Blue Jays Report Card

Thursday, October 01 2020 @ 03:00 AM EDT

Contributed by: Magpie

When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.
   --- Hunter S. Thompson

Well yeah. Everything is very weird indeed, and it's going to stay weird for the foreseeable future.

I'm not particularly optimistic that teams will report to spring training next February as in years past, and they'll start playing games in stadiums full of people by the beginning of April. I just don't see it happening. I think there's roughly as good a chance that the republic to the south will have fractured into three or four separate entities by then (don't you think Texas will want to go solo? I do.).

These are strange and disturbing times we live in, and  two months of baseball really doesn't tell us much about anything.

But we persist, do we not?

The grades, as always, are extracted from somewhere in the vicinity of my nether regions. There is not, there never has been, there never will be, anything even remotely scientific about it. They mean something like this, more or less:
A - Outstanding (in the Awards discussion)
B - Good (maybe even an All-Star, who knows)
C - Average (generic regular)
D - Below Average (replacement level, bench part, something like that)
E - Fail (probably belongs in the minors)
F - Epic Fail (this man needs to make a new career choice)

The cutoff, as is my custom, was 50 plate appearances for the hitters and either 10 appearances or 20 IP for the pitchers. So I have nothing to say about Brandon Drury, Reese McGuire, Derek Fisher, Jonathan Davis, Alejandro Kirk, Nate Pearson, Ross Stripling, Julian Merryweather, T.J. Zeuch, Sean Reid-Foley, Patrick Murphy, etc. etc. etc. With the exceptions of Drury and McGuire, I think all of those players showed us something worth having in their brief time on the diamond. I still don't think Davis can hit enough to even be a fourth outfielder, however much I wish I was wrong about that.  I'm damn sure Derek Fisher will never be anything but a DH, and it will have to be for someone else. But that's more or less what I believed about them a year ago. These samples were too small for even myself to contemplate, and seeing as how no one walking the earth values the small sample more than me, they must be too small for the rest of you as well.

First the management:

B   Charlie Montoyo
The Jays played .533 ball in this fragment of a season, which would work out to 86-76 over a full campaign. Seeing as how they lost 95 games just one year ago, this leap forward is going to earn Charlie Montoyo some Manager of the Year votes. Not mine (Rick Renteria, by a hair over Kevin Cash), and certainly not enough to win, but some. At this point, we can see that Montoyo has helped build a very positive team culture. He's got a team that likes to play together and plays hard. It matters. They don't always play particularly smart, but that's the nature of young players and this was as young a group as the Jays have put on the field since their Expansion Days. And young players will make mistakes. You just have to live with it, and help them learn from them. As to what type of game manager Montoyo is or will be, it's still hard to say. This was just his second year as a major league manager. It was the first time he'd had a decent team to work with, and the season itself was so weird that he was probably doing a lot of things he wouldn't do in a normal season, particularly with his pitchers. The team stole more bases than the average AL team, but only Oakland had fewer guys get caught stealing. Only one team in the league laid down more sac bunts - but all but one of the sac bunts came from his two catchers, neither of whom was able to crack the Mendoza Line. Everybody bunts with the guys who can't actually hit. Mark Belanger led the AL in sac bunts twice while playing for Earl Freaking Weaver, and Belanger was never as bad with the bat as Jansen and McGuire were this year. What else? Well, Montoyo used about an average number of pinch-hitters - unfortunately, his pinch-hitters were just dreadful. Teoscar went 2-3, the rest of them went 2-27. Montoyo does like to get his whole roster involved, and maybe that does pay off when you run into injuries. As you will. It's nice if the guys on the bench haven't been overcome by rust.

B+   Ross Atkins
He's taken an awful lot of abuse, hasn't he? Maybe a little respect wouldn't be completely out of line. It took Atkins four long years to completely dismantle the team he inherited and replace it with a new one. This was mainly because he took his sweet bloody time getting around to it, of course, far longer than may have been advisable. But he did inherit a first place team. It was a pretty old first place team, but it's hard to just throw those things on the woodpile. Even heading into 2019, Smoak, Stroman, and Pillar were still in the lineup from the 2015 group. They're all gone now though, and in his fifth year on the job Atkins' team -and it's definitely his team now -  is going to the post-season. Hey, that's quicker than Gillick or Anthopoulos were able to manage and we need not speak of Ash or Ricciardi. (Technically, of course, Atkins went to the post-season with his very first Toronto team, but that was the group he inherited from Anthopoulos. We're not going to count that.) Someone needs to give him his due, and I'm willing. His team is incredibly young, they're already pretty good, and there's more young talent in the pipeline. Atkins (and Shapiro) have always emphasized that they want to build something sustainable -  a contender with a longer shelf life than the 2015 gang, as much fun as they were. It's baseball, and youneverknow, but good times might be coming. It's now conceivable. You can begin to see how it would happen.

And the players:

A   Hyun-Jin Ryu
I think it took some guts for Atkins to invest $80 million dollars for the age 33-36 years of a guy who'd lost two and a half of the previous five seasons to injury. And moreover was someone who'd made his bones pitching in Dodger Stadium, a place where all sorts of career ne'er-do-wells had been able to do convincing imitations of legitimate major league pitchers. So let's right now acknowledge that Bauxites scottt, Mike Green, Shoeless Joe and SK in NJ all said, well before it happened, that going after Ryu would be an excellent idea and that it would be worth the probable overpay that would be required. So far, so good, fellas because Ryu's first year couldn't have gone much better. He never got blown out - he was able to keep his team in the game even on those rare occasions when he didn't pitch all that well. And man, absolutely nothing fazed him. Errors? Bad calls? Random misfortune? Water off a duck's back. He just kept pitching. I need to get five outs this inning? No big deal. I'll get the five outs. Right up until his unfortunate start against the Rays in the playoffs. C'est la guerre.

A   Rafael Dolis
This past off-season, Atkins brought in four RH relievers in their early 30s to replenish his bullpen. He hit on three of them. One of them (Yamaguchi) was a stinker, true - but two of them (Bass and Cole) were just fine and one of them - Dolis - was really good. Dolis was really good despite walking loads of guys, which is a neat trick. He gets away with it because he's very stingy with the hits and he gave up just one home run. He's always been able to keep the ball in the yard, wherever he's pitched. He walked and struck out far more batters in the AL than he ever did in Japan, but the ball always stays in the park, wherever he's working. And just to put a cherry on top - he inherited 14 baserunners and allowed just two of them to score, which is pretty impressive. Plus, he looks almost as relaxed out there as my old hero Tony Castillo. The Jays have a $1.5 million team option for next year, and exercising it is surely a no-brainer.

A-   Teoscar Hernandez
Atkins got him in exchange for two months of Francisco Liriano at the deadline in 2017 and that's starting to look like a fairly decent transaction. Yeah, some of it was done with mirrors. A BABiP of .348 simply isn't likely to repeat itself. But the power was always for real. Besides, the fact that the goodness was done at all is a always a certifiably swell thing. It helped the ball club, you get points for that. Teoscar has made a little progress reducing his strikeouts. That absolutely needed to happen, it was non-negotiable - the strikeouts have always threatened to simply swallow up his offense. A little more progress in that area would be welcome indeed. He's still not a good outfielder, but he seemed to do less damage in RF than he did left or centre and it does put his fine arm to better use. Arbitration eligible this winter. I imagine he's about to become a millionaire.

A-   Ryan Borucki
Borucki showed a lot of promise as a starter back in 2018, but since turning pro he's lost almost all of three entire seasons (2013, 2015, 2019) to injury. It's the kind of thing that makes me suspect that his arm simply isn't up to the demands of being a starting pitcher. So it's nice that he was so good at the job they gave him instead.

A-   Tom Hatch
Hatch was acquired for two months of David Phelps and cash at the deadline last year. That's also pretty nice work if you ask me. He's always been a starter - this was basically the first time he'd ever worked out of a bullpen - and at some point I think we're going to have to find out if he's a major league starter.

A-   Jordan Romano
That was really impressive. It was just 14.2 IP, but it was really impressive.

B+   Bo Bichette
It made pretty obvious sense to get Bichette out of the leadoff spot. He walks about as often as  Damaso Garcia did, and while we all loved Damo he was no one's idea of a leadoff hitter. (Well, no one except his Hall of Fame manager. Go figure.) These guys aren't really the ones who are going to start the rally for you. However, and unlike Damaso, young Bo hits with real power. Bichette has now played 75 MLB games. He's hit 27 doubles, 16 HRs, and drawn 19 walks. He doesn't start the trouble. He finishes the trouble. It's kind of a law - guys who hit more doubles than draw walks ought to be batting with people already on base.

B   Cavan Biggio
There are probably days when Biggio's the least talented athlete on the field, but he might be one of the smartest players ever to wear the uniform, him and Vernon and Robbie. He just knows how to do everything. Which is how he's able to extract every drop of potential value out of the talent he does have. He knows the difference between a ball and a strike. He knows how to play whatever position you put him at, and he's now started games at no less than six different positions. He knows when he can take an extra base, when he can't, and when he shouldn't. (He made just one out on the bases, and it was at home so I'm blaming Luis Rivera for the send.) He's now got a full season's worth of games in and he still hasn't been caught stealing (he's 20 for 20.) He's a baseball player. He also seems to have emerged as a team leader, the guy all the other young guys (and some of the older ones, remarkably enough) look to.

B   Lourdes Gurriel
He's a fun player. I thought his work in left field, which wasn't really a problem anyway, improved this season. He's still got less than 200 professional games in the outfield. He plays hard and it was good to see him make it through even this little season without hurting himself (he appeared in 57 of 60 games!) As a hitter, he'll have these long stretches when you're no longer positive he should even be in the lineup. You must ignore that thought. He's in the lineup because sooner or later he's going to have one of those streaks when you simply can't get him out. And they're going to go on for a while. You have to wait for them, because they're really worth waiting for. There was the month in 2018 when he hit .423/.438/.648, and there was the month in 2019 when he hit .337/.381/.683 with 10 - ten - homers. And just this past month, it was .368/.394/.653 - and none of this fully captures just how hot he gets because no one actually turns it on at the beginning of the month and off at the end. You can't build your offense around a guy this streaky, but you sure want him contributing. Signed for three more years for a total of $13.4 million, which has a chance to be one hell of a bargain.

B   Rowdy Tellez
I was exceedingly hard on the Rowdy one this time last year, and I challenged him to prove me wrong. And by gosh, he was beginning to do that very thing - he came out of August hitting .244/.308/.512 which is decent enough. But he was also just beginning to embark on what is now his traditional September hot streak (.387/.444/.613) - when, alas, a knee injury put him on the shelf for the rest of the regular season. But I certainly feel better about him now than I did a year ago.

B   Tajuan Walker
He couldn't survive having Derek Fisher play the outfield behind him - but who can survive that, anyway? He's a free agent and I imagine there will be plenty of interest over the winter. But he's also a guy who was able to pitch just 13 IP in 2018 and 1 IP in 2019, which may temper the general enthusiasm. I do like him - he did a good job on the mound, he really competes out there, and seemed to fit in quite nicely. I'd certainly be kicking the tires.

B   Anthony Bass
Picked up off the scrap heap (a waiver claim, to be precise) last October and did a solid job. He doesn't blow anyone away, but he doesn't beat himself either. Bass stranded all 8 baserunners that he inherited, which is interesting because he didn't pitch particularly well with runners on base in general (.323/.417/.516) or with runners in scoring position in particular (.292/.393/.500) -  A.J. Cole was much more effective in those situations. But it was Cole who allowed 7 of 17 inherited runners to score. Bass is a free agent this winter and he needs to get paid, seeing as how he turns 33 this winter and he hasn't made a whole lot of money from baseball so far (relatively speaking, of course!).

B   A.J. Cole 
His work was very, very similar to what Bass gave the Jays. I didn't think Cole wasn't quite as good as Bass, but  he was pretty close. And he was a little bit luckier. Neither Bass nor Cole strike out as many hitters as your typical modern reliever but they're both stingy with the hits, walks, and home runs. Arbitration eligible this winter.

B-   Randal Grichuk
As everyone knows, the Jays lost a lot of people on the bases, and we all have vivid memories of some boneheaded basepath manoeuvers. Remarkably, for such a young bunch, the 2020 Jays were the AL team that was least likely to take an extra base - I thought young players were generally, you know, aggressive? More than a third of the Jays outs on the bases came at home plate (which is normal) and that's almost always a decision made by the third base coach. (Which I think lets Lourdes Gurriel, team leader with five outs on the bases but three of them at home, off the hook.)  Randal Grichuk, of all people, was the Blue Jay who was most likely to take an extra base. Grichuk certainly doesn't cover as much ground as you'd want from a centre fielder. On the other hand, he generally catches what he gets to and he doesn't make a whole lot of mistakes.  These are not traits shared by the rest of the team's outfielders. At the plate - well, he said back in 2019 that he was trying to reduce his strikeouts. He's made pretty impressive progress. He struck out in just 21.2% of his PApps this season. He'd never been below 26% before and back when he was a young Cardinal he'd been up over 30%. He was presumably adjusting his approach when he had two strikes on him. Now as it happened he hit just 2 of his 12 HRs when he had two strikes. In the past, roughly 1 of every 3 of his HRs had come after he had two strikes against him. Ah-ha! He's reduced the Ks by giving up on the HRs. But here's the thing - Grichuk was still hitting HRs at exactly the same rate he always has - 1 every 18 PApps. So I guess he had to be getting them earlier in the count. What does it all mean? Why are you asking me? Maybe the best news of all for Grichuk was simply that his BABiP luck returned to normal (.299) after falling off quite a bit in in 2019.  He's signed for three more years, which takes him through his age 31 season (he's only one year older than Teoscar? Really?) and I still think he's got a 35-40 HR season in him. Why do I think that? Because he's a RH hitter, who started out in the National League (This is also known as Bautista-Encarnacion Syndrome.)

C   Vladimir Guerrero
I would really like to see Guerrero have a chance for a conventional season. This would begin with a normal off-season followed by a full spring training which he spends playing the position he's going to be playing when the games count. And I just don't know if  that's happening any time soon. He doesn't know how to play first base yet- why would he? - but I did think he was giving a good effort in the field. Which isn't all that surprising because he's one of those guys who just likes playing baseball (not all of them do, folks.) He definitely needs to learn how to manage his body, and he needs to learn how to play his new position. But I'm still way more optimistic about Vlad's chances of making something of himself than I ever was about Travis Snider. And my goodness, but he hits the ball hard.

C-   Matt Shoemaker
Another guy who couldn't keep the ball in the yard, but because he was able to keep the baserunners to a minimum he greatly mitigated the damage that was done. He hurt himself and missed some time because he's Matt Shoemaker, folks. That's what happens, that's what he does. He's a free agent this winter. Good guy, decent pitcher, but his last healthy season was in 2016.

D+   Robbie Ray
Obviously, it's impossible to succeed as a major league pitcher when you're issuing 9 BB per 9 IP, which is what Ray was doing in Arizona. In Toronto, he cut that to... 6.1 per 9 IP? Baby steps? But it's still almost impossible to succeed when you're walking that many guys. Ray was allowing as many Hits, HRs, and BBs per 9 IP as Yamaguchi, but somehow he escaped the same grim reckoning. The whole thing was baffling to me. That said, it was certainly good for the club that he did escape said reckoning (hence the higher grade), but I sure can't account for it. Ray's a free agent, he's only 28, he's generally been a solid major league starter. But I don't know that I'd want to be counting on him.

D+   Travis Shaw
After a truly disastrous 2019 season, Shaw bounced some of the way back to his 2018 self. This is better than not bouncing back at all. Was it merely the illusory, meaningless bounce of a dead cat? Wish I knew. His home run stroke was still largely absent - but in both of his 30 HR seasons he had two month periods where he hit just like he did these past two months. So who the hell knows, really? I thought he was a dependable enough glove at both positions. Shaw was the team's oldest position player (he turned 30 in April) and he was the only 30-year-old among the position players save for those few games when Caleb Joseph suited up. There were at least half a dozen pitchers older than Shaw, but none of the hitters. Arbitration eligible this winter.

D+   Anthony Kay
Gotta admit, he did more for the 2020 Jays than Stroman did for the 2020 Mets.

D   Danny Jansen
Style points don't exist in baseball and there's no getting around the fact that Jansen's results at the plate were grisly and awful to behold. Much of this was a matter of hitting in awesomely bad luck for a few weeks. But a few weeks is all this season amounted to. His BABiP was .190, which is almost impossible to do. He was walking twice as often, and I don't know if it's because his plate discipline has actually improved or if he'd come to believe it was the only way he'd ever get on base. His defense - never supposed to be the strong part of his game anyway - didn't do him any favours this time around, either.

D   Joe Panik
They can't all turn out like Eric Sogard, whose Toronto performance is looking more and more like a random and temporary fluke anyway. It took Panik a while to get his bat going at all, but at least he kept taking his walks so he was never a total black hole. Montoyo didn't bury him and he was a useful enough bench part when needed. Unfortunately for him, he finished his season going 1 for 17 and when the season's as short as this... it drops your BAVG from .252 to .225.  He'd never played a single major league inning at 3b or ss before 2020, and while he did start out at shortstop in the low minors he hadn't actually played the position since 2014. He managed to hang in there and not embarrass himself. He'll be a free agent again and he'll find a job somewhere. Maybe here, maybe not.

D   Santiago Espinal
Didn't look too out of place - he's your generic backup infielder - and he certainly looks younger than Urena, even if he isn't.

E  Jonathan Villar
He's definitely a better player than he showed in his brief time here. But he wasn't very good, with the bat or the glove and he also didn't seem to fit very well. He did manage to lead the team in stolen bases, which isn't too surprising.  Villar runs the bases just like Alfredo Griffin used to - he'll try anything -  which is very entertaining and loads of fun. I'm just not sure it's something you actually want if you're planning on being serious about, you know, winning the games. Villar, Biggio, and Teoscar combined to steal 19 bases and were caught just once (it was Teoscar.) If you are going to steal bases, that's how you go about it. Villar's a free agent this winter, and I'm sure he'll be playing somewhere next season. And I'm sure it will be somewhere else.

E   Chase Anderson
Anderson and Roark were supposed to provide a short-term bridge to the generation of young pitchers still working their way up through the system - Pearson, Murphy, Kay, Woods Richardson. I mean, I assume that was the plan. It wasn't a bad plan, it could have worked. It didn't work, though, because Anderson and Roark were both really bad. Anderson wasn't quite as bad as Roark, partially because he was able to throw more strikes and miss more bats, but mostly because he wasn't out there as often and wasn't given the opportunity  to hurt the team quite as much. He was still pretty bad, and the same concerns apply to both of them. They both gave up way too many hits and way too many of those hits went sailing over the fence. The Jays have a $9.5 million option on him for next season, and if you pick it up you kind of have to use him, don't you? Still, this was a weird season and maybe we shouldn't actually conclude anything about anyone on its basis.

E   Tanner Roark
Opposing batters hit .309/.386/.613 against Roark, and only Ryu faced more of them. All those home runs (14 in 57.2 IP) were the biggest problem, but the 23 BB and 60 Hits allowed meant there were generally people clogging the bases as the balls left the yard. There is simply no defense against the walk or the home run. Whether it was just a couple of bad months in a weird-for-everyone season or symptoms of Irreversible Decline - well, who knows? He's signed, sealed, and delivered for another year at $12 million, so let's hope it's the former.

E   Shun Yamaguchi
Weird. Some days - more days than not, actually - he looked just fine. And then he'd go out and throw a nice evening of batting practice for the other team. He did strand all 9 of the baserunners he inherited, best on the team. Unfortunately, he allowed so many of the batters he faced to run happily around the bases themselves....  He's under contract for another year at $3 million and change, so let's see if he figures out North America. He's been a good pitcher in the past, he should be able to figure it out. He'd better.

E   Jacob Waguespack
I like him, so it grieves me to point out that the AL batters liked him even more. And why wouldn't they? They were more or less hitting him at will (.346/.422/.474) this time around. It may have just been One of Those Things that can happen over 17.2 IP, because anything can happen over 17.2 IP. I hope so. He did increase his Ks and reduce the HRs allowed, if you're looking for something to like and you don't mind checking the underside of rocks and stuff like that.

F   Wilmer Font
Like Yamaguchi, he did a good job stranding other people's baserunners (Font allowed just 1 of 8 inherited runners to score.) Unfortunately, Font had a similar problem with all the people he put on base himself. The opposition hit .378/.447/.527 against him, which means he pretty much turned the entire American League into D.J. LeMahieu (.364/.421/.590), which is not what you want to see. Font was, finally, designated for assignment, and he chose to become a free agent. And thus ends our long national nightmare.

So, yeah. It was weird. But it was more fun than I expected.