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Tigers vs. Blue Jays Preview: The new-look Blue Jays are getting younger on Opening Day

Toronto finalized a last-minute deal with Oakland on Wednesday, putting them down a Kendrys Morales for the start of the season.

MLB: Spring Training-Toronto Blue Jays at New York Yankees Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

On the eve of baseball’s Opening Day, the Blue Jays made a blockbuster trade that freed up a roster spot for one of their top prospects. Designated hitter Kendrys Morales is moving out west to play for the Oakland Athletics. With the DH role now clear, the Blue Jays have decided to turn to...

...outfielder Anthony Alford.

While we, the greater baseball world, are still being deprived of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the 24-year-old Alford is deserving of his call-up. He hit a robust .242/.342/.636 with four home runs during spring training, and as we noted in our Blue Jays season preview, has the highest upside of any outfielder on Toronto’s roster this year. Kevin Pillar still has another year of arbitration eligibility remaining, but the absolute best case scenario for the 2019 Blue Jays might be that Alford plays well enough to make Pillar expendable. You know, besides that whole “winning championships” thing.

We have already seen plenty of takes on Toronto’s manipulation of Guerrero Jr.’s service time, and will likely see more in the aftermath of the Morales trade, so we won’t go into that here. The bottom line? Toronto is not as good of a team without Vladito or Morales, which bodes well for the Tigers in this series.

Welcome to Opening Day.

Detroit Tigers (0-0) at Toronto Blue Jays (0-0)

Time/Place: 3:37 p.m., Rogers Centre
SB Nation site: Bluebird Banter
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Jordan Zimmermann (7-8, 4.52 ERA) vs. RHP Marcus Stroman (4-9, 5.54 ERA)

Game 2 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Boyd 170.1 22.4 7.2 4.45 2.1
Shoemaker 31.0 25.4 7.7 3.35 0.6

There are two different ways to look at Marcus Stroman right now. You can view him the same way that many scouts have throughout his amateur and professional career; Stroman is an undersized starter who always drew questions about his durability. Few MLB starters are just six feet tall these days, and fewer still stand four inches shorter than that (5’8) like Stroman. That he suffered a shoulder injury and missed six weeks of action in 2018 only further validates those concerns, even if it is the first time Stroman has dealt with any arm issues. Can he continue to stand up to 200-inning workloads? We’ll see.

You can also view Stroman in another light — namely, the way he views himself. His #HDMH (height doesn’t measure heart) hashtag is a rallying cry not only for himself, but also for other undersized athletes around the game. Whether due to heart or just a lot of athletic ability, Stroman has put together a solid young career, including a career-best 3.09 ERA in 201 innings of work back in 2017. He worked back-to-back 200-inning seasons in 2016 and ‘17, and only saw a slight dip in fastball velocity as he worked through his injuries last year.

Given his age and relatively clean injury history — he missed nearly all of 2015 due to a torn ACL, but injuries like that are not usually chronic in nature — I think Stroman is a solid bet to bounce back in 2019. He was somewhat victimized by shoddy defense last year, especially on fly balls (.152 BABIP compared to .088 for the league), and could especially benefit if the Jays toss Alford or Billy McKinney out in left field in place of the stone-handed Teoscar Hernandez (-16 DRS last year). Shortstop Freddy Galvis, who was +16 DRS better than Aledmys Diaz in 2018, should also help.

Key matchup: Jordan Zimmermann vs. the home run ball

Expect this to be a consistent theme in 2019. Zimmermann made a few under-the-radar strides last season, chief among them some of the best strikeout and walk numbers of his career. However, he still finished the season with a mid-4s ERA and a 4.88 FIP, almost entire thanks to the 28 home runs he gave up in 131 13 innings. Only three pitchers (minimum 100 innings) gave up dingers at a higher rate than him — and to no surprise, they all had ERAs of 5.45 or higher.

Zimmermann was a little different, though. He and Dylan Bundy (2.15 HR/9) managed solid strikeout and walk numbers despite all of the home runs allowed, resulting in respectable xFIP numbers. While Bundy had a much larger gap between his 5.45 ERA and 4.28 xFIP, Zimmermann was still potentially a bit unlucky according to this measure.

That said, his high fly ball tendencies may not play well at Rogers Centre. The Jays’ hitter-friendly home has been one of MLB’s better parks for socking dingers over the past several years — though perhaps not as favorable as one might expect. That said, opponents knocked them out of all sorts of ballparks with Zimmermann on the mound last year, so relatively short porches in left and right field shouldn’t matter much if he hangs a spinner or two throughout the game.

Prediction

Zimmermann gives up three home runs, but all are solo shots and the Tigers rally for an Opening Day win.