With the additions of Randal Grichuk and Curtis Granderson, the Blue Jays are in for a much better defensive performance from their outfield this season.
While the Blue Jays have had gold glove calibre defence in centre field for the last three seasons from Kevin Pillar, the rest of their outfield has lacked in that department. In 2017 we watched the corner outfield mostly occupied by Jose Bautista in right, and a mixture of Steve Pearce and Ezequiel Carrera in left.
Combined, those three struggled to varying degrees, and frequently offered very little help to “Superman” who played up the middle. Bautista seemed to be moving better than he did in his injury riddled 2016 season, but the numbers didn’t reflect that so much. Carrera continued to struggle with various facets of the defensive side, and Pearce is better suited as a first baseman, but had to play the majority of his time in left after the unexpected emergence of Justin Smoak last year.
Taking at look at the defensive WAR ratings courtesy of baseballreference.com, it’s not a pretty picture for the trio.
Jose Bautista: -1.4
Steve Pearce: -0.9
Ezequiel Carrera: -1.8
By comparison for Pillar, the 3x Gold Glove nominee in centre came in with a dWAR of +1.9, after posting marks of 2.6 and 2.8 in the 2015-16 seasons. And while Bautista/Pearce/Carrera were some tough defenders to work with, they were nowhere near as bad as a few years ago when the likes of Chris Colabello and Danny Valencia were lumbering around out there.
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I haven’t painted this picture to pick on the corner outfielders from last year, but rather used them to illustrate the point of this entry, that the Blue Jays are in for a big defensive boost this season.
Pearce will return in 2018 and likely log the majority of his playing time in left field again, but this year he looks poised to form a platoon with Curtis Granderson, who will play the majority of games as the lefty swinger. While Granderson isn’t the plus defender he was in his younger days, he’s more than capable of handling left field. He managed to play all three outfield positions in 2018 between the Mets and Dodgers, but is best suited for left field at this stage of his career, especially with a weaker throwing arm. And while his -0.5 dWAR ranking isn’t anything to write home about either, it’s an improvement on both Carrera and Pearce.
Randal Grichuk could be the biggest difference maker, as he’s expected to be the every day right fielder. Like Granderson, he has experience playing all three outfield positions, which he did with the Cardinals in 2017. He’s more than capable of spelling Pillar in centre when he needs a day off, or could even slide over in the event of an injury if needed.
The former Cardinal has mentioned being excited about playing alongside Pillar, as well as looking forward to sticking to one position, which it looks like the Jays will provide for him. He came in with a +0.5 dWAR rating last year, which is a +2.2 point swing from Bautista in 2017, and there’s also reason to think Grichuk could score even higher. At just 26 years old and finally looking at playing every day in the same position, the impact should be noticeable.
If that’s not enough, and if for some reason one of those four suffer an injury and need a DL stint, the three most likely replacements are all assets on defence as well. Teoscar Hernandez, Anthony Alford, and even Dalton Pompey are all natural centre fielders, and would bring additional speed and defensive value to the club, if/when they’re promoted to the highest level.
So while it doesn’t show up on the stat sheet in the same way that home runs or OBP might, the boost on the defensive side of the diamond should be significant for the Blue Jays this year.