TDG’S Triple Play: Toronto Blue Jays!
The Triple Play is back for a fourth season! This regular feature is broken down by writer Phil Barrington. He joined by a rotating panel of some of the best Dynasty Baseball writers in the business. If you’re new to the Triple Play, this series breaks down an arm, a bat, and a prospect within each organization for your reading pleasure!
Steven Matz, Age: 30, Position: SP
Analysis by: Aaron Cumming
Heading into 2021, Toronto was banking on a 29-year-old lefty starting pitcher to bounce back from a career worst season in 2020 when he was worth negative WAR. Management must have thought they had the right formula for Robbie Ray to be successful, so they doubled down and traded for Steven Matz to mimic this exact scenario. Clearly, they knew what they were doing. Ray is a leading candidate for the AL Cy Young Award, and Matz may even get some down ballot consideration, finishing with the second most wins in the AL.
Matz made his big league debut in 2015, and played his first full season in the major league in 2016. He graduated as the top prospect in the Mets system, and earned All-Rookie Team honors at the end of that year. He showcased a similar four pitch mix to what he’s still using, and punctuated that diversity of offerings with advanced control. He lived up to the hype, and was supposed to slot into a rotation featuring Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Matt Harvey (not to ignore the inimitable Bartolo Colon). Injuries derailed those plans every year since his debut, and the Mets fans felt that grief repeatedly.
This frustration reached a shockingly high pinnacle in 2020 for Matz. In nine games (six starts), he compiled a 0-5 record, 9.68 ERA, and 1.70 WHIP. Only 3 pitchers managed to have a lower value than his -0.7 fWAR. It was a horrific season all around. It’s not surprising that the Mets were comfortable trading him away to the Blue Jays.
The Way You Wear Your Matz
But should it have been such a bad year in 2020? Matz had a career-best 18.3% K-BB rate. He suffered through an unsustainably low 58.6% left-on-base rate (league average was over 70%). He was the victim of an inflated .341 BABIP. Matz was basically throwing the same pitches that proved successful in the past, but he just went through a 30 inning spell of bad luck in 2020.
Here’s the complete list of things Matz changed going into 2021:
And as it turns out, he didn’t need to! Perhaps he was locating his slider a little better, but it’s tough to compare since he only threw 30 in 2020. He doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but he commands it well and limits damage by inducing soft contact. He started hot, then got hit around a bit in the middle of the year, but he ended strong. He only gave up more than two earned runs one time in his final 11 starts. When healthy, Matz has been a solid contributor in ratios, and isn’t a total loss in strikeouts. If he can find the right landing spot during free agency, he could easily repeat his line from this year. 13-15 wins, a sub-4.00 ERA, a WHIP around 1.30, and nearly a strikeout per inning will be a valuable late acquisition to any fantasy roster.
Teoscar Hernández, Age: 28, Position: OF
Analysis by: Bob Osgood
What to make of 60 games?
I entered 2021 trying to be as skeptical as possible about the short-season outliers. So many factors went into play in an unprecedented 2020 season, as teams played only against teams in their region, with a DH in the National League, often against teams completely decimated by COVID outbreaks. I bet on players with track records of multiple seasons instead of a 60-game breakout, which, as a whole, worked out well but you are bound to miss out on a few players. Teoscar Hernández was one of those players.
I had looked at the 2020 Statcast numbers and it was clear that he hit the ball as hard as anyone in baseball. He ranked in the Top 5% in Avg Exit Velocity, Hard Hit %, Barrel %, xwOBA, and xSLG. However, something just didn’t seem right about the Batting Average. Hernández had entered 2020 with a .237 BA in 327 career games but then dropped a .289 average on us in 2020, which was accompanied by a likely unsustainable .348 BABIP (Average on Balls in Play). His 30.4% K-rate (31.6% in his career to that point) and 6.8% BB-rate did nothing for me, nor did a career-high of six stolen bases.
Teoscar’s No Slouch
The 28-year-old Hernández made numerous gains while continuing to hit the ball hard in the 2021 season and has me completely bought in. One thing that I hadn’t picked up on was Hernandez’s 85th percentile Sprint Speed in 2020. He was 85th percentile again in 2021 and stole 12 bases as a result. The “unsustainable” BABIP was quite sustainable and actually improved, to .352 which led to a .296 batting average. Hernandez dropped his K-rate to 24.9%, not far from the league average of 23.2%. While Hernández’s 32 HR and 92 Runs were appreciated, it was the 116 RBI (3rd in MLB) that truly allowed Hernández to stand out in fantasy circles. The result, perhaps quietly, was the 9th best fantasy player on the Razzball Player Rater in 2021, just ahead of Bryce Harper and Juan Soto.
Hernández benefitted from hitting in the 5-spot, seeing pitches to hit since teams couldn’t pitch around George Springer, Marcus Semien, Vladimir Guerrero, Bo Bichette, and him. His Swing% increased from 46.4% to 51.9%, and his Zone Swing % increased mightily from 63.7% to 77.0%. He knew he was going to see pitches to hit, swung at them, and crushed them all year long. Amazingly, Hernández’s 116 RBI came in only 142 games played. Compared to the other sluggers in the lineup:
Hernández 0.81 RBI/G
Guerrero 0.69 RBI/G
Bichette 0.64 RBI/G
Springer 0.64 RBI/G
Semien 0.63 RBI/G
A Team with a Bright Future
Even if Marcus Semien leaves in free agency and everyone moves up one spot in the lineup, you would be looking at a Springer, Guerrero, Bichette, Hernández opening to the lineup, even before knowing where the Blue Jays will spend their money in free agency. They almost surely will spend, as their trade deadline approach confirmed that they believe their competitive window has arrived. From a dynasty perspective, Hernández has two years remaining before he hits free agency for the first time and none of the players hitting ahead of him are going anywhere anytime soon. Now that I’ve seen it for 200 games played, I won’t make the same mistake twice with Teoscar Hernández next draft season.
Jordan Groshans, Age: 21, Position: 3B/SS, Level: Double-A
Analysis by: Phil Barrington
A promising start
Groshans was the Blue Jays 1st round pick in 2018 (12th overall) out of Magnolia HS in Texas. As we know, high school bats do not make the majors for a while, and ones that get injured a lot, and miss a season due to Covid, do not make it any faster. However, Groshans has been found on top 100 prospect lists since being drafted, and even injuries have not caused him to drop much and he is still considered one of Toronto’s top prospects, though he has fallen behind fellow SS Orelvis Martinez and was behind Austin Martin before Martin was traded along with Simeon Woods Richardson for Jose Berrios.
After being drafted, Groshans played in 48 games at Rookie Ball, hitting five home runs and a slash line of .296/.353/.446, while walking 15 times compared to only 37 strikeouts. This led to him showing up on top 100 prospect lists and in some cases even top 50. Blue Jays fans and fantasy baseballers everywhere began to get excited. Then, 2019 happened.
Injuries, injuries, injuries
In August of 2019 he had a left foot injury so bad it required a walking boot for months, apparently to his ankle, though the Blue Jays left the injury undisclosed. So that season he only appeared in 23 games at Single-A, though the results were promising as a .337/.427/.482 slash line can attest, though he hit only two home runs. In 2020 he was stuck at home, practicing and rehabbing his ankle back in Magnolia, along with fellow Blue Jays prospect Adam Kloffenstein.
He missed a week or so in 2021 due to a sore back, which is not an injury you want to hear about from a 6-foot-3-inch-tall slugger either, but at least it did not sideline him all season. He appeared in 75 games for Double-A New Hampshire and produced a promising .291/.367/.450 slash line with a 61:34 strikeout to walk ratio and hit seven home runs. He went almost two months without hitting a home run however, adding a bit to the worry about his power potential. No one ever wants to label a player injury-prone, but it would be good to see Groshans make it through one season unscathed, as the 162-game big league season can be unrelenting.
The $100,000 question is…
What to do with Groshans in Dynasty Baseball? Is he a trade target? Or do you want to move him off your team?
First, where will he play? When he and Austin Martin were teammates, Groshans shifted to third base. Bo Bichette is entrenched as the Blue Jays shortstop, so third base looks like his best option. At third for the Blue Jays, other options include Cavan Biggio at the big-league level and Orelvis Martinez, though Martinez will need more time in the minors, having only played at High-A in 2021. There is also the boringly named Kevin Smith, who, at age 25, was already called up to the big-league roster, but appears to be more of a depth piece.
Lastly is 2021’s year ending third baseman, Santiago Espinal, who is in the mix as well. Neither Smith not Espinal should stand in the way, though, if Groshans is hitting bombs at Triple-A Buffalo in 2022. The Blue Jays could also sign a third baseman as well. Going into 2022, Groshans should begin the year at Triple-A Buffalo with the chance to come up to the big leagues when ready.
Groshans has shown all the good things to hit .300 and post good walk and strikeout rates, and his frame leans to hitting for power, though as steals are not a part of his game, he will need to hit 30+ home runs to be fantasy relevant at the hot corner, and he has not shown that yet. He is as high-risk, high-reward of a prospect as one can get at the moment, with the injuries and lack of power holding him back against a high average, power potential, and awesome lineup.
I can see 2022 going one of two ways; Groshans starts hitting home runs at Triple-A Buffalo in a hitter’s park and is called up early on in 2022, or he languishes there and is passed on the depth chart by Martinez, while Biggio or another third baseman handles the duties at the big-league level. For me, there is too much risk and not enough potential reward in acquiring Groshans for my dynasty teams, and I would be looking to trade him while he is still ranked as a top-100 prospect.
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