[Note: Whilst drafting this COVID-19 has put the entire upcoming MLB season in serious doubt. Whilst the following may not even be relevant now and feels kind of pointless given the seriousness of the pandemic, I hope this post at least provides a degree of enjoyment to some people at this difficult time.]
It’s all well and good that Toronto’s front office have attempted to improve upon the Blue Jays’ woeful 2019 record through acquiring the incredible talent of Hyun-Jin Ryu.
However, in order to have any chance of nabbing a spot in the AL wild card game, the real opportunities lie in how well Toronto can drag down the records of the Yankees, Rays and Red Sox.
This might seem like a bitter approach but don’t blame me, take it up with maths. Here is your unofficial guide to how the Jays can find success in the failure of others.
New York Yankees
During the 2019 season the Yankees did a spectacular job at self-sabotage, accumulating an absurd, record-breaking number of players on the injured list. This is a trend that has unfortunately continued into the 2020 season, with Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez being the latest Yankees to fall victim to injury.
However, this novel attempt at tanking didn’t seem to bring the rest of the AL East much joy, with the Yankees going a silly 54-22 (.711) within the division.
Where then do the Jays turn in their attempts to scupper the Yankees in 2020? Are such efforts best focused on nullifying the threat of right-handed pitcher Gerrit Cole, who recorded an MLB-topping 7.4 fWAR in 2019?
It seems not. With the exception of Cavan Biggio, Toronto’s contingent of left-handed batters don’t fill me with much confidence. Besides, according to projections from Fangraphs’ Dan Szymborski, even if Cole was sidelined for the entire 2020 season, Toronto would still finish below them in the division.
Further, while the tactic of consistently hounding Cole for the bin-banging sins of the Houston Astros, might go some way to hampering his performances, the psychological warfare approach doesn’t sit that well with me.
How about the Yankees’ obscene 2019 hitting record? Could Toronto’s overhauled rotation realistically put a dent in this?
Surely the magnificent Ryu will put a stop to the Yankees unhealthy obsession with home runs? Not if his last outing against them is anything to go by, with the Korean uncharacteristically giving up three home runs and seven earned runs over the course of four innings.
Well then, surely no Yankees hitter in 2019 managed a base hit off of a 100-mph fastball? Foiled again, this time by Gleyber Torres:
[Video credit: MLB]
Across the 2019 season, Yankees hitters managed to reach base on six fastballs that clocked in at over 98-mph.
I suppose limiting the Yankees to under ten hits will have to do. Nate Pearson please can you and your over 98-mph fastball report to the major leagues.
Tampa Bay Rays
As last seasons’ AL wild card winners and a team on a below-average budget, the Rays can teach Toronto a thing or two.
This is particularly true in the area of being a frustrating opponent, with the Rays pioneering unorthodox strategies such as “an opener” and playing in front of an almost empty stadium.
In fairness to Toronto, they had a good go of imitating Tampa last season, using more starting pitchers than you can shake a stick at and keeping attendance at the Rogers Centre as low as it has been for a long time. However, evidently, this wasn’t enough to bring the Blue Jays the same success.
In order to avoid a repeat of last year’s failures, a key consideration for Toronto, when it comes to facing the Rays, should be how to put the brakes on pitcher extraordinaire Tyler Glasnow’s recent run of good form.
The boyishly handsome Glasnow had a 1.78 ERA in 12 appearances for the Rays in 2019 and his fastball averaged just under 97-mph. Over these games, Glasnow only gave up four home runs.
However, one of these bombs was produced by Jays outfielder Randal Grichuk:
[Video credit: MLB]
Note the pure frustration from Glasnow. If we can stoke these frustrations through a cheeky bit of low-in-the-zone pitch framing, force Glasnow’s fastball higher and get big-hitters Grichuk, Bo Bichette, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Teoscar Hernandez swinging at these pitches, Toronto should be in decent shape.
Boston Red SoxEmbed from Getty Images
As with the Yankees, the Red Sox are giving self-sabotage their best efforts. However, if we are frank, trading away Mookie Betts for comparatively peanuts (sorry Alex Verdugo) and playing under the looming cloud of a sign-stealing investigation, is probably not enough for Toronto to leapfrog Boston in the division standings.
Instead, Toronto’s efforts should be turned toward disrupting Boston’s offensive production. In 2019, the Jays only kept Boston below five runs in six of their 19 match-ups. This is in stark contrast to the equally slug-happy Yankees, who Toronto successfully managed to keep below this threshold on 10 occasions.
Following the departure of Betts, Toronto’s task is how best to deter Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers from playing up to their incredible 2019 season numbers.
As a start, it is optimism-inducing that all the 2020 projections listed on Fangraphs have Bogaerts and Devers both performing significantly worse compared to last season. I’m also confident that Toronto’s improved pitching will go a fair way to reigning in these big-hitters.
However, a crucial lesson from the offseason is that the Red Sox ownership despise the MLB luxury tax with an irrational passion. Therefore I propose that the Blue Jays, Yankees and Rays come together to engage in a coordinated, Russian Government-style online disinformation campaign which attempts to convince Red Sox president Sam Kennedy and his cronies that MLB is mere moments away from a drastic slash to the luxury tax threshold in order to pay minor leaguers a salary they can survive on in this trying time… Okay, we may have to be slightly more realistic.
After a successful campaign, surely in no time at all Bogaerts and his $20 million salary will be jettisoned to a team with ambition.
If all else fails, we can always hope that Liverpool Football Club continues their incredible run of success and Fenway Sports Group realise that the disgusting amount of money they spend on a baseball team who will struggle to make the playoffs could be put to better use over the pond.
And there you have it, a flawless plan to sabotage the AL East. I’m pretty sure I covered everyone….
Jack Ramsden is covering the Toronto Blue Jays during 2020 as part of the growing team of writers at Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on Twitter @bernard_balks
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