Going into the 2015 season, we had a pretty good idea that the Toronto Blue Jays were going to hit a lot of home runs. After all, they hit the third-most home runs in baseball during 2014, and then added Josh Donaldson; the pieces were there for a huge offensive season from the entire team. But even with the talented personnel and a hitter-friendly home stadium, 2015 was the kind of season that was probably on the high-end of expectations: the Jays hit 232 home runs, the most by any team since the Yankees hit 245 in 2012.
As Matt Snyder pointed out in late September, the 2015 Blue Jays were only the 14th team in major league history to have three players with 35+ home runs each, and were the first team to have three since the 2006 White Sox. Those players, of course, were Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion. Digging deeper into the stats, the offensive approach shown by those players at the Rogers Centre was a driving force behind the team’s power explosion.
By July, we had a sense that Donaldson was intentionally altering his plate approach at home to hit more homers: he was striking out more, walking less, and pulling the ball far more often when playing at the Rogers Centre than on the road. In short, he was being ultra-aggressive at the plate when at home, and it turned out to be a big part of what would become an MVP season for the third baseman. A quick look at the increase in his pull rate at home in 2015 when compared to 2013 & 2014 tells a big part of the story of his year:
Big power seasons often follow short-term increases in pull tendencies, and Donaldson was no different. And, looking further down the lineup, he wasn’t alone in changing his approach to get the most out of playing in Toronto’s hitter-friendly environment during 2015. Donaldson’s main partner in adopting these more aggressive changes was Bautista, who showed a few important tweaks to his Rogers Centre approach between 2014 and 2015. To begin with, he pulled the ball in Toronto more than he ever had before, owning the third-highest change in pull tendency out of all qualified hitters when at home.
Owen Watson writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @ohwatson.