3 ways the Blue Jays are weakened by George Springer's injury

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·MLB Writer
·5-min read
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The Blue Jays will once again have to get used to life without George Springer. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
The Blue Jays will once again have to get used to life without George Springer. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Early in George Springer’s Toronto Blue Jays tenure, the team is already all-too familiar with how much his absence hurts.

When Springer played four of the club’s first 70 games due to a quad issue, it went 35-35. After losing him again to a knee sprain, the Blue Jays were swept by the Washington Nationals — a team that was torn down to the studs at the trade deadline.

It’s intuitive that the Blue Jays would suffer without Springer because he’s such a good player, but this season has demonstrated that whenever he can’t suit up there’s a ripple effect throughout the team. The 31-year-old star is just one player, but his multi-faceted production makes him truly indispensable.

Here are the way the Blue Jays are weakened by the lack of Springer, just as they hit their crucial second homestand in Toronto:

Randal Grichuk is the everyday centre fielder

Grichuk often gets credit for doing an admirable job filling in for Springer in centre, but there’s a difference between keeping your head above water and actually thriving. Grichuk has always been a solid corner outfielder, but his centre field work is below-average at this point in his career. That shows up in the numbers over the past two years, regardless of which defensive metric you favour:

While his raw speed isn’t far off Springer's, his Jump — a measure of reaction time and direct routes for outfielders — has been significantly worse in each of the past three years, even in 2021 when Springer hasn’t been at 100% for much of his time in the outfield.

It’s the sort of thing that’s tough to pick up on a broadcast because the camera is never on outfielders as the ball is hit, but Grichuk’s inability to react quickly and take efficient routes to the ball eats into his defensive productivity — especially in centre where he has so much ground to cover.

Even with the defensive downgrade, Grichuk is the only player on the active roster the team feels confident can play the position, which means a guy who’s hit .215/.260/.402 since the beginning of June is locked into the lineup.

The leadoff spot just isn’t the same

Marcus Semien is having an excellent season and he's an experienced leadoff hitter, so the Blue Jays' Plan B is far from disastrous here. At the same time, Semien just isn’t as well-equipped for the job as Springer.

The second baseman’s career OBP is .324 and is .336 this season. Springer, on the other hand, has posted a career OBP of .361 and matched it in 2021 with a .362 mark. Semien is more of a base-stealing threat than the star outfielder, but both players have similar Sprint Speed numbers, and stealing in front of power hitters like Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Teoscar Hernandez isn’t a priority anyway.

What’s making Semien’s season so special is his power. He’s just four home runs shy of his career high with 43 games left in the season, and his ISO is tied with the hulking Joey Gallo for 11th in the majors. His ability to get on base, on the other hand, is above the league average of .317, but not drastically so. A hitter who produces elite power numbers, but still makes approximately his fair share of outs is probably better suited for the third, fourth, or fifth hole in the lineup — which is where Semien could drive in some runs.

In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t a season-derailing issue for the Blue Jays, but Springer’s absence doesn’t just shorten the lineup because it’s down one great hitter — it warps it into a less optimal shape as well.

TORONTO, ON - AUGUST 04: George Springer #4 of the Toronto Blue Jays and Marcus Semien #10 celebrate Springer's home run in the first inning of their MLB game against the Cleveland Indians at Rogers Centre on August 4, 2021 in Toronto, Ontario. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)
Semien will take over as the leadoff man in Springer's absence. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)

The matchup game is over

Before Springer went out, the Blue Jays had four other starting-calibre outfielders to fill the corners and the DH spot in Grichuk, Hernandez, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Corey Dickerson. That gave the team admirable flexibility to mix and match with the group in order to find the best matchups.

Springer and Hernandez were in the vast majority of the time, but with Grichuk, Gurriel Jr., and Dickerson there were enough moving parts to exploit opposing starters. Dickerson could take a seat against southpaws and the Grichuk-Gurriel Jr. duo could swap in and out depending on who matched up better with the starter. Though both are right-handed, Grichuk fares better against fastball-heavy pitchers while Gurriel Jr. excels against softer stuff, which create faultlines for playing-time decisions.

Now, all of that is out the window. Hernandez needs to be in the lineup because of his bat and Grichuk will get the call everyday to play centre, leaving Gurriel Jr. and Dickerson to slide into left field and the DH spot.

While that sounds easy, when the Blue Jays face a lefty they’ll have to either play Dickerson — who’s struggled against southpaws his whole career — or bring someone off the bench like rookies Kevin Smith and Otto Lopez. It will also be difficult to hide Grichuk or Gurriel Jr. against righties who are likely to give them trouble.

The Blue Jays aren’t a team like the Tampa Bay Rays that thrives on putting a large collection of interchangeable players in favourable matchups, but with Springer in the lineup they were at least able to do that with the outfield. For now, their flexibility is gone.

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