It’s a fun time to be a Blue Jays fan. (Well, despite Tuesday night’s loss to the Yankees.) The giant home shows of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. are fun, George Springer’s diving catch is fun, and Kevin Gussman’s sinister clips are fun. Basically, the entire team is a blast to watch. To a casual fan, Toronto should look like the best baseball game can offer. And for a nerd like me, Toronto also seems like the best baseball game can offer — in one specific respect, that is.
Here at FanGraphs, I’ve written extensively about transformation. It’s a topic I’m excited about not only because there’s plenty of room for analysis and debate, but also because teams seem to never agree on how to use it, and the opposition is amusing. Padres only turns against left-handed hitters. Dodgers turn against everyone! Last season, it looked like teams were starting to scale back working bouts against right-handed hitters. This season, they are more popular than ever. And if there’s a hero in the last (and perhaps last) story surrounding baseball’s understanding of this transformation and all its forms, it’s none other than the Toronto Blue Jays.
I’m hardly the first to notice this. Summing up the season’s first weekend, Mike Petrillo wrote about how the Blue Jays turned out against everyone else. Emma Batcheleri covered the ongoing rise in shift work and how Toronto was leading the offensive. In addition, the following is nothing innovative. These observations have been made before, but they are worth repeating because they are silly. It’s as if the Blue Jays are participating in a completely different game. But if we only look at the most common transformations, the transformations against the left, then there is nothing special to find:
A quick note on this graph and the fronts: they’re showing volume, not rate, which makes them inaccurate in judging which teams are more and less enthusiastic about the shift. For example, while the Yankees are in the 29th place in terms of the number of turnovers versus the left, they are in the 23rd place alternately. an average, simply because their show has faced a late-league number of left-handed hitters. But for the purposes of this article, using each team’s total seems to be the best option. You will know why later.
Coming back to this point, the Blue Jays are around the middle of the pack when it comes to turning against the left. They follow a rare but not excessively related consensus of turning that most left-handed hitters are good candidates for shifting. why? Compared to right-handed hitters, lefties pull a higher rate of balls and tend to hit more often when faced with a change. The standard left alignment also leaves fewer holes on the playing field. Even the most conservative teams are turning against the left more than they did about three or four years ago.
In this sense, Blue Jays are moderate. But not for long, because that’s where things really take off. While all teams have turned against the right at least once this season, the extremists are few and far between. That’s because these straights are a risky bunch; They don’t pull as many players as they can and hit less Often against transformation. Standard right alignment can cover the drag side, but any ball that hits even slightly in the other direction has the potential to hit the base. Most teams prefer to focus on the leftists. Blue Jays, though? They simply don’t care:
What’s remarkable is how quickly the Blue Jays came up with the idea to target right-handed hitters. They turned against the right at 11.3% of chances last season, a rate that has risen to 66.4% this year. At some point during the vacation, Jays front desk personnel thought about the possibility, ran the numbers, and came to the conclusion that it was indeed viable. I have no idea what kind of revelation led to such a rapid shift in philosophy, and from the outside looking inward, they seem crazy. Public research suggests that turning against so many right-wingers is a bad idea. But some teams clearly argue otherwise. The Blue Jays, having joined them, are now leading their campaign.
However, the teams are not only concerned with defending their land. As both Rob Arthur and Russell Carleton have pointed out, centering on the field has had a much greater impact on BABIP hitter than offside spells, which receive the bulk of the sports media spotlight. One of the ways teams use to stop hard drives and flying balls is to shade the midfielder to the right (versus the left) or the left (versus the right). Hitters also tend to draw aerial balls, and these airballs are the most dangerous. Classified as a “strategic” pitch in Baseball Savant, it’s accurate, efficient, and spread throughout the league. Let’s see where Blue Jays stand in terms of usage:
There is not much to add here. Jays again came out on top, this time by an even larger margin. They captured 16% of all strategic arenas this season. Because these shifts on the field occur synchronously with shifts on the field, it’s never normal for Toronto’s defense to come naturally. Regardless of your feelings about the transformation, you kind of have to pay tribute to that dedication, right? Oh, and the Blue Jays are also experts on the four-man court, which is what few teams try because of the risks involved. It’s definitely an acquired taste, but Blue Jays have a voracious appetite:
This graph doesn’t lose any values - there are actually only six teams so far that have dared to put four men on the field. It is fitting that the Blue Jays’ total is greater than the sum of the other five teams combined. It is interesting that of the six, four of them are AL East teams. That’s in part because of Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo, the two Yankees who are number one and two on most four-man stadiums. But what distinguishes Blue Jays is their toughness. Instead of reserving four-player pitches for very specific situations, they made sure to use them against selected hitters without regard to the opposing bowler or counting. Not only do they dip their toes in the water; They seem totally committed.
In conclusion, Blue Jays transform a lot. How much is a lot? That’s a lot:
A group of teams huddled together, atop a single skyscraper in Toronto. This graph perfectly sums up why the Blue Jays are so incredible this season. The players are certainly good, but from a front office perspective, that’s also what the desire to win looks like. Not that an extreme approach is necessarily a good thing, but the Blue Jays certainly seem convinced that the more than 4,000 promised changes are an integral part of their formula. They are all in! That can’t be said for much of a difference.
what am I not What I’m going to do here is try to figure out what their reasoning is, and whether it really makes sense. Maybe that’s an article for later – not the math this time. However, the aggressive ways of the Blue Jays give us a lot of questions to consider. Did their acquisition of Matt Chapman encourage them to push the boundaries of what is possible on the court? Does the ample space of the Rogers Center give them an incentive to cover extra space? Or did they somehow find a way to abolish the walking penalty? For now, though, I’m content to step back and admire their efforts. If the transformation becomes a relic of baseball’s past, we’ll always have the 2022 Blue Jays to remind us of just how far we’ve come.