The Blue Jays’ Offensive Struggles Have Carried Over to 2024

The Blue Jays front office was betting on internal production returning in 2024 and so far, the gamble is not paying off to start the season.

TORONTO, ON - September 14 After a disastrous 8th inning, the Jays dugout got very quiet including Bo Bichette (left) and George Springer (second from left) The Toronto Blue Jays lost to the Texas Rangers 9-2 in MLB baseball action at the Rogers Centre. September 14 2023 (Richard Lautens/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Last season, the Toronto Blue Jays finished towards the middle of the pack in almost every offensive category. It was a step back from what Jays fans were used to seeing at the Rogers Centre, with the Blue Jays routinely considered a power threat in recent memory boasting the likes of Marcus Semien and Teoscar Hernández to complement the core group of younger players since 2019.

In 2023, the Blue Jays struggled to find offensive production from some of their key players, including Vladimir Guerrero Jr., George Springer, Alejandro Kirk, and Matt Chapman, with the latter signing with the San Francisco Giants this past offseason.

Only two players posted an OPS above .800, one being Bo Bichette (.814) while the other was veteran Brandon Belt (.859), who is still a free agent with the season already underway. The likes of Springer and Kirk finished the season with OPS+ values that flirted with the average 100 line while newcomer Daulton Varsho struggled at the plate, posting a team-low 85 OPS+ on the season.

While Guerrero finished with a 117 OPS+, the right-handed batter saw a reduction in his power at the plate, crushing just 26 homers. Those 26 knocks may have led the team last year but it paled in comparison to the 32 he put up in 2022 and the 48 he collected the year before, with the Montreal-born slugger unable to hit his first home run at the Rogers Centre until late June.

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Blue Jays have carried over offensive struggles into 2024

As the page flips over into a new season, the Blue Jays pitching staff looks familiar minus one or two arms while the Opening Day lineup has some notable veterans missing from last season, including Chapman, Belt, and Whit Merrifield.

While fans were clamouring for the Jays to add multiple bats this winter, Ross Atkins and co. brought back the defensive-minded Kevin Kiermaier and also signed the versatile Isiah Kiner-Falefa to a two-year pact. Both players help from a defensive standpoint but neither stands out historically with their bat, with Kiermaier producing a 104 OPS+ last year while IKF has never hit above the average, the highest total OPS+ total of 93 coming back during the condensed 2020 season.

Atkins did add one bat-first player in Justin Turner, who comes with over 16 years of MLB experience while routinely posting an OPS over the .800 mark, but stopping at one addition for this lineup was a risky move after last season’s struggles, although it was endorsed by the front office.

“We feel like last year was just a blip in terms of run-scoring,” Atkins told reporters this past winter. “It was an outlier over the past four years, and we’re optimistic… Now, having said that, we’re not going to rest on that. Now, we’re focused on improving our process. The league has adjusted to us. We need to adjust back.”

It was a risky move to not take advantage of the open market, one that included offensive-minded players like J.D. Martinez, Cody Bellinger, Rhys Hoskins, and Jorge Soler. An argument could be made for each player listed above and how they could have improved the Blue Jays offence this season, with various levels of salary commitment required depending on the player in question.

The Jays instead added more coaches to the roster and changed some titles around, giving Don Mattingly the title of offensive coordinator while sending Dave Hudgens down to Dunedin. The club also brought back DeMarlo Hale to the bench while promoting Triple-A hitting coach Matt Hague to the big league staff, a supported move for a guy who helped a lot of the younger players like Ernie Clement and Davis Schneider last year.

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Signing Turner to a one-year deal was a positive sign for improving the offence but it didn’t seem like enough for a Jays squad that has to contend with playing in one of the tougher divisions in the Major Leagues.

Additionally, almost every divsion rival of the Jays seemed to get better, with the Yankees acquiring Juan Soto and Alex Verdugo while the Boston Red Sox added Tyler O’Neill, who currently leads the league with his .857 SLG and 1.346 OPS. The Orioles don’t have to add any bats given their plus prospect depth and the Rays just continuously find ways to win games with contributions coming from across the entire lineup (and a top prospect in Junior Caminero waiting to make the jump as well).

While the season is just 12 games in for the Blue Jays, the early signs are not pointing in favour of the in-house gamble when it comes to offensive production.

The Blue Jays currently rank 20th in OBP (.308), 23rd in SLG (.344) and OPS (.652), and 25th in batting average (.212), finding themselves towards the back end in every slash line category. Power-wise, they are tied with six different teams for home runs (11) while ranking collectively at 19th overall but on a positive note, their 23 doubles have them on the right side of the top ten rankings, slotting in at #7 alongside the Baltimore Orioles, Chicago White Sox, and Texas Rangers.

The Jays rank 17th in fWAR (1.1) and wRC+ (95) while ranking 28th in BABIP with a paltry .252 value, just nine points ahead of the Miami Marlins and 13 points ahead of the Minnesota Twins who rank dead last. Toronto has also struggled to cash runners in scoring position, generating just 33 runs (ranked 23rd) while posting a .211/.339/.284 slash line with a .623 OPS. They keep generating walks when runners are on second or third base, ranking sixth with 17 free passes, but they have yet to translate those opportunities into runs, routinely leaving the bases loaded over the past week in New York and against Seattle. This is another carry-over from last season as well.

Looking at the past schedule, the Jays were able to take two wins in Tampa Bay when the offense decided to show up but the club got embarrassed in Houston, producing just two runs across three games while getting shut out twice, one of which being a no-hitter at the hands of right-hander Ronel Blanco. The Jays bats put together a strong performance in New York’s home opener and even in the second game, although they could only muster one win against the Yankees before taking things home. At the Rogers Centre, the bats combined for 11 runs across the three-game series against the Seattle Mariners, securing their first series win of the season who enter today with a 6-7 record.

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Looking at the Blue Jays roster

Roster-wise, the two newest additions are putting forth the best offensive stats on the squad, with Turner leading the team in every slash line category and boasting a 1.026 OPS. Kiner-Falefa has even found his swing with Toronto to start the year, posting a .313 average and a .764 OPS through 32 at-bats. Another bright spot on the club is Cavan Biggio, whose .841 OPS sits second on the team behind Turner and is one of only four players on the team who has ten or more hits through the club’s 13 games this season (Turner, Guerrero and IKF join him).

Guerrero leads the team in home runs with his three round-trippers but he’s struggled to put the ball in play with consistency, posting a .200 average with a .742 OPS to boot. His eye at the plate has been a plus, generating eight walks so far this season, but he also has 12 strikeouts on the year through 50 at-bats. Guerrero is not alone in the slow start to the season, with multiple core roster players struggling to find a groove at the plate.

Alejandro Kirk12410600747.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr.1350710235812.200.322.420.742115
Bo Bichette11444941549.205.286.364.64989
Daulton Varsho133866100410.
Kevin Kiermaier113123002314.
George Springer13516922498.176.300.333.63385
Provided by View Original Table

So far this year, Kiermaier and Kirk have yet to find any consistency at the plate although Kirk has produced some better at-bats as of late. Varsho and Springer are also off to slow starts to start the campaign although the Jays right-fielder has produced some timely home runs that have helped the club early this season, just again without any consistency and not early in the game.

Bo Bichette battled some neck soreness to start the season which likely could have played a hand in his slow start and awkward at-bats. Over his last seven games, he has started to create some more competitive plate appearances and is starting to hit the ball to the opposite field, which is what you want from the Jays right-handed batter.

On a positive note, the Jays bench has gotten off to a hot start with Schneider and Clement starting to force the Blue Jays coaching staff to pencil them into more games. Schneider already has a game-winning home run under his belt when the offense stalled in Houston and has the third-best OPS on the team (.837). Both players have home runs this season, which can’t be said yet for Varsho, Kirk, and Kiermaier. This has been a sticking point for the Blue Jays fanbase, as both Clement and Schneider are seeing less playing time compared to some of their teammates who are struggling to put the ball in play.

After Schneider’s home run against Houston, he sat the next day due to right-hander Cristian Javier being on the mound for Houston, an analytical move that was part of the Blue Jays plan to start the season that has yet to be altered even with the results on the field being less than desirable with some of the regulars struggling out of the gate. Even left-handed power hitter Daniel Vogelbach, who was brought in to play against right-handed pitchers, has two hits and three walks through 12 plate appearances this year.

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Jays bats need to find consistency and turn things around

Overall, there is still time for the Blue Jays bats to turn things around but the early diagnosis is that the front office’s gamble on internal improvements has yet to come to fruition. Most of the offensive production has come from two players who were brought in via free agency this past offseason while the top of the lineup has struggled to produce when needed, with the bench bats showing more promise than some of the regular players.

One benefit for the Blue Jays will be the return of Danny Jansen, who is currently rehabbing in Triple-A after breaking a bone in his wrist in spring training. Toronto will also welcome a struggling Colorado Rockies team this weekend, which should hopefully provide a spark for the Jays bats to produce some consistent at-bats and put the club back on the right side of .500 baseball.

The season is still in its infancy but every game matters within the AL East. If the Blue Jays have postseason aspirations for a third consecutive campaign, they will need to unlock their batting potential sooner rather than later.