Fantasy Breakdown: Toronto Blue Jays for 2021

A preview of Toronto's lineup, rotation, and bullpen for 2021

As we prepare for the season ahead, the Pitcher List staff will be creating profiles for every fantasy-relevant player for 2021. Players will be broken up by team and role through starting pitchers, bullpen, lineup, and prospects. You can access every article as it comes out in our Player Profiles 2021 hub here.

 

At A Glance

 

If the 2020 season marked a new chapter for the Toronto Blue Jays, the signing of George Springer solidified it. Toronto returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2016 in the expanded 2020 format after promoting their young core and upgrading their pitching with the signing of Hyun-Jin Ryu.

Toronto is expected to take yet another step this year, but many questions remain for the 2021 Toronto club, and most of them orbit around Vlad Guerrero Jr. The 21-year-old seems set on playing third base this year, but Toronto’s management has been mum on his defensive position, focusing more on his conditioning and the potential hitting breakout that it could unlock. Last year, Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette, Teoscar Hernández, and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. carried the load of one of the sneakiest offenses in baseball that scored the third-most runs in the American League. If the additions of Springer and Marcus Semien, and a potential jump from Guerrero Jr. elevate the team further, Toronto could become one of the most potent offenses for fantasy owners to draw from.

On the other side of the ball, the Blue Jays pitching was remarkably average in 2020. An unexpectedly effective bullpen headed by Ken Giles (then Jordan Romano, then Anthony Bass, and finally Rafael Dolis) helped mask a rotation that failed to pitch deep into games. Behind ace Ryu, Toronto didn’t have a single starter reach 50 innings pitched. While the bullpen reliance and quick starter hook helped Toronto break into the playoffs in 2020, it won’t be sustainable for 162 games.

 

Hitters

By Mitch Bannon

 

Projected Lineup

 

 

Infielders

 

Rowdy Tellez (1B)

2020: 20 R, 8 HR, 23 RBI, 0 SB, .283/.346/.540| 1B #35

2021 ADP: 263.31 (1B #27)

Tellez may be the forgotten breakout of 2020. He has red flags — playing time, injury, and sample size concerns — but if Tellez can produce close to his 2020 level he should have no problem forcing his way into the Blue Jay lineup and onto your fantasy team. Tellez set career highs in BA, OBP, SLG, and basically every other rate statistic (minimum 100 PA) in 2020.

In his third MLB season, and second ‘full’ year, Tellez cut his K% in nearly half, dropping the rate from 28.4% to 15.7% from 2019 to 2020. For a player whose biggest batting profile flaw was swings and misses, the 64th percentile Whiff% he had last season will certainly play. Aside from the average walk-rate, most of Tellez’s Savant hitting metrics were great, if not elite. Where Guerrero Jr. ends up defensively may dictate Tellez’s playing time, but he will, at the very least, slot into the lineup against right-handed pitching, against which he had a .910 OPS in 2020.

 

Vlad Guerrero Jr. (1B)

2020: 34 R, 9 HR, 33 RBI, 1 SB, .262/.329/.462| 1B #13

2021 ADP: 57.49 (1B #5)

 

Guerrero Jr. is, once again, one of the most interesting and polarizing fantasy options in 2021, and he will remain so until we find out who he really is. Despite seasons of .772 and .791 OPS, both Steamer and Depth Charts projections have Vlad Jr. as a .890 OPS hitter in 2021. He was one of the most highly touted hitting prospects in recent memory, and, thus far, he hasn’t lived up to the hype. Every swing change and weight fluctuation has been overanalyzed and used to project the seemingly inevitable Guerrero Jr. breakout, but ultimately, his fantasy value will come down to consistency.

In Guerrero Jr.’s two-year career, he has had four months with an OPS below .700 and four months with an OPS above .800. His career mark of .778 is not projectable because it is simply an aggregate of the roller coaster ride that has been his constant adjustments and re-adjustments.. Maybe 2021 will give us an idea of what the true Guerrero Jr. will be?

 

Cavan Biggio (2B, 3B, OF)

2020: 41 R, 8 HR, 28 RBI, 6 SB, .250/.375/.432| 2B #4

2021 ADP: 56.9 (2B #14)

 

When the Alex Anthopoulos-led Blue Jays were in the middle of acquiring Troy Tulowitzki and David Price to transform the team and push for the 2015 playoffs, Toronto was close to acquiring another player they long coveted: Ben Zobrist.

Zobrist was a versatile defender who played primarily second base with an elite walk rate and solid power totals. In Biggio, the Jays may have finally found their Zobrist. Biggio had the 12th highest walk rate in the league last year (15.5%), raised his batting average to .250, and posted a wRC+ of 127. He was the Jays most productive hitter that played the entire season and one of the most effective leadoff men in baseball. With his ability to play second, third, corner outfield, and maybe elsewhere, Biggio will get consistent top-of-the-lineup at-bats regardless of what moves the Jays make.

 

Marcus Semien (2B, SS)

2020: 28 R, 7 HR, 23 RBI, 4 SB, .223/.305/.374| SS #28

2021 ADP: 151.3 (SS #21)

 

Semien is just the latest in a laundry list of big names that the Blue Jays have been attached to or ultimately signed this winter. A traditional shortstop who has elevated his defensive game in recent years, Semien is expected to move over and become Toronto’s every day second basemen. Where that leaves Biggio and Guerrero Jr. is a question, but the potential upside of Semien is not.

Semien posted just a .679 OPS in 2020, the lowest of his Oakland Athletics career, but that came a year removed from an MVP-calibre 2019. In ’19, Semien hit .285, reached a career high in walk-rate, and hit 33 homers in the large Athletics ballpark. While Semien’s 2020 production is concerning, his .707 OPS and .340 OBP in September and October 2020 showed signs of progression back to his career averages. In Toronto’s deep lineup, Semien has the upside and opportunity to be one of the best middle infield value plays in 2021.

 

Bo Bichette (SS)

2020: 18 R, 5 HR, 23 RBI, 4 SB, .301/.328/.512| SS #24

2021 ADP: 20.9 (SS #5)

 

Rising through the Blue Jays farm system the focus was always on the pair — Vlad and Bo. They adorned Baseball America together, were continuously promoted side-by-side, and were seen (often alongside Biggio) as the future core. In the final weeks of 2019, and during the 2020 season, Bichette became, by himself, the guy. Bichette beat Guerrero Jr. to the majors and flourished when he got there.

Despite swinging at almost every hittable pitch, Bichette posted a 127 OPS+ in 2020. Though he missed time mid-season with a right knee injury, Bichette is now the anchor of the Blue Jays lineup. In a 162-game season, a healthy Bichette would have flirted with a 30 homer, 20 steal season in 2020, and there is no indication he won’t become a premier fantasy shortstop who contributes across categories.

 

Danny Jansen (C)

2020: 18 R, 6 HR, 20 RBI, 0 SB, .183/.313/.358 | C #19

2021 ADP: 309.3 (C # 18)

 

Jansen has played parts of three seasons in the big leagues, and his OPS has been over .675 in just one of them (a 30 game sample size in 2020).  A glance behind the scenes or a look at projection systems seem to indicate he has some offensive potential, however. Jansen posted a 89 wRC+ in 2020 despite a .183 average and a .190 BABIP. His production was carried by a 14.3% walk-rate and a ISO of .175.

If Jansen maintains his BB% and has his batted-ball luck tick up to a more sustainable .260 or .270, he could build on a shortened 2020 and breakout in 2021. Jansen’s ceiling is likely a league average hitter, but if he can be that — combined with the defensive talent that will ensure him consistent playing time — he can be a rosterable fantasy catcher in every format.

 

Alejandro Kirk (C)

2020: 4 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 0 SB, .375/.400/.583 | C #51

2021 ADP: 329.3 (C # 21)

 

Kirk broke on to the scene late last season and won the baseball world over with his low stance, girth, and timely hits. As spectacular as they were, what are we to take from his nine games and 25 plate appearances in 2020? THE BAT, Depth Charts, and Steamer projection systems seem to be buying in. The BAT is the most pessimistic on Kirk, projecting a .267/.347/.434 slash line and 14 homers across 109 games played.

If Kirk earns that playing time and produces at that rate, he will surely be a starting fantasy catcher in 2021. Issues arise when you try to see where that projected playing time will come from. Jansen hasn’t produced at the plate in his young MLB career, but he is still a fantastic framer and will earn the bulk of playing time at catcher. Kirk could split time at DH and catcher, but if Guerrero Jr. sticks at first base (bumping Tellez to DH) Kirk could be reduced to backup and pinch-hitting roles.

 

Outfielders

 

George Springer (OF)

2020: 37 R, 14 HR, 32 RBI, 1 SB, .265/.359/.540 | OF #24

2021 ADP: 55.7 (OF #15)

 

Much like Ryu in 2020, Springer was a name constantly linked to the Blue Jays in free agency but never seemed like a reality until it was. Springer signed a six-year $150 million deal that may keep him in Toronto for the remainder of his MLB career and will position him as the cornerstone hitter in Toronto’s lineup.

Both Toronto and fantasy owners know what they are getting from him — a high batting average, elite walk rate, 40-homer potential, and a handful of steals — the biggest question for him and his new team is where to position Springer in the lineup. He has hit over 75% of his MLB plate appearances at the leadoff spot, but with other high on-base players like Biggio on the Blue Jays, Springer’s bat could be more impactful at the two or three hole.

 

Teoscar Hernández (OF)

2020: 33 R, 16 HR, 34 RBI, 6 SB, .289/.340/.579 | OF #7

2021 ADP: 69.4 (OF #19)

 

Hernández had always shown the potential to be an elite MLB hitter and a centerpiece of the Blue Jays lineup. He posted a .818 OPS in the first half of 2018 and a .929 OPS in the second half of 2019, but he had never put an entire season together. Shortened season aside, it all came together for Hernández in 2020. Despite missing the last 10 games of the season with an injury, Hernández led the Blue Jays in HR (16), OPS (.919), hit .289, and was second in stolen bases (six).

The question for fantasy owners becomes if 2020 was just another couple of hot months, or was it the breakout season. The .348 2020 babip shows there is some room for regression, but, according to Baseball Savant, Hernández has all the makings of a premier power hitter: 98th percentile for exit velocity, 96th for hard-hit rate, 98th for Barrel %, and 92nd in expected batting average.

 

Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (OF)

2020: 28 R, 11 HR, 33 RBI, 3 SB, .308/.348/.534 | OF #20

2021 ADP: 87.1 (OF #23)

 

With a full count in the bottom of the seventh (and final) inning, Gurriel Jr. reached out over the plate and slapped a ball towards the left field hole. The ball chopped over the Phillies’ third basemen and Hernández trotted home to secure the August walk-off win. It was the Jays fourth win in a row — the middle of a seven-game win streak that brought the team to and above .500 for the second time in 2020, and the beginning of Gurriel Jr.’s strong finish.

In September and October, the Blue Jay left fielder slashed .368/.394/.653 and his 1.2 WAR finished as the fourth-highest mark on the team. From a fantasy perspective, Gurriel does a bit of everything, and he does it well. A 162 pace would have had Gurriel register 30 homers, eight steals, and 90 RBI in 2020. He played almost every day and was one of the few Blue Jays with platoon splits that improved against right-handed pitching. If Gurriel isn’t traded to address pitching, he will hit in the middle of one of the most dynamic lineups in baseball in 2021.

 

Randal Grichuk (OF)

2020: 38 R, 12 HR, 35 RBI, 1 SB, .273/.312/.481 | OF #19

2021 ADP: 187.9 (OF #50)

 

Grichuk finished as the third most valuable outfielder on the Blue Jays, but there was a time when he was Toronto’s big 2020 breakout. In July and August Grichuk had an OPS over .900, and in August alone he had nine of his 12 2020 homers and 23 of his 35 RBI. In September and October, however, Grichuk hit only .245 and posted an OPS of .646. At the end of the season, Grichuk finished with a .793 OPS, just a touch higher than his career average, and two hot months to start the season were forgotten.

After adding Springer, Grichuk and the $33 million remaining on his contract may be on the trade block. But, if Grichuk stays, he’ll have to prove his teases of a breakout are more than just hot streaks if he wants to remain in Toronto’s long-term plans.

 

Watch List Considerations

 

Though the Jays have a handful of upper-round talent, they don’t have any bench or part-time players who will make an impact on your fantasy team. Toronto’s 2020 backup catcher Reese McGuire (C) could poach some playing time if the Jays opt to start Kirk in AAA, and prospect Gabriel Moreno (C) could move through the system quickly, but neither project to factor into 2021 fantasy seasons.

 

 

Starting Pitchers

By Hunter Denson

 

Hyun-Jin Ryu (Locked In Starter)

2020: 5-2, 67 IP, 72 K, 2.69 ERA, 1.15 WHIP | SP # 21

2021 ADP: 76.68 (P# 28)

Repertoire: 27.8% Changeup, 24.2% Cutter, 24.1% Fastball, 13.3% Curveball, 10.6% Sinker

 

I doubt most people realize just how good Ryu has been over the past three seasons. He owns a 2.30 ERA and 1.04 WHIP over that period, ranking second and eighth among qualified starters respectively. His 20.3% K-BB% also ranks 18th overall for that period. The interesting thing about Ryu is that he performs at such a high level despite having no offerings with an average velocity of 90 MPH or above.

He has five pitches with a +10% usage rate and leans on excellent command to limit quality contact (29.2% Hard Hit% & 3.2% Barrel% in 2020) and generate positive outcomes (51.1% GB% in 2020). It bears mentioning that he has consistently out-performed advanced metrics (3.26 xFIP, 3.61 SIERA) since 2018, though not to a worrying degree. Ryu should continue to be a Top-25 arm in 2021. The only potential concerns are age (34 in March) and health (Ryu has topped 100 IP twice in five seasons).

 

Nate Pearson (Likely Starter)

2020: 1-0, 18 IP, 16 K, 6.00 ERA, 1.50 WHIP | SP # 196

2021 ADP: 261.83 (P# 99)

Repertoire: 50.6% Fastball, 36.1% Slider, 6.8% Changeup, 6.5% Curveball

 

Injuries and other matters limited Pearson to 18 IP in 2020. He struggled during his outings, though most of his problems were related to command and control. Pearson owns a devastating fastball (70 grade per Fangraphs) that hits the upper-90’s with regularity and a wicked slider that lives in the mid-’80s. His changeup, though still developing, also has the look of a legitimate weapon.

He has the pedigree and stuff to become an upper-tier starter and will get a shot at a spot in the rotation, despite some existing obstacles. One worry is his lack of innings (101.2 IP in 2019, 18 IP in 2020). Will his arm hold up in the rotation? Or, would it be wiser to start him off in a bullpen or hybrid role before turning him loose? The answers to those questions will determine his 2021 value, though he should provide good production either way.

 

Robbie Ray (Locked In Starter)

2020: 2-5, 51.2 IP, 68 K, 6.62 ERA, 1.90 WHIP | SP # 284

2021 ADP: 341.19 (P# 128)

Repertoire: 47.3% Fastball, 30.5% Slider, 15.8% Curveball, 3.7% Sinker, 2.8% Changeup

 

The Jays acquired Ray at the trade deadline last season, sending lefty Travis Bergen to the Arizona Diamondbacks in return. His time with Toronto was not spectacular (4.79 ERA & 1.74 WHIP in 20.2 IP) but was enough for them to re-sign Ray to a one-year, $8m deal and pencil him into their rotation plans.

Let’s start with some positive things about Ray. He strikes out a lot of batters. Since 2016, his lowest K% is last year’s 27.1%, and he ranks seventh overall in that metric for the past three seasons. He has also routinely posted high SwStr%’s, including a Top 20 mark among starters (at least 50 IP) last seasom (12.6% SwStr%).

Unfortunately, few positives exist outside of that. Ray walked 17.9% of batters faced in 2020, marking his fourth-straight season with a +10% BB%. He continued to yield home runs at a high rate (18.6% HR/FB%) and owns the worst HR/FB% rate among starters over the past three seasons (at least 300 IP). He simply yields too much quality contact (13.1% Barrel%, 46% Hard Hit% in 2020), especially with his fastball. Barring an adjustment in his pitch mix, his shortcomings limit his fantasy potential, despite the high strikeout production.

 

Ross Stripling (Locked In Starter)

2020: 3-3, 49.1 IP, 40 K, 5.84 ERA, 1.50 WHIP | SP # 209

2021 ADP: 458.81 (P# 176)

Repertoire: 43.6% Fastball, 23.9% Curveball, 17.3% Changeup, 14.8% Slider, 0.4% Sinker

 

Stripling had an odd 2020, managing to be part of two trades in one season while only changing teams once. He and Joc Pederson were part of an eventually-aborted spring training deal to the Los Angeles Angels before Toronto actually acquired him at the trade deadline in August. It is easy to see why other teams were interested in the righty. From 2016 – 2019 he excelled in a swing-man role, appearing in 136 games (52 starts) and generating a 3.51 ERA alongside a 1.20 WHIP.

He struggled to maintain that performance in 2020, posting a 5.84 ERA (4.96 SIERA) and seeing large drop-offs in other metrics (-6.9% K%, -3.2% SwStr%, +2.8% BB%). Hopefully, a fresh start in the Jays rotation will right the ship. The main question is whether Stripling can successfully navigate an order three or more times in one outing. There is a gap in his performance as a starter (4.01 ERA, 1.25 WHIP) and as a reliever (3.26 ERA, 1.19 WHIP), though nothing suggesting he will not be a serviceable starter.

 

Tanner Roark (Fringe Starter)

2020: 2-3, 47.2 IP, 41 K, 6.80 ERA, 1.74 WHIP | SP # 288

2021 ADP: 734.71 (P# 344)

Repertoire: 31.6% Fastball, 22.9% Sinker, 23.9%, 17.9% Slider, 14.8% Curveball, 12.9% Changeup

 

Roark barely missed posting the second-worst ERA among starters in 2020 (min. 40 IP), sliding in just under fellow rotation-mate Robbie Ray (6.86 ERA) at 6.80 (5.36 SIERA). His walks (+3.4%) and HRA (+4.8% HR/FB%) went up, his velocity went down (-1.3 MPH Fastball), and he struggled to get ahead (-4.9% F-Strike%). None of that is good, though the loss in velocity stands out. Roark has a tenuous grasp on a rotation spot, but there is not much to like in his profile. Barring a rebound in performance, he has the chance to be the first man out if his struggles continue into 2021.

 

Watch List Considerations

 

Given the questions surrounding some of the rotation options, the Blue Jays will be on the lookout for others who might fit well onto their staff. Most of their current options are not worth consideration in all but the largest formats, however. Steven Matz will fight for the fifth rotation spot coming off the worst year of his career. Matz posted a 9.68 ERA in 2020, but it came with some positives: the best K-BB of his career (18.3%), his best SIERA since 2016 (4.05), an absolutely insane 37.8% HR/FB that is more than twice anything he’s registered before, and the 8th worst LOB% in the game (min 30 IP).

Thomas Hatch is one arm who could make some noise. He has three league-average offerings and good velocity (Fastball – 95.5 MPH, Slider – 88 MPH). Tyler Chatwood is another. While Chatwood is likely headed to the bullpen, he has started for most of his career and could step in should one of the above options struggle. Aside from those two, upcoming prospect Simeon Woods-Richardson offers the most potential to make an impact in the 2021 rotation at some point. Given the free agent rumblings surrounding the Jays these days, I expect another arm (perhaps James Paxton?) to be added before spring training. 

 

Relief Pitchers

By Mitch Bannon

 

Bullpen Roles

 

Kirby Yates (Closer)

2020: 2 SV, 1 HLD, 4.1 IP, 8 K, 12.46 ERA, 2.538 WHIP | RP 5

2021 ADP: 212 (P# 77)

 

Coming into 2020, Yates was seen as arguably the best relief pitcher in baseball. He led the MLB in saves in 2019, posted a 1.19 ERA, and came ninth in NL Cy Young voting. His 2020, however, was a disaster. Yates missed almost all of the season with stints of elbow issues and back soreness then ultimately ended his season with surgery and a 12.5 ERA. Yates comes to Toronto on a one-year deal to prove he is still the reliable shutdown arm he was in 2018 and 2019, and he will be given every opportunity to showcase himself. The Blue Jays have indicated they are trying to build a Rays-style super bullpen, so Yates may not carry the name of closer during the 2021 season,

 

Rafael Dolis (Set-Up)

2020: 5 SV, 7 HLD, 24 IP, 31 K, 1.50 ERA, 1.250 WHIP | RP # 25

2021 ADP: 395.1 (P# 149)

 

In his first major league work since 2013, Dolis allowed runs in his first two appearances. After eight games, Dolis had a 4.7 ERA and had walked almost as many batters as he struck out. Two months later, Dolis was the Blue Jays closer, striking out 14 batters in his last seven innings, and leading Toronto into the playoffs.

In the ultimate short sample size that was 2020, Dolis was one of the few players who was able to overcome early struggles and change the narrative of his season. It was a no-brainer for the Blue Jays to pick up Dolis’ $2.5 million 2021 option, and, barring any more major bullpen additions, he comes into 2020 with a set-up role to lose.

 

Jordan Romano (Set-Up)

2020: 2 SV, 5 HLD, 14.2 IP, 21 K, 1.23 ERA, .886 WHIP | RP # 43

2021 ADP: 223.8 (P# 80)

 

Alongside the Montreal-born Guerrero Jr., Romano was one of the only Canadians on the 2020 Blue Jays roster. Objectively, 2020 was Romano’s breakout, but buying into the 27-year-old for next year comes with risk.

Romano became the Jays’ closer for just a few days in August before his season was ended by a finger injury. Though he is expected to be healthy for 2021, his 1.23 ERA in 2020 came in a smaller sample size than his 2019 7.63 ERA. His career 1.8 HR/9 and 4.8 FIP are scary, but he has always shown the ability to strike people out. Romano’s 21 strikeouts in 2020 will catch the eye of anyone drafting in a deep or holds league, but for the ADP cost of almost 200 picks before Dolis the value is questionable.

 

Watch List Considerations

 

The Blue Jays churned through closers in 2020, starting with Ken Giles, transitioning to Anthony Bass, giving Romano the job briefly, and finishing the season with Dolis in the role. The Jays’ most effective reliever who didn’t receive a save attempt in 2020 was left-hander Ryan Borucki (MR). Borucki struck out 11.3 per-nine last year and was particularly effective against left-handed batters, allowing just four hits all season to the weak side of the platoon. The newly added Chatwood (MR) could also factor in pitching out of the pen in 2021, but his effectiveness and usage are both largely unknown.

 

ADP data taken from FantasyPros composite ADPs.

2019 Positional Rankings from Razzball’s 12-team Player Rater (ESPN).

Mitch Bannon

Mitch is a sports writer from Toronto who has covered college and professional football, basketball, hockey, and baseball. He is a defender of the oxford comma and card-carrying member of the J.A. Happ fan club.

  • Avatar Shawnuel says:

    I assume, with a 15.5% walk rate, that Biggio’s OBP is .375 and not .275?

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