The Blue Jays have been blessed with a lot of depth this season, but what are the best lineups they can field?
The 2018 Blue Jays have been the fresh breath of spring air that this city has needed after the winter we’ve had. We’re into May now as NSYNC would have you know and the Jays are within striking distance of a wild-card spot, near the top of the league in runs scored and have the second-best bullpen ERA in the majors. The starting pitching has been meh, but given their track records, better days are probably ahead of them. For myself, this is the most fun I’ve had watching baseball since the 2016 ALDS or the game remembered the Donaldson Dash. It’s always fun to watch the Rangers implode on themselves, but dropping two of three to this year’s version of the Rangers wasn’t pretty.
However, the 2018 incarnation of the Jays has something that the 2015 and 2016 teams didn’t have… depth. Now, I know some Jays fans had soft spots for Darwin Barney, Ryan Goins, Ezequiel Carrera and even Cliff Pennington for his pitching performance in the playoffs, but objectively, those guys were terrible. Just so I don’t split hairs with anyone, there isn’t a universe out there where anyone prefers Barney and Goins to Yangervis Solarte and Aledmys Diaz or even Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
The Jays are currently sitting at a record of 17-13, which if they kept this pace, would see them win 91.8 games…92. Hate him or love him, but manager John Gibbons deserves a ton of credit for how well this season has gone so far. He has a lot of toys at his disposal, and he’s done an excellent job finding time to play with all of them… appreciate all of them? Use all of them? Let’s say Gibby isn’t going away for Cowboy Camp and leaving Woody and Buzz behind. What I meant was that Gibby is doing a sufficient job finding playing time for everyone on the roster. It doesn’t feel like anyone on the Blue Jays’ bench is dead weight or incapable of giving you decent plate appearances as well as a serviceable defence. Well, except Kendrys Morales, but I’m slightly more optimistic towards him than I was as of late.
The depth and roster flexibility seems to be coming in endless waves. Teoscar Hernandez has been phenomenal in the 17 games he’s played and worth about 0.7 fWAR. Watching him draw not one, but TWO walks against Chris Sale was magical. Gurriel Jr. hasn’t been as impressive, but he’s finding ways to contribute and is squaring up the baseball. His sub .600 may not turn many heads, but it is fair to say luck has not been on his side with a wOBA of 0.245 and xwOBA of 0.336. Not to mention that Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is just chilling in AA at the top of almost every major offensive category. Do we see him at some point this season and where would he even slot into the lineup? I’m rambling, and I’m wandering from the question I wanted to ask, but can you blame me? The Jays are a hoot and a half this year.
Back to my point about Gibby doing a fantastic job of making the most of everyone on the roster. We’ve seen a lot of renditions of the lineup so far, and that can be linked to how players have performed, platoons and the need to rest certain players (Devon Travis and Russell Martin). But what is the best possible lineup the Jays can field? Well, there are several answers to this question, but let’s try to find a few.
I don’t think that there’s much to argue about here. I know the sample size for some of these players are very limited, and this is contingent on Josh Donaldson being healthy, but I like this mix. There’s a balance between handedness and dare I say that based on the xwOBA of some players that this group might even improve as the season progresses. I know many of you will jump to say that Morales and Martin have not looked the greatest early on and I’d agree. But it is encouraging when you consider both are having career years regarding BB% (Martin 15.6%, Morales 14.3%). The hits will hopefully come, and they’ll perform like their usual selves sooner rather than later. I’m not a Morales fan, but I am a Jays fan, and he plays for my team, so that’s all I’ll say for now.
For the most part, the Curtis Granderson and Steve Pearce platoon in LF has been magical. Pearce’s ABs against LHP and Granderson’s ABs against RHP come together to form an OPS of .892. But it’s no secret that Pearce struggles defensively in the outfield, so I’d prefer his bat at DH and Randal Grichuk’s glove in RF. Now, there are enough articles out there defending Grichuk for his early struggles that we can probably use them to cover the holes in the ozone layer, but I think there’s merit to them. Grichuk is 12th in the MLB in Barrels/PA with 11.7%. He’s had a lot of very hard contact, but next to no luck at all. I couldn’t squeeze him in the lineup against RHP because Granderson, Hernandez and Pillar have been on fire. He’s sitting on the DL right now for about three weeks, but upon return, he should be able to take advantage of Granderson being weaker to LHP and draw into the lineup there.
The last thing I haven’t talked about is Troy Tulowitzki, and this may be an unpopular opinion, but he’s my SS whenever he’s ready to go. Diaz is more or less what he’s been so far, a streaky bat with some power and a body in the field. This is enough for me to justify allowing Gurriel play SS when Donaldson returns while sliding Solarte over the second base. You’re not losing anything defensively when you compare Gurriel to Diaz, and at least Gurriel has been exciting and impactful in the games he’s played. The fact of the matter is that neither Diaz or Gurriel are better than Tulo at this point. I’m not expecting Tulo to return to the player he was in Colorado, but I’d sure love me the Tulowitzki we saw in 2016, where he batted .254/.318/.443 in 131 games and was worth 2.9 fWAR. If he can he be that player again, then that would be a massive bonus for the 2018 Toronto Blue Jays.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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