Are the Blue Jays a little bit bad or a little bit unlucky this year? It might actually be both.
The Blue Jays have one of the most anaemic starting lineups in baseball. As a unit, their .285 wOBA ranks 27th of 30th in baseball and their 75 wRC+ also ranks 27th among all 30 MLB teams. The Jays’ offensive struggles are well-documented, but it’s not completely their fault.
Hat tip to @James_in_TO for catching this on Baseball Savant, but the Blue Jays rank dead last in batting average minus expected batting average this season. To no surprise, they also rank last in BABIP and second last in the wOBA – xwOBA department.
|BA – xBA||-.017||30th|
|wOBA – xwOBA||-.018||29th|
That is some bad, bad luck. Look up and down the Blue Jays lineup and they’re littered with some of the unluckiest hitters in baseball this season. Again, it’s not an excuse, but it’s comforting to know that they’re not just struggling as a unit. There’s a degree of luck that comes with those unusually low numbers or the Blue Jays.
The easiest explanation of the xBA statistic I’ve heard of comes from MLB.com’s Mike Petriello and it’s based off exit velocity and launch angle. Whenever a hitter puts in ball in play at similar speed and angle, it’s expected to be “x”. A stat like xBA isn’t predictive per se, it just suggests what should’ve happened when you factor in those batted ball metrics.
Translation? The Blue Jays were hitting the piss out of the ball early on this season but didn’t have much to show for it.
Drill down even further and you can see why the Blue Jays rank so poorly on those team rankings. They have three of the top players in baseball ranked among the worst BA – XBA and wOBA – xwOBA.
|Player||BA – xBA||Rank||wOBA – xwOBA||Rank|
|Danny Jansen||-.070||3rd last||-.070||3rd last|
|Justin Smoak||-.055||7th last||-.062||5th last|
|Vladimir Guerrero Jr.||-.052||8th last||-.054||9th last|
The trio of Danny Jansen, Justin Smoak and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. all land within the top 10 hitters in those categories. Brandon Drury, Teoscar Hernandez and Rowdy Tellez rank 30th, 31st and 51st respectively in wOBA – xwOBA and Tellez and Drury are 53rd and 54th in BA – xBA.
Guerrero’s spot on this list makes sense as he often puts balls in play at a blistering rate of speed. Even his groundouts often produced exit velocities of 100+ miles per hour.
Smoak’s place on that list seems to be attributed to shifting. He’s seen the fourth-most shifts against him this season as opponents have shifted Smoak 92.3% of the time in 2019.
The difference suggests Jansen’s batting average should’ve been 70 points higher than where his BA is currently. His .209 BABIP on the season paints a similar picture; Danny just can’t get a damn hit because he’s constantly getting robbed of hits and putting balls in play at defenders who shift him on the left side of the infield.
Jansen alone has barreled 26 balls this season, which registered with an xBA of .500 or more. 13 of them were hits, the other 13 were outs. In most of those cases, the outs were line drives hit squarely at defenders in the outfield. With the exit velocity and launch angle he’s striking the baseball, some of Jansen’s offensive numbers should look dramatically different.
In the case of Vladdy, the tide has already turned. With the pure ferocity that he hits the ball, there was no way he’d be held back for much longer. In the case of Smoak and Jansen, it might continue to be an issue due to the play that teams position themselves against those two hitters.
But as a team? The Blue Jays still aren’t hitting very well. With so many talented, young players in the lineup who can tear the cover off the ball, it’s hard to imagine this club hitting around the Mendoza line for the rest of the season.