The Toronto Blue Jays boast a young, athletic lineup. How much more should speed play into their game?
The Toronto Blue Jays are a young, exciting team that is just starting to round into form. There’s a somewhat long way to go before we can call them a contender. Their need to find a consistently productive outfield, their bullpen is questionable and they have an offense that can be streaky. One element of their game that is in need of improvement is speed.
In this day and age, speed is an undervalued commodity since everyone is playing for the home run. MLB noticed that everyone and their dog was hitting 20 home runs, so they tried to step in. Hitters are smarter and better informed, so they are increasing their launch angle to hit more dingers. For guys like Travis Shaw, selling out for the home run comes with risk as his offensive performance suffered greatly with an increased launch angle.
It’s as though, clubs have forgotten the little things that can win a baseball game, notwithstanding guys like Mallex Smith or Adalberto Mondesi. And, maybe over the course of a 162 game season, stolen bases or going first to third don’t add up to that many wins, but in a 60 game season, the impact could be felt.
Yesterday, I wrote that, in the context of 2020, a lot of odd things could happen and Toronto could surprise some people. Obviously, that is wishful thinking and would be counter to the original plan of 2020, which was to take another step toward competing in a year or two. Either way, if success is going to come, the Blue Jays should look at their running game.
The easiest way to look at a team’s overall speed is to look at how many bases they’ve stolen. In 2019, your Blue Jays stole 51 bases, which was good (?) for 13th in the AL. They were caught stealing 10 times, which put them in the #1 spot. For this piece, I am using a few metrics to measure the effectiveness of Toronto’s speed. Firstly, Sprint Speed from Baseball Savant, where the highest marks in 2019 were a fraction over 30 ft/s – Tim Locastro was tops in the league with a time of 30.8 – Base Running (BsR) – a score of 8 is excellent, 2 is average and -6 is awful – from Fangraphs, stolen bases (SB) and caught stealing. I selected the players most likely to see enough playing time to enter into this conversation and I used their 2019 numbers.
|Sprint Speed (ft/s)||BsR||SB||CS|
|Vlad Guerrero Jr||26.3||-6.6||0||1|
|Lourdes Gurriel Jr||27.5||0.6||6||4|
As you can see, there are some rather bleak numbers. The first thing to note is the overall speed. With guys like Rowdy Tellez and Vladimi Guerrero Jr, this isn’t really a surprise. Even though, Vlad Jr stole 15 bases in Rookie Ball, we shouldn’t be looking for that to be repeated. But, that isn’t where we should be looking for improvement. Indeed, there are other players whose speed is an asset, if used effectively.
For example, look at Cavan Biggio‘s BsR score of 4.9, which has a lot to do with his intelligence (he was not caught stealing once in 2019), but his Sprint Speed of 28.3 is nothing to sneeze at. In fact, the two together suggest he could steal more than 14 bases. His ability to get on base is also helpful in this regard.
But, Biggio is not the only one. Consider this: according to each player’s page on Baseball Savant, Teoscar Hernandez, Anthony Alford and Derek Fisher Sprint Speed marks ranked in the Top 3%, 4% and 8% respectively. Yet, Hernandez was only asked to steal 10 times last year. He was caught 4 times. With a BsR mark of 0.7 (slightly above average) and his sprint speed, one has to think there is untapped potential there. Whether Alford and Fisher could help the running game remains to be seen as they both need to show some consistency at the plate in order to get on base.
Bo Bichette might be the most interesting case in all of this. In 2018, while playing in AA New Hampshire, Bichette stole 32 bases. He stole another 15 in 56 AAA games. In the big leagues, he has 4 and was caught 4 times. Sure, pitching and defense are better at the MLB level, but he’s a fraction faster than Biggio, so should be able to contribute more on the basepaths. Perhaps, his -1.2 BsR is a blip (Fangraphs doesn’t display this for minor league seasons). ZiPS projects he’ll swipe 28 this season, but that is over 130 games. Regardless, if Toronto is going to take a step forward, perhaps they could tap into his running game. Or, at the very least, use 2020 to test it.
The further you move away from the core of this team, the more speed you get. What would really help the Blue Jays is if those on the fringes could find some offensive consistency and allow the club to experiment with their speed. For Toronto, OBP has a direct impact on their running game and it is no coincidence that Biggio and his .364 OBP in 2019 also see him leading the running game. Toronto needs to tap into a couple more guys with potential speed.
Not everyone needs to be a base stealer. In fact, being smart on the basepaths can be just as effective. That is an area where the Blue Jays’ coaching staff can help. They can’t make guys faster, but they can certainly help them use the speed they have. The potential is there. Speed could be an asset for the Blue Jays. It hasn’t been in recent years, but it could be.
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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.