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MLB Team Roundup: Toronto Blue Jays

Hyun-Jin Ryu

Hyun-Jin Ryu

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto Blue Jays

2020 Record: 32-28
Third place, AL East
Team ERA: 4.60 (17th in MLB)
Team OPS: .766 (11th in MLB)

What Went Right

With expanded playoffs being implemented after the COVID-19 shutdown, the Blue Jays were able to secure a spot in the Wild Card Series before being eliminated by the Rays. Toronto gambled on Hyun-Jin Ryu after his brilliant 2019 season and it paid off in the first year of his four-year, $80 million contract, as he posted a 2.69 ERA over 12 starts. Teoscar Hernandez led the charge for the offense despite missing time with an oblique injury, putting up 16 homers and a .919 OPS over 50 games. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Randal Grichuk also provided plenty of pop while Cavan Biggio continued to display strong on-base skills to go along with an exciting power/speed combo. Taijuan Walker was excellent after being acquired from the Mariners at the deadline while Jordan Romano emerged as the potential closer of the future. When healthy, Bo Bichette was very good. Rowdy Tellez and Alejandro Kirk both flashed some potential, with the latter potentially threatening Danny Jansen on the catching depth chart.

What Went Wrong

The Blue Jays wrapped up summer camp with all sorts of uncertainty about where they would play. With Toronto ruled out as an option due to COVID, they ended up playing most of their home games at their Triple-A affiliate’s stadium in Buffalo. It wasn’t an ideal situation, so making the expanded playoffs was a nice accomplishment. You may have noticed the “when healthy” qualifier with Bo Bichette above and that’s because he missed half of the season with a right knee strain. While Hyun-Jin Ryu thrived in his first season with the Blue Jays, the rest of the rotation was shaky at best. Outside of Ryu, Blue Jays starters checked in with a 5.21 ERA. Tanner Roark, Chase Anderson, Shun Yamaguchi, Ross Stripling, and Robbie Ray were among the notable disappointments. Nate Pearson only ended up throwing 18 innings due to a flexor strain in his right elbow. Travis Shaw underwhelmed as a new addition and catcher Danny Jansen failed to make much in the way of progress at the plate. Finally, closer Ken Giles appeared in just four games before eventually requiring Tommy John surgery.[[ad:athena]]

Fantasy Slants

- Teoscar Hernandez was the top performing Blue Jays player in fantasy leagues this season. With the sort of young talent on this roster, it’s safe to say that not many would have predicted that one. Hernandez’s breakout was snuffed out with an oblique strain, but he still produced a monster .289/.340/.579 batting line with 16 homers, 34 RBI, and six steals over 50 games. The 28-year-old only saw modest improvement in his strikeout rate (30.4 percent compared to 33 percent in 2019), but his BABIP moved from .293 all the way to .348. While this sounds like good luck on the surface, Hernandez was elite across the board in terms of hard-hit percentage, barrel percentage, and average exit velocity. It was also nice to see him start to take advantage of his speed. The strikeouts make it difficult to count on a high batting average moving forward, but he deserves to be taken seriously in mixed leagues.

- Bo Bichette was the highest-drafted Blue Jays player in fantasy leagues this year and he proved worthy of that by hitting .361 with five homers and a 1.063 OPS over his first 14 games before going down with a right knee sprain. The 22-year-old made his return in mid-September and batted .242.266/.355 over his final 15 games. It was a mixed bag for him, but he hasn’t done anything to hurt his standing with fantasy players for the long-term. Bichette actually had nearly as many barrels (12) in 472 pitches seen than he did in 2019 (13) on 889 pitches seen. With his across-the-board potential, he’s likely to be drafted just outside of the more established elite shortstop options again in 2020.

- No discussion on Vladimir Guerrero Jr. so far and there’s a good reason for that. Moved from third base to first base prior to the season, Guerrero only saw marginal improvement from his rookie campaign, slashing .262/.329/.462 with nine home runs and 33 RBI over 60 games. Vlad Jr. didn’t have any issues making contact and ranked among the league leaders in terms of hard-hit percentage and average exit velocity, but he actually hit the ball on the ground more often than he did in 2019. In fact, only nine qualified hitters had a higher ground ball rate. Guerrero won’t be 22 years old until next March and still has plenty of time to figure it out, but be careful about baking a breakout into his ADP (average draft position) next year.

- Cavan Biggio packed plenty of production into this truncated season, batting .250/.375/.432 with eight homers, 28 RBI, six steals, and 41 run scored over 59 games. The 25-year-old finished the year as the No. 4 ranked second base-eligible player in Yahoo leagues. Over 159 career MLB games, Biggio has put up 24 home runs, 76 RBI, 20 steals and 107 runs scored. He’s hit just .240 during that time, but it helps that he’s posted a .368 on-base percentage while getting plenty of volume at the top of Toronto’s lineup. The batting average risk might cap his overall upside, but he’s a strong contributor in the other categories and should carry multi-position eligibility into 2021.

- If you were betting against Hyun-Jin Ryu coming into 2020, you probably weren’t alone. The 33-year-old led the NL with a 2.32 ERA over 29 starts in 2019 while finishing second in the NL Cy Young Award balloting, but his injury history was an obvious red flag and he was leaving LA for the AL East. However, Ryu didn’t miss a beat with the Jays, posting a 2.69 ERA and 72/17 K/BB ratio in 67 innings across 12 starts. His walk rate nearly doubled compared to 2019, but it was still very good and he actually missed more bats in the process. It’s fair to think that last year was his peak, but he’s earned his standing as a No. 2 starter on a mixed league staff.

- The Blue Jays were hoping for big things from top prospect Nate Pearson when he made his highly-anticipated debut coming out of summer camp. He looked the part in his first start against the Nationals, but he mostly scuffled from there before going down with a flexor strain in his right elbow in mid-August. The 24-year-old was able to return in late September, throwing 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief while hitting 101.5 mph on the radar gun. He would have been able to pitch if needed in the postseason, as well. This provides some peace of mind going into the offseason and he’ll presumably be stretched out to contribute out of the rotation right away next year. The big question is what sort of innings limit Pearson might face in 2021, but that’s going to be an issue all across baseball next year. Pearson’s potential remains tantalizing.

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Key Free Agents: Taijuan Walker, Matt Shoemaker, Rafael Dolis ($1.5 million club option which will likely be picked up), Robbie Ray, Jonathan Villar, Ken Giles, Anthony Bass, Chase Anderson, Joe Panik

Team Needs: Nate Pearson will hopefully be healthy next season, but Hyun-Jin Ryu is still going to need some help in this rotation if they Blue Jays hope to contend in 2021. Adding to the bullpen should also be a priority. As for the position player side, third base figures to be a focus, at least assuming they do the right thing and commit to keeping Vlad Jr. at first base.