The Early Struggles of Blue Jays 1B, Chris Colabello

Jays From the Couch looks into the early struggles of Blue Jays first baseman, Chris Colabello and whether improvement is coming.

 

Right now, the Toronto Blue Jays have a few guys who are in a bit of a hitting funk. One of whom interests me due to his “out of nowhere” success in 2015. Chris Colabello was one of the surprise stories of last season with his anomalous BABIP. This season, though, he’s quite a different case in the early goings. I wanted to look into why.

Before we continue, we have to acknowledge that we are only 10 games in to the 2016 season. Any 10 game sample can be analyzed, but should not really be seen as significant in the context of a season. There is still 94% of the season to go and that means that there will be many more at bats to paint a much clearer picture. Any player can hit a 10 game skid that sees them outperform (positively or negatively) their norm. That said, let’s look into Colabello’s struggles thus far.

In 20 plate appearances, he’s striking out at a 30% clip. He’s literally shown no power (his ISO sits at .000) and that famous BABIP is well below his 2015 mark and the league average at .077. He’s off to a 0.053 average and an OBP of .100. All of this is a fancy way of saying he has one hit all season to go with one walk and 6 strike outs. Brooks Baseball sums up his season thus far rather nicely: on fastballs and breaking balls, Colabello is showing “a disastrously high likelihood to swing and miss”. “DISASTROUSLY HIGH!” Yikes.

It would appear that the word is out on Colabello: pitch him down and away. If you look at the chart below from Brooks Baseball, Colabello is seeing a steady diet of those offerings.

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When he gets to 2 strikes, the tendency is more pronounced:

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That’s where we see results like below. Chris Archer fans Colabello at the 15sec mark.

 

This video clip highlights the groove that Colabello is in right now. He is swinging and missing at a lot of bad (for a batter) pitches. But, if you break it down, he is showing a pattern: early in at bats, he’s whiffing on balls up in the zone and then with 2 strikes, he’s expanding to the point where he’s making attempts at stuff outside of the strike zone.

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Simply, Colabello is playing the pitcher’s game, which is only going to lead to trouble. This is something that he didn’t do last year. When he got to 2 strikes, he didn’t go outside the zone as often:

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The type of pitches Colabello is seeing: 50% hard stuff to 33% breaking to 16% offspeed. This was something that pitchers picked up on late last summer as they increased the breaking and offspeed stuff and decreased the hard. It resulted in strike outs going from 12 in July to 21 in September and little bit of October last season. His average also went from .386 in August to .309 in Sept/Oct. .309 is still kind of good, but it represents a drop when pitchers started adjusting.

This season, according to Fangraphs, Colabello is showing a decreased ability to make contact. He’s seeing 56.4% of pitches in the zone. But, he’s making less contact with those at 75.9% (down from 78%). It’s a small decrease in a small sample size, but it is there. Another difference, since we mentioned him seeing stuff outside the zone is that he’s making contact with those offerings much less. In 2015, he saw 60% O-Contact. In 2016, that has dropped to 44.4%. The even more interesting part is that he’s actually swinging less often in the early part of this year. He’s seeing a decrease in swing percentage (again small, but present) both inside and outside the zone. His SwStr% (14.8%) is actually on par (albeit a tad higher) with the past few years.

Based on all of this, the conclusion is basically that Colabello is just not seeing the ball well. He’s swinging less this season than he did last season, but the type of pitches he’s seeing is different. That is resulting in his contact going down. When that happens, you’re going to see a drop in average and whatnot. During this very small, early sample, Chris Colabello is struggling to adjust. However, the fact that his swinging strike rate is about normal for him, we have reason to think that he’ll see improvement as the season goes on. He is missing just about as much as he has in the past, which means in the context of a whole season, his results should be more in line with what we’re used to seeing.

Colabello will not repeat his over .400 BABIP in 2016. But, he also will not be the hitter we see right now. Yes, he’s struggling, but in the run of a full season every player will see these kinds of dips. It is just magnified because right now, it’s all we have.

 

 

 

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Shaun Doyle

Shaun Doyle is a long time Blue Jays fan and writer! He decided to put those things together and create Jays From the Couch. Shaun is the host of Jays From the Couch Radio, which is highly ranked in iTunes, and he has appeared on TV and radio spots.