Toronto Blue Jays
2019 Record: 67-95
Fourth Place, AL East
Team ERA: 4.79 (21st in MLB)
Team OPS: .733 (23rd in MLB)
What Went Right
The Blue Jays’ .414 winning percentage was their lowest since 1995. There is some reason for optimism, though, at least on the position player side. Bo Bichette was called up in late July and took the American League by storm, setting a rookie record with 10 extra-base hits in his first nine games and also a major league record with doubles in nine consecutive contests. He finished with a .930 OPS, 11 homers and four steals over 212 plate appearances. Lourdes Gurriel dealt with more injury issues but finished strong when healthy with a .919 OPS, 20 home runs and five stolen bases over his final 71 games. Cavan Biggio played exactly 100 contests and ended the season with 16 home runs and 14 steals. While he finished with a pedestrian .738 OPS, Randal Grichuk led the team with 31 home runs, 80 RBI and 75 runs scored. Eric Sogard posted a surprising .840 OPS before being traded to the Rays at the deadline. Marcus Stroman put up a strong 2.96 ERA across 21 starts before being flipped to the Mets at the deadline (the Jays netted Anthony Kay and Simeon Woods-Richardson in the deal). Ken Giles dealt with elbow issues in the second half but was superb when healthy with a 1.87 ERA and 83/17 K/BB ratio over 53 innings, converting 23-of-24 save opportunities.
What Went Wrong
Perhaps it’s not fair to include a 20-year-old who posted a respectable .772 OPS in this section, but the reality is that Vladimir Guerrero Jr. didn’t come close to meeting the sky-high expectations set for him. Vlad Jr.’s 15 home runs were tied for eighth on the club. Danny Jansen was a popular target for fantasy owners last spring, but he was one of the worst-hitting regulars in baseball with a lowly .207/.279/.360 batting line over 107 games. The starting rotation as a whole was a disaster, putting up a 5.25 ERA which ranked 22nd in baseball (and that includes the since-departed Stroman’s 2.96 mark). Matt Shoemaker got off to a good start but blew out his ACL in late April, sidelining him for the rest of the season. Devon Travis missed the entire season after having another knee surgery in March and then later experiencing complications.
** Can Vladimir Guerrero Jr. take a big step forward in his second big league season? The 20-year-old wunderkind had his moments in his first year with Toronto, but a .272/.339/.433 line with 15 homers isn’t going to cut it for a guy who was taken in the fourth round of drafts even though we knew he wasn’t going to make the opening day roster. Guerrero’s Statcast data was also pretty underwhelming with a 38.4 percent hard-hit rate and 89.4 mph exit velocity. There were positives, though, as Vlad Jr.’s 17.7 percent strikeout rate and 8.9 percent walk rate were good marks for anyone, let alone a 20-year-old. The Blue Jays have asked Guerrero to improve his conditioning over the winter and that might help keep him healthy after he dealt with knee issues down the stretch. Whether he puts it all together in 2020 remains to be seen, but the guess here is that Vlad Jr. reminds everyone why he was a top overall prospect.
** What kind of upside does Bo Bichette have? Dante’s kid made an awfully good first impression in the majors, breaking records and finishing with a sparkling .311/.358/.571 line with 11 home runs and four stolen bases across 46 games. The home run power was a bit more than Bichette had showed in the minors, but he’s been an extra-base hit machine since entering pro ball. He also has room to improve in the stolen base department, as Bichette swiped 32 bags in Double-A in 2018 and was usually a pretty efficient base stealer on the farm. The young shortstop has the look of a guy who should offer across-the-board production.
** What about Cavan Biggio? Biggio didn’t have the prospect pedigree of Guerrero or Bichette when he was called up, but he finished with the most fantasy value of the three thanks to 16 home runs, 14 stolen bases and 66 runs scored over just 100 games. Craig’s son fanned at a 28.6 percent clip, which is obviously a major reason why he batted only .234. However, he also had a 16.5 percent walk rate that ranked in the top two percent of the league and aided him to a .364 on-base percentage. Biggio was also an extreme flyball hitter with a 47 percent flyball rate. The average isn’t going to help you, but Biggio has a chance to be a four-category asset.
** Lourdes Gurriel was the Blue Jays’ Opening Day second baseman but was sent down in mid-April after developing the yips and also posting just a .525 OPS across 13 contests. When he returned a little over a month later it was as an outfielder and he homered in four of his first six games, propelling him to a .919 OPS and 20 dingers over his final 71 tilts. Gurriel did miss significant time with injury again in 2019, which was also the case in 2018. That said, if he’s able to remain healthy in 2020 he looks like a power threat who could also chip in with a few steals.
** When will we see Nate Pearson? A first-round pick in the 2017 Draft, Pearson made it to Triple-A Buffalo last season, finishing with a dominant 2.30 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and 119/27 K/BB ratio over 101 2/3 innings across three levels. The 23-year-old can touch triple digits with his fastball and also boasts a wipeout slider, which is why he’s viewed as one of the better pitching prospects in the game. Pearson might have a shot to debut relatively early on in 2020 if he gets off to a good start, and he should be able to miss bats right away.
Team Needs: Rotation help. Out of the starters that the Blue Jays bring back, only Trent Thornton threw more than 78 innings for the big club in 2019. They might also look for first base help if they don’t view Rowdy Tellez as a full-timer or would prefer to use him at designated hitter.