The 2019 Toronto Blue Jays expected to have a rough year and, largely, that’s what they got. A 67-95 record was good for fourth in the AL East and another playoff-less season north of the border. Late in the 2018 season, they traded the Bringer of Rain, Josh Donaldson, to Cleveland, officially opening up third base for wunderkind Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in 2019. He did not disappoint, but didn’t quite set the world on fire like we all assumed he would. That would be a disappointment were it not for the influx of other youngsters making an impact, some of whom, we were not expecting to.
The Children Are Our Future
Son of former major leaguer Craig Biggio, Cavan Biggio entered the season outside of the MLB Top 100 prospects list but was arguably the Blue Jays’ most valuable rookie contributor. Biggio slashed .234/.364/.429 with 16 HR and 48 RBI in 100 games. What’s most interesting about Biggio’s rookie season is the fact that he led Blue Jays batters in WAR at 2.4, despite having a -2.7 defensive WAR. His 12.6 offensive WAR was responsible for that, best among Blue Jays hitters in 2019. That’s a pace for 26 HR and 78 RBI over a full season, both of which would’ve been second-most on the team.
Alongside Vlad Jr was another highly anticipated top prospect, SS Bo Bichette. When I was in grad school at MSU I would go to Lansing Lugnuts (the Class A affiliate of the Blue Jays) games a lot. During that time, I saw a lot of both Vlad Jr and Bichette. Every game that I went to, I always left more impressed with Bichette than Vlad Jr. So, it came as no surprise to me when Bichette entered the big leagues and immediately stole the spotlight from his other young teammates.
In just 46 games, Bo hit .311/.358/.571 with 11 HR and 21 RBI. Over a full season, that pace would’ve been good for 39 HR and 74 RBI. Defense was a weak spot for Bichette, which is to be expected of a first-year player. Just like Cavan, Bo has all the pieces to be a pillar of this infield for the foreseeable future, if he can cut down on the defensive mistakes.
Hurlers Not Curlers
If there is one area that the Blue Jays really needed to address for the 2020 season, it’s pitching. Last season the Blue Jays used 21 different starting pitchers and had the 10th highest staff ERA at 4.79. They ranked in the bottom half of the league in virtually every major pitching statistic in 2019, but the most troubling stat might be the fact that as a staff they allowed the third most BBs in the league while only ranking 24th in Ks. They were also tied for the 9th highest opponent batting average. Couple all of that with consistently middle-of-the-league fielding and you’ve got a perfect recipe for having a 21st ranked run differential at -102.0. Numbers like that aren’t going to win you a ton of ballgames in the big leagues.
This offseason they brought in Hyun-Jin Ryu, Chase Anderson and Tanner Roark to help sure up the starting rotation. Even better, they’re eagerly awaiting the arrival of new top prospect Nate Pearson, who should provide some support later in the season as well.
The outfield should be another area of concern for the Jays as 7 different players saw time in the outfield last season, the most for this franchise since 2014. The players they have for those positions aren’t necessarily bad options (Hernandez, Grichuk, Fisher, McKinney and Gurriel Jr.), so what they’re probably hoping for is one of those players to entrench themselves in an outfield spot and provide at least league-average defense to go with their potent bats.
Fly North for the Summer
Don’t expect the Jays to compete for a playoff spot in 2020, but do expect them to be a whole lot of fun. With a full spring training under their belt and the knowledge that they’ll be starting the season in the bigs, expect Biggio, Bichette and Vlad Jr to be must-see TV all summer. Add in recent free agent acquisition Travis Shaw (a sneaky candidate for bounce-back of the year) over at first base and they may have the most pop in their infield of any team. The pitching is still enough of a question mark that I don’t think they’ll outscore enough opponents to climb the standings, but expect a team around .500 all season that shows real promise for 2021 and beyond. I know I’ll be tuning in to plenty of Blue Jays games this season and you should too.
Record: 74-88, 4th in the AL East
Best Hitter: 3B Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Best Pitcher: SP Hyun-Jin Ryu
Team MVP: SS Bo Bichette
Surprise player: 1B/DH Travis Shaw
All statistics provided by FanGraphs.com
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This one is a classic.