Blue Jays Roundtable: Best moments from 2023, bold predictions for 2024, and more!

Photo credit:© Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
Cam Lewis
4 months ago
Happy New Year, Blue Jays Nation! With the calendar flipping, we took a look back at our favourite stories from the baseball world in 2023 and also made predictions for what’s to come in 2024.

Question 1: What was the best thing that happened in baseball or for the Blue Jays in 2023?

Evan Stack: I’d like to answer for just the Blue Jays here. I think the best thing that happened this season was Davis Schneider’s weekend debut in Boston. All season, we were wondering who was going to be the answer offensively down the stretch. Does Matt Chapman have any April left? When will Alejandro Kirk, Daulton Varsho, or Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit their stride?
The answer, at least temporarily, was Schneider. The home run in his first at-bat, the records he broke, his OPS staying over 1.000 for all but two games this year – all of it was an essay for a team looking for answers offensively. It’s important to note that Schneider’s debut came just days after the trade deadline when the Blue Jays added only Paul DeJong to their lineup, leaving many disappointed in the work that was done.
We knew it wasn’t sustainable, but that feeling of adding an impact bat in Schneider for a team that needed it desperately was fun to hold on to.
Bob Ritchie: The best thing in 2023 was MLB’s implementation of the rule changes. The introduction of the pitch timer sped up the pace of play such that the average length of a nine-inning game was 2 hours and 39 minutes, a 24-minute decline from 2022. That was the shortest average game length since 1985.
Concerning how the game is played, the most impactful rule change was the limit on the number of pitcher disengagements from the mound (step-off or pick-off attempt). Pitchers could disengage more than two times, but if the runner was not picked off or thrown out, the runner was awarded the next base. The result was a 32.5% increase in stolen base attempts and a 40.9% increase in stolen bases. The stolen base success rate rose from 2022’s 75.4% to 80.2%. MLB also increased the size of the base bag from 15 inches by 15 inches to 18 inches by 18 inches. However, I believe the impact on stolen bases from larger bases was much less than the two-disengagement rule.
MLB also brought in shift limits in 2023. In my opinion, the impact of the shift was minimal, as evidenced by the five-point increase in batting average from 0.243 to 0.248. Many MLB observers, including Bill James, anticipated a slight batting average increase. At least TV viewers didn’t have to listen to analysts complain about the shift.
Veronica Chung: The best thing that happened in 2023 for MLB in general is the unexpected playoff contenders. Most fans and experts predicted the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves to make a deep playoff run, but their run was cut short by the surging Arizona Diamondbacks and heavyweight Philadelphia Phillies, respectively. This type of wild turn of events proved that MLB playoffs are more unpredictable, giving more teams a chance to make their runs. 
In other words, the current MLB playoff format gives every type of team the hope to contend despite their flaws because, in the end, what matters the most is getting hot at the right time. Just to be clear, spending is still a great thing – the Texas Rangers proved that investing in free agents and a farm system is worthwhile when making a championship push. But the best part is that the small market teams don’t necessarily have to be discouraged by their playoff odds because there are so many ways to create all kinds of upsets in the MLB playoffs. All that matters is getting to the dance.
So, let the chaos ensue. Playoffs are supposed to be enthralling, confounding and fantastic and that’s what the MLB playoffs deliver exactly. 
Thomas Hall: Playoff success largely determines how successful a season was. But in the Blue Jays’ case, they had little to feel proud about after the Twins swept them out of the wild-card series last fall, extending the franchise’s post-season losing streak to seven straight. So, let’s ignore what unfolded last October here. 
Instead, let’s focus our attention on one of the reasons Toronto snuck into the playoffs in the first place: their starting rotation, particularly the resurgences of José Berríos and Yusei Kikuchi. Without either of them, this team probably doesn’t even come close to claiming one of the three wild-card seeds. 
Berríos, one year removed from imploding to a 5.23 ERA and 5.11 xERA, bounced back in the form of a 3.65 ERA and 4.55 xERA in 2023, worth 3.0 fWAR across nearly 200 innings. As for Kikuchi, the southpaw shaved down his 2022 ERA from 5.19 to 3.86, cut his walk rate (12.8%) in half and surrendered fewer home runs, earning the highest fWAR (2.6) of his career. 
The Blue Jays almost certainly wouldn’t have survived Alek Manoah’s disaster campaign, which was worth -0.4 fWAR, if not for the value that Berríos and Kikuchi provided. 
Nick Prasad
The best thing that occurred for the Blue Jays in 2023 was the solidification of a starting rotation which was ultimately let down by the offense. On paper the starting rotation was mint, when the wheels hit the ground, the staff was very effective, even with the hiccups and demotion of Alek Manoah.
The starting rotation lived up to the hype, led by experience in Kevin Gausman, and our most improved player, Yusei Kikuchi. Unfortunately, the bats allowed a good rotation to fade in relevance, ultimately leading to an early playoff exit.
Tyson Shushkewich
The 2023 season was an absolute rollercoaster for the Toronto Blue Jays. There were highs, there were lows, and at the end of the day, they head into next season with zero playoff wins since 2016. Disappointing no doubt, but the playoff window is still at its peak even in a hotly contested AL East division.
I think the best thing that happened for the Blue Jays in 2023 was the emergence of Davis Schneider. The feel-good story of a player drafted so late in the rounds, grinding it out in the MInors, almost hanging them up, and then reaching the MLB to make the record books with nine hits through his first three games including a moonshot over the monster.
Lately, it seems like the Blue Jays haven’t had an infield prospect break through the triple-A barrier and secure a spot, instead seeing pitchers like Alek Manoah, Nate Pearson, Bowden Francis and a few others able to make the transition. Other than the main core from 2019/2020 that we see now is all that has broken through despite the Jays having numerous potential options.
Schneider entered at a time when the Jays needed a resurgence at the plate and he delivered, collecting timely home runs and putting a charge into the lineup when the Jays were struggling to score with runners in scoring position. 
I know Schneider had a bit of a rough stretch to the end of the season, but with Merrifield now out of the picture, I think second base is his for the taking other than Cavan Biggio potentially getting the nod there, although the two can platoon the spot as well. With his solid power and ability to put the ball in play, if he can hit within that .250-.280 and muster 15+ home runs, it will go a long way for a squad looking for some production at the plate this year.

Aug 27, 2023; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (27) rounds the bases after hitting a two-run home run against the Cleveland Guardians in the first inning at Rogers Centre.

Question 2: What’s your bold prediction for 2024? Can be either Blue Jays or MLB.

Evan Stack: Sticking with Toronto, I’ll say Jose Berrios wins the 2024 American League Cy Young. It’s a hot take, I know, but hear me out. Berrios was clearly motivated to prove that his 2022 season was an outlier. A 5.23 ERA, 1.419 WHIP, and leading the American League in hits and earned runs are not Berrios-esque. Berrios buckled down and improved across most statistical categories, and it showed that he is capable of responding to adversity.
Well, how about this for adversity? You’re pitching in an elimination game in the playoffs, and you’re facing the team that traded you two seasons ago. You’re pitching a shutout, they can’t hit the slurve, and the fastball is right where it needs to be. Unfortunately, you get pulled from the game after 47 pitches and three shutout innings because of “matchups” and “analytics”.
I think Berrios uses that as colossal motivation, and lets everyone know about it with his play. Cy Young season is incoming. You heard it here first. 
Bob Ritchie: Vlad Guererro Jr., Alejandro Kirk, George Springer, and Daulton Varsho will produce wRC+ marks that are very close to their 2022 numbers compared to their 2023 marks. In 2023, Guererro Jr., Kirk, Springer and Varsho generated wRC+ figures of 118, 96, 104 and 85, respectively. For the 2022 campaign, those players posted wRC+ marks of 133, 129, 133 and 107, respectively.
Veronica Chung: My not-so-bold but bold prediction is that the American League (AL) Wild Card will turn into a hot mess in the 2024 season. We’ve seen the Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals spending in free agency this offseason, given the ongoing malaise and spending austerity in the AL Central division, and the New York Yankees are attempting to become the evil empire again by trading for generational talent Juan Soto from the San Diego Padres. 
It’s safe to say that none of the American League teams are quite done with their signings and trades, yet this offseason, more teams will try to bring in good players one way or another, even if it seems like a long shot. The Boston Red Sox still has to make more meaningful transactions after bringing in Tyler O’Neill from the St. Louis Cardinals, and the Baltimore Orioles, Houston Astros, and Texas Rangers will certainly make some moves to contend again. 
The 2023 AL Wild Card race was one big chaos, and 2024 is only going to heighten that mayhem as more teams compete for the limited playoff spot. Things won’t be easy for any AL team with playoff aspirations and it’ll be key for front offices to make the right moves to contend in a harder league fully. In addition, the front offices will also have to hope that their players will live up to their potential, too – fingers crossed. 
Thomas Hall:  The AL Central, as Veronica pointed out, will likely remain a flaming hot mess next season, with the division title conceivably available to all five clubs. If that remains the case, look out for the Royals to shockingly emerge as a legitimate threat once again. Yes, you read that correctly. 
Could Kansas City actually go from finishing in the division basement in consecutive seasons to taking the crown as early as the 2024 season? Maybe. Who knows. That’s the thing about the AL Central – it’s there for the taking. 
The Royals are committed to spending in free agency this winter. And so far, management has delivered on that promise, adding Michael Wacha, Seth Lugo, Hunter Renfroe, Garrett Hampson, Will Smith and Chris Stratton. There’s still work to be done, particularly on the pitching front, but they’re certainly making progress. 
With a few additional impact arms, plus another bat or two, this team could be poised to take advantage of the Twins and Guardians’ impending declines – along with the White Sox’s rebuild and whatever the Tigers are doing – as both clubs aim to shed salary due to uncertainty surrounding their regional television contracts. 
Nick Prasad
2024 comes with a ton of questions. For the Blue Jays, I predict a second-place finish in the American League East with a 90-win season and a better-ranking offence. Toronto will crack the postseason in a wild card spot followed by the Baltimore Orioles. Vladimir Guerrero Jr and George Springer will have breakout years in their respective offence games of power and RBIs.
 The New York Yankees will win the American League East and will proceed to the American League Championship Series against the Cleveland Guardians.
On the National League side, the Los Angeles Dodgers will be a World Series participant against the New York Yankees and will grasp their title after a wild shopping spree of an offseason.  
Tyson Shushkewich
My incredibly bold prediction for the 2024 season is Daulton Varsho will earn his first Silver Slugger Award this year. You read that right. I am putting my chips down on the underdog.
Even with the recent addition of Kiermaier and IKF, I see Varsho getting into the same amount of games he slotted into last year and I think this offseason will see the lefty-batter go back to the drawing board and be able to produce at the plate. He showcased he can hit for power (23 doubles and 20 home runs) and if he can lay off the high heat and make some better swing decisions, that power number can climb even further, especially with his plus speed on the base paths. 
He still might strike out at the same rate, which is obviously not the strongest stat line at the moment for him, but if he can find a way to just put the barrel to the ball with higher consistency (aka, better swing decisions), I think there is untapped potential from Varsho we haven’t seen before. The Jays need his left-handed bat in the lineup. 
As John Madden would say, “Load the wagon.” Varsho will produce at the plate this year and be rewarded with some hardware by the end of the year, screw the outside noise. 


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