Toronto Blue Jays
2018 Record: 73-89
Fourth Place, AL East
Team ERA: 4.85 (27th)
Team OPS: .739 (13th)
What Went Right
A couple clunkers pushed J.A. Happ’s ERA in his 20 starts for the Blue Jays up to 4.18, but the veteran left-hander was mostly terrific for Toronto with 130 strikeouts across 114 innings. The 26.3 percent strikeout rate he posted between his work with the Jays and Yankees was the best of the 35-year-old’s career. The Jays had a pair of younger lefties also hold their own in their first stints in the big leagues in Ryan Borucki (3.87 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 67/33 K/BB ratio over 97 2/3 innings) and Thomas Pannone (4.19 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 29/15 K/BB ratio over 43 innings). Borucki actually piled up three more quality starts than Happ (11 to eight) and did so while making three fewer starts (20 to 17). Randal Grichuk got off to an absolutely brutal start in April (.106/.208/.227), but he posted a .873 OPS with 23 home runs over 99 games from June on after returning from a knee injury. Lourdes Gurriel made a positive first impression in the majors with a .281/.309/.446 line and 11 home runs across 65 contests. He set a Blue Jays record and major league rookie record by recording 11 straight multi-hit games during a stretch in July. Rowdy Tellez received only 73 plate appearances, but he put up a .943 OPS with four longballs and 14 RBI during that span. Billy McKinney was acquired from the Yankees in the Happ trade and wound up being the team’s leadoff hitter down the stretch, holding his own with a .252/.320/.470 line and six homers over 36 games.
What Went Wrong
Outside of Happ, the Blue Jays’ veteran starters failed miserably. Marcus Stroman held a 5.54 ERA and 1.48 WHIP over 19 starts and missed significant time because of shoulder and blister problems. 35-year-old Marco Estrada looked cooked with a 5.64 ERA and 1.42 WHIP across 28 starts. Aaron Sanchez dealt with more finger issues (a different finger this time) and posted a 4.89 ERA and 1.56 WHIP over 20 starts before eventually having surgery in September. Roberto Osuna made just 15 appearances before a domestic violence suspension and was eventually traded to the Astros. Jaime Garcia was a waste of a $10 million investment, getting cut loose following a 5.93 ERA across 74 1/3 frames. Josh Donaldson had another injury-shortened season, this time being limited to just 53 games because of a calf injury before an August trade sent him to Cleveland. Troy Tulowitzki missed the entire season after surgery in April on both of his heels. Russell Martin batted just .194/.338/.325 and by the end of the season had mostly been phased out of the lineup.
**Marcus Stroman posted a 3.91 FIP in 2018, which was virtually identical to his 3.90 FIP in 2017. However, his ERAs in 2017 (3.09) and 2018 (5.54) were not close. That might point to some bad luck (and his BABIP was a career high .326), but we also must note that Stroman’s velocity was down from last year, his walk rate continued to rise to a career-high 8 percent and his strikeout rate fell to a career-low 17.2 percent. Out of the 140 pitchers that threw at least 100 innings, he ranked 121st in whiff rate. Stroman does still get a ton of groundballs and improvement in the ERA department in 2019 is surely a given, but it’s hard to see him missing enough bats to really help out fantasy owners.
**What will the Jays wind up doing at catcher? Russell Martin is under contract for $20 million in 2019 and was recently given a vote of confidence by general manager Ross Atkins. However, the veteran backstop has been trending in the wrong direction for years and bottomed out this season with a lowly .663 OPS. He didn’t start a single game at catcher in September and will turn 36 in February. The Blue Jays have exciting young catcher Danny Jansen ready for a chance at the starting job and also capable secondary options in Reese McGuire and Luke Maile. If Toronto is unable to unload Martin’s contract on another team, he’s surely going to play for them quite a bit, which would limit Jansen’s appeal.
**Teoscar Hernandez didn’t make the Opening Day roster but wound up finishing third on the club with his 22 home runs. However, consistency was certainly lacking, as Hernandez’s month-to-month OPS were as follows: 1.054, .649, .856, .652, .689, .800. Unless Hernandez cuts down on his strikeout rate – which sits at 31.1 percent for his career – he’s going to have trouble breaking that inconsistency. We’ve also yet to see the stolen base chops he displayed in the minors show up at the major league level, as he’s just 5-for-13 in stolen base attempts over 202 big league games. A poor defender, Hernandez is best off as a designated hitter, but Kendrys Morales is under contract for 2019.
**Ken Giles’ volatility finally got him shipped out of Houston, but he landed on his feet with another closer job with the Blue Jays and went 14-for-14 in save opportunities for them down the stretch. His 4.65 ERA in 2018 is going to turn plenty of people off, but Giles’ velocity was fine and he put up a 53/7 K/BB ratio over 50 1/3 innings. He’s not going to cost a premium in fantasy drafts next spring and could wind up being a bargain.
**When will the Vladimir Guerrero Jr. era begin? Fantasy owners were eagerly anticipating Vlad Jr.’s promotion for months this past season, but it never came even as he tore up minor league pitching to the tune of an utterly ridiculous .381/.437/.636 batting line with 20 home runs and 78 RBI across 95 contests. Service time manipulation was undoubtedly at play here and will likely be at the beginning of next season, as well, as the Blue Jays try to keep the wunderkind under team control for as long as possible. However, Guerrero Jr. seems like a pretty good bet to debut before the end of April as long as he’s healthy and gets off to another strong start. He won’t turn 20 until March, but Vlad Jr. has the talent to be an impact hitter as soon as he steps foot on a major league diamond.
Team Needs: It will be interesting to see what direction the Blue Jays take this offseason, as the front office can’t realistically think they’re ready to contend in 2019. With Estrada and J.A. Happ out of the picture, they could probably use an innings-eater as some of their young arms go through their first full season in the majors. Toronto also has very few position players locked in, but they’d be best off turning jobs over to kids rather than spending on veterans.