The Blue Jays had a terrific 2022 season. They won 92 games, the most for the franchise since 2015. They scored the second-most runs in the American League, a year after being the most prolific lineup in baseball, while out-hitting every team. They earned the top Wild Card spot in the AL. But did they actually underachieve? One writer thinks so, and he has big hopes that the Blue Jays will be even better in 2023.
Will Leitch attempted to predict the next 10 World Series matchups in a piece published on Monday, an exercise he has done before—with mixed results. His 2023 matchup? The Blue Jays taking on the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Fall Classic.
“As for the American League, the Blue Jays were good in 2022 but still felt like they underperformed. Here’s betting on a season this time where everything lands exactly right,” Leitch writes.
It’s easy to see Leitch’s reason for attaching such optimism to the Blue Jays next season. Despite the run to the postseason, there were still several areas the Blue Jays needed to improve on. Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s season, standing on its own merits, would seem like a good year for any other player. But compared to 2021, when he would’ve won MVP if not for Shohei Ohtani’s unicorn-like talent, it was disappointing. His OPS fell by nearly 200 points in 2022 as he slugged 16 fewer home runs. Leitch not only predicts a bounceback season for Guerrero, he has him firmly in contention for the MVP.
The Blue Jays spent the offseason trying to address the issues that plagued them last season. They were too right-handed in 2022, so they added Daulton Varsho, Kevin Kiermaier, and Brandon Belt. Varsho hit 27 home runs for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season and has the potential to eclipse the 30-homer milestone playing in the more hitter-friendly confines of the Rogers Centre. He and Kiermaier will also provide the Blue Jays with the most elite outfield defense in the league.
They also added starting pitcher Chris Bassitt, adding him to a rotation that includes Alek Manoah and Kevin Gausman. The philosophy of the Blue Jays' front office this offseason was run prevention, and this trio will do that effectively. All three of them ranked in the top 20 in fewest homers per nine innings allowed last season.
Blue Jays relievers ranked 23rd in swing and miss percentage last season. So they acquired Erik Swanson in a trade with the Seattle Mariners. Swanson had a 1.68 ERA and struck out 11.7 batters per nine innings in 57 games for the Mariners. No Blue Jays reliever was more effective at missing bats last season than Swanson, not even All-Star closer Jordan Romano.
The Blue Jays will also have manager John Schneider at the helm for the entire season. The team was just four games above .500 and in fourth place in the AL East when Charlie Montoyo was fired on July 13; once Schneider took over, the team went 46-28, the third-best record in the AL over that span.
The club is now, at least on paper, better than it was when they lost to the Mariners in the postseason in October. Feel that optimism in the air, like Leitch? Then you won’t have too much longer to wait: Spring Training opens in less than 40 days.