The case in favour of Ross Atkins
Photo credit:Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
2 months ago
The big question this off-season for the Blue Jays is what happens to the front office.
More specifically, what happens to general manager Ross Atkins? A few days ago, we looked at the case against him, which included a lack of winning, specific lacklustre trade, bad analytics, and an in-house option. In this article, we’ll look at some reasons as to why the Jays could keep him.
While the 2022 may have had the same result as the season following it, the sticks were a lot better in terms of production. In this section, we’ll look at wRC+ and fWAR.
The players that the Blue Jays added all performed well, say for Daulton Varsho. For example, Brandon Belt had a 138 wRC+ and 2.3 fWAR in 404 plate appearances, second to only Davis Schneider’s 176 wRC+. Kevin Kiermaier was an above-average hitter, who posted a 104 wRC+ and 2.2 fWAR in 408 plate appearances, but will likely win a gold glove in centre field this season.
Even Varsho provided value, even if he regressed relative to his 2022 season. While his 85 wRC+ was on the rather low side, he still posted a 2.1 fWAR due to 18 Defensive Runs Saved, tied for the sixth-highest with Kevin Kiermaier.
Danny Jansen was the best Blue Jays hitter in 2022, posting a 141 wRC+ and a 2.6 fWAR in 248 plate appearances. This season, he had a 116 wRC+ and 2 fWAR, good, especially for the position he plays, but still regression.
Fellow catcher Alejandro Kirk had even more of a regression, dropping from a 129 wRC+ and 3.9 fWAR to just a 96 wRC+ and 1.6 fWAR in 422 plate appearances. His defence made up for that though, as his 17 Defensive Runs Saved ranked as the second-highest in the league.
Aside from Jansen’s small sample size, George Springer was the best Blue Jays batter in 2022, posting a 133 wRC+ and 4.3 fWAR in 583 plate appearances. This year, that regressed to a 104 wRC+ and a 2.2 fWAR in 683 plate appearances.
Bo Bichette had a minor regression, going from a 130 wRC+ and 4.5 fWAR in 697 plate appearances to a 125 wRC+ and 3.8 fWAR in 601 plate appearances in 2023. It’s worth noting that Bichette was a lot more consistent throughout the season, compared to an insane September in 2022. He also missed time with two injuries.
Third baseman Matt Chapman also had a tough year, finishing with a 110 wRC+ and 3.5 fWAR in 581 plate appearances. Similar to Bichette’s 2022 season, Chapman’s above-average stats were predicated on an insane month, before his production dropped off rapidly from May onward. Compared to his 2022 season where he posted a 118 wRC+ and 4.2 fWAR, there was a fair bit of regression in Chapman’s game.
Then we have Vladimir Guerrero Jr., whose regression has continued after an MVP-calibre season in 2021. In 2022, he posted a 133 wRC+ and 2.8 wRC+ in 706 plate appearances, but that dropped to a 118 wRC+ and 1 fWAR in 682 plate appearances.
Speaking of which…
Sep 14, 2023; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (27) reacts after striking out against the Texas Rangers in the seventh inning at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hasn’t become a generational player:
Guerrero Jr.’s career has been odd. In his first two seasons, he hit 24 homers in 757 plate appearances and never finished with a wRC+ above 110, and had a 0 fWAR.
Then he became the generational player we expected in 2021, posting a .311/.401/.601 slash line with 48 homers in 698 plate appearances for a 6.3 fWAR. He deserved to win the American League Most Valuable Player, but Shohei Ohtani had other ideas.
Guerrero Jr’s 2022 was still good, slashing .274/.339/.480 with 32 homers in 706 plate appearances, but it was a sharp decline from the year prior.
Now after a rough season in 2023, he’s had two “meh seasons”, one MVP-calibre season, one good season, and another “meh” season. He’s still only 24 years old, but at some point, you have to say he hasn’t lived up to expectations, especially since a large portion of his 2021 season was played in minor league ballparks.
Guerrero Jr. is and will continue to be an all-star, but it’s hard to fault Atkins for Guerrero’s failure to live up to expectations.
Arguably the best pitching staff they’ve ever had:
We’ve focused a lot on the bats, but one area of strength for the Jays in 2023 was the arms.
Four of their starters made all of their starts, and those four all pitched to a sub-4.00 ERA.
Kevin Gausman had a 3.16 ERA and a 2.97 FIP in 185 innings pitched, along with a 31.1 K% and a 7.2 BB%. José Berríos (who had a tough year in 2022) had a 3.65 ERA and a 3.99 FIP in 189.2 innings pitched, along with a 23.5 K% and a 6.6 BB%.
Even Yusei Kikuchi had a bounce-back season, posting a 3.86 ERA and a 4.12 FIP in 167.2 innings pitched, along with a 25.9 K% and a 6.9 BB%. Chris Bassitt was the workhorse of the rotation, finishing the season with a 3.60 ERA and a 4.28 FIP in exactly 200 innings pitched.
Can you imagine a world where Alek Manoah also pitched like he did in 2022?
Their regulars in their bullpen were also great. The worst of which was Adam Cimber, who finished with a 7.40 ERA and a 7.47 FIP in 20.2 innings pitched. Trevor Richards at one point had a sub-3.o0 ERA, but ended up posting a 5.23 ERA and a 4.25 FIP in 63.2 innings pitched. Despite the rough numbers, he finished with the highest K% in the bullpen, at 32.5%.
There were a few other relievers that had an ERA above four, like Anthony Bass (bye bozo), Nate Pearson, and Yimi García. However, all other seven pitchers with at least 20 innings pitched finished with an ERA below 3.00.
This was just a great staff, and only Jordan Hicks and Hyun Jin Ryu may be leaving it coming into 2024.
Drafting and player development are improving:
The first few seasons with Mark Shapiro and Atkins at the helm were rough for Toronto in terms of drafting. While they picked up Bo Bichette and Nate Pearson in the 2016 draft, they whiffed on their first three first-rounders. They selected T.J. Zeuch (2016), Logan Warmoth (2017), and Jordan Groshans (2018).
That streak ended when the Jays selected Alek Manoah with their first-round pick in 2019. Their next two first-round draftees were moved for Berríos and Chapman, while Brandon Barriera (2022) and Arjun Nimmala (2023) are enticing prospects.
Not only that, but they’ve done very well drafting in later rounds. For example, Davis Schneider had a 2 fWAR in just 146 plate appearances, and he was drafted in the 28th round of the 2017 draft. Their top prospect Ricky Tiedemann was selected in the third round of the 2021 draft, and one of the fastest-rising prospects, Alan Roden, was drafted in the third round the season after.
Their four drafts in particular have been great. For example, they selected Austin Martin, C.J. Van Eyk, Nick Frasso, Trent Palmer, and Zach Britton in the 2020 draft, all of these players have played in the upper minors.
The 2021 draft featured Chad Dallas, Ricky Tiedemann, Damiano Palmegiani, Irv Carter, and Jaden Rudd, all guys whom have some potential. In 2022, they had a few extra picks due to qualifying offers, picking up an interesting blend of college hitters (Josh Kasevich and Cade Doughty) and high school players (Brandon Barriera and Tucker Toman).
This past draft was their best, giving their 20th overall pick Arjun Nimmala an under-slot deal, and picking players who were ranked higher on MLB Pipeline than the Jays actual pick for the first ten rounds.
To be a sustainable contender, you have to be able to draft well, and it looks like the Jays have greatly improved this in recent years.
Jul 14, 2023; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Jose Berrios (17) at an MLB game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Rogers Centre.
The Jays have won a lot more trades than they’ve lost:
In the last article, I mentioned their most notable lost trades, one of which being the Mitch White deal, and the other being the Daulton Varsho deal (which I actually disagree with).
But the fact of the matter is that Ross Atkins and co. have won a hell of a lot more deals than they’ve lost, especially since becoming contenders.
They traded Austin Martin and Simeon Woods Richardson for Berríos in 2021, a deal which has provided great value, considering the contract the Jays have Berríos on. Even the Chapman deal was a clear winner, moving Kevin Smith, Zach Logue, Kirby Snead, and Gunnar Hoglund for the former Platinum Glove Winner.
Even minor deals such as moving Kendall Williams and Ryan Noda to the Dodgers for Ross Stripling helped the Jays, as Stripling essentially saved the rotation in 2022 and should have been given a qualifying offer.
Sure, they’ve traded for players that haven’t worked out, such as Jonathan Villar and Brad Hand, but other than Nick Frasso and Gabriel Moreno, they haven’t traded any prospects of note, and most of the times, the trades have benefited the Jays.
Should they keep Ross Atkins?
It’s hard to fully blame Atkins for the failure of the team for the past three seasons. The front office quickly went from a rebuilding team to a contender, even if they haven’t gotten a playoff win since they’ve “gone for it” the past for seasons.
I’m inclined to believe that they make the move, just to get a different person with an alternative perspective and philosophy.
But with that being said, Ross Atkins has done well as the general manager of the Blue Jays, even with all their shortcomings in the seven years he’s been in charge.
As always, you can follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and Threads @Brennan_L_D.
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