José Berríos struggles among early takeaways from the start of the Blue Jays season
By Ryan Eakin
Three big takeaways from the first week-plus of the Blue Jays' season.
If the first ten games of the Toronto Blue Jays' 2023 season could be described in a word or two, "mixed bag" would be a solid description.
Offensively, the top of the order sans George Springer has been excellent, as has the back-end of the bullpen, led by Jordan Romano and Yimi Garica.
But there have been early disappointments too, with the bottom of the lineup largely struggling outside of Kevin Kiermaier, and the starting rotation seeing its fair of ups and downs.
But, it is early after all. So which positive developments are sustainable? Whose poor play is a cause for concern? Let's dig into it.
The Struggles of José Berríos
After an unexpected down season in 2022, there was hope internally and externally around the Blue Jays that José Berríos, their $131M dollar man, would turn things around this season.
But so far, not so good. The 28-year-old has a bloated 11.17 Earned Run Average through his first two starts, despite one of those starts coming against the lowly Kansas City Royals.
An 11.17 ERA is not exactly sustainable, but that does not mean he can expect significant positive regression anytime soon. According to Baseball Savant, Berríos, who pitched for Puerto Rico in the latest edition of the World Baseball Classic, has an expected ERA/xwOBA in the 27th percentile.
Further to that, his struggles with his fastball has continued, with his four-seamer having an xwOBA of .484, compared to his slurve, which has an xwOBA of .222, which is excellent.
Whether it is speeding up his delivery so that opposing batters do not see the ball for as long as they do in his current delivery, eliminating the fastball from his repertoire, or a combination of both of those things, change may have to come to Berrios' game sooner rather than later before his contract looks like a complete albatross to the Blue Jays.
Walking the Walk
All offseason long, Blue Jays management did not exactly hide what their goals were: They wanted to become a more fundamentaly-sound baseball team.
So far, so good.
Whether it is newcomer Daulton Varsho throwing a runner out at the plate, hitting an opposite-field home run, and reaching base via a bunt all in one game in Kansas City, or whether it's fellow newcomer Kiermaier turning a base hit into a double by hustling out of the box, the Jays are making winning plays that were few and far between last season.
Pay The Man
There was lots of hype surrounding Matt Chapman coming into the season, for obvious reasons.
After all, it is a contract year for the three-time Gold Glover. And at the age of 29, it will be the 2019 All-Star last's chance to cash in on a big contract.
All he needs to have is a big season, too, with the market no longer saturated with other elite third basemen after Manny Machado re-signed in San Diego and Rafael Devers extended his stay in Boston for the next 11 years.
And having a big season he is, at least through the first week-plus of the 2023 season.
Chapman is second in all of baseball in brls/PA%, behind just Bryan Reynolds of the Pirates, who is tied for the league lead in home runs with five.
He has 21 hard hits (95 mph or harder), second in the league to teammate Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and has a measly 1.243 OPS.
His defense has been shaky, relative to his standards at least, with his defensive metrics down around seven percent from his career norms. But if he intends to crush the baseball all season the way he is now, teams across the league will happily pay him this winter, even if he is "only" providing average-to-above-average defense at the hot corner.