TORONTO — OK, Ross Atkins, take us through the process that led to Vladimir Guerrero Jr., not playing in Monday’s long-weekend matinee against the Boston Red Sox.
“Really, it’s Charlie (Montoyo’s) process,” replied the Toronto Blue Jays GM. “We have given him a lot of tools and resources and there are a lot of things that factor into those decisions and we ask a lot for him to factor in. One of the things we don’t ask him to think about is when fans may or may not be here when he decides on everyone’s playing time.”
So, it was Montoyo’s call?
“Listen, every day the lineup decision is Charlie’s.”
In hindsight, would you have done things differently?
“Really, the process of playing time, that becomes a slippery slope, on Fridays, on Sundays, it’s a very difficult thing to balance all of it. One of the things we don’t ask him to balance is when fans may or may not be here.”
In other words, Charlie Montoyo, meet bus, although he surely doesn’t need an introduction given that during the first two minutes of his session with media Tuesday afternoon, Atkins pretty much dropped one directly atop his manager.
Later, Atkins conceded the “one thing” he regrets is that among the many topics he’s raised in his discussions with Montoyo, “I have not talked to him about the importance of Victoria Day.”
Less clear is whether during their chats Atkins has brought up that Montoyo could end up unnecessarily wearing a mess he’s not responsible for, but hey, that’s between them.
Look, let’s be frank — in many ways, this whole controversy is a tempest in a teapot. Guerrero, and every other player fans love, get days off. Over the course of a gruelling 162-game season, that’s not only necessary, but smart.
And Atkins is 100-per cent correct when he says dictating lineups based on attendance and fan demands is a slippery slope. Teams have far more information than the public, along with highly trained professionals to interpret that data to aid in the managing of players’ health.
Doing what’s best for the athlete can’t be tied to ticket sales.
Add in that Guerrero is the prime attraction for a team in rebuild mode, and you end up with a confluence of unusual circumstances that turned a normal occurrence of a rest day into an emotional flash point for, at minimum, a very vocal portion of Blue Jays fans on social media.
Still, it’s not unreasonable to think that playing Guerrero on a holiday Monday afternoon before a large crowd and potentially large TV audience is not only good for fans, but good for business.
As we’re often reminded, this is a business, after all.
At the same time, keeping Guerrero on the field over the long term is really good business, and on his way up to the majors he’s missed time with back pain, a minor knee injury and this spring’s oblique strain. The Blue Jays and their High Performance department are cognizant of that and given his dense frame, are justified in keeping close tabs on him.
In a subsequent interview, when asked what went into how the Blue Jays manage Guerrero’s workload, Atkins said, “there’s matchup information, there’s performance information, and then there’s workload and fatigue and that is based on communication. There’s no hard data. We will use metrics as opposed to running speed, but that’s relatively easy and that’s not as much about the data as it is about using the intuition and the information from communication.”
Such information is pulled into the lineup-making process along with contributions from scouting and analytics to develop what the team feels is an optimal batting order on a given night. The High Performance department offers information on a player’s workload, fatigue, range of motion and strength which is tracked on an ongoing basis.
“They can measure fatigue based on quad strength, grip strength, hamstring, hip range of motion, things that could potentially be suggesting that low back or core or knees are more at risk,” explained Atkins. “Some players are more open to (the testing) and more disciplined in and around it.
“…And Vladdy’s been great. All of his tests have been very positive and there’s been nothing concerning. Other things to factor in are travel, workload, previous injuries, still being built up. He’s testing strong. There are small variances but nothing overly concerning. We’re just trying to ensure we don’t see anything overly concerning. Rest is a part of it.”
Explaining things that way to fans right out of the gate would surely have blunted some of the fury they felt Monday. Not throwing Montoyo, who thus far has shown himself to be a good baseball man and an even better person, under the bus Tuesday would have helped, too.
This isn’t about Victoria Day, or Canadian culture or anything else. Blue Jays fans enjoying a day off wanted to come to the yard or flip on a ballgame and see the player they’re hoping will one day carry this team back to the post-season. They understandably got mad when that didn’t happen. Some more planning and foresight from the team end would have prevented this needless mess happening.
Really, it’s no more complicated than that.