The Toronto Blue Jays will enter the 2024 season with a chip on their shoulder. Canada’s only MLB franchise has not won a postseason game since 2016. Last year, they were swept in the AL Wild Card Series at the hands of the Minnesota Twins; the year prior, it was the Seattle Mariners who dealt the eliminating blow.
While the Jays were in the mix for Shohei Ohtani, their front office has yet to make a ‘big splash’ on the free agent market this winter.
They brought back Kevin Kiermaier on a one-year deal. They also added Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Justin Turner, and Yariel Rodriguez to try and raise the floor. However, the club will be without Matt Chapman, Hyun Jin Ryu, Whit Merrifield, Brandon Belt, and Jordan Hicks heading into the upcoming campaign. The Jays will be relying on some internal candidates to step up in their absence.
Playing in a tough AL East division, one which only got stronger after the Baltimore Orioles acquired Corbin Burnes and the New York Yankees traded for Juan Soto, the Blue Jays are in a tough position to compete for a postseason spot this year.
Let’s take a look at the ZiPS projections for the Blue Jays this season.
Key Position Player Takeaways
- Bo Bichette projects to lead the club in batting average and fWAR. ZiPS has the shortstop putting up a .292 average and 4.3 fWAR. The system also projects that he will eclipse last year’s home run total with 24 knocks while posting a 122 OPS+ (right in line with his 123 OPS+ from 2023).
- The return of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. ZiPS thinks that the right-handed slugger will bounce back in 2024, leading the club in multiple offensive categories. Those categories include OPS+ (134), OBP (.357), and SLG (.492). He also projects to collect 31 home runs, making him the lone Toronto hitter expected to eclipse the 30-home run mark.
- ZiPS hasn’t fully bought in on Davis Schneider. The projections are forecasting a steep decline for the right-handed batter who had a great cup of coffee last year. The mustached Jay projects for a .230 average with a 111 OPS+, a big step back from his 176 OPS+ in 2023. Thankfully, his plus eye at the plate and ability to draw walks have him pegged for a much better .333 OBP. His 19-homer projection is also encouraging.
- Return of the home run ball? ZiPS projects that four Blue Jays (Bichette, Guerrero, George Springer, and Daulton Varsho) will eclipse the 20-homer mark. Those same hitters were the only Blue Jays to reach 20 home runs in 2023, as well. The year prior, five Jays hit 20 blasts, while the year before that, seven different Toronto sluggers reached the 20-homer threshold.
Key Pitching Staff Takeaways
- Kevin Gausman continues to lead the rotation. The 2023 Cy Young finalist projects for another strong season. ZiPS has him making 29 starts with a 3.46 ERA and 184 strikeouts. That would pale in comparison to the 237 he racked up last year, but still, he takes the top spot on the pitching staff with 3.8 projected fWAR.
- ZiPS doesn’t favor the bounce-back pitchers. Both José Berríos and Yusei Kikuchi had great 2023 seasons after struggling the year before. However, ZiPS sees both pitchers taking a step back. Berríos, who posted a 3.65 ERA in 2023, projects for a 4.12 ERA next season. Meanwhile, Kikuchi, who posted a 3.86 ERA this past year, projects for a 4.38 ERA.
- Alek Manoah makes a return. Currently penciled in as the club’s fifth starter, the right-hander projects to make 20-plus starts and eclipse 100 innings after his disastrous 2023 campaign. ZiPS pegs him for a 4.47 ERA. It’s not great, but at the same time, it’s not much worse than Kikcuchi’s projected 4.38 ERA. More to the point, it would be a whole lot better than Manoah’s 5.87 ERA last season.
- The emergence of Ricky Tiedemann will be something to watch for. The Blue Jays’ top prospect is slated to make his big league debut at some point this year, and ZiPS projects that he will post a 4.09 ERA and rock a 26.8% strikeout rate during his rookie campaign. That’s not bad for a 21-year-old with only a single game of experience above Double-A.
- Jordan Romano continues to be the anchor. The Markham, Ont. product projects to lead the bullpen with a 3.37 ERA. That’s a full run higher than his 2.37 ERA over the past three years, but it’s important to keep in mind that projections are conservative by design. ZiPS has Romano as one of the top ten AL relievers by ERA in 2024.
- ZiPS likes the Jays bullpen. Romano, Erik Swanson, and Tim Mayza will lead the charge, while a healthy Chad Green should bolster the relief corps. The righty has not pitched a full season since 2021, but he is projected for a 3.53 ERA through 38 appearances.
The Toronto Blue Jays are strong on paper, but the club is in a tough spot within the AL East.
The lineup could use another bat like Jorge Soler or J.D. Martinez if the Jays want to add some firepower and rely less on internal players to pick up the slack. Kiermaier and Kiner-Falefa will help the defense, but Turner has been the only player acquired for his bat. One could argue that is not enough to replace Belt, Chapman, and Merrifield.
Overall, the Jays will need the likes of Guerrero, Springer, and Alejandro Kirk to return to form this season if they want any shot at making the playoffs. A healthy pitching corps could also go a long way. With Bichette, Guerrero, and Romano just two years away from free agency, the time to win is now.