Is There a Blue Jays Way?

 

 

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[Ed. Note: Let’s welcome Shaun Doyle to Blue Jays from Away. This is his first post on the site and I think you’re going to like Shaun’s take on the Blue Jays. Shaun lives in Eastern Canada and, since I’m back in Toronto now, he brings some of the “Away” back to Blue Jays from Away. While I’m busy mostly covering the Jays minor league squads (although I’ll make my opinions known about the big league club when I have some opinions to share), Shaun will mostly write about the Blue Jays. Take a few minutes to follow him on Twitter (@JaysFromCouch) and read his work at Jays Journal. – Jay Blue]

 

 

It was great to see the Toronto Blue Jay bats come alive against the Baltimore Orioles today. They’ve been in such an offensive funk. Some may have been wondering if Kevin Seitzer is having a positive impact as hitting coach; if his message is getting across. Sportsnet’s Barry Davis (@SNBarryDavis) tweeted today that:

 

Isn’t this leaving too much to chance?

 

When players are struggling at the plate, it is easy to slip into old habits. Up to today (where the bats woke up) Blue Jay hitters have been struggling. According to ESPN.com’s Team Stats for 2014,  the Blue Jays have the 11th best offense in the American League. Perhaps Brett Lawrie best exemplifies old habits dying hard. In spring training, his stance was quiet and his swing had little movement. When the season started and Lawrie struggled, his swing became more violent and less controlled. It mirrored his previous attempts at hitting that hoped to rely more on his raw power than anything else.

 

This got me thinking. Kevin Seitzer is the third hitting coach the Blue Jays have had in 3 years. Each coach brings his own ideas about hitting to the big league club. Dwayne Murphy brought a ‘find the pitch you’re looking for and swing as hard as you can’ approach. Chad Mattola, who was told to work closely with Murphy, brought an individualized approach to instruction. He’d look to adjust to each player, rather than have a team wide approach. Kevin Seitzer is trying to bring a situational, ‘use the whole field’ mentality to Blue Jay hitters. How can players succeed in an environment that tells them different messages year after year? Later, in the Sportsnet TV broadcast of the game against the Orioles, Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler were talking about how Kevin Seitzer said he ‘can’t shove the philosophy down the throats of Blue Jay hitters’. Based on this, it would seem that Seitzer has a plan and is just waiting for players to buy in.

 

That’s when I started thinking about whether the Toronto Blue Jays have a wider organizational philosophy; a Blue Jays Way.

 

The St Louis Cardinals have been lauded for producing a handbook that they give out to every player that enters the organization. Tony Calandro over at Huffington Post outlines it briefly for those who are unaware of it. Basically, the Cardinals, according to Calandro, are the baseball model of success. Baseball fans will know this to be true.

 

The Cardinals are perennial playoff contenders. As well, they are constantly able to replenish their major league team with exciting, successful young talent. They are one of the few teams who can afford to lose high end talent because they have cheaper options that will be able to fill in just as nicely. According to Deadspin.com the Cardinals enter 2014 with a payroll of $111,020,360, which is $20M less than the Blue Jays and MUCH less than half of that of the LA Dodgers. Granted, the Cardinals are still in the top half of MLB team salaries. However, with a payroll less than 12 other MLB teams, the Cardinals will still challenge for the division title. They fly in the face of big spending teams. St Louis fans fill seats year after year. Calandro points out:

“[The Cardinals] created a loyal customer base that has an emotional attachment to the brand, surpassing the 3 million-attendance mark in each of the past nine seasons, with an average of more than 42,000 fans seeing each home game. The only other team that has surpassed the 3 million attendance mark over the same period is the New York Yankees, and that city has more than five times the population of St. Louis.”

 

The success of the franchise turns into success at the gates. This is something that the Blue Jays seem to miss. Paul Beeston keeps harping about fans showing support in order for Rogers to spend. Blaming the fans for ownership not spending on the team misses the boat for two reasons: 1) Winning sells tickets. Fans will come to a contender. 2) It would appear that ownership is (begrudgingly) willing to throw money at the team rather than work to build it the right way: through development and coaching. It should be noted that fans can buy into this idea, if it is genuine. But, when the team deviates and spends, or looks to spend, fans get frustrated.

 

Now, the team will say that they have increased spending on international free agents and on scouting, thus development. This may be true. But, spending money to sign young players is still throwing money at a problem. When will they develop a common approach to player development?

 

The St Louis Cardinals (as well as the Tampa Bay Rays with their pitching) have an organizational message for players and coaches to follow that outlines the fundamental skills and approaches they want their players to possess. Both of these teams have worked very hard at preaching and teaching their young players so that when they progress through the system, they are receiving ONE clear message. These teams want their players to perform one way, the right way. The results are speaking for themselves.

 

Blue Jays Director of Minor League Operations, Charlie Wilson
Blue Jays Director of Minor League Operations, Charlie Wilson

 

What do the Toronto Blue Jays have? I posed this question to Jay Blue only to find out he asked a similar question to Charlie Wilson (Blue Jays Director of Minor League Operations) in a scrum at a Bluefield Blue Jays media session in July 2013. He says:

“We want to develop fundamentally sound, championship major league players. We’re gonna work on fundamentals, we’re gonna work on playing the game the right way. We have five or six goals which we expect all our players and staff to adhere to. It starts as soon as the players get to mini-camp after the draft and then we go through the whole system.”

 

Well, this does not offer a specific plan or approach to player development. Wilson came back to Jay and “clarified” with this:

“The goal is to create a winning culture within the organization by teaching good sound fundamental baseball played with a sense of urgency.”

 

It is not clear how that is any more clear. The “clarification” sounds like a good company line, but does it really mean anything? Is there a common message, approach or even a belief about player development? (If you’re interested, here’s the transcript of the above session.)

 

Rather than have some vague mission statement, fans would love to see the Toronto Blue Jays institute a common message that starts from the lowest levels of their system and follows players all the way to the big league club; a message that is preached to every new player (and coach) that joins the organization, regardless of when they join.

 

Perhaps this works for teams like St Louis because they  have a rich history and players may be willing to bend to fit in to the winning culture. Tampa Bay can do it because they hold on to their players as long as possible. They tend to not give up young talent, so they can reap the benefits of what they preach. Perhaps the reason this hasn’t worked in Toronto is because the team has yet to establish its identity. They have used a mix of trades, free agents and the occasional home grown talent. Though the latter has been a rarity over the last little while. The above may be the root of fans’ ire. There is no clear identity for the Toronto Blue Jays.

 

Ownership must decide how it is going to proceed. Over the next year or so, there will be big financial decisions to make. Contracts will be up for renewal (or not). how will the Blue Jays compete in the future. How they handle it will be very telling. Developing a consistent message throughout the system may mean that the top level needs to be flushed and replaced with players who have learned the “Blue Jays Way”. If that is the path they take, the Blue Jays may be in for a bumpy ride. It will be a big, fundamental change in operations. One that may be better for the future of this team in the long run.

 

Who are these players? Find out in The 2014 Toronto Blue Jays Minor League Handbook, now available as an ebook at Smashwords.com for $7.99 US. It’s coming soon to Amazon, Apple iBooks, Kobo and other fine retailers. You can purchase and preview the book at our Smashwords.com page! If you like us here,“like” us on Facebook!

 

All photos are copyright Blue Jays from Away (2013-2014) and may not be used without permission.

  • KennyC

    Great essay! I’ve wondered myself how the constant changes in philosophy must affect the mentality of individuals within various organizations…the Blue Jays specifically since their hitting coach role has been a bit of a revolving door.

    • I rhink that is what I’m wondering. How can any player be successful qith different yearly messages? Uou could say they’re all pros and should be just fine. But it is a game of adjustments and consistency. There is a fine balancing act in that. Revolving coaches tips that balance too far one way or another.