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5 Statcast storylines for '17 Blue Jays

MLB.com

As the 2017 season begins, so does the third season of Statcast™, the state-of-the-art technology that has tracked every play in every Major League ballpark since Opening Day 2015. And with two full seasons of data now collected, plus advances in applying that data, Statcast™ is better than ever. New metrics, such as Catch Probability and Hit Probability, will provide a deeper layer of analysis and further our understanding of the game.

With that in mind, here are five Statcast™ facts to know about the Blue Jays heading into the 2017 season.

As the 2017 season begins, so does the third season of Statcast™, the state-of-the-art technology that has tracked every play in every Major League ballpark since Opening Day 2015. And with two full seasons of data now collected, plus advances in applying that data, Statcast™ is better than ever. New metrics, such as Catch Probability and Hit Probability, will provide a deeper layer of analysis and further our understanding of the game.

With that in mind, here are five Statcast™ facts to know about the Blue Jays heading into the 2017 season.

1. AIR ASSAULT: Few in baseball hit the ball harder than Josh Donaldson, who ranked eighth last season in average exit velocity (93.1 mph) among those who put at least 300 balls in play. But Donaldson is especially dangerous when he lifts the ball. On fly balls and line drives, he averaged 97.8 mph, ranking third in MLB.

Hardest average exit velocity on FB/LD, 2016
Minimum 300 total batted balls
1. Nelson Cruz: 99.2 mph
2. Khris Davis: 98.0 mph
3. Josh Donaldson: 97.8 mph
4. David Ortiz: 97.3 mph
5. Miguel Cabrera: 97.1 mph

2. ON TOP OF IT: Considering that Marcus Stroman led all qualified pitchers in ground-ball rate last season (60.1 percent), it's no surprise that he also rates well in terms of getting hitters to "top" the ball -- in other words, pound it into the ground, where it can do little damage. Stroman's "topped" rate of 49 percent ranked second out of pitchers who faced at least 500 batters last season, just ahead of teammate Aaron Sanchez.

Highest "topped" ball rate for pitchers, 2016
Minimum 500 batters faced
1. Luis Perdomo: 50 percent
2. Marcus Stroman: 49 percent
3. Aaron Sanchez: 45 percent

4. Jaime Garcia: 45 percent
5. Carlos Martinez: 44 percent

3. GO GET IT: Highlight plays in center field are regular occurrences for Kevin Pillar, who made seven catches classified as 5-star catches and 12 classified as 4-star catches in 2016. That's based on Statcast™'s new Catch Probability metric, which grades each play on a 1-5 scale. When it came to the two most difficult categories -- those with a Catch Probability of no greater than 50 percent -- Pillar's 19 successful plays represented one of the highest totals in MLB.

Video: BAL@TOR: Pillar races at 18.9 mph for catch

Most 4-5 star catches, 2016
1. Adam Eaton: 30
2. Billy Hamilton: 24
3. Ender Inciarte: 21
4-T. Jake Marisnick: 20
4-T. Leonys Martin: 20
6. Kevin Pillar: 19
7-T. Jackie Bradley Jr.: 17
7-T. Kevin Kiermaier: 17
9-T. Jason Heyward: 15
9-T. Adam Duvall: 15
9-T. Ian Desmond: 15

4. NOT SO LUCKY: The Blue Jays signed Kendrys Morales this offseason, coming off a solid year in which he posted a .795 OPS for the Royals. However, based on the exit velocities and launch angles of each of his batted balls, Statcast™ estimates that Morales should have posted a .941 OPS. While some of that negative gap -- the largest in MLB -- may be due to Morales' lack of foot speed, it's also possible he was a victim of some bad luck.

Largest gap between estimated vs. actual 2016 OPS
Minimum 400 PA
1. Kendrys Morales: -.147 (.941 vs. .795)
2. Miguel Cabrera: -.142 (1.098 vs. .956)
3. Albert Pujols: -.114 (.894 vs. .780)
4. Joe Mauer: -.093 (.844 vs. .752)
5. Seth Smith: -.089 (.847 vs. .758)

Video: KC@DET: Morales launches his 30th home run 433 feet

5. CIRCLE THE BASES: Last Aug. 27 at Rogers Centre, Melvin Upton Jr. slapped a base hit that got past Twins right fielder Max Kepler, who had trouble picking up the ball once he chased it down. As a result, Upton was free to fly around the bases, a trip he made in a mere 14.85 seconds for what was ruled a triple plus an error. That was the fifth-fastest home-to-home time of the Statcast™ Era and the second fastest by anyone in 2016.

Fastest home-to-home times, 2016
1. Byron Buxton: 14.05 seconds (inside-the-park HR)
2. Melvin Upton Jr: 14.85 seconds (triple + error)
3. Brett Gardner: 14.89 seconds (triple + out at home)
4. Dansby Swanson: 14.97 seconds (inside-the-park HR)
5. Chris Owings: 15.08 seconds (triple + out at home)

Video: MIN@TOR: Upton rounds bases at 20 mph for lead

Andrew Simon is a research analyst for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.

Toronto Blue Jays, Josh Donaldson, Melvin Upton Jr., Kendrys Morales, Kevin Pillar, Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman