Just how good are these Toronto Blue Jays?
Oh, right, that’s why you’re here. A strange season for the Blue Jays has left them out of the headlines throughout the majority of the season, but with the playoffs drawing closer, it’s clear to see that they are a talented bunch. But they might only finish third in their division. So, do they have what it takes to win in the postseason? Let’s jump into why this squad could truly be championship-caliber.
3 Reasons the Toronto Blue Jays Will Win in the Postseason
This Lineup is Deep and Really, Really Good
How many teams can boast Vladimir Guerrero Jr. as their fourth-best hitter by wRC+? That’s a pretty wild observation. Guerrero Jr has a 114 wRC+ on the season, which is still a good contribution to a competing team. But it isn’t the Guerrero Jr we know and love.
But a breakout is coming. The underlying metrics still point to a star player, lurking beneath the surface. He is hitting the ball as hard as anybody in the league, and hitting it hard just as often. He ranks in the 98th percentile for max exit velocity and 96th percentile for hard-hit percentage.
It’s quite possible that Guerrero has just been unlucky. His actual numbers (.265 batting average, .335 wOBA) are much lower than his expected stats (.301 batting average, .385 xwOBA). And for a little bonus, he’s striking out a little less and walking a little more.
One aspect of Guerrero’s game to watch going forward is his groundball rate. He has always had a higher groundball rate than league average, so as much as he mashes, sometimes he just mashes it into the ground. His flyball rate has remained relatively steady, however. Unless Guerrero Jr turns into a pumpkin, the Blue Jays will be content with a 114 wRC+ hitter, sit back, relax, and wait for him to start whacking those balls out of the park again.
As mentioned, Guerrero isn’t even the most productive player on his team this year. Bo Bichette, Brandon Belt, and Matt Chapman all have had more productive seasons. Bichette, specifically, has proven he is one of the best hitters in baseball this season.
This lineup has interesting players one through nine, besides the star names. Whit Merrifield and Kevin Kiermaier were fascinating additions over the past year. They are both in the latter portions of their career, but they provide on-base threat with solid defense.
Merrifield continues to be a great well-rounded player. He might not be praised as a star, but he fits into the lineup perfectly. He boasts a 113 wRC+ with a low strikeout rate, speed on the basepaths, and good defense. Kiermaier is still wrangling in flyballs all over the place and has been slightly better than league-average with the bat.
Cavan Biggio and Daulton Varsho are wonderful role players, as well. They are not going to carry this team, but they fill out the rest of the roster with credible options. Biggio’s season stats aren’t impressive, but he has a 120 wRC+ since May 1. Varsho is an incredible defender, tied for the league lead with 20 Outs Above Average. He is a below-average hitter but has enough peak power to sneak in some pop throughout the season.
The Blue Jay’s offense has not been a dominant force throughout the entire season, but the potential is easy to see. They have the seventh-best team strikeout rate in baseball, and second-best in the American League, only behind the Houston Astros. They have plenty of individual players capable of hitting a key homer or starting a rally. If they heat up for the playoffs, they will be as dangerous as anyone in the American League.
Starting Pitching Turnaround
The rotation looks quite different than expected after Alek Manoah‘s great 2022 season. Instead, Jose Berrios is looking like the guy the Jays expected when they first signed him. Hyun Jin Ryu is back from injury. Yusei Kikuchi could be an ace in the making. Chris Bassitt has been a heavy lifter, leading the team in innings while providing above-average pitching. Oh, and Kevin Gausman has a decent chance at winning the American League Cy Young award.
The Blue Jays have, at the very least, four starting pitchers that Toronto would feel happy about taking the mound. That’s much more depth than most Wild Card teams.
Let’s take a deeper look at Berrios’ resurgence. He has meaningfully improved in nearly every area of his game. He is striking out more batters than last season, giving up fewer barrels, and has drastically reduced his hard-hit percentage.
His pitch mix has changed significantly over the past season, as well. He is throwing his changeup at a career-high rate and cut his four-seam fastball usage from 27.7% to 21.7%. This swap has made a massive difference. Both pitches are performing better. In using his 4-seam fastball less often, the expected wOBA against it has dropped from .440 (yikes!) to .327. His changeup has become a great wipeout pitch, with the whiff percentage jumping from 24.3% to 34.1% this season.
Yusei Kikuchi went from being one of the worst pitchers in baseball to a truly valuable piece in this rotation. His biggest flaw was just how much hard contact he allowed last season. He was in the bottom 5% of pitchers in average exit velocity, maximum exit velocity, expected wOBA against, and hard-hit percentage…Okay, you get the idea.
His bounce back has been fueled by the ability to limit that hard contact. Once again, some changes to the pitch arsenal could be behind this. He virtually didn’t throw a curveball before this season, but now uses it almost 17% of the time. It’s been the pitch to induce the most whiffs for Kikuchi this season. His slider has seen some changes, as well. He now throws the pitch two miles per hour harder than last season. His fastball has been much more effective as he has been able to avoid the barrels on opponents’ bats more. The xwOBA against the pitch dropped from .423 to .309.
Calling for Backup
The Blue Jays might not even need their lineup to start hitting like their bats are on fire with the bullpen they have backing up their starters. As a group, the Jays’ relievers have the fourth-lowest ERA in baseball. They have one of the best relief corps in both racking up strikeouts and avoiding walks.
Here are the four key Blue Jays’ relievers and their season ERA.
Jordan Romano is one of the best closers in baseball. By Stuff+, a pitch quality metric, he has the third-best slider in all of baseball. And the sixth-best fastball. A lockdown bullpen is pretty useful in the playoffs, it turns out. With a starting rotation as deep and strong as Toronto’s, they could find themselves in situations where they could use their 1-2-3 relievers in multiple playoff games. An elite defense, a lockdown bullpen, and a roster that could explode at any moment seem like a fantastic foundation for a playoff team.
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