catch phrases up his sleeve. I’ll never forget when he said, describing the failure to swing at a 3-1 fastball down the middle, “When you see the cheese you gotta turn on the fan.” That’s gold. And if I’m not going to be enjoying the Jays product on the field this year, I better get some entertainment from the broadcast. But the chances of that happening without Fletcher are about as good as the Jays winning the AL East.

AMGR: as usual, if you want to be entertained, turn on Jerry and Alan (and sometimes MIKE WILNER!). I am not here to bump the FAN, though it is a great radio station (even though Rogers owns them too). But I find the best way to watch a Jays game is to mute your TV and turn the radio up. They call the game extensively, they say the things that cross your mind, they describe every detail. They are a stats nerd’s wet dream.

We’re not going to know how Buck does until we hear him at work. Expect him to make a few mistakes in the early going, but I honestly think he’s going to do a great job. At the very least, he will be better than Campbell and Black combined.. though, I admit, that does not take much.

Anyway, all this talk about Rogers makes me want to vomit.

Speaking of vomit, I hear you have been advocating V-Dub for the clean-up spot. Tell me, how potent is the chronic you’ve been smoking? It appears the stuff has erased your memory of the biggest choke of a season in my recent memory. I think he might have had less RBI per dollars made in the history of the game..

PH: Clearly I’ve taken one too many V-Doobs (see what I did there?) to the dome. But hear me out.

We can all agree that the lineup will be – and should be – Bautista, Hill, Lind at 1-2-3. Lind has clearly indicated he wants no part of the 4-hole and did fine in the third spot last year. That leaves us to choose our cleanup hitter from Wells, Overbay, Encarnacion and Snider (no, Buck and Gonzalez don’t count). So are you seriously telling me one of those guys deserves it over Wells?

Listen, he sucked last year. Bad. No one’s denying that. But how much of that was a result of his wrist injury that he got surgically repaired in the offseason? I know, I know, he also sucked in 2007, but wasn’t he battling an injury then too? The only year he was seemingly healthy since then was 2008, when he had two stints on the DL, and put up nice numbers.

Speaking of his numbers, check this out. In 2005 he had a 104 OPS + (For those of you unfamiliar with OPS +, it measures your OPS against the league average. 100 is average, so above 100 is above average and below 100 is below average. If you don’t know what OPS is, well, god help you). So in 2005 Vernon Wells was a pretty average hitter.

But, 2006: his OPS + was 129. That’s nice.

2007: Not so nice, OPS + was 85.

But, 2008: OPS + was 122. Again, beauty.

2009: OPS + was 88. Yuck.

Don’t know if you can follow simple trends or not, but that went nice, not so nice, and back again 5 straight years. So, 2009, not so nice. 2010? You get the picture.

AMGR – Don’t think I haven’t thought about his whole good year bad year thing. Wells is such a strange case for me. So much talent, but why don’t we see it consistently? Gold Glove abilities on defence, speed, pure power… so why can’t he play with any consistency? I don’t think it’s because he does not care. Call me crazy, but I’ve noticed he’s been way more visibly emotional when he messes up than he was when King Carlos was here. Everything about him used to be cool, collected. His batting stance, he never showboated homers, he rarely showed any emotion even in times of success. But now, his reactions to striking out, popping up with the bases loaded are almost like Tim Thomas reactions to game winning goals against him.

You’re probably right about him getting that spot, unfortunately. He does not deserve it at all, and frankly I have no confidence in him in that spot, but I don’t think Edwin Encarnacion is getting the clean-up spot. However, I think it will depend on how Randy Ruiz does. If he hits righties as well as he hits lefties, maybe you trade Encarnacion or release him, put Bautista at third, Snider in right, Lind in left, and R and R in the 4 spot at DH. That way you have righty-lefty-righty-lefty with Hill, Lind, Ruiz, Overbay, Wells, Snider, Buck, Gonzo/Johnny Mac.

And if Ruiz doesn’t work out, there’s always your pal Brian Dopirak.

PH: Don’t do that to me…you know how emotional I get about Doper. He was recently demoted to AAA and is sure to be joined soon by at least few of the 3,489 pitchers the Jays have in camp this year. I would say one of the most interesting battles – and the one that hasn’t been talked, or balked, about – is the battle for the ‘pen, and more specifically, for the closer’s job.

The three candidates who have submitted resumés and have been called back for an interview are Kevin Gregg, Jason Frasor and Scott Downs.

So far this spring, as far as I can tell, no one has really stood out. Gregg has been hit around a couple times, Frasor’s been solid except for that one outing where he got ROUGHED up, and Downs, well OK, he hasn’t allowed a run.

But that brings me to my point. Downs shouldn’t get the closers job, no matter how well he pitches this spring. He’s just not suited for the role. He throws in the low 90s, with a sweeping curveball, and is way more effective on lefties than righties. He thrives in the 7th and 8th inning in specific situations, not the 9th when the pressures on. Not your ideal closer description. He was also only 9 for 13 in save opportunities last year.

I think Frasor deserves it. He put up the best numbers of his career last year when he got his first real opportunity in the 9th since his rookie year (when he saved 17 of 19 games). His save percentage last year wasn’t much better than Downs’ (11 for 14), but he put up a 2.50 ERA. Frasor’s got live stuff, he’s put in his work with the Jays, and now he deserves his shot.

What about Kevin Gregg? No, just no.

AMGR – I agree on Gregg, but that doesn’t mean Cito isn’t going to hand him the job. It sucks, but you know it’s true. Just like how Tallet is going to make the rotation (even though I’d prefer Eveland to him at this point…) and Bautista is going to lead off. Also, maybe it’s because I was at the game where Frasor got his first career blown save, or maybe its because I remember only too well that Frasor was traded one for one for Jayson Werth, but I have never really trusted him. Every time he pitches, he makes me nervous. In the case of Downs, he was pretty steady last year, and I recall that when he started struggling, it was because he was injured. I would ideally like to see Downs given the shot to close because his numbers have just gotten better and better (injuries aside), while Frasor, for me, is very up and down. However, giving Downs the closer’s job means Jesse Carlson is the lefty set-up man.


Like I said, it’s going to be Gregg to start, and once he proves that a guy who struggles in the NL Central is not going to succeed in the AL East, I predict the closer’s job is going to be somewhat of a revolving door. What does Cito care? He’s leaving at the end of the year anyway. Why not give Camp the job? How bout Purcey? He’s a god-awful starter, but maybe he has the stuff to close. How bout Rey Gonzalez?

But yeah, it’s gonna be Gregg, and that sucks.

Final point before we retire for the evening: How long before Johnny Mac grabs the starting job at short? I give it till mid-July, and that’s assuming Gonzo doesn’t get hurt early in the year and Johnny Mac is forced into the role. Or does Mike McCoy miraculously prove my wild prediction a few weeks ago right and grab the starting job by the end of the year?

In my view, it doesn’t matter. None of them is Hanley Ramirez, so as long as Jarrett Hoffpauir doesn’t make the team, I’m good.

PH: I don’t think Mike McCoy will ever be the starter at SS for the Jays, but I expect him to see some half decent playing time this year. Speaking of predictions, how about TRAVIS SNIDER FOR MVP.

Yup. I’m with my man AMGR, and I’m gone.




  1. I already mentioned this to Asher, but Frasor deserves the closer’s spot. He used to make me nervous watching him pitch, but last year he seemed much calmer and more confident. If that dirty change-up is working again, he’ll make a decent closer.

    And unfortunately I gotta side with Pete, I’m feeling a bounce-back year for v-dubs as well.

  2. Balk Stars, give me your predictions:

    How’s the rotation going to change between now and the All-Star break? What about the end of the season?

    Who will finish the season with the most wins on the pitching staff?

    Who makes the All-Star game as Toronto’s representative(s)?

    Which rookie will make the most impact?

    What are you looking to get in return from Lyle Overbay? Will Frasor get traded and for what?

    Who will finish the year batting cleanup? (the answer is Ruiz)

    Will Buck Martinez be awesome or just excellent?

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