A week before the season was set to finally get underway, the Toronto Blue Jays were thrown a curveball by the Canadian government. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the team wouldn’t be able to play their home games in Toronto. Speculation as to where the team would play immediately took the baseball universe by storm. A few days later things seemed to be heading towards Pittsburgh. The Jays would have shared PNC Park with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Another curveball came next, as the Pennsylvania state government reportedly denied the Jays an opportunity to play at PNC and left them searching for a home. With Opening Day scheduled, time was running out for the Wandering Jays. The whole concept of Blue Jays and Pirates sharing a home got me thinking: What would a hybrid Blue Jays/Pirates team look like? Would they be any good?
Both teams are graciously considered long-shots for the playoffs, and the Pirates are projected to be among the worst teams in the National League. Neither team is exactly an offensive powerhouse on par with the Yankees, nor do they have the pitching depth to rival the Dodgers. However, their combined efforts have some more than useful pieces. Here’s a breakdown of what the roster could look like in our Bizarro-world 2020 season:
|C||Danny Jansen||Bench||Jacob Stallings|
|1B||Josh Bell||Bench||Travis Shaw|
|2B||Adam Frazier||Bench||Cavan Biggio|
|SS||Bo Bichette||Bench||Lourdes Gurriel Jr|
|3B||Kevin Newman||Bench||Jarrod Dyson|
|DH||Vladimir Guerrero Jr|
|SP1||Hyun-Jin Ryu||RP||Matt Shoemaker|
|SP2||Joe Musgrove||RP||Richard Rodriguez|
|SP3||Mitch Keller||RP||Rafael Dolis|
|SP4||Tanner Roark||RP||Nick Burdi|
|SP5||Nate Pearson||RP||Kyle Crick|
Obviously two teams are better than one… For starters, the universal DH in 2020 makes it easy to fit both Josh Bell and Vlad Jr in the lineup. Being able to pull from two teams increases our depth and we can see the lineup is clearly much deeper. I did take the liberty of sliding Kevin Newman over to third base from his normal shortstop position. He offers more upside than Travis Shaw, who was putrid in 2019, but could easily bounce back.
Key offseason signing Hyun-Jin Ryu is the clear-cut ace of our beloved Pittsburgh Jays. While a few other pitchers could have been considered to round out the rest of our staff, I opted for a balance between reliable MLB veterans and younger players with upside like Keller and Pearson. The bullpen, while certainly not great, is at least less bad. One downside is the lack of a lefty reliever but the available options – even with two teams – were VERY thin.
How would this team fare against other MLB teams? We don’t know how the pandemic will impact the season once games do get underway, but I’m going to assume that teams will be able to complete all 60 games without major impacts from the virus. Fangraphs currently has the Blue Jays collective unit pegged for 11.7 WAR while the Pirates check in at 9.1. The consensus top three teams (Dodgers, Yankees, Astros) each boast over 19 in expected total WAR, so even our super Pittsburgh squad probably isn’t a favorite to claim the World Series trophy this year.
Here’s what we get if we take the top 26 guys from our depth chart above and sort them by their expected WAR, according to Fangraphs:
|Vladimir Guerrero Jr||0.9|
|Lourdes Gurriel Jr||0.4|
This 14.8 number is a good start, but it obviously doesn’t consider contributions from players beyond these 26 players, including early in the season when the roster will be larger than the usual amount. This overall WAR should also be tweaked slightly because Jacob Stallings, Travis Shaw, Cavan Biggio, Jarrod Dyson, and Lourdes Gurriel Jr all went from starters to bench players on our hybrid team. Furthermore, Matt Shoemaker has been bumped from the Blue Jays rotation to a long reliever. If we assume roughly half the number of plate appearances and innings pitched for these now bench players, we’re left with a WAR of roughly 13.0 for our Pittsburgh Jays.
That’s a 1.3 improvement over the normal Blue Jays, but 13 WAR would likely still mean this team is average and not a major contender for the playoffs. If we were to consider the Pittsburgh Jays in the NL Central instead of AL East, they’d have a much better shot at the playoffs. Still, anything can happen in a 60-game season!
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