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Scouting the AL East: Toronto Blue Jays ZiPS projections

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is primed for a rebound.

MLB: APR 28 Red Sox at Blue Jays Photo by Joshua Bessex/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The very talented Esteban Rivera has been taking charge with the analysis of the Yankees’ ZiPS projections for the 2024 season, which I recommend you go and check out. However, as much as we can look at what the Yanks can and can’t realistically do, it’s also important to know your competition, and with that in mind, we’ll also tackle the other AL East teams. First up on the docket is the Toronto Blue Jays.

Perhaps somewhat dimmed down by a postseason appearance (which ended in a series loss to the Twins, something we didn’t know could happen), the Jays are also coming off an underwhelming campaign, much like the Yanks. Toronto comes back for 2024 with much of the same core, looking for improved campaigns out of their young core. Following a similar pattern to what Esteban did, here are the three things that stand out about the Jays ZiPS projections in 2024:

Optimism around Vladdy Jr.

The best hitter in the AL in 2021, Vladdy has taken steps back in each of the past two seasons, culminating in a pretty mediocre campaign in 2023 (by his standards, obviously). A 116 wRC+ is what Guerrero Jr. put up in 156 games last season, and that’s well in line with his 20th-percentile projections for 2024. His 50th-percentile outcome would show us the best Vladdy since 2021, with a very respectable .278/.357/.492 line that includes 31 homers and a 133 wRC+.

Even with other star-caliber options, there is no doubt Vladdy has the most offensive upside in this Jays lineup. Although Toronto fans should probably dismiss the idea of a 2021 repeat, there is a lot of room for expected growth, based on what we saw in 2023.

Skepticism surrounding Alek Manoah

Who was the Opening Day starter for the Jays in 2023? Alek Manoah took the ball for Toronto’s first game during an interleague series versus the Cardinals, and no one blinked. Kevin Gausman didn’t come out of nowhere last season, even though it was a terrific campaign. Yet, it was Manoah who got the nod for Toronto, and it speaks a lot about the level of confidence the organization had in him.

We all know how disastrous 2023 turned out for the big right-hander, and although there is a healthy dose of great production before then, ZiPS is skeptical of Manoah in 2024. The projections have him as a slightly below-league-average starter (96 ERA+), and even in the best outcomes, it’s still well short of what we’ve seen from him. The 80th-percentile WAR for Manoah in 2024 according to ZiPS is only 2.2, about half of what he put up in 196.2 IP back in 2022.

Now, one can argue about all the legitimate reasons why Manoah struggled in 2023, and how they aren’t easy fixes. However, the reality is that this was one of the more promising arms in the AL not that long ago, and just like 2023 was worse than anyone imagined, 2024 could prove a turning point. The Blue Jays are reportedly planning on keeping him in the rotation and not trading him. Manoah also dealt with mental health issues amidst all these struggles a year ago, and the hope is that he has found help in dealing with these things, receiving the full support of the Jays organization.

Optimism around Ricky Tiedemann

Don’t look now, but the first near-age comp for the talented prospect is none other than CC Sabathia. Tiedemann was already somewhat expected to be in the majors in 2023, but injuries prevented that from happening, and now he faces an interesting challenge. Toronto's pitching is kind of well set with Gausman, José Berríos, Chris Bassitt, and Yusei Kikuchi leading the charge in the rotation. The fifth spot is Alek Manoah’s to lose, which he could very well do if we don’t see a bounce-back from his 2023 numbers.

Beyond those four, you also have the recently signed Yariel Rodríguez who’s expected to fill a hybrid role in 2024, but could eventually make his way into this team’s starting staff. A rotation spot out of spring seems unlikely baring injuries, but maybe that can be a good thing for Tiedemann who’ll still see his innings heavily monitored.

ZiPS is very intrigued by his potential, expecting a strikeout rate of 27.1 percent, the highest for any Toronto starter. Without any work in the bigs, ZiPS projects a 105 ERA+ for Tiedemann, and that’s with the expectation of a walk rate above 10 percent. It’s always incredibly difficult to project how young arms will react to that first cup of coffee in the majors, but few prospects carry as much upside as the jays’ prized lefty.

Even the smallest variation in how players pan out this year could have a massive impact on what figures to be the most competitive division top-to-bottom again. The Blue Jays have been pushing to reach the top for several years now, but a variety of key underperformances have left them with a handful of Wild Card berths and not a single win once the postseason rolls in with this core. They pressed hard for the biggest free agents this offseason and missed out, and now the pressure’s on for the guys who are here to deliver.