Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Toronto Blue Jays 2020 Season Preview

       In 2019, the Blue Jays entered the year just waiting for their top prospects to debut. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Cavan Biggio started that, and soon Bo Bichette joined. The Blue Jays were a bad team, as the lineup around them and the pitching staff struggled. In the offseason, the team went out and improved the rotation, and look more competitive than last year. Besides the 60-game season, 2020 will be a normal year for the Toronto Pittsburgh Blue Jays. Oh right, they also have to change their home ballpark.

       Offseason additions: LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu, RHP Tanner Roark, RHP Chase Anderson, 3B Travis Shaw, IF Joe Panik, RHP Shun Yamaguchi, RHP Anthony Bass, RHP AJ Cole, C Caleb Joseph, RHP Jake Petricka.

       Offseason subtractions: 1B Justin Smoak, RHP Derek Law, RHP Ryan Tepera, RHP Jason Adam, LHP Clayton Richard, RHP Justin Shafer.

       Rotation
Hyun-Jin Ryu will take over from Marcus Stroman as the ace of the staff after signing a four year, $80 million dollar contract for his age 33 season. Ryu is not a big strikeout pitcher, with only 163 Ks in 182.2 innings. But, he led the league with a 2.32 ERA in 29 starts for the Dodgers, and finished 2nd in Cy Young voting. Ryu, whose ERA was 1.45 after 22 starts, could have had a much better final number if not for two back-to-back starts against the Yankees and Diamondbacks where he allowed seven earned runs in each game in less than five innings. Ryu allowed an average exit velocity of 86.6 mph, plus a 4.7 barrel percentage and a BB% of just 3.3 percent. Matt Shoemaker returns from a torn ACL. The former Angel has never pitched in more than 160 innings over his seven year career, but he has a career 3.81 ERA. He was doing great before the injury last season, with a 1.57 ERA and 24 strikeouts in 28.2 innings over five starts. In his rookie season, Trent Thornton lead the team with 154.1 innings pitched. Thornton had a 4.84 ERA with 149 strikeouts and threw six different pitches. Thornton's slider had a 3089 rpm spin rate, and a .215 xBA against. Tanner Roark comes in a two year deal, after a career high 8.6 K/9 in a contract year. Roark pitched in 165.1 innings (averaging only 5.1 innings per start), his least since he was a part-time reliever in 2015. Roark's 36.7 groundball percentage was his lowest over the last five seasons. six-year veteran Chase Anderson was acquired from Milwaukee via trade. Anderson, who has a 3.94 mark in his career, finished with an ERA of 4.21 last year, striking out 124 in 139 innings. Anderson's change-up had a .188 average against with an average exit velocity against of 82.4 mph. The 8th best prospect in all of baseball, Nate Pearson, might not make the Opening Day roster, but he will be pitching for the Jays in 2020, especially if Anderson's recovery from an oblique injury takes a couple days longer than it is expected to. Pearson, who can easily hit over 100 miles per hour on the radar gun, had a 2.30 ERA in 101.2 innings while striking out 119 batters. Pearson will turn 24 in a month. Anthony Kay, the main return of the Stroman trade, can make the team out of the 'pen. Kay made three appearances last year, striking out 13 and allowing nine runs in 14 innings.

       Bullpen
Ken Giles is almost a lock to get traded, unless the Blue Jays surprise everybody. Giles might have had his best season last year, and it was definitely his best since he was with the Phillies. Giles had a 1.87 ERA with 83 strikeouts in 53 innings and he completed 23 saves. To complement his fastball that can reach up to 100 miles per hour, Giles' slider had a 54.4% whiff rate, with a .190 slugging against. The Blue Jays will be Anthony Bass' 4th team in four years, and his sixth team since 2013, although Bass has never played for multiple teams in a single season. Claimed off of waivers from Seattle in October, Bass had a 3.56 ERA with five saves and 43 strikeouts in 48 innings for the Mariners. Bass' main pitch is his sinker, which helped his groundball rate rise up to 54.7%. The Blue Jays signed Rafael Dolis, who pitched for the Cubs from 2011 to 2013. Dolis spent last year in Japan, and for their Central League, completed 19 saves with a 2.11 ERA and 50 strikeouts in 55.1 innings. While the Blue Jays signed a Dominican who played in Japan, they also signed a Japanese player who played in Japan. Shun Yamaguchi was a starter overseas, unlike Dolis, but he will likely come out of the pen. Yamaguchi had a 2.78 ERA with 194 strikeouts in 181 innings last year. Canadian Jordan Romano was a Rule-5 pick by Chicago, who traded him to the Rangers, who returned him back to Toronto. Romano made his debut for the Blue Jays, and struck out 21 batters in 15.2 innings, but he allowed 13 earned runs for a 7.63 ERA. Romano had 53 strikeouts in 37.2 AAA innings. Sam Gaviglio was mainly a starter for Toronto in 2018, but solely came out of the bullpen last year. Gaviglio struck out 88 in 95.2 innings, with a 4.61 ERA. Gaviglio's main pitch is his slider, which allowed 11 home runs, but had a .183 average against. Lefty Ryan Borucki could come out of the bullpen. Elbow issues cost Borucki most of 2019 but he had a good rookie season of 2018, with a 3.87 ERA in 17 starts. Wilmer Font, currently on the IL for "undisclosed reasons", will likely join the team soon. Font played for three teams in 2018, and three teams in 2019, with only the Rays overlapping. In 23 games (14 starts) for the Blue Jays, most of the time as an opener, Font had a 3.66 ERA with 53 strikeouts in 39.1 innings. For the final spot, starters Thomas Hatch, Jacob Waguespack and Sean Reid-Foley can earn the spot, but AJ Cole, a non-roster invitee, is the favorite. Another reliever who can pitch multiple innings, Cole had a 3.81 ERA with 30 strikeouts in 26 innings for the Indians last year. Cole's slider had a 40.7% whiff rate last year.

       Catchers
Danny Jansen is the catcher of the future, and his rookie season could have gone worse. Jansen hit 13 home runs, which is nice, but he hit .207 with an OPS of .640, so there is a lot of room for improvements. Jansen only struck out 79 times in 107 games, which lead to an above average 20.6% K rate. His xBA of .242 shows that Jansen was unlucky at the plate. Reese McGuire, a 1st rounder by the Pirates in 2013, is still only 25, and just a few months older than Jansen. McGuire was successful in his 30 games last year, hitting .299 with five home runs and an .872 OPS. His left-handed bat can compliment Jansen well.

        Infielders
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who entered the season as baseball's top prospect, had a decent rookie season, and a monster home run derby. At age 20, Guerrero hit 15 home runs with a .272 average and a .772 OPS. Guerrero, listed at 250 pounds, with a 26.2 ft/s sprint speed, was not a good defender at third base, so the Blue Jays are moving him to first. Guerrero had -14 outs above average last year. Guerrero could see a lot of time at DH as well, alternating with Rowdy Tellez. Tellez hit 21 home runs last year, but he struck out 119 times and only walked 29 times, leading to an OPS of .742. Tellez had a barrel percentage of 13.2%. Cavan Biggio finished 5th in Rookie of the Year voting, just one spot ahead of Guerrero. Biggio hit 16 home runs and stole 14 bases, while playing in less games than Guerrero. Biggio played first base and both corner outfield positions, but he was great defensively at second, with seven outs above average. While his late debut made him not get any Rookie of the Year votes, but he still lost rookie eligibility, Bo Bichette was the best Blue Jay to debut last year, based off of their 2019 stats. Bichette played in just 46 games, but he hit 11 home runs and stole four bases, while hitting .311 with a .930 OPS. Travis Shaw hit 31 home runs in 2017 and 32 in 2018, but was a bench bat for the Brewers last year, and could not hit. Shaw finished with a .157 average and an OPS of .551, while hitting only seven homers in 86 games. Former Gold Glove winner Joe Panik signed with the Jays in a back-up role. Panik had a .627 OPS for the Giants before being released and signed by the Mets. Panik improved in 39 games for New York, hitting .277 with two home runs. Over the last five years, Panik has struck out just 9.1% of the time. Brandon Drury can play multiple positions, and he hit 15 home runs last year. Currently on the IL for an "undisclosed reason", Drury can return soon. Drury had six outs above average at third last year, and five outs above average combined between six positions.

        Outfielders
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. had a breakout season, and he may be the best outfielder on the team after moving from short to left field. Gurriel hit 20 home runs with six stolen bases, plus an average of .277 and an .869 OPS in 84 games. In his two year career, Gurriel has an average exit velocity of 90.7 mph. Randal Grichuk might always be known as the guy drafted directly before Mike Trout, but at least they were both Angels picks. Grichuk hit a career high 31 home runs last year. Under contract through 2023, Grichuk had six outs above average last year, and he hit .290 versus fastballs. In his second full season with Toronto, Teoscar Hernandez became the starting center fielder after Kevin Pillar was traded, and he hit a career high 26 home runs. Hernandez also had a .778 OPS, an improvement from 2018. Hernandez is really fast, with a 29.1 ft/s sprint speed. The two extra outfield spots are between many players, most notably Billy McKinney, Anthony Alford and Derek Fisher. In 33 career games, Alford has gone 8-for-55, and is the least experienced of the group. Fisher, once a top prospect with the Astros, hit six home runs in 40 games for the Jays last year,, but he had a .647 OPS. Fisher could have made the team after hitting two home runs in yesterday's summer camp game. McKinney played in 84 games last year, the most of the group. He hit 12 home runs with a .696 OPS.

        Projected Lineup
SS Bo Bichette (R)
2B Cavan Biggio (L)
1B Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (R)
RF Randal Grichuk (R)
3B Travis Shaw (L)
LF Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (R)
CF Teoscar Hernandez (R)
DH Rowdy Tellez (L)
C Danny Jansen (R)

        Projected Rotation
Hyun-Jin Ryu (L)
Matt Shoemaker (R)
Tanner Roark (R)
Trent Thornton (R)
Chase Anderson (R)
Nate Pearson (R)*
*The team might not have a six-man rotation, but Pearson will likely start until Anderson returns

        Projected Bullpen
Ken Giles (R)
Anthony Bass (R)
Rafael Dolis (R)
Sam Gaviglio (R)
Shun Yamaguchi (R)
Anthony Kay (L)
Ryan Borucki (L)
Wilmer Font (R)
Jordan Romano (R)
AJ Cole (R)

          Projected Bench
C Reese McGuire (L)
IF Joe Panik (L)
IF Brandon Drury (R)
OF Billy McKinney (L)
OF Derek Fisher (L)

Baseball-Reference OOTP Simulator Stats
40-63 record, 5th in AL East
Most home runs: Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (30)
Highest batting average: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (.291)
Highest OPS: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (.926)
Best ERA, starters: Nate Pearson (3.86)
Best ERA, relievers: Jordan Romano (5.07)
Most innings pitched: Hyun-Jin Ryu (119.2)
Most strikeouts: Nate Pearson (127)
Best K/9: Jordan Romano (13.3)

Record through 60 games, last five seasons
2019: 22-38
2018: 26-34
2017: 29-31
2016: 31-29
2015: 30-30

        Prediction
The Blue Jays are not supposed to make the playoffs this year. Realistically, they probably won't have a shot until 2022. While their young players progress and their rotation gets better, the Blue Jays will need to upgrade their bullpen before anything else. I predict they will finish in 4th place in the AL East, but the Blue Jays will catch up to the Red Sox.

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