April Report Card: Toronto Blue Jays

Surprise! There are actually some standout performers to discuss from the disastrous first month of 2017. While you recover from the extreme shock you experienced while reading that sentence, let’s take a look at some notable players that played enough for one to form an early opinion on them.

Pitchers

A Plus — Joe Biagini, RHP

Biagini has done everything the Blue Jays hoped he would in the first month of Year Two. Not only does he lead the team with a 0.8 WAR, but he also has a 0.69 ERA in 13 innings pitched. He leads the team in IP, so he’s very clearly the high-leverage guy in the bullpen.

A Plus — Marco Estrada, RHP

Marco Estrada being named the opening day starter surprised me, I’m not going to lie. I soon realized why the choice had been made… he’s been absolutely terrific, pitching to a 2.63 ERA in his four outings, striking out 24 while only walking nine.

B — Marcus Stroman, RHP

Stro’s been fine. He’s given up 24 hits in 20 IP, but he’s also pitched a complete game while giving up only 2 runs. There’s room to grow here for sure, but his floor appears to be what he’s done so far.

B — Dominic Leone, RHP

I watched video in the winter on Leone, and I was blown away by what I saw. The more I watched, the more I grew the mindset of “This guy can be an important part of the bullpen this season.” George Grotheer can confirm that I made this prediction in Spring Training. Leone has not disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, he hasn’t looked like Craig Kimbrel in his prime, but Leone has only given up 4 hits in 8.2 innings pitched, and he trails only Biagini and Ryan Tepera in IP so far. He seems like an absolute steal so far as a bullpen addition.

B — Joe Smith, RHP

Twelve strikeouts. One walk. Aside from a couple rough outings early in the month, Smith has been a pretty reliable option out of the ‘pen for the Blue Jays.

B Minus — Casey Lawrence, RHP

Casey Lawrence has not had a great time in his three appearances (one start) this season. He’s given up 8 runs in 8.1 IP, and therefore has pitched to a 7.56 ERA. He’s also given up 11 hits in those 8.1 IP. Despite all that… I think he’s looked pretty good. This is probably a cliche, but Lawrence has looked at home in the majors. He doesn’t really look like a guy who was supposed to be in AAA all season. I think that if Lawrence and not Latos is the sixth starter, the Blue Jays will probably get above-average results.

B Minus — Francisco Liriano, LHP

Liriano’s slowly redeeming himself in the stat columns, but that first start was nightmarish for the lefty. There’s pretty much nothing to read from that first start, however, and it’s perfectly reasonable to expect Liriano to be what he’s been since being traded from Pittsburgh.

C Plus — Ryan Tepera, RHP

On one hand, I understand why John Gibbons has been so eager to use the former Bisons closer often. He’s an arm that can throw back-to-back days, and he’s had reasonable growth as a pitcher through his short MLB career. That said, the fact that he’s given up 6 runs in 9 IP is slightly worrying.

D Plus — Aaron Loup, LHP

I have so much… nothing to say about Aaron Loup at this point. He’s only on the team because he’s a left-handed pitcher and he’s struggled since 2015. His stats have largely been fine so far this year and his pitches do look better, but he consistently shows that he can’t be trusted in higher-leverage situations. His ERA is below two at the moment, so I can’t really grade him below a “D Plus,” but hitters don’t seem to have a problem figuring Loup out.

D — Jason Grilli, RHP

Everyone I talk to about Grilli tends to say that he looks like he’s “old.” In baseball terms, this is essentially “He should have retired yesterday.” I wouldn’t go that far, but Grilli has not looked good. He’s given up 5 runs on 7 hits in only 6.1 innings, and he’s blown a couple opportunities to finish games. I’m a huge fan of Jason Grilli and it’s not anywhere near time to give up on him as the setup guy, but his underwhelming performance is worth monitoring.

Hitters

A —Kevin Pillar, CF

His timely hitting has him in the leadoff spot for the foreseeable future, and his attempts to cut down on his strikeouts has had a generally positive impact so far. Sure, he could stand to take more walks, but Pillar’s done a great job so far this season.

B Plus — Justin Smoak, 1B

I wouldn’t have believed it before the season started either, but 9 RBI’s and 3 homers have been produced by the often-criticized first baseman so far. Smoak has 4 doubles as well. If he keeps this up, not only will he be blocking Rowdy Tellez, but he’ll also secure his everyday spot.

B — Kendrys Morales, 1B/DH

Just like Smoak, 3 HR and 9 RBI. Unlike Smoak, this was what was advertised in the offseason when Morales was signed. There’s been no reason to complain about Morales’ season so far.

C Plus — Troy Tulowitzki, SS

You get what you get with Tulowitzki at this point. His .263 average could stay where it is, but Tulo’s a great defender with a bit of pop in his bat. If the injury issues start up again, that’s a bad sign for the ageing infielder.

D Plus — Russell Martin, C

If Martin wasn’t the defender, leader, and pitch-framer he is, than this grade would be significantly worse than it is. I’m still going to predict a season similar to last year’s despite the slow start.

D — Devon Travis, 2B

He’s better than ever defensively, but he can’t afford to be Ryan Goins 2.0. My feeling is that it’s just a slow start, and he’ll be hitting well soon.

D — Jose Bautista, RF

He needs to start hitting soon, because his fielding is becoming a big issue. His range in right field is not good, and his ball tracking skills have shown themselves to be well below-average as well. His arm has been much improved this year, however, and that should be enough to keep him out there. But yeah. One home run almost a month into the season. Angels broadcasters Victor Rojas and Mark Gubicza were noticing that Bats was swinging late at the plate, which is a very bad sign because much of Bautista’s breakout has been credited to timing. Maybe the Jays should hire Vernon Wells to be the assistant hitting coach.

F — Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C

He’s struck out in 12 of his 18 at-bats. He’s hitting 056. He’s not pitch-framing well, he’s not throwing runners out at second, and he’s made fans wish for Dioner Navarro. Yikes. It’s been eerily similar to his 2015 April, which resulted in his release from Miami.

Manager and Coaches

A Minus — John Gibbons, Manager

I’ve always been a fan of John Gibbons, even in my limited exposure to his first tenure. Other than his continued tendency to pick favourites in the bullpen, Gibby’s done exactly what he did the last two years. It’s just not his fault that the team isn’t hitting in April, and it’s not his fault that his two best starters, his best left-handed reliever, his MVP third baseman, and now his shortstop is injured.

B Minus—Brooke Jacoby, Hitting Coach

Copy and paste that last sentence. Brooke Jacoby was the hitting coach during the last two seasons, in which the Jays made the ALCS twice. He’s probably losing his job if they stay losing too much longer, which is a shame.

A— Pete Walker, Pitching Coach

The pitching isn’t the problem for Toronto right now.

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