Toronto Blue Jays 2020 Review
The Toronto Blue Jays were one of the more pleasant surprises around baseball this year. Toronto finished the regular season with a 32-28 record which put them third in the American League East. Additionally, the team clinched the eighth seed in the AL playoff race.
At the beginning of the year, many people around the game – fans and analysts alike – had the Blue Jays pegged as a team that could very well surprise, but most probably didn’t expect them to be a contender. While their stay in the postseason was short (they were swept by the Tampa Bay Rays in two games during the Wild Card Series), it is still a major accomplishment for a team that has a very bright future.
In fact, Toronto did such a good job this year that a legitimate argument can be made for Charlie Montoyo to win the AL Manager of the Year Award. Furthermore, the Blue Jays got a glimpse at their future core pieces for another year at the big league level. The team’s number one pitching prospect Nate Pearson made his debut and we saw a breakout year from outfielder Teoscar Hernandez as well. Unfortunately, the season was cut short for both Pearson and Hernandez due to injuries.
With that being said, let’s take a look at what else stood out about the Blue Jays in 2020.
Mixed Bag on the Pitching Front
Collectively as a unit, Toronto’s pitching staff ended the regular season with a 4.60 ERA. That came over the span of 524 innings of work. Among baseball, that put Toronto right in the middle of the pack (17th overall) and it was in the bottom third of the American League overall. The Blue Jays pitchers held opposing hitters to a .255 batting average and racked up 519 strikeouts during the course of the year.
More specifically, the starting rotation combined for a 4.55 ERA over 255 innings. Over that sample, Blue Jays starters had an 8.71 K/9 rate along with a 2.33 walk-to-strikeout ratio. Meanwhile, the bullpen finished with a slightly higher ERA (4.71) and 272 strikeouts. Although both ERA’s were high, there were certain individuals that stood out among the bunch.
Hyun Jin Ryu Establishes Himself as an Ace
Last offseason, the Blue Jays signed starting pitcher Hyun Jin Ryu. Both sides came to an agreement on a four-year, $80 million dollar contract in free agency. It was a move that really helped to bolster Toronto’s starting rotation. Ryu was a valuable member of the Los Angeles Dodgers starting rotation from 2013-2019. In total, Ryu led the Blue Jays with a 2.72 ERA and 72 strikeouts. He also got the nod for the team in the second game of the aforementioned Wild Card Series.
Nate Pearson Rookie Year
As mentioned previously, Nate Pearson made his official debut this year. Pearson received the call-up to the big leagues on July 29th. While expectations were high for the 24-year old, his rookie year didn’t necessarily go according to plan. He pitched to the tune of a 6.00 ERA over five appearances – four of which came as a starter. Pearson dealt with right elbow tightness which sidelined him for a month. Regardless, while his rookie season didn’t live up to expectations, there is still plenty of potential with his arm. The Blue Jays still feel as though he is a top-of-the-rotation starter.
Bullpen Arms Emerge for the Future
One of the main staples in the bullpen that stood out this year was right-hander Jordan Romano. At the age of 27, Romano was still considered a rookie this year. He posted a 1.23 ERA over 14 and two-thirds innings of work or 15 appearances. In that span, his K/9 rate was 12.9 and he racked up a 0.886 WHIP. Looking to the future, there’s the potential that Romano could be the team’s future closer. That’s especially true after Toronto learned that they would be without their former closer Ken Giles in 2021. Giles underwent Tommy John surgery at the end of the season which will keep him out most likely all of next year.
Another reliever that really emerged was Rafael Dolis. The 32-year old, right-hander pitched for Toronto on a one-year, $1 million dollar contract. After not pitching in the majors since 2013, Dolis put up a 1.50 ERA over 24 innings with 31 strikeouts and a 3.02 Fielding Independent Percentage (FIP). He likely showed enough this season to be in the mix for a bullpen spot heading into next year. If he is able to replicate this year’s numbers, then Toronto will have a nice 1-2 duo with Romano and Dolis.
Young Offense Continues Taking Steps Forward
Before the season started, the biggest quality about the Blue Jays was their offense. After all, they have an offensive core made up of second baseman Cavan Biggio, shortstop Bo Bichette, third baseman/designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Teoscar Hernandez. Hernandez was really the spark in the Blue Jays batting order prior to going down with a left oblique strain which sidelined him for about ten days in September.
Collectively as a unit, Toronto’s lineup finished the regular season with a .255/.325/.441 slash line over 2,023 at-bats. In that span, the team scored 302 runs (seventh-most in baseball) and recorded the eighth-most RBI (288) among all thirty teams. Besides being effective at the plate, the offense was also skilled on the base paths. Toronto ended the season with 33 stolen bases which tied them with the Washington Nationals for ninth place.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. Shines
Besides the already mentioned players, left fielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. had a very impactful season. The brother of Houston Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel, Lourdes finished the year batting .308/.348/.534 over 224 plate appearances or 57 games. Over that span, the 26-year old had 64 hits, 14 doubles, 11 home runs, 33 RBI, 14 walks, and 48 strikeouts. Given that he is just reaching his peak, it’s fair to say that the Blue Jays have themselves a legitimate middle-of-the-order bat.
Randal Grichuk RBI Leader
Another key cog of Toronto’s lineup this year was outfielder Randal Grichuk who led the team with 35 RBI. That came along with a .273/.312/.481 slash line over 231 plate appearances. Grichuk is signed with the team through the 2023 season on a five-year, $52 million dollar deal. On top of the offense he provides, he gives Toronto a defensive-minded centerfielder as well.
While the Toronto Blue Jays postseason hopes fell short, that doesn’t mean the team is doomed. In fact, this is just the beginning of a new window for the Blue Jays and it was a positive step in the right direction. Toronto has all of the pieces that are needed to be a true contender in the American League next season. With a few more additions to the pitching staff this offseason, the Blue Jays will be able to bolster their chances even more.
However, it won’t be an easy task for them over the next few years. The New York Yankees are always the cream of the crop in the American League East. Additionally, the Tampa Bay Rays always find a way to win on a small-market budget and the Boston Red Sox aren’t going to be down for long with the money they are able to spend. Additionally, the Baltimore Orioles are starting to piece together the next great team of their own. So, it’s going to be a challenging task for Toronto next year and beyond.
Although with the pieces the organization currently has and will have coming up in the farm system, they will have every shot to make noise within the American League East. If the lineup is clicking on all cylinders at the same time, none of the other AL teams will want to square off against the Toronto Blue Jays.
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