In March of this year, Blue Jays' star 1B Vladimir Guerrero Jr said, “Last year was the trailer. Now you guys are going to see the movie.” The expectations were very high for this Blue Jays team coming into the year. We are now sitting here in October after the Jays played just 2 playoff games and lost them both to the underdog Seattle Mariners. That is not exactly how most people expected the “movie” to finish, so what went wrong?
The 2021 Toronto Blue Jays were a surprise, for sure. They won 91 games, missing the playoffs by just one game. That 2021 season was the beginning of a new era for the Blue Jays; after back-to-back ALCS appearances in 2015 and 2016, they went into a rebuild. Toronto missed the playoffs every year from 2017 to 2019 and never finished with more than 76 wins. However, we saw a glimpse of success in the Covid-shortened 2020 season, as the Jays went 32-28 and made the expanded playoffs before losing in the first round. Heading into 2021, it was uncertain how the young Jays would perform. They ended up balling out. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. had his coming out party, posting an OPS over 1.000. If it was not for Shohei Ohtani, Vladdy would have won MVP. Toronto also saw the emergence of a killer middle infield of Marcus Semien and the youngster Bo Bichette, as both posted an OPS+ over 120. That Jays' lineup was deep, with some contributions from Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Teoscar Hernandez, Santiago Espinal, Danny Jansen, and Alejandro Kirk. All of those guys were under the age of 28, and this is without mentioning George Springer, who missed most of the 2021 season due to an injury. Toronto also had a dominant starting pitching staff that featured 2021 Cy Young winner Robbie Ray and other solid arms Hyun Jin-Ryu, Steven Matz, and Ross Stripling. Alek Manoah also showed glimpses of stardom, and they added potential ace Jose Berrios at the deadline. Both were seen as a big part of the future. After 2021, the Jays had a bunch of young studs ready to play for a title. But how did they improve in the offseason?
The Blue Jays did a lot of roster shuffling in the 2021-2022 offseason. They lost core pieces Robbie Ray, Marcus Semien, and Steven Matz. However, Toronto was able to replace them with Kevin Gausman, Matt Chapman, and Yusei Kikuchi. With Chapman playing 3B, they moved Santiago Espinal to 2B and were seen to have a near-complete team with exceptions that were through the roof.
The Jays opened up the season with a 14-8 April, which placed them only 1.5 games behind the Yankees and firmly in the AL East race. However, that 6-games-above-.500 stretch would be the best Toronto would do in a month until September. From May-August the Jays were 56-51, putting them at 8 games out of the division heading into September. The problem was Toronto never got hot. While a 13-14 August was their only month below .500 on the season, their best month after April was only 14-12 in both May and June. The Jays were not a bad team but never were able to catch fire and rival the Yankees for the division title. That is, until September, when they seemingly finally found their stride. The Jays put together an 18-10 record in September and were expected to achieve playoff success from that hot streak.
Toronto finished the year with a 92-70 record and the first Wild Card spot in the AL. With the new playoff format, the Jays were given a best-of-3 series at home against the Mariners, and a lot of people penned the Jays as a dark horse team to make a deep postseason run. As everyone knows now, that did not work out as planned, as Toronto lost back-to-back games and got swept out of the playoffs at home. Diving into the numbers shows why the movie was a box office failure.
Blue Jays' 2022 Team Offensive Stats:
Blue Jays' 2022 Team Pitching Stats:
There are some very easy conclusions to be drawn from this. First, the Blue Jays’ offense was very good across the board this year, as they got on base and were able to slug. Next is that the Jays’ pitching staff/bullpen was average at best. They were able to avoid dishing out walks and struck out a lot of betters. However, they got hurt badly by the deep ball, and their batting average on balls in play (BABIP) was one of the highest in the league, meaning luck was most likely not on their side. Having a high BABIP can also be a result of an underwhelming defense…
Blue Jays' 2022 Team Defensive Stats:
Outfield ARM Runs
The Blue Jays were below average defensively this year, which could have been why the pitching was underwhelming in some categories. Being bad in the range stats was most likely the reason for the high BABIP, as more balls were dropping in as hits due to Toronto’s defenders not covering a lot of ground. Even in the defensive metrics they performed better in, the Jays still were way below the top of the AL. In OAA, they were 15 behind the Guardians and Yankees and 26 behind the Astros. The defense seemed to be a big reason that kept them behind the top of the AL.
This Jays team also had many disappointing players that did not produce well for them. First off are Jose Berrios and Yusei Kikuchi, who both had ERAs over 5 despite getting big money this offseason. These two were expected to be integral parts of the rotation, and their poor performance led to a real lack of starting pitching depth. Heading up to the lineup, we saw Vlad have a little bit of a down year for his standards. He still had an OPS+ of 132, but coming off his 2021 mark of 167, it was still a tad disappointing. It also took Matt Chapman and Bo Bichette most of the season before they caught fire, which was also upsetting.
Still, even with this disappointment, it was expected for the Jays to make somewhat of a run in the playoffs. Obviously, that didn’t happen. But why? In game 1, they ran into Luis Castillo, who tossed an amazing 7.1 innings of shutout ball. Castillo was able to outduel Jays' ace Alek Manoah. Toronto’s reliable workhorse struggled, giving up 4 runs, including 3 in the first inning, over 5.2 innings. Despite that loss, there was still belief that the Jays could win the series, as Kevin Gausman was ready to go on the bump. After racing out to an 8-1 lead after 4 innings, Gausman started to get hit, and the Mariners started clawing back. It all culminated in a J.P. Crawford pop fly that scored three runs due to George Springer and Bo Bichette colliding in the outfield, once again displaying Toronto’s defensive woes. The Mariners did not look back after that, winning 10-9 and sending the Blue Jays to their couches for the offseason.
This movie did not pan out as expected, but I feel it will not be the last installment in this series. The Jays are still extremely young and have a lot of talent on the roster. If a couple of guys step up and some other guys catch fire quickly, then this team can finally get that ending they have been working for.