The Blue Jays’ 2018 season has come to an end. It was a difficult summer for baseball fans in Toronto, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t some enjoyable moments at the Rogers Centre this season. Would it have been a more enjoyable ride with Vald Guerrero Jr. along for the trip? Probably, but that’s a topic for another day. With another year in the books, here are some of the most surprising statistics from another season of Blue Jays baseball.
Too Many Pop Ups
This season, the Blue Jays led the major leagues in hitting pop ups with a 12.2 percent infield fly ball rate. Sometimes it felt like Yangervis Solarte was responsible for all of them. He wasn’t, but he was responsible for a lot of them. His 19.2 percent infield fly ball rate was tied with Mike Moustakas for the highest among all qualified hitters. Kevin Pillar wasn’t far behind at 17.7 percent – good for fifth highest.
Because pop ups are easily turned into outs at the major league level, they are the least desirable batted ball outcome a hitter can produce. This high level of infield fly balls could also help explain why the Jays ranked so low in terms of batting average on balls in play (BABIP). The Blue Jays’ team BABIP of .286 was the fourth lowest in the major leagues.
While BABIP is something that typically should regress to the mean (league average was .296), the Jays will need to hit fewer infield flies if they want to see some positive regression. And speaking of low BABIP…
A Whole Lotta Shifts
The Blue Jays emerged as one of the most likely teams to be shifted on this season – with 26.2 percent of pitches thrown against them coming with the opposition’s infielders playing in an exaggerated defensive shift. Only the Angels and Rangers’ hitters saw more defensive shifts. What’s surprising about this is that so many of the Blue Jays’ best hitters were either right-handed or switch hitters – who are more difficult to shift against since the first basemen still needs to stay on the left side of the infield to cover first.
Luckily for the Jays, the damage was somewhat mitigated. The team’s batting average against the shift was .253 – sixth highest in the major leagues.
Marco Estrada Led the Team in Games Started…and ERA
With 28 games started, Marco Estrada took the ball more than any other Blue Jays’ starter this season. Unfortunately, his 5.64 ERA was the highest of any Blue Jays’ pitcher that remained with the team all season long. While Estrada struggled to generate the results that made him one of the Jays’ best pitchers in 2015 and 2016, he was certainly not alone. Surprisingly, the starting rotation was a perceived to be an area of strength heading into the season and ended up being a glaring weakness. Marcus Stroman (5.43), Aaron Sanchez (4.89), Jaime Garcia (6.16) and Sam Gaviglio (5.43) all struggled to limit runs. This led to a starter’s ERA of 5.14, third highest in the major leagues. Only the Orioles and Rangers had higher ERAs from their starting pitchers.
With J.A. Happ gone and Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez still struggling with injuries, the offseason will be an interesting one. Don’t be surprised if the Jays add a starting pitcher or two via trade or free agency.
Remember the 2015 team that mashed homers and refused to play small ball? Some even (I believe wrongly) suggested this was the reason for their defeat at the hands of the Kansas City Royals. That 2015 Blue Jays’ team were also eleventh in baseball with 88 stolen bases. Since 2015, no Blue Jays’ team has managed to swipe more than 54 bags.
This year’s team, which was younger and more athletic than the 2016 and 2017 teams, still only managed to steal 47 bases – the third lowest total in all of baseball. And it’s not because they’re getting caught a lot. The Blue Jays rate of 0.48 stolen base attempts per game was the fourth lowest in the majors – even with the influx speed that came in the form of Randal Grichuk, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Teoscar Hernandez, and Dwight Smith Jr. In an era where baseball is moving away from utilizing the stolen base, the Jays still appear to be near the very bottom of the league when it comes to swiping bags. Is that why Ross Atkins wanted to get rid of John Gibbons? Nah. But why get younger and more athletic if you aren’t gonna use it?
…But Danny Jansen is a Speedster
Despite the lack of team stolen bases, the Blue Jays do appear to be more fleet of foot than in years past. It might not surprise anyone that Gurriel Jr., Grichuk, or Dwight Smith Jr. are some of the Jays’ fastest players. It probably will surprise you to know that catcher Danny Jansen is. Jansen’s sprint speed of 27.9 feet per second was sixth best on the team and fourth in all of baseball among catchers (with at least 10 opportunities). Ah, to be 23.
On the other end of the spectrum, Kendrys Morales was the second slowest designated hitter in the league with a sprint speed of 23.5 feet per second – higher than only the now retired Victor Martinez and a full second behind the DH directly ahead of him in the rankings…Edwin Encarnacion. Will we ever stop comparing them!?! According to Statcast, Morales was the sixth slowest player in baseball in 2018
Rogers Centre Was A Pitcher’s Park
Earlier this year, I mentioned that the Rogers Centre hasn’t lived up to its reputation as a hitter friendly ballpark in recent seasons. The Rog Mahal as some more clever than me have lovingly dubbed it, graded out as a bottom third run scoring environment in both 2015 and 2017.
This trend continued in 2018, when the Rogers Centre was only the 20th best run-scoring environment in baseball according to ESPN’s park factors. Baseball Prospectus, which breaks down its park factors by batter handedness, produced similar numbers – grading the Dome as the 23rd best park for left-handed hitters, and 20th for righties.
The Rogers Centre still grades out as a good place to hit home runs – but for some reason, after serving as a hitter’s paradise for many years, overall hits and run scoring have beeen down at the park in three of the last four seasons, including in 2018. Speaking of the Rogers Centre…
Attendance was Still Pretty Good
The Blue Jays drew more fans than any losing team other than the San Francisco Giants. And the Giants have garlic fries. (I’ve heard that AT&T Park is a bit nicer than the Rogers Centre, too) Despite a second non-competitive season in a row, the Jays still ranked fifth in the American League (thirteenth in the majors) in total attendance –ahead of playoff contenders in Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Arizona and the major market New York Mets and Texas Rangers. The Jays also ranked a respectable thirteenth in average attendance. All and all, 2,325,281 fans still made it down to the Rogers Centre this season.
Does this make it frustrating when you hear things about the Blue Jays’ front office or corporate ownership making decisions to save money or not re-invest in the team? It sure does. Is there anything fans can do to change this? It sure doesn’t seem like it.
Lead Photo Kim Klement USA TODAY SPORTS