The Toronto Blue Jays have to be one of the biggest surprises this season as they sit at 33-27 entering play on Thursday. Behind powerful hitting and solid starting pitching, the Blue Jays remain in serious contention among the AL East heavyweights. Through games of June 8, the Jays had hit a league-leading 97 HR, 55 of which have come at home. As of June 8 last season, the Jays had hit only 66 HR. So what's changed?
Some around Toronto have suggested that wind patterns have changed at Rogers Centre, although our data doesn't seem to really support that argument.
One factor has been the re-emergence of Vernon Wells as a legitimate middle of the line-up hitter. And when some look at Alex Gonzalez and his 12 home runs, they suggest that maybe it’s just plain luck. However, of the team's 97 home runs, only 30 were considered "Just Enough" according to Hit Tracker ("Just Enough" home runs are those that barely leave the yard and often fluctuate the most from one year to the next).
So, the majority of those Blue Jays homers have been solid, no-doubter home runs. The average distance of home runs hit by the Jays this season is 402 feet, just below the league average of 403 feet. The average apex of their home runs is at 85 feet (league average is 87 feet). And the speed off the bat (106.1 MPH) is faster than the league average of 104 MPH. What this tells us is that the Blue Jays are hitting a lot of line-drive home runs.
What's most interesting about line-drive home runs is that they aren't really affected by wind conditions, which disputes the claims that the ball seems to be carrying better. No, this isn't Mother Nature or Lady Luck's doing, this is pure fundamental hitting.
The Blue Jays' power spotlight shines on the entire team, but no one has shined brighter than Jose Bautista. Bautista has hit 18 home runs this year, 10 at home and eight on the road. All but three of his shots have traveled to left field (those that didn't travel to left field went to left-center).
Through 59 games, Bautista has already set a career-high for home runs in a single season. While some fans may be questioning his new-found power, his approach at the plate hasn't changed. Bautista has relied on opposing pitchers to supply the power, hitting only one home run off of an off-speed pitch, which was coincidentally his first home run of the year (April 11 off of Kevin Millwood). Here's a breakdown of the pitch types for his other 17 home runs:
4-Seam fastballs: 8
2-Seam fastballs: 4
The average distance of Jose Bautista’s home runs this season is 403.5 feet, again, right at the league average. His average apex five feet lower than the league average while the average speed of the ball off the bat on his homers is 109.42 MPH, over 5 MPH faster than the league average. Those are rockets.
Lastly, only six of Bautista's 18 home runs qualified as "Just Enough," which suggests that his power numbers are legitimate.
If nothing else, the Blue Jays have proved the very motto of so many hitting coaches and managers throughout the years: "Don't think about hitting home runs. Just make solid, line-drive contact and the ball will go." That approach has certainly worked well for the Blue Jays in 2009.