Blue Jays' strength behind the plate showing after rough start
The Toronto Blue Jays' catching tandem might be the best in the majors, and they're starting to produce like it.
While the Toronto Blue Jays have plenty of big-name stars like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Alek Manoah, entering the season their biggest competitive advantage looked like it could be their catchers.
Based on its projections, FanGraphs put Toronto at the top of its positional power rankings at catcher and didn't rank the team better than third at any other position.
This wasn't a slight on the Blue Jays, who came in seventh or better at seven different positions, it's just awfully difficult to be the best team in the majors at any one spot.
Thanks to the presence of 2022 All-Star Game starter Alejandro Kirk and Danny Jansen — whose 140 wRC+ ranked 24th among 358 players with 200-plus trips to the plate last year — the Blue Jays have an abundance of talent behind the dish.
Capable backstops are hard to find, and this team is in such a good place at the position that they were able to ship out the best catching prospect in baseball, Gabriel Moreno, in the offseason.
In the first couple weeks of the season the Blue Jays didn't look like a team with enviable catching depth, though, as their offensively gifted catchers produced a collective 21 wRC+ in the team's first 12 games.
Kirk and Jansen's production since then has been a different story. Dividing the duo's production into approximate halves this season reveals quite the contrast:
The Blue Jays probably weren't panicking at the very beginning of the season, but when you're rolling with a pair of catchers coming off career years and both stumble out the gate, the seeds of doubt about them falling to earth can be planted.
That's especially true if you moved on from a youngster with franchise catcher potential to let them do their thing.
Luckily for Toronto, there were reasonable explanations for both Jansen and Kirk's struggles. The former was playing through a nasty stomach flu while the latter was knocking off rust after the birth of his child delayed his start to spring training.
Now both backstops seem to be firing on all cylinders offensively and providing different kinds of value to the Blue Jays offence.
Jansen has injected a dose of power lately with three home runs and a 1.000 SLG in his last five games. Kirk's patience is paying off as his walk rate is higher than it's ever been over a 19-game span:
Although Brandon Belt has come around in recent weeks, the Blue Jays are probably at their best with both catchers in the lineup — a strategy that's more viable for them than other teams due to Daulton Varsho's ability to don the tools of ignorance in a pinch.
Not only are Toronto's pair of catchers starting to find their games offensively, the early returns on their defence has been strong, according to Statcast metrics:
Those totals may seem modest, but considering the Blue Jays' overall run differential is just plus-14, it's clear the defensive work their catchers are doing is making a worthwhile impact.
Given what Kirk and Jansen bring to the table on both sides of the ball, they look capable of giving the Blue Jays more value from the position than any other team in the majors received — as the projections predicted.
You could split hairs with some of that production coming from DH at-bats — and neither is better than consensus top catcher JT Realmuto individually — but the potential impact this pair is capable of delivering is impressive.
For the first two weeks of the season the Blue Jays didn't get nearly as much from them as expected, but we're starting to see the significant advantage Toronto has at a position where many teams are aspiring for competence.