It’s early. While that means we can’t draw too many conclusions about the 2018 Toronto Blue Jays moving forward, it doesn’t mean some statistically interesting things haven’t happened. It also doesn’t mean that things might be changing in the near future. With those caveats in mind, here are some of the most surprising stats from the first three weeks of the Blue Jays’ season.
Teoscar Hernandez is Picking Up Right Where He Left Off…And So is Randal Grichuk
Right now, Hernandez is barreling more baseballs than anyone in baseball. According to Statcast’s barrels per plate appearance stat, Hernandez’s rate of 21.1 is tops of all players with at least 25 batted ball outcomes. When you’re slugging .743 you’re probably hitting the ball pretty hard. But look who’s 10th on the leaderboard: Randal Grichuk.
Grichuk, who has struggled mightily to start the season (.086/.204/.224), is barreling more baseballs than Mike Trout, Manny Machado, Paul Goldschmidt and almost everyone else in baseball. Grichuk is also second in the discrepancy between weighted on-base average (wOBA) and expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA). Weighted On-Base Average is stat that attempts to measure a hitter’s overall offensive contribution, but unlike on-base percentage, it weights extra-base hits as more valuable. Expected Weighted On-Base Average produces the wOBA a player should have produced given the quality and frequency of contact they are making. The fact that Grichuk leads all major leaguers in the difference between actual and expected wOBA suggests better days are ahead. Even if Grichuk doesn’t have a breakthrough season in 2018, he should fare far better than he has so far.
Kendrys Morales Got…Faster?
Morales, who was recently activated from the disabled list, has increased his top sprint speed from 23.5 feet per second in 2017 up to 24.3 feet per second in 2018.* Perhaps Morales is feeling closer to 100 percent healthy, or as some fans have commented online, perhaps he has lost weight – according to some Morales looks visibly trimmer. Maybe it’s the new glasses. Regardless of the actual reason for the increase in sprint speed, Morales is moving a little better on the bases early on. Don’t be expecting any 20 stolen base seasons anytime soon though.
*hat tip to Mike Sonne for mentioning this on twitter.
Marcus Stroman Has Had More Bad Luck Than Any Starter in Baseball
2018 has not been kind to Marcus Stroman. While Stroman has been walking more batters than he usually does, Stroman has been the same groundballing machine he always is (he leads all starters with a 69.4 percent ground rate). Despite the consistency, Stroman’s ERA is an ugly 8.55. But he is also getting very unlucky so far this season. FIP is a stat that measures a pitcher’s performance based on their strikeout, walk, groundball and home run rates, in an effort to remove luck (and a team’s defensive abilities) from a pitcher’s ERA/performance. Stroman is the only pitcher in baseball with an FIP under 4.50 (Stroman’s is 4.48) and an ERA over 8.00. Only two others (Jon Gray, German Marquez) have a FIP under 4.50 and an ERA over 6.00. Once a few more groundballs find gloves instead of holes, Stroman’s numbers will start to look a lot more like the Stroman of the last few seasons.
Yangervis Solarte is Doing a Lot of Damage With a Very Low BABIP
Yangervis Solarte has quickly become a fan favorite in Toronto. In addition to raking at the plate, his exuberance and joy for playing the game are contagious amongst fans of the team. But what is so surprising about Solarte’s hot start is that he is doing it without having many of the balls he puts in play falling for hits. Solarte is one of only five players in baseball who have posted a wOBA of over .375 and a BABIP (batting average on balls in play) of under .240. Solarte has always posted lower than average BABIPs (an average major league hitter’s BABIP is usually around .300), but .231 is unusually low even for him – as he has a career rate of .277.
Solarte should cool off, but he should also see some positive BABIP regression and have a few more of his batted balls fall in for hits. Even if he’s not lacing homers and doubles at his current clip.
J.A. Happ is Aging Gracefully…and Striking Out a Ton of Batters
J.A. Happ has been full of surprises in his second go-around with the Blue Jays. Whether it’s distaste for bagged milk or his ability to ward off age related decline into what is now his age-35 season. This season, one of those surprises is that he’s striking out hitters like never before. Happ has punched out 41 batters in only 29 innings of work this season, good for a K/9 of 12.72, tied with Chris Sale for fifth highest amongst starting pitchers and first in the American League – ahead of guys like Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Carlos Martinez.
This is most likely some small sample noise. Happ’s career K/9 is 7.82 and he has faced some weak lineups. However, Nick Pollack has noted that it does appear that Happ has changed his approach and is throwing more high fastballs to right-handed batters. He might lose some of his strikeouts but he might not regress all the way down to his career norms. In either case, it’s very reasonable to expect Happ to be good moving forward this season.
And to that note, if J.A. Happ continues to pitch like he has, he will become only the fourth Blue Jays’ starting pitcher to post an ERA under 3.75 as a 35-year-old or older. Happ would join Roger Clemens (1998), Mark Buehrle (2014), and R.A. Dickey (2014) as the only pitchers to achieve the feat.
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