An Early Review of the Toronto Blue Jays’ Hitting

Photo credit:© Nathan Ray Seebeck - USA Today
Bob Ritchie
8 days ago
After April 17’s loss to the New York Yankees, the Toronto Blue Jays were 19 games into the 2024 season with a 10-9 record.
From a hitting perspective, this season has been a roller coaster. The ride has ranged from the high of scoring nine runs to close out the Tampa series to the low of Houston’s Ronel Blanco’s no-hitter. Furthermore, after the ten-game road trip that opened the 2024 campaign, Toronto’s 87 wRC+ was tied for MLB’s 19th-highest score. Unsurprisingly, many MLB observers expressed dissatisfaction with Toronto’s batters and management.
The purpose of this article is to review Toronto’s hitting performance to date from two perspectives. First, from an overall viewpoint, how do the Blue Jays compare to the other MLB teams?  Second, what is Toronto’s 2024 hitting strategy/approach and have their hitters adhered to that approach?

Overall Performance

After the April 17 games, Toronto’s 106 wRC+ is tied for MLB’s 10th-highest mark. Among American League teams, the Blue Jays’ wRC+ is 6th-best. During the recent nine-game homestand, Toronto posted a 125 wRC+, MLB’s 5th-best score and the American League’s 4th-highest tally. Toronto’s 106 wRC+ is above average and not the horror show some people have exclaimed on social media and elsewhere.
Toronto’s run-scoring has lagged MLB’s 4.47 runs per game. The Blue Jays have posted 3.84 runs per game, MLB’s 21st-highest. In RISP situations, Blue Jays’ batters have generated an 87 wRC+, MLB’s 22nd-highest. Yes, RISP production needs to improve, but there are two points to acknowledge.
First, Toronto’s 177 RISP plate appearances represent less than 12% of their 2023 RISP plate appearances. In other words, there is a small sample size caveat.
Second, in-season RISP results have a significant amount of randomness. For example, the 2023 Rangers had the 2nd-best RISP wRC+ (132) before July 1. After June 30, their 98 RISP wRC+ ranked 18th-best. The Giants had the 4th-best RISP wRC+ (125) before July 1 and MLB’s worst (71) after June 30.
An interesting aspect of Toronto’s 2024 hitting is how the batting-order slots have fared compared to the MLB Average. Please refer to Table 1. The highlights are as follows:
  • Toronto’s batters in the #1 to #3 slots, and the #7 to #9 slots, have outperformed MLB’s Average
  • The notable laggard at the top of the order is Bo Bichette (90 wRC+)
  • In the #4 to #6 spots, Blue Jays’ batters are trailing the MLB Average
  • Alejandro Kirk’s 5 wRC+ in the next grouping is ungood. Other underperformers in the middle of the order are Daulton Varsho (38 wRC+ in 24 plate appearances) and Davis Schneider (58 wRC+ in 32 plate appearances)
  • Toronto’s bottom third of the batting lineup is doing very well. Varsho’s 177 wRC+ may cause some people to reconsider their view that acquiring Varsho was the worst trade in Toronto’s history. 😊
Although it appears that changes to the batting order are needed, a deeper dive is required to determine if that idea has merit.
Overall, Toronto’s batters have performed much better after a slow start. Let’s examine how Toronto has produced its hitting metrics.

Batting Approach

My objective is to outline Toronto’s 2024 hitting approach and then evaluate how Toronto’s hitters have adhered to that approach.
The first step is determining the Blue Jays’ approach for the 2024 campaign. To that end, I accumulated some quotes.
  • “A guy having his plan, executing it and staying with it. That ends up being a competitive at-bat,” Mattingly said. “What do you want to do with this [pitcher]? What are you trying to do? How are you trying to get him there? Then, stick with that. You’re not going to cover the whole zone. You’re not going to cover every area, every pitch. We’re going to try to minimize where we’re trying to handle. We’ll hopefully cover the areas that are guys’ strengths, try to get the ball in those areas and go to work.” According to Cavan Biggio, “competing, getting a good pitch, driving the ball and doing what we really need to do.”
  • Baseball America’s Geoff Pontes reports that, regarding draft and international prospects, “Toronto has targeted hitters with low K and high BB profiles.”
From those comments, my summary of Toronto’s 2024 hitting approach (until the count reaches two strikes) is as follows:
  • Minimize swings on pitches out of the strike zone.
  • Limit the number of swings on pitches that you cannot make hard contact. In other words, do damage on pitches.
  • Take walks.
  • Minimize strikeouts. That is to say, make contact.
Please note that this is a broad assessment of Toronto’s hitting strategy. Players like Bichette are free-swinging hitters, and the Blue Jays are probably willing to let him freelance a little, given his track record. Having said that, what numbers would be consistent with my description of Toronto’s approach?
  • Low Chase%
  • High pitch per plate appearance
  • High BB%
  • Low K%
  • High in-zone contact rate
  • Low Whiff%
  • High xISO (xISO is xSLG minus xBA)
Table time!
Table 2 summarizes Toronto’s rankings in metrics that correspond with the noted batting approach. The highlights are as follows:
  • The Blue Jays have minimized swings on pitches outside the strike zone (low Chase% overall and with less than two strikes).
  • Last season, Toronto did not chase pitches out of the zone much on a relative basis. In all counts, their 26.0 Chase% ranked as MLB’s 4th-lowest.
  • Thus far in 2024, Toronto’s pitch per plate appearance (“P/PA”) is 4.03, MLB’s 5th-highest. Last season, the Blue Jays averaged 3.89 P/PA, tied for MLB’s 18th-highest mark.
  • In 2023, Toronto’s BB% was 8.8%, good for MB’s 12th-highest.
  • Toronto’s batters did not post high K% numbers in 2023 (20.9%, MLB’s 6th-lowest), and that performance continues in 2024.
  • From an in-zone contact perspective, Toronto’s 2023 In-Zone Contact% (all counts) was 82.3% (T-11). That rate has improved to 83.4% (T7) so far this campaign.
  • This season, Blue Jays’ batters have generated a 22.7 Whiff%, lower than 2023’s 24.0% (MLB’s 6th-lowest).
  • The one area in which Toronto’s batters have not executed the hitting plan well is making hard contact. The 0.123 xISO lags 2023’s 0.162 mark (T-16).
According to my Blue Jays’ hitting approach description, Toronto’s batters have not executed the element of above-average hard contact. The reasons for the disappointing level of “damage” on pitches may include personnel limitations, poor swing mechanics, an early-season slump (just missing pitches per John Schneider and others), and other reasons. This aspect can be examined more closely when batter sample sizes are larger.

The Last Word

After a slow start, Toronto’s hitters have performed above the MLB Average. Their 106 wRC+ is the 6th-highest in the American League.  Due to below-average batting in RISP situations, Blue Jays’ batters reside outside of Top-20 in run production. However, people should refrain from making a final judgment concerning RISP results at this date because of the in-season randomness of RISP wRC+ numbers and the small sample size.
From a batting approach perspective, Toronto has largely executed its described hitting strategy. In relative terms, the team does not chase pitches out of the zone, is patient (high P/PA) and makes contact. The one negative is the lack of hard contact, which is an area for improvement.

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