I very much enjoy the Toronto Blue Jays. Boasting some of the league’s top young talent and a front office willing to supplement it with marquee names (Kevin Gausman, Matt Chapman, George Springer) earns you a certain level of respect in today’s Major League climate. There’s a certain level of swagger that draws you in, even if they haven’t quite been able to keep up with the top of the American League quite yet.
There are some obvious things about this team. Alek Manoah is a horse. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is a power factory. Bo Bichette is streaky as h*ck. They’re a little bit top-heavy, too. But in between the stars on both sides of the ball is enough nuance that helps to see beyond their status as fantasy darlings.
Key Stat: Improvements in plate discipline.
It stands to question whether Jansen will be a Blue Jay in 2023, as Toronto has already indicated a willingness to deal from their catching depth. But with the dearth of catchers that provide offensive upside, Jansen made himself just interesting enough to land on the list of sleepers here.
That interest is largely due to an enhanced approach that made him a much more consistent threat at the plate for Toronto in 2022. He was able to lay off pitches outside the strike zone, dropping both his O-Sw% and overall Swing%. That resulted in an increased ability to make contact while whiffing at a lower clip overall.
The results made Jansen into a consistent on-base threat (.339 OBP) while providing more power than many of his comrades behind the dish. His .256 ISO trailed only Cal Raleigh among catchers with at least 240 plate appearances. His Barrel% jumped up from 8.6 percent in 2021 to 13.1 in 2022, while 33.0 percent of his contact made its way to the middle of the field. This guy has a presence at the plate now, with the improved approach manifesting itself in heavy on-base and increasing power production. If it’s not Jansen who ends up moved for pitching, the opportunities should increase pretty steadily in the absence of a third of Toronto’s catching corps.
Key Stat: A .328 BABIP against.
I refuse to believe that José Berríos went from one of the game’s steadiest innings-eating starters to Actually Bad in just a short time in Toronto. The repertoire hasn’t changed and the velocity differences have been marginal, at worst. But after turning in easily the worst year of his career, it’s clear that something in Berríos’ game is begging for improvement moving forward.
The answer, more than anything, likely boils down to command. Because the usage and velocity didn’t change much. Nor did the spin rates. And so there isn’t anything specifically wrong with what Berríos is throwing. It’s where it’s ending up. And not even so much where it’s ending up in that he’s dropping it into a hitter’s sweet spot. Berríos’ SweetSpot% rose by just 1.1 percent from 2021 to 2022. He’s just not generating the punchouts. His 7.80 per nine was his worst mark since his rookie campaign in 2016. Then, there’s this:
Opposing hitters were more aggressive against Berríos than in previous years. That likely feeds into the lack of strikeouts, as he wasn’t working deep enough counts to put hitters in a position to strike out, let alone post them at a decent clip. It could speak to some slight command issues or less movement. He did pin himself to his arm side a lot more in 2022 (46.1 aLoc%). So perhaps working more horizontally could be part of the plan to get him back trending up in 2022.
Let’s not underscore the “luck” component here, either. Berríos was touched with a .328 BABIP this year, even without opposing hitters jumping up their quality of contact against him. Even a slightly improved level of command could pay dividends for Berríos. Which is important. Many are going to look at the ERA and those other glaring, obvious categories, scoff, and move on. But given his history and the fact that many of the underlying mechanics/trends remain the same, Berríos could very easily return to the previous version of himself.
Key Stat: His entire month of July vs…everything else.
I love Matt Chapman. That combination of elite defense and power potential makes for exciting stuff. And Matt Chapman showcased a much better version of himself in his first year in Toronto than his last year in Oakland. Most notably, he cut down on the strikeouts and increased the contact. Those are…objectively good things. But I can’t help but think about the fact that the overall numbers turned in from Chapman are buoyed very generously by an outrageous July.
Chapman is very likely part of the Next Tier of third sackers, after the Manny Machado, Nolan Arenado, José Ramírez, and Austin Riley Contingent. If we lump Alex Bregman and Rafael Devers in there, as well, he leads the rest of the group. But that 2022 is filled with so many outliers. His June looked decent, too. But between all of that was a mixed walk rate, a skyrocketing strikeout rate, and a notable absence of power.
When I was with RotoGraphs in 2017, I wrote about Chapman’s “all-or-nothing” tendencies. When I was with Beyond the Box Score in 2021, I essentially referred to him as a smaller Joey Gallo. As much as I love the type of skill set that Chapman possesses, I just don’t find him to be a particularly trustworthy player. This is unfortunate because Chapman exists in that void between the elite and the subpar third basemen and could lead prospective managers to shoehorn themselves into thinking that something resembling consistency could emerge from his bat. It probably won’t.
Key Stat: The things underneath the surface.
Jordan Romano’s 2022 numbers were very good.
The only problem is that he likely outperformed what should have been expected. His xERA came in at 3.11, his xFIP sat at 3.45, and his strikeout rate was quite a bit lower than it was in 2021 (33.6 percent). He also stranded far fewer baserunners than in 2021 (80.4 percent against 87.4 in 2021). Velocity & spin were down ever-so-slightly. He also induced less weak contact (just 3.3 percent) and surrendered more in the sweet spot (29.9) than you’re likely comfortable with from your closer.
The struggle with Romano is that he posted 36 saves, good for fourth-best in the league among closers. That’s going to put him high on draft boards among ninth-inning guys. But the underlying stuff there certainly has him teetering on the edge of trustworthiness in that role. If it goes bad on a given night, or over a certain stretch, it could go very poorly for Romano, given the downward trends in 2022.
Of course, it should be noted that the inconsistency of the Toronto offense had him working at a knife’s edge each time out. Perhaps more space to breathe could lead to him maintaining the same type of output, from a save standpoint, even if the underlying stuff leads to regression. Regardless, the Blue Jays’ status as contenders will remain intact, and Romano will at least continue to get the ball in the ninth for the foreseeable future. So while the role isn’t in question, the stability certainly could be.
Photos by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)