Expectations haven’t been this high in Toronto since the Blue Jays won back-to-back World Series in 1992-93. If all goes according to plan in 2022, the Jays will win at least 90 games in consecutive seasons for the first time since those championship years and will return to the postseason after missing out in 2021. This team is built to win now and has a prolonged contention window with a young, controlled core group of players that rose through the minor league ranks as teammates. It will be interesting to see how normalcy feels for the Blue Jays. After playing the 2020 season in Buffalo, New York, and the 2021 season in a combination of Dunedin (Florida), Buffalo and Toronto, the Jays return to a full season at home with a strict vaccine mandate that may greatly affect visiting teams — and all the pieces to emerge victorious in a stacked AL East.
The Blue Jays were one of the unluckiest teams in 2021 according to Pythagorean Win-Loss and BaseRuns. They went 91-71 but should have been 99-63 by Pythagorean and 97-65 by BaseRuns. Either of those records would have gotten them into the playoffs. Instead, they finished fourth in the AL East and came up one game short of the postseason. This year’s projections have the Blue Jays as the best team in the AL and it’s hard to argue otherwise.
Parsing through the last two years of data for the Blue Jays is an exercise in futility. The Jays played games at Sahlen Field in Buffalo and TD Ballpark in Dunedin, their spring-training home in Florida. Both parks were tremendous for offense, especially on the Blue Jays side of the ledger.
All home games will be back at Rogers Centre in 2022. In 36 games there in 2021, the Blue Jays slashed .266/.328/.476 after putting up a .276/.348/.493 slash line at TD Ballpark (21 games) and a .278/.337/.497 slash at Sahlen Field (23 games). While Rogers Centre won’t be as kind, the players will be happy to play at home again and regain some stability.
If we project out those Rogers Centre numbers for the full season, the Jays would have been fifth in batting average, 12th in OBP and third in SLG at home. They were the majors’ second-best road offense, trailing only the Astros in wOBA, OBP and wRC+ , but they did lead MLB in SLG. Overall, the Blue Jays led the majors in wOBA and SLG. They could very well do so again this year, even with 81 games at Rogers Centre.
The power numbers will likely drop a bit for the Jays, who hit 21 more homers and slugged 22 points higher than any other team. Along with the park factor, they also bid adieu to Marcus Semien, who had a career year with 45 homers. Matt Chapman will be a great infield replacement with an elite glove at third, but he’ll be more of a 30-homer guy, and possibly one of many. Bo Bichette came close with 29 long balls last season, Teoscar Hernandez bashed 32 and George Springer had 22 in just 78 games. A full season of Springer coupled with Chapman at the hot corner could more than offset the loss of Semien.
The signing of Chapman will also take away some wear and tear on Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who can just play first base now and not worry as much about defense. Guerrero had a monster 2021 season with a .311/.401/.601 slash, a .419 wOBA and a 166 wRC+ , meaning he was 66% better than league average as a hitter. Those are Troutian offensive numbers, as last year’s move to first base paid huge dividends. Now that he can stay there for the rest of his career, the sky’s the limit.
The biggest change for Guerrero was that he elevated the baseball more. In 2019, he had a ground-ball percentage (GB%) of 49.6%. It was 54.6% in 2020. Ground balls limit the chances for extra-base hits and eliminate any chance of a home run. In 2021, his GB% dropped to 44.8%, and the launch angle increase allowed him to tap into his incredible power.
This is part of the organizational philosophy for the Blue Jays. They were fifth in fly-ball percentage FB% at 38.8% last season. They were also seventh in Pull%, meaning balls in play to the hitter’s power side. The Jays are actively looking to generate a lot of power. Against average or below-average pitchers, Jays team totals may not be set high enough.
The lineup is unquestionably elite and could be the only one to challenge the Los Angeles All-Star Dodgers for the best in baseball. The Jays’ ceiling will be defined by the pitching staff, which looks a lot different than it did to start last season. Jose Berrios, Kevin Gausman and Yusei Kikuchi have all been added since the 2021 All-Star Game.
Every projected starter struck out more than a batter per inning last season except for Hyun-jin Ryu, who had a bit of a down year. Berrios came from Minnesota, where he added a little bit of velocity and improved his command, then the Jays signed him to a long-term extension and should reap the benefits. Berrios had a 3.52 ERA with a 3.47 FIP during the best season of his career by those two metrics, and he kept up similar numbers in his 12 starts with the Blue Jays. I expect Berrios to have some mild regression in a much better offensive division, but he’ll still be part of a rotation likely to include five above-average pitchers.
Gausman is also coming off of a career year as his big strikeout increase from 2020 mostly carried over to 2021. The right-hander is primarily a two-pitch pitcher with a fastball/splitter combo, but he generates a ton of swings and misses and has outstanding control. Gausman, who was signed in December, saw both velocity and strikeout bumps from 2019 to 2020, and he kept it up in 2021. His issue is the long ball and a career HR/FB% of 18.6%, a substantial worry in a division littered with right-handed power bats.
My guess is the Jays see Kikuchi as their new Robbie Ray. Kicuchi, who was signed in March, throws in the mid-90s and relies heavily on a cutter, much like Ray does with his slider. Kikuchi’s Hard Hit% was 47% last season, meaning 47% of batted balls hit an exit velocity of at least 95 mph. That type of contact produces a batting average above .500, which isn’t good for pitchers. Kikuchi was at 36.2% in 2020 and 38.1% in 2019, so I believe the Jays found a command or pitch-sequencing fix they can employ.
Alek Manoah made his first 20 MLB starts in 2021 and looked like a potential future ace, despite only throwing 35 minor league innings. His upside is high and his stuff is nasty. Depth options include some former highly-rated prospects such as Nate Pearson, Anthony Kay and Thomas Hatch, so the Jays will be able to cobble together what they need in case of injury.
The Jays have managed to pair a strong starting staff with a top offense. Teams with a lead after five innings won more than 83% of the time last year. That stat has been pretty consistent in the age of increased specialization. With their rotation arms offense, the Jays should have a lot of leads.
The bullpen was the weak link last season. Collectively, Jays relievers posted a 4.08 ERA with a 4.38 FIP, ranking 16th and 20th. Jordan Romano, Tim Mayza and Adam Cimber were the top three in appearances and all pitched pretty well, but most of the other relievers did not. It was a game of musical chairs, as only Romano and Mayza had more than 40 appearances, and the Jays were trying all season to put together a bullpen.
The only new addition is Yimi Garcia, whose results have been a mixed bag at the MLB level (3.60 ERA but a 4.21 ERA last season). Otherwise, it will be up to converted starters such as Trevor Richards, Julian Merryweather, Ryan Borucki and Ross Stripling, all of whom will be multi-inning options.
Player to Watch
SP Hyun-jin Ryu: Ryu, who had been one of the best pitchers in baseball in terms of contact management, was not himself last season. He had some injuries, aches and pains, which are concerning to say the least. He hadn’t posted a Hard Hit% above 31.4% in any of the previous four seasons but posted a 41.6% mark in 2021. He hadn’t allowed more than 22 home runs in a season but allowed 24 last year. It all came crashing down quickly, too, as he had a 3.56 ERA in his first 98.2 innings but a 5.50 ERA in 70.1 innings after the All-Star Break. Ryu had enjoyed LOB% marks of 80.5% or higher each of the previous four seasons, but that number fell to 70.7% in 2021. LOB% has a huge influence on ERA. Ryu wasn’t up to his normal standards, but I see reasons to believe he bounces back. He could give Toronto one of the best rotations in baseball.
There isn’t much in the way of futures value on the Jays. They’re really good and everybody knows it, but they are stuck in the best division in baseball, with four teams projected to win around 90 games. They deserve the low futures price and the high win total. They deserve to be among the favorites. They’re going to beat up on the Orioles and teams around the league, just as the Rays, Yankees and Red Sox should. I could only bet their season win total Over if looking to invest. High win totals don’t leave much margin for error, but this is a deep, supremely talented ballclub that can figure it out in the bullpen and withstand injuries in the lineup. Not every team can say that.
Win Total Lean: Over 92.5