The Toronto Blue Jays are almost at the mid-point of their 2020 MLB season. How does their batting compare to their American League foes?
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As of August 26, the Blue Jays have played 29 games, which would be a small segment of a typical 162-game schedule. However, 2020 is anything but a standard MLB season. Therefore, with the usual caveat concerning small sample sizes, let’s take a look at the Jays 2020 batting at the team level.
This analysis will address the following aspects of Toronto’s batting:
- A review of key metrics
- An examination of expected batting data and what they indicate for the balance of the 2020 campaign
- Plate discipline
- Runs generated from home runs and balls in play
- Runners in scoring position
- Contributions from batting order positions
Table 1 is a summary of key metrics. The highlights are as follows:
- The Jays wRC+ is 108, which is fourth-best in the American League
- This performance level is noticeably better than 2019’s full-season mark of 92
- Toronto’s 8.7 BB%, which lags the American League average of 9.2%, is marginally higher than the 2019 score of 8.4%
- Compared to 2019, the 2020 K% has declined three percentage points to 21.9%, which is below the American League’s 23.7% average
- The recent offensive surge has pushed the Jays OBP to league average, thanks to a 0.252 batting average
Statcast publishes many expected batting metrics, which are useful to help identify a hitter’s skill. As Statcast notes, “hitters, and likewise pitchers, are able to influence exit velocity and launch angle but have no control over what happens to a batted ball once it is put into play.”
The relevant measures for this part of the analysis are Expected Batting Average (“xBA”), Expected Weighted On-base Average (“xwOBA”), Expected Slugging Percentage (“xSLG”), and Expected Weighted On-base Average on Contact (“xwOBAcon”).
These stats are also valuable because they may be both descriptive and predictive. In 2017, Craig Edwards of FanGraphs wrote a piece that outlined the predictive worth of xwOBA vis-à-vis wOBA in the early part of a season. Also, Jeff Quattrociocchi recently penned two articles on the xwOBAcon subject, which I encourage readers to check out. For our purposes, these expected stats should give some indication of what to anticipate of Blue Jays hitters for the balance of the 2020 campaign.
Expected batting data
Table 2 illustrates the Jays improvement in these expected metrics compared to 2019. The highpoints are as follows:
- The Jays wOBAcon is currently ranked seventh, which is slightly better than 2019’s ninth-place tie among American League teams
- The good news is that their 2020 xwOBAcon ranks third-best (eighth in 2019) in the American League, which indicates that opposition defence and bad luck partially mitigated the Jays 2020 wOBAcon and wOBA
- If the Jays xwOBAcon can be maintained, there is a real possibility that we can expect a better wOBA in the final half of the 2020 campaign
- This conclusion assumes that the current rate of base on balls will continue
- The 2020 xBA and xSLG marks rank second and third, respectively
The judgement is that the Blue Jays hit the ball well; their Barrel% and Hard Hit% both rank second in the American League.
Ariel Cohen of FanGraphs introduced people to the Maddux Plate Discipline for Hitters (mPDI”). The concept is that “A Maddux hitter would swing at pitches when they are thrown in the zone and would lay off of pitches thrown out of the zone.” For plate discipline definitions and the components of the mPDI calculation, refer to Appendix I.
Table 3 demonstrates the improved plate discipline of the 2020 Jays measured against the 2019 version of the club. The highlights are as follows:
- Compared to the American League median, the Jays swing at slightly more pitches out of the strike zone (30.4% versus 29.3%) but more in-zone pitches (69.2% versus 67.0%)
- Additionally, the Jays rate of contact on pitches out of the zone is higher than the median (62.8% compared to 60.4%)
- Another proficiency is the Jays ability to make contact on pitches in the zone (84.5% versus 83.5%)
- The application of Cohen’s mPDI formula generates a 69.4% figure for the 2020 Jays, which is superior to the American League’s 68.6% median
- In 2019, the Jays produced a 68.1% mPDI, which was below the 68.7% median
The overall assessment is that the Jays plate discipline has improved since 2019. The club, currently tied with Cleveland with the fourth-best mPDI among American League teams, ranked eleventh in 2019.
Runs generated from home runs and balls in play
The Blue Jays have produced the seventh-highest runs per game; their home-run rate per game (1.76) is second only to the Chicago White Sox (1.90). Table 4 identifies the source of runs for the Blue Jays. The items to note are as follows:
- Home runs account for 57.6% of the Jays runs, which exceeds the American League average of 45.3%
- This occurrence is consistent with the 2019 campaign in which the Jays recorded 53.2% of their runs via the long ball, which was higher than the 45.8% league average
- The rate of runs from solo home runs and the percentage of runs from homers with men on base are both higher than the relevant American League average
- The top four American League teams in runs per game are Houston, Tampa, Chicago, and New York
- The share of total runs contributed by home runs for these clubs is 31.3%, 38.2%, 56.0%, and 58.4%, respectively
While I disagree that home runs are rally killers as some have suggested, my view is that a more balanced source of runs for the Jays is preferable.
Runners in scoring position
Table 5 identifies the Jays 2020 RISP performance. The notable data points are as follows:
- The success rate is the number of runs scored per plate appearance in a RISP situation
- The Jays success rate is 33.6%, which is less than the 35.3% average
With the favourable expected batting rates and plate discipline, perhaps the Jays can make improvements in their RISP production.
Contributions from batting order positions
- In all cases, the Jays wRC+ from the top-three and middle-three batting order slots is very close to the marks of the Yankees and Rays
- The Yankees and Rays rank second and third, respectively in overall wRC+
- The Jays come up short compared to the Yankees and Rays in OBP from the top-six places in the batting order
- The bottom-three in the Jays batting order has a wRC+ of 66, which is well below the American League average of 78
- The Jays bottom-three posted a 0.280 OBP, which trails the Yankees (0.307), Rays (0.308), and the league average (0.292)
- When it comes to the Jays bottom-three in the batting order with runners in scoring position, Kramer provided a suitable self-assessment for that group
- The Jays bottom-three has produced a wRC+ of 28 with runners in scoring position; the league average is 86
- That group’s OBP is not much better in relative terms; their OBP of 0.224 is well below the 0.307 league average
Plate appearances by the bottom-third of the batting order
The list of players with the five-most plate appearances in the bottom-third of the order is as follows:
- Danny Jansen (88 wRC+)
- Joe Panik (-19 wRC+)
- Santiago Espinal (70 wRC+)
- Brandon Drury (-3 wRC+)
- Reese McGuire (-33 wRC+)
It is fair to give Espinal a pass because he is a rookie, an injury-replacement for Bo Bichette, and his fWAR is 0.1. On the other hand, Panik has a minus 0.2 fWAR, and Drury and McGuire have each chipped in with a negative 0.5 fWAR. At a minimum, I think it is time for the Jays to end the Drury experiment; in his 150 game-appearances as a Blue Jay, Drury has produced a negative 1.2 fWAR.
The last word
The Jays hitting in the first half of the 2020 season was better than it was in the full 2019 campaign. For example, Toronto’s wRC+, K%, and plate discipline metrics are evidence of an improved batting performance. In terms of expected batting data, the Jays are among the top American League teams, which suggests better results in the second half of the 2020 campaign. The areas of concern are the below-average runs from balls in play and also RISP production. Additionally, the relative lack of results from the last three slots of their batting order has been a weakness.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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Bob was a St. Louis Cardinals fan until the Blue Jays arrived on the baseball scene, although he still has a soft spot for the Cards. Similar to straddling the Greenwich Meridian, as depicted in the avatar, Bob applies sabermetrics when applicable, but his heart tells him that Lou Brock belongs in the Hall of Fame.