Jays Hitters Hacking, Mashing

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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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.

15 Responses to “Jays Hitters Hacking, Mashing”

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  1. BobLoblaw says:

    Remember those FG articles about how ALL of Aaron Hill’s 2009 HRs were on the inside part of the plate? Have pitchers figured this out, and now he’s struggling as a result? I’d be curious to see a 2010 analaysis of Aaron Hill to see if it’s pitchers adjusting or just a typical slump.

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    • Impossibles says:

      Just from watching, Hill is way off on his timing, he’s not hitting the ball hard at all, so its not just a case of fly balls staying in the park.

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  2. TtD says:

    Just from watching Bob i’d say that Hill’s issue is largely timing at the moment. After the injury his swing is constantly a little off and with him swinging at everything it’s causing issues. He is getting a lot of junk thrown at him early in counts which follows the scouting but he’s been off with fastballs as well the last few weeks.

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  3. Grant says:

    Manager Cito Gaston and his hitting coaches have been preaching the ‘grip it and rip it’ approach since 2008 so this spike in power should come as no surprise. Cito knows what he has on this team and that’s power, a great manager makes the best of what he has.

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    • Kris says:

      Are we sure that Cito’s managing or merely acting as the cool parent telling the kids, “Go ahead, do whatever you want. You’re a responsible 14-year old and that 40oz looks quite delicious.”

      We’ll see what kind of coaching the Jays have when Cito stops chanting, “CHUG! CHUG! CHUG,” and the flyballs stop leaving the yard.

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    • ElJimador says:

      Even if Jays’ coaches are preaching a “grip it and rip” philosophy isn’t it unusual to see so many hitters posting career high O-Swing and Swing rates at once? I mean veteran hitters don’t usually change their approach that noticeably just at the prompting of their coaches, do they? I’m particularly struck that Fred Lewis has gotten in on the act. This is a guy who has always been very patient even on last year’s Giants team, one of the most hack-tastic groups ever assembled. But now a new coaching staff has gotten him to buy into being way more aggressive than he’s ever been? I don’t know. Either they are really persuasive in selling this hitting philosophy or there must be some other explanations (perhaps a different one for each of these hitters).

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  4. DR says:

    How is Aaron Hill’s BABIP managing to get worse as the season progresses? Bizarre.

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  5. The Usual SusBeck says:

    I always lose the source, but I’m pretty sure I’ve read that Jose Bautista has the most HR in the league since last September and by a decent margin. He’s got 24 HR over 323 PA during that period.

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  6. Renegade says:

    The scary thing is that the team’s best hitter is on the DL…

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  7. Baron Samedi says:

    I think Bautista does have the most HR since September of 2009 by a wide margin.

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  8. JayCee says:

    Where is Encarnacion with his 6 HRs his first 6 days back?

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  9. Jay says:

    Correct, Bautista is tops in homers since August 18. Since September 5, he’s also sixth in slugging (.602) and ninth in OPS (.958) among those with 150 PA. Speaking of Encarnacion, he’s second in slugging (.608) and eighth in OPS (.961) in that stretch.

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    • JayCee says:

      I mentioned this pre-season while jocking Bautista- you really need to go to the IUnternet (CBS/Y!) and stare at his game log from last September to understand what an amazing rake he was (and remains).

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  10. exxrox says:

    To me, it’s getting more difficult to simply write off Bautista’s performance..he’s been OPSing at .900 from the point in time he was turned from the short end of a platoon into a full-time starter. Maybe there will be a league-wide adjustment yet to happen, but his swing is getting through the zone lightning-quick. Despite allegations of the whole team swinging from their heels, Jose is hitting every kind of pitch with his quick hands.

    Additionally, he has good defensive value..on top of being one of the three best defensive OF on the roster, he’s also obviously the best 3B option on the team.

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  11. jsolid says:

    in the AL, the Blue Jays as a team are first in slugging percentage and last in OBP. that cant hold.

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