The Blue Jays’ offense is terrific, but could it be “baseball hasn’t seen this in 85 years” terrific?
RBIs aren’t as popular as they used to be, but they’re proving pretty popular in Toronto. The Blue Jays’ high-octane lineup already features an MLB-high five sluggers with 70 or more RBIs before the end of August: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (89), Teoscar Hernández (84), Bo Bichette (77), Randal Grichuk (74) and Marcus Semien (73). A very hot September by Bichette, Grichuk and Semien could give Toronto five 100-RBI sluggers in a single season.
That sounds like a lot, right? It very much is. Here’s the entire list of Modern Era (since 1900) AL/NL teams that featured five different hitters with 100-plus RBIs: The 1936 Yankees and … that’s it. That’s the whole list.
The 1927 Murderers’ Row Yankees didn’t have five 100-RBI guys. Neither did any of the Big Red Machine teams, nor any of the recent Astros powerhouses. These 2021 Blue Jays really have a shot (an outside shot, but a shot nonetheless) to become the first club with this kind of base-clearing production since the end of FDR’s first term.
Those Blue Jays totals are courtesy of ZiPS’ adjusted projections for the rest of the year, which has Toronto’s quintet right on the cusp. History buffs will recognize four Hall of Famers out of those five Yankees (including DiMaggio in his rookie year). The ‘36 Yanks won 102 games, averaged nearly 6.9 runs per contest (third highest in AL/NL history) and outscored opponents by 334 runs (fourth most in AL/NL history). Guerrero (age 22) and Bichette (23) are off to historic starts, so maybe we’ll look back at this young Blue Jays core with Cooperstown glasses. For now, Gehrig and DiMaggio are still Gehrig and DiMaggio, and we’re not making a one-to-one comparison between those Bronx Bombers and these Blue Jays -- even if Toronto joins them with five 100-RBI guys.
If the Blue Jays fall a little short of those Yankees, they could still very well have five 90-RBI hitters -- and that’s rare, too. The Majors haven’t seen a club do that since 2007, and it's happened only five total times since the turn of the millennium.
Teams with five 90-RBI hitters, since 2000
2007 COL: Garrett Atkins | Brad Hawpe | Todd Helton | Matt Holliday | Troy Tulowitzki
2007 NYY: Bobby Abreu | Robinson Canó | Hideki Matsui | Jorge Posada | Alex Rodriguez
2002 NYY: Jason Giambi | Jorge Posada | Alfonso Soriano | Robin Ventura | Bernie Williams
2000 ANA: Garret Anderson | Darin Erstad | Troy Glaus | Tim Salmon | Mo Vaughn
2000 CWS: Paul Konerko | Carlos Lee | Magglio Ordóñez | Frank Thomas | José Valentín
MLB teams averaged roughly 4.6 RBIs per game in 2007, and they haven’t averaged that many in any season since. Clubs rely more on home runs and less on singles, doubles and triples to score now, with RBIs taking a hit in the process. This year’s Blue Jays entered Sunday with 186 homers (tied with the Giants for the Major League lead), so they’re certainly no exception.
But Toronto is also batting .277 with runners in scoring position (second only to the Astros), proving itself versatile in situational hitting. Hernández (second), Bichette (T-fourth), Guerrero (T-eighth) and Grichuk (T-12th) all ranked among MLB’s leaders in RISP hits. The Blue Jays are tied for baseball’s sixth highest on-base percentage, and yet they have the fourth-lowest total of runners left on base. Hernández is especially hot, leading AL hitters with 36 RBIs since the All-Star break.
At age 30, Semien is the oldest member of Toronto’s power quintet, meaning the Blue Jays could become the first Modern Era AL/NL team with five 100-RBI hitters all age-30 or younger (the 1925 Pirates are currently the only club with even four). The same history holds true if the Blue Jays have to “settle” for five 90-RBI sluggers.
Four of the Blue Jays’ big five run producers are under club control through 2023 (Semien is a free agent this winter), and George Springer -- on a 100-plus-RBI pace himself in his injury-shortened season -- is in Year 1 of a six-year deal. When it comes to making history, the future is now for the Blue Jays. But Toronto is also hoping to avoid the fate of the 2000 Angels, the only one of the five 21st century teams with five 90-RBI hitters referenced above that failed to make the postseason.
The Blue Jays offense is a force ahead of schedule. Their pitchers need to help them cash in.