Three players already on the Blue Jays roster that can improve second-half outlook

May 23, 2021; Dunedin, Florida, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays left fielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (13) singles during the second inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at TD Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
May 23, 2021; Dunedin, Florida, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays left fielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (13) singles during the second inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at TD Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

As the Blue Jays front office seemingly waits on the trade market to develop, the team on the field still has to keep playing games.

Sitting at 49-47, 10.5 games back of the Boston Red Sox in the AL East and 4.5 behind the Oakland A’s for the second wild-card spot, each day spent not upgrading the roster seems to push the Blue Jays closer to either selling or sticking with what they’ve got.

While a return home at the end of July presents the opportunity for the team to make a run to the playoffs with their home fans behind them, if the on-field results don’t start to change, eyes will start to look to 2022.

Despite having four All-Stars — three of whom were starters — there’s always room for improvement from players up and down the lineup.

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These three players putting together stronger post All-Star break numbers could be huge if the team hopes to make a postseason push in 2021.

Lourdes Gurriel Jr.

In 2020, Gurriel Jr. was one of the Blue Jays’ best hitters. He made strides with his discipline as he cut down his strikeout rate and increased his walk rate, doing so while hitting the ball hard just about as often as the top hitters in MLB.

Unfortunately, Gurriel Jr. has had a disappointing season at the plate so far in 2021. His hard hit percentage has dropped by 12 per cent, and his walk rate has plummeted to 4.2%, which ranks among the worst in the league.

From 2018-2020, Gurriel Jr.’s first three seasons in the big leagues, he posted a 120 wRC+. This season he has only posted a 92 wRC+, making him a below league average hitter. Surprisingly Gurriel Jr. has struggled to hit the fastball in 2021, likely playing a large part in his down year. He’s only hitting .223 and slugging .321 on fastballs, which he sees 35% of the time during his at-bats.

Gurriel Jr. hasn’t been a bad hitter in 2021, but he hasn’t lived up to the standards he set for himself through his first three years with the Blue Jays. As we’ve seen in the past, there aren’t many better hitters than Gurriel Jr. when he gets hot. So it may only take one or two months for him to heat up and turn his season around.

This would not only help take some pressure off some of the Blue Jays’ top hitters, but it would make their already deep lineup even tougher for opposing pitching staffs to get through on a nightly basis.

Steven Matz

While the bullpen is one of the team’s biggest concerns, the Blue Jays rotation hasn’t given their relievers a lot of help.

With Robbie Ray and Hyun-Jin Ryu and, more recently, Alek Manoah providing consistently solid starts every five days, getting one more starter that can go deeper into games could relieve the pressure on the already overextended bullpen. Matz could be the answer to the short-handed rotation if the front office doesn’t prioritize adding another starter at the trade deadline.

Through his first four starts of the year, Matz looked like an offseason steal. He posted a 2.31 ERA through 23.1 innings while striking out 25 and only walking eight. Since those four games, Matz has had seven starts where he has given up four or more runs and six starts of four runs or less. That inconsistency has Matz profiling as an average MLB pitcher in 2021, with a 103 ERA+.

If he can eliminate some of his poor starts and perform similarly to his first four outings of the year, he could give the Blue Jays the chance to get solid pitching every four games.

One thing that has made a big difference in how successful Matz’s starts have been is the control of his sinker. When he works his sinker at the bottom of the strike zone, he has been much more effective, but when he leaves it in the middle — or in other words, it’s not sinking — hitters are teeing off.

Alejandro Kirk

It’s no secret that Blue Jays catchers have been among the worst hitters in MLB at their position. Not only have they been below average at the plate, but they’ve been in the middle of the pack defensively as well. While Kirk may not be the best defensive catcher, it may be worth the Blue Jays’ time to give him the chance to fail behind the plate to get his bat back in the lineup.

Kirk has posted a 126 wRC+ so far in 2021 and consistently hits the ball hard when he’s at the plate. Getting him back from IL allows the Blue Jays to get him in the lineup either catching or as the DH.

Reese McGuire has been the Blue Jays’ best defensive catcher this year, but his bat leaves something to be desired. While he will be able to keep a spot thanks to his defence, he only ranks 24th amongst catchers in MLB in defensive WAR.

It may be important to pair McGuire with some of the Blue Jays’ top starters to keep them comfortable and maximize their starts. Still, the second half of the year could be an excellent time to find out if Kirk can ever be an everyday catcher or if he will have to settle in at DH for the foreseeable future.

Depending on which way the Blue Jays decide to go at the trade deadline could influence the way they structure their lineup for the rest of the year.

Next. Why it would be a mistake to become a seller. dark

With Gurriel Jr., George Springer, Teoscar Hernandez and Randal Grichuk there may not be a lot of room to get Kirk at-bats at DH, so giving him some time may be the best way to maximize the team’s offensive production if they are unable to improve their run prevention at the deadline.