Grim: The Blue Jays in early May by the numbers
The Jays have hit seven homers in May, so here are seven numbers that encapsulate the depth of their offensive struggles so far this month.
It’s entirely possible that we’ll look back on the first two weeks of May at the end of the Blue Jays’ season and have a laugh at just how bad things got before they turned around. Frankly, at this point I’d still bet that we will.
But one can only be so cheery when wasting hours every night watching our expectations being destroyed by sub-mediocrity. The Blue Jays are a mess right now, and it all starts with a lineup that over and over and over lately has been shooting blanks. There’s no point in trying not to acknowledge it. And while it might be a little bit fun, in an academic sort of way, to watch for the subtle changes Blue Jays are making to try to get themselves out of this funk, it would be a whole hell of a lot more fun if they simply stopped sucking!
Just how bad has it been? That’s what we’re going to explore in this piece, as we take a look at seven mind-bendingly awful numbers from the Jays’ first two weeks of May — one for each of their mere seven home runs in the month so far — the second worst mark in the majors — in what so far has been an abysmal 4-9 stretch for the club.
THE BATFLIP is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
We’ll start with the one that inspired this post, which you may have noticed me talking about on Twitter on Monday morning. The Blue Jays, as a team, had a wRC+ of just 66 last week. Worse, it was their second straight week with a pretty severe decline, and part of an overall downward trend since they came out firing on all cylinders against the Rangers to open the season.
This isn’t an unheard of mark for a big league club — or even for the Jays in the Vlad era, who have twice (April 2021 and August 2020) had worse weeks. It’s not the worst week by a big league team this season, and it wasn’t even the worst mark by a team last week. The lousy Rays managed just a 53 wRC+, yet still managed to beat the Jays twice! Ugh.
Still, for a team with the kinds of ambitions and expectations that the Jays have, and that relies on its offence to paper over some of the rosters other flaws, it’s pretty horrific.
The Jays may not be coming off the worst week any club has had so far this year, but this hasn’t been just a one-week swoon. The first week of May saw them produce a wRC+ of just 81, which means that to date so far for the month as a whole they have a wRC+ of 72. Their OPS for the month is a pathetic .588.
The data available in FanGraphs’ splits tool only goes back to 2002. The Blue Jays have played 119 baseball months1 since then. And while there have been a few worse months for the Jays by wRC+ over that span, because of changes to the offensive environment over time (things like pitchers throwing harder, PED use being curbed, Rob Manfred’s desiccated balls, etc.), which wRC+ accounts for and OPS doesn’t, the Jays’ .588 OPS in May 2022 ranks 119th among those. The worst offensive month in Blue Jays history relative to actually watching offence!
There’s still time left in the month to change that, of course, but man alive.
Speaking of Rob Manfred’s sickly balls, whatever MLB has done to the baseball this season cannot possibly have had the commissioner’s office’s desired effect — a wholly unsurprising outcome given the bumbling crew of ghouls who only care about wealth extraction that own the sport.
Offence is noticeably down, even knowing that the early months of the season are generally quite pitcher-friendly. The league average slash line through May 15th in 2021 was .236/.312/.393, while this year it's .234/.307/.376. That maybe doesn't seem a whole lot different, but the twenty points of slugging percentage certainly add up. There's one way we can see it quite clearly: home run to fly ball rate (HR/FB%).
Quite simply, this stat tells us the percentage of fly balls that end up going for home runs. Last season the league average number was 13.6% — down from 14.8% in 2020 and 15.3% in 2019. Last year, through May 15th, the league homered on 13.3% of fly balls hit. This year that number is just 10.4%.
For the Jays, in May in particular, the dead ball has been a huge problem — which certainly will feel true to anyone who has been watching. Last year the Jays led the majors with a 15.8% HR/FB rate. In April of this year they were second to the Yankees with a 14.5% rate. And in May? Only Oakland has a worse mark than the Jays' 6.3% rate. (Matt Chapman, Alejandro Kirk, Zack Collins, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and Santiago Espinal have been especially below average in this regard).
Blue Jays fly balls have simply not been leaving the yard. Thanks, Manfred!
This number represents the Blue Jays’ wOBA as a team against breaking balls so far in the month of May, and it’s the second worst mark of any team in the majors. In April, the Jays did a rather good job against them, posting a wOBA of .297 and ranking sixth.
It’s not easy to tell what, if anything, has changed to make the team so susceptible to breaking stuff at the moment, but there are some interesting things to consider here.
For one, the Jays are simply expanding their strike zones and chasing too much.
In the month of May they rank sixth in the majors, and second in the AL (behind only Baltimore), in terms of pitches swung at in the "chase" attack zone as defined by Statcast (basically pitches to the area just beyond the borderlines of the strike zone). Their .119 wOBA on these swings is in the middle of the pack relative to the rest of the league, but the fact that the numbers are so low tell you that it's still a terrible idea to be swinging at these pitches.
The Jays have also seen an inordinate amount of cutters so far this month — 14%, which is tops in the league by over three percentage points. This may simply be a function of the players on their opponents' rosters more than any particular strategy, but they're faring poorly enough against the pitch (.295 wOBA, 15th ranked) that it's working like one. And one wonders if maybe facing cutter-heavy guys (including Nestor Cortes, Jameson Taillon, Aaron Civale, Drew Rasmussen, and Ryan Yarbrough) is affecting their ability to pick up breaking stuff more than when they're facing guys with straighter fastballs.
Whatever it is, they’re going to want to figure this out!
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is hardly the guy to single out in a piece like this, as he has a 118 wRC+ for the month and is currently on a 12 game hitting streak. But I was poking around the data at Props.cash — player prop research made easy! — and noticed something pretty remarkable about the nature of his streak. Vlad may be doing something every day, but he hasn’t been the kind of force at the plate you might expect from a guy who is on a run like this. Vlad’s produced just 18 total bases over the course of his 12 game streak — something you can see hilariously clearly in the below chart of his last ten games.
I’m not going to turn up my nose at a guy hitting a single every day — lord knows the Jays can use it — but that certainly gives some visual context to how it can feel like Vlad’s scuffling despite being on one of the longer hit streaks of his career.
(Worth noting: One way Vlad could turn that feeling around in a hurry would be to stop swinging so much at pitches outside the zone! Normally controlling the zone is a strength of his, but this month he’s swung at 42% of the pitches he’s seen outside of it! Swinging at bad pitches like that has also likely helped result in his producing a -1.0° launch angle for the month, which is obviously not ideal. Are the stupid umpires in his head or something???)
I’m being a bit tricky with this one. The number .255 is not actually a Blue Jays stat. It’s actually the New York Yankees’ BABIP in the first two weeks of May. The Jays have produced a very similar .253 BABIP, and yet the results for these teams otherwise couldn’t be more different.
New York has a 117 wRC+ to Toronto’s 72.
New York has a 10.9% walk rate to Toronto's 7.6% mark — though their strikeout rates are remarkably similar, at 20.0% and 20.1% respectively.
New York has been a half run better on the base paths, according to FanGraphs' metric.
Importantly, New York has 20 home runs to the Jays' seven — game-changing hits that don't count as balls in play.
In other words, while BABIP can be useful in ways, it can't just be a catch-all for bad luck. Teams can still be very successful despite having a low BABIP — whether that's because of good luck, home runs, or whatever else. The Yankees even have underperformed their expected stats so far this month by a greater degree than the Jays have. They rank 28th in MLB by wOBA-xwOBA, according to Statcast. The Jays rank 26th.
This isn’t to say that the Jays haven’t been a bit snakebitten of late, but there really is something very off about the quality of their at bats and of the balls they are managing to put in play — even though they remain among the league leaders in average exit velocity.
Maddening, isn't it?
Blue Jays hitters have come to the plate 458 times so far in the month of May. Over 40% of those plate appearances have gone to Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (49), Matt Chapman (48), Raimel Tapia (35), Teoscar Hernández (28), Zack Collins (17), Bradley Zimmer (13), and Tyler Heineman (8).
Not a single one of those players has a wRC+ for the month over 24! Twenty-four!!!!
Now please someone tell those guys that this was a classic TV sketch from the 90s and not real life!
Here’s what these disastrous wRC+ marks look like by individual.
Add in George Springer's 46 PA at 72 wRC+ these last two weeks and it's no wonder the guys with their heads above water — Espinal (147), Bichette (127), Guerrero (118), and Kirk (109) — haven't been able to carry this team to more victories.
I know these are small sample numbers. I know that Teoscar is coming off an injury, Chapman has had some bad luck, and Lourdes can be much better. I know this doesn't tell us much about why we're here. But good lord! Of the 386 players to have taken at least 10 PA so far this month, the Jays have four of the worst 30 by wRC+. And the plate appearance leader among that group (Gurriel). Yeesh!
⚾ Be sure to follow me on Twitter // Follow the Batflip on Facebook // Want to support without going through Substack? You could always send cash to firstname.lastname@example.org on Paypal or via Interac e-Transfer. I assure you I won’t say no. ⚾
These aren’t exactly calendar months we’re talking about, as rare March and October regular season games get lumped in with April and September respectively.