How does Statcast evaluate Blue Jays starting pitchers so far?
By Ethan Miller
This season has definitely had its ups and downs (more downs of late) for the Blue Jays, and quite a bit of it has been due to the pitching. While some starters have strived lately (Chris Bassitt, Kevin Gausman, José Berríos) others have really faltered (Yusei Kikuchi and Alek Manoah). So by digging into Statcast what trends can we notice, and what can we expect for the rest of the season?
For this article, anything in the top 70% will classify as impressive and anything in the bottom 30% will classify as not-so-impressive. At the bottom of each player page is an explanation of each advanced metric.
Blue Jays Statcast: The Good
- Yusei Kikuchi's BB%, fastball velocity, fastball spin, and extension.
- Alek Manoah's extension.
- Kevin Gausman's xERA/xwOBA, K%, BB%, whiff%, and chase rate.
- Chris Bassitt's Avg Exit Velocity and HardHit%.
- José Berríos' HardHit% and BB% (although three other categories are in the high 60's).
Blue Jays Statcast: The Bad
- Yusei Kikuchi's Average Exit Velocity, HardHit%, xERA/xwOBA, xBA, xSLG, and barrel%.
- Alek Manoah's xERA/xwOBA, xBA, xSLG, K%, BB%, whiff%, and chase rate.
- Kevin Gausman's Average Exit Velocity and HardHit%.
- Chris Bassitt's whiff%, chase rate, fastball velocity, fastball spin, and curve spin.
- José Berríos' xERA/xwOBA, xBA, xSLG, and fastball spin.
As you can see, there's quite a bit more "bad" than "good", but there are a few to look at with more emphasis than others. First, let's look at Yusei Kikuchi.
For the entirety of his major league career, the Japanese hurler's Statcast numbers have been rough. The sole lefty in the Jays rotation was the hardest-hit pitcher in baseball the past two seasons and in the bottom 10th percentile in four of the last five years. While he's effectively eliminated his high walk numbers, the numbers do an accurate job of telling Kikuchi's story this season, too much hard contact.
Alek Manoah has been not good. Manoah had seven categories at 70% or higher last season, including being in the 92nd percentile in HardHit%. There is only one category the righty has improved upon from last season being extension, but his page has gone from a lot of red to a sea of blue. For a guy who was pretty good at eliminating hard contact, and throwing strikes he's been unable to do either of those this season. All three of his pitches are slower than in 2022, and he's been throwing them for fewer strikes. If you were hoping the advanced stats would signify an impending turn around I'm sorry to disappoint.
Kevin Gausman has been really good. Striking out a ton, walking a few, and getting a whole lot of chases. While he's been hit harder than the Jays would like, his splitter is still one of the best pitches in baseball, averaging a ton of horizontal movement (the most of any splitter in baseball). While a few of his numbers are down, overall his page is still really good, and I think it's fair to say that they'll continue to impress for the remainder of the season.
Chris Bassitt's numbers are interesting. His page looks like that of someone who's struggled, and while he did early on, his numbers overall have been impressive. So despite all the negative advanced metrics why has Bassitt succeeded this season? The main thing to look at is the numbers on all his pitches. Bassitt's fastball hasn't been great (not fast and little movement) but his splitter, cutter, sinker, and changeup all have more break than average. When you've got a multitude of options it becomes harder for hitters to guess as to what's coming. So while Bassitt has been giving up contact, a lot of it has been weak, and as a pitcher without high velocity that's exactly what you need.
José Berríos has been much better of late, but Statcast hasn't been agreeing (yet). His page was never going to blow you away, but he's a much better pitcher than the numbers that he put up last season (bottom 15% in seven different categories). He's been hit a bit too hard for my liking, but his slurve has been an effective pitch this season. However, if you look at his year-to-year changes, most of his numbers are actually down from last season, which is cause for concern.
So you can expect a whole more solid pitching from Kevin Gausman, while the other four have some scary-looking metrics. Bassitt and Berríos might not be a huge concern, but Manoah and Kikuchi are going to need to pick it up if the Blue Jays want to go anywhere this season.