The 2018 Toronto Blue Jays are a deeply flawed baseball team. They’re the worst baserunning team in baseball, they’re the third-worst fielding team (according to defensive runs saved) and their starting rotation is among the bottom-third in MLB in most categories.
One thing the Blue Jays can do is punish the baseball.
I was reminded of this over the weekend when MLB/Baseball Savant’s Daren Willman tweeted out this chart of the best and worst hard hit rate teams in baseball. There’s the Toronto Blue Jays in the number one spot with a 40 percent hard hit rate.
— Daren Willman (@darenw) September 16, 2018
The first thing that jumped out to me is how many of these teams are playoff-bound for October. 6 of the top 7 teams on that list currently occupy a playoff spot. The Blue Jays, on the other hand, do not.
Drill that down even further, and 9 of the top 11 teams sit pretty for the postseason. The Angels and Blue Jays are the only two teams on the outside looking in.
|Avg Launch Angle||13.7||3rd|
|Avg Exit Velocity||89.2 MPH||3rd|
After combing through the Statcast numbers, the Blue Jays are near the top in virtually every category: 1st in solid contact rate, 3rd in barrel percentage, 3rd in average launch angle, 3rd in average exit velocity and 4th in xBA. Those advanced stats cast light into the strengths of this Blue Jays lineup.
The Blue Jays hit the ball harder than anyone. So what? Several playoff-bound teams have similar stats to the Blue Jays, so why aren’t they in the postseason mix?
When the Blue Jays make contact, they typically do it in a ferocious fashion. That’s a good thing. This leads to more extra-base hits and more home runs … which in theory should translate into more runs and inherently more wins. Right? If only it were that simple.
Whether it’s by design or just a sheer coincidence, but the Blue Jays have accumulated some of the best barrel-hitters in baseball. Guys like Teoscar Hernandez, Kendrys Morales and Randal Grichuk rank among the Top 20 in barrel percentage this season. My estimation is the Blue Jays see a value in hitters like these and are purposely pooling plenty of Statcast darlings.
Their hard hit rate combined with a lack of on-base skills have killed the Blue Jays offensively this year. Hat tip to Joshua Howsam at BP Toronto for pointing out the Jays rank 19th in baseball in walk rate at 8.3 percent and they rank 26th in contact at 75.4 percent. When the Blue Jays put the ball in play, they tend to square it up. The problem is they chase a lot of pitches outside the strike zone and aren’t particularly fond of working the count.
If they had more than three hitters who reached base at a better than 30 percent clip, that would surely translate into more runs for this potent offense. It’s great to have guys who can mash the ball with exit velocities at 100 MPH or more, but if there’s nobody on base in front of them and these hitters can’t parlay that into an extra base, what’s the point?
Plenty of the Blue Jays’ hitters are notorious fastball hitters, which explains why Blue Jays hitters have seen the fewest fastballs from opposing pitchers and the third-most breaking balls in all of baseball.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Blue Jays are dead last among all teams in singles. That in itself isn’t a huge problem, but it’s indicative of the “feast or famine” approach with many of the hitters on this team. If anything, I thought the Jays’ singles total would be much higher since they have a lot of slow baserunners, but that’s not the case.
|Extra Bases Taken||35%||30th|
|1st to 2nd on Single||165||23rd|
|1st to 3rd or Home on Single||61||29th|
|1st to 3rd on Double||70||2nd|
|1st to Home on Double||23||30th|
|2nd to Home on Single||79||25th|
It should come as no surprise that baserunning has cost the Blue Jays this year. If you’re asking a runner to go from first to third or first to third on a double to the gap, the Jays are tied for last with the Reds in extra bases taken at 35 percent. Of all teams, the Minnesota Twins lead MLB with a 46 percent XBT.
The Blue Jays rank second last in advancing from first to third or home on a single (it’s only happened 61 times this season) and dead last in scoring from first base on a double. To me, the quintessential case is someone like Morales ripping a ball to the outfield that should be extra bases but he’s only limited to a single.
Pitching has been no help, either. This year’s Blue Jays’ starting rotation has the second-worst ERA in franchise history. 14 starting pitchers have taken the ball this year, 27 relievers have been called upon. That should tell you everything you need to know about the pitching perils of the Blue Jays this season.
Run prevention has been a huge problem for the club this year. The left side of the infield has been in flux since Opening Day, the outfield has been a rotating cast of “who’s healthy today” and the club’s fielding has been atrocious this year.
— Ian Hunter (@BlueJayHunter) September 16, 2018
After witnessing several boneheaded plays like the one above, never before have I believed more in the value of in basic fundamental fielding. Nobody’s expecting the Jays to employ nine Matt Chapmans, but at the very least, run capable players out there. Just “capable” … that’s all anybody’s asking here.
This lineup as currently constructed isn’t all that bad. Right now, it’s a league average lineup with some upside for next year. With Vladimir Guerrero Jr. coming into the fold in 2019, potentially even Bo Bichette, this lineup could take another step forward next season.
It’s easy to see why this team was forecasted to win 80-plus games this year. The framework is already there; some of the outlier statistics suggest the Blue Jays should be a powerhouse lineup in the American League. Take a team that can’t field, run the bases or put up a decent start and it’s no shocker they’ve lost 83 games this year. Not even the league’s most potent offense can make up for the pitching, fielding and baserunning deficiencies.