Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Ten random thoughts: a 2021 season review


The Toronto Blue Jays were one of the most feared teams in the MLB with an offense that scored 186 more runs  than they allowed and an offense that set a new single season franchise record for HR. Unfortunately, the Blue Jays play in arguably the most difficult division in the MLB where 4 teams topped 90 wins. The Blue Jays had 4 players with 100+ RBI (Teo 116, Vlad 111 and Marcus Semien and Bo each drove in 102 runs) Bo fell a HR short of 30 on the season, or the Blue Jays would have had 4 players with 30+ HR. Vlad narrowly missed a triple crown IN JUST HIS SECOND 162 SEASON! The starting pitchers generally did their job, consistently pitching 6 innings or more, putting less stress on the bullpen. Robbie Ray is a favorite to win the Cy Young after winning 13 games, posting a solid 2.84 ERA. Ray was also a strike out machine, getting 10+ strikeouts in ten of his starts. Hyun-Jin Ryu had a rough go with a few injuries and being ineffective, but he still managed 14 wins. Steven Matz was one of the pleasant surprises of the year, getting 14 wins and being the effective 5th starter the Blue Jays have lacked in recent years. Alek Manoah was 9-2 with a 3.22  ERA in 11 starts after his recall from AAA-ball. Jordan Romano stepped up and became the Blue Jays closer after Kirby Yates was declared out for the season with TJ surgery before the season began. Romano was 7-1 with 23 saves and a 2.14ERA. Tim Mayza beat the odds and made the team coming back from TJ surgery. He was among the most reliable lefty relievers. Here are ten random thoughts to end the season.

1. Perhaps the biggest factor to why the Blue Jays missed the playoffs is the fact they only returned to play in Toronto at the end of June. They played their first 2 month of "home" games at their spring training facility in Dunedin and in Buffalo through July 19, only returning to Toronto July 30. First of all, Dunedin and Buffalo are not meant to be used as major league facilities and are not up to major league standards. Last season, several away players were complaining about the lightning in Buffalo. Second, players were probably literally living out of suitcases with no homes in either Dunedin or Buffalo. In Toronto, the players would have at least rented an apartment to live in during the six months they were playing. Third, with the travel restrictions and the US/Canada border closed for non-essential travel, fans could not come down and watch the games, meaning the home games felt more like away games with more road fans able to attend. The Blue Jays were 10-12 in Dunedin (they lost their last 6 games in Dunedin), 9-11 in Buffalo, and 25-13 in Toronto. Barring a surge in Covid cases or a new pandemic, the Blue Jays should be playing all home games in Toronto in 2022. How many games that will be will depend on the CBA, which expires December 1, being signed. It's very possible that the players will strike or be locked out by owners.

2. Another big factor to the lost season was injuries. The injuries especially affected the bullpen, where expected closer Kirby Yates needed TJ surgery and barely threw a pitch in spring training. This meant that the Blue Jays had to figure out who was going to be reliable in the 9th (Jordan Romano eventually won the job after last year's closer Rafael Dolis blew a few games. David Phelps was another reliever expected to be called upon in high leverage situations. He made just 11 appearances in 2021 before injuring his lat and eventually needing season-ending surgery. Julian Merryweather, another reliever expected to be called on for high leverage situations, strained his oblique April 10 and didn't throw another pitch in the majors until September 10th. Nate Pearson strained his groin in spring training, made one appearance May 9 and was shut down until September 3. Hopefully the issue gets addressed in the off-season. The big off-season signing, George Springer, missed significant time with separate oblique, quad and knee injuries. Springer made his Blue Jays debut April 29 and played four games as DH before being shut down again with the quad strain. He returned to the lineup 6 weeks later and played mostly every day until he injured his knee in an awkward fall making a catch in the outfield in Seattle. He missed a couple of weeks and came back, DH'ing most of the final month of the season. If anyone could use some time off to heal/recover, it's Springer. For a few weeks, the blue Jays had a crisis behind the plate after Alejandro Kirk (oblique strain) and Danny Jansen (hamstring strain) went down at the same time. Reese McGuire made the most of his opportunity back in the bigs and now forces management to figure out the logjam at catcher. Nobody likes to use injuries as an excuse as to why they lost, but the timing of the injuries and who was hurt really impacted the team, especially the bullpen where relievers had to be used in situations they were not accustomed to. Ryu had t o adapt to throwing to a different catcher when Jansen went down. All these factors led to blowing some games that should have been won. Perhaps another factor might have been the home run jacket making the team a bit too cocky. There's a time and a place for fun. Also, look at the teams left. None of them have a stupid jacket or helmet celebrating home runs. They still celebrate in the dugout, but they don't show up other teams with a stupid jacket or get cocky.

3. Looking at the schedule, the Blue Jays were not swept in any season series, but they won just 1 of 4 vs. Washington, they lost 4 of 7 games in the last road trip and NY took 2 of 3 against the Blue Jays in the last week of the season, which effectively took away control of their destiny. There were probably 10-12 games that the bullpen blew that the Blue Jays should have won. The Blue Jays were 3-9 in extra inning games. That stat might improve next season when the MLB goes back to starting extra innings with no one on base as opposed to the current format where the runner who made the last out in the previous inning starts at 2nd base. In one run games, the Blue Jays were 15-15. The Blue Jays basically played .500 ball or a game or two over every month but September and October. I do think the Blue Jays had a run in them had they forced a game 163 with either the Yankees or Red Sox, but they would have been in tough vs. the Rays, who are the best team in the AL and favorites to make it back to the World Series

4. The Blue Jays had mixed results at the trade deadline. They acquired relievers Brad Hand, Joakim Soria, Adam Cimber and Trevor Richards. They added speedster Jarrod Dyson and lefty-bat Corey Dickerson. They paid the biggest price for Hand, who cost them a few crucial games before being DFA'd. Time was not on the Blue Jays side to work with Hand and have Pete Walker tweak some things. Hand was 0-2 with a 7.27ERA in 11 appearances for the Blue Jays. He was DFA'd August 31. Joakim Soria had a rough go with an injury and personal issues in the final 2 months of the season. He had a 7.88 ERA in 10 appearances for the Blue Jays. Soria is a UFA and it's unlikely he'll be brought back. Trevor Richards was acquired a few weeks before the trade deadline in a trade that sent Rowdy Tellez to Milwaukee. Richards was generally used in the 6th or 7th innings. In 32 appearances, Richards was 4-2 with a 3.31ERA.  Cimber had the best finish to the season and was perhaps the most trusted pitcher for Charlie Montoyo after Romano. The sidewinder was 2-2 with a 1.69 ERA and a save in 39 appearances for the Blue Jays. He should consider himself locked in as the 8th inning guy in 2022. He's under Blue Jays control for 2 more seasons. I don't see Dyson being brought back. In limited opportunity, he hit .077 in 13AB and the Blue Jays won't bring him back just to pinch run - they have other players with speed. Corey Dickerson will likely be allowed to walk with the crowded outfield, which includes Springer, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Teo and Randal Grichuk. Dickerson batted .282 with 2HR and 15RBI in 131 AB as a Blue Jay. Dickerson's main weakness is his arm in the outfield and Cavan Biggio will be back and healthy and can play RF.

5. Three Blue Jays who impressed this season:

  • Vladimir Guerrero Jr. - At the plate, Vlad had a season for the ages and the only thing that may stop him from winning the MVP award is he can't pitch. Shohei Ohtani has been great on the mound and pretty much matched Vlad at the plate. At the end of the season, Vlad led the majors in runs scored (123), total bases (363) and runs created (144). Vlad also finished tied for 1st in HR (48), 3rd in batting average (.311) and 5th in RBI (111). Vlad's going to dominate the MLB for years to come
  • Bo Bichette Son of former big-leaguer Dante Bichette, Bo is showing that he is just as good, if not better than his father. This season, Bo led the majors in stolen base %, was 2nd on the team in batting average (.298), 3rd in HR (29) and tied for 3rd in RBI (102). Defensively he had some issues with 24 errors, but he improved as the season went along.
  • Robbie Ray If there was an award for most improved player, Ray would win hands down. It's remarkable how far he's come in the 14 or so months he's been a Blue Jay. In 2020, he led the NL in walks despite only making seven starts for the Diamondbacks. This season, Ray led the majors in starts (32), ERA (2.84), innings pitched (193.1), strikeouts (248 - a career high for him), ERA+ (154) and WHIP (1.045). Ray is going to be super expensive to keep.
6. Three Blue Jays who disappointed this season:
  • Rafael Dolis - Signed at the beginning of spring training 2020, Dolis was one of the Blue Jays  better relievers in 2020, posting a 1.50ERA in 24 appearances. This season, he cost the Blue Jays several winnable games, had a 2-3 record with a  5.63 ERA in 39 appearances. He walked nearly double the number of batters than he did in 2020. Dolis was DFA'd August 18 and assigned outright to AAA after clearing waivers. Suffice to say, he will not be in the Blue Jays bullpen in 2022
  • Tyler Chatwood - Signed to a 1-year deal, it was hoped that Chatwood would be effective as a setup man. Unfortunately, he was equally as bad as Dolis and pretty much put up the numbers he did in 2020. Chatwood was 1-2 with a 5.46ERA in 30 appearances. He blew several of the winnable games and was released by the Blue Jays July 31 and signed by the Giants 5 days later.
  • Cavan Biggio - It was a rough year for Cavan Biggio, who was slowed by the injury bug. He missed time in May with a neck sprain, then he landed on the IL with back tightness August 3. To top it all off, during a rehab stint attempting to comeback from the neck sprain, Biggio sprained his UCL diving for a ball. He got into the first 2 games of October and he had a great game at the plate his first game in 2 months, going 3-4 with a run scored and an RBI. The good news is Biggio is healthy again and should be able to prep without restrictions for 2022. In 79 games, Biggio batted .224 with 7HR and 27RBI in 250AB. His value is he's a left-handed bat in a right-handed-bat-heavy lineup and he is capable of playing multiple positions
7. The big question is when the 2022 MLB season will commence. At this moment, the Blue Jays are scheduled to open the 2022 season March 31 2022 in Baltimore. However, the CBA is set to expire December 1, 2021 and there is a very real threat of either the owners locking out the players or the players going on strike, It probably doesn't bode well that tensions between ownership and the players is not great. Case in point, the MLB was the last league to announce a restart as everyone was bickering over how many games would be played (owners wanted a shorter season and players wanted as long a season as possible. The season ended up being 60 games and had several roadblocks with COVID outbreaks on several teams, including the Marlins who had their entire team catch the virus, and rainouts. There was also a lost day when most of the league boycotted August 26 in protest of the shooting of an unarmed black American Jason Blake. The last MLB strike was 1994, which led to that season ending August 11. This time, I'd expect any labor dispute would delay the start of the season. One major issue is going to be the payroll system undervaluing player performance. Players currently can't proactively increase their pay until year 3 and 5 and when they hit free agency in year 6. Another issue is low-payroll teams having little incentive to spend, given richer teams give them money. Then there's the issue of tanking. Because Baltimore had the worst record they will pick 1st overall in next year's draft. Revenue sharing by owners to players is another point of contention. Hopefully things are resolved before Mid-February when pitchers and catchers report to spring training.

8. The first big decision the Blue Jays need to make this off-season is whether to stick with Charlie Montoyo or go in a different direction. The other coaching positions will be evaluated too, but Montoyo could be the fall guy if management wants a scapegoat for missing the playoffs by one game. I just don't see how the Blue Jays don't bring Montoyo back. The Blue Jays picked up his option for next year back in March. There were plenty of extenuating circumstances with injuries, playing in three homes and players underperforming, especially the relievers. Montoyo could only work with what he had. Montoyo will be back, but if the Blue Jays get off to a slow start next year, he could be gone.

9. Finally, the Blue Jays have 9 players heading for free agency: Marcus Semien, Dolis, Ray, Steven Matz, Corey Dickerson, Kirby Yates, Joakim Soria, David Phelps and Jarrod Dyson. With the emergence of Romano as a bona fide closer, it's unlikely Yates will get an offer. Dickerson should get an offer, but a healthy Biggio offers more versatility in the field and he's also a lefty bat. Soria probably hasn't shown enough to warrant being re-signed. Phelps is coming off a major injury, so he would be a risky signing. The biggest targets will be Marcus Semien and Robbie Ray. Steven Matz would be welcomed back as well. In terms of areas of needs, the Blue Jays could use a true 3rd baseman, Santiago Espinal had the best season, but he isn't trusted by Montoyo. The Blue Jays also need to shore up the bullpen and maybe add another starter or two. There are too many catchers, so expect one of Danny Jansen, Alejandro Kirk or Reese McGuire to be moved. The expiring CBA may also impact negoatiations.

10. Blue Jay of the year: Vlad. Who else? The likely MVP of the AL who just missed a triple crown.