The Yankees might be the favourites in the AL East, but the Blue Jays lineup has every bit as much firepower as their division rival.
Don’t believe me? I’d invite you to have a closer look at the starting lineups between the two clubs, and I’ve included one extra player from each side who is projected to play nearly full-time as well. While the knee-jerk reaction is to assume that the Yankees are the superior group, the gap has been significantly closed with the emergence of a talented crop of young Blue Jays, as well as signing a pair of premium free agents.
Since we only have two games in the books, I figure it makes a lot more sense to use projections rather than numbers. For that I’m going to turn to Fangraphs and their ZIPS projections. There are other systems out there, and some might argue in their favour, but this will give you at least a general idea from a reputable source. Rather than break down all kinds of numbers, I kept it to a general one in fWAR.
With that in mind, let’s have a look.
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Danny Jansen/Alejandro Kirk= 3.6 fWAR
Gary Sanchez/Kyle Higashioka= 1.6 fWAR
Advantage= Blue Jays (2.0 advantage Toronto)
Believe it not, the projections easily favour the Blue Jays backstops. That’s likely due in big part to the disastrous season from Sanchez in 2020, as well as the positive projections for Alejandro Kirk, who looks to play his first full MLB season. For what it’s worth, ZIPS has both Jansen and Kirk slated for 1.8 fWAR a piece.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr.- 2.8 fWAR
Luke Voit= 2.9 fWAR
Advantage= Yankees (1.9 advantage Toronto)
It’s obviously a big blow that the Yankees will be without Luke Voit for at least the first month of this season. That said, ZIPS has him ahead of Vlad Jr. even with some down time, and that’s probably fair for the 2020 AL home run champ. That said, don’t be surprised if Vlad Jr. outperforms him this year. He looks really good now that he’s in shape and seems to have rediscovered his old confidence.
Marcus Semien= 4.2 fWAR
D.J. LeMahieu= 4.2 fWAR
Advantage= Even (1.9 advantage Toronto)
Yankees fans probably won’t agree with this assessment, but we have to remember it also incorporates defensive value, where Semien likely has the edge even with LeMahieu’s versatility. That said, Semien needs to be more like the 2019 version of himself in order to keep up with the AL batting champ in New York.
Cavan Biggio= 3.2 fWAR
Gio Urshela= 2.5 fWAR
Advantage= Blue Jays (2.6 advantage Toronto)
Granted, part of Biggio’s projected value comes from his own defensive versatility, but I’d still give him a slight edge over Urshela anyway. ZIPS projections would agree.
Bo Bichette= 4.0 fWAR
Gleyber Torres= 4.4 fWAR
Advantage= Yankees (2.2 advantage Toronto)
For now it makes sense that Torres would have the slight advantage, but this is another position I could see the Blue Jays winning by the end of the year. The biggest key might be whether or not Bichette can stay healthy for a full season, but otherwise you can expect him to keep up with the Yankee star.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr.= 1.8 fWAR
Clint Frazier= 1.2 fWAR
Advantage= Blue Jays (2.8 advantage Toronto)
This could be an interesting battle, as I think both Gurriel Jr. and Frazier are stars flying under the radar. The Yankee outfielder should finally get a chance to play every day, and I’d be surprised if he doesn’t take advantage. Still, he should have some catching up to do to reach Gurriel Jr’s value.
George Springer= 3.9 fWAR
Aaron Hicks= 2.4 fWAR
Advantage= Blue Jays (4.3 advantage Toronto)
Perhaps the biggest advantage the Blue Jays will have is one they haven’t had at their disposal for the opening series of the season. That said, their 150 million dollar man should be back sooner than later, and he’ll make the Blue Jays better on both sides of the ball.
Teoscar Hernandez= 2.1 fWAR
Aaron Judge= 4.3 fWAR
Advantage= Yankees (2.1 advantage Toronto)
And the biggest advantage for the Yankees comes in right field, with their brightest star Aaron Judge. If you were looking at the numbers from 2020, Hernandez actually outperformed the Yankee slugger, but I don’t know that I’d bet on that happening again. That said, Judge needs to stay healthy too or Hernandez could win this position as well.
Rowdy Tellez= 1.7 fWAR
Giancarlo Stanton= 3.2 fWAR
Advantage= Yankees (0.6 advantage Toronto)
Will this be the year that Stanton stays healthy? If he does, it’s a big advantage for the Bronx Bombers, but that’s also a big if. As for Tellez, we’ll see if last year’s break-out was for real, but I’m betting that it was.
Randal Grichuk= 1.5 fWAR
Brett Gardner= 1.8 fWAR
Advantage= Yankees (0.3 advantage Toronto)
Chances are both Grichuk and Gardner will each receive 400 or more at-bats throughout the course of the year, especially if one or both are covering for injuries at all. Right now Grichuk finds himself starting full-time, and will do so at least until Springer returns. As with the rest of the bench, these two could be important contributors.
Have I convinced you yet? Again, this is just one projection system, but my point is that there is no reason the Blue Jays can’t hang with the Yankees at least as far as their lineups are concerned. The greater battle will likely come with their pitching staffs, with the Blue Jays hoping for upside plays from the likes of Robbie Ray, Steven Matz, and more, and the Yankees praying for healthy seasons from Corey Kluber, Jameson Taillon, and later with Luis Severino.
The two clubs have split the first two games of the year, and don’t be surprised if the it’s a close battle all year long.