Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro spoke to the media yesterday about the Blue Jays season and their outlook for the off-season. Both made veiled references to it being a disappointing season, but tried to frame it in a positive light by noting their 95 losses meant a #5 draft pick which could result in a major young talent if the scouts do their job right. Atkins admitted “candidly, at the start of 2019, I was not hoping to be picking fifth” – ie., have a team that approached respectability and finished higher in the standings – while Shapiro added he didn’t want to do that more than once. They admitted that the 21 starting pitchers used, with a collective ERA of well over 5 wasn’t good enough and that they needed to use any option available to improve there. All good signs if they do anything to follow through on the talk.
Anyhow, as is my custom at season’s end, I will give my picks for the “Blue Jays Awards”. And this year, alas, it was a bit difficult since… well, let’s call a spade a spade… there weren’t too many truly, obviously merit-worthy seasons. That said, my picks:
Player of the Year –Cavan Biggio yep, honestly that surprised me too. There were no totally obvious choices for this, and at first glance perhaps outfielder Randal Grichuk or MLB top prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. would have been the names to come to mind. Grichuk had career highs in a lot of categories including games, runs and homers and led the team in a number of significant categories including home runs (31), triples (5- more than the entire team managed last year) and RBI (80.) But his low batting average (.232), huge number of strikeouts balanced out with few walks and a low .280 on base, and so-so OF defense (even his biggest booster, Atkins, only called him “an average defender” yesterday) meant a low WAR of 0.3, lowest since his rookie year and the player himself calling it an “off year.”
Guerrero came up to more fanfare than any Jay in memory, and had the pressure of being the league’s top-rated prospect weighing on him. He smiled, he tried, he impressed at the Home run Derby and all-in-all was good. Excellent, for a 20 year old. But even his biggest fans have to grudgingly admit that his .272 avg., 15 homers, 26 doubles, and .772 OPS (not to mention a team high number of errors) were both A) decent for a rookie, but B) disappointing given the hype and what we’ve seen rookies like Juan Soto and Ronald Acuna do of late.
This leads us to Craig’s little boy. Cavan somehow, despite a great minor league record, wasn’t highly-rated by scouts but came up in early summer and played well, played smart. It wasn’t always obvious to me, as a fan over 1000 miles from Rogers Centre who more often looks at boxscores than the actual game in play, but Biggio may have been the most impressive player and posted the most impressive numbers of anyone on the team. Yes, the batting average was low (what do you bet his Dad reminded him of THAT!) at .234, but he has a Jose Bautista-like eye already and with 71 walks he posted a .364 on base and 16 HR, 48 RBI in 100 games. Baseball-reference somehow graded him a negative DWar (defense) though at second base, his usual spot, his fielding percentage of .989 bested the league average and he turned 44 double plays in 80ish games. His offense was solid though, meaning a 2.8 WAR. Add in a club high 14 stolen bases without being caught and little wee highlights like laying down a perfect bunt, the other way,when Tampa was playing the shift on him during the final week of the year, and running it into a bunt double and you have a lot of promise for 2020… and 2019’s Jay of the Year.
Pitcher of the Year – Trent Thornton Remarkably, the team’s pitching statistically was closer to the league norm than their hitting. Nonetheless, even the architects couldn’t suggest that pitching was adequate this year. Making picking a best pitcher problematic. Some would argue for New York Met Marcus Stroman (deja vu– serious consideration was given last year to JA Happ, who like Stroman was traded to a Big Apple team at the trade deadline) . But while he was pretty reliable this season, he still posted a losing record and his attitude didn’t help out a lot . Reliever Ken Giles was great in his role as closer, but under-utilized and it’s hard to really justify giving a “Best pitcher” to a guy with 53 innings under the belt.
Which leads us to the bespectacled Thornton. At least he rose above expectations. A more or less throwaway from the Astros organization acquiired for infielder Aldemys Diaz, no one expected him to make the opening day roster let alone star on it. But he ended up being the only constant in the Jays starting rotation all year and got better as the year dragged on. A 6-9 record and 4.84 ERA aren’t real good, but might be best in show for the ’19 Jays. And he did lead in starts (29) and innings (154… . Roy Halladay is rolling in his grave). His strikeout to walk ratio was good, and he led the team in K’s too, with 149. Most impressively, he never gave in to tough opponents at the plate Kudos too for asking veteran Clay Bucholz to help him learn the curve ball and he actually was very good after doing so, having a 3.04 ERA from August 11 on. As a postscript,he went 2 for 3 at the plate too! One Jay who exceeded expectations.
Rookie of the Year – Cavan Biggio. Just stands to reason if he’s the Player of the Year and a rookie, he must be Rookie of the Year too. Kudos though to Guerrero, Bo Bichette, Thornton and even Danny Jansen for their years and making it the best single year rookie crop the team has ever posted.
Most Improved Player – Eric Sogard of Tampa. Yes, even though he was traded to the Rays late July, “The Nerd” stands out for his performance in the first 4 months of the season. After being a borderline backup infielder with few discernible major league talents, he came in and hit up a storm, motivated his teammates and quickly became one of the more popular members of the team for fans. In 73 games he was hitting .300 (the only regular to do so at that time), hit 10 homers – his past best was 3 in a year- and was slugging .457. His WAR in his Toronto time alone, 1.7 ,matched his one year career high. He ended up hitting .290 with 13 homers at season’s end and will have a chance to play post-season ball starting tonight with Tampa Bay.