Blue Jays: Top factors for a division title in 2023
3. A bounceback rotation
A big strength of last year's club was expected to be the rotation. While the Blue Jays received fantastic seasons from Alek Manoah and Kevin Gausman, the seasons for the likes of José Berríos, Hyun Jin Ryu, and Yusei Kikuchi didn’t go as expected. Injuries and poor performance took their toll on this trio, requiring Ross Stripling to step in and save the Blue Jays early in the season.
With Stripling out, Bassitt in, Ryu shelved till mid-season, and Berríos and Kikuchi both looking sharp and confident, it’s fair to yet again expect that this rotation to carry the team. Bounceback seasons from pitchers with a proven track record of success could go a long way for a rotation that lacked consistency for most of the season last year.
A look into Fangraphs projections for Berríos shows a dip in ERA of almost a full run. This forecasted mark of 4.27 is no doubt an improvement over last season, but Jays fans have reason to dream bigger. An ERA of 3.74 from 2017-2021 while averaging 159 innings goes to show what could be expected from Berríos in a rebound year, as he was a pitcher who was previously a model of consistency. When on, he can be expected to fill the zone with a multitude of pitches, and on occasion rack up double-digit strikeouts. Getting Berríos back on track would be a massive boost.
This same sentiment can be shared with Kikuchi. The free agent signee was a frustrating watch last year. A guy with great stuff, Kikuchi lacked confidence last year and was ultimately placed in the bullpen late in the year. With the implementation of a new pitch, increased fastball usage, and a quicker pace thanks to the pitch clock, the potential for a new look Kikuchi is there. Improved pitch selection and consistency from Kikuchi would be a massive boost for this rotation out of it’s fifth starter.
Someone not often discussed in Blue Jays circles nowadays is Hyun Jin Ryu. With a healthy elbow, Ryu has been a joy to watch in a Jays uniform. The former All-Star arrived to Dunedin in great shape, and is on track to rejoin the team midseason. Injecting a healthy and rejuvenated Ryu in this rotation in the middle of a playoff push would be huge, and is a point that shouldn’t be lost on Jays fans as the summer goes on.