How Blue Jays are implementing more on-field use of data

Blue Jays catcher Danny Jansen joins Blair and Brunt to discuss the feeling of being the guy behind the plate, and to discuss the new "wristband" initiative for the club, which acts much like a QB's.

DUNEDIN, Fla. – Danny Jansen ditched his batting gloves in 2017 and has no plans to resume using them, but a new look he debuted Saturday in the Toronto Blue Jays’ spring opener was wearing the quarterback-style wristbands starting to gain traction around the majors.

The sleeve, with a protective Velcro flap covering what is essentially a cheat sheet with various relevant scouting report points, is something the Tampa Bay Rays, new manager Charlie Montoyo’s former team, began using last season. Catchers for the Cleveland Indians and New York Mets have also worn them.

Though Jansen only referenced it a couple of times during the five innings he caught in a 4-0 loss to the Detroit Tigers, the wristband is the latest example of how the Blue Jays are trying to employ data more efficiently on the field.

“It’s new for us,” said Jansen. “In case you get stuck, it’s got some things that you need in there, notes and stuff that we can get a bit of an edge on. I’m getting used to looking at my wrist and taking a peak, if need be.”

John Schneider, the newly promoted coach responsible for catchers, “toyed around” with the wristbands last year when he managed the double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats to an Eastern League championship, though he described that as more of an information-gathering exercise.

What he sought to figure out was which specifics catchers Max Pentecost, Pat Cantwell and Ryan Hissey liked to be reminded of in game, and how best to maximize the information on the card inserted into the sleeve.

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“It’s something that Charlie is adamant about,” said Schneider. “Today, we’re just getting used to wearing them, when to glance at them, when to not. The analogy we use is when you take out your phone and you know where all your apps are, that’s the goal for the first few weeks, to know exactly what you’re looking at.”

The information will be individualized for each catcher, although there will be some constants. While for obvious reasons the Blue Jays wouldn’t get into the specifics, key points could include how to pitch certain batters, running trends and various swing rates.

Part of the learning process is not just what information to use, but also how to check the bands without disrupting a pitcher’s pace or drawing too much attention.

“I don’t want to be out here like this glaring at it,” Jansen said, bringing his wrist up to his face. “If I look at something, I try to make it as subtle and quick as possible, especially with the (pitch) clock and stuff like that.”

Jansen, positioned to take over as the Blue Jays’ everyday catcher, believes the wristband will come in most handy during leverage situations “if you get stuck with some new guys coming up you haven’t seen, or some young guy in the big-leagues. You can do all the studying you can, but in the heat of the moment if you get stuck, this is something that supplements that.”

Still, Jansen cautions on becoming overly reliant on the data.

“I kind of like it, but it’s going to evolve,” he said. “The thing about being a catcher, you have to have feel with your pitcher. If (the scouting report) says don’t do something, but that’s the only thing that’s working, you’ve got to with your guy, what he’s feeling.”

Ryan Borucki started for the Blue Jays, allowing two hits and a walk with one strikeout in two innings of work, and it was business as usual for the two close friends who are sharing a house this spring with Thomas Pannone and Billy McKinney.

“I don’t really know what it is, if it’s a new look for him, or what,” Borucki said of the wristband with a grin. “Looks pretty good on him, doesn’t it?”

GRICHUK SLOWED UP: Blue Jays right-fielder Randal Grichuk won’t play until Tuesday as he deals with a flare up of plantar fasciitis in his left foot, something that happened to him at times last year, too. “We’re taking our time with him,” said Charlie Montoyo. “It’s a communication between the trainers and Randal and me.”

WELCOME, SKIP: Veteran Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire came over to warmly shake Montoyo’s hand during the pre-game introductions, giving him some words of encouragement and some pats on the chest, as well. “He said congratulations and good luck this year,” relayed Montoyo. “He was really happy that I got the job. That was really nice of him to tell me that.” Tigers right-fielder Mikie Mahtook and catcher Bobby Wilson, both of whom are familiar with Montoyo from the Rays system, also offered their congratulations.

AMPED UP: Ryan Borucki’s afternoon didn’t start well as he issued a five-pitch walk to leadoff man Mikie Mahtook before a Christin Stewart single put men on the corners with none out. The lefty settled down after Jeimer Candelario lined out to second for the first out, catching John Hicks looking on a high fastball before Niko Goodrum flew out to left field. His second inning was much cleaner, and he erased a Dustin Peterson bloop single by inducing a JaCoby Jones double play. Why the rough start? “I haven’t been that pumped up (to pitch) in the last three years – it was very weird,” said Borucki, who was at a loss to explain the extra excitement. “I don’t know. First start of the year, get to do opening day, all those fans are out there, I’ve been in the cold weather, I’m hot and it’s nice to be back here.”

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WEIGHT GAIN: Borucki spent the winter working out in Toronto and added about five-to-six pounds to push his weight up 220 pounds. He believes the extra muscle will better help him carry the load through all six months of a big-league season, although his fastball was regularly 94-95 m.p.h. Saturday. “Definitely at the end of last year I got tired, and I could feel my body get tired. That extra weight is to get through September,” he said. “But if an added bonus is a couple more tics on the radar gun, I’ll be happy with that.” After throwing 27 pitches on a sunny 28-degree day in Dunedin, Borucki pointed to his sweat-soaked shirt and joked that “maybe right now I might be 215.”

COME OUT FIRING: Throwing was a point of emphasis for Jansen over the off-season and he was aggressive on that front, making backpick throws in the first and third innings trying to catch Mahtook napping. “For me, it’s just doing it, getting the reps in so that when games start, you’re not afraid and you’re ready to go,” said Jansen. “It’s just getting reps with that, getting the timing with your infielders. I’m going to be doing it a lot.” He’ll do that at the behest of new manager Charlie Montoyo. “We’re going to do all that spring, you’ll see, and all year,” he said. “We’re going to keep those runners close.”

HOT TEOSCAR: The Blue Jays managed only five hits against the Tigers but Teoscar Hernandez delivered two of them, including a booming double off the centre-field wall in the first. “It seems like every time I see that kid he hits balls like that,” said Montoyo. “Good approach. As long as he doesn’t chase bad pitches, he’s going to be alright. That was good.”

LUCKY LUCIANO: Nineteen-year-old Rule 5 pick Elvis Luciano saw the first Grapefruit League action of his career in the sixth inning, working around a single and walk to deliver a scoreless frame. Luciano flashed mid-90s velocity in his inning and must impress in camp to convince the Blue Jays to try carrying him for an entire big-league season. “Another kid that impresses me with how cool and collected he is that young,” said Montoyo. “He just looked comfortable. He came out on the mound like nothing happened and I like that. You don’t teach that. Some kids have it. That kid has it.”

SHORT HOPS: Montoyo also praised Jackson McClelland’s scoreless ninth inning, during which he touched 98 and struck out one. … The only pitcher on either club to surrender a run in the game was left-hander Thomas Pannone, who allowed five hits, including Niko Goodrum’s two-run homer to centre field. … Nevin Ashley, who played 12 games with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2015 and in the Rays system for Montoyo, has been hired as a second bullpen catcher for the Blue Jays. He joins returning Canadian Alex Andreopoulos.

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