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Projecting the 2021 Jays: best case scenarios

What it looks like when it almost all goes right

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Having run 100 simulation of outcomes for the 2021 Blue Jays, this post will look through the right tail of the distribution at the simulated teams that posted the highest win totals. While by definition many more things go right than wrong in these scenarios, t was somewhat surprising how differently all these 96+ wins teams got to an outcome where’d they have a good chance at ending up the winner of the AL East.

1. 98 wins

This is actually not the best projected team in terms of pure production, it’s just one of the better ones that gets incredibly fortunate. A total of 43 WAR (91 wins of production) becomes 94 wins worth of runs which in term becomes 98 actual wins.

Interestingly, this scenario doesn’t rely on a ton of things going right. Overall, the positional regulars post 26 WAR, a little above the average of all projections (24). That’s due to really strong depth, but eight players posting 2+ WAR, but a number disappoint. Vlad and Bichette only combine for a full season between them and 3 WAR, and Springer only plays two thirds of the season and under 3 WAR. They do get another 3 WAR from the depth fill-ins, so (something like Santiago Espinal stepping up or Austin Martin making an impact as a call-up).

On the pitching side, the rotation is solid, the top six starters posting 655 innings at a 4.27 ERA, particularly impressive considering they lose Hyun-Jin Ryu for most of the year. Ross Striping steps up to be the most productive starter in this scenario. No significant help emerges from the farm, but the core bullpen is strong (3.85 ERA) anchored by another standout season from Rafael Dolis.

Overall, this scenario shows that even looking through the luck, the 2021 Jays an still have a solid team even absorbing some pretty serious blows to their best players.

2. 96 wins

By contrast to the above, this scenario is actually the best team on paper, posting 50 WAR but underperforming their runs for/against by almost three wins (offset a little by outscoring their production by a win).

This team is driven by its position regulars who total 33 WAR, driven by four 4+ win seasons from Marcus Semien, Cavan Biggio, Springer and Teoscar. Bichette is also very good (3 WAR), and Vlad Jr. productive but again missing significant time (2 WAR in half a season).

The starting pitchers are competent (4.39 ERA and 10 WAR over 765 innings), but critically stay healthy with each of the top five exceeding 120 innings so Nate Pearson only gets 60 and they don’t have rely on more than a few depth starts. Ryu and Ray both have 3 win seasons, the others just eat innings while the regulars pile up runs.

The bullpen is quite strong in this scenario as a result of really strong depth. Thomas Hatch is the strongest performer, but the characteristic is a deep group of solid and reliable arms bolstered by depth (as Anthony Castro was going in reality before he got hurt).

This doesn’t represent an absolute best case scenario, since really none of the expected star players have career years, but collectively it’s a lot of 80th percentile scenarios.

3. 96 wins

This is a 96 win team on paper (so slightly worse performing than the one above) that wins exactly 96 games. Offensively, the regulars stay healthy, and the stars perform with Vlad, Bichette and Springer posting ~5 WAR seasons. The other regulars are all solid (with Teoscar largely regressing and being the worst), but it’s top heavy as Rowdy and Tellez and Alejandro Kirk are replacement level. As a result, the collective total is “only” 27 WAR.

The relative strength here is the pitching. All the starters are solid with the exception of Stripling, throwing 140-160 innings with ERAs varying between 3.50 and 4.50 (even Tanner Roark rebounds to be the decent inning eater he was signed to be). Stripling’s hole is filled by Nate Pearson stepping up with 130 solid innings of his own, so the starter total a pleasantly surprising 12 WAR.

The bullpen is again very strong, with Julian Merryweather the best performer and healtyh enough to throw 40 innings. Again though, it’s depth that carries the day.

4. 96 wins

This last 96 win team is interesting for how it ends up getting there. It’s driven by the two big free agent signings, with Semien and Springer both posting 5 WAR seasons, There’s also good seasons from Vlad, Biggio, Danny Jansen and Randal Grichuk, though the rest largely disappoint and Teoscar regresses back to replacement level.

The starting pitching is as good as it possibly could be (12 WAR and a 3.99 for the core six) considering Ryu is lost for a god chunk and they only get 80 innings from him. This is basically a scenario where Alek Manaoh steps up, because depth starters provide 130 innings that are quite solid. Interestingly, most of the frontline bullpen arms flop (4.68 ERA combined), but they’re bolstered by the depth behind them performing (4.00 ERA over 250 innings). So I guess Ty Tice & co. really do work in this scenario.

Other points of interest:

  • While the starting is never going to be a strength, in almost no scenarios where the team is very good doesn’t it truly flop. Of the 17 simulated teams to win 90 or more games, in only two of them does the rotation completely fall apart (~5 WAR) with a couple more where it’s just marginal better (6-7 WAR).
  • Ironically, the simulated team with the best starting pitching (13.5 WAR, every stays healthy and combines for a 4.18 ERA over 850 innings...basically 2016 redux) doesn’t even up very good with just 84 wins. The bullpen is also very good, but the position players are very disappointing (19 WAR, or roughly the 10th percentile) and they underperform by three wins as well. This would be a very weird season indeed.
  • There are three lucky teams that outperform their production by ~7 wins. In addition to the 98 win above, a couple of 83-84 wins teams fluke their way to the 90-91 level and presumably playoff berths. Conversely, there’s one very strong team (44.5 WAR) that bleeds six wins due to a terrible bullpen undermining very good starting pitching and finishes at 85 wins, likely costing it a playoff berth.