Jays From the Couch brings you some early takeaways from the Toronto Blue Jays start to the 2020 season
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It has been a crazy start to the 2020 MLB regular season. Positive COVID 19 tests across baseball, games postponed as a result, talk of possibly even shutting down the season altogether.
In the midst of all the craziness, the Toronto Blue Jays do have a week’s worth of games played.
Let’s take a look at the team’s performance after seven games. Their overall record is 3-4. How did they get to that point?
Toronto currently sits fifth in MLB and second in the American League with a staff era of 3.29. That is almost a run per game better than the league average of 4.26.
13 of the 18 pitchers Toronto has used so far in 2020 have an era of 3.38 (Anthony Kay) or better. This includes 8 pitchers who have yet to surrender an earned run this season.
Among the positive stories, Ryan Borucki and Matt Shoemaker appear to have rebounded well from injuries that derailed their season in 2019. Toronto’s top prospect Nate Pearson and 2019 trade acquisition Thomas Hatch had successful MLB debuts. Off season acquisition Anthony Bass and Canadian Jordan Romano have looked great in high leverage relief innings. And I must admit being pleasantly surprised by Tanner Roark‘s very good outing in his Blue Jays debut.
Unfortunately the news on the pitching front isn’t all positive. The normally reliable Ken Giles suffered only his second blown save in a Jays uniform on July 26 and went on the IL shortly afterward. GM Ross Atkins recently said he is “very optimistic that Ken Giles will pitch again soon”. Let’s hope this is the case.
Shun Yamaguchi has had a rough start to his Jays career with a 36.00 era in two outings. In being completely fair to him, both of those outings were in extra innings, with the new rule that gives the offensive team a runner on second to start each inning. This probably isn’t the best way to assess what the Jays truly have in Yamaguchi.
32 year old Yamaguchi had a very good 3.19 era in 14 seasons in Japanese professional baseball. Time will tell if he is able to make necessary adjustments to be successful in MLB. He will likely be given a fairly long leash, since Toronto signed him to a 2 year, $6,350,000 contract this past off season.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the pitching staff in the early going is Hyun-Jin Ryu. Toronto’s prized off season acquisition has struggled in two starts with an era of 8.00. His velocity has been down which is a significant concern. Personally I’m not that worried about Ryu just yet. He has an excellent track record in 6 seasons in the majors. I’m hopeful that he can bounce back and be the pitcher that lead all of MLB in era just one season ago.
The pitching has the potential to get even better. On July 31, the Blue Jays optioned Sam Gaviglio and his 27.00 era to the alternate training site.
Jays starting pitchers have averaged just under 5 innings per start (4.85) so far. This isn’t surprising since it is early and factoring in the shut down and re-start. Hopefully as starters get more stretched out, this will increase, thereby reducing bullpen innings.
Toronto is currently ranked 21st out of 30 MLB teams with a .688 team OPS. This is a bit below the league average of .714. Obviously this is one area that needs to improve for the Jays to be serious contenders in the future.
Just as the pitching news isn’t all good, the hitting news isn’t all bad. A handful of Toronto position players are off to hot starts at the plate. Teoscar Hernandez, Travis Shaw, Derek Fisher, Randal Grichuk and Lourdes Gurriel Jr.each have an OPS of .800 or better.
Hernandez is leading the way with a lofty 1.176 OPS. While his .821 slugging percentage so far in 2020 probably isn’t sustainable over a full season, even a 60 game one, it’s very possible that the overall improvement at the plate since his recall from AAA in 2019 is.
I believe that Hernandez has found the key to success as an MLB hitter.
Somewhat surprisingly, the ones bringing the average down are the three players many expect to lead the Jays in to the future. Bo Bichette (.667), Cavan Biggio (.650) and Vladimir Guerrero jr (.476) have yet to find consistency at the plate in 2020.
I’m confident that this talented trio will adjust and do very well.
If I told you before the 2020 season began that the Toronto Blue Jays, at any point, would be tied for first in MLB I’m fielding percentage, would you have believed it? The Jays share the top spot with the Minnesota Twins with a lofty .996 success rate, considerably better than the league average of .983.
This is not to suggest that there isn’t room for improvement with Toronto’s defence. There have been some miscues that weren’t errors but where better judgment could and should have been used.
In 2019 they were middle of the pack with a .984 fielding percentage. To be completely fair though, there were plenty of plays not made that weren’t scored as errors but definitely impacted the results.
Moving Guerrero Jr across the diamond from 3rd base to 1st may have been surprising (not that it happened, but that it happened this early in his career), but the move seems to have benefitted the team. Travis Shaw and Brandon Drury have been solid at the hot corner. If Guerrero’s future with the glove is at first, it makes sense to move him over there sooner than later. Let him get used to the position while the team is still learning, as opposed to in a year or two, when they can more realistically be expected to contend.
Even in a 60 game season, 7 games in is still early. There is likely to be some regression to the mean, both positive and negative.
In 2019 the league average for team era was 4.49 and for OPS .758. It’s reasonable to expect more offence across the board. Randal Grichuk and Travis Shaw are among the Jays who have been hitting well in the early going, and each have missed the last few games (Grichuk due to injury and Shaw due to personal reasons). Both are expected back on Tuesday which could help boost the offence.
The pitching and defence seem to be much improved from what Jays fans saw in 2019. The offence has some work to do. Let’s not forget that 2020 is just the second season of an official rebuild. The goal is to continue developing the talented players who can help Toronto win in the future, as well as determining areas where upgrades are needed.
The Jays are right on track.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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