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Phillips: The struggles of Encarnacion, Lawrie or Rasmus

Steve Phillips
4/11/2014 12:06:15 PM
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TSN Baseball Insider Steve Phillips answers three questions each week. This week, topics cover the struggles of Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Lawrie or Colby Rasmus, if the Jays' reputation is damaged following a report that players were willing to defer their salaries in order to sign Ervin Santana and Cincinnati Reds speedster Billy Hamilton.

1. While it's early in the season, should the Jays be worried yet about the struggles of Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Lawrie or Colby Rasmus?  If not, at what point should a club worry about a slow start? 

What does a slow start mean?  Does it mean a bad season?  Will the player turn things around?  How can a manager help the player get going? Every team is asking themselves these questions about some number of their players.  It may be a pitcher or a hitter.  No team has all of their players' playing well.  Baseball just doesn't work that way.

So what should the Jays do with Encarnacion (.162) , Rasmus (.176) and Lawrie (.108)?  How concerned should they be that this is a bad start to a bad season versus just an early season slump? 

The answer is the same yet different for each of the players. 

It is the same for each of them in that it is too early to completely panic or pull the plug on their roles.  Usually somewhere around a hundred at bats is a good time to make a judgment on a player.  It allows for slumps and hot streaks and adjustments to be made to overcome problems.  During the course of the season every player will have a 30 at bat window in which they will hit .170.  When the season starts in that window it just feels worse because it is not hidden by the 15 for 30 streak that will likely happen. 

That being said, the level of concern is different for each player based upon the back of his baseball card.  I believe that over the course of a season a player will likely ride the peaks and valleys and end up with stats that reflect what they typically have been as a player.   Of course young players with potential are expected to improve in their early years and the stats should reflect some upward growth.  In the same vein, aging players nearing the end of their careers should show some decline in their stats. .   I generally use a player's last three years to determine my expectations for the upcoming season. Certainly there can and will be anomalous years where a players performance may spike or decline unexpectedly.  Generally speaking, though, players are what they are and over the course of the season they define themselves.

Edwin Encarnacion entered the season in the prime of his career.  My expectations for him were to hit .275 with 35 homers and 105 RBI.  Those numbers are consistent with what he has done over the past several years.  The fact he is off to a slow start means very little to me.  I have confidence in his ability to overcome a slump because he has done it over and over again in his career.  It is the nature of the game.   The good news is that the Jays are 5-5 and haven't gotten anything from him yet. 

Colby Rasmus at 27 years old is a slightly different story than Encarnacion.  He is at an age now where he is about establishing what he is as a player.  I expected him to hit about .270 with 25 homers and 75 RBI this season.  He can still certain attain those numbers but his slow start is a bit concerning. In 2013, Rasmus grew a bit as a hitter as he improved his average despite still striking out too much.  He has shown that at times, though, a difficulty to get out of a slump.  His slow start has the potential to snowball and lead to a down season.  He needs to get turned around quickly so it doesn't foster the negative thoughts that can compound the problem. 

Brett Lawrie is just 24 years old and is still figuring out what he is as a player.  He started his big league career with a bang.  After playing in only 43 games in 2011, it was thought that he had the power and speed combination that could put up 25 homers and 25 stolen bases.  The 2012 and 2013 seasons were disappointing to say the least as very little growth has been seen.  This is a critical year for Lawrie.   His slow start is most concerning because if his numbers decline again he will no longer be a functional everyday player. 

So it is too early to panic but the level of concern for each of the players is different.  If the Jays are going to win this year, they will need all three of them to live up to expectations. 

2. Last week, FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal reported that some Toronto Blue Jays players were willing to defer their salaries in order to sign free agent pitcher Ervin Santana in March.  Does this news do any damage to the Jays' reputation in MLB circles, and as a former GM how would you feel about this if you were Alex Anthopoulos?

This should only be deemed as good news for the Jays and their fans.  The Jays' players are willing to invest in winning. Wow!!!! 

Now, it does mean that ownership has given Anthopolous a strict budget and told him find a way to make it work with what you have.  There isn't more money to upgrade the team.  He knows he needs to upgrade his starting pitching to be true contender in the AL East so it is time to get creative.  I would have done what Anthopolous did too. 

The fact that other teams now know the Jays may be able to come up with about $14M through deferring compensation is a good thing.  It makes the Jays a player for any pitching that could be season-changing. 

The only risk that Anthopolous runs in going to the players for money is that if he doesn't land a player with the money his team could lose hope and heart.  When a player takes ownership in the result of a personnel decision by deferring compensation he wants to see and feel the result of that.  Ervin Santana looked great in his first start with the Braves.  How good would it have been if he pitched that way for the Jays?  The disappointment of losing out on targeted players is tough enough when you are GM.  But you are prepared for when it happens.   You can cope with the sense of loss.  Players don't have those experiences to fall back upon and it can cause them frustration, disappointment and distraction. 

Overall this offer has gained the Jays respect around the game.  They just can't let it turn into overwhelming disappointment in the clubhouse. 

3) Cincinnati Reds speedster Billy Hamilton scored on a 'sacrifice fly' on Wednesday against the St. Louis Cardinals that only cleared the infield by no more than 25 feet.  While he's struggled to get on-base early in the year, how difficult is it for the opposition to deal with that type of speed?

Billy Hamilton is a blazer.  I used to have a scout who would have said about Hamilton that "he is so fast; he can outrun a shortwave radio."  I am not exactly sure what he meant but it is clear that if anyone can outrun a shortwave radio it is Hamilton.  He can fly. 

Speed is the most useful tool in the major leagues because it helps on offense and defense. 

On offense, speed like Hamilton's puts pressure on the defense.  The infield has to play shallower since they have less time to make the throw to first on a ground ball to retire him.  This allows more ground balls to get through the infield as the fielders have less reaction time.  Hamilton is nearly impossible to double up on a grounder so there will be times that he will drive in runs and extend innings with productive outs.  His speed will prove to be a distraction for every pitcher when he is on base. This will shift the focus off of the hitter causing more mistake pitches to be thrown.  Plus, where Hamilton does not have great power, many of his singles will be turned into doubles with a stolen base. He should score more runs than a similar hitting player with far less speed.  Outfielders will at times rush throws on fly balls and hits leading to more errors on the defense. 

Defensively Hamilton's speed will allow him to cover more ground and get to more balls in the outfield.  His speed will allow him to compensate for mistakes on reading the ball off the bat and getting a bad jump.

This young man has a chance to be a dynamic player.  He has a chance to be one of the most exciting players in the game.  But as they say, "You can't steal first base."  If is to truly impact the game as his tools would allow he is going to have to hit and walk his way to at least a .330 on base percentage.  If he can do that, then look out!

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I had the privilege to call the Mets vs Braves game this past Tuesday in Atlanta on the radio.  It just so happened that it was the Braves home opener and it coincided with the 40th Anniversary of the Hank Aaron passing Babe Ruth's record 714 home runs.

It was a moving ceremony.  Braves' fans love Aaron.  He is such a humble, classy, distinguished man.  It was an absolute honor to be there and pay tribute to him.  There are moments that I feel so genuinely blessed that I get to make a living doing this. 

I remember April 8, 1974 quite well. I was in my house in Detroit, Michigan with my dad and my brother, Terry, watching the game on TV.  I remember watching the ball sail over the wall and jumping up and down celebrating.  I remember watching Aaron run the bases and it hit me that he wasn't smiling.  He just circled the bases as fans ran around him on the field.  I didn't know why. 

Years later I went to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY and saw on display numerous letters that had been sent to Aaron during the chase for the record that were full of hate and racial comments.  I had no idea what he was enduring.  It made me sick.  It made me feel sorry for him.  I came to find out that Aaron was very isolated during the chase. He had to stay in a different hotel than his teammates.  As much as I was hoping for him to break the record, there were many racists who didn't want it to happen.  He played through hatred and threats, always believing in himself.  But he was robbed of the enjoyment of the achievement.  What a shame. 

Aaron ended his career with 755 home runs.  Barry Bonds hit his 756th homer on August 7, 2007.  Bonds received hate as well during his chase but it was less about race and more about cheating.  Bonds had been linked to BALCO, a laboratory with ties to PEDs.  Bonds celebrated with arms to the sky when he hit the ball. He circled the base with a smile and extreme pride.  Quite a contrast to the humility of Aaron.  In fact, Aaron even had a taped message for Bonds and the fans: "I would like to offer my congratulations to Barry Bonds on becoming baseball's career home run leader. It is a great accomplishment which requires skill, longevity and determination. Throughout the past century, the home run has held a special place in baseball and I have been privileged to hold this record for 33 of those years. I move over now and offer my best wishes to Barry and his family on this historical achievement.
"My hope today, as it was on that April evening in 1974, is that the achievement of this record will inspire others to chase their own dreams."

Hank Aaron is the home run king in my opinion.  Yes, Barry Bonds did hit more (762) but his use of PEDs added to his number in some way.  I can't completely quantify the impact of the drugs but it was more than the seven home run difference between him and Aaron. 

Many still believe that Ruth was the best home run hitter ever because he had a better homer per at bat rate.  Ruth homered once every 11.76 at bats compared to once every 16.38 at bats for Aaron. There is major flaw in the way people look at Ruth.  His performance was enhanced like Bonds' performance was enhanced.  No he didn't take steroids.  Ruth didn't play against all of the elite players at the time.  Remember segregation at the time did not allow the black players to play in the major league with the white players.  Babe Ruth didn't face the same caliber of pitching that Aaron did.  Therefore Ruth's performance was enhanced. 

Hank Aaron is my all-time home run king.  He is also one of the greatest all-time role models of perseverance, humility and class. 

I love my job.




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