While the Toronto Blue Jays entered the 2022 season they did some with a few known weaknesses — some of which are haunting them midway through August.
For all the concerns about the bullpen, bench, and back of the rotation, no one would’ve been worried about the lineup’s lack of star power.
After all, this club’s position player core includes: the 2021 MVP runner-up, a World Series MVP, a Platinum Glove third baseman, a two-time defending Silver Slugger and one of the most offensively gifted young shortstops in the game.
Yet if you find yourself pursuing FanGraphs’ WAR leaderboards — admittedly a niche recreational activity — you’ll find that the Blue Jays don’t have a single position player in the top 35.
That’s surprising for a lineup with a strong reputation that ranks sixth in MLB in run scoring. It’s also particularly unusual for a team competing for a playoff spot to lack a player having a truly elite season. In fact, FiveThirtyEight ran a piece on August 10 pointing out that the correlation between the value of a team’s top-three players and its success is stronger than we’ve seen in recent years.
The piece included pitchers, and the Kevin Gausman-Alek Manoah combo gives the Blue Jays a boost at the top of the roster, but right now this is a team without a single dominant player — at least production-wise.
Without elite production coming from a single player, there’s far more pressure on the entirety of the roster to be competent. A glance at the Los Angeles Angels shows that can be a tall task, but for the 2022 Blue Jays it hasn’t been — particularly on the position player side.
Entering Friday’s action Toronto has seven position players with at least 2 fWAR, which is approximate shorthand for an average season from an everyday player. Considering the season is just over two-thirds over, that means the vast majority of the lineup is composed of guys on their way to above-average years.
That’s extremely unusual. Here’s a breakdown of how many position players each team has who’ve produced 2 fWAR this season:
This chart doesn’t tell us with 100 percent certainty who the best teams are, but the teams at the top and the bottom are certainly unsurprising.
It is undoubtedly a good sign for the Blue Jays that their lineup length is the envy of the league, even during a rough patch. There’s a reason that MLB Network sent out this slightly misguided — and heavily ratioed — tweet.
There’s an argument to be made that the Blue Jays having the value of their position players tied up in more individuals makes them less susceptible to a single injury derailing their season. While the Blue Jays don’t have a top-35 position player by fWAR they have six ranked in from 37th to 80th.
It’s a team composition that wouldn’t work in the NBA, but in a sport where every player hits approximately the same amount of the time, a club without black holes can be downright dangerous.
What makes this outcome bizarre is the degree to which it did not happen by design. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was a top-10 player by fWAR last season. Bo Bichette ranked 15th. George Springer is capable of performing like one of the MLB’s top players. Matt Chapman has produced 12 fWAR over a two-year span before. Teoscar Hernandez ranked just above Francisco Lindor, Manny Machado, and Nolan Arenado in fWAR last year.
A quietly significant issue the Blue Jays have faced this season is that with the exception of Alejandro Kirk — and to an extent Lourdes Gurriel Jr. — every one of their vaunted position player stars has been slightly worse than expected this year.
For Guerrero Jr. the BB/K and launch angle have dropped while the power has been a touch less overwhelming. Bichette has experienced struggles with the fastball and resulting strikeout spikes. Springer’s health has become an issue again. Chapman’s defensive metrics haven’t held up. Hernandez is the closest to performing at his 2021 level on a per-game basis, but he’s missed time and got off to a brutal start to the season.
You could read this as encouraging because Toronto’s best players have all played at a higher level than we’ve seen this year. This lineup has stars, and one or two of them could take star turns down the stretch.
Even if they don’t, this lineup will be hard to handle because although it’s not perfect it lacks liabilities. That’s something that can’t be said of most teams — even those among MLB’s elite.