Home runs have dictated Blue Jays’ disappointing 2024 season

Photo credit:Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports
Thomas Hall
22 days ago
The Toronto Blue Jays have a home run problem — but that’s probably not a complete surprise at this point.
This offence, of course, struggled to hit balls out of the park last season, as they fell to 16th in the majors with 188 home runs. Everyone knew it was an area of the roster that needed addressing over the off-season. They had to start generating more power to be successful. As we’ve witnessed so far, though, the opposite has transpired.
Toronto’s front office never acquired a middle-of-the-order thumper like many thought they needed to. So, naturally, the problem has snowballed into something much worse this season.
Entering Wednesday’s series finale against the Boston Red Sox, the Blue Jays sit tied with the Chicago White Sox — one of baseball’s basement teams in 2024 — for 27th in home runs (69), positioned above only the Washington Nationals (67) and Miami Marlins (63). Those are not clubs you want to be associated with, especially from an offensive standpoint.
It didn’t use to be this way, as Toronto’s offence placed third in home runs (462) across the majors from 2021-22. However, the organization’s offensive philosophies have changed dramatically in the years since. They were once among the premier home-run-hitting lineups. Now, they’re a unit without an identity that’s struggled mightily outside of making quality swing decisions.
The Blue Jays are one of 14 teams with at least three double-digit home run hitters. Normally, that would be an encouraging sign. But not so much in this case, considering Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Davis Schneider have just 10 apiece, while Daulton Varsho leads the team with 11.
The fact Guerrero hasn’t gone deep more than 10 times this season is baffling. He’s delivered a solid performance thus far, posting a 132 wRC+ over nearly half a season (79 games), a touch off from his 133 wRC+ in 2022. It’s been a different story in the power department, though, as he owns a .435 SLG — the lowest since his rookie campaign — and a career-worst .147 ISO.
Source: FanGraphs
That’s significantly below where many projection models thought Guerrero would be in 2024. Take FanGraphs’ pre-season ZIPS model, for example, which had him blasting 31 bombs while recording a .492 SLG and .214 ISO. Even with his recent surge, clubbing a trio of dingers over his last five games, ZIPS projects him to finish with fewer than 30 for a second straight season.
But as we all know, Guerrero isn’t the only Blue Jays hitter struggling to hit balls over the fence. Others have, too, namely Bo Bichette, who’s touched ’em all only four times in 281 plate appearances. In comparison, the duo of Ernie Clement (three) and Kevin Kiermaier (two) have combined for five home runs over 299 plate appearances.
At his current pace, Bichette will likely finish below the 20-home-run mark for just the second time in his career — excluding the COVID-shortened 2020 season — with ZIPS projecting a total of 14. That would snap his three-year streak of producing at least 20 bombs each season, which began in ’21.
Then there’s George Springer, who, by all accounts, is amidst a sharp decline in his age-34 season. The $150-million outfielder — signed through 2026 — enjoyed one of his best games of the year Tuesday in Boston, going 3-for-5 with a two-run dinger as part of a 9-4 victory. However, it was just his sixth home run of the year, a season in which he’s currently 29 per cent below league average per wRC+.
By not acquiring a marquee slugger last winter, the Blue Jays desperately needed to get more out of core hitters like Springer. They had hoped he’d perform closer to the 25-home-run hitter who featured a 133 wRC+ in 133 games two seasons ago. Or even the player that the ZIPS model envisioned with 21 bombs and a 111 wRC+. Instead, his offensive value — or lack thereof — has continued to trend in the wrong direction.
Much of the home-run scrutiny has fallen on Toronto’s offence, and understandably so. But this long-ball dilemma also applies to the pitching staff, which has allowed the second-most home runs in baseball at 108, behind only the Tampa Bay Rays (112). As a result, the club ranks 30th in home-run-to-fly-ball ratio (14%), and is tied for 30th in HR/9 (1.4).
Keeping balls in the yard proved challenging last season, too, finishing tied for 17th in HR/9 (1.23), 18th in home runs allowed (198) and 19th in HR/FB (12.9%). But the extent of this issue has become far more severe in 2024.
As much as the starting rotation has carried this team, minimizing damage has been one of their few weaknesses. That isn’t true for all five starters. But of the five that returned from last season, three have taken a step backward, while the other two have jumped forward.
HR Allowed (2024/2023)HR/9 (2024/2023)HR/FB (2024/2023)
Kevin Gausman(13/19)(1.35/0.92)(13%/10.7%)
José Berríos(17/25)(1.58/1.19)(15.5%/12.6%)
Yusei Kikuchi(11/27)(1.19/1.45)(12.2%/15.3%)
Chris Bassitt(8/28)(0.79/1.26)(8.8%/13.2%)
Alek Manoah *(only made 5 starts in ’24)*(5/15)(1.85/1.55)(18.5%/13.8%)
Gausman — who surrendered two home runs a night ago versus Boston — and Berríos are, by far, the biggest surprises here. Given how valuable they each were last season, few could’ve predicted a shift to this degree just one year later. Even so, the starting rotation hasn’t been the problem. Or, at least, nowhere near compared to the bullpen.
Toronto’s ‘pen is a mess. It sits 30th in home runs allowed (48), HR/9 (1.56) and HR/FB ratio (15.1%). Plus, they’ve surrendered more hard contact than any other big-league team, ranking 30th in hard-hit rate against (42.4 per cent), and allowed the most barrels (78) in the sport.
Of the 48 bombs they’ve given up, nine have been hit off closer Jordan Romano and Erik Swanson, two of the club’s most crucial relievers. With that duo largely unavailable this season due to injuries and poor performances, it’s forced others like Nate Pearson, Zach Pop and Génesis Cabrera into more prominent roles, a trio with 15 round-trippers allowed between them.
Altogether, those five relief arms are responsible for 50 per cent of the bullpen’s home run total in 2024. That’s a devastating development for a ‘pen that finished tied for 11th in home runs allowed (71) in ’23.
With the season nearly half completed, this crisis is probably already too far gone to correct it, given the Blue Jays enter Wednesday’s slate 6.5 games back of the third AL wild-card seed and would have to leapfrog six teams to sneak in. And, at this point, fixing it would likely require significant roster improvements anyway.
So there isn’t much, if anything, anyone can do about it now. That’s the bad news. While this season is a lost cause, at least in terms of contending, what they can do is prioritize addressing this home run concern for next season, particularly on the offensive front — something that should’ve transpired last winter.

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