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Looking back at 2022

From the surprising to the most certain

American League Wild Card Series: Seattle Mariners v. Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Thomas Skrlj/MLB Photos via Getty Images

With the 2022 season wrapping up, attention rightfully turns toward 2023 as the offseason approaches. But before fully turning to that, it’s an opportune time for one last look back on the 2022 Toronto Blue Jays.

Every year towards the end of Spring Training, I take a “Rumfseldian” look at the uncertainties and questions facing the Blue Jays as the season approaches. Now we can review how things played out, including the few predictions in the interests of accountability as well as what wasn’t even on the radar at time. For more on what each of these categories means, refer back to the original post.

Known knowns

  • The Blue Jays will not underperform their run differential by eight wins again
    Huzzah! The Jays pulled out a ridiculous number of close games in the first month of the season, peaking on May 1st after a narrow series win against the pennant winning Astros at 15-8 despite a +1 run differential thanks to a 9-2 record in one run games. They regressed the rest of the way, but in the end their 92-70 record was ever-so-slightly ahead of the 91 runs predicted by their run differential. Interestingly, no team outperformed by more than 4 wins, with the Rangers (-9) and Yankees (-7) taking up the rear (grumbles...of course the Yankees would have it happen in a year they ran away).
  • The core positional infielders will not be as healthy as in 2021
    This one actually comes pretty to the wrong side of the ledger, as Vladimir Guerrero Jr, Bo Bichette and Matt Chapman avoided IL stints to play in 160, 159 and 155 games respectively. The combined 474 games does technically come in slightly below the total of 382 posted last year by the former two and Marcus Semien, their total PA of 2,024 about 5% shy (and Chapman did miss four games in mid-June with a wrist injury). The broader takeaway is to underscore how fortunate the Jays were in this department, with a 95th+ percentile outcome.
  • Santiago Espinal will regress
    This one was admittedly nerve-wracking for a while after Espinal jumped out of the gate driving the ball with authority having added significant muscle. In the end, that largely regressed with his ISO of .102 largely in line with 2021’s .095. With his strong plate discipline also holding up, his performance fell back from115 wRC+ to 99 as his BABIP came back to earth. Nonetheless, just consolidating 2021 is a big win, and if he can tap into that power a bit there could actually be some upside.
  • The Blue Jays will not have three home stadiums in 2022
    Not only was it much more fun having just the one, it was doubly entertaining every series seeing whom and how many from the opposing ranks weren’t able to make the trip

Known unknowns

  • Will Hyun-Jin Ryu rebound and how much?
    At least we have a better understanding for his tailspin in the second half of 2021
  • Does the starting rotation end up merely good or elite?
    Overall, the rotation posted a 103 ERA- and 92 FIP-, which points more towards solid/good, but that elides as much as it reveals. Those numbers were undermined by the backend and lack of depth, with the top four of Alek Manoah, Kevin Gausman, Jose Berrios and Ross Stripling posting 667.1 innings at 89 ERA- and 83 FIP-. Which is pretty elite, even with Berrios cratering
  • Can Pete Walker work his magic with Yusei Kikuchi?
    Not so much, at least in year one. Occasional flashes were overshadowed by frequent frustration, and it appears the Jays that in trying to avoid having a pitcher hit free agency after posting significant improvement, the Jays overcorrected and made a costly mistake with a three year contract.
  • Can the Jays avoid having the bullpen become a costly hole again?
    For the most part, yes. They didn’t always cover themselves in glory and there were certainly deficiencies, but with an overall mark of 98 ERA- and 100 FIP- they were solidly middle of the pack and weren’t the anchor that ultimately sunk the ship as in 2021. A heavy load early probably didn’t help, nor did Charlie Montoyo maximize what he had (where John Schneider was at least somewhat better about not rigidly adhering to single inning outings).
  • What kind of rebound does Cavan Biggio have?
    Most will call his 2022 campaign a disappointment with his batting average sinking to the Mendoza line courtesy too many strikeouts, but overall it still amounted to nearly league average production and 1.3 WAR in half a season. But the realistic expectation moving forward has to be for a second division regular/platoon guy rather than high-OBP regular that he looked like after 2020.
  • Does Matt Chapman have more 2018-19 MVP-level seasons or settle in as “merely” an above average regular?
    He wasn’t MVP level, and it took a while for the power to kick in, but Chapman was an integral part of the Jays making the postseason some big hits but most critically as a defensive rock at third base. He was comfortably beyond above-average in posting a ~4 WAR season even with the defensive rating systems not actually that high on him. If one is inclined to add a little back via the eye test, it puts him firmly in the ~5 WAR impact middle ground.
  • Is the year Alejandro Kirk really clicks at the plate?
    An unequivocal yes. A slow start buoyed only by an improbably number of infield hits was forgetten as spring turned to summer and Kirk squared up line drive after line drive. He tailed off some down the stretch as the power dried up, perhaps worn down under the grind of his first full season and responsibilities behind the plate.

Unknown unknowns

  • Is there a surprise breakout?
    Manoah was certainly not a surprise in terms of emerging from obscurity/mediocrity, but the extent of establishing himself as a bona fide ace in his first full season was beyond any remotely reasonable expectation. The dominant flashes of 2021 turned into an elite and remarkable consistent baseline. I specifically namechecked Danny Jansen’s bat, and he indeed carried over the September 2021 pop to a larger-if-still-abbreviated-due-to-injury sample
  • Does a farm system depleted by trades at the upper levels provide any significant reinforcements?
    No, and it was perhaps the Jays’ Achilles heel, especially in terms of starting pitching. The Jays went into 2022 with an enviable top six, but there was simply no viable depth beyond that. Likewise, there was once again no arms emerging to bolster the bullpen.
  • Are the Orioles the X-factor in how many playoff teams come out of the AL East?
    The Orioles certainly proved to be the ALE’s X-factor, just not remotely in the manner contemplated as they skipped right over “mediocrity” on the way from doormat to postseason contention. With a young nucleus now in place there too, the division promises to be even more of a dogfight over the near term.
  • Crazy injuries
    For a second straight year, nothing particularly jumps to mind

Unknowns knowns

  • What’s the plan with Nate Pearson?
    Another lost season to ill health effectively answers this, at this point the Jays just have to hope there’s some MLB value and in some ways anything is gravy. Even in short stints for Buffalo, Pearson was well short of the dynamism of 2019.
  • Would the front office pull the trigger on a blockbuster?
    There wasn’t a screaming need to do so, but they didn’t take a big swing and kept the core pieces of the farm, both the ones coming into the year and the ones who emerged.

In hindsight, what did I overlook in March? The biggest thing is probably George Springer’s health after another year marred by significant injuries, and where he fits in moving forward to keep him on the field. He’s still plenty productive when in the lineup, and keeping him there is going to critical.

Bo Bichette had quite the interesting year, between the very slow start, uneven middle, and then red hot finish that netted out to basically bang in line his previous production. He gets a lot of grief defensively, and there were certainly a couple of very rough stretches that coincided with deep offensive struggles. That aside, in my view he’s at least competent and not a huge liability.

Having done a last look back at 2022, next week I’ll look forward to 2023 with a comprehensive breakdown of the roster as it stands before its reshaping begins this offseason.