Blue Jays: Grading the first quarter of the season
Starting behind the plate, Blue Jays catchers rank 23rd in MLB, generating a 0.1 WAR so far. This number may be a bit deceiving as the trio of Jays catchers — Danny Jansen, Alejandro Kirk and Reese McGuire — have generated -6.03offensive WAR and 1.6 defensive WAR, showing how their defence is keeping the group at replacement level.
While Jansen has caught the majority of the innings so far this season, his bat has been nowhere close to replacement level. While a catcher’s main focus should be on their glove work, Jansen ranks 20th amongst all catchers in defensive WAR.
Before his injury, Kirk looked to be starting to heat up, hitting .385 over his final five games, including his two home run game against the Braves. Despite a slow start to the year, Kirk profiled as a guy who might have been getting unlucky with some of the balls he was putting in play. With an average exit velocity of 90.2 mph and a BABIP of .194, it was only a matter of time before some balls started to find some holes and fall in for hits.
McGuire has come in and filled in admirably for Kirk. Hitting .400 through his first seven games, he may be able to work himself into more playing time if he continues to find his way on base from the bottom of the order.
At first base, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is looking like a bonafide MVP candidate. It’s hard to say how much the position change has contributed to Guerrero’s breakout season but it seems like he has settled in at first and is reminding the league why he was the #1 ranked prospect just two years ago.
By offensive WAR, Guerrero has been the best hitter in MLB this season. While the numbers have been repeated again and again so far this year, Guerrero’s walk rate has skyrocketed to 15.2 per cent this season and he falls third in average exit velocity (94.5 mph), ripping the ball every time he puts it in play.
Meanwhile, 2021 hasn’t been too kind to Rowdy Tellez. The 26-year-old has a wRC+ of 39 and although he is hitting the ball hard — an average exit velocity of 94.3 mph — too often he is expanding the zone, reflected in his 2.2 per cent walk rate and 34.4 per cent chase rate.
Marcus Semien has played nearly every game at second base for the Blue Jays so far in 2021. The offseason acquisition has really turned it on since the end of April. After seeing his batting average fall to .174 on April 20th, Semien has arguably been the best two-bagger in baseball. Since the 20th he has a slash line of .343/.419/.6598, which now has him as the highest second base WAR generator in the league (1.8). Semien is posting a career-high in hard-hit percentage (43.7%) and has been everything the Blue Jays could have expected when they signed him.
At shortstop, Bo Bichette has maybe not had the type of year that Jays fans have come to expect after his first two seasons, but Bichette has still been one of the best shortstops in baseball.
Posting a top-10 WAR at his position and starting to regain some of the defensive value that he lost early on, Bichette continues to impress and may be in line for an All-Star appearance in his first full MLB season.
Rounding out the infield, are Cavan Biggio, Santiago Espinal and Joe Panik. While Biggio has struggled to start the season, posting a negative offensive and defensive WAR, Panik and Espinal have had varying levels of success. Espinal has been very good defensively and has held his own at the plate, while Panik has struggled on both sides of the ball.
Despite the slow start, Biggio is starting to show signs of life at the plate in May, with three multi-hit games so far this month. He is also looking better defensively, only making one error since the calendar flipped, compared to the five he made in April.
While the Blue Jays may be lacking production from the catcher and third base positions, there is a chance that we see multiple Jays infielders representing the team at the All-Star game.