We’re one week into the 2019 baseball season, and aside from the inevitable injury to Troy Tulowitzki, this first week has held many surprises. The Detroit Tigers, Baltimore Orioles, and Seattle Mariners have all stormed out of the gate, the Red Sox have looked sluggish, most of the Yankees’ value is on the IL, and the Blue Jays have one of the best pitching staffs in the Majors. Not to mention, Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel are still jobless.
The aforementioned Toronto pitching corps has been an absolute delight to this early point of the season. I hate to temper expectations, but we all know this won’t last. April baseball is a pitcher’s game and the Jays have been matched up against some of the worst quad-A offenses in the game. But expectations and small sample sizes be damned! The Toronto rotation has performed spectacularly, and the bullpen is not pitching to the shambling standards it should be. Matt Shoemaker hasn’t allowed a run in fourteen innings over two starts, nor did Trent Thornton in his five-inning major league debut. Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez have both looked masterful and are helpfully adding to their value-in-prospects before a probable trade at some point this season.
In the bullpen, the Jays’ relievers have done their level best to match the rotation’s performance. Aside from a few hiccups from Daniel Hudson and Tim Mayza, the arms have looked strong. Joe Biagini has been a pleasant surprise out of the pen, and I’m hopeful that he can stay in this role all season. I don’t see him being called upon to spot start this year, given the presence of Thomas Pannone and Sam Gaviglio, as well as the expected return of Ryan Borucki and the addition of Clay Buchholz. Ken Giles is looking every bit the bona-fide closer we all want him to be. Even Elvis Luciano managed an uneventful major league debut.
Baseball is also a game of regression or progression to accepted means, so expect a regression at some point, likely sooner than later.
Following that logic, hopefully we can expect a major offensive progression. This offense feels historically terrible. Only once have the Jays managed a hit the first time through the order. They’ve been no-hit through at least five innings in four of the first seven games this season. Aside from Freddy Galvis and Richard Urena, as well as the occasional knock from Randal Grichuk and Rowdy Tellez, no one in this lineup is hitting. There are a handful of welcome surprises. In thirty plate appearances, Teoscar Hernandez leads the Jays with a 16.7 BB% and he has the second lowest K% on the team. This nice uptick in his strikezone recognition may well be coming at the expense of his power, as he’s hitting for a meagre .320 slugging percentage and still searching for his first homerun of the season. For a left fielder with the power potential of Hernandez, this may not be a valuable trade-off.
Speaking of slugging percentage, guess who leads the team in that category? If you guessed Richard Urena, you must be insane. You are also correct. Granted, he’s achieved this in half the plate appearances of some of the lineup regulars, but in thirteen plate appearances, he owns a slash line of .500/.500/.667 with a gaudy wRC+ of 256 and a .508 wOBA. Not to be a doomsayer, but Urena may want to brace himself for a painful regression.
There are some truly dreadful offensive numbers in this lineup. Brandon Drury, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Danny Jansen, Billy McKinney, and Justin Smoak are all posting sub-100 wRC+, sub-.300 wOBA, and sub-.350 slugging percentages. As major league veterans, I’m confident in Smoak’s and Drury’s abilities to pull these numbers up through the season. Gurriel Jr., Jansen, and McKinney are all unproven regulars who will have to figure out how to fight through this early season malaise, or potentially lose their jobs to any number of depth pieces in Buffalo.
There have also been a flurry of comings and goings in this first week. The Blue Jays said goodbye to Kendrys Morales and Kevin Pillar, as well as minor leaguer Rodrigo Orozco. In return, Toronto netted Jesus Lopez, Derek Law, Alen Hanson, Juan De Paula, and Socrates Brito. Derek Law, who is seen as a bullpen depth piece, has spent parts of the last three seasons with the San Francisco Giants and was immediately assigned to the Buffalo Bisons. Jesus Lopez, a 21-year old infielder came over from the Giants’ single-A affiliate and has been assigned to the Lansing Lugnuts. Alen Hanson and Socrates Brito both reported to the Blue Jays and were immediately thrown into the starting lineup in Cleveland on Thursday night. Hanson, a 26-year old infielder will likely provide infield depth while being shuttled back and forth between Toronto and Buffalo. Brito will be providing outfield depth, a left handed bat, and some decent speed. Brito’s arrival to the Jays relieved Anthony Alford after his first stint in Toronto this season, which was both short and uneventful. Finally, De Paula, who is Toronto’s real prize in the Pillar deal, was assigned to Dunedin, and projects as a back-end of the bullpen, or middle of the rotation arm, though he’s still several years from the Major Leagues.
As if all the front office wheeling and dealing involving eight players wasn’t enough for one week, the Blue Jays also inked Randal Grichuk to a 5-year, $52 million deal. In the current era of extensions-over-free agency this contract could pan out well for the Jays. Over the next three years, ZiPS projects Grichuk to maintain a slash line of roughly .240/.300/.500 with an OPS of .800, and a wOBA of .340. Add in around 25-30 homeruns each year and an accumulated 7.0 WAR, and this front-loaded contract may prove itself a shrewd front office maneuver by the Shapiro/Atkins team. It will certainly be good for the Blue Jays to have at least one stable veteran presence in a lineup that is only getting younger and less experienced.
This first week of the Major League season has seen plenty of brilliant pitching from the Blue Jays, as well as more than its share of incompetent hitting. The Jays are currently sitting at 3-5, good for fourth place in the AL East, and ahead of the fifth-place Red Sox. We’re one week into the season, and though anything is possible over the course of a long baseball season, there are a few things I already know. I know that the Red Sox won’t finish the year in last place in the East. They certainly won’t finish behind the Jays. I know that the pitching will come back to earth somewhat. There will definitely be rough patches, but who knows, maybe Matt Shoemaker will win a Cy Young Award. I also know the offense will get better. It probably won’t be great, but it has to be better than this. I know the fans probably don’t miss Kendrys Morales, but they do miss Kevin Pillar. Both should be applauded for their achievements with the Blue Jays and both should be wished well in their next chapters. I know that Randall Grichuk will be a decent-to-good outfielder for the Blue Jays if he stays healthy over the next handful of years. I also know these aren’t exactly “hot takes.”
Finally, I know that no one knows what this season holds for any one team or player, but if you’re a baseball fan first and a Blue Jays fan second, this season will present lots of fun surprises. The hope of an exciting future unfurling before our eyes will sustain us through the troughs of what may prove to be a difficult season. Here’s to the first week of Blue Jays baseball, and here’s to hoping for a good week ahead.
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