Five trends that will define the success of the Blue Jays' second half

Ben Nicholson-Smith joins Evanka Osmak to discuss the degree that the Toronto Blue Jays should pursue Juan Soto, bearing in mind that pitching remains to be their largest need.

The Toronto Blue Jays hit the All-Star Break in the midst of a season that’s still open to interpretation.

Optimists could point to the fact the team is in playoff position, with playoff odds ranging from 66.2 per cent to 87.4 depending on who’s doing the projecting. They are relatively healthy, upgrades are likely coming at the trade deadline, and only three MLB clubs have a weaker strength of schedule from here on out.

The pessimists out there would be happy to mention that this team was so out of sorts a week ago that it fired its manager, a division title is almost certainly out of reach, and many of the club’s top bats are underperforming. A lack of position players and starting pitching depth also makes the Blue Jays less equipped to handle a run of bad injury luck than some of the rivals.

There are valid reasons to feel a variety of ways about the 2022 Blue Jays, and they remain a team with a massive range of outcomes. While it would be unfair to claim an ability to pin down what to know what they’re fate will be, we can identify a few numbers that will help determine it:

Bo Bichette’s wRC+

It would be unfair to characterize Bichette’s 2022 season as anything but disappointing. His wRC+ of 100 suggests he’s a league-average hitter. If you prefer OPS+ he’s at 102, but that metric tends to overvalue guys with power who don’t get on base much.

We’re splitting hairs here, when the big-picture takeaway is that one of the Blue Jays’ offensive centrepieces hasn’t stood out offensively. That’s an issue that has caused a great deal of consternation about his spot in the lineup, which hasn’t always been in sync with his production.

John Schneider taking over as the Blue Jays’ manager has coincided with a move of Bichette to the cleanup spot, which is a theoretical fit with the shortstop’s power and inclination to put the ball in play.

In a lineup as good as the one Toronto throws out on a daily basis, Bichette will get plenty of run-producing chances. If he hits like the guy who slashed .301/.345/.506 in his first three years in the league, he could be an engine for this offence — perhaps more than ever before.

A second half that looks like his first would lead to plenty of missed opportunities for the Blue Jays.

Kevin Gausman’s K/BB

For a top-of-the-rotation pitcher, Gausman allows plenty of hard contact. His xBA and xSLG against this season are .270 and .430 and his xwOBA on contact of .413 is higher than what Alejandro Kirk has produced in his breakout season (.405).

That sounds like a problem, but it makes sense in the context of the right-hander’s plan of attack. Gausman pounds the zone with fastballs early in the count to ensure he’s consistently ahead of hitters, which allows his elite splitter to get them chasing.

If he falls behind his best weapon isn’t nearly as effective so he’ll take some chances early, which leads to some ambush knocks. Only nine pitchers have allowed more first-pitch hits than Gausman this year, but his first-pitch strike rate ranks third among qualified pitchers.

For the 31-year-old to thrive he has to miss a lot of bats and avoid walking hitters. If the contact you give up is dangerous, you best not give up a lot of it — and hard-hit balls plus free base runners is trouble.

At the beginning of the season, Gausman was racking up K’s without walking anyone. As the season has gone on, he’s been unable to keep up that blistering pace due to some inconsistency getting hitters to chase his splitter.

This chart would look roughly like this for many pitchers, but it’s especially important for the Blue Jays starter. If we see April Gausman again it raises the ceiling for this team. If too many hitters are able to lay off his stuff he’s another pitcher entirely.

Matt Chapman DRS (or defensive metric of your choice)

Perhaps the most inexplicable thing that’s happened to the Blue Jays in 2022 is Chapman’s defence going from Platinum Glove calibre to average by publicly available advanced metrics.

Those metrics are far from perfect, especially in a small sample, but the difference between the third baseman’s career norms and his 2022 season is massive.





























Even Chapman himself recently described a lack of defensive plays made as part of a disappointing first half.

The good news for the Blue Jays is that Chapman is still on the right side of 30, and there isn’t much evidence to suggest his skills or athleticism have abandoned him. He just hasn’t been himself with the glove yet.

If he can get there it will be an enormous boon to a Toronto pitching staff that gives up plenty of balls in play.

José Berríos's xwOBA on Contact

Although xwOBACON isn’t the most approachable metric, it’s a good catch-all for the quality of contact a pitcher allows.

In Berríos’s case, the quality has been excellent. The right-hander’s xwOBA against sits at .451. For reference, Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s number is .440 in 2022, and it was .464 last season.

So, the 28-year-old lets the average hitter punish balls in play against him like Vladdy, which isn’t ideal for a guy without elite swing-and-miss ability.

Berríos can take solace in the fact that the strikeouts are coming after a significant early-season drought.

For him to return to the form he showed in 2021, though, he can’t keep letting opponents square him up like they’ve done thus far. He’s never been elite at contact management, but last season he was approximately average across the board, and that was enough to produce a 4.1 WAR campaign.

George Springer’s games played

This is a shorthand for Springer’s health, which has been a concern for most of his Blue Jays career.

Not only is Springer one of the best offensive weapons Toronto has — and its only true leadoff man — he’s an important defensive presence in an outfield that is shaky in the corners.

The difference in the Blue Jays’ success with and without Springer has been dramatic over the last two years as they are 91-69 in his appearances and 50-45 without him. He’s not responsible for the entirety of that disparity, but this is a different team when he’s absent.

If he were to miss an extended period of time, the Blue Jays would have to either give over the ninth spot in the order to a defence-only player in Bradley Zimmer, or live with an existing corner outfielder in centre for an uncomfortably long period of time.

Either scenario would put a serious dent in their competitiveness.

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