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Series Preview: Blue Jays vs Rays

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Baltimore Orioles Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Blue Jays travel to St. Pete to take on the Tampa Bay Rays in a four game set after being swept by the Baltimore Orioles in an abbreviated two game series.

The Rays are coming off a 2-1 series victory against the New York Yankees at home, while the Blue Jays offense was stymied by Orioles pitchers. They only managed three runs and two doubles as their only extra base hits.

Matchups

Thursday 7:10 PM: Marcus Stroman vs Blake Snell

Friday 7:10 PM: Francisco Liriano vs Matt Andriese

Saturday 6:10 PM: Aaron Sanchez vs Chris Archer

Sunday 1:10 PM: Marco Estrada vs Jake Odorizzi

Blue Jays Rotation

Last year the Blue Jays rotation was arguably the most effective in the American League. They led baseball with 995.1 innings pitched by starters. Their combined 3.64 ERA was the lowest in the AL and the only team to have an ERA below 4.00. Their 4.07 FIP was second in the AL just behind the Indians 4.05 FIP and just ahead of the Rays 4.15 FIP. If anything, it should be some good television.

Blue Jays Starters vs RHB Last 3 Years

Name IP K% BB% AVG OBP SLG wOBA
Name IP K% BB% AVG OBP SLG wOBA
Marcus Stroman 172.1 20.1 % 4.6 % 0.261 0.299 0.369 0.292
Francisco Liriano 404.2 24.7 % 11.1 % 0.226 0.318 0.363 0.302
Aaron Sanchez 166.0 20.6 % 6.0 % 0.197 0.253 0.262 0.231
Marco Estrada 241.2 21.4 % 8.0 % 0.223 0.291 0.407 0.304

The Rays kickoff the series with the extreme ground ball pitcher Marcus Stroman. Stroman had a strong WBC for Team USA. With a ground ball rate approaching 60% he allows the highest batting average of the group, but due to a sub 5% walk rate and .108 ISO he has allowed a sub .300 wOBA to right handed batters. Stroman faced the Rays five times last year. The first two starts went well as he allowed four runs in 16 innings. The last three starts he allowed 14 runs in 17.2 innings.

Luckily for the left handed heavy Rays lineup Francisco Liriano is the only left hander they will face in the series. Liriano has given up a ton of walks, but gets a lot of strikeouts. There’s some give and take, but his .302 wOBA allowed by right handed hitters is very good for a left handed pitcher. As was the case with most pitchers last year he saw his home run rate spike and allowed a career high 26 homers.

Aaron Sanchez had an incredible first full year in the rotation after transitioning from the bullpen. His numbers are inflated by time in the bullpen, but he only allowed a .260 wOBA last year to right handed bats. Right handed bats are going to have fits if Sanchez is on his game, and the left handed bats are going to have to do the heavy lifting. The Rays faced him twice last April and only managed one run in 14 innings.

Marco Estrada is a pitcher that gets by on weak contact. Last year he saw his strikeout rate spike to 22.4% and his walks allowed also went up to 9.0%. Last season he faced the Rays three times. The Rays scored 12 runs in 15.1 innings. In Estrada’s first start of the season against the Orioles he allowed two runs in six innings with five hits, four strikeouts, and two walks.

Blue Jays Starters vs LHB Last 3 Years

Name IP K% BB% AVG OBP SLG wOBA
Name IP K% BB% AVG OBP SLG wOBA
Marcus Stroman 189.1 19.5 % 7.1 % 0.247 0.305 0.381 0.301
Aaron Sanchez 151.1 18.0 % 11.8 % 0.230 0.327 0.383 0.314
Francisco Liriano 107.1 25.9 % 9.4 % 0.236 0.324 0.361 0.306
Marco Estrada 272.0 19.4 % 7.9 % 0.203 0.271 0.376 0.283

Left handed bats should have a better time against Stroman and Sanchez. Stroman allows more fly balls and a higher ISO against left handed bats. Sanchez sees his strikeouts fall and walks soar.

Left handed bats have hit every so slightly better against Liriano than their right handed brethren. He’s been pretty neutral, so the Rays could see some of their left handed bats have some success against Liriano.

Estrada has had pretty big reverse splits which isn’t great news for our left handed bats. They have hit for an above average .173 ISO, so there is hope they can get a hold of a pitch or two.

Blue Jays Bullpen

The Blue Jays are missing their biggest weapon in the back end of their bullpen for the series. Roberto Osuna started the season on the ten day disabled list and won’t be eligible to return until early next week. Osuna has picked up 56 saves over the last two seasons, and the Blue Jays will surely miss him and his absence represents a weakness the Rays can exploit.

The arms the Blue Jays do have on the roster should be well rested as no player has pitched in both of their games and they had an off day on Tuesday.

Blue Jays Relievers vs RHB Last 3 Years

Name IP K% BB% AVG OBP SLG wOBA
Name IP K% BB% AVG OBP SLG wOBA
Joe Smith 105.1 21.4 % 4.5 % 0.206 0.255 0.299 0.247
Joseph Biagini 42.1 17.2 % 5.8 % 0.236 0.295 0.346 0.281
Jason Grilli 86.0 29.3 % 6.8 % 0.220 0.277 0.387 0.288
Ryan Tepera 29.0 17.8 % 4.2 % 0.234 0.280 0.396 0.295
J.P. Howell 71.0 20.9 % 9.8 % 0.257 0.336 0.373 0.311
Dominic Leone 66.0 23.4 % 7.6 % 0.255 0.317 0.419 0.315
Aaron Loup 75.0 21.7 % 10.1 % 0.255 0.340 0.425 0.330

Joe Smith has absolutely killed right handed bats. Last season wasn’t great for Smith as his homers soared out of the park at rates he hasn’t seen leading to a 4.99 FIP, but he was able to limit the damage only allowing a 3.46 ERA.

Jason Grilli will likely start the season as the closer for the Blue Jays until Osuna returns, which you might already know if your fantasy league is deep. Grilli has been very effective against right handed bats. If you’re able to make contact you can do damage as he’s allowed a .167 ISO, but with a strikeout approaching 30% he is able to limit the damage.

Joe Biagini and Ryan Tepera are the only other relievers they likely want to see right handed bats. Former Ray J.P. Howell and Aaron Loup are LOOGYs.

Dominic Leone had a really solid rookie season in 2014 where he posted a 2.17 ERA and 3.07 FIP for the Mariners. However the last 2 years he has gotten crushed and has put up ERAs over 6.00 and FIPs over 5.50. It’s only been 42.0 innings over the last two years, but it hasn’t been pretty.

Blue Jays Relievers vs LHB Last 3 Years

Name IP K% BB% AVG OBP SLG wOBA
Name IP K% BB% AVG OBP SLG wOBA
J.P. Howell 73.0 22.1 % 7.9 % 0.230 0.306 0.292 0.270
Ryan Tepera 23.1 19.4 % 9.2 % 0.165 0.278 0.333 0.272
Aaron Loup 50.1 22.4 % 3.9 % 0.210 0.289 0.361 0.288
Joe Smith 88.1 21.0 % 8.9 % 0.237 0.324 0.366 0.298
Joseph Biagini 27.0 25.2 % 7.1 % 0.276 0.341 0.372 0.310
Jason Grilli 61.2 29.1 % 14.0 % 0.222 0.349 0.389 0.324
Dominic Leone 42.1 18.6 % 12.6 % 0.298 0.399 0.476 0.378

Howell and Loup get a lot of work done against left handed bats as you would expect from LOOGYs. Tepera has been very effective outside of a home run problem in 2015 in his small 52.1 innings MLB sample.

Joe Smith isn’t nearly as effective against left handed bats as he is against right handed bats, but he still gets the job done, so watch out there.

Blue Jays Bats

The Blue Jays are now without Edwin Encarnacion, but they were able to re-sign Jose Bautista. They also added Steve Pearce and Kendrys Morales in free agency.

Blue Jay bats have struggled out of the gate. They have hit .240/.305/.267 through 82 PA in the first two games of the seasons on way to being limited to three runs scored.

Blue Jays Batters vs RHP Last 3 Years

Name PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Name PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Jose Bautista 1490 16.2 % 17.0 % 0.254 0.380 0.505 0.381 143
Josh Donaldson 1638 11.5 % 19.2 % 0.278 0.367 0.504 0.374 139
Devon Travis 517 6.6 % 20.7 % 0.305 0.353 0.470 0.354 122
Steve Pearce 687 9.0 % 20.8 % 0.264 0.342 0.465 0.352 124
Troy Tulowitzki 1129 8.4 % 19.2 % 0.269 0.336 0.450 0.340 106
Russell Martin 1171 10.1 % 22.1 % 0.251 0.343 0.436 0.340 115
Kendrys Morales 1062 8.9 % 18.4 % 0.242 0.317 0.433 0.325 103
Justin Smoak 698 10.9 % 30.2 % 0.215 0.305 0.415 0.315 98
Jarrod Saltalamacchia 741 13.5 % 33.5 % 0.204 0.312 0.376 0.304 90
Kevin Pillar 987 4.5 % 14.7 % 0.268 0.306 0.387 0.301 87
Ezequiel Carrera 454 7.5 % 22.0 % 0.241 0.308 0.339 0.287 77
Darwin Barney 401 6.0 % 14.5 % 0.237 0.287 0.346 0.279 72
Ryan Goins 641 7.2 % 20.3 % 0.227 0.283 0.336 0.273 68

Jose Bautista and Josh Donaldson have been elite bats vs right handed pitchers. Bautista had a down year by his standards by only hitting 126 wRC+ against right handed pitchers.

Devon Travis and Steve Pearce have been very good against their righties when they have been healthy enough to put in the lineup.

The lineup is deep against right handed pitching and although they have some aging parts they boast a lineup that should be one of the better offenses in the league against right handed bats, but they lack depth beyond their starters as their bench players aren’t there for their bats.

Blue Jays Batters vs LHP Last 3 Years

Name PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Name PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Josh Donaldson 478 14.9 % 14.9 % 0.285 0.395 0.595 0.418 171
Troy Tulowitzki 333 10.8 % 17.1 % 0.329 0.408 0.574 0.416 158
Jose Bautista 376 16.2 % 14.4 % 0.272 0.391 0.511 0.389 149
Steve Pearce 332 10.5 % 16.9 % 0.276 0.355 0.548 0.384 146
Ezequiel Carrera 124 5.6 % 23.4 % 0.328 0.371 0.448 0.357 125
Russell Martin 340 17.9 % 22.1 % 0.249 0.389 0.392 0.349 121
Kendrys Morales 605 6.6 % 16.2 % 0.295 0.344 0.453 0.342 116
Darwin Barney 198 8.1 % 13.6 % 0.294 0.357 0.407 0.333 111
Devon Travis 164 2.4 % 16.5 % 0.289 0.305 0.453 0.324 102
Kevin Pillar 355 3.7 % 16.3 % 0.283 0.314 0.393 0.307 90
Jarrod Saltalamacchia 213 8.9 % 31.9 % 0.215 0.286 0.372 0.290 81
Justin Smoak 251 6.8 % 21.9 % 0.223 0.279 0.378 0.289 82
Ryan Goins 176 4.0 % 24.4 % 0.189 0.226 0.270 0.219 31

This is not good news for Blake Snell tonight. The Blue Jays lineup is somehow even deeper against left handed pitching.

Josh Donaldson has been a beast and is joined by Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Bautista, and Steve Pearce as elite bats against left handed pitching. Russell Martin and Kendrys Morales have put up good results over as big a sample as you’ll see over three years against left handed pitching.

The Rays only have Blake Snell in the rotation and Xavier Cedeno (who pitched to one batter last night) in the pen as left handed pitchers, so they should be able to avoid the bulk of the damage once we get past the first game tonight.

Rays start the season on the right track.

Starting the season with a series victory is a good first step. Ideally you’ll want to continue to pick up series wins, but it’ll be difficult to win three of four against a good team like the Blue Jays, so a split would be a good outcome.