Thoughts from the booth: Offensive struggles continue for Blue Jays

Toronto Blue Jays' Billy McKinney, right, reacts after striking out against the Chicago White Sox for the final out of a baseball game Thursday, May 16, 2019. (Matt Marton/AP)

Every Friday, Blue Jays Talk host Scott MacArthur will weigh in with his observations on the Blue Jays from the past week.

It’s been a trying offensive season, Example No. 1:

The Blue Jays had two hits in their 43rd game of the season, a 4-2 loss to the White Sox on Thursday. The output marked the eighth time this season the Jays had three or fewer hits in a game and while these two numbers don’t apply to Thursday night’s tilt, they still stand out.

On 15 occasions this season, the Blue Jays have been held hitless in the first three innings of a game and of those, on 10 occasions, the Blue Jays have been held hitless in the first four innings of a game.

It’s been a trying offensive season, Example No. 2:

What would we do without great sites like Baseball Reference and Fangraphs? For the purpose of this point, I turn to the former.

The Blue Jays’ Top-12 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) players according to Baseball Reference (bWAR) include eight pitchers and four position players.

Here they are:

1. Matt Shoemaker (1.1bWAR)

2. Marcus Stroman (1.0bWAR)

3. Ken Giles (0.9bWAR)

4. Eric Sogard (0.8bWAR)

5. Sam Gaviglio (0.7bWAR)

6. Aaron Sanchez (0.6bWAR)

7. Randal Grichuk (0.6bWAR)

8. Trent Thornton (0.5bWAR)

9. Joe Biagini (0.4bWAR)

10. Freddy Galvis (0.4bWAR)

11. Richard Urena (0.4bWAR)

12. Tim Mayza (0.3bWAR)

Where on this list is Justin Smoak, you ask? He’s playing to a replacement level, a 0.0bWAR, mostly because Baseball Reference doesn’t like his defence so far this season.

Also, what about Vladdy Jr.? He’s a 0.2bWAR through 16 games with the metric crediting his defence for that two-tenths of a victory.

A couple of immediate thoughts when I look at this list:

Firstly, Eric Sogard didn’t arrive until April 16 and has, for the most part, played through hamstring tightness, and leads Jays’ position players in bWAR. Also, for as good as Sogard’s been, regression is beckoning based on his career statistics. If he comes down, surely others will regress upward … Right?

Secondly, while I’ve liked Richard Urena when he’s played in big-league games this season, he hasn’t played in enough of them (11) to make his presence on this list anything more than a reflection of how bad almost everything else has been.

It’s been a trying offensive season, Example No. 3:

After his four-strikeout game on Wednesday afternoon in San Francisco, the Blue Jays couldn’t wait any longer. Teoscar Hernandez, acquired from Houston for Francisco Liriano near the trade deadline in 2017, has taken a significant step back off a 22-home run 2018 season. He’s been sent to Triple-A Buffalo to figure things out.

We’ll see if he does, but let’s also remember this 2019 season is about finding out what Hernandez, and guys in similar situations to Hernandez’s, will or won’t be for this franchise when it’s good again.

Teoscar can hit the heck out of the baseball, using today’s lingo he can “barrel” it, and this is the main issue. It’s just not happening for him. Per Statcast, Hernandez is in the 48th percentile (the bottom half) of all big leaguers for exit velocity and he’s in the 32nd percentile for hard contact. His expected batting average, expected on-base average and expected slugging percentage are even lower.

The demotion didn’t sneak up on Hernandez. With guys like Urena, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Cavan Biggio performing at Buffalo, there were alternatives and as is so often the case, the dominoes that portend demotion began to fall. He began the season hitting third or fourth in the lineup, then he was dropped to fifth, sixth or seventh, which was followed by decreased playing time, which was followed by the decision to send him down.

This means more outfield playing time for Brandon Drury. I’d also advocate for more consistent playing time for Billy McKinney in the weeks ahead in order to better assess him. That’s what this year is about, isn’t it?

It’s been a trying offensive season, Example No. 4:

Another name to keep an eye on is Danny Jansen. This isn’t because he’s on the Gurriel-Hernandez path, necessarily, rather there’s almost nothing coming off his bat. It’s true, given he’s a catcher, Jansen has been told to focus on working with the Blue Jays’ pitchers and his defence. He may also be dealing with the nicks and bruises which come from playing such a demanding position. Still, it’s clear in my mind how often Charlie Montoyo said in spring training Jansen would catch the majority of games. Luke Maile, Jansen’s backup, has been prominent relative to expectation and Jansen’s lack of offensive output is the reason.

There’s nobody pushing Jansen from below. Reese McGuire, who dipped his toes in big league waters as a September call up last year, is hitting .225 with a .603 OPS at Buffalo.

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