It’s been a tough year for Blue Jays’ fans. It has also been a turbulent one. In addition to the team’s struggles, many of the Jays’ chief contributors have been incredibly streaky in their performances.
At the end of April, when Yangervis Solarte was off to his hot start, he had instantly ingratiated himself and become a fan favorite – a player whose joy and passion for the game was contagious. Fans were also wondering if Randal Grichuk would ever be able hit above .200 in the major leagues again.
Three and a half months later, the exact opposite looks to be true. A struggling Solarte (now on the disabled list) is being maligned for his lack of effort running out groundballs (you gotta save your energy for those home run cellys), while Randal Grichuk has been taking away home runs and absolutely destroyed the ball for the month of June. And that was just the beginning of the streakiness.
Blue Jay Hot Streaks
|Yangervis Solarte||March 29 – May 8||.264/.347/.519||132|
|Kendrys Morales||June 1 – July 31||.338/.459/.574||178|
|Devon Travis||May 22 – June 27||.288/.338/.470||118|
|Randal Grichuk||June 1 – July 1||.284/.330/.625||155|
|Lourdes Gurriel Jr.||July 2 – July 29||.423/.438/.648||199|
|Kevin Pillar||March 29 – April 30||.305/.351/.552||142|
Blue Jay Cold Streaks
|Yangervis Solarte||July 1 – August 11||.175/.219/.250||24|
|Kendrys Morales||March 29 – May 17||.146/.239/.260||28|
|Devon Travis||March 30 – April 30||.148/.212/.246||23|
|Randal Grichuk||March 29 – April 29||.106/.208/.227||19|
|Lourdes Gurriel Jr.||April 20 – May 11||.206/.229/.309||41|
|Kevin Pillar||May 1 – June 5||.220/.258/.331||55|
Not entirely unsurprisingly, some of the hottest players in the Jays’ lineup this season have also been some of the coldest at other points.
Kendrys Morales and Randal Grichuk have seen months where they were each respectively one of the absolute best and absolute worst hitters in baseball. Devon Travis was sent to the minor leagues (although that did have a little bit to do with a roster crunch) and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. looked like a quad-A player during his first call up and breakout star in his second.
Randal Grichuk’s abysmal start to the season may have had something to do with a minor spring training ribcage injury that could have lingered. Admittedly, the ribcage is an entirely different injury than the knee problem that caused him to miss the entire month of May, but it’s not impossible that lingering affects may have caused the outfielder problems.
Since returning, Grichuk has cut his strikeout rate slightly (24.3 percent versus a 28.9 career rate), which suggests he can make some offensive gains, but given the sample size, and that his contact, swing and walk rates are consistent with his career norms, it’s fairly likely his strikeout rate will creep back up closer to 30 percent. Despite the huge fluctuations for months at a time, it’s likely he’s ultimately the same hitter – a low on-base, high slugging performer that can be around league average moving forward.
At this point in time we should be entirely unsurprised by these kinds of swings in Kevin Pillar’s offensive production. When he’s barreling , he can look great but given his inability to walk, it’s difficult for him to sustain.
Morales struggled (.227/.286/.381) through the first month of the 2017 as well, but it was neither as long or as terrible as the slump he endured to begin this season. Interestingly, after two seasons where the switch-hitting Morales posted stronger numbers as a right-handed hitter, he appears to be bucking the trend, posting a .792 OPS as a left-handed hitter against just .599 as a righty. Despite the change, he seems to be right about where he was last year – a hitter with some power, but one that can’t do much else.
Health has always been a question for the club’s diminutive second baseman, so this season the Blue Jays attempted to keep him healthy by limiting his playing time – giving Travis an off-day for every two consecutive games that he played. Travis appeared to be unable to get his timing with the frequent days off and has fared better since returning to consistent playing time.
While Gurriel’s hot streak is undoubtedly on the shorter side of things, the promise lies in him being young enough (24) that he can improve. Because if he can’t, his plate discipline and a regression on his batting average on balls in play is likely going to prevent him from being a strong hitter. He’d be someone who is more likely to struggle to stay in the big leagues than hit .300 let alone .400.
Solarte’s production has dropped of precipitously since a hot first month to start to the season. Solarte was an above average player from 2014-16 but has seen his production decline in each of the last two seasons. He’s seen his slugging percentage drop over 100 points (.397) and his on-base percentage drop 60 points (.287) since the beginning of May.
The point here, while not a secret, is that no player is as good as they look when they’re hot, or as bad as they look when they’re cold. With the wild ups and downs that many of the Blue Jays’ hitters have endured this season, it’s best to look at their cumulative stats on the season rather than anything we are seeing when these players are at their best and worst. Full season statistics have long been more predictive and indicative of their true talent level than anything we’ve seen out of players at their best and worst.
Even with this context, fans can often get prematurely excited. When Teoscar Hernándaz got hot after being called up in April, Jays fans were hopeful that with changes to his plate approach, Hernández could take his offensive game to the next level. But as the season wore on, his strikeout rate increased and his walk rate dropped – he started looking more like the player we saw in 2017. Baseball is about adjustments and every time a hitter adjusts, pitchers will adjust back.
There is always the chance for players to improve or develop skills, but even these kinds of changes need to be demonstrated over full and multiple seasons – like Justin Smoak proving his 2017 breakout wasn’t a fluke. This is where analytics and scouts can help provide more context and information to help us understand when these streaks can be meaningful. But even with extra information and perspectives, time is important. Teoscar Hernández was showing strong peripheral statistics underlying his hot start, peripherals that are more predictive of future success, however those improvements weren’t sustainable either.
Unfortunately, that means all of the super hot streaks we’ve seen don’t suggest big things are in store for any of the Blue Jays above. Luckily, it means they aren’t as bad as they’ve looked either. And any team that has employed Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Justin Smoak doesn’t have to remind you that real changes are absolutely possible.
They just take time.
Lead Photo © Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
*wRC+ (weighted runs created plus) is a stat that measures a baseball players offensive contributions compared to other players in the league. Ex. A wRC+ of 100 is average – a player with a wRC+ of 150 is 50% better than an average major league hitter. A hitter was a wRC+ of 50 is 50% worse.