The Toronto Blue Jays have the youngest group of position players in baseball, and at times, they very much show it. As of late, some of their young fielders’ inexperience on the diamond has been clear.
The Blue Jays are only 18 games into the 2021 season (with 11% of their regular season schedule complete), but some disturbing trends have emerged in the defensive department. Players like Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. have struggled at their respective positions.
Especially with Biggio, who according to Baseball Savant’s Outs Above Average metric, is tied with Justin Turner for the worst numbers by a third baseman this season. Another throwing error by Biggio against the Red Sox on Wednesday night almost proved costly, but reliever Rafael Dolis escaped the inning mostly unscathed.
Just because that play didn’t cost the Blue Jays the game doesn’t mean it couldn’t have. It also doesn’t mean those plays haven’t cost the Blue Jays runs and games already this year.
In fairness to Biggio, he’s playing third base full time for the first time in his career, but he hasn’t looked comfortable at the position since Opening Day. Simple throws across the diamond cause some fans to hold their breath.
It’s a bizarre scene to watch because Biggio bounced around the diamond last year and played second base admirably for the Blue Jays last year. But this year, he’s been more of a liability at the hot corner than a vacuum cleaner for ground balls.
This past offseason, Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins prioritized run prevention in their pursuit in offseason targets, and they brought in a plus defender up the middle with Marcus Semien. And while it would’ve made all the sense in the world to sign Semien to play third base, the team gave him his preference of infield positions (aside from shortstop), and he preferred second base.
Look across the Blue Jays infield and there are a lot of players out of position or don’t have a ton of experience under their belt at their spots on the diamond. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has played 47 career games at first base. Bichette has 85 games in the field at shortstop. And Biggio has 23 games in the big leagues at first base. They’re “learning on the job” at the highest level.
But there lies the issue. While defence isn’t easy by any means, the best fielders in baseball make five-star plays look like routine catches. A solid defensive team is highly underrated, and what the Blue Jays are experiencing right now is a spell of inexperience, but also a lot of players out-of-position.
It’s the simple plays — the routine throws across the diamond, the scoops and tosses to first base — those are the plays that have to be made. Otherwise, the Blue Jays’ defensive miscues will continue to cost them games.
In the case of Biggio, is it too soon to pull the parachute with regard to stationing him at third base? Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo probably gives his starting third baseman a little more rope, but for the team’s sake, not too much rope. Because Biggio is clearly struggling with the transition from second to third base.
When a throw makes it across the diamond successfully. pic.twitter.com/hihX5M6h73
— Ian Hunter (@BlueJayHunter) April 22, 2021
In 2019, the Blue Jays had a somewhat similar scenario with Gurriel Jr. when he looked lost playing second base, unable to make simple throws to the first baseman. The Blue Jays demoted him to the minors, had him bounce around the diamond, and he eventually reemerged as a starting left fielder with the team.
Gurriel Jr. seems to have his adventures in the outfield, but looks much more comfortable playing on the outfield grass than in the infield. Perhaps a shift off the infield could work wonders for Biggio as well.
The issue with that solution is the Blue Jays suddenly lose the offensive production from a third baseman and instead turn to one of their bench bats like Joe Panik or Santiago Espinal to take everyday bats at the hot corner. That’s fine for now as the Blue Jays are working through a tonne of injuries, but it’s not a viable solution for a contending team.
And while Guerrero Jr. is the player with the biggest body of work and most recent experience at third base, as tempting as it might be to slide him back across the diamond, the Blue Jays need to do everything in their power to keep Vladdy right where he is.
Whether it’s a case of the “yips,” overall inexperience at the position, or a bit of both, Biggio is “going through it” right now, and the only way for him to work out of it is to keep working at it. Behind the scenes, surely he’s taking hundreds of ground balls at third, hoping to make those routine plays seem effortless.
But for the Blue Jays, it’s not a situation that requires immediate attention, but it’s something to keep a very close eye on. Because if Biggio and others like Bichette and Gurriel Jr. continue to give away outs, the Blue Jays might have some reshuffling to do.