Toronto Blue Jays 2023 Season Preview: RHP Zach Pop

Toronto Blue Jays v Minnesota Twins
Toronto Blue Jays v Minnesota Twins / David Berding/GettyImages

Next up in our Toronto Blue Jays 2023 season preview series is right-handed pitcher Zach Pop.


Addison BargerAnthony BassChris BassittBrandon BeltJosé BerríosBo Bichette, Cavan BiggioMatt ChapmanAdam CimberHagen DannerSantiago EspinalMatt GageYimi GarcíaKevin Gausman, Chad GreenVladimir Guerrero Jr.Thomas HatchSpencer Horwitz, Danny Jansen, Leo Jimenez, Kevin Kiermaier, Yusei Kikuchi, Alejandro Kirk, Otto Lopez, Nathan Lukes, Alek Manoah, Orelvis Martinez, Tim Mayza, Whit Merrifield, Nate Pearson

Before we get into this, here's a quick refresher on the projection models we'll be looking at.

STEAMER46 G (0 starts), 2-2 record, 3.97 ERA, 39 SO, 16 BB in 46 innings pitched

ZiPS55 G (0 starts), 2-2 record, 4.23 ERA, 51 SO, 20 BB in 61.2 innings pitched

2022 stats: 35 G (0 starts), 4-0 record, 2.77 ERA, 25 SO, 4 BB in 39 innings pitched

Pop, a GTA native, is entering his age 26 season and first full season with the Blue Jays. He came over from Miami with Anthony Bass as a part of the Jordan Groshans trade and will be looking to make himself a staple of the team's 2023 bullpen after a great (albeit brief) 2022 in Toronto.

Pop's 2023 projections have him putting up much weaker numbers than he did in 2022, which is quite surprising considering how much promise he's shown. For starters, the eye test does wonders for Pop. As a two-pitch pitcher, you'd hope his two pitches look good and they absolutely do. His sinker, which he uses about three-quarters of the time, has great movement and some serious juice behind it, generally sitting around 97mph. His slider, which he uses the other quarter of the time, has lots of horizontal movement that can make it a great put-away pitch. Watching his tape, it's clear that the talent is there and his 2022 numbers properly reflect that.

As shown above, Pop put up some really solid numbers last year. Outside of getting tagged for four runs in less than an inning against the Reds, he was an incredibly consistent pitcher and showed that he can be an effective reliever no matter what situation he's thrown into. In 2022, he faced 23 batters in situations that Baseball Reference considered "high leverage" and in those plate appearances, he allowed just five hits, a walk, and a .488 OPS. His Statcast numbers are generally just as solid, with great velocity, chase rate, hard hit percentage, xSLG, and barrel rate, which makes it even more confusing as to why his projections seem to think he'll regress.

The main things that could probably be pointed to as to why Pop could regress would be a small sample size and a reliance on limiting hard contact. The small sample size is easy to explain since he's yet to pitch 100 innings in the Majors, but since the 2021 All-Star break, he has a 2.44 ERA over 62.2 innings, which would be a outstanding numbers for a reliever over a full year. The other factor is that, in 2022 in particular, Pop didn't strike a ton of batter out, with just 5.77 strikeouts per nine, and relied a lot on weak contact. This can be a bit of a tough stat to use when predicting young pitchers, but the heavy sinker usage type of pitcher he is will always be reliant on that. His low strikeout numbers are a bit concerning, but you would have to imagine they go up in 2023 considering how good his stuff can be.

While the projections may not agree, 2023 has the potential to be a big year for Zach Pop. Should he secure himself a spot in the Blue Jays bullpen early, he could prove to be one of the team's most promising relievers and could build off his success over the past year and a half. With young pitchers like this, it's always hard to tell exactly what they'll turn into, but Pop has a lot of the makings of a great young arm.

dark. Next. Does latest news mean Kikuchi has the inside job to No. 5 spot?