One big reason why Blue Jays are struggling at the plate

June 16th, 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.

TORONTO -- So many things about this season don't make sense for the Blue Jays.

There have been strange stretches, like when the Blue Jays went 29 games without scoring a run in the first inning and nearly made the wrong kind of history, but one issue that’s hung over this offense all season long has been its inability to launch hittable pitches. There simply hasn’t been enough power, especially when they’re getting meatballs.

We saw this again in Friday’s 3-1 loss to the Guardians to open their series in Toronto. The Blue Jays continue to miss too many pitches over the heart of the plate, which is why they’ve made so many starters with a 5-plus ERA look like a Cy Young Award candidate.

“We had like 25 pitches in the heart of the plate and we hit three of them hard,” manager John Schneider said. “We’ve got to get better at that.”

The numbers match the eye test. While the Blue Jays aren’t dead last in these categories, they’re still below average, which has been such a drain on this season. Looking at the names on this roster, Toronto should rank so much higher than it does.

Results: .299 AVG (17th in MLB)
Context: The league average is .302. The Dodgers and the Rockies lead MLB with a .327 average.

The Blue Jays also rank 17th in the league in slugging percentage on pitches over the heart of the plate (.509). Just like their batting average against those pitches, it is slightly below the league average (.524).

Hard-hit rate: 46.6% (26th in MLB)
Context: The league average is 49.2%. The Braves lead MLB at 56.0%.

This brings us to power, or “damage” if you prefer something more modern and vague. The Blue Jays need to hit more home runs, period. In the modern game, especially against top-end bullpens, good luck stringing together three base hits with any level of consistency.

Individual players: Let’s use Statcast’s Swing/Take metric for this one, which requires a bit of an explanation. This breaks down the value each hitter produces based on the zone, whether it’s over the heart of the plate, the “shadow” (edges of the plate) or chasing outside of the zone.

We’re focusing on the heart of the plate here, of course. Marcell Ozuna leads MLB with a run value of +20 on pitches over the heart of the plate and Aaron Judge comes in second with a run value of +15 on these pitches. As two of the hottest hitters on the planet, this tracks. This is a leaderboard that you want to be near the top of.

Well, this leaderboard isn’t kind to the Blue Jays.

Only Danny Jansen (+2) and Bo Bichette (+1) have a positive run value on pitches over the heart of the plate. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Davis Schneider both sit at even.

There are some hitters in the negative, including George Springer (-3), Kevin Kiermaier (-4) and Alejandro Kirk (-5), but the most glaring number comes from veteran DH Justin Turner. Out of 300 qualified hitters in MLB, Turner ranks 298th in this metric with a -13 run value on pitches over the heart of the plate. In Saturday’s 5-0 win over Cleveland, Turner was the Blue Jays’ cleanup hitter.

“Each guy is different. Do you need to prepare differently? Do you have to have a different mindset? That’s stuff we talk about all the time,” Schneider said. “We actually talked about it quite a bit this morning with the guys. Each guy is going to be different. For some, it’s mentality. For others, it’s actual physical work or prep. It’s a constant grind for coaches to try to give everyone what they need to get ready.”

An issue like this is so difficult to narrow down to a simple solution. It’s easy to say “hit the pitches over the heart of the plate”, but first, the Blue Jays need to understand why this is happening. Like Schneider says, that could mean 10 different answers for 13 hitters.

It’s necessary, though. The Blue Jays aren’t exactly facing their opponent’s ace every night, so they need to capitalize on these mistakes over the heart of the plate. These pitchers are helping Toronto by hanging pitches, but eventually, the Blue Jays need to help themselves.