Jays From the Couch looks at what makes certain Toronto Blue Jays players the lightning rods for fans’ ire
Recently, our Ryan Mueller asked the question that I thought no one really wanted to. He asked if the Toronto Blue Jays should move on from Ryan Goins. When it first hit the blogosphere, I kind of did a ‘duck and cover’. See, my perception was that Goins is a crowd favorite and that many would get all riled up about the suggestion of Toronto using another option as a backup infielder and letting Goins find success elsewhere.
Something funny happened, though. The general response to Mueller’s post was actually in support of the idea. It surprised me to learn that many fans were beyond frustrated and willing to move on. Basically, more fans were frustrated than I thought. Mueller thinks that ‘fans think it is time to move on; Goins was given his chance(s), but he didn’t develop into what we’d hoped’. This got me thinking…
What is it that Blue Jays fans hate the most? Well, if you look at the players the fans complain about most, they have one thing in common- wasted at bats. Including Goins, Justin Smoak and Melvin Upton Jr.receive the most negative attention in Blue Jays Land, a place that is used to offensive production. And, they all have that one thing in common- in one way, or another, they offer too many wasted at bats.
For his career, Goins has put up a line of .224/.270/.325 and a wRC+ of 60, including a whopping 38 in 2016. The part of this that stands out is the OBP. In his 77 games last season, he walked just 9 times. He also struck out 48 times. That’s a walk rate of 4.6% and a whiff rate of 24.5%. That kind of futility is frustrating.
Take a look at his batted ball profile and his plate discipline numbers via Fangraphs:
Even when he does make contact, Goins is a groundball to the second baseman waiting to happen. He hit into 6 double plays in 2016. Even if he hit more line drives, he could be more successful at the plate. But, his 2016 contact rate more closely resembled his 2013 total, which came at a time when we weren’t even sure if he should be on the big league roster because of his bat.
All of this combined makes for a rather bleak outlook for Goins’ plate production. We can’t question his glove work. He’s very very good on defense. That is not in question. But, think about other light hitting defensive contributors who have come and gone. They’ve not presented such a wide spread between defense and offense. Think about Munenori Kawasaki, who was dependable with the glove, but put together very good at bats. In a way, he was more tolerable when he stepped to the plate. Granted, he came with a personality and a schtick that Goins doesn’t present, but his at bats weren’t wasted either.
While it is frustrating to watch a weak at bat result in a ground ball, it can be even more frustrating to watch a strike out. There is nothing more frustrating than wasting an at bat with a whiff. There is absolutely nothing that can be gained by that. At least, with a groundball, the ball is in play and something could happen. That is not the case with swing and misses.
Justin Smoak presents tantalizing power, from both sides of the plate. He is big and strong. But, for fans of the Blue Jays, waiting for that power to show itself can be frustrating since you have to sit through a good number of strike outs in between home runs. For his career, he has struck out at a rate of 23.9%, but reached the ungodly heights of 32.8%. Basically, that is one third of his plate appearances. That is far too many strike outs.
For his part, Smoak actually made less contact that Ryan Goins last year! Think about that. The reason we get frustrated watching Goins at the plate, is even worse with Smoak. Now, the type of contact is different as Smoak hit more flyballs than anything else last year. So, again, putting him in the lineup means banking on the potential for a big fly. The problem is that you have to take at least a strike out a game from him, which is far too many wasted at bats.
Since he came to Toronto in a steal of a deal for GM, Ross Atkins, Upton has shown moments of production, but generally finds himself on the outside of fan acceptance. While some of that might have to do with some shaky defense in left field on a couple of occasions, it has more to do with whiff-itis – the swelling, or inflammation of strike outs.
If you thought Smoaks career whiff rate was high, Upton has a response for that: 26.6% for his career, including 28.8% in 2016. Oddly, for Upton Jr, that mark is actually an improvement over what he saw in 2013 (33.9%) and 2014 (29.7%) with Atlanta. That said, the ‘it’s been worse’ argument will hold little weight among Blue Jays fans who are tried of watching wasted at bats.
Also, consider that Upton Jr’s 2016 contact rate was 67.9%, which is about 10% less contact than that of light hitting Ryan Goins. He also has about 6% more swinging strikes than Goins. That kind of futility is only offset by the potential he brings to the plate. When he does make contact, he has power and speed to have an impact. The problem for a lot of people is that, like Smoak, what you have to sit through between displays of power and speed.
For fans of a team that has a history of offense, it can be frustrating to watch wasted at bats. That is amplified on a current team that has so much star power. This Blue Jays lineup has the ability to strike for multiple runs at any time. So, having up to a third of the lineup offering wasted at bats can be maddening. That is not to say that these three players offer nothing to the club. They do. A lot. But, if you’re looking at where a lot of frustration is coming from, wasted at bats is the epicenter.
*Featured Image Credit: Trevor Pritchard UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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