The Blue Jays’ 2022 Trade Deadline — One Month Later
By Tate Kispech8 months ago
To say the very least, the Blue Jays had an interesting deadline this year.
The overwhelming seller’s market convinced the team to take a ‘raise the floor’ approach, adding Whit Merrifield, Mitch White, Zach Pop, and Anthony Bass, all at a low acquisition cost. Much was made of the Blue Jays’ decision to not pursue more significant additions at the time.
One month later, does the deadline look better or worse? Well…
For all intents and purposes, it’s hard to view the deadline as anything but the front office choosing to punt on a high variance season. At times, the Jays looked unstoppable, at times, dreadful. Punting was an interesting move considering that this was a team full of players expecting more.
Regardless of whether or not the team took that perceived disinterest from the front office as personal, they’ve really not shown any signs of improvement post-deadline. A month of August that ended 13-14 has been followed up by a hot start to September, a month in which the Blue Jays haven’t lost a game thus far, but it remains to be seen how long the latest hot streak lasts. Even though the team hasn’t been performing to expectations, how have the additions themselves performed?
In some ways, it’s really tough to say. Zach Pop got “caught in a numbers game” (as Dan, Buck, and Pat have put it on Sportsnet), a game that resulted in his demotion to AAA on August 23rd. He’s only pitched 7 2/3 innings as a Jay. Whit Merrifield’s only racked up 62 plate appearances for Toronto, despite the fact that the team’s played 30 games since the deadline. Anthony Bass has been the most consistent contributor, but even 14 innings isn’t a huge sample size. However, when you acquire rentals, you open them up to small sample analysis, and that’s what we’re going to do. As a side note, Mitch White will not be covered in this article, partially because I think there’s too much with him for me to cover alongside three other players, and partially because you might see a piece focusing on exclusively him in the near future.
Let’s start with Anthony Bass. The righty has been the biggest contributor of the new Blue Jays thus far, though how much he’s contributed really depends on who you ask. In 14 innings, he only has 0.1 fWAR (3.69 FIP), but he has 0.6 bWAR (1.29 ERA). Either way you look at it, he’s been a good player, above average by ERA, FIP, and xFIP. Let’s look at some pitch data from the past month and a half.
Interestingly enough, we see how good his split finger was in August, his best pitch of the month by xwOBA. Of course, the first thing that would cross your mind when you see something like that is the impact Kevin Gausman might have had. However, when you dig a little deeper, he only threw four splitters in the entirety of the month. However…in only two outings during September, he’s thrown six of them. That’s more than every pitch except his slider. So, let’s take a look at one of his September outings, on Sunday the 4th against Pittsburgh. The first batter Bass would face was Bryan Reynolds. Here, he leans heavily on the splitter, throwing three of them consecutively to Reynolds, setting him down on strikes with this final pitch.
You’ve got to love the look of that pitch. It not only drops but fades arm side, a very nice contrast from his slider that breaks glove side. During that at-bat with Reynolds, Bass didn’t throw a single one of the splitters in the strike zone, and yet he produced three consecutive whiffs. The next batter he faced was Rodolfo Castro, who he started with two straight sliders. Here’s the second of those two.
That evened the count at one and one, but Castro put up a really good battle, and it took until the 6th pitch (another sweeper) to set the young infielder down on strikes.
So we’ve seen an out recorded on a splitter, one on a slider, but what about the fastball? Conveniently enough, we didn’t have to wait long. Bass sets up the left handed Gamel with three consecutive off speed pitches, then drops in a fastball in a 2-1 count to induce a very weak groundball, allowing Bichette to make the easy play.
This inning is really a microcosm of Bass’s stint with the Blue Jays. He can get outs any way you’d like. In the aforementioned 14 innings in blue, Bass is running a gaudy 63.9% groundball rate. As I’ve discussed previously at length, ground balls are the worst type of batted ball for hitters to put into play. The league average GB rate is 42.9%, which means Bass is inducing them 21% more than average. While that’s certainly unlikely to be sustained, hopefully, Bass can rely on the sinker and splitter to get him whiffs and grounders. Alongside the balls on the ground, Bass’s 27.3% strikeout rate with the Jays eclipses the league average mark by about 5%. He’s even walking batters less than average by 2%. No matter what way you look at it, Bass has been absolutely fantastic for Toronto, and he absolutely needs to be a late-inning lock heading into October.
Unfortunately, someone who will probably not be a lock to get a meaningful run in October is Whit Merrifield. There aren’t really too many positives I can focus on for the Jays’ newest utility man.
As a Blue Jay, he has a 57 wRC+, a number that’s already been surpassed by the total number of his plate appearances as a Jay (62). He’s struck out almost 3 times as often as he’s walked, and the rare time when he puts a ball in play, it’s almost exclusively a single. He’s hitting .211 and slugging .263 for an isolated power of .052. The only Blue Jays with 20+ PAs that’s been worse in that category this season is Gabriel Moreno, who basically did nothing but his groundball singles during his time in Toronto. What Merrifield *could* offer in October, though, is as a baserunner.
Bradley Zimmer was recently relegated to a September call-up due to just how poor his hitting’s been in 2022. Merrifield (85th percentile sprint speed) is marginally slower than Zimmer (95th percentile), but Merrifield might make up for that with his decision-making on the base paths.
As a Jay, Zimmer has 25 more plate appearances than Merrifield, not to mention plenty of pinch-running opportunities, but Merrifield’s kept pace, and both have a 0.7 BsR (base running runs) in Toronto blue. While both are also horrible hitters, Whit has more upside at the plate, not to mention more defensive versatility. When you also consider the fact that the Jays gave up more value for Merrifield, it definitely seems likely that he’d be the guy left on the playoff roster exclusively to be a pinch runner or defensive replacement. The Jays have a litany of outfielders, and don’t especially need Zimmer.
Lastly, there’s Zach Pop. The Canadian reliever unfortunately hasn’t gotten many opportunities yet in Toronto. He’s also not been exceptional in the games he has played. In 7.2 innings, he’s tallied a mere TWO strikeouts, though no walks. Because I’m trying to focus on data/stats/video from each players time in Toronto, I don’t even have much to really tell you about Pop’s underlying numbers because there’s just not enough sample to even take a second look. He’s got a 2.70 ERA, 4.70 FIP, and 5.23 xFIP though, so while his results are good now, it’s hard to see him being much more than a medium leverage reliever down the stretch. But hey, there’s value in that too. He’s only generated 4 whiffs as a Blue Jay, which is another huge worry. Nonetheless, watch this slider drop down and away from Jose Miranda.
The biggest upside that Pop offers is his ability to limit hard contact. As a Blue Jay, he’s only getting barrelled 3.7% of the time, a very good mark that indicates his ability to get efficient outs when the team needs them. If we do see him pitch in the playoffs, it’s highly doubtful it’ll be in the late innings, but in a two-run game in the middle innings might be his perfect time. He’s a great bridge guy that can get you to the late innings while keeping it close. This has been something that the Jays have struggled with. They’ve often had to choose between burning one of their best arms too early, or going to a reliever who might hurt them. Cimber and Pop are those low strikeout, weak contact guys who can get them to the likes of Romano, Bass, and Garcia.
If we’re being objective, it’s hard to view the Jays’ trade deadline as anything other than disappointing. They didn’t make themselves a significantly better team. They didn’t add a player who’s going to log big innings in the rotation, and they didn’t add a player who’s going to take at-bats towards the top of the order.
However… I think you might be able to remain hopeful that all of these players can have some sort of positive impact as the team heads into a stretch run. When you consider the fact that all of them are basically zero risk, due to the low acquisition cost I mentioned earlier, the Jays are just hoping for some surplus. If the front office wants to make this team a true World Series contender, they’re going to need to make significantly bigger moves in the offseason. With that being said, they definitely got themselves a very good piece in Bass, and some lottery tickets in Merrifield and Pop.
All three are likely to have an opportunity to make themselves a key members of a massive stretch run. Let’s see what they do with that opportunity.
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