Knuckleballs

Unpredictable, rare, and occasionally effective…but always entertaining.

The Blue Jays

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I watched these guys play five times in the last week, once as the home team in an NL ballpark against the Phillies and four times on TV against the Tribe (HOLLER SWEEP), and every night their lineup was awful.  On June 5, they were 33-24 and just 3.5 games behind Tampa Bay in the AL East and 2 behind the Yankees for the wild card.  Since then, they have gone  8-19 and are done.  They have eight players with over 200 at-bats, and it reads like an All-Star team:

Vernon Wells: 2.4 WAR

Alex Gonzalez: 2.2 WAR

Adam Lind: -1.3 WAR (yeah, it’s negative)

Lyle Overbay: 0.2 WAR

Jose Bautista: 2.1 WAR

Aaron Hill: -0.1 WAR

Fred Lewis: 0.3 WAR

John Buck: 1.4 WAR

There’s only one issue – the only thing these guys are good at is hitting home runs.  They lead the league in home runs (by almost 10 percent over the Red Sox) but are 28th in on-base percentage.  They have the 4th highest strikeout rate and a middle of the pack walk rate; on top of that, their team BABIP is 0.264, which is dead last and almost comically low.  They hit the most total fly balls and the most infield fly balls (which almost never go for hits) and as a result, the BABIP makes sense.  Still, it’s the lowest team BABIP in 20 years.  As a team, they are hitting only 0.237, which is better only than the Astros.

First, the good players…at least those that have played well so far.  Vernon Wells responded from some harsh criticism with his best season since 2007 and an All-Star berth.  His has a career high ISO matched by a career high HR/fly ball percentage; it’s also matched by a career high infield fly ball rate.  He’s swinging at everything and seeing fewer strikes than ever.  Enjoy it Toronto fans, because this isn’t going to last.  Alex Gonzalez has never been a good offensive player.  Sure he’s hit some home runs and plays a good enough shortstop to be passable, but this is only the second time in 12 seasons that he’s been an above average hitter.  His story pretty much matches that of Wells; he’s swinging at everything and hitting more home runs, but that’s about it.  Also at age 33, the Blue Jays should be shopping him hard to any contender that calls.

Jose Bautista has kicked around for awhile and pretty much always sucked.  In half a season this year though he’s got 21 home runs and a 0.360 OBP, easily the best in his career.  Again, Bautista’s fly ball percentage is up, but at the expense of his groundballs, not his line drives.  He also hasn’t been as hack-crazy as his aforementioned teammates; there’s no reason to think he can’t keep this going through the end of the year and end up with 35 or so home runs and close to 4 WAR.  John Buck was cast off by the Royals (yikes) after last season, but has proven to be a valuable piece to the Blue Jays.  His walk rate is at an all-time low, his OBP is barely 0.300, and his 0.274 batting average is BABIP-inflated.  Another easy sell opportunity, particularly given that one of the Blue Jays best prospects is J.P Arencibia, who is currently crushing at Triple-A.

Overbay and Lewis don’t really interest me, so I’m going to skip them.  Aaron Hill…Ooooohhhh, Aaron Hill.  He’s hitting 0.189.  He’s been worth 10 runs less than replacement hitting (yep, that’s 1 win).  He’s walking more than ever and striking out nearly as often,  but his BABIP is 0.183(!).  8.5% of the balls he’s hit have been line drives; that’s the lowest in the majors by almost 4 percent.  Unfortunately for him, those line drives have become fly balls and are not leaving the ballpark (he has the fourth highest flyball percentage in the majors).  He too is swinging at everything (do the Blue Jays have a hitting coach?) and it’s not working.  He wasn’t as good as he was last year when he hit 0.286 with 36 home runs and 37 doubles, and he’s not nearly this bad.  But for half of a season he’s been truly awful.

Lastly, we come to Adam Lind.  Lind played his first full season in 2009, hitting 0.305 with 35 home runs.  He was the 15th best hitter in baseball (as estimated by FanGraphs), tied with Matt Holliday and Shin-Soo Choo.  This year he’s lost 100 points from his batting average because…(bet you can’t guess) – he’s hitting more fly balls and swinging at more crap!  He’s being pitched basically the same way he was in 2009 (at least in terms of the pitches he’s seeing), but is striking out 50 percent more.  As a DH and occasional left fielder, his job is to hit, and he’s not doing it.  That’s a quick way to be worse than a replacement player.

By the way, someone named Dwayne Murphy is the Blue Jay hitting coach, and his claim to fame seems to be that he took a lot of pitches to let Rickey Henderson steal bases.  Good work, Dwayne.

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Written by Dan Hennessey

July 6, 2010 at 10:01 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

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