As the Blue Jays attempt to build upon last year’s 92-win season — their best since 2015 in terms of won-loss record — they’ve locked up one of their young, homegrown stars. Earlier this week, Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson Smith reported that the team had agreed to a multiyear extension with Bo Bichette, thereby avoiding what could have been a contentious arbitration hearing. The terms of the deal were unclear at the time, but on Thursday, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported that Bichette will receive a three-year, $33.6 million guarantee, with escalators and incentives that can increase the total value of the deal to as much as $40.65 million.
Via the Associated Press, Bichette is guaranteed $6.1 million this year ($3.25 million as a signing bonus and $2.85 million in salary) and then $11 million in 2024 and $16.5 million in ’25. Winning an MVP award would increase his next salary by $2.25 million, while finishing second or third would add $1.25 million, and finishing fourth or fifth would add $250,000. The extension buys out all three of his arbitration years — his age-25 through 27 seasons — without delaying his free agency, as he enters 2023 with three years and 63 days of service time. Without the deal, he and the Blue Jays would have headed into arbitration with the two sides as far apart as any in the majors this year. According to MLB Trade Rumors, the $2.5 million gap between the filings of Bichette ($7.5 million) and the Blue Jays ($5 million) matched that of the Astros and Kyle Tucker; Houston won that hearing on Thursday.
Bichette is coming off a very good season, albeit something of an inconsistent one. He set a full-season high with a 129 wRC+ via a .290/.333/.469 line with 24 homers and 13 steals. His 4.5 WAR tied with Corey Seager for 14th in the American League and second among AL shortstops behind Xander Bogaerts, 0.1 WAR ahead of Carlos Correa. That said, his season was an uneven one that exposed concerns in several areas of his game. He hit just .213/.237/.298 (50 wRC+) in April and .257/.302/.418 (105 wRC+) through the first half — missing the AL All-Star team where he made it in 2021 — before batting .337/.378/.543 (163 wRC+) in the second half, capped by a .406/.444/.662 (217 wRC+) September. Fourteen of his 24 homers came before the break, but so did 100 of his 165 strikeouts; he trimmed his K% from 24.3% before the break to 19.2% after.
On that note, Baseball Prospectus’ Robert Orr noted that Bichette is one of the game’s more prolific hitters when it comes to using the opposite field, but in the first half of the season, he may have been expanding his zone too much — and ultimately striking out too often — while attempting to compensate for the dip in power that came from the less lively ball. With a more disciplined approach later in the season, his results going oppo improved considerably. FanGraphs contributor Esteban Rivera linked that second half rebound to mechanical adjustments, most notably improved rotational direction via the introduction of a scissor kick: “Leading up to contact, Bichette is transferring energy in a different direction than he did in July to keep his center of mass where it needs to be. The scissor kick stores the energy in his hips and makes his rotation move up through his spine…” Rivera has GIFs galore to illustrate his points, and his piece is worth a full read (as is Orr’s).
Anyway, here’s how Bichette’s overall swing tendencies and opposite-field production look via our splits, which indicate that he led the majors overall with 72 opposite-field hits as well as 30 for extra bases. I’ve used the All-Star break as the cutoff:
Bo Bichette 2022 Splits
And here’s a look at his rolling O-Swing and oppo rates as well as wRC+:
After the All-Star break, Bichette hit to the opposite field with a much greater frequency and with much more authority. Statcast’s count of opposite field batted balls doesn’t match up exactly with that of Sports Info Solutions, which powers the splits and graph above; the counts via Baseball Savant are of 90 opposite-field balls before the break, 84 after. Still, the data is consistent with the observations above. In the first half Bichette averaged 91.1 mph on balls he hit to the opposite field, barreling 6.7% and producing a .375 xwOBA, while in the second half he averaged 92.0 mph with an 11.9% barrel rate and a .417 xwOBA (not to mention a .586 wOBA, 223 points higher than his first-half mark on such balls).
It took a lot of work, but Bichette’s second-half rebound helped him more or less replicate the offensive impact of his 2021 season (.298/.343/.484, 122 wRC+). Even so, his game wasn’t quite as strong in a couple other areas. Contributor Leo Morgenstern noted that his baserunning took a step back in 2022; not only did he drop from 25 stolen bases (with just one caught stealing!) to 13 (with eight caught stealing) but from 6.9 baserunning runs to -2.7; the 9.6-run drop was second only to Starling Marte’s 12.5-run drop. Via Statcast, Bichette’s sprint speed fell off by half a foot per second, from 28.0 (74th percentile) to 27.5 (52nd percentile), and his home-to-first time similarly rose. Some of the drop may have been age-related decline, some may have been season-to-season variance (“His 2021 season represented something like his 80% percentile outcome, while his 2022 season represented something like his 20% percentile outcome,” wrote Morgenstern). It’s also possible that minor injuries slowed him down, even though he played 159 games for the second year in a row; a player doesn’t approach 162 without toughing out a few issues here and there.
Perhaps more troubling was Bichette’s defensive decline. By DRS he plummeted from +2 to -16, and by UZR the drop was from -5.2 to -15.4, though by RAA the dip was only from -4 to -5, and in 103 more defensive innings. The various components of those metrics suggest that not only did his range decrease somewhat, but that he wasn’t as good on the double play as before, and his throwing suffered as well. Without getting too wrapped up in what a single year’s metrics tell us, it’s worth noting, for example, that via Baseball Prospectus’ brand-new Range Defense Added, Bichette was 2.1% below average in terms of his plays made, and that by Stacast’s newish arm-strength measure, his 84.8 mph average competitive throw was 1.1 mph below average for the position, ranking 16th of the 32 shortstops with at least 300 such throws.
The choice of defensive inputs shades the overall view of Bichette’s season. By our version of WAR (which uses OAA for range), Bichette’s 4.5 WAR was merely half a win shy of his 2021 total. By bWAR (which uses DRS), Bichette fell from 5.9 in 2021 to 3.6 in ’22, tied for 31st in the AL overall and sixth among AL shortstops.
For all of the nits I’ve picked, we’re still talking about a player who at least by our measures was the fifth-most valuable among players 24 or younger in 2022:
Highest WAR Among Position Players 24 and Under, 2022
Note that the Blue Jays have three of the top 11 players there (I went to 11 in order to include Vladito), and that since the two second-generation Jays broke in circa 2019, Bichette has been the more productive of the two, 11.8 WAR to 9.1, but he’s going to make less than half of Guerrero’s $14.5 million salary from his first year of arbitration eligibility.
Via Dan Szymborski, here’s how Bichette’s ZiPS projection looks over the course of the extension:
ZiPS Projection – Bo Bichette
That looks like your typically conservative projection for a player who’s produced a 127 wRC+ and 4.4 WAR per 650 PA to date and is still a few weeks away from his 25th birthday. Given the new dimensions of the Rogers Centre, I’d definitely take the over, because the changes appear to favor lefties and oppo-hitting righties. Via The Athletic’s Kaitlyn McGrath, these changes in particular stand out:
• Left-centre field will be 368 feet (previously 375 feet) while the wall height will increase to 11 feet 2 inches. Right-centre field will be 359 feet (previously 375 feet) while the wall will be 14 feet 4 inches high.
• The left-centre power alley will be 381 feet (previously 383 feet), while the wall height will increase to 12 feet 9 inches. The right-centre power alley will be 372 feet (previously 383 feet), while the wall will increase to 10 feet 9 inches high.
Even without accounting for a potential boost from the ballpark, the ZiPS contract valuation for Bichette’s extension is $33.9 million, which is about as on-the-nose as one can get with these estimates. All of which is to say that his extension looks to be a fair one, neither a big bargain for the team or a steal for the player. It doesn’t mess with the timing of his free agency, nor does it preclude the possibility of a longer-term, nine-figure deal if that’s what the two sides want. In light of that, it will be interesting to see whether the team works out a multiyear deal with Guerrero or approaches Kirk (who’s one year away from arbitration eligibility) or Alek Manoah (two years away) with extension offers to further maintain the team’s competitive core. But one thing’s for sure: they have their shortstop for now.