Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Power approach helps and hurts Blue Jays
By Mackenzie Kraemer
The 2010 Toronto Blue Jays had one of the strangest offensive seasons in baseball history, with Jose Bautista and Aaron Hill providing much of the firepower for a uniquely potent attack.
As the majors saw the fewest home runs in a season (4,613) since 1995, the Blue Jays swatted 257 home runs, tied for third-most in baseball history and more than double the amount the team hit two years prior.
Toronto got 53.1 percent of its runs via home runs, the highest percentage of any team since 1954 by over five percentage points. The Blue Jays hit just .248 as a team, but their .206 ISO (isolated power, defined by slugging percentage minus batting average) set an all-time record.
Much of this had to do with hitting coach Dwayne Murphy, who stressed power over everything else. For some players, like Bautista, his tutelage helped greatly. He hit 54 home runs in 2010, 38 more than his previous career high. He hit more fly balls (54.5 percent of batted balls) than in any other season in his career, and he hit those fly balls out of the park at a 21.7 percent clip, second-best in baseball behind Joey Votto.
While hitting more fly balls helped Bautista, it was a major problem for Hill. He hit 26 home runs, fourth-most among second basemen, but his other numbers tanked. He finished with the third-worst batting average in baseball last season (.205) and the second-worst on-base percentage (.271). His .196 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) was not just the lowest last season, but the lowest among batting-title qualifiers in the live-ball era (since 1920).
Heading into 2010, Hill’s career fly-ball percentage sat at 38.7 percent. Last season, 54.2 percent of his batted balls were fly balls, and only 10.8 percent carried out of the park. The biggest casualty of his rising fly-ball percentage was his line-drive percentage, which fell to 10.6 percent, the lowest among qualified hitters since the stat was first compiled in 2002. Hill hit .723 on his 47 line drives compared to .205 on 241 fly balls, which goes a long way towards explaining his low average and BABIP.
Put it this way. If Hill’s 2010 BABIP had equaled his previous career low (.288 in 2009), his overall batting average would have risen from .205 to a respectable .278.
Hill wasn't always a home run hitter. Over his first four seasons, he homered every 67.8 plate appearances. But over the last two seasons, he has more than tripled that rate, homering every 21.2 plate appearances. Out of the 17 hitters who hit 60 or more home runs over the last two seasons, Hill’s home runs were the shortest at an average of 387.2 feet true distance.
Bautista, on the other hand, averaged an above-average 402.5 feet on his 54 home runs last season. He posted the third-worst BABIP at .233, which is understandable since 54 of his 148 hits were home runs and therefore not counted as balls in play.
Simply because he has more power, Bautista was able to overcome his poor BABIP, and his home-run rate should be more sustainable for a Blue Jays offense that will attempt to keep pace with the powerhouses of the AL East.