There are very few teams in baseball that possess the type of home run power that can be found north of the border in Toronto. They Jays have already gone deep 31 times in just 25 games, trailing only the Braves and Yankees in the long ball department. Prolific sluggers like Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion have plenty of power to put on a display, but it’s not just them. Catcher J.P Arencibia looks poised to set a new career high in homer this year, blasting 8 already this season to go along with 15 RBI and Colby Rasmus has used his pull-happy approach to knock 4 out of the park thus far.
But that homer-happy approach that the Blue Jays’ hitters are so fond of also has its negative effects as well. Toronto batters are hitting just .226 this season, good for last in the American League. The Blue Jays have also averaged nearly 8 strikeouts a game as a lineup which stands as the 3rd most in the AL and their hitters whiff three times as often as they take a walk. In fact, most of the Toronto hitters appear so intent on trying to hit the ball 400 feet that they have completely abandoned most good hitting practices.
Jose Bautista looks like he’s trying to swing his way out of his shoes with each cut of the bat that he takes. Bautista’s always had one of the most vicious swings in the Major Leagues and for most of the previous 3 seasons that power has been properly channeled. Joey Bats has always been excellent at squaring the ball up and up until 2013 he had never been afraid to go with a pitch to take it to opposite field. But this April he’s been all out of sorts.
Bautista’s swing now resembles something like that of a professional beer league softball player. With each pitch that he’s offered, Bautista takes a larger and larger cut at the ball, only intending on planting the baseball deep in the left field bleachers. Opposing pitchers have picked up on this and have begun to pound Bautista way inside on his hands. That forces Bautista to cheat and starting his bat early in hopes of pulling the ball fair. Sometimes he’s able to get enough of the barrel on the bat to get the ball out of the park, most of the time it turns into a harmless ground out.
Opposing managers are also starting to notice Bautista’s pull-happy ways. Check out his spray chart:Bautista has hit the ball to the left half of the field about 65% of the time he puts it in play. That’s allowed some of the more aggressive managers in baseball, Joe Girardi and Buck Showalter in particular, to shift the 2nd baseman up the middle of the infield. That allows the shortstop to play 5-10 feet further toward the 3rd base line than normal, taking away a crucial hitting gap. As those small hitting gaps on the infield have dried up, so has Bautista’s batting average. He’s now hitting just .189.
This approach, whether you want to label it pull-happy or homer-happy, isn’t limited to just Jose Bautista either. Edwin Encarnacion has been another big offender as well. Encarnacion had a breakout season a year ago when he finally learned how to take a walk and how to go the other way with the outside fastball, which he hasn’t done much of this year. Instead Encarnacion has reverted to aiming for the bleachers each time he steps to the plate and the Blue Jays are worse off for it.
But he’s not even the worst offender on the team. That dubious honor is reserved for the tandem of Colby Rasmus and J.P. Arencibia, who have a total of 8 walks and 73 strikeouts between them. Both players have, for all intents and purposes, abandoned every principle of fundamental hitting in the hopes of running into a fastball they can drive.
Rasmus has struck out in an unthinkable 42.7% of his total at-bats this year and at his current rate he’s on pace to absolutely obliterate the current single-season record for strikeouts. According to Fangraphs, Rasmus’ contact rate of 53.9% stands as the worst by a position player in the past decade. It almost makes you wonder why the Blue Jays haven’t given minor leaguer Anthony Gose a longer look because it’s not like Rasmus is bringing anything at all on defense or on the base paths.
This team-wide approach to hitting is bogging down the Blue Jays offense. Toronto may rank 2nd in the American League in homers, but they are just 9th in runs scored, 11th in OPS, and they are dead last in batting average. 46 of the team’s 93 total runs scored have come via the long ball, which basically means that if the Blue Jays aren’t going deep, they aren’t scoring.This was a ball club that was widely predicted to win the AL East and at the very worst, the Jays were supposed to pile up the runs. Instead they’ve flopped out of the gates, struggling more than most every other club in baseball to put men on base and the pitching staff never was good enough to carry Toronto.
The loss of Reyes at the top of the lineup has been a big blow and until Melky Cabrera or Rajai Davis or Brett Lawrie start producing, it’s going to be difficult to move runners around the bases. But it would go along way toward jump starting the Toronto bats if they would put the ball in play a little more often, opting for base hits and balance over big flies and strikeouts.