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Happy Birthday Otto Vélez

Detroit Tigers v Toronto Blue Jays
Vélez is on the far right
Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Former Blue Jays player Otto Velez turns 73 today.

The Jays picked Otto up from the Yankees in the major league expansion draft in 1976. That first year, the Jays were awful, finishing with a 54-107 record. They didn’t get much better in the years Otto was with the team. But he was pretty good (at least with the bat). In 1977, Otto hit .256/.366/.458 with 16 home runs and 62 RBIs in 120 games. He had a good eye at the plate, leading the team in walks. He mostly played right field that year, and he was terrible as an RFer. Rob Neyer says that Velez was the worst defensive right fielder in team history, and I can’t argue that. He had little range and no arm at all. But the team had a 38-year-old Ron Fairly and a handful of other guys that really couldn’t field, so there wasn’t room at DH. A typical right-handed slugger, he crushed lefties, hitting them at a .318/.420/.527 rate.

In 1978, the Jays weren’t any better, but Velez still hit quite well, batting .266/.380/.448 with 9 home runs and 38 RBIs in 91 games. They split his playing time between the left and right fields. He also DHed some and played one game at first. He continued to crush LHP, hitting .302/.421/.560 against them.

In 1979, he hit .288/.396/.529 in 99 games with 15 home runs and 48 RBIs. He again mainly played left and right field, DHing in nine games, and played first six times. Fangraphs has 1979 as Otto’s best season, giving him a 2.8 WAR. Otto had a reverse split that year.

1980 saw Velez become a full-time DH (about time), playing 97 games as a DH and three at first base. He set career highs in home runs (20) and runs (54) and tied his high for RBI (62). Otto hit .269/.365/.487 and an OPS+ of 127 in his 4th straight year with the Jays with an OPS+ over 120. On May 4th, he hit four home runs in a doubleheader against Cleveland, hitting one of each type, solo, two-run, three-run, and grand slam. I can’t imagine that has happened many times in MLB history.

1981, the strike year, Velez had a poor season, batting .213/.363/.404. When he was a young player, he had old player skills, and when he turned 30, those skills diminished quickly. In 1982, he played in just 28 games, hitting just .192. He was replaced at DH by Dave Revering and a cast of thousands. After the 1982 season, the Jays released him, and he signed with Cleveland. Velez played just ten games, which was the end of his major league career at 32.

The early Jays were a pretty poor group. Velez was one of the few reasonable players they had. He was a pretty good DH type; he could take a walk and had good power.

It’s also Brian Wolfe’s birthday. He’s 43. We picked Wolfe up in trade for Corey Koskie. Wolfe pitched out of the Jays’ pen for parts of 3 seasons. In 2007, he had a 2.98 ERA in 38 games. In 2008, he had a 2.45 ERA in 20 games. 2009 wasn’t as good, with an 8.22 ERA in 14 games, which was the end of his career.

And former Jay’ catcher of the future’ Guillermo Quiroz turns 42 today. He played 29 games for the Jays between 2004 and 2005. After that, he bounced around playing for the Mariners, Rangers, Orioles (where he played in 56 games in 2009, his career-high), back to the Mariners, Red Sox, Giants, and Cleveland. In 9 seasons, he played 148 games, hitting .199/.256/.277.

Happy birthday to all three.