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Steve Phillips

TSN Baseball Insider


The Toronto Blue Jays start to the season hasn’t been good or bad. It has been just okay.

Their depth has been tested in the outfield with the injuries to George Springer and Teoscar Hernandez testing positive for COVID-19.

The pitching was thin heading into the season, and has been further compromised with injuries to Kirby Yates (elbow surgery), Robbie Ray (elbow bruise), Ryan Borucki (side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine), Tyler Chatwood (elbow inflammation), Julian Merryweather (strained oblique), Ross Stripling (forearm tightness), Jordan Romano (right ulnar neuritis) and Nate Pearson (strained groin).

Given all of that, a 6-7 record, is not so bad – especially considering the difficulty of the team’s early schedule.

There are plenty of good things to focus on as well.

Steven Matz has looked like a solid No. 2 or No. 3 starter. The quality of his pitches and his command have been excellent. The Jays will need him to continue to be a predictable starter behind ace Hyun-Jin Ryu.

The bullpen has also performed well so far, and it seems that many of the pitchers are interchangeable.

Rafael Dolis and David Phelps can handle the high-leverage innings as can Merryweather and Romano when healthy. Borucki and Tim Mayza can handle matchups and high-leverage situations from the left side. Tommy Milone gives length from the left side, while Trent Thornton gives manager Charlie Montoyo the same from the right side.

Offensively, Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. have led the way, while Randall Grichuk has covered nicely for Springer’s absence in centre field. Marcus Semien has had a few big hits but hasn’t gotten hot yet. He has shown great leadership so far with his steadying influence.  Rowdy Tellez, Alejandro Kirk, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Hernandez haven’t gotten going, but they will.

Remember it is early and you can’t win a division in April, but you can lose it. The Jays are holding their own with everyone else in the AL East, even with the Red Sox winning nine of their past 10.

Ryu’s strong start

One of the keys so far has been Ryu. He has been exceptional, going 1-1 with a 1.89 ERA. He has averaged more than six innings per start and has already started in two wins over the New Yankees, the team most predict to win the division. He has picked up where he left off last year as a premium starter in the game.

One can make the case that Ryu is the most important starter on any team in baseball. In a small way, that is an indictment about the rest of the rotation and its unpredictability.

I look at the Blue Jays as a playoff team if Ryu continues to pitch like he has since joining the team. He is a stopper, keeping the Jays out of losing streaks. He can pitch against the best lineups, in the biggest moments, in the loudest stadiums, and is unaffected by it all.

But if Ryu underperforms or is injured for any substantial time, the Jays could go from a playoff team to a fourth-place finish in the division.

Ryu is not a workhorse. History has shown that he can’t pitch deep in the game. As much as Montoyo will be tempted to extend him in games, his workload needs to be managed. If you push him, you may lose him. That’s something the Jays just can’t afford at this stage of building and developing their rotation.

Baseball’s review woes

I cringe every time there is a problem with replay review in a game. There were two such incidents over the past week.

Mets outfielder Michael Conforto was hit by a pitch that was in the strike zone in the ninth inning of a game against the Miami Marlins, and by rule the fact that the pitch was a strike should overrule the hit-by-pitch call.

Conforto should have been called out on strikes (he had two strikes at the time) but instead it turned into a walk-off win for the Mets. Only the HBP was reviewable but there was not a question as to whether he was hit. The decision after the HBP was not reviewable, much to the dismay of the Marlins.

There was another controversy Sunday night in the game between the Phillies and the Braves. Phillies third baseman Alec Bohm raced home on a sacrifice fly in the top of the ninth inning and was ruled safe, scoring a go-ahead run. The umpire called Bohm safe, but the Braves questioned whether or not he had actually touched home plate on his slide.

The review policy states that if the call on the field was safe, the umpire in the replay command centre in New York has to see clear and convincing evidence to overturn the call. If the review umpire believes the call on the field is correct, he confirms it. If the play is unclear in any way to the review umpire, the original call stands.

In this case, the umpire let the call stand on the field despite the fact that the players and staff of both teams, umpires on the field, fans, broadcasters and media believed in a clear and convincing way that Bohm never touched home plate once they saw replays. The review process failed again.

This doesn’t mean we should just eliminate the review system, as many are clamouring for. But it could use some tweaking.

One thing I would change is to eliminate any conflict of interest. Asking umpires to overrule other umpires is a potential conflict. I believe umpires to be of high integrity, but even the thought that an umpire might hesitate to overturn a call in a game is an issue. I would hire and train a new independent staff that has no real or perceived conflicts of interest to work in the review centre.

Currently, the umpire in the review centre is guided by the call on the field. As an amendment, I would take the call on the field completely out of the equation. A decision based upon a review by a person who has the ability look at the play in question from five different camera angles in slow motion should always be more accurate than a call on the field made at full speed from just one angle.

Finally, I would increase the number of situations that are reviewable and make the process more transparent.

There is no reason why a ground ball in the infield down the first or third baseline shouldn’t be reviewable. Why can’t a hit-by-pitch on a check swing be reviewed to see if the player actually swung at the ball? Every decision should be explained to the fans at the ballpark, just like they do in the NFL. Put a microphone on the crew chief and let him put words to the decision.

All I want is for what happens on the field to be the actual outcome of the play. Human error isn’t interesting, nor does it give the game character. There have been between 600 and 775 calls overturned in each of the past six full seasons. Imagine how many games would have had different outcomes if the proper call hadn’t been made.

Again, the system is not perfect but we are much closer to having the true outcome of the plays on the field determining the result of the game.