By Cole Shelton
Canadian Baseball Network
The Toronto Blue Jays have been known as a hitting team for years, as they employed the likes of Adam Lind, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson and others.
This year was supposed to be a step back in regards to hitting, but the Blue Jays do have a few big bats in Justin Smoak, Russell Martin (Montreal, Que.), Kendrys Morales, and Donaldson.
But even with four good solid hitters, who can hit the long ball, the Jays have struggled offensively and a big part of it is that none of the four are having good years at the plate. To make matters worse, Morales has gotten so bad that many fans want him off the roster completely.
But why are these big bats not producing? Well, one reason is that they are struggling to hit the curve ... just as the Jays diid in post-season play against the Cleveland Indians. They are in fact having trouble with all breaking balls (curve balls and sliders).
Donaldson, for example, hit the breaking ball for a .237 average last season, but in 2018, has a batting average of .196. While, Morales, who is having the worst season, has a .100 average against the breaking ball compared to .202 average last season.
Dropping .100 points in one season is bad and it's bad enough to have one player do it, but the Jays have three as Smoak is hitting .139 on breaking balls this season compared to a .237 average last year. Martin has also dropped over .100 points from .190 to .083 a drastic drop which has resulted in a bad start to the season for the 35-year-old Montreal native.
These four batters are also swinging and missing breaking balls at alarming rates. Donaldson is whiffing on 45.1% of breaking balls thrown to him, while Morales is whiffing at 44.2%. Although Smoak and Martin aren’t whiffing as bad as Donaldson and Morales, they are almost as bad, as Smoak is whiffing on 33.8% and Martin at 35.7%.
The whiff numbers may not seem that bad but, Donaldson was whiffing on just 29.2% of all breaking balls in 2017, while the other three were just a few points lower last season.
With all four whiffing on the breaking ball, all of Toronto’s big bats are struggling to hit the curve which has resulted in more breaking balls thrown at them and them reaching base less often. Partly due to the fact that they aren’t laying off the pitch either, as they are all swinging at over 40% of all breaking balls thrown to them.
“(But) a good breaking ball, nobody hits them anyway, that’s the thing. That’s the whole idea of that (pitch). Usually, guys learn to hit the breaking ball later in their careers", Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons told the Toronto Sun back in 2016.” “Most guys don’t ever hit a good breaking ball, you hit the hanging ones or the spinners, that’s when the guys do the damage.”
For years the Jays have had a problem with the curve. Even if most hitters never hit a good breaking ball, Toronto better find a way or this will become a problem as pitchers will throw breaking ball after breaking ball to the middle of the order to get them out fairly easily.
So how can the Blue Jays start hitting the breaking ball? Well, the answer is simple, don’t miss the fastball and they won’t have to deal with the breaking ball.
For now, however, Toronto is dealing with the breaking ball and it is causing major problems for the middle of the order and the whole lineup.
*All stats from baseball-savant