As Bo Bichette has struggled over the first 21 games of the regular season, calls for the Blue Jays to move him down in the order have grown louder. In my opinion, Charlie Montoyo should continue to shut out the noise and stay the course.
Why do I say that? First of all, I understand why some folks believe that both Bichette and the Blue Jays would be better off if he was hitting lower in the order. He did well as the cleanup hitter at times last year, and there’s an argument that his skill set at the plate is better suited to that role. I get all of that, and even agree with those arguments.
For the time being though, I really do believe that Bichette is best suited to hitting second, and I’ll even admit that my opinion on this has recently changed. Here’s why I believe the Blue Jays are doing the right thing by riding it out with Bo sandwiched between George Springer and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
He’s as well protected as he could possibly be
If you’re a believer in the concept of “protecting as hitter”, then Bichette is in a nearly perfect position. At the moment I would argue that Springer and Guerrero Jr. are the top two hitters on the team, and Bichette has the luxury of hitting between them. In theory that should mean he sees more fastballs/hittable pitches in general, and even if that hasn’t exactly been the case so far, it should play in his favour at some point.
For the time being I think Bichette needs to dial back his aggression, just a little bit. By no means do you want to take that fundamental aggression away from Bichette’s approach, but it feels like teams are taking advantage of it to start the year, and the 24 year old has been taking the bait. If he can sit back, just a little, hopefully he can force teams into throwing him a lot more fastballs. We all know they won’t want to walk him when Vlad Jr. is sitting in the on-deck circle.
I realize he’s not exactly earning the role at the moment, but I can’t imagine a better spot to help the 2021 All-Star get rolling.
How to use the second spot in the order
Over the last number of years, most teams have moved toward putting their best hitter in the 2nd spot. Not all teams do this of course, but it’s become a more common practice in recent years, and there are many good statistical arguments for lining things up that way.
In theory, that means that the Blue Jays should have Guerrero Jr. or Springer hitting second, but those two have really settled into their preferred spots. Springer has been a long-time leadoff hitter, and while he was willing to do whatever was asked of him last year as he returned from injury, I don’t think he’s going to be happy about being moved out of his normal role these days. That’s especially the case because he’s been so good at it, and I’m not sure it would be wise to fix something that isn’t broken.
The same could be said for Vlad Jr., who has shown a preference for hitting third. He may change his mind as the season goes on, and I could see a Springer-Vlad-Teoscar-Bo top four making lots of sense, but that doesn’t seem to be on the table for now.
I know some fans and writers have suggested that perhaps Santiago Espinal should be hitting second right now, and I get where that’s coming from. The 27 year old has been a pleasant surprise so far, but does anyone really think he’s one of the best hitters on this team? You could make the argument for riding the hot hand too, but Espinal has brought a lot of value to the bottom third of the order too, and the balance is helpful.
Maybe you could experiment with Teoscar Hernandez hitting second once he returns from the Injured List, but to me he’s a tailor made cleanup hitter. Bichette may be an imperfect fit in the second spot, but I do believe he’s the best candidate on the Blue Jays’ roster. It’s just not showing up so far as he’s struggled.
He’s too good not to figure this out
I know Bichette hasn’t been the same player so far in 2022 that we’ve seen for the rest of his short but successful career, but let’s not forget that we’re still just 21 games into this young season. I’m not here to make excuses for him, but it wasn’t a typical offseason, or Spring Training. Many players across the big leagues have gotten off to cold starts, and it’s far too early to hit any of the major panic buttons.
Prior to last night’s game, Bichette had a career slash line of .294/.336/.489 slugging percentage across his first 254 games. So far this year he’s sitting at .212/.239/.306. Simply put, he’s too good not to figure this out at some point, and the sample size still isn’t big enough to truly worry about it.
If Bichette is still in the same place in a couple of weeks, then perhaps Charlie Montoyo will have to make an adjustment to the lineup. He wouldn’t be the first great hitter to get dropped in the order for a while until he found his groove, and it’s not the end of the world if that’s what ends up happening. In my mind though, even if it’s been a rough first 21 games, we’re not quite there yet.