The Blue Jays had a very talented team back in 2015 and 2016 when the last generation of this team was contending, but there will also some downfalls. Oddly enough, I think you could argue that today’s Blue Jays roster has similar issues.
Back in the Bautista/Encarnacion/Donaldson era for the Blue Jays they had one of the top offensive attacks in baseball. They were a powerful team that hit plenty of home runs, and it was a deep lineup to work with for then-manager John Gibbons.
Led by the two-time MLB home run champion in Jose Bautista, they also featured sluggers like Edwin Encarnacion, Josh Donaldson, Russell Martin, Troy Tulowitzki, and more. There weren’t many holes in the roster, however, they had a pretty similar weakness to the 2022 version of baseball’s only Canadian team.
Here’s an example of the type of lineup they would roll out, and what they used in Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS against the Texas Rangers.
1- Ben Revere (LF)
2- Josh Donaldson (3B)
3- Jose Bautista (RF)
4- Edwin Encarnacion (DH)
5- Chris Colabello (1B)
6- Troy Tulowitski (SS)
7- Russell Martin (C)
8- Kevin Pillar (CF)
9- Ryan Goins (2B)
See any similarities right off the bat? I know it’s not listed here, but for those that remember this team, or even most of these players, you’ll recall that all but two of them were right-handed hitters. Revere was acquired for the stretch run in part because he offered a different look from the left side, and also brought some speed to the top of the lineup as well. Otherwise the only lefty was Goins, who was a defence-first infielder who rounded things out at the bottom.
For comparison’s sake, here’s what the Blue Jays lineup looked like last night against the Cubs:
1- George Springer (CF)
2- Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (1B)
3- Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (LF)
4- Alejandro Kirk (DH)
5- Bo Bichette (SS)
6- Cavan Biggio (2B)
7- Matt Chapman (3B)
8- Raimel Tapia (RF)
9- Danny Jansen (C)
Like the 2015 version of the lineup, there were just two hitters from the left side. There are also plenty of nights where they have less than that as well, as both Santiago Espinal and Whit Merrifield factor into the rotation regularly, and both hit from the right side.
It’s not just the fact that both teams were heavy on right-hander hitters, it’s that both groups have also relied arguably too heavily on the long ball. I would argue that the “feast or famine” approach was part of the 2015-16 team’s undoing, especially once they reached the postseason, and there have been plenty of times throughout 2022 where it feels like we’re watching the same thing. That’s part of why I liked the acquisition of Whit Merrifield at this year’s deadline, although I’ll admit that he hasn’t hit very well at all so far as a Blue Jay.
What’s particularly frustrating with the current version of this team is that we’ve seen a lot of their hitters take a more balanced approach in the past, and have gotten away from it a bit in 2022. Without diving into the data, I’m sure most fans that regularly watch this team would tell you that the eye test is enough, and that the approach hasn’t been as balanced this year compared to what we saw last year. To varying degrees, I would argue that’s been the case for Hernandez, Bichette, Guerrero Jr., and more.
We’ve heard the Blue Jays’ broadcasters talk about how opposing pitchers can lock into an approach when they see so many righties, and especially when most of them have similar approaches, and even weaknesses. This season we’ve seen an increase in strikeouts, and especially on balls that have been rolled over for a weak ground ball to the left side.
What can the Blue Jays do about it? The current roster will have to continue to work on being more selective with the pitches they hit, and hopefully can make the necessary adjustments. As for the future, don’t be surprised if there’s a focus on a more balanced lineup as Ross Atkins and company look to the future.