The Blue Jays ranked eighth in MLB in Defensive Runs Saved last season with 44 and they’ve spent a good portion of their offseason trying to improve upon that. A closer look at the components of Defensive Runs Saved might explain why.
In 2022, the Blue Jays ranked 3rd in Runs Saved from infield and outfield positioning, but 14th in the components related to defensive skill (range, throwing, defensing bunts, turning double plays, etc.).
That was particularly evident in the outfield, where the Blue Jays led all teams in the positioning component of Runs Saved but ranked 21st in Runs Saved from the skills of their players.
So the Blue Jays changed the look of their outfield with the trades of Teoscar Hernández and Lourdes Gurriel Jr., the non-tendering of Raimel Tapia, the free agent signing of Kevin Kiermaier, and the acquisition of Daulton Varsho in the deal that sent Gurriel to the Diamondbacks.
Kiermaier has had at least 10 Runs Saved in center field in seven of the last eight years for the Rays, with 2022 being the exception (2 Runs Saved in 60 games). The Blue Jays are counting on his track record to provide needed value. He’s the career leader in Runs Saved for a center fielder since the stat was first tracked in 2003.
Varsho, who played right field, center field, and was also a fill-in catcher for the Diamondbacks, shouldn’t have to worry about the latter anymore. He’ll likely slot in as their regular left fielder with Kiermaier playing center field and George Springer playing right field.
Varsho excelled in right field in a small sample last year and also looked good in center, combining for 19 Runs Saved between the two spots (tied for 2nd among outfielders). At age 26, he’s also easily the youngest of their three primary outfielders, which at least allows for the possibility that he could slide to either spot if needed (Kiermaier turns 33 in April, the same age as Springer, who turns 34 in September).
There’s a secondary component to these deals. By trading catching prospect Gabriel Moreno to the Diamondbacks, the Blue Jays also committed to continuing the catching tandem of Alejandro Kirk and Danny Jansen. They combined for 14 Runs Saved at the position last season. Blue Jays catchers ranked second to the Yankees in Defensive Runs Saved, with Jansen and Kirk ranking among MLB’s top pitch blockers.
- Kiermaier and third baseman Matt Chapman play anywhere near how they did in their primes,
- Springer responds well to the move back to right field,
- Varsho and Gold Glove-winning first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. pick up where they left off last season,
- and second baseman Whit Merrifield and shortstop Bo Bichette return to 2021 form (16 combined Runs Saved at those spots compared to -21 in 2022), with utility man Santiago Espinal filling in as needed
… then the Blue Jays could be an excellent defensive team in 2023. They might even be one of the best in MLB.