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Blue Jays will need creativity with pitchers as workload jump looms – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO – Even without the strain of jumping from a shortened 60-game season back into the full 162-game grind, constructing a pitching staff along traditional lines has for years become increasingly difficult for major-league clubs.

Consider that from 1977 through 1994, the Toronto Blue Jays used less than 20 pitchers in all but one season, requiring only 13 arms for both the 1982 and 1984 seasons. From 1995 through 2010, they typically needed between 20 and 24 total pitchers, the 18 in 2005 and 19 in 2008 the sole anomalies. In the decade since 2011, they’ve averaged 31.7 pitchers a season, never using less than 27 and needing 29 to survive last year’s pandemic-shortened campaign.

The trajectories are similar across the majors.

There are a multitude of reasons for the spike – from increasing attrition to a diluted talent pool as the number of clubs increased to 30 – but there’s a fairly obvious observation to be drawn: Pitchers are no longer capable of covering innings the way they once did.

Despite that, and forgive the generalization, the discourse around pitching still tends to revolve around the customary five-man rotation, seven-man bullpen framework. Teams that carry eight or – gasp – nine relievers tend to draw disapproving glances, while the Tampa Bay Rays were often portrayed as heathens when they first employed an opener in 2018.

Rather than being asked about the trend lines and asking why someone hadn’t tried a different approach earlier, manager Kevin Cash and the club’s ever-creative front office instead drew scorn for their break from baseball orthodoxy.

This year, big-league clubs will need to be more creative than ever to cover the near tripling of year-over-year workload they all face.

Last season, a surge of pitching injuries was described as “MLB’s other pandemic problem” in this thoughtful piece by Ben Lindbergh on The Ringer, and the need to maintain health is certainly a prime reason for that. But there are strategic reasons to consider openers, piggy-back relievers, bulk arms, twice-through-the-order limits and situational leverage, as well.

Much as the circumstances of 2020 opened up space for creativity, 2021 may very well force some innovation.

As renowned organizational psychologist Adam Grant wrote in his new book Think Again: “Most of us take pride in our knowledge and expertise, and in staying true to our beliefs and opinions. That makes sense in a stable world, where we get rewarded for having convictions in our ideas. The problem is that we live in a rapidly changing world, where we need to spend as much time rethinking as we do thinking.”

To that end, it makes sense to consider the Blue Jays’ pitching staff not solely through the lens of a traditional rotation and bullpen, but more holistically in terms of out-getting groups.

Ideally, they establish a steady five-man starting staff fronted by ace Hyun-Jin Ryu and four of Robbie Ray, Nate Pearson, Steven Matz, Tanner Roark and Ross Stripling and roll them out in steady rotation. That would make life much easier on manager Charlie Montoyo, pitching coach Pete Walker and bullpen coach Matt Buschmann.

It’s also highly unlikely.

Since 2013 and 2014, his first two seasons in the majors, Ryu hasn’t posted consecutive years with triple-digit innings pitched, although he certainly may have last season had it been a normal one. Still, the drop from 182.2 innings in 2019 to 67 in 2020 makes counting on him for 180 precarious, even as he said through interpreter Jun Sung Park, “If I don’t have any issue with my body, I know I can maintain and play a full season without any problem, especially since I’ve never felt any tiredness, any kind of weakness when I’m healthy.”

The Blue Jays are banking on it.

Pearson has cracked 100 innings just once as a professional and after logging only 18 major-league frames last season, his workload will clearly need to be managed. Ray and Matz are both big-stuff projects whose consistency varies and might be better utilized in shorter bursts. Roark didn’t live up to his innings-eating track record last year and needs to regain the mile-and-a-half he lost on his fastball. Stripling pitched well as a starter in 2018 and ’19 but hit a bump last year with the Los Angeles Dodgers before he was traded.

Depending on performance and matchups, the best setup for the Blue Jays might be to pair Ray and Matz with Stripling and Tyler Chatwood, another swingman expected to open in the bullpen. More evenly distributing the work should, in theory, keep everyone in better health.

Expect them to be open to anything.

While in the past, judging health was largely done through asking a pitcher how his arm felt, teams now use an array of tools “that are evidence based and that are based on science to determine fatigue levels,” said general manager Ross Atkins. “If you really want to think about it in a simple way, the radar gun was one of the first versions of that.

“Now … you have technology with motion capture for photography that is attached to spin rates and velocity, where you can take some of your historic beliefs and philosophies and study them to determine, are we seeing and arm angle lower? Are we seeing a decreased effectiveness of a fastball? And there’s a subjective portion of that which is just as important as the objective portion, but it’s taking those two and matching them together to hopefully help you make better decisions.”

Atkins declined to get more specific, citing the risk of surrendering a competitive advantage, but the effective application of that information is essential.

In Think Again, Grant describes how in 1950, it took 50 years for medical knowledge to double, but by 1980 that was down to seven years, and in 2010, it was half that. Similarly, in 2011, people consumed five times as much information per day than they did 25 years earlier. “The accelerating pace of change means that we need to question our beliefs more readily than before,” he argues.

Baseball’s evolution over the past decade is similarly dizzying, and those who aren’t able to effectively leverage data in every realm of the game, from sports science to business modelling, are getting left behind.

Catcher Danny Jansen showed the kind of open-mindedness necessary in this day and age when asked if he expected the club’s pitching plans this summer to more resemble 2020 or a typical season.

“I think a little bit of both,” he replied. “Last year with the 60-game season, it’s like every game was a playoff game almost, such a high-leverage season that if you’re getting to like the fourth inning, you give it to your dogs in the ‘pen and they’re going to go to work for you.

“It’s a full season now, it changes a little bit with stretching pitchers out a little bit more. But still, the bullpen that we have, the ability to pass them the ball and to let them go to work, it’s always going to be there. So, if we’re in a tight spot, you’re able to do that because of the bullpen and the depth we have.”

Stripling (or whoever ends up outside the rotation) and Chatwood offer some options for length, as do Trent Thornton (good to go after elbow surgery last summer) and Julian Merryweather, who will be stretched out to start the spring but may very well find himself relieving again. Mid-to-late game leverage options include Ryan Borucki, David Phelps, Jordan Romano, Rafael Dolis, Kirby Yates and non-roster invitees A.J. Cole, Tim Mayza and Francisco Liriano.

Beyond them, are starters like Anthony Kay, Thomas Hatch, T.J. Zeuch and Jacob Waguespack, who could be employed in a variety of roles. Beyond them is an emerging group of arms like Alek Manoah, Simeon Woods Richardson and Eric Pardinho, who is set for regular work after recovering from Tommy John surgery.

While the Blue Jays did try to land Kevin Gausman with a multi-year deal before he accepted the qualifying offer from the San Francisco Giants, every pitcher they signed took a one-year deal.

In part, that was because “we feel very good about having opportunities for” that group of young arms, said Atkins, but it’s also because they believe in their depth, too.

The Blue Jays could have re-signed Taijuan Walker for something along the lines of the $20-million, two-year deal with a player option for a third season he agreed to with the New York Mets. They’d likely need to go further for Jake Odorizzi, who is interested in Toronto, but there appears to be no traction at the moment, the club content to bet on its group.

While putting Odorizzi or someone else in place behind Ryu and Pearson for beyond this season seems to make sense, the Blue Jays are looking at their off-season pitching adds another way.

“Ultimately,” said Atkins, “it’s a combination of this being one point in time for us to improve our organization and feeling good about the progress that we’ve made to date, knowing that we will have other opportunities (to acquire pitching) moving forward, in addition to being really excited about the group that’s here and the group of young pitchers that’s coming behind the already relatively established group of starting pitchers.”

That’s not a very customary way to look at a pitching staff, and the Blue Jays are counting on a handful of arms to emerge and play important roles from their group. They could have tried to buy more certainty over the winter but instead chose a different approach, showing an adaptability they’ll need more than ever in the months ahead.

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Chris Schultz, former Argos lineman and CFL broadcaster, dies at 61 – The Globe and Mail

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Former CFL offensive lineman and broadcaster Chris Schultz has died after suffering a heart attack at 61.

TSN

Friends and fans remembered Chris Schultz as a gentle giant, who became a respected TV and radio analyst after a successful playing career with the Dallas Cowboys and Toronto Argonauts.

Schultz, a native of Burlington, Ont., died Thursday after suffering a heart attack. He was 61.

At six foot eight and 277 pounds during his playing career, Schultz was hard to miss on and off the field. The former offensive tackle was a big man with a grip to match.

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“He was a genuine personality. He was himself,” said TSN broadcaster Rod Smith, a longtime friend and colleague. “There was no pretense to him.

“He could be gentle with people. He always asked about my family. But at the same time, he was strong, he was imposing. And oh that handshake. It was the most crushing handshake – and I’ve got big hands – that I’ve ever experienced in my life.

“I think of him right now and I just think of shaking his hand. You always had to be ready.”

In an era when a Canadian in the NFL was something special, Schultz turned heads when he was drafted by America’s Team in 1983.

Taken in the seventh round (189th overall) after a college career at the University of Arizona, Schultz played 21 games for the Cowboys from 1983 to 1985 under Hall of Fame coach Tom Landry before returning home to play for the Argonauts in 1986.

Toronto had selected Schultz in the first round (seventh overall) of the 1982 CFL draft.

Schultz played for Toronto from 1986 to 1994 and was named a CFL all-star twice (1987 and ’88) and East all-star three times (1987, ’88 and ’91). He was named to the Argonauts all-time team in 2007.

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“Chris Schultz was made to play football, or football was made for Chris Schultz,” Argonauts GM Michael (Pinball) Clemons said in a statement.” Either way it was a symbiotic relationship His passion reverberated on radio, television, coaching kids or walking the dog. He was always willing to talk football.

“I’m disappointed because he had more to give, and my fervent hope is he knew how much he was loved,” he added.

Clemons, Schultz and quarterback Matt Dunigan, who joined Schultz as a TSN analyst, combined to win the 1991 Grey Cup for the Argos, capping a season to remember under the ownership of Wayne Gretzky, John Candy and Bruce McNall.

Schultz also played in the 1987 Grey Cup, which saw the Argos lose on a last-second Edmonton field goal.

After his playing career, Schultz moved into radio before spending 20 years as an analyst for TSN. He spent the last two seasons as colour commentator on the Argos’ radio broadcasts.

Smith recalls interviewing him back for a broadcast position in 1998.

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“I remember doing this audition with him and immediately being impressed by not only his knowledge and his passion but just his presence. He was a big man with a big presence,” he said in an interview. “And I could tell instantly how good he was going to be on television.”

Schultz got the job and became a fixture on TSN’s CFL panel.

Bell Media senior vice-president Stewart Johnston called Schultz “a gentle giant who brought passion, dedication, and energy to his coverage of the game.

“Chris was a unique voice in Canadian football broadcasting, and an iconic figure to fans across the country.”

“A big bear of a man but so funny, warm and welcoming,” added TSN hockey analyst Bob McKenzie, who shared the same seat as Schultz when football turned to hockey in the network’s studio.

Schultz took his broadcast duties seriously. Part of a panel that could occasionally take a comedic detour, he would look to stick to football and ensure everyone had their say.

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“He was a real student of the game,” said author/CFL historian Paul Woods.

Schultz would be one of the last Argos to leave the locker-room, staying to work out or watch film. It would serve him well in his role as analyst.

Woods is author of “Bouncing Back: From National Joke to Grey Cup Champs,” which tells the story of the Argos in the early ’80s. He interviewed Schultz for his next book, expected out this year, which focuses on the years around the ’91 Grey Cup victory.

Woods, a former Canadian Press reporter and manager, says while the 1991 Argos were a relaxed bunch who liked to have fun during their pre-game walkthroughs, Schultz was all business.

He told Woods he had to operate on the field as a robot, in a zone.

“He was an intense guy,” said Woods, noting Schultz was once ejected from a pre-season game after getting into a fight with several Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

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Away from the job, Schultz was a private man. Mike Hogan, who shared the Argo radio booth with Schultz, called his friend a “complex” person who “liked to separate work life from real life.”

On the job, he shone brightly.

“We called Chris Schultz the Big Man for so many reasons beyond the obvious,” CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie, who played with Schultz with the Argos, said in a statement. “He had a big personality. He could make you think as easily as he could make you laugh.

“He had a big presence on CFL on TSN, breaking down each game with incredible passion, insight and joy But most of all, my teammate and friend had a big heart. It was oversized even for his frame.”

Schultz started his football career in the Burlington Minor Football Association and played for the Aldershot Lions during high school. While he also played basketball, he looked south of the border for football opportunities, travelling by bus to Michigan State and Syracuse to gauge interest.

He earned a scholarship at the University of Arizona, where he started life as a defensive lineman before switching to the offensive line as a senior. His played for the Wildcats from 1978 to 1982, appearing in the 1979 Fiesta Bowl.

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Football took a toll on Schultz’s body. The big man walked with a shuffle, paying the price for past knee injuries.

Away from football, he made the Purolator Tackle Hunger program a cause close to his heart.

“When he spoke publicly about working at and with food banks, and what it meant to him and to families in need, Chris’s sincerity and empathy moved everyone,” said Ambrosie. “Those moments not only made the program stronger. They made everyone who experienced them want to be better, to be more like Chris.”

Schultz was inducted into the Burlington Sports Hall of Fame in 2015 and the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame in 2016.

“The CFL is filled with countless men and women who make it spectacular, and we lost one of them (Thursday),” said Blue Bombers coach Mike O’Shea.

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On the coaching carousel and why hiring Darryl Sutter isn’t a ‘safe’ move – Sportsnet.ca

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A common complaint among NHL followers is that “apparently there’s only 35 people on Earth qualified to coach in the NHL” based on what’s viewed as a coaching carousel, where the fired get quickly re-hired and breaking into the ranks seems next to impossible.

The joke isn’t without that shred of truth most jokes hold, as teams mostly make conservative hires to avoid the type of big-swing-and-a-miss that could get a GM kicked out of what’s perceived as the Old Boys Club.

They’ve done the hard work to get in, after all, and if jobs are going to get passed around to those who’ve made it there, one assumes the last thing they’d want to do is rock the boat, get thrown out, and miss their turns.

What gets lost, though, is that being the head coach of an NHL team is a unique job, and a particularly challenging one given the myriad moving parts. On top of X’s and O’s (which, I’ll be frank, are weirdly similar across the board) and practices and in-game decisions, there’s the managing of young ambitious millionaires trying to climb over one another for ice time and opportunity so they can reap the benefits that come with those things.

There’s managing your GM and owner to go along with the expectations of a fanbase. There are media obligations. There are swaths of information in the form of analytics and sport science these days, and staffs have swelled in size to match the players on the ice. The job is not just running a few practices and throwing your best players over the boards in games, it’s involved, and takes measures of knowledge and confidence.

It stands to reason that having been a head coach is just about the best experience a person could have on their resume when applying for the job of being a head coach. I don’t blame GMs for not wanting to be the organization where a person cuts their teeth, and instead hires someone who’s been through it a few times and comes into the role understanding what it all takes. The GM’s career is on the line too, so hiring someone who’s shown themselves to be at least proficient in the role in the past likely feels safer for their own careers than choosing the mystery box.

That said, the Darryl Sutter hiring in Calgary doesn’t exactly feel like the type of safe re-hire that I’m talking about above. The man is four seasons removed from coaching in the NHL, and had since resumed his life as a cattle rancher, running his farm in Viking, Alberta, where he was seemingly content to have moved on from a life in hockey.

(Is this not the most Disney plot the NHL has cooked up since the Mighty Ducks? The uncompromising farmer from the before-times returns to the NHL to turn around a group of stubborn new-age youths? It can only end in glory, with the real twist in the end being what the farmer learns from the kids.)

I say it doesn’t feel like a typical “safe” coach recycling because Sutter isn’t that. He was out of the game, and even before that it felt like he was a bit of a coaching dinosaur. Everything in the NHL (and all sports) is moving in the direction of math and science and computers, and while I’m not suggesting Sutter is some luddite (though some may), I don’t think anyone’s labelling him as being at the forefront of any of those particular movements.

He can be a bit of a curmudgeon, and surely there were “safer” names out there for Brad Treliving to choose, because if this doesn’t go well, it could certainly come back on Treliving.

Claude Julien is a safe hire. Gerard Gallant is a safe hire. Bruce Boudreau is a safe hire. Sutter is one of the few willing to swim against the NHL currents, and so hiring him is too.

When I first heard the Flames re-hired Sutter, I was taken aback. The Flames history of coaching hires is flat-out terrible, and part of that has felt like a lack of due diligence and considering all candidates. My first impression is that this was just more of that, grabbing the closest available name that wasn’t going to cost a fortune. But with some reflection I can see it isn’t that.

More there in a second, but first consider the Flames’ coach hirings since Sutter was last there.

Every guy is either a first-time coach (some would say to keep costs down, as I’ve heard many times on Calgary radio), or a retread on his career’s last legs. None of them — not one of the seven — has held another head coaching job in the NHL since their time in Calgary (and given our discussion on coaching carousels, that’s some statement). Only one remains employed in the NHL to this day, though we’ll give Ward the benefit of the doubt as it’s a near-certainty he’ll find another NHL role this off-season.

Jim Playfair
Mike Keenan
Brent Sutter
Bob Hartley
Glen Gulutzan (currently an assistant coach in Edmonton)
Bill Peters
Geoff Ward

This feels different because it’s obviously a hire made for a purpose, and not just a hire of the closest available name they know well enough (who won’t cost a fortune, as someone like Julien surely would).

I believe this management group has developed real questions about the core of the team and its ability to knuckle down and do the right things on a consistent basis. Treliving has recently said this is a team with an “A” game and a “D” game, and nothing in between. Well, motivated and committed players with talent, even on their off-nights, should be able to find a “B” game. That’s where the questions come in.

Moving on from this core would be a big deal. We’re talking about massive trades, a rebuild with a long-term vision, and likely years of transition (and if you’re the ownership, are you sure you’re going to let Treliving be the guy to do that if you think this group he’s built has failed?)

In 2018-19, just two seasons ago, the Flames finished first in the Western Conference, and had the second-best offence in the entire NHL. Shocking to remember, right? They averaged 3.52 goals per game, which is exactly the offensive number that leads the entire NHL right now. Before you torch that core and start over, you better do everything you can to get the most out of some talented players you already have.

So, Sutter feels like just the type of guy who won’t take any guff from any player, and he might also be the type to use the word “guff.” There’ll be no time for half-efforts or excuses. It’ll just be “go out there and work hard or you won’t play.” It’s not that unlike the way John Tortorella coaches, minus the yelling. Do it or don’t, that’s up to you, but we’ll decide what to do with you based on your actions.

This hiring is about the core of players, and finding someone who can squeeze the most juice from it.

So in a world where coaches are recycled, it would be easy to view Sutter in the same light.

But I see a spot filled by someone who’s been known to run a team the way this core needs to be run right now, if for no other reason than to see if they’ve got “it” or not. Sutter’s more of a hired assassin brought in for that one task than he is some safe retread, meant to preserve middling results and jobs. And if he fails, then this core has failed too.

None of it feels safe. Rather, it feels like it’s now up to Johnny Gaudreau and friends to figure it out under Sutter before the clock hits zero on this group.

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Former Argos star, TSN broadcaster Chris Schultz dies at 61 – Yahoo Canada Sports

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Chris Schultz was 61.

Former Toronto Argonauts and Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman Chris Schultz has died at the age of 61, the CFL team announced on Friday. 

According to TSN’s Rod Smith, Schultz died of a heart attack.

Schultz, born in Burlington, Ont., was selected in the seventh round of the 1983 NFL Draft by the Cowboys after attending and playing football at the University of Arizona. Schultz played 21 career NFL games from 1983-1985, starting in eight contests. The Canadian football player then took his talents to the CFL where he played for Toronto from 1986-1994. Schultz was twice named to the All-CFL team. In 2007, the tackle was listed as a member of the all-time Argos team.

After his playing career, Schultz transitioned to the broadcast booth where he was a member of TSN’s CFL broadcasting team. Schultz was also a member of TSN 1050 Toronto’s radio team. In 2016, he was inducted into the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame.

Since his death was announced, many have taken to social media to pay tribute to the football and broadcasting star.

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