Although each MLB club will lose the same number of games as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, a shortened 2020 season will affect each of them differently. The effects we will see vary depending on the financial and competitive situation of each team or even the health of their players.
For example, small market organizations like the Tampa Bay Rays or Oakland Athletics can put more strain on their paperbacks than usual. Dominant outfits like the Los Angeles Dodgers will see their playoffs and World Series chances decrease a little as a small sample season opens the door to more surprises. Groups like the New York Yankees will have more time to prepare stars like Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton for the opening day – whenever it comes.
Similarly, the Toronto Blue Jays will have a shortened season that affects them in some ways that differ from their competition. For example, the workload problem for top prospects Nate Pearson becomes more complicated depending on how many competitive innings he can log. The idea was that 2020 should be a year of construction so that it can really be unleashed in 2021. Depending on how much the start of the connected baseball is delayed, this may not be possible.
Since the Blue Jays are on the verge of competition, they are among the teams with the most radical shifts in their playoff chances in the event of a short season. FanGraphs' Dan Szymborski calculated last Tuesday that the club would see the fourth largest jump in its playoff odds with the majors if seasons were shortened from 162 to 81 games – the worst scenario he had calculated.
To be clear, no one is trying to get a positive result from COVID-19, but it is worth recognizing possible changes in the competitive landscape.
Perhaps the greatest effect that is special to the Blue Jays – and other teams trying to become a real competitor – is the difficulty that a shortened season could be for evaluating their internal talent. While this team has its main building blocks in the trio Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio and has supplemented its rotation with veterans, there are still a number of players who are considering them as possible future pieces.
This sounds loud in the outfield, where there are four of Randal Grichuk, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Teoscar Hernandez and Derek Fisher who all have important questions that the Blue Jays 2020 would like to answer.
It is particularly important for the association to know what it has in this group, considering that MLB Pipeline – Griffin Conine and Dasan Brown – ranks 14th and 16th in the team's farm system. Conine played with the Single-A Lansing Lugnuts last year and Brown is 18 with 63 pro-plate appearances. Aid is not on the move in the short term.
For Grichuk, the only member of the group to which the Blue Jays are committed in the long term, it is the glove that needs to be examined more closely. To maximize his $ 52 million contract and make his roughly average bat game, the team decided to place him in midfield.
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However, the 28-year-old has only played 100 games in this position once (in 2016) and the indicators for him are omnipresent. UZR has given him a career center fielder of -1.4 and Statcasts Out Above Average has brought him to an exact average since these numbers became available in 2016. DRS now brings him to an impressive +13 runs. However, these numbers can be deceptive, since most of them come from when he was significantly younger.
Since 2015, Grichuk's sprint speed has dropped from the 90th percentile to the 76th percentile, and he won't find another gear when he approaches 30) and there are reasons for pessimism. Even a full season's defensive data and movie would probably not have been enough to determine his current true midfield talent, but in an incomplete season, the Blue Jays might consider his best position again next year.
Gurriel Jr. may have the quartet's most trustworthy bat, but like Grichuk, his defense needs to be scrutinized. The 26-year-old sometimes looked great in the left field, but we just don't know how much he can do after just 63 games. His metrics ranged from -4 (OAA) to +0.2 (UZR) with his DZR at -2. The sample is too small to take all these numbers, but they tell us that despite the highlight role games, he was probably not a gold glove candidate out there.
This should be the season we learned more – and we'll probably still do it to some extent – but the lack of complete information will hurt. Given Vladdy's battles in third place and Gurriel Jr.'s ability to throw from the left side of the infield, there may still be a scenario where Cuban imports also end up in third place. His racket seems to be playing, but finding the perfect position may take longer than expected.
Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet's baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together they bring you the most extensive Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering the latest news with opinions and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.
On the offensive side, Fisher and Hernandez could benefit from the most thorough evaluation possible. Fisher's case is relatively simple. He's projecting pretty well thanks to a strong triple-A track record, but he just couldn't make it at MLB level. It could still be in 2020, but it would be more difficult to trust a smaller sample.
Grichuk's 2018 season is instructive here. From June 1, he hit .271 / .319 / .553 in 99 games for 134 wRC + and 2.6 WAR. The assumption was that despite a difficult transition to the Blue Jays (he had hit .106 / .208 / .227 up to this point) he had found his groove. It was this achievement that guaranteed him a job in 2019 and played a big role in the five-year extension in just five games this season.
We are less than a year from signing this contract and it already looks doubtful since Grichuk had a below-average year in 2019 and apparently has made no progress.
Similarly, it could be tempting to assume that if Fisher excels for a shorter period of time (especially given his sporting abilities) and to give him a job for 2021 that he will be in the course of Time may have been inappropriate It could also be the other way round if he has problems this season and the Blue Jays pull the plug a year early – a concern the club continues to struggle with in Hernandez’s case.
In 2019, Hernandez had a rally in the second half that restated his outlook for 2020. After meeting minors .248 / .325 / .548 on June 5 after returning from the minors, he rekindled his belief in his bat and was given the right to prove himself again that year. The problem is that the Blue Jays already know that his bat can catch fire in relatively long bursts.
The strong result of the last year was recorded in 86 games. The year before had a strong first half and hit line .257 / .308 / .510 in 76 competitions (which was good for a 118 wRC + in a less happy season). If he did a similarly strong but not really elite offensive performance in a shortened season, it would be difficult for the Blue Jays to say that they had learned something with a lot of confidence.
It looks like the Blue Jays have a fairly solid infield, a rotation full of veterans and young depth, and a bullpen that is ready to be reinforced when the team pushes. The largest organizational question mark is the outfield, and the question mark can express it carefully. This was the season the club wanted to hope who's going and who's staying in this position group, and a condensed 2020 could make this task extremely difficult.