logo

2024 Blue Jays bold predictions: Cy Young-calibre José Berríos, Daulton Varsho’s 30-20 season, Joey Votto makes meaningful impact in storybook ending

alt
Photo credit:Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Thomas Hall
19 days ago
It’s the most wonderful time of the year: meaningful baseball games are (almost) back.
The Toronto Blue Jays are looking to turn the page from an underwhelming off-season, where they made marginal additions after missing out on then-free agent Shohei Ohtani, who signed a historic $700-million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
But that’s not all. This team is also looking to write a different, more positive ending to its season – one that’ll hopefully result in a playoff victory or two, considering the organization’s most recent win still lies in 2016.
The Blue Jays will be thrown into the fire off the start, beginning the 2024 campaign with a 10-game road trip to buy a few additional weeks for finishing touches on the Rogers Centre’s renovations. Not only will they have to live out of suitcases for the first three series, but they’ll also have to survive a gruelling stretch against the Tampa Bay Rays, Houston Astros and New York Yankees.
That’ll probably be easier said than done, and so will be returning home with a .500 winning percentage or better.
Let’s go big picture for a second, though. It is that time of the year when everyone and their neighbour make predictions for the upcoming season. So why not join the party, right?
Rather than declare a bold statement about how 2024 may or may not unfold for the Blue Jays, these predictions will focus on three individuals from the roster – one pitcher and two hitters. So grab your mystic ball – or magic eight ball if you choose – and let’s begin.

José Berríos earns more AL Cy Young votes than Kevin Gausman

2023 stats: 32 starts – 3.65 ERA, 3.99 FIP, 16.9% K-BB%, 3.0 fWAR
2024 spring stats: 4 starts – 1.38 ERA, 9 SO, 2 BB
This one will surely get your juices following, and it may not be entirely unrealistic to imagine.
Berríos is going to be critical this season, especially early on, with Gausman a step or two behind in his build-up from the rest of the starting staff. His first test will be erasing the horrendous start to his 2022 season when he toes the rubber once again on Opening Day at Tropicana Field this Thursday.
But that’s just the appetizer. The 29-year-old starter, who’s made at least 30 starts every season since 2018 – excluding the COVID-shortened ‘20 campaign – will have many more to go beyond that.
Following last season’s bounce-back and a dominant performance this spring, all signs point towards Berríos enjoying a career year in his third season as a Blue Jay. He’s added a cutter to his repertoire, which should help address the .261/.323/.450 line left-handers hit against him a season ago.
Most projections are a bit more reserved about Berríos building off his ‘23 showing, suggesting he’s likely to endure some natural regression. But the beauty with those is they aren’t written in stone or 100 per cent accurate.
Finishing higher than Gausman in AL Cy Young voting will be challenging, mainly because the Blue Jays ace placed third last season, finishing behind Sonny Gray and Gerrit Cole, the eventual winner. Still, there’s an opportunity for Berríos to seize if he performs well early on.
The two-time All-Star and one of baseball’s most consistent starters emerged as Toronto’s No. 2 in the rotation last season, a role previously reserved for Alek Manoah, who’s now working toward regaining a roster spot altogether. If Berríos hits the ground running, he could challenge Gausman as the most vital pitcher on the staff.
Berríos came close to reaching 200 innings and 200 strikeouts in ‘23, coming up short by 10.1 innings and 16 strikeouts, respectively. He’s never reached both marks in the same season, doing so separately in previous years. But perhaps this is the year it comes together, which would surely boost his Cy Young odds.
So, for any bet makers looking for a dark horse, it might be worth sprinkling a few dollars on Berrios as this season’s AL Cy Young winner.

Daulton Varsho produces sixth 30-20 season in club history, first since 2001

2023 stats: 158 games (581 PAs) – .220/.285/.389, 20 HR, 61 RBI, 85 wRC+, 2.2 fWAR
2024 spring stats: 19 games (60 PAs) – .286/.400/.408, 1 HR, 9 RBI
Here’s a trivia question for you: who was the last Blue Jay to record at least 30 home runs and 20 stolen bases in a single season? Outfielder José Cruz Jr.
Cruz achieved that feat in 2001, joining Joe Carter (1991), Shawn Green (twice, 1998-99) and Jose Canseco (‘98) as the only Blue Jays in franchise history with 30-20 seasons.
Others have come close more recently, including Bo Bichette, who needed just one additional home run to reach 30 in 2021, and Marcus Semien, who blasted 45 bombs but finished five stolen bases shy of 20 that same season. But perhaps that drought will finally end this season, and if it does, Varsho is the perfect man for the job.
The 27-year-old certainly has more thump in his left-handed bat than he displayed last season, especially playing in the hitter-friendly confines of the AL East. He crushed 27 home runs while slugging .443 in 2022 with Arizona, and he should be in line to finish closer to those marks – if not surpass them – with the process improvements made this spring.
Varsho only went deep once, although, mind you, it likely left a dent in the metal roof it hit, but his plate discipline took a massive step forward as he only whiffed 14 times on 89 swings – a 15.7 per cent clip, besting last season’s 24.5 per cent rate. And he chased outside the strike zone just twice in 19 exhibition contests.
It’s only spring training, so you must take almost everything with a grain of salt. But one element that can be predictive for regular season success is process. With Varsho improving his at the plate, he’ll likely reach base safely more consistently in 2024, which, in turn, will provide him with additional base-stealing opportunities.
Swinging at more pitches with which he can create damage against should help him put a few more fly balls over the outfield wall, too.
Considering Varsho has swiped 16 bags in each of the previous two seasons while featuring a 70th percentile sprint speed (28.1 feet per second) in 2023, there’s little reason to believe he can’t add to that total further, in addition to showcasing improved power metrics.

Joey Votto caps off Hall-of-Fame-worthy career with meaningful Blue Jays tenure

2023 stats: 65 games (242 PAs) – .202/.314/.433, 14 HR, 38 RBI, 98 wRC+, 0.0 fWAR
2024 spring stats: 1 game (1 PA) – 1 HR, 1 RBI
Votto still has a ways to go before he’ll be ready for major-league games. However, there’d be no better way for the Etobicoke, Ont., native to spend his 18th – and likely final – big-league season than as a productive contributor with his hometown club.
The 40-year-old’s Blue Jays tenure couldn’t have started any better with his first-pitch dinger off Phillies ace Zack Wheeler. It would’ve been even more enjoyable had he finished the game healthy instead of injuring his ankle in the dugout, which ended his Grapefruit League stint and will keep him in Dunedin, Fla., for extended spring training.
From there, Votto is expected to report to Triple-A Buffalo, where he’ll continue working towards returning to the majors – whether with Toronto or another franchise. All he needs to do is pick up where he left off during his only tracked plate appearance of the spring.
But one player is standing in his way of earning a shot with the Blue Jays: Daniel Vogelbach, who slugged his way onto the Opening Day roster with a trio of bombs and a .541 SLG this spring. He could be swapped out for his veteran counterpart easily, though.
With each owed roughly $2 million if they appear in the majors, subtracting Vogelbach for Votto would have little impact on the organization’s payroll. They’d be adding a former NL MVP and six-time All-Star to their lineup, as well as another veteran leader to the clubhouse – a role he previously embraced with the Cincinnati Reds.
As Votto proved earlier this month, the left-hander can still run into one. Despite his age, he posted an impressive barrel rate (11 per cent) last season that would’ve ranked well above league average had he recorded enough plate appearances to qualify.
That power certainly could come in handy off the bench in a pinch-hitting role against right-handed pitchers, whom he slugged .511 against with a 140 wRC+ in 2023, albeit over a limited 45 at-bats. Still, for a Blue Jays lineup seeking additional power from the left side, there’s a path where he could help address that need more than, say, Vogelbach could.
If Votto were to remain healthy, the Canadian slugger might log enough appearances to be a one or, perhaps, even a two-win reserve player this season.

ARTICLE PRESENTED BY BETANO

Check out these posts...