The Blue Jays Will Face The Rays In The First Round Of The Postseason. Which Team Has The Edge?
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The 2020 season was unlike any MLB season in the past 100 years. Compared to the almost full schedule played during in 1918 pandemic, 2020 was remarkable because of the 60-game schedule. Making the postseason in 2020 was more of a sprint than a marathon. That race has brought the Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Rays together to play a best-of-three series at Tropicana Field. How do the two clubs match-up?
The Jays and Rays are very similar when it comes to hitting. In 2020, Toronto scored 302 runs, and Tampa scored 289 times. In the home run department, the Rays slugged 80 homers; the Jays hit 88 round-trippers. Interestingly, Toronto scored 46.0% of their runs via home runs, which was higher than the Rays 42.6%. When there are runners in scoring position, the Jays recorded a 0.275 batting average and a 0.791 OPS. Tampa generated a 0.244 BA and 0.778 OBP in that situation.
Table 1 illustrates other aspects of each team’s batting profile. The highpoints are as follows:
- For the season, Toronto’s wRC+ was 108, which lagged Tampa’s 109 mark
- The Jays wRC+ against right-handed pitchers was 109 and 108 versus southpaws
- Tampa produced a more notable split: 105 versus righties and 121 when facing lefties
- The Rays K% was 26.9%, a rate higher than the Jays 22.4%
- The OBP for the two teams is similar; a 0.328 for the Rays and 0.325 for the Jays
- The Jays have slightly better expected stats due to their higher percentage of hard-hit balls (41.5% vs 39.1%)
During the second half of the season, Toronto’s batting was superior to Tampa’s. For the most recent 30 days, the Jays posted a 109 wRC+, which exceeded the Rays 102. Over the past two weeks, Tampa produced a lacklustre 92 wRC+; the Jays generated a 115 wRC+.
Injuries could have an impact on the hitting of these two teams in the postseason. Toronto may not have Rowdy Tellez, and Tampa may be without Ji-Man Choi and Yandy Diaz. However, the recently-added Alejandro Kirk would be a boost for the Jays offence, particularly if Tellez does not play. Another issue to consider is that the Jays are below-median in xBA (0.214) and xSLG (0.371) when facing pitches that are 95 mph or faster. Tampa is also below average in these two measures. The challenge for the Jays is that the average velocity of fastballs thrown by the Rays is 94.5 mph. The corresponding figure for the Jays is 93.3.
The Jays have the hitting advantage mainly because they have been batting well recently. Also, their wRC+ splits against righties and lefties are more balanced than the Rays.
The first round of the postseason will be a best-of-three format. Therefore, the pitching match-ups will be analyzed as follows: the likely starters and the bullpens.
Table 2 summarizes the likely starters for the two teams. The highlights are as follows:
- Of the six pitchers listed, Hyun Jin Ryu is the best
- He has a 2.69 ERA, 1.9 fWAR, and his percentile rankings in Hard Hit% and Barrel% are in the top-tier of starters
- Taijuan Walker has posted an impressive 2.70 ERA, but his FIP was 4.56, and he was below-median in xBA, xSLG, and Barrel%
- Matt Shoemaker has produced an ERA and FIP that lag the American League average of starters
- His Statcast metrics are below-median
- Tyler Glasnow was the Rays best starter in 2020
- He generated a 1.1 fWAR and a 38.2 K%, which was 97th percentile
- However, opponents walloped his pitches: his Hard Hit% and Barrel% are in the 20th percentile
- Blake Snell had a solid season, as evidenced by his 3.24 ERA and 3.56 SIERA
- Other than his K% (83rd) and Whiff% (86th), his Statcast metrics are middle-of-the-pack
- Charlie Morton generate a 4.74 ERA, but his FIP is 3.45
- His Statcast metrics are mid-tier
Readers should note that Walker has the most pronounced wOBA handedness difference of these starters. His 0.234 wOBA against right-handed batters is much better than his 0.370 wOBA when facing left-handed hitters.
If I were to rank the six starters from best to worst, that list would be as follows: Ryu, Glasnow, Snell, Walker, Morton, and Shoemaker. Based on those grades, I would give the edge to the Rays starters. However, if Walker can continue to benefit from good fortune (ERA-FIP), the Jays would have the starter advantage. Nevertheless, I lean slightly to the Rays in this facet of the game.
Table 3 tells the bullpen story; the highpoints are as follows:
- In almost an equal number of innings as Toronto, the Rays produced a 3.6 fWAR, 3.37 ERA, 3.65 FIP, and 3.90 SIERA
- The Jays corresponding figures are 1.8 FWAR, 4.71 ERA, 4.56 FIP, and 4.59 SIERA
- The Jays bullpen was excellent in the early stage of the 2020 campaign but is has underperformed since
- Toronto’s bullpen posted a negative 0.5 fWAR and 6.20 ERA during the last 30 days
- In the past 14 days, the fWAR was minus 0.8, and their ERA was 8.49
- Tampa’s pen has been excellent during those time frames
The Rays have the superior bullpen. If Jordan Romano can return to the lineup, and Nate Pearson can excel, the bullpen gap between Toronto and Tampa will close slightly. Currently, Tampa has the better corps of relievers.
- Statcast’s Outs Above Average (“OAA”) is a negative three for the Rays (zero is league average)
- Unfortunately, the Jays produced a minus seventeen
- The largest OAA difference occurred in the outfield where Tampa was plus six and the Jays were minus ten
- The FanGraphs tale is not any better for the Jays
- Their minus 38 DRS and negative 2.7 Def were not close to Tampa’s marks of 24 and 15.7, respectively
Tampa has the edge here with their 5.4 BSR, which is FanGraphs base running component of fWAR. On the other hand, the Jays mark was minus 2.5, which is consistent with the observation that the Jays made many mistakes on the 2020 base paths.
- The 2020 Blue Jays are a resilient, confident team
- Despite a relative lack of postseason experience, Toronto is used to tight ball games given that they played in 23 in one-run games in 2020 and produced 13 wins
- Jonathan Davis, who did not play against Tampa this season, is the Jays best outfield defender and is a viable late-inning option when the Jays have a lead
- I think Charlie Montoyo is a better Manager than some people believe. However, Kevin Cash is a well-respected Manager and gives Tampa an advantage in this area
- Tampa has a 0.701 winning percentage against teams that made the postseason; the Jays comparable is 0.444
- The Rays are the home team for all games
The last word
The Tampa Rays are favoured to defeat the Toronto Blue Jays in the upcoming playoff series. The Rays have the edge in starting pitching, relievers, defence, and base running. The Jays are currently the better hitting team. Toronto can win the series if Ryu and Walker pitch well, Romano and Pearson excel in the bullpen, and the Jays limit costly running and defensive miscues. Indeed, that is a lot of ifs, but who doesn’t become hopeful during the postseason?
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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Bob was a St. Louis Cardinals fan until the Blue Jays arrived on the baseball scene, although he still has a soft spot for the Cards. Similar to straddling the Greenwich Meridian, as depicted in the avatar, Bob applies sabermetrics when applicable, but his heart tells him that Lou Brock belongs in the Hall of Fame.