Which Blue Jays are set for a bounceback 2024?

January 11th, 2024

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Howdy, friends! This is Julia Kreuz, filling in for Keegan Matheson while he is on vacation. Let's get to it!

The Blue Jays are due for a good bounce.

Still searching for its offseason-defining move, Toronto will likely remain active in the market from now until Spring Training. By that point, though, the club should also start seeing some internal “good-news” candidates -- players who are poised to return to form after a down season.

Last year, Yusei Kikuchi and José Berríos headlined that list. This time, a surprisingly subpar offensive showing in 2023 made the group more hitter-heavy.

“We feel like last year was just a blip in terms of run-scoring,” Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said earlier this month. “It was an outlier over the past four years, and we’re optimistic. Now, having said that, we’re not going to rest on that. Now, we’re focused on improving our process.”

Here are the bounce-back candidates who would benefit the most from an improved process in 2024.

The bar is higher for Guerrero than for most players, so after delivering a 26-homer, 94-RBI season, Toronto’s All-Star first baseman will look to return to form this year.

Many of the Blue Jays’ power and run-scoring issues in 2023 were illustrated by Vladdy’s performance, as he continued to hit the ball on the ground a lot more frequently than putting it in the air, which resulted in some of the hardest-hit groundouts MLB has ever seen. Fortunately for the former American League MVP runner-up, there’s room -- and opportunity -- for improvement.

“The interesting thing about [Vladdy] and some of his batted-ball data, there are some really positive things about Vladdy and about last year’s performance,” said Atkins. “They just didn’t meet his expectations. … We’ll continue to peel back that layer and individualize it more for him.”

If the Blue Jays can indeed work with Guerrero on how to better communicate and implement their strategy, there’s a very good chance he will deliver better results in 2024. He’s largely expected to do so, according to FanGraphs’ ZiPS projections.

It all starts with the exciting stuff. Guerrero is projected to hit 31 home runs next season vs. the 26 he launched last year. That would signal launch-angle adjustments -- a known talking point around Guerrero since he arrived in the Majors.

But those potential tweaks would translate into way more than a higher home-run total. For a hitter like Vlad, who ranks in the 91st percentile of exit velocity, hitting the ball in the air more often means more prolific opportunities to drive in runs. That begins to explain why ZiPS projects Guerrero will crack 100 RBIs for the first time since his career year in 2021.

Guerrero’s isolated power (ISO) -- a stat that measures a player’s raw power based solely on extra-base hits -- is projected as the highest for any player on the Blue Jays at .214. Compare that to his .179 mark last season and it gets a bit easier to see just how much better Guerrero can be.

The current projections still fall short of 2021, but the Blue Jays will gladly take a potential 100-RBI season from their prized first baseman.

Alejandro Kirk
A well-documented late start to Spring Training due to the birth of his daughter likely contributed to Kirk’s struggles last season, so he already has an edge in his work to return to form. Still, the bat-to-ball skills that led the catcher to an All-Star nod and a Silver Slugger Award in 2022 were missing for most of the past campaign.

After a solid April, Kirk finished the 2023 season with a .250/.334/.358 line, eight homers and a below-par 93 OPS+ in 123 games -- a far cry from the production he’d shown a year prior (.285/.372/.415 line,14 homers, 112 OPS+ in 139 games). His hard-hit numbers took a dip and he struggled with getting the ball in the air -- a bad combo for one of the league’s slowest baserunners.

So, who is the real Kirk? The answer might be closer to 2022 than ‘23. According to ZiPS, the 25-year-old is likely due for better results and more power at the plate. Kirk’s projected batting average of .263 fits in better with his profile and history, and if he can touch his expected 109 OPS+, the Blue Jays will be in a much better place with their backup catcher.

One aspect that remained consistent even through his struggles was Kirk’s discipline -- he struck out 45 times against 42 walks this past season. Pair that with a little bit of improvement, and Kirk should be back on track in 2024.

Instead of comparing Varsho with Gabriel Moreno, why not compare Varsho with himself?

Last offseason’s prized acquisition, Varsho simply couldn’t tap into his known ability to do damage in his first year with the Blue Jays. The 27-year-old was pestered by high-velo pitches, struggling to make quality contact and even to pull the ball to the right side -- his calling card as a left-handed hitter since he arrived in the Majors.

Adding to the frustration was the fact that Varsho performed a lot worse in his new home than he did on the road. The outfielder hit 12 of his 20 homers away from Toronto, posting more serviceable offensive numbers in road games.

After a whole year of playing at Rogers Centre, though, Varsho should narrow the gap between those splits and find some consistency with the Blue Jays.

His ISO is projected to jump from a .169 mark in 2023 to .214 next year, according to ZiPS, signifying that Varsho should return to putting the barrel on the ball more effectively.

That’s just the starting point. For a hitter like Varsho, an improved ISO means better offensive numbers across the board. Add in his outfield defense -- which remained as steady as advertised throughout last season -- and no one will be losing much sleep about that fabled trade two Decembers ago.