When the Toronto Blue Jays acquired Matt Chapman they made a philosophical choice to prioritize overall quality over specific offensive fit.
Although another move could be on the way, the team may open the 2022 season with Cavan Biggio as the only left-hander in a lineup full of power-first righties with at least some swing-and-miss in their games.
That’s far from a devastating fate considering the quality of the hitters in question. The Blue Jays were a top-three offence last season, and they project to be near the top of the leaderboard again this time around. Even so, the stylistic homogeneity of the lineup means that the club might struggle with a few specific matchups.
In order to find potential Blue Jays killers the first place to look is pitchers who handle righties well, but that’s oversimplifying the issue slightly. Baseball Savant’s pitch arsenal stats help us dig a little bit deeper at the pitch types that Toronto’s top hitters have the hardest time with. Pitchers who both generally decimate right-handers and have arsenals unfriendly to the team’s top bats qualify as matchup nightmares.
Fortunately for Toronto, there isn’t a single pitch type their projected starting lineup (George Springer, Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Teoscar Hernández, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Matt Chapman, Cavan Biggio, Randal Grichuk, and Danny Jansen) have been a net negative against since 2019. You could argue for Santiago Espinal or Alejandro Kirk’s inclusion in that group, but neither has an MLB track record long enough to be confident about their pitch-type tendencies.
Below is a chart showing the aforementioned nine hitters’ combined run value per 100 pitches by each type over the last three years:
Based on this information the Blue Jays have to worry most about righty killers with four-seamers as their primary fastball and sliders as their primary breaking ball. That configuration isn’t an intuitive one as four-seamers tend to pair better with curves while sliders are best matched with sinkers — but it’s far from unheard of. Pitchers with a cutter or changeup focus are also possible Blue Jays erasers if their stuff is good enough.
With that in mind, here are a few pitchers that could give Toronto headaches in 2022:
RHH vs. Lynn, 2021: .192/.230/.303 with a 29.1 K% and 4.4 BB%
Blue Jays hitters vs. Lynn, 2021: .157/.157/.255 with 13 K’s and 0 BB’s in 51 PA
Pitch types 2021: Four-Seam (42.0%), Cutter (31.0%), Sinker (19.4%), Changeup (4.6%), Curveball (3.0%)
Although Lynn lacks the type of big slider that sometimes gives the Blue Jays fits (with the notable exception of George Springer and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. who are among the best slider hitters in the league) his cutter works much the same way. Right-handed hitters have a hell of a time barrelling him up, and although none of his pitches have outstanding movement, he has some of the best command in the league.
Last season he gave the Chicago White Sox 14 innings of two-run ball with just eight base runners allowed. The only Blue Jays to do significant damage against him was Randal Grichuk who demolished a sinker that Lynn absolutely hung — the type of mistake he rarely makes.
RHH vs. Garcia, 2021: .182/.247/.301 with a 29.0 K% and 7.9 BB%
Blue Jays hitters vs. Garcia, 2021: .150/.217/.150 with 8 K’s and 2 BB’s in 23 PA
Pitch types 2021: Four-Seam (44.7%), Cutter (22.6%), Slider (12.4%), Changeup (11.0%), Curveball (9.4%)
Garcia’s pitch mix is similar to Lynn’s but he throws a slider instead of a sinker, which makes things even trickier for Toronto. The scary thing about the Rookie of the Year’s runner-up’s repertoire is that it doesn’t seem like he’s maximizing it yet. His slider has truly outstanding movement (8% above-average vertically and 68% above-average horizontally)…
…if he can gain enough confidence in it to use it more he could become even tougher on righties, which is saying something.
RHH vs. Fairbanks, 2021: .167/.257/.208 with a 32.1 K% and 11.0 BB%
Blue Jays hitters vs. Fairbanks, 2021: .048/.167/.048 with 10 K’s and 3 BB’s in 24 PA
Pitch types 2021: Four-Seam (57.6%), Slider (42.1%), Sinker (0.3%)
Pitch types 2021: Four-Seam (57.6%), Slider (42.1%), Sinker (0.3%) Fairbanks is an absolute monster thanks to a fastball with elite velocity and elite spin. Unsurprisingly, his whiff heatmap with the pitch shows that he does a tonne of damage up in the zone:
His slider, meanwhile, tunnels well with his four-seamer because it’s a diving pitch (18 percent above-average vertical movement) that misses bats down, as opposed to away:
That combo is deadly for just about anyone, but right-handers have always been helpless against it.
RHH vs. Clase, 2021: .209/.252/.266 with a 27.7 K% and 5.4 BB%
Blue Jays hitters vs. Clase, 2021: .200/.333/.200 with 0 K’s and 1 BB in 7 PA
Pitch types 2021: Cutter (69.2%), Slider (29.8%), Four-Seam (0.9%)
Clase seems like the kind of guy who should be literally impossible to hit considering he wields an unfair cutter that clocks in at an average of 100.2 mph. Not only do right-handers have to worry about that pitch moving away from them, Clase also spins a slider with incredible movement (11% above-average vertically and 102% above-average horizontally) capable of tying hitter in knots — as Bo Bichette learned during his rookie season.
The Blue Jays didn’t see much of Clase last season, and they’d be fortunate to avoid the big-armed righty as much as possible in 2022.