Expected to finish no better than fourth place in the ultra-competitive American League East, the Toronto Blue Jays currently boast a 27-20 record, just a half-game behind the New York Yankees for second place in the division.
The Jays have gotten quality performances from both the rotation (4.15 xFIP, third in the AL) and the bullpen (4.00 xFIP, also third in the AL). But perhaps most surprisingly, Toronto leads the Junior circuit in runs scored, with 247. That total is due in part to timely hitting that almost certainly won’t persist — the Jays are batting .232/.289/.422 as a team with the bases empty, but have crushed to the tune of .268/.347/.537 with ducks on the pond. Based on the club’s .339 team weighted on-base average, Toronto’s offense should have churned out 228 runs so far — fourth in the AL.
So, the offense has been good, but fortunate to tally so many hits with runners on base. There’s another bizarre aspect to the Jays’ offensive attack this season, though — they’re swinging from the heels and making hard, loud contact.
As a whole, Toronto’s hitters have chased 31.1 percent of pitches thrown outside of the strike zone. That’s the highest mark in the AL and is well north of the 27.6 percent major league average in 2010. The Jays also lead the league in cuts taken on in-zone pitches, letting it rip 68.5 percent of the time a pitcher puts one over the plate (63.6 percent MLB average this season).
Taking such an aggressive approach, the Jays have the highest first pitch strike percentage in the AL — they have put the ball in play on the first pitch or gotten behind in the count 0-and-1 60.7 percent of the time (58.1 percent MLB average).
Not surprisingly, Toronto’s batters haven’t drawn many walks, with an 8.3 BB% that ranks 10th in the AL. But the team is outslugging the competition with a .221 Isolated Power. The Red Sox rank a distant second, at .183.
Hard-hitting hackers include SS Alex Gonzalez, C John Buck and CF Vernon Wells. Take a look at their respective career averages in O-Swing and Z-Swing (since 2002), compared to their swing percentages in 2010. Also included: their 2010 ISO figures, compared to their pre-season CHONE and ZiPS projections:
The MLB average for O-Swing percentage has increased in recent years, but even as a percentage of the big league average, 2010 ranks as the most hack-tastic season for Buck and Wells. Gonzalez chased an even higher proportion of pitches out of the zone (compared to the MLB average) during his Marlins days.
Though not to the same extent as the three guys above, Jose Bautista is chasing more pitches than usual (23.4 O-Swing percentage, 18.2 career average). And, as Dave Cameron noted, he’s hitting for unprecedented power — Bautista has a .325 ISO. Prior to 2010, CHONE forecasted a .163 ISO and ZiPS projected a .162 ISO. New Jay Fred Lewis has gotten into the act as well, with a 28.7 O-Swing (20.5 career average) and a .186 ISO (.142 pre-season ISO from CHONE, .153 from ZiPS).
Of course, not every Toronto hitter with a more aggressive approach is thriving in the power department. 2B Aaron Hill has a 32 O-Swing percentage (22.2 career average), but a .156 ISO (.171 pre-season CHONE, .172 ZiPS). Adam Lind showed improved plate discipline in 2009, but his O-Swing is back up to 30 and his .169 ISO falls short of his pre-season CHONE (.209) and ZiPS (.211) marks. Lyle Overbay has swung at 23.3 percent of out-of-zone pitches (18 percent career average), with a .143 ISO (.153 pre-season CHONE, .165 ZiPS).
Moving forward, Gonzalez, Buck and Wells figure to come back down to Earth. Bautista probably hasn’t suddenly become a gargantuan power hitter, but his 2010 start can’t be ignored. With better luck on balls put in play and perhaps a few less cuts at junk pitches, Hill, Lind and Overbay should rebound:
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