Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Patience remains Blue Jays' bugaboo

Some of the players have changed over the last three years, but one constant remains for the Toronto Blue Jays. They hate taking walks. Of course, they are not hitting all that well either this season and perhaps the two facts go hand in hand. They are eleventh of fourteen AL teams in batting average and on-base percentage. The on-base thing has been a problem for three straight years now. How much better could this team be if they could grind out more plate appearances?

When John Farrell was brought in as manager last season, it was thought that the culture would change a bit in the approach at the plate. After all, he was the pitching coach for the Red Sox and saw first hand what breaking down starting pitchers could do for his team. But the numbers are the same under Farrell as they were under the "see the ball, hit the ball" approach of Cito Gaston. In 2010, the team's on-base percentage was .312. Last year it was .317. This year, it is .311. Those figures have been a big drag on any consistency for this offense.

Who are the biggest offenders on this team? J.P Arencibia is one of the main culprits. You have to like his power and he seems to be improving as a catcher, but he isn't learning the strike zone. Arencibia has walked six times all season. That is a 3.5 percent walk rate. Ugh! He swings at 37.9 percent of a all pitches outside the strike zone. It is not surprising, then, that his OBP is .265.

Brett Lawrie's walk rate is kind of strange. He seems to have a better sense of the strike zone than his catcher. He swings at 30.6 percent of pitches outside the strike zone. And yet, he has only walked eight times this season, a 3.8 percent walk rate. Because of that, despite batting, .281, his on-base percentage is only .317. Sites give him the highest WAR on the team because of his defense and overall play, but how much better could he be if he could add walks to his arsenal? It's all the more puzzling since he walked at a 9.4 percent rate last season.

Rajai Davis swings at nearly everything. He has swung at over 40 percent of all non-strikes. Despite his "aggressiveness," he has at least walked seven times in his few at bats and has a walk rate of 8.5 percent. But if he keeps swinging, that will only go down. Yan Gomes in his brief visit was the only Blue Jays' batter that swung more. His O-swing rate was over 44 percent.

Eric Thames has a walk rate of only 5.8 percent. He has walked nine times this season. And thus, his on-base percentage is .288. Obviously, that is not good enough. Yunel Escobar only has a 6.9 percent walk rate and his OBP is .308.

Of the regulars, only Jose Bautista and Kelly Johnson have walk rates over ten percent. Both are over twelve percent and it shows in their OBP. Johnson's on-base average is .344 despite batting .250 and Bautista's OBP is at .332 despite his .226 batting average. Edwin Encarnacion has a decent on-base percentage of .348, which leads the team despite the fact that he walks 8.7 percent of the time.

There is optimism in where the Toronto Blue Jays are heading. They have stockpiled talent and have been really smart with roster moves. They seem to be going in the right direction. But this on-base percentage thing has to become a new emphasis in their culture. The teams ahead of them in the AL East are very good at wearing down pitchers which is one of the reasons that the Blue Jays' pitching staff has given up the most walks in the American League. The Blue Jays need to see this reality and modify their approach. If their batters cannot do so, then future roster moves need to keep this in mind.

1 comment:

Thomas Slocum said...

I'd agree that patience can be a team culture sort of thing, but much of that comes from the top (upper management). Among the good-hitting regulars on the Yankees (which describes most of the line-up) only Robinson Cano might be considered a free-swinger. However even he will, at worst, boast an OBP 40 points or so over his batting average (of course it helps that his average is generally in the .300 area or above). Robby, who is unquestionably the best hitter on the team, also offers high caliber run-producing ability and a top notch glove at his position so his more aggressive plate approach (comparatively speaking) is an insignificant negative, if it's a negative at all.
His most notable predecessor, Alfonso Soriano, offered at least as much power and much more base stealing ability in those younger days. But he rarely saw (or recognized) a pitch he didn't think he could hit (and of course he couldn't carry Robby's glove, or any other ML second-baseman's for that matter). While the popular opinion for his departure has seemingly been his post-season woes, I'm convinced that his failure to develop any patience was even more responsible (that culture thing). Of course one can't lose sight of the fact that, in selling Soriano high, the Yanks were able to bring A-Rod aboard. While Alex is hardly the most popular player on the team among fans or in the clubhouse (one insider who shall remain nameless says he's the LEAST popular in that environment) and he's rarely been worth his mega-salary (and never will be again), the fact remains that over-paying A-Rod vs. over-paying Alfonso is a happier place to be (even Theo, maybe most notably Theo, would have to agree).