The Toronto Blue Jays have established a personality that includes a reliance on the home run ball
It’s a sound like no other. The loud crack of the ball hitting the bat, often splitting it into pieces of kindling for another day. It is what most baseball crowds long to hear at some point during the nine innings of baseball played in the lazy days of summer. It makes fans jump from their seats, it makes cheers and celebrations continue throughout an evening. In some cases, it becomes the memory of a series. Where were you when the bat flip went flying?
The definition of a long ball in the dictionary simply means home run, and the first known use of the term was as early as 1938. According to Wikipedia, it is defined as a home run, and issued to describe the method in which the team won. “A team is said to win by the long ball after a walk off home run, or the team hits several home runs to win.” Sounds like the makings of a great game.
I’ve never understood what the problem is with playing long ball. In a game that can be equally slow and fast, it makes for great watching and even better stories. Hitting a single, while necessary to load bases, up a players’ OBP and score runs -albeit one base at a time usually- in no way takes the place of the crack of the bat fans love to hear.
Last season, the Blue Jays were the kings of the long ball, on their way to scoring over 100 runs more than the next best team and it made for some really amazing games to watch. Fans become part of the game, jumping up in jubilation, with unison cheers rifling through the stands. The old adage that pitching and defense wins games hasn’t been the Blue Jays way of doing things. Important yes, but it’s just not their thing. The Blue jays win with their bats. Some believe this is not the way to a truly successful season, that runners on base is the way to go. Arguably, a Kansas City Royals style of playing. Has the road to improving the Blue Jays’ small ball slowly killed their mojo and previously successful way of winning?
Winning with the long ball has become synonymous with the Jays. It’s something they are known for and are quite good at. They used this method of winning throughout the season last year, the Jays were only one long ball away from the American League record of having three players with 40 home runs each in a season. They did have a league best, at 232 home runs in one season. They had hits blast out of the park in 121 of 162 games in 2015, most often coming off a four-seam fastball.
Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista were responsible for 52% of the home runs hit in 2015, and all three players were in the League’s top 10 for home run hitters. Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles is at the top of that list. Donaldson, Bautista and Encarnacion broke the franchise record for home runs hit by a trio that was set in 1998 by Jose Conseco, Shawn Green and Carlos Delgado when they hit a combined 119 long balls that season.
The best course of action is finding the happy balance between the two styles of play. Focus the small ball work on some of the team while allowing the mashers to do what they do best. It’s never a good idea to try and fit a square peg in a round hole. Playing to individual strengths of each player will allow them to play their best game.
The Blue Jays’ headlines this season are already peppered with the team’s winning formula, “Blue Jays use long ball, rout Red Sox”, “Blue Jays use long ball to beat Rays” – TSN, “Blue Jays use long ball to win rubber game” – The Hamilton Spectator, “Long ball gets the job done for Blue Jays against Rays” – The Toronto Star. We take notice when homers are hit. Lately, there seem to be a lot more of them coming. Russell Martin has even started to get in on the action.
Let’s embrace the long ball Blue Jays fans, to celebrate all the things that make this team so great. Yes, that includes the raw emotion the Blue Jays play with, and the grit they have been known to have, especially when counted out. The season is just amping up and when the bats finally truly break out it will be an awesome sight to see.
*Featured Image Credit: Arturo Pardavila III UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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