With eyes on the postseason, the Blue Jays made some moves this winter to replace some serious talent. JFtC looks at whether it worked so far.
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The 2021 Blue Jays had a record of 91-71 and missed a playoff spot by just one game. Needless to say their goal in 2022 has been to build on that. They want to get to the playoffs and play deep in to October.
They had several significant contributors on expiring contracts. When Marcus Semien, Robbie Ray and Steven Matz all signed with other teams as free agents, the Jays lost 12.9 fWAR. As good as the remaining core still is, some people thought that this would be too much to replace.
Toronto’s front office was determined to do what it took to continue moving forward. They signed free agent pitchers Kevin Gausman and Yusei Kikuchi, and traded for 3B Matt Chapman. The main focus of this article is to compare what Gausman, Kikuchi and Chapman have done so far in 2022 to what Semien, Ray and Matz did in 2021. Still, it is worth taking a look at how the trio of former Jays is doing with their new teams in 2022 as well.
Kevin Gausman vs Robbie Ray
Name Year G ERA FIP fWAR fWAR/162
Kevin Gausman 2022 9 2.25 1.33 2.7 9.6
Robbie Ray 2021 32 2.84 3.57 3.9
Robbie Ray 2022 10 4.75 4.15 0.60 1.92
When Robbie Ray signed with the Seattle Mariners, many thought that the 2021 Cy Young award winner would be hard to replace. Looking at all of the numbers, Gausman has been that much better so far in 2022. Assuming he stays healthy and pitches roughly 1/5 of the Jays games (32), he is on pace for an fWAR of 9.6! So far in 2022, Ray has not come close to his 2021 stellar performance.
Yusei Kikuchi vs Steven Matz
Name Year G ERA FIP fWAR fWAR/162
Yusei Kikuchi 2022 9 3.48 4.09 0.4 1.42
Steven Matz 2021 29 3.82 3.79 2.8
Steven Matz 2022 9 6.03 4.30 0.2 0.71
This comparison isn’t quite as clear cut. Kikuchi so far in 2022 has a better ERA than Matz did in 2021 and much better than he currently does with the St Louis Cardinals. Matz had the better FIP in 2021, 3.79 vs 4.09. Also assuming that Kikuchi pitches in 32 games, he is on pace for 1.42 fWAR, assuming the same performance he has had so far over a larger sample size.
As anyone who follows the Jays closely is aware of, Kikuchi’s first few starts in a Toronto uniform didn’t go very well. He and pitching coach Pete Walker have worked hard on his pitches and his last several starts have been much better. If he continues his recent success, he could very well be as good, if not better, than Matz was in 2021. Currently he is behind Matz’ 2021 pace but clearly better than Matz is doing so far this season.
The starting pitching comparison is fairly straight forward, the Jays lost two starters and signed two other starters. The infield situation is a bit more complicated. They lost free agent 2B Marcus Semien to free agency and they traded for 3B Matt Chapman. What I believe to be the most valid comparison is 2B/3B 2021 vs 2B/3B 2022.
In 2021, the Jays had an all star and league MVP finalist in Semien playing 2B. 3B was a different story. Ignoring the one game played at 3B by Vladimir Guerrero jr, the Jays employed SIX different players at 3B.
These are the players (excluding Vlad’s one game) who played 3B for the Jays in 2021:
Name G fWAR
Santiago Espinal 92 1.9
Breyvic Valera 39 0.2
Jake Lamb 12 -0.1
Cavan Biggio 79 -0.2
Joe Panik 42 -0.2
Kevin Smith 18 -0.2
This group played 282 games and contributed 1.4 fWAR. Without an exact breakdown of how much fWAR occurred at 3B vs other positions, I divided 1.4/282 and then multiplied by 162. The result was 0.80.
Now, the comparison can be made:
Name Year G fWAR fWAR/155
Matt Chapman 2022 47 0.7 2.31
Santiago Espinal 2022 47 1.1 3.63
Marcus Semien 2021 162 6.2
3B revolving door 2021 162 0.8
Marcus Semien 2022 46 -0.1
Chapman and Espinal have played in all 47 of Toronto’s games so far this season. I’m erring on the side of caution a bit and assuming they will each need a day off here and there, so I used an assumption of a 155 game season to project final fWAR totals. Together, they are on pace for 5.94 fWAR, which is behind the 7.0 that Semien and the “revolving door at 3B” contributed in 2021, however the 2022 version is within striking distance of their 2021 counterparts.
As a side note, Semien’s performance with the Texas Rangers so far has been nothing short of baffling! Personally I saw him as more of a 4 WAR player rather than repeating his 6+ WAR season, I can’t remember a bigger decline in performance in just one season for a player who is healthy as far as we know.
Totalling all of that up, Gausman, Kikuchi, Chapman and Espinal are on pace for 16.96 fWAR. Even adding 0.8 to the 12.9 the Jays lost to free agency, this year’s group is on pace to exceed last year’s by a significant margin. Just for fun, assuming the Jays had re-signed all of Semien, Ray and Matz and their performance with Toronto had been similar to what it has been so far in 2022.
Back in the off season, I wrote about reasons that I believed the 2022 Jays would be better than they were in 2021. In that article, I made certain projections based partly on an assumption of more playing time for players like Alek Manoah (who didn’t make his MLB debut until late May 2021) and George Springer who missed more than half of the 2021 season due to injuries. Both of those players are on pace to exceed the fWAR I projected for them.
Some players such as Danny Jansen and Alejandro Kirk have likely exceeded expectations. Still, other players such as Jose Berrios, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Bo Bichette, Teoscar Hernandez and Lourdes Gurriel Jr.have yet to live up to expectations.
One thing seems certain though. Blue Jays management has succeeded in replacing players they lost with a group that has arguably been even better.
*Featured Images Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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