Springer is back to doing what he does best

March 31st, 2024

This story was excerpted from Keegan Matheson's Blue Jays Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

There’s a lot of fluff in Spring Training, but over those six weeks, you stumble across a few nuggets that really matter.

One came on Feb. 22, when manager John Schneider was asked if would be the Blue Jays’ leadoff hitter in 2024 -- a fair question given his .327 on-base percentage and career-low slugging percentage (.405) the year prior.

“For Georgie, it’s about getting back to what he’s great at,” Schneider said. “Pulling the ball more is something he’s talking about.”

Then came the regular season.

Game 1? Home run to left field.

Game 2? Home run to left field.

Springer isn’t going to hit 50 homers, but the threat of power is so important to who he is as a hitter. Pitchers could attack the zone too comfortably last season. Springer wasn’t pulling the ball nearly as often or driving it as consistently. These were worrying signs for a 34-year-old hitter, particularly with three years remaining on a big contract, but suddenly he’s showing glimpses of the old George, the George we saw such brilliant flashes of in his shortened 2021 Blue Jays debut.

This is exactly what the Blue Jays need. It’s what they’ve been consciously trying to do, with Schneider saying on Opening Day that he’d like to see more “damage” from the top half of his lineup. It’s a tone shift from the 2023 season, when the message -- or many overlapping messages -- pointed to a broader, all-encompassing offensive approach.

It’s not as simple as swinging out of your boots on every swing, though.

“I wouldn’t say that I’m trying to do it, because then I feel like you’re not going to be as good of a hitter, as efficient of a hitter,” Springer said at Tropicana Field. “It’s about understanding your zone. It’s about understanding what you do well. If you get something to hit, hopefully you stick your ‘A’ swing on it.”

Midway through Springer’s last sentence, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. strolled out of the clubhouse doors 10 feet away and started to wave dramatically as he walked down the hallway.

“Bye, George! See you tomorrow, Georgie!”

They’re the 1-2 punch atop the lineup now, after Guerrero and Bo Bichette were flipped. Let’s give it a few weeks until we evaluate the order, but when these three hitters are at their best, they fit anywhere. Springer is really important to this lineup, though, especially when he’s setting the table.

The power is a fine start, but if that can scare pitchers back to the edges of the strike zone and pull Springer back closer to his .354 career on-base percentage, this lineup gets scary again.

“It’s huge. He starts it. When he’s going, we’re usually going pretty good,” Schneider said.

How this fits into the Blue Jays’ broader offensive strategy is important, too.

That message has been simplified in 2024, all flowing through offensive coordinator Don Mattingly. Offseason talks of “communication,” “transparency” and “accountability” have been difficult to drill down on, but a more straightforward plan for this lineup is a good starting point.

“Everyone’s on the same page,” Springer said. “Even when you don’t get a result, you’re still on the same page. Guys have a plan. Guys are attempting to execute and staying within the plan. Sometimes, it’s just not going to work out, but I think the biggest thing for me is that everyone understands what we need to do as a team. We’re trying to hit from there.”

This falls in line with how Schneider, Guerrero and others have described the new approach. It’s individualized to a point, understanding what each hitter is good at. The goal, in the most basic of terms, is to get the pitcher into each hitter’s sweet spot and then let it rip. This isn’t groundbreaking by any means, but it sounds a heck of a lot simpler than what we heard from this team in 2023. That’s a good thing.

Guerrero showed this on Opening Day, laying off almost every pitch that was off the heart of the plate and taking big, beautiful cuts at those that were. One of those turned into a 450-foot home run. Another turned into a deep fly ball to the warning track in center. At no point did Guerrero expand the zone and lunge at a slider, down and out of the zone, which we saw far too often in 2023.

One series isn’t nearly enough to establish an identity -- not even close -- but it’s helpful to have an example of what the Blue Jays are aiming for. If Springer keeps this up, getting there is even easier.