The Blue Jays Are Smashing People Again

One season ago, the Blue Jays had one of the stronger team offenses in baseball’s recent history. Going into this season, not too much stood to change. So throughout the winter, the talk was about what the Jays could do to strengthen the starting rotation. It would be fair to say that, when the Jays signed J.A. Happ, the community was underwhelmed. It looked like the plan was simply to brutalize, and then April rolled around, and the Jays had a good rotation and a mediocre lineup. Baseball was one step ahead of us. Baseball is forever one step ahead of us.

Concerns shifted, as they do. While Aaron Sanchez emerged as a quality starting pitcher, people began to wonder about some of the hitters. To be sure, there were some ugly trends taking place. Let me tell you, though: Those days are gone. There was a time, this year, when the Blue Jays had trouble scratching out runs. They’re back. The Blue Jays, I mean, and I guess the runs. They’re destroying the competition, and I’m not sure how much they can be expected to slow down.

This is an easy thing to observe. In April, the Jays averaged 4.0 runs per game. In May, that went up to 4.3. Then June came around, and the average jumped to 5.9. In the tiny July sample, we see them at 8.2. To switch to a different number: Last season, the Jays finished with the highest team wRC+ in baseball, by a considerable margin of 10 points. Over the last 30 days of this season, using the split available on our leaderboards, the Jays have had the highest team wRC+ in baseball, by eight points. Credit to the Orioles — they’ve tried to keep up. They lead the team in third place by eight points. But the Blue Jays have still been the superior bird, and this plot shows the whole course of the season. We’re switching again to wOBA, instead of wRC+, because it’s far easier to calculate.

I didn’t choose 20 games for any good reason. It just felt all right. The gray dotted line is the American League average team wOBA.

blue-jays-team-wOBA

Things happened almost suddenly. For two months, the Blue Jays had something resembling an average offense. They were actually a little worse. Then in early June, or thereabouts, the lineup took flight, and it hasn’t looked back. Most remarkably, perhaps, Jose Bautista is on the DL, and he hasn’t played since June 16. With Bautista out, they’ve slugged .482, scoring more than six runs a game. It’s not like losing Jose Bautista made the Blue Jays better. It’s that they’ve done what they’ve done while operating well below 100%.

What’s behind the Blue Jays’ emergence? As a clue, this initially began as a post focusing on Troy Tulowitzki. Early on, Tulowitzki was bad, then he went on the DL. He came back on June 18, and he’s been fantastic, while silencing any concerns about his diminished ability to hit the baseball. A plot of his contact rates over time:

tulowitzki-contact

That early drop stands out, but it seems Tulowitzki has corrected it. He’s cut his strikeout rate by more than half, flashing improved power and more aggressiveness within the strike zone. So, now, Tulowitzki looks good again, and in hindsight one has to wonder if he was just messed up on account of trying a higher leg kick. He’s back to his more conservative toe-tap, and no one’s complaining about his performance.

Tulowitzki has been a big part of this. Yet he’s not the whole explanation. For a time, at the start, Russell Martin looked like a disaster. As late as May 24, he had a slugging percentage of literally .180. Martin had been held back by nagging discomfort in his neck, but as he swung his way through May, he showed signs that he was getting more comfortable. Either the discomfort was going away, or Martin was better learning how to manage it. Whatever the case, since May 25, Martin has slugged .509. Troy Tulowitzki has looked more like Troy Tulowitzki. Russell Martin has looked more like Russell Martin. It’s not like these were expected to be lousy players.

And then there’s the matter of the decidedly underrated Devon Travis. Now, in fairness, one reason Travis is underrated is because he’s already had a major injury. It cost him the start of this season, but he made his 2016 debut on May 25. I wouldn’t say Travis has been great, exactly. I doubt he’ll ever be great — he’s more the league-average type. But before Travis came back, the Jays were playing Darwin Barney and Ryan Goins. Upgrading to Travis has made an enormous impact offensively. Before getting hurt last season, Travis tried to make a case for the AL Rookie of the Year, and his presence eliminates one of precious few offensive holes.

Pretty much everyone has chipped in. Josh Donaldson had a relatively lousy May. Lately he’s gotten back to dominance. Edwin Encarnacion caught fire in May’s last week. And somewhat incredibly, Ezequiel Carrera has a 120 wRC+. He’s the guy filling in right now for Bautista. He already has a career high in homers. Last year, he ranked in the 18th percentile in average exit velocity on flies and liners. This year he’s at the 56th percentile. So even Ezequiel freakin’ Carrera is getting in on the act. The Blue Jays seem to know what to do with hitters. Maybe not Kevin Pillar, but he has his other strengths. So no one’s too upset about that.

In this very season, there was concern about the Blue Jays’ lineup. At this point it’s hard to believe. It’s gotten back to being a juggernaut, and it’s sufficiently deep that it can absorb the occasional injury or slump. As noted earlier, the group hasn’t missed Bautista, and that feels absurd to type out, but here we are. Way to go, Carrera. I don’t understand it, not that part, but I can’t really argue with it. One way or another, the Blue Jays are just going to score their runs. It’s what they’ve done, it’s what they’re supposed to do, and it’s what they’re projected to do.

It’s trade-deadline month. When times were bad, I remember getting a question in a chat about whether the Jays should consider moving Bautista or Encarnacion. It’s plainly obvious now that won’t happen, as the Jays will look to add, and as they look to add, there aren’t many spots in need of improvement. Depending on their internal evaluation of Sanchez’s durability, perhaps they could want an extra starter. But it looks to me like they’re just another contending team that wants a deeper bullpen. There’s never anything wrong with wanting a deeper bullpen, and relievers are always out there. They’re usually not the sexiest pick-ups, but the Jays don’t really need a sexy pick-up. They could just use some help in the later innings. Gotta make sure all those runs don’t go to waste.

And yet, since June began, the Jays have outscored their opponents by an average of more than a run and a half a game. As an adversary, they’re already brutal. They’d be more than happy to challenge anyone to a clobber-off.





Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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burts_beads
5 years ago

Zero mention of Michael Saunders?