With a shortened season and kinds of variables at play, the data says the Blue Jays’ playoff chances have improved. How good are they exactly?
The Blue Jays entered 2020 thinking that it would be another rebuilding season in Toronto, but hopefully a campaign that came with plenty of steps in the right direction. The front office committed to that end by bringing in some free agent help, and there was plenty of reason for optimism before the Covid-19 pandemic shut down spring training back in March.
Did any of us think they would make the playoffs though? I can’t speak for all of you, but I certainly didn’t have that on my radar. I was hoping more for a goal of a record of .500 or better, which would have been lofty enough after a 67-win season in 2019. However, now that the season has been reduced to 60 games, there are a lot of variables at play and pretty much anything can happen.
What kind of variables? For starters, a 60-game season doesn’t allow for a lot of room for error, and a team like the Washington Nationals would have been finished before the playoffs even started in 2019 had the conditions been the same. With a full 162-game schedule, they had time to turn things around and prove themselves worthy of a championship. That won’t be the case this year, and in the same breath, there could be teams that get off to uncharacteristically hot starts that factor into the playoffs this year that may not have in a normal year.
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A shorter season makes any injury more significant as well, as suddenly two weeks spent on the Injured List could represent close to a quarter of the season. Of course, there’s also the fact that there are players opting out, and there could be plenty more to come in the next few weeks. So far we’ve seen veterans like Mike Leake, Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman, and David Price make that choice, and other notable names like Mike Trout and Buster Posey have spoken out about their reluctance as well.
Add it all up, and it makes for an interesting cocktail, and enough that the Blue Jays’ playoff chances have improved a bit according to Fangraphs. Back prior to everything being put on pause, the Blue Jays’ were rated with just a 0.9% chance of making the post-season. However, if you look at the numbers today, Fangraphs has pushed them up to 7.8%, although it’s unclear if that includes the new divisions. And if you’re asking the ZIPS projections (which does include the new divisions and shortened schedule), they like the Blue Jays for as much as a 15.1%.
That’s a pretty significant difference, and one that hasn’t equated for things like players opting out of the season, which could still have a significant impact. We’ve already witnessed the first significant injury from within the division as well, as Masahiro Tanaka was sent to hospital after taking a line drive off of his head on Saturday afternoon while working out with teammates, and that won’t help the Yankees.
A shorter schedule changes a lot of things, and might even allow for Nate Pearson to spend the bulk of the season on the big league roster, and likely without much of any restrictions on his innings. Granted, it’ll be his rookie season and he isn’t guaranteed to dominate right away, but does anyone think he can’t outperform guys like Trent Thornton or Chase Anderson right now? I’d sure like to see him given the opportunity.
The whole picture allows for a lot of craziness in an unprecedented season, including the idea that the Blue Jays may actually have a chance to qualify for the post-season. I don’t think any of us should bank on it, but in a year where it seems like anything can happen, why not hold out some hope that it could be a fun year for this talented team? Fangraphs hasn’t written them off, and neither should any of us.