Fun With Stats: Kevin Gausman’s success, the Blue Jays and the long ball, and more!
Photo credit:© Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports
By Tate Kispech4 months ago
This era of Blue Jays baseball is unprecedented.
Between big spending, young studs, and winning seasons, the Blue Jays hope to be establishing themselves among baseball’s elite. With that being said, let’s use stats to contextualize just HOW unprecedented this team is.
So, starting with hitting. This era of baseball can be characterized by home runs, which are being hit at historic rates. Though the long ball peaked in 2019 with the juiced ball, every season since 2016 (save for 2020, and its mere 60 games), has landed in the top 11 homer-hitting seasons of all time. So, how have the Blue Jays done in regards to the long ball in recent years?
We’ll start here. 2021 was the first big season for these young Blue Jays, and that’s reflected in individual home run totals. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. broke out, and he did it with some 48 home runs, the most ever by a player 22 years old or under, including absolute moonshots like this one…
Marcus Semien’s season was also historic, as no primary second baseman has ever tallied more homers in a season than his 45. Though Whit Merrifield has contributed nicely at second basin 2023, the Jays still certainly miss what Semien gave them. Though, I suppose all good things must come to an end, even if it’s only after one season.
No other team had as many home runs as the 2021 Blue Jays either, and it wasn’t even particularly close. The Jays even more than doubled the home run total of the last-place Pittsburgh Pirates, who totalled an embarrassingly low 124. Let’s take one last moment to appreciate how amazing Vlad’s 2021 really was, the 5th best season in Blue Jays HISTORY by OPS+ (minimum 600 plate appearances).
The company that Guerrero keeps here, as a mere 22-year-old, is astounding. Here’s hoping that he gets back to this in the second half of 2023. Keeping with OPS+, let’s talk about shortstops. I don’t think it’s crazy to talk about Bo Bichette as one of the best shortstops in team history anymore. In terms of bWAR amongst shortstops (Baseball Reference’s version of WAR), only the late great Tony Fernández has tallied more as a Blue Jays player. Fernández accumulated 37.5 WAR across 1450 games, while Bo currently sits at 16.5 across a mere 484.
In terms of WAR per 162 games, to bring Fernández and Bichette onto the same playing field, Tony sits at 4.2 per season, and Bo at 5.5 per season. When we take defence and base running out of the equation, just looking at OPS+, no shortstop can hold a candle to Bo Bichette. Though he’s not played a full season yet in 2023, he’s on pace to break his own record for the highest OPS+ by a Blue Jays shortstop for the season in a row. All of us Jays fans are eagerly awaiting the day when Rogers (hopefully) makes Bichette a Jay for life.
Before we move onto pitching, watch Bo Bichette take this Marco Gonzales changeup 460 feet to centre field. It’s at this time that I would like to mention how much more fun I have watching homers at Rogers Centre given the outfield renovations.
So, pitching. Kevin Gausman has been simply spectacular since joining the Blue Jays in the offseason prior to 2022, and in 2023 he’s clearly established himself as not only the ace of the staff but one of the best pitchers in baseball. Right now, he leads all pitchers in fWAR (Fangraphs’ version of WAR) and also has a sparkling 3.03 ERA.
In Blue Jays history, there’ve been very few starting pitchers to ever put together seasons with lower FIPs than Gausman’s last two. FIP, or Fielding Independent Pitching, is a statistic scaled to match ERA, but it normalizes balls hit into play to take defence out of the equation. As we know, Kevin Gausman was the victim of poor defence last season in particular (ERA a full run higher than FIP), though it’s been a bit better this year, with the difference down to about 0.6 runs.
Gausman isn’t the only one who’s establishing himself as one of the more talented pitchers in team history. Jordan Romano has taken strongly to the closer’s role in recent years, but interestingly, he might not be the owner of the best season by a Jays reliever in the last decade. Though only in 37 innings, Adam Cimber dominated in 2021 after coming over in a trade with the Marlins.
The Jays gave up Joe Panik in that deal, if you remember, who had a very interesting time in Toronto. This rainy night in Cleveland stands out in my memory of Panik as a Blue Jay…
Back to Cimber, though, who’s probably a DFA candidate after his first 20 innings in 2023 have gone disastrously wrong. While Cimber’s currently on the 15-day IL, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Chad Green will need to be activated off the 60-man soon, and so someone will have to make room. Unfortunately, his status for the rest of the season is in question, and shoulder issues certainly won’t help Cimber bounce back from a rough season thus far.
Jordan Romano though, is having yet another All-Star season. While perhaps it doesn’t match his last two, which have been a couple of the best seasons a Blue Jays reliever has had in the last decade, as you can see from the chart above, he’s still been lock-down at the backend of the bullpen (like he was with this strikeout of Jose Abreu, to record a save) and there’s no reason to believe that should change anytime soon.
While these Blue Jays might not yet have had the kind of playoff success you’d like to see from a team of their quality, there’s no doubt that the talent is there. Few players as talented as the likes of Guerrero, Bichette, and Romano have ever graced the home clubhouse at Rogers Centre, much less ones that have been homegrown. That elite homegrown talent has been the core behind the Blue Jays’ initial success but has been further propped up by additions through free agency, like Kevin Gausman, and through trades like Adam Cimber.
There’s no doubt that eras come and go, and these special seasons need to be continued deep into October in order for this iteration of the Blue Jays to be considered “unprecedented,” but, if all goes well, the Jays are well on their way.
Thanks as always for reading. All stats via Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs, all videos via Baseball Savant, and all leaderboards via Stathead.
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