Blue Jays hitters have performed well this spring

While there isn’t much to Spring Training stats, the Toronto Blue Jays are enjoying some nice offensive numbers

 

 


I tend to write about stats. However, writing about stats during spring training can be a recipe for disaster.

 

For one thing, the sample sizes are tiny—the Jays’ current plate appearance leader, Rowdy Tellez, has collected the equivalent of about one and a half weeks worth of regular season PA (36). The team’s most-used pitcher, Ryan Borucki, has thrown a little more than one full start worth of pitches (107).

 

Another issue is the level of competition. This aspect is captured effectively by Baseball Reference’s Opposition Quality metric. The metric is on a scale of 1.5 to 10, with 10 representing MLB quality opposition, 8 representing AAA, 7 representing AA, 5 representing High-A, 4 representing Low-A and 1.5 to 3 representing short-season quality. There is considerable range in the quality of opposition faced by Blue Jay hitters on the 40-man roster, with Freddy Galvis facing the toughest pitchers on average (OppQual of 8.4) and Jonathan Davis facing the weakest pitchers on average (OppQual of 6.5).

 

With these caveats in mind, I will take a look at the spring training hitting performance of the team and a handful of Jays.

 

The Blue Jays are hitting pretty well

Through nearly 20 spring training games, the Blue Jays rank sixth in OPS across the majors, posting an .811 mark so far. They’ve done a pretty good job of accumulating walks (9.9% BB rate, 10th-best) and an excellent job of producing power (.208 ISO, 5th-best), with the second-most homers (30) this spring. They’ve also kept a tidy strikeout rate (21.5%, 16th-best), but have struggled with turning balls in play into base hits (.295 BABIP, 24th-highest).

 

While the Blue Jays have had more effective plate appearances than most teams, the team has been limited to an average level of run production (5.2 runs per game, 17th-best). This is likely the result of cluster luck, with hits often spread across a game rather than clustered in a couple innings. The team’s solid record this spring (9-7) has primarily been driven by the pitching and defence, with the Jays owning the league’s second-best runs allowed per game (3.76) and best fielding percentage (.987).

 

Lourdes Gurriel is doing a lot right at the plate

Gurriel (6.7 OppQual) has performed very well thus far. He’s avoided strikeouts better than any Jay (7.1% K rate) and turned a lot of those resulting balls in play into hits (.350 BABIP) and extra-base hits (.364 ISO). While his average opponent was a little below Double-A quality, he did hit one of his two homers against a veteran MLB reliever (Tigers’ Louis Coleman) and the other against Bryse Wilson, a 21-year-old, 50 FV pitcher (FanGraphs) who went from High-A to the majors in 2018.

 

Underlying these strong numbers is a very-low ground out-to-air out ratio—his 0.18 mark is the lowest on the team (two ground outs, 11 air outs). This suggests that his strong BABIP and ISO marks are more likely the result of him producing a lot of fly balls and line drives, rather than him benefiting from good luck.

 

Anthony Alford found his power, but is still striking out a lot

Alford (6.8 OppQual) is currently posting a 1.187 OPS, among the team’s best this spring, which is worth getting excited about. While the Jays have a bit of an outfield logjam, Randal Grichuk is probably the only clear solid MLB regular of the bunch and he’s a free agent after 2020. Kevin Pillar is okay, but only has two years of control left. Billy McKinney and Teoscar Hernandez have years of team control left and meaningful potential, as well as question marks.

 

While his BABIP (.309) and walk rate (6.9%) are about average, his ISO (.500) and strikeout rate (31%) most definitely are not. The former is a welcome surprise, as Alford struggled to produce power in 2018, posting a .104 ISO at AAA Buffalo in the aftermath of a debilitating hamate bone injury in 2017. The latter speaks to the fact that he is probably best served starting the season at Triple-A, where he can keep improving and eventually push for an MLB spot (maybe right around the time another MLB team loses its starting CF and is interested in taking on Kevin Pillar in a trade).

 

While his opponent’s average quality was also slightly below Double-A, three of his four home runs came against MLB pitchers, Trevor Williams (2, Pirates) and Austin Davis (Phillies).

 

Justin Smoak, the team’s grizzled vet, is in mid-season form

Smoak (7.8 OppQual) is one of the few Jays whose place in the lineup is set. However, that hasn’t led him to slow play his progression this spring. He has shown very strong plate discipline, posting a 12.5% walk rate vs. a 12.5% strikeout rate. He has also effectively turned balls in play into hits (.313 BABIP) and produced a bit of power too (.334 ISO), helping him to a 1.083 OPS.

 

Teoscar Hernandez, Brandon Drury and Dalton Pompey have been effective, if very BABIP-aided

Hernandez (7.0 OppQual) and Drury (7.6 OppQual) were each acquired by the Jays with a view to adding young, controllable MLB-ready talent. Each is likely to get quite a bit playing time this season, though that obviously depends on their performance (and that of their teammates). This spring each has produced similarly at the plate: a 1.000-plus OPS helped by high BABIPs.

 

In Drury’s case, the high BABIP (.467) is accompanied by a strong ISO (.297), but a poor strikeout rate (33.3%). Hernandez’s BABIP (.684) is doing even more work than Drury’s, as he’s been limited to a single extra-base hit (.040 ISO) this spring. Positively, Hernandez is maintaining uncharacteristically solid plate discipline, walking 13.8% of the time and striking out only 20.7% of the time.

 

Pompey (7.7 OppQual) has produced an OPS (.850) that is above-average, if not as high as Hernandez and Drury. His plate discipline has been a real problem area, with 35% of his plate appearances ending with a third strike and none of his plate appearances ending with a ball four. While his BABIP (.417) has been key, he has produced a bit of power as well (.250 ISO), with his homer and one of his two doubles coming off MLB pitchers.

 

Billy McKinney has been very effective

McKinney (7.1 OppQual) has produced a solid .945 OPS, in spite of a .262 BABIP. He’s done so thanks to above-average power (.269 ISO) and excellent plate discipline, posting an 18.8% walk rate against a 15.6% strikeout rate. While a high BABIP reflects good hitting, if a batter is lacking in one of these four stats, it’s best for that to be his BABIP, as it’s the most volatile and luck-affected.

 

Bo Bichette has been mashing

Bichette (6.7 OppQual) leads the team in OPS, with a 1.313 mark. Key to his success has been his four homers, which ties him for second across the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues this spring. Along with a double, his homers have propelled him to a .500 ISO, tied with Alford for the team lead. Notably, the latter two dingers came against MLB pitchers, Jake Odorizzi and Michael Pineda.

 

His plate discipline has been a little below-average, as he struck out in 25% of his plate appearances and walked in only 7.1% of them. On the other hand, he’s producing a typically-high BABIP (.400), supported by his six air outs against three ground outs.

 

His team-best performance makes one wonder under what circumstances Bo makes his MLB debut in 2019. If the MLB team is doing poorly, will he be kept down regardless of how well he plays at AAA Buffalo? If the Blue Jays overperform and are still in the wild card race this summer, does his timeline get advanced? We’ll just have to wait and see.

 

Concluding Thoughts

It’s important to reiterate that these stats are over a small set of games, which gives them a wide margin of error. At this point, these are the only numbers we have, so we might as well have a look and see if anything interesting pops up. I hope I’ve done that in this post.

 

In an upcoming post, I’ll do a similar review of the pitching staff. I think it’s best to give them a bit more time to work out the kinks and grow their sample size.

 

 

 

 

*Featured Image Credit: C Stem- JFtC

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Jeff Quattrociocchi

I'm an economics professor in the GTA whose lifelong love for the Jays was reignited by that magical August of 2015 and the amazing moments since.