Ranking the 12 biggest concerns for the Blue Jays after 12 games

Nick Ashbourne
·MLB Writer
·7 min read

For a team that came into 2021 with lofty expectations after a busy offseason, a 6-6 start is a bit disappointing for the Toronto Blue Jays.

That record requires a little context, though. One way of looking at it is that the Blue Jays should be commended for not digging themselves a deep hole despite a litany of injuries that might have resulted in a truly ugly record for a lesser team. On the other hand, their jam-packed IL could be seen as a major obstacle towards this club fulfilling its 2021 goals both in the short term and over the course of the season.

It’s a moment of great anxiety in Blue Jays land, and as a result it seems like a good time to take the temperature on some of the team’s early-season concerns, and how much of a problem they pose to the team's prospects.

Here are a dozen worries from a dozen Blue Jays games, ranked by validity:

The back of the rotation

For all the expectations surrounding the 2021 Blue Jays, it was always clear they were missing a starter or two. Luckily for the team, Steven Matz has stepped up in the early going and Robbie Ray had an encouraging season debut. Even so, Ross Stripling hasn’t performed well and was scratched from his Wednesday start with forearm tightness, Tanner Roark got demoted to the bullpen after one rough start, and T.J. Zeuch simply isn’t a viable answer.

There aren’t many in-house options beyond Anthony Kay and Nate Pearson — presuming he returns to a starting role — and this has the look of a season-long issue. At the very least it’s something the Blue Jays are likely to address if they’re still in contention at the trade deadline.

Worry quotient: 7 out of 10

The Nate Pearson situation

Coming into the year the rookie right-hander was expected to be a presence at the top of the Blue Jays rotation. After years of injury woes, this was also meant to be the year Pearson built up his workload so he could be fully unleashed in 2022.

After a groin injury and re-aggravation we haven’t seen him yet, and the fact he’s reportedly adjusting to “not be too violent” on the mound suggests that Pearson and the team have concerns that his durability issues go beyond bad luck.

Worry quotient: 7 out of 10

A flood of bullpen injuries

Not only did the Blue Jays lose presumed closer Kirby Yates to an elbow injury before he ever pitched with the team, Julian Merryweather, the guy who took his place — and looked truly outstanding — is on the IL with an oblique strain. Veteran Tyler Chatwood is also on the shelf with a triceps issue and David Phelps is dealing with a back contusion.

Although the back-end arms that got them through 2020 (Jordan Romano, Rafael Dolis and Ryan Borucki) are available, the depth of this group is getting thin.

Worry quotient: 6 out of 10

Rowdy Tellez’s invisible bat

Tellez was a revelation in 2020. Coming off a thoroughly unimpressive 2019 where he showed an inability to get on base at a reasonable clip, the big first baseman cut down his strikeouts, walked more, and looked like a formidable provider of left-handed thump.

Thus far in 2021, Tellez has not sustained last year’s gains, posting a .121/.171/.212 line and walking just once against 10 strikeouts. However, he has recorded four hits in his past three games after 23 plate appearances without a knock to start the year. The plate discipline is discouraging, but it’s too early to confidently assume it’s more than slump.

Worry quotient: 5 out of 10

Rowdy Tellez is slowly starting to warm up after an ice-cold start to the year. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
Rowdy Tellez is slowly starting to warm up after an ice-cold start to the year. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

The Boston Red Sox

Conventional wisdom prior to the season was that the Red Sox weren’t going to be much of an issue for the AL East contenders, but Boston is off to a 9-3 start and its pitching looks far more competent than anticipated.

This club’s offence is the real deal and if they can keep runs off the board they look like a real problem. FanGraphs is already giving them better playoff odds (57.5 percent) than the Blue Jays (50.3).

Worry quotient: 5 out of 10

The catchers’ production

Despite carrying promising offensive-minded rookie Alejandro Kirk as their backup, Blue Jays catchers have hit a collective .079/.186/.184, the worst production any team has gotten from the position. Danny Jansen has yet to consistently produce as a hitter at the big-league level despite a solid feel for the zone, and Kirk is as unproven as they come despite a strong 2020 cameo.

There is a scenario where this tandem combines to create a daily black hole in the lineup, but they don’t deserve to be written off yet, especially considering Kirk’s impressive offensive ceiling.

Worry quotient: 4 out of 10

Bo Bichette’s defence

Bichette has made a few troubling plays in the field already, which isn’t ideal considering his struggles in last year’s playoffs. The young shortstop is just over a half season into his MLB career, though. He has the tools to be effective at the position and deserves more rope.

There is some awkwardness around Marcus Semien probably being the best defender they have at the position, but the Blue Jays will only entertain an infield shakeup if their up-the-middle defence becomes a serious issue, which it isn’t yet.

Worry quotient: 4 out of 10

The absence of George Springer

When you spend $150 million on a player, it is certainly a buzzkill to see him miss the beginning of the season. The concern level creeps up when he suffers two separate soft tissue injuries and your franchise-record contract with him is a bet that he can age better than his peers as he gets deeper into his 30s.

All of that said, Springer’s oblique and quad injuries were relatively minor, the Blue Jays are being cautious with him, and he should be available soon.

Worry quotient: 3 out of 10

Charlie Montoyo’s in-game management

Montoyo was a Manager of the Year candidate last year thanks to the Blue Jays’ big step forward, but his in-game tactics have often been head-scratching. Early in the year he’s called for a few too many bunts (none of which have gone down successfully) and his bullpen decisions have puzzled at times.

The bunting decisions continue to be dubious, but Montoyo hasn’t called for any intentional walks yet this year — something he’s overdone in the past — which is progress.

Worry quotient: 3 out of 10

Cavan Biggio’s start

Because of his relatively unremarkable physical gifts, Biggio is consistently doubted when he falls into slumps. While his .179/.304/.385 line through 11 games is on the ugly side, he’s still drawing walks and his strikeout rate has been inflated by some borderline strike-three calls.

Once his BABIP bounces up from .227 he should be fine. The only thing to monitor is a whiff rate that’s higher than we’re accustomed to seeing.

Worry quotient: 2 out of 10

Lourdes Gurriel Jr.'s slump

The left fielder has been a complete non-factor thus far and his lack of plate discipline means he’s not even getting on base via the walk and appears to be throwing away at-bats at times. Gurriel Jr. has never had good discipline and he has always been extremely streaky. For example, this is his 10-game rolling OPS.

Lourdes Gurriel's 10-game rolling OPS
Lourdes Gurriel's 10-game rolling OPS

He’s had similar slumps and they tend to be followed by impressive hot streaks. Nothing to see here, yet.

Worry quotient: 2 out of 10

Hitting with runners in scoring position

The Blue Jays have been brutal in RISP situations this year with a .206/.263/.308 line, but there’s a lot of randomness there, and it doesn’t suggest a fatal flaw in the club’s construction. For instance, the Atlanta Braves are posting similar numbers to Toronto now, but that club was in the top-five in RISP hitting last year.

It’s a tough thing to pin down, especially in a small sample, and the best cure for having difficulty hitting with runners in scoring position is having good hitters — which the Blue Jays do.

Worry quotient: 1 out of 10

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