RC- Credit: DaveMe Images

How open is the AL East for the 2020 Blue Jays?

 

The Blue Jays may be able to make some noise in the AL East since other teams seem to suddenly look weaker

 

 

 

 

Another Spring Training is upon us, and with that, hope springs eternal. This hope can be due to the clean slate of a new season, the pure joy of seeing baseball being played again, or simply from the site of the warm southern sunshine. While hope is renewed for about (*does a quick tally of the non-tanking teams) 20 MLB organizations this spring – there is particular enthusiasm around this Blue Jays squad. As a fan base, we anticipate the team taking the next step through further development of Bo, Cavan, Vladdy and friends – and the next wave of tantalizing farm system graduates.

 

However, I think the Blue Jays have a very solid shot at Wild Card contention – strictly based on other AL East teams no longer being super teams. In seasons past, with the Yankees and Red Sox in a ‘super team’ status, the Blue Jays (and Orioles) served as a piñata to these mighty giants.  However, the Boston Red Sox have taken a step back, and the Yankees are facing injury woes – so much so that I feel the AL East is less intimidating and offers more winnable games with this vibrant and confident Jays squad. This article will focus more on the frailty of the two large market teams. However, it should be said I don’t think the Tampa Bay Rays are going anywhere – and are my pick for the AL East pennant.

 

Yankee Woes

 

The Yankees were the definition of a super team in 2019. So what did they feel the need to do? Sign one of baseball’s most elite starting ace’s – Gerritt Cole, who projects to have a 6.1 fWAR (Steamer) in 2020. Upon this signing, the Yankees rotation looked like an embarrassment of riches. Where were they going to stash all these pitchers? There was even speculation they might have traded J.A. Happ for financial reasons (dipping below the luxury tax).  How life makes a fool of our projections – with Severino out for the season, Paxton out for at least several weeks, and German missing the first half of the season.

 

It seems odd poking holes in a rotation lead by an ace with a potential 6+ fWAR. Obviously 90% of the league would envy an ace of Cole’s calibre, and Tanaka is a solid piece in any rotation. But the depth beyond these two is quite pedestrian – Happ had a terrible 2019, Montgomery is returning from TJ surgery, and Jonathan Loaisiga is… (*shrugs shoulders).

 

Obviously, their intimidating offensive squad could compensate for various weaknesses on the team. Let’s remember, even with all the injuries in 2019, the Yankees still lead the league in runs scored (943). In addition, they have an incredible lock-down bullpen (Chapman, Britton, and friends) which in 2019 was 2nd in the league in team bullpen fWAR (7.6 fWAR).

 

As shown in the table below, there is a long and prominent list of injured/ absent players in 2019. Some who’s WAR projections will be completely absent from the team, and some which will be reduced depending on their ability to return – and ability to perform once returning.

 

Player Injury Length of absence 2020 Projection Comment
Luis Severino (RHP) Tommy John Surgery Will miss all of 2020 4.8 fWAR (ZiPS) *projection before injury
James Paxton Lower Back Surgery Unknown 2.8 fWAR (Steamer) *assuming a timely return
Domingo German Suspension 81 games 1.2 fWAR (based on second half return)
Aaron Hicks (OF) Tommy John Surgery Unknown – potential 2020 return 1.1 fWAR (Steamer projects he will play 52 games this season) *assuming timely return
Aaron Judge Stress Fracture of first right rib Unknown – has not appeared in a ST game 4.9 fWAR (steamer) *assuming he doesn’t miss any of season with potentially lingering injury
Giancarlo Stanton Grade I calf strain Unknown 3.8 fWAR (steamer) *assuming he doesn’t miss any of season after injury plagued 2019

 

With such a potential weakness, the rotation could be the weak link in the armour that is the New York Yankees. The Yankees are still a very good team, but time will tell if a potentially weak rotation could over tax the bullpen and be too much for an offense to continually bail out. I still think they’re a playoff team, but I don’t think they pass the 100 win mark in 2020 and I’m not convinced they win the AL East. It should be stated, of all teams to have a glaring weakness – the Yankees have the financial resources and farm depth to make the necessary additions in their World Series hunt.

 

Red Sox Sorrows

 

Currently, Fangraphs has the Red Sox projected to finish 3rd in the AL East with ~88 wins (~13 wins better than the Jays). However, I think this is incorrect, and see the Jays finishing ahead of the Red Sox. Boston missed the playoffs in 2019, but finished with a very respectable 84-78 record. However, looking at how they came to that record – after a solid first half the Red Sox had a rather disappointing second half of 35-37 (.486%), and finished out August and September 25-28 (471%). These rather pedestrian results to finish 2019, combined with the highlighted subtractions of 2020 (see below, 8.8 -13.4 fWAR subtracted in 2020) gives myself a confidence in a 4th place ALE finish.

 

 

 

Player Injury Length of absence 2020 Projection Comment
Chris Sale Elbow Soreness/ Illness Unknown 4.6 fWAR (Steamer projects 167 innings) *Will attempt throwing in a week.

 

I’m not convinced of anything until I see him in-game return to his dominant self

Mookie Betts Traded Gone baby Gone 5.9 fWAR (Steamer with Dodgers)
David Price Traded Gone baby Gone 2.9 fWAR (Steamer with Dodgers)

 

On the other side, the Blue Jays 67-95 (.414%) in 2019 gives reason for predicting a  4th place 2020 finish in the AL East.  Fangraphs estimates a reasonable jump – with a projected 75 win season. However, their second half in 2019 (without the Brito’s and Hanson’s) was a much better 33-38 (.465%). Further, in August and September (once Bo joined the squad of Cavan, Vladdy, et al.) the Jays went on to 24-28 (.461%). A full season of these high upside youngsters getting starting playing time (instead of the Brito’s and Drury’s) is a far higher floor than the 34-57 (.374%) first-half Blue Jays of 2019. I’m not the first to point out these 2019 trends, but with this exciting Jays team in contrast to the tire-fire Red Sox, I’m clearly a believer in the Jays finishing ahead of the Sox.

 

Rays Up-setting the AL East race

 

The Rays finishing 96-66 in 2019 (only good enough for a wild card position) was the product of a consistent and reliable winning group. No matter how you observe their season, it’s impressive – with a first half of 52-39 (.571%), a second half of 44-27 (.620), and June being their only month with a losing record  13-16 (.448%). Fangraphs has the Rays finishing 2nd in the ALE in 2020 with ~91 wins (3 short of the Yankees). However, I find it not only reasonable to assume a similar success to 2019, I predict  an ALE pennant with their strong farm system and key notable additions of Hunter Renfroe, Manuel Margot, Jose Martinez, & Yoshitomo Tsutsugo.

 

Conclusion

 

In a season where the Yankees and Red Sox might show some signs of vulnerability, I predict the Jays will see an increased volume of wins against these two AL East foes.  I not only see the Jays finishing 3rd in the AL East, but being in contention in the AL Wild Card hunt. However, in an offseason where the Twins, White Sox, and Angels made significant improvements – will the Jays increased wins be enough to push them into the 2nd wild card? Time will tell, until then – we’ll just bask in the sunshine and hope spring training 2020 provides.

 

 

 

 

*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.

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Pete McCombie

Pete is an avid baseball fan - primarily focusing on the Toronto Blue Jays. Once a timid fan in his adolescence, a 54 home run season won his heart over. He could be heard screaming triumphantly one October evening after an infamous bat flip. Approximately 12 months later, he reacted similarly to the Donaldson Dash. He eagerly awaits the next chapter of October jubilation for his team.