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Exactly 463 days after signing the biggest contract in Toronto Blue Jays history, George Springer played his 100th game with the team on Sunday. That fact, in and of itself, is arguably the dominant storyline of his early Blue Jays tenure.
When the Blue Jays signed a six-year $150 million deal with a player heading into his age-31 season, they knew the value for their side was going to come at the beginning of the deal. Since Springer missed 84 games in 2021 — a season where he was at the height of his powers — it could be difficult for the Blue Jays to get six years of production from the outfielder that matches his contract.
That’s not the whole story, though. It’s a limited way of looking at Springer’s presence on this team that may undersell what he’s done so far, and what he’s capable of in the years to come.
In his time with the Blue Jays it’s no exaggeration to say that the outfielder has been one of the best hitters in the league, ranking in the top-10 in SLG, ISO, and wRC+ among hitters with at least 400 plate appearances:
His ISO is actually better than teammate Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (.285), tops 2021 MVP Shohei Ohtani (145), and his SLG is almost identical to Aaron Judge’s (.559).
Is there some cherry picking there? Sure. But the production is special enough to make it possible.
Springer has hit so well that FanGraphs’ estimation of his value to the Blue Jays ($27.6 million) almost exactly matches the money he’s made with Toronto thus far (approximately $27.9 million) — despite the fact he’s played just 54.1 percent of the team’s games since his contract began.
If the question is whether Springer is living up to his billing right now, the answer is a resounding "yes". That includes his work in the field where Statcast rates him as a plus centre-fielder (+2 OAA as a Blue Jay), and he’s made a number of unbelievable plays in recent weeks — including this ninth-inning web gem on Sunday:
Springer provided all the offence yesterday, and today it's the defence. pic.twitter.com/2Y41IWEbub
— Nick Ashbourne (@NickAshbourne) May 1, 2022
Springer still has excellent straight-line speed — and, as a result, range — even though he’s far bigger than most centre fielders at 6’3 220 lbs. He’s also significantly older than his peers as Lorenzo Cain is the only player born before him who’s logged at least 100 innings in centre this season.
There isn’t much debate on whether Springer is an excellent player today, the bigger issue for the Blue Jays if he can continue to be effective during the extended window of contention they’re attempting to build.
While the veteran turns 33 this year, there’s evidence to suggest that he’s doing some counter punching during his battle with Father Time. Springer’s overall offensive production has trended up over the course of his career...
… while his strikeout rates have gone the opposite direction of league averages. Although he flirted with a league-average K% last year, this season he’s back where he’s lived since 2017:
That’s a good indicator that his bat speed hasn’t fallen off — and the same could be said for his footspeed, which has remained consistent over the last four seasons.
While the decline here isn’t literally zero, it’s almost insignificant. Springer ranks 18th among 38th qualified centre fielders — a position group arguably selected for speed above all else. If he permanently moved to right field today, the 32-year-old would have top-five speed at the position.
Based on how Springer’s first season in Toronto went, there was a sense of uneasiness surrounding his ability to make his franchise-record contract work for the Blue Jays. Unless he plays a complete season in 2022, that won’t dissipate.
Even so, there’s another side to the early returns on this investment. When he’s taken the field Springer has shown no sign of age-related decline. He is a force on offence and an asset on defence — with no clear red flags looming on the horizon in either area. He has given the Blue Jays everything they’ve needed from him and helped them to 62 wins in his first 100 games.
Questions around the outfielder’s health are going to be around for a while, but fixating on that point misses the fact there are absolutely no questions about his effectiveness. That’s not something you can say about many MLB players, let alone guys who are spitting distance from their mid-thirties.
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